from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On the evening of Aug. 6, a group of masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles forced 19-year-old Mirna Isabel Santos Thomas from her home in the Honduran Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, in the Caribbean coastal department of Atlantida. Santos’ body was found the next morning along the road leading to Triunfo de la Cruz and La Ensenada, several kilometers away on the other side of the town of Tela. The latest killing comes amid a wave of repression directed against the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, which is resisting plans to build tourism projects on Garifuna ancestral lands in the Tela Bay area.

Messages protesting the killing and demanding a thorough investigation and punishment of those responsible can be sent to the Honduran embassies in the US (embassy@hondurasemb.org); to the Honduran special prosecutor for ethnic groups, Jany del Cid Martinez (janydelcid@yahoo.es, fax +504-221-5620); and to the public prosecutor’s office in Tela (fax +504-448-1758). (Rights Action, Aug. 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 20


Some 1,500 indigenous residents of the Honduran departments of Intibuca and Lempira blocked the Pan American Highway for 10 hours on July 25 to express opposition to the construction of El Tigre hydroelectric dam and to demand the repeal of the 1998 Mining Law, which permits strip mining and gives foreigners a concession to operate mines in up to 34% of Honduran territory. The protesters also demanded that roads between Gracias, Lempira department, La Esperanza, Intibuca department, and Marcala, La Paz department, be paved, along with the highways in southern Lempira and Intibuca.

Dozens of drivers lined up for 10 hours as they waited to proceed on the highway, which connects Tegucigalpa with San Pedro Sula, and hundreds of travelers had to walk 5 km to get buses. Despite the inconvenience, the travelers expressed support for the demonstration. “They’re in the right, the whole people has to unite,” Rosenda Villatoro told a reporter as she tried to get to Tegucigalpa. The demonstration dispersed about an hour and a half after some 100 riot police arrived. Police spokesperson Silvio Inestroza told Associated Press that “some of the protesters are threateningly armed with machetes.”

The protest was organized by the Civic and Democratic Alliance, made up of over 15 environmental groups, and was backed by local priests and some mayors. “All of us residents of Intibuca are united. We do not want the El Tigre dam in San Antonio. We are not protesting for ourselves but for future generations,” said Julio Gonzalez, a local leader.

According to official statistics, the mining companies pay the national government $0.25 cents for each hectare that they mine, and pay 1% of their $100 million annual income to local municipal government. The mining industry accounts for $65 million in exports and generates more than 5,000 jobs. (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, July 26; BBC News, July 26; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 25 from AP; La Prensa, Managua, July 24 from AP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


On Aug. 12 Honduran president Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement with the Federation of Teachers’ Organizations (FOMH) ending a strike by 61,000 teachers that had kept 2.5 million children out of school since Aug. 1. The agreement increases the teachers’ base monthly pay by about $55 over three years, from $298 in 2007 to $353 in 2009; with the addition of international funding for an educational social program, the government says the national budget for teachers’ salaries will be 7.212 billion lempiras (about $379.5 million) a year. As of 2010, the teachers’ salaries will rise with annual increases in the cost of living as established by the Central Bank, currently ranging from 5 to 9%. “We’re happy,” FOMH spokesperson Edwin Oliva told a press conference, “even though we only won 80% of our demands.”

Some 20,000 teachers from 18 departments gathered in Tegucigalpa to carry out numerous protests for the nearly two weeks the strike lasted. They protested at the presidential offices, the National Congress and the education and finance ministries, and twice tried unsuccessfully to occupy the Toncontin de Tegucigalpa international airport. The government initially refused to negotiate unless the teachers ended the strike. Cost-of-living increases are mandated by the Law of the Teacher, passed at the beginning of the 1990s, but the government insisted that paying the increases would make the fiscal deficit soar and violate an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Aug. 4 teachers blocked two entrances from Tegucigalpa to the Northern Highway for five hours; they ended the protest peacefully after the government agreed to start talks. But violence broke out on Aug. 9, when thousands of teachers blocked access from Tegucigalpa to the Southern Highway and part of an avenue in the capital. The teachers confronted police agents and soldiers with clubs, stones and containers filled with water, while the government forces used tear gas and bullets. Some 50 people were injured, but apparently the injuries weren’t serious. (Reuters, Aug. 4, 9; Prensa Latina, Aug. 8; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Aug. 10 from EFE; Miami Herald, Aug. 12 from AP; La Prensa, Honduras, Aug. 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 13


On Aug. 23, four unidentified assailants murdered Alex Flores Montoya and Mercedes Penate de Flores, activists with the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), near their hometown of Coatepeque, in Santa Ana department, El Salvador. The married couple were driving on the highway from Coatepeque to the city of Santa Ana when the assailants stopped their vehicle, got inside and forced them to exit the highway. Flores and Penate were made to lie face down on the road before being killed, each with a single shot to the head.

David Linares, FMLN coordinator for Coatepeque, said it was “difficult to speculate” about possible motives for the double murder, but “for the fact that they were shot in the back of the head, we can dismiss the motive of a simple robbery. It seems more like some kind of execution.” Flores was the FMLN adjunct municipal coordinator for Coatepeque, and had been a candidate for the post of legal representative (sindico) in the last municipal elections. Penate was an FMLN activist and had been a candidate for the Coatepeque municipal council in the 2000 elections. (EFE, Aug. 24; Diario Latino, El Salvador, Aug. 25)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 27


Some 5,000 Salvadorans rallied outside the Economy Ministry offices in San Salvador on July 24 after marching from Amayo, 52 km north of the capital, to protest the high cost of living, the government’s granting of mining concessions, and the construction of El Cimarron dam in the northern department, Chalatenango. The “March for Dignity and Life” was organized by campesinos in 22 northern communities and was backed by the Popular Social Bloc (BPS), various religious organizations, and mayors and legislative deputies from the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Entire campesino families took part in the march, which started on July 22.

FMLN activist Silvia Cartagena said mining would “continue to poison what water remains for the people, and with the construction of the highway, entire communities will be displaced.” The US government’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) is expected to fund a highway through northern El Salvador; critics say it will only benefit the mining and electric companies in the region. (MCA is a 2002 initiative to “support economic development and reduce poverty” in developing countries.) Representatives of the marchers met with Economy Minister Yolanda Mayora de Gavidia to present their demands. On July 22 De Gavidia and Environment Minister Hugo Barrera announced that they were sponsoring legislation to step up environmental requirements for companies applying for mining concessions. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, July 22, 23, from ACAN-EFE; El Nuevo Herald, July 23 from AP; Terra El Salvador, July 24 from EFE; USAID website, http://www.usaid.gov/espanol/cuenta.html)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Four municipalities in the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango held an unofficial referendum July 25 on mining operations. Voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question: “Do you accept the [current] concession or any other concession or activity for mining metals in our municipality, whether for reconnaissance, exploration or mine operation?” According to the organizers 2,584 people voted in Concepcion Huista, 2,815 in Todos Santos Cuchumatan, 2,650 in San Juan Atitlan, and 2,123 in Colotenango. Organizers expected the vote to be overwhelmingly against the concessions. Colotenango mayor Arturo Mendez Ortiz said the choice was taken to the people in accordance with laws on indigenous rights and home rule. The final results will be reported to the Energy and Mines Ministry, the Congress and other governmental agencies, according to legislative deputy Victor Sales of the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, July 26)

On July 28 a group of 32 seniors announced the suspension of a liquids-only hunger strike they had been carrying out in shifts since June 5 to protest efforts to overturn a law guaranteeing a minimum pension. The strikers, aged 60 to 95, suspended the action after President Oscar Berger agreed to hold a meeting with them on July 31 to discuss their demands. The seniors threatened “more drastic” actions if the meeting was unsatisfactory. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Latin America: protests against Israeli attacks,”
WW4 REPORT, July 24

“Gold Mine in Guatemala Faces Indigenous Resistance ”
WW4 REPORT, #114, October 2005


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


“BIONOIA” Part 5

Biopreparat: Biowar on Steroids, Soviet-Style

by Mark Sanborne

Earlier installments in this series focused primarily on the US role in secretly researching, developing, and disseminating biological warfare agents through both tests and accidental releases, as well as deliberate attacks on plant, animal and human populations. However, the US is not the only bogeyman in the bionoia closet. In a little-noticed sideshow to the Cold War’s conventional and nuclear arms races, it turns out the Soviet Union actually outstripped Washington’s efforts on the biowar front, building a vast military-industrial complex that churned out deadly “weaponized” pathogens on a staggering scale.

This is not exactly a state secret. In fact, for those who follow such matters, the extent of the Soviet program (which continues in reduced and mysterious form in post-communist Russia) has been widely known and commented on since the 1990s. Discussed less—if at all—is the related question of what the US itself was doing in this field during the heyday of the Soviet effort in the 1970s and 1980s, after both countries signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, outlawing such weapons. But for now we will focus on what the Russians were up to, since it is a fascinating and frightening story that continues to have repercussions today.

The USSR began its biological warfare research in 1928, and the pace of the program picked up leading into World War II in the face of active Nazi and Japanese biowar threats. It has been reported by Ken Alibek (about whom more shortly) that the Red Army employed air-dispersed tularemia or rabbit fever against the German troops besieging Stalingrad in 1942-43, which infected many of the enemy but also spread to Soviet troops and civilians. However, a 2001 article in the journal Military Medicine argued that the epidemic was more likely a result of natural causes exacerbated by the complete breakdown in public health infrastructure. (“Natural causes” certainly seems more likely in this instance than it does in the case of the tularemia outbreak that occurred at a 2005 anti-war rally on the Washington Mall, as discussed in Part 1.)

In the post-war period through the early 1970s, the Soviet military mirrored the American biowar program by successfully weaponizing and mass-producing such “classic” bioagents as smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax, tularemia, brucellosis, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. Such weapons could be delivered on the battlefield via artillery, bombs, tactical missiles, and manned or drone spray planes. But the Russians also developed an even more scary “strategic” option: They reportedly designed a version of their new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with MIRVs (Multiple Independently-targeted Re-entry Vehicles) that can deliver multiple nuclear warheads from a single missile to different targets—to carry smallpox, plague, and anthrax to cities on the other side of the world. (Though the US pioneered MIRV technology, it’s unclear if it ever developed its own version of biowar ICBMs.)

In 1973, ostensibly as part its compliance with the recently signed Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Moscow reorganized its clandestine efforts and formed an entity called Biopreparat under the government’s Main Microbiological Industry Agency. Biopreparat’s mission was to prepare against biological threats, both natural and man-made, by developing vaccines and other drugs. While officially a civilian agency, it worked closely with the military, and “Biopreparat” ultimately became a useful and catchy shorthand for the entire Soviet biowar complex.

At its peak, by some accounts, Biopreparat employed some 30,000 scientists and staff, while another 10,000 worked directly for the Soviet Defense Ministry. Other estimates run to a total of as many as 100,000 people working at an archipelago of up to 50 labs, pharmaceutical factories, research institutions, and test facilities spread across the entire Soviet Union. About half of the people were said to work on the “defensive” side—developing vaccines and other treatments against disease—while the other half worked on the offense, using the emerging science of genetic engineering to develop new versions of old germs and viruses.

Under the terms of the BWC, signatories were permitted to maintain small stocks of biological agents only “for prophylactic, protective, and other peaceful purposes.” The Soviets drove a veritable tank through that “defensive research” loophole. While the US has played the same deceptive game, the scope of its biowar efforts were considerably more modest, at least in terms of their physical scale and the funds devoted to them. As in other arenas of military and scientific competition with the West, the Soviets made up for their technological shortcomings with unlimited manpower, and the brute force of mass industrial production: biowar on steroids.


Virtually all that we now know about Biopreparat has come from defectors, two of whom we know about. The first was Vladimir Pasechnik, a top Biopreparat microbiologist who defected to Britain in 1989. He put a scare into British intelligence, and subsequently the CIA, by informing them that Moscow’s biowar program was 10 times bigger than Western experts had thought and had developed “strategic” contagious biological weapons. More specifically, he asserted that as director of the Institute of Ultrapure Biopreparations in Leningrad he presided over research that led to the development of a variety of plague resistant to antibiotics

As a result of Pasechnik’s revelations, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President George HW Bush pressured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to open up his country’s biowar facilities to inspection. A joint US-UK team was allowed to tour four key Biopreparat facilities in 1991, but were greeted with cleaned-up labs and sterilized production facilities as well as denials from Soviet officials.

“This clearly was the most successful biological weapons program on earth. These people just sat there and lied to us, and lied, and lied,” a British inspector told writer Richard Preston, who relayed the account in a March 2, 1998, New Yorker story, “The Bioweaponeers.” Another inspector said: “If Biopreparat was once an egg, then the weapons program was the yolk of the egg. They’ve hard-boiled the egg, and taken out the yolk and hidden it.”

The second key insider was Ken Alibek (born Kanatjan Alibekov), the deeply disillusioned first deputy director of Biopreparat, who defected to the US in 1992. He spent several years being debriefed by and advising military and intelligence officials, and ultimately wrote a book, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told From Inside by the Man Who Ran It (Random House, 1999), which introduced the American public to the story of Biopreparat. In addition to becoming a resident media expert on bioterrorism, he is currently president of AFG Biosolutions, where one of his projects is aimed at developing affordable anti-cancer therapies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Alibek is generally regarded as a reliable source by Western experts, at least when he is talking about things he has direct knowledge of. And he appears to know a lot, as he was more of a hands-on scientist than a government functionary. For one thing, he personally helped develop the Soviet’s most potent form of weapons-grade anthrax – dubbed Alibekov anthrax. He also has some scary stories to tell. The hands-down scariest one involves the fate of a colleague of his, Dr. Nicolai Ustinov, who worked at a major Biopreparat facility called Vector, located outside Novosibirsk in western Siberia.

As related in Preston’s article, Ustinov had been studying the deadly Marburg virus, a close cousin of the better-known Ebola virus, when he pricked his finger through his biocontainment suit with an infected needle. (Like Ebola, Marburg originates in Africa. It is known from Kitgum Cave near Mt. Elgon in Kenya, though Alibek suspects Soviet agents obtained their sample from the outbreak that gave the virus its name, which occurred in 1967 among workers handling infected monkeys at a vaccine factory in Marburg, Germany.) Ustinov was isolated and fell ill within days, and began keeping a scientific diary of his hemorrhagic disintegration as blood began seeping from his orifices. Within two weeks he was dead.

“The final pages of Dr. Nikolai Ustinov’s scientific journal are smeared with unclotted blood,” Preston writes. “His skin developed starlike hemorrhages in the underlayers. Incredibly—the Vector scientists had never seen this before—he sweated blood directly from the pores of his skin, and left bloody fingerprints on the pages of his diary. He wept again before he died.”

The story ends even more macabrely, if that’s possible. Supposedly, researchers froze Ustinov’s liver and spleen and a quantity of his blood, and used it to keep the viral strain alive, dubbing it Marburg Variant U, for Ustinov. (It’s not clear if he would have appreciated the honor.) They then learned to mass-produce it as a coated, inhaleable airborne dust that could drift for miles. According to Alibek’s account, a test “found that just one to five microscopic particles of Variant U lodged in the lungs of a monkey were almost guaranteed to make the animal crash, bleed, and die. With normal weapons-grade anthrax, in comparison, it takes about eight thousand spores lodged in the lungs to pretty much guarantee infection and death.”


Marburg and Ebola are bad enough, but at least they are known and presumably naturally occurring viruses. (Some people, of course, have doubts even about that.) Even more controversial is Alibek’s claim that Soviet researchers in the early 1990s had studied using recombinant DNA to create so-called chimera viruses, named for the mythical Greek creature made up parts of various animals. Specifically, he said Biopreparat had separately succeeded in splicing genetic material from Venezuelan equine virus and Ebola into smallpox.

While a number of Western experts scoffed at such claims when they were made, in the years since chimera viruses have become a major new tool in medical research, particularly for vaccines. (Just plug “chimera virus” into Google and see all the medical paper hits you get.) Biopreparat researchers at Obolensk, near Moscow, have published scientific papers on two examples of such gene-splicing. One involved altering the Francisella tularensis bacteria that causes tularemia so that it produces beta-endorphins that boosted thresholds of pain sensitivity in infected mice, changes that in humans could make it difficult for the disease to be diagnosed. Another involved the creation of a bioengineered anthrax that both made it harder to detect and resistant to the existing anthrax vaccine.

Further evidence comes from another Russian emigre from Biopreparat, but one less well-known than Pasechnik and Alibek. Serguei Popov came to the West around the same time as Alibek but attracted little attention until his research was cited in Alibek’s book. An article by Mark Williams in the March-April 2006 edition Technology Review, an MIT publication, titled “The Knowledge,” included an interview with Popov. He talked about the high-manpower and low-tech approach needed to perform gene sequencing in the primitive days of the early 1980s:

“We had no DNA synthesizers then. I had 50 people doing DNA synthesis manually, step by step. One step was about three hours, where today, with the synthesizer, it could be done in a few minutes – it could be less than a minute. Nevertheless, already the idea was that we could produce one virus a month 
. If you wanted a hundred people, it was hundred. If a thousand, a thousand.”

As Williams notes, “It is a startling picture: an industrial program that consumed tons of chemicals and marshaled large numbers of biologists to construct, over months, a few hundred bases of a gene coded for a single protein.” He also observes that such work could be done easily today with second-hand gene-sequencing equipment available over eBay for around $5,000. But perhaps the most frightening thing in the article is this:

Into a relatively innocuous bacterium responsible for a low-mortality pneumonia, Legionella pneumophila, Popov and his researchers spliced mammalian DNA that expressed fragments of myelin protein, the electrically insulating fatty layer that sheathes our neurons. In test animals, the pneumonia infection came and went, but the myelin fragments borne by the recombinant Legionella goaded the animals’ immune systems to read their own natural myelin as pathogenic and attack it. Brain damage, paralysis, and nearly 100 percent mortality resulted: Popov had created a biological weapon that in effect triggered rapid multiple sclerosis. (Popov’s claims can be corroborated: in recent years, scientists researching treatment for MS have employed similar methods on test animals with similar results.)

Whew. And if that wasn’t enough, Williams cites a transcript of a 2003 speech by George Poste, former chief scientist at SmithKline Beecham and chair of a US Defense Department bioterrorism task force. Poste recalled attending a recent biotech conference on the subject of memory-boosting agents: “A series of aged rats were paraded with augmented memory functions… And some very elegant structural chemistry was placed onto the board… Then with the most casual wave of the hand the presenter said, ‘Of course, modification of the methyl group at C7 completely eliminates memory. Next slide, please.'”


Meanwhile, time has marched on for Biopreparat, and now it is trying to remake itself as a profitable vaccine a pharmaceutical concern. In the late 1990s in supposedly became a “joint-stock company,” though publicly the Russian government says it has reduced its controlling stake in Biopreparat to 51 percent, and it has not been determined who controls the other 49 percent.

At the same time, as uncertainty over the safety of Russia’s remaining bioweapons complex continues, the US DoD has budgeted $61 million in fiscal 2006 under its Cooperative Threat Reduction program to help secure facilities in six countries: Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. (The US does not yet have such programs in five other former Soviet states that have biowar facilities: Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.)

One in site in particular need of security and clean-up is Vozrozhdeniye (“Rebirth”) Island in the Aral Sea, which is currently split between Kazakh and Uzbek territory. Up until 1992, when Russia’s then-President Boris Yeltsin ordered the closure of all offensive biowar programs, Vozrozhdeniye had been the main testing site for bioagents developed by Biopreparat, and so the island was impregnated with residue from virtually every pathogen in the Russian arsenal, and is considered the world’s largest anthrax burial ground.

There is a certain urgency behind US funding and expertise being used to “remediate” the island’s poisoned soil, because soon it will no longer be an island. The Aral Sea continues to shrink due to the diversion of water for agricultural projects, and there already is a virtual land bridge to the mainland, making it harder to secure the facility at the same time that toxic sludge may be leaching downward and outward into the spreading sands. It would appear that this is a US foreign aid project that we can all get behind.

In the end, perhaps the most surprising thing about Biopreparat is the apparent total ignorance Western governments had of the program’s vast extent before the revelations of Pasechnik and Alibek. This would seem to represent one of the most critical yet under-reported intelligence failures in recent US history. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe that with all of the Pentagon’s spy satellites focused on Soviet military-industrial installations—along with other evidence, like the anthrax leak at a Biopreparat facility near Sverdlovsk in 1979 that killed hundreds—no one on the US side had a clue what was going on.

Whatever the explanation, US biowarriors weren’t exactly sitting on their hands during the period when Biopreparat was going like gangbusters. The Americans were busy, but they went about their business with a smaller footprint than their Soviet counterparts. Nevertheless, Moscow assumed that Washington did in fact have its own offensive biowar establishment hidden from sight, which was how the leaders of Biopreparat justified breaking the Biological Weapons Convention to the extent that they did.

So what were “we” up to in those carefree days of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s? Stay tuned…


“Tularemia, Biological Warfare, and the Battle for Stalingrad (1942-43),”
Military Medicine, Vol. 166, No. 10, October 2001

“Support to Threat Reduction of the Russian Biological Weapons Legacy:
Conversion, Biodefence and the Role of Biopreparat,”
by Roger Roffey, Wilhelm Unge, Jenny Clevström and Kristina S Westerdahl,
Swedish Ministry of Defense, April 2003

“The Bioweaponeers,” by Richard Preston
The New Yorker, March 9, 1998

“The Knowledge: Biotechnology’s advance could give malefactors the ability to manipulate life processes
—and even affect human behavior,”
by Mark Williams, MIT Technology Review, March/April 2006

“Germs on the Loose,” by Eileen Choffnes
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2001, pp. 57-61

See also:

“Bionoia,” Pt. 4 WW4 REPORT #121, July 2006

“Central Asia to Revive Soviet Water Diversion Scheme,”
WW4 REPORT#. 58, Nov. 4, 2002


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

Continue Reading“BIONOIA” Part 5 


from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Aug. 16, members of the Shipiba indigenous community of Canaan de Cashiyacu seized nine oil wells operated by the Maple Gas Corporation in Maquia district, Ucayali province, in the Peruvian Amazon region of Loreto. The Shipiba are protesting the failure of Maple Gas to fulfill accords it signed a year ago, and demanding that the company now leave the area.

Robert Guimaraes of the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) said the company’s unfulfilled promises include payment for the use of the land and programs to monitor the health of the population. The Shipiba say Maple Gas never obtained authorization of any kind from their community to operate in the area, in violation of Peruvian law and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Maple Gas Corporation general manager Guillermo Ferreyros claims that studies done by the Loreto Regional Health Department showed no signs of environmental or health contamination in Canaan de Cashiyacu. In addition, Ferreyros said the land was valued by the National Appraisal Commission at 58,000 nuevos soles ($17,907), while the Shipiba communities are demanding $20 million. (Adital, Aug. 21; Cadena Peruana de Noticias Radio, Aug. 16)

But a study by the group EarthRights International, cited in an August 2005 report from the Regional AIDESEP Organization of Ucayali (ORAU), concluded that Maple Gas “has caused serious environmental, social and cultural contamination” to the Shipiba community of Canaan de Cashiyacu. According to EarthRights International, the local Cachiyacu River “has rainbow colored reflections and a smell of hydrocarbons,” indicating “it is not appropriate for human consumption.” The company barred the community from planting crops in their own territory, resulting in nutrition problems, and the study also found that Maple Gas employees had treated residents badly and had sexually abused local women, resulting in many cases of sexually transmitted diseases. A high percentage of the population also suffers from pneumonia and diarrhea, and several community members have died while suffering severe abdominal pains. (Report from ORAU, Aug. 1 posted on EarthRights International website)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 27


Alan Garcia Perez was inaugurated on July 28 as president of Peru for a five-year term. He narrowly won a runoff election on June 4 against nationalist-populist candidate Ollanta Humala Tasso. It is the second term for Garcia, who served as president from 1985 to 1990. At his inauguration before the new Congress, he announced an “urgent” plan to reduce government spending. Among other things, the plan would cut at least 800 jobs and slash the salaries of the country’s more than 17,000 high-level officials. The president’s monthly salary would be reduced from $13,000 to $5,000, and legislators’ salaries would go from $10,000 to less than $5,000. (AP, July 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Peru: Ollanta Humala charged in ‘dirty war’ atrocity,”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 23


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On July 29, thousands of Venezuelan campesinos and supporters marched in the city of San Felipe, capital of Yaracuy state, to demand land reform and protest attacks on campesino leaders. The March for Dignity, Peace and Against Terrorism was headed by Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. It was called in response to the July 22 assassination attempt against campesino leader and legislative deputy Braulio Alvarez. (AP, July 29)

The “Joel Sierra” Regional Human Rights Committee Foundation, based in the Colombian department of Arauca, has reported that four of the seven campesino family members murdered on July 20 on the Adi ranch in La Victoria, in the western Venezuelan state of Apure, were Colombians—including a five-year-old boy. The ranch is located close to the border with the Colombian municipality of Arauquita, in Arauca department. The massacre was apparently carried out by a member of the Venezuelan military. (Fundacion Comite Regional de Derechos Humanos “Joel Sierra,” undated, via Adital, July 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Venezuela officially became the fifth full member of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc on July 21 at a summit held July 20-21 in Cordoba, Argentina; the new member will have full voting rights by 2010. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay are the other full members; Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are associate members. The presidents of all member nations except Colombia, Ecuador and Peru attended the summit, as did Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz, who had tended to avoid summits recently.

With the addition of Venezuela, Mercosur has a combined market of 250 million people and a combined output of $1 trillion in goods and services annually, according to Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula advocated bringing more Latin American nations into the bloc as full members. He noted that “no one’s talking anymore” about the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a hemispheric trade bloc the US wanted to have in place by 2005; negotiations towards a meaningful FTAA stalled in late 2003. “Who knows?” Lula said. “We could come to have a Merco-America and not just a Mercosur!”

Other business at the summit included the announcement of an accord for greater exchange of goods between Mercosur nations and Cuba through tariff reductions and a promise that neither side will arbitrarily hike import fees or taxes; the inclusion of Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay in plans for a natural gas pipeline from Argentina to Venezuela; acceptance of an Argentine-Venezuelan proposal for a Mercosur development bank; the announcement that a Mercosur parliament will begin holding sessions in Montevideo by the end of the year; the signing of a trade accord with Pakistan; and a commitment to continue trade talks with Israel, while calling for an immediate halt to Israel’s offensive in Lebanon. The summit also formally supported Venezuela’s bid for one of the two Latin American seats on the United Nations Security Council.

The Mercosur summit brought criticism from pro-US commentators. Venezuela’s entry should be a “wake-up call” for US officials who have been focused on the Middle East rather than Latin America, warned Michael Shifter of the Washington, DC-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Mercosur is becoming “an effort to try to build and consolidate an alternative alliance to US-backed free trade policies,” he told Associated Press. “So, have the Mercosur countries all gone bananas?” Peruvian-born commentator Alvaro Vargas Llosa, son of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, asked in a Washington Post op-ed. “Yes,” he answered. (Inter Press Service, July 21; CBS News, July 21 from AP; Upside Down World, July 24 from OpenDemocracy; WP, July 28)

Unions, non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups held an alternative Summit for the Sovereignty and Integration of the Peoples in Cordoba July 17-20. Its final declaration denounced the FTAA and militarization, demanded a withdrawal of US troops from Paraguay and of United Nations troops from Haiti, and opposed ratification of a Mercosur trade pact with Israel. (Adital, July 18; Campana Continental contra el ALCA, July 20)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug 8


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Chavez does Damascus,”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 31


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Aug. 4, a group of more than 500 organized indigenous Colombians from the municipalities of Jambalo, Caloto, Toribio and Caldono in Cauca department began occupying the Zulema estate in Caloto in what they call a process of “recovery and liberation of mother earth.” On Aug. 6, the mayor and municipal procurator of Caloto arrived at the estate and tried to persuade the indigenous community to go into town for talks on the situation; the community responded that the talks could happen on the estate. Later in the day, agents of the National Police arrived and stayed for several hours. On Aug. 8, three truckloads of agents from the notoriously brutal Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the National Police arrived and set up camp at the nearby El Japio estate, which was occupied last Oct. 12 by a group of Nasa indigenous people. [It is not clear whether the Nasa communities are continuing to occupy El Japio estate]. (Messages from Nietos de Manuel Quintin LameAug. 4, 10, both via Colombia Indymedia)


On July 24, a group of 10 displaced families seized La Victoria estate in Silvania municipality, Cundinamarca department, to demand they be resettled there. The Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER), a government agency, had resettled the families on the Los Colorados estate in nearby Jerusalen municipality on June 10, 2005, but the families consider Los Colorados inadequate because of the poor quality of the soil and the absence of drinkable water in the area. INCODER has taken possession of La Victoria for the resettlement of displaced families, but has refused to grant it to the families from Los Colorados. The families hope their occupation of La Victoria will pressure INCODER to let them stay. The mayor of Silvania has ordered them removed by force. (Message from Desplazados, July 26 on Colombia Indymedia)


In Florida municipality, Valle del Cauca department, on Aug. 4 a group of hooded armed men forced 64-year-old Rosa Tulia Poscue Ortiz from the vehicle in which she was traveling in the Triunfo Cristal Paez [Nasa] indigenous reservation. Hours later she was found stabbed to death. On Aug. 6, an unidentified armed group stopped 67-year-old campesino Jose Olmedo Pillimue as he was driving a bus from Villa Pinzon, on the same reservation, toward the town center of Florida. The assailants killed Olmedo with three bullets to the head. The army has also been carrying out bombings on the reservation. (Message from Indigenous Authorities of Florida Municipality, Aug. 9 via Colombia Indymedia)

Luis Evelis Andrade, director of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), said that 32 indigenous people were murdered in Colombia in the first six months of 2006. In the same period, 28 indigenous people were forcibly disappeared, 5,731 were displaced by violence from their ancestral territories, 33,000 properties belonging to their communities were attacked by armed groups, and more than 63,000 indigenous people were trapped within their own territories, stranded by combat or paramilitary blockades. (Prensa Latina, Aug. 9)


At 5 AM on Aug. 9, International Indigenous People’s Day, five hooded armed men arrived in the rural village of Altaquer, in Barbacoas municipality, in the southwestern Colombian department of Nariño. Selecting their victims from a list, the paramilitaries abducted five Awa indigenous people from the homes where they were sleeping, took them outside the village, made them lie face down on the ground and executed each of them with a bullet to the head. The victims were Jairo Ortiz and teacher Adelaida Ortiz, both from the Las Vegas indigenous reservation; Marlene Pai and Mauricio Urbano, both from the Chagui reservation of Chambuza; and Jesus Moran, a former council member and former indigenous governor. They were among a group of some 1,350 indigenous people who had taken refuge in Altaquer and Ricaurte after being forced to flee their reservations in Narino on July 11 due to military operations in the area. The National Police and the Colombian Army have permanent posts in Altaquer and Ricaurte. (Coordinador Nacional Agrario, Aug. 9)

Later on Aug. 9, indigenous former congressional deputy Gerardo Jumi asked the United Nations to spearhead an investigation into the possible participation of Colombian government forces in the massacre. Jumi told the press that state security forces control the area where the massacre took place, and that the paramilitary group that killed the five Awa accused them of being supporters of the leftist guerrillas. (Prensa Latina, Aug. 9)


On Aug. 2 in the Serrania de PerijĂĄ region of the northern Colombian department of La Guajira, indigenous Wiwa campesino Roman Vega Nieves disappeared after heading out from his home in the Loma del Potrero community to go work on a nearby farm, La Mina. On Aug. 3, a day after his wife reported his disappearance, the National Army’s Juan Jose Rondon Mechanized Cavalry Group 2 reported that a “terrorist” from the Marlon Ortiz unit of the 59th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been killed in combat on Aug. 3 at a site known as La Mosca camp, in the municipality of Jagua del Pilar. Witnesses said they had seen armed men with military uniforms take Vega away, and on Aug. 4 Vega’s wife identified her husband in photos as the man who was allegedly killed in combat. He had been dressed in an olive green t-shirt and was buried as “no name.” At least nine Wiwa community members have been killed in similar circumstances since July 2004. (Actualidad Etnica, Aug. 4 via Colombia Indymedia; Article by Adriana Matamoros Insignares, Aug. 4 via Colombia Indymedia)

In another recent incident, a hired killer shot to death Wayuu indigenous street vendor Martin Edgardo Galvan Arpushana in the center of Riohacha, capital of La Guajira. Galvan tried to escape, but the killer followed him into a nearby business and finished him off before fleeing on a waiting motorcycle driven by an accomplice. (Guajira Grafica, Riohacha, July 5-20, via Colombia Indymedi)

Representatives of the Catholic Church meanwhile are blaming a blockade by paramilitary groups for the death of 17 indigenous children from hunger and tuberculosis in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of northern Colombia. The paramilitary groups are not allowing food or medicines to enter the region. (Vanguardia Liberal, Juy 29 via Colombia Indymedia)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 13


On July 7 in Bogota, Colombia, two agents of the Metropolitan Police arbitrarily detained and physically abused and tortured 14-year-old Duvier Daniel Villazon Pinto. Villazon is the son of Kankuamo indigenous leader Imer Villazon Arias, who had come to Bogota from his native Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region to carry out efforts on behalf of his community, displaced by violence.

The attack against the younger Villazon took place in the afternoon as he was talking with a friend in the Santa Lucia neighborhood. The agents handcuffed the boy to their motorcycle and dragged him at high speed for several blocks. When they stopped, and Villazon tried to look at the motorcycle’s license plate number, the agents got angry and repeated the torture. One agent also hit Villazon repeatedly on the head with his helmet. Eventually the agents took Villazon to the local police station (Immediate Attention Center, CAI), where he was released without charges. Three months earlier, when Villazon was in a store in the Gustavo Restrepo neighborhood of Bogota, agents from the neighborhood CAI had held a gun to his head and forced him to leave. (Corporacion Juridica Humanidad Vigente, July 17 via DHColombia.info)

The Kankuamo people have been active in protesting the presence of military troops and bases on their reservation in the Sierra Nevada region of Santa Marta, in violation of their indigenous autonomy. They are also demanding the right to make decisions about large-scale development projects in the region, such as a planned hydroelectric dam in Besotes. (Adital, July 2)


On July 23, two hired killers traveling in a taxi shot to death union activist Jorge Guillen Leal at his home in the Coviba neighborhood of Barrancabermeja, in the northeastern Colombian department of Santander. Guillen had worked for the past 10 years at the Fertilizantes de Colombia S.A. company and was a member of the Sintrainquigas union, which represents workers in the chemical, agrochemical, gas and related industries. He served on the union’s governing board until last year.


On July 19, in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, troops from the Colombian army’s Mobile Brigade No. 15 murdered campesino Luis Angarita in the rural community of El Limon, Teorama municipality. Residents say the army killed the young man as he was on his way to work as a laborer on a nearby farm. The troops then dressed Angarita in camouflage and displayed him as a “subversive” killed in combat, although there is no rebel presence in El Limon. In a similar incident last June 5, army troops murdered campesinos Jose Guver Lopez and Jose Ortiz and presented them as leftist rebels killed in combat. The community has protested the killings and other human rights abuses committed by the Colombian army in the region, including numerous arbitrary detentions. (Asociacion Campesina del Catatumbo, July 26 via Colombia Indymedia)


On July 12, more than 2,000 people–some 700 families–displaced by violence from various parts of Colombia began a protest encampment in the central park of Bosa, one of 20 localities within the capital, Bogota, to protest the government’s failure to address their basic needs. On July 20, with no response to their demands, five of the displaced people buried themselves up to their necks in front of the Bosa mayor’s office. On July 15, police agents tried to break up the encampment and disperse the protesters; several people were injured. Police tried again to break up the protest on July 26. (Periodico El Turbion, published by Movimiento por la Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo-MODEP, July 23 via Servicio Prensa Rural; Message from Desplazados posted July 26 on Colombia Indymedia)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Colombia: UN sees crisis for indigenous peoples,”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 24


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

During the week of Aug. 14, some 500 indigenous Guarani people began an occupation at the Parapeti station of the Yacuiba-Rio Grande gas pipeline (GASYRG) near Charagua, in the eastern Bolivian department of Santa Cruz, to demand that the Transierra company pay the Guarani people $9 million in exchange for allowing the pipeline to operate on their land. Transierra agreed in a 2005 accord to provide that amount to benefit the Guarani people; the company says the funding was to be distributed over a 20-year period, and it has so far provided $255,887.

Transierra is co-owned by the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras, the Spanish-Argentine oil company Repsol and the French company Total. The protest is organized by the Assembly of the Guarani People (APG). On Aug. 19 the protesters seized a control station at the facility, but so far they are only maintaining a symbolic occupation and have not shut down production.

On Aug. 21, the APG met with Bolivian government authorities and proposed that Transierra pay $4.5 million by Aug. 25, with the rest of the money due in five years. After five hours of meetings, in which a Bolivian government commission met separately with the APG and the company, Transierra manager Marcos Beniccio announced he would discuss the APG’s demands with the firm’s shareholders and the World Bank, which is financing the pipeline.

On Aug. 22, two truckloads of activists arrived to reinforce the occupation, and the APG said it would continue to hold the Parapeti station until at least Aug. 25, when talks with Transierra and the government of leftist indigenous president Evo Morales Ayma were set to resume. (Europa Press, Aug. 22; AP, Reuters, Terra Brasil, Aug. 22)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 27


On Aug. 6, Bolivian president Evo Morales Ayma presided over a ceremony in the central plaza of the southern city of Sucre, Bolivia’s historic capital, marking the start of sessions for the Constituent Assembly elected on July 2. The Assembly will have the task of rewriting Bolivia’s Constitution over the next year.

“Our natural resources have been looted, they must never again be surrendered to the transnationals,” Morales told a crowd of thousands attending the event. “This assembly must have all the powers, it must even be above Evo Morales, because its mission is not to reform the Constitution but to re-found the country, overcoming centuries of discrimination against the indigenous people,” said Morales. “I will subordinate myself and fulfill what it says.”

A majority of the 255 members of the Constituent Assembly are indigenous, and the body’s president is Silvia Lazarte, a prominent Quechua campesina leader from the Chapare region of Cochabamba department. Addressing the crowd, Lazarte noted the double discrimination faced by indigenous women, even within their own social organizations. (AP, Aug. 6) Lazarte was among some 100 leaders arrested in a police raid on campesino coca growers (cocaleros) on Jan. 19, 2002; she was one of the last two leaders released on bond a month later, on Feb. 20. The case apparently never went to trial. (AP, July 31)

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera laid out four challenges facing the Assembly: overcome political inequality to build a multicultural state; develop a community-based development model; modify the “economic structure” which has forced Bolivia to rely on exporting raw materials; and preserve the unity of the country while granting greater autonomy to each of its nine regions. (AP, Aug. 6)

Morales’ party, the Movement to Socialism (MAS), has 137 of the 255 seats in the Constituent Assembly; according to the rules laid out in the law convening the Assembly, two thirds—170 votes—are needed to approve changes to the Constitution. The second-largest bloc in the Assembly is the right-wing Social Democratic Power (Podemos) coalition, with 60 seats. Morales has said that the MAS will negotiate with other groups, but not with Podemos. The Constitution the Assembly drafts will have to be approved by voters in a referendum. (El Nuevo Herald, Aug. 5 from EFE)

Among the throngs attending the inaugural event were thousands of representatives of indigenous and campesino organizations from around the country who held their own parallel grassroots assembly in Sucre on Aug. 4, followed by a march on Aug. 5 to hand in their proposal to the Constituent Assembly. The groups included the Only Union Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers (CSUTCB), the Chiquitana Indigenous Organization (OICH), the Coordinating Committee of Ethnic Peoples of Santa Cruz (CEPESC), the Bartolina Sisa National Federation of Bolivian Campesina Women (FNMCB-BS), the Landless Movement (MST) and the Assembly of the Guarani People, among others. (Bolivia Indymedia, Aug. 5; La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 5)

On Aug. 2, Morales handed over 50 tractors from Venezuela and more than 2,000 land titles at a ceremony in the village of Ucurena, in Cochabamba department, where Bolivia’s first agrarian reform decree was signed on Aug. 2, 1953. Thousands of campesinos attended the event marking the start of the Morales government’s “agrarian revolution.” Morales said campesino organizations have suggested shutting down Bolivia’s Congress, which on July 31 failed to accelerate legislation on the confiscation of unproductive privately held agricultural land. “I’m not asking to close Congress, but Congress must respond to the demands of the campesino movement,” Morales warned. (AP, Aug. 2; LJ, Aug. 1) Morales held a similar ceremony on June 3 in the city of Santa Cruz to announce the land reform program.

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 8


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #123, July 2006

“Bolivia: conspiracy against constitutional reform?”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 14


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



The “Big Wedding” and Its Sinister Offspring

Book Review:

The Big Wedding: 9-11, The Whistle Blowers and the Cover-Up
by Sander Hicks
VoxPop, New York, 2005

by A. Kronstadt, The Shadow

In the months after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, American society experienced an eclipse of reason, during which George W. Bush was given a blank check to transform government in his own image. Abominations like the USA PATRIOT Act went through Congress with no more than a whimper of meek opposition. It would have been considered positively unpatriotic to question whether putting the entire emergency management system under the hegemony of the Department of Homeland Security bureaucracy was really a good idea. It was not until the governmental fiasco in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that this question was finally answered. Only now are people beginning to realize that in the days, indeed in the hours after the World Trade Center was destroyed, certain completely unproven notions were imprinted upon our minds. (I use the word “imprinted” in the same sense that scientists use it in describing how experiences of baby animals determine their behavior for life.) For a little while there, the horror of September 11 and the deliberately manipulated imagery reduced the American populace to the status of infants—unable to comprehend, picking up the concepts, the language itself, from the grownups, those in power.

One hope for getting Americans out of their post 9-11 trance is that a large number of independently-produced and published documentaries and books are being generated by dedicated and patriotic researchers and investigators that reveal more truth behind the events of September 11, 2001. One such book is The Big Wedding: 9-11, The Whistle Blowers, and The Cover-Up, authored by Brooklyn-based investigative journalist Sander Hicks. The title of this engrossing work is based on a code-word alleged to have been used by some of the 9-11 terrorists referring to the attack, but which could also be interpreted as referring to the conjugal bliss that the U.S. government has enjoyed with Islamic fundamentalism.

In The Big Wedding, Hicks develops a thesis, based on interviews with ex-intelligence operatives, many of whom were involved in, or in close proximity to “black ops,” i.e., covert criminal operations carried out by government agents. Hicks’ informants in The Big Wedding are a rogue’s gallery that includes a diamond smuggler, pedophile, and Egyptian double agent. These unsavory characters provide Hicks with information that he weaves into a story where there are no boundaries between the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI), US intelligence, and Islamic fundamentalists, perhaps including those involved with the 9-11 attacks. Hicks bases many of his contentions on information that is common knowledge.

The marriage between these forces was brokered by members of the Reagan administration to counter the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. Pakistan had always been a good Cold War ally of the US and our enemies, the Soviets, were close to Pakistan’s arch-enemy India. Pakistani intelligence helped create and later served as a partner to the ultra-orthodox Islamic fundamentalist Taliban militia, at the behest of the US. The Afghan Mujahideen rebels, precursors to the Taliban, fought against a succession of secular, pro-Soviet regimes in Afghanistan, and were joined by foreign forces, including Osama bin-Laden and other Saudis. [Years of infighting after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 led to the Taliban taking power in 1996—Ed.]

Financial backing for the Mujahideen was funneled in through front companies of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a Pakistan-based institution originally touted as a source of capital for poorer nations, but which evolved into a kind of state-within-a-state in Pakistan, heavily overlapping with high-ranking personnel with the ISI. BCCI was mentioned as a link between the Bush and bin Laden families in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11, which showed that Bush crony James Bath acted as an intermediary for money transfers between Saudi moguls, including [Osama’s late half-brother] Salem bin-Laden, and some Bush enterprises, via BCCI majority shareholder Sheik Khalid bin Mafouz. But Hicks points out that BCCI was also an instrument used by US and Pakistani intelligence agents to hook up deals with arms merchants and supply the Afghan Mujahideen with weapons to fight the Soviets.

Although BCCI collapsed in the early 1990s, the basic infrastructure of money laundering and arms dealing created by the US and Pakistan to aid the Islamic fundamentalist cause in Afghanistan has continued to exist, and Hicks contends that it was this infrastructure that financed the 9-11 attacks. As evidence for this, Hicks points to a key event on Oct. 9, 2001, that the US media failed to mention, but reported by the Times of India and Agence Presse France, whereby a middleman, acting on behalf of Pakistani intelligence chief General Mahmood Ahmad, wired $100,000 to purported 9-11 terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta the day before the September 11 attacks. Ahmad was dismissed from his post as the head of the ISI in October 2001, due to his alleged ties to the Taliban and Pakistani Islamist groups.

Ahmad’s dismissal came at a time when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had publicly renounced his government’s past links to the Taliban and pledged Pakistan’s support for Bush’s War on Terrorism. One could speculate whether or not the Times of India report on the ISI chief’s role in 9-11 was a piece of Indian propaganda, but the links between US intelligence, the ISI, and Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are incontrovertible common knowledge.

The Big Wedding includes an interview with sleazy diamond merchant turned FBI informant Randy Glass, who says that, in June of 1999, he participated in a sting operation that involved meeting Pakistani arms dealer R.G. Abbas at the Tribeca Grill, a pricey New York restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. According to Glass, also at this meeting was Diaa Mohsen, an Egyptian arms dealer who had introduced Glass to a number of key terror figures who Mohsen knew on a business level. Subjects discussed at the Tribeca meeting included sales of anti-aircraft missiles and heavy water which Pakistani nuclear weapons researchers wanted in order to manufacture plutonium. However, at a certain point in the conversation, Glass says, Abbas pointed to the Twin Towers and told him: “Those towers are coming down.” Glass states that he tried desperately to inform his FBI handlers and later, Senator Bob Graham, about the plot he had gotten wind of, but the information was ignored, if not actively suppressed. The sting operation, called Operation Diamondback, concluded in June 2001, with Mohsen and a few others convicted on several counts of money laundering and violation of arms export laws. Mohsen was sentenced to only 30 months, though he violated Federal anti-terrorism laws and should have received a much stiffer penalty.

Another figure in The Big Wedding is Delmart Vreeland, who had worked as a spy for the Office of Naval Intelligence and, while in jail in Canada in the summer of 2001, prepared a series of notes describing potential terrorist targets of which he had knowledge, demanding to have them passed on to U.S. and Canadian authorities. Vreeland claims to have run across a document passing through Russian intelligence circles, stating that there would be an attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001. Hicks includes evidence to vouch for Vreeland’s intelligence credentials, but unfortunately, Vreeland comes across as being crazy. Hicks does not deny that many of his informants are so, and indeed out-and-out criminals—but these are the most suitable types for the “black ops,” in which they were able to pick up information on the most nefarious acts of the United States government. Hicks told The Shadow: “Intelligence agents can out-criminalize criminals. There are no archbishops in espionage. You don’t have to like these people, you just have to find corroboration.”

One of Hicks’ intellectual precursors in contending that double agents working for the both United States government and Islamic fundamentalist forces were at the bottom of the September 11 attacks is Daniel Hopsicker, author of Welcome to Terrorland: Mohammed Atta and the 9/11 Coverup in Florida. In The Big Wedding, Hicks focuses closely on Hopsicker’s research regarding Huffman Aviation and its training school in Venice, Florida. Three of the four supposed 9-11 pilots learned to fly at Venice Municipal Airport, where Huffman is based, and a fourth trained at the neighboring Florida Flight Training Center. In Welcome to Terrorland, Hopsicker outlined the role of Huffman’s owner Wally Hilliard in making the aviation company’s Venice airfields available as resources for government-sponsored drug dealing, which allowed the Mujahedeen to remain self-sufficient.

Hopsicker paints a picture of Mohammed Atta when he was at Huffman in Venice and in the nearby Florida Keys, that is a little different from the devoted true believer who appears in the 9-11 Commission report. Atta comes across as a cynical carouser who loved alcohol and parties, and seems to fit the profile shared by a number of Egyptian double agents that have simultaneously served the interests of Western intelligence and Islamic fundamentalism. Hicks compares Hopsicker’s Atta with Emad Salem, the Egyptian double agent who acted as a government informant and instigator in connection with the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

In The Big Wedding, Hicks lambastes the 9-11 Commission, which he describes as a group of ten Washington insiders, and its report, which he accuses of ignoring anomalies, such as the fact that the 9-11 attacks took place on a day when there were three large-scale air-defense drills in progress, immobilizing any Air Force resources that might have responded effectively to the incidents. The indisputable fact that this “stand-down” was in progress on 9-11 has become a key piece of evidence for 9-11 skeptics, whether they be of the “they let it happen” or the “they made it happen” school of thought.

In addition to his journalism, Sander Hicks is among the pioneers of a nascent 9-11 Truth Movement. Although this effort unites independent thinkers of the left, right, and center, its members share a common distrust of the official conspiracy theory, whereby “the enemy” attacked America just because they hate our freedom. Another pioneer of this movement is Nicholas Levis, a coordinator of the 2006 Summer of Truth campaign in New York. Levis and Hicks, as well as the many thousands of Americans who have become inquisitive about the real sequence of events that led to the events of September 11, share a common distrust of the motives of the US government, not just about its competence.

Levis told The Shadow: “I have come to the conclusion that this was an orchestrated event, that there was facilitation within the US government; even though they may have used found elements, namely the Islamic fundamentalists, I don’t buy incompetence when it is this persistent. Bush, Rumsfeld, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General [Richard] Myers and General [Montague] Winfield [of the National Military Command Center] all found reasons not to be active on this day. Then there was [Strategic Command chief] Admiral [Richard] Mies, who was running the overall set of air defense war games under the umbrella of Global Guardian. Some of these exercises, like Vigilant Guardian and Vigilant Warrior, appear to have used the scenario of multiple domestic hijackings and crash bombings, and this on the day when it actually happened. The evidence indicates that all of this was deliberately intended to confuse a response. The inaction by the head men in the military chain of command indicates intent.” Levis added: “When the old Iran Contra crew is back in power after a stolen election, what do you expect? They committed all of these kinds of crimes already in the ’80s, but they needed an enabling event before Americans would support multiple invasions and the transformations we’ve seen since September 11.”

On the subject of motive, Sander Hicks told The Shadow: “If you want to know why, look at the statements published by the Project for the New American Century in 2000.” PNAC is the neoconservative Washington think tank founded in 1997 by William Kristol, which includes as members Richard Armitage, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. In 2000, PNAC issued a position paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” which includes the following ominous line, referring to the difficulty of implementing their right-wing agenda: “…the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.” The 9-11 Truth Movement people are quick to interpret the PNAC document’s oddly tacked-on phrase “a new Pearl Harbor” as a prefiguration of 9-11.

Two things are certain. First, that the “new Pearl Harbor” did indeed happen on September 11, 2001. Second, that Bush used the horrific events of that day to justify and blunt the opposition to the subsequent US invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. More and more people in America are coming to the conclusion that this cannot be a coincidence. The 9-11 Truth Movement, whose foundations are being laid by people like Hicks, Levis, and others (including investigators at The Shadow), is united by incontrovertible evidence that some in government had the intention and ability to arrange an incident that would turn the public’s head just long enough to let them achieve their stated and published goals. Those of us who have seen the first threads of the “big lie” come loose have a responsibility to unravel the remainder of this fabric of deceit and to convince people to take political action.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sander Hicks is now running for governor of New York: As he explained to the SHADOW: “I’m running for governor because most New York State folks are progressive, and neither party represents that. Most New Yorkers are pro-peace and anti-death penalty, but [NYS Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Elliot] Spitzer was rabidly pro-Iraq invasion, and he’s pro-death penalty. He ignored a 2004 poll that showed 66% of the state wanted him to investigate all the anomalies around 9-11. Not listening to a majority is grounds for immediate termination of his public office. Spitzer has got to go.”


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2006 edition of The Shadow


9-11 Truth

Let’s Roll 9-11

Total 9-11 Info

Summer of Truth

Sander Hicks website

“India Accuses Ex Pakistan Spy Chief Of Links to US Attacker: Report,”
AFP, Oct. 12, 2001, online at Bill St. Clair’s 9-11 Timeline

“Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,”
Project for the New American Century, 2000

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

Continue ReadingJIHAD, INTELLIGENCE & 9-11 


The Labor Crisis Behind the Electoral Crisis

by David Bacon, TruthOut

NACOZARI, Sonora – Just days after conservative candidate Felipe Calderon declared himself the winner of Mexico’s July 2 presidential election, the Mexican federal labor board lowered the boom on striking miners. At Nacozari, one of the world’s largest copper mines, just a few miles south of Arizona, fourteen hundred miners have been on strike since March 24. On July 12 the board said they’d abandoned their jobs, and gave the mine’s owner, Grupo Mexico, permission to close down operations.

Under Mexican labor law, during a legal strike a company must stop production. The use of strikebreakers is illegal, and no enterprise can close while workers are on strike. By ruling that there was no legal stoppage, and that Grupo Mexico could therefore close the mine, the board gave the company a legal pretext to fire every miner.

The closure was a legal fiction. In the days that followed, mine managers began soliciting applications from workers for jobs when the mine reopens. Some of the very miners who were terminated may be accepted back as new employees – but with no seniority and no union contract. And not everyone will be going back. Those most active in the strike are on a blacklist.

On the day of the announcement, Sonora governor Bours Castelo issued arrest warrants against 21 strikers. The two striking local unions offered to sit down with the company to work out a solution to the conflict, but Bours Castelo responded that the union contract no longer existed. “Negotiations are no longer possible,” he declared, “since the union no longer has any bargaining relationship with the company.”

These were the latest efforts by Mexico’s outgoing conservative Fox administration to force an end to a labor war that has rocked the country for six months, a war that has the beneficiaries of Mexico’s privatization land-rush worried. It is no coincidence that Fox moved quickly to crush the strike once Calderon, his hand-picked successor, declared himself elected, in the midst of accusations of fraud and huge demonstrations demanding a recount.

Unions in the country’s mines and mills are determined to roll back the conservative economic reforms of the past two decades. A victory by Calderon’s opponent, former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, would increase the political pressure for such a rollback. According to the country’s wealthy elite, however, Mexico must be brought back under control instead.

Last April steel workers stopped work at the huge Sicartsa steel mill in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, and have occupied it since then in a plantĂłn, or tent city. Local police tried unsuccessfully to stop their strike on April 20, shooting and killing two union workers, Mario Alberto Castillo Rodriguez and Hector Alvarez Gomez. Miners at Mexico’s other huge copper mine at Cananea went on strike in June.

Nacozari and Cananea are both owned by Grupo Mexico, which in turn belongs to one of the country’s wealthiest families, the Larreas. The Sicartsa mill belongs to Grupo Villacero, which is the family business of the wealthy Villareal clan. Both families owe their enormous wealth to the wave of privatization that transformed the Mexican economy in the 1990s, in which they were virtually given their mines and mills.

Grupo Mexico’s board of directors now includes directors of Kimberly Clark Mexico (the family business of US Congressman James Sensenbrenner, author of last year’s anti-immigrant bill HR 4437) and the Carlyle Group (whose board included President George Bush Sr.). In the 1990s, Grupo Mexico’s mushrooming capital gave it the resources to buy one of the United States’ oldest and largest mining companies, American Smelting and Refining Co.

Rich Mexicans haven’t been the only beneficiaries of privatization. Union Pacific became the owner of the country’s main north-south rail line, and immediately discontinued virtually all passenger service, as railroad corporations did in the US. When new private owners moved to boost profits and cut labor costs, Mexican rail employment dropped from over 90,000 to 36,000.

In Cananea, workers struck against the Larreas in 1998 over similar workforce cuts, meant to make the privatized mine more profitable. Their strike was lost, and 800 people were blacklisted. Many of those displaced, in Cananea as well as other enterprises stripped of workers by economic reforms, left for the US.

Mexico’s ports were privatized in the same wave. Companies like Stevedoring Services of America, Hutchinson and TMM now operate the country’s largest terminals. The impact on longshore wages was devastating. In Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas, the two largest Pacific coast ports, a crane driver made about $100-$160/day before privatization. Today they make $40-$50.

Low wages have become a magnet attracting US and other foreign investors. In mid-June, Ford Corporation, already one of Mexico’s largest employers, decided to invest $9 billion more in building new factories. Meanwhile, Ford is moving to close at least 14 US plants, and laying off tens of thousands of workers.

In this election year, popular discontent with the impact of these reforms reached record levels. Fox, a former Coca Cola executive, sought to reassure Mexico’s new elite that the government would continue protecting them. But ensuring the continuation of a favorable investment climate requires control of an increasingly angry workforce, and the old methods no longer work. Mexican employers themselves are discarding the social contract, in which unions once had a place at the table so long as they didn’t upset it. Corporations like Grupo Mexico and Grupo Villacero want no unions at all.

Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, head of the Mexican Union of Mine, Metal and Allied Workers, says, “They think we’re like a cancer, and should be exterminated. This is no longer a country that can be called a democracy.” Gomez Urrutia is one of the main reasons why Fox and his corporate friends look at labor with new eyes. And the effort by Fox to remove him from his union’s leadership was the flashpoint that set off the last few months of conflict.

When Fox pushed hard to reform the country’s labor laws, at the behest of the World Bank, Gomez brought even conservative unions into a coalition that finally spiked his proposals. Fox liked it even less when the miners’ union helped kill his proposal to tax workers’ benefits.

Gomez Urrutia was elected union general secretary in 2001, and right away began to push hard against declining conditions for miners. Taking advantage of world record copper prices, he won 6-8% wage increases, twice those dictated by government austerity policies. He forced open the doors of the elite Technological Institute of Monterrey, where 700 workers and their children now study. He won better housing.

But all hell broke loose when 65 miners died on February 19 in a huge explosion in the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in the northern state of Coahuila. Horrified by the deaths, the union found that workers on the second shift had complained of high concentrations of explosive methane gas in the shafts the evening before the accident. “They told us that welding was still going on, even after the failure of some electrical equipment,” he charges. At 2:20 AM., after the start of the third shift, the gas ignited in a huge fireball.

Two days after the explosion, Gomez Urrutia accused the secretary of labor and Grupo Mexico of “industrial homicide.” Fox filed corruption charges against him less than a week later. Labor Secretary Francisco Xavier Salazar Saenz, with support from Grupo Villacero and Grupo Mexico, appointed Elias Morales, an expelled leader, to replace him. Under Mexican labor law, the labor secretary can use a legal procedure to choose a union’s leader, regardless of what the union’s members themselves decide.

So when Labor Secretary Salazar tried to replace him, workers re-elected him twice, and then struck the Nacozari pit and the Sicartsa mill. And when work stopped at Cananea, on the hundred-year anniversary of the uprising there that started the Mexican Revolution, miners announced they too wouldn’t resume work until Gomez was reinstated.

In a July report, the National Human Rights Commission found that the local office of the federal labor ministry had “clear knowledge” before the accident of the conditions that would set off the explosion. In 2004, labor safety inspectors found 48 health and safety violations in the mine, including oil and gas leaks, missing safety devices, and broken lighting. Although Grupo Mexico was given an order to fix the illegal conditions, no inspection was carried out to ensure the company had done so until February 7, twelve days before the explosion.

Lack of enforcement continues. Since the accident, eight miners in other mines have died in accidents. By August, Labor Secretary Salazar had still not paid the families of the dead miners at Pasta de Conchos the legally required indemnity for their deaths. Salazar owns two companies that supply chemicals to Grupo Mexico’s zinc refinery in San Luis Potosi. The bodies of almost all the dead miners are still in the mine, yet to be recovered. Even Cahuila’s governor, Humberto Moreira Valdes, accused Salazar’s local representative of corruption, and Salazar himself of responsibility for the disaster.

Miners’ union activists accuse Gomez Urrutia’s would-be replacement, Elias Morales, of belonging to the same cabal. When he was in charge of the union’s bargaining, Morales negotiated an infamous “productivity agreement” with Grupo Mexico, which led to big company profits and big cuts in income for copper miners. That led to his expulsion. Responding to pressure from Grupo Villacero, Morales recently called on authorities to force workers at Sicartsa to end their strike. In response, Miners Local 271, the strikers’ union, challenged him to come speak to the workers themselves, and accused him of hiding in his office in the labor ministry.

Most Mexican unions say the charges against Gomez are bogus, and have organized huge demonstrations to protest. They say the government has done the same to other unions, like those for airline and bus employees, which challenged its policies.

The same day Fox’s labor board announced it would allow Grupo Mexico to fire the Nacozari miners, his administration also issued arrest warrants against six other mine union leaders and raided the union’s national office in Mexico City. Facing the threat of closure at their own mine, the union local at Cananea then voted to end their strike, although they continue to demand Gomez Urrutia’s reinstatement. At Sicartsa, the strike goes on.

In the meantime, however, Gomez and his family fled Mexico. In July, Fox formally asked Canada for his extradition.

Mexicans headed for the polls in the middle of this turmoil. While Fox was trying to seize control of the miners, Lopez Obrador, candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), told the press: “There will be no intervention in the life of the unions. Workers can freely elect their own leaders.” But Grupo Mexico and Grupo Villacero poured money into Calderon’s campaign, funding commercials predicting chaos if Lopez Obrador was elected. Images of violence on national TV from Oaxaca and Michoacan dovetailed with corporate-funded commercials for the PAN’s Calderon.

On July 2, the official count gave Calderon a 200,000-vote lead among more than 40 million votes cast. Mexico’s most progressive unions (including the miners) then called for a recount, after accusations of fraud threw the tiny margin into doubt. Huge national demonstrations are now making the same demand, and tent encampments of protestors have thrown traffic into chaos on Mexico City’s broad main avenue, The Reforma.

Whether or not Lopez Obrador and the PRD win a recount, this labor conflict will continue. The day Grupo Mexico announced it was firing the Nacozari miners, an anonymous spokesperson for Scotiabank, one of Mexico’s largest, told Reuters that Mexican business welcomed the action. “This sets a precedent, so the workers will think harder,” he threatened.


This story first ran in TruthOut, Aug. 8

See also:

“Mexico: army mobilized to Oaxaca,”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 25

“Mexico: labor struggles escalate,”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 22

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2006
Note: Reprinting of this story by permission of author only.



Urban Gardening and Self-Sufficiency in Caracas

by April M. Howard, Toward Freedom

In the middle of the modern, concrete city of Caracas, Norali Verenzuela is standing in a garden dressed in jeans and work boots. She is the director of the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I, the first urban, organic garden to show its green face in the heart of the city.

One afternoon while international crowds swarmed the city for the World Social Forum, I visited the “organoponic” garden to talk with Verenzuela about the garden’s place in the city and Venezuelan politics. To Verenzuela, the garden represents a shift in the ways that Venezuelans get their food. “People are waking up,” she had recently told the press. “We’ve been dependent on McDonald’s and Wendy’s for so long. Now people are learning to eat what we can produce ourselves.” [1]

Busy commuters might miss the corner of green between busy sidewalks at the Bellas Artes metro stop and the shiny skyscrapers of the Caracas Hilton. At the edge of the garden, a squat concrete shed has a window onto the sidewalk. Inside, shelves display bunches of lettuce and carrots for sale to the public at much cheaper prices than found in the grocery stores.

This 1.2-acre plot tucked into what was an empty lot is part of a plan led by the government of President Hugo Chavez to shift the Venezuelan economy toward what it calls “endogenous development.” Defined by its roots, the word “endogenous” means “inwardly creating,” which is what the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution would like to make the economy of Venezuela.

Since 1998, the government of President Hugo Chavez has embarked on wide-ranging projects to redistribute Venezuelan resources and services. He has promised radical change to the 83% of Venezuelans who live below the poverty line in a country that is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil. [2] Chavez has redirected oil income from a large and wealthy management class to a multiplicity of projects designed to improve social welfare. The scope of these projects range from programs aimed to address health and educational needs to the gardens, which are designed to change the modus operandi of the Venezuelan economy

In theory, an endogenous Venezuelan economy would be more self-sufficient and would favor products made in Venezuela by Venezuelans. “We have been exporters of raw materials and consumers of manufactured goods. One of the first objectives…is to put a stop to that game,” says Carlos Lanz, an endogenous strategist for the Bolivarian Revolution. [3]

The OrganopĂłnicos are inspired by similar projects that sprung up in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Bloc. Under this model, Venezuelans would buy and consume food grown in Venezuela, as opposed to the current situation in which, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Venezuela imports about 80% of the food that it consumes. The FAO maintains that this has meant trouble for the poorest sections of society, and small farmers in particular. [4]

The garden that I visited has been called a showcase for the endogenous program. Director Verenzuela tells me that the garden was created in 2002 as a cooperative. However, there were organizational problems, and many left the cooperative. It was then converted into a government project and inaugurated in 2003 as the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I by President Hugo ChĂĄvez. Now the garden is supported by a variety of governmental and international agenices that make up Venezuela’s Special Program for Food Security (SPFS).

The Venezuelan SPFS is one of 71 international food security programs initiated by the United Nations since 1996—but Venezuela’s in in many ways distinct. “Venezuela’s SPFS is nationally owned and is one of the largest in Latin America… [and] has been designed, planned and implemented by the Venezuelan government and the country’s rural communities.” [5] The main foci of the program are: management of water resources; intensification of crop production; production diversification and analysis of constraints faced by small farmers.

The program is funded mainly by the Venezuelan government, with a significant contribution by the FAO, and a small amount from the Cuban government. As a part of the SPFS, Chavez and the program directors have set a target of supplying 20% of Venezuela’s vegetable production from the new urban gardens. [6] The Agriculture Ministry is planning to plant 2,470 more acres of organic urban gardens this year. [7]

The Cuban government has also sent support in the form of agricultural specialists. The program also holds workshops to show people how to grow vegetables in raised beds or pots in their yards or houses for their own consumption.

Inspired by the Cold War

The modern urban gardens that inspired the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I were not initiated by a government, but by Cuban citizens who desperately needed food.

After the collapse of the USSR, Cuba no longer had access to much of the 57% of its food that it had imported, mostly from the Soviet bloc, or the fertilizers, pesticides and cheap fuel it needed for large-scale industrial farming. [8] In the ensuing economic crisis, Cubans in the city began to create their own organic urban gardens out of necessity, which came to be called organopĂłnicos.

“Cuba’s agricultural scientists had been researching organic farming before the Special Period, but the government was caught off guard when organopĂłnicos started sprouting spontaneously,” reports American farmer Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First and the Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland, California. [9] The government jumped on board when it became evident how successful the small gardens were, and now the Cuban scientists try to keep up with these backyard farmers. Eventually, most of Cuba’s large-scale, mono-cropping, export-oriented farming system was converted to an alternative food production system using low-input, sustainable techniques. [10]

The Cuban government now states that 50% of the vegetables produced on the island come from urban gardens. [11] By the end of 2000, food availability in Cuba had reached daily levels of calories and protein considered sufficient by the FAO. In Havana, 90% of the city’s fresh produce now comes from organic local urban farms and gardens. By 2003, consumption of diesel fuel was down by more than 50% of 1989 levels, and chemical fertilizers and synthetic insecticide use were both less than 10% of former levels. Instead, bio-pesticides, soil treatments and beneficial insect breeding are used to protect crops. Scientists and farmers are feeling so confident in the garden program that they claim even should the blockade fall, they will not shift their methods back to industrial monoculture. [12]

In Venezuela, any sanctions imposed by the socialist-wary US government could result in similar problems; thus President Chavez’s interest in Cuban methods of self sufficiency. During Chavez’s presidency, he has used Venezuelan oil as an offering of solidarity to many allies, including Cuba. An energy agreement he created now supplies the island with up to 53,000 barrels of oil per day, and has made Venezuela Cuba’s most important trading partner. [13] In exchange, the clinics, schools and technical projects initiated by the Chavez government are all visited, advised and staffed by Cuban doctors, engineers and technicians.

The gardens are just a small part of Chavez’s work to rectify larger land problems in Venezuela. Currently, less than 2% of the population owns 60% of the land. Because of the success of the oil industry, Venezuela’s agricultural sector has been long neglected. This is not to say that there is a lack of arable land, but production accounts for only 6% of the GDP, and “Venezuela’s agricultural sector is the least productive in all of Latin America.” [14] This has created the “exogenous” situation that Venezuela finds itself today, importing 80% of food consumed. [15] In contrast, the United States’ agricultural imports account for 13% of total food consumed, though the percentage is rising. [16]

Part of Chavez’s program has been to officially give the land to the people who need it, and in many cases are already using it. He has worked actively to redistribute land in the cities by giving squatter communities the titles to their land, and has promised to redistribute more rural land. His most notable action has been the seizure of unused foreign-owned ranches without offering to pay the previous owners. One of the first to be transferred to squatter ownership was a British-owned cattle ranch called El Charcote, which was given to farmers in early 2005. [17] Chavez has also moved to ban genetically modified seeds, and to create a seed bank for the preservation of indigenous crops around the world. [18]

Creating the Garden in the City

For Norali Verenzuela, the story of the OrganopĂłnico began when she was studying social work and went on a two-month government-sponsored trip to Cuba in 2003. She was impressed by the garden programs she saw in Cuba. When she got back, she was excited to hear Chavez talking about public organic gardening as a possible solution to Venezuela’s food importation problem. When she heard about the Cuban-inspired project at Bellas Artes, she immediately asked to join.

Now neat rows surround a water tank in concentric circles of companion planted beds. As we walked between the rows I saw lettuce, peppers, bok choy, beets, carrots, a green called verdolaga (similar to purslane), eggplants, Chinese cabbage, and a variety of herbs. Chives and calendula were interspersed decoratively. For such an international collection of plants, the weeds were staunchly Venezuelan. As we walked around the garden translating plant names and uses back and forth from Spanish and English, Verenzuela pointed out a slim stalk of amaranth in the bushes on the side. The ancient native grain locally called “Caracas grass” was the main sustenance of the indigenous people—and was therefore burned by the Spanish. Though the garden doesn’t cultivate it, she says that it is a powerfully nutritive plant, and that the healthiest seniors she knows all eat it faithfully.

Before the garden was there, the open lot was a security concern for its owner, the government-owned Anauco Hilton hotel. Five security guards were hired to monitor the space, and the walls around the garden still sport the barbed wire that was used to keep purported vagrants and drug dealers out. Now the Anauco Hilton pays the garden workers’ salaries and one security guard to monitor the territory. The garden is also home to two tranquil guard dogs which have been well trained not to dig up the beds. When I asked several veteran street vendors nearby about the security concerns, they all agreed that the area was less dangerous. They liked being able to buy the cheap vegetables, too.

The seeds, tools and supplies used in the garden are paid for by the government. In addition to the regularly paid staff, the garden accepts drop-in unemployed workers from nearby barrios, such as Caricuao, who can work and take home vegetables. Much of the recent barrio population in Caracas has migrated to the city from the countryside, and know how to perform agricultural work. According to Verenzuela, the climate allows for the gardens to be productive year round. When crops are harvested, the beds are empty several days at most before new crops are planted.

Verenzuela herself returned to Cuba in 2005 to study the urban gardens and find systems to emulate back in Caracas. She was intimidated by what she saw as a monumental success. “But we are still young,” she says, “We can’t help it if their beets are twice as big, we’ll get there.”

Cuban agricultural scientists often visit and help the Bolivar I garden. Among the gardeners, two are Cuban agricultural engineers.

However, program directors are quick to insist that the gardens are made for a Venezuelan, not Cuban reality. “It’s not a Cuban model,” said Cojedes state governor Jhonny Yanez, a Chavez ally leading the land reform charge. “It’s a Venezuelan model based on an oil economy that can feed itself.” [19]

Opposition to the Garden

Although the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I has become an established part of the city, Caracas hasn’t always met it with open arms. The garden project has been criticized as a hypocritical publicity stunt by both Caracans and international environmentalists. While the garden might be seen by environmentalists as a nice gesture, they cite Chavez as a threat to the environment, due to his program’s dependency on the oil industry and the refining of Venezuela’s sulfur-heavy crude. Government contracts with oil companies Petrobras and ChevronTexaco have focused on drilling in the Amazon. [20] However, the most direct assaults on the garden have come from anti-Chavez Caracans.

The Opposition, as it is generally known, meet all government projects with distrust and derision, if they admit that the projects are happening at all. While Chavistas are stereotyped as poor Venezuelans from the barrios, the Chavistas call the Opposition los esqualidos, or the squalid people, and portray them as wealthy oligarchs. During my time in Venezuela, I found that the situation is not that simple. I spoke with people in the barrios who were skeptical of Chavez, and a businessman flying to New York City who was very supportive of Chavez. Talking to a range of Venezuelans is a dizzyingly inconsistent experience. Both Chavistas and those in the Opposition that I met believed that they were in the majority and that the other side was completely corrupt.

Still, the claims made by the Opposition are more difficult to swallow. All of the Opposition supporters I spoke with believe that they are the majority, and that Chavez has very little support in the country. This is in spite of the fact that elections (deemed fair by international observers) show that Chavez consistently receives 60% of presidential votes. Chavez has won 9 elections and a recall referendum, and was reinstated by massive popular protest after he was kidnapped in an attempted coup in 2002. I was told that Chavez’s endogenous economic policies are driving out foreign investment and that he will bring the country to economic ruin. In some cases, Opposition supporters tried to convince me that Chavez is embezzling the oil money that is supposedly going to social programs, and that there are no social programs going on at all. During my visits to the barrios, it was clear that schools, medical clinics, government-subsidized markets and community radio stations were in construction or full swing.

Ingrained in the culture of the wealthy opposition is a sense of entitlement to the resources that they have always had control over, and a belief that poor Venezuelans live the way that they do because they are lazy and racially inferior. Some of the wealthiest Opposition supporters are concerned that their property might be taken away, as has happened to foreign owners of unused countryside. One man approached me on the subway and missed his stop to tell me that he was being secretly banned from government jobs for voting against Chavez in the 2004 referendum.

One of the most ridiculous claims of the Opposition (and the most repeated in the US) is that Chavez is restricting freedom of the press. Most media in Venezuela is owned by the Opposition. The television stations and newspapers ridicule and rail against the government on a daily basis, and some stations seem to dedicate themselves to it. This is not to say that the pro-government papers and TV station are less biased, but they are the minority. [21]

The garden hasn’t been immune to this political divide either. In the first few months of its existence, the garden saw some sabotage (from the Opposition, according to Norali Verenzuela), in which some plants were robbed. At other times, people stood outside the gardens and protested, and the workers ended up calling the police. Some Caracans have also complained about the smell of the manure imported from the country. The press ran stories saying that the vegetables were contaminated and unsafe to eat. Late last spring, workers found a huge snake, which someone had slipped into the garden at night. The gardeners have taken these attacks in stride, partially because it has become evident that the organopĂłnicos represent much more than simple gardens. “As a pilot project,” Verenzuela noted, “it [the garden] can’t be allowed to fail.” [22]

In some cases, workers even found practical uses for the weapons of attack. In November, workers found some very destructive goats, which were let in to the garden by the Opposition, according to Verenzuela. Before the goats were able to do too much damage, workers caught, killed, roasted and ate them as an afternoon barbecue. Perhaps this is the organoponic interpretation of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Recently, according to Verenzuela, the attacks have stopped, and the garden has become an accepted part of the landscape. In fact, Verenzuela says that some of their most faithful customers are opposed to Chavez. “We are making food, and food is not political,” claims Verezuela. “Besides, they know that our food is better.”

Snakes in the Garden

Cynics of the endogenous and organoponic programs have asked why so much energy is being focused in urban gardening when there is so much fertile, unused farming land available in the rural areas. The national farmers’ federation Fedeagro says it is not opposed to the urban food program, but it is concerned about what it perceives as a lack of governmental support for the farming sector. “The problem is that it looks as though the government is concentrating all its efforts on these city farming plots, and yet the national sector remains in the state it’s in,” said Fedeagro’s technical adviser Nelson Calabria. [23]

According to the FAO, 92% of Venezuelans currently live and work in urban centers and a mere 8% in rural areas, [24] which means that, were Venezuela to need to feed itself, the vast majority of the population would be in better shape if cities were also a viable option for food production.

At the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I, Verenzuela pointed out that the idea of urban gardens was a radical one for many Venezuelans. Journalist Magdelena Morales writes of the “the derision of critics,” who scoff at Chavez’s suggestions that barrio residents “should raise crops and chickens on their balconies and rooftops.” [25] As Verenzuela explains, “We are showing people that a garden is possible in a city.”

Another concern that skeptics have had about urban gardens is the very real question of pollution. Some opposition-experts have claimed that the exhaust-laden air of the center of the city center “contains concentrations of carbon monoxide and lead that could contaminate growing plants.” [26] This idea crossed my mind as well, and I asked Verenzuela what their response at the Bolivar I had been. She led me over to a white machine mounted on a post in the middle of the garden. This, she told me, was the garden’s pollution meter (catalizador de contaminaciĂłn), and a technician comes every 15 days to take a reading. She didn’t tell me what the acceptable levels were, but indicated that they hadn’t had any concerns so far.

A Better Alternative

In Havana, where most of the produce available is grown in organoponic gardens, some residents have complained about quality and availability of produce. [27] Luckily, the Bolivar I is under a little less pressure, because at this point gardens are only one of many options for Caracans. Verenzuela says that many Caracans choose to buy their food there because it is fresher and cheaper. Local supermarkets don’t offer a large variety of organic vegetables, and what is there is very expensive compared to the produce at the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I.

The availability of fresh produce is even credited for a change in local dietary habits. When the garden took to growing bok choy; at first, Venezuelans had no idea what it was, but after they saw how many local Asians were buying it, they started to try it as well. Now lettuce and bok choy are big sellers, and the garden market often runs out. Nearby residents weren’t big vegetable eaters; the traditional meals are big on meat and fried starches. However, like their Cuban counterparts, the presence of cheap green produce has led Caracans to eat more greens, says Verenzuela. In Cuba, the increased vegetable consumption has reportedly contributed to a 25% decline in heart disease. [28]

According to Verenzuela, Venezuelans are beginning to realize the risks that agricultural pesticides present. Chemicals are used indiscriminately in Los Andes, the main agricultural region. Verenzuela stated that commercial farmers in Los Andes don’t always follow directions for chemical usage. Farmers sometimes treat their crops and harvest them on the same day, which has led to cancers and infertility in the region. Still, when I asked some street vendors buying their vegetables from the little store by the metro exit if they were happy to be buying organic vegetables, they raised their eyebrows. “Sure,” said a jewelry maker, “but we like these vegetables because they are cheap!”

More than a Garden

At the OrganopĂłnico Bolivar I, there are big plans for the future. Verenzuela would like to sell rabbits, make pickles, and sell potted ornamental and medicinal plants. As it is, Verenzuela regularly provides tours and hosts study groups of university students at the garden. Students studying agriculture at the newly formed Bolivarian University are required to visit and work in the organopĂłnicos.

The garden has also become a safe haven for some local kids. One young girl played quietly in the garden while I visited. “Her father is a street vendor,” explains Verenzuela. “There were some problems, and she started hanging out here. She has her toys here, and we take her to school, and she does her homework here afterwards. She likes it here.”

I take a last deep breath of fresh air before going back onto the crowded street. “Sometimes the people in the city look twice at us if we go out in our farming clothes to do some errands,” Verenzuela says in her oasis of green. “Working here has really changed my life. I’m kind of out of touch with the soap operas and the news, but I like it.”


1. Adams, David. “Venezuela’s new revolution centers on land.” St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 24, 2005.

2. Myrie, Clive. “Revolution on Venezuela’s Estates.” BBC News. Aug 23, 2005.

3. Adams, David. “Venezuela’s new revolution centers on land.” St. Petersburg Times. Jan. 24, 2005

4 “Feature: FAO in Venezuela,” Food and Agricultural Organization, 2002.

5. “FAO in Venezuela,” op cit

6. Lamb, Jon. “Food, poverty and ecology: Cuba & Venezuela lead the way,” Green Left Weekly, Feb. 2, 2005.

7. Morales, Magdalena, “Cuba exports city farming ‘revolution’ to Venezuela,” Reuters, April 22, 2003.

8. Lamb, op cit

9. Perkins, Jerry, “Organic farming flourishes in Cuba,” The Des Moines Register, March 16, 2003.

10. Perkins, op cit

11. Morales, op cit

12. Lamb, op cit

13. Morales, op cit

14. Lamb, op cit

15. FAO, op cit

16. Jerardo, Alberto, “The US Ag Trade Balance…More Than Just A Number,” Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, February 2004.

17. “Venezuela to speed up land reform.” BBC News, Sept. 26, 2005.

18. Lamb, op cit

19. Adams, David, “Venezuela’s new revolution centers on land.” St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 24, 2005

20. Vargas Llosa, Alvaro, “Why the Left Should Cringe at Chavez,” RealClearPolitics.org. Feb, 2006; Dahlstrom, Hanna, “Macho Men and State Capitalism: Is Another World Possible?” UpsideDownWorld.org,. Jan. 17, 2006

21. Parma, Alessandro. “Chavez Los Tiene Locos (Chavez Drives them Crazy): A First- Hand Impression of the Venezuelan Opposition.” Venezuelanalysis.com, Nov. 24, 2005

22. Adams, David, “Venezuela’s new revolution centers on land.” St. Petersburg Times., Jan. 24, 2005

23. Morales, op cit

24. FAO, op cit

25. Morales, op cit

26. ibid

27. ibid.

28. Lamb, op cit


This story first appeared in Toward Freedom, Aug. 10

See also:

“Peak Oil Preview: North Korea & Cuba Face the Post-Petrol Future,”
by Dale Jiajun Wen
WW4 REPORT #123, July 2006

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



by Stefan Baskerville, Diplo

Rusty buses lined the wide road, their roofs packed with men, sitting, crouching and lying down.

Families sat and stood in the back of old pick-up trucks. The people arrived in droves, by truck, bus or on foot, carrying banners and flags. The Wiphala, a flag composed of multi-coloured squares, was held aloft, draped around shoulders and hung from the small trees in the grassy central divide of the road. It represents the indigenous people of Bolivia who make up nearly two thirds of the population, those descended from the people who inhabited the land before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Not only the majority, they are also overwhelmingly the poorest. As one of their leaders said, they are often condemned to work as “peons” or serfs for wealthy landowners, “latifundistas.” This is a situation generations have faced for five hundred years.

On Saturday June 3, 2006 thousands of indigenous campesinos, peasants and agricultural laborers, congregated around a small stage in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. Representatives of three communities were presented with the legal titles to their land by President Evo Morales, a former union leader of coca growers and now the first indigenous president of the most indigenous country in Latin America. In total, sixty sets of papers were received by communities from different parts of Bolivia, from the departments of Beni, Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija. The land titles represented over 7.5 million acres of land, for farmer communities as small as 103 acres, and designated native lands as large as 1.1 million acres.

The campesinos were largely poor, with beaten up old sandals, dirty clothes and rough calloused hands, the result of a life of hard labor. With one hand Leon Jeremi Debasces waved the blue and white flag of MAS, the coalition party led by Evo Morales, whilst his other limp arm hung by his side. “It is our right to own land” he said. “We live on the land; our parents lived on the land. This is our life ˆ to work, to produce from the land for our families and for the city. We have to work to survive.”

The legal titles given out by Morales were lying dormant in the government offices of INRA, the National Institute for Agrarian Reform, for up to ten years—a sign of the snails’ pace at which agrarian reform has taken place in Bolivia. They do not represent a large redistribution of state land chosen after Morales took office. The significance of the ceremony at Santa Cruz lies mostly in the symbolism of an indigenous president working for his people, and in the signaled intention of the government to implement existing land laws to benefit the poor indigenous majority.

The event followed Morales’ announcement on May 1 that his government would redistribute millions of acres of state land to the landless, and appropriate those lands held illegally or left idle. Under present Bolivian law land belongs to the state if it doesn’t fulfil an economic or social function. The government has since stated it will redistribute 48 million acres, nearly a fifth of Bolivia. At the event in Santa Cruz, Morales launched an “agrarian revolution”—in contrast to the “reform” of 1996 that has proceeded slowly with minimal benefits for Bolivia’s poorest, allowing the continued existence of large latifundios despite their prohibition by law. Land reform was first enacted into law in 1953 after the Bolivian revolution. Whilst that radical reform was implemented in the western altiplano (highlands), the best arable land in the fertile lowlands of the east has remained in the hands of the few.

Jacinto Herrera Huanca is twenty nine years old, a father of three, and works full time for the FSUTC-SC [FederaciĂłn Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos], the union representing the landless and poor campesinos of Santa Cruz Department. They amount to around 200,000 people, although the numbers are uncertain because many do not have identification or even birth certificates. “We have been fighting for ten years to get the titles to land” he says. “The people are very happy because until now there have only been promises. The government used to promise and not deliver.”

A few days earlier in a business complex, a large warehouse was filled with around eight hundred people, many dressed in shiny leather shoes with sunglasses clipped to the collar of their shirts. Nowhere were the pervading divisions of race and inequality of wealth more obvious. Waiting staff, many with dark skin, were dressed in bow ties and neat pinafores serving fizzy drinks. It was a meeting of the Camara Agropecuaria del Oriente (CAO), the main federation of landowners in the east of Bolivia, and they were planning opposition to Morales’ plan. Those present were overwhelmingly of European descent and visibly wealthy. The banner above the stage read: “To preserve our model of production”—that is, one built on cheap labor, poverty and sometimes nearly feudal serfdom. Many speakers talked of forming “self-defense committees,” and one man who took the stage said, “I am here like a soldier of the militia, I will fight for my lands, and I say welcome to the Defense Committee of Bolivia.” The calls were repeated by Jose Cespedes, president of the CAO, a few days later.

Whilst the latifundistas talk like victims, they have benefited hugely from the misery and poverty of millions of campesinos. Statistics from the United Nations Development Program demonstrate that while just over 12 million acres of Bolivian land are shared by 2 million campesino families, over 60 million acres are owned by less than 100 families. Among these latifundistas are ex-ministers, foreigners, and influential families, many of whom benefited from the corruption of previous Bolivian governments, notably that of the brutal dictator Hugo Banzer. Most of the illegal handouts took place in the 1970s and 1980s, but manipulations of the law continued into the 1990s.

The overall effect was, in the words of Santos Mumuni, was that “the law has been manipulated so that the land is not for those that work it but for those that pay the taxes. It benefits the rich.” Santos is a law student in Cochabamba specializing in the law of land ownership and agrarian reform. His parents are campesinos in the department of La Paz with “small parcels” of land, and like his president, Santos lost several of his many brothers in childhood—a common occurrence in poor families where malnutrition and disease can be the norm.

Jacinto Herrera Huanca has “a lot of hope about this indigenous government because it understands what it is to live a poor life and to work hard. The people we represent sell what they produce and it is just enough to survive. They produce corn, potatoes, yucca, tomatoes and carrots. They live as peons, they have a lot of children and they earn enough to feed themselves. It is a hard life. Each family has between one and five hectares [two to twelve acres] of land, which represents, for example, two trucks of rice per year, worth US$400-500 each year. Now with their own land things are going to be a little better because before most had to pay rent to work and live there.” Another indigenous leader adds that three days after the event that his people were still making barbecues and celebrating their receipt of land titles. For them, this is a life-changing moment, time for a fiesta.

The issue of land reform in Bolivia will not be resolved for years or possibly decades to come. Land ownership distribution as it stands is unsustainable—divisive, unproductive and unjust, built on centuries of exploitation and corruption. The oppressed people at the bottom of the pile are organized and have hope. Santos says, “I have seen the fight of my parents and it inspired me to join the struggle. Governments did everything they could to help their own people, but the campesinos fought against that and we can now see the results of that fight.”

If Evo and MAS, pushed by Bolivia’s powerful social movements, can prevail, the people of Bolivia will get their land back. The colorful Wiphala flag will continue to fly.


This article appears in the September 2006 edition of Diplo, an international monthly current affairs magazine based in London

It is also online at Upside Down World

See also:

“Constitutional Reform in Bolivia:
Between Electoral Theater and Revolution”
by Ben Dangl
WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Bolivia: conspiracy against constitutional reform?”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 14


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



by Gilbert Achcar

The resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on August 11, 2006 fully satisfies neither Israel nor Washington nor Hezbollah. This does not mean that it is “fair and balanced”: it only means that it is a temporary expression of a military stalemate. Hezbollah could not inflict a major military defeat on Israel, a possibility that was always excluded by the utterly disproportionate balance of forces in the same way that it was impossible for the Vietnamese resistance to inflict a major military defeat on the US; but neither could Israel inflict a major military defeat—or actually any defeat whatsoever—on Hezbollah. In this sense, Hezbollah is undoubtedly the real political victor and Israel the real loser in the 33-day war that erupted on July 12, and no speech by Ehud Olmert or George W. Bush can alter this obvious truth. [1]

In order to understand what is at stake, it is necessary to summarize the US-backed goals that Israel was pursuing in its offensive. The central goal of the Israeli onslaught was, of course, to destroy Hezbollah. Israel sought to achieve this goal through the combination of three major means.

The first one consisted in dealing Hezbollah a fatal blow through an intensive “post-heroic,” i.e. cowardly, bombing campaign exploiting Israel’s “overwhelming and asymmetric advantage” in firepower. The campaign aimed at cutting Hezbollah’s road of supplies, destroying much of its military infrastructure (stocks of rockets, rocket launchers, etc.), eliminating a major number of its fighters and decapitating it by assassinating Hassan Nasrallah and other key party leaders.

The second means pursued consisted in turning Hezbollah’s mass base among Lebanese Shiites against the party, which Israel would designate as responsible for their tragedy through a frenzied PSYOP campaign. This required, of course, that Israel inflict a massive disaster on Lebanese Shiites by an extensive criminal bombing campaign that deliberately flattened whole villages and neighborhoods and killed hundreds and hundreds of civilians. This was not the first time that Israel had resorted to this kind of stratagem—a standard war crime. When the PLO was active in southern Lebanon, in what was called “Fatahland” before the first Israeli invasion in 1978, Israel used to heavily pound the inhabited area all around the point from which a rocket was launched at its territory, even though rockets were fired from wastelands. The stratagem succeeded at that time in alienating from the PLO a significant part of the population of southern Lebanon, aided by the fact that reactionary leaders were still a major force there and that the Palestinian guerillas could easily be repudiated as alien since their behavior was generally disastrous. This time, given the incomparably better status of Hezbollah among Lebanese Shiites, Israel thought that it could achieve the same effect simply by dramatically increasing the scope and brutality of the collective punishment.

The third means consisted in massively and gravely disrupting the life of the Lebanese population as a whole and holding it hostage through an air, sea and land blockade so as to incite this population, especially the communities other than Shiite, against Hezbollah, and thus create a political climate conducive to military action by the Lebanese army against the Shiite organization. This is why, at the onset of the offensive, Israeli officials stated that they did not want any force but the Lebanese army to deploy in southern Lebanon, rejecting specifically an international force and spitting on the existing UNIFIL. This project has actually been the goal of Washington and Paris ever since they worked together on producing UN Security Council resolution 1559 in September 2004 that called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,” i.e. Hezbollah and the organizations of the Palestinians in their refugee camps.

Washington had believed that, once Syrian forces were removed from Lebanon, the Lebanese army, which has been equipped and trained chiefly by the Pentagon, would be able to “disband and disarm” Hezbollah. The Syrian army effectively withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005, not because of the pressure from Washington and Paris, but due to the political turmoil and mass mobilization that resulted from the assassination, in February of that year, of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a very close friend of the Saudi ruling class. The balance of forces in the country, in light of the mass demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that occurred, did not make it possible for the US-allied coalition to envisage a settlement of the Hezbollah issue by force. They were even obliged to wage the ensuing parliamentary elections in May in a broad coalition with Hezbollah, and rule the country thereafter through a coalition government including two Hezbollah ministers. This disappointing outcome prompted Washington to give Israel a green light for its military intervention. It needed only a suitable pretext, which the Hezbollah’s cross-border operation on July 12 provided.

Measured against the central goal and the three means described above, the Israeli offensive was a total and blatant failure. Most obviously, Hezbollah was not destroyed—far from it. It has retained the bulk of both its political structure and its military force, indulging in the luxury of shelling northern Israel up to the very last moment before the ceasefire on the morning of August 14. It has not been cut off from its mass base; if anything, this mass base has been considerably extended, not only among Lebanese Shiites, but among all other Lebanese religious communities as well, not to mention the huge prestige that this war brought to Hezbollah, especially in the Arab region and the rest of the Muslim world. Last but not least, all this has led to a shift in the overall balance of forces in Lebanon in a direction that is the exact opposite of what Washington and Israel expected: Hezbollah emerged much stronger and more feared by its declared or undeclared opponents, the friends of the US and the Saudi kingdom. The Lebanese government essentially sided with Hezbollah, making the protest against the Israeli aggression its priority. [2]

There is no need to dwell any further on Israel’s most blatant failure: reading the avalanche of critical comments from Israeli sources is more than sufficient and most revealing. One of the sharpest comments was the one expressed by three-time “Defense” minister Moshe Arens, indisputably an expert. He wrote a short article in Haaretz that speaks volumes:

They [Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni] had a few days of glory when they still believed that the IAF’s [Israeli Air Force’s] bombing of Lebanon would make short shrift of Hezbollah and bring us victory without pain. But as the war they so grossly mismanaged wore on
gradually the air went out of them. Here and there, they still let off some bellicose declarations, but they started looking for an exit — how to extricate themselves from the turn of events they were obviously incapable of managing. They grasped for straws, and what better straw than the United Nations Security Council. No need to score a military victory over Hezbollah. Let the UN declare a cease-fire, and Olmert, Peretz, and Livni can simply declare victory, whether you believe it or not.
 The war, which according to our leaders was supposed to restore Israel’s deterrent posture, has within one month succeeded in destroying it. [3]

Arens speaks the truth: as Israel proved increasingly unable to score any of the goals that it had set for itself at the onset of its new war, it started looking for an exit. While it compensated for its failure by an escalation in the destructive and revengeful fury that it unleashed over Lebanon, its US sponsors switched their attitude at the UN. After having bought time for Israel for more than three weeks by blocking any attempt at discussing a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire—one of the most dramatic cases of paralysis in the history of the 61-year old intergovernmental institution—Washington decided to take over and continue Israel’s war by diplomatic means.

By switching its attitude, Washington converged again with Paris on the issue of Lebanon. Sharing with the US a common, albeit rival, dedication to taking the most out of Saudi riches, especially by selling the Saudi rulers military hardware [4], Paris regularly and opportunistically stays on the right side of the Saudis every time some strains arise between Washington’s agenda and the concerns of its oldest Middle Eastern clients and protĂ©gĂ©s. Israel’s new Lebanon war was such an opportunity: as soon as Israel’s murderous aggression proved counterproductive from the standpoint of the Saudi ruling family, who are terrified by an increasing destabilization of the Middle East that could prove fatal for their interests, they requested a cessation of the war and a switch to alternative means.

Paris immediately came out in favor of this attitude, and Washington ended up following suit, but only after giving the Israeli aggression a few more days to try to score some face-saving military achievement. The first draft resolution crafted by the two capitals circulated at the UN on August 5. It was a blatant attempt at achieving diplomatically what Israel had not been able to achieve militarily. The draft, while stating “strong support” for Lebanon’s sovereignty, nevertheless called for the reopening of its airports and harbors only “for verifiably and purely civilian purposes” and provided for the establishment of an “international embargo on the sale or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government,” in other words an embargo on Hezbollah.

It reasserted resolution 1559, calling for a further resolution that would authorize “under Chapter VII of the Charter the deployment of a UN-mandated international force to support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution.” This formulation is so vague that it could only mean, actually, an international force authorized to wage military operations (Chapter VII of the UN Charter) in order to implement resolution 1559 by force, in alliance with the Lebanese army. Moreover, no provision restricted this force to the area south of the Litani River, the area which under the draft resolution was to be free of Hezbollah’s armament, and the limit of the zone that Israel has requested to be secured after having failed to get rid of Hezbollah in the rest of Lebanon. This meant that the UN force could have been called upon to act against Hezbollah in the rest of Lebanon.

This project was totally unwarranted by what Israel had achieved on the ground, however, and the draft was therefore defeated. Hezbollah came out strongly against it, making it clear that it would not accept any international force but the existing UNIFIL, the UN force deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel (the “Blue Line”) since 1978. The Lebanese government conveyed Hezbollah’s opposition and request for changes, backed by the chorus of Arab states including all US clients. Washington had no choice then, but to revise the draft as it would not have passed a vote at the Security Council anyway. Moreover, Washington’s ally, French President Jacques Chirac—whose country is expected to provide the major component of the international force and lead it—had himself declared publicly two weeks into the fighting that no deployment was possible without prior agreement with Hezbollah. [5]

The draft was therefore revised and renegotiated, while Washington asked Israel to brandish the threat of a major ground offensive and to actually start implementing it as a means of pressure in order to enable Washington to get the best possible deal from its standpoint. In order to facilitate an agreement leading to a ceasefire that became more and more urgent for humanitarian reasons, Hezbollah accepted the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese troops south of the Litani River and softened its general position. Resolution 1701 could thus be pushed through at the Security Council on August 11.

Washington and Paris’ main concession was to abandon the project of creating an ad-hoc multinational force under Chapter VII. Instead, the resolution authorizes “an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops,” thus revamping and considerably swelling the existing UN force. The main trick, however, was to redefine the mandate of this force so that it could now “assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps” towards “the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.” UNIFIL can now as well “take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

Combined, the two precedent formulations come quite close to a Chapter VII mandate, or could easily be interpreted in this way, at any rate. Moreover, the mandate of UNIFIL is actually extended by Resolution 1701 beyond its “areas of deployment,” as it can now “assist the government of Lebanon at its request” in its effort to “secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel”—a sentence that definitely does not refer to Lebanon’s border with Israel but to its border with Syria, which runs the length of the country, from north to south. These are the major traps in Resolution 1701, and not the wording about the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation army that many comments have focused on–as Israel’s withdrawal is actually propelled by the deterrent force of Hezbollah, not by any UN resolution.

Hezbollah decided to give its green light for the approval by the Lebanese government of Resolution 1701. Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on August 12, explaining the decision of the party to agree to the UN-mandated deployment. It included a much more sober assessment of the situation than in some of his previous speeches and a good deal of political wisdom. “Today,” Nasrallah said, “we face the reasonable and possible natural results of the great steadfastness that the Lebanese expressed from their various positions.” This soberness was necessary, as any boastful claim of victory—like those that were cheaply expressed by Hezbollah’s backers in Tehran and Damascus—would have required Nasrallah to add, like king Pyrrhus of Ancient Greece, “One more such victory and I shall be lost!” Hezbollah’s leader wisely and explicitly rejected entering into a polemic about the assessment of the war’s results, stressing that “our real priority” is to stop the aggression, recover the occupied territory and “achieve security and stability in our country and the return of the refugees and displaced persons.”

Nasrallah defined the practical position of his movement as such: to abide by the ceasefire; to fully cooperate with “all that can facilitate the return of our displaced and refugee people to their homes, to their houses, and all that can facilitate humanitarian and rescue operations.” He did so while expressing the readiness of his movement to continue the legitimate fight against the Israeli army as long as it remains in Lebanese territory, though he offered to respect the 1996 agreement whereby operations of both sides would be restricted to military targets and spare civilians. In this regard, Nasrallah stressed that his movement started shelling northern Israel only as a reaction to Israel’s bombing of Lebanon after the July 12 operation, and that Israel was to be blamed for extending the war to the civilians in the first place.

Nasrallah then stated a position toward Resolution 1701 that could best be described as approval with many reservations, pending verification in practical implementation. He expressed his protest against the unfairness of the resolution, which refrained in its preambles from any condemnation of Israel’s aggression and war crimes, adding however that it could have been much worse and expressing his appreciation for the diplomatic efforts that prevented that from happening. His key point was to stress the fact that Hezbollah considers some of the issues that the resolution dealt with to be Lebanese internal affairs that ought to be discussed and settled by the Lebanese themselves —to which he added an emphasis on preserving Lebanese national unity and solidarity.

Nasrallah’s position was the most correct possible given the circumstances. Hezbollah had to make concessions to facilitate the ending of the war. As the whole population of Lebanon was held hostage by Israel, any intransigent attitude would have had terrible humanitarian consequences over and above the already appalling results of Israel’s destructive and murderous fury. Hezbollah knows perfectly well that the real issue is less the wording of a UN Security Council resolution than its actual interpretation and implementation, and in that respect what is determinant is the situation and balance of forces on the ground. To George W. Bush’s and Ehud Olmert’s vain boasting about their victory as embodied supposedly in Resolution 1701, one needs only to quote Moshe Arens pre-emptive reply in the already quoted article:

The appropriate rhetoric has already started flying. So what if the whole world sees this diplomatic arrangement—which Israel agreed to while it was still receiving a daily dose of Hezbollah rockets—as a defeat suffered by Israel at the hands of a few thousand Hezbollah fighters? So what if nobody believes that an ’emboldened’ UNIFIL force will disarm Hezbollah, and that Hezbollah with thousands of rockets still in its arsenal and truly emboldened by this month’s success against the mighty Israel Defense Forces, will now become a partner for peace?

The real “continuation of the war by other means” has already started in full in Lebanon. At stake are four main issues, here reviewed in reverse order of priority. The first issue, on the domestic Lebanese level, is the fate of the cabinet. The existing parliamentary majority in Lebanon resulted from elections flawed by a defective and distorting electoral law that the Syrian-dominated regime had enforced. One of its major consequences was the distortion of the representation of the Christian constituencies, with great under-representation of the movement led by former General Michel Aoun who entered into an alliance with Hezbollah after the election. Moreover, the recent war affected deeply the political mood of the Lebanese population, and the legitimacy of the present parliamentary majority is thus highly disputable. Of course, any change in the government in favor of Hezbollah and its allies would radically alter the meaning of resolution 1701 as its interpretation depends very much on the Lebanese government’s attitude. One major concern in this regard, however, is to avoid any slide toward a renewed civil war in Lebanon: That’s what Hassan Nasrallah had in mind when he emphasized the importance of “national unity.”

The second issue, also on the domestic Lebanese level, is the reconstruction effort. Hariri and his Saudi backers had built up their political influence in Lebanon by dominating the reconstruction efforts after Lebanon’s 15-year war ended in 1990. This time these forces will be faced by an intensive competition from Hezbollah, with Iran standing behind it and with the advantage of its intimate link with the Lebanese Shiite population that was the principal target of the Israeli war of revenge. As senior Israeli military analyst Ze’ev Schiff put it in Haaretz: “A lot also depends on who will aid in the reconstruction of southern Lebanon; if it is done by Hezbollah, the Shiite population of the south will be indebted to Tehran. This should be prevented.” [6] This message has been received loud and clear in Washington, Riyadh and Beirut. Prominent articles in today’s mainstream press in the US are sounding the alarm on this score.

The third issue, naturally, is the “disarmament” of Hezbollah in the zone delimited in southern Lebanon for the joint deployment of the Lebanese army and the revamped UNIFIL. The most that Hezbollah is ready to concede in this respect is to “hide” its weapons south of the Litani River, i.e. to refrain from displaying them and to keep them in covert storage. Any step beyond that, not to mention a Lebanon-wide disarmament of Hezbollah, is linked by the organization to a set of conditions that start from Lebanon’s recovery of the 1967-occupied Shebaa farms and end with the emergence of a government and army able and determined to defend the country’s sovereignty against Israel. This issue is the first major problem against which the implementation of Resolution 1701 could stumble, as no country on earth is readily in a position to try to disarm Hezbollah by force, a task that the most formidable modern army in the whole Middle East and one of the world’s major military powers has blatantly failed to achieve. This means that any deployment south of the Litani River, whether Lebanese or UN-mandated, will have to accept Hezbollah’s offer, with or without camouflage.

The fourth issue, of course, is the composition and intent of the new UNIFIL contingents. The original plan of Washington and Paris was to repeat in Lebanon what is taking place in Afghanistan where a NATO auxiliary force with a UN fig leaf is waging Washington’s war. Hezbollah’s resilience on the military as well as on the political level thwarted this plan. Washington and Paris believed they could implement it nevertheless under a disguised form and gradually, until political conditions were met in Lebanon for a showdown pitting NATO and its local allies against Hezbollah. Indeed, the countries expected to send the principal contingents are all NATO members: along with France, Italy and Turkey are on standby, while Germany and Spain are being urged to follow suit. Hezbollah is no fool however. It is already engaged in dissuading France from executing its plan of sending elite combat troops backed by the stationing of the single French air-carrier close to Lebanon’s shores in the Mediterranean.

On the last issue, the antiwar movement in NATO countries could greatly help the struggle of the Lebanese national resistance and the cause of peace in Lebanon by mobilizing against the dispatch of any NATO troops to Lebanon, thus contributing to deterring their governments from trying to do Washington’s and Israel’s dirty work. What Lebanon needs is the presence of truly neutral peacekeeping forces at its southern borders and, above all, that its people be permitted to settle Lebanon’s internal problems through peaceful political means. All other roads lead to a renewal of Lebanon’s civil war, at a time when the Middle East, and the whole world for that matter, is already having a hard time coping with the consequences of the civil war that Washington has ignited and is fueling in Iraq.

August 16, 2006


1. On the global and regional implications of these events, see my article “The Sinking Ship of U.S. Imperial Designs,” posted on ZNet, August 7, 2006

2. As an Israeli observer put it in an article with a quite revealing title: “It was a mistake to believe that military pressure could generate a process whereby the Lebanese government would disarm Hizbullah.” Efraim Inbar, “Prepare for the next round,” Jerusalem Post, August 15, 2006

3. Moshe Arens, “Let the devil take tomorrow,” Haaretz, August 13, 2006

4. Both the US and France concluded major arms deals with the Saudis in July.

5. Interview with Le Monde, July 27, 2006

6. Ze’ev Schiff, “Delayed ground offensive clashes with diplomatic timetable,” Haaretz, August 13, 2006.

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and teaches political science at the University of Paris-VIII. His best-selling book The Clash of Barbarisms just came out in a second expanded edition and a book of his dialogues with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East, Perilous Power, is forthcoming, both from Paradigm Publishers. Stephen R. Shalom, the editor of Perilous Power, has kindly edited this article.


This story first appeared on the Alternative Information Center
http://www.alternativenews.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=515&Ite mid=1

See also:

“Lebanon and the Neo-Con Endgame,” by Sarkis Pogossian
WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Iraq: The Case for Immediate Withdrawal: An Interview with Gilbert Achcar,”
by Bill Weinberg WW4 REPORT #117, January 2006

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