from Weekly News Update on the Americas


Early on Dec. 8, a delegation of 12 cooperative members from the autonomous worker-controlled Bauen hotel were violently ousted from the Buenos Aires municipal legislature as they sought to attend a debate concerning their dispute with the hotel’s former owners. A larger group of Bauen workers had been waiting for eight hours outside the legislature, but when the debate finally began at around 2:30 AM, only 12 of the 60 workers remaining outside were allowed to enter the chambers, even though the sessions are supposed to be open to the public.

Shortly after the debate began, the 12 Bauen workers–most of them women–began to whistle their disapproval at deputy Mario Morando, author of a bill which seeks to return the Bauen hotel to the Iurcovich family, its original owners. Legislature president Santiago de Estrada responded by ordering the workers removed. Nearly 50 police agents arrived and attacked the 12 Bauen workers, beating them and spraying some kind of irritant gas in their eyes. After the workers were ejected from the chambers, the legislature continued its discussion, finally approving the creation of a commission of seven deputies to head a four-month negotiation process between the worker cooperative and the former owners. The workers’ cooperative is determined to maintain its control of the hotel. (ANRed, Dec. 8 via Resumen Latinoamericano) The owners shut down the hotel in 2001. Two years later, 40 of the original workers reoccupied it and opened it for business; the workers’ cooperative that runs it now has 150 members. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Dec. 10)


On Nov. 28 the government of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner suddenly announced a reshuffling of his cabinet, with Banco de la Nacion president Felisa Miceli replacing Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna; ambassador to Venezuela Nilda Garre replacing Defense Minister Jose Pampuro; Deputy Foreign Relations Minister Jorge Taiana replacing Foreign Relations Minister Rafael Bielsa; and Juan Carlos Nadalich replacing Alicia Kirchner, the president’s sister, as head of the Social Action Ministry.

Cabinet changes were expected. Three of the former ministers–Pampura, Bielsa and Alicia Kirchner–were leaving to take seats they won in Oct. 23 legislative elections. But analysts were surprised by the firing of Economy Minister Lavagna. Appointed by interim president Eduardo Duhalde in April 2002, five months after the collapse of Argentina’s economy, Lavagna had maintained conservative fiscal policies while holding off the most drastic demands of foreign creditors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Argentina’s economy grew at more than an 8% annual rate over the last three years. The Argentine stock market reacted to Lavagna’s departure on Nov. 28 by falling 4.49% that day in heavy trading.

Analysts say President Kirchner is moving to the left following the success of his candidates in the October legislative vote, including the election of his wife, Cristina Fernandez, as senator from Buenos Aires province. Economy Minister Miceli is considered close to Lavagna and worked in his consulting firm, but she appears to be to his left. “The orthodox measures for lowering inflation are the peace of the cemetery,” she said recently, indicating her negative view of neoliberal policies. Defense Minister Garre was a defender of left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez when she was in Caracas. Miceli and Garre are the first women to head Argentina’s economy and defense ministries. (Inter Press Service, Nov. 28; New York Times, Nov. 29; Financial Times, Nov. 29; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #115

See also our last update on the struggle in Argentina:


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2006
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from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Dec. 15 some 100-200 Brazilian federal police agents, backed by a helicopter and armed with tear gas and rifles that fire rubber bullets, forcibly evicted more than 500 Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous people from their homes on the officially recognized 9,300-hectare territory of Nande Ru Marangatu, in Antonio Joao municipality, Mato Grosso do Sul state. The community did not put up physical resistance to the eviction. After police and human rights observers left the scene, the ranchers who claim the land arrived and set fire to the community’s homes.

One of the evicted Guarani men described the scene to Survival International: “Helicopters flew very low over the area. Children were screaming and crying. Three people fainted and were taken to hospital. Everyone was crying and standing on the side of the road with nothing in the baking sun. We have nothing to eat. The ranchers when the police weren’t there burned all our food, our clothes and documents. They burned 15 houses. The only things we have left are the clothes on our bodies.” A Guarani-Kaiowa woman who was six months pregnant became startled by the low-flying helicopter, and fell down and suffered a miscarriage. Two journalists from Netherlands state television were arrested during the eviction.

The government sought to relocate the Guarani-Kaiowa to a 26-hectare section of the territory, but community leaders say that plot is a swamp, unfit for human habitation or crop cultivation. The evicted families have instead begun setting up makeshift homes along the highway, where they are unprotected from the rainy weather. They are surviving on donated food. Antonio Joao mayor Junei Marques said he will propose to the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) that the Guarani-Kaiowa be housed temporarily on land belonging to the army.

For years the Guarani-Kaiowa barely survived on a nine-hectare plot—much too small for their traditional subsistence agriculture–while campaigning for the return of their territory. On March 29 of this year, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva finally signed off on the demarcation of Nande Ru Marangatu, and the community spent the subsequent months planting crops on the land. But the Supreme Federal Tribunal subsequently issued a preliminary decision suspending the demarcation, and a court ruling ordered the land returned to the ranchers who claim ownership of it. (Survival International press release, Dec. 16; Adital, Brazil, Dec. 16; Agencia Brasil, Dec. 16, 17)

Meanwhile, 29 people have been detained in Operation Rio Pardo, Brazil’s first ever investigation into the genocide of indigenous peoples. The former governor of Mato Grosso state, Wilmar Peres de Farias, and former elite police commander Roberto de Almeida Gil are among the public figures accused in a plot by land grabbers and logging companies to eliminate the uncontacted Rio Pardo tribe. Speaking from the city of Cuiaba, public prosecutor Mario Lucio Avelar told Survival he believed there were sufficient grounds to prosecute for genocide. In November Brazilian TV showed the first known images of the Rio Pardo tribe; no outsiders know who they are or what language they speak. FUNAI found camps inside the territory with land measuring equipment, and bombs and ammunition to intimidate the indigenous residents. Invaders admit they found 30 hurriedly abandoned indigenous shelters. (Survival International press release, Dec. 14)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 18


On Dec. 10, a jury in the northern Brazilian city of Belem, capital of Para state, found Rayfran das Neves Sales and Clodoaldo Carlos Batista guilty of the murder on Feb. 12, 2005 of US-born activist nun and land rights defender Dorothy Stang in a rural area of Para. Sales, who shot Stang, was sentenced to 27 years in prison, while Batista was sentenced to 17 years for his complicity in the killing. Sales will be retried, since under Brazilian law anyone sentenced to more than 20 years in prison gets an automatic right to a retrial. Sales claimed he acted in self-defense, saying he believed the 73-year old nun was reaching for a gun when she put her hand in her bag to pull out her bible. Batista claimed there was no plan to murder Stang. Another three men, including landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, are expected to go on trial sometime in 2006 for the murder; Moura is accused of having offered 50,000 reais (about $22,200) to Sales and Batista to murder Stang. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Dec. 11 from AP; Miami Herald, Dec. 11 from wire services)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also our last update on land struggles in Brazil:


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Residents of the Machiguenga and other indigenous communities of the lower Urubamba river area in Peru’s Ucayali region began a 72-hour strike on Dec. 2 to protest the government’s failure to address the problems caused by gas spills on the Camisea pipeline. The strike was prompted by a spill of at least 5,000 barrels of condensed liquid gas on Nov. 24 in the Machiguenga Communal Reserve near the Vilcabamba mountain range in Echarati district, which has affected the communities living in the Urubamba and Ucayali river basins. It was the fourth spill from the 430-mile long Camisea pipeline in less than a year. (El Diario del Cusco, Dec. 6 via Amazon Alliance; Dallas Business Journal online version, Dec. 8; Regional Indigenous Organization of Atalaya-OIRA, Nov. 30)

Edward Bendezu Palomino, general secretary of the Federation of Residents of the Lower Urubamba, said the situation of the indigenous communities in the area is desperate, since they can no longer eat local fish or drink the water. Residents are demanding that the government declare a state of emergency for the gas pipeline and halt all activities of the Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP) consortium until it offers security guarantees to prevent future spills. As a first step, the communities are demanding that a high-level commission with decision-making powers arrive in the zone within a week. Bendezu said the indigenous communities don’t trust the promises of the government or the company, since after the third spill it was promised that measures would be taken to prevent similar incidents. (EDdC, Dec. 6) TGP is a joint venture between the Dallas, Texas-based Hunt Oil, the Argentine company Techint and five other shareholders. (DBJ, Dec. 8)

On Dec. 5, members of the indigenous federations of the Lower Urubamba COMARU, CECONAMA and FECONAYY met in the indigenous community of Nuevo Mundo and resolved to continue their strike and blockade along the Urubamba river until Dec. 12. The groups are demanding a meeting in the community of Kirigueti between the indigenous federations, the managers of the TGP and Pluspetrol companies, and authorities from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Supervisory Organization of Investment in Energy (OSINERG), along with district-level, provincial and departmental officials and members of the media from Lima and Cusco. The federations have 14 demands to be addressed at the meeting, including that the causes of the gas spill be determined; that the entire route of the Camisea gas pipeline be visually inspected; that the damages in indigenous communities be repaired, and all the affected communities compensated and provided with adequate medical services to monitor the impact of the spill on residents’ health; that self-sustaining fish farms be created in all the communities of the area in order to restore residents’ primary food supply; that the region be provided with electrical service and a gas distribution facility; and that indigenous workers on the Camisea project be paid wages on a par with the project’s foreign workers. (Joint communique from COMARU, CECONAMA, FECONAYY, Dec. 5 via Amazon Alliance)

Jeremias Sebastian Sandoval, president of the indigenous community of Miaria, said police committed acts of violence against his community on the first day of the strike, Dec. 2. Sandoval accused TGP of paying police agents to attack the indigenous protesters. (EDdC, Dec. 6)

According to Amazon Watch, a Washington, DC-based organization, the Nov. 24 spill has prompted a joint commission from Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines and OSINERG to begin an emergency review of the Camisea pipeline situation. “We will have the results of an audit of the Camisea pipelines [soon], and these could lead to fines and even to the operator losing the concession if it failed to comply with the technical norms of the contract,” said Gustavo Navarro, director of the state oil and gas company Hidrocarburos de Peru, in an interview with Reuters. (DBJ, Dec. 8)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #115

See also our last update on Peru:


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

The 31 new judges of Ecuador’s Supreme Court of Justice were sworn in, along with 21 alternate judges, on Nov. 30 by Carlos Estarellas, president of a four-member commission appointed to choose the magistrates. Ecuadoran president Alfredo Palacio and Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza attended the ceremony. Ecuador has had no functional Supreme Court since last April 15, when president Lucio Gutierrez dismissed the entire court and was himself ousted from office five days later. (ENH, Dec. 1 from AFP; MH, Dec. 1 from wire services; AP, Dec. 4)

In a surprise executive decree signed on Nov. 30 and released on Dec. 1, Palacio asked the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to call a voter referendum for Jan. 22 on whether to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. The move led TSE president Gilberto Vaca to resign on Dec. 3, saying he would not “lend myself to violate the Constitution.” Ecuador’s Congress, which had been negotiating with the president over constitutional reforms, threatened on Dec. 3 to impeach Palacio if he moves forward with the referendum. (La Jornada, Dec. 2 from Reuters; El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 4 from AFP; Miami Herald, Dec. 2, 4) The constituent assembly is a key demand of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which mobilized some 10,000 indigenous people to Quito Nov. 16-18.

On Dec. 2, in another unexpected and unexplained move, Palacio replaced three of Ecuador’s top military commanders in a brief ceremony at the government palace. Palacio appointed Gen. Nelson Enriquez to replace Vice Adm. Manuel Zapater as head of the joint command; Gen. Robert Tandazo to replace Gen. Jorge Zurita as head of the army, and Gen. Jorge Moreno to replace Gen. Edmundo Baquero as head of the air force. The changes came as Defense Minister Osvaldo Jarrin was on an official visit to Spain. (MH, Dec. 3 from wire services)

On Nov. 29, for the sixth time this year, 164 indigenous and campesino communities in the northern Ecuadoran provinces of Pichincha and Imbabura began blocking local highways to demand that the government release $50 million in funding for a drinking water project. The open-ended strike practically shut down Imbabura province and paralyzed traffic along the PanAmerican highway, which links Ecuador with Colombia. (Clajadep, Nov. 30 via Ecuador Indymedia)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 4


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #116


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

With 79% of the votes counted on the evening of Dec. 4, the six parties supporting left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias had won all 167 seats in the National Assembly in national legislative elections that day. Chavez’s own party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), won 114 seats, according to MVR deputy William Lara, giving it 68% of the seats, more than the two-thirds required to make constitutional amendments and to approve key appointments. Together the pro-Chavez parties received 88.8% of the vote, according to National Electoral Council (CNE) president Jorge Rodriguez. The CNE reported that voter turnout was just 25%, considerably lower than Chavez supporters had expected.

With high ratings for Chavez in opinion polls and with the main opposition parties dropping out on Nov. 29 and calling for a boycott, a victory by pro-Chavez parties had seemed assured. But the high abstention rate was a concern for the government. Preliminary statements from observers for the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS) on Dec. 6 held that the elections were clean but that the low turnout reflected “distrust” in the CNE. Chavez himself said on Dec. 6 that the turnout “must be looked at, analyzed and considered.” “Nobody can claim the abstention as a victory,” he told supporters. (, Dec. 4, 6; AP, Dec. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11

On Nov. 29, four Venezuelan opposition parties from the “Unity” coalition announced they were pulling their candidates out of national legislative elections scheduled for Dec. 4, allegedly because the National Electoral Council (CNE) had failed to guarantee a secret ballot. On Nov. 28, the CNE had said it would not use fingerprint machines to identify voters; the previous week opposition forces demonstrated that the machines store the sequence in which votes are cast, allowing that sequence to potentially be matched against the fingerprints and destroying a guarantee of secrecy. (Miami Herald, Nov. 30)

Democratic Action (AD), a former social democratic ruling party which currently has 23 seats in the 165-seat National Assembly, was the first to announce it was boycotting the elections. The former ruling Christian Democratic party COPEI, with six seats, and the conservative Project Venezuela, with seven seats, quickly followed suit. Later on Nov. 29, the center-right party Justice First, with five seats, announced it was also pulling out.

The center-left Movement Toward Socialism, the second-largest opposition party with 11 seats in the Assembly, did not withdraw from the elections. But as of Dec. 1, the vote boycott had been joined by a dissident group of MAS candidates, as well as the Citizen Force, Cadecide, Red Flag and Democratic Left parties and 11 independent candidates. Still participating in the elections were 49 opposition candidates, of which 23 were independent and the rest were from the MAS and New Time, the party of Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales. In the current Assembly, opposition parties have a combined total of 79 seats. (MH, Nov. 30, Dec. 3; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 30) On Dec. 3, left-populist president Hugo Chavez Frias cited figures from the CNE that 556 candidates out of a total of more than 5,500 had pulled out of the race. (MH, Dec. 4 from AP) The ruling 5th Republic Movement (MVR) currently has 69 deputies, who together with 17 allies from minor parties hold a slim majority control of the Assembly with 52%. (MH, Dec. 4; LJ, Nov. 30)

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel publicly welcomed the opposition parties’ withdrawal, saying they were “doing so because they have no votes,” and that it was “time for them to disappear off the map.” (MH, Nov. 30) Chavez said he was not surprised by the attitude of AD and COPEI, which alternated in ruling Venezuela between 1958 and 1988. “They were left without people after having looted and handed the country over to imperialism,” said Chavez. “What fraud?” he rhetorically asked the parties. “Accept the truth, you have no people.” (LJ, Nov. 30 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Chavez also accused the opposition parties of planning a conspiracy backed by the US government to disrupt the elections. (ENH, Dec. 4 from AP) On Dec. 2, Rangel confirmed that 11 people had been arrested that day in Zulia state; they are suspected of stockpiling dozens of Molotov bombs. Officials said the individuals were trying to block a road when they were caught with 31 containers of fuel, tacks, tires and false military identification cards. (ENH, Dec. 3; MH, Dec. 4 from AP) Rangel also confirmed the confiscation of 24 kilos of C-4 explosives in the central state of Guarico. (LJ, Dec. 4) A rustic homemade bomb exploded near a government legal office in Caracas on Dec. 2, causing minor injuries to a man and an adolescent, according to the attorney general’s office. Two other explosives, apparently grenades, were detonated at the Fort Tiuna military base in Caracas, seriously wounding a police officer. (ENH, AP, Dec. 4)

On Nov. 28, a delegation of six members of the US Congress and 22 congressional staff members arrived in Caracas for a visit during which they planned to meet with Venezuelan government officials and leaders from opposition groups including the “election monitoring” group Sumate, which is funded by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Sumate issued a call for Venezuelans to abstain from voting in the Dec. 4 elections and instead go to church that day and pray for “transparency and the truth.” (MH, Nov. 30 from correspondent, Dec. 4 from AP)

But the US delegation, headed by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), chair of the House International Relations Committee, never got off the plane. Airport authorities initially refused to allow the aircraft to park near the official VIP terminal, then didn’t allow vehicles to approach the plane to pick up the passengers, according to US officials. The Venezuelan foreign ministry said in a statement that the delegation’s arrival was “delayed a few more minutes” because the VIP terminal was reserved for Spanish defense minister Jose Bono. The statement said Rangel’s office was negotiating a solution to the “inconveniences” when the US delegation decided to leave. Bono was in Caracas on Nov. 28 to sign a deal under which Venezuela is buying eight patrol ships and 12 planes from Spain. The US government opposes the deal. (MH, Nov. 30; LJ, Nov. 29)

On Dec. 2 the US State Department rejected the accusation that it was promoting the opposition’s electoral boycott. The AD and Justice First parties also denied any connection. “The democratic opposition does not have and will not have any political links with the US government or with any other government,” said AD leader and deputy Alfonso Marquina. (ENH, Dec. 3)

On Dec. 1, thousands of Chavez supporters marched through the streets of Caracas to call for participation in the elections and protest the maneuvers of the opposition parties. Marchers carried coffins with the names of the traditional parties, particularly COPEI and AD. Current National Assembly president Nicolas Maduro told the marchers that the boycotting parties “are in the service of the empire.” (LJ, Dec. 2)

Chavez’s base is meanwhile pushing him to deepen the country’s revolutionary reforms. About 10 independent left parties support Chavez but remain outside his MVR coalition. The National Network of Bolivarian Circles, which groups the pro-Chavez grassroots community groups, is urging its members to vote for some of the more radical forces, including the Communist Party. “We have to make a turn to the left, because regrettably the MVR has had the opportunity to change the direction of the process, but hasn’t done it,” said Marcos Sosa, a spokesperson for the Bolivarian Circles. (LJ, Dec. 3)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 4


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #116

See also our last update on Venezuela:


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


According to a report from the Minga Association for Alternative Social Promotion, on Dec. 4 and 5 a group of about 200 armed and uniformed paramilitaries entered the rural communities of La Mas Verde and Nuevo Horizonte, within the jurisdiction of Santa Isabel in Curumani municipality, in the northeastern Colombian department of Cesar. The paramilitaries, who entered and departed the area unchallenged by government forces, identified themselves as members of the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) operating under the command of paramilitary leader “Jorge 40.” (Jorge 40’s real name is Rodrigo Tovar Pupo; he has been one of the AUC’s negotiators in demobilization talks with the government in Santa Fe de Ralito. According to the schedule laid out in a July 2003 accord, all of AUC’s troops are supposed to be demobilized by the end of 2005.)

The paramilitaries abused, humiliated and tortured campesinos in the two communities before detaining an undetermined number of them. At least 22 of the abducted campesinos were subsequently found murdered, some by gunfire and some by knives or machetes. The paramilitaries imposed a blockade on the communities until Dec. 7, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the area, and preventing any news of the massacre from getting out. They then withdrew to their bases in the municipalities of Curumani and Pailitas, in Cesar, taking with them cattle and other possessions belonging to local residents.

Residents subsequently buried one of the murdered campesinos in a makeshift grave in La Mas Verde, because the body was decomposing rapidly. The army took the bodies of four other victims to the urban center of Curumani. The remaining 17 bodies were left lying out, exposed to the elements, in the two communities, as residents waited for judicial or police authorities to recover and identify them; as of Dec. 10, no authorities had made any effort to do so. (Asociacion Minga, Dec. 10)

Spokespersons from the Colombian Armed Forces who refused to be identified told Associated Press on Dec. 11 that they have no official reports confirming the massacre, but that they are in the process of verifying the information. (AP, Dec. 11)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11


On Dec. 13, Colombia’s Chamber of Deputies voted 81 to 11 to approve a bill which opponents say will open the country’s forests to logging by multinational companies. The Senate already passed a version of the “Forest Law”; the two bills will now be reconciled and the final version presented to Uribe for his signature. Uribe had lobbied for the bill; it is fiercely opposed by Colombia’s environmental, indigenous, African-descendant and campesino communities, who say they will challenge it in court. (El Tiempo, Bogota, Dec. 14; Censat Agua Viva website)

On Dec. 16, in response to a legal challenge to a “free trade treaty” (TLC) being negotiated between Colombia, the US, Ecuador and Peru, the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca department ordered Uribe’s government “to abstain from the partial or total signing…of any agreement which would have a harmful impact on collective rights.” It is a preliminary injunction; the departmental court with jurisdiction over Bogota has not yet made a decision about whether the TLC is in fact harmful to collective rights, natural resources, indigenous culture and campesino activities, as claimed by grassroots activists. (EFE, Dec. 16)

The legal challenge was brought by Efrain Barbosa, a professor at the National University of Colombia who has also been active against the Forest Law. (EFE, Dec. 16; Censat Agua Viva website)

The injunction was announced a day after Trade Minister Jorge Humberto Botero announced that no final agreement on the TLC had been reached this year and that negotiations would resume in mid-January. The two sides have yet to reach a deal on the issues of agriculture, healthcare and intellectual property. (EFE, Dec. 16)

On Dec. 11, Uribe–who faces reelection in 2006–announced that in 2006 his government would approve a “generous” increase in Colombia’s minimum wage. The Unitary Workers Federation (CUT) responded by pointing out that some 8.1 million Colombian workers receive less than the legal minimum wage–some because their employers are breaking the law, others because they work in the informal sector. (AP, Dec. 12) On Dec. 14, a tripartite commission made up of the CUT, the government and business sector reached an agreement on wages and price controls for basic goods and services, among other issues. (Text of Agreement posted by CUT Dec. 14 on Colombia Indymedia)


On Dec. 16, representatives of the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel organization met in Havana, Cuba, to begin a round of “exploratory dialogues” to discuss a possible peace process. The governments of Spain, Norway and Switzerland are acting as observers at the talks; delegates of Colombian civil society are also represented. The talks were inaugurated by famed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (ENH, Dec. 17 from AFP)

On Dec. 13, Uribe and his government’s High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, announced that the government had agreed to demilitarize 180 square kilometers on the border between the departments of Valle del Cauca and Tolima in order to pave the way for an exchange of prisoners with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Under the exchange, military and civilian hostages held by the FARC would be exchanged for 300 rebels held in Colombian prisons. The FARC would also have to withdraw troops from the zone, and international observers would verify compliance before the two sides meet to work out details at a public school in the village of El Retiro in Florida municipality, Valle del Cauca. The “humanitarian exchange” was proposed by an international commission made up of delegates of the governments of France, Spain and Switzerland.

“The government accepts this proposal,” said Uribe at a press conference. “I confess humbly that this implies a concession from the government. I do it humbly but also with responsibility. We accept this modification to the positions we have maintained…because we trust in the international community.” When Uribe began his term in 2002, he insisted he would make no deals with the FARC. (ENH, Dec. 14)


On Dec. 13, Judge Floreddy Gonzalez in Bogota announced the sentencing in absentia of FARC military chief Jorge Briceno Suarez, known as “Mono Jojoy,” for ordering the 1999 abduction and murder of three US indigenous rights activists in the eastern Colombian department of Arauca. Briceno was sentenced to 39 years in prison and a fine of 102 minimum monthly salaries for ordering the killing.

Indigenous rights activists Ingrid Washinawatok, Terence Freitas and Lahe’ena’e Gay were visiting the territory of the indigenous U’wa people as the Uwa’s invited guests when they were kidnapped by the FARC’s 45th Front on Feb. 25, 1999; their bodies were found a week later, on March 4, on the Venezuelan side of the border. The FARC subsequently admitted that its forces had carried out the killings.

Briceno’s brother, German Briceno Suarez (“Grannobles”), headed the FARC’s 45th and 10th fronts and was in control over the area where the activists were abducted. The conviction of Jorge Briceno–the FARC’s top military commander–was based on a recording in which his brother German apparently said: “Settle this thing, the boss authorized this matter of the gringos, that it should be done on the other side so as to not leave traces.”

The judge acquitted Nelson Vargas Rueda, a campesino from Saravena, Arauca, for lack of evidence that he participated in the crime. (In May 2003 Vargas was extradited to the US to face trial there for the murder; the US government later dropped its case against him for lack of evidence and returned him to Colombia on July 1, 2004.) (El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 14 from AP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 18


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #116

See also our last update on Colombia:


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Dec. 23, with 99.7% of the votes counted from the Dec. 18 general elections, Bolivia’s National Electoral Court (CNE) announced that Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) had won the presidency with nearly 54% of the valid votes cast. Morales got more than 1.5 million votes; turnout was an unprecedented 84.52% of the country’s 3,670,971 registered voters. He will be inaugurated on Jan. 22 for a five-year term, taking over from interim president Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, the former Supreme Court president who became president of Bolivia last June 9 after popular protests forced out the previous president, Carlos Mesa Gisbert.

Jorge Quiroga of the right-wing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) coalition took second place with 28.59%. (Quiroga previously served as interim president from Aug. 7, 2001 to Aug. 6, 2002; he had been elected as vice president in 1997 on the ticket with former dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez, and took over the presidency after Banzer became sick with cancer and stepped down.) Two other right-wing candidates trailed: Samuel Doria Medina of the National Unity Front (UN) with 7.8% and Michiaki Nagatani of the formerly ruling Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) with 6.47%. The Indigenous Pachakuti Movement (MIP) of Altiplano campesino leader Felipe Quispe Huanca got 2.16% of the vote. Three other parties–including the right-wing New Republican Force (NFR), led by Manfred Reyes Villa, who came in a close third behind Morales in the 2002 elections–each got less than 1% of the vote. Parties which get less than 3% of the vote apparently lose their legal electoral status. (El Diario, La Paz, Dec. 24; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Dec. 24 from AFP; , Dec. 23; CNE website, Dec. 25; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 24 from Reuters, AFP)

In the 130-seat Chamber of Deputies, the MAS will have a majority with 64 seats, followed by Podemos with 44, the UN with 10 and the MNR with eight. One seat each went to the MIP, the Agricultural Patriotic Front of Bolivia (Frepab) and the Social Union of Bolivian Workers (USTB). In the 27-member Senate, the MAS will hold 12 seats, Podemos will have 13, and the UN and MNR will have one each. (Reuters, Dec. 24; AFP, Dec. 23; ENH, Dec. 24 from AFP) The MAS also won at least three of the country’s nine governor’s posts in the Dec. 18 election. (LJ, Dec. 23) [NOTE: the governors or “prefectos” of Bolivia’s nine departments were elected for the first time this year, in response to autonomy demands in the east of the country. They were previously appointed by the president.–WW4R]

According to the CNE, 3.98% of the ballots cast were blank, and 3.36% were void. The CNE said repeat elections will be held in January at several polling places which suffered problems on election day, but results from those sites will not affect the overall results. (ED, Dec. 24; AP, Dec. 23; CNE website, Dec. 25)

The election was historic in a number of ways. In the eight previous general elections held since 1978–when democracy was restored in Bolivia following a period of military governments–no presidential candidate ever won more than 34% of the vote. Morales is also the first indigenous president in a country where the World Bank estimates that 62% of the population is indigenous. (Bolivia Press, Dec. 19; World Bank website] Morales was born into an Aymara indigenous family in the highlands, where he spent his childhood herding llamas and growing potatoes. He later migrated with his family to the coca-growing region of Chapare in the Cochabamba tropics, and gained prominence there as a leader of the campesino coca growers (cocaleros). Morales still owns his own coca leaf plot in the Chapare. (Miami Herald, Dec. 21 from AP)

The new vice president-elect is Alvaro Garcia Linera, a sociologist, mathematician and former member of the leftist rebel group Tupaj (or Tupac) Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK), which was active in the late 1980s in Bolivia. In April 1992 Garcia and his companion at the time, EGTK member and Mexican national Maria Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, were arrested in La Paz in connection with EGTK activities and tortured by the government, according to an Amnesty International report from March 1993. Garcia’s brother, Jose Raul Garcia Linera, and his companion Sylvia Maria Renee de Alarcon, both EGTK members, were arrested in March 1992 and were also tortured. (Amnesty International USA Reports “Bolivia: Cases of torture and extrajudicial executions allegedly committed by the Bolivian security forces,” March 18, 1993 and “Bolivia–Awaiting Justice: Torture, Extrajudicial Executions and Legal Proceedings,” Sept. 18, 1996) The four were among a group of 12 EGTK members–another was Felipe Quispe–who were charged and jailed for more than five years but never sentenced; all were eventually released on parole in 1997 following a series of protests and hunger strikes. Gutierrez fled Bolivia in May 2001 and returned to Mexico, violating probation terms which barred her from leaving the country.


President-elect Morales met on Dec. 21 with the country’s private business leaders. “We want everyone to work together,” Morales told them. Morales said his first move after being sworn into office on Jan. 22 will be to overturn Supreme Decree 21060, the 1985 measure which made Bolivia the first country in Latin America to adopt “free market” and privatization policies. The new administration says it will work with Congress to pass a new law governing economic policy, and plans to impose new taxes on the rich. (Cronica, Buenos Aires, Dec. 24 from Telam)

On Dec. 21 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced it would erase 100% of Bolivia’s IMF debt, along with the debts of 18 other deeply impoverished countries. The total debt forgiveness package covers $3.3 billion; in the Americas the other countries to benefit are Honduras, Nicaragua and Guyana. The IMF will implement the debt forgiveness plan in 2006, according to IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato, and other countries will likely be added. (El Nuevo Herald. Dec. 22 from AP) Bolivia’s debt with the IMF is $222 million, equivalent to 4.48% of its total foreign debt of more than $4.95 billion, according to Simon Cueva, the IMF’s representative in Bolivia. The World Bank is expected to make an announcement about a similar debt forgiveness program in the coming months.

Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) president Juan Antonio Morales said on Dec. 23 that Bolivia currently has a surplus of $438 million; he said exports for 2005 are predicted to reach $2.686 billion, a record high, mainly due to an increase in production volume and favorable prices on the international market. Bolivia’s principal exports are hydrocarbons (oil and gas), metals and grains. The bank president said economic growth this year was expected to be 3.9%. (ENH, Dec. 24 from AFP) Vice president-elect Garcia noted that while Bolivia’s macroeconomic figures “are going well,” poverty has been increasing because of the “injustices of the [neoliberal economic] model.” (ENH, Dec. 25 from AP)

On Dec. 22, Morales and Garcia met with the powerful Federation of Neighborhood Boards (Fejuve) of the city of El Alto. The El Alto Fejuve, headed by Abel Mamani, has led radical protests demanding nationalization of Bolivia’s natural resources, particularly water and gas. The Fejuve leaders signed an agreement with Morales and Garcia, pledging to cooperate with the new government toward fulfilling a series of 18 demands. The agreement did not set deadlines. (El Mundo, Santa Cruz, Dec. 23)

On Dec. 23, at a meeting with leaders of the Mine Workers Union Federation of Bolivia (FSTMB), Morales again promised that one of the first actions of his government will be “to change the economic model” in effect since 1985. Economist Carlos Villegas, the future government’s main adviser, explained to the press that the neoliberal policies imposed with decree 21060 increased the informal sector and unemployment and weakened worker protections. (ENH, Dec. 25 from AP; La Jornada, Dec. 24 from Reuters, AFP)

The Bolivian Workers Central (COB) labor federation took a harsher tone with Morales: COB general secretary Jaime Solares warned the president-elect that his first action in office must be “nationalization without compensation, and for that you don’t have to go consult Washington or the president of Brazil, but simply apply the mandate of the Constitution.” The COB gave Morales’ government 180 days to fulfill his electoral promises. Solares also demanded that Morales make good on his promise to “reduce the president’s salary,” as well as the salaries of legislators, and to eliminate the salaries of alternate deputies in the Congress. (Economia y Negocios Online, Chile, Dec. 19 from AFP) Such cost-cutting measures were part of the 10-point plan put forward by the MAS during the election campaign. (El Diario, La Paz, Dec. 20)

On Dec. 20, Morales said that as president he plans to keep controls on coca production but said he will study expanding the areas where it can be legally grown. Current laws permit coca cultivation in 29,000 acres of Los Yungas in La Paz department, and 7,900 acres in the Chapare. Morales said his government will promote the “international decriminalization of coca” but that “there won’t be free cultivation of the coca leaf.” Morales directly addressed the US government, urging it “to make an alliance for an effective fight against drug trafficking. We are in agreement that there must be zero cocaine and zero drug trafficking, but there will not be zero coca nor zero cocaleros,” he said. “We don’t want the fight against drug trafficking to be a pretext for geopolitical interests and control of Bolivian sovereignty, or that it be a pretext for imposing military bases,” Morales added. The coca leaf is a mild stimulant which is consumed in Bolivia for traditional and medicinal use and is believed to help with acclimation to high altitudes; it can be chewed or included in products such as candy, gum or beverages. (Miami Herald, Dec. 21 from AP; ENH, Dec. 21 from AP) At Morales’ request, the European Union (EU) has agreed to provide $499,800 to finance a study to determine how much of Bolivia’s coca production goes for legal uses and how much is used to make cocaine. The EU will not participate in implementation of the study. (MH, Dec. 24 from AP) The cocaleros of the Chapare had originally proposed such a study in 2002. (ENH, Dec. 21 from AP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 26


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #115

See also our last update on the struggle in Bolivia:


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



by Kathryn Ledebur and Julia Dietz

Over two years have passed since Bolivian security forces killed 59 and left over 200 people seriously injured during widespread demonstrations protesting the management of Bolivia’s gas reserves in September and October of 2003. As in other social conflicts in Bolivia, there have not been legal consequences for the human rights violations committed during the “Gas War.”

By the time President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned, the armed forces and police had killed almost as many people during his fourteen-month presidency as during the seven years of the Hugo Banzer dictatorship (1971-1978), considered one of Bolivia’s bloodiest military governments since the 1952 revolution. The military’s systematic refusal to cooperate in a meaningful way with investigations—although ordered to do so by the Bolivian Supreme court—and the delay of the United States government to deliver subpoenas to Sánchez de Lozada and two former cabinet ministers living in the U.S. have impeded attempts to seek justice for the victims and stem future human rights violations in a politically tenuous climate.

In a country where no member of the armed forces, or the political leaders that command them, have faced serious legal consequences for human rights violations, meaningful investigation into the violence that occurred in September and October 2003 could set an important precedent, and help prevent further violations. To that end, the Bolivian Congress authorized a “Trial of Responsibility” in 2004 to determine the whether Sánchez de Lozada and eleven cabinet members are legally responsible for the deaths. The Attorney General’s office has carried out detailed preliminary investigations—including forensic studies, crime scene investigations and the collection of eyewitness testimony—which all point to the excessive use of force against protestors on the part of the armed forces under Sánchez de Lozada’s command.

As part of the initial investigative phase of the trial, accused ministers who had returned to the legislature lost their Congressional immunity in order to face the charges against them. Nine of Sánchez de Lozada’s former cabinet ministers were indicted in May 2005. The most serious charge against them is “genocide in the form of bloody massacre,” punishable by ten to twenty years in prison. Though in English this terminology seems nonsensical, anyone directly or indirectly responsible for a massacre (which Bolivian law defines as the death of two or more people resulting from violence perpetrated by one or more individuals) is charged with “genocide” under Article 138 of Bolivia’s Penal Code, which levies additional penalties against government officials found responsible for such crimes.

U.S. Intransigence

The Bolivian Supreme Court, Congress, and two presidential administrations have authorized the Trial of Responsibility. However, the difficulty in serving legal papers notifying Sánchez de Lozada, his defense minister, and his energy minister living in the US of their legal obligation to return to Bolivia to testify has impeded progress in the case.

Sánchez de Lozada and his ministers have been widely discredited within Bolivia, to the extent that their MNR party chose to run an unknown as its presidential candidate. Unfortunately, in the U.S., Sánchez de Lozada has been able to consistently present himself as a dignified, democratically-elected statesman who was a victim of subversive forces, participating frequently in public events and even publishing an editorial in the Washington Post. The gross misrepresentation of the social protest in September and October of 2003 reflects both Sánchez de Lozada’s continuing high-level political connections and a fundamental misunderstanding within the U.S. of the deep-rooted causes of internal discontent and the gravity of the human rights violations perpetrated by the Bolivian security forces.

On June 22, 2005, in an effort to notify the three ex-officials living in the United States of the charges against them and give them the opportunity to testify in their defense, the Bolivian government sent letters rogatory to the U.S. State Department, a formal request to serve a Bolivian subpoena to the three ex-officials. Letters rogatory is a complicated mechanism for serving legal documents to individuals residing in other countries that can take as long as six months to a year. Over five months have passed, and the U.S. government has yet to deliver the documents, a delay perceived in Bolivia as a willful attempt on the part of U.S. authorities to impede the process. President Eduardo Rodriguez sent a note to the U.S. State Department requesting that they serve the subpoenas in a timely manner. Indictments cannot be issued against the three men until they have received these documents.

In an effort to bring to light Sanchez de Lozada’s central role in the 2003 killings and demonstrate that he can be easily located to be subpoenaed, in October 2005 a group of U.S. citizens symbolically served him with the document (in facsimile) and the list of victims at a public event in Washington where he was speaking, organized by Princeton University. The formal notification, though, remains stalled in the US Department of Justice, with little indication of progress.

Legal Notification: the Next Step

Letters rogatory is not an extradition request and does not include an enforcement mechanism to oblige the U.S. to turn over Sánchez de Lozada and his ministers to Bolivian authorities. If they decide not to return once they have formally received the documents, investigation into the charges against them can continue in their absence. They can be indicted, provided there is sufficient evidence against them. However, they must be present for the trial to proceed. Bolivia could request extradition from the United States after the three men are formally charged. Bolivia’s public prosecutor Milton Mendoza says he wants to avoid any procedural errors when requesting extradition: “We don’t want to give him reasons to question the process” and “claim that is he being politically persecuted.” (Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Oct. 18, 2005)

The case against the remaining ministers could continue even if the process against those in the U.S. does not progress. But as the two highest-ranking civilian officials in charge of the armed forces, Sánchez de Lozada and ex-Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín would be considered responsible for ordering the use of force against protesters. If they continue to evade participation, the Trial of Responsibility runs the risk of languishing indefinitely in the overloaded Bolivian court system, like the great majority of human rights cases in the country.


Bolivia’s future remains uncertain, and renewed political and social conflict appear almost inevitable. In this tense climate, legal consequences for those who have directly committed or authorized human rights violations would go a long way to avoid further loss of life and an escalation of any future confrontations.

In the past, Washington interference in Bolivian politics, and lack of enforcement of U.S. legislation designed to fight impunity by restricting aid to security forces that do not face appropriate legal consequences for gross rights violations, have helped generate political instability. Delays in the serving of subpoenas to Sánchez de Lozada and others residing the U.S., as a result of either bureaucratic red tape or a lack of political will, could continue this trend. The timely delivery of the letters rogatory, a routine reciprocal legal procedure regulated by international treaties, does not oblige the U.S. to take further actions or a political stance in the Trial of Responsibility. Political fallout would be negligible. In contrast, a protracted delay in this already extended process could exacerbate tensions within the nation and contribute to the political instability that the U.S. government fears.


This story originally appeared in Upside Down World, Dec. 7


Andean Information Network, Impunity Updates, Cochabamba

See also:

“Bolivia: Mandate or Muddle on Oil & Gas Resources,” WW4 REPORT #101

“Bolivia: In the Wake of ‘Black October’,” WW4 REPORT #93

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



Part Three in a Troubling Series

by Michael I. Niman

Remember Fallujah? It’s the Iraqi city of 300,000 that we had to destroy in order to save back in April of 2004. Over 30 Americans died and over 400 American troops were wounded and airlifted away. And at least 1,200 Iraqis were killed. A Red Cross official reported that American forces used cluster bombs and chemical phosphorous weapons inside the city. The target of the U.S. assault, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, along with up to 80 percent of his fighters, managed to slip out of town, leaving the Fallujans to catch the brunt of the American attack. In the end, some 10,000 homes in the city were completely leveled, and an estimated 150,000 residents displaced.

The official Bush administration line, however, was that the assault was a campaign to “liberate” the city and free its people. American corporate media pundits celebrated the destruction, explaining that the Fallujah operation would set a new tempo for the Iraq war by pacifying the resistance. In the end, however, the operation didn’t pacify the resistance. To the contrary, it exposed the U.S. as a rogue outlaw state, executing one of the worst attacks on a civilian population target since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds. And for many in the region, it justified the resistance—with recent polls showing increasing numbers of Iraqis supporting violence as a means to oust the occupation forces.

If the Bush administration had its way, the whole criminal siege of Fallujah, with its depraved indifference to human life, would have gone unnoticed. The corporate media’s Pentagon-spun propaganda stories about liberation would have gone unchallenged by any unseemly intrusions of reality. Toward that end, the Pentagon declared Fallujah a no-reporting zone, barring all un-embedded journalists from the city. In short, the Pentagon hoped to control all images coming out of the massacre. And they would have pulled it off, had it not been for one independent freelance journalist from Alaska, Dahr Jamail, and an Al-Jazeera TV crew.

At the height of the siege, the Al-Jazeera crew did what journalists have an ethical obligation to do—broadcast images of the horror to television audiences around the world. They did this, they claim, at great peril to their own lives. One night, they reported that U.S. tanks targeted the fleeing TV crew on two occasions, causing them to comment that “The U.S. wants us out of Fallujah, but we will stay.” The U.S. responded by bombing the building where the TV crew had slept earlier, killing their host. At one point, whenever the TV crew would attempt to broadcast, U.S. jets would target their signal, even though it was unlike any of the rudimentary communication devices employed by the harried resistance fighters.

Al-Jazeera’s critics wrote off the network’s complaints as sensationalism. By the time the U.S. attacked Fallujah, however, there was already a growing body of damning evidence indicating that the Pentagon was in fact targeting the last remaining unembedded TV network with an effective on-the-ground operation in Iraq. U.S. forces, one year earlier, bombed Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad offices, killing reporter Tareq Ayoub, after the network naively gave their GPS coordinates to the Pentagon in order to prevent an accidental attack. A few days earlier, U.S. forces bombed a hotel in Basra that was used exclusively by Al-Jazeera. U.S. forces also seized several Al-Jazeera reporters, imprisoning them in now-infamous gulags including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, where they claim they were tortured. Two years earlier, the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera’s Afghanistan studios in Kabul.

Throughout this period of killing and allegedly torturing journalists, the Pentagon has always maintained a stance of plausible deniability. The bombings were accidental. Given the massive civilian carnage in Iraq and the now legendary stupidity of our alleged “smart bombs,” this was plausible—though highly unlikely and embarrassing nonetheless on a whole bunch of other fronts. And the arrests? Well, you know. Shit happens.

We now know, however, that a lot more shit almost happened. Last month, Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that George W. Bush, during the siege of Fallujah, approached British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a plan to silence Al-Jazeera once and for all. Having failed to kill their crew on the ground in Fallujah, Bush supposedly wanted to put out a hit on the whole damned network—in effect going to war against Qatar, by bombing Al-Jazeera’s global headquarters in Doha, Qatar’s capitol. Did I mention that Qatar is a strategic ally of the U.S. and the Bush administration and a partner in the so-called “War on Terror”? I know George W. never claimed to be a whiz at foreign relations, but this one would have been a mega-boner. Luckily, Tony Blair seemed to have talked George out of it.

One anonymous British government source told The Mirror the threat was “humorous, not serious.” But the newspaper quoted another source as saying that “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair.”

Bush, for his part, is denying the report, and the British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, citing his country’s Official Secrets Act, oxymoronically declared what has got to be this month’s most talked about memo an official secret. He’s now threatening to prosecute any journalist that publishes the memo on April 16, 2004 White House meeting where Bush and Blair discussed the idea of bombing Al-Jazeera—and has already levied charges against the officials who leaked the story to The Mirror, Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh and Leo O’Connor, a former aide to MP Tony Clarke. Ironically, these whistleblowers may be the only people prosecuted in the whole snuff-Al-Jazeera affair.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the dung weevils are lining up to defend Bush’s alleged desire to openly bomb a media organization into oblivion for the crime of being a media organization. Patricia Williams of The Nation reports that Frank Gaffney, the former Reagan-era Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and current president of the neo-conservative Center for Security Policy, has been making the rounds on the wonk circuit, recently appearing on the BBC to explain that it was appropriate to talk about “neutralizing” Al-Jazeera. Williams reports that Gaffney, writing for Fox News’ website, argued that Al-Jazeera must be taken off the air “one way or another,” and that it was “imperative that enemy media be taken down.” Gaffney implored his readers to remember Bush’s invective that “you are either with us or with the terrorists.”

Put simply, media that reports on the horrific and embarrassing realities associated with a myriad of Bush administration policies, are, in effect, “with the terrorists,” since they obviously aren’t in line with the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign. Most upsetting is the fact that Gaffney’s vituperation against a free press was promulgated by Fox News—a self-described “news” organization that should have been more outraged than acquiescent to this call for silencing embarrassing news by murdering journalists.

In the Bush lexicon, speaking unpleasant truths means being “with the terrorists.” It is also the responsibility of a free press. Avoiding the threat of such censure by the Bush junta means abdicating one’s responsibility as a journalist. Yet, this sort of behavior—the avoidance of reporting on disturbing realities—is what passes for journalism today in the United States.

Seymour Hersh reported in the Dec. 5 edition of The New Yorker that U.S. bombing raids are increasing in Iraq. Put simply, we “liberated” them, now we’re bombing the hell out of them. Hersh points out that despite this deadly escalation, there is no significant discussion of the growing air war. Media critic Norman Solomon, writing a follow-up to Hersh’s piece for, conducted a database search and found out that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post even printed the phrase “air war” so much as one time so far in 2005.

Solomon speculates that as the U.S. withdraws ground forces from Iraq, it will replace their efforts with the bloodier but safer (for American forces) specter of bombing campaigns. The U.S. media, so far, have ignored this story, as dozens of similar ones. But why should this be surprising? You’d think they’d report on the Bush administration’s desires to murder journalists. For journalists, maybe this story would strike close to home. But then, reporting on it wouldn’t be “with us,” as Bush so eloquently puts it. And if you’re not with us, well, you’re with the terrorists, who face indefinite detention, and all that nasty stuff. On the other hand, if you are “with us,” you’re not a journalist—you’re just a stenographer. But you’re alive, sort of…


Reprinted from ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY, Dec. 8, 2005

Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at:


“Exclusive: Bush Plot to Bomb his Arab Ally,” The Mirror, Nov. 22, 2005 ine=exclusive–bush-plot-to-bomb-his-arab-ally-name_page.html

“UK charges official with leaking Blair memo,” MSNBC, Nov. 22, 2005

“U.S. Media Dodging Air War in Iraq,” by Norman Solomon, TruthOut, Dec. 5, 2005

See also:

“Truth, Death and Media in Iraq,” by Michael Niman, WW4 REPORT, August 2005

“Iraq: US troops kill Reuters soundman,” WW4 REPORT Aug. 30, 2005

U.S. Bombs Al-Jazeera in Kabul, WW4 REPORT, Nov. 17, 2001

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



An Interview with Gilbert Achcar

by Bill Weinberg

Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (Monthly Review Press, 2002) and Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror (Monthly Review Press, 2004). A native of Lebanon, he teaches international relations at the University of Paris, and is a frequent contributor to Le Monde diplomatique. On Nov. 3, he spoke in New York City at an event organized by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy entitled “The Case For Immediate Withdrawal: Wrestling with the Hard Questions.” The following day, he spoke with WW4 REPORT’s Bill Weinberg at his apartment in Lower Manhattan.

BW: In your comments last night, you started out by noting the irony that many critics of the war had anticipated precisely what is happening now, which is chaos and danger of civil war. And yet, the White House is using precisely this as a rationale for remaining in Iraq.

GA: Yes, this is really an irony of the history of this war. We—I mean, the opponents of the war—had warned that the invasion would produce a very dangerous situation in Iraq, a chaotic situation, and we kept stressing that, and we were faced by the supporters of the war explaining that it will be a cakewalk and that U.S. troops would be welcomed there with flowers and sweets. And what happened on the ground was very sadly what we predicted—I mean very sadly for the Iraqi people, because it’s absolutely tragic what the Iraqi people are suffering right now. And now that we ask for this occupation to stop, and to stop immediately, in light of the disaster has brought to that country, we are faced by the same people who were supporting the war, saying no, the troops must stay because otherwise, there will be chaos.

I don’t think we should counter such an argument with a complete reversal of positions, saying exactly what those supporters of the war used to say. We can not now for instance, explain that if the occupation ends, Iraq will suddenly turn into a kind of paradise. I think no one is in a position to make any prediction as to what might happen after the withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq. But there is one fact which is absolutely certain, in my view indisputable: the situation has only been deteriorating in a very, very dangerous and tragic manner, ever since the occupation began.

In light of this fact, logic compels us to call for immediate withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq—with the hope, in any case, that if the Iraqis are faced with this prospect, they might find in that a powerful incentive to come to terms, to agree on some means of renewed co-existence, and for the reconstruction of their state. And there are grounds to believe that this is one of the possibilities. If we consider the fact that the main constituency for what is called the insurgency in Iraq is the Arab Sunni areas of the country, and since we know quite well that Arab Sunnis in Iraq are a minority of the population and the Arab Shi’ites are three times their number, and the Kurds are more or less equivalent to the Arab Sunnis in number, but much more powerful in organized military force, I think that, except for a tiny minority of lunatics, the wide majority of the Arab Sunnis will understand that it will be in their interest to negotiate and reach a deal on some compromise. Otherwise, the option of civil war would be disastrous for the Arab Sunnis because they would be caught between the might and military force of the Kurds on the one hand and the overwhelming majority of Shi’ites on the other side, and that would be a very, very precarious and dangerous situation.

BW: And yet that does not seem to be having a restraining effect on them now.

GA: Precisely. It has no restraining effect on them now. The very presence of the occupation troops prevents this—any direct clash between the three major components of the Iraqi population. And on the other hand, the very presence of the occupation troops gives a real legitimacy to at least the anti-occupation actions waged by the various armed groups in Iraq. And of course the Arab Sunni population considers that this armed struggle is legitimate—though there is a distinction to be made here between actions against occupation troops and actions of a sectarian character. The mass killings of Shi’ites, the murder of civilians, are not at all welcomed even by the Arab Sunni population in its large majority. I mean, most people consider that to be criminal acts and even the Association of Muslim Scholars always draws a distinction between what they call “honorable resistance,” which is just striking at occupation troops, and what they themselves call “terrorism,” which is all these actions aimed at civilians or fellow Iraqis…

BW: The Association of Muslim Scholars—this is an Iraqi body?

GA: The Association of Muslim Scholars is the most influential group among the Arab Sunnis in Iraq. The fact that you didn’t have a powerful organized opposition to Saddam rooted among Arab Sunnis resulted in the fact that there is no major leadership for the Sunnis as you have for the Shi’ites and the Kurds. But nevertheless, you have a certain number of groups, and it is generally considered that the Association of Muslim Scholars is the most influential among these groups.

And even the Association of Muslim Scholars says that once a withdrawal deadline is fixed, all armed activities should stop. So, there is real grounds to believe that if occupation forces leave Iraq, the incentive for some formula of coexistence between the various components for the population of Iraq will be quite strong.

BW: And yet it seems that it’s largely the same groups which are carrying out the resistance activities against the U.S. troops and the attacks on civilians…

GA: Well, no, not all of them. No. The groups waging armed operations in Iraq are many and diverse. At the beginning of the occupation, it was estimated that a high proportion of the attacks on occupation troops were done by local groups of people. You know, Iraq is a country where the population is generally armed, you have tribal traditions and all that…

BW: And that was permitted under Saddam?

GA: Even under Saddam, yes. I mean, no one would dare use their weapon against the regime, because the regime was so brutal and such a superior organized force, that would have been suicide. But the regime didn’t try to disarm the populace of those light, personal weapons that people have had traditionally in this part of the world.

BW: Are we talking about hunting rifles here or machine guns?

GA: Even machine guns. You know, in the Middle East, it’s not uncommon to find Kalashnikovs in peoples’ homes. It’s linked to an ancestral tradition of bearing arms and it’s difficult for any government to try to suppress that completely. And with the disintegration of the regime when the invasion started, people got hold of all kinds of weapons. So that’s why it’s estimated that at the beginning, a lot of the actions are done by local people, even individuals sometimes, or small cells—groups of people revolted because of their direct experience of the occupation.

On the other hand, you already one organized network active, which was left by the previous regime. We know that this time Saddam Hussein’s regime, in light of their experience in ’91, understood that they wouldn’t be able to resist the military power of the United States, and therefore they prepared a network to carry on actions against the occupation troops after the invasion. They put aside a lot of weapons, explosives, money. So you had a combination of actions coming from an organized network, and local groups or more or less spontaneous actions. And, with time, you had the formation of several organized networks.

So now there are a certain number of groups which are considered to be the major organized networks of the armed struggle in Iraq. You still have the Ba’athists—but the Ba’athists never sign their armed actions under their label, so you never hear of a communique from the Ba’athists saying “our people did this, or attacked this.” There are no military communiques, just political communiques from the Ba’athists—and it’s believed they act behind facades, with Islamic names….

BW: Why? I’ve always suspected that the role of the Ba’athists is somewhat overestimated in the resistance.

GA: Why would they do so? Because they know that it wouldn’t be very popular to use their own identity as a label for armed actions against the occupation. That’s a general guess why they would do so. [Chuckles]

BW: Yet you’re convinced there is a large Ba’athist element to the resistance.

GA: I think this is indisputable. Absolutely indisputable. What is unclear is what percentage of that is people who are loyal to Saddam Hussein, and what proportion is made of more or less break-away factions, as is sometimes maintained… But the Ba’ath’s organized network is definitely playing an important role. And then you have also the al-Qaeda, or the Zarqawi group, which has been dubbed “al-Qaeda in Iraq” by bin Laden…

BW: They seem to have embraced the name themselves…

GA: Yes, but I don’t see why it would be astonishing that al-Qaeda recognizes Zarqawi as one of their own. After all, they share the same ideology, obviously. Even though Zarqawi is even more fanatical, if one could be, than even bin Laden, than classical Bin Ladenists are.

And then you have four or five other major groups, with Islamic names…

BW: What are those groups, and what information do we have about them?

GA: Well, in general, you have either three political components of the armed groups. You have Islamic fundamentalists, ranging from the extreme, like Zarqawi, to the relatively more moderate. You have the nationalist but non-Ba’athist element, with no allegiance to the Ba’ath party as such, and its ideology and leadership; and you have the Ba’athist. And that’s basically what you’ve got. Unfortunately, you have no progressive force whatsoever among those groups, and that’s a result of the historical defeat of all progressive and left-wing currents in the Middle East, which has led to a vacuum filled by the fundamentalist forces. And that’s part of the tragedy of that part of the world.

Now, to get back to your starting point. Yes, it’s difficult to make a distinction between groups waging only anti-occupation actions and groups which waging only anti-Shiite actions. The same groups who are attacking Shiites would also, to claim some legitimacy, at least proclaim some actions against the occupation. You have a combination of two different kind of wars: one which we might call a liberation war against the occupier, and another which is a civil war—actually, a low-intensity civil war, but nevertheless, a civil war.

One can consider that the actions against an occupation are legitimate actions, a part of the right of every people to resist occupation and to fight for liberation. But of course, actions against another component of the same population are criminal actions. But some of the groups waging the armed struggle have a discourse which equates the U.S. occupation and what they call “Iranian occupation,” and they look at the Shi’ites as agents of Iran, and they see themselves as continuing the war waged by Saddam Hussein against Iran. But this war is completely reactionary. I mean, it has absolutely no liberation dimension to it, contrary to what one might say about the other kind of war against the occupation…

There’s no important group as such which could be described non-Islamic, non-fundamentalist, non-Ba’athist, nationalist. What I would call the nationalist component of the resistance to the occupation, would be these local, spontaneous actions by people completely fed up with the occupation and the way the U.S. troops behave with the people, and the way they search houses and all that. So this leads to people taking arms and attacking U.S. troops without adhering to any ideology like Islamic fundamentalism or Ba’athism. So these would be, you know, nationalist patriots or whatever the label you want to use…

BW: But without any real organizational capacity…

GA: There’s no major network representing that element—unfortunately, I would say, because that would be something better than the two other components: Ba’athists on the one hand, the Islamic fundamentalists on the other. The tragedy is that the organized networks, with the real means, are of the two other kinds.

BW: The major grouping that you hear about is always the so-called “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” But what about the other groupings. They all have names like the Army of Mohammed and so on… Do we know anything about them, apart from their names?

GA: It’s difficult. But you can find, for instance, Shi’ite allegations that this or that organization is actually Ba’athist. But on important indication was the constitutional referendum of October 15. There was a major shift in the attitude of the Arab Sunnis in the referendum, compared with the January ’05 election, which was almost totally boycotted by the Arab Sunnis. This time, you had a real significant participation of Arab Sunni areas—I mean, of course, with a no vote, but it was still participation in the electoral process. And on the day of the referendum, there were very few violent actions. The Iraqi government and Washington claimed that it was because of their successful measures, but this is bullshit, the reality is that some of the main armed networks proclaimed a cease-fire for that day because they called for participation in the election. That was something new. If you take the labels most used, four out of the five major groupings called for participation with no vote in the referendum.

And I think this led all other groups—including Zarqawi, who is vehemently opposed to any participation in any kind of election, whether under occupation or not, as a more general position against the very principle of such elections, out of some very fanatical kind of you know—even this group did not to act during that day, for fear of clashing with the other groups. Even the Ba’athists and Zarqawi, who called for a boycott of the elections, did not act that day…

BW: The Ba’ath party—publicly, as identified as such—called for a boycott in some kind of political communique?

GA: Sure, sure. They have their statements on their website…

BW: And do they still claim loyalty to Saddam?

GA: Oh sure. When you go to their website, Saddam Hussein is there… [chuckling]

BW: And their website is maintained from where?

GA: I cannot tell you. But there’s more than one website linked to the Ba’athists. You even have an official website of the Ba’ath party where you find all their communiques. And yes, you have a communique several weeks before the referendum very vigorously condemning that and condemning any participation. And they publish communiques attacking other Arab Sunni groups who are getting into the political process which they denounce as traitors. Because for the Ba’athists, the very idea of these elections is something going against their own ambition of recovering power. Although I think it’s a very wild dream, actually.

BW: Restoration of Saddam?

GA: Well restoration of Saddam if he’s still alive, or restoration of Ba’ath power. But I say, it’s a wild dream, because the force has been basically broken. They have the power of an underground network, but if they had to have an open confrontation in some kind of full-fledged civil war, they would be no match in terms of numbers or military capabilities compared with the Kurds and the Shi’ites, who would be of course backed by Iran.

And then you have a fifth group which took no position, which is called Ansar Sunna—the Partisans of the Sunni. This group has claimed several anti-Shi’ite operations. So this is a kind of hardline, fundamentalist type of group—or perhaps some kind of a facade of Ba’aths, it’s difficult to tell… But you see there are differences among the armed groups, and that’s why I say if the occupation ends in Iraq, one can very reasonably hope for the situation to…

BW: …stabilize somewhat.

GA: Well, stabilize would be quite optimistic. But at least move toward a political solution, and a gradual isolation of those elements who would like to continue fighting the Shi’ites.


BW: But I think a lot of people fear precisely the opposite. That a U.S. withdrawal would only precipitate a full-fledged civil war, and that the country would basically be divided into three statelets: some sort of Shi’ite Iranian protectorate in the South, and the Kurdish state in the north, and a Sunni Taliban-type regime in the center which would be extremely oppressive. And this would also likely spark foreign intervention—Turkey would intervene if the Kurds get an effective independent state…

GA: Well, as I just said, I think that the very presence of the occupation fuels that kind of scenario, and not the reverse. If the presence of the occupation prevents full-fledged civil war, it facilitates the action of armed groups among the Arab Sunnis because they can fight the occupation, and they can strike at the Shi’ites without facing the Shi’ites directly. They are just, you know stealthy attacks—suicide bombers and things like that. But the story would be completely different if you didn’t have occupation troops. Then also the risk of a massive retaliation by the Shia would be great. And if the situation were to move toward the civil war—the Arab Sunnis would be completely crazy to believe they would be able to be victorious in a confrontation with the Shi’ites and the Kurds.

So when we speak of the break-up of the country—well, the presence of the occupation is not preventing that at all. On the contrary, actually. It is the divide-and-rule policies applied by Washington’s representatives in Iraq, since the very start of the occupation, which have fostered to a great extent the tensions among the various components of the Iraqi population. And all the efforts by Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, could not convince the Shi’ites to withdraw their demand for inclusion in the draft constitution of a provision allowing for any provinces of Iraq wishing to do so by majority vote to unite as an autonomous region…

BW: The U.S. was opposed to this measure?

GA: Well, the U.S. could not come openly against that. But it’s clear from all the attempts by Khalilzad to negotiate a compromise between Arab Sunnis and Shias and Kurds that Washington was not very happy about this prospect. And why so? Because for Washington, any kind of autonomous Shi’ite region in the South, where you have especially most of the resources of Iraq, could only be a platform for Iranian influence. And that would be considered as a threat to U.S. interests in the whole area. That’s why I don’t think that Washington is happy with this specific clause. But Washington is not in a position to prevent the Shi’ites from moving forward in that direction, and now you have that in the constitution. And suppose the Shi’ites decide to apply this aspect of the constitution which now has been adopted, and proclaim an autonomous region. Do you think that Washington troops will prevent them from doing that? That’s quite impossible. And therefore, to say that U.S. troops are preventing the break-up of the country, is not convincing. What is preventing the break-up of the country is the fact that they realize it would be very costly for everybody. That it wouldn’t be in their interest, the common interest of the Iraqi people.

The Kurdish people are very much entitled to an independent state if they wished so. Because they are a different nation, they should have, as any nation, the right to self-determination—and not only in the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, but also in the Turkish part of Kurdistan the Iranian part, the Syrian part. And the Kurds had a referendum in Kurdistan, with almost a unanimous vote in favor of independence, and the Kurdish leaderships know that their constituency wants independence very badly, and are not happy at all that the constitution did not provide for the right of the Kurds to self-determination, including forming a separate state, if they wished so. Despite all that, they keep telling the constituency—you have to be patient, the day will come when Kurdistan will become independent, officially independent (because, factually speaking, Kurdistan has been functioning as a more or less independent state since 1991). They keep saying, you have to be patient because now the conditions are not right for any proclamation of independence, if we did so, we would face terribly difficult conditions, we have the Turkish threat. Turkey has repeatedly, as you just said, threatened to intervene if that would happen. They would have more to lose from proclaiming the independence right now than whatever they could win. So that’s what prevents the Kurds from breaking away officially as a state.

And as for the Shia and the Sunnis—the picture that people can get sometimes from the media is distorted. I mean, you don’t have a country where you have purely Shi’ite areas. The Kurds are a different situation—you have three provinces which are Kurdistan—geographically, culturally. But you don’t have a Shi’ite country and a Sunni country. You have provinces with a Sunni majority, provinces with Shi’ite majority, even sometime large majorities—but you have also some mixed provinces, you even have tribes that are mixed religiously; you have a lot of intermingling between communities…. And Baghdad is a city where you have all of them represented. And the Shi’ites know that if they were to secede in some formal manner, that would not only mean a costly civil war—bloody for everybody, including them—but they would be faced with hostility from the Arab environment.

The Shi’ite leadership, in my view, are completely aware that it is not all in their interest to split up the country and then face this prospect of ethnic cleansing, to use the term used since Bosnia, a very costly civil war, and then facing a hostile Arab environment, and being dependent on Iranian friendship. The Arab Shi’ites have their own pride and consider, they don’t like to be dependent on Iran, contrary to what is pretended by some people.

BW: There is at least one faction of the Shi’ites which is very pro-Iran, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution…

GA: Well, the Supreme Council has been linked closely to Iran, but they are not—you know, between quotation marks—”agents” of Iran. They don’t have the type of relation you used to have between Communist parties and the Soviet Union. That’s not how they look at Iran—not at all. As I said, they have their pride. I mean, Arab Shiites take pride in belonging to the nation that produced the prophet of Islam and produced Ali, the main reference of the Shi’ites.

I don’t claim to be an oracle, and anyone claiming to know what will happen, is just, you know, a worthless pretension. But on the basis of a rational evaluation of what exists, one might reasonably think that the incentive for a renewed formula for building a common state would be very strong.

But as I said, one thing is clear: it’s not the presence of U.S. troops which is preventing the deterioration of the situation. General Casey, he himself said the presence of the occupation fuels the insurgency, that was in hearings with the Senate.


BW: And then there’s also the sort of conspiracy theory that there’s this maximalist neo-con agenda to intentionally divide Iraq…

GA: Well, that was Plan B for the neo-cons. Plan B for the neo-cons, and also for the friends of Sharon’s government in Israel, who wouldn’t be sad to see a break-up of Iraq and even a civil war, among the various Iraqi factions, in the same way that Washington was quite happy to see Iran and Iraq fighting each other for eight years. We know what role Washington played in the Iran-Iraq war: every time you had one side weaker, Washington would give some kind of support to this weaker side, so that it would sustain the war. And Kissinger at that time wrote a frank article saying that our interest is that they destroy each other, for as long as possible. So the same kind of logic is applied to Iraq by the Sharon government and its U.S. friends among the neo-cons. And the neo-cons have been influential in shaping the invasion and the post-invasion aftermath of the invasion—but just for the first seven months. After which it proved such a disaster, and all the blueprints that they had prepared proved so far from the reality on the ground, that the Bush administration had to change course in Iraq. You have had disputes on the scenario between the State Department and the CIA on the one hand and the Pentagon on the other hand…

BW: With the Pentagon taking more of an ambitious neo-con position?

GA: Sure. The removal of Paul Wolfowitz is an indication of a change…

BW: So you do think there’s been a retreat within the Pentagon from this kind of position?

GA: Oh, I think the signs for that are quite many. And on the ground, that was represented by the clash between Bremer and Chalabi, who used to be Washington’s Iraqi stooge when the neo cons were influencing most directly the policy for Iraq. Another sign is the replacement of Chalabi with Allawi; Allawi was a CIA buddy and represented the other scenario—which the State Department and CIA before the invasion were supporting and which was discarded. And then when the neo-con scenario proved a failure, they went back to the Allawi scenario—although it was in a sense too late, because this scenario demanded the collaboration of a substantial fraction of the Ba’athist apparatus, whereas the blueprint of the neo-cons and Chalabi was for total dismantlement of the old state apparatus, and building from scratch a new state apparatus—a small army, neutral state, some kind of Arab Switzerland, friendly to Israel. And this was completely wild…

BW: That was the neo-cons’ Plan A, and then their Plan B was actually to divide Iraq…?

GA: Yeah, Plan B would be the splitting of Iraq. But this Plan B does not conform to the fundamental interests of U.S. imperial hegemony. It would be absolutely risky, even disastrous for U.S. interests in the area. Why so? Because on the one hand, the Shia, as an independent entity, would much more likely be allied to Iran than to Washington; and secondly, that would destabilize the whole area, and be an incentive for the secession of the Shia province in Saudi Arabia (or the Saudi kingdom—I don’t like to say “Saudi Arabia”; the kingdom is Saudi, it is the name of a dynasty, not a country). And it so happens that they are also the areas of the Saudi kingdom where the oil reserves are concentrated. So, this is a nightmarish scenario for, for Washington.

BW: There’s also the question of Turkish intervention.

GA: Of course. And all that would also lead to terrible consequences in the level of the oil market. So although the neo-cons might consider that partition of Iraq is a good thing, the fundamental interests of Washington, on which you have a bipartisan consensus in the U.S. ruling class, would definitely consider that to be a disaster.


BW: A real important question for me is who are the forces in Iraq that we can loan some solidarity to? Do you see any forces on the horizon which really present a progressive, secular alternative?

GA: What is tragic in the whole area actually, left wing, progressive, emancipatory forces are quite marginal, and as a product of historical defeat—or even bankruptcy because of very wrong policies in some cases—the overwhelming forces in the mass movement have been of a very different nature, mainly Islamic fundamentalist forces. Iraq is a country where you have had historically a very powerful communist party with a tradition of building workers’ movements and all that, and one would have hoped that this would at least lead to an survival of a progressive current—but the problem is that the communist party joined the governing council set up by Bremer and ruined its credibility as an anti-imperialist force by doing so. Although they had opposed the war officially before it took place. And as a consequence that they had a very poor result in the elections in January. They waged a dynamic electoral campaign, but they got ridiculous results, less than 1% of the vote. And this is a party that at one point in the late ’50s could mobilize 1 million people in the streets. I mean, this was a total disaster.

BW: And you attribute this to what, this decline?

GA: I attribute it to the sheer opportunism of the leadership of this party. And this same opportunism has now led them to join Allawi’s slate; now they’re part of the slate of Washington’s stooge-man in the coming elections in December.

BW: And what had been their posture towards Saddam when he was in power?

GA: Well, they, at the beginning, when the Ba’athist coup d’etat occurred in ’68, they tried to collaborate with the Ba’athists—although the Ba’athists were repressing very violently a splinter group from the Communist Party, which was actually one of the reasons why this coup was organized: to liquidate this Guevarist guerilla struggle in southern Iraq, which was started by a guerilla-ist Iraqi who came back from Britain and went to start some kind of foco war…

BW: Indeed? Against who, exactly?

GA: Well, against the Iraqi bourgeois state.

BW: But there had been some sort of left-nationalist regime in power before the Ba’athist coup, no?

GS: Yes, but we were at times of radicalization in the Arab world, and even Nasserism was considered as being bourgeois. I mean, Nasser was the man who led Egypt between ’54 and his death in 1970, who was a champion of Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism, anti-feudalism—and even that was considered at this time of the radicalization as being bourgeois and had to be overthrown. So these were different times.

BW: Who was the leader of this Guevarist faction?

GA: Khaled Ahmed Zaki. A well-known figure, but he was killed even before the Ba’athists took over. He made the same calculation that Guevara made in Bolivia in ’67. He thought that he could draw a segment of the Communist Party, knowing that it had a real network and apparatus in the country, to radicalize and support his armed struggle, and that would join with the Kurdish liberation struggle, and this combination could lead to a revolutionary seizure of power in Baghdad. That’s the calculation he was making at the time. And you had a split in the Communist Party; you had a left-wing faction which hooked up with the guerilla. But the Ba’athist coup d’etat crushed this wing of the Communist Party, and so the other wing, the majority wing of the Communist Party—the pro-Moscow wing—tried to collaborate with the Ba’athists, and even entered their government for a while in the early ’70’s. This was not only opportunist but, I would say, criminal—how can you join with such a criminal, repressive government, if you claim to be the representative of the working class? But it was even stupid, very short-sighted—because anyone would know that at some point the Ba’athists would get rid of them. Especially when Saddam Hussein concentrated power into his hands.

BW: So what did happen to the Communist Party when Saddam concentrated power?

GA: They were crushed severely, in their turn.

BW: That would have been in the 80’s?

GA: The late 70’s. Along with any kind of political entity independent from the Ba’athists. Saddam Hussein’s brand of Ba’athism was quite totalitarian in the full sense of this term…

BW: And yet, the Communist Party survived as a party.

GA: Well, it survived as a party in exile. Don’t forget that you had four million Iraqis in exile under Saddam Hussein. That’s a huge number. Remember, we’re not dealing with a population of 200 million, like in the U.S. … So, it’s a huge proportion of the population who were forced into exile by this absolutely ruthless, bloody, totalitarian dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Not to mention the crazy wars he waged later on, against Iran. So the Communist Party survived with a very weakened underground network in the country. But mainly the network was kept alive in exile, and they went back after the fall of Saddam Hussein. And their attitude since then has ruined completely their credentials as a progressive force.

You have another left-wing organization, which is called the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, which originates in a Kurdish group, the Komale, which was present in both the Iranian and Iraqi parts of Kurdistan. They were mainly based in Kurdistan under the dictatorship, and after ’91 when Kurdistan became an autonomous area, their main constituency was there. They had some frictions and clashes with the mainstream Kurdish leaderships. And after the fall of Saddam Hussein, they moved to establish offices and activities in other parts of Iraq, mainly Baghdad, but their basic constituency is Kurdish. And they have a discourse which is very violently opposed to all Islam—not only Islamic fundamentalism. They have formulas that would be provocative for ordinary Muslim believer, I would say.

BW: Such as what?

GA: They denounce Islamic fundamentalist forces, but they don’t take the necessary precaution of clearly making a distinction between these currents and the religion of Islam. And therefore they might appear as an anti-religious group. And they also reject nationalism—and this is not only a Kurdish rejection of Arab nationalism; actually they mean all nationalism, including Kurdish nationalism…

BW: They actually seem to draw leadership from an Iranian thinker, Hekmat Mansoor…

GA: Yeah, as I said, the group was originally in both parts of Kurdistan, and then when they created two communist parties, they decided that they were no longer Kurdish groups, but an Iranian and an Iraqi group, addressing the whole population of Iran and the whole population of Iraq. This group, in my view, doesn’t have much prospect of growth because of what I would consider to be a rather sectarian way of dealing with things. But they organized activities on the women issue, and a trade union movement. I mean, when you look at the landscape in Iraq, they are much more progressive than most of what you’ve got.

What I think would be worth support in Iraq is the Oil & Gas Workers Union, in Basra, in southern Iraq. Why so? First of all, it’s much easier to organize support for a union than a very radical kind of group. And this is a genuine union, a genuinely autonomous union, not the off-shoot of any party. And among them, you have all kinds of ideologically-minded people; some might be a supporter of the Shi’ite parties, some might be coming from a communist tradition or whatever. And they are in a very sensitive position because the oil industry is the main resource of Iraq, and that’s the main target of the occupation, of course. Therefore I think they deserve strong support in their fight, which is presently concentrated on the issue of privatization, opposing the privatization plans or designs concerning the oil industry…

BW: What are the roots of this union? Did it exist under Saddam? Or has it come into existence since the fall of Saddam?

GA: No, it came into existence after… Whatever you had in Iraq as an autonomous workers’ movement had been crushed in the most bloody way by the Ba’ath… I mean, even before Saddam took over completely as the leader. Any time you had an attempt at a strike or anything like that—you would have Ba’athist thugs coming on with machine guns and mowing down the workers…

BW: As I understand it, there are three trade union movements in Iraq now: There’s the oil workers in Basra, and there’s the entity which seems to be linked to the Worker Communist Party, which is the Federation of Worker Councils and Trade Unions. And then there’s a third, the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, which is—at least according to the Worker Communist Party—collaborationist, and dealing with the regime.

GA: This third one is led by the Iraqi Communist Party, and you even have some people from Allawi’s group in its leadership, although the real organizers are communist. Well, I think this is a real union. It doesn’t have to be judged on the political positions of the party leading it. It has to be judged on what it does for the workers’ cause. I would say that one should support all struggles wherever they occur, and whoever leads them, if they are just struggles… One hopes, at least, that this country will reach a situation where you can have real social struggles instead of the kind of civil war that looms on the horizon.


BW: Any closing words? Particularly in terms of the way forward for anti-war forces in the United States?

GA: One should be aware of the very crucial importance of building a strong anti-war movement within the United States. The United States government is going to be faced with an increasingly difficult situation in Iraq. My prognosis for next year is that it will be very tough for Washington. The Shi’ite alliance is renewing its demand of a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops—a central demand which was put aside after they had to cut a deal with the Kurdish alliance in order to form a government. And that compromise was opposed vehemently by the partisans of al-Sadr, who are now part of the alliance, and even in the government. They petitioned in the national assembly, and collected a very significant number of signatures of MP’s—over 120—demanding the government place a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops… And I think the Sadrists can be expected to be still more active than what they have been until now, on this issue… You remember on April 9 of this year, there was a huge demonstration in Baghdad against the occupation, where they burned puppets representing George Bush, Tony Blair…and Saddam Hussein.

BW: This was the al-Sadr people?

GA: Yes.

BW: But they also have representatives in the Parliament?

GA: In the Parliament and even in the government. Yes, sure. And they will push strongly for a withdrawal within in the Shi’ite alliance.

BW: And is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution also in this alliance?

GA: The Supreme Council is the major force in the alliance. The alliance is basically the Supreme Council, the Sadrists, and other groups like the Dawa Party. But the two major forces are the Supreme Council…

BW: And Sadr.

GA: And Sadr. And they both have their own militias.

BW: They were opposed. They made some kind of reconciliation?

GA: I mean, they are rivals. But at the same time, they can consider that it’s in their interest not to split their constituency and try to find some kind of agreement. Because actually they have more in common than what separates them. Both are Islamic fundamentalist, both are Shi’ite organizations. One is more radical than the other in its attitude toward the occupation, but the Supreme Council views the U.S. presence in a tactical way, believing, as Iran does also, that they are making use of the U.S.—they made use of the U.S., to topple Saddam Hussein, their arch-enemy, and they are now taking advantage of the presence of U.S. troops to build up their forces, to build an Iraqi state under their control, until they reach time when they will ask the occupation to leave the country…

Washington will be very strongly backing Allawi; the Kurds don’t need backing in the election because their constituency will vote for them anyhow. But Washington wishes that Allawi this time—contrary to his defeat in January, when he only had 14% of the vote—will be able to lead a more significant faction in the Parliament, powerful enough to be able to exert some kind of veto power, with the Kurds. So we’ll see what the December election brings—one never knows in Iraq. But it’s very likely that we are heading towards even tougher times for Washington in Iraq than what we’ve seen until now. And with the kind of administration we’ve got in Washington, the worst is possible; facing adversity, they might react in a very violent, vicious manner…

BW: You mean the White House.

GA: Yeah, absolutely. We see how they have increased regional tension, they have built up the threats against Iran, against the Hezbollah in Lebanon, against the Syrian regime. And they know perfectly that the Shi’ite alliance in Iraq is led by forces who have in common with Iran not only Shi’ism, but also, in the final analysis, hostility toward a continued U.S. presence in Iraq.

Washington went into this war at a huge cost for the United States—whether in human lives or economically, the cost has been huge, absolutely huge. To withdraw from Iraq and lose everything would be a terrible defeat of strategic proportions, for the United States. So, this administration could very well be tempted, faced with adversity, to react very wildly…

BW: Meaning what?

GA: I mean, everything is possible. Military action against Iran. Turning their weapons also against the Shi’ites, if the Shi’ites radicalize against the occupation. And therefore you could have a much greater bloodbath in Iraq than what we have seen until now, which is already something.

And this is where the U.S. anti-war movement comes into the picture. I can refer you to the example of Vietnam. When Washington was faced with great difficulty in coping with Vietnamese resistance to the occupation, there was a temptation at some point to use nuclear arms. And a study was commissioned from the CIA about what it would entail. And the main argument that was published recently in the archives, was that the use of nuclear arms would not be accepted by the U.S. population.

So the anti-war movement in the United States, the anti-war feeling that was building up at that time, were instrumental in preventing the worst in Vietnam—the use of nuclear arms, or those threats by Nixon to inundate North Vietnam at one point.

BW: Inundate?

GA: Yeah, by destroying dams. So, if we want to avoid seeing this administration trying to remain in control of Iraq by resorting to disastrous type of measures, it is definitely crucial that there is a strong, powerful anti-war movement in this country. And already it is very much encouraging to see the level of the polls, the radical shift in public opinion in the United States, but the shift in the polls is not enough. You need to translate that into a powerful, grassroots, autonomous movement, and maintain the pressure very strongly.

Transcription by Melissa Jameson


“Iraqi Unions Defy Assassination and Occupation,” by David Bacon, WW4 REPORT, September 2005

“Civil War in Iraq: Already Here?” by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT, October 2005

“Nixing Nukes in Vietnam,” by Peter Hayes and Nina Tannenwald, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2003

Gilbert Achcar Interviewed by David Barsamian, Monthly Review, June 2003

Campaign for Peace and Democracy

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