Love and Dissidence Through an Electronic Veil

by Melody Zagami

The Persian Blogs
by Nasrin Alavi
Soft Skull Press, New York, 2005

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”—Rumi, Iranian-born poet

Nine centuries after Rumi penned these words, young Iranians post blogs to express themselves in a nation where drinking liquor and wearing lipstick warrant public flogging. The modern-day “secret sky” is the worldwide web, the veils have not fallen and though Rumi was speaking of love, it is, in today’s Iran, interchangeable with freedom.

Nasrin Alavi’s book, We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs presents a clear picture of the dissent of youth in Iran. In this expressive chronicle, Iranian bloggers denounce their government, critique American films and discuss politics. They also express the disdain and injustice that is brought upon them under the guise of religion.

According to Alavi, there are 64,000 blogs in Farsi. She reviews them all and translates a collection of them in this book. Alavi recounts the historical, social and cultural context of Iran today and chooses blogs that solidify and humanize all facets of Iranian life. Alavi chooses blogs that receive the most hits, allowing the reader to taste the intellect of a majority of the population.

The Iranian blogosphere was born of a young Iranian tech journalist named Hossein Derakhshan. He wrote a how-to-blog guide in Persian, allowing his peers to use the new medium to type the words they dare not speak. Derakhshan emigrated to Canada in 2000. He is a student at the University of Toronto. He continues to speak out and support Iranian bloggers who are harassed and arrested for their work. Last year he started a podcast, Radio Hoder. Again, he taught Iranians how to use this technology to their advantage.

In a June 2004 blog, Derakhshan tells his peers that they must start to write their blogs in English in order to make noise in the Western world. In the blog, he writes:

“If a news item isn’t written or printed in English…it has never happened—and if we keep the frightening details of human rights abuses locked in our hearts we will never be able to show the realities of Iran to outsiders.”

Authorities constantly shut down politically sensitive blogs, and the Iranian bloggers don’t use their names. They call themselves: “Spirit,” “Antidepressant,” “the Hungry Philosopher,” “Godfather,” and “Earth.”

While this book is foremost an insight into Iranian lives, it is also a revelation in what this medium can be used for. If our bloggers now perform a service that the mainstream media cannot seem to, the Iranian blogs are an exercise in expression that is not allowed anywhere else in that country.

This is not to say that Iranian bloggers do not write about the frivolities of life as well,

“The Matrix Revolutions is truly a shambles….a total freefall–What were the Wachowski brothers thinking?”—

What is primarily shown in this book are the secret longings of a nation of educated youth unable to stand their repression much longer. The blogs are a catharsis for their writers.

Alavi writes, “Revelling in the forbidden, many writers use their blogs to honour men and women who are loathed by the regime. The bloggers pay tribute to anti-establishment heroes…”

One of the first “heroes” Alavi writes of is Dr. Muhammed Mossadegh, whose democratically elected government was toppled in an American and British-backed coup in 1953.

According to Alavi, he is regarded today as a mighty uncorrupted and democratic force in Iranian history. The ruling clergy deem him just a secular liberal who merits no memorials or place in their history.

Mossadegh was viewed as a threat to Western interests in the Middle East. He was the only democratically elected leader of his era in the Middle East and the United States and Britain worked to overthrow him. “By bringing down a democratically elected government, the United States also empowered key radical Islamic groups in Iran.”

What started as a democratic revolution in 1978, quickly transformed into a theocracy. Alavi quotes the blog of Iranian journalist, Ibraham Nabavi:

“We had a revolution so that a regime that from 1957 to 1975 had at most killed hundreds of Iranians…could be overthrown, and we brought in a regime that would kill thousands during its first days alone”

The people of Iran are ready for reform. It is clear from the blogs that the system in place has failed and many want change. In a blog titled “The Wind Will Carry Us,” writes:

“I deeply believe that there are no short-cuts to democracy. There are no other paths but those which Gandhi or Mandela took or Mossadegh and Bazargan tried to take. The student movement can be a catalyst for reform but only for reform and not a revolution. We should not have to pay such a high price or end up again with the destruction and extinction of the best children of this nation… Sudden overnight change would be like an earthquake destroying what shelter we have over our heads… Reform was not invented by Khatami, nor is it dependent on him….Believe me, if we again choose a revolution and violent change…the wind will carry us.”

“What would happen if you were no longer legally required to wear the veil? Just imagine if our women were free to wear whatever they wanted; if even mixed bathing on the beach were allowed …would this be culturally tolerable to Iranians?” —

Required to wear veils, forced into unwanted marriages and often treated as second-class citizens, Iranian women are a major focal point in Alavi’s book. One of my early, and few, criticisms of this book was that Iranians must not all have access to the Internet. How do you know if what you’re reading is representative of the majority of Iranians? Alavi addresses this question: “Blogs have allowed some Iranian women to express themselves freely for the first time in modern history… It might be objected that the majority of female bloggers do not reflect a true cross-section of Iranian society, as not everyone has access to computers and the internet. However, thanks to the Islamic Republic’s policy of free education and its national literacy campaigns, those who enter further education tend to be from a relatively wide cross-section of society. Iranian students come from a broad variety of social and regional backgrounds and have access to the Internet.”

In a chapter entitled “Virtually Unveiled Woman,” Alavi introduces feminist Muslim activists and their blogs. Western culture teaches us to feel sympathy toward these poor women who are not free to wear blue jeans and make-up. Avari writes: “These women activists are less interested in whether or not to wear the veil and more concerned with gaining access to education, wider employment opportunities, equality at work and better health care for their families.”

“You say Father can get a second wife; but we don’t even want the familiar scent of our mum’s beds to change… You say Father is allowed to give Mum a beating once in awhile; well, when we grow up we’ll show you who needs a beating.”—Antidepressant

Read that last one, read it over and over again. And think not about what it says, but rather, that it can be written at all.

In a country where the state controls the media, Iranians also use their blogs as a means of real-time communication and a journalistic tool. Iranian students, who have been protesting on and off since 1999, post notices, news and photos to their blogs, and activists write daily reports.

According to Alavi, Iranian author and journalist Massoud Behnoud of the BBC believes that the country is experiencing an “Internet Revolution’” that,”Internet sites and weblogs by dissident Iranian youths are independently shouldering the entire mission of a public media network and resistance against the conservative clergy.”

It is clear from We Are Iran that there is one voice and it is screaming loud and clear through distant cables and underground wires, and it is only a matter of time until that voice can no longer be stifled by the click of a keyboard.


We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs is available from Soft Skull Press:

Melody Zagami is the assistant editor of

This review originally appeared in Toward Freedom, Feb. 9


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

Continue ReadingBLOGGING IN FARSI 


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Feb. 1 hundreds of people from labor, student, campesino, street vendor and other social organizations led demonstrations at 10 different locations throughout El Salvador against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The protesters were also demanding the release of unionist Ricardo Monge.

Vendors of pirated music, movies and clothing were especially active in the demonstrations. Some 200 members of the National Coordinating Committee of Vendors (CNV) blocked a major avenue in San Salvador with tires, rocks and other objects. Vendors also blocked the Panamerican highway in Santa Ana and in Cuscatlan. One protester said that in Santa Ana alone, some 10,000 people make their living selling pirated merchandise.

“The government will be responsible for the governability crisis that will happen in the country, because the people have begun to demonstrate their disapproval in the streets,” said Jose Coreas, leader of the Union of High School Students. The organizations participating in the day of action announced the creation of a “Bloc of Resistance” against DR-CAFTA.

“The people have no other choice but to take to the streets to demonstrate, because the government doesn’t listen to their demands,” said Salvador Sanchez Ceren, head of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) delegation in the Legislative Assembly. “The citizens decide the form of expressing themselves, and we support their demands in the Legislative Assembly,” said Sanchez Ceren. (Pulsar, Feb. 1; El Mundo, San Salvador, Jan. 31)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


Adilio Darinel Domingo Montejo, the brother of Guatemalan human rights activist Mario Gonzalo Domingo Montejo, was murdered on or after Jan. 21, when he told his family he was going out with some friends. The family identified his body five days later at a local morgue. The body showed signs of torture and was mutilated. Darinel Domingo Montejo was a law student at San Carlos University and lived with his parents just outside Guatemala City.

The motive for the killing is unknown, but several of Darinel Domingo Montejo’s brothers are political activists. Mario Gonzalo Domingo Montejo, the best known of the brothers, is the coordinator of the Defense of Dignity department in the Guatemalan Archbishop’s Human Rights Office (ODHAG) and is the lead lawyer representing the Catholic Church in a legal case against the men convicted in the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi. He is also married to Jessica Yarrow, the 2001-2005 field coordinator in Guatemala for the US-based Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Guatemala (NISGUA). NISGUA is asking for letters to Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax:502-251-2218, e-mail: or demanding a full investigation into Darinel Domingo Montejo’s murder. (NISGUA urgent action, Feb. 2)

On Jan. 22 unknown persons carried out an armed attack on the home of journalist Manuel Gilberto Garcia and his family in the city of Jutiapa. Garcia, who directs television and radio sports programs, was not injured. He has received threatening phone calls since March 2001, apparently because of his criticisms of a local soccer team. The Association of Guatemalan Journalists (APG) believes local municipal government figures are connected to the attacks and is asking for letters to Florido and to President Oscar Berger Perdomo (e-mail: urging a thorough investigation. (APG urgent action, Feb. 27)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


On Feb. 2, a court in Gracias municipality in the Honduran department of Lempira ordered the provisional release of Jose Luciano (“Feliciano”) Pineda Bejerano, a leader of the Lenca indigenous community of Montana Verde, for lack of evidence. Pineda was jailed last June 5 after paramilitaries attacked him with machetes (see WW4 REPORT #118, which incorrectly said Pineda was shot). Last December a judge acquitted Pineda of homicide charges in the 2001 murder of community member Juan Reyes Gomez; the judge refused to dismiss theft and vandalism charges, even though the statute of limitations on those crimes had run out. Two other Montana Verde activists, Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, were arrested in January 2003 and are serving 25-year prison sentences for the Reyes Gomez murder, although evidence showed the charges were falsified.

On Jan. 19, Montana Verde community members Margarito Vargas Ponce and Marcos Reyes were acquitted of murder charges in the Reyes Gomez killing. Marcos Reyes was released; Vargas remains in custody on a charge of causing bodily harm. The two men surrendered to the court on Jan. 12 after living in hiding for three years.

Amnesty International (AI), which began a campaign on Jan. 19 to demand the release of Pineda and the Miranda brothers, is calling on the Honduran government to conduct an in-depth investigation into the fabrication of evidence against the Montana Verde community members, to release those still detained and to withdraw criminal charges against the Miranda brothers, Margarito Vargas and Tiburcio Bautista (Tiburcio Bejerano, according to COPINH), another Montana Verde community member who is facing murder, theft and bodily harm charges and is considered a fugitive. (COPINH Communique, Feb. 2; AI Index AMR 37/003/2006, Feb. 10)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19


On Feb. 10, nearly 400 striking Nicaraguan doctors occupied the Health Ministry (MINSA) in Managua in an effort to force the government to negotiate on their wage demands and to pay some 600 doctors their February salaries, which had been withheld in retaliation for the strike. They were also demanding the rehiring of eight union leaders who were fired weeks earlier when the Labor Ministry declared the strike illegal. More than 3,000 public sector doctors in Nicaragua have been on strike since Nov. 14; they initially demanded a 140% wage increase but have since reduced that demand to 30%.

At a meeting on Feb. 11, Health Minister Margarita Gurdian refused to negotiate a wage increase but offered to pay the back salaries if doctors would resume emergency services. When the doctors rejected her offer, Gurdian ordered police to expel the protesters from the building. Doctors union leader Miguel Saenz called on doctors from around the country to come to Managua to support the occupation. By Feb. 12, only about 60 doctors remained in the building, though many others were gathered outside; police had surrounded the site and refused to let anyone bring in food or supplies. Police evicted the remaining doctors from the building on Feb. 12. (AFP, Feb. 12; Prensa Latina, Feb. 12)

Some 21,000 other public health sector workers, organized in the Federation of Health Workers (FETSALUD), joined the strike on Jan. 30, demanding a 48% wage increase and more medicines and supplies for public hospitals. FETSALUD members marched on Feb. 6 to the Managua offices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank; the government has cited its commitments to those financial institutions as a reason why it can’t raise public health worker salaries. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Feb. 7 from EFE; AFP, Feb. 12; EFE, Jan. 30)

Some 2,000-3,000 court workers, including judges, began an open-ended strike on Feb. 3 to demand a 20% wage increase and improved working conditions. (NNS, Jan. 31; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Feb. 4)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 12

Early on Feb. 14, political forces grouped in Nicaragua’s National Dialogue Board signed off on an agreement that put an end to an eight-day strike by Managua bus drivers. The agreement would impose a temporary 3% tax on oil companies operating in Nicaragua, in order to provide bus cooperatives with a monthly subsidy of $1.1 million over the next four months and avoid a bus fare hike. During the four-month subsidy period, the bus companies are to acquire new units that allow them to charge differentiated fares. The oil companies oppose the tax and say that consumers will end up paying it anyway. Bus drivers have given the government 10 days to resolve the problem–either by approving the subsidy or allowing a fare hike–or they say they will resume the strike.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which promoted the plan, says the 3% tax will be imposed on the companies’ net profits after income taxes are deducted. The plan also requires an audit of the oil companies’ profits and the bus cooperatives’ use of the subsidies. The agreement must still be approved by at least 47 of the 91 deputies in the National Assembly; the FSLN, which supports the tax, has 38 seats, with support from five deputies from other parties for a total of 43 votes. In order to pass the legislation, the FSLN will have to convince four of the 40 deputies from the ruling Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) to support it. (Prensa Latina, Feb. 18; La Prensa, Nicaragua, Feb. 14)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19


According to an exit poll by the Borge y Asociados firm, ex-president Oscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) won Costa Rica’s presidential election on Feb. 5 with about 44.5% of the vote, more than the 40% needed to avoid a runoff. Otton Solis, a former planning minister, had about 37.3% of the vote. Abstention was expected to be about 35%.

An Arias victory is expected to boost the chances that Costa Rica’s Congress will finally ratify DR-CAFTA. It is the last participating country to hold out on ratifying the treaty. Still, in order to pass DR-CAFTA, the PLN would have to do well in the congressional elections, which also took place Feb. 5. Solis, a centrist who leads the Citizen Action Party, backs DR-CAFTA but wants to renegotiate parts of it.

Costa Rica’s president from 1986-1990, Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil conflicts in neighboring Central American countries. (Reuters, Feb. 5; EFE, Feb. 5)

According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), “Linked to Arias’ passionate support for [DR-CAFTA] is his involvement in highly controversial proposals to open the nation’s telecommunications sector, leading to a new generation of allegations of ties between the candidate and Latin American cell phone mogul Carlos Slim,” a Mexican billionaire. (COHA, Feb. 4)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5

Following a manual recount, as of Feb. 22 Arias appeared to have won the with just 18,000 votes (about 1.1%) over Otton Solis. The Supreme Electoral Council (TSE) will not announce the winner officially until it has processed 599 challenges filed by Solis’ party. (Adital, Feb. 24; Financial Times, Feb. 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 26


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118

“‘Social cleansing’ in Guatemala,” WW4 REPORT, Feb. 13 /node/1595


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Jan. 15, a group of 56 Uruguayan sugar cane workers (referred to in local slang as peludos, hairy ones) and supporters occupied a 36-hectare plot near Bella Union in Artigas department, at Uruguay’s northern triple border with Argentina and Brazil, to demand farmland for six working families. The occupied land in Colonia Espana is owned by the National Colonization Institute and had been abandoned for 11 years; it is close to the entrance to the sugar refinery of the Agricultural Cooperative of the Uruguayan North (CALNU).

The occupation is being carried out by members of several labor organizations: the Union of Sugar Workers of Artigas (UTAA); the Union of CALNU Workers, Artigas (SOCA); the Association of Small Farmers and Rural Salaried Workers of Bella Union (APAARBU); and the National Union of Salaried Employees, Rural Workers and Similar Workers (UNATRA), an affiliate of Uruguay’s only labor federation, the Inter-Union Workers Plenary-National Workers Convention (PIT-CNT). The UTAA has a radical history; in the 1960s it was closely linked to Raul Sendic, founder of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement, a leftist rebel organization. The occupiers say they are defending the land rights of the cane workers and the state against the exploitation of speculators and profiteers.

Local cane workers have been left desperate by the decline of the sugar industry; only 3,000 hectares of sugar cane are currently planted, down from 9,000, and the seven-month harvest time is now two months. Only 124 cane producers are still in business, and the salaries of local industrial and farm employees have been cut in half. Unemployment in the sector is over 80% and poverty and hunger are rampant in the region. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 15; Radio El Espectador, Montevideo, Jan. 16)

Cane workers met on Jan. 20 in Montevideo with representatives of the PIT-CNT and authorities from the state company ANCAP (National Administration of Fuel, Alcohol and Portland) to discuss a plan under which CALNU’s sugar refinery would be reactivated as an alcohol production plant by Alcoholes del Uruguay (ALUR), a company owned 90% by ANCAP and 10% by the National Development Corporation. Former rebel leader Raul Sendic, now the vice president of ANCAP, participated in the meeting and described it as positive. Alcohol produced at the CALNU refinery would be exported to Venezuela in exchange for $7 million which the Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), has invested in the project. Sendic said there is no deadline for repaying PDVSA’s investment. ANCAP will invest $4 million in the project.

Sendic said the project’s advisory council will include representatives of the state institutions involved as well as representatives of the cane planters, cane harvesters and refinery workers. The project will employ 400 workers to harvest 3,500 hectares of sugar cane; after 10 years the project is expected to create between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs in Bella Union. After the meeting, the cane workers met with Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing Minister Jose Mujica, another former Tupamaro leader. The National Colonization Institute said it will give the cane workers 200 hectares to begin work on the project. The cane workers clarified that any agreement on the project is not in exchange for ending the Bella Union occupation. (Espectador website, Jan. 20; Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 29) Mujica planned to travel to Bella Union on Feb. 1 to explain the alcohol production plan to local residents and involve them in the project.

Cane workers and supporters from various social organizations marched on Jan. 27 to the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing in Montevideo in support of the Bella Union occupation. A representative from the occupation read a statement saying that while they are demanding land for six families, they realize “this is only a patch” because “hundreds of families are in the same conditions.” (Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


Weekly News Update on the Americas


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Feb. 6 some 4,000 oil workers and supporters demonstrated outside the municipal police station in Las Heras–a town of 10,000 people in the southern Argentine province of Santa Cruz–to demand the release of arrested oil union leader Mario Navarro. A member of the leftist workers’ organization Polo Obrero who led an opposition tendency within the Union of Oil and Gas Workers, Navarro was arrested on a warrant on Feb. 5 as he left a radio station after being interviewed. While the workers demonstrated, the court was preparing to release Navarro on his own recognizance. Then shots rang out, police agent Jose Sayago was killed by a bullet, and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters. Another 14 police agents were allegedly injured. Polo Obrero said at least 15 demonstrators had to be hospitalized. Oil union activist Omar Latini told Radio Continental of Buenos Aires that “the shootout was from both sides” and “18 demonstrators were wounded by bullets.” Navarro was subsequently released by the court.

Santa Cruz governor Sergio Acevedo claimed that a commando of oil workers had entered the police station to try to free Navarro and fired the shots that killed Sayago; the workers say the shots were fired by “infiltrators paid by REPSOL,” referring to the Spanish-Argentine oil company Repsol-YPF. Council member Roxana Totino of the Front for Victory said she was at the door of the court building during the protest and didn’t see any demonstrators with weapons.

The national government responded to the incident by sending 300 federal agents to the area, and Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez announced the creation of a “crisis committee” to help seek a solution. In Buenos Aires on Feb. 7, members of human rights groups and social organizations marched to the Santa Cruz House to support the oil workers. President Nestor Kirchner is from Santa Cruz and governed the province for three consecutive terms before winning the presidency in 2003. (, Feb. 7; La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 8 from AFP)

On Feb. 11, the oil workers in Las Heras reached a preliminary accord with the government and agreed to lift a blockade they had maintained on Route 43 since Jan. 23. (Agencia NOVA, Feb. 11)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 12


On Jan. 28 some 150 Mapuche indigenous people from throughout the western Argentine province of Neuquen demonstrated at the offices of the Neuquen Ruling Council in the provincial capital to demand the recognition of indigenous communities in reforms to the provincial constitution. Police responded by attacking the protesters with tear gas. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


On Feb. 23, Argentine attorney Tomas Ojea Quintana brought two lawsuits against the US-based Ford Motor Company and its Argentine affiliate on behalf of Pedro Norberto Troiani and other former union delegates, accusing the company of collaborating in the abduction of union activists at Ford’s facilities in General Pacheco, Buenos Aires province, during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-1983).

In 1976 security forces abducted Troiani and 23 other delegates of the union’s internal commission at the Ford plant and detained and tortured them in an improvised detention center set up on a sports field on the Ford plant grounds. “There they put hoods over our heads, they beat us, we suffered simulated executions by firing squad and we were tortured,” said Troiani. “Some were tortured with the electric cattle prod, others were forced to urinate and defecate in their shoes.” The delegates were transferred to other detention centers and held incommunicado for nearly a year; two of them remain disappeared.

A criminal suit, filed in Federal Court 3, seeks the arrest and questioning of the former president of Ford Argentina, Chilean citizen Nicolas Enrique Courard; the former Ford Group manager, Austrian citizen Pedro Muller; industrial relations manager Guillermo Galarraga; former security chief and former military officer Hector Francisco Sibilla; and former military officer Antonio Francisco Molinari. A civil suit, filed in Civil Court #35, seeks economic reparations and other measures such as a public apology and a monument on Ford grounds at the site where the detention center was located.

The delegates and other abducted Ford workers said the Ford executives had a close relationship with military officers; they said their captors identified them using the photographs on their company ID cards and gained access to other records from Ford’s personnel office. The company is accused of using the abductions to block resistance to layoffs, production line speedups and other unpopular labor measures. More than 5,000 people worked at the Ford plant in General Pacheco, 40 kilometers north of the capital. The factory produced the olive green Ford Falcon automobiles and F100 pickup trucks used by security forces for abductions.

Ojea and US citizen Paul Hoffman, former president of Amnesty International, brought a similar lawsuit against Ford in US federal court in Los Angeles in January 2004. Family members of Argentine disappearance victims have also brought similar suits against German automaker Mercedes Benz in German, Argentine and US courts. A US suit was filed against DaimlerChrysler by attorneys Daniel Kovalik and Terry Collingsworth on Jan. 14, 2004, in a federal court in North Carolina. A German court dismissed a similar suit against Mercedes Benz on Dec. 7, 2003.

Between 1976 and 1977, 18 workers at Mercedes Benz’s Argentine affiliate were abducted; 15 of them remain disappeared. Parent company Daimler-Benz, which merged with the US firm Chrysler in 1998, denied accusations it was an accomplice in the government’s abduction, torture and murder of unionists. But a 2003 report showed the company had endangered at least one employee by identifying him as a leftist activist, information which got into the hands of the military. (La Jornada, , Feb. 24, 26, 27; Pagina 12, Buenos Aires, Feb. 24; AP, Feb. 23; Diario Judicial, Argentina, Feb. 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 26


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Feb. 1, some 150 Peruvian indigenous people from the Awajun (Aguaruna) and Achuar tribes took over the Petroperu oil company’s No. 5 pumping station in Saramiriza, Manseriche district, in Daten del Maranon province, Loreto region. The indigenous protesters want Loreto regional president Robinson Rivadeneyra to fulfill the promises he agreed to last year following a similar protest; specifically their demands include installation of a local branch of the state’s Banco de la Nacion bank, construction of a bridge and respect for indigenous land rights.

On Feb. 7, police agents fired tear gas bombs and bullets at the oil site protesters, killing 17-year-old Mario Vargas Paredes and wounding five or six people with bullets. Five protest leaders were arrested and taken away by helicopter to an unknown location. Angered by the police violence, some 350 local residents armed with bows and arrows reoccupied the oil pumping station on the morning of Feb. 8. Evin Querebalu, general secretary of the Union of Petroleos del Peru Workers, denied that any protester had been killed; he said normal operations had resumed at the pumping station on Feb. 8. (Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle, AIDESEP, Feb. 9; Diario Peru 21, Feb. 9)

On the night of Feb. 16, more than 400 Achuar, Quechua and mestizo residents of Andoas in Loreto region occupied an airfield of the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol and tried to block a small plane of the Aero Condor airline from landing there. At midnight on Feb. 18, the protesters lifted the blockade after reaching an agreement with the company. The protesters also abandoned plans to occupy the Pluspetrol offices, an electrical plant and the Petroperu No. 1 pumping station. In the accord, Pluspetrol agreed to finish several infrastructure projects in March which it had promised since 2004. A technical team will be sent to evaluate the contamination of local rivers, for which residents are demanding compensation. (El Comercio, Peru, Feb. 19)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 20


On Jan. 10 Peru’s National Elections Tribunal (JNE) rejected an effort by former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) to run in the April 9 presidential elections. Congress barred Fujimori from holding public office until 2011, but his daughter, Keiko Sofia Fujimori, formally registered his candidacy on Jan. 6. The former president has been in prison in Chile since Nov. 6 while the Peruvian government attempts to extradite him to face trial on 21 charges of corruption and human rights violations. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 1)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


Residents of the oil-rich Amazon province of Napo in eastern Ecuador began an open-ended strike on Feb. 20 to demand resources to carry out public works in the region. On the first day of the strike, hundreds of people seized a pumping station of the state oil company, PetroEcuador, shutting down the flow of oil for nearly 17 hours. On Feb. 21, protesters shut down the Sardinas pumping station of the privately owned Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP); police broke up the occupation there early on Feb. 23. The OCP is owned by the US oil company Occidental, the Canadian firm Encana and the Spanish-Argentine company Repsol-YPF.

The government refused to negotiate with protest leaders, and on Feb. 21, protesters clashed with police. The protesters exploded sticks of dynamite, seriously injuring several police agents; police used gunfire against the protesters. A 19-year-old protester, William Mamallacta Noa, was struck in the head by a bullet; he was transferred to Quito where he remains hospitalized in intensive care. Doctors believe he may have permanent brain damage. Activists say 34 people were wounded by bullets, detainees have been tortured and 12 protesters have disappeared.

The government declared a state of emergency in the zone on Feb. 22, suspending civil liberties. Massive raids were carried out in Tena, the provincial capital, and soldiers confiscated food and supplies from local residents. Security forces blocked anyone from entering the oil town of Baeza, including human rights volunteers trying to verify reports of abuses. A police general in Tena told the Ecuadoran Permanent Human Rights Assembly (APDH) that army Gen. Gonzalo Meza is directly responsible for the repression and excesses committed by security forces.

After at least six hours of negotiations in Quito, Napo provincial officials, representatives of the government of President Alfredo Palacio and Gen. Meza reached an agreement late on Feb. 23. The government agreed to free some 35 people arrested during the protests, lift the state of emergency and arrange for about $100 million worth of public works in the region, including a highway through the Amazon, a new airport and funding for education and for water, sewer and electric services.

Napo governor Gina San Miguel announced the end of the strike on Feb. 24: “I want to tell the entire country that this [strike] was a response to the lack of attention from each successive government,” said San Miguel. San Miguel and Quijos mayor Rene Balladares were among 30 people arrested on Feb. 21; both were freed hours later. Journalist Pedro Arevalo was also among those arrested. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Feb. 24; Miami Herald, Feb. 24; Diario La Hora. Quito, Feb. 24; APDH, Feb. 24; Financial Times, Feb. 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 26


On Feb. 8, at least 2,000 people marched through the historic center of Quito, Ecuador, to protest the Andean Free Trade Agreement (referred to as the Free Trade Treaty, TLC) being negotiated with the US, Peru and Colombia. The students, retirees, teachers and union members were also marching to demand that the US oil company Occidental (Oxy) be forced to leave Ecuador for having violated its contract terms. Students were also demanding special discounted bus fares, and the retirees were demanding an increase in their pensions. Unlike similar marches in January, there were no serious incidents with police. (EFE, Feb. 8)

Some 1,500 residents of Sucumbios province in northern Ecuador, led by provincial governor Luis Munoz and Lago Agrio council member Angel Villacis, left in buses on the night of Feb. 6 to attend the Feb. 8 protest in Quito. The Sucumbios residents are also demanding that the government of President Alfredo Palacio fulfill promises made in the resolution of a regional strike last August, as well as cancel Ecuador’s contract with the US oil company Occidental and reject the TLC.

Police initially tried to block the caravan of 50 buses in Santa Cecilia, just outside Lago Agrio, but the protesters managed to evade police and continue toward Quito. In Canton Baeza, an hour and a half from Quito, police stopped the buses and forced the protesters to get out. The police then attacked the protesters with tear gas. The demonstrators continued their march toward Quito on foot. (Campana Continental contra el ALCA, Feb. 7 from Servicio Informativo OPCION)

Some 100 striking Ecuadoran flower industry workers demonstrated on Feb. 7 at the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito to protest the harsh conditions faced by flower workers. The workers at Rosas del Ecuador have been on strike for three years; they were supported at the demonstration by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and by the Austrian organization Swedwind – ConAccion. The protest was held at the hangars where boxes of flowers were being loaded onto planes headed for Valentine’s Day sales in the US and Europe. A similar protest was held in Vienna, Austria.

Christina Schroeder of Swedwind – ConAccion clarified that the purpose of the protests is to inform people about conditions and demand fair treatment for workers, not to boycott the industry. According to Jaime Breilth of the Health Research and Advisory Center (CEAS), 80% of Ecuador’s 400 flower producers “dramatically fail to comply with international codes of social, labor and ecological conduct.” (Minga Informativa/ALAI, Feb. 8)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 12


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Feb. 2, in a ceremony marking the seventh anniversary of his first inauguration, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias announced the expulsion of US naval attache Cmdr. John Correa. “I have evidence,” Chavez said, that Correa was carrying out espionage work along with a “group of traitor [Venezuelan] soldiers who are being brought to justice.” If US military attaches continue these activities, Chavez added, it may be necessary to “withdraw the entire so-called US military mission in Venezuela.” The US embassy denied that any attaches were “involved in inappropriate activities.” Chavez had warned on Jan. 30 that Venezuelan intelligence had “infiltrated” the US embassy.

At the same ceremony, Chavez announced a number of social measures, including a 15% increase in the minimum wage and the end of an unpopular 1% tax on bank transactions. He also signed a decree granting 80% of the new minimum wage to Venezuelan housewives with serious economic difficulties.

Chavez’s expulsion of Correa came on the same day that US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and US national intelligence director John Negroponte delivered unusually harsh criticisms of Chavez in Washington. “He’s a person who was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power, and now is, of course, working with [Cuban president] Fidel Castro and [Bolivian president] Mr. [Evo] Morales and others,” Rumsfeld said. (New York Times, Feb. 3; Resumen Latinoamericano, Feb. 3)

[German dictator Hitler came to power in January 1933 when he was appointed chancellor (prime minister) to head a coalition government which included his National Socialist party; Chavez was elected president in 1998 with 56% of the vote.]

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #117

“Chavez threatens to cut off oil to US,” WW4 REPORT, Feb. 27


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



by Paul Pollack

The office of SETA, El Salvador’s water workers union, sits like a mouse at the elephant’s feet. The union’s plain, two-room office lies next door to the huge, block-long two-story building which is the headquarters for El Salvador’s National Water and Sewage Administration (ANDA). Inside the SETA office, union reps equipped with an old computer and chairs with broken rollers are bracing for a fight against government attempts to privatize their industry. Representatives for SETA say losing the fight could mean the “extinction” of their union, and limits on Salvadorans’ access to clean water.

Tropical El Salvador receives in rainfall three times what its six million inhabitants consume annually. But water is a delicate topic where less than six in 10 households have it piped in. Even in urban San Salvador, where potable water is more pervasive, service is unpredictable.

“We wake up at four o’clock in the morning to fill our containers,” says Azucena, who lives in San Martin, a San Salvador suburb. “If not, you have to wait three days until it comes again.” To demonstrate, she turns the knob to the only faucet in her two-room home. Nothing comes out.

Sometimes water stops running for days, sending residents scrambling to bathe or relieve themselves at friends’ houses. Those who can afford $15-20 a month can buy drinking water from private companies that sell five-gallon containers door-to-door out of large blue trucks. The cost is about six times the monthly ANDA bill and out of reach for most Salvadorans. About 70 percent of those with jobs earn the minimum wage of $158 per month.

Workers say that President Tony Saca is pushing a privatization proposal to comply with requirements couched in a 1998 loan from the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB). The IDB loan was revised to rebuild water systems destroyed by a devastating 2001 earthquake. Strangely, the revision also provided money to “decentralize” ANDA, set up smaller municipal water companies and open them to public-private concessions. The government has not yet passed ANDA reform legislation, but 19 municipalities, representing 18,000 household water connections, are voluntarily experimenting with a variety of concession formats.

SETA workers argue that concessions are a stepping stone to full privatization. “The government is exacting an institutional sacking of ANDA to justify the need for concessions,” says Wilfredo Romero, general secretary at SETA. He notes that ANDA’s 2006 budget is 15% lower than 2005. Funding is lower than any time in since 2000—despite the fact considering that one-third of the country’s homes lack running water.

According to the right-wing daily La Prensa Graphica (Dec. 27), the majority of this year’s cut—$13.3 million–came from the “investment” section of ANDA’s budget, a 37 percent slash from the 2005 level.

“There’s no way that local municipalities can maintain the level of funding of a national entity like ANDA,” says Oscar Carpio, SETA’s secretary of negotiations, “So, in most cases, local water management will eventually be fully concessioned to private investors.”

Despite the deep cuts in their budget, ANDA officials seem unconcerned. In a La Prensa Grafica interview, ANDA President Manuel Arrieta calmly maintained that co-investment is the answer to the budget shortfall. “If we add up what we receive from international cooperation and other institutions, we’ll maintain the amount of investment that we had [in 2005].”

Free Trade, Water Privatization and the IFIs

The IDB, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are the largest purveyors of water privatization worldwide. These international financial institutions, or IFIs, primarily pitch their privatization plans through “structural adjustment” loans, where borrower nations promise to reform sections of their economies as a condition for receiving loan money.

In World Bank vernacular, “hydro-sector reform” is a euphemism for privatization and the “structural adjustment” of laws governing water management and usage. Behind the charitable guise of providing water to the poor, the majority of the water projects are implementing changes that shift control of water management and propriety over water itself from democratic forums (like city councils and state legislatures) to corporate board rooms.

The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen reports that the IDB and World Bank together administer about 133 different water and sewage-related projects, funded to the tune of $9.7 billion. The majority of these projects are in Africa and Latin America, and most of them include some type of “hydro-sector reform.”

The World Bank often makes the decentralization of national water administrations (such as ANDA) and the implementation of concessions to private corporations mandatory reforms included under the conditions of its projects and loans.

Another common reform is known as “cost recovery,” whereby borrower nations agree to operate national or municipal water companies at a profit. Until “cost recovery” was implemented, most national governments subsidized water delivery since access to water has been traditionally viewed as a right, not a privilege. However, as structural adjustment forces governments to abandon the universal access doctrine, poor folks are stuck with higher water bills and forced to make excruciating trade-offs between water, food, medicine or school fees.

The IDB in El Salvador

While the IDB has been pushing privatization in El Salvador since the 1998 loan was approved, resistance from consumer groups, environmentalists, and the opposition FMLN political party have stalled wholesale implementation. In August 2005, SETA, as part of a larger activist coalition, prevented the introduction of a bill that would have mandated concessions in 152 of the 262 municipalities throughout the country.

The bill would have gutted ANDA and ceded its management role to newly formed municipal water companies, as the IDB loan stipulated.

The stalling of the bill was a sweet but short-lived victory. SETA reps worry that if the ruling ARENA party wins a congressional majority in the March elections, the bill will be re-introduced—signaling a gloves-off fight over whether corporations have providence over El Salvador’s water.

CAFTA’s Hidden Influence

As political parties gear up for the coming water law debate, the Central American Free Trade Agreement is set to go into effect March 1, 2006. CAFTA creates a new legal framework for the sale of water and other public services, although it allows countries to “opt-out” of the public services of their choosing. (Nicaragua and Honduras have exempted water from CAFTA’s rules.)

In El Salvador, President Tony Saca chose no service exemptions, and thus opened the entire water sector to competition by international corporations. Under CAFTA, multi-national water companies must be given “national treatment”—though there is no obligation for corporations to sell water nationally. If a new concessions law is passed, as Saca and his friends at the IDB wish, multi-national water corporations could start hawking over El Salvador’s lavish supply with an eye toward more lucrative consumer markets.

According to Alejandra Castillo, with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), water privatization combined with CAFTA’s new rules “will leave poor Salvadorans high and dry.”

CAFTA rules guarantee that a country cannot voluntarily reduce the export level of a good or service provided. Therefore, if El Salvador becomes a water exporter, CAFTA, not national policy makers, will decide whether water will flow in El Salvador’s homes or be sold internationally.

CAFTA also gives corporations the right to sue national and local governments if a company feels that its “right to profit” has been infringed. Laws ensuring that local populations be prioritized in the provisioning of water, as well as environmental laws guaranteeing water quality could be viewed as “barriers to trade.” In the case of NAFTA, the trade treaty CAFTA was modeled after, the threat of corporate lawsuits has often been enough to deter or overturn environmental legislation.

“If we take the electricity sector and telecommunications as guides, privatization has meant higher rates, lower quality, less access, and less sovereign control over our public services,” said Castillo. “CAFTA multiplies those effects, since it brings in the international heavy hitters and the rules they play by.”

Privatization Polemics

El Salvador’s recent past is peppered with privatization attempts that led to increases in prices, mass firings and, in some cases, massive popular resistance to defend access to public services. The sale of telecommunications sector and the attempt to privatize the parts of public healthcare system provide starkly contrasting outcomes.

In 1998, ANTEL, the former state-owned telephone company, was sold to France’s Telecom, which then sold it to Carlos “Hank” Slim’s America Mobil. (Slim is considered the Bill Gates of Mexico.) The privatization led to the layoff of 5,.000 workers, the loss of seniority, salary cuts and the dissolution of ASTEL, the ANTEL workers’ union.

ASTEL activists were targeted and fired. Three years passed before workers could overcome government obstacles and legally re-constitute a union, now known as SUTTEL. In the meantime, the rate for a home phone line shot up to $30 per month, second highest in Central America. (Costa Rica’s still-not-privatized phone company offers the region’s lowest rate at just under $11 monthly.)

Not all government attempts at privatization have gone to plan. In 2002, the nurses and doctors of the Salvadoran Social Security Hospital System (respectively the STISSS and SIMETRISSS) went on strike to oppose the implementation of a healthcare voucher system and the privatization of hospital janitorial services.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in “white marches” (named for hospital employees’ white scrubs) to defend Article 65 of the Salvadoran constitution, which guarantees universal healthcare for all. Resisting jail and constant repression, healthcare workers and protesters forced the government to retract its privatization proposal. Moreover, the Legislative Assembly passed the “State Guarantee of Health and Social Security,” scribed by activists to reinforce Article 65 and bury the healthcare privatization issue. Doctors and nurses fired for taking part in the strikes were ordered re-hired by the Supreme Court.

Resistance to water privatization has been common throughout Latin America since the World Bank and the IDB began quietly administering hydro-sector privatizations in the 1980s. But many nations are faced with the unenviable position of agreeing to water privatization by signing off on structural adjustment loans or being without the resources necessary to provide service in the first place. The movement to defend water in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000 raised eyebrows because of its mass character, its pressure on the Bolivian state and its principled opposition to corporate control of water.

The Bolivian government granted Bechtel-subsidiary “Aguas del Tunari” a 40-year contract to run Cochabamba’s water system in 1999. The contract imposed fines for home rainwater collection and increased rates by 100 percent. The increase meant that many families were spending one-fifth of their monthly incomes on potable water. In January 2000, a four-day strike against the Aguas de Tunari contract froze the city. Negotiations between movement leaders and city officials went nowhere. The government sent 1,000 soldiers and imposed Martial Law. Protests of any kind were explicitly banned.

Despite the repression, the anti-privatization movement only gained strength. Ensuing protests resulted in 200 people injured, and one dead. When the government desperately negotiated a rate rollback with Aguas de Tunari, movement leaders didn’t budge. By April 2000, tens of thousands of Cochabamba residents were regularly participating in anti-privatization actions. Finally, the government nullified the contract and created a new publicly elected water commission.

As in Bolivia, mass movements in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica have significantly stalled or stopped plans to decentralize national water agencies. All three countries, however, have initiated co-investment “pilot projects” allowing private investment in some cities.

Historic memory of Latin American resistance to privatization is not lost on Salvadoran officials as they continue their march to decentralize ANDA and implement co-investment.

In Nov. 2005 a forum was held on Water Management at the San Salvador Sheraton Hotel. A government water technician dutifully explained, “Co-investment is not the same as privatization. We’re not talking about a Cochabamba here.”

Activists in the audience roared, but the declaration revealed the government’s cognizance of recent history: officials here have tweaked their strategy and they’re hoping no one notices.

Meanwhile, residents like Azucena in San Martin continue to suffer the effects of an under-funded public water system held hostage by the drive to privatize.

“They charge me about $7 per month, but water only comes every three days,” she says. “I don’t know who is responsible, but service should be better.”

From his humble office in the shadow of ANDA’s formidable block-long complex, Oscar Carpio of SETA squares himself in a creaky, worn-out office chair.

“When they privatized other services in El Salvador, collective contracts were torn up and the unions were declared illegal. Some workers weren’t prepared for what hit them,” said Caprio. “We will be.”


This story originally appeared in Upside Down World, Feb. 22


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



Grassroots Activists Take Reins of Government

by Gretchen Gordon

The newly elected Bolivian president, Evo Morales, recently swore in the 16 ministers who will form his new government cabinet. For the first time in Bolivia’s 180-year history as an independent nation, the majority of those who now fill the highest governmental posts come from within indigenous and social movements.

During last year’s elections, one of the most common criticisms against Morales, an Aymara Indian who never studied past high school, was that, in contrast to his closest opponent, US-educated former president Jorge Quiroga, Morales lacked the experience and education befitting a presidential candidate. Now, as Morales formulates his government and begins the work of governing, criticisms of “inexperience” have resurfaced.

The Economist recently accused Morales’ cabinet choices of smacking of “radicalism,” stating that Bolivia’s new ministers “nearly all have as little experience of government as Mr. Morales…” (Jan. 26)

The perceived “inexperience” of Morales’ government, however, has a unique political significance here in the poorest and most indigenous country in South America, where positions of power have historically been reserved for a minority light-skinned criollo elite.

December’s stunning election victory for Morales is part of a larger political shift in the country, creating a new reality in which previously marginalized campesino, labor, indigenous, and other social movements are now finding themselves in power.

A “Cabinet of Change”

In the swearing-in ceremony for what Morales has dubbed his “cabinet of change,” Casimira Rodriguez takes the oath before a crowd of cameras. With two thick braids trailing down her back, Rodriguez stands in the shawl, lace shirt, and wide pleated skirt called a pollera, which since the 18th century have made up the traditional dress of indigenous women in much of Bolivia.

Rodriguez is Bolivia’s first Quechua Indian to serve as a government minister. Her experience, not just her appearance, is uniquely different from those who have stood here before her.

When Rodriguez was 14, she was taken from her rural village in Mizque and brought to the city of Cochabamba, with the promise that in exchange for her labor, she would be provided with the schooling and care her campesino parents could not afford. Instead, Rodríguez was held in servitude—forced to work long hours with no pay and regularly abused by her supposed employers—until she was finally rescued two years later.

Rodríguez’s experience is unfortunately not an uncommon one for many women in Bolivia, where historic racial and economic discrimination remains strong. Domestic work is almost exclusively relegated to Quechua and Aymara women forced for economic reasons to migrate from rural to urban areas.

Now, however, at just 39 years-old, Casimira Rodríguez is now Bolivia’s new Minister of Justice.

Breaking with History

The presence of people like Minister Rodriguez in Bolivia’s new government reflects the country’s recent political history. Spurred by 20 years of failed free-market policies (called neo-liberalism here), which have exacerbated economic and political discrimination, Morales’ campaign rode a wave of popular demand for profound structural changes, including nationalization of the country’s gas reserves and a restructuring of the state.

When it comes to creating a new government of Bolivians and for Bolivians, however, the territory is largely uncharted. Bolivia has a long history of governments which haven’t governed for the majority of Bolivians. It also has a history of governments which in many areas, didn’t govern at all.

Since colonial times, administration and policymaking in Bolivia has often been ceded to foreign interests. With the advent of the Washington Consensus neo-liberal economic model, those interests have taken a different shape over the last 20 years. Transnational petroleum corporations were handed Bolivia’s gas reserves on easy terms and now operate with almost no regulation. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund rewrote entire areas of Bolivian law to facilitate the privatization of the country’s strategic state industries. The US Embassy directs the priorities of Bolivia’s military forces and helped write the country’s expansive drug law, imposing the concept of guilty until proven innocent for those accused of drug-related crimes.

The impact of this 20-year cession of governance to foreign economic interests is clear. The Chilean company that bought the national railroad sold it for scrap. The US and French companies that took over municipal water systems in Cochabamba and La Paz raised water rates up to 200%. US-crafted drug policy has facilitated gross human rights violations by the military, in addition to the incarceration of 40% of those in Bolivia’s jails, the majority of whom have never been charged. While a handful of businessmen and politicians have enriched themselves, Bolivia as a whole has higher unemployment and a lower standard of living than 20 years before. The government income once generated by state industries now must be borrowed from international lenders, and the country’s resultant national debt is over a crippling $4.5 billion.

The promises of foreign-imposed economic and political policies have proven to be far removed from the reality experienced by the majority of Bolivians. In response, citizens have taken to the streets in repeated mass protests over the past three years. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded by subsequent government violence, and two successive presidents have been removed from office.

What the country has called for, across class and ethnic lines, is a major change—a government of Bolivians, for Bolivians—what Morales calls “the nationalization of the government.”

The Challenge

The challenge before Bolivia’s new government is by no means a small one. The task of implementing profound structural changes and attempting to step outside of current global economic norms, in what remains a greatly divided and highly indebted country, will not be easy.

But, ironically, Bolivia’s new “inexperienced” government has a few things in its favor.

Elected with an almost 2-1 majority—the first majority popular vote and the highest voter turnout in Bolivian history—Morales’ popular mandate for change is unprecedented. His outsider cabinet picks reflect that mandate, drawing their experience from within the social movements and affiliated academic circles which for decades have been struggling to create a more just economic and political system.

Andres Soliz Rada, the new Minister of Hydrocarbons is a lawyer, journalist, ex-parliamentarian and longtime nationalization advocate. Walter Villarroel, the new Minister of Mining, is a leader of a miners’ cooperative. Nila Heredia, the new Minister of Health, is a longtime public health worker and social advocate exiled by the Banzer dictatorship in the ’70s. Abel Mamani, the new Minister of Water, led efforts in 2004 to reverse the privatization of La Paz’s water system. Justice Minister Rodriguez was elected secretary general of the Confederation of Women Domestic Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean, and was responsible for the creation and adoption of national legislation which for the first time afforded rights to Bolivia’s over 132,000 domestic workers.

As Morales stands before his new cabinet in his now famous attire of a striped sweater, in lieu of the western-style business suit of his predecessors, he describes the mandate of the new government. “This is the first cabinet of change, chosen to fulfill changes in democracy against the neo-liberal model, and to resolve the structural and social problems in the

Can it Work?

On inauguration day in a hotel bar in La Paz, bartender David Garzon listens to Morales’ first national address as president. He gaffs, both pleased and shocked as Morales announces a 50% pay cut for the presidency and urges congress to implement the same.

I ask him what he thinks of the new president’s discourse. “It’s great,” he says emphatically, “better than other past presidents.”

When asked why, he replies, “He’s suffered and so he understands the country.”

In the short weeks since the election, Morales has used his victory shrewdly. Even before taking office, Morales embarked on an four-continent tour yielding various agreements of international support, including debt forgiveness from Spain, literacy programs from Cuba, commercial agreements with China, technical assistance on oil and gas development from Brazil, and a soy for diesel agreement with Venezuela.

A recent public opinion poll by Apoyo Opinion y Mercado indicates that Morales’ post-election popularity has increased to 74%.

I ask Garzon if he thinks Morales and his government, with their limited experience, can succeed in making the profound changes the country is expecting.

“Yes,” he says. “He can because he has the backing of the people.”

As Rodriguez explains it, “To administer justice well you don’t need to be a lawyer.”

Of course, Bolivia’s new government isn’t immune from criticism. Even some social movements have protested ministers’ political stances. Bolivia’s new government has been and will continue to be challenged on its politics and strategies and, in the end, whether it is able and willing to deliver on what it has promised.

Morales’ decision to choose a government that doesn’t look like past governments, however, is intentional and strategic. For the first time, the government looks like the people. And in Bolivia, where the state has suffered a growing crisis of legitimacy, this credibility of a popular government carries more weight than mere technical credentials.

For many Bolivians, seeing on television the image of Casimira Rodriguez, an ex-domestic worker in her braids and pollera, being sworn in as a government minister, is like seeing themselves.

In a country where the vast majority has historically lived in exclusion and oppression, that is an entirely new experience.

It may just be the experience Bolivia needs.


Gretchen Gordon is a writer on Latin America and globalization. She lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia and can be reached at

This story originally appeared in Upside Down World, Feb. 21

See also our last feature on Bolivia:
“Bolivia: A Coming Trial by Fire?” by Ben Dangl, WW4 REPORT #118


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



The New Corporate Agenda for Central America

by Tom Ricker and Burke Stansbury

What does tightening intellectual property laws have to do with “free” trade? That’s the question many people in Central American and the Dominican Republic are asking as the United States trade representative continues to insist on dramatic changes to constitutional laws in the six countries involved in the US-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (otherwise known as CAFTA).

As if the agreement itself weren’t bad enough for the region—critics say CAFTA will hurt small farmers, worsen workers rights, and lead to environmental degradation, among other negative effects—the US is manipulating the implementation process to demand even further concessions by the six countries involved.

January 1, 2006 marked the date that the Bush Administration set for CAFTA implementation. However, progress has been frustrated due to US insistence on significant constitutional reforms in the CAFTA countries. CAFTA approval in the US Congress is sited by the Bush administration as one of its few legislative successes of 2005, despite the fact that the two-vote margin was the closest ever for such an agreement. In fact, the flawed implementation process lumps CAFTA in a series of administration failures on trade which include stalled negotiations towards the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the Doha round of the WTO.

One country has achieved the reforms necessary for implementation: El Salvador. But much like El Salvador’s turbulent ratification of the agreement—which occurred at 3:00 in the morning in an assembly surrounded by riot police—the process has been fraught with problems. In December the National Assembly rammed through 14 constitutional changes without any substantial debate, leading to the eruption of massive protests by informal-sector market vendors a few weeks later. The reforms will impose fines and even jail time for those who sell and purchase pirated goods, thereby destroying the livelihood of many poor Salvadorans who depend on the informal economy.

The Salvadoran executive introduced the CAFTA reforms just two days prior to the vote, prompting legislators from the largest opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) to abstain from the vote and walk out of the Assembly session. Said Salvador Arias, a leading economist and deputy for the FMLN, “The right is giving our national legislation a coup de grace by putting it completely at the service of transnational corporations’ commercial interests, to the detriment of the common good.”

The Bush administration continues to demand that intellectual property rights protections be tightened in the other CAFTA countries before they can be certified to join the agreement. The US government is criticizing Guatemala’s pending intellectual property law for not being strict enough, using CAFTA implementation to pressure for tighter restrictions on drug patents—benefiting pharmaceutical corporations but certainly not poor people in need of affordable drugs. It’s no wonder that in Guatemala 20,000 protestors demonstrated against the National Assembly’s vote in favor of CAFTA last March.

Despite such popular opposition, the Central American governments continue to promote CAFTA as the great savior of the Central American people, bringing jobs, investment and opportunities for all. But resistance to CAFTA in the region continues to grow, and polls show that Central Americans believe that CAFTA will not improve their economic situation.

Perhaps more embarrassing for the Bush administration is that Costa Rica, representing one of the largest economies in the region, has yet to vote on CAFTA. Opposition has been fierce and is growing stronger. The new US ambassador in Costa Rica recently criticized that country for not having moved forward on CAFTA, and threatened that it could lose its textile export benefits under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) if it fails to approve the trade deal.

Similarly, in September 2005 under Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was sent to Nicaragua to threaten cuts in development aid should that country not pass the accord. CAFTA was introduced, “debated,” and voted on in one afternoon the week following Zoellick’s visit. Indeed, such threats have been the norm throughout the CAFTA negotiation, ratification, and implementation process.

Meanwhile, legal challenges have accompanied popular mobilization in the region. In Nicaragua, the National Workers Front (FNT) challenged CAFTA implementation before the Supreme Court, identifying 15 specific requirements of CAFTA that contravene the country’s constitution, including the provision granting transnational corporations special legal rights to seek monetary damages in response to regulatory efforts. Court battles are also pending in El Salvador.

Organizations from throughout Central America recently met in Costa Rica for the Sixth Mesoamerican Forum where they pledged to continue fighting CAFTA by monitoring its negative effects in the region and by mobilizing in the streets. In the US, the Stop CAFTA Coalition organized coordinated, local anti-CAFTA actions in January to denounce the likely effects of the agreement in Central America and to hold accountable representatives and senators who voted in favor of CAFTA last July. The actions also celebrated the continued resistance in Central America to “free” trade, privatization, and US economic domination.


Tom Ricker is co-director of the Quixote Center‘s Quest for Peace Program. Burke Stansbury is Executive Director for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). Both organizations are founding members of the Stop CAFTA Coalition.

This story originally appeared in Upside Down World, Jan. 31


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



Coca Eradication Brings War to Endangered National Parks

by Memo Montevino

Last June, following months of political contest between the administration of President Alvaro Uribe and environmentalists, Colombia’s government announced that the aerial spraying of glyphosate to wipe out coca crops would be extended to the country’s national parks. Claiming 11 of Colombia’s 49 national parks had been invaded by cocaleros, Uribe named three parks slated for imminent fumigation: Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, a northern snow-capped peak which is a UN-recognized biosphere reserve; and two in the lush cloud-forests where the eastern Andean slopes fall towards the Amazon basin. This cloud forest belt is the most biodiverse zone of Colombia, and among the most conflicted. These two parks—Cataumbo, in Norte de Santander department, and La Macarena in Meta—are both in areas hotly contested by Colombia’s military and guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The fumigation was held up as Colombian environmentalists challenged the spray order before administrative courts and petitioned the US Congress—which funds the spraying program—to intervene. In December, Uribe made a new announcement: that he would order manual eradication of coca crops in the parks as a compromise measure. A thousand-strong work force was sent into La Macarena to uproot the illicit crops. The military and National Police would oversee the program, which was dubbed, with a keen eye to public relations, “Operation Green Colombia.”

“We are going to recuperate for the country [La Macarena] nature park, an area that unfortunately has been harmed mercilessly by illicit crops,” Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, director of the National Police, told the press.

But the reality has proved considerably less than “green.” On Feb. 6, six National Police agents, part of the contingent sent in to protect the eradication team, were killed in an attack by FARC guerillas in La Macarena. Another six were killed in a FARC mortar strike Feb. 15. At least one of the workers, who make about $12 a day, was injured in the crossfire between the guerillas and security forces, leading the majority of the team to quit because of the danger.

Uribe responded by ordering air strikes on the national park. The park would be evacuated before the strikes were ordered, Uribe told Colombia’s RCN TV from Washington, where he was negotiating a free-trade deal with United States. “It seems we need to be more aggressive in terms of bombing the areas within the park where the guerrillas are located,” Uribe said.

Air Force planes struck positions within the park Feb. 16. “In those areas where guerilla concentrations have been identified or in those places where military targets have been identified, we will proceed with all the istruments that are available to the public forces to neutralize them,” Defense Minister Camilo Ospina told Bogota’s El Tiempo.

Uribe said four areas identified as FARC bases within the park were targeted, but the military could not confirm that any guerillas had been killed. “This has not been an indiscriminate attack,” Ospina told El Tiempo Feb. 17. “The bombardment caused no damage beyond that needed to neutralize some points.”

The force backing up the eradication team consisted of 2,000 army troops and 1,500 members of the National Police. Since the fighting, just a third of the original 1,000 workers are left to tackle the task of clearing La Macarena of an estimated 4,600 hectares of coca. Uribe insisted he remains committed to the operation, while backing away from the original goal of completing the eradication by April.

The distinction between the eradication and anti-guerilla campaign is almost completely disappearing. Uribe chose La Macarena as the first park to be targeted by “Colombia Verde” after a FARC attack on an army detachment just outside the park left 29 troops dead.

“We cannot pretend that eliminating the checkbook of the guerilla will be an easy process,” Ospina told El Tiempo Feb. 16. “The process in La Macarena consist of the eradication of coca in one of the zones of the world with the greatest cultivations, which represents the most important source of financing for subversive groups, specifically the FARC.”

Journalist Yadira Ferrer, writing for Inter-Press Service just before the air strikes on the national park, spoke to some of the Colombian environmentalists who opposed the “Colombia Verde” program.

“The manual eradication in La Macarena may represent progress as a technique,” said Ricardo Vargas, Colombian coordinator in Colombia for Acción Andina, a group that monitors issues around drug trafficking in the region. “However, it doesn’t replace the government’s erroneous policy, which is to try to get rid of the drug trafficking problem by going after the weakest link: the peasant farmer who feels obligated to grow coca in order to survive.”

“If the government doesn’t directly attack the sources of financing for drug trafficking, those groups will continue to shift to other areas, as they have been doing for years,” he added.

La Macarena was declared a national park in 1989 and declared a “heritage of humanity” site by the UN Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some 2,500 families of colonos—settlers—are thought to be living within its 630,000 hectares. Most arrived over the past two generations, before it was declared a national park. However, settlement of the park has increased in recent years as the coca economy in the region has exploded. “Colombia Verde” calls for the forced removal of these settlers from the park, although details of how this will be carried out or where they will be resettled have not been revealed.

Vargas charged that Colombian government has never carried out “a serious state policy” for the country’s national parks. He insisted that means of livelihood must be provided for any settlers relocated from La Macarena, and that the eradication be accompanied by a broader development plan drawn up with input from the impacted communities.

According to Colombia’s Integrated System for Monitoring Illicit Crops (SIMCI), in 2004 there were 5,364 hectares of coca planted in 13 of the nation’s parks, equivalent to 0.05 percent of the country’s total protected area and 7.0 percent of the total area cultivated with illegal crops. Protected areas in total cover 10 million hectares—10 percent of national territory. The government’s goal is to eradicate 40,000 hectares of illegal drug crops in 2006.


“Colombian rebels kill six coca eradication police,” Reuters, Feb. 16:

“Colombian Rebels Kill Six Police Guards,” AP, Feb. 15:

“Colombia to bomb FARC guerrillas,” BBC, Feb. 16:

“El Estado llegó a La Macarena para quedarse: Ministro de Defensa,”
El Tiempo, Bogota, Feb. 16

“Fuerza Aérea lanzó cuatro bombardeos sobre áreas de La Macarena,”
El Tiempo, Bogota, Feb. 17

“The Difficult Rescue of La Macarena,” by Yadira Ferrer, IPS, Feb. 9:

See also “Colombia: Chemical Warfare Expands,” WW4 REPORT #110 /node/566


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Jan. 8, Colombian army troops from the No. 26 Cacique Piguanza Infantry Battalion, headed by Lt. Hoyos, shot to death 17-year-old Hortensia Neyid Tunja Cuchumbe and Manuel Antonio Tao Pillimue and wounded William Jose Cunacue Medina in Inza municipality, in the southern department of Cauca. On the night of Jan. 7 Tunja left her home in the community of San Antonio, accompanied by Cunacue, to attend a party in the nearby community of Belen. At 4 AM Tunja’s mother was informed by neighbors that her daughter was wounded on the road about 100 meters from Belen. When the mother arrived, she found her daughter dead, lying face down on the side of the road with bullet holes in her body. Uniformed and hooded soldiers threatened Tunja’s mother and told her that her daughter was a leftist rebel who had been killed along with a rebel “commander.” The soldiers then forced the mother to leave her daughter’s body at the site and go to Belen; they claimed they were waiting for officials from the attorney general’s office to come to the site to officially record the deaths.

The soldiers then blocked anyone from leaving Belen and attacked and beat a number of people at the party there; several people were injured, including one who was hit in the head with a rifle butt. When family members of Tunja and Tao tried to return to the site where their bodies lay, the soldiers fired their rifles in the air to force them to retreat. Around 6 AM, Tunja’s mother managed to return to the site and found the soldiers still there but her daughter’s body gone. She was told that the corpses had been taken to the town of La Plata in Huila department, where the attorney general’s office would file the report on them. Under Colombian law, only the attorney general’s office is allowed to move cadavers from the location where they are found; the army’s removal of the bodies from the site was in blatant violation of the law.

As Tunja’s mother and other family members headed toward La Plata, they found Tunja’s and Tao’s bodies covered up and dumped on the side of the highway about 30 minutes from Belen in the village of Puerto Valencia. Army troops at the site forced the family members to leave the area after telling them that the bodies would be left there for the attorney general’s office to deal with. The army then took the bodies to the military base in La Plata, where they were handed over to the families around 4 PM on Jan. 8. The family members took the bodies to the local hospital. There soldiers again intimidated the family members.

Tunja was a domestic worker who had been employed in Bogota since April 2005; she had been on vacation visiting her family in San Antonio since Dec. 27. Tao Pillimue was a young campesino who lived in the community of San Isidro in Inza municipality; he had left his home on Jan. 7 to go to the party in Belen. Tunja and Tao were members of the Campesino Association of Inza -Tierradentro (ACIT). William Jose Cunacue Medina suffered several bullet wounds and was taken to the hospital in La Plata, where army troops detained him and accused him of “rebellion.” Community members insist that none of the three youths were members of any armed organization; they say the army falsified evidence, planting weapons on the corpses and claiming the victims were guerrillas. (ACIT Communique, Jan. 11)


On Jan. 3, Colombian army troops from the Rondon de Buenavista Group came to the indigenous Wiwa community of Seminke, in the area of San Juan del Cesar and Riohacha municipalities in the northeastern department of La Guajira. They took away community members Celso Carrillo Perea and Ricardo Arias Solis; the next day shots and explosions were heard at a distance from where the two were seized. The decomposed bodies of the two men were found in Riohacha on Jan. 5. In a joint communique, the Yugumaiun Bunkuanarrua Tayrona Wiwa Organization (OWYBT) of San Juan del Cesar, the Kogui-Malayo-Arhuaco Reserve in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Prensa Indigena correspondent Guillermo Riguera indicated that Carrillo and Arias had no links to armed groups and were just campesinos engaged in agriculture to support their families. Their families were linked to an International Red Cross project in the community.

Last Dec. 9, troops from the Rondon de Buenavista Group arrived in the Wiwa community of Ulago and took resident Laudelino Mejia Montano from his home; the next day shots, explosions and a helicopter were heard nearby, and Mejia was subsequently found murdered.

The Wiwa communities are concerned because a number of residents and community leaders have been accused of being rebels or rebel sympathizers; those who are detained often turn up dead, presented as rebels killed in combat.

On Jan. 9 two individuals on a motorcycle assassinated Fernando Montano Armenta, a resident of the Wiwa indigenous community of La Pena de los Indios. He was murdered in San Juan del Cesar municipality. The community does not know which armed group is responsible for his murder. (Prensa Indigena, Jan. 3; Adital, Feb. 3)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


On Feb. 4, community leader Alirio Sepulveda Jaimes was shot to death in Saravena municipality in the eastern Colombian department of Arauca, just a block and a half from an outpost of the National Police. The Departmental Association of Campesinos (ADUC) reports that Sepulveda was murdered by hired killer Edgar Guiza Gamboa, who permanently accompanies the National Army’s “Gabriel Reveis Pizarro de Saravena” Mechanized Cavalry Group No. 18, commanded by Lt. Col. Carlos Vicente Prada Garces. (ADUC, Feb. 10 via Colombia Indymedia) Prada Garces, whose first name was given in some sources as Jose Vicente, is likely the same person listed in the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) graduate list as Carlos Vicente Prado Garces; as a cadet he took SOA’s C-3 Arms Orientation Course for Cadets in January 1984, when the school was still in Panama. (SOA Graduates List)

Sepulveda’s body was picked up by several individuals on motorcycles whom witnesses recognized as members of the National Army’s S2 military intelligence unit, dressed in civilian clothing. After the killing, witnesses say Guiza went to a local shopping center where he drank alcoholic beverages and threatened passersby with the same gun he had used to shoot Sepulveda. According to ADUC, Guiza claims to be the commander of the Saravena paramilitaries.

Sepulveda was detained on Nov. 12, 2002 with 42 other Arauca community leaders, based on allegations by former rebels who were allowed to demobilize if they accused others. Sepulveda was freed for lack of evidence, but he continued to suffer constant threats and harassment; the army claimed he was a member of the National Liberation Army (ELN). (ADUC, Feb. 2 via Colombia Indymedia)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 20


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118

“Colombia’s army chief sacked in brutal hazing ritual” WW4 REPORT, Feb. 27


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