Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog LEBANON AND THE NEO-CON ENDGAME by Sarkis Pogossian, WW4 REPORT SHADOW PLAY IN SOMALIA Washington’s Warlords Lose Out by Rohan Pearce, Green Left Weekly CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN BOLIVIA Between Electoral Theater and Revolution by Ben… Read moreIssue #. 124. August 2006
Between Electoral Theater and Revolution
by Ben Dangl, Upside Down World
Before Evo Morales won a landslide victory in the Bolivian presidential election on December 18, 2005, one of his key campaign promises was to organize a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The election for representatives to that assembly took place on July 2 in tandem with a referendum on autonomy for all provinces. The election, and its results, revealed significant aspects of the relationship between the Morales administration and the social movements that helped put him in power.
For years, Bolivian social movements have been demanding that a constituent assembly be organized to rewrite the constitution, in part to create a more egalitarian society. The constituent assembly which will take place in Sucre on August 6 was supposed to be by and for the people, and was presented that way throughout the presidential election. As the July 2 Election Day approached, more criticisms emerged about the organization of the race and the assembly itself. Though Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) had support in its policies and candidates for the assembly, many people in Bolivia said the way in which the elections and assembly were organized excluded the country’s social movements. As Jim Shultz in Cochabamba wrote on the Democracy Center’s website, in order to qualify to run a candidate in the election, “Unions, indigenous groups, and other social movements had to hit the streets and gather 15,000 signatures each–complete with fingerprints and identification card numbers–in a few weeks.”
As a result, many powerful social and labor organizations outside of political parties were blocked from participating in the election. Many argue that this will make the assembly less democratic. In an article on the constituent assembly for IRC Americas, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar and Dunia Mokrani Chavez explained that the assembly will not be an “ample space for political deliberation and direct intervention about public issues,” but instead “has been converted into a well known electoral theater.” The authors argue that the MAS leaders want to be the only actors for social change and want to use the assembly as a way to increase their own power.
However, as MAS militants are quick to point out, many social and labor groups are operating within their party. Of the 50 MAS representatives for La Paz, 18 are leaders of labor and social organizations. Many of the MAS belong to unions, indigenous groups and neighborhood councils. Some of them are leaders of coca farmer, miner and student organizations. This type of participation, which was similar in races around the country, could help the assembly communicate with a broader range of citizens and social movements.
The referendum on whether or not provinces should have autonomy from the central government has been another divisive issue. For one thing, vast differences in opinion exist about what autonomy means. This will be up for discussion at the constituent assembly in August. In Santa Cruz and other provinces, autonomy will probably signify more power within the province to manage the economy, taxes, education, gas and other natural resources without the omnipresence of the central government in La Paz.
Marielle Cauthin, a former journalist at the Bolivian paper La Prensa and currently an employee at the Ministry of Education, said: “The autonomy has been discussed for twenty years in Santa Cruz. Bolivia has always been centralized. Many cities and provinces can’t do what they want because the political power is so centralized.” In the case of Santa Cruz, she explained, “they could change the flag, or the money or the religion of the province. They might even require that people use passports to enter the province. This is all up for discussion now. At the end of the day, it will probably have more to do with the redistribution of funding from the state.” She said the MAS is against autonomy in Santa Cruz because it’s a proposal of the elite business class there and could mean more harmful neoliberal economic policies and exploitation of natural resources.
The question of autonomy created divisions throughout the country in the run up to elections. Business owners, labor sectors and citizens of Cochabamba marched for autonomy in that province days before Election Day. Protestors said they were organizing a front against a centralized, vertical government run by the MAS. They went to the main plaza where MAS had set up a permanent and open office for the public to discuss and campaign for the election and referendum. The two groups confronted, and eventually came to blows. The police had to intervene.
From the Streets to the Assembly
Raul Prada is a well-known academic, sociologist and writer in La Paz who currently works as a foreign relations advisor in the government. He ran as a representative in the MAS for the constituent assembly and won. I talked with him in his office about the election, autonomy and the upcoming assembly.
“We can’t understand what’s happening now with this constituent assembly without looking back at the last six years,” he explained, squinting at me through his glasses and picking leaves of coca out of a bag on the desk. “Many of the demands for a constituent assembly began with the water war in Cochabamba in 2000 and came to a head in the 2005 gas war. The social movements opened up this space for the assembly.”
In spite of the MAS victory in December, the assembly and elections haven’t turned out as people had hoped, Prada said. The fact that the referendum happened with the assembly election complicated things. “It also all happened too fast, there was not enough debate… The social instruments [unions, social organizations] that could have participated in the election were not utilized enough…”
“No one is against the decentralization of the government,” he said, referring to the autonomy proposals. “But they are against the way it was proposed by Santa Cruz. The referendum on indigenous autonomy was excluded… MAS made a mistake in allowing the exclusion of indigenous groups.” Before the election, major indigenous organizations and groups mobilized to demand a referendum on their own autonomy, outside that of the provinces.
As a representative in the assembly, Prada said he will work to correct the mistakes made in the election and plans for assembly. He said there needs to be more popular participation among the base groups of the MAS.
“This is a mandate we [the MAS] have to defend. Various indigenous leaders are pushing for something pluri-national. They are fighting for more space to discuss the proposals and communicate with representatives in the assembly. This is the work we have to do, this is an obligation… It will also be important that different groups mobilize and communicate with those in the assembly. This is not going to work without a fight. The traditional parties will pose a challenge. Social organizations also need to control their representatives in the MAS.”
He said that many MAS representatives are not closely connected to their base and that there were many mistakes made in the selection of candidates within the party. I asked him why he ran if he was so critical of the whole process. “I didn’t want to run but the people asked me to run, so I did.”
Prada explained that some people in the MAS want to co-opt the social movements. “MAS has had some problems with social movements. The party has been de-mobilizing social movements for some time. The MAS left the social movements to become an electoral force. It became more of an electoral instrument. There are social movements in the MAS and strong groups at the base. But there are sectors within MAS that want to co-opt these groups.”
Many critics contended that only a small part of the constitution can be changed. Prada disagreed. “We are not going to revise the constitution, we are going to change the institution,” he explained. “This is a colonial institution, a mechanism of domination. We need to work toward de-colonization.” He spoke of a pluri-nation that respects the rights of indigenous autonomy. “According to the law, only 20% of the constitution can change in this assembly. But in the assembly we can change this law and so change the entire constitution. Alvaro [Garcia Linera, the vice president] said only 20% could change because he believes in reform, not revolution. I don’t share this view. We need to guarantee the constituent characteristic of this assembly.” He said some representatives in the MAS believe in this 20% idea but the bases want it all to change. “It is going to be a difficult fight to change the whole constitution.”
The Great Divide
A few days before the election was to take place, the MAS party closed its campaign in the main plaza in La Paz. Music, lofty speeches and cold wind marked the rally against autonomy and for the MAS representatives to the constituent assembly. A banner hung behind the main stage with the words “Bolivia changes its history: democratic and cultural revolution.” Below this phrase a hand clutched a pencil colored like the Bolivian flag. A giant portrait of a smiling Evo Morales with an indigenous flag behind him was hanging next to the stage. As the event began with Andean music and speeches about coca leaves and revolution, the plaza filled with people carrying banners against autonomy and for a MAS victory. One sign simply said, “Autonomy—destruction of Bolivia.”
The gathering was a convergence of revolutionary fervor and elements of daily life in La Paz. Large advertisements for a lottery company, construction materials and car oil lube were the plastered on buildings behind the stage. The smell of burning meat was everywhere; vendors selling shish kabobs, steaks and potatoes were lined up along the streets. Their grills sputtered with flames and spewed smoke throughout the crowd. A girl around 8 years old walked past selling cigarettes and candy. At one point I counted more child workers than adults. In Bolivia, child labor is rampant. The presence of these kids in the crowd made the event’s speeches of development and new opportunities sound ironic. A finger-nail clipper salesman sat next to me and propped up his cardboard display on the sidewalk. People were more interested in chanting and eating shish kabobs than buying his nail clippers. Another man walked by with a green hat and a star on it that said, “Dallas Sucks.” Fireworks cracked feebly in the air while a cameraman from the Venezuelan TV program Telesur asked a shoe shiner boy to back up a bit so he could get a better shot.
The crowd was decidedly pro-MAS. “We have had enough exploitation in this country,” a woman next to me yelled over the speakers. She assured me MAS was going to win in La Paz. “The transnational companies have taken everything. I’ll vote for MAS because we need change, it’s long overdue.”
The audience grew to include around 15,000 people. A man on stage dressed in a Bolivian flag jumped around in between sets from Andean folk and rock bands. Images of Che Guevara bobbed on placards in the crowd as the moderator on stage yelled, “Vote for MAS. Vote for a new Bolivia!” A number of candidates to the assembly sat on stage, buried in flower necklaces and confetti, and nodding their heads on cue. Arturo Rojas, an 11-year-old boy, stepped up to the microphone and gave a rousing speech that could’ve come from the mouth of a 40-year-old man. It included such phrases as “A thousand times no to the exploitation of our country!” and “The people are in power to construct a new country!” At the end of his speech the moderator shook his fist in the air and asked the audience if they wanted coca. Thousands responded with cheers and bags of the green leaf were tossed into the crowd.
I retreated from the audience to a street vendor under a blue tarp with bottles of shampoo and skin lotion piled up next to her. The outposts of vendors exhaled shish kabob smoke as waves of applause swept through the crowd. A street band responded to each rally cry from the stage with an explosion of flute music and pounding drums. The president and vice president were ushered onto the stage at a jogging speed by their security officials. The wrinkles on a giant screen broadcasting their images made the politicians look like they were underwater.
The following day I went up to El Alto, a poor city outside of La Paz where key street mobilizations in October 2003 ousted President Sanchez de Lozada during a conflict over the exportation of the country’s gas. I met up with Julio Mamani, a journalist in the city with his finger on the pulse of its politics and daily life. His thoughts on the election echoed others I heard.
“The constitutional assembly is happening without the participation of the indigenous groups and social organizations,” he said. “Only political parties are participating. Many people are angry about this. The result is that people are not excited about it. Only just recently are the parties putting up signs and campaigning and debating. Only recently people have begun talking about the autonomy question. There hasn’t been a lot of debate or discussion.”
Julio said everyone in his extended family has been in touch with each other about how they would vote. They decided to vote no for autonomy, but would vote in blank for representatives; they were angry about how it was all organized. “There are no proposals for the constitutions, just fights between parties. Because of this, MAS lacks support in El Alto. I will not vote for people that I don’t believe in.” He said he was invited to a meeting with Evo in March 2006 regarding the constitutional assembly. Various representatives of social organizations were there that support the MAS. According to Julio, Evo told them, “There will be no discussion. You will support what the MAS decides.”
In the days leading up to the election, there was a lot of confusion and vagueness surrounding what autonomy would mean and little discussion of proposals for the constituent assembly from any party. There were attacks from both sides of the political spectrum. PODEMOS, (Poder Democratica y Social), the leading right-wing party of Jorge Quiroga, a former president and second-place finisher in the December elections, said that Venezuela’s Chavez had impacted the electoral race, and that a vote for MAS would be a vote for Chavez.
Sylvia, a woman who works in the government and didn’t want her last name used, echoed this sentiment. She voted for Evo Morales in the last election but decided to support autonomy and right-wing candidates from PODEMOS in this election. Throughout our conversation Sylvia referred to herself as white and middle class. “We, the middle class, are now suffering in the same way poorer people have been for years,” she said, explaining her shift in support. Much of her argument was based on the idea that there needed to be a strong party to confront MAS. “Now there is no opposition,” she said. Silvia’s explanation was peppered with words like “authoritarian” and “dictatorial.” She regularly compared the political divide in Bolivia to that in Venezuela.
Sylvia’s opinion reflected the war of insults and accusations between the two leading parties, MAS and PODEMOS. The Bolivian newspaper El Diario announced that the campaigns were “full of insults, without debate” and that the confrontations between parties were more ideological than strategic. Jorge Quiroga of PODEMOS said MAS was misusing the state funds to help his own campaign and traffic his supporters around the country to campaign for the election. PODEMOS also said that Chavez impacted the discourse of MAS and, that MAS wants to “Cubanize” the country and make it atheist. Evo, in turn, said PODEMOS was focused on the exploitation of the nation’s natural resources and continuing harmful economic policies which have left the country impoverished. Such infighting distracted people from the key issues up for discussion in the assembly.
Among forty-two people interviewed about the election by the Bolivian paper La Prensa, the majority voiced complaints about the lack of proposals from any party and the fighting between groups. Some suggested it was just the same old electoral game with a lot of promises and no specific proposals. Many said they didn’t understand the question of autonomy or the election issues in part because of a lack of information and discussion among candidates.
On June 27, the Bolivian newspaper La Razon published in interesting list of platforms pushed by candidates from various parties in La Paz. Freddy Roncal Daza of the Unidad Civica Solidaridad said he was not of the right or left but in the center and would work for a mixed economy with private investment as well as state involvement. Roberto Aguilar Gomez, of the MAS said, “All of the expressions of the original [indigenous] peoples should be recognized in the new constitution.” Samuel Medina, of the Unidad Nacional party who finished third place in the last presidential elections and is the owner of Bolivia’s Burger King chain, said the state should participate in the exploitation of raw materials but not discard the participation of the private sector. He believed the constitution should help to produce more prosperity and employment. A candidate from PODEMOS supported autonomy and less centralization in the government. Victor Hugo Canelas Zannier, of the Agrupacion Ciudadana Ayra, said the constitutional assembly should work to “go beyond the traditional government which was left in [the revolts of] October 2003, toward a state that promotes development and recuperates the raw materials…” Estefa Alarcon, of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, wanted to promote women in the new constitution, as they are the “axis of the economy and society.”
When I met Yoni Bautista, a MAS representative for a working-class part of the city, his right hand was in a bandage so he motioned for me to shake his arm instead. Bautista was wearing a blue MAS hat and smiled often. I asked him about his plans for the assembly. Regarding corruption, he said, “we need to moralize the public departments and put trustworthy people in public positions.” Like the rest of his party, he said the natural resources such as land, water and gas should go into the hands of the state and shouldn’t be privatized. He said in essence, that autonomy is a good thing. “We want something more decentralized.” Yet he didn’t support the kind of autonomy being pushed by civic groups in Santa Cruz. “Santa Cruz wants to take control of natural resources… We want uniform development for the country.”
On Election Day the voting areas were full of life. Kids were playing among the ballot boxes, kicking soccer balls and chasing pigeons. Traffic was limited to only government and election official vehicles in order to prevent masses of voters from being transported to different voting places to vote twice. As a result, the air in La Paz was very clean and fresh, the streets were quiet and full of pedestrians instead of traffic jams. Most voting areas looked like a family picnic; a celebration between neighbors and friends. It was very loose and informal. Outside of voting booths people cooked steak and sausages. Most of the voting areas were in schoolyards where there were soccer goals and basketball courts, so games went on among neighbors while the voting happened. Throughout the day I ran around the city interviewing voters to get a feel for public opinion regarding the candidates and autonomy question.
Humberto Herbas, an older family man and business-owner with strong convictions who was perhaps the most enthusiastic MAS supporter I spoke with, said: “With the MAS we are in a time of transformation, things are changing. This party represents the majority of the country. No one has ever done what this party has done. For example, the nationalization of the gas; this goes beyond good intentions.” I asked what he thought about the election and the way in which representatives were chosen. He said: “We need to have professionals rewriting the constitution, not just any person. The assembly isn’t for everyone.” He didn’t think the various social organizations of the country needed to be directly included. “There are certain people that should do this, lawyers and professionals.” Herbas was against the autonomy question in the way that Santa Cruz proposed it, but supported the idea of a less centralized government. As for the criticism about the lack of debate and information during the campaign, he said, “People aren’t patient enough to discuss these issues and look into all of the information.”
Dora Araya Castro, a retired woman, spoke with me on the sidewalk as people were meandering in the empty streets toward their voting places. She wore a green shawl and gloves and peered at me through eyes surrounded by vast wrinkles. Each moment before speaking she looked around to make sure no one was listening; she was afraid to be chastised for being so supportive of right-wing parties. She shook her finger at me while she talked and said it was “a shame that I have the same last name as that bastard Fidel Castro.”
“I do not support this government,” she said. “It is full of terrorists. I never voted for this campesino [rural worker] president Evo. He doesn’t even know how to speak. He repeats things over and over again. MNR, Quiroga, Medina, these are ones that I support. The majority of the people in this government are just campesinos. They say all the traditional parties are bad and they did all of this propaganda to put themselves in power… These campesinos want to knock us all down… The US should cut all ties and stop the financial help to Bolivia.”
Estella Bare, a clean-cut doctor in a pink outfit, said she was unsure about who to vote for but that she was not going to support autonomy because it would divide the country. Part of the reason why she was undecided was because she believed the parties running “don’t represent the people. It was organized way too quickly.”
Rosa Salgado, a mother dressed in a typical campesina outfit with a hat and wide skirt, held her small child while she spoke to me. “Ever since Evo entered he has been fulfilling his promises in ways that affect us all.” Though she supported Evo wholeheartedly, she voted for autonomy. “Some said it was a good idea, others no. It was confusing and there was a lack of information about it.”
Two giggling women walked out of the voting area wearing hats from the right-wing party Unidad Nacional (UN). One of them was Mirian Castellon, a retired teacher. She described herself as a “militant UN supporter” and said the key proposals of her party included “more work, education, healthcare and an end to the poverty.” She supported autonomy because it was “good for the country.” Castellon explained that there should have been more time during the elections to spread more information and discuss more issues. She admitted she didn’t know exactly what autonomy meant.
Luis Garcia, a student who also works at a job in La Paz, said “I don’t support any candidates. They are the same as always. Only the faces have changed. The same party politics continue. I voted in blank because I didn’t agree with the way it was organized.” He said there hasn’t been that much discussion or debate about the proposals or the candidates. “Much less so than in other elections,” he said. “In other elections there was more participation, more knowledge about proposals and the issues and so on.”
A young student named Laura Batista also criticized the amount of fighting between parties and lack of discussion. For the constitutional assembly, she hoped to see things change that “would help isolated communities in the country in health care and education.”
A public employee, Consuela Torico, also said there was a lack of information and specific proposals and “too much dirty war. Only the parties are involved so they don’t lose their power.” Torico said the way the parties have talked about autonomy has divided the country between the west and the east.
In general most people didn’t seem that excited about the election. The momentum of the popular, participatory social movements and the landslide MAS victory didn’t seem to carry over into this election.
Few people were surprised when the election results were announced in the evening of July 2. MAS won 135 seats in the assembly, PODEMOS won 60, and Unidad Nacional won 11. MAS didn’t get all they’d hoped for; two thirds of the seats (170 out of 255) were needed to control the assembly. In the referendum on autonomy for provinces, the NO to autonomy won 54% and the YES won 46% nationally. Departments that voted for autonomy were Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. Those that voted against included La Paz, Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba and Chuquisaca. When the results came in, huge marches and rallies in Santa Cruz celebrated their victory for autonomy.
Few incidents of fraud or conflicts at the voting booths were reported. However, in Pando, indigenous organizations said that PODEMOS handed out radios and food in exchange for votes for their own party and for autonomy. In Puerto Suarez, someone was attacked for putting a sticker in favor of autonomy near where people were voting. La Prensa reported that on Election Day, 800 indigenous people from the province marched and took over streets in Sucre demanding an indigenous constituent assembly. They were dispersed by the police with teargas. The protestors declared they had been excluded from the assembly by the political parties. They demanded an assembly that was in accord with their customs and way of life.
Without two thirds of the seats, MAS won’t be able to easily push its agenda at the assembly. The event will involve a lot of negotiation between feuding factions and parties, and the issue of autonomy will likely continue to be a divisive one. Nonetheless, the MAS mandate is still very large and many are hopeful that the party can push for a progressive constitution. The elections and the planning for the constituent assembly illustrate the country’s tension between state power and the social movements. How this divide is addressed will make or break the Morales administration. For the streets and the state, much still depends on the assembly in August.
Benjamin Dangl is the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine uncovering activism and politics in Latin America and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. He is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, forthcoming from AK Press in March 2007, and a recipient of a 2007 Project Censored Award for his coverage of US military operations in Paraguay.
This story first appeared July 6 in Toward Freedom
“The Wealth Underground: Evo Seizes the Gas,” by Ben Dangl
WW4 REPORT #122, June 2006
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Sarkis Pogossian, WW4 REPORT
There have been signs over the past three years, as the debacle in Iraq has gone from bad to worse, that the so-called “neo-cons”—the Pentagon-connected policy wonks with traditional ties to the Israeli right and ultra-ambitious schemes to remake the entire order of the Middle East—have been taken down a peg. With the US actually in danger of losing control of Iraq, the notion of attacking Iran, or even plotting against supposed allies like Saudi Arabia, is starting to look more dangerous than attractive to Washington pragmatists.
The turning point would seem to have been in March 2003, when US troops were still advancing on Baghdad. At this decisive moment, Pentagon official Richard Perle resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a high-level group that advises Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on policy issues. On March 27, the same day he resigned, Perle told BBC: “This will be the short war I and others predicted… I don’t believe it will be months. I believed all along that it will be a quick war, and I continue to believe that.”
Stepping down as chair, Perle would remain on the board until 2004. Also serving on the Defense Policy Board at this time were former CIA director James Woolsey, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Perle had become increasingly identified with a maximalist agenda to go beyond mere “regime change” in Iraq to topple regimes and even redraw borders throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. On Oct. 1, 2002, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on a recent meeting in which Perle told Pentagon officials that Iraq was just a tactical goal, while Saudi Arabia was the strategic goal and Egypt was the great prize. Other ideas he reportedly put forth included permanent Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territories, a Palestinian state in Jordan, and a restored Hashemite monarchy in Iraq.
Many analysts say the strategy for US domination of Iraq originated in a plan drafted in 1997, when the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) sent a letter to then-President Clinton urging him to take action to oust Saddam Hussein. The group also called for the “democratization” of Syria and Iran. Among the 40 neo-conservatives in the think-tank, 10 would go on to become members of the Bush administration–including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle.
With Perle’s optimistic prediction about Iraq now proven so horribly wrong, the administration pragmatists (mostly in the State Department) seemed poised to seize the initiative and start bringing US policy back towards the center.
Then, on July 12, 2006, the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, and Israel responded with massive air-strikes on Lebanon–ostensibly aimed at crushing Hezbollah, but actually widely targeting the country’s infrastructure. Hezbollah has been striking back with missile attacks on Israel, but has no capacity to inflict anywhere near equivalent damage. Some 600 are believed dead in Lebanon (compared to 50 in Israel), at least some 500,000 have been displaced, and there is no end in sight. A week into the campaign, the US Congress passed a resolution (unanimously in the Senate) endorsing Israel’s aggression.
Lebanon was actually something of a showcase for the neo-cons, a model for their vision of pro-Western revolutionary change in the region. Following the February 2005 car-bomb assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a longtime opponent of the Syrian presence in the country, a wave of protest was unleashed. In what would become known as the “Cedar Revolution,” a new government was elected and Syrian troops, which had occupied the eastern part of the country since 1976, were finally called home.
But the victory was incomplete. Power was still uneasily divided between the West-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. And Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, was allowed to maintain a virtual army within Lebanon’s borders.
Israel has been quick to portray the Lebanon campaign as a proxy war in which Syria and Iran are the real enemies. “This is about Iran as much as it is about Hezbollah or Lebanon‚” Lt. Col. Amos Guiora, the former commander of the Israeli Defense Forces’ School of Military Law and currently a law professor at Western Reserve University, told New York’s Jewish weekly The Forward July 14.
Such statements imply that Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution cannot be successfully consolidated unless there is a general re-shaping of the Middle East political order. And the American neo-cons who share this agenda have once again been on the offensive since Israel’s new war on Lebanon.
Return of the Prince of Darkness
Richard Perle was so strongly opposed to nuclear arms control agreements with the USSR during his days as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, that he became known as ”the Prince of Darkness.” Since leaving the Defense Policy Board, he has carried on a political blog for the Washington Post. On June 25, just before the Lebanon conflagration began, he wrote a piece that took on the State Department pragmatists for backing down from expansion of Washington’s war beyond Iraq. Unsubtly entitled “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi),” it stated:
“President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran knows what he wants: nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them; suppression of freedom at home and the spread of terrorism abroad… President Bush, too, knows what he wants: an irreversible end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the ‘expansion of freedom in all the world’ and victory in the war on terrorism. The State Department and its European counterparts know what they want: negotiations… And now, on May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program. How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch ‘the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands,’ has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?”
Perle perceives that the White House has capitulated to the appeasement-oriented Europeans—and clearly places the blame with Rice’s promotion to Secretary of State. He laments that “the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom… [S]he is now in the midst of—and increasingly represents—a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.”
Oblivious to the torture state that has consolidated power in Iraq since its “liberation,” Perle portrayed the issue in terms of human freedom, and played openly to Reagan nostalgia:
“In his second inaugural address, Bush said, ‘All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.’ Iranians were heartened by those words, much as the dissidents of the Soviet Union were heartened by Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ speech in 1983…. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration’s too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it ‘runs counter to our efforts…it would limit our diplomatic flexibility.’ I hope it is not too late…to give substance to Bush’s words, not too late to redeem our honor.”
Since the Lebanon explosion, Rice has tilted back to the neo-con position, with rhetoric pointing to a fundamental power shift in the entire region as the only acceptable requisite for peace. She has argued against the international community demanding an immediate ceasefire, calling for a more “enduring” arrangement that would end Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon and further diminish the influence of Syria and Iran in Lebanon’s affairs.
She told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 28 that the US would only support a ceasefire that “does not return us to the status quo ante. We cannot return to the circumstances that created this situation in the first place.”
A day earlier in Rome, she said: “Syria has a responsibility. And we are deeply concerned, as we have said, about the role of Iran. It is high time that people make a choice.”
Hindsight may reveal Israel’s Lebanon campaign as the strategic masterstroke that will force the Bush administration’s hand and put the neo-cons back on top.
Gingrich Sees World War III
Commentator Bill Berkowitz, a left-wing watchdog on the conservative movement, has been keeping close tabs on the ominous rhetoric emanating in recent weeks from Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, whose “Contract with America” legislative package provoked a shutdown of the federal government in 1995.
In a July 16 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Gingrich said that the US should be “helping the Lebanese government have the strength to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force.”
A day earlier, the Seattle Times reported that during a fund-raising trip in Washington state, Gingrich was even more bellicose. “This is World War III,” Gingrich said. “Israel wouldn’t leave southern Lebanon as long as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all out and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles to re-supply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts.”
Gingrich openly maintained that the use of the term “World War III” could re-energize the base of the Republican Party. He said that public opinion can change “the minute you use the language” of world war. “OK, if we’re in the third world war,” he asked, “which side do you think should win?”
On July 17, Gingrich restated his World War III contention on the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes.”
Berkowitz notes that the watchdog website Media Matters for America has documented a number of recent “World War III” references by cable television’s conservative commentators. On the July 13 edition of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” host Bill O’Reilly said “World War III… I think we’re in it.” On the same day’s edition of MSNBC’s “Tucker,” a graphic read: “On the verge of World War III?” On July 12, “CNN Headline News” host Glenn Beck began his program, featuring an interview with former CIA officer Robert Baer, by saying “We’ve got World War III to fight,” while also warning of “the impending apocalypse.” Beck and Baer had a similar discussion the next day, in which Beck said: “I absolutely know that we need to prepare ourselves for World War III. It is here.”
Back in May, even President Bush told the CNBC cable TV network that the action taken by the passengers on the hijacked Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001 was the “first counter-attack to World War III.”
Bush said that he agreed with the description by David Beamer, whose son Todd died in the crash, in an April Wall Street Journal commentary that the act was “our first successful counter-attack in our homeland in this new global war—World War III.”
Woolsey Weighs in for World War IV
Writes Bill Berkowitz: “Hyping World War III isn’t new to conservatives. Some have even argued that the real World War III was the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and that now the US is engaged in World War IV.”
Berkowitz notes that the idea that the Cold War was World War III originates from PNAC, and that the concept has taken on growing currency among the neo-cons since 9-11. In April 2003, at a teach-in at UCLA sponsored by Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, James Woolsey, the former CIA director and founding member of PNAC, told the audience: “This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us; hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.”
Appearing on Fox News’ “The Big Story” this July 17, Woolsey weighed in on the Lebanon crisis in frighteningly bellicose terms.
“I think we ought to execute some air-strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport, which is the place where weapons shuttle through from Iran to Hezbollah and Hamas,” Woolsey said. “I think both Syria and Iran think that we’re cowards. They saw us leave Lebanon after the ’83 Marine Corps bombing. They saw us leave Mogadishu in ’93.”
The former Central Intelligence director, now a vice president at the global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, flatly rejected calls for a cease-fire in Lebanon. “I think the last thing we ought to do now is to start talking about cease-fires and a rest,” he said.
Iran, of course, did not escape Woolsey’s ire either: “Iran has drawn a line in the sand. They’ve sent Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel. They’re pushing their nuclear weapons program. They’re helping North Korea, working with them on a ballistic missile program. They’re doing their best to take over southern Iraq with [radical Shiite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr and some of their other proxies. This is a very serious challenge from Iran and we need to weaken them badly, and undermining the Syrian government with air-strikes would help weaken them badly.”
Asked by host John Gibson if he also advocated air-strikes against Iran, Woolsey replied: “One has to take things to some degree by steps,” Woolsey responded. “I think it would be a huge blow to Iran if the Israelis are able after a few more days’ effort to badly damage Hezbollah and Hamas as they are doing, and if we were able to help undermine the continuation of the Assad regime [in Syria] – without putting troops on the ground, I wouldn’t advocate that. We’ve got one major war in that part of the world on the ground in Iraq and that’s enough for right at this moment I think.”
The “Clean Break”
Joseph Cirincione, writing for the ThinkProgress blog, traces the plan for Lebanon to a controversial document prepared in 1996 by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith (undersecretary of defense for policy until last year) and David Wurmser (former American Enterprise Institute wonk and now Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser). They document was prepared for the newly-elected Likud government in Israel, and called for “A Clean Break” with the policies of negotiating with the Palestinians and trading land for peace.
According to the document, the problem could be solved “if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.” The document also called for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and “reestablishing the principle of preemption.” It anticipated that the successes of these wars could be used to launch campaigns against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reshaping “the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly.”
Writes Cirincione: “Now, with the US bogged down in Iraq, with Bush losing control of world events, and with the threats to national security growing worse, no one could possibly still believe this plan, could they? Think again.”
He notes that William Kristol, neo-con editor of the Weekly Standard, wrote in a column entitled “It’s Our War” July 24 that Hezbollah is acting as Tehran’s proxy and that the US should respond with air-strikes against Iran: “We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions—and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”
Cirincione concludes: “The neoconservatives are now hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon conflict as the trigger to launch a US war against Syria, Iran or both. These profoundly dangerous policies have to be exposed and stopped before they do even more harm to US national security then they already have.”
Among the most ambitious of the neo-con voices demanding a reshaping of the Middle East is Michael Ledeen, an American Enterprise Institute wonk and National Review columnist. While Perle advocates restoring a Hashemite king to the throne of Iraq, Ledeen’s personal crusade is a restoration of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran. His writing frequently affects a nervous impatience. In a December 2005 National Review Online column calling for “active support of the democratic forces” in Syria and Iran as a strategy for “regime change in Tehran [and] Damascus,” he concluded: “Faster, confound it.” In August 2002 he wrote in NRO: “One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. That’s our mission in the war against terror.” In a December 2002 piece in the Wall Street Journal, “The War Won’t End in Baghdad,” Ledeen wrote that after taking Baghdad, “we must also topple terror states in Tehran and Damascus… If we come to Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran as liberators, we can expect overwhelming popular support.”
Predictably, Ledeen sees the current Lebanon crisis as good news for his agenda. On July 25, he wrote on his National Review Online blog: “Remember that the Iranians believe(d) that we (US and Israel) are hopelessly internally divided, politically paralyzed, and hence unable to take a difficult decision and react forcefully. Ergo they thought they had a free hand. A few days ago I compared the attack on Israel to the same blunder Osama made on 9/11. If only we take full advantage.”
Redrawing the Map
In another sign of revived neo-con ambitions, the June 2006 edition of Armed Forces Journal, a private publication that cultivates a high-level Beltway readership, retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters called for actually redrawing the map of the Middle East “according to the situation of the ethnic minorities.” This echoes a periodically re-emergent neo-con strategy of exploiting the real grievances of ethnic minorities in the Islamic world to affect not only “regime change” but an actual dismantling of the major states of the Middle East.
The Kurds are of course particularly strategic because giving them a unified national state would diminish both Syria and Iran, as well as Iraq, where it seems increasingly likely anti-Western forces could once again gain the upper hand. Peters does not seem bothered by the fact that such a state would also diminish US ally Turkey. He wrote that a Kurdish state “stretching from Diyarbakir [in eastern Turkey] through Tabriz [in western Iran] would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan.”
In Peters’ vision, Iran would also lose territory to a Unified Azerbaijan in the north, an Arab Shia State in the west and a Free Baluchistan in the east.
Peters also suggested a break-up of Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi family continuing to rule the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the west as a sort of Muslim “super-Vatican,” but a Shi’ite rebellion bringing a separatist, pro-Western state to power in the east—where the oil is.
This idea has been heard before in neo-con circles. In July 2002, a Rand analyst presented a briefing in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s private conference room titled “Taking Saudi Out of Arabia.” Assembled members of the Defense Policy Board were told that the US should demand Saudi Arabia stop supporting hostile fundamentalist movements and curtail the airing of anti-US and anti-Israel statements—or face seizure of its financial assets and oilfields. A month later, Max Singer of the Hudson Institute gave a presentation to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment advising the US to forge a “Muslim Republic of East Arabia” out of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
Peters, predictably, is also heartened by the bloodbath in Lebanon—and only fears it won’t go far enough. In his July 28 column in the New York Post, he chastised Israel for its perceived restraint: “Yesterday, Israel’s government overruled its generals and refused to expand the ground war in southern Lebanon. Given the difficulties encountered and the casualties suffered, the decision is understandable. And wrong. In the War on Terror—combating Hezbollah’s definitely part of it—you have to finish what you start. You can’t permit the perception that the terrorists won. But that’s where the current round of fighting is headed.”
What is truly amazing about these schemes is the assumption, even after disastrous results in Iraq, that the break-up of the Middle East’s states would be in the US interest. The US has played a Shi’ite card in Iraq against the Sunni Arabs–and is consequently in danger of losing control of southern Iraq and even the Baghdad government itself to Iran. Peters would have the US replicate this strategic blunder in Saudi Arabia—forgoing Washington’s most strategic ally in the Arab world.
Similarly, Peters would forgo Washington’s traditional alliance with NATO-member Turkey to gamble on a Kurdish state which could ultimately come not under the control of Iraq’s US-aligned Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but of the radical Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—one of the State Department’s official “terrorist organizations,” but the group which has actually made significant inroads in fomenting Kurdish separatism in Turkey and, more recently, Syria and Iran. The PKK, ironically, has even found haven in “liberated” Iraq for its guerilla attacks on US ally Turkey.
In another indication of how the Iraq adventure could ultimately prove disastrous for US interests in the region, on July 18, the Turkish government summoned the US and Iraqi ambassadors in Ankara to the Foreign Ministry, and warned: “Our patience is not endless. Root out Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerillas immediately, otherwise, we will be forced to resort to our right of self-defense.” The statement from the Turkish government said Ankara will wait for the US and Iraq to take “necessary steps”; and if they fail to do so, Turkey might resort to a “cross-border operation.”
Not only is the specter of Kurdish separatism pitting US ally Trukey against US proxy state Iraq, but it is even leading to a rapprochement between Turkey and Iran. The Iranian Ambassador to Ankara, Firouz Dowlatabadi, has said Iran will support Turkey in the event of a military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq. “Turkey has the right to annihilate terrorists wherever they are found,” Dowlatabadi told Turkish television July 19. “Iran is ready to do its best to help Turkey.”
Commenting on Perle’s purported October 2002 meeting with Pentagon officials to chart the future shape of the Middle East, Egypt’s Al-Ahram weekly opined the following February: “What all this makes clear is that the future map of the region is a subject of discussion in Washington and dialogue with Israel. The Arab countries are not party to the talks. The scene brings to mind the events of World War I and how the victorious countries reshaped the region after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat, divvying it up among themselves in a secret deal by the name of Sykes-Picot in 1916.”
The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, codified by the League of Nations in 1920, divided the crumbling Ottoman Empire’s holdings in the Arab world between Britain and France, which then drew the new boundaries in the interests of control of oil. The Sykes-Picot boundaries, calling for a British-controlled Iraq and a French-controlled Syria, were actually redrawn after World War I, when it became clear that the Ottoman province of Mosul, originally apportioned to French Syria, was a source of much oil wealth. Britain threatened war with France to have Mosul attached to Iraq rather than Syria.
For generations thereafter, Britain looked to the Sunni Arabs of central Iraq to hold the oil-rich north around Mosul and the oil-rich south around Basra together in one national state, suppressing Kurdish national aspirations in the north and Shi’ite ambitions in the south. The US inherited this strategy when it groomed Saddam Hussein as a proxy in the 1980s. It has only been since Desert Storm and, more significantly, since 9-11 and the neo-con revolution that Washington has reversed this strategy. But already the Shi’ites are showing unambiguous signs of being unreliable proxies, and the Kurds could easily follow suit. Having already dismantled or radicalized virtually all the Sunni Arab leadership, the US could be left with no effective proxies in Iraq at all before too long.
If the Lebanon crisis spins out of control and is further internationalized—as Perle, Woolsey, Gingrich, Ledeen and Peters so ardently hope—Washington could a year or two hence be facing a similar situation throughout the Middle East. Taking the war to Syria and Iran could leave those countries yet further radicalized, the authoritarian but stable regimes there subsumed by ethnic warfare and jihadist terror.
Even Bush seems to be at least vaguely aware of the risks. His one caveat in supporting the Israeli aggression is that it not destabilize the government of Fouad Siniora and wipe out the gains of the Cedar Revolution.
And in Washington itself, a backlash against the hubristic neo-cons is virtually inevitable sooner or later. But if the chaos goes on long enough and reaches sufficiently apocalyptic proportions, the likelihood increases that it will come not from pragmatists and technocrats but nativists and anti-Semites.
The Lebanon crisis represents a tipping point. If voices for peace across ethnic, national and sectarian lines cannot be brought to bear, and quickly, the Middle East—and, indeed, the planet—could be going over the edge into something that will make all the horrors that have unfolded since 9-11 seem a mere prelude.
“Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi),” by Richard Perle,
Washington Post, June 25, 2006
“GOP Tests How ‘World War III’ Sounds to Voters,” by Bill Berkowitz,
PNS, July 20
“Bringing on ‘World War III’,” by Bill Berkowitz,
Working for Chnage, July 27, 2006
“Ex-CIA chief: Bomb Syria!” WorldNet Daily, July 17, 2006
“Ex-CIA Director: US Faces WWIV,” CNN, April 3, 2003
Media Matters for America
“Neocons Resurrect Plans For Regional War In The Middle East,” by Joseph
Cirincione, Think Progress, July 17, 2003
The “Clean Break” document, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political
“It’s Our War,” by William Kristol, The Weekly Standard, July 24, 2006
“How a Better Middle East Would Look,” by Ralph Peters
Armed Forces Journal, June 2006
“PKK Warning to US and Iraq: We are Losing Patience,” Zaman, July 18, 2006
“Iran: We Support Turkey’s Possible Cross-Border Operation,”
Zaman, July 19, 2006
“Hezbollah: Iran’s proxy?”
WW4 REPORT, July 16, 2006
“Eastern Anatolia: Iraq’s Next Domino,” by Sarkis Pogossian
WW4 REPORT #115, November 2005
“Lebanon’s Post-Electoral Crossroads,” by Bilal El-Amine
WW4 REPORT #111, July 2005
“Welcome to World War IV,” by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #106, January 2005
“‘Three-State Solution’ for Iraq’s Future?”
WW4 REPORT #93, December 2003
“Prince of Darkness Perle Resigns”
WW4 REPORT #79, March 31, 2003
“New Imperialist Carve-Up of Middle East Planned”
WW4 REPORT #63, Dec. 9, 2002
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Rohan Pearce, Green Left Weekly
On June 5, militia aligned with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) declared victory in their struggle to control Mogadishu, capital of the east African country of Somalia. The militia had routed the grossly misnamed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism (ARPCT)—a coalition of US-backed warlords who had put a halt to their near-ceaseless internecine fighting in a failed effort to stop the ICU’s growing control of the capital.
Fierce fighting broke out between the ARPCT and the ICU in March, leaving hundreds of people dead. In the week following the ARPCT’s defeat in Mogadishu, the last ARPCT stronghold in the country’s south, the town of Jowhar, fell with little resistance to the ICU.
The ARPCT’s defeat represents a major setback for Washington in the proxy war it has been waging to assert control over Somalia’s 8 million inhabitants, 60% of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists.
The June 7 New York Times reported that US government officials have privately acknowledged that the CIA, via its station in Nairobi, Kenya, had channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to the ARPCT warlords so they could purchase arms on the international black market. The covert payments were in breach of the UN Security Council arms embargo that has been imposed on the country since 1991.
John Predergast, a member of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based liberal-capitalist think tank, told MSNBC on June 5 that the CIA “payments have been between [US]$100,000 and $150,000 per month.”
Somali reactions to the ICU’s victory have been mixed. On one hand there is relief at the prospect of a respite from constant battles in the capital, but for some this is tempered by fears of the imposition of draconian interpretations of sharia (Islamic) law.
Among many, though, there is hope that the ICU will at least provide a degree of stability in a country that has been gripped by violent conflict between rival warlords since the 1991 ouster of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. He took power in 1969 and had originally aligned Somalia with the Soviet Union, but the alliance was broken when Barre came into conflict with Ethiopia in 1977.
Washington stepped in to fill the gap and supported Barre until he was toppled in 1991 by rebel forces led by General Mohammed Farah Aidid, Barre’s former intelligence chief. In the wake of Barre’s overthrow, the country was carved up by rival warlords. Under the guise of a UN-backed “humanitarian mission,” Washington dispatched 20,000 US troops to Somalia in 1992.
The Jan. 18, 1993 Los Angeles Times reported that it had obtained documents revealing that Barre had given four major US oil companies—Chevron, Amoco, Conoco and Phillips—exploration rights over two-thirds of the country. The LA Times reported: “Far beneath the surface of the tragic drama of Somalia, four major US oil companies are quietly sitting on a prospective fortune in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of the Somali countryside. That land, in the opinion of geologists and industry sources, could yield significant amounts of oil and natural gas if the US-led military mission can restore peace to the impoverished east African nation.”
While US government officials at the time ridiculed the idea that there was oil in Somalia, Thomas O’Connor, the principal petroleum engineer for the World Bank, who headed an in-depth three-year study of oil prospects off Somalia’s northern coast, told the LA Times: “There’s no doubt there’s oil there… It’s got high [commercial] potential, once the Somalis get their act together.”
The CIA’s website lists Somalia’s natural resources as “uranium and largely unexploited reserves of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, natural gas, [and] likely oil reserves”.
The most likely location of oil reserves is Puntland, a self-declared autonomous region in north-eastern Somalia. On May 21, General Mohammed “Adde” Muse, the president of Puntland, announced that his regime had decided to sever collaboration with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which had been set up following a UN-sponsored conference in Kenya in 2004. The TFG, led by President Abdullahi Yusuf, is based in Baidoa, 240 kilometres northwest of Mogadishu.
According to the SomaliNet website, Muse told local journalists the TFG had attempted to stop Puntland’s plan to produce oil under an agreement signed last year with the Western Australia-based Range Resources company.
On June 17, Somalia’s Garowe Online News reported that Muse—”accompanied by Puntland’s finance and agriculture ministers, the vice minister for fisheries and the newly created director of Puntland Oil and Minerals Agency that falls directly under the presidency”—met in Dubai with executives from Range.
Muse “proposed to Range officials a change in the ‘contract of work’ they signed in mid-2005. In accordance with a Somali federal government-Puntland administration agreement reached in Bossaso in May, the Puntland leader proposed that Range allow Puntland to be divided into [exploration] ‘blocks.’ Range officials–supported by Range board of directors member Liban Muse Bogor and Puntland finance minister Mohamed Ali–declined President Adde’s proposal because it is in direct contradiction to the ‘Puntland Agreement’ which gave Range exclusive exploration rights in all of northeastern Somalia (more than 212,000 sq. km. of land).”
Omar Jamal, a US-based Somali political activist, told Associated Press on June 5 that the ICU victory was “exactly the same thing that happened with the rise to power of the Taliban” in Afghanistan and that Islamists were taking advantage of “the people’s weariness of violence, rape and civil war”.
However, on June 5 AP reported that the reactions of residents in Mogadishu were more variegated. Some shared Jamal’s fears. “The Islamic clerics want to be like [the] Taliban regime in Afghanistan”, one told AP. But another said that the ICU’s victory was “a major step toward a lasting peaceful settlement in Mogadishu”, adding: “We are tired of the deception and rhetoric of the warlords.”
On May 25, in an article for the Chicago-based Power and Interest News Report, Dr Michael Weinstein, an analyst with the PINR, wrote: “The [Islamic] courts have become increasingly popular with Mogadishu’s residents, not only because of their [legal and social] services, but also because they are perceived to be relatively honest and dedicated to the country, rather than to their own narrow advantage, and are not beholden to external powers.
“The eruption of militant political Islamism outside and opposed to the TFG, and the Mogadishu warlords and rising over the clan structure provoked a fierce reaction among the warlords, whose vital interests were threatened.”
The first Islamic court was set up in 1994, in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia, after 18 US troops died in the infamous “Battle of Mogadishu” resulting from Washington’s failed attempt to capture/assassinate Aidid, who died in 1996.
Originally set up by clan elders to fill the vacuum of governmental and legal authority in the wake of the Barre dictatorship’s collapse, the Islamic courts at first functioned only at a clan level. Since then, the courts have achieved a degree of independence from the clan system and broadened from their initial function of making rulings for litigants to offering social services and providing policing.
“Al-Qaeda safe haven”
The reaction from Washington to the ICU’s victory was less ambiguous than that of Mogadishu residents. On June 6, US President George Bush told reporters that “obviously, when there’s instability anywhere in the world, we’re concerned. There is instability in Somalia. The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaeda safe haven, that it doesn’t become a place from which terrorists can plot and plan.”
Bush’s sentiments were echoed by US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack at a June 7 press briefing. He claimed that the “international community” doesn’t want “to see Somalia turn into a safe haven for terrorists”, adding: “We do have very real concerns about the presence of foreign terrorists on Somali soil.”
US officials claim that three members of Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network responsible for bombing the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 are hiding out in Somalia. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the chairperson of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts of Somalia, has denied that the ICU is protecting al-Qaeda members or that the ICU wishes to move Somalia towards a Taliban-style religious regime.
Two of the courts are seen as “militant”, according to a June 6 BBC report, one of which is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a former army colonel, who joined al-Ithihaad al-Islaami (AIAI), an armed Islamist group that gained in strength after Barre’s regime collapsed, but became defunct by the late ’90s.
Some individuals from the AIAI, such as Aweys, are believed to be connected with a new “jihadi” network that emerged around 2003. However, a July 2005 report by the ICG argued that this new network’s “core membership probably numbers in the tens rather than the hundreds”. Despite stating the killings that have been associated with al-Qaeda-linked “jihadis,” the report noted that al-Qaeda’s Somalia “presence is perhaps less remarkable than its minute scale”.
In the wake of the ICU’s victory, the TFG reiterated its long-standing call for foreign “peacekeepers” to intervene. The TFG has limited support within Somalia—until June 5, four of Mogadishu’s warlords were TFG cabinet members—and is completely ineffective. On June 15, Mogadishu residents protested against the TFG’s call for foreign military intervention.
The June 22 Sudan Tribune reported: “Stung by setbacks to its latest strategy in Somalia, the United States for the first time reached out to hardline Islamists, its erstwhile enemies, to help catch ‘terrorists’ allegedly hiding in the shattered African nation. In an about-turn, [US] assistant secretary of state for African affairs Jendayi Frazer sought the help of the Joint Islamic Courts to arrest terrorists believed hiding in Somalia. Washington previously blamed these courts for having links with al-Qaida and harbouring foreign fighters.”
This story first appeared June 28 in Australia’s Green Left Weekly
“Somalia: Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy war?” WW4 REPORT, July 29
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT
It’s a neat little ironic juxtaposition of headlines that the July 5 passing of former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay—while awaiting sentencing on securities fraud and a host of related charges—came just days before several neighborhoods in the New York City borough of Queens were plunged into darkness and sweltering heat. Certainly the Queens blackouts are nothing so dramatic as those which plagued California in 2000-1, when Enron and its ilk were riding high. Nor are they likely as intentional—although the degree to which Enron contrived the California crisis was never revealed until months after the fact. But the chaos and misery in Queens is likewise the bitter fruit of energy deregulation.
On July 21, when many Queens residents had been without power for five days, local politicians began calling for dramatic action. Assemblyman Michael Gianaris of Astoria demanded a “criminal investigation of Con Edison on the grounds of reckless endangerment.” City Councilman Peter Vallone, also of Queens, chimed in: “Heads need to roll. Con Ed has sent us back to the dark ages. People of this community want to storm Con Ed with…pitchforks.”
Con Ed estimated that 25,000 customers were without power in the neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City and Hunters Point. Streetlights were dead and usually bustling commercial districts were deserted. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been giving the utility the benefit of the doubt, said he was “annoyed” that its original estimate of those without power was just 25,000. Bloomberg said that 25,000 paying customers translated into 100,000 people without electricity.
On July 19, when the blackouts were at their worst, even local subway lines were slowed. Brutally, this also corresponded with the peak of a local heat wave. Con Ed, which claimed not to know the cause of the failure, reported that day that 10 of the 22 feeder cables that supply the area with power were down simultaneously
On July 21, New York’s WABC News reported that a check of New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) data showed continued under-spending on maintenance. In a three-year period in which Con Ed budgeted $32 million dollars for maintenance in Queens and Brooklyn, the utility actually only spent $27 million, the report found. Gerald Norlander of the Public Utility Law Project told ABC: “Maintenance data suggests that Con Ed is spending less on regular preventative maintenance in the system and that needs to be investigated.”
WABC also quoted Ariel Antonmarchi, a former Con Ed worker who said he was fired for blowing the whistle on poor maintenance: “It’s not only the feeders. That’s what Con Ed is leading the public to believe. It’s the whole infrastructure. In Queens, and in certain areas, it is not being kept up.” Con Ed, of course, disputed the claims, insisting it has spent billions upgrading the system.
But as early as January, 2003, Con Ed and other New York utilities were petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for new rules that would reduce their legal liability for damages arising from blackouts or system failures.
The New York PSC already exempts Con Ed from liability for “ordinary” negligence. Lawyers for the City of New York were able to prove “gross” negligence on Con Edison’s part following the devastating July 1977 New York blackout, even though it was initially precipitated by a lightning strike. However, the liability of utilities for damages due to the August 2003 Northeast blackout—the first significant outage of the post-deregulation era—remains uncertain.
The very structure of deregulation makes the grid more vulnerable, many experts warn. FERC’s Order 888 mandated the “wheeling” of electric power across utility lines as one of the first steps towards deregulation in 1996. Order 888 was held up in litigation until March 2000, when it was approved by the US Supreme Court and took effect. But critics—including some in the federal government—warned that the new policy would have a destabilizing effect. “The system was never designed to handle long-distance wheeling,” Loren Toole, a transmission-system analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory told The Industrial Physicist journal in an article following the 2003 blackout.
The bitter irony is that, having effectively gotten out of the generation business under New York state’s deregulation plan, nearly all Con Ed has to do these days is to maintain the cables. The 2003 blackout—although apparently originating from a power surge at Ohio’s Toledo Edison—was the first indication that New York’s grid was seriously vulnerable.
Under the deregulation regime, which took effect in New York in the summer of 1999, out-of-state companies are encouraged to purchase or build local power plants and sell the electricity to the local utility, which is to serve as a broker rather than a producer. So California’s Pacific Gas & Electric was compelled to purchase from Texas-based Enron, and finally forced into bankruptcy by the power disruptions. This same PG&E was simultameously building a natural gas plant at Athens, on New York’s Hudson River—to sell power to Northeast utilities, which are likewise getting out of the local generation biz. (After PG&E’s bankruptcy, the Athens plant was taken over by a consortium led by Morgan Stanley.)
Queens residents are especially miffed that their communities host a disproportionate share of the city’s power plants, which have been the focus of local citizen campaigns around their health impacts. The three plants currently operating in the western Queens area have all been sold off by Con Ed. The largest is the 1,753-megawatt Ravenswood Generating Station, owned by KeySpan Energy; the 1,090-megawatt Astoria Generating Station is owned by Orion Power Holdings, and the 1637-megawatt Poletti Power Plant is owned by the New York State Power Authority (which actually purchased it from Con Ed when it was first built in the ’70s).
KeySpan, owner of the massive Ravenswood, is the successor company to the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO), which was forced to relinquish control of the grid in Long Island’s suburban Nassau and Suffolk counties by state regulators in 1998 as the price of a bailout of its debt-crippled Shoreham nuclear power plant. Just days after the deal was closed, it was revealed that LILCO had awarded its top executives a severance package of more than $67 million, including $42 million to CEO William J. Catacosinos. The payments came despite the fact that Catacosinos and his fellow officers had secured similar positions in KeySpan. New York state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer charged that “a pattern of deception by the company’s CEO and senior officers, as well as a dereliction of duty by the company’s board, led to an outrageous giveaway.” (The bad publicity shamed Catacosinos, at least into stepping down—but not relinquishing his golden parachute.) Relieved of its Shoreham debt, LILCO’s new incarnation moved from suburban Long Island to inner-city Queens. KeySpan is now seeking approval from federal and state authorities for its pending $11.8-billion takeover by the British energy giant National Grid. Rather than progress towards accountability to the consumer, it looks more like an elaborate game of musical chairs.
In June 2000, after a brief blackout on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (the incumbent councilman’s father) publicly suggested that Con Ed, in connivance with its new deregulation partners, was using power disruptions to pressure the state PSC to approve new power plants. And the new plants were proposed, not surprisingly, for poor areas of city, including post-industrial and gentrifying but still-bleak Long Island City. Other targeted neighborhoods are Brooklyn’s immigrant enclaves of Williamsburg and Sunset Park, and the Harlem River Yards and Port Morris in the South Bronx. Con Ed is also proposing increased capacity at the 14th Street plant on the Lower East Side (not yet divested), adjacent to low-income public housing projects, to make up for the closure of its plant up the East River near the United Nations–where developer Donald Trump wants to build a luxury residential high-rise.
And notwithstanding the brief incident on the upscale Upper East Side, it was generally the low-income areas that were hit with the blackouts. Manhattan’s Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights was without power for 18 hours in the midst of a heatwave in July 1999, just weeks before the state deregulation hit in—again due to feeder cables burning out.
In its investigation of the Washington Heights blackout, the state PSC found that “managers had been told to reduce the operation and maintenance budget in each of the four years leading up to the black out.” And Gerald Norlander of Public Utility Law Project, in words almost identical to those he would utter after the 2006 Queens blackout, stated: “The company, despite growing demand for service, [was] spending less and less each year on maintenance.”
There were certainly reasons for discontent with the status quo ante. Con Ed charged among the highest rates in the country. In August 1994, New York Newsday, citing leaked documents, revealed the Con Ed was paying bonuses of up to $20,000 per executive to the very mangers who had slashed spending on pollution control citing budgetary constraints. The costs for these bonuses were passed on to the rate-payer. Deregulation was pushed as a formula to bring down rates.
But in August 2000, in the first summer after deregulation, New York’s consumers were shocked to find that rates were actually 40% higher over the previous summer—resulting in city officials blasting the provision allowing Con Ed to base its rates on wholesale market costs (a supposed hedge against California-style chaos). The Public Service Commission blamed high oil princes, and the temporary closure of Con Ed’s Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor some 30 miles up the Hudson River—a frequent occurrence. Indian Point was soon to be divested under the deregulation plan, but its shut-downs would remain frequent—and Con Ed’s rates would remain among the nation’s highest.
In the wake of the Queens blackouts, concerns were raised of Enron-type market manipulations under the deregulation regime. Assemblyman Paul Tonko, chair of the state Assembly’s Energy Committee, told Newsday July 27 that KeySpan and the other generating companies had clearly “gamed” the market “at the expense of the consumers.” He pledged his committee would “fully investigate these market manipulations that are artificially raising electric prices, and make those who are responsible for this disgrace accountable.”
Health and safety concerns were also dire under the old regime. In 1995, Con Ed was slapped with a $2 million fine for lying about the release of asbestos at an August 1989 steam pipe explosion at Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, in which two workers died. In a November 1999 settlement, Con Ed again paid $2 million to 270 New York firefighters and rescue workers exposed to toxic chemicals when they responded to a fire at the utility’s Arthur Kill plant on Staten Island the previous September. In October 1999, Ravenswood (by then owned by KeySpan) was evacuated following a spill of a cleaning compound outside the plant, sending acrid fumes into the building.
The daily functioning of these plants is ultimately a greater concern. In April 2000, Rep. Carolyn Maloney complained to the Queens Tribune: “More than 35,000 Queens schoolchildren already suffer from asthma and a 1998 federal study found that the presence of three dirty power plants, two major airports and six major highways has made air quality in Queens particularly toxic.”
The three Queens plants, already under construction, were “grandfathered” in when the Clean Air Act took effect in 1970, exempting them from the new standards. Therefore, they can continue to emit quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) that would be illegal in newer plants. Although Ravenswood was built to burn coal, it has now switched to natural gas and may at this point be in compliance with the Clean Air Act—even though it is still not required to be. This progress has been the fruit of a long activist campaign by Queens residents—not deregulation.
After the Queens blackouts, a July 26 New York Times story found that the affected areas, especially Long Island City, had a disproportionate rate of cable failures, and some local cables had parts that were up to 67 years old. For all the emphasis on shiny new generators, the aging transmission system was being allowed to deteriorate—and, not surprisingly, being allowed to deteriorate the fastest in the very neighborhoods slated for the power plants.
One of the real tragedies of the push to build new generators in the city’s low-income neighborhoods is that it has pitted urban clean-air activists against upstate opponents of nuclear power. The closure of Indian Point would make the new power plants in the city inevitable, the argument goes, and the health impacts shouldn’t be shifted to low-income urban residents. However, given that Indian Point is far closer to New York City than Chernobyl was to Kiev, the safety issues at the reactors should be a concern to down-staters too.
In 2000, the Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. bought the Indian Point 3 reactor from the public New York Power Authority (which had relieved Con Ed of it following massive cost-overruns in 1975), and the following year purchased Indian Point 2 from Con Edison. (Indian Point 1 had been permanently closed when the Power Authority took over reactor 3.) Since 9-11, local residents in Peekskill, NY, and surrounding communities have been increasingly demanding the plant be closed down—or at least the airspace above it be closed to commercial flights. Entergy has responded by officially changing the facility’s name from the “Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant” to the “Indian Point Energy Center.” All area signs indicating the plant have been changed, removing the word “nuclear,” and the utility has also launched a local PR blitz plugging the plant’s supposed “safety.” One recent newspaper ad urged readers to “Take confidence in the security of Indian Point Energy Center.”
The Indian Point reactors are among the oldest and most decrepit in the country, and Entergy’s record in keeping them up and running has been little better than Con Ed’s or the Power Authority’s. The most recent shut-down of Indian Point 3, prompted by an electrical mishap, came on July 21—in the very midst of the Queens blackout. The reactor was brought back on line the next day, and Entergy claimed it had no impact on consumers.
Westchester County’s Rep. Sue Kelly has introduced a measure in Congress to require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to authorize an Independent Safety Assessment at Indian Point—a measure advocated by the local Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, which has collected 5,000 signatures in support of the bill.
The Queens blackout will doubtless be used as propaganda against both advocates of closing Indian Point and opponents of the new urban generators. With nerves still frayed, it may be a while before the argument can be made openly. However, while local Queens politicians play to their pissed-off constituency, New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer is not only a proponent of the new plants, but is calling for deregulation to be mandated at the national level by federal legislation. (Nearly half the states have already imposed some kind of deregulation plan, although the pace has slowed since the Enron scandal.)
Mayor Bloomberg has already played a blackout card in a bid to wear down public resistance to new plants and pylons. “Nobody wants to have a power line going through their backyard, but we have to face the issue that if you want to have electricity—and we really have no choice, we have to have electricity, our society depends on large amounts of electricity and it has to be reliable—that means building power plants, upgrading power plants and building transmission lines,” Bloomberg said in the aftermath of the 2003 blackout.
But the 2003 blackout was caused by a breakdown in the transmission system, and the 2006 blackout by a failure in the distribution network—neither by insufficient generation. And today we all understand (hopefully) that the 2000-1 California blackouts were not caused by a deficit of power any more than Stalin’s bureaucratically-induced Ukraine famine was caused by a deficit of grain.
New York’s deregulation program was supposedly designed more cautiously than California’s. But the same measures which allow the utilities to pass increased costs on to rate-payers as a hedge against bankruptcy and chaos also hurt the consumer—canceling out the still-ephemeral savings of the “spot market” overseen by the New York Independent System Operator. This is the entity created by the PSC for the deregulation regime, which supposedly directs the cheapest power where it is needed at a given moment.
The California Independent System Operator’s own records indicate that blackouts were happening when demand was considerably below peak—indicating that supplies of electricity were being held back. Meanwhile, at the very height of the California crisis in early 2001, Kenneth Lay was meeting with Dick Cheney—who then headed the White House energy task force. The task force report, explicitly invoking “electricity shortages and disruptions in California,” called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, harnessing the oil resources of post-Soviet Central Asia, and a “renewal” of the nuclear industry. And although Cheney’s task force was not so indiscrete as to mention it, the California crisis helped set the tone for a war for oil in the Persian Gulf.
Despite growing public skepticism of the energy giants and deregulation, this dynamic still seems to be at work. Conveniently, on July 26, just as power was being restored to the last suffering residents of western Queens, blackouts hit several communities in Staten Island, leaving an estimated 16,000 consumers without power for several hours. Meanwhile, 80,000 households in Missouri and Illinois were without power after storms brought down power pylons. Right on cue, the US Senate began debate on an energy bill that would expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and seems assured of passage. The House version goes even further in removing federal controls on offshore drilling.
The Queens blackouts may not have been as contrived a crisis as that which shook California five years ago. If Con Ed was a monolithic bureaucracy under the old regime, today it is the public face of a Kafkaesque labyrinth of often out-of-state companies with no roots in the communities they now serve. While the California blackouts were the design of the out-of-state firms like Enron to make a mint and (it seems) create a political climate conducive to war and corporate resource-grabs, the Queens blackout really seems the work of the old utility that still controls the lines. But it has similar roots in the erosion of public accountability under the deregulation dogma. More ominously, it may end up helping to serve similar aims.
“Why is Con Ed having all these problems?” WABC Eyewitness News, July 21, 2006
“States pull the plug on electricity dereg,” by Eric Kelderman, Stateline.org, July 21, 2005
“What’s wrong with the electric grid?” by Eric J. Lerner, The Industrial Physicist, October-Novemeber 2003
“After the Blackout: Going Back to the Experts,” by Kate Stohr, The Gotham Gazette, Aug. 18, 2003 http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/feature-commentary/20030818/202/496
“Does the Power Kill? Balancing the Energy Environment,” by Josh Kaufman, the Queens Tribune, April 20, 2000 http://www.queenstribune.com/archives/featurearchive/feature2000/0420/
“Report Finds LILCO Payout Irretrievable,” New York State Attorney General’s Office, April 29, 1999
Public Utility Law Project
“The Real Culprit in Northeast Blackout: Deregulation,” WW4 REPORT #92, September-October 2003
“Two Counties Pull Out of Indian Point Emergency Plan,” WW4 REPORT #84, May 5, 2003 /static/84.html#nuke2
Special Issue on Enron and Energy, WW4 REPORT #19, Feb. 2, 2002
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
A Class Analysis
by George Caffentzis, Metamute
And my coyote, Virgil, said to him when he refused to take me, a living man, over the Acheron to Hell, “Charon, do not be angry, but this undocumented passage has been decided upon in the place where what is wanted always happens. So don’t ask any more questions.”
—Dante, Inferno, Canto III, lines 94-96.
Introduction: Invisible to Visible
There were more demonstrations in more places with greater participation between March 24 and May Day 2006 than any other six-week period in US history. For a number of days marches of more than half a million people overwhelmed the centers of major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Dallas, halting business, while there were literally hundreds of smaller gatherings in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Salem, Oregon; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Along with the public outpouring of bodies, there were dozens of student walk-outs in high schools around the country as well as a nation-wide immigrants’ “general strike” called for May Day that was heeded by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of workers, including truck drivers who shut down the Port of Los Angeles (one of the main supply links in the commodity trade with China, South Korea, and Japan). The demonstrators’ demands were amnesty for all undocumented immigrants and the defeat of pending draconian anti-immigrant legislation. In the process, they intermittently stopped or stalled the cycle of production, circulation and reproduction in the US for this six-week period. The slogan of these remarkable demos, whose size consistently surprised both their organizers and the authorities, became “Si Se Puede” [“Yes It Is Possible” in Spanish], implying their awareness of a new political power in the Americas.
Even though the demonstrations, walk-outs and strikes were remarkably orderly and non-violent, their harshest opponents, the anti-immigrant vigilante group called the Minuteman Project, described them as an “insurrection.” And indeed it was an insurrection, at least in a legal sense of being an “organized opposition or resistance to a government or established authorities”—because the demos were largely composed of undocumented workers, their families, friends and immediate supporters who, strictly speaking, were “illegal” and “criminals” but yet were demanding that they ought to be “decriminalized”! By their millions they spoke the words, “We are workers not criminals!,” implying that the government intent on further criminalizing them is the true criminal.
Indeed, in these demonstrations the very symbol of the US, the “stars and stripes” flag, and the one that the right-wing in the US has used insufferably—especially since 9-11—as a weapon of attack on immigrants, was overturned and subtracted from the state. If anything burned the Minutemen on May Day 2006, it must have been seeing tens of thousands of American flags in the hands of an ocean of people they called “criminal thugs” and “an invading army,” who now made it a symbol of their struggle.
Surely it is crucial for us to know what caused this political earthquake. However, every effort to find the cause of significant developments in working-class history must recognize that they are both over-determined (since they usually have multiple, often conflicting sources) and under-determined (since they always involve new powers emerging from collective actions). Bearing this caveat in mind, I will present two kinds of explanations of this emergence of the immigrant movement this year: one obvious, historical and legalistic, and the other rooted in a class analysis of the contemporary political composition of both the working class and capital in the US. Together these explanations can help us draw the landscape of political possibilities posed by the new immigrant movement more clearly.
The Obvious Cause: Immigration Legislation
It is not hard to find the obvious stimulus for the “Si Se Puede” demonstrations. You could read it announced on their banners again and again: “HR 4437,” the designation of a piece of legislation entitled “The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.” It is also often referred to as the “Sensenbrenner Act” after its sponsor, a Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. The House of Representatives passed this legislation by a vote of 239-182 on Dec. 16, 2005. The Senate passed its own immigration bill on May 25, designated S 2611—and the two bills must be “reconciled” to a common Act before it is sent on to the president for signing.
HR 4437 is what is called an “enforcement-only” bill because its conception of undocumented immigration is that of “crime control”—i.e., a crime is determined and penalties are devised to punish and “control” it. First, it defines a new legal criminal category, “unlawful or illegal presence”—which is any violation of any immigration law or regulation, even if it is a technical one. This crime would be considered “an aggravated felony,” allowing indefinite detention or expedited removal as well as the denial to undocumented immigrants of many forms of administrative or judicial review. “In essence, the bill makes every immigration violation, however minor, into a federal crime” (Justice for Immigrants 2006).
Second, “anyone or any organization who ‘assists’ an individual without documentation ‘to reside in or remain’ in the US knowingly or with ‘reckless disregard’ as to the individual’s legal status would be liable for criminal penalties and up to five years in prison.” Church personnel who provide shelter or other basic needs assistance to an undocumented individual could be prosecuted under this law and “property used in this act would be subject to seizure and forfeiture” (Justice for Immigrants 2006). Labor organizers unionizing production sites where undocumented immigrants predominate could also be prosecuted. Included in this act are also employer sanctions—i.e., it would be a crime for an undocumented person to hold a job in the US and his/her employer would be complicit in this crime.
Other aspects of this bill include:
*the Department of Homeland Security would be required to erect up to 700 miles of fencing along the Southwest border (and further militarize the 2,000-mile long border);
*“State and local law enforcement officers are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws. State and local governments which refuse to participate would be subject to the loss of federal funding”;
*“Document fraud would be considered an aggravated felony and would subject an asylum-seeker to deportation and bars to re-entry” (Justice for Immigrants 2006).
In other words, HR 4437 is the kind of law the anti-immigration movement has been calling for, one that categorizes undocumented workers as criminals to be tried, convicted, jailed and then deported—pure and simple. If enacted, the bill would transform almost every person in the US (not only police officers) into either its violators or its enforcers, or classify them as criminally complicit with its violators.
After Sensenbrenner’s bill passed the House of Representatives in late December, Congress went into recess and not much was done legislatively to deal with it, for the second step in the legislative procedure was to be taken by the Senate. However, alarm about the law spread throughout the Catholic church, the unions and immigrant rights organizations quickly over the Christmas holidays. I know from my comrades in the immigrant workers’ rights movement that, after a decade of legislative defeats, they saw HR 4437 as their endgame. If the Sensenbrenner bill became law, they intoned, they too would be headed for prison, if they continued to do their work!
Two and a half months later an amazing transformation in the immigrant communities of the US took place that could only be seen by those with religious sensibilities as miraculous. The dire message concerning the impact of HR 4437 clearly reached these communities: unless something drastic was done, the Senate would pass a similar bill and President Bush, after some griping, would sign it into law. Undocumented immigrants especially had to make an important decision: would they take the risk of making themselves socially visible to protest HR 4437 after surviving in the US on the basis of their invisibility? They decided by the millions to take the risk both individually and collectively, to publicly declare that they are workers and not criminals (and to implicitly charge that those who brand them as criminals are the criminals).
Surely this spring’s immigrant insurrection in the streets of the US stopped the political momentum behind HR 4437. The senators bitterly debated a number of immigration bills, but they decisively rejected the option of passing a copy of the Sensenbrenner bill. Many recognized that HR 4437 was so sweeping and draconian that it actually helped to unite the immigrants, especially the undocumented ones. They looked at the huge demonstrations and the May Day national strike with apprehension and determined that they must find a way to undermine the most powerful self-defined working class movement since the mid-1970s.
On May 25, the Senate passed its own bill, S2611, by a vote of 62-36. This bill, though it has a wide number of punitive measures similar to HR 4437, still offers possibilities for some of the undocumented to gain legal status.
The Senate deployed a classic strategy in this bill to defeat the immigrant workers’ new power and unity: divide and conquer. S 2611 literally divides up the present set of undocumented immigrants into three mutually exclusive subsets: (a) those who have been in the US for less than two years, (b) those who have been in the US between two and five years and (c) those who have been in the US for more than five years. Group (a) members must leave immediately on passage of the bill or face deportation. Group (b) members “must leave the country, and apply to re-enter through some currently unknown process.” Group (c) members would be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, provided they pay back taxes, learn English and have no serious criminal records.” This division, the senators clearly thought, would tempt many undocumented immigrants to turn against each other, especially those who were in Group (c). I should also make it clear that though this bill does not identify all undocumented immigrant workers with either criminals or terrorists as HR 4437 does, its other less-publicized provisions make it almost as draconian. They include:
*6,000 National Guard troops would be assigned to border duty to assist Border Patrol agents, money would be provided for aerial surveillance and the building of a 370-mile fence or wall along the Mexican border. The bill “vastly increases detention and deportation practices and further militarizes the border,” according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
*“The Senate bill also establishes guest worker programs, allowing employers to recruit workers outside the country on temporary visas. These new contract workers would be vulnerable to employer pressure, since their visa status would be dependent on their employment,” according to labor journalist David Bacon.
*“The bill makes document fraud an aggravated felony and grounds for deportation, resulting in the criminalization of the millions of immigrants who have had to provide false Social Security cards to employers to get hired,” writes Bacon.
The next step in the legislative process involves the negotiation to “reconcile” HR 4437 and S 2611. Without the “Si Se Puede” demonstrations the political initiative would have been totally in the hands of the politicians. But after May Day 2006 there is a new subject haunting the corridors of Congress: the undocumented immigrant, and this unpredicted and unpredictable presence is putting a new sense of caution in the deliberations there. There is now even hope among the immigrant rights activists that this Congressional anxiety will lead to the failure of the reconciliation process. If that happens, there would be no new immigration legislation this year, which, perhaps, is the best possible outcome, and one that would not have been possible without the “Si Se Puede” demonstrations.
Thus the specific “who, what, why and when” of these demonstrations have been explained in the above account, though the end of the story is still undetermined. In another sense, however, there is much still unexplained. For example, why are there between 11 and 12 million of undocumented immigrant workers in the US in the first place? Why is Congress so divided about immigration? How did the undocumented immigrant workers get the sense that they could become politically visible in such a dramatic way?
To answer these questions concerning the frame of the story, another, at times subterranean, path must be taken through the analysis of the classes in struggle against each other and within themselves. This is not an easy path to take, but one that the slogan of the movement—”We are workers not criminals—points us to. For the immigrants quite properly see themselves as playing an essential role in the history of the US working class.
Capital’s Dilemma: Labor Flexibility vs. Workers’ Autonomy
A class analysis of the “Si Se Puede” demos is a bit hellish because the issue of immigration, especially of undocumented workers, divides both workers and capitalists in the US. Consequently, there are many “strange bedfellows” revealed in this analysis, and even stranger victories and defeats. There is no clear inter-class cut concerning this issue, so it is important to be careful about our terms. Consider two conundrums:
(1) although the recent anti-immigrant politics is firmly identified with the Republican Party, many capitalists who normally prefer Republican positions are firmly against legislation like HR 4437,
(2) although the AFL-CIO supports amnesty for undocumented workers, many white, some black, and even a few Hispanic workers are against it because they believe that the undocumented are threats to their wages and working conditions. So one cannot simply conclude that the capitalist class is against the demands of the “Si Se Puede” demonstrators and the working class is for them. There is a complex set of conditions and dilemmas that both classes are now struggling with.
Let us deal first with the capitalists. US capital has largely been supportive of official, documented immigration since 1965 when the very restrictive immigrant laws of the 1920s were repealed and the annual quota for immigrants, especially from South America and Asia, was gradually expanded. It is, of course, no accident that 1965 was also the year of the Voting Rights Act and the legislative beginning of the end of the US apartheid regime. At the very moment that black workers were beginning to have expanded rights to contract for their labor power, capital began to increase the number of immigrants from around the world.
But capitalists do not want just any immigrant worker, at any time and any place. They want him/her to have specific skills, training, physiognomy, docility and cost. One of their most important questions is whether the immigrants can be hired and fired at the boss’s discretion and whether they can be forced to leave the country “when they are not wanted.” This is what is called “labor flexibility” and is most treasured by capitalists, since it puts in their hands the power of choosing whether to use or expel a worker. The problem with officially sanctioned immigrant workers who have various forms of work authorization is that within a relatively short time they can become resident aliens and then citizens, with all the rights of other US workers (however meager they might be). This transition reduces their “flexibility” both individually and collectively.
This situation has led to the development of an alternative source of immigrant labor—the unauthorized or undocumented worker who arrives in the US without official sanction and hence is without the contractual protections that other workers normally have. These almost right-less workers have the maximum of “flexibility” to the point that capitalists can decide fire them, not even pay them for their work and not face sanctions. Undocumented immigrant laborers have therefore been in much demand, especially by capitalists in industries where mechanization is too expensive and the available US-born workers are relatively few. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the undocumented now constitute almost 5 percent of US waged workers.
But this “labor flexibility” for the low-tech capitalist can turn into exactly its opposite, “worker autonomy,” for undocumented workers who use their very status as unofficial workers to come and go as they will, independent of the micro- or macro-conditions of employment. They can use their very undocumented situation to shape the conditions of their lives and create communities on both sides of the borders they are crossing to aid their self-activated movements. The undocumented can turn their right-less status into a power of movement. When a whole world of cross-border movement is created independent of the needs of capital, labor flexibility turns into worker autonomy.
There is evidence that this transformation is taking place in the US, and the occurrence of the “Si Se Puede” insurrection is definitive evidence of it. In that sense, capitalists are now in a situation similar to one they faced with the rise of the “hobo worker” in the late 19th and early 20th century (after “Coxey’s Army’s” march on Washington in 1894). At first, the capitalists of the West were pleased about the fact that workers were leaving (or losing) their homes and turning hoboes by using the railroads to follow the harvests (and to disperse when the fields were picked), to swarm to new mines (and to leave when the seam was exhausted), to enter the forests and fell huge trees (and disappear once the building boom was over). This was the labor flexibility they desperately needed. However, when the hoboes began to use the railroads for free to satisfy their own needs and to develop fighting organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to defend themselves, this flexibility began to turn into something ugly for capitalists, i.e., into a measure of workers’ autonomy. For example, hoboes by the hundreds would descend on an isolated mining town that had arrested IWW organizers in a “free speech” fight by hopping freights from destinations more than a thousand miles away and overwhelming the local police force.
The struggle over a strategy to preserve the hoboes’ flexibility but destroy their autonomy was fought out among the capitalists in the first part of the 20th century. Eventually, from the 1919 Palmer raids, through the railroad police attacks on hobo “jungles,” to the New Deal housing programs, a complex strategy of violence and incentives was worked out that gradually eliminated the hobo workers’ autonomy.
The capitalists in the US are having a similar dilemma now. The conflict between capitalists represented in this spring’s debates in Congress is not about the profitability of immigration, both documented and undocumented; on this they are united. Their problem is to destroy the immigrants’ labor autonomy while preserving and even more precisely controlling their flexibility. This will require a refined and, on the surface, contradictory set of policies. Once one understands this dilemma, the conflict between the congressional supporters of HR 4437 and S 2611 can be more clearly seen not as an all-or-nothing battle, but as a disagreement over how strong a dose of repression is enough to destroy labor autonomy and how enticing must the incentives remain to preserve labor flexibility. The mixture is not easy to determine and must be continually reassessed, since its subject is clearly in the process of responding to the very policies being devised, and to larger forces in the world political economy.
Surely there is much to discuss, since the empirical consequences of the passage of an HR 4437-type immigration law are hard to predict. Such a law aims to destroy the autonomy of immigration not only by criminalizing individual undocumented immigrants, but also by criminalizing the organizations that are at the center of a supportive immigrant community: the Church, the union, the local political machine, and the network of family and homeland friends and associates. The problem with such a law from the point of view of Capital is that if it were applied successfully, it would be so rigid it might destroy the capitalist function of immigration—the preservation of labor flexibility—and therefore it would be a worse catastrophe! For Capital’s problem is that workers are using immigration as a way of advancing their agenda; they are no longer being ruled by its signals generated by “the labor market.” HR 4437, by ham-fistedly conflating the categories of “illegal immigrant” and “terrorist” creates a powerful rhetorical effect that commits the system to a rigidity that can undermine its raison d’etre. After all, employers who hire the undocumented are not only greedy, but they become in the eyes of this bill the equivalent of traitors and “fifth columnists”! On the other side, if a draconian law like HR 4437 is systematically under-enforced, then the loss of control over immigrant workers would be even more drastic. Since, from the capitalists’ conception of labor power, a lazy, toothless, barking bulldog is even less effective as a herder of labor power than a scrappy terrier with sharp teeth.
The HR 4437 defenders could point out that given the economic devastation caused by neo-liberal policies in the former colonized world, the undocumented would come and take their chances even if the law were enforced to the letter. In their defense, they could point to the death ships full of undocumented “damned of the earth” paying thousands of dollars to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to work in an Italy with an immigration law (the “Bossi-Fini” law) that is even more draconian than HR 4437—and they often end drowned on the sea floor for their troubles. That is a measure of the level of despair around this planet. The pro-HR 4437 capitalists can argue that undocumented immigrants would be even more docile, frightened, and slave-like, after the law was passed, especially in the face of the obvious failure of the “Si Se Puede” insurrection’s effort.
But the role of such workers is so crucial to the functioning of the US economy at this time that many wiser heads are loath to count on an “all-stick-no-carrot” law like HR 4437. The supporters of S 2611 (including the likes of President Bush, and Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy) are claiming that their bill will be punitive enough to end the autonomy of immigration, but not so prohibitive that it will interrupt the crucial flow of immigrants into the US as HR 4437 threatens to do.
Moreover, through its complex system of dividing undocumented immigrants into three levels (creating a Divine Comedy of immigrant labor with its own inferno, purgatory and paradise), it will make enforcement of the law in the interest of workers with more than five years residence in the US. Critics of S 2611 argue in response that it is not strong enough to crush the autonomy of immigrants and that only truly draconian legislation like HR 4437 will take the initiative away from them.
The representatives of Capital have been debating these positions (and will continue to) in a very divided Congress, for the problem of immigration legislation is not one of simply stopping “illegal immigration.” The real question is how to make the condition of immigrant workers both as slave-like (i.e., to have workers without rights) and as flexible (i.e., to have no expenses of reproduction) as possible. There is an additional problem in the summer of 2006, however. In the past immigration legislation did not have to politically deal with its object: the immigrant worker. This time, due to the “Si Se Puede” insurrection, it does.
The Working Class Dilemma: Organizing Power vs. a new “Iron Law of Wages”
The “Si Se Puede” Insurrection is a great moment in US working class history. But this is not to say that every worker approves of it. On the contrary, if the opinion polls of the Pew Hispanic Center are to be believed, there is a significant segment of the working class that is against the demands of the demonstrators. Its February 2006 poll of 2,000 adults (with a large percentage inevitably being workers) found that when asked as to what should be done with the 11 to 12 million “unauthorized” immigrant workers: 32 percent want them to stay permanently; 32 percent would create a temporary-worker program; and 27 percent would deport them all.
There is plainly an intense debate within the US working class (including immigrant workers) about whether immigrant workers in general and undocumented ones in particular increase the power of workers. The two most reasonable sides of the debate are: (a) immigrant workers increase the general level of workers’ power by their prominence in the struggles around unionization, and (b) immigrant workers (especially undocumented ones) reduce wages for US-born workers, especially blacks and Latinos, and lower working class power.
The first position is the basis of much of the AFL-CIO’s support for amnesty for undocumented workers since 2000 after being against it for decades. This reversal came about because its strategists were worried about the dramatic drop in union membership in the US (from 33% in the early post-war years to about 12% today) and were desperately surveying the class horizon for some sector where there was a possibility of reversing the trend. They found it in the immigrant workers, especially the undocumented. These workers were very well disposed to unionization and were at the forefront of the biggest and most successful union battles in the late 1990s. The idea was that if these workers were given more legal security created by an amnesty, they would be able to lead a new wave of unionization similar to how the labor “upsurge” of the 1930s was lead by the immigrants who came in the early part of the century. Moreover, if they increased the power of workers at the floor of the wage labor hierarchy, they would move the rest of the world of workers into action. This “pushing up from the bottom” strategy was a calculated risk, of course, but it was based upon two well-established facts:
(1) Union workers make much higher wages and more and better fringe benefits than do non-union workers. In 2003, the union wage premium (the difference between union and non-union wages after controlling for a variety of worker characteristics such a amount of schooling) was 15.5 percent (for black workers it was 20.9 percent and for Hispanics 23.2 percent). (Yates, 2005)
(2) In workplace after workplace, the majority of non-unionized workers have expressed through surveys the desire to be unionized. That is, unionization had a demonstrable positive impact on wages and workers knew it. So what is holding back a new wave of unionization similar to the CIO drives of the 1930s? Clearly it is the fear that if you were involved a unionization campaign, you threatened your own job and (with the bosses’ threat to relocate the workplace, if it is unionized, continually drummed into your head) the jobs of your work mates. Anything that could weaken this well-justified fear would help increase the power of workers to unionize and increase their power directly in the wage arena. But this citizen worker’s fear concerning union organizing is amplified many times over for an immigrant worker, especially if s/he is undocumented. Consequently, their terror could only be countered by the legalization their status. The consequence of amnesty, the AFL-CIO thinkers reasoned, would be an increase in unionization at the bottom that would filter up the wage scale.
This position has clearly a wide resonance in the US working class as evidenced by the fact that almost three quarters of the people in the Pew Hispanic Center poll referred to above were for an alternative to large-scale deportation of undocumented immigrants. But there are clearly many who believe that immigrants have a negative impact on their status as workers, using a “common-sense economics” that resembles the “iron law of wages” in the 19th century. That old “law” postulated that there is a fixed amount of the national product that is fated to be paid in wages, called the “wage fund,” so that the more workers competing for the wage fund, the lower the wage rate. The newer version takes a more dynamic supply-and-demand form that can be found in many modern textbooks; for example, in Paul Samuelson’s Economics: “Limitation of the supply of any grade of labor can be expected to raise its wage rate; an increase in supply will, other things being equal, tend to depress wage rates” (Samuelson is quoted in Borjas 2004).
Since immigration brings in more laborers of different “grades,” they will be “chasing” the same number of jobs they are qualified for, thus reducing the prevailing wage rate for that type of job. Conversely, a sure way to increase wages, other things being equal, is simply to reduce the number of workers chasing the same job by, for example, eliminating immigrants from the chase.
This reasoning sounds obvious, however uncomfortable it is for supporters of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. George Borjas, a Cuban-born US economist, is the most famous proponent of this application of the “law of supply and demand” to the “labor market.” His research design was straightforward: he divided the waged working class into four education levels (high school drop out/high school grad/some college/college grad) and eight work experience levels, and therefore 32 cells (or “skill groups,” as Borjas called them). He then studied for each cell the wage growth and the change in the proportion of immigrants between 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000. On the basis of his findings he concluded that there is “a negative relation between wage growth and immigration: weekly wages grew fastest for workers in those skill groups that were least affected by immigration.” (Borjas 2004) More precisely, he calculated, counterfactually, what wages would have been if there were no immigrants:
“[T]he immigrant influx that entered the country between 1980 and 2000 lowered the wage by 7.4 percent for high school drop outs, by 3.6 percent for college graduates, and by around 2 percent for both high school graduates and workers with some college… Similarly, although this immigrant influx lowered the wages of white native workers by 3.5 percent, it lowered the wage of native-born blacks by 4.5 percent, and of native-born Hispanics by 5 percent.” (Borjas 2004)
He then uses a “supply and demand” model to explain the negative relation: “it seems that Paul Samuelson was right after all: Wages fall when immigrants increase the size of the workforce” (Borjas 2004).
It appears that the intuition of workers who want to decrease legal immigration and find “illegal immigration a serious problem,” is backed by theory and evidence. Do they have a point?
I do not think so. Borjas’ key finding was the negative correlation between the percentage of immigrants in a skill group and the growth in wage rates for that skill group: a low percentage of immigrants correlates with larger wage increases, a high percentage of immigrants correlates with lower wages increases. But correlation does not determine explanation. Even if his correlation holds, why it holds is still an open question.
Borjas immediately concludes that the correlation’s explanation resides in the supply and demand law of the labor market: the more workers the lower the wage rate. But there is no reason why this is the best explanation. After all, it might be that the correlation is accounted for by the fact that immigrants have fewer legal powers and rights and so in areas of the economy where they predominate, wage rates will increase more slowly than in areas where they are less in evidence. If this explanation of the correlation is best, then a major positive change in the legal status of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, would most likely end the negative correlation between wage growth and percentage of immigrant workers.
Even the common intuition that “immigrants, especially undocumented ones, take jobs Americans do not want” can explain the correlation as well. After all, if jobs taken by a specific skill group have very slowly-growing wages, this would make them less attractive to native workers and would draw in immigrant workers (especially undocumented ones), making for a higher percentage of immigrants in the skill groups in question. In other words, does wage growth determine the composition of the skill group or vice versa?
This inability to find a single, obvious best explanation arises from an obvious fact: the determination of wages is a complex matter. Changes in wage rates cannot be attributed to supply and demand explanations for a variety of reasons. The most important one is that wages are determined by class struggles whose rules are themselves the objects of struggle. We know, for example, that wages depend upon additional factors besides the number of workers, such as (a) the organizational power of workers, and (b) the “reproduction cost” of workers’ labor power. History has shown that workers who have organized themselves adequately have forced reluctant capitalists to accept minimum wage rates for a variety of jobs (as well as limits to the work day and better working conditions). The geographical dispersion of wages demonstrates that there is no given level of housework and commodities that is necessary to reproduce a worker’s labor power diurnally or generationally. The minimum reproduction costs for a particular kind of labor power is battled for throughout the circuit of a worker’s life, from factory, office or farm to the kitchen and bedroom with radically different results across the planet (and these differences constitute what we often call “culture”).
These additional elements of wage determination can explain why immigrant labor is attractive to capitalists. First, immigrant workers have less capacity to organize with other workers because of their reduced legal status and their being objects of racism or other forms of chauvinism. Second, the reproduction costs of immigrants’ labor power up until the time of their arrival (usually as adult but youthful workers) is borne by families, communities and the state of their home country. They arrive in the US literally as gifts to capital from the hands, hearts, and wombs especially of the women of Mexico and the rest of the Americas!
Another, more philosophical reason to doubt Borjas’ explanation of the correlation is due to the concept that both he and Paul Samuelson use, without comment, “the labor market.” The notion of the labor market assumes that human labor power is a thing that can be separated from its “owner” and sold on “the labor market” the way material objects (apples, coal, or automobiles) can be separated from their owners and be sold on a commodity market. Once such an idea is accepted, the rest of their explanatory scheme becomes “commonsensical.” Their ability to make this assumption without comment, however, shows how far capitalist ideology has penetrated the working class mind. For the very idea of “the labor market” is a great example of commodity fetishism and bad faith, i.e., the superstitious transubstantiation of social relations, especially conflictual ones, into simple relations among things. But one’s capacity to labor that is sold for a wage cannot be separated from one’s life, it is a part of one’s existence that is supposed to become another’s who puts it to use to make a profit. This transaction is justified by an impossible contract sealed with a mutual act of bad faith by worker and capitalist, since one cannot truly sell one’s life to another. To make the whole notion of a labor market work in law, therefore, the worker is recognized as the owner of his/her self, who can sell parts of this very self into a partial slavery to another! It is reminiscent of the famous bargain with the devil, where the devil “buys” a soul that is in actuality inalienable. This impossible, demonic and metaphysical feat lies at the heart of the concept of the labor market. The apparent “common sense” of the Borjas explanation of the impact of immigration on the wage is simply an illusion of power.
Finally, if this philosophical excursus into the working class condition is not acceptable as a critique, consider the following empirical comparison in Table 1 instead:
Table I (percentages)
All workers black workers Hispanic workers
“union premium” 15.5 20.9 23.2
“Borjas gap” -3.7 -4.5 -5
The two rows simply compare the different effects of unionization (according to Yates) and immigration (according to Borjas) on wage growth with respect to different categories of workers. The “union premium” swamps out the “Borjas gap” quite dramatically. For example, when black workers get unionized their wages tend to increase by almost 21 percent, while according to Borjas their wage loss due to increased immigration is 4.5 percent. Put in a counterfactual setting and ignoring the interaction between “the union premium” and the “Borjas gap,” these numbers result in the following: if a native black worker is involved in a workplace where immigrant workers successfully organize a union (after an improvement in their legal status) and s/he joins, his/her average wage increase would be 16.4 percent. Clearly in such circumstances, black workers would then be the winners from immigration. The same holds true, though for different wage gains, for white and Hispanic workers as well. If such an eventually appears throughout the economy, then there would be a dramatic increase in wages due to the increase in the rights of immigrant workers. One can conclude from Borjas’ work that if immigrants come to the US and have no rights they will be a drag on the wages of native-born members of the US working class, but if they come to the US, get the rights to organize and they use them, they will be an important stimulus to an upsurge of increased wages for all workers in the US!
The divided mind of the US working class expresses itself this summer in a race between the desire for legalizing undocumented immigrants, thereby freeing their capacity to organize to fight for the whole class, and the desire to deport all of the undocumented and try to force capital to stay put within the territorial US. Who will win out in this race is not clear, because the choice for a new possibility (the joining with the immigrants and undocumented) is risky and can lead to loss, if legalization ends only with increased competition between more workers. The “Si Se Puede” Insurrection demonstrated to the rest of the US working class, however, that the undocumented are ready to fight, all they need are the legal weapons to do so. Besides, the path of the Minutemen and their ilk is clearly a dead-end, since there is no likelihood that Capital would accept having its capital “stuck” in the US. If forced to choose, it would unambiguously accept the option of legalizing the undocumented over that eventuality. The question is, who will force Capital to choose?
Conclusion: The class situation in the summer of 2006
The complex inner conflicts within classes described above are the source of the indecision we are witnessing in both capital and the working class in the US in the aftermath of the “Si Se Puede” Insurrection. It is impossible for me to predict which side of the debate the preponderance of class powers will settle on, and, once that is settled, what the outcome of the inter-class conflict will be.
But what is clear is that the insurrection of the six week period between March 25 and May Day, with its deep connection to the recent revolutions against neo-liberalism in South America, is promising another kind of working class power in the US. It remains for native-born workers to cast their lot with the most disenfranchised part of their class. If they do not, though the undocumented will suffer most immediately, it is they who will seal their place in history’s Cocito, the frozen river at the bottom of Hell.
Parma, 17 June 2006
Bacon, David, “Getting No Bill At All is Better than Senate Bill,” New America Media, May 25, 2006
Borjas, George, “Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration: Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers,” Center for Immigration Studies, May, 2004
Justice for Immigrants, “Major Provisions of HR4437,” 2006
Yates, Michael, “The Statistical Portrait of the US Working Class,” Monthly Review, April, 2005
This story first appeared in Metamute
“Operation ‘Return to Sender’ sweeps Midwest; border deaths hit high,” WW4 REPORT, July 24
“Chicago: immigrant workers end hunger strike; vigil continues,” WW4 REPORT, June 5
“NYC: Mayday mobilization report,” WW4 REPORT, May 2
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
According to a communique from the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ), on July 20 a soldier supposedly with the Venezuelan army murdered six adults and a child, members of a campesino family, on the Rancho Adi estate in the Los Pajaros sector of Urdaneta parish in Paez municipality, in the western Venezuelan state of Apure. The victims were apparently shot, then sprayed with gasoline and set on fire. The FNCEZ is demanding that the government immediately clarify whether any members of the Venezuelan military were in fact involved in the incident, then launch a thorough investigation and punish those responsible. (FNCEZ Communique, July 22)
Braulio Alvarez, a campesino leader from Yaracuy and legislative deputy for the ruling Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), survived an assassination attempt at about 3AM on July 22, as he was returning from a meeting. A group of people opened fire on the vehicle Alvarez was traveling in; according to Prensa Latina the vehicle, driven by Alvarez’s son, was hit by 20 bullets, one of which grazed Alvarez’s jaw. Other sources, including Union Radio, suggest that Alvarez was driving and lost control of the vehicle during the attack, and his mouth was injured in the crash. He was treated in San Felipe, then taken to the military hospital in Caracas, where he was said to be in stable condition.
Alvarez was shot and wounded in a previous assassination attempt on June 23, 2005 [see WW4 REPORT #111]. He has been part of a special commission in the National Assembly investigating murders, torture and disappearances during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; he has also been part of a commission investigating attacks by hired killers against campesinos, indigenous people and fisherpeople. Agriculture and Land Minister Elias Jaua condemned the latest attack on Alvarez; he blamed large landholders for it and said his office would respond by speeding up land reform. (FNCEZ Communique, July 22; Prensa Latina, July 22; Diario El Dia [Coquimbo, Chile], July 23; Union Radio, July 22)
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on July 11 that the government of President Hugo Chavez Frias has set aside $10 million to compensate the families of campesino activists murdered since Venezuela’s land reform program began in 2001. Assassins hired by landowners have killed at least 150 campesino leaders, according to campesino organizations. Jaua, the agriculture minister, says the funds will be spent on projects to improve the standard of living of the victims’ families and to make sure that “those guilty of the killings pay for their crimes”. Since the agrarian reform program was launched, some 1.5 million people have received plots of land. (Green Left Weekly, July 19; PL, July 23)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 23
VENEZUELA: PRISONERS WIN STRIKE
Prisoners at seven Venezuelan prisons began a hunger strike on July 10 to demand changes to legislation that limits access to parole. Prisoners at another nine prisons joined the strike over the subsequent days, bringing the total number of prisons involved to 16. Venezuela has 30 prisons holding 18,701 people, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons (OVP). Only 43% of the prisoners are serving sentences; the rest are awaiting trial. OVP coordinator Humberto Prado said that so far this year, 150 prisoners have died violently and 350 have been wounded by firearms, sharp objects and grenades. During 2005, 408 prisoners died and 720 were wounded.
The hunger strike ended on July 14 at all 16 prisons after a group of hunger strike leaders negotiated an agreement with authorities, Interior Minister Jesse Chacon announced. Mayerling Rojas, director of human rights for the Interior Ministry, said authorities agreed to suspend article 508 of the Penal Process Organic Code, which restricted parole access, as well as to install facilities in all 30 prisons to examine prisoners, and to take over a center where psychosocial studies are being carried out on prisoners. (AP, July 15; Adital, July 12)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #123
WW4 REPORT #111
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
Thousands of civilians have been displaced and many more are trapped by fighting between Colombian government forces and leftist rebels in the southwestern department of Narino, bordering Ecuador, and in the northwestern Pacific coast department of Choco. In Narino, the fighting has forced at least 1,300 people from their homes [in mid-July]. In Choco, civilians have been killed and wounded, and people are trapped in the area and unable to flee. Most of those affected are indigenous people, including children and pregnant women. (IDP News Alert, July /20) The combat in Choco has left indigenous communities along the Truando river stranded and incommunicado. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is especially concerned about some 137 Embera indigenous people trapped there for over a week. (Adital, July 19)
In Narino, the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH) reports that at least four teachers have been killed or disappeared in recent weeks. In Samaniego municipality, Efren Alonso Motta Acosta, a teacher in the Bellavista rural school, has been disappeared since June 27. Luis Hernando Chiran, a teacher in the El Guadual rural school in Ricaurte municipality, was abducted and his body found six days later showing signs of torture. Francisco Ernesto Garcia, who taught at the El Tambillo educational center in Sandona municipality, was found dead on July 6 in an abandoned rural area along the road to Samaniego. On July 10, teacher Ivan Nanez Munoz died, hit by seven bullets, on his way to work at the Bellavista educational center in San Pablo municipality.
The CPDH Narino section also reports that the Colombian Air Force has been bombing and strafing Awa indigenous communities in Ricaurte and Barbacoas municipalities, causing massive displacement. Hundreds of people have sought refuge in the villages of Cumbas and Guadual, where they are stranded without any food or supplies. (Comite Permanente de Derechos Humanos-Seccional Narino, July 13 via dhcolombia.info)
According to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), three indigenous people have died in the bombings and combat in Narino between the Colombian Army’s 29th Brigade and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ricaurte and Cumbal municipalities. The victims include Luis Arsecio Valenzuela, a former indigenous governor of Cumbal, and another community leader, Campos Paguay. Their families have been unable to recover their bodies because the combat is continuing. Not even the Red Cross has been able to enter the area, which is being blockaded by the military. (CRIC, July 19 via Adital)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 23
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #123
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
Some 22,000 residents of the northeastern Ecuadoran province of Orellana began a “progressive strike” on June 28 to protest environmental damage by the French oil company Perenco and repression by the military. The protest began with residents of the provincial capital, Francisco de Orellana, blocking roads leading to one of Perenco’s installations and threatening to block all the roads in the province, where much of the country’s oil production is concentrated. “The number [of protesters] will grow with the actions, because the communities will no longer put up with disrespect from the government and the oil companies,” Orellana province prefect Guadalupe Llori told the media.
Confrontations between the protesters and some 300 soldiers increased after protesters seized the area around the Coca airport and blocked the roads leading to it. Llori charged the military had violated the law by entering Francisco de Orellana, where it had no jurisdiction, and using rubber bullets and tear gas “against an unarmed civilian population”; two people were wounded. “[T]he soldiers made an attempt on my life,” Llori said. “They nearly killed me when they aimed a gun at me; the truth is, I don’t know how I escaped.” Later the soldiers deployed outside Coca municipality, where residents said they detained three local people.
The protesters were demanding that Perenco leave the province and pay for the damage they say it has caused. They also wanted the military to end a “state of exception” (state of emergency) it had enforced in the province for 105 days and to release human rights activist Wilmer (or Wilman) Jimenez Salazar.
According to human rights groups, the police seized Jimenez near a Perenco facility on June 19 when he was acting as a human rights observer at a protest by some 200 local campesinos, who were blocking access. Jimenez was one of two people wounded by rubber bullets. The police turned him over to military authorities, who held him for two days before notifying his family and defense attorneys. Joint Task Force #4 commander Gonzalo Meza denied a habeas corpus petition, saying Jimenez was “encountered in a fragrant act” (an error for “flagrant act”). The army says he will be tried for sabotage before a military tribunal. (El Comercio, Guayaquil. June 28; Prensa Latina, June 29; Univision, June 28 from EFE; El Universo, Guayaquil, July 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 2
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #123
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
In the early morning of June 28 Peru’s Congress voted 79-14 with six abstentions to ratify the Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA, known locally as the Free Trade Treaty, or TLC), a trade pact Peru signed with the US in December. Some 1,000-2,000 protesters began a march in the streets of Lima to reject the TLC, which they said will destroy Peruvian agriculture and industry through competition with US products. The night before, as Congress was debating the ratification, a group of political leaders from the party of nationalist former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala pushed their way into the Congress building and forced legislators to suspend the session for a half hour.
At the June 28 march, Congress member Javier Diez Canseco, leader of the Socialist Party, said that “struggle and social pressure” were ways of attacking the accord but that he would work on legal action to have the ratification declared unconstitutional.
Other politicians pushed for legislation to mitigate the effects of the TLC. Congress has approved bills providing $171 million worth of compensation for the agricultural sector, and other measures are under discussion. Legislators from the social democratic Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP) voted for the TLC, but PAP leader Alan Garcia, who takes office as president on July 28, has promised to renegotiate parts of the accord. (Punto de Noticias, Venezuela, June 28 from AFP; Univision, US, June 28 from EFE; Prensa Latina, July 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 2
Peruvian campesinos blocked roads and held street demonstrations on July 4 to protest the TLC. In the southern city of Pisco, police used tear gas to disperse protesters who were blocking the Panamerican South highway with stones. Campesinos in the south said on July 5 they would continue an open-ended strike and road blockades to protest the TLC.
Some 500 people marched on July 4 through the center of Lima to protest the TLC. The protesters later rallied peacefully outside the bunker-like home of US ambassador James Curtis Struble, which was guarded by 1,000 police agents, while inside the complex President Alejandro Toledo praised the TLC at an event honoring US independence day. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 5 from AP; AFP, July 4; Prensa Latina, July 5; Adital, July 5) Toledo flew to the US on July 9 to begin lobbying members of the US Congress to approve the trade pact. (El Comercio, Peru, July 9)
The US hopes that AFTA will eventually include Colombia and Ecuador.
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #123
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
Thousands of Paraguayan campesinos continued to occupy estates and block roads during the week of July 17 to demand that the government of President Nicanor Duarte Frutos address the problems they face. The protests began on July 12 as part of a National Campaign for Integral Agrarian Reform.
On July 19, at least 800 campesinos from the National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (MCNOC) blocked Route 8 at a crossroads in Numi district, on the border between Guaira and Caazapa departments. Police responded with violent repression: in a communique issued the same day, MCNOC reported that eight people were badly hurt and taken to the hospital in Villarrica, Guaira, including a man with a serious head injury; 51 people were detained at the Villarrica police station, including children, a pregnant woman and two MCNOC leaders; and 200 campesinos, men and women, “were savagely tortured for more than two hours, naked, face down,” by police and possibly soldiers. (MCNOC communique, July 19 via Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales; Adital, Brazil, July 20; La Nacion, Paraguay, July 20)
The Paraguayan daily La Nacion reported that 38 people were arrested–including nine infants and children, detained with their parents–and 12 people were injured in the police crackdown at Numi. Villarrica prosecutor Perla Caceres de Bataglia issued the order to forcibly remove the protesters, and police from Guaira and Caazapa carried it out. Caceres is threatening to bring charges against the campesinos for organizing the blockade of the route, and to charge parents for allegedly using their children as “shields.”
In Itapua department, campesinos said they would blockade Route 6 in the area of Maria Auxiliadora to impede participation in a mayoral primary election for the ruling Colorado Party. Between 300 and 1,000 campesinos have been blocking Route 6 intermittently on a daily basis near the 8 de Diciembre settlement in Tomas Romero Pereira district. There have also been intermittent blockades of Route 7 in Jose Domingo Ocampos district, Caaguazu department. (LN, July 20)
Also on July 19, some 3,000 campesinos from the MCNOC marched along Route 10 in Capiibary, San Pedro department, to protest a police attack on protesters there the previous week which left several people injured. Among those hurt was Fidelina Aquino, who was eight months pregnant and lost her unborn child as a result of the attack. (LN, July 20; Prensa Latina, July 20)
Meanwhile, more than 300 indigenous people from the Mbya Guarani nation have been camped out since July 6 in the main plaza of the city of San Juan Nepomuceno, Caazapa department, demanding “land and freedom” as well as autonomy for indigenous peoples. The protesters are from Karumbey, Kokuere Guazu and other communities in Caazapa. They are also demanding the removal of missionaries from their communities. (Adital, July 21)
From Weekly News Update, July 23
The occupations began on July 12, when some 5,000 landless families invaded 20 estates owned by Paraguayans and foreigners in seven of Paraguay’s 17 departments, in a coordinated action to demand a speedy agrarian reform. “The occupation of private properties is a legitimate action; it may not be legal, but it’s the only way to get the attention of the authorities,” said Luis Aguayo, a leader of the MCNOC. (AP, July 12)
The owners’ claims to the 20 properties occupied by MCNOC members on July 12 are of “spurious origin,” said Aguayo, since the lands were “adjudicated to characters connected with the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989),” and many lack legal titles. The occupied estates are located in the departments of Caaguazu, Caazapa, Itapua, Canindeyu, Misiones, San Pedro and Paraguari. The date of the land invasion was chosen because July 12 marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of two campesinos by soldiers, Aguayo noted. (Notimex, July 12)
Aguayo said that a year ago the MCNOC presented President Duarte Frutos with a plan for expropriating large tracts of idle lands owned by foreigners. “We did the same with the legislators, but we haven’t received a favorable response, so we have no other option than to occupy the lands,” Aguayo explained. There are 300,000 landless families in Paraguay, according to Aguayo. (AP, July 12) Official statistics show that 80% of the land in Paraguay is in the hands of less than 10% of the population. (Adital, July 14)
Duarte reacted to the land occupations on July 12 by holding a meeting with Agriculture Minister Carlos Santacruz; Santacruz then announced that the government would increase a credit line for campesino cotton producers who had suffered drought losses. (Notimex, July 12)
Virgilio Barboza, chief of public order for the National Police, said his agency was implementing “dialogue as a way to avoid frictions or violent actions; through conversations with the campesino leaders we are trying to persuade them to start leaving the private properties peacefully.” Barboza said the police had managed to peacefully end two of the occupations so far.
“We won’t use force because it won’t be the solution, besides which the National Police doesn’t have enough agents to control all the invasions,” said Barboza. (AP, July 12) However, according to press reports, some 100 police agents intervened to remove a group of 3,000 campesinos from the MCNOC who were blocking a highway in Capiibary, San Pedro department. Two people were arrested and nine injured. The campesinos have camped out nearby and say they will invade other estates. (Adital, July 14)
U.S. MARINES BLAMED FOR DEATHS
On July 12, Paraguayan campesino groups and social organizations held a press conference to announce that US Marines and special groups acting as paramilitaries “are responsible for more than 30 disappearances and deaths” since April of workers and campesinos in Paraguay. “In less than three months there were more than 30 disappearances and several deaths, all at the hands of the landowners of each place,” Nicolas Barreto of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement (MCP) told the Argentine news agency Telam. (Telam, July 12)
Paraguayan armed forces spokesperson Col. Elvio Antonio Flores Servin told Telam the charges were untrue: “There is not a single US Marine here in Paraguay,” he said. But according to Barreto, “in Paraguay, the army and the paramilitary groups act in the evictions with brutal repression against campesinos, leaving people wounded, dead and disappeared, with the direct control and intervention of [US] marines. (Territorio Digital, Posadas, Misiones [Argentina], July 14)
“Recently the boy Silvino Talavera died in Itapua from toxic agrochemicals, his mother reported it and in vengeance they dismembered her brother and threw him out there so everyone could see what these people are capable of doing,” Barreto explained. That incident apparently took place in Mariscal Estigarribia, where activists charge the US Southern Command has posted a force of 2,800 Marines. In the same area, the Paraguayan government has created a Citizen Security Guard, a special group that acts as a sort of legalized paramilitary group. Barreto said the paramilitary groups recruit their members from among the children of the campesinos. When human rights groups recently called on the government to dismantle the groups, deputy interior minister Commissary General Mario Agustin Saprisa responded: “in the United States and Colombia [similar groups] exist and have had good results.”
Barreto said the violence has emerged in response to stepped-up campesino struggles. “With his announced zero tolerance policy, President Duarte Frutos militarized the struggle and gave it a framework of unusual violence,” said Barreto. “To such a point that the Marines participate in the repression and even occupy agricultural schools. That is, they act like a true occupation army.” (Telam, July 12)
“The Marines are the ones who are instructing the Paraguayan forces for repression, linking campesino organizations with terrorist cells whose existence has never been proven,” agreed Vidal Acevedo of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) of Paraguay. Acevedo said the repression consists of “a joint action to stop campesino organizations.” (TD, July 14)
The US Southern Command had permission to stay in Paraguay until the end of 2006, but Vice President Luis Castigilione announced that the permission has been extended for an additional year. In Mariscal Estigarribia, a 3,800-meter-long airstrip has been built to handle large planes. Mariscal Estigarribia is in the Chaco region of northwestern Paraguay, close to lithium mines in Argentina’s Salta province and the largest gasfields in the region, across the border in the Bolivian department of Tarija. (Telam, July 12)
The US embassy in Asuncion responded to the criticisms on July 12 with a communique, insisting that the US soldiers in Paraguay are carrying out “humanitarian and medical assistance to poor communities as well as military training,” and that the US “has no intention whatsoever to establish a military base anywhere in Paraguay.” (Agencia Periodistica del Mercosur, July 13) US Embassy press attache Bruce Clainer told Telam the accusation about the military base “is a complete myth.” (Telam, July 12)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
Weekly News Update on the Americas
“Paraguay: march against US troops,” WW4 REPORT, June 21
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
GUATEMALA: TRADE PROTESTERS SEIZE ESTATES
The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) went into effect in Guatemala on July 1 amid protests against the US-sponsored pact, which seeks to bring Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US together in a trade bloc. The agreement took effect in El Salvador on March 1, and in Honduras and Nicaragua on May 1. Costa Rica’s legislature has not yet approved the pact. (Yahoo en Espanol, July 1 from AFP)
DR-CAFTA was scheduled to go into effect in the Dominican Republic on July 1, but the implementation was delayed by a disagreement over US demands for legislation protecting industrial secrets for pharmaceutical companies. “We’re not giving in,” Marcelo Puello, Dominican assistant secretary for foreign trade, said on June 30. “The negotiating team closed this chapter, and the people in charge of implementation agree that we won’t give in on something that would be outside the text of the treaty.” (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 1)
For DR-CAFTA to go into effect in Guatemala, Congress had to meet US demands by passing an Implementation Law and by ratifying three international treaties: the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, enforced by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).
Under DR-CAFTA, 94% of Guatemala’s exports to the US will be exempt from tariffs, while 82% of US exports to Guatemala will be exempt, according to Economy Minister Marcio Cuevas. Guatemala imports about twice as much from the US as the US imports from Guatemala; in 2005 total Guatemalan exports were worth $3.378 billion, with 52.5% going to the US; Guatemala’s imports were worth $8.815 billion, with 38.7% coming from the US. Cuevas predicted that the trade pact could generate 10,000 new jobs in its first year, but Guatemalan-US Chamber of Commerce executive director Carolina Castellanos warned: “Let’s remember that the free trade pact isn’t a magic wand which goes into effect on Saturday and on Sunday we all already have jobs and are exporting.” (Yahoo, July 1 from AFP; Cadena Global, Venezuela, July 1)
On June 30 Guatemala’s National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC), the Social Organizations Collective and other groups announced plans for protests against DR-CAFTA on July 1. “The TLC [Free Trade Treaty] will submerge millions of people in extreme poverty, especially in the countryside,” CNOC leader Aparicio Perez charged. Some sectors had pushed for Congress to pass a Rural Development Law and other compensatory legislation that would help Guatemalan producers meet the competition of heavily subsidized US agricultural products, but Congress postponed discussion of the laws. (Prensa Latina, June 30, July 2) [CNOC experienced two break-ins in offices it was using in May 2005; see WW4 REPORT #110.]
Hundreds of campesinos started protesting even before July 1, occupying five government-owned estates on June 29. CNOC coordinated the occupations, which were carried out by two of its affiliates, the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the Verapaz Union of Community Organizations (UVOC). According to CNOC the estates were: La Nube, in Gualan, Zacapa department, occupied by 50 families; San Jose las Lagrimas, Esquipulas, Chiquimula department, invaded by 120 families; Santa Ines, in Santa Cruz Verapaz, Alta Verapaz department, occupied by 22 families; Sexan, in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, invaded by 80 families; El Zapotal, in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, invaded by 25 families. As of July 2 campesinos had occupied a sixth estate.
At least one of the estates, San Jose las Lagrimas, belongs to the military. According to Aparicio Perez, the occupations were also intended to protest the military, which was about to celebrate Army Day, June 30. “We reject the plundering of lands that community members suffered at the hands of the military governments during the [1960-1996] armed conflict, and today we are demanding that the lands be returned,” he said. CNOC also condemned the role of the military in the evictions of landless campesinos who have invaded estates in the past. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, June 30; PL, July 2; Yahoo Argentina, June 26)
This year the military held its first public Army Day parade in Guatemala City since the civil war ended in 1996. Some 300 human rights activists protested, shouting “Murderers, murderers” at the soldiers. The parade came as Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz was visiting Guatemala in connection with genocide charges that activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum filed against four former military officers and two civilians in 1999. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 30 from AP) [See related story, below.]
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 2
ALTA VERAPAZ: NINE DEAD IN LAND STRUGGLE
At least nine Guatemalan campesinos were reportedly killed on July 7 during an attempt by some 230 families to occupy the Moca estate in the community of Senahu in the northern department of Alta Verapaz. The health center in nearby La Tinta municipality reported that it had received at least 21 people injured in the confrontation. Police agents and representatives of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office were sent to the estate on July 8 to investigate.
According to local media and activists, the families had already occupied and been driven from the estate three times, the most recent in April. The estate has “historically been the property of our great-great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers and now us,” local indigenous leader Mateo Yat Caal said. When the families tried to invade again, the owner sent 800 workers and private security guards to stop the occupation, according to Yat. Daniel Pascual, leader of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), charged that the owner had provided the guards with arms for the attack. Local radio stations reported that the guards had automatic rifles and pistols.
Campesinos continue to occupy some 20 private estates and 10 government-owned estates to push demands for the government to distribute land to them. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 9 from AFP; Prensa Latina, July 8; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 9 from EFE)
On July 5, Constitutional Court (CC) secretary Martin Guzman announced that Guatemalan president Oscar Berger had filed for an injunction with the court to prevent a law from taking effect that would guarantee a minimum pension for about 60,000 seniors. The law is already on hold because of a suit filed by a private lawyer. A group of seniors have been participating, in shifts, in a hunger strike outside government offices in downtown Guatemala City to demand that the law be allowed to take effect. (El Nuevo Herald, July 5 from AP)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
SPAIN INDICTS GUATEMALAN EX-OFFICERS
On July 7 Spanish National Court judge Santiago Pedraz issued arrest warrants for eight former Guatemalan officials accused of genocide during a 1960-1996 civil war. The judge also issued an order to freeze the defendants’ assets. The defendants named on the arrest warrants are former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, former head of government Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, former defense minister Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, former National Police director Pedro Garcia Arredondo, former police chief German Chupina Barahona, former head of Army General Staff Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia, former governance minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and former president Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. Lucas Garcia died in May in Venezuela, but his case remains open until Spain is officially notified.
Judge Pedraz took this action after returning from Guatemala on July 1 after a one-week visit. He had expected to interrogate the defendants during his trip, but he was thwarted when they filed last-minute appeals with the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled on Oct. 5, 2005, that under the “principle of universal jurisdiction” Spain can try people for genocide or crimes against humanity, even if the crimes occurred outside Spain and no Spanish nationals were involved. (Center for Justice and Accountability press release, July 7; Adital, July 11; New York Times, July 7 from Reuters)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
HONDURAS: LENCA LEADERS ACQUITTED
On June 23, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice acquitted Lenca indigenous activists Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda of the murder of Juan Reyes Gomez. The Miranda brothers are leaders of the Lenca community of Montana Verde in Lempira department; they were arrested in January 2003 in a violent raid on the community, and were convicted of the Reyes Gomez murder in December 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last January, Amnesty International declared the Miranda brothers to be prisoners of conscience and began an international campaign to win their freedom [see WW4 REPORT #119].
Their actual release is expected to take several weeks, since the ruling must be officially certified by the Supreme Court Secretariat and must then go back through the judicial system to the appeals court in Santa Rosa de Copan and the local court in Gracias. In a June 22 press release announcing the court decision, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said the brothers’ acquittal “would not have been achieved if not for solidarity and pressure on a local, national and international level.” Human rights groups say Honduran authorities fabricated charges against the Montana Verde leaders in reprisal for their work to win communal land titles.
Another Montana Verde leader, Margarito Vargas Ponce, was released from prison on June 28. He had been jailed since January 2006. In the end he was cleared of more serious charges but sentenced by Judge Hermes Moncada of the Gracias court to three years for complicity in battery against Demetrio Reyes Benitez, one of the community’s longtime persecutors. Under the new penal code, his sentence may be served in “provisional liberty” (parole). Vargas must present himself before local judicial authorities every two months, and if found guilty of any other crime within the next five years, will have to serve time in jail for both charges.
Rights Action, a North American group working in solidarity with the Montana Verde community, reports that less than 24 hours after his release, Vargas was participating with other members of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in a struggle to defend communities’ rights, lands and development from the threat of the El Tigre binational hydroelectric dam that will flood entire communities in southwestern Honduras. (COPINH press releases, June 22, 28; Amnesty International Public Statement, June 30; Rights Action, June 23, 30; Honduras News in Review, July 3)
ATLANTIDA: GARIFUNA LEADER THREATENED
On June 22, a man entered the home of Jessica Garcia, a leader of the Honduran Garifuna community of San Juan, on the Tela Bay in Atlantida department. Garcia is the president of the San Juan Tela Patronato, a local group representing community interests to government institutions. The intruder offered Garcia money to sign a document stating that her community recognizes the rights of the private real estate and tourism company Promotur to San Juan’s communally-owned lands. When Garcia refused, the man held a gun to her head and forced her to sign the document.
The San Juan community’s attempts to win legal recognition of its territorial rights have resulted in ongoing conflicts with Promotur and its owner, Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, a powerful businessperson and Liberal Party politician. Rosenthal is one of the richest men in Honduras; according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia he owns Grupo Continental, Banco Continental, several maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export), a cement company, the Hotel Intercontinental Tegucigalpa, the El Tiempo daily newspaper and a television network. Rosenthal’s son, Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo, is currently the presidency minister under President Manuel Zelaya, and is a key investor in the Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort, a massive tourism complex planned between the Garifuna communities of Tornabe and Miami, next to San Juan in the Tela Bay. The Los Micos project is financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) and investors from Italy and Spain.
The June 22 incident was the latest in a series of attacks against the San Juan community and its leaders. Last November, the home of San Juan Lands Defense Committee president Wilfredo Guerrero was burned to the ground, with all of his possessions and the committee’s archives inside. The homes of other community members were destroyed this past March and April.
Last Jan. 14, Promotur representatives entered the community accompanied by a number of hooded men armed with AK47 semi-automatic assault rifles (which are apparently illegal in Honduras). Last Feb. 25, young San Juan community members Epson Andres Castillo and Yino Eligio Lopez were detained near Tornabe by agents of the public security forces allegedly assigned to protect the zone for the Los Micos tourism project. The bodies of the two young men were found the next day in a lagoon near the community of La Ensenada, along the Tela Bay.
The Garifuna community is demanding an investigation into those deaths, and immediate protection for Garcia. Rights Action urges people to send messages protesting the attacks against the San Juan community, urging protection for Garcia, Guerrero and other community leaders and their families, and pressing for the recognition of the San Juan community’s legal rights to their full communal territory. Messages can be sent to the Honduran embassies in the US (email@example.com) or Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org); to the Honduran special prosecutor for ethnic groups, Jany del Cid Martinez (email@example.com, fax +504-221-5620); and to the public prosecutor’s office in Tela (fax +504-448-1758). (Rights Action, June 30; Honduras News in Review, July 3 from Hondudiario, June 28, COPINH press release, June 29)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
PRIDE MARCH IN SAN PEDRO SULA
On June 18, hundreds of people marched through the streets of San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city and main commercial center of Honduras, to demand respect for gender diversity and an end to discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Ramon Valladares, one of the leaders of the march, promised that Article 60 of the Honduran Constitution, which prohibits discrimination, would be used to proceed legally against those who continue to violate LGBT rights. Valladares referred specifically to religious and political leaders who discriminate against the LGBT community. (Honduras News in Review, July 3 from Proceso Digital June 19)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
EL SALVADOR: DEATHS IN STUDENT PROTEST
On July 5, Salvadoran student protesters occupied a busy intersection outside the gates of the National University of El Salvador (UES) in San Salvador during morning rush hour to protest a $0.05 increase in bus fares and a 14% electricity rate hike. The protest held up traffic for blocks. A large group of high school students from the Francisco Menendez Institute (INFRAMEN) marched peacefully to join the demonstration, and riot police massed in preparation to break up the protest. When police violently grabbed and tried to arrest two 15-year-old students from the march, other protesters responded with rocks, while some attacked a bank ATM. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and amid the chaos a sudden volley of gunshots erupted. Two agents from the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO), an elite riot squad of the National Civilian Police (PNC), were killed by bullets, apparently from a semi-automatic, high-caliber weapon, and seven other agents were hospitalized. An undetermined number of students were wounded, and some sources reported that as many as three students were killed.
Most of the students sought refuge inside the university gates. Police helicopters then fired on protesters inside the university complex, injuring Herbert Rivas, director of multidisciplinary faculty. Police locked down the university–in violation of laws protecting the institution’s autonomy–and threatened to search its buildings and arrest anyone who remained there. Students were allowed to leave the university grounds only after being searched by police agents. According to one witness, a number of students were arrested at another police checkpoint near the university; police appeared to target students who had beards or long hair, or t-shirts with the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara or with phrases in English that the agents couldn’t understand.
Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice Alamani de Carrillo said: “I’m still waiting for a complete report, and from no point of view can one identify with the use of violence. The deaths of the agents are reprehensible, just as the increase in bus fare is reprehensible.” (Christians for Peace in El Salvador- CRISPAZ, July 7; Eyewitness report sent by a UES professor via e-mail, July 5; Message from Comunidades de Fe y Vida-COFEVI, July 5 via Adital)
The government of President Elias Antonio Saca was quick to blame the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) for the violence, although at the time of the incidents most of the FMLN leaders were in Suchitoto, 45 miles northeast of San Salvador, offering their condolences to longtime FMLN activist and Radio Venceremos co-founder Marina Manzanares for the death of her parents. (Eyewitness report sent by a UES professor via e-mail, July 5) On July 2, Francisco Antonio Manzanares and Juana Monjaras de Manzanares were brutally tortured for hours before being murdered in their home in Suchitoto. Their bodies were slashed and lye had been spread on their faces. Marina Manzanares said the family had been the target of multiple death threats in recent months. The week before her parents were killed, a box of bones arrived at their home with a note that said, “This is how you’ll receive your daughter’s bones.”
Police suggest the murder was carried out as part of a common robbery, because valuables were allegedly taken from the Manzanares home. But the killings have sparked terror in the community and rumors of a resurgence in death squad activity. “This is a crime that revisits all of the markings of the crimes committed by death squads back in the times of military dictatorship and the years of the armed conflict,” said FMLN legislative deputy Sigfrido Reyes. Alamani de Carrillo, the ombudsperson, said death squads began to resume activities in 2005; she urged the attorney general and police to undertake a serious investigation. (CRISPAZ, July 5)
On June 30, PNC agents arrested student Ricardo Gonzales Hernandez in San Salvador as he was on his way to school. Gonzales is the nephew of Frankie Flores, who represents the FMLN in California, is a member of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) International and is active with School of the Americas Watch. According to Flores, Gonzales was taking a bus to class at the Industrial Technical Institute (ITI) when he saw a group of students preparing to demonstrate over transport hikes, so he ran to catch another bus to avoid getting stuck in traffic. The bus he boarded was stopped a few blocks later by PNC special forces agents, who arrested Gonzales, claiming he had planned to commit a robbery on the bus. Flores said his nephew has never been in trouble, and divides his time between home, school and church. Flores, who lives in Los Angeles, has himself received death threats recently after writing articles about the resurgence of death squads in El Salvador. (Message from Flores, undated but probably July 1, via Resumen Latinoamericano, July 2)
At 4 PM on July 5, the Union Coordinating Committee of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS) held a press conference at its offices, pointing to the police violence at the student march as further evidence of a wave of repression against the country’s labor and grassroots movements. At 3 AM on July 6, police raided the CSTS offices without a warrant, holding CSTS press and propaganda secretary Daniel Ernesto Morales for three hours and hitting him on the head and face while demanding to know “where the weapons were.” The agents searched the offices and took equipment, cameras and $2,000 in cash. In the end they arrested Morales, supposedly because of a pistol they found in the CSTS offices, although the gun was legally registered and was at the site because it belonged to a member of the union that represents private security guards. (Centro de Estudios y Apoyo Laboral-CEAL, El Salvador, July 6) The raid took place a day after the Salvadoran government was informed that the CSTS intended to participate in a hearing before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on the government’s systematic violation of labor rights. (UnionVoice action alert, undated)
The protests against the fare hikes continued on July 7, with hundreds of people blocking major roads in and around the capital and elsewhere in the country. The protests were called by the Social Popular Bloc (BPS) of El Salvador, which represents labor, student, campesino, veteran and religious groups, among others. The BPS blames the July 5 violence on “infiltrators” trying to damage the image of the social movements. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 8)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
FMLN BLAMED FOR VIOLENCE
Fallout continued in El Salvador during the week of July 10 over the shooting death of two police agents at a July 5 student protest. Over the weekend of July 8, the police finally left the University of El Salvador campus, and 20-30 students arrested July 5 were released due to lack of evidence. On July 11, Union Coordinating Committee of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS) press and propaganda secretary Daniel Ernesto Morales was released; he had been arrested during a police raid on the CSTS office in the early hours of July 6.
Police have arrested a man they say was giving cover to the person who fired an M-16 during the demonstration, and are searching for Mario Belloso Castillo, who they claim fired the weapon. Both men have been members of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN); the ruling right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) is blaming the FMLN for the attacks and calling it a terrorist organization. The FMLN responded by condemning the use of violence at protests and pointing out that it cannot control the individual actions of its 100,000 party members.
News photos apparently show Belloso wielding an M-16 at the July 5 demonstration, but Human Rights ombudsperson Beatrice Alamani de Carrillo said on July 13 that the media footage isn’t proof that he killed the two riot agents. Alamani said the government’s only source of information–an anonymous informant–is insufficient, and only a thorough investigation will reveal who killed the agents. Alamani said “the deaths appeared to be very exact sniper executions that hit one police officer in the head and the other in the heart, to kill. This indicates that there has been a specific will to provoke this outcome.” (CISPES Update, July 13)
Meanwhile, FMLN activist Marina Manzanares Monjaras reported from Suchitoto on July 13 that she has been receiving continuing threats and intimidation since the July 2 murder of her elderly parents, Francisco Antonio Manzanares and Juana Monjaras de Manzanares. (Message from Marina Manzanares, July 13)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #123
“Latin America: protests against Israeli attacks,” WW4 REPORT, July 24 /node/2229
“Guatemalan war criminal dies a free man,” WW4 REPORT, May 30 /node/2022
UnionVoice on CSTS repression in El Salvador http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/elsalvador
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution