Issue #. 121. May 2006

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog “BIONOIA” Part 3 The Mystery of Plum Island: Nazis, Ticks and Weapons of Mass Infection by Mark Sanborne BIRD FLU: HYPE, HYPOTHESIS, AND HYPODERMIC by A. Krondstadt ELECTIONS IN PALESTINE & HAITI: This Is What… Read moreIssue #. 121. May 2006

THE BATTLE OF IDEAS IN LATIN AMERICA

And the New Challenge to Global Capital

by Peter Hudis

At a moment when the Bush administration is facing a quagmire in Iraq and growing opposition to its policies at home, Latin America may not appear to be its central area of concern. Yet events there are becoming as worrisome to it as those in the Middle East.

A left-wing government under Evo Morales took power in Bolivia in December; a radical who favors nationalizing U.S. mining interests, Ollanta Humala, is hoping to become the president of Peru in April; and a left-of-center government may take power in Mexico if Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD wins its presidential election in July. Meanwhile Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s effort to create a “counter-hegemonic pole” to the U.S. is becoming an increasing irritant to the Bush administration.

The move to the Left by Latin America’s electorate is only one reflection of a continent in upheaval. In Ecuador the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities last month called for a nationwide uprising to protest a possible free-trade agreement with the U.S. In Colombia, the government is being sharply criticized for signing a free trade agreement with the U.S. in late February that may throw 2.5 million Colombians out of work once tariffs are lifted on U.S. agricultural imports.

From Mexico to the southern cone, Latin Americans are expressing disgust with decades of U.S.-sponsored neoliberal restructuring that has sunk 44% of Latin Americans into poverty and made income disparities between rich and poor even worse than ever.

BUSH’S FAKE TALK OF “DEMOCRACY”

That the Bush administration’s policy towards Latin America is coming apart at the seams was seen last fall when its Free Trade Agreement of the Americas died in the face of withering attacks by Chavez and other Latin American leaders. Although the U.S. since then has tried to promote an Andean Free Trade Agreement, Morales’ election has left that in tatters as well. The administration is responding to this situation by accusing its critics of being “undemocratic.”

In February Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of Chavez: “He’s a person who was elected legally just as Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power and is now, of course, working with Castro and Morales. It concerns me.” Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte (ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s when the U.S.-supported government murdered thousands of people in Central America) stated a few weeks later that Chavez is a threat because he is “diminishing freedom of the press” in Venezuela.

Aside from the fact that these advocates of domestic spying, torture, and the use of death squads against liberatory forces in Latin America are hardly in a position to lecture others about “democracy,” one thing that cannot be said of Chavez is that he has ended freedom of expression. The open and vibrant debate that is taking place in Venezuela over whether or not his “Bolivarian Revolution” is a viable path to the future is proof of it.

A lively debate is in fact taking place in Latin America today among democratic grassroots groups of indigenous peoples, feminists, workers, national minorities and youth. There are few places to get a better sense of the battle of ideas taking place there than at the World Social Forum (WSF), held in Caracas, Venezuela in late January.


THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM

This year’s WSF in Caracas, attended by 80,000, took place in a radically different context from last year’s gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Last year’s event was held in the midst of growing mass disillusionment with the accommodationist stance of Lula da Silva’s Workers‚ Party (PT). Although the PT came to power through decades of struggles by movements-from-below of metal workers, feminists, Christian base communities, and the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST), Lula has adhered to the neoliberal policies that the masses expected him to challenge.

No mass upsurge preceded Chavez’s rise to power. He became president through a national election in 1999 after having earlier staged an abortive military coup. Since then, his promotion of what he calls “Bolivarian Socialism” has created an opening that many in Venezuela are using to promote radical demands, at the same time that many questions are being asked about where his “revolution from above” is headed.

The Venezuelan political context directly impacted this year’s WSF. It had a larger presence of traditional Marxist-Leninist tendencies than previously. For the first time 850 participants attended from Cuba.

Most important, whereas at previous WSFs it was rare to hear extended discussion of “socialism” let alone a serious analysis of what constitutes a non-capitalist society, this year’s WSF was dominated by much discussion of socialism—in part because Chavez has anointed the “Bolivarian Revolution” as a project of “socialist reconstruction.”

The question is what is meant by such discussions of socialism and whether the radicalization that characterizes Venezuela today will accentuate or impede the search for a viable alternative to capitalism.

BATTLE OF IDEAS IN VENEZUELA

Chavez’s attraction for many inside and outside of Venezuela lies in his attacks on Bush and in his effort to funnel Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs.

Chavez is using a fourfold increase in oil revenue since 1999 to forge a “counter-hegemonic” pole to the U.S. He is selling oil at below market prices to several friendly Latin American countries. He has floated bonds to help Argentina pay off its debt to the International Monetary Fund. And he is also trading oil for commodities (like soybeans) as part of an effort to curry favor with Morales’ Bolivia.

His ambitions extend even further. He is forging close relations with China and talks of using its technological expertise to bypass Venezuela’s dependence on the U.S. He is also trying to forge a “strategic alliance” with Iran. Venezuela is one of only a handful of countries that opposes placing restrictions on Iran’s access to nuclear technology. This is occurring at the moment when Iran’s right-wing president is cracking down on its labor movement, as seen in the arrest last month of 1,000 striking bus drivers.

Inside Venezuela, Chavez is solidifying his mass support by funneling much of the nation’s oil revenue into social programs. This year 41% of Venezuela’s budget is earmarked for spending for health care, literacy, housing, and other needs. It represents the largest and most comprehensive program of social spending in Latin America.

He has also set up a dozen “missions” that provide emergency health, education, and welfare as well as paid subsidies to the poor. The missions are financed out of the growing oil revenue under a separate budget subject to Chavez’s personal discretion.

While many at the WSF hailed these moves as proof that Venezuela is moving in a “socialist” direction, such policies have done little so far to dent the nation’s massive unemployment. Only 37,000 new jobs have been created in the past year. And many in the missions complain of never getting paid for their work or being paid only occasionally.

Many working people also complain about growing bureaucracy and the risk of one-man rule. Chavez’s tendency to appear on television several evenings a week to give four-hour speeches has many critiquing him for a cult of personality and “Bonapartism.”

The most applauded as well as contentious aspect of Venezuela concerns the explosive growth in cooperatives. Thousands have sprung up, encompassing everything from food vendors to health care providers to efforts to form cooperatives in industrial enterprises.

These cooperatives, which are also funded by the state from oil revenues, are touted by the government and its supporters as a way to “popularize capital.” As one official put it, “The principal idea is that cooperatives or development zones should integrate with other cooperatives to add value through processing and transformation” while avoiding intermediaries such as foreign corporations or private businesses.

Most cooperatives are contracted to sell goods to the government, which gives it a significant role in determining which ones thrive and which fail. At the same time, many socially conscious activists are creating nonprofit cooperatives that provide health care, housing, and social assistance to raise the standard of living of Venezuelans.

Thus the situation in Venezuela is highly contradictory. While some programs being enacted from above have a bureaucratic or state-capitalist stamp to them, large numbers of people are making use of the present situation to press for radical changes on their own.

WHAT IS SOCIALISM?

Such distinctions often did not get made in discussions at the WSF, however, where enthusiasm over Chavez’s specific policies tended to trump serious analysis of them.

Even government ministers admit that some enterprises are being turned into cooperatives “not with the intention of transferring power to their workers, but to evade taxes from which cooperatives are exempt.” Minister for Popular Economy Elías Jaua stated: “There are many cooperatives that are registered as such on paper, but which actually have a boss who is paid more, salaried workers, and unequal distribution of work and income.” Many workers in the cooperatives earn less than the minimum wage, $188 a month, as they are not subject to national labor laws.

Yet many at the WSF argued that capitalist relations will erode as “social ownership of the means of production” and the elimination of private competition take hold. Clearly there is a growing tendency in today’s movements against global capital to return to more traditional approaches that focus on nationalized property and statification of natural resources as the solution to the problems of neoliberalism.

There is nothing wrong with demanding that global capital be prevented from continuing to rob the natural and human resources of Latin American nations. Just as it is vital for workers to demand a more equitable redistribution of the surplus value that is robbed from their hides each day at work, so it is important for the nations of the South to demand a redistribution of wealth from global capital.

Yet by the same token, just as a worker who obtains a wage increase still lives in a capitalist environment in which those gains can be readily taken away, a popular regime that demands a redistribution of the surplus value robbed from its people by multinational corporations still exists in the context of the world market and capitalist social relations.

In a word, socialism is not the same as nationalized industry and property—even when a “co-management scheme” operates between workers and the state.

As Raya Dunayevskaya put it: “Even where a state like Cuba is protected from the worst whims of the world market and where state planning is total, the price of sugar is still dependent upon the socially necessary labor time established by world production. In a word, to plan or not plan is not the decisive question. The state of technological development and the accumulated capital are the determinants, the only determinants when the masses are not allowed their self-activity.” (Philosophy and Revolution, p. 225).

WHICH WAY AHEAD?

The turn back to statism in much of the movement against global capital is by no means complete, including in Venezuela. Independent movements are gaining strength there, such as an abortion rights movement.

The growth of the women’s movement explains why Venezuela is the only Latin America country with a constitution that recognizes housework as economically productive activity. Housewives are now able to obtain social security benefits.

However, women are still under-represented in the government. Only 12% of the members of the National Assembly are women. Demands are being raised that 50% of its seats be reserved for women candidates.

Many are probing into a genuine alternative that avoids the dead ends of both neoliberalism and state-capitalism. This was reflected in an “Alternative Social Forum” held at the same time as the WSF by Venezuelan anarchists. Its sponsors stated at the forum: “In the last four years Venezuela has undergone a polarization induced by the top players vying for power against the new Chavez bureaucracy that has supplanted the previous one. Part of the demobilization of the social movements answers to this logic: having taken part in, and assumed blindly, the agenda imposed from above, postponing their own claims. Another chapter belongs to the expectations created by some of the social activists faced with a ‘progressive and left’ government, spokesmen of a discourse that assumes the language of the movements but whose policies go in the opposite direction.”

Clearly an important debate is going on in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America over the direction of the movements against global capital—even if the initiative for now rests with those favoring a return to more statist tendencies of the old Left.

One reason for this shift is that while the movement against global capital has raised the important slogan “another world is possible,” it has tended to avoid an in-depth discussion of exactly what constitutes a society that negates and transcends capitalism.

Reticence about imposing programs and devising “blueprints for the future,” both of which have been integral to the anti-vanguardist nature of the movements against global capital since their inception in the Seattle protests of 1999, is understandable. Yet no movement can live forever on generalizations and good intentions. If anti-vanguardists fail to spell out in precise and specific terms the basic features of a socialist society that transcends the parameters of value production, other less liberatory tendencies will surely do so instead. This is what we are now witnessing, as many who want to know “what is socialism” find that the more traditional, statist leftists are the ones who have a ready-made answer to their questions, albeit a superficial one.

The debate is by no means finished, yet it will not be brought to a successful finish unless we concretize the creativity of cognition by spelling out “what happens after” the revolution, beginning right here and now.

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This piece originally appeared in News & Letters, Chicago-based journal of Marxism-Humanism, April-May 2006
http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2006/April-May/Lead_April-May_06.htm

RESOURCES:

“Tehran bus strikers appeal for solidarity,” News & Letters, April-May 2006 http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2006/April-May/Tehran_April-May_06.htm

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CENTRAL AMERICA: CAFTA EXPANDS, DEATH SQUADS BACK

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

HONDURAS, NICARAGUA IN CAFTA

After a number of delays, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) went into effect in Honduras and Nicaragua on April 1. Honduran president Manuel Zelaya held a ceremony with US ambassador Charles Ford, who acknowledged that “changes generate fear” but insisted: “[W]e have confidence in the future.” Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolanos marked the occasion by certifying the first shipment of Nicaraguan beans–a container reportedly valued at $20,000–for export to the US under the new agreement. The ceremony was held in El Crucero, a town south of Managua, with US ambassador Paul Trivelli participating. Nicaraguan government sources predicted that DR-CAFTA will increase Nicaraguan exports by 20%; last year Nicaragua exported goods worth $291.7 million to the US and imported $524.8 million, with a net deficit of $233.1 million. (El Diario-La Prensa, April 2 from AP)

Thousands of Honduran doctors, teachers, students, workers and indigenous people marched in Tegucigalpa on March 31 to protest the planned DR-CAFTA implementation. The marchers passed in front of the US embassy and the presidential offices chanting slogans against Zelaya and the US government. “The treaty was designed to benefit big business and the rich,” union leader Juan Barahona told the demonstrators. “[F]oreign investment, which the trade accord is supposed to attract, is the hook…[but] investors have never helped the country; on the contrary, they’ve looted it throughout our history.” The current unemployment rate in Honduras is 46%, while 71% of the country’s 7 million inhabitants live in poverty. The protest was organized by the Popular Bloc and the National Resistance Coordinating Committee. (ED-LP, April 1)

DR-CAFTA, a trade bloc incorporating Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the US, was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1. Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly has still not approved the accord; the other countries have ratified DR-CAFTA, but the legislatures failed to enact laws that the US insisted were necessary for full compliance. El Salvador passed the legislation in time for DR-CAFTA to take effect there on March 1.

Nicaragua’s National Assembly cleared the way for the DR-CAFTA implementation when it voted unanimously on March 21 for a series of reforms to existing laws: the Patent Law, the Law of Brands and Other Distinctive Signs, and the Special Law of Crime Against International Trade or International Investment. (Diario el Mundo, San Salvador, March 22)

The vote in the National Assembly was made possible by the decision of the second largest bloc, the deputies from the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), to reverse their previous opposition to DR-CAFTA. On March 15 the Sandinista Assembly, the party’s official decision-making body, voted to “promote proposals in favor of the Nicaraguans in all those reform laws currently being promoted by the government for the implementation of CAFTA.” At the same time, the Sandinista Assembly insisted that “national production should be the primary axis for the development of a sustainable and self-sustainable economy” and that DR-CAFTA “represents a serious threat to our natural resources, to the producers, workers and other Nicaraguan sectors.” (Associated Press, March 16)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 2

GUATEMALA: MURDERS FOLLOW UPRISING CALL

Four heavily armed men dressed in black murdered Tz’utujil Maya indigenous leader Antonio Ixbalan Cali and his wife, Maria Petzey Cool, on April 5 in their home in the community of Valparaiso, Chicacao municipality, in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepequez. Ixbalan was a local leader of the National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinating Committee (CONIC) and president of the Farmers Association of Santiago Atitlan. The Valparaiso community is composed of 44 families that carried out a successful struggle for their land, formerly a private ranch; they were granted the legal title on Feb. 8, 2002.

The murders came within days of two other apparently political killings. On April 2 Meregilda Suchite, a community leader and member of the local Women’s Network in Olopa, Chiquimula municipality, in the Ch’orti region, was shot six times and attacked with a machete. Suchite’s husband said police failed to arrest the murderer, Cesar Perez Gonzalez. On April 6 two men on a motorcycle gunned down legislative deputy Mario Ronaldo Pivaral Montenegro, of the center-right National Hope Unity (UNE), in front of the party’s headquarters in Guatemala City. He had gone outside to answer a call on his cell phone. (Guatemala Hoy, April 6, 7)

National CONIC leaders tied the murders of Ixbalan and Petzey to a call they issued hours earlier on April 5 for a “National Mayan and Popular Uprising.” In a press conference CONIC leaders and leaders of the National Teachers Assembly (ANM) announced the uprising as they broke off talks with the government of President Oscar Berger. “The response to our demands mocks the Maya and popular movement,” said CONIC general coordinator Pedro Esquina. Another CONIC leader, Juan Tiney, projected actions starting after Easter weekend ends on April 16 that could include taking over farms, blocking highways, and holding assemblies and demonstrations. “They are forcing us to choose the route of popular struggle,” he said. “Ecuador and Bolivia are examples of the results that can occur, and we believe that in Guatemala this is also possible. Everything CONIC says, it does.” The CONIC leaders called on all Mayans who hold government posts to resign and join the Mayan people’s struggle, including human rights activists Rosalina Tuyuc and Rigoberta Menchu.

The movement’s demands include the resolution of more than 100 land conflicts, forgiveness of debts to the government for land awarded to campesinos, the suspension of mining concessions, a law on nationality and indigenous peoples, and an end to the effort to fire ANM leader Joviel Acevedo from his teaching job. (Guatemala Hoy, April 6, 7; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, April 6)

The call for an uprising followed a demonstration by thousands of campesinos and others in Guatemala City on March 30, largely organized by CONIC and ANM around the same demands. March 27 and 28 had brought road blockades by people whose homes and land had been damaged by hurricane Stan in October, along with demonstrations against DR-CAFTA. (La Semana en Guatemala, April 4)

On March 29, in the midst of these mobilizations, army troops, reportedly backed by tanks and helicopters, violently evicted some 310 members of the Worker and Campesino Labor Federation (FESOC) from land they were occupying in the community of La Bendicion, Flores municipality, Peten department. The campesinos were waiting for the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) to comply with its commitment to relocate them on other suitable land. The troops reportedly injured campesinos and burned their homes and possessions. (Amnesty International Urgent Action, April 3)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 9


HONDURAS: GENERAL LOSES IN U.S. RIGHTS SUIT

In a ruling issued late on March 31 in Miami, US district Judge Joan Lenard ordered a former Honduran military officer, Lt. Col. Juan Lopez Grijalba, to pay $47 million to torture survivors and relatives of victims murdered by troops Lopez Grijalba commanded in the early 1980s. The plaintiffs, who now live in the US, were Gloria and Oscar Reyes, a married couple abducted and tortured by soldiers in and around Tegucigalpa in 1982; Zenaida Velasquez, the sister of Manfredo Velasquez, a university student leader murdered in 1981; and the two sisters of university student Hans Madisson, mutilated and decapitated in 1982. During this period, Lopez Grijalba headed the National Investigations Directorate (DNI) and the death squad known as Battalion 316. Judge Lenard ruled that Lopez Grijalba was responsible for the actions of the troops, and that he was present and giving orders during the raid in which Madisson and Gloria and Oscar Reyes were captured.

The monetary award was mostly symbolic, since Lopez Grijalba is living in Honduras and apparently has no assets in the US. He moved to the Miami area in 1998; US immigration authorities arrested him in April 2002, and he was deported to Honduras on Oct. 21, 2004 for his participation in human rights abuses.

But Matt Eisenbrandt, litigation director for the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), which brought the suit in 2002 on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the decision might advance a case the Honduran human rights prosecutor opened against Lopez Grijalba when he was deported. “A judgment in the United States can carry a lot of weight in that country,” Eisenbrandt said. Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, called the decision “historic” and said it “obligates the Honduran authorities to review their role as fixers and builders of impunity.” (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, April 4; Miami Herald, April 4; La Nacion, Costa Rica, April 3; CJA press release, April 3)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 9


EL SALVADOR: FEW CHANGES IN ELECTIONS

March 12 elections in El Salvador for municipal governments, the National Assembly and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) failed to show major shifts in the strengths of the main parties. According to the final results presented by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on March 18, the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) won 34 deputies’ seats in the 84-member National Assembly, followed by the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) with 32. The right-wing Party of National Conciliation (PCN) won 10 seats, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) won six and the social democratic National Change (CD) came in last with two. No party has the 43 votes necessary for a majority, and ARENA will have to bloc with the FMLN to get the 56 votes required for constitutional changes or major fiscal decisions.

ARENA and the FMLN both gained slightly from their totals in 2003, when the FMLN came in first with 31 seats, followed by ARENA with 27.

ARENA won 147 municipal races, followed by the FMLN with 52 municipal governments, the PCN with 39, the PDC with 14 and the CD with two; various coalitions won in the remaining eight municipalities. The FMLN held on to San Salvador, which it has governed since 1997, but slipped in other large cities, winning in just two of the other 14 departmental capitals; ARENA won seven departmental capitals. FMLN supporters charged ARENA officials with fraud and intimidation. In the close San Salvador race, the government initially indicated that ARENA candidate Rodrigo Samayoa had won. Some 20,000 FMLN supporters marched in San Salvador on March 16 to protest alleged irregularities; the police dispersed the marchers with tear gas and rubber bullets. In the end the TSE declared FMLN candidate Violeta Menjivar the winner, by just 44 votes.

ARENA and the FMLN each won eight seats in PARLACEN; the PCN won two and the PDC and CD two each. (Terra March 19; La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 19; La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 19; El Diario de Hoy, San Salvador, March 20; Adital, Brazil, March 17)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 2

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Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also WW4 REPORT #119
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“El Salvador: No Business as Usual as CAFTA Takes Effect,” by Paul Pollack. WW4 REPORT #120
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ECUADOR: STUDENT KILLED IN TRADE PROTESTS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Ecuadoran secondary school student Jhonny Montesdeoca was killed on April 6 during demonstrations in Cuenca to oppose signing the Andean Free Trade Agreement (known as TLC in Spanish) with the US and to demand the expulsion of the US-based company Occidental Petroleum (OXY). Montesdeoca died of a gunshot wound in his back. Another secondary school student, Javier Loja, was hospitalized after being shot in the foot. Students carried out violent mobilizations all day in Cuenca, according to the Ecuadoran media, especially near Cuenca State University; the two students were shot in that area.

Ten students were arrested in a demonstration the Popular Front Against the TLC held in Quito on the same day. Police agents used tear gas against the protesters as they tried to gather at the headquarters of the Ecuadoran Social Security Institute (IESS). The General Union of Workers of Ecuador (UGTE) charged that police agents beat a local union president, Jose Chusin, on the head with nightsticks. (Adital, April 10)

The demonstrations by students and others followed a wave of massive protests against the TLC led by indigenous organizations from March 13 to March 25. A recent opinion survey published in the Ecuadoran media found that 62.40% of those polled considered the TLC harmful to the country; 29.60% felt it would be beneficial. (Adital, March 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 16

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Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also WW4 REPORT #120
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VENEZUELA: PEASANTS MARCH, U.S. HOLDS WAR GAMES

from Weekly News Update on the Americas


U.S. NAVY HOLDS CARIBBEAN WAR GAMES

The US Navy’s George Washington aircraft carrier strike group entered the Caribbean the week of April 10 to lead large-scale joint military exercises that were scheduled to end in May. According to the Miami-based US Southern Command, the deployment is part of “Operation Partnership of the Americas” and focus on threats such as drugs and human trafficking. The group–which includes, in addition to the 1,100-foot aircraft carrier USS George Washington, the missile-armed cruiser USS Monterey, the destroyer USS Stout and the frigate USS Underwood, along with 71 airplanes–made its first visits on April 10-11, when the Stout stopped in Curacao and the Underwood docked in Cartagena, Colombia. The exercises were to include a visit to St. Martin on April 14; Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba and St. Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis are also on the itinerary.

The militaries of Honduras, Colombia and the Dominican Republic are participating, along with militaries from countries belonging to the British Commonwealth and those affiliated with France and the Netherlands. The exercises, the first in the Caribbean since 2003, are taking place close to Venezuela; Curacao and Trinidad and Tobago are just miles off the Venezuelan coast. Rear Admiral Joseph Kilkenny told the Miami daily El Nuevo Herald that the US had invited Venezuela to participate in the exercises but hadn’t received a response. “I don’t have the invasion of any country on my agenda,” he said. On April 9 top officials from the US embassy in Caracas met with Southern Command chief Gen. Bantz Craddock aboard the George Washington. According to El Nuevo Herald, US ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield was present. (ENH, April 11; El Tiempo, Bogota, April 8; Sun Sentinel, South Florida, April 11)

(The exercises coincide with the US military’s “Safe Horizons 2006” operation in the Dominican Republic, which Dominican activists have charged is connected to plans for aggression against Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela)

CARACAS: CAMPESINOS MARCH, AGAIN

More than 1,500 Venezuelan campesinos rallied in front of the vice president’s offices in Caracas on March 27 to protest the government’s failure to comply with its prior agreements with the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ). Among other demands, the FNCEZ is pressing for investigations into the murders of campesino activists, as well as compensation for the victims’ families. In a communique, the campesinos warned the “traitorous, corrupt, pro-imperialist right wing” not to try to confuse or manipulate the “legitimate struggles of Bolivar’s people,” since “our protest is profoundly inspired by the Bolivarian revolution, not against it, and is linked to its historic leader and commander of the revolution, [Venezuelan president] Hugo Chavez.”

The FNCEZ also had a warning for the US: “We are also mobilizing to tell the world and the Venezuelan people that the homeland of Bolivar doesn’t sell out, it defends itself, and in the face of the imperial invasion threat thousands of us campesinos will be here waiting for them with our dignity and fists intact.” (FNCEZ Communique, March 27 via Servicio Prensa Rural)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 16


ANDEAN TRADE BLOC COLLAPSING?

On April 22 Venezuela officially began the process of disengaging from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), a trade bloc formed in 1969 to strengthen ties between Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Light Industry and Trade Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias said the process would take five years and that relations between the countries would remain stable while Venezuela reviewed the mechanisms for leaving the group.

In an April 22 letter to the CAN, Venezuelan foreign relations minister Ali Rodriguez Araque cited the free trade accords (TLC) Peru and Colombia signed with the US, in December and February respectively. According to Iglesias, US products may enter Venezuela through Colombia, disrupting Venezuela’s plans for internal development. Left-populist president Hugo Chavez Frias has charged that US products are underpriced because they are “super-subsidized.” Evo Morales, the leftist president of Bolivia, seconded Chavez’s charges on April 19 while in Asuncion, where he and Chavez were meeting with Paraguay president Nicanor Duarte and Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez. The accord between Colombia and the US “has taken away our trade in Bolivian soybeans,” Morales said. In CAN “there are some nations that have become instruments of disintegration.”

Leaving CAN will put some strain on Venezuela’s economy, but Chavez is looking to increasing trade with Mercosur, the trade bloc formed by Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay and Uruguay. In the Asuncion meeting, Chavez said Mercosur must “avoid” CAN’s fate. Chavez is promoting a Latin American trade bloc–the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)–in opposition to the US-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA in English and ALCA in Spanish). (El Barlovento, Mexico, April 19; Rodriguez letter to CAN, April 22, posted on Colombia Indymedia; Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, April 22; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, April 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 23

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See also WW4 REPORT #119
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THE PROGRESSIVE MANDATE IN LATIN AMERICA

Bolivia, Evo Morales and A Continent’s Left Turn

by Benjamin Dangl & Mark Engler

On January 21, on a hill outside of La Paz, a traditional ceremony marked both a major shift in Bolivian politics and a milestone for the growing New Left in Latin America. At Tiwanaku, a site of pre-Incan ruins significant to the country’s indigenous populations, Evo Morales, barefoot and dressed in a red tunic, received a silver and gold staff from leaders of the Aymara people.

It was the first time in 500 years that this ritual transfer of leadership had been performed in Bolivia and it came just a day before Morales, former president of the coca-growers’ union and the leader of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, was officially inaugurated president of Bolivia.

In December Morales, who had campaigned on a platform championing indigenous rights and denouncing economic neoliberalism, won a landslide victory. He bested rivals, including Jorge Quiroga, a Washington favorite who had served as president of Bolivia from 2001 to 2002, finishing the term of past dictator Hugo Banzer. With a surprising 54 percent of the vote in a multi-party race, Morales not only secured the margin needed to avoid a run-off vote, he obtained the largest mandate ever given a president in Bolivian history.

Yet Morales’ hardest work may have just begun. He takes power as the first indigenous president in a country where nearly two-thirds of the population identifies with the Aymara, Quechua, or other indigenous groups. The same fraction of the country lives in poverty and the divide between rich and poor closely follows racial lines. Morales has announced plans to nationalize the country’s gas reserves, rewrite the constitution in a popular assembly, redistribute land to poor farmers, and change the rules of the U.S.-led war on drugs in Bolivia. If he helps spur on the radical change that his social movement base demands, he will face pressure from corporate investors and from the White House. If he chooses a more moderate path, Bolivia’s social movements have pledged to organize the same type of strikes and protests that have ousted two previous presidents in the past two years.

As Morales faces these trials in the coming months, he will do so in the context of a South America that has moved increasingly leftward. His administration joins left-of-center governments in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. These countries offer diverse suggestions for what progressive governments can accomplish and how social movements and financial elites might respond.

The Bolivian Moment

Morales begins his presidency following several years of social upheaval in Bolivia, fueled by a rejection of two decades of corporate globalization that deepened poverty and exacerbated inequality in the country. In April 2000 the residents of Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city, organized street protests and blockades against water privatization pushed by the World Bank and carried out by the Bechtel Corporation. In February 2003, 34 Bolivians were killed during protests against an income tax hike imposed at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In part of what became known as Bolivia’s “gas war,” over 60 people were killed in protests in October 2003 against further privatization of the country’s natural gas and a plan to export the resource through Chile.

At that time, Bolivia’s indigenous majority widely referred to the sitting president—multi-millionaire Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada—as “el gringo” because he was raised in the United States and spoke Spanish with an accent. As president, Sanchez de Lozada, a leader of one of Bolivia’s leading right-wing parties—the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement—stood as a long-time proponent of trade liberalization and IMF-recommended structural adjustment.

After gas war demonstrators were killed, street protests began calling for Sanchez de Lozada’s resignation. He was ultimately ousted on October 19, 2003. Vice President Carlos Mesa took his place, as stipulated in the country’s constitution. Under Mesa, a referendum on Bolivia’s gas resources was held in July 2004. The measure did not include the option of nationalizing the country’s natural gas reserves, as demanded by the social movements. As a result, protests continued. In March 2005, amid further mass demonstrations, Mesa left office, claiming he was incapable of governing such a tumultuous country.

Among the presidential candidates that ran in the December 2005 election, Morales had the broadest ties to the country’s social movements, having built Bolivia’s coca growers’ union into one of the most prominent social movements in the country. Yet despite his history as an organizer, Morales played a limited role in the popular uprisings of recent years. During the height of the gas war in 2003, for example, when mobilizations took to the streets to demand the nationalization of the country’s gas reserves, Morales attended meetings in Geneva on parliamentary politics. Morales’ actions were aimed at generating broad support among diverse sectors of society, including the middle class and those who did not fully support the tactics of protest groups. This strategy, combined with directing the momentum of social movements into the electoral realm, helped contribute to his victory on December 18.

For their part, social movements supported Morales as the best option in the electoral contest. However, their allegiance to the state remains limited. As Oscar Olivera, a key leader in the revolt against the privatization of Cochabamba’s water in 2000, explained in a recent interview with Uruguayan political scientist Raul Zibechi, “We are creating a movement, a nonpartisan social-political front that addresses the most vital needs of the people through a profound change in power relations, social relations, and the management of water, electricity, and garbage.”

“The [54 percent] isn’t a blank check, it’s a loan,” said political analyst Helena Argirakis to Los Tiempos, Cochabamba’s daily newspaper. Her colleague Fernando Garcia added, “The social movements’ support of Morales will always be conditional.”

At the same time, Morales faces severe external pressure if he antagonizes foreign creditors. Conservatives in the United States have been horrified by the success of Morales, whom they regularly slander as a narco-terrorist because of his support of coca growers. (Although coca can be used to produce cocaine, the natural plant leaves are used to make tea, have traditional importance for the country’s indigenous people, and are almost impossible to abuse in their natural form.) Bolivia owes large debts to international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the IMF, and the Inter-American Development Bank. This gives the U.S. an effective veto over future loans to the country and thus the potential to plunge Bolivia’s shaky economy into economic crisis. Domestic right-wing factions, centered in the wealthy province of Santa Cruz (the heartland of Bolivia’s energy industry), are threatening to secede if resource extraction is nationalized. These conservatives are ready to side with the U.S. and the IMF against Morales should an international showdown take place.

New Left Accomplishments?

In looking for a model for managing these tensions, Morales can examine the record of other progressive administrations that have taken power in Latin America. Progressive governments in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile have generally increased social spending and devoted greater attention to the needs of the poor. Rarely, however, have they lived up to the expectations of the social movements that helped put them in office.

Likewise, the electoral success of progressives in South America has signaled a backlash to two decades of unfettered economic neoliberalism. Yet the extent to which each country has rejected the policies of the Washington Consensus varies greatly.

The most recent electoral victory for the left in Latin America has taken place in Chile. There, a coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists known as Concertación had governed since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. On January 15, Chileans elected Socialist Michelle Bachelet as their new president. Bachelet is the first woman to govern the country and only the third female directly elected a head of state in Latin American history. (Her family has been imprisoned and her father killed by the Pinochet regime in the 1970s.) While Bachelet’s victory marks an exciting cultural shift, the president-elect has vowed to “walk the same road” as the sitting socialist president, Ricardo Lagos. Lagos has supported neoliberal initiatives such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), maintained close ties with Washington, and distanced himself from more radical governments in the region. Although optimistic international observers hope that Bachelet will break with the moderation of the Lagos administration to more aggressively address the sharp inequality in the country, her statements thus far stress continuity.

More relevant to the Bolivian situation are the examples of Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. Each represents a dominant economy in the region and each has fared differently since progressives have held power, offering unique lessons for MAS leaders.

Bucking the IMF in Argentina: In 2003 the left-leaning Nestor Kirchner took office in Argentina in the aftermath of the 2001 collapse of the country’s economy and the popular uprisings that forced several successive governments from power. The neoliberal policies supported by the IMF and implemented by President Carlos Menem in the 1990s were widely seen as responsible for the collapse. Since then, Argentina has set an important example by breaking with the IMF and playing hardball with international creditors.

The country made a credible threat of defaulting on its payments to the IMF—something previously unheard of for middle-income countries. In response, the IMF backed away from demands for austerity and higher interest rates. It did so for fear that other countries would follow Argentina in defaulting. The exchange shook the international standing of the IMF and allowed Argentina to finalize a renegotiation of over $100 billion in foreign debt in 2005. The renegotiation drastically reduced the value of the country’s outstanding obligations to private creditors. Moreover, Argentina’s stance against the IMF has allowed the country to base its economic recovery on policies that, while not venturing far to the left of the standard Keynesian playbook, run contrary to those preferred by Washington. Beyond economic policy, Kirchner has supported the repeal of amnesty laws protecting military officers. This action has helped open a large number of legal cases against human rights abusers from Argentina’s past military government.

Still, tensions remain between Kirchner’s government and forces like the piqueteros (the unemployed workers’ movement). Such movements accuse the president of using radical or nationalistic posturing to cover more conservative policy decisions. One illustration of this conflict came with Kirchner’s announcement in December that the government (following a similar move by Brazil) would “un-indebt” Argentina by paying off $9.8 billion to the IMF. Citing the pain that the financial institution has caused to the country’s people, Kirchner framed the move as a decision to be rid of the IMF and its odious policy recommendations for good. However, as the Dario Santillón Popular Front, a piquetero organization, pointed out, the move amounted to a full debt repayment, rather than a renunciation. “Despite the progressive rhetoric, the debt is paid off with the hunger of the people,” the group said in a statement cited by the Inter-Press Service. Ultimately, the relevance of the decision as a model for other progressive governments will depend on the Kirchner government’s ability to use its newfound freedom from the IMF to chart an increasingly independent economic course.

Lost innocence in Brazil: The Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) has stayed on a more conservative path since taking the presidency, to the disappointment of many who were enthusiastic to see Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva gain office in 2003. Early on, Lula, a former metalworker and union leader, pursued a “pragmatic” economic policy. His cautious decisions were designed to reassure foreign investors and avoid precipitous capital flight—a genuine concern for any country wishing to avoid the economic collapse that Argentina had already experienced. Over time, Lula’s course has become virtually indistinguishable from the policy direction the PT once criticized harshly. Lula has opted to follow IMF prescriptions and continue making payments on Brazil’s huge foreign debt, which the World Bank valued in 2002 as 49.6 percent of Brazil’s GDP (or some $230 billion). For 20 years the PT had campaigned against paying the debt, arguing that it took too much money from social programs and productive economic investment. The president’s current position is a far cry from even the most moderate of his party’s past stances.

Lula’s administration has been more aggressive in pursuing some neoliberal measures than even the IMF has demanded. IMF dictates call on the Brazilian government to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.75 percent of the country’s GDP. But Lula has voluntarily elected to maintain an even greater primary surplus of 4.25 percent, leaving money for only modest increases in government spending on social programs. Several of these programs—such as Fome Zero, the government’s flagship anti-hunger initiative—have been stunted by lackluster implementation and administration.

Moreover, while strong economic growth was used in the past to justify the government’s cautious approach, this year’s figures for growth hover at 2.5%. This has caused even some centrist economists to criticize the government’s preoccupation with controlling inflation with high interest rates, which lead to high unemployment.

Lula’s actions on the international scene also show a disappointing trajectory. In 2003, PT leadership of South America’s largest economy promised to open a space of possibility in international negotiations. Lula spoke often about crafting a “new geography” of trade and politics where poor countries would be respected as equals. Brazil emerged as one of the most outspoken countries condemning the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Lula was an instrumental force behind the formation of the G20+, a group of developing countries that stood up to U.S. and European demands at the 2003 WTO ministerial in Cancun. Their stance led to the collapse of those talks.

However, Brazil’s commitment to solidarity with the rest of the developing world has more recently been called into question. In the summer of 2004, Brazilian negotiators bullied poorer countries into signing the “July framework” for agriculture at WTO negotiations in Geneva�likely because Lula thought that a deal could benefit Brazilian agribusiness. This move gave new life to the languishing institution. Along with India, Brazil continued its pursuit of nationalist objectives over G20+ solidarity at the WTO talks in Hong Kong in December 2005. There it used its weight to ensure that the developing world did not block an agreement on the continuation of Doha Round negotiations. Interest in growing Brazil’s agribusiness exports has also caused friction between Lula’s government and the once-friendly Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), which has criticized the slow pace of land reform under the PT.

In a final discouraging development, several important PT officials have been implicated in a corruption scandal in the past year. This has marred the party’s reputation of holding itself to a higher ethical standard than its competitors; it has also positioned the PT unfavorably within a context of politics-as-usual, rife with patronage and bribery.

Between corruption and policy failures, some observers have aptly dubbed 2005 a “Year of Innocence Lost” in Brazil. At the 2005 World Social Forum, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez counseled Lula’s critics to be patient and allow the PT government more time to assert its independence from the Washington Consensus. A year later, with Lula’s popularity sagging and elections in the fall drawing nearer, time may be running out.

Venezuela as protagonist: Much of the progressive leadership expected from Lula when he was first elected has ended up coming from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has established himself as the White House’s key adversary in the region. Unlike other countries in which popular upheavals and established social movement organizations have helped to put new governments in power, Chavez has largely used the state as the starting point for directing a “Bolivarian Revolution,” which has subsequently developed popular dimensions. In the past two years, the shape of this revolution has come into focus as the Venezuelan economy has recovered from several rounds of oil strikes and the instability of a U.S.-supported coup in 2002.

While Chavez is often cast in the mold of Fidel Castro, several observers have noted that the redistributionist programs that are the hallmark of his social policy owe more to the New Deal than to Cuban state socialism. The many government programs that have been funded in recent years by proceeds from oil sales include an ambitious literacy program, free public education through the university level, job training, an anti-hunger program that provides subsidized food for over a third of the country, and an extensive system of free public health clinics. Chavez’s decidedly un-neoliberal economic policy has created the most robust growth in the hemisphere, with the country’s GDP surging 18 percent in 2004 and approximately 9 percent in 2005.

On the international scene, Chavez has been the most outgoing of Latin American leaders in proposing a unified front for the New Left. He has presented the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as a model for regional cooperation distinct from the FTAA. He has loaned Argentina almost a billion dollars and has sold discounted oil to many countries in order to benefit impoverished populations (including residents of low-income housing in Boston and the Bronx). In another such oil deal, Cuba sent some 20,000 doctors to bolster the public health care system in Venezuela in exchange for infusions of oil. At the WTO talks in Hong Kong, Venezuela provided a strong and consistent critical voice. In one dramatic stance at the closing ceremony, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Mari Pili Hernandez denounced the WTO agreement on the record before it was rubber-stamped by the assembly.

That Venezuela is a leading oil exporter in the hemisphere is a central fact in the country’s recent transformation. High oil prices�which produced $25 billion in profits for the Venezuelan government in 2004 (even more in 2005)�have given Chavez both abundant funds and political leeway to carry out his policies. (Of course, high export prices do not necessarily translate into human development; previous oil booms have done nothing to boost the incomes of the poor or decrease inequality.) Likewise, Chavez deserves credit for his efforts to build solidarity among Latin American nations, something other relatively affluent countries have often neglected.

However, the Venezuelan model is not without problems. The good fortune of the country’s natural resource wealth raises questions about whether the Bolivarian Revolution is an exportable one. Indebted countries with less freedom to antagonize the international financial community cannot afford to replicate Chavez’s social programs and public bluster. Moreover, a number of state initiatives have drawn fire from environmentalists. In one example, the PDVSA—the Venezuelan state energy company—has teamed up with ChevronTexaco and Phillips Petroleum in the multi-million dollar Hamaca project, which will develop an oil field in the Orinoco river basin. Activists argue that the project will have a devastating impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

The centrality of Venezuela’s president as a charismatic leader of reform efforts also raises concerns about whether the “revolution” can survive beyond Chavez. Having no lack of self-regard, Chavez regularly portrays himself as a key historical actor and has often worked to consolidate his own power. It remains to be seen how well local groups such as the “Bolivarian circles,” which act as forums for democratic participation in new social initiatives, will be able to mature so as to outlive Chavez’s tenure and ensure a model distinct from the centralized state power held by Castro in Cuba.


How Does Bolivia Compare?

Domestic circumstances, foreign pressures, and the Morales government’s own political inclinations will determine whether Bolivia will travel down one of the paths blazed in Argentina, Brazil, or Venezuela, or set an entirely different course. In terms of political conditions, Bolivia is an amalgam of its South American neighbors. Like Argentina, Bolivia has experienced a crisis of governance, with rapid turnover in the presidency. Strong social movement pressure has created a mandate for standing up to international financial institutions. Yet like Brazil, Bolivia must still worry about capital flight and foreign creditors, which can potentially cripple its economy and limit the government’s ability to act. Ironically, Petrobras, an energy company partially owned by the Brazilian state, is one of the largest foreign interests in Bolivia’s gas industry. That said, Bolivia’s ample natural resources could potentially translate into leverage for Morales, just as oil has proven a boon to Chavez. Bolivia has some of the largest natural gas reserves in the hemisphere and large oil deposits as well. However, at least in the near future, the country is dependent on foreign investment to develop these resources.

The independence of civil society marks a critical difference between Bolivia and Venezuela. Leaders in the new Morales government and in the country’s social movements have been quick to assert that Bolivian political landscape under a MAS administration will be very distinct from that seen in Caracas. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, incoming Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera argued that, while in Cuba and Venezuela “the civil society has been constructed by the state,” Bolivian civil society is almost entirely grassroots. Linera described the country’s recent political experience as a “construction of multiple social movements with a far-reaching trajectory, and an organizational and autonomous capacity, that little by little has been pressuring the state and eventually occupying it.”

Oscar Olivera, the social movement leader in Cochabamba, explained: “We aren’t fighting to govern, we’re fighting to make the government disappear and self-govern ourselves.” When asked if he was interested in helping transform Bolivia into another Venezuela, he said: “I don’t believe in military leaders, or ex-military leaders [such as Chavez]. Every country is different, and has its own culture and history. Many people in the media treat Chavez as though he were the best thing possible. But the leader is one thing and the people are another.”

Nationalizing Oil and Gas

Two issues will preoccupy the Morales administration in coming months: reclaiming profits and ownership of Bolivian oil and gas resources; and rewriting the constitution in a popular assembly. While these same two issues powered the political process in Venezuela after Chavez took power, Morales will face serious challenges in each arena.

No matter what the MAS leaders do with Bolivia’s gas and oil reserves, they are likely to upset corporate investors, social movements, or both. The social movements are demanding full nationalization. As Olivera explains, “We won’t accept partial nationalization. All of the contracts are with neoliberal companies. All they want to do is take our gas. People didn’t die [in recent social struggles] to give the gas to the companies. The people have to say what we need to do with the gas. Pachamama [Mother Earth] is for the people, not for the transnational corporations.”

While also using the language of “nationalization,” Morales has signaled a more moderate approach, distinguishing between the natural resources underground and the assets of the extraction industry. Ultimately, MAS is likely to deal with each individual energy company differently, attempting to negotiate concessions from each. “We will nationalize the natural resources, gas and hydrocarbons,” Morales said in early January. “We are not going to nationalize the assets of the multinationals. Any state has the right to use its natural resources. We must establish new contracts with the oil companies based on equilibrium. We are going to guarantee the returns on their investment and their profits, but not looting and stealing.”

Such reassurances have been popular with groups such as the Comité Civico Pro Santa Cruz, a pro-privatization lobby in the Santa Cruz region, with which Morales met following his electoral victory. Morales also traveled to Brazil to meet with Lula on January 13. There he vowed not to expropriate the property of energy companies and guaranteed the security of Brazil’s investments. He also outlined a plan to organize a multinational commission among Bolivia’s gas investors to revise contracts and agreements between different countries.

Dealing with individual companies may be an effective way to gain concessions from the energy industry without risking corporate lawsuits and pressure from the U.S. However, it would leave the Morales administration open to charges of having sold out to the corporations if the concessions it gains are inadequate. This dilemma adds importance to the second main issue confronting the government: the need for a popular assembly to rewrite the constitution. Such an assembly would create an opportunity for diverse political parties, business leaders, and social movements to agree on the terms for gas exportation.

A Constituent Assembly

Morales’ campaign promise to call an assembly between diverse social sectors to rewrite the constitution contributed significantly to his victory. The re-writing of Venezuela’s constitution in 2000 served as the launching pad for that country’s new political process. There, a referendum and nationwide assemblies were held to create and approve the new constitution. The new document mandated that profits from the oil industry be redirected into the state for social programs in education, health care, and community media initiatives. Today, a common saying in Venezuela holds that the new constitution is the country’s strongest weapon against corporate globalization and imperialism.

The re-writing of Bolivia’s constitution may prove to be similarly powerful. The election of delegates for a constituent assembly is now scheduled to take place in June 2006 and the actual assembly will convene in August. Three delegates will be elected from each of the country’s municipalities and delegations must include a minimum of one woman and one indigenous person. At present, social movements are putting forth proposals for what they want to see in a new constitution. Some of the main issues on the table include gas nationalization, land reform, free trade agreements with the U.S., and a referendum on autonomy for the Santa Cruz region. Because the majority of the delegates are likely to represent social movements, the new constitution is expected to favor popular forces over corporations and foreign interests.

The constituent assembly may well redraw Bolivia’s electoral map to allow for adequate representation of indigenous peoples. This could result in new elections, which might challenge Morales’ power. However, his enormous electoral victory indicates that any elections resulting from changes to the constitution will favor MAS. Nonetheless, well-funded lobbyists from Santa Cruz may be successful in pushing for autonomy in their gas-rich region. Moreover, it is unclear how the changes in a new constitution would be enforced. In Venezuela the country’s constitution declares that all housewives are entitled to a pension for their work. However, this has not been made into a law or put into effect.

Some social movement groups, such as the Workers and Campesinos Federation of La Paz, have given Morales a two-month window to make immense changes in the country. Such radicals are in the minority. Most social movement organizations have pledged to wait for the results of the constituent assembly before seriously pressing the administration. If the assembly fails to meet such demands as gas nationalization, protests and road blockades are expected to occur.

Such protest campaigns could paralyze the country and exacerbate political divisions. They could also give Morales leverage to pursue some of his more radical campaign promises if elites decide they would rather keep the government in place than risk upheaval. There is probably no other country in Latin American where social movements are so well organized and have such a great capacity to threaten the presidency. This balance of political muscle between the street and state makes it unlikely that Morales could replicate Lula’s “pragmatic” concessions to neo-liberalism, even if he wanted to.

Outside of their role in pressuring the government, established grassroots networks could provide a base for the reorganization of political power and representation. Right before the December elections, a meeting called the Congress of the National Front for the Defense of Water and Basic Human Services convened to forge alliances between the country’s social movement groups. The Congress includes the Water Coordinating Committee of Cochabamba, the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto, the Water and Drainage Cooperatives of Santa Cruz, as well as other neighborhood organizations, cooperatives, irrigation farmers, and committees on electricity and other services. In many cases, these autonomous groups have organized methods of providing citizens with basic services that the state fails to offer. Such a coalition of grassroots forces will serve as a powerful lobbying instrument for the constituent assembly. Depending on the results of the assembly, it could either provide an infrastructure for participation in new state programs or represent an alternative structure for governance.

Like many other Bolivians who voted for Morales, Anselmo Martinez Tola, an organizer of indigenous groups in Potosi, believed the MAS candidate was the most likely among presidential contenders to convoke a constituent assembly. “We are a majority and through the assembly we hope to rescue what belongs to us,” he said, referring to the nationalization of the gas and the redistribution of land. His organization has been choosing delegates for their municipality and developing proposals for the assembly. Among them is a suggestion that the government be restructured along the lines of traditional ayllus, which are small groups of families that have long guided decision-making in indigenous communities across the country. “We have to have a new constitution that refers to our culture, our history, and not foreign countries or companies. It has to reflect the varied movement of indigenous groups in Bolivia,” Tola explained.

Critics such as James Petras, a long-time analyst of Latin America, have denounced the “army of uncritical left cheerleaders” that has celebrated Evo Morales’ victory and has expressed hope for significant changes in Bolivia. Just as he has been disappointed by Lula and Kirchner, Petras predicts that the Morales administration will undertake only “symbolic gestures of a purely rhetorical nature, devoid of nationalist substance,” rather than truly redistributive initiatives.

There is reason to believe otherwise. Morales may have presented himself as a moderate during the presidential campaign in order to gain broader support, but his decisive victory has created space for bolder action. In the eyes of many MAS supporters, policies regarding gas nationalization, land reform, and indigenous rights are not in the hands of Morales, but rather in the hands of the constituent assembly. A rewritten constitution brings with it promise for significant change. Cognizant of the assembly’s will and closely monitored by one of Latin America’s most powerful social movements, the Morales administration will have the mandate and the motivation to drive a hard bargain with international creditors and create its own model for progressive governance.

Until then, Bolivia will stand on the brink of a new post-colonial period, for the first time governed by an indigenous leader who looks like the majority of its people and resting in a continent that has moved another step away from neoliberalism. If the victory put on display at the ruins of Tiwanaku is thus far only a symbol, it is no doubt a potent one.

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Benjamin Dangl edits Toward Freedom and Upside Down World and is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (forthcoming from AK Press). Mark Engler is an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and can be reached via his website, Democracy Uprising.

This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of Z Magazine, and also appeared in Toward Freedom.
http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/794/

See also:

“THE NEW BOLIVIAN EXPERIENCE:
Grassroots Activists Take Reins of Government”
by Gretchen Gordon, WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006
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“Bolivia: Evo Morales Victory Confirmed,” WW4 REPORT #117, January 2006
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“Bolivia hosts hemispheric indigenous conference,” WW4 REPORT, April 9, 2006
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See related story, this issue:

“THE BATTTLE OF IDEAS IN LATIN AMERICA”
by Peter Hudis
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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTHE PROGRESSIVE MANDATE IN LATIN AMERICA 

COLOMBIA QUAGMIRE DEEPENS

FARC Indictments Spell Escalation in Andean Oil War

by Peter Gorman

During the past several years, five apparently separate events have taken place involving Colombia that are actually quite interrelated. The first was that during the late 1990s, massive oil resources were discovered in the southern areas of Colombia predominantly controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist rebels who’ve been waging a civil war for 40 years. The second is that Colombia and the US have been working on a Free Trade Agreement which just signed this past February 27. Third, last year Colombian President Alvaro Uribe successfully pressured the country’s Congress into writing an amendment to the constitution that will allow him to run for a second consecutive term. The fourth occurred in early March 2006, when General Mario Montoya Uribe (no relation to the president) was put in charge of the Colombian military. The fifth and last domino fell later that month, when 50-members of the FARC were indicted (with huge rewards placed on their heads) by the US government for alleged massive cocaine trafficking. While many will see these as distinct events, they’re probably better seen as separate pieces of a complex puzzle.

Until the massive oil reserves were discovered in Putumayo and other departments held by the FARC, the guerillas were permitted to control a large portion of southern Colombia as an autonomous zone—as long as they stayed within their zone, the Colombian government wouldn’t send its military in after them. All that changed with the discovery of the oil, which shortly thereafter led to Plan Colombia and the disastrous spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been raining down on the jungle and villages of southern Colombia for several years now. While some saw the frequently errant spraying—which hit more jungle than coca plants—as accidental, others point out that it is impossible to get a good satellite read on the location of oil beneath the ground when the surface is covered with trees. The spraying cleared huge swaths of that jungle cover and “incidentally” displaced thousands of peasants and indigenous from the region—which by luck freed up the areas the oil people wanted to look into.

Add to that the evident reality that President Uribe, Bush’s closest ally (or perhaps crony is a better word) in the War on Drugs south of Texas, sees himself as lord and master of Colombia—which isn’t entirely untrue as he has long been a vital player in and currently controls the country’s cocaine economy, without which the national economy would sink like a stone. Uribe couldn’t see himself put all this oil and glyphosate business in motion and then leave office to have someone else either ruin his plans or take the glory and gelt, so last year he managed to get himself a chance at running for a second term in office. He pressured the Colombian congress into writing an constitutional amendment permitting it—something other Colombian presidents have only tried but at which he succeeded. He’s considered a shoe-in to win, as his hardline policies have made the highways safer and led to at least a slight decline in kidnappings.

Seemingly assured of a second term, he went to work diligently to get the Bush-proposed Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US passed. Looking over the agreement, much ink is spent on things like the reduced or eliminated tariffs US companies will have to pay to ship cotton, chicken legs and so forth into Colombia. All of those elements will work toward eliminating Colombian peasant farmers from the market, particularly in the deep rural areas—such as Putumayo. But deep in the agreement are several items related to Colombia’s “energy” and “oil” industries. Close reading shows that US companies will now be able to purchase Colombian land, utilize US—rather than Colombian—personnel to work their oil rigs, bid on formerly Colombian-only contracts for Colombian oil, and be entitled to the same agreements Colombian companies are offered in relation to all Colombian energy. Shorthand? The US just took over the Colombian oil market, and its open season on those reserves.

But that open-season doesn’t mean a thing if there continues to be a civil war raging in the new oil regions. And Plan Colombia thus far hasn’t eliminated it, as had been hoped for. To step that effort up, Gen. Mario Montoya has just been named the head of the Colombian military. Gen. Montoya has a history—dating back 30-years—of collaborating with the paramilitaries in killing innocent peasants, massacring villages, and generally being one of the worst 25 or so humans of the last century. He’s been sanctioned by the UN, criticized by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and once ran a battalion, the 24th, which was so rife with human rights abuses that it was cut off from US funding. He was also a student, and later, in 1993, a teacher, at the US School of the Americas, the notorious training ground for blood-thirsty US-flunkies who go on to rule Central and South America’s militaries and politics. Former students include Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, and Peru’s Vladmiro Montesinos—quite a list. Montoya’s specialty was training troops against peasant insurrections.

To give his job relevance, 50 FARC leaders were indicted in the US in late March as cocaine traffickers, with prices as high as $5 million put on each of their heads. The federal indictments accuse the FARC of being behind “50 percent of the world’s cocaine trade and 60 percent of the cocaine exported to the United States.” At the announcement of their indictments, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said, “We believe these men are responsible for not only manufacturing and exporting devastating amounts of cocaine, but enforcing their criminal regime with violence.” Some of that is obvious hyperbole, as many of the charges try to link the FARC commanders with cocaine operations either nowhere near where they operate or to operations that occurred long before the FARC were involved in the drug trade.

Some of them are undoubtedly involved in the trade—even FARC-sympathizers concede that the FARC have moved from taxing coca farmers to trying to get a piece of the trade in recent years. But by naming 50, rather than half-a-dozen, alleged traffickers, and placing a fat price on their heads, the US has unleashed every mercenary and paramilitary in the hemisphere to go after them. Worse, they’ll be going after those suspected of protecting and harboring them as well—which means it’ll be open season on peasants and the indigenous in the region as the shmucks claw their way to the $5 million bonanzas. And any villagers that get caught in the crossfire will not be noticed by the international community, as they will be perceived as aiding and abetting narco-terrorists.

To drive that point home, Colombia’s Defense Minister Camilo Ospina noted to the press that the indictment showed that “a big decision has been made to carry out the final battle against narcotrafficking and terrorism.”

Montoya’s job? Capture the 50 most wanted FARC copmmanders and eliminate anyone he considers may have been cooperating with them. The goal: displace or eliminate anyone in the way of access to the oil reserves. With 30 years of human rights abuses under his belt, it will be a job he will relish. And when the smoke clears and the bodies stop burning, Uribe will be a hero to the US companies who’ll make out big in the deal, and wind up on their boards after he retires. George Bush will dress up in a military uniform and declare victory while standing on a drilling rig. And the coca trade, still controlled primarily by the paramilitaries, will continue to thrive.

RESOURCES:

“United States and Colombia Conclude Free Trade Agreement,” US Trade Representative, Feb. 27, 2006
http://www.ustr.gov/Document_Library/Press_Releases/2006/February…

“Free Trade with Colombia: Summary of the Agreement,” US Trade Representative, Feb. 27, 2006
http://www.ustr.gov/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Andean_TPA/Fact_Sheets/Section_Index.html

“Colombian leader Uribe allowed to run for new term,” EducWeb News, Nov. 13, 2005
http://www.educweb.org/webnews/ColNews-Nov05/English/Articles/Colombiefeuvertpou runecan.html

“The U.S. Department Of Justice Announces Indictments of Members of Farc Drug Cartel,” DoJ press release, March 22, 2006
http://www.usdoj.gov/ag/speeches/2006/ag_speech_0603221.html

“US indicts FARC over £14bn cocaine cartel,” The Scotsman, April 27, 2006
http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=458552006

“U.S. Indicts 50 Leaders of Colombian Rebels in Cocaine Trafficking,” New York Times, March 22, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/23/international/americas/23colombia.html?ex=1300 770000&en=c89b3f3d6c9f5350&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

See also:

“OPERATION GREEN COLOMBIA: Coca Eradication Brings War to Endangered National Parks,” by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006
/node/1662

“Colombia: Trade Pact Signed, Right Sweeps Elections,” WW4 REPORT #120, April 2006
/node/1805

“Ethnic Cleansing in Colombian Amazon,” WW4 REPORT, April 4, 2006
/node/1828

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

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA QUAGMIRE DEEPENS 

ELECTIONS IN PALESTINE & HAITI

This Is What Democracy Looks Like!

by Nirit Ben-Ari

On February 7 and January 25, Haitians and Palestinians (respectively) went to the polls. Haiti is an independent republic since 1804, and one of the founding members of the United Nations. “Palestine” is a territory that has been occupied by the Turks, then the British, and now the Israelis. It’s not an independent country and not a member in the United Nations. Despite these apparent differences, Haitians and Palestinians share much in common–in particular, their belief in the democratic process. Sadly, their ways of practicing democracy also share something in common; the disdain of most of the “civilized” world.

The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are to this day under Israeli military control. Despite the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel still maintains control over its borders, the flow of goods in and out of the Strip, and occasionally carries out military operations, including extra-judicial assassinations, deep inside the territory. Similarly, in the West Bank, the Palestine Authority (PA) does not have control (or has very minimal control) over borders, movement of Palestinians, or trade. Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza are essentially living in huge prisons, where their movement, their economic activity, and their police force, are mostly under the control of a foreign army.

Despite this reality, the world has told the Palestinians that they must practice democracy. Based on Bush’s “road map” from June 2002, Palestinians were asked to put in place a democratic system, consisting on democratic institutions and periodic elections, to receive the support of the so-called “world.” Which is exactly what they did. The first democratic elections after Arafat’s death took place in January 2005, and were observed by the Carter Center and declared free and fair. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen by his honorific title) won as president with 62% of the vote.

In the most recent election in January 2006, Palestinians took their despair to the polls. Frustrated with the “security” fence that imprisons them and blocks them from accessing their lands, and with the PA’s corrupted regime which cooperates with Israel, they voted the old ruling party, Fatah, out of office. Hamas won about 45% of the popular vote, which gave them a majority of parliament because of electoral rules. Why Hamas? As Israel’s military assaults and policing have destroyed all services since 2002, Hamas has filled in the gaps everywhere, setting up and running schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. “Approximately 90 percent of [Hamas’] work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. But Hamas is better known for its hard-line military tactics, which have included attacks against Israeli citizens within Israel-proper.

The world watched in dismay as Palestinians counted their ballots. It was only few days after the results were made known that international voices were heard: Hamas is not a legitimate government. In fact, Hamas’ election is Israel’s wet dream. It makes it much easier for Israel to say there is no one to talk to, since Hamas refuses to negotiate. It allows Israel to act unilaterally without anyone complaining.

The Palestinians were told, yet again, democracy is good, as long as you vote for whomever we want you to vote for.

So, what does the state of democracy in the OPT has to do with the above-mentioned Caribbean nation?

Indeed, there is more in common that meets the eye.

Although Haiti has been an independent republic since 1804, it is today the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There are no checkpoints or security fences on Haitian land, and no direct foreign control over the flow of goods in and out of the country. Do Haitians have control over their country?

Consider Haitian rice and poultry production. On condition of restoring President Aristide back to power in 1994, Washington had imposed a neo-liberal economic reform, in which Haitian farmers were denied tariff protection and were hence “free” to compete with U.S. agribusiness–which receives 40% of its profit from government subsidies. As a consequence, cheap American rice and poultry has flooded Haitian markets. By 1998, the chicken industry was virtually shut down, and 10,000 jobs were lost.

This is what Haitian “sovereignty” looks like.

But Haitians have been told by the world that it will only get better if they hold free democratic elections. Which is exactly what they did.

The first free elections in Haiti had taken place only in 1989. After 30 years under the dictatorship of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc,” and few more years under a military junta, Haitians took to the polls in a show of democracy that was as rare in non-western countries as in western. The winning candidate, with 67% of the vote, was the populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was backed by a vigorous grassroots movement, the Lavalas (“flood” in Creole). Only seven months later, Aristide and his government were overthrown in a coup d’etat that brought to power a murderous, illegal military regime. After three years of terror, the world–that is, the U.S.–intervened, and restored Aristide to power; however, only on condition that his government adopt the neo-liberal economic regime that was designated to it by Washington. A second condition was that after the end of his term (Aristide had seven months left in his term at the time of the coup) he would not run again.

The following elections in Haiti took place in 1996. With Aristide barred from running for office again, his protégé Rene Preval (Ti Rene) won with 64% of the vote.

The following elections took place in 2000. Aristide was back, and his Fanmi Lavalas won 91.81% of the vote. This time, it took Washington four years to organize a coup. In March 2004, the Marine corps invaded Haiti, put Aristide on an airplane, and dispatched him to the Central African Republic. He later sought exile in South Africa.

The country spiraled into chaos. Despite the fact that the income per capita of this country is less then one dollar a day, the Inter-American Bank withheld its loans for Haiti following Aristide’s forced exile. The reason? Haiti needs to hold democratic elections. But this is exactly what Haiti had done! The problem was, they had not chosen the right candidate.

The story of Haiti is of unending tragedy. What used to be one of the richest colonies in the world (providing a source of a good part of France’s wealth), is today one of the poorest countries in the world, with 80% living in abject poverty. American support of Duvalier’s dictatorial regime and the military juntas who came after him, as well as the imposition of neo-liberal economic adjustments, have generated endemic instability and political violence. And yet in the American mind, “hopeless,” “backward,” “savage” Haiti is in need of more American help.

On February 7, 2006, Haitians showed the world what a real democracy looks like. People trekked for days by foot in order to reach the polls. Some slept outside the polls for days before the elections. Many others stood in long lines under the fierce sun for hours before practicing their democratic right. And when finally–after much delay and attempts to circumvent and steal the elections–the results were known that Ti Rene was chosen, they danced in joy in the streets.

So, what do “democracy” and “sovereignty” mean for Haiti and Palestine?

To put it bluntly, nothing. “Democracy is good as long as you choose who we want you to choose” is the message that both Haitians and Palestinians are getting from the world. If it is the wrong candidate, then bye-bye democracy, hello dictatorship, repression, and violence. You play by our rules, or get a hammer on the head.

Ironically, Americans can learn the meaning of democracy from Haitians and Palestinians. When was the last time that in the United States Election Day was a day of celebrating democracy? According to the latest estimates, 46% of Americans don’t even vote. And most days of the year, most Americans think that shopping is a democratic duty. The days when Tocqueville was touring this country, impressed by the rich activities of the American civil society, are long gone. Americans don’t vote, don’t know in what electoral precinct they live in, who are their representatives, and what are their democratic rights.

Haitians, despite abject poverty, the world’s neglect, and the imperial aggression of their powerful neighbor, were able to overthrow a dictatorship, vote into office a truly grassroots party of their own making, and a candidate of their own choice. Against all odds, and despite the world’s disdain toward them, they have persistently continued to believe in democracy, powerfully showcased on February 7. Palestinians, despite almost 40 years of direct foreign occupation, insist on practicing their democratic rights and go to the polls–that is, if they can actually reach them–and protest with their ballots.

THIS is what democracy looks like.

RESOURCES:

“Haiti: some areas really miss tariff,” by Jane Regan, Miami Herald, Oct. 26, 2003, online at Heritage Konpa
http://www.heritagekonpa.com/archives/Haiti;s%20rice%20farmers%20suffered%20sinc e%20trade%20barrier%20in%201994.htm

See also:

“Haiti: US-Sponsored Regime Change,”
by Nirit Ben-Ari and Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #96, March 2004
http://ww3report.com/static/haiti.html

“Haiti: Dominican authorities probe US flights over border zone”
WW4 REPORT, April 10, 2006
/node/1842

——————-

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

Continue ReadingELECTIONS IN PALESTINE & HAITI 

BIRD FLU: HYPE, HYPOTHESIS, AND HYPODERMIC

by A. Kronstadt

We must always be aware that when professional purveyors of information such as governments and corporations tell us something, it is for their own reasons. You are not going to get an objective assessment of the dangers of a little-known virus from bureaucrats, executives, or scientists who are heavily invested, financially as well as scientifically, in a hypothetical vaccine for that virus. They may or may not necessarily lie to us in every given instance, but they will certainly make maximum use of the speculative aspects of the situation. Research into bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is presently taking place mainly on a speculative level.

Is 2006 the Next 1918?

Everyone has heard that in 1918, amidst the chaos of World War I and its consequent population displacements and troop movements, a great influenza pandemic arose. The disease, which continued to spread through the beginning of 1920, was popularly called the Spanish Flu in the United States because of the myth that it had spread from Spain; scientists variously point to the trenches of France, India, China, and even the U.S. itself as the epicenter of the pandemic.

Without antibiotics, people succumbed to the bacterial pneumonia that attacked people whose lungs had been compromised by the influenza. The war had also brought about a wave of malnutrition in various parts of the world and hunger worked hand-in-hand with the influenza virus to end the lives of some 20 million people. Extrapolations are being made from these figures based on the present world population putting possible deaths in a pandemic of influenza caused by the avian flu in the hundreds of millions.

At present, the number of humans who have so far died from bird flu is only in the hundreds, and the people who have caught it have gotten it from birds and not from other humans. However, even though the pandemic virus, which would have to transmit from human to human in an efficient manner, does not exist yet, Big Pharmaceuticals and government bureaucracy are latching onto these extrapolations to panic society into putting vast resources into vaccines that may or may not protect against any eventual human version of the virus.

The Speculative Vaccine: Does Big Pharma Have the Answer?

The purpose of a vaccine is to cause the human immune system to develop antibodies to defend us against a specific microbial invader. If the identity of the invader is vague, any vaccine against it will be of uncertain usefulness in protecting us against it. For example, a reliable human vaccine against the feared avian influenza strain H5N1 cannot be developed until it fully transforms itself from a bird to a human virus itself, and there is no fully human version of the bird flu virus at this time. The avian influenza virus strain H5N1 is still a bird disease spreading via infected poultry, poultry products and contaminated items associated with the industry in and around factory-type establishments where birds are imprisoned in order to provide eggs and meat for human consumption. The scientific community in general admits that any vaccine against such a bird virus may or may not work against future versions of the virus that have mutated to specifically spread among humans.

In 1997, the first cases of bird-to-human transmission of H5N1 were observed in areas of Southeast Asia where both factory-scale and small-scale farming of chickens and ducks are central to the economy. Since then, there have been more than 121 human cases, with an approximate 50% fatality rate. The patients were all people who had lived or worked in close proximity to poultry or poultry derivatives, and there is no evidence at this time that the virus has been transmitted from one human to another, like the common humanized strains of the flu that people catch all over the world.

H5N1 is transmitted to poultry workers and their family members, and to pigs, which are ubiquitous in the countryside of China, Vietnam, and Thailand, where the disease has also spread to humans. In all of the above-mentioned species, we are told that the virus is mutating, and it is only a matter of time before the germ becomes fully adapted to the pigs and to the humans and acquires the ability to spread among members of both of these species, as well as among the birds. It is then, so the authorities tell us, that the disease will reach pandemic status and there will be mass fatalities, because we will have less innate immunity to a newly-mutated virus than we do to the regular strains to which we are exposed on a daily basis. There is a Catch-22 here: it will only be after the disease starts spreading from human to human, probably in some urban context, that development of a truly reliable vaccine can even start, because only then will there be a specific virus against which to make the vaccine, just as there are vaccines against the common strains of flu that spread through big cities in the winter.

This has not prevented pharmaceutical companies from taking billions of dollars from the government to stockpile “pre-pandemic” vaccines against the virus strains that have affected the hundred or so humans that have so far caught the disease from birds, on the assumption that it will be this strain and no other that will become pandemic. Chiron Pharmaceuticals of Emeryville, CA, claims that its vaccine against the H5 part of the virus will be sufficient to immunize against any of the possible mutants that will start transmitting from human to human. The pharmaceutical giant announced on Oct. 27, 2005, that it had obtained a $62.5 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to supply the U.S. government with pre-pandemic stockpile of the bird flu vaccine. A month prior to Chiron’s announcement, HHS announced that it had awarded a $100 million contract to Sanofi Pasteur, the U.S. offshoot of the French drug conglomerate of that same name, to make and stockpile a pre-pandemic vaccine to protect against one of the virus strains currently passing from bird to human.

Chiron’s record in regard to health and safety has been less than sterling. In August of 2004, contamination by a bacterium, Serratia marcescens, often associated with hospital-acquired infections in patients, delayed shipment of a conventional flu vaccine in the U.S. and resulted in the suspension of Chiron’s license to produce the vaccine at its plant in Liverpool, U.K.

Scientists are by no means unanimous in assessing the value of these pre-pandemic vaccines. In early 2006, when the H5N1 strain has been detected in migratory wild bird populations and lurking silently in apparently healthy birds, focus has been on the opportunities that the virus has had to mutate. There are now four distinct varieties of H5N1, and the variety that can be transmitted from human to human could arise from any one. Therefore, according to Dr. Malik Peris in a report published Feb. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, emphasis has to be on broad cross-protection, rather than on a single vaccine.


Virus of Profiteering: Rumsfeld and Tamiflu

The money allotted to Chiron and Sanofi Pasteur is only part of the $1.2 billion in discretionary funding granted by Congress to President George W. Bush for the production of 20 million doses of pre-pandemic vaccine, which is, in turn, only part of the $.7.1 billion in avian flu emergency funds, all of which is to be spent at Bush’s own discretion. That package also includes $2 billion to stockpile advanced antiviral drugs for the treatment of people already infected or exposed, the best known of which is Tamiflu, manufactured by the Swiss pharmaceutical corporation Roche. Tamiflu, whose generic name is oseltamavir, is a DNA-like compound that combines with and “clogs up” an enzyme essential to the reproduction of the flu virus and thereby stops the germ’s transmission from cell to cell. Roche leases the patent for Tamiflu from Gilead Sciences, a research and development firm in Foster City, CA, specializing in “small-molecule therapeutics” including antivirals such as Viread, used in AIDS therapy, and Hepsera, used in the treatment of hepatitis B, as well as Tamiflu. From 1997 until the beginning of 2001, when he was tapped by President Bush for the job of Secretary of Defense, Donald H, Rumsfeld served as chairman of the board of Gilead Sciences.

Rummy, who has served in dozens of high corporate posts between government jobs, resigned his post at Gilead when he took the Bush cabinet position, and pledged to recuse himself from any government decisions involving his “former” company. However, Rumsfeld still holds somewhere between $5 million and $25 million in Gilead stock. Gilead is a low-profile company that does little manufacturing on its own; for example, it collects royalties from Roche for the rights to Tamiflu, but, technically speaking, is not the commercial supplier for the drug. When the Pentagon, under Rumsfeld’s tutelage, purchased $58 million worth of the antiviral for use by military physicians, Rummy had plausible deniability in saying that he had recused himself from dealings directly involving Gilead as a party in the legal sense of the word. But in reality, his equity in the Gilead stock has been swelled by the royalties paid by Roche out of the money paid to them by the government. Gilead stock has increased in value by at least 500% since 2001, from $7 per share to $54 per share, and has undergone a surge from $35 to $54 a share over a few weeks at the height of the big bird flu panic.

In November of 2005, Gilead defeated Roche in a federal lawsuit and won the right to terminate the latter company’s license for Tamiflu. It will be interesting to note who the next licensee will be and how much of the Bush administration’s discretionary funding they will end up with.

In May, 2004, in response to clinical findings that included the deaths of at least two patients, Japanese health officials ordered that neurological symptoms, including impaired consciousness, abnormal behaviors, and hallucinations, be added to the list of possible side effects associated with Tamiflu, A.K.A. oseltamivir. Japanese physicians reported an additional 64 cases of neurological complications from the drug that led to hospitalization, plus the deaths of an additional ten pediatric patients from other non-neurological side effects.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refused to beef up its warnings in response to the Japanese data, stating that since the patients were suffering from influenza, there was no way of knowing whether it was the oseltamivir or the influenza virus itself that led to any particular death. The FDA stated that symptoms of such side effects had not yet turned up in the U.S. Up to this point, Japan has been the place where Tamiflu has been most heavily tested, with 34 million doses prescribed, so we may have to wait until the drug has become that widespread in the U.S. before we have enough data to confirm or contradict the Japanese studies in a statistically significant manner.

Dr. Frist, the Cat Killer’s “Government Knows Best” Act

Such safety statistics may not even be available to the consumer under legislation now winding its way through the Senate. Senate Bill 1873, The Bio-defense Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act, sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, provides for the creation of a government agency to deal with health emergencies, called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), which would be the first government agency ever created with an a priori exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The bill states: “Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code [Freedom of Information Act], unless the Secretary [of Health] or Director [of BARDA] determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security. Such a determination shall not be subject to judicial review.”

Why would legislators ostensibly concerned with transparency and openness be so interested in creating an agency specifically exempt from disclosing information, for example, regarding bacterial contamination of a vaccine or the side effects of a drug like Tamiflu? Although Senate Bill 1873 does not specifically address the subject of forced vaccination or drugging, by removing liability when things go wrong, it gives more ammunition to authoritarian health officials who believe that the only way to fight disease is with sweeping, mandatory vaccination.

Does Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee heart-transplant surgeon and co-founder of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the largest private operator of health care services in the world, really have national security in mind when he wants to make certain health information classified, thereby granting immunity and impunity to all of those involved in any possibly faulty decision-making process? Frist is currently being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection with a an order that he gave to sell all of his shares in HCA just two weeks before the stock fell 15 points. Frist also has a long history of shady dealings in the name of Big Medicine that perhaps started when he was a medical student at Harvard in the 1970s and took cats out of shelters on the pretext of adopting them, only to bring them to the labs at the medical school and practice heart surgery upon them, leading to the eventual deaths of the animals. Perhaps that is why he is so enthusiastic about the veil of secrecy that Senate Bill 1873 provides to duplicitous doctors.

Meanwhile, even though it is still a bird virus and not a human one, the avian flu virus strain H5N1 has already demonstrated resistance to Tamiflu. The World Health Organization has reported that a girl in Vietnam under treatment with oseltamivir for an apparent poultry transmitted infection showed high-level resistance to the antiviral. Many other cases of resistance by more common, human-transmitted versions of the virus have been reported.

To Hell With Their Poison

The issue for those of us who are not big stockholders in pharmaceutical companies seems to be whether we are willing to allow people to stick needles into our bodies and inject us with substances that, under certain circumstances, have been associated with the transmission of diseases, such as the above-mentioned Serratia bacteria and possibly worse.

All “attenuated” vaccines against the flu virus contain actual virus-derived materials and have been associated with flu-like reactions in a certain percentage of those vaccinated. Particularly when pressured to stretch out a limited amount of vaccine, pharmaceutical companies often mix in “adjuvants,” any number of chemical agents intended to enhance the immune response, often at the expense of greater irritation and in some cases, the formation of unstable scar tissue around the injection site associated with subsequent sarcomas and other cancers. It is not necessarily a question of how many people actually end up suffering from the after-effects of vaccinations, because even if it is only a fraction of a percentage, individuals have the right to decide how much risk they will expose themselves to.

Swine Flu and Swine Government

The example of the kind of physician-disseminated disaster that can result from blind reliance on vaccines is demonstrated by the “swine flu” scare of 1976, after two military recruits at Fort Dix, NJ, became infected with a strain of flu (H1N1) normally seen only in pigs and which then seemed to be spreading to humans. H1N1 had similar identifying traits to the virus believed to have disseminated in the influenza pandemic after World War I, which killed millions of people. Then-President Gerald Ford, in consultation with his many contacts in the pharmaceutical industry (whom he had represented in the Senate for years), initiated a program to immunize all of the then 220 million residents of the U.S. Ford himself was immunized in front of TV cameras. The feared pandemic never materialized and the soldiers at Fort Dix are now believed to have been the victims either of an isolated instance of a rare strain of flu or of a mis-diagnosis. On the other hand, some 25 deaths occurred among the approximately 24 percent of the population (about 40 million) that were actually vaccinated, and a rise in the instance of a polio-like autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome, was noted among the vaccinated population.


Pandemic of War, Pandemic of Poverty

Central to government propaganda concerning avian influenza is the great influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920. The malnutrition and displacement wrought by the First World War fanned the dissemination of the disease. Even in the U.S., vitamin-poor diets associated with poverty, as well as a lack of individual consciousness about the health of the immune system and its relationship to diet and personal behavior, allowed the disease to spread through the big cities and claim hundreds of thousands of lives.

Now, new diseases are breeding in the places where animals are force-fed and slaughtered to satisfy our fatty urges and spread obesity. There is a symmetry between the damage that we humans inflict on the environment, and on other living things, and that which we inflict upon ourselves. Instead of entrusting our health and our future to Donald Rumsfeld or Bill Frist, perhaps we need to be improving our diets and getting rid of war and mass displacements, the scourges of the twentieth century which are showing so sign of abatement in the twenty-first.

——

This piece originally appeared in The Shadow, New York City, Spring 2006

RESOURCES:

“Rumsfeld’s Growing Stake in Tamiflu,” Fortune, Oct. 31, 2005
http://money.cnn.com/2005/10/31/news/newsmakers/fortune_rumsfeld/

“Japan links Tamiflu to teen suicides,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 15, 2005
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/15/MNG29FO9K71.DTL

See also:

“AVIAN FASCISM: The Ecology of Pandemic and the Impending Bio-Police State,” by Michael I. Niman
/node/1341

“Beware the Bio-Industrial Complex,” WW4 REPORT #15
http://ww3report.com/15.html#shadows4

——————-

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

Continue ReadingBIRD FLU: HYPE, HYPOTHESIS, AND HYPODERMIC 

“BIONOIA” Part 3

The Mystery of Plum Island: Nazis, Ticks and Weapons of Mass Infection

by Mark Sanborne

In Part 2 of this series, which ran in our February issue, journalist and researcher Mark Sanborne looked back at how the US, which now hypes the threat of “bio-terrorism” to justify gutting the Biological Weapons Convention, has actually spearheaded the development of biological weapons—and their use against civilian populations. In this new installment, Sanborne explores the possibility that unusual outbreaks of exotic diseases within the United States have been linked to the Pentagon’s bio-warfare experiments—including some overseen by former Nazis. The closing installments will explore the survival of the secretive Cold War biowar apparatus in both the US and Russia, and its links to the new wave of biological threats.

If covert elements of the U.S. government have indeed been bombarding Cuba for over four decades with diseases aimed primarily at animals and crops, as discussed in Part 2 of this series, where might such bioagents have been developed? One likely suspect is Plum Island, the site where, during the early years of the Cold War, germs and viruses that could be used to wipe out Soviet livestock were cultivated.

Located less than two miles off the North Fork of Long Island and only six miles from Connecticut, the 840-acre Plum Island Animal Disease Center was established after World War II. Initially run by the Army, the facility was put under nominal control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1950s.

The PIADC was dubbed “the safest lab in the world” and tasked with studying diseases that could threaten the nation’s livestock—which it did, effectively. But from the beginning Plum Island also played a key role in the U.S. biowarfare program and shared close ties with Fort Detrick, MD, the Army’s biowar HQ.

This long-suspected nexus was confirmed in Cold War records declassified in 1993. According to the documents, when calling for a major biowarfare test in the early 1950s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated: “Steps should be taken to make certain adequate facilities are available, including those at Fort Detrick, Dugway Proving Ground [Utah], Fort Terry [Plum Island] and an island testing area.” (“Plum Island’s shadowy past: Once-secret documents reveal lab’s mission was germ warfare,” Newsday, Nov. 21, 1993.)

“In many cases there were only maybe five people who knew what was going on in weapons research [at Plum Island]. People in one lab didn’t know what happened in the next lab, and they didn’t ask,” said Norman Covert, the aptly named base historian at Fort Detrick.

AGAIN WITH THE NAZIS?

And just to make it officially nefarious: it turns out Plum Island has Nazi connections. Former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor and Nazi-hunter John Loftus wrote his 1982 book The Belarus Secret: “Even more disturbing are the records of the Nazi germ warfare scientists who came to America. They experimented with poison ticks dropped from planes to spread rare diseases. I have received some information suggesting that the U.S. tested some of these poison ticks on the Plum Island artillery range off the coast of Connecticut during the early 1950s… Most of the germ warfare records have been shredded, but there is a top secret U.S. document confirming that ‘clandestine attacks on crops and animals’ took place at this time.”

More recently, other details emerged in Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory by Long Island lawyer Michael Christopher Carroll, who spent six years researching the topic. His explosive book actually prompted a lengthy article in the New York Times (“Heaping More Dirt on Plum Island,” Feb. 15, 2004). Though meant as a debunking—aside from Carroll, all seven people interviewed were critics or skeptics—in the Times’ perverse tradition, a lot of interesting information was revealed to its mainstream readers. But not all of the establishment took the party line: Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo endorsed the book as “brilliant” and a “carefully researched, chilling expose of potential catastrophe.”

Most of the controversy centered around Carroll’s informed speculation that Plum Island may have been the source of a series of epidemics over the decades: outbreaks of Dutch duck plague that almost wiped out Long Island’s duck industry in the 1960s, the insidious appearance and spread of Lyme disease in the 1970s and 1980s, a mystery infection that killed most of the Long Island Sound’s lobsters in 1999, and in the same year the arrival of West Nile virus in the New York metropolitan area, which claimed a number of lives and prompted authorities to repeatedly spray the city with malathion. Allaying potential public fears over such verboten ideas was a main reason the Times devoted so many inches of newsprint to damage control; the article mentioned the Nazi angle only in passing.

It turns out that the spiritual godfather of Plum Island was one Dr. Erich Traub, a Nazi scientist with a fascinating history, according to Carroll’s well-documented account. He spent the pre-war years in a scientific fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, N.J., studying bacteriology and virology, while still finding time to hang out at Camp Sigfried, headquarters of the American Nazi movement in Yaphank, Long Island, 30 miles west of Plum Island. He then took his laboratory skills back to Germany where he eventually became chief of Insel Riems, the Nazi’s secret biological warfare lab located on an island in the Baltic, supervising the testing of germ and viral sprays over occupied Russia, targeting cattle and reindeer, while reporting directly to Heinrich Himmler.

After the war Traub worked briefly for the Soviets before escaping into the embrace of Operation Paperclip, Washington’s covert employment program for useful Nazi scientists. As Werner von Braun was to rockets, Traub was to germs: He promptly went to work for the Naval Medical Research Institute and gave operational advice to the CIA and the biowarriors at Fort Detrick. Indeed, his detailed description of his work at Insel Riems probably helped inspire the selection of Plum Island by the Army: both the German and U.S. facilities were situated on islands where the prevailing winds blew (mostly) out to sea.

VECTOR ANALYSIS

Despite his exceedingly questionable history, Dr. Traub in fact was twice asked to be director of Plum Island, including by the USDA. He declined, but was known to have paid at least several official visits there. He may very well have been one of the Nazi scientists cited by Loftus who supervised the dropping of infected ticks from planes. Which brings us to the question of vectors.

In the context of biowarfare and infectious disease generally, a vector is an organism or agent that carries pathogens from one host to another. To attack an enemy’s agriculture system, such intermediary vectors aren’t always needed: It’s often enough to covertly disperse a pathogen directly on part of a crop and allow the infection to spread from plant to plant, as anti-Castro agents apparently did in Cuba on a number of occasions. (The versatile U.S. attack reportedly has also employed molds, fungi, insect infestations, and other minute pests targeted at specific crops—all of which, of course, had to be grown and tested somewhere first.)

However, it’s not quite so simple to attack animal and human populations, which are not stationary targets. Effective aerial delivery of agents like anthrax or rabbit fever can be affected by wind and weather, and is more likely to be detected as a deliberate attack. (Though if it’s sprayed on an army of protestors on the Washington Mall, a possibility discussed in Part 1 —well, that’s apparently another story.)

On the other hand, employing such vectors as mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and ticks to transmit diseases to targeted populations, while much slower in effect, can spread a greater variety of infections much more widely while maintaining a degree of plausible deniability for the attacker. Thus we should not be surprised that the fruits of Nazi and Imperial Japanese research and development in this ugly field ended up in eager U.S. hands after the war.

RETURN TO CUBA

Which bring us to this: Carroll cites an internal 1978 USDA document titled “African Swine Fever” obtained from an investigation by former Long Island congressman Thomas Downey. It notes that in research at Plum Island 1975 and 1976, “the adult stages of Abylomma americanum and Abylomma cajunense were found to be incapable of harboring and transmitting African swine fever virus.” Translated, that means scientists had tested the Lone Star tick and the Cayenne tick as effective vectors for African swine flu and found them wanting.

A vector is generally thought to be a one-way affair. But while this particular vector test failed, it also seems to point, paradoxically, in two directions at once. One is back, once again, to Cuba. Note that Plum Island’s research on suitable vectors for African swine fever took place midway between unusual outbreaks of that disease in Cuba, in 1971 and 1979-80, as discussed in Part 2. (And recall that its appearance in Cuba was a first in the Western hemisphere.)

Perhaps the U.S. scientists were innocuously testing potential vectors that could spread the exotic flu to America’s pork industry. Or perhaps—considering Plum Island’s longstanding connections to Fort Detrick—the tests were actually designed to find a new vector to transmit the virus once again to Cuba, which coincidentally did suffer another outbreak a few years later. In any event, whatever vector infected Cuba’s pigs with African swine fever in 1971 and 1979, it’s safe to say it wasn’t the Lone Star or Cayenne ticks.

But is that the end of the infected tick story? Unfortunately, no. Because the failed Plum Island vector test also points in another possible direction, right back into the heart of what our political-warrior class now likes to call the Homeland. And rather than riding off ineffectually into the sunset, the Lone Star tick has gone on to a key supporting role in yet another biomystery.

THE PANDEMIC THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

In 1975, a strange disease broke out in Old Lyme, Connecticut, just 10 miles across Long Island Sound from Plum Island. Often initially characterized by a red rash and swollen joints, it afflicted an original cluster of 50 victims, many of them children, who were at first misdiagnosed as having juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

It turns out that “Lyme disease”—as it came to be called as cases mounted and spread in the years that followed—is a devious, multi-systemic, inflammatory syndrome that mimics other illnesses by encompassing a range of afflictions, including chronic and crippling pain and fatigue that untreated can spread to organs and the central nervous system, causing depression, palsy, memory loss, psychosis, and even encephalitis and death.

Such severe outcomes might surprise many Americans, most of whom have heard of Lyme disease but because of the current lack of media attention probably think it’s no big deal—unless they know someone who suffers from it. Well guess what? With a quarter century behind the outbreak, Lyme is now the most common vector-borne infection in the United States, and the most common tick-born illness in the world. Yes, you heard that right.

After spreading out from “ground zero” in the Long Island Sound area, as of mid-April 2006, a total of 267,779 domestic cases of Lyme in 49 states had been reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Some experts estimate that, due to Lyme’s confusing multiple manifestations, at most only one in 10 cases are recognized and reported to the CDC, so that the total number of victims could be more than 2.68 million. On top of that, a study predicts a one-third increase in the number of cases per year in the U.S. over the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012.

A TICK WITH A HISTORY

So what’s going on? Where did this weird bug—which, leaving aside its suspicious proximity to Plum Island, seemed to emerge from nowhere—supposedly come from? Its history is intriguing. In 1982, National Institutes of Health researcher Dr. Willy Burgdorfer isolated and identified spirochetes (a form of bacteria) of the genus Borrelia from the gut of infected Ixodes scapularis (commonly known as deer ticks) as the etiological agent of Lyme disease. It was dubbed Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), and the good doctor ruefully said of his discovery: “It’s a helluva bug, and I’m sorry my name is on it!”

However, while Burgdorfer was the first to isolate the insidious spirochete (which animal studies suggest in some cases can worm its way deep inside tendons, muscle, the heart and the brain inside a week), earlier incarnations of the disease had been studied in Europe since the late 19th century. By the 1930s, it was known to cause neurological and psychiatric problems and the tiny Ixodes tick was suggested as a vector. By mid-century doctors were using new antibiotic treatments with some success.

But while the disease caused by the Bb bacteria was known in Europe, it did not appear to constitute a major health problem. It was even less of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic: Although Bb and related bacterial strains are thought to have long been present in North America, the only official case reported in the U.S. before the Connecticut outbreak occurred in Wisconsin in 1970, when a hunter became infected from a tick bite.

So what changed in the 1970s to kick-start what has since become a pandemic, both here and in Europe? (Though the P-word is never used in reference to Lyme, as opposed to bird flu, which is still only a potential pandemic.) Or are we to believe that Bb has been infecting people all along but somehow it just wasn’t being noticed? A similar argument has been advanced by apologists for the medical-industrial complex who maintain that the recent explosion of autism was simply the result of better detection and recognition of the condition, rather than being largely caused by mercury-laced vaccines, as many now suspect.

THE INVADERS

Dr. Alan G. Barbour, who worked closely with Burgdorfer in the identification of Bb, co-wrote an article with Durland Fish in 1993 that made an interesting case for how the modern outbreak of Lyme disease may have occurred. They suggested that Bb infections were a fact of life in early American history that went largely unnoticed amid the harshness of frontier life:

“The generally benign nature [!] of acute B. burgdorferi infection relative to the debilitating and fatal effects of diseases plaguing North Americans through the 19th century may have contributed to its obscurity until a cluster of cases of childhood arthritis first brought it to wider attention on this continent. The ecological changes in the northeastern and midwestern United States during this century are responsible for the recent emergence of Lyme disease as a public health problem.”

They argue that mass deforestation of the Northeast due to the clearing of land for agriculture and settlement in the 19th and early 20th century resulted in a collapse of white-tailed deer populations, the primary carriers of the I. scapularis tick, and hence the tick itself became too scarce to infect people with Bb. The authors further theorize that Long Island served as a refuge for relict populations of deer in the area. Then, as land-use patterns changed in the latter half of the 20th century, woodlands and forests recovered in the Northeast, along with deer and deer ticks:

“The invasion by I. scapularis of the increasingly reforested mainland from island refuges initiated the current epidemic of Lyme disease in the Northeast … There is evidence that several independent mainland invasions [mainly from Long Island] by I. scapularis took place, resulting in early Lyme disease foci in central New Jersey, mainland Westchester County, N.Y., southeastern Connecticut, and eastern Massachusetts.”

So science seems clear on the fact that Long Island was the source of the modern outbreak of Lyme disease, but the devil is in the details. The key problem with Barbour and Fish’s scenario is that it treats pre-1975 Long Island like some kind of lost world, an offshore wilderness Eden where remnant deer lived free of human interaction. In fact, the island’s deer population, concentrated in eastern Suffolk County, has long lived close by people, many of whom were certainly exposed to deer tick bites over the years. So why were there no reports of the disease on Long Island in the decades before the outbreak in Connecticut? And why, in the wake of that outbreak across the Sound, did Suffolk County—home of Plum Island—quickly develop one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country?

This writer grew up in western Suffolk County in the 1960s and ’70s, and spent plenty of time exploring the woods, and was bitten by plenty of ticks. But they were the types of tick you can easily see and feel crawling on your skin, and thus usually could be picked off before they began engorging themselves in earnest on one’s blood. Fortunately, there were no deer or deer ticks in my neck of the woods. So it came as quite a shock to learn in the late ’70s of the sudden existence, just a few dozen miles to the east, of infected ticks that were almost invisible—literally the size of a pinhead—and had the ability to make an unlucky hiker’s life into a living hell. Our tiny friend I. Scapularis is indeed the perfect covert agent: it does its dirty work quickly and disappears before you know it’s there, usually leaving behind a telltale rash and a very questionable prognosis.

WOUND, DON’T KILL

Okay, enough beating around the real and metaphorical bushes. Is there any actual evidence that Lyme disease could be the outcome of biological warfare research at Plum Island that, either accidentally or otherwise, escaped into the outside world? In fact, the evidence seems quite suggestive, especially when compared to the shaky logic of the official story.

Some might ask: Why would biowarriors be interested in studying a disease agent like Borrelia burgdorferi that incapacitates but rarely kills its victims? Actually, for all the attention focused on deadly pathogens like anthrax, plague, and rabbit fever, the biowar establishments of various powers have also long been interested in agents that can slowly stricken and debilitate a civilian population.

The logic is brutally simple: just as a wounded soldier puts more logistical strain on an army than a dead one does, gradually sickening a population places greater economic and social stress on a society than simply killing a limited number of people with a more direct and virulent attack. If the disease agent can be transmitted via a “natural” vector like ticks or mosquitoes, providing plausible deniability, and can confuse medical authorities by presenting a broad array of symptoms that mimic other conditions (Bb, like its more famous relative syphilis, has been called the “Great Imitator”), then so much the better.

Imperial Japan’s infamous Unit 731 biowar outfit, discussed in Part 2, reportedly conducted experiments with the Borelia genus, the results of which likely fell into U.S. hands after the war. However, there is no documentary evidence that indicates Plum Island researchers ever worked with Bb —after all, it is primarily a disease of humans, not animals. On the other hand, if the bacteria were being secretly studied (or worse, “weaponized”) at the lab and introduced to ticks for vector tests, there are any number of ways tick-borne Bb could have escaped to the mainland: from deer—which are able to swim to and from the island—to birds, or even an inadvertently infected lab worker. (Assuming, of course, it wasn’t released on purpose as part of some sinister test.)

Since the Lyme outbreak, scientists claim to have documented the presence of Bb in I. scapularis museum specimens collected in the late 1940s from Shelter Island and other parts of Long Island close by Plum Island. This is presumed to be evidence that the spirochete was pre-existing in the area and was not “engineered” in a lab in the 1970s. But note that the period the tick specimens were collected is suspiciously close to the time when Nazi scientists may have “experimented with poison ticks dropped from planes to spread rare diseases” at Plum Island.

GIVING NATURE A HAND

The question then arises: Are the unusual characteristics of Bb solely the result of natural evolutionary processes, or were they helped along by the hand of man? Speaking more generally, here’s what Col. Oliver Fellowes, a founding father of Plum Island who was transferred from Fort Detrick in 1952, had to say: “We were always looking for a way to camouflage a strain so that it would be so difficult to detect and identify that, by the time the enemy had done so, the disease would have done the damage.” (Unit 731 by Peter Williams and David Wallace, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989.)

Wait, it gets better. On July 1, 1969, Dr. Donald MacArthur, director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, testified before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. He had this exchange with Rep. Robert Sikes of Florida:

DR. MACARTHUR: There are two things about the biological agent field I would like to mention. One is the possibility of technology surprise. Molecular biology is a field that is advancing very rapidly and eminent biologists believe that within a period of five to 10 years it would be possible to produce a synthetic biological agent, an agent that does not naturally exist and for which no natural immunity could have been acquired.

REP. SIKES: Are we doing any work in that field?

DR. MACARTHUR: We are not.

REP. SIKES: Why not? Lack of money or lack of interest?

DR. MACARTHUR: Certainly not lack of interest.

MacArthur’s chilling testimony can be seen as the Rosetta Stone of bionoia, and will be discussed in greater detail in a later installment. But we don’t need it for confirmation that something like Lyme disease can be considered a biological warfare agent—we have it straight from the source, namely the U.S. government. On Nov. 15, 2005, the Associated Press reported:

“A new research lab for bioterrorism opened Monday at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The $10.6 million Margaret Batts Tobin Laboratory Building will provide a 22,000-square-foot facility to study such diseases as anthrax, tularemia, cholera, lyme disease, desert valley fever and other parasitic and fungal diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified these diseases as potential bioterrorism agents.”

That, it would seem, makes it official. Among those who took note of this matter-of-fact admission was Dr. Virginia Sherr, who, in a letter to the editor published Nov. 22, 2005 in the online edition of the Lancet medical journal, wrote:

“[The] concern is the overriding significance of an invisibilized but nonetheless serious infection caused by an extraordinarily complex neurotropic spirochete. Its pandemic is approaching severity that was experienced throughout the world in the Spanish Flu of 1918. The causative spirochete is, of course, less immediately fatal than was the virus of that epidemic, but it is deadly, nonetheless, to the human brain. The fact that the causative spirochete, B. burgdorferi, is being studied as an agent of biowarfare in the USA adds impetus to a need for quick education of most of the world’s academic physicians as to what has been sensed at the clinical level for a long time: we are dealing here with a formidable ‘smart stealth’ type of bacteria that is hard to eradicate—one that does extreme damage to psyche and soma if not treated aggressively over the long term when missed in the first days following inoculation by the vector… Organized Medicine has mostly ignored or deserted the field of neuro-Lyme’s currently immense proportions, internationally.”

THE REVENGE OF TEXAS

Whither Plum Island? According an Aug. 28, 2005, story in Newsday, “Plum Island’s Future Up In The Air,” the federal government plans to replace the existing facility on the island with a more secure one or relocate to a higher-security level research lab elsewhere by 2011. “The Plum Island facility was built in the 1950s and is nearing the end of its life cycle,” according to the Deptartment of Homeland Security. Glad to hear those guys are on the case.

Ah, but what about the Lone Star tick and its failed vector test back in 1975? Aside from that curious coincidence with Cuba, the documented research also appears to have something to say about events much closer to home. It demonstrates that Plum Island researchers were infecting Abylomma americanum with various bioagents to see if they could be successfully vectored to other species. (In this case pigs, but swine are often used as stand-ins for humans in medical experiments.)

That is a matter of some interest because, while the I. Scapularis deer tick is the major vector for Lyme disease in the Northeast, the Lone Star tick has also been found to be a carrier of spirochetes. There is some debate about whether A. americanum can transmit Bb to humans. Researchers say the tick carries a slightly different bacteria that they’ve dubbed Borrelia lonestari, which may or may not cause a “new” Lyme-related ailment called Masters disease, identified in 1991 in Missouri.

The fact that two different ticks carry their own versions of an unusual spirochete bio-agent is suspicious enough—designer bugs, perhaps? (Check out this unintentional smoking gun in Barbour and Fish’s article: “The presence of spirochetes similar to B. burgdorferi in A. americanum in areas where competent vectors are absent is inexplicable.”) But here’s the real kicker: The Lone Star is a warm-weather tick that is prevalent in the Southeast and until recently was mostly unknown in the colder Northeast. Now it has reached as far north as—you guessed it—Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. (Though perhaps the word should not be “reached” but “released.”)

A. americanum now makes up 5% of the overall tick population in the region, though there are greater concentrations in some areas than others. (Researchers combing the woods in New Jersey have found 2,000 to 3,000 Lone Star ticks within one hour.) When did these little devils start being noticed up here in large numbers? Yup: In the wake of the outbreak of Lyme disease—though there are reports that the initial invaders may have “arrived” as far back as the 1950s, just as things were getting underway at Plum Island.

And yes, Abylomma americanum, as it’s nickname suggests, has a special association with the Lone Star State. Another import from Texas that the rest of the country probably could have done without.

RESOURCES:

Lyme Disease Foundation
http://www.lyme.org/

“The Biological and Social Phenomenon of Lyme Disease,” Barbour and Fish, Association for the Advancement of Science, June 1993
http://info.med.yale.edu/eph/vectorbio/fish/BarbourFish.pdf

Dr. Donald MacArthur, Congressional testimony, July 1, 1969
http://panindigan.tripod.com/aidsdodhear.html

See also:

“Bionoia,” Pt. 2, WW4 REPORT #118

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

Continue Reading“BIONOIA” Part 3