Amidst all the hype and hoopla generated by the Live 8 concert last month, it is necessary to raise some critical questions and propose some criticisms. The organizer of the event, Irish rock star Bob Geldof, has received more attention from the media than all other individuals and institutions dedicated to combating hunger in Africa and the rest of the world. Anyone would think that Mr. Geldof is lthe only person in the world who has made a real effort to combat hunger in Africa. It may be necessary for the organizations of civil society that have attended to the problem of hunger –AND ITS CAUSES–especially in Africa, to draw up an open letter to Mr. Geldof raising a few points.
A little background is in order: In 1984, Geldof took the initiative to do something about the tragedy of Africa, and brought together several of pop music’s most renowned personalities to form an ad hoc group called Band Aid, with the purpose of raising funds. It is to the credit of the Irish musician that he aspires to advance a just cause, although he is not the first rock’n’roller to follow his ideals. In the past decades, there have been many interpreters of popular music who have assumed much more controversial and less popular postures, and received in turn fewer elegies than Geldof, and much repudiation and abuse from reactionary sectors. Victor Jara comes to mind, but there are many others.
Fame breeds imitation, and Band Aid was not an exception. It was followed by initiatives in the same style, like USA for Africa, Comic Relief, Farm Aid and the Live Aid concert in 1985, organized by Geldof himself. But the point of view of this enterprise was totally ignorant. There was never an effort to uncover the causes of hunger. Viewing the propaganda of these efforts, one could imagine that people die of hunger in Africa for no particular reason.
On occasion, the tragedy is attributed to drought or other natural disasters–a convenient and apolitical pseudo-explanation which leaves us asking why natural disasters are really worse in Africa than other parts of the world.
Twenty years later, Geldof is a much more worldly man. The Live 8 concert included an effort to identify the causes of hunger and an unequivocal demand to the leaders of the G8 to do something in that respect. Among the demands was cancellation Africa’s foreign debt, and for a fair trade policy.
DEBT CANCELLATION. It is simply immoral to discuss how to pull Africa out of poverty without demanding the cancellation of the oppressive foreign debt. Geldof did support cancellation of the debt–but under the deal worked out at the G8 summit in Edinburgh, in exchange for this the African nations must accept the economic recipes of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF): neoliberal measures and open markets. That is to say, changing one form of slavery for another. Does Geldof justify this? He needs to clarify his position.
How can the organizers of Live 8 advocate the cancellation of the debt if they don’t name names? The principal institutions responsible for the strangling and unpayable debt have names and addresses: the World Bank and the IMF, the so-called Bretton Woods institutions. A decade ago, activists across the world united to form the 50 Years in Enough coalition to take advantage of the festivities marking the fiftieth anniversary of these two institutions, to tell the world that their policies and bad loans have been a total disaster for the countries of the South, and especially for the poor. Did Geldof support this coalition? Has he ever issued a declaration critical of the Bretton Woods institutions? Has he ever assisted in any of the numerous and multitudinous protests against the World Bank and IMF in the past 15 years?
FAIR TRADE. Geldof and company also called for fair trade for Africa. But they should make clear exactly what they mean by this. It is certain that agricultural protectionism and export subsidies (dumping) by the rich countries has been a mortal blow to the economy and food security of Africa and all the South. The further opening of the markets of the North to products from the South will not change North-South relations in any essential way. Wore still, it could only reinforce the role of the South as provider of cheap raw materials.
And the dumping of the vast agricultural surpluses of the European Union and the United States has been a virtual massacre for agriculture in the South, especially the small producers which are the vertebrate column of rural communities and the most promising sector for ecological production and food sovereignty. Geldof and his cohorts should make clear their position on this macabre trade practice. And spare us the argument that you favor the end of agricultural subsidies in the North and South equally. Because it is truly barbaric to equate the two, and it is a simplistic Manicheanism to allege that all agricultural subsidies are evil.
And on the subject of food exports, one wonders if Geldof has ever said anything about how food aid has been and is being used as a weapon of coercion against the poor countries, how this has often pulverized local productions, and how the United States is using to find captive markets of last resort for genetically engineered (GE) grain that nobody wants.
And what does Geldof think about GE grain? Certainly someone such as himself, who has been so long occupied with the problem of hunger, has to have heard the siren songs of companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. How is it possible that he has never expressed himself on an issue that has sparked such heated controversy? Had he ever sought the expertise of Tewolde Egziabher, Ethiopia’s official spokesman in matters of biodiversity and biosafety, or some of the other African farmers and organizations that unequivocally oppose GE crops?
It is not possible to speak of GE crops and world hunger without taking on the agroindustrial model of the Green Revolution. In all the grassroots forums which have addressed the problem of hunger from a political and ecological perspective, there has been an energetic condemnation of this model as inherently anti-ecological and socially retrograde. What does Geldof think of the Green Revolution?
Nor can we speak of the hazards of GE crops and industrial agriculture without speaking of intellectual property rights. If Geldof is as worldly as he appears, he must be aware that in Africa millions of people are suffering unnecessarily from the dire consequences of the HIV virus because they don’t have access to medicines that could save their lives. He should know that when the South African government proposed to make generic versions of these medicines, the pharmaceutical transnationals protested, claiming this would be piracy, unauthorized reproduction of patented products. The pharmaceutical companies, that own the patents to these medicines, insist that the famished of African must pay market price, even if they die. If he is so moved by the agony of Africans, has he ever said anything about these medical patents?
And what of patents on seeds, an issue with very obvious and serious implications for world food security?
And turning to positive proposals, did Live 8 say anything about the concept of food sovereignty? What about agrarian reform?
Well, better to leave it here. What irritates is that initiatives like Live 8 ignore the efforts–many far more serious and substantive–of numerous individuals and organizations that also fight the hunger, but do not fear to call the things by their name, that do not aspire to be become figures of show business, and that do not hesitate to tackle controversial and unpleasant matters. In the course of one week, Geldof and Live 8 have received more fame and publicity than a lot more deserving agencies as Via Campesina and the World Social Forum. For this reason, it may be opportune for these groups to release an open letter while the hoopla occasioned by Live 8 persists.
I will close with the wise words of the Argentine agronomist Jorge E. Rulli of Grupo de Reflexión Rural:
“No queremos que nos ayuden. Con que nos saquen las manos de encima es suficiente.”
We do not want their help. It is sufficient that they take their hands off us.
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements… Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
THE LONG EMERGENCY
Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Disasters of the Twenty-First Century
by James Kunstler
by Tim Corrigan
Hate Walmart and Hummers? Good news! The end of them is nigh–but you’ll have little time to enjoy their demise as you huddle in the cold and dark ten years from now and scramble for food to avoid your own end… James Kunstler’s The Long Emergency is about the approach of the peak of global oil production and its aftermath, and he argues that the foreseen disasters will happen much sooner than we expect and without much warning. He also argues that our blinders on this issue and lack of preparation will make the ensuing disaster even worse than it might otherwise be.
Peak oil is the idea first described by M. King Hubbert, a geologist working for Shell Oil, who created a mathematical relationship to describe the time between the peak of exploration and the peak of production, and how production will decline over time. In other words, some time after you realize you are finding less new oil fields, you can use this curve to figure out approximately when you will start producing less oil, and from that you can roughly determine when your lights will go out.
The peak of global oil discoveries was in 1964, and the peak of global production may have already occurred. At current rates of consumption, that would give an absolute maximum of about 37 years between the peak and the definitive end of the oil-based economy–and, as he emphasizes, the first half was the oil that was easy to find and extract. Additionally, global consumption is growing as China and India ramp up their consumer economies.
Due to what he calls “the rear view mirror” effect, we’ll only wake up to the decline after we’re already in it. Some disruptive global event similar to the 1973 OPEC embargo will occur, and prices will find a new level far higher than now. The high oil-consuming nations realize that we have entered the era of permanent scarcity.
Kunstler’s argument is that we have already reached the point he calls “overshoot,” where no matter how well-intentioned and hard-working we are in addressing the issue (assuming, for a second, our country had any serious intention of working hard on this issue) we are in for a hard landing that may disrupt civilization for an indefinite amount of time. We’re using what he calls a one-time endowment of millions of years of accumulated solar energy in the form of oil to subsidize American civilization’s greatest “achievement”–sprawl. We can’t get that energy back, and he argues that no other form of fuel will allow that level of energy concentration needed to make car culture possible. And the very size of our investment in the suburbs and our sense of entitlement as Americans will, he argues, prevent us from taking any steps to start dealing with our energy issues seriously. For suburbanites, it is literally unthinkable that we would have to give up our cars.
When you wish upon a star…
Kunstler attacks what he sees as the American tendency to think that because we have solved many technical problems in the past, we will auto-magically come up with something that will fix our lack of oil, just in time. He calls this the “Jiminy Cricket effect,” where we seem to believe that just wishing will make it so. In one chapter he quickly runs through half a dozen alternative energy technologies, and dispatches almost all of them in a few pages. To one extent or another, he describes them as being either simply infeasible or indirectly dependent on oil to create. For example, the production of solar panels is dependent on oil energy. Panels are made out of plastic and silicon – the manufacturing process requires oil, and some of the actual material comes from oil products. And panels are useless without batteries created from petroleum byproducts. Hydrogen is simply a storage medium for energy, but is not energy itself. He sees nuclear as one option that would produce more juice than it loses, but argues that at this point America will not be able to build enough of a nuclear infrastructure to keep the lights on–partly because people aren’t scared enough yet to overcome NIMBY attitudes.
Kunstler dismisses a huge number of new technologies, many of which have already reached feasibility on a limited scale. It’s true that renewables are a tiny fraction of a percent of our energy use now, but the technologies are still maturing, and people have not had a reason yet to use them on a large scale because oil was at $10 a barrel only three years ago. To use an analogy from digital technology: we had digital cameras for consumers for almost a decade before they became popular, and then they went from no penetration to virtually supplanting film cameras in less than a decade. Solar cells have roughly tripled in efficiency in the last 15 years, become common in certain applications, and are spreading to new ones every day. Wind power has reache economic viability in many places without subsidies.
To say that all of these technologies are impossible to build without oil is ludicrous–many forms of metal production actually use electricity as their main form of power. Wind is not as convenient or high-grade a power source as oil (you can’t plug your car into a windmill; some storage mechanism is required), but we have a lot of plains and coastlines where it could be easily exploited.
Wind power also requires aluminum and steel, and Kunstler says that we will not be able to extract the raw materials for this renewable energy push when we need them. On the other hand, if we are moving beyond SUV’s and Walmarts, obviously a lot of recyclable raw materials–metals and plastics in particular–will already be close at hand in the vast lots of suddenly immobilized Hummers and Excursions.
To be fair, his argument is that these technologies might be possible for a large portion of the power we will need, but they will not allow suburbia to continue as it has. He may be right about this, or maybe not. The needs of most commuters could be served fairly well by a number of technologies that exist, or are close to economic viability–for example, a car in Italy was developed to use compressed air as its power source. It might look more like a scooter with a roof than a Hummer, but if that was the car that your typical American could afford they’d no doubt take it over a bicycle or trains. The suburbs may become smaller and more dense, but there is no reason we could not rebuild streetcar lines where we currently have major highways.
However, Kunstler may still be correct in his overall scenario, since even if the renewable energy technologies end up being feasible, we may not choose to deploy enough renewable energy soon enough to prevent the disasters predicted in The Long Emergency.
Kunstler seems driven to quickly get these alternative energy sources out of the way so he can get on to his main topic–the collapse of suburbia and the drive-thru lifestyle. He has written several other books about suburbia and its impact on American life–most notably 1993’s The Geography of Nowhere–and he sets up a scenario where our sprawl will simply disintegrate as people are unable to get the energy they need to commute. All of us who don’t like the Walmartization of American culture will have some reason to cheer–as the oil that makes the products cheaply and transports them 12,000 miles runs out, we will find the big box stores drying up and blowing away. The very scale that they operate at will make them unable to continue, as consumers can no longer drive 80 miles round trip to buy tchotchkes from China. The problem is, however, that we will be looking to replace everything we currently import with things produced locally–which we don’t have the expertise or supply chain to do any more–just around the time that we’re running out of energy and dealing with the impact of global warming.
The stuff we buy used to be made in the town where we lived–there were local clothing mills, shoe makers, metal smiths, not to mention farmers nearby. First with the railroad, and then with trucks and planes, we’ve stretched this to the point where if we aren’t bringing containers in from China, we will have no clothes. Our produce is increasingly from Mexico. Car parts are also from China and Mexico. Electronics are almost entirely produced overseas. In other words, we can’t maintain our current way of doing things if international trade shuts down for any length of time. Worse yet, the chain of human skills necessary to get the factories going again is gone.
In fact, the way he sees things, the big, looming, obvious disaster is likely to distract us from seeing the equally huge but less obvious disasters to follow. Networks that we have built around plentiful energy will suddenly stop working, with additional disastrous, unforeseen side effects. One example is the natural gas network–right now this is the cooking and heating fuel for millions of urban consumers; however, the natural gas supply depends on a minimum level of pressure in the lines. Below that, air gets into the lines, and the utility companies are forced to shut off the supply temporarily to rebuild the pressure. Some of the pilot lights in hot water heaters around the country might not go back on by themselves, causing gas explosions. If all of this happened during winter, skyscrapers could face a situation where their heat is off and forty stories of plumbing freezes and explodes–a scenario he claims almost happened in the winter of 2003. (A similar unexpected follow-on happened during the blackout of summer 2003, where people found that after the electricity went out they also couldn’t get gas because the pumps were all electric.)
The end result of these disasters, Kunstler believes, is that it will be impossible to organize a rational response to the problem as many different systems crucial to our society break down simultaneously. For instance, Kunstler predicts disruption of our food supply. Hydrocarbons are the feedstock of our “green revolution.” Beyond the fact that the fixings for the average Caesar salad travel 2,000 miles before they reach your plate, hydrocarbons are the base for the fertilizers and pesticides that we liberally spray on our fields and crops to increase yields to unnatural levels. He argues that really without hydrocarbons the “green revolution” does not exist, and we are in a situation where we will have billions of people more than we can support.
“One might take the view that World War Three has already started and we are well into it.”
While Kunstler argues for the end of big box stores and for a return to a more sustainable, local life, he is more a follower of realpolitick than a liberal. He was for the war in Iraq–because it was for oil.
“Of course [the war] was about oil… But members of the anti-war lobby were just as likely to be car-dependent suburbanites as Bush supporters were. At least that was my observation among my fellow middle aged yuppies in upstate New York. One family in my neighborhood had a sign in their yard that said ‘War is Not the Answer’–and had two SUV’s parked in the driveway.”
He argues that the war was the only rational response that a society as oil-dependent as ours could have had, as our supply was put in great danger by the erratic Baghdad regime. He thinks we should have eliminated Hussein and left. It seems Kunstler believes we should have gotten our society to a sustainable point long ago so all of this wouldn’t be necessary–but since we haven’t, we will have less and less latitude to act rationally as the crisis comes on us. Once we’re cold and hungry, we’ll support anyone who can keep the lights on, including, as he puts it “corn pone Nazis.”
At that point, we’ll still be in the Middle East, but current fig leaves of pretending to care about democracy there (or here) will vanish, as we are “forced” to occupy all of the Persian Gulf states to secure our fix of oil. Once we’ve alienated the Muslim world, they will destroy enough of the oil infrastructure to force us to withdraw (or make it pointless to stay), and China will be there to pick up the pieces–assuming there are pieces left to pick up. The global disaster could happen in a way that we don’t initially realize is connected to the struggle for oil–in much the same way that World War I was (to appearances) ignited by an assassination of one man.
Kunstler also predicts the crisis will bring world regionalization. Once the cheap transportation fuel is gone, globalization will be over–so over, in fact, that all regions of the world, and even constituent parts of large countries, will be left to muddle through as best they can on their own. Europe is very well prepared for this future already, since the cities there have little suburban sprawl, and distances are small. Local agriculture using sustainable methods has continued uninterrupted, and many of the European countries are well along in preparing for the end of oil–for example Denmark gets 15% of its power from wind already, and France gets 70% of its power from nuclear. Europe’s main problem is that a little ice age may occur as global warming shuts down the Gulf Stream conveyor of warm water that keeps the continent from freezing over.
In the United States, in contrast, the size of our country and the scale of the disaster will leave our regions to very different fates. Residents of the Southwest will wake up to the fact that they are in the desert, and 30 million or more people will need to move somewhere else–but not before a small war is fought with local Chicano insurgents seeking to establish the region as the Mexican-American homeland “Aztlan,” or re-unite it with Mexico.
The Great Plains will be marginally better off, and will largely de-populate as the current method of farming with fossil water becomes impossible with depletion of the aquifers. The Southeast will return to its agricultural, feudal roots. The Northeast and the Northwest will fare the better than the rest of the country due to climate, water supplies and culture, but the Northwest may be beset by Asian pirates.
This is one of the strangest predictions of The Long Emergency. For some reason, although he predicts the Gulf Stream conveyor will shut down and Europe will suddenly be in a little ice age, and “everything will become more local,” Asian pirates will ravage our West Coast after sailing 7,000 miles across the Pacific. It’s hard to understand why Europeans plunged into a new Dark Age will not also be a problem on our East Coast. I guess he never heard of the Vikings. Meanwhile, Mexicans will overthrow El Norte to reclaim an uninhabitable desert. Much of this seems to be a little bit of sensationalism to make the book more exciting. As I read these perhaps slightly racist sections, I found myself thinking that if Kunstler’s nightmare scenario ever does happen, we’re going to need every campesino we can find to teach us how to survive again as subsistence farmers.
Kunstler’s sheer catalog of catastrophes leaves a reader overwhelmed – global warming, but also a potential new ice age, the end of fossil water in the Great Plains, new diseases, natural gas shortages, economic collapse, wars for oil, wars for water, famine, piracy, rioting, and the list goes on. The Long Emergency ends up being like a Khmer Rouge fantasy of all of humanity forced to move back to the land in one huge Peak Oil Year Zero. If you follow this vision of the future–if you don’t just give up immediately–your next move should be to quickly acquire a skill like candle-making or shoeing horses and move out of the city. He offers some consolations in this nightmare future, as local communities rebuild–but to get there we end up abandoning many of our larger cities, and incidentally millions of people starve to death, kill each other or die in disease waves.
Kunstler is at his most effective where he is talking about our social and political obstacles to change. Our investment in the suburbs is such at this point that any talk of change would mean destroying virtually our entire economy as it now exists. In fact, he argues that except for the illusory industry of building the suburbs, we haven’t really had any economic growth of any kind in the last forty years–and that seems about right. He assails the assumption that we could have an entire economy based on cutting each other’s hair as being a fantasy. The parts of the book that critique suburban culture are good. The main problem with The Long Emergency is its use of questionable science to close off entire parts of the debate. It still provides a sobering look at a near worst-case scenario of where our culture’s momentum might take us if we fail to change our direction.
Congress has now passed the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), with proponents claiming it will lead the isthmus to secure democracy, prosperity and modernity. But even as revelations continue to emerge about the state terror that claimed thousands of lives in the 1980s, the death squads show signs of resurgence—this time targeting opponents of the trade treaty, as well as criminal gangs. Meanwhile in Nicaragua, the left-opposition Sandinista Front which held power in the ’80s is divided over ex-president Daniel Ortega’s unlikely alliance with his former foes—potentially weakening the anti-CAFTA forces in that country, one of the last two in Central America where the treaty’s ratification is still pending.—WW4 REPORT
U.S. APPROVES DR-CAFTA
The US House of Representatives voted 217-215 in the early morning of July 28 to approve the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The US Senate approved the measure on June 30; President George W. Bush, a strong supporter, is expected to sign it quickly. The trade pact requires ratification by the legislatures of all the participating countries. In addition to the US Congress, the legislatures of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have ratified; the measure is still awaiting a vote in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Facing opposition from unions and even some business groups, DR-CAFTA supporters pulled out all the stops to achieve their narrow victory. President Bush visited the Capitol on July 27 in an unusual personal lobbying effort for the measure; Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and several other cabinet members were also there lobbying. The House’s Republican leaders began the voting shortly after 11 PM on July 27, but when it became clear that they didn’t have the votes to pass the measure in the normal 15-minute limit, they extended the time to nearly an hour. With all but 15 Democrats in opposition, the leadership put heavy pressure on Republican holdouts. According Lori Wallach, director of the DC-based Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (GTW), Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) talked about breaking arms “into 1,000 pieces.” There were even suggestions of vote tampering. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) insisted he voted no but was counted as not voting due to a malfunction in the electronic voting system. (CNN, Miami Herald, GTW statement, July; NYT, July 29)
US Trade Representative Bob Portman called DR-CAFTA a “gateway” deal to more ambitious trade pacts, like the Andean trade pact with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, which negotiators hope to complete in spring 2006, and the hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The House vote sent “a powerful signal” that the US would “continue to lead in opening markets and leveling the playing field,” according to Portman.
But to Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a New York-based pro-“free trade” group, “[t]hat it was so close, instead of an overwhelming victory, and so clearly split on partisan lines even in states such as Florida that depend on trade with Latin America and the Caribbean, indicates that the pro-trade consensus that used to prevail in Congress is on life support.” According to GTW’s Wallach, the close vote on “a trade deal of small economic significance” like DR-CAFTA “shows that any economically significant” measures like FTAA “would be dead on arrival.” (MH, July 28; GTW , Financial Times, July 28)
DR-CAFTA still faces hurdles in the three countries that haven’t voted. Costa Rican president Abel Pacheco has yet to send the measure to the legislature, which he wants to pass a fiscal reform bill first. Costa Rican unionists, environmentalists, students and farmers, especially rice growers, oppose the pact. The National Civic Movement has threatened social rebellion and national civil disobedience if the government proceeds with it.
Some 160 Dominican organizations have asked Parliament not to approve DR-CAFTA, and some legislators are insisting that the government include measures to compensate agricultural producers.
In Nicaragua a coalition of center-right legislators, including some members of the majority Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), claim to have the 47 votes needed to get DR-CAFTA through the National Assembly. But the current National Assembly president, Rene Nunez of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), hasn’t put the measure on the agenda. The FSLN, which lacks the votes to block the measure, may be planning to compromise. FSLN deputy Alba Palacios is calling for Nicaragua and Costa Rica to negotiate a five-year grace period before they join the pact, while FSLN deputy Edwin Castro wants DR-CAFTA to include “financing for infrastructure and other measures that will promote development and compensate the sectors that will be affected.” A study indicates that the trade pact will hurt 700,000 families and 200,000 agricultural producers in Nicaragua, which has a population of 5.4 million. (Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina,” MH, July 29)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31
GUATEMALA: RIGHTS DEFENDER KILLED
Heavily armed men shot and killed Guatemalan human rights activist Alvaro (“Alvarito”) Juarez the night of July 8 while he was in his home in San Benito in the northern department of Peten. Juarez was a leader in the Alliance for Life and Peace and a member of the Association of the Displaced of the Peten. He reportedly informed the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office in Guatemala City about threats he had received several days before his murder.
In a July 13 statement the Alliance for Life and Peace of the Peten said that Juarez’s death “occurred in the context of the struggles the Guatemalan people are carrying out against the Free Trade Agreement with the US [DR-CAFTA], the struggle against the dams on the Rio Usumacinta, the privatization of the Yaxha National Park, the struggle against mining in our lands….” Guatemalan human rights analysts note that two other human rights defenders have received written death threats. Like Juarez, they are leaders who have been important in the movement and active in the struggle against DR-CAFTA but have not been public.
The Association of the Displaced of the Peten has decided not to seek publicity in the media at this time, but activists are urged to appeal to President Oscar Berger Perdomo (fax +502 251 2218, email firstname.lastname@example.org) and Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (+502 251 2218) for a thorough investigation of the case and protection of Juarez’s family members and other human rights defenders. (Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA Urgent Action, July 12; Alianza por la Vida y la Paz de Peten statement, July 13)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17
GUATEMALA: APOLOGY FOR MASSACRE
In an official ceremony on July 18, the Guatemalan government recognized the state’s responsibility in the 1982 massacre of 268 people in the village of Plan de Sanchez, Rabinal municipality, in Baja Verapaz department. The formal ceremony at the site of the massacre, in which Vice President Eduardo Stein apologized directly to survivors and relatives of the victims, was mandated in a Nov. 24, 2004 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. Stein also visited the chapel where the victims were buried, and said that the $8 million in compensation ordered by the Inter-American Court will be put into a special fund.
“It’s not enough to ask forgiveness for the damages,” said Rosalina Tuyuc, president of the National Compensation Commission (CNR). “Now the most important thing is that the Public Ministry facilitate the investigations and sentence those with material and intellectual responsibility for the massacre.”
On July 18, 1982, a commando of some 60 army soldiers, military commissioners, court officials and civilian paramilitary patrollers dressed in military uniforms and armed with assault rifles entered Plan de Sanchez. The commando members first raped the women and girls of the village and killed them, then took the men, older women and children to a nearby site and murdered them. The next day military commissioners ordered the survivors to quickly bury the bodies at the site of the massacre. (Guatemala Hoy, July 19 from Agencia Cerigua, El Periodico, Prensa Libre, Diario de Centro America)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24
EL SALVADOR: VIOLENCE AT FARE PROTESTS
Starting at 6 am on July 4, residents of La Campanera and El Limon neighborhoods in the Salvadoran municipality of Soyapango blocked the main access road to protest a July 1 increase in bus fares from $0.20 to $0.25. The protesters said they would block the road until the old fare was restored. There were reports that the transport companies had agreed in the afternoon to reduce the fare; the protesters opened the road but said they would resume the blockade if the companies failed to honor the agreement. Soyapango is one of several large municipalities surrounding San Salvador. (Diario Colatino, El Salvador, July 14)
At 7 AM on July 6 some 50 to 200 students from the University of El Salvador (UES), in the northern part of San Salvador, protested the fare hike by blocking streets in front of the campus with burning tires. There was some tension with doctors and employees from the nearby Social Security clinic for the Atlacatl neighborhood. One patient arriving for an appointment told the students that in the 1970s they all would have been killed; but others supported the students. In mid-morning some 100 police agents from the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO) arrived and attacked the students, who threw rocks and withdrew into the campus. The police followed them to the edge of the university grounds and began firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the campus. Three police agents and at least six protesters were injured during the fighting, as were six journalists, who said masked youths threw rocks at them, calling them “manipulators.”
After an intervention by UES rector Isabel Rodriguez and Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo, the police began a staged withdrawal. At around this time, a group of masked people thought to be students took over a bus near the campus and set it on fire. Children from a nearby school had to be evacuated because of fears that the burning bus might explode.
Legislators from the right-wing ruling Republican National Alliance (ARENA) party charged that the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) is promoting the conflicts in order to destabilize the country and prevent the US Congress from approving the Free Trade Agreement. (DC, July 6; Diario El Mundo, El Salvador, July 6; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 7)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 10
EL SALVADOR: DEATH SQUADS REAPPEAR?
The bodies of three unidentified youths were found in the beginning of July on the highway from San Salvador to Santa Ana. Their hands were tied, and they had been shot in the head. Human rights groups said they feared this might indicate a return to the sort of summary executions that right-wing death squads carried out in the 1980s. “These murders, whose motive could be social cleansing for the extermination of gang members, show that the structures of the death squads are still present,” said Maria Julia Hernandez of the San Salvador Catholic archdiocese’s legal office. (ENH, July 5)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24
NICARAGUA: RIGHT-LEFT PACT PROTESTED
On July 17, thousands of people marched in the Nicaraguan city of Granada to protest an agreement between ex-president Daniel Ortega Saavedra (1984-1990) of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and ex-president Arnoldo Aleman (1997-2002) of the rightwing Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC). (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 18) The two parties joined forces last November to approve a packet of constitutional reforms which weaken the role of the presidency and strengthen the power of the National Assembly. President Enrique Bolanos has refused to accept the reforms, citing a March 29 ruling by the Central American Court of Justice (CCJ) which deemed them “legally inapplicable.” (El Mostrador, Chile, July 19)
Participants in the march decried the “pact” and demanded changes to Nicaragua’s electoral laws to make the presidential elections of 2006 “more democratic.” Activists said they gathered 1,500 signatures at the march on a petition supporting changes to mandate primary elections for party presidential candidates.
Former Managua mayor Herty Lewites and former vice president Sergio Ramirez spoke at the rally. (Nicaragua News Service, July 12-18; ENH, July 18) Lewites was expelled from the FSLN by unanimous vote of the Sandinista Assembly on Feb. 26 of this year because he sought to compete with Ortega for the party’s presidential candidacy for the 2006 elections. His campaign manager, Victor Hugo Tinoco, was also expelled. (Nicaragua News Service, Feb. 22-28) The FSLN then named Ortega as its presidential candidate at an assembly on March 5. (ENH, March13)
Lewites still plans to run for president in 2006, and on July 14 he announced that in September he would launch a “great coalition” to challenge the “strongmen that control almost all the institutions and branches of government.” Lewites was accompanied by Tinoco and ex-FSLN leaders Luis Carrion and Victor Tirado. (NNS, July 12-18)
The July 17 march was organized by the “Network for Nicaragua,” an alliance of civic and political groups which came together in June to challenge the PLC-FSLN pact and ensure that other parties are not excluded from the elections. Participants included members of leftist groups like Lewites’ “Rescue Sandinismo” movement as well as rightwing dissidents from the PLC and members of the Conservative Party and Bolanos’ Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE). (ENH, July 18 from AFP)
On July 19, Ortega headed an event marking the 26th anniversary of the day in 1979 when the FSLN overthrew the brutal US-backed right-wing dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The celebration took place near the Managua waterfront at the Plaza de la Fe Juan Pablo II, named for Pope John Paul II, who spoke there in February 1996. Independent pro-Sandinista newspaper El Nuevo Diario said the FSLN event filled the plaza to overflowing, but gave no crowd estimates; the anti-Sandinista La Prensa and the Spanish news service EFE both said only that “thousands” attended, while a pro-Ortega article by Francisco Chavarria in the European leftist internet publication Rebelion said the turnout of “more than 500,000” showed that “those who want to divide the party have suffered a resounding failure.”
Ortega told the crowd that the people will give him a new opportunity to be president of Nicaragua in next year’s elections. He blasted those who march against the FSLN-PLC pact, accusing them of polarizing the country and promoting confrontations. Ortega also criticized PLC leader Aleman, calling him a thief, according to El Nuevo Diario.
The theme of the event was reconciliation and peace, and its special guests included several former opponents of the FSLN, including right-wing politicians Jaime Morales Carazo and Azucena Ferrey; Atlantic coast leaders Steadman Fagoth and Brooklyn Rivera, who led armed “contra” forces against the FSLN government in the 1980s; and auxiliary bishop of Managua Msgr. Eddy Montenegro. (Rebelion, July 22 via Resumen Latinoamericano; END, July 20; LP, July 20; El Mostrador, July 19) A day earlier, July 18, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo–a prominent anti-Sandinista figure–headed up a “mass for reconciliation” attended by top FSLN leaders, including Ortega, who was photographed by the press accepting communion from his former opponent. (EM, July 19; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 20)
Two stories from Venezuela this month exemplify the pressures faced by President Hugo Chavez: on one hand, an increased push from Washington and the bourgeois opposition to capitulate in his populist programs or face destabilization; on the other, a powerful campesino movement demanding an extension and faster pace of populist reforms, especially land redistribution. Reports of local military commanders taking a hard line with campesino protesters point to continuing divisions within Venezuela’s armed forces.—WW4 REPORT
U.S. TO LAUNCH PROPAGANDA BLITZ?
On July 20 the US House of Representatives approved appropriations of $9 million in 2006 and $9 million in 2007 for groups opposing the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, according to information minister Andres Izarra, who complained that the beneficiaries of the aid are promoting abstention in the country’s Aug. 7 municipal council elections and encouraging civil disobedience. The same day, the House passed an amendment authorizing the broadcasting of radio and television signals into Venezuela to provide “precise, objective and complete” information to Venezuelans and counter “the anti-Americanism” of a new regional television network, Televisora del Sur (Telesur). “Chavez is an enemy of freedom and of those who support it and promote it,” said Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), who introduced the amendment.
Chavez responded on July 21 by warning that his government will block any US attempts to interfere with the Telesur broadcasts, which were set to begin on July 24. Chavez noted that if the Cuban government had been able to successfully neutralize the signal of the rightwing Radio Marti broadcasts since the 1980s, “here too we will neutralize any signal.” Chavez warned that the US government “will regret [this] because the response would be more powerful than the action, and will generate more conscience in Latin America.”
The Venezuelan embassy in Washington also issued a communique rejecting Mack’s amendment. The communique notes that Venezuela has private and public television stations, and suggested that it would be cheaper for US taxpayers if Mack were to try to convince private Venezuelan media to carry the US government’s Voice of America broadcasts, since none currently do.
Telesur is controlled 51% by the Venezuelan government, 20% by Argentina, 19% by Cuba and 10% by Uruguay. The station is set to broadcast four hours a day during a two-month trial period, with plans to expand in September. Headquartered in Caracas and with offices in Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Montevideo, La Paz, Bogota, Havana, Mexico City and Washington, Telesur hopes to offer an alternative to CNN and European networks. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 21, 22)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24
CAMPESINOS TAKE CARACAS
On July 11, as many as 5,000 Venezuelan campesinos (2,000 according to Agence France Presse) marched in Caracas to protest the violent deaths of some 130 campesinos around the country and to demand that the government take steps to halt the killings and abuses against campesinos and to speed up the process of agrarian reform. The protest, dubbed “Zamora Takes Caracas,” was organized by the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) and backed by the Ezequiel Zamora National Agrarian Coordinating Committee (CANEZ), numerous agricultural cooperatives and the Jirahara and Prudencio Vasquez movements, among others. (Ezequiel Zamora was a populist military leader who led battles for campesino rights in Venezuela in the mid-1800s.)
The campesinos marched from the capital’s Fort Tiuna to the Attorney General’s Office, where they handed in a document detailing their demands, then to the National Assembly, where they submitted a proposal for an “agrarian constituent assembly” to strengthen the rights of the campesino movement and step up the process of agrarian reform. An estimated 75% of Venezuela’s land is in the hands of 5% of the population and remains mostly unused, while the country imports 70% to 80% of its food.
Agriculture and Lands Minister Antonio Albarran, who also serves as acting president of the National Land Institute (INTI), announced that a high-level commission will be set up to study the demands of the campesino movements and address specific complaints on a case-by-case basis. FNCEZ leader Braulio Alvarez, a deputy of the legislative council of Yaracuy state and member of the INTI board, said the new commission would work to get the courts to begin legal proceedings against 30 people believed to have ordered the murders of campesinos. Alvarez himself survived an attack on his life on June 23. (Radio Nacional de Venezuela, July 12; Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, July 13; Centro Nacional de Tecnologias de la Informacion (CNTI), July 11; Resumen Latinoamericano, July 12; Report by Adriana Rivas posted July 14 on Colombia Indymedia)
On May 14, nearly 4,000 campesinos organized by the FNCEZ marched through the streets of Guasdualito, Apure state, in western Venezuela near the Colombian border. They were protesting, among other issues, the abuses committed by Gen. Oswaldo Bracho, commander of the Theater of Operations #1, which covers the states of Barinas, Tachira and Apure. The FNCEZ says campesinos in the zone have suffered an increase in human rights accuses since Bracho took over the command last November. In one incident, Bracho led 40 soldiers in a raid on the community of Canadon-Bella Vista, in the south of Barinas state, and seized five members of a campesino cooperative whom he accuses of providing shelter to leftist rebels. The five campesinos remain jailed in Santa Ana, Tachira state, even though there is no proof to back up the accusations against them, and local leaders point out that campesinos often have no choice but to provide shelter to armed groups. The FNCEZ said Bracho also tried to block campesinos from reaching the May 14 demonstration, holding them up on the highways for as long as five hours. (Endavant, July 13) In the July 11 mobilization in Caracas, the campesinos informed Congress about Bracho’s abuses. (RNV, July 12)
The US media seemed to ignore the July 11-13 mobilization by thousands of Venezuelan campesinos, but did cover a July 15 anti-government march in Caracas by fewer than 400 doctors and nurses who work in public hospitals. The health care workers were demanding wage increases and protesting the presence of some 14,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela. The Cubans provide health care to the country’s most underserved neighborhoods and rural areas under a special program sponsored by the government of left-populist president Hugo Chavez Frias. (AP, July 15)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17
NOTE: The leftist rebels active in western Venezuela are the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation (FBL). They took up arms shortly before Chavez came to power in 1998. According to the report on Colombia’s Agencia Prensa Rural: “Their objective is in no case to attack the actual government, but to guarantee that the Bolivarian revolution will continue advancing towards the consolidation of popular power, and to contribute to defending the process in case of external aggression. In spite of being an armed group, they have initiated very few actions.”—WW4R
In spite of the “Justice and Peace” law passed in June, which provides an amnesty for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary networks in exchange for “demobilization,” the networks appear to be as active as ever. Peasant and unionist leaders throughout the country continue to be targeted, even as the government of President Alvaro Uribe touts the “demobilization” program as evidence of progress towards peace to keep the US aid flowing in. Killings are reported this month from Dabeiba and Ciudad Bolivar, both in the Cordillera Occidental in Antioquia department, and El Castillo, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Meta department.—WW4 REPORT
DABEIBA: PARAMILITARIES KILL CAMPESINO
On July 3, at a checkpoint on the road leaving the town of Dabeiba in the Colombian department of Antioquia, rightwing paramilitaries took campesino Albeiro Higuita Agudelo off a local bus heading for Camparrusia. Later that afternoon, Higuita’s body, showing visible signs of torture, was found in Boton, 10 minutes from Dabeiba on the road to Medellin. Higuita was a member of the Campesino Association of Dabeiba; he lived in Balsillas, a rural community two and half hours from the town of Dabeiba.
The paramilitaries operate a permanent checkpoint at the exit point from Dabeiba, where they stop campesinos and control the amount of goods they can carry. Campesinos are not allowed to take tools, horseshoes or more than 30,000 pesos (less than $13) worth of food out of Dabeiba. Police and army forces are well-informed of the existence of the paramilitary checkpoint but leave it alone, since they are operating in coordination with the paramilitary groups, according to the Campesino Association of Dabeiba. Often the paramilitaries tell the campesinos that the confiscated goods can be reclaimed at the police station, and “in fact we do find them there,” the Association reports.
The Association is asking national and international solidarity organizations to demand that the government put a stop to the paramilitary checkpoint and the collaboration between public security forces and the paramilitaries. (Comunidad Campesina de Dabeiba, July 9 via Agencia Prensa Rural)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17
META: ANOTHER CAMPESINO KILLED
On the morning of July 10, armed paramilitaries abducted campesino Edgar Palacios in the urban center of El Castillo municipality, in the southern Colombian department of Meta, and took him to a house in the town of Medellin del Ariari, also in Meta. Later that evening the paramilitaries took Palacios in a vehicle to the bridge over the Cumaral river, five minutes from the town center of Medellin del Ariari. His body was found the next day, in the garden of a home next to the bridge. Colombian soldiers and police agents from a counter-guerrilla force had an active presence in the town and surrounding area from July 10 to 17–including carrying out a house-by-house census and setting up strict checkpoints on access roads–yet they failed to take any action against the paramilitaries. On July 11, after Palacios’ body was found, police agents called together town residents and urged them to expose the paramilitaries present in the area. Yet on July 13, several known paramilitaries were seen playing soccer with the police agents stationed in Medellin del Ariari. Later the same day, the body of a man dressed in camouflage who was unfamiliar to local residents was found 15 minutes outside the urban center of the town. (Comision Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, July 20)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31
CIUDAD BOLIVAR: UNIONIST ASSASSINATED
On July 28, hired killers shot to death union leader Gilberto Chinome Barrera in La Estrella neighborhood of Ciudad Bolivar. Chinome was a former president of the refinery section of the United Union of Workers (USO), which represents workers at the state-run oil company Ecopetrol. In recent years he had focused on writing, including articles exposing administrative corruption at Ecopetrol. He had also sued Ecopetrol and the Colombian state. (USO Communique, July 29, via Colombia Indymedia)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31
COLOMBIAN AMBASSADOR GETS IADB POST
On July 27 Luis Alberto Moreno, Colombia’s ambassador to the US, was elected president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), replacing Enrique Iglesias of Uruguay, who retired in May after 17 years in the position. Moreno won 60% of the votes of the bank’s shareholders and 20 votes from the 28 member nations. Brazilian candidate Jose Sayad, currently an IADB vice president, came in second with seven country votes. Moreno’s election was seen as a victory for the US, which failed to get its candidate elected president of the Organization of American States (OAS) in April. IADB disburses over $5 billion in loans every year. Moreno starts his five-year term on Oct. 1. (Financial Times, UK, July 27)
According to a report issued July 20 by the Emerging Inter-Institutional Mission, a collaboration of 11 human rights organizations and local governments in northern Ecuador, the Colombian Armed Forces violated Ecuadoran air space and territory in Sucumbios province on June 24 and 25. The incidents took place as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked an army post in Teteye, in the southern Colombian department of Putumayo, killing 22 soldiers. According to Alexis Ponce, president of the Latin American Human Rights Association (ALDHU), a member of the military revealed that nearly 20 Colombian soldiers in civilian clothes entered Ecuador “with weapons to see what the situation was like.”
The report from the Inter-Institutional Mission includes seven recommendations, including the declaration of the border zone as a “territory of peace, sovereignty and solidarity” and the participation of a civil society delegation in a meeting planned for July 25 between the foreign ministers of Colombia and Ecuador. Defender of the People Claudio Mueckay said the Inter-Institutional Mission wants Ecuadoran president Alfredo Palacio to demand that the Colombian government suspend its spraying of the toxic herbicide glyphosate in the border area and to seek compensation for Ecuadoran families affected by the US-backed Plan Colombia.
Also on July 20, 14 residents of the Ecuadoran Amazon together with several human rights activists staged a street theater action in front of the Colombian embassy in Quito to demand an end to the spraying. The group set up a “Plan Colombia” restaurant, dishing out a “fumigated lunch” of “glyphosate soup” and “rice with poisoned chicken,” with “Dyncorp ice cream” for dessert. (Dyncorp is the company which contracts with the US State Department to carry out the spraying of glyphosate in Colombia.) The spraying is supposed to target drug crops, but residents of the affected areas complain that the chemical also kills food crops and livestock, and causes serious health problems. (Mision Interinstitucional Emergente, July 20 via Resumen Latinoamericano; El Diario-La Prensa, July 24 from EFE)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24
ANTI-DAM ACTIVIST MURDERED
On June 20, the body of Ecuadoran community leader Andres Arroyo Segura was found in the Baba river near the community of Seiba, in Los Rios province. An autopsy showed signs that he had suffered a physical assault. Arroyo’s body was found at the site of a planned hydroelectric dam on the Baba River; he had recently received death threats for his efforts to halt the dam. Arroyo headed a local committee of campesino organizations which is fighting the dam because it will cause environmental destruction and negatively impact local indigenous and campesino communities. The dam would divert two rivers to serve as irrigation for agribusiness interests. Before being ousted from power on April 20, President Lucio Gutierrez had declared the dam a “national priority.” Arroyo was also a member of the National Network in Defense of Nature, Life and Dignity (REDIVINA). He was apparently attacked as he headed from his home to the town of Patricia Pilar, on his way to the city of Guayaquil, where he was to meet with a lawyer, Felix Rodriguez. (Green Left Weekly, July 6; Bolpress, July 27)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 10
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
Bolivia’s interim president Eduardo Rodriguez, installed in power June 9 by a vote of Congress as La Paz was again paralyzed by protests, faces a harsh challenge—to hold the country together as social forces pull in opposite directions. The indigenous movement in the Altiplano is demanding greater public control over the oil and gas industry—if not outright nationalization. Meanwhile, business elites in the resource-rich Amazon department of Santa Cruz are demanding greater local autonomy—and have threatened outright secession if the hydrocarbons are nationalized. Now a constituent assembly has been called to write a new Bolivian constitution. It remains to be seen if it will appease either side—or if Rodriguez will avoid the fate of his two predecessors, who were both ousted amidst waves of militant protest. —WW4 REPORT
ACCORD REACHED ON ELECTIONS
On July 5, Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies voted 80-27 to approve a constitutional amendment setting early general elections for Dec. 4 of this year. In a joint session minutes later, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate approved a measure setting another date–July 2, 2006–for elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution and for a referendum on regional autonomy. An impasse over the various elections was resolved with a political accord among the political parties and with new interim president Eduardo Rodriguez. The accord also allows Rodriguez to postpone until December the election of nine governors, which was originally set for next Aug. 12. On July 6 Rodriguez ratified the constitutional amendment and signed three decrees formalizing the new election dates. (AP, July 5, 7; Bolivia Press, July 8)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 10
AMAZON: THREE DEAD IN LAND CLASH
On July 12, campesinos from the Bolivian Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) reportedly invaded the Los Angeles estate owned by businessperson Jorge Haensel in a remote jungle region in the northwest of La Paz department. Haensel claims that the invaders fired at a group of his employees who were gathering chestnuts. Haensel said three people were killed: two of his workers and one MST member. Haensel reported the incident to police in the city of Riberalta, and on July 13 a Bolivian government commission headed by Riberalta deputy mayor Hector Vaca left by helicopter for the isolated estate to investigate the incident. (AP, July 13)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17
On July 14, some 500,000 people–construction workers, teachers, students and many others–marched in seven of Peru’s regions to protest the Andean free trade treaty being negotiated between the US, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. The protests, organized by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), were also seeking an end to privatization and other neoliberal economic policies, and the resignation of Labor Minister Juan Sheput. The CGTP is also demanding the convening of a constituent assembly to rewrite Peru’s Constitution, and a new social security law based on the principles of solidarity. (Adital – World Data Service, July 15; Campana Continental Contra el ALCA, July 15)
A day earlier, July 13, some 4,000 people marched in Lima in another protest against the Andean trade pact, this time organized by the Association of Pharmaceutical Industries of National Origin and Capital (ADIFAN) and the National Convention of Peruvian Agriculture (CONVEAGRO). The noisy march stretched for 20 blocks, ending at the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Rather than rejecting the Andean trade pact as a whole, ADIFAN and CONVEAGRO are demanding that Peru drive a harder bargain in the negotiations. “The Peruvian negotiators seem to be gringos, since until now they have achieved nothing for the country. On the contrary, they have given up 50% of the national market to the US,” said CONVEAGRO president Luis Zuniga. Protesters, some of them on horseback, carried signs that said: “Competition, yes. Monopoly, no,” and “Don’t give it away. Negotiate.” Growers of sugar cane, rice, corn, potatoes and cotton fear US agricultural subsidies will make it impossible for them to compete. The negotiations have been going on for more than a year; the next round begins on July 18 in Miami. (Adital, July 15; CCCA, July 15; AP, July 14; Miami Herald, July 14)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17
AMAZON: INDIGENOUS SEIZE OIL COMPANY
On July 8, some 300 Shipiba Coniba indigenous people from the community of Canan de Cachiaco (or Cashiyacu) entered the Maquillas (or Maquias) camp of Maple Gas Corporation in Ucayali province, in the Peruvian Amazon region of Loreto. Led by 80 Shipiba warriors armed with machetes, spears, and bows and arrows, they proceeded to take control of at least nine of the 27 oil wells on the company’s lot 31-B; the 150 workers at the camp were taking their lunch break and were caught off guard. “The occupation was totally peaceful, there were no material damages, since the company’s security personnel proceeded to close the fuel extraction valves to prevent leaks, and this was done in the presence of the crime prevention prosecutor, Julio Barreto,” said Ucayali deputy mayor Jose Diaz. The 80 Shipiba warriors are maintaining the occupation of the camp; the other community members returned home later on July 8.
Roberth Gimaraes, a leader of the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle, in Ucayali, said the Shipiba seized the camp to protest the environmental, social and cultural damage done to their communities by Maple Gas. Gimaraes said that in recent years an epidemic of stomach infections has affected the Shipiba communities, killing an average of five people a year. The Shipiba believe the stomach infections are caused by the company’s dumping of toxic waste in the Cachiaco river. They are demanding an environmental impact study to determine the extent of the pollution. They are also demanding that Maple Gas pay rent for the use of their territory, and provide basic necessities like schools and medical examinations. They want a high-level government delegation to come and meet with them over their demands. Barreto, the local prosecutor, apparently brokered a pact between the Shipiba and Maple Gas personnel in which both sides agreed not to touch the installations until a dialogue process could be established to address the Shipiba demands. As of July 10, the Shipiba were continuing to occupy the site.
Maple Gas general manager Guillermo Ferreyros said the conflict arose because the community doesn’t receive any of the royalties that the company pays to the Peruvian state. Ferreyros said the government’s oil company, Perupetro, was going to address the problem in a meeting with the Shipiba during the first week of July, but the meeting was cancelled for economic reasons. (La Ultima, Peru, July 9; AFP, July 8; 24 Horas Libre, Peru, July 9; RPP Noticias, Peru, July 10)
Against “Leftist” Revisionism on the Srebrenica Massacre
by Bill Weinberg
With all of the current horrors in the headlines, the world has paid little note to the tenth anniversary of the July 1995 massacre of 8,000 at the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica after it was overrun by besieging Serb rebel forces. The town’s women, children and elderly were put on buses at gunpoint and expelled to Bosnian government-held territory. But the adult men were separated out and kept by the Serb forces for “interrogation.” Their whereabouts became the subject of an international investigation which is now bearing grim fruit–thousands of corpses exhumed from mass graves, held in Bosnia’s morgues, where international teams are conducting the lugubrious work of DNA identification, matching genetic material from the bones with samples provided by relatives of the missing. Some 2,000 of the dead have now been thusly identified, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) reports. The massacre is rightly called Europe’s worst since World War II.
The leadership of the Bosnian Serb Republic (which now has de facto independence under a peace deal brokered by the US shortly after the massacre) has also formally investigated, confessed to and apologized for the crime. A total of 19 people have been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Srebrenica massacre, and 16 are currently being held at The Hague. Three Bosnian Serb soldiers have pleaded guilty to many of the charges against them.
But the supposedly “progressive” Z Magazine, and its online extension ZNet, mark the anniversary of Srebrenica by running a lengthy piece by Edward S. Herman (one of the American left’s official darlings and a one-time Noam Chomsky co-author) arguing that the massacre never happened–or that it was exaggerated, or that the victims deserved it. Like most genocide-apologist propaganda, the piece never makes its arguments explicit: it just leaves the uninitiated reader with the vague but strong impression that anyone who believes that there was a massacre at Srebrenica is a dupe of imperialist propaganda.
The piece, entitled “The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre,” spends its first half arguing that the affair must be placed in the “context” of the “convenience” of the massacre to the Bosnian Muslims, who sought Western military intervention against the Serb forces. Herman notes a string of “convenient” atrocities attributed to the Serbs, such as the deadly rocket raids on Sarajevo’s market, suggesting that they were “planned and executed by Bosnian Muslims.” Ironically, the suspicions (not facts) Herman cites in support of this speculation come almost entirely from US military and government sources. Herman does not point out the obvious “convenience” of such charges to a Pentagon that was reluctant to intercede as the Serb rebel army attempted to strangle in its birth Europe’s first Muslim-led nation.
One footnote for the claim that the Bosnian government bombed its own people in Sarajevo is an Internet link for a 1997 report from the US Senate Republican Policy Committee–so heartwarming to see leftists making common cause with their domestic enemies. This page, at least, cites some mostly European media accounts claiming secret UN studies had determined that the shells that hit Sarajevo’s market came from Bosnian government lines. But the studies themselves are not cited, and in any case these attacks account for but a handful of the 10,000 Sarajevo residents killed during the three-and-a-half-year siege of the city by the Serbs. Furthermore, even if these attacks were faked, it says nothing about whether the far more massive Srebrenica massacre was faked–and not even Republicans have dared to assert that. Yet that is implicitly (not explicitly, which would require more courage) what Herman argues. This line of reasoning (if we may so flatter it) is akin to arguing that My Lai didn’t happen because it was “convenient” to the NLF.
Most bizarrely, this pseudo-thinking fails to consider that in the post-Srebrenica peace deal brokered by the Clinton White House, the Bosnian government was forced to cede effective control of the majority of its national territory to the Serb and Croat rebel zones, which then gained a cover of legitimacy. A more accurate reading of the situation would suggest the atrocities were far more “convenient” to the Serbs, helping to force the Bosnian government to accept these harsh terms. Crime, it seems, does pay.
When Herman finally turns to the actual mechanics of the massacre, the results are even worse. Herman’s principal argument seems to be that the supposedly UN-protected “safe areas” such as Srebrenica weren’t disarmed, so (again, implicitly) the Serbs were justified in overrunning them and slaughtering 8,000 mostly civilian war captives. (He expresses no outrage that the Dutch UN peacekeepers offered no resistance as the Serbs overran the city.) He claims that Srebrenica was being used as a staging ground for raids on Serb villages in which up to a thousand civilians were killed in the three years prior to the massacre–an assertion footnoted to a report from Yugoslavia’s UN ambassador, without the slightest suggestion that this might be a dubious touchstone for veracity. This is especially ironic given that all pronouncements from the Bosnian leadership are summarily dismissed as lies. Herman regales us with horror stories about atrocities committed by Nasir Oric, a Muslim commander at Srebrenica. These are footnoted to more credible sources, but Herman seems pretty oblivious to the overwhelmingly obvious “context” (to use his favorite word)–Serb rebel armies had overrun some 70% of Bosnia by that point, expelling the Muslim inhabitants, leaving Srebrenica and a few other towns besieged pockets. This doesn’t let Oric off the hook, but it does point up Herman’s hideous double standards.
Herman’s secondary argument (more explicit if no more honest) is that the bodies said to be those of the Srebrenica victims have been unearthed from several mass graves around eastern Bosnia rather than “huge grave sites” at Srebrenica. A look at the ICMP website would tell Herman this was due to Serb commanders ordering bodies exhumed and reburied at scattered sites to hide evidence of the crime. This finding is backed up by the Serb Republic’s own investigation into the massacre–which, it emerges, actually took place at several different locations, with reburial in secondary graves intentionally adding to the confusion. Herman, who is now more intransigent on the question than the Bosnian Serb leadership, dismisses the reburial findings as “singularly unconvincing.”
Next Herman turns to the old genocide-denial trick of fudging the numbers. He guides the reader through arithmetic somersaults to “prove” that if 8,000 were executed Srebrenica’s population would have had to have exceeded its actual 37,000. Yet the ICMP has a database of 7,800 listed as missing from Srebrenica. Were these names simply invented? (Fans of such pseudo-demographic sophistry will have lots of fun at the Holocaust revisionist websites.)
Next he turns to another standard of the genocide-denial set: arguing that the majority of the dead were not executed but killed in combat. This is contradicted by the testimony of the accused at the ICTY. Momir Nikolic, former chief of intelligence in the Bratunac Brigade, one of the Serb units at Srebrenica, has pleaded guilty to his role in the massacre, stating openly that “able-bodied Muslim men within the crowd of Muslim civilians would be separated…and killed shortly thereafter. I was told that it was my responsibility to help coordinate and organize this operation.”
Nikolic’s testimony is called into question by admissions that he perjured himself following his plea-bargain, the massacre-denial crowd is quick to point out–although why he would do so is still mysterious, and he did not contradict himself on what the basic orders were, only his own role in carrying them out. But there are numerous other examples untainted by any such contradictions. Nikolic’s co-defendant Dragan Obrenovic states that he received orders that prisoners were to be shot, and describes the slaughter in intimate detail in his official confession. He notes at one point that a commander “was angry as the last group of prisoners were not taken to the dam to be executed, but were executed right there at the school and that his men (the 6th Battalion Rear Services) had to clean up the mess at the school, including the removal of the bodies to the dam.” Bosnian Serb Army infantryman Drazen Erdemovic (who first volunteered his guilt to foreign journalists and pleaded for their help in fleeing Bosnia) tearfully told the court of his participation in the killing. “I had to do it. If I’d refused, I would have been killed together with the victims.”
These accounts are also backed up by forensic evidence: tribunal investigators exhumed hundreds of blindfolds and ligatures along with the bodies, and in many cases hands were still tied behind the back. Foresnic specialists also found evidence of reburial, such as parts of the same body in separate graves. This may not be conclusive proof that all 8,000 were killed in cold blood–but it is certainly suggestive of this, and it shows Herman’s bad faith that he doesn’t even mention it.
That Herman is getting his information overwhelmingly (and his analysis exclusively) from the Serb extremists is evident from his terminology. He routinely uses the acronym BMA, for “Bosnian Muslim Army,” to refer to the Bosnian goverment’s military. The official name was the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), and (in contrast to the self-declared “Bosnian Serb Army” of Bosnia’s “Serb Republic”) it was explicitly multi-ethnic, not “Muslim.” BMA is a propaganda term, and capitalizing it as if it were a proper noun is extremely misleading.
Finally, Herman makes much of what he calls Bosnian President Alija “Izetbegovic’s close alliance with Osama bin Laden,” how the Bosnian government provided “Al Qaeda a foothold in the Balkans.” Now isn’t this funny. The same ZNet which asks us to believe (in a Jan. 13 piece by Robert Scheer–whose name ZNet mis-spells) that “Al Qaeda [is] Just a Bush Boogeyman” prints shamelessly lurid propaganda about the Islamic menace in Bosnia. I guess al-Qaeda is just a “boogeyman” when it slams jets into New York skyscrapers or blows up trains in London and Madrid, but suddenly becomes real when it loans a few mujahedeen to protect the legitimate government of multi-ethnic Bosnia from a lawless fascist rebellion. Herman offers not a word about how Izetbegovic was driven to this alliance (if, in fact, it existed) by the West’s betrayal of Bosnia’s legal government into the hands of the Serb rebels who, with superior firepower thanks to their patrons in Belgrade, quickly subsumed the majority of Bosnia’s territory. Herman dismisses this version of events as a mere “narrative”–a word which has been subject to such abuse at the hands of the “post-modernists” that it should now be purged from the English language. Herman, who is not bothered by the use of the Islamic terrorist image to justify this illegal usurpation of power, calls the “‘Srebrenica massacre'” (in quotes of course) the “greatest triumph of propaganda” for the “colonial occupations in Bosnia and Kosovo” by NATO. One wonders if Herman is himself aware of the cognitive dissonance.
This is but the latest in a whole string of such articles Z has run by Herman and others in the decade since the climax of the Bosnian horror show, all minimizing Serb war crimes and essentially arguing (as Reagan said about the genocidal Guatemalan dictatorship) that the Serbs have been given a “bum rap.” And Z still seems to think it has any moral ground to stand on to oppose US-backed genocide in Guatemala, Colombia and so on. It is both demoralizing and terrifying that this is the level to which the supposed “left” press has sunk in this dumbed-down age. NOTE: This article started out as a post on our weblog, and was expanded as Ed Herman (and others) weighed in with retorts. If Herman (or anyone else) has any further responses, they can be posted there: /node/757
Earlier this year the media reported on “The Salvador Option,” referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s stated intent to train and employ Salvadoran-style death squads to hunt down and kill or “disappear” suspected Iraqi resistance fighters and their alleged supporters. Such wholesale execution of political opponents resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths in El Salvador during Ronald Reagan’s reign in the White House.
Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee also covered this story. Unlike stateside journalists doing research online, Salihee was on the ground in Iraq, compiling primary data–including damning evidence about extra-judicial killings. Knight Ridder, on June 27, published Salihee’s preliminary findings. Working less than a week, Salihee and another Knight Ridder journalist turned up over 30 cases of suspected extra-judicial executions by U.S.-backed Iraqi death squads.
In the article, Salihee and his co-author document how victims show up at the morgue blindfolded, with their hands tied or cuffed behind their backs. Most showed signs of Abu Ghraib-style torture. Many were last seen in police custody. They were usually killed with a singe shot to the head.
On June 24, while Salihee’s article was in-press, a U.S. military sniper killed him, also with a single shot to the head. According to Knight Ridder, it was his day off. He was on his way to his neighborhood gas station to fuel up before a family trip to a swimming pool when he encountered a makeshift U.S. checkpoint unexpectedly set up blocks from his home. Witnesses say he was shot without warning and for no apparent reason. For the record, Knight Ridder says: “There’s no reason to think that the shooting had anything to do with his reporting work.” Such disclaimers seem to be a de facto mandate these days. When an investigative reporter is shot dead by a member of an organization he or she is investigating, there’s clear reason for suspicion.
Also earlier this year, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan made his now famous retracted comment about U.S. forces in Iraq targeting journalists. Eason’s comment cost him his job–and no genuflecting to the god of disclaimers and apologies could save it. He resigned. The problem was that he was right. This was the conclusion of a Reporters Without Borders investigation into the deaths of two journalists killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad. U.S. military documentation of the killings of journalists by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia indicate that many were in fact deliberately targeted.
Journalists are the outside world’s pipeline for documentation of atrocities in war zones. When military forces remove journalists from war zones–usually through terror and intimidation, if not outright murder–they’ve successfully removed the most credible witnesses working to document their crimes. Salihee certainly appears to be one of these witnesses–uncovering the smoking gun behind a series of what appear to be Rumsfeld-ordered war crimes. It’s the brave reporting by the few remaining unembedded journalists on the ground in Iraq that allow armchair columnists like myself to write about Iraq, citing sources such as Salihee, Robert Fisk and Dahr Jamal.
Salihee’s killing at the hands of a U.S. military sniper is not an isolated incident. Since his death, two more Iraqi journalists were also shot dead by U.S. forces. Maha Ibrahim, a TV news editor who publicly opposed the U.S. occupation, was shot to death by U.S. troops who opened fire on her car as she drove to work on June 26. On June 28 , al-Sharqiya TV program director Ahmad Wail Bakri was also shot to death by U.S. troops as he drove near an American military convoy in Baghdad. The International Federation of Journalists has called for investigations into all three murders. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also expresses alarm over the killings and is launching its own investigation.
If these journalists in fact were not targeted by U.S. forces, and were instead just killed as unintended victims of jittery soldiers shooting up Baghdad, these killings are evidence of a depraved indifference to human life–resulting from the stress of fighting a prolonged war against a civilian population, with no clear goals or exit strategy.
If any of these journalists were killed because of their work–and Yasser Salihee’s damning investigative work certainly raises that question–then what we are witnessing is not only a war against Iraq, but against the world’s right to know what is going on in Iraq as well. With Salihee dead, it will now be more difficult to document death squad activity in Iraq. When you kill the messenger you kill the truth.
UN Troops Chase Down Child Soldiers in Congo’s Forgotten War;
Hutu Militias as Pawn in Great Game for Central Africa’s Mineral Wealth
by keith harmon snow
NINDJA, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — For some hill-tribe peasants in the remote reaches of the Congo’s South Kivu hills, the arrival of hundreds of UN ground troops on July 7 seemed more like an invasion than the liberation most have long since given up on. For Hutu rebels, it was reason to disappear.
Peasant women cultivating the steep hill slopes with primitive tools pretended to ignore the unimaginable: the sudden appearance of heavily armed Pakistani troops, backed by Guatemalan special operations forces, marching on footpaths that may have seen no outsiders for decades. Indian forces in combat helicopters supported the UN mission.
Some 1,000 troops from the South Kivu Brigade of the United Nations Observer Mission in Congo (MONUC), joined by a score of troops from the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), participated in “Operation Iron Fist.” Its compliment, “Operation Falcon Sweep,” an ongoing heli-borne operation, was launched on July 4.
Both operations seek to infiltrate territories held by the Rwandan Hutu fighters to the north and southeast of Bukavu, in the Walungu and Kabare areas. The target areas include the vast and mysterious Kahuzi Beiga National Park.
“The Hutu rebels came here ten years ago,” says William Mukale, 30, a teacher from Bukavu. “They have done terrible things and people are suffering.” William points at the long line of UN troops moving through the hills across the valley. “But no foreigners or outsiders have been in there for many years.”
It may be as much as forty years: Belgian colonizers were here in the 1960s. It is unclear when the last white people ventured back in these hills. Hutus from Rwanda arrived in 1994.
Both Iron Fist and Falcon Sweep aim to clear the area of Hutu rebels belonging to the Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Looking more like a rag-tag bunch of child soldiers and armed peasants in plastic boots than the battle-hardened terrorists they are almost universally portrayed as, the FDLR are accused of committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
“Most of the FDLR combatants are very young,” says Sylvie van den Wildenberg, UN Public Information Officer in Bukavu. “They obviously were not involved in genocide in Rwanda. They have been manipulated and used by their leaders.”
Congo President Joseph Kabila issued a statement June 29 that the FDLR are the enemy of Congo and the FARDC will forcibly deploy against them. The MONUC goal is to displace or drive out the FDLR in what the UN describes as “domination area operations.”
During Iron Fist, a few FDLR were sighted along remote trails as they fled. MONUC soldiers fanned out through burnt fields and searched the area but no FDLR were found. FDLR camps were located, but soldiers had fled. No shots were fired.
The Invisible Face of Terror
Over the weekend of July 10 however, some 39 civilians–most women and children–were hacked to death or burned alive in huts. Some believe this was the FDLR retaliating against locals who support the MONUC and FARDC initiatives. Some say only they were Kinyarwanda-speaking Rwandans. Some maintain that the perpetrators were infiltrators sent by the Rwandan regime of Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). International media–absent the area–quickly attributed the killings to Hutu FDLR.
Other areas around Walungu and Nindja have seen recent clashes, some including heavy weapons fire, believed to be FARDC fighting with FDLR. Some people fear that combatants will move deeper into Congo’s forests. On July 11, FDLR combatants, with wives and children, were reported leaving Nindja.
Atrocities committed in South Kivu have been mostly attributed to the FDLR. Massacres in past months have occurred at night, and notes left behind were signed the “Rastas.” The Rastas are described as a mix of FDLR, Congolese collaborators, local bandits and other disaffected ex-militia. They are generally equated with the FDLR.
“All terrorist groups have two faces,” says Gen. Shujatt Alikahn, commander of MONUC’s 10th Military Region in South Kivu. “The face that is friendly to the community, and the face of terror.” He is personally leading his troops along a trail that hangs over a deep chasm in the mountains. His position on the FDLR is clear–get out of the area.
The region has for years seethed with warlords and militias who exact taxes, goods and labor from the poorest people in the world. Local fiefdoms have seen unspeakable horrors and targeted robberies believed to be committed by FDLR factions in cahoots with Congolese military collaborators or civilians. Former combatants of the Mayi-Mayi, a militia opposing Rwanda’s military presence in Kivu, and Burundian Hutu militia have also been here.
The terror is directly linked to access to minerals. Some villages suffer less than others because combatants and warlords understand that atrocities committed against the population will bring MONUC troops who will threaten their mining and taxation networks. Some areas are tenuously “managed” by both FDLR militias and FARDC soldiers.
The UN Panel on the Illegal Exploitation of DRC’s Natural Resources cites “military commercialism” as pivotal to war in Congo. Key agents included military officers from Rwanda and Uganda, with companies from the US and Europe behind them. But the recommendations of the UN investigation were ignored; multinational and regional companies and individuals named for violations successfully lobbied to be removed from the list. No government took action to stop or deter the guns-for-minerals racketeering.
A June 2005 report by Amnesty International revealed that massive arms flows to Congo continue. Weapons keep coming across the Great Lakes from Rwanda and Uganda. Gold departs the area for Uganda; coltan (coumbium-tantalite) used in cellphones and Sony Playstations crosses Lake Kivu by boat to Rwanda; there is also cassiterite (tin) mining here. Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently published a report detailing South Africa-based multinational AngloGold Ashanti’s role in supporting war and atrocities in Congo’s Ituri zone. On July 12, HRW issued a brief warning that factions are still being armed in North Kivu.
“We see the same situation in Ituri and the Kivus,” said MONUC’s Dutch Major Gen. Patrick Cammaert on July 12. Cammaert commands all MONUC forces in the provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu. “Groups are receiving arms, equipment and ammunition from groups, organizations, and individuals from foreign countries.”
Soldiers of one stripe or another are everywhere. There are Guatemalan soldiers speaking only Spanish; Pakistanis speaking Urdu, and some English; Indians speaking Hindi. Congolese soldiers speak French, Lingala, and some English. Hutu rebels speak Kinyarwanda and Swahili. The impoverished villagers in the remote hills around Nindja speak Swahili, French, or the local Mashi dialect of the Bashi tribe–but the voices of the average Congolese remain mostly unheard.
Operation Falcon Sweep aims to extend the security perimeter in the Walungu territory, and it is heavily focused on the dense forests around Nindja. The northern perimeter opens into the vast and wild Kahuzi Beiga National Park.
In mid-July Operation Falcon Sweep dropped Guatemalan and Pakistani special operations forces from helicopters into unknown terrain. Some missions dropped under the dense canopy of the Kahuzi Beiga forests. FDLR camps inside the park were located.
“The Park was completely a no-go zone,” says one MONUC officer. “Even the UN could not go there. It remained a mystery for about five months. The FARDC controlled the checkpoints. This is one of the richest mineral areas in South Kivu.”
Until recently, the Congolese government refused all MONUC requests for reconnaissance in the park. In late June MONUC was allowed to send sorties of armored personnel carriers (APCs) into the park. The southeastern corner of the park links directly to Lake Kivu and Rwanda.
On July 7, Operation Iron Fist deployed UN peacekeepers in vehicles and on foot, with the Indian contingent providing close air support from Russian MI-35 attack helicopters. Operation Falcon Sweep resumed with a large operation on July 10, and MONUCs Gen. Alikahn personally oversaw the burning of some remote FDLR camps on July 14.
APCs used in other MONUC operations are useless on many roads here: the roads to outposts like Nindja are rough dirt tracks with a few logs thrown over mountain streams. But flimsy bridges are the least of MONUC concerns.
Trekking Back in Time
Trekking in the mountains beyond Nindja feels like journeying back to an earlier age. Women and girls haul huge loads over narrow trails, their backs bent with heavy loads in handwoven baskets supported by braided straps lashed around their foreheads. Coming and going to local markets, their eyes speak fear as they wait aside the trail while hundreds of UN foot soldiers pass by. Some girls disappear into the bushes.
A grueling two-hour trek out of Nindja, most MONUC soldiers ran out of water. They refilled bottles from clear mountain streams that spill over waterfalls and splash through the dense undergrowth of forested valleys where guerrillas can easily hide.
Plots ablaze with fire to clear the grass and stumps of hacked-up forest blanket the scorching sun with stifling haze. Burned hillsides evidence the slash-and-burn economy of locals who have no electricity, no stores, no modern amenities, no technology, and only the crudest tools.
“And no security.” Villager Robert Mushale, 27, points down the valley where he says 15 people massacred by the Rastas are buried in a mass grave. “We all want MONUC to move the FDLR. They take taxes from us twice a week. They tax us at market. We go through their barricades and we pay taxes. It’s clear the FDLR and Rastas are working together.”
Most homes here are huts of grass and bamboo and many stand in small compounds amidst groves of banana trees. Toilets are two boards over a festering hole in a rickety shed. Huts and groves sit on small plateaus dwarfed by the abutting hills, but the outward suggestion of a tranquil, ordinary life is belied by the ubiquitous threat of terror.
Hungry people dig up riverbeds and sift through dust for minerals sold by the fractions of ounces in remote markets. Trees are felled for firewood and charcoal, and to make way for crops. Under the constant assault of six-foot long steel blades manually drawn and pushed by two laborers, the last pockets of unprotected forests in the area are falling plank by plank.
Operation Night Flash
Three and half hours march from Nindja the troops of the two spikes of Operation Iron Fist meet in a high clearing. There are two FDLR camps nearby. But for the crackle of distant fire carried like the white-naped ravens on the mountain breezes, the land is still: even the local civilians disappear in fear of the alien soldiers.
With daily killings, raping and looting from at least 2003, some areas have become almost uninhabited, especially after September 2004. March 2005 found 2500 families in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
“Armed factions abduct groups of civilians and hold them hostage to extort cash ransoms,” MONUC’s Human Rights section reported in March. “Women and girls held are often subjected to sexual violence and younger girls may be held for months at a time in camps where they are used as domestic workers or sex slaves. Armed Rwandan Hutu groups abducted around sixty persons in January in Walungu territory. Attacks in other nearby territories also occurred.”
On March, 12 Pakistani and FARDC soldiers began patrolling villages at night. With some 524 villages in the Walungu territory, MONUC’s “Operation Night Flash” couldn’t cover every village. Village defense committees were organized by MONUC, with village youths patrolling through the night, banging pots and blowing whistles to alert nearby soldiers’ camps when any strangers arrived.
Some 2,500 Congolese FARDC troops committing atrocities were relocated by MONUC in March and replaced with MONUC-trained integrated FARDC brigades. Incidents of terror declined with deterrence actions by MONUC, and most families filtered back to their homes.
“The new troops are better taking care of the local population,” says Pakistani Major Waqar, at an outpost in Walungu, “And they know how to behave in a military fashion.”
While the situation near Walungu has improved, Waqar believes that the Rastas likely moved into the northern zone. “Twelve girls were recently kidnapped near Kahuzi Beiga Park,” he says.
Military and civilian MONUC staff note that it is just a matter of time before unpaid and mostly uneducated FARDC soldiers recently moved to the area begin to take exactions on the populace, with the concomitant violence, corruption and impunity.
And with transnational corporations and international NGOs pouring money into Congo, there is no shortage of funds in Kinshasa from which soldiers could be paid. Four hundred million dollars poured into Congo for elections alone in recent months.
“We are supposed to have 3,000 FARDC troops,” says one MONUC staffer in Bukavu. “We trained these troops with the hopes that they would be made available to Pakistani troops for operations. When we called on them they said, ‘Oh, sorry, we have no logistics supply.'”
June to August is the dry season here. MONUC trucks fly over red dirt roads that have seen little rain for weeks. The red powder gets into everything. As the convoys pass, women turn their overloaded backs to the road and hang their heads under dust-soaked shawls, and the pitiful peddlers of biscuits or cigarettes or little piles of food duck under coats or plastic bags.
Crowds of wide-eyed, bony children, dressed in rags, hover around grassy banks with grasping hands and desperate ideas. “BEES-QUEET, BEES-QUEET, BEES-QUEET,” they scream. Months of experience tell the children that a handful of two-penny butter biscuits may fly from a passing MONUC truck: some trucks stop and hand them out; others pitch biscuits into the crowd, inciting brief riots.
MONUC soldiers and staff are sensitive to the criticisms about their troops throwing biscuits to children, to the news reports accusing MONUC of doing nothing, and to the Congolese people’s perceptions about MONUC largesse and inaction.
“People are really hungry around here,” says Major Waqar. “Just look around. They love us for sharing food. We have really changed the perceptions about what we are doing and why we are here. We are trying to bring peace. Anyway, is it wrong to give biscuits to starving children?”
Gen. Shujatt Alikahn is more blunt. “The UN Security Council said ‘no forcible disarmament by MONUC.’ Everything changed on May 23 when the FDLR mutilated 23 people. Pakistan has fifty years in the United Nations and we won’t let this terrorism happen to these people. We decided to take the risks upon ourselves.”
MONUC is one player amongst many. The MONUC mission is limited in mandate and troop strength, staff point out, but MONUC is tasked with fighting a bullet-less war against a complex and ever-moving target, and it is criticized for every effort at every turn. While atrocities have abated or declined in some areas under MONUC control, MONUC’s security reach is limited. Remote areas of northern and eastern DRC remain completely inaccessible to MONUC peacekeepers; rape remains widespread, with extortion, pillage, and sporadic massacres continuing in many areas.
Frank conversations with UN personnel about MONUC reveal the following: Bureaucracy is thick and unwieldy. Conspirators lurk within and without. Decisions are deeply politicized. Critical reports and investigations are internally buried. Essential maps and information are unavailable. Slackers who should long ago have been fired are getting a free ride because the system disallows appropriate action. Rules and regulations drafted in the 1950’s have not evolved or changed with the times. Ditto for the leadership, who are seen to be stodgy, unimaginative, hopelessly entrenched in a failed system.
Multinational corporations are pulling many strings, and profiting widely. Budgets are obscene, given the absolute poverty evident in the Congo. Member states don’t pay their dues, and then their diplomats say that the United Nations is a failure, that it needs to be dismantled. Agents bought and paid for by powerful governments serve only the narrow mandates of their masters. The United States is cited as the most obvious and shameless culprit. Recent stories about Congo that have appeared in western media only reinforce the biases held by the general public.
MONUC has around 20 soldiers from western nations: three French; four British; eight Canadians; three Irish; three Swiss; and zero from the U.S. Soldiers come from the poorest Third World countries: they are cheap, easily manipulated and–notably–they are expendable. Indeed, there is a hierarchy of value attached to the lives of UN soldiers that varies with nationality. While soldiers suffer the hardships of malaria and rat-filled camps, risking their lives against an enemy they know little about, many are happy for low paying work and any opportunity to rise above squalid conditions in their own countries. However, incentives to high performance are often lacking, and military contingents vary in devotion to the peacekeeping cause. However, many MONUC staff, both civilian and military, put in twelve to fourteen hour days, at least six days a week, with no personal life and total dedication to stopping this brutal, ugly war.
The End of the Hutu Line
UN sources are unclear how many foreign rebels have been returned from DRC to Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda through the MONUC Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Reinsertion (DDRRR) program in Bukavu: estimates vary between 12,000 and 4000. Most rebels returned in the early stages of the program, but returnees reduced to a trickle after 2003.
The FDLR foot soldiers are in a tight position. Amongst them are battle-hardened Hutus accused of participating in genocide against hundreds of thousands of Tutsis killed in 1994.
But the Rwandan military led by Paul Kagame has persecuted Hutus and Tutsis alike both inside and outside of Rwanda. Thousands of Hutu refugees and returnees to Rwanda are said to have been killed over the past several years. UN High Commission for Refugees investigator Robert Gersony in September 1994 produced the first report about Rwandan Tutsi forces committing massive atrocities against Hutus. The UN in New York buried the report.
By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees were hunted down and murdered by Rwandan and Ugandan militaries that invaded Congo (then Zaire) in 1996 in what the Congolese know officially as the “War of Liberation” that ultimately overthrew the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. New York Times journalist Howard French reported the “counter-genocide” against Hutus as early as 1997: at least 80% were women and children, and 50% were believed to be under 14 years old.
Hutus from Rwanda who survived the RPF onslaught later fought for Mobutu, but Rwanda and Uganda, with US-support, ousted Mobutu’s regime. Hutu FDLR in Congo then fought to defend President Laurent Kabila against the second Rwanda/Uganda invasion in 1998, that the Congolese now know as the “First War of Aggression.” Many of the FDLR now in the Kivus are believed to have arrived from Kinshasa as recent as 2003.
In April, 2005, thousands of Hutus fled Rwanda to Burundi after the RPF-organized “Gacaca” village genocide courts began operating, unjustly they said. The village courts–like the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda–are accused of doling out “victor’s justice” that favors the Tutsi-dominated RPF military.
The International Forum for Truth and Justice in the Great Lakes Region of Africa recently filed a lawsuit in a Spanish court, based on years of research, against Paul Kagame and other Rwandan military leaders. The suit accuses them of massive war crimes in the series of conflicts that engulfed Central Africa following the RPF invasion of Rwanda from Uganda in 1990.
“Rwanda will never be interested in these people going back,” a high-level MONUC source said. “The moment these FDLR go back to Rwanda the international mining companies will take over the mining areas that today benefit Rwanda. Rwanda is working with the FDLR and Congolese are definitely involved or these people wouldn’t be able to do what they are doing.”
Paradoxically, the Rwanda regime is accused of collaborating with the FDLR’s resource-extraction operations, even while intervening in Congo to hunt them down, accusing them of being filled with “genocidiares”–veterans of the Interahamwe militias that carried out mass slaughter of Hutus in 1994.
Internal squabbles have repeatedly divided the FDLR over the decade since the militia first arrived from Rwanda. Late June 2005 saw the most recent split, where a local low-ranking militiaman named Amani declared himself the leader of the FDLR and guide for their return to Rwanda.
Col. Joseph Hagirimana, an important local FDLR leader, rejected Amani’s declaration. Some FDLR interviewed by MONUC’s DDRRR team appear confused and frightened, uncertain who to trust or where to turn for help. DDRRR personnel face their own challenges here. “We have seen many FDLR declarations,” said Gen. Cammaert. “We want to see action.”
Some believe the Amani made a deal with the Congolese government, that he will be given a military command and a villa in Rwanda in exchange for removing the FDLR–the main obstacle to the vast mineral reserves of South Kivu.
“Many members rejected the FDLR leadership and broke with it in 2004,” says Jean-Marie Higiro, past president of the unarmed political wing of the FDLR. “That FDLR leadership recently split again, into factions led by Lt. Colonel Christophe Hakizabera and Dr. Ignace Murwanashyaka, who both live in Europe.”
In September 2004 exiled and disaffected Rwandans who rejected the FDLR position– mostly Hutu, and mostly in Europe–created a new organization, Urunana, with an armed wing, Imbonera, dedicated to “overthrowing the fascist dictatorship of Paul Kagame in Rwanda.” With bases inside and out of Rwanda, Imbonera will intervene in the DRC “if Rwandan refugees are hunted down as animals by General Paul Kagame’s forces.”
Congolese Air Force Gen. John Numbe is adamant that Rwanda uses the FDLR to justify meddling in Congo. “We are finishing these FDLR before the Congolese elections [in November]… Rwandan sources have told us that Kagame has a plan to destabilize the elections in Congo. We must remove the FDLR because they are the reason Kagame is always invading Congo.”
“The UN still hopes that every means of peaceful resolution can be used to deal with the FDLR,” says MONUCís Sylvie van den Wildenberg. “It is the hardliners, the Hutus, most probably involved in genocide, that are blocking the process. Rwanda has said that there will be an amnesty for people who were under fourteen years old in 1994. We think that every human being should have a choice.”
Christian is an FDLR soldier. He watched listlessly as Operation Iron Fist unfolded in Nindja. “I don’t want to go back to Rwanda because the problem I have is still there. Kagame killed my parents at Ryabega [northern Rwanda] in 1990. We cannot trust Kagame. He will kill us all.”
Christian is wearing a tattered Patagonia brand jacket made in America. Christian insists he is twenty years old, but, clearly, he is no older than sixteen. His gun is almost as big as he is, but there is no question that he knows how to use it.
“Instead of going home to be killed by Kagame, I accept to be killed by MONUC or FARDC,” he says. Alphonse has the bravado of a cornered teenage boy; behind this front is only fear.
Like Christian, many FDLR are child soldiers hardly old enough to recall the details of their flight from Rwanda. Most know nothing of the complexity of the cause they fight for. Many FDLR were born in Congo; some are held hostage here.
Christian wants only to go home. But to most of the world, Christian is no longer a human being, he is a Hutu, and there is no home on earth where he will be welcome.