TWO YEARS LATER: NYC Anti-War Protests Smaller—and Tilting to the Hard Left

by Sarah Ferguson

The March 19 demonstrations in New York to mark the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq were a good deal smaller than last year’s 100,000-strong march through Midtown, let alone the impassioned outpouring of dissent on February 15, 2003, just before the bombing began.

But activists say the many thousands who marched from Harlem to Central Park, and the 35 who got arrested during civil disobedience actions outside military recruiting stations in Times Square and downtown Brooklyn, signaled a "revival" of the anti-war movement, and proof of its deepening resolve.

"We have made history," declared Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, shouting through a bullhorn from a flatbed truck outside the 125th Street Recruiting Station, to a crowd that stretched for many blocks. "We are standing tall together–as black, Latino, white, working class, Asians–to say we will no longer be taken for granted."

Charging that the war was being financed on the backs of the working poor, Bailey assailed the Democratic Party for not standing against it. "We want the Democratic Party to have complete opposition to the war. No more of this weaving and waffling!"

Members of the War Resisters League, which organized the civil disobedience actions, and the Troops Out Now! coalition, which mobilized the march from Harlem, said both protests were efforts to re-energize a peace movement derailed by the campaign to defeat President Bush, and then demoralized by his re-election.

"What we are doing today is not popular," Congressman Charles Rangel told the several thousand sprawled over Central Park’s East Meadow, acknowledging how torn the American public remains over the war. "But it is the right thing to do."

"It’s one thing to go to war. It’s another to mislead the American people," Rangel added. "If those people who took us to war had been in combat, or if their children had to fight, there never would have been this war. The Wolfowitzes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds–all these people knew they were going to war before Bush got elected. They have used 9-11 as an excuse!"

The march from Harlem drew anywhere from 4,500 people, according to an unofficial police estimate, to nearly 10,000, according to legal observers, to 15,000, according to organizers.

But its significance, organizers said, lay less in its size and more in the fact that this was the first Black-led anti-war march to emerge from Harlem, a neighborhood they say symbolizes the disproportionate impact the war has had on communities of color.

Although African Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to the war–as some 72 percent of those polled in September were–that dissent hasn’t always translated into foot power on the street. Many activists of color say they often feel alienated from what they see as a largely white peace movement.

Saturday was an effort to change that dynamic. "We made it clear today that this is a movement with significant Black and people-of-color leadership, and our issues will not be ignored or relegated to the back burner by the established anti-war movement," said Bailey, who helped initiate the Troops Out Now! Coalition. "We are at the table whether they like it or not."

Admittedly, the march might have been bigger had United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s largest anti-war coalition, actively promoted it. Some activists termed UFPJ’s lack of involvement "unconscionable."

UFPJ organizers said they steered clear because they objected to some of the more strident rhetoric that appeared in the Troops Out Now! literature, including a call to support the "absolute and unconditional right of Iraqi people to resist the occupation," regardless of the insurgents’ methods or fundamentalist ideologies. Given the often hideously brutal attacks on civilians by foreign jihadists and other elements of the Iraqi resistance, that’s a stance that neither the national UFPJ coalition nor the New York local felt they could take.

"There was a concern that this would develop into an actual demand or theme of the demonstration, and neither the national nor the local New York UFPJ coalition has taken a position on that," says UFPJ’s national coordinator Leslie Cagan.

UFPJ was also put off by the central role played by the International Action Center, the same group of hard-left anti-imperialists–widely perceived as a front for the neo-Stalinist Workers World Party–that helped spawn the International ANSWER coalition, and who have sparred with UFPJ over past demonstrations.

On the street, however, such factionalism didn’t seem to matter, as contingents from a bewildering array of left-wing and Marxist splinter groups jostled alongside Raging Grannies, Radical Cheerleaders, and just plain-old pissed-off Americans, like Ellen Graves, a 65-year-old massage therapist from Springfield, Massachusetts, who sported a button that read: "4 Moron Years."

"I just think it’s very important to come together so that people around the world realize there’s a lot of us here still opposed to the war," Graves said.

By beginning the march in Harlem, organizers also hoped to paint in real terms the terrible burden this war has placed on the poor and working class.

The message was made clear along the march route, as the crowd trekked past shuttered storefronts, cheap mattress parlors, and 99-Cent stores along 125th Street, to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station, which, though closed, was well guarded by numerous police brass and several officers from the Technical Assistance Response Unit videotaping all who passed by.

Noting that Army recruitment is down 41 percent among African Americans, City Councilman Charles Barron told the crowd: "We are saying to the nation and to Bush that will not be cannon fodder for your illegal, immoral war for oil! We know the money they are sending to Iraq could balance every budget deficit in America."

The march then headed south down Malcolm X Boulevard, past boarded-up brownstones alternating with newly renovated ones, and teams of Latin American day laborers hanging out in front of newly-gutted tenements–part of the urban renewal that is sweeping many longtime Harlem residents out.

Though organizers hoped to capture some of the disaffection simmering in Harlem, many locals said they were not aware of the march. "I think it’s good, but I think it’s a little late. A lot of people done got killed over there already," said Earl Williams, a barber at the Brite Lite barbershop, who is battling to save the 85-year-old shop from the landlord’s efforts to triple the rent.

Besides engaging more people of color, the tenor of the Troops Out Now! protest was sharply to the left of past large anti-war demonstrations.

At the Marcus Garvey Park amphitheatrer, where the march assembled, the crowd gave a standing ovation to radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who was convicted last month of aiding terrorists by relaying messages from jailed Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Calling herself a "poster girl for repression at home," Stewart told her supporters, "We are here as the great resistance…to this dirty, rotten, self-aggrandizing war made by misguided men in high places."

And a secretary from City College who was arrested during a protest there last week spoke less of the campaign to kick military recruiters off campus and more of the need to "overthrow capitalism."

Other speeches in Central Park included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who reiterated his call to impeach Bush; a tape-recorded message from death row star Mumia Abu Jamal, and more firebrand rhetoric from Councilman Barron. "It’s time to call it like it is: This as a war for oil and for the protection of Israel," said Barron, who vowed to "build a progressive, revolutionary radical new order."

Indeed, the march took on class-war overtones when a still-hardy crowd of 4,000 set off from the park to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s townhouse on 79th Street near Fifth Avenue. The contrast from Harlem was clear as the jeering protesters filed past the Upper East Side’s marbled residences, chanting things like: "Rich people, that’s okay, you can work for us one day!" and "Money for jobs, not for war!" But the reaction from passersby remained surprisingly positive–including blown kisses and "thank you’s" from a well-appointed wedding party getting into limos outside Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church on Park Avenue.

"We came from Wisconsin for my niece’s wedding, but we would have joined the protest if we could," said Marlene Dion, a nurse from Appleton, Wisconsin, adding that she was disappointed there were not more anti-war protests where she’s from. "This war should never have happened. I’m against anything from this administration."

About 1,500 people made it to the corner of 79th Street and Fifth–half a block from Bloomberg’s residence, which was as close as the cops would let them get. The police, though numerous, remained relatively low-key as speakers assailed Bloomberg and "the wealthy who don’t like protests on Fifth Avenue"–a reference to the organizers’ battle over the right to march down the avenue, which is reserved for cultural parades.

Brandishing a poster of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Troops out Now! leader Larry Holmes justified the attack on Bloomberg as a mayor who, while publicly neutral about the war, has nevertheless done his best to suppress dissent over it in the city. "He’s a billionaire and he’s close to Bush, and we want that $80 billion that Bush is spending on war–we want that money in New York and all these other cities that are suffering now."

No doubt Bloomberg would also like a piece of that $80 billion as he grapples with steep cuts to federal aid for housing and mass transit, and the shortchanging of homeland security dollars to New York.

But Holmes was adamant: "If Bloomberg is not with us, he is against us."



Troops Out Now!

United for Peace & Justice

See also Sarah Ferguson’s coverage of last year’s protests in WW4 REPORT #97

And our coverage of the original February 2003 mobilization in WW4 REPORT #73


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April. 10, 2005 Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTWO YEARS LATER: NYC Anti-War Protests Smaller—and Tilting to the Hard Left 


A children’s story some adults could stand to read

by Padraic O’Neil

A True Story from Iraq
Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Harcourt Books, 2005

With bold, vibrant colors framing dramatic images, and in language direct and unadorned, Jeanette Winter tells the astonishing tale of Alia Muhammad Baker. As the chief librarian of Basra’s central library, she salvaged 30,000 books from the wreckage of war.

According to New York Times journalist Shalia K. Dewan, whose work was the inspiration for this welcome children’s book, "Alia Muhammad Baker’s house is full of books. There are books in stacks, books in the cupboards, books bundled in the flour sacks like lumpy aid rations. Books fill an old refrigerator. Pull aside a window curtain, and there is no view, just more books." Books on the history of Iraq’s civilizations, on Islam and literature, on "the finer points of Arabic grammar and the art of telling time."

The Librarian of Basra begins with a quote from Alia: "In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.’" With this as an article of faith, Alia recounts how her library was a meeting place for the discussion of ideas both temporal and spiritual. The atmosphere changed with the threat of invasion, prompting the discussion of more immediate questions: "Will planes with bombs fill the sky? Will our families survive? What can we do?"

Alia worried that the library will be destroyed. She begs a local bureaucrat for permission to move the books; he refuses. Alia, however, will not be deterred. She begins to smuggle books out of the library. As "the whispers of war grow louder," the government occupies the building and an anti-aircraft gun is placed on the roof. Shalia Dewan in her July 27, 2003 article for the Times states that "Ms. Baker and others said that this was a calculated plan by the government, which assumed that the library would be spared bombing, or if not, the bombing would generate ill will against the allied forces."

As the invasion became inevitable, and Basra was immersed in fear, Alia despaired of being able to save the books. She may have recalled how in the 13th century the Mongols burned the magnificent libraries of Baghdad. Iraqi legend has it that so many books were flung into the Tigris, the river ran blue from their ink.

Next, the book draws the reader into the chaos and devastation of total war. Aerial bombing sets much of the city of over one million ablaze. Tanks troll the streets, and the ensuing destruction seems random. Why is this happening? Silhouettes of terrified civilians flee the downpour of bombs from a swarm of planes and the crackle and hiss of gunfire, desperate for shelter that does not exist.

As I read this part of the book with my five-year-old daughter, Shiori, we paused to discuss why militaries are formed and whose interests they serve. The book illustrates some of the reasons why we took to the streets, as a family, to protest the aggressive violence of the U.S. government. While a children’s book about war is challenging and some of the images overwhelm, the overall message is one of abiding hope. I am also happy to share with my daughter a book whose protagonist is a strong, intelligent woman, who takes direct action.

Soon the library is abandoned. Alia calls to her neighbor, Anis Muhammad, who owns a restaurant, for help. Alia, Anis and other neighbors and relatives spirited the books out of the library and over a wall into Anis’ restaurant. There they stayed hidden as the British forces occupied Basra. Nine days after the books were moved, the library burned to the ground.

In the final section, Alia hires a truck to move all the books, many of them hundreds of years old, to her house and the houses of friends. Alia waited and dreamt of peace. She waited and dreamt of a new library.

In an interview with Michele Norris on National Public Radio, Jeanette Winter quoted Alia speaking about her motivation: "I spent my life taking care of books and those masterpieces of great authors and writers as if they were my own children. I treasure every name, every word of them. I gave books my whole attention, my whole respect. I always encourage others to borrow books, stories, novels, because I know deeply inside what a great change the reader will have in mind, in conduct and in dealing with life. All those who destroyed and ruined the library were ignorant and are not of our good people. Basra is well-known for its goodness, kindness, its high concern of old and modern history and its great understanding of what books mean for humanity."


This review originally appeared in the March-April 2005 issue of The Catholic Worker, 36 East 1st St., New York, NY 10003


News story on The Librarian of Basra from Al Mendhar: New Iraq Chronicles

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Weekly News Update on the Americas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s March 24 stop in Guatemala on a tour of Latin America came just in time to announce a restoration of military aid to that country, citing a supposed improvement in the human rights climate–mere days after Guatemalan security forces opened fire on anti-CAFTA protesters! Guatemala was actually under a state of "national emergency" when that country’s congress approved the trade treaty March 10. Protests also continue in Honduras, where CAFTA was approved a week earlier. Meanwhile, in an evident case of 1980s nostalgia, Washington has cut military aid to Nicaragua. Our indefatigable comrades at Weekly News Update on the Americas provide details.–WW4 REPORT


After meeting with President Oscar Berger in Guatemala on March 24, Donald Rumsfeld announced that the US was releasing $3.2 million in military aid to Guatemala. Most overt military aid has been blocked since 1990, when it became clear that Guatemalan soldiers were involved in the murder of innkeeper Michael Devine, a US national. "I’ve been impressed by the reforms that have been undertaken in the armed forces," Rumsfeld said. "I know it is a difficult thing to do, but it’s been done with professionalism and transparency." Central America has reached a "magic moment," according to Rumsfeld. The US sees Berger as a reformer who "is delivering on his promises," an unidentified senior Pentagon official told reporters. The promises included winning legislative approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), despite major street protests against the agreement, which police and soldiers violently broke up (see below). (AP, March 24; NYT, MH, March 25)

According to Inter Press Service (IPS) analyst Jim Lobe, Rumsfeld’s tour was focused on "efforts to sound the alarm against Latin American troublemakers." The list was topped by Chavez, "followed by a nemesis from bygone days, former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who was accused by an unnamed ‘senior official’ in Rumsfeld’s delegation of hoarding several hundred Russian-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that Washington wants to see destroyed." On March 21, the first day of Rumsfeld’s trip, the US government announced a suspension of all military assistance to Nicaragua–worth about $2.3 million dollars–because of alleged delays in destroying Nicaragua’s SAMs. (IPS, March 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 27


Thousands of Guatemalans demonstrated around the country on March 14 in a national strike called by the Indigenous, Campesino, Sindical and Popular Movement (MISCP) to protest the March 10 ratification by Guatemala’s Congress of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and to demand that President Oscar Berger not sign the measure, which joins Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US in a trade bloc.

Starting early in the morning, hundreds of campesinos blocked highways in various locations in several departments around the country. In Quiche department, protesters shut down the departmental headquarters of the Governance Ministry, in addition to blocking the highway in Sacapulas municipality. In Huehuetenango department, teachers demonstrated in the departmental capital while campesinos, unionists and teachers blocked the highway in Colotenango municipality, and occupied the customs office at the Mexican border in La Mesilla.

The MISCP organized a major march in Guatemala City with three columns converging on the Plaza de la Constitucion, in front of the National Palace. The column leading from the University City neighborhood was headed up by San Carlos University (USAC) rector Luis Leal. BBC News estimated total attendance at 4,000, while some participants gave a number as high as 30,000. Generally the march was peaceful; there was some shoving as police kept protesters from approaching the Congress building and the US embassy, where some demonstrators spray-painted slogans. A separate group of protesters attempted to approach the presidential mansion. Police agents responded with tear gas, and protesters threw rocks. The speakers in the plaza called on the protesters to rejoin the main demonstration.

At this point, a contingent of Special Forces Police led by Inspector Francisco Say Albino, along with military police, began hurling tear-gas grenades at the demonstrators in the plaza, who fled, many into nearby offices of non-governmental organizations. Police agents beat Edwin Benavente, a photographer for Nuestro Diario, when he photographed agents attacking a demonstrator. A correspondent for the US-based Univision television network was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet, and agents insulted and tried to assault two observers from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (PDH). After the demonstration broke up, there was serious damage to several area businesses, which some organizers blamed on police provocateurs.

Protests continued around the country March 15-16. At least one demonstrator was killed when police and soldiers tried to break up the highway blockade at Puente Naranjales in Colotenango. The police used tear gas and smoke bombs on the protesters. A group of campesinos reportedly began hurling rocks on to the agents from cliffs overlooking the highway, and the police responded with bullets. Juan Lopez Velasquez, a teacher and member of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), was apparently beaten by the police and then killed with a shot to the head at point blank range.

There were a number of wounded among the campesinos, including one Jose Gomez, who later died in the Huehuetenango National Hospital according to some accounts. The confrontation at Puente Naranjales was photographed and videotaped by three young men, apparently foreigners, who happened to be passing through the area as part of a motorcycle trip through Latin America.

(Guatemala Hoy, March 16, 17; Reuters March 16; Guatemala Human Rights Commission, GHRC-USA, urgent action, March 16; first-hand report and photos at

President Berger dismissed the protesting organizations as "little groups." On March 15 he signed Decree 31-2005, the legislation that ratifies CAFTA. So far, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have approved the agreement. According to the Guatemalan media, US senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, has confirmed that the committee will begin hearings April 6 to start the process of ratifying CAFTA in the US Congress. (GH, March 16)

In a statement issued on Mar. 3, the MISCP charged that the repression of the CAFTA protests "is reminiscent of the darkest years of the country’s recent history," a reference to the counterinsurgency of the 1980s. "Now Guatemala isn’t suffering from a military dictatorship, but it suffers instead from a dictatorship of business interests."

The group charged that Inspector Say Albino, who led the attack in Guatemala City, also directed the violent police operation in Finca Nueva Linda in Retalhuleu department on Aug. 31, in which at least 12 people died. MISCP communique, March 14)

On March 18 Amnesty International (AI) issued an urgent action expressing concern for the safety of journalists Marielos Monzon and Gabriel Mazzarovich, who appear on the radio program "Buenos Dias con Marielos Monzon," broadcast on Radio Universidad. On March 17 Monzon received a call on her mobile phone that appeared to come from her own home. "Stop defending those stinking Indians, you bitch, or we will kill you," a man’s voice told her. Minutes later she received another phone call, this time from the Uruguayan embassy, which asked for confirmation of reports in two Uruguayan newspapers that Mazzarovich, who is a Uruguayan citizen, had died. The reports were false. Monzon and Mazzarovich had broadcast two special programs on violence during the CAFTA demonstrations. (AI urgent action, March 18)

On Mar. 17 Guatemalan media and Agence France Presse revealed that Interior Minister Carlos Vielman has a 12-page report on an alleged plan to assassinate Nineth Montenegro, a legislative deputy for the leftist New Nation Alliance (ANN) and a founder of the human rights organization Mutual Support Group (GAM); Gonzalo Marroquin, editor of the daily Prensa Libre; Otto Perez Molina, a retired general, now a deputy for the Patriot Party (PP); and San Marcos bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, who frequently supports campesino demands and was previously the target of an alleged assassination plan.

The report claims that drug traffickers are behind the plan, which is said to be part of an effort to get Mexican trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera "El Chapo" into Guatemala. Perez Molina captured Guzman in 1993 and turned him over to the Mexican authorities, although he escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001. But GAM issued a statement discounting the drug connection and accusing right-wing death squads, "clandestine structures that never were dissolved and that now are at the service of powerful sectors. These structures are made up of those who violated human rights in the recent past and today seek…to enrich themselves and prevent the investigation of their crimes." (GHRC-USA urgent action, March 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 20


The Guatemalan Congress circumvented the usual three-step approval process for CAFTA when the major centrist and right-wing parties agreed on March 9 to muster the 105 votes necessary to declare a "national emergency," which would allow a single vote on the measure. The vote, originally scheduled for March 1, was postponed after large street protests tied up the capital that day. (Prensa Libre, March 10, 11; Guatemala Hoy, March 11; El Nuevo Diario, Miami, March 11; La Prensa, Nicaragua, March 11)

The protests continued on March 8, when thousands of people attempted to march to the Congress building in Guatemala City in a demonstration organized by MICSP. Heavy security prevented the marchers from approaching the building. Meanwhile, Deputy Alba Estela Maldonado, who heads the legislative group of the leftist URNG, charged that US ambassador John Hamilton was making phone calls to deputies to pressure them to pass CAFTA. (GH, March 10)

At least six people were injured as protests continued on March 9. Thousands of National Police agents cordoned off the two-block area around the Congress building and used tear gas and nightsticks to disperse a demonstration which the authorities said had 1,800 participants. The URNG charged that the government of President Berger was reverting to the repressive methods of the military governments in the 1980s. Elsewhere in Guatemala City, 10 men in ski masks stopped a bus, asked the passengers to get off and then set the vehicle on fire. A smaller demonstration of some 300 people–according to media reports–attempted to reach the Congress on March 10, the day legislators voted on CAFTA. Police agents using tear gas and blue-dyed water outnumbered the marchers, who still succeeded in shutting down part of downtown Guatemala City and filling the air with smoke from burning tires. (PL, GH, March 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13


Two Guatemalan security workers for the Marlin Project of the Montana Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian-US company Glamis Gold Ltd., killed campesino Alvaro Benigno the night of March 13 in San Miguel Ixtahuacan municipality, San Marcos department, according to the Rural Workers Movement (MTC), a local community-based organization. Witnesses said Benigno was going home after attending a choral concert in the parish church when Ludwin Waldemar Calderon and Guillermo Lanuza, workers for the Grupo Golan company, which provides security for the Marlin Project, came out of a bar, approached Alvaro Benigno and hit him. A scuffle ensued, and Calderon shot Benigno five or six times with a handgun.

This is the second killing associated with the Marlin Project, which has received a $45 million loan from the World Bank. Public security forces shot a protester dead on Jan. 11 when campesinos in Solola department tried to block the passage of equipment for the mine [see WW4 REPORT #107]. The Canadian-US group Rights Action is asking for letters to Glamis (fax: 775-827-5044, e-mail: and the World Bank (fax: 202-522-1677, e-mail: calling for a proper investigation into Benigno’s killing and the suspension of the Glamis Gold mining operation. (Rights Action urgent action , March 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 3


Thousands of Hondurans demonstrated across the country on March 8 to protest the National Congress’s March 3 vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The protests were organized by the group Popular Resistance, which estimates that CAFTA will drive 300,000 campesino families out of business, forcing 800,000 Hondurans into unemployment.

Some 2,000 people marched in Tegucigalpa to the Congress building, chanting: "With this new treaty you’ve murdered the people." The main speaker, Popular Bloc director Carlos H. Reyes, charged that CAFTA is the completion of a process of corporate globalization in Honduras that since 1990 has created 120,000 jobs in the maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export) but has "produced 1.2 million unemployed… [F]or every job neoliberalism created in the maquila, 10 campesinos were left dying of hunger."

Elsewhere, hundreds of workers and campesinos blocked the northern highway for six hours in Las Flores municipality, Comayagua department, and near La Entrada, Copan department. There were also demonstrations in San Pedro Sula and other areas. (Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, March 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13

Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #107


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005 Reprinting permissible with attribution

World War 4 Report: Deconstructing the War on Terrorism



by Weekly News Update on the Americas


On March 15, with virtually all of Bolivia’s cities shut down by road blockades on the first day of a 48-hour national strike, Bolivian president Carlos Mesa Gisbert announced he would present the legislature with a proposal calling new general elections for Aug. 28, 2005. Mesa complained that the growing wave of protests and roadblocks was making the country ungovernable. Nine days earlier, on March 6, Mesa had presented his resignation under similar circumstances, but Congress rejected it. (La Republica, Lima, March 17, 18; Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, March 16; Centro de Documentacion e Informacion de Bolivia [CEDIB], March 17; El Diario, La Paz, March 18; La Razon, La Paz, March 16)

On March 9, Mesa had asked the Bolivian attorney general’s office to order district prosecutors to arrest protesters; the prosecutors refused, saying in a joint statement that it is not their job to intervene in social conflicts. On March 17, the attorney general’s office ratified that decision, while at the same time agreeing to launch an investigation into the protest organizers. (CEDIB, March 17; ED, March 18; Servicio de Informacion Indigena [SERVINDI], March 15)

Mesa’s March 15 call for new elections came as Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies was in the midst of a heated and lengthy final debate over a controversial new hydrocarbons law. The Chamber’s economic commission had recommended a version of the law backed by Bolivia’s social movements, which would grant the state 50% of royalties from all hydrocarbons production; Mesa had proposed an alternative under which the state would maintain its 18% share of royalties while imposing a 32% "complementary tax on hydrocarbons" (ICH). Mesa insisted his proposal would add up to the same 50%, but critics complain that the ICH tax would be imposed gradually over time, and could be offset by tax credits and deductions.

In the pre-dawn hours of March 16, after 12 hours of debate, the lower house voted 47-36 to approve a compromise version of the bill proposed by Chamber of Deputies president Mario Cossio. The new version would maintain the 18% royalties and create a 32% "direct tax on hydrocarbons production" (IDPH), to be imposed immediately and with no deductions or loopholes. The bill now goes to Bolivia’s Senate. (La Republica, March 17; LTdC, March 16; CEDIB, March 17; ED, March 18; La Razon, March 16)

Deputies from the Movement to Socialism (MAS) and the Indigenous Pachacuti Movement (MIP) voted against the compromise bill, along with a few legislators from the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and the New Republican Force (NFR). The remaining MIR, MNR and NFR deputies voted for the bill. (LT, March 16) Still, MAS deputy and campesino leader Evo Morales Ayma said he was moderately satisfied with the legislation, although he insisted that "the struggle will continue in the National Senate" to achieve the 50% in royalties.

Mesa, on the other hand, immediately announced he would refuse to sign the version passed by the Chamber of Deputies unless it undergoes revisions. (La Republica, March 17) Two oil and gas companies with major investments in Bolivia–the Spanish-Argentine Repsol-YPF and the Brazilian state company Petrobras–also expressed their displeasure with the bill. On March 20, the Bolivian Chamber of Hydrocarbons, a petroleum industry business group, chimed in, calling the bill "regressive and counterproductive," and saying it would effectively constitute "a confiscation" of private investments. If the Senate makes changes to the bill, the revised version would go to a vote in a plenary session of the full legislature. (AFP, March 20; La Jornada, Mexico, March 19)

At a March 16 press conference, Evo Morales and Bolivian Workers Central (COB) executive secretary Jaime Solares announced that the country’s social, labor and political movements would temporarily suspend their protest blockades, but would resume mobilizations as soon as the Senate begins considering the new law. While criticizing the political coalition that passed the compromise version, Morales said the bill contains a number of strong points which must be defended in the Senate against Mesa’s attempts to remove them: it would guarantee state ownership of all hydrocarbons; force companies with existing contracts to submit to the new provisions; reestablish the state oil company, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales de Bolivia (YPFB); and recognize the right of indigenous communities to decide about oil and gas projects in their territory. (ED, March 17)

On Mar. 17, after Congress rejected his proposal for early elections, Mesa announced that he would remain in his post for the remainder of his term, until August 2007. (ED, March 18)

Morales announced on March 19 that when the Senate convenes on March 22, hundreds of campesinos will start a vigil and pijcheo (ritual coca leaf chewing) outside the Senate building in La Paz to demand that the bill not be weakened. (Prensa Latina, March 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 20


In a 45-minute televised speech on March 6, President Mesa complained that constant protests, strikes and blockades were making Bolivia ungovernable and that he would offer his resignation to Congress the following day. Mesa harshly criticized campesino leader Evo Morales and his MAS for having announced the start of stepped-up roadblocks around the country. The protests, underway since the previous week, demanded that Congress pass a hydrocarbons law instating 50% royalties on private companies, and also that elections be called for a constitutional assembly. Mesa dismissed the constitutional assembly proposal, and said the royalty increase was "not viable" because "the international community is against it" and the country depends on "foreign handouts." (Clarin, Argentina, March 6; Agencia Latinoamericano de Informacion [ALAI], March 7)

Morales said that with the resignation threat, Mesa was "resorting to blackmail, maneuvering, insults and divisiveness, showing that he has a racial gripe against indigenous people and campesinos who are the majority of this country, just because we are struggling to recover the territory, to defend our national resources like water and to obtain 50% royalties from the oil companies." According to Bolivia’s 2001 national census, 62% of Bolivians over 15 years old identify themselves as indigenous–31% Quechua, 25% Aymara and 6% from other ethnic groups. (ALAI, March 7, 9)

In his speech, Mesa also criticized Abel Mamani, leader of the Federation of Neighborhood Committees (FEJUVE) of the city of El Alto, for leading a movement which is demanding the departure of the Aguas del Illimani water company. Mesa said that if the government breaks its contract with Aguas del Illimani–a consortium partly owned by the French transnational Suez–then Bolivia would have to immediately pay $17 million to creditor organizations and might lose a $50 million lawsuit threatened by the company. Last Jan. 12, three days into a civic strike in El Alto organized by FEJUVE, the government signed a decree pledging to cancel the contract with Aguas del Illimani.

But since then the government had backtracked, and FEJUVE responded with a new civic strike beginning March 2 demanding the company’s expulsion. The strike also included demands for the 50% gas royalties, the constitutional assembly and a full trial of ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet members for an October 2003 massacre of protesters in El Alto. Mamani had announced plans to step up the protests on March 7 and had called a march to La Paz for March 8. (Clarin, March 6)

Mesa also criticized the civic and business leaders of gas-rich Santa Cruz department who have been pushing for regional autonomy. (El Diario, La Paz, March 7) Mesa’s surprise resignation announcement came amid a flood of protests around the country, including El Alto and Cochabamba. In Sucre, Chuquisaca department, campesinos protested to demand the constitutional assembly be held before any referendum on regional autonomy; they were also demanding the trial of ex-president Sanchez de Lozada, and rejecting any immunity for US soldiers in Bolivia. (The US is pressuring Bolivia and many other countries to agree not to send any US soldiers to face charges before the International Criminal Court.)

In Santa Cruz department, residents of the city of Camiri blocked the highway to Yacuiba, on the Argentine border, in a protest demanding that their city be the headquarters for the state-owned oil company, YPFB, when it is reformed under the terms of a July 2004 referendum. In Yapacani, protesters demanded that oil-producing municipalities get 10% of oil royalties and non-oil-producing ones get 3%. In Pailon, residents blocked the highway to Trinidad to demand government attention to local needs.

Residents of Entre Rios demanded that 40% of Tarija department’s oil royalties go to their municipality. In La Paz department, residents of Patacamaya demanded expansion of the local university, while Lahuachaca residents blockaded roads to demand the creation of a teacher training school. In Cochabamba department, residents of Ivigarzama blockaded roads over a border conflict with the neighboring municipality of Chimore. The Confederation of Bus Drivers postponed a 48-hour national strike demanding higher fares, saying their protest "would go unnoticed" amid so many others. (CEDIB, March 5)

Some protests were lifted on March 7 following Mesa’s resignation announcement, including the week-old blockades in Chuquisaca department, which had cut off the city of Sucre from supplies, and in Yapacani. But many protests continued, and some were intensified or renewed, including a blockade which shut down the road between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba on March 7. Leaders of Bolivia’s grassroots social movements ratified their protest plans and their unified demands at a meeting in El Alto on March 7. Oscar Olivera, president of the Coordinating Committee on Water, pointed out that the protests "did not demand and are not demanding the resignation of Carlos Mesa; in fact, their national demands, with the exception of [the departure of] Aguas del Illimani, are not even directed at the executive, but rather at the legislature." (La Razon, La Paz, March 8)

On March 8, Bolivia’s Congress unanimously rejected Mesa’s resignation and ratified his continuation as president for the term ending Aug. 6, 2007. A majority of deputies–not including those from the MAS or the MIP–then approved a vaguely-worded "national agenda," in which they committed the Congress and president to work together on the hydrocarbons law, regional autonomy and a constitutional assembly.

The agenda promises to "approve as quickly as possible a hydrocarbons law which respects the mandate of the July 18, 2004 referendum and within that framework guarantees the maximum benefit in favor of the Bolivian state, attention to the internal market, industrialization and the current and future export commitments of our hydrocarbons, preserving investments in strict respect and observance of national sovereignty." The agenda also pledges, "on the basis of regional consensus, to put forward a plan for approval of the legal instruments to guarantee the holding of elections for governor [a key demand of the autonomy movement], the referendum on departmental autonomy and the convoking of a constitutional assembly." Following the vote on the agenda, deputies from the MAS and MIP walked out in protest before Mesa addressed the Congress. (ED, March 9)

On Mar. 9 the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) joined with Bolivia’s main campesino, indigenous and neighborhood organizations in a "Pact for the Defense of Dignity and National Sovereignty," pledging to step up the nationwide protests on their united demands. (ALAI,, March 9) The same day, Mesa apologized publicly for his harsh words against Evo Morales and asked Morales to meet with him. Morales said he would participate in a meeting if it included the rest of the union and grassroots leaders included in the new pact.

The two sides met for four hours on March 10, without reaching any agreements. Mesa tried to convince the protest leaders that his proposal for 18% royalties and 32% taxes will add up to the same as 50% in royalties. Opponents say the government will find a way to manipulate the taxes so they don’t really add up to the full 50%, though Mesa promises the taxes will be charged on actual production, with no sneaky calculations involved. "The blockades are going to continue, they are going to radicalize until the parliament approves the 50% royalties," warned Morales. "We’re not demanding exclusion, or confiscation, or expropriation of the transnationals’ property. It’s important to have partners, but those partners should put in half, 50 [for them], and 50 in royalties for the Bolivian state." (ED, March 10, 11)

Morales said the 50% royalties would produce an extra $550 million a year in tax revenue–enough to eliminate Bolivia’s deficit. Mesa told foreign journalists on March 9 that the 50% royalty rate would invite massive lawsuits by foreign companies with gas contracts in Bolivia, but that his 32% tax and 18% royalty formula would bring "an explosion" of new investment, eliminating the country’s need for foreign aid. However, some oil industry analysts say even Mesa’s more moderate plan might provoke lawsuits by corporations because it would change their existing contracts. (Miami Herald, March 10)

Protests were back in force around the country on March 9. Members of Bolivia’s Landless Movement (MST), the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Santa Cruz and the National Council of Qullasuyo [Aymara] Communities (Conamaq) arrived in La Paz after traveling from the country’s lowlands and highlands, respectively, to demand the constitutional assembly and indigenous participation in democracy. They said they would not block roads, and were not part of the pact signed by the other social movements. The same day, chaos broke out in the city of Santa Cruz when bus drivers tried to raise fares to make up for fuel price increases and bus riders rebelled. Police used tear gas; at least 10 people were injured and 59 arrested. In Cochabamba, the road to Santa Cruz was completely blocked by protests organized by the Six Federations of the Tropics, an organization of campesino coca producers. The campesinos also set up vigils surrounding four oil wells, and campesino leader Feliciano Mamani said blockades were in effect on highways linking Cochabamba to Oruro and Chuquisaca. (ED, March 10)

On Mar. 10, marches called by President Mesa to oppose the grassroots roadblocks drew light crowds in Bolivia’s major cities. The same day, the FEJUVE of El Alto called for a suspension of its blockades in the city, saying the people were "tired" and that new pressure tactics would be taken up the next week on the demands against Aguas del Illimani. (ED, March 11)

Mesa’s resignation offer appeared to be aimed at dividing and weakening Bolivia’s grassroots movements, both by exerting counter-pressure on Congress, which is leaning toward popular demands on the gas law, and by empowering certain sectors of the public to actively oppose the protests. "The gamble is to get the people who tolerated these protests in the past to go out and say they won’t tolerate it," Jaime Aparicio, Bolivia’s ambassador in Washington, said in a phone interview with the New York Times. "It may be effective, but we’ll have to wait and see." (NYT, March 8)

Thousands of people did mobilize around the country in support of Mesa following his March 6 resignation announcement, and on March 7 dozens of counter-protesters waving white handkerchiefs broke windows at the FEJUVE offices in El Alto and tried to disrupt the meeting of grassroots leaders there. Mamani, the FEJUVE leader, said death threats were called in to his mobile phone. (LR, March 8) Bolivian media made much of the "white handkerchief" movement, citing counter-protesters’ chants urging Mesa to take a "heavy hand" against protesters and to send "Evo and Mamani to the firing squad." (ALAI, March 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13

Weekly News Update on the Americas

For recent Bolivia coverage, see:







Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Weekly News Update on the Americas


On March 27, relatives found the bodies of Colombian campesinos Javier Alexander Cubillos, Wilder Cubillos and Heriberto Delgado at the morgue in Fusagasuga, Cundinamarca department. The army had apparently taken their bodies there, claiming they were guerrillas killed in combat. The three men were Communist Party activists from the community of San Juan de Sumapaz, in the federal district of Bogota, just north of Fusagasuga. They had been missing since March 18, when they went to the community of La Hoya del Nevado to inspect some of their family’s livestock. Several days later, the media published reports that three guerrillas had been killed in combat in the area. The Neighborhood Association of San Juan de Sumapaz and the Union of Agricultural Workers insist that the three men were not guerrillas and did not die in combat, but were murdered by the Colombian army. (Red de Defensores no Institucionalizados, March 30)

A coalition of community groups and trade unions in the region released a public statement saying that the three men were well-known political and campesino activists in the region who were leading members of both their trade union, the National United Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO), and the local branch of the Colombian Communist Party. Messages of protest can be sent to Vice President Francisco Santos at; Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe at,; and Carlos Franco, head of the president’s human rights program, at (Justice for Colombia, UK, March 30)

FENSUAGRO’s secretary of organization, Luz Perly Cordoba, was released on March 16 after spending more than a year in prison in Bogota. Cordoba, also president of the Campesino Association of Arauca (ACA), was arrested on Feb. 18, 2004, along with another ACA leader, Juan Gutierrez Ardila. Both are now out on bail; they are still facing charges for "rebellion," and their trial has been transferred to Arauca. A "drug trafficking" charge against Cordoba–for her outspoken opposition to the government’s policy of aerial spraying of herbicides on farmland–has been dropped. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 18, March 19; Movimiento Social de Catalunya y Valencia, Feb. 1, via Colombia Indymedia)

For more on Luz Perly Cordoba, see WW4 REPORT #97


Five US Army soldiers were detained on March 29 for allegedly using a US military plane to smuggle 35 pounds of cocaine from Colombia into the US, the US Southern Command announced on March 31. The soldiers’ identities, hometowns and duties in Colombia were not released. Air Force Lt. Col. Eduardo Villavicencio, a spokesperson for the Southern Command, would not say whether the five had been officially charged or whether they are officers or enlisted personnel. The soldiers had been under surveillance by US and Colombian investigators for "some time," a Colombian defense ministry spokesperson told the Miami Herald. Officials waited for the soldiers to attempt to enter the US with the drugs before arresting them. The US has 500 soldiers in Colombia as part of a multibillion-dollar "anti-drug" and counterinsurgency effort. Many of these soldiers are Special Forces personnel who train Colombian military personnel in anti-narcotics operations. (Miami Herald, April 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 3

Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #107


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005

Reprinting permissible with attribution



"Redevelopment" at Ground Zero Hits New Yorkers With Double-Whammy

by Wynde Priddy

More than three years after the historic attacks that ushered in a new global conflict and changed the Manhattan skyline forever, local residents still say that concerns about the health impacts of the disaster for New Yorkers have never been meaningfully addressed. Now many fear that the redevelopment effort underway in the area of Ground Zero will raise still more environmental risks.

Unanswered Questions

When the World Trade Center buildings were destroyed in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the disaster constituted an environmental hazard of unprecedented scope. As the towers burned and then collapsed, over 10,000 personal computers, hundreds of copy machines, thousands of fluorescent lights, five million square feet of painted surfaces, seven million square feet of flooring, and 600,000 square feet of window glass were vaporized and released into the air. Along with these more expected materials present in this uncontrolled demolition, there were also millions of rounds of lead ammunition used in a Secret Service shooting range, and materials such as arsenic, mercury, and chromium which were housed in a U.S. Customs laboratory in the complex. Concrete, asbestos, jet-fuel, and many other unknowable hazardous materials were incinerated at temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit; hot enough to produce toxic gas and ultra-fine particulates, or air-born dust, easily breathable and highly unsafe for humans. Fires continued to burn at the site until Dec. 19. Dr. Michael Weiden, a medical officer for the New York Fire Department, called it "the largest single acute exposure to high-volume particulate matter in a modern urban environment."

Yet the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a statement on Sept. 16, 2001 that said: "Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York’s Financial District." On Sept. 18, EPA administrator Christie Whitman declared to New Yorkers: "The air is safe to breathe." Public advocates are still asking why these seemingly premature determinations were made. And why were the first responders and Ground Zero recovery workers not informed of–much less adequately protected from–the hazards?

In the weeks following September 11, all EPA press releases were filtered through the White House. In a 2003 report entitled "EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Collapse," the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General found: "It appeared that EPA’s best professional advice was overruled when relaying information to the public in the weeks immediately following the disaster. Politics, it appears, trumped science in the communication of risks to the public."

There have been numerous independent studies and tests that reveal the true nature of the dust that blanketed much of Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. One dust sample tested by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) showed five percent asbestos, towering above the EPA’s own 1 percent threshold for human risk. An indoor sample of WTC dust taken at 80 John Street five months after September 11 found levels of fibrous glass–a potent carcinogen–ranging from 10 to 15 percent. Meanwhile, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection told Downtown residents and business owners to just clean up the WTC dust with a wet rag–exposing thousands to life-threatening toxins.

EPA officials contend that they didn’t want to cause mass panic, and that their tests showed only "low levels of asbestos." Critics respond that the conditions around Ground Zero did, in fact, call for extreme caution if not panic, and that even "low levels" of asbestos are still dangerous. They also point to the EPA’s use of outdated testing methods that apparently underestimated the risks; testing methods that were not good enough for their own building at 290 Broadway, which was tested and cleaned using the most advanced methods. An asbestos-removal contractor was brought in to decontaminate the EPA offices, at the same time that local residents were being told to use wet rags.

In the years since the Twin Towers fell, there has been no comprehensive cleanup, no health care program for those who were affected, and no accurate federally-issued statement of the true risks that people living or working near Ground Zero were exposed to in the weeks and months following September 11, according to a new study by the Sierra Club, "Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero." In fact, many first responders are having trouble with their workman’s compensation, and even workers and residents with health insurance are experiencing trouble getting the kind of medical services they need.

Brooklyn stands out as the most neglected community impacted by the disaster. The notion that the East River protected Brooklyn from the massive air-born dust cloud released by the collapse of the towers is easily dismissed by anyone who saw aerial photos of that day. The wind blew a huge plume of WTC dust directly into Brooklyn–yet there were no clean-up services provided to residents of Brooklyn, and virtually no attention paid to the suffering of Brooklynites living with the long-term health effects.

The federally-funded clean-up program was insufficient and poorly implemented all around, critics charge. Cleaning of local residences finally got underway in September 2002–a full year after the contamination. Those outside the small zone of Lower Manhattan covered by the program continued to get the same instructions: clean up the WTC dust with a wet rag. Some could afford professional cleanup, but many couldn’t. And with the EPA downplaying the risks, thousands had unknowingly exposed themselves by cleaning up the dust themselves, even within the zone covered by the program. Chinatown residents, who live in overcrowded conditions and frequently lack facility with the English language, were hit particularly hard by this disaster of judgment. Small businesses also suffered by being excluded from the clean-up. Predictably, most insurance companies refused to pay for testing or clean-up.

Money for Contamination, Not for Clean-Up

Organizations like New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), 9/11 Environmental Action and NYELJP, with U.S. Representatives Carol Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, are advocating on behalf of the thousands who were exposed to WTC toxins. They are also demanding adequate safety measures to be taken in the redevelopment of Ground Zero and the impacted zone now being overseen by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), an authority jointly created by the city and state of New York in 2002.

The LMDC has bought two buildings in the area from the Deutsche Bank–one several blocks away from Ground Zero at 4 Albany Street, and one directly across from Ground Zero at 130 Liberty Street which was severely damaged and highly contaminated by the toxic dust and debris. The 40-story building on Liberty Street is the most heavily damaged building to remain standing after September 11, and must be demolished to make way for Freedom Tower, the $11 billion skyscraper, memorial, and transit hub that is slated to stand on the WTC site by 2015.

Plans for this potentially dangerous demolition are being drawn up by the LMDC. Activists and community members are demanding that the EPA carefully oversee the demolition to ensure the safety of both the workers and the area residents. For now, the EPA is only acting as an advisor to the LMDC, which is developing deconstruction plans to submit for EPA approval. In January 2005, the EPA rejected one LMDC submission, saying the plan lacked sufficient protections.

Though the LMDC will continue to submit revised plans, activists continue to demand more direct oversight of the demolition. David Newman, an industrial hygienist with NYCOSH says, "The EPA is the only agency with the experience, expertise, and resources to ensure that such demolition operations are conducted in a manner that protects public health."

More than half of the $2.7 billion of the September 11 recovery money pledged by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has already been spent by the LMDC. While community groups demand that at least a chunk of the remaining $850 million be directed towards addressing health and environmental concerns, and building affordable housing. Meanwhile, the LMDC plans on asking for more money–for the ambitious redevelopment scheme centered around the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower.

"The LMDC keeps going for more funds," says Joel Kupferman, senior attorney at NYELJP and environmental counsel to the Firefighters Union. But he’s not confident that the endowment will bring about a safer redevelopment. "They’d rather send out glossy press releases than test the air," he says, adding that the LMDC’s quasi-private nature has resulted in "a lack of accountability and no elections to worry about."

"I would expect a private landlord to act in a self-serving way," Kupferman concludes. "But the LMDC is publicly funded and we’re alarmed that they’re not meeting a higher standard."


"Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero," Sierra Club, August 2004



9/11 Environmental Action


For more on 9-11’s health impacts, see WW4 REPORT #50

For more on the Ground Zero redevelopment effort, see WW4 REPORT #88


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April. 10, 2005

Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue Reading9-11’s LINGERING TOXIC MENACE 


Assassination of the Rebel President Signals Escalation in North Caucasus

by Raven Healing

Aslan Maskhadov, the last legitimate president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, elected in independent Chechnya in 1997, was killed on March 8, 2005, in a village just outside Grozny, the capital. Russian TV showed pictures of his bloodied body, and the makeshift cellar bunker where he had been hiding, but the circumstances of his death are still unclear. Some accounts claim he was killed by agents of the Russian FSB, the successor to the Soviet KGB. Others maintain he was killed by pro-Russian Chechen forces headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, deputy prime minister of Moscow’s puppet administration. Still others maintain he was accidentally shot by his own body guards, or killed by his own men at his own orders. According to Radio Free Europe and the BBC, it was Russian Special Forces troops who killed Maskhadov–a claim echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The BBC stated: “Maskhadov did more than any other fighter in Chechnya to win the 1994-1996 war against Russia. He also did more than any other negotiator to bring peace.” In 1996, he represented Chechnya in negotiations with Russia’s Gen. Alexander Lebed, culminating in the signing of the Khasavyurt Treaty, which resulted in the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Then, as president, Maskhadov signed a Treaty of Peace with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1997 that rejected “forever the use of force or threat in resolving all matters of dispute” between Russia and Chechnya, and called for the two countries to “develop their relations on generally recognized principles and norms of international law.”

Many western sources had painted Maskhadov as the last hope for a peaceful resolution to the war in Chechnya. Some analysts predict that the war will worsen and spread still further into other regions of the North Caucasus. Officially, Maskhadov’s successor is Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev; but it seems likely to many analysts that Saydullayev will be unable to control guerilla leader Shamil Bassayev–and that Bassayev is poised to become the new leader of the divided resistance. Even though Russia viewed Maskhadov and Bassayev as close allies, their connection was complicated and their differences many.

The January 1997 elections of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, overseen and declared fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, brought Maskhadov to the presidency by two thirds of the vote. Bassayev came in second with 22% of the vote. In order to unify the people, Maskhadov gave Bassayev a the position of prime minister. But the two men only drifted further apart.

Maskhadov faced numerous uprisings, and even attempts on his life–mostly from Wahhabi fundamentalists who sought to turn Chechnya into an Islamic state. Bassayev publicly joined the Wahhabi movement in 1998. Maskhadov, although a Muslim, had no intention of turning Chechnya into a strict Islamic state.

Another problem for Maskhadov’s presidency was the wave of kidnappings in Chechnya. In one prominent case in 1999, four employees of a British company were abducted and reportedly sold to the highest bidder. The bidder–said to have been Osama bin Laden himself–beheaded the hostages. In another case in 1998, 150 people were killed in a gunfight in Gudermes that began as an argument over “ownership” of some hostages. Maskhadov never attempted to prosecute anyone for the kidnappings. Nor did he ever publicly mention the names of those responsible for the attempts on his life. Committed to the increasingly transparent facade of unified Chechen people, he refused to crack down on the Wahhabi uprisings. At one point, Makhadov attempted to appease the Wahhabis by asking all female employees of the state to cover their hair. To say the least, this was not enough for Bassayev and the Wahhabi militants.

In 1999, after Bassayev launched guerilla raids into the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan, Maskhadov was forced to finally condemn Bassayev by name–but still he did not move to arrest or prosecute him. Maskhadov’s unwillingness or inability to crack down is partly to blame for how Chechnya spiraled out of control. The raid into Dagestan, combined with a series of apartment bombings blamed on Chechens, prompted Russia to invade Chechnya–a replay of the 1994 invasion which had left much of Grozny in ruins. But while Russia had pulled out in 1996–allowing Chechnya to regain the independence declared in 1991–this time the hardline President Putin was determined to maintain control.

Russia removed Maskhadov’s government, and put in place a pro-Russian puppet regime. In response to the invasion, Bassayev and Maskhadov made peace and decided to work together against the Russian occupation. However, Bassayev has claimed responsibility for numerous incursions and hostage takings on Russian soil that Maskhadov condemned. Bassayev’s men took hostages at maternity wards, opera houses and, most recently, a school full of children in Beslan, North Ossetia, which ended in a bloody massacre last September.

Maskhadov did claim credit for organizing the 2004 summer Chechen guerilla raid into Ingushetiya. Bassayev also apparently participated, but the methods of the raid were the trademarks of Maskhadov. Unlike Bassayev’s actions, this raid was well-organized and did not target civilians. Chechens successfully seized weapons from police stations in Ingushetiya–then retreated into Chechnya, leaving low rebel casualties, high casualties among Russian forces, and Ingush police blamed for reprisals against Chechen refugees.

The most recent raid on Russian soil was Bassayev’s attack in Beslan. The deaths of hundreds of children hostages was so terrible that Maskhadov condemned the hostage-takers as “madmen” who had lost their senses due to the brutality of the war in Chechnya. Bassayev claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking, but blamed the deaths on Russian troops, saying he never expected they would shoot children. He also stated that when the war in Chechnya ends, he would stand trial for Beslan.

However, Russia did not recognize the divide between Maskhadov and Bassayev, and instead put a bounty on both of their heads for $10 million. Makhadov consistently condemned the killing of civilians, but still would not attempt to arrest Bassayev.

In early 2005, Maskhadov organized a cease-fire within Chechnya, calling for peace talks with Russia. Putin refused to meet with Maskhadov. Less than a month later, Maskhadov was dead. Some analysts think Moscow targeted Maskhadov because he was one Chechen rebel who had some legitimacy–his presidency was once internationally recognized–and he could not be written off easily as a religious fanatic. Some observers suggest that Maskhadov was secretly offered peace talks, and in this way his location was determined in order to kill him. This could not be confirmed.

What can be assumed is that even those Wahhabis who hated Maskhadov will now praise him as a martyr, and use his death as a rallying call to fight Russia. Without Maskhadov’s constant attempts to restrain attacks against Russian civilians, there are concerns that the violence will spread throughout the North Caucasus, and that more Russian civilians will be targeted. Bassayev has made it clear that he has little interest in peaceful coexistence with Russia, and he would never take part in peace talks with Putin.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Getting Chechnya under control is strategic for Moscow, as any potential Russian route for a pipeline to carry Caspian oil to global markets would have to cross the North Caucasus. The Soviet-era pipeline leading north from Azerbaijan’s oil port of Baku passed through Chechnya, and was effectively destroyed by guerillas in the resumed war of 1999. The new “Chechen By-Pass” pipeline Russia is now building passes through Dagestan–which Bassayev’s forces have repeatedly tried to destabilize. So the stakes are high, and brutality is escalating in Chechnya, even as Putin claims recent gains for “security.” Maskhadov’s death comes just as Human Rights Watch has released a new report decrying that up to 5,000 people have “disappeared” in Chechnya since 1999–overwhelmingly at the hands of Russian security forces and their collaborationist Chechen proxies, who operate with impunity. Maskhadov’s passing makes any prospect for de-escalation more remote than ever.–WW4 REPORT


Chechnya: “Disappearances” a Crime Against Humanity, Human Rights Watch, March 2005

See also:




Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005 Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Bill Weinberg

"Oilmen are like cats; you can never tell from the sound of them whether they are fighting or making love."

–Calouste Gulbenkian

The famous Armenian entrepreneur spoke these words when reflecting on the post-World War I carve-up of oil rights in Iraq and the Persian Gulf at the 1928 summit of top world oil companies and Western governments at Ostend, Belgium. Now, with the world’s eyes on Iraq, a similar carve-up may be underway in South America’s Orinoco Basin and La Guajira, which together hold the planet’s greatest proven reserves outside the Persian Gulf. These adjacent oil-rich regions are both dissected by the border between Colombia, Washington’s closest ally on the hemisphere’s southern continent, and Venezuela–ruled by a left-populist government sharply at odds with the White House.

One man who would do well to heed Gulbenkian’s warning is Venezuela’s charismatic President Hugo Chavez, who has just entered an agreement with ChevronTexaco for a natural gas project that will span the Colombian border. Not only may the project cost Chavez the support of the indigenous peoples who inhabit the region, but Colombian trade unionists warn that U.S. oil companies operating in the Orinoco are deeply complicit in a plan by Washington and Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe to prepare aggression against Venezuela across this militarized border.

Oil Field Becomes Military Base

The Colombian department of Arauca, heartland of that country’s oil industry, is one the most violent. It lies just across the Rio Arauca, an Orinoco tributary, from Venezuela’s own Orinoco Basin oil heartland of Apure-Barinas states.

The latest in a wave of recent massacres in Arauca came on March 6, when a group of local peasants were stopped at a roadblock set up by the 10th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) near Cososito village in Tame municipality. An army detachment arrived in an armored vehicle, and immediately opened fire, killing three civilians on the spot. Among the dead was a member of the local Guahibo indigenous people; and a child of six was among the injured, according to an account by the Bogota human rights group Humanidad Vigente. (A month later, the 10th Front boasted in a press release it had wiped out a detachment of 17 government troops in ambush near Tame in retaliation for the attack.)

The main oil field in Arauca is at Cano-Limon, run by California-based Occidental Petroleum in a joint partnership with the Colombia state company Ecopetrol. Many of the 800 U.S. military advisors in Colombia are assigned to Arauca, and since last year they have been overseeing a new Colombian army unit specially created to police Cano-Limon against guerilla attack. This project, which Occidental lobbied for heavily, marks a departure from the erstwhile U.S. policy of only assisting ostensible narcotics enforcement operations in Colombia. As the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) noted in a report last October: "In early 2003, US personnel embarked on their first major non-drug initiative, a plan to help Colombia’s army protect an oil pipeline and re-take territory in the conflictive department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border." Over this same period, Humanidad Vigente has reported a huge upsurge in paramilitary activity in Arauca.

Now, a leader of Colombia’s oil workers union claims that the U.S. military is actually transforming Cano-Limon into a base intended for launching attacks against Venezuela. Oscar Canas Fajardo, advisor to Colombia’s Central Workers Union, or CUT, speaking with Venezuelan journalist Alfredo Carquez Saavedra of Quantum magazine in November, said: "There is a military build-up going on in Cano-Limon with the excuse of protecting the oil pipelines against constant sabotage explosions… They are transforming the Cano-Limon facilities into a small military fort." He claims U.S. advisors and military surveillance planes are now based at the oil field. Noting proximity to the border and recent reports of Colombian paramilitary attacks on the Venezuelan side of the line, he asks rhetorically, "Who is to guarantee that all this [is] not being used against Venezuela?

Axis of Propaganda

U.S. training of Colombian military personnel is rapidly escalating. According to the WOLA report, the U.S. trained 12,947 Colombian troops in 2003–more than the total 12,930 for all Latin America in 1999. (The total for Latin America in ’03 was 22,855.) And Washington is launching a major propaganda push against Venezuela at the moment.

A March statement from the well-connected Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), "South America–the Next Swamp?," warns that even as the U.S. is "draining the swamp" in Afghanistan, "ideological killers are regrouping with the aid of leftist governments and drug lords" in the western hemisphere. The principal "leftist government" in question is, of course, that of Hugo Chavez.

Writes JINSA: "A British newspaper reports that the IRA is conducting mortar training in the Venezuelan jungle for the Marxist Colombian FARC. Photographs show the jungle training camp of three IRA terrorists who fled Colombia where they had been sentenced to 17 years in jail for terrorist training… The Chavez government in Venezuela has pursued close relations with Fidel Castro… Chavez has ordered MIG-29s from Russia and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. Who are they planning to shoot? Or to whom are they going to give them?"

JINSA was, of course, a top advocate and architect for Washington’s Iraq adventure. One prominent JINSA advisor is Richard Perle, head of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board at the time of the Iraq invasion. Former JINSA advisory board members include Pentagon policy advisor Douglas Feith and current nominee for ambassador to the UN, John Bolton.

The British newspaper account JINSA cites is from the London Sunday Times of March 13. It concerns three accused Irish Republican Army militants who jumped bail and disappeared following their conviction in Colombia last year on charges of providing the FARC with mortar training. The story cited Colombian government claims of satellite data indicating the three have established a training camp on Venezuelan territory in the Sierra de Perija, a branch of the Andes whose divide forms the international border heading north from Arauca.

Another salvo comes from Otto Reich, until December 2002 Bush’s assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs and subsequently a member of the National Security Council staff. Reich has the cover story in the April 11 edition of National Review, entitled "THE AXIS OF EVIL… Western Hemisphere Version"–sporting a photo of Chavez with Fidel Castro, both in fashionable military fatigues.

Writes Reich: "The first task of the U.S., and whatever coalition of the willing it can muster in the region, is to confront the dangerous alliance posed by Cuba and Venezuela." He does not fail to link this Latin Axis of Evil to the traditional Eurasian one, noting Chavez’ pledge to Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to cut off oil to the U.S. in the event of military aggression against Tehran. He also blasts "Chavez’s misappropriation of Venezuela’s extraordinary oil wealth"–by which he presumably means the diversion of profits into literacy campaigns and other programs to improve the lot of Venezeula’s poor.

Miami-Bogota: The Real "Axis of Evil"?

2005 began with a dramatic deterioration in Colombia-Venezuela relations following the Colombian government’s admission that it sent bounty-hunters to abduct FARC representative Rodrigo Granda Escobar in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, on Dec. 13. The incident prompted a cut-off in trade and diplomatic ties between the two nations. On Jan. 23, tens of thousands of Chavez supporters marched in Caracas to protest the violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Some carried banners reading "Bush: Venezuela is Not Iraq!" Speaking that same day, Chavez accused the U.S. of being behind the affair: "This provocation came from Washington, it is the latest attempt by the imperialists…to ruin our relations with Colombia." U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood stated that the U.S. was "100% behind Colombia," and State Department spokesmen began accusing Venezuela of providing a safe-haven for Colombian guerillas. Chavez, in turn, accused Washington of trying to foment war between Venezuela and Colombia, and even plotting to assassinate him.

The situation de-escalated in mid-February, when, following the mediation of Brazil, Peru, Cuba and Spain, both sides agreed to restore full relations and cooperate on border security. But given the profusion of armed groups in the border zone, there is much potential for re-escalation. Last September, unidentified gunmen ambushed a commission from the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA working on a surveying project in Apure state near the Colombian border, killing a company engineer and six soldiers–one grim instance of Colombia’s endemic violence spilling across the frontier into Venezuela’s oil zone.

Another came in late March when the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ), a civil peasant organization in Barinas state, reported that one of their activists had been hacked to death by the hired thugs of a local landowner, who they had denounced for disguising his idle lands through bureaucratic means to prevent their being expropriated under Venezuela’s agrarian reform law. FNCEZ accused the landowner of maintaining a private army of some 20 men, with links to Colombian paramilitaries.

And last May, more than 50 men said to be Colombia paramilitaries were arrested at an estate outside Caracas, on charges of planning a coup to remove Chavez in league with opposition businessmen and military officers. Chavez also directly implicated the U.S. "Miami and Colombia are two points of an axis…where the invasion of Venezuela has been planned, trained and prepared," proclaimed Chavez, pointing to the "criminal hand of a group of evildoers."

Strategic Sierra

Despite these tensions, Chavez is inviting new multinational investment for the oil zone–and even an ambitious trans-border project with Colombia. In August 2001, Texaco, PDVSA and Ecopetrol signed a memorandum of understanding for a feasibility study on a new pipeline linking natural gas fields of La Guajira, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, to Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela’s main export terminal.

In May 2003, PDVSA announced new oil finds of up to 2.4 billion barrels in the Orinoco Basin, and sought foreign partners to develop the fields. Texaco–which merged with Chevron to form ChevronTexaco in 2001–immediately proposed building another pipeline to pump the crude to the coast. Just days ago, on April 1, 2005, ChevronTexaco and the Spanish firm Repsol-YPF announced that they would be jointly investing $6 billion in the new oil field.

But oil companies definitely have a sweeter deal on the Colombian side of the border, where Uribe is moving to free the industry from public oversight. Chavez, in contrast, has boosted royalties private companies must pay the Venezuelan government to fund his ambitious social programs.

The new pipeline connecting ChevronTexaco’s gas fields in the Colombian department of La Guajira to Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo would have to cross the Sierra de Perija, where Uribe and JINSA now claim a FARC-IRA training camp is operating. La Guajira itself is among Colombia’s most violent regions, with a string of assassinations of indigenous leaders by presumed paramilitary forces reported already this year. The new pipeline may carry war and human rights abuses to Venezuela as well as gas.

On April 4, hundreds of representatives of the Bari, Yukpa and Wayuu indigenous peoples from the Venezuelan side of the Sierra de Perija, clad in traditional dress and wielding bows and arrows, marched in Caracas to demand a halt to coal mining operations near their traditional lands.

"We want to tell companero President Hugo Chavez that he can’t continue granting land concessions in the Sierra and in Guajira without consulting us first, as required by the constitution," said Wayuu community leader Angela González.

The indigenous protestors made clear they supported Chavez, who instated guarantees of indigenous autonomy in his new constitution in 1999. Many wore red berets, symbol of the ruling Fifth Republic Movement. "Companero Chavez, support our cause," read one sign, according to an Inter-Press Service account.

ChevronTexaco and Shell are among a handful of foreign firms operating coal mines in the Sierra in joint ventures with the Venezuelan state company Carbozulia. The coal is currently transported by truck to Maracaibo, the port and regional capital, but there are plans to construct a rail line for this purpose, as well to build a deep sea port in the Gulf of Venezuela, just to Maracaibo’s north. The new gas pipeline would be another artery through this same conflicted border zone.

The deep sea port project is part of a continental scheme known as the Initiative for South American Regional Infrastructure Integration (IIRSA), being promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank. Lusbi Portillo of Homo et Natura, a Venezuelan environmental group that supported the indigenous protesters, told Inter-Press Service, "We are opposed to these mining-port projects that form part of the IIRSA, which will serve to take our energy, mining, forestry and biodiversity resources to Europe and the United States."

Hugo Chavez is in a difficult position. He needs more oil and gas revenues to fund the populist social programs which guarantee his support among the peasants and urban poor. But cooperation with the multinational industrial agenda for the bloody border zone may cost him his support among indigenous peoples. Worse still, by welcoming oil companies which appear to be cooperating in a destabilization drive, he could be making a noose for his own neck.



Blurring the Lines: Trends in U.S. military programs with Latin America
WOLA/Center for International Policy, October 2004

Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America

South America–The Next Swamp?, JINSA, March 2005

"Satellite reveals hideout deep in jungle used by IRA fugitives"
Sunday Times, London, March 13

"Cano-Limon: From an Oil Field to a Border Military Base"
by Alfredo Carquez Saavedra, VenezuelAnalysis, Nov. 16, 2004

"Venezuela: Indigenous Peoples Protest Coal Mining"
by Humberto Márquez, Inter-Press Service, April 4, 2005

"Venezuela: Whose Side is the Oil Cartel On?"
WW4 REPORT #102, September 2004

"Chavez: Miami-Bogota ‘Axis of Evil’ Plots Venezuela Invasion"
WW4 REPORT #99, June 2004

On Otto Reich and Venezuela destabilization, see:




Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA VS. VENEZUELA: Big Oil’s Secret War? 


President Uribe Threatens San Jose de Apartado Following Massacre

by Virginia McGlone

After eight years of existence, the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in Antioquia, Colombia, continues to stand strong in the midst of a war that they do not want to be part of. But in the wake of the Feb. 21 massacre of community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra together with his eleven-year-old son and six close friends and relatives, the community faces the gravest crisis of its history.

Guerra and his comrades were massacred on their way to his cocoa grove, near Mulatos, one of the outlying settlements that dot the hills around San Jose de Apartado. An outspoken leader of the community who had traveled to participate in international human rights forums, Guerra had been receiving death threats for a year. In December, he was detained at a local army checkpoint and briefly interrogated by troops of the 11th Brigade. In August, his wife and young daughter were killed by a grenade left behind by the Army’s 11th Brigade following a battle with guerillas in their settlement of La Union. Over the summer, two local campesinos at San Jose, Leonel Sánchez Ospina and Joaquin RodrĂ­guez David, were assassinated by paramilitary gunmen who operate on village lands with the connivance of the army.

For months before the massacre, campesinos traveling from San Jose Peace Community settlements towards Apartado, the municipal seat some 20 kilometers away, were routinely harassed by soldiers, held at roadblocks and interrogated about their supposed support of the FARC guerillas. After denying any knowledge, they were accused of covering for the guerrillas, then sent back with a warning to the rest of the Peace Community threatening reprisals for guerilla collaboration.

In the days following the massacre, San Jose’s settlements of Bella Vista, Alto Bonito and Buenos Aries came under indiscriminate machine-gun fire and bombardment by military helicopters, forcing some 200 campesinos to abandon their homes and groves.

Things have only deteriorated since then. An April 1 statement from the Peace Community reported a "massive displacement" of residents from various settlements as well as San Jose’s central village towards the hamlet of La Holandita, where a refugee camp has been established. The mass flight, both from sporadic aerial bombardments and the military occupation of the villages, has prompted the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has sent a team to San Jose.

The Peace Community had planned to celebrate its eighth year on March 22 by officially declaring seven of the settlements as Peace Zones, and demanding recognition by the government, paramilitaries and guerillas alike as communities of conscientious objection. Instead, they are alerting international human rights organizations of the dire emergency they face. The community’s March 22 statement said that the government has made clear its "plans to do away with the Peace Community."

On March 15, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, meeting in Costa Rica, issued an urgent statement calling upon the Colombian government to comply with earlier orders to assure the safety of San Jose de Apartado’s communities.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s response was to accuse the Peace Community of collaborating with guerrilla forces. In a speech delivered March 20, following a meeting of his Security Council in Carepa, Antioquia, Uribe said: "The peace communities have the right to establish themselves in Colombia thanks to our regime of liberties. But they cannot, as is practiced in San Jose de Apartado, obstruct justice, reject the Public Force… In this community of San Jose de Apartado there are good people, but some of their leaders, sponsors and defenders are seriously signaled by people who reside there as auxiliaries of the FARC, and they want to use the community to protect this terrorist organization."

Rights groups protest that Uribe’s statement puts the community of San Jose at risk of another massacre by the army or paramilitaries. Uribe also criticized Peace Community members for their unwillingness to collaborate with the military investigation into the massacre. Peace Community leaders counter that they have every reason to mistrust the military. They point to the experience in 2000, when a similar massacre occurred at the settlement of La Union; when residents testified to authorities about the involvement of the military, many were threatened and some others were assassinated.

The Peace Community maintains that the government is working in bad faith as long as their village and settlements remain under military occupation. The community’s March 22 statement cited the Colombian constitution’s guarantee to self-determination and international law in support of their right to non-involvement in the war.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations within Colombia and around the world are waiting for Uribe to issue a formal reply to the demands of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. Stateside peace groups which support the community, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, are struggling to give a public voice to San Jose de Apartado as the world’s attention is elsewhere.


Fellowship of Reconciliation on the San Jose massacre

See also WW4 REPORT #107


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005 Reprinting permissible with attribution



Bush Nominates Terrorist for National Intelligence Director

by Frank Morales

"He will be a key figure in US counter-terror operations." —BBC News, Feb. 17, 2005

"I think he could have stopped all these assassinations and torture… We’re against this nomination. If he didn’t see human rights violations in Honduras, it’s possible he won’t see human rights violations anywhere in the world." —Leo Valladares Lanza, former head, Honduran Human Rights Commission, quoted in New York Times, March 29, 2005

On February 17, 2005, President George W. Bush nominated John Negroponte, 65, to be the United States’ first National Intelligence Director." According to various published reports, Negroponte will be the president’s "primary briefer" in the area of global and domestic intelligence and counter-terror operations, coordinating and overseeing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other agencies.

His upcoming Senate confirmation seems assured, and that is a scary prospect. Why? Because Negroponte has a long and bloody criminal history, dating back to the early 1960s, of overseeing the training and arming of death squads, schooled in the techniques of torture, "forced interrogation," assassination and, as we shall see, even genocide. He has been described as an "old-fashioned imperialist," active for nearly four decades in Vietnam, Central America, the Philippines, Mexico and most recently Iraq. He got his start back in the days of the CIA’s Phoenix program, which assassinated some 40,000 Vietnamese "subversives."

According to Bush, the ultra-rightist Negroponte has a real grip on today’s "global intelligence needs." Indeed he does. Negroponte’s long career in the "foreign service" has equipped him well to fulfill the requirements of global and domestic counterinsurgency. So while newly-installed Attorney General Gonzales supplies the legal basis for torture (as he did as a Bush White House counsel), and recently-installed Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff acquiesces (as he did as a Justice Department pointman on the post-9-11 sweeps), Negroponte is now in a position to ratchet up the repression domestically, and further the dissolution of democracy at home.

Although Negroponte’s office will be in its own projected $200 million headquarters, Bush has said that Negroponte "will have access on a daily basis." Negroponte has actually had close presidential access for awhile. Not quite four years ago, on Sept. 18, 2001, as the embers were still smoking at Lower Manhattan’s Ground Zero, Negroponte was appointed U.S. Representative to the United Nations. His mission was to work the floor and backrooms in preparation for Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 presentation to the UN making the case for war on Iraq–which even Powell now admits was based on falsehoods. Then in April 2004, with a counter-insurgency war in Iraq rapidly spreading, Bush nominated Negroponte to be U.S. Ambassador to that occupied nation following the June 2004 hand-over of "sovereignty" to as-yet "undetermined Iraqi authorities."


Negroponte was born in London in 1939, the son of a Greek-American shipping magnate. A graduate of Yale University, raised on New York’s Park Avenue, he was a "career diplomat" between 1960 and 1997, serving in eight countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America, as well as holding positions in the State Department and White House. From 1971 to 1973, Negroponte was the officer-in-charge for Vietnam at the National Security Council (NSC) under Henry Kissinger, having worked as a "political affairs officer" (read: CIA) at the US Embassy in Saigon starting as early as 1964. At that time, he shared a room with Richard Holbrooke, then an official for the Agency for International Development, later US ambassador to the UN under Clinton. Negroponte and Holbrooke both became members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the oldest and most prestigious of US foreign policy think-tanks. Following Vietnam, Negroponte went on to "serve" for a number of years as an "economics officer" working out of the US Embassy in Ecuador.

Negroponte was appointed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan to head up the US Embassy in Honduras, where he stayed quite busy through 1985. From 1987-1989, he was deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, reporting to Colin Powell. From 1989-1993, he was ambassador to Mexico. Following a stint as ambassador to the Philippines from 1993-1997, he "retired" from the diplomatic corps and took a well-paid position as vice president for global markets at McGraw-Hill, the big publishing company.

In 1981 President Reagan authorized paramilitary operations against the leftist government of Nicaragua. As ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte played a key role in establishing that country as a base of operations for the CIA’s "Contra" guerilla army then attempting to destabilize Nicaragua, with a 450-square-kilometer stretch along the border virtually turned over to the US-backed Nicaraguan rebels. He was also instrumental in the reign of terror then being overseen in Honduras by security chief Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, his good friend. Between 1980 and 1984, US military aid to Honduras jumped from $3.9 million to $77.4 million. Much of this went to facilitate the crushing of popular movements through a covert "low intensity" war.

Although the high-level planning, money and arms for this repression flowed from Washington, much of the on-the-ground logistics was run out of the Embassy in Tegucigalpa. So crammed was the tiny country with US military troops and bases at this time, that it was dubbed the "USS Honduras." The captain of this ship, Negroponte, was in charge of the US Embassy when–according to a 1995 four-part series in the Baltimore Sun–hundreds of Hondurans deemed "subversives" were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by Battalion 316, a secret Honduran army intelligence unit trained and supported by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.


In addition to internal repression in Honduras, Battalion 316 also participated in the CIA’s covert war against Nicaragua. Members of the Battalion were conscripted by the CIA for such sensitive missions as training the Contra terrorists and even mining Nicaragua’s harbors. Negroponte worked closely with Gen. Alvarez in overseeing the training Honduran soldiers in psychological warfare, sabotage, torture and kidnapping. Honduras was the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere at this time after neighboring El Salvador. Increasing numbers of both Honduran and Salvadoran soldiers were sent to the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas to receive training. In El Salvador, the death squads were headed up by Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, a 1972 graduate of the School of the Americas. General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, one of his classmates at the US "torture academy," was a founder and commander of Battalion 316.

Through his support of Battalion 316, Negroponte is directly complicit in the murder of at least 184 Honduran civilians officially found to have been killed by the death squad by a 1994 Honduran truth commission. The unit used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations, kept prisoners naked–and, when no longer useful, killed them brutally, and buried them in unmarked clandestine graves. Women were raped, often in front of their families.

Negroponte was likely involved in a number of other like paramilitary formations throughout Central America, as compliant and "stable" Honduras served as a base for U.S. operations throughout the region. Recently, the New York Times (March 8, 2005) reported that the Organization of American States (OAS) has reopened an investigation, "based on new forensic evidence," into the massacre of "hundreds of peasants" at El Mozote, El Salvador in 1981–when 800 unarmed men, women and children were murdered by Salvadoran soldiers "from a battalion trained and equipped by the United States." Reports of the massacre were published at the time in the New York Times and the Washington Post–reports that were "dismissed" by Negroponte and other "officials of the Reagan administration."

Covert operations in Central America were paid for in part through the sale of cocaine. "CIA officials," according to the New York Times (July 17, 1998), "involved in the Contra program gave relatively low priority to collecting information about the possible drug involvement of Contra rebels"–while of course giving high priority to covering it all up. Ambassador Negroponte acquiesced in shutting down the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Tegucigalpa, just as Honduras was emerging as an important base for CIA-facilitated cocaine trans-shipments to the United States, with profits going to the Contras. According to a 1989 Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigative report, "elements of the Honduran military were involved in the protection of the drug traffickers."

In 1982, the US negotiated access to airfields in Honduras and established a regional military training centers there for Central American forces, principally directed at improving the lethal effectiveness of the Salvadoran military–at a time when the Salvadoran army was carrying out massacres such as the one at El Mozote, and army-linked death squads ratcheted up a death toll of at least 800, according to El Salvador’s UN-backed Truth Commission. Much of the training in these "anti-subversive" techniques–i.e., kidnapping, torture and murder–was done at El Aguacate air base in eastern Honduras. Established in 1984, the base was also used as a secret detention and torture center. In August 2001, excavations at the base uncovered 185 corpses, including those of two U.S. citizens–church workers involved in aiding the Honduran peasant movement–thought to have been killed and buried at the site.

In 1994, when the Honduran Human Rights Commission documented the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political opponents in the previous decade, it specifically accused John Negroponte of complicity in a number of human rights violations. The Baltimore Sun reporters found that in 1982 alone, during Negroponte’s first full year as ambassador, the Honduran press carried at least 318 stories of extra-judicial attacks by the military. The US Embassy, however, certified the country’s record on human rights in such glowing terms that aides to Negroponte joked that they were writing about Norway, not Honduras. Rick Chidester, a former aide to Negroponte, revealed to the Sun that his supervisors had ordered him to remove allegations of torture and executions from his draft of the 1982 human rights report.

Jack Binns, who served under president Jimmy Carter as the ambassador to Honduras prior to Negroponte, made numerous complaints about human rights abuses by the Honduran military. Recently, he stated regarding Negroponte, "I think he was complicit in abuses, I think he tried to put a lid on reporting abuses and I think he was untruthful to Congress about those activities." (NYT, March 29, 2005) In one early ’80s cable, Binns reported that Gen. Alvarez was modeling his campaign against suspected subversives, on Argentina’s "dirty war" of the 1970s, which, in turn, had been modeled on the techniques of European fascism in the 1930s and 40s–perhaps after having received some pointers from certain elements who fled there with US support after World War II. Recall that Adolf Eichmann, overseer of the apparatus of Jewish extermination during the Nazi era, was captured in Bueno Aires in 1960.

In May 1982, Sister Laetitia Bordes, a nun who had worked for ten years in El Salvador, went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras to investigate the whereabouts of thirty Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after the death-squad assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero the previous year. Negroponte claimed that the Embassy knew nothing. But in a 1996 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Jack Binns said that a group of Salvadorans–including the women Bordes had been looking for–were abducted on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran secret police. They were later thrown out of helicopters while still alive. The Sun’s investigation found that the CIA and US embassy knew of these crimes, but continued to support Battalion 3-16 and ensure that the Embassy’s annual human rights report did not contain the full story. According to a 1996 BBC report, Negroponte "knew about the CIA-trained Honduran army unit that tortured and killed alleged subversives." According to the Baltimore Sun report, Negroponte "was ambassador when the worst of the abuses were taking place. He knew everything that was going on."


When Bush announced Negroponte’s nomination as ambassador to the UN shortly after coming to office, the move was met with widespread protest. Questioned at the time about whether he had turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in Honduras, Negroponte rejected the suggestion. "I do not believe then [sic], nor do I believe now, that these abuses were part of a deliberate government policy. To this day, I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras."

Despite the protests, the Bush administration did not back down–and even went so far as to silence potential witnesses who might have shed some light on Negroponte’s criminal history. On March 25, 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported on the sudden deportation from the United States of several former Honduran death squad members who could have provided damaging testimony against Negroponte in his then upcoming Senate confirmation hearings. One of the deported Hondurans was none other than Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, the former commander of Battalion 3-16, then serving as Honduras’ deputy ambassador to the UN!

Upon learning of Negroponte’s 2001 UN nomination, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch commented that "he looked the other way when serious atrocities were committed" and that "one would have to wonder what kind of message the Bush administration is sending about human rights by this appointment." Answer: What human rights? When queried about these "serious atrocities," Negroponte told CNN, "to the contrary, I think we bent over backwards to press for elections and for democratic reform…. Frankly, I think that some of the retrospective efforts to try and suggest that we were supportive of or condoned the actions of human rights violators is really revisionistic."

In 1987, during the administration of George HW Bush, Negroponte returned to the National Security Council (NSC) to work under Colin Powell as deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs. Within two years, he was back in Latin America; appointed as ambassador to Mexico, where he served from July 1989 to September 1993. There, he officiated at the block-long, fortified embassy and helped facilitate Mexico’s passage of the NAFTA treaty–as well as likely U.S. intelligence operations that anticipated a popular reaction to the treaty. Negroponte left Mexico just ahead of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.


Negroponte was sworn in as U.S. Representative to the United Nations on Sept. 18, 2001. By November 2002, he was strong-arming a resolution through the UN Security Council which called for the "disarming" of Iraq. Standing in front of the Security Council with CIA director George Tenet, Negroponte stated that "the Resolution makes clear that any Iraqi failure to comply is unacceptable and that Iraq must be disarmed. One way or another…Iraq will be disarmed." The New York Times would later report (March 29, 2005) that "Mr. Negroponte pressed on foreign colleagues American intelligence on Iraqi weapons that turned out to be profoundly flawed. If he was miffed, Mr. Negroponte never spoke out."

Negroponte also delivered a warning to other less hawkish members of the Security Council, stating that, "if the Security Council fails to act decisively in the event of a further Iraqi violation, this resolution does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq, or to enforce relevant UN resolutions and protect world peace and security." As Stephen Kinzer, writing in the New York Review of Books (September 2001), put it, "giving him this job is a way of telling the UN: ‘We hate you’."

When faced with contention over US intentions during the UN debate leading up to the war in Iraq, Negroponte turned to grandstanding. In March 2003, Negroponte walked out of the General Assembly after Iraq’s UN envoy, Mohammed Al-Douri, accused the U.S. of preparing a war of aggression. "Britain and the United States are about to start a real war of extermination" he said, "that will kill everything and destroy everything."


On April 20, 2004, Bush nominated Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq, stating that, "he has done a really good job of speaking for the United States to the world about our intentions to spread freedom and peace." Calling him "a man of enormous experience and skill" was all that our courageous Senators required in order to vote him in by 95-3 on May 6. He was sworn in on June 23.

Negroponte’s US Embassy in Baghdad, housed in a palace that once belonged to Saddam Hussein, was and remains the largest embassy in the world, with a "diplomatic staff" of over 3,000. Opting for the kind of diplomacy he’s most familiar with, he immediately "shifted more than a $1 billion to build up the Iraqi Army," diverting the funds "from reconstruction projects" to military and intelligence projects associated with "what intelligence officials describe as the largest C.I.A. station in the world." (NYT , March 29, 2005)

On Jan. 2, 2004, the Washington Post stated that a "major challenge" facing the diplomatic mission "will be sorting out the terms of the US military presence, which is expected to exceed 100,000 troops even after the occupation ends…" An un-named U.S. "official" stated that "we have to determine what command American troops will be under: Will it be part of some kind of multinational force, under the United Nations, under NATO? Or will they be relatively independent in an agreement with the Iraqi government? These are huge questions to be answered in a very short amount of time." We can rest assured that John Negroponte, the enforcer, made the Iraqi government an offer they couldn’t refuse in favor of the "relatively independent" option.

Shortly after taking up the position, Negroponte was asked about eyewitness statements that in late June 2004, Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi had, in a gesture of steadfast loyalty, personally executed up to six suspected insurgents in front of his US military bodyguards. While Allawi denies the accusation, Negroponte did not. In an e-mail to the Sydney Morning Herald, July 2004, he stated that "if we attempted to refute each [rumor], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy’s press office is concerned, this case is closed."

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Alan Ramsey wrote of Negroponte’s arrogant side-stepping. "Of course. One only has to consider Negroponte’s record as US ambassador in Honduras to know he is a loyal servant of Republican Washington who sees and knows nothing… This same man, with an embassy regime of more than 1,000 American foreign service officers, plus American advisers salted throughout Iraqi ministries, as well as 140,000 US military personnel, now has absolute covert power in Iraq. Of course, ‘the case is closed’."

By the first weeks of January 2005, Negroponte was said to be overseeing the formation of death squads in Iraq, prompting media reports about a "Salvador option." MSNBC reported on Jan. 8, 2005 that the Pentagon was "intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the US government funded or supported ‘nationalist’ forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually, the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success, despite the deaths of innocent civilians…"

One Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi death squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers–even across the border into Syria, carrying out assassinations or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation.

Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, was quoted in a Jan. 8, 2005 Newsweek story on the "Salvador Option," warning that the U.S. occupation has failed to crack the problem of broad support for the insurgency. The insurgents, he said, "are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." He said most Iraqis do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won’t turn them in. One military source suggested that "new offensive operations" are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

Threatening everyone in a village with torture and death, if the village is deemed a potential base insurgent operations can be a very effective technique, whether the perpetrators are the Nazi SS in occupied Czechoslovakia, the death squads in El Salvador, or whatever new force is invented in Iraq. This strategy of tactical terror aims to sever an insurgency from it’s potential base of support.

At least one pro-occupation death squad is already in operation. On Jan. 11, 2004, just days after the Pentagon plans regarding possible "new offensive operations" were revealed, a new militant group, "Saraya Iraqna," began offering big wads of American cash for insurgent scalps–up to $50,000, the Iraqi paper Al Ittihad reported. "Our activity will not be selective," the group promised.


During Negroponte’s Honduran ambassadorship, he worked closely with Duane R. Clarridge, aka "Mr. Marone", a high-ranking CIA officer based in Honduras, who was, according to a recent New York Times report (March 29, 2005), "running the covert war against communism in Central America." According to Clarridge, "Negroponte was a big supporter of the agency’s covert action mission" there.

At the time, the CIA utilized it’s "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual" to teach young Honduran soldiers and others the methodology of torture. Dated 1983, the manual, one in a series of recently "declassified" documents, addresses, among other subjects, "coercive interrogation" techniques utilized in "the torture situation," which is, according to the manual, "a contest between the subject and his tormentor."

The manual discusses inflicting pain or threatening pain, depriving prisoners of food and sleep, making them maintain rigid positions for long periods, stripping them naked, and keeping them blindfolded or in prolonged solitary confinement. Disseminated throughout Latin America during the early 1980s, the manual appears to have been compiled from training courses given to members of the Honduran military. The manual can be assumed to have been sanctioned by higher-ups, including Negroponte, given, for example, its statement that, "illegal detention always requires prior [headquarters] approval."

This secret manual was compiled from sections of an earlier 1963 training manual entitled, "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation." This was a U.S. Military Intelligence field manual written as part of the Army’s Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program. According to the manual, "all coercive techniques of interrogation are designed to induce regression" to a state of abject submission. The tormentor’s "principal coercive techniques" are "arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility, hypnosis, narcosis, and induced regression."

In a March 1992 internal "report of investigation," which was sent to then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, seven such interrogation manuals used for years by the Pentagon’s Southern Command throughout Latin America were said to contain "objectionable" and "prohibited material." Army investigators traced the origins of the instructions on use of beatings, false imprisonment, executions and truth serums back to a top-secret program run by the Army Foreign Intelligence unit in the 1960s code-named "Project X." Written by US Army counterinsurgency experts starting in 1965, the Joint Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program used Project X to train U.S. allies in Vietnam, Iran, Latin America, and elsewhere around the world.

The report to Cheney noted that the "offensive and objectionable material" in the Project X manuals "undermines US credibility, and could result in significant embarrassment." Cheney of course, immediately embarked on a course of "corrective action," namely, to "recall" and destroy as many of the manuals as possible, shredding the "embarrassing" history–though some copies have survived, or perhaps were meant to.

Meanwhile, a July 1991 U.S. Southern Command "confidential" document records a phone conversation with a Captain Victor Tise, who served in 1982 as a counterinsurgency instructor at the School of the Americas (SOA). In it, Tise relates the history of the "objectionable material" in the manuals and the training courses that he assembled for use at the School. According to Tise, in 1976, following a decade of SOA tutoring, use of the Project X material was suspended by Congress and the Carter administration "for fear the training would contribute to Human Rights violations in other countries." But the program was restored by the Reagan administration in 1982, shortly after Negroponte arrived in Honduras.

Tise described Project X as a "training package to provide counterinsurgency techniques learned in Vietnam to Latin American countries." These "techniques" were undoubtedly derived from the Phoenix Program, the CIA’s assassination campaign which liquidated 40,000 Vietnamese "subversives." The course materials Tise put together, including the manuals that became the subject of the investigations, were sent to Defense Department headquarters "for clearance" in 1982. They "came back approved" and "UNCHANGED," despite the fact that Tise sought to remove–or so he said–the "objectionable" parts. Subsequently, hundreds of the unaltered manuals, "objectionable material" and all, were disseminated for use throughout US-militarized Latin America over the next nine years. Negroponte’s role in this particular bit of "objectionable" history remains shrouded, and shredded.

It appears that by 1965, the US intelligence community had seen fit to formalize the hard-learned lessons of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam by commissioning the top-secret Project X. Based at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center & School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, the project drew from "field experience" to "provide intelligence training to friendly foreign countries," according to a Pentagon history prepared in 1991 and released in 1997. According to the Washington Post (March 6, 1997), the Project X materials even suggested that "militaries infiltrate and suppress even democratic political dissident movements and hunt down opponents in every segment of society in the name of fighting Communism…"

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and began exporting Project X material to foreign U.S. "military assistance groups." By the mid-1970s, the Project X material was going to armies all over the world, in effect, a textbook for global counterinsurgency and terror warfare.

In its 1992 review, the Pentagon also acknowledged that Project X was the source for some of the "objectionable" lessons taught at the School of the Americas where Latin American officers were trained in blackmail, kidnapping, murder and spying on non-violent political opponents. But disclosure of the full story was blocked when Defense Secretary Cheney ordered the destruction of most Project X records. Nearly simultaneously, President George HW Bush pardoned six Reagan-Bush administration figures of any wrongdoing in the Nicaragua operations. These included former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and Duane Clarridge, by then named as intellectual author of another sinister murder manual, "Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare." Produced by the CIA, this booklet openly instructed in the assassination of public officials, and was distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras.

That George W Bush’s war on terrorism is really a global war of terror directed against the entire world becomes inescapably clear with the appointment of a man linked to this grisly history to head the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus. Perhaps there is still time to apply pressure on the Senate and halt this next step in the legitimization of torture and state terrorism–if the citizenry, human rights community, clergy and responsible voices in the media can join in a single cry: STOP NEGROPONTE!


Adopted from an article in The Shadow, New York City, Spring 2005


Center for Media and Democracy, SourceWatch, John Negroponte

Media for Social Change dossier on Negroponte

"In From the Cold War", Terry Allen, In These Times

Religious Task Force on Central America & Mexico report on El Aguacate air base

National Security Archive, "Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past"

"The Hidden History of CIA Torture," Alfred W. McCoy

"Lost History: Project X, Drugs & Death Squads," Robert Parry

Peter Dale Scott on Project X in Southeast Asia

Virtual Truth Commission on US Army torture manuals

KUBARK, Counterintelligence Interrogation manual, July 1963

US Army Field Manual 30-31B

Adopted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April. 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Issue #. 108. April 2005

JOHN NEGROPONTE & THE DEATH SQUAD CONNECTIONBush Nominates Terrorist for National Intelligence Directorby Frank Morales COLOMBIA: PEACE COMMUNITY UNDER OCCUPATIONUribe Threatens San Jose de Apartado Following Massacreby Virginia McGlone COLOMBIA VS. VENEZUELABig Oil’s Secret War?by Bill Weinberg CHECHNYA: AFTER ASLAN… Read moreIssue #. 108. April 2005