#. 126. October 2006

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog

Exploiting African Genocide for Propaganda
by Ned Goldstein, WW4 REPORT

The African Liberation Forces of Mauritania Speak
On Slavery and Genocide in the Sahel

by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT

Revolution or Populist Theater?
by Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News & Analysis

An Interview with Pachakutik Presidential Candidate Luis Maca
by Rune Geertsen, Upside Down World

Canadian Mining Project Tainted by Rights Abuses
by Cyril Mychalejko, Upside Down World

Popular Movement Stands Up to Privatization
by Jason Wallach, Upside Down World

From Weekly News Update on the Americas:


Book Review:
The Primer George Bush Should Have Read!
by Vilosh Vinograd, WW4 REPORT

“Throughout twenty centuries of Christianity, the Romans and the Hebrews have been admired, read, imitated, in both deed and word; their masterpieces have yielded an appropriate quotation every time anybody had a crime he wanted to justify.”
— Simone Weil, “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force,” 1939

“Would you like to see the Pope at the end of a rope?
Do you think he’s a fool?”
— Black Sabbath, “After Forever,” 1971

Exit Poll: Should the UN intervene in Darfur, or is it all a Zionist/imperialist conspiracy for “regime change” in Sudan?

Responses to last month’s Exit Poll:





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Continue Reading#. 126. October 2006 


Exploiting African Genocide for Propaganda

by Ned Goldstein, WW4 REPORT

The death toll in the Darfur region of western Sudan has reached between 200,000 and 400,000 as of Oct. 1, with 2.5 million displaced. The UN warns that the death toll could escalate precipitously if the situation is allowed to deteriorate. The dictatorial — and genocidal —Khartoum regime led by Omar al-Bashir, is possibly the world’s most brutal and murderous.

The conflict in Darfur is rooted in the long oppression of marginalized groups seeking political and economic equality. Ethnic identification has become increasingly polarized in Darfur, the tribes from which the rebels draw their numbers generally characterized as Black Africans, and the Sudanese army and its proxy militias described as Arab.

While the debate over what to do about Darfur continues, the Sudanese government and critics of the US-based Save Darfur coalition have continued to accuse the movement (or, at least, elements of it) of having ulterior motives: namely, to benefit Israel—both by diverting attention from Israeli war crimes to those of the Khartoum regime and its supporters in the Arab world, and, more ambitiously to actually destabilize Sudan’s Islamist government.

Khartoum and Israel: Mutual Exploitation?

The Sudanese government has, unsurprisingly, stressed the participation of Zionist and Jewish groups in the Save Darfur movement—and flatly accused Israel of being behind the insurgency in Darfur.

As early as Dec. 21, 2004, Republic of Sudan Radio reported that Sudanese Interior Minister Ahmad Harun, flanked by two other government ministers, “accused the Zionist entity of supplying the rebels with weapons in the framework of Israel’s plan that targets Arab nations.”

In May 2005, the Sudanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Samir al-Shaybani told a Syrian interviewer: “We can even say that these powers want to dismember Sudan and replace this government with another one that serves their strategic interests, represented in obliterating Sudan’s Arab identity. Top among these powers is the Zionist lobby, which considered the Darfur issue primarily a Jewish issue requiring solidarity between the Jews and some African tribes, which claim to be in conflict with Arab tribes. The Darfur issue has thus been depicted within the framework of mass annihilation. The Zionist groups and US Administration played on this theory and dedicated huge resources and large media and diplomatic campaigns to promote this erroneous diagnosis of the conflict.”

Some of the Sudan government’s accusations are rooted in the history of the 30-year civil war, in which Israel is believed to have aided the southern rebels. This war came to an end last year in a power-sharing agreement between Khartoum and the southern guerilla groups, even as the situation in Darfur was escalating towards genocide. Another factor is prominent Israel advocate Charles Jacobs’ anti-slavery efforts targeting Sudan. But the most pronounced accusations started after the Darfur crisis first erupted in 2003.

The Jerusalem Post reported Dec. 16, 2004, that for the first time, Israel was providing aid to relief efforts in Sudan, in order to “help alleviate the humanitarian crisis” in Darfur. The Post said “Israel joined with several US Jewish groups, including the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the Union for Reform Judaism, the New Jersey MetroWest Federation and UJA-Federation of New York in sending $100,000 to support the International Rescue Committee and aid children in Sudan and Chad orphaned by the civil war in Sudan’s Darfur region.” Darfur native Muhammed Yahya said his countrymen were “grateful for the assistance and astonished by its source.”

“We have been taught for all our lives, from the primary school to the university, that you are the top enemy for Muslims and Arabs all over the world,” Yahya said of the Jews and Israelis behind the $100,000 effort. Now, he said, “we realized that what we have been taught all our lives is a kind of a rumor. When we have been killed, you are protecting us; when we are displaced, you are trying to save us; when our people are murdered and raped, you are there trying to help us.”

Ayre Mekel, Israel’s Council-General in New York at the time, said “The State of Israel is following the developments in Darfur carefully, and as a people who has gone through persecution, we could not sit idly on the sidelines through such a devastating humanitarian disaster. This is according to the Jewish values.”

In 2004, the Save Darfur coalition was launched in the US. An article in the April 27 2006 Jerusalem Post, describing the April 30 rally in Washington DC, the first large mass action on the Darfur issue, declared, “US Jews leading Darfur rally planning,” and introduced the “Save Darfur” coalition that is now placing full-page ads in major newspapers and ubiquitous television spots. “Little known, ” the paper said, ” is that the coalition, which has presented itself as ‘an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian, and human rights organization’ was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.” The paper adds that it continues to be “heavily weighted with a politically and religiously diverse collection of local and national Jewish group.” In New York, the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs sponsored the first full-page ad in the New York Times. The paper also noted that while large evangelical Christian groups were in the coalition, that these groups had not done the “kind of extensive grassroots outreach that will produce numbers.”

The Washington Post reported April 27 that the rally organizers scrambled at the last minute to add two speakers from Darfur because of objections from Sudanese immigrants that the speakers list contained eight western Christians, seven Jews, four US politicians, several celebrities, but no Muslims and no one from Darfur. James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute participated, explaining that “it was important that Arab Americans make clear our deep concern with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Our presence in this multi-ethnic multi-religious coalition sends this message.”

Zogby did admit to some reservations, but concluded: “And while we may have had questions about… the groups involved in the Save Darfur effort, the coalition included significant respected US and international organizations as well. The International Crisis Group, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Amnesty International, the AFL-CIO/Solidarity Center and a number of US Muslim groups had signed on as sponsors.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a national organization which “coordinate[s] communal activity” nationwide — including pro-Israel advocacy — chartered buses from all over the country, eight from upper Manhattan alone. The JCRC in San Francisco is currently headed by former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) top honcho Thomas Dine. An Israeli flag was waving prominently at the rally. Predictably, the Sudanese regime denounced the rally as more Zionist pressure.

The April 27 Jerusalem Post also claimed the main organizer behind the rally was former Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger and the organization she heads, the AJWS, which acts as a Jewish peace corps worldwide. In 2006, Messinger ran for a seat in the World Zionist Congress on the left-liberal “Hatikva” slate.

Messinger told the Washington Post on April 27, “we are interested because this is a humanitarian crisis and we are the Jewish organization that responds to crises around the world. But we are also interested because this is a genocide which has particular meaning to Jews who have sworn never again.”

The AJWS started organizing the coalition after the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC issued a first-of-its-kind “genocide alert,” about Darfur. Critics have noted that mass death in conflicts in Ethiopia, the eastern Congo, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, where the violence is seen as African-on-African, rather than Arab-on-African, have not elicited similar responses from the Holocaust museum. Many of the other concerned parties in the west that have focused on Darfur have likewise ignored conflicts of similar scale elsewhere in Africa. Neither the UN nor the European Union have been willing to apply the “genocide” label to Darfur, as the US has.

The Jersualem Post also said: “There are critics who say the heavy Jewish involvement might have deterred some other groups from joining. The fact that the aggressors in Darfur are Arab Muslims – though it should be said that the victims are also mostly Muslim – and are supported by a regime in Khartoum that is backed by the Arab League has made some people question the true motives of some of the Jewish organizations involved in the rally.”

While the Jewish organizers tried to play down the Jewish composition of the rally, large African-American groups like the NAACP and Africa Action were noticeably absent. By the time of the coordinated global action for Darfur on Sept. 17, the NAACP was on board. But at the Sept. 17 rally in New York’s Central Park, African-American participation was still small, despite outreach efforts on the part of the Save Darfur coalition. One speaker from Harlem, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, noted that the coalition was so tenuous that if they got together in a room to discuss other issues in the Middle East, it would quickly fall apart. He echoed the rest of the speakers in condemning Khartoum’s behavior, but disagreed about calling for UN peacekeepers, warning that the Darfur issue was being exploited by those who sought to destabilize Sudan and gain access to its oil. Abdur-Rashid instead preferred pressure on the Khartoum regime and the rebels to go back to the negotiating table.

Abdarahmane Wone, a North America representative of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), who attended the rally, told WW4 REPORT that he supported the call for UN peacekeepers, but regretted that the political left has ceded the initiative to the right wing on the Darfur issue.

Darfur as Strategic Distraction

Israel advocates had hoped the Save Darfur movement would do more to renew the Black-Jewish alliance that went back to the civil rights era in the US. However, on Sept. 29, after a pro-Israel rally in the wake of the Lebanon war, an organizer identified as a “Jewish official” admitted to New York’s Jewish Week “that all the Jewish support for Darfur, trumpeted in Jewish newspapers earlier this year as a harbinger of a renewed alliance between Jews and blacks, proved to be a bust. Jews continue to be the backbone of the Darfur rallies but at the Israel rally, he said ‘there were speakers who were black but there was not a concerted black turnout.'”

An article titled “Slavery, Genocide and the Politics of Outrage” in the Spring 2005 issue of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) journal, states that “Israel and Zionist organizations have long been interested in issues of race and ethnicity in the Arab world.” Israel has been accused of arming the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in southern Sudan, and more recently, through the SPLA, rebel forces in Darfur. Both the SPLA and Israel deny the charges.

But a Washington Post story of April 17, 1987 claimed: “Recent visitors to [SPLA leader John] Garang’s headquarters at Boma in the southeast reported seeing crates of weapons supplied by Israel. Israel aided an earlier generation of southern rebels during the 1955-72 civil war as part of a policy to destabilize Arab governments.” The SPLA also received 20 million in “non-lethal” aid from the US government in 1996. According to his BBC obituary following his death in an air accident last year, Garang was also trained in the US at Fort Benning, GA.

Israel has also reportedly trained Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. Both the southern Sudanese and the Kurds were seen as local ethnic groups facing Arab imperialism. MERIP notes that “the Zionist concern for minorities in the Arab world is strategic: by focusing on how Arab states (mis)treat their minorities, pro-Israel scholars can shift the spotlight from Palestine, highlight Arab double standards, demonstrate how the subordinate status of minorities in the Middle East necessitated a Zionist project to lift Middle Eastern Jews ‘up from dhimmitude’ and show how Israel protects minority rights better than any other state in the region.”

MERIP also notes, “Given the American Jewish community’s silence over the Congo, Uganda and Sierra Leone, it seems the outrage over Darfur is as moral as it is political. ‘Now millions of African people face genocide and the UN’s top priority is condemning the Israeli security fence that saves lives on both sides of the security barrier,’ stated Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).”

Charles Jacobs: Anti-Slavery as Political Stratagem

The divide on the Darfur issue has roots that go all the way back to 1993, when long-time Israel advocate Charles Jacobs first started to target Sudan, over the issue of slavery. Almost immediately, Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan denounced Jacobs as a “Jewish consultant,” and took Sudan’s side, questioning whether there really was a slavery problem. At the time, the NOI received millions of dollars in support from Libya, which was then collaborating with the Sudan regime and was even implicated in the importation of slaves. Jesse Jackson and others who participated in the 1995 Million Man March with Farrakhan were reluctant to alienate him, and Jacobs and columnist Nat Hentoff both charged Jackson’s refusal to alienate Arab states also caused his silence on Sudan.

Beyond members of the congressional Black Caucus, there was little organized African-American support for Jacobs’ American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG). The AASG also used a highly controversial means to fight the Sudanese slave trade: they bought slaves’ freedom from their captors, a practice known as “redemption” that critics, including UNICEF, argued worsened the situation by fueling the Sudanese slave market—and by extension the Sudanese regime’s war against the Christian and animist south, where slaves from captured villages were a goad for pro-government warlords. Most of the support for the AASG came from mostly conservative Christian organizations, including Christian Solidarity International (CSI) which eventually lost its UN NGO status for its relationship to John Garang.

Another Jewish supporter of Jacobs’ efforts was Barbara Ledeen, wife of prominent neo-con columnist and political operative Michael Ledeen, and director of a conservative think tank, the Independent Women’s Forum. Ledeen charged, “The fact that Farrakhan is a player, protecting the government of Sudan and the government of Mauritania, sends a message to other African-American leaders that they better not mess with this.”

Another early supporter of Jacobs was right-wing Israel advocate Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, and a speaker at the 2004 convention of the pro-Israel media watchdog, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Senators Lincoln Chafee and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Rep. Patrick Kennedy all expressed doubts about the efficacy and morality of Jacobs’ efforts. Richard Miniter of the Wall Street Journal related in a 1999 article for the Atlantic Monthly how he turned against the efforts of Jacobs and his allies during a trip with Christian Freedom International (CFI) to Sudan. “As I spoke with [district government spokesman Adelino Rip] Goc,” Miniter said, “a crowd of villagers encircled us. ‘Does anyone here support slave redemption?’ I asked. No one did. One man said that I should talk to Machar Malok Machar. In a previous raid on Akoch, Machar was captured and marched into the desert. Before sunrise on the second day he crawled away and hid. He waited for hours until the Muslim slave raiders departed. Then he walked home, with his hands still tied behind his back, to find his wife and family missing, his hut burned, his cattle and goats gone. After I heard his story, I asked him about slave redemption. ‘It is bad,’ he said. ‘They do these terrible things to put shillings in their pockets. They are crazy for the money. Why would you give it to them?'”

Even CFI head Jim Jacobson, who Miniter accompanied on that Sudan trip, started to discourage the practice of slave redemption after what he saw in Sudan. Jacobs was undeterred, saying the important thing was getting slaves out of “the hands of monsters.” Jacobs claimed he would stop if it was proved slave redemption did more harm than good, but he has rabidly attacked criticism of his efforts. Jacobs has also criticized Israel for normalizing relations with Mauritania.

Although Jacobs claims to be a liberal, he often associates with the right-wing. This seems to be a pattern for Israel advocates, including many neo-conservative officials who started out as liberals, and commentators such as Phyllis Chesler, David Horowitz and Alan Dershowitz.

Jacobs was the co-founder of CAMERA, and its executive director for a period in the ’80’s. He also founded the David Project, which backed the “Columbia Unbecoming” project, to expose supposed anti-Israel bias at Columbia University, charged by its critics as a McCarthyite witch-hunt. This was undertaken in cooperation with Campus Watch, run by the right-wing and (many say) Islamophobic Daniel Pipes. The David Project is funded by the Charles and Lynn Shustermann foundation, and is an affiliate member of the Israel on Campus Coalition, which, in cooperation between the Shustermanns and Hillel, brings a heavily right-wing roster of Israel advocacy speakers to campuses. Jacobs is also an advisor to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), whose board and staff include Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, Virginia’s Rep. Eric Cantor, and such conservative heavy hitters as Gary Bauer, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Frank Gaffney and Richard Perle. Another supporter is Lebanese scholar Dr. Walid Phares, alleged to be associated with the fanatically anti-Palestinian Guardians of the Ceders (GOTC), responsible for several massacres during Lebanon’s civil war.

The late investigative journalist Robert Friedman wrote in The Nation June 6, 1987 that CAMERA was “created specifically to keep the U.S. press in line…At least in one case, it has assigned freelance reporters to dig into the personal lives of liberal journalists whose views deviate from the narrowest spectrum of pro-Israeli opinion. CAMERA, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the rest of the lobby don’t want fairness, but bias in their favor. And they are prepared to use McCarthyite tactics, as well as the power and money of pro-Israel PACs, to get whatever Israel wants.”

Jacobs is also a client of Benador Associates, a PR firm run by Eleanor Benador, whose list of clients reads like a neo-con who’s who. Benador supplied to the media many of the op-eds and talking heads that pushed for the Iraq war, and now push for war on Iran, including the famously bogus piece by Iranian emigre Amir Taheri which falsely claimed a new law would compel Iranian Jews to wear yellow insignia.

Jacobs also served as the spokesperson for the National Unity Coalition for Israel (NUCI), consisting of 500 fundamentalist Christian and right-wing Jewish supporters of Israel. The group was so right-wing that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, a leader in coordinating Christian Zionist support for Israel, said he resigned from the NUCI’s board because of the group’s “anti-Rabin, pro-Likud” positions. On Jan. 21, 1998, the New York Times quoted Jacobs saying the NUCI was “‘giving voice’ to evangelical Christians who are ardent Zionists.”

Jacobs also put out a press release protesting the US government for its Oct. 17, 2005 decision to upgrade Sudan’s human trafficking status from Tier III — the worst possible ranking — to Tier II. Ironically, among countries ranked as Tier II is Israel.

In 2000, Jacobs and other Sudan activists started a campaign to divest from Sudan, targeting mutual funds like Fidelity that invest in oil companies doing business in Sudan. In 2002, Jacobs’ Israel advocacy and Sudan activism visibly converged when a movement to divest from Israel briefly gripped some prominent US universities, including Harvard. In an Oct. 4, 2002 op-ed piece for the Boston Globe, titled, “WHY ISRAEL, AND NOT SUDAN, IS SINGLED OUT,” Jacobs’ noted that Harvard’s president Lawrence Summers denounced the divestment from Israel campaign on his campus as anti-Semitic “in effect, if not in intent.” Jacobs attacked Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for “investigat[ing] false reports of Jews massacring Arabs,” and asked why they don’t “care so much less about Arab-occupied Juba, South Sudan’s black capital?”

It is “a human rights complex” Jacobs explains, “and is not hard to understand. The human rights community, composed mostly of compassionate white people, feels a special duty to protest evil done by those who are like ‘us.'” Then comes the laundry list: “The biggest victims of this complex are not the Jews who are obsessively criticized but the victims of genocide, enslavement, religious persecution, and ethnic cleansing who are murderously ignored: the Christian slaves of Sudan, the Muslim slaves of Mauritania, the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt.”

In 2005, Jacobs trumpeted the success of his Sudan divestment initiative with a note on the AASG website: “SudanActivism.com—a website devoted to empowering college students with the tools to launch their own divestment campaigns—is launched. Campaigns at Harvard, Stanford, and Dartmouth succeed in pressuring the schools to divest holdings in companies operating in Sudan. Their successes spawn similar campaigns at schools across the country.” Harvard president Summers, who found divesting from Israel to be anti-Semitic in effect, said of the Sudan divestment effort: “This is the right thing to do in light of the ongoing events in Darfur.”

Jacobs-Speak Crosses the Pond

Jacobs often assails progressives for attacking Israel and ignoring Sudan, but ironically many self-identified progressives (like Jacobs) are leaders of the battle against divestment from Israel. ENGAGE, formed in response to the British academic boycott of Israel, states in its website:

“Engage is a single issue campaign. It focuses on one issue, antisemitism, and is therefore concerned also about the demonization of Israel, and of Jews who don’t think of themselves as anti-Zionists. We believe that a new commonsense is emerging that holds Israel to be a central and fundamental evil in the world. We disagree with this notion and we think that it is dangerous. The danger is that this kind of thinking may well lead to, and license, the emergence of a movement that is racist against Jews in general. ”

However, amidst posts calling out anti-Semitism and attacking Israel boycott campaigns, the one other issue Engage increasingly addresses is Darfur. On Oct. 1, David Hirsh, a sociologist and one of the leading forces of Engage, titled a post, “Death in Darfur.” Hirsh writes: “It is not ‘the Zionists’ who are ‘using’ Darfur to deflect attention from Israel’s human rights abuses; it is the genocidaires in Darfur who are using ‘Zionism’ to deflect attention from their genocide. The ongoing human catastrophe in Darfur has continued to accelerate, while the alleged ‘world community’ is either paralyzed or, in some cases, actively collaborating with the criminals.”

Engage also uses the construct that boycotting Israel is anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent. John Pike, a founding member of the group, denounced the short-lived boycott of Israeli academics by the British teacher’s union NAFTHE. “Does that amount to anti-Semitism? I think it does, in effect, if not intent.”

British anti-Zionist commentator Mark Elf of the blog Jews Sans Frontieres told WW4 REPORT: “Engage has recently turned its ire on Jews for Justice for Palestinians because of their campaigning against the occupation. Before that their targets were Jews Against Zionism and organisers of the academic boycott like Stephen and Hilary Rose. All the while the main organiser of Engage – David Hirsh – claims to be a non-zionist and yet his own position on zionist rule is indistinguishable from that of another Engage ‘contributor’ – John Strawson – who ran for a seat on the World Zionist Congress under the banner of Meretz.”

Jacobs and the Assault on Mideast Studies

It was the “Columbia Unbecoming” imbroglio that thrust Jacobs and his efforts into the spotlight most fully. The episode allowed elements of Jacobs’ multi-pronged Israel advocacy to converge: media campaigns, attacking Middle Eastern studies departments, using student activists—and Sudan activism. Columbia Unbecoming was a combined effort of the David Project, campus Israel activists, and media, especially the right-wing New York Sun. Columbia Unbecoming produced an eponymous video in which mostly Jewish and sometimes Israeli Columbia students claimed harassment and anti-Semitism by professors in MELAC, or Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. A Columbia committee eventually exonerated the named professors.

At the height of the Columbia Unbecoming affair, Columbia Professor Dan Miron told the New York Sun: “Israelis are put to a test that is not applied to anyone else. You will not hear any murmur about the people of Sudan but…Israel is singled out in a way that is racist.”

In their March 2005 coverage of a public screening of the film, the Jewish Week reported: “Charles Jacobs, founder of the David Project, one of the event’s sponsors and the man behind the ‘Columbia Unbecoming’ documentary, called Jewish critics of the film, including some Columbia professors, ‘Marranos of Morningside Heights,’ a derogatory reference to Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid the Spanish Inquisition…. Jacobs added that Middle East departments in the United States are controlled by two trends: Palestinianism and Saidism, named after the late, controversial Columbia Professor Edward Said, a champion of the Palestinian cause. Palestinianism, Jacobs said, ‘is a cult that obscures any credible academics regarding Israel. It’s a highly cultivated weapon of mass distraction.’ Saidism, on the other hand, is a ‘gag order on Westernism that enforces silence,’ he said.”

The account went on to describe a telling incident. “Immediately following the speech by Jacobs, in which he introduced a small band of black Sudanese to talk about their torture by Arabs, the documentary was screened. As the film, which has gone through a number of edits, ended, a few students featured in it spoke.”

Each one of the Sudanese — and Mauritanian — ex-slaves got up to thank Israel and the Jewish people for their freedom.

The event was co-sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. Morton Klein, the head of ZOA, told the audience, “There is no occupation,” referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Another featured speaker was feminist writer Phyllis Chesler, who has been featured on the ENGAGE website as well. Chesler, author of The New Anti-Semitism, told the audience: “The largest practitioner of apartheid on the planet is Islam, in terms of both religious apartheid and gender apartheid…” Cheered on by the crowd, Chesler said the Palestine Solidarity Movement, a national campus movement to divest from Israel, “is a group in my opinion that’s quite similar to the Ku Klux Klan, or to the Nazi party.” The situation deteriorated after Chesler brought up Jenin. As the Jewish Week described it:

“When Chesler defended Israel’s actions regarding the 2002 battle in Jenin, one woman in the audience shouted, ‘We should have bombed them from the start’ —referring to the Palestinian residents of Jenin. ‘We should have killed them all,’ a man yelled.”

When an activist from Jews Against the Occupation rose to ask a question, stating that he had once been shot by the Israeli army, he “was drowned out by a sea of invectives.” One audience member shouted “Too bad they missed.”

The account also reported harassment of the reporters on hand. “The Jewish Week’s reporter was approached with…demands for identification and was flash-photographed repeatedly by a woman in the audience. When asked to stop, the woman said, ‘We’re taking pictures of you. We want to know who you are.’ A New York Times photographer, taking photos of the silenced dissenter from Jews Against the Occupation leaving the room, was surrounded by a large group of people telling her to put down her camera. ‘You have no right to do this,’ one woman yelled, waving her hand in the photographer’s face. Another man said, ‘It’s our event, not his. Don’t distort it like the Times always does.’ The photographer left the auditorium.”

Which Way Forward?

WW4 REPORT asked Jen Marlowe, a Jewish film-maker and activist who recently co-authored a film and a book about Darfur, what she thought would be the most useful role for Jewish activists on the issue. She replies, “I feel certain that the motivations of the majority of Jewish activists on Darfur are simply trying to protect human life and have a feeling of connection with the horror of genocide. However, Jewish groups need to share the space and the ‘stage’ with Darfurian groups and Muslim groups as truly equal partners in leading the activist efforts.”

Marlowe also said that in order for there to be legitimacy in criticizing regimes that violate human rights, including boycotts and sanctions, there cannot be a double standard. “If Jewish Darfur activists make any connections between Sudan and Israel at all, I would like to see it be because they are calling for the end of human rights violations in both places,” she says.

Marlowe says there are many Arab-Americans who are outraged at what is happening in Darfur, but feel uncomfortable with the current coalition, because of a feeling that it may be combined with other agendas. Marlowe concludes: “A clear message from Jewish activists that Darfur is not being co-opted for other purposes would allow others, including Arabs and Muslims, to come on board, and there would be more true diversity in Darfur activism.”


Save Darfur

American Anti-Slavery Group



Jews Sans Frontieres

“Slavery, Genocide and the Politics of Outrage”
MERIP, Spring 2005, Issue 234

The Jewish Week, Sept. 29, 2006

The Jewish Week, March 11, 2005

See also:

“Darfur: The Overkill The Janjaweed Spin Out of Control” by Rene Wadlow
WW4 REPORT #113 September 2005


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



The Primer George Bush Should Have Read!

Book Review:

Understanding Iraq
by William R. Polk
Harper Perennial, 2005

by Vilosh Vinograd

What are we to make of a book subtitled “The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, From Genghis Khan’s Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation,” which nonetheless clocks in at just over 200 pages of fairly large print?

William Polk’s Understanding Iraq is an ambitious primer aimed at those who are starting from near-total ignorance and want to get up to speed fast. It is a shame that he didn’t write it until after Bush had invaded, and after the situation had descended into a bloody quagmire. Maybe, just maybe, if Bush had read a book like this before March 2003, the world could have been spared this nightmare. It is simple and concise enough even for him to understand, and it makes a damn good case for the inevitability of the current disaster.

Harvard man Polk reads both Arabic and Turkish, and is fond of showing off his abilities to the reader, peppering the text with translated words and phrases. From 1961 to ’65 he was the Middle East pointman for the State Department’s Policy Planning Council. He then moved on to found the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Continuing to lecture in such rarefied circles as the Council on Foreign Relations, he also seems to have maintained a friendship with the rulers of Iraq and other Arab lands even after his State Department years. In short, he is an exponent of the Arabophile wing of the ruling elites, who have been fuming on the sidelines since the ascendance of the neo-cons, with their perceived allegiance to Israel and their belligerent antipathy to nearly all the Arab regimes. Therefore, Understanding Iraq provides a good antidote to the neo-con dogma, but suffers from certain prejudices of its own.

The book actually begins well before the Mongols, with the dawn of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. The first two chapters, “Ancient Iraq” and “Islamic Iraq,” ambitiously cover 6,000 years in 53 pages, and also contain a couple of howlers which are embarrassing for a scholar of Polk’s stature. For instance, he has Alexander the Great moving on to conquer Egypt after defeating the Persian armies at Gaugamela in contemporary Iraq; in fact, it was other way around. (Back in the days when you could assume editors at big New York publishing houses all had classical training, such an error would have been caught.)

The rise of Islam, the early schism between the Sunnis and Shi’ites, and the ascendance of a powerful Arab empire with Baghdad as its capital are all presented in sweeping summary, like a video on fast-forward. The climax of these two opening chapters is Hulagu Khan’s sacking of Baghdad in 1258, which marked the final end of the Arab empire’s glory and is presented as a template for ruthless destruction by an outside invader—the “shock and awe” of its day. (In another questionable call, he refers to Hulagu as a Buddhist; some evidence suggests he had been converted in name, but he was almost certainly still a shamanist at heart—mass murder would seem rather un-Buddhist behavior.)

The hurried pace continues through the subsequent centuries in which what is now Iraq was contested by the Ottoman Turkish and Safavid Persian empires, exacerbating the Sunni-Shi’ite division. It isn’t until Ottoman rule is followed by British at the end of World War I that Polk starts to slow down, and his real political points start to kick in.

Here’s where you’d hope today’s policy-makers had paid more attention to history. Polk’s “British Iraq” is a study in imperial hubris. Favoring prominent tribal leaders with access to land and local fiefdoms, the British hoped to groom a class of proxy rulers under the Hashemite King Faisal they installed in power. This only sparked an angry backlash from the peasantry. Following a series of meetings during the holy month of Ramadan, in which nationalist leaders agreed to put aside Sunni-Shi’ite differences, Iraq exploded into rebellion on June 30, 1920. Britain almost eagerly viewed this a test war, providing some of military history’s first effective use of aerial bombardment. Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill especially argued for the use of poison gas as a means to awe the primitives into submission.

But the populace was more enraged than awed. Polk culls some choice quotes to convey the sense of deepening quagmire (and, for contemporary readers, deja vu). In an August 1920 letter to the London Times, Col. TE Lawrence (“of Arabia”) wrote: “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete… We are today not far from disaster.”

As for the propaganda that Britain had liberated Iraq from oriental despotism, Lawrence wrote: “Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats and armoured trains. We killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer. We cannot hope to maintain such an average: it is a poor country, sparsely populated.” Ultimately, he did not send the letter, deeming it too gloomy for public consumption.

That same month, Secretary Churchill wrote in a letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George: “Week after week and month after month for a long time to come we shall have a continuance of this miserable, wasteful, sporadic warfare… It is an extraordinary thing that the…civil administration should have succeeded in such a short time in alienating the whole country to such an extent that the Arabs have laid aside the blood feuds that they have nursed for centuries and that the Sun[n]i and Shiah tribes are working together.”

The British administrator for Iraq, Arnold Wilson (who had written in a 1918 dispatch to London that “the Arabs are content with our occupation”), was removed and his replacement Sir Percy Cox appointed a provisional “Council of State” as a move towards self-rule. This bought a modicum of peace. But, amazingly, Britain was not humbled by the explosion its arrogance provoked. A 1922 treaty with the monarchy affirmed the eventual goal of independence for Iraq but reserved to Britain the right to control foreign policy, the army and finance even after this. This merely recapitulated the terms of the League of Nations mandate, but it made the regime officially complicit in the national humiliation.

Even more amazing is the depth of British ignorance about the land they were conquering. In a June 1921 letter to his colonial office aide, Churchill wrote: “Let me have a note in about three lines, as to [King] Feisal’s religious character. Is he a Sunni with Shaih [sic] sympathies, or a Shaih [sic] with Sunni sympathies, or how does he square it? What is [his father] Hussein? Which is the aristocratic high church and which is the low church? What are the religious people at Kerbela [sic]? I always get mixed up between these two.”

The disenfranchisement of the peasantry continued apace. In 1925 the British high commissioner wrote in a report to the League of Nations on progress in Iraq that “all lands excluding urban freehold properties belong primarily to the state and that good title to such lands can only be obtained in consequence of alienation by Government…” This amounted to expropriation of the peasantry’s ancestral lands, and their privatization to a new capitalist class largely based in the cities. This was concomitant with reclamation works such as pump-irrigation projects for tracts along the rivers, allowing greater production and economies of scale. A 1927 report to the League of Nations flatly stated: “The prospective pump-owner is usually an enterprising capitalist townsman, lacking land and anxious to develop a portion of the Domains already subject to tribal occupation.” So the improvements, ironically, brought greater privation to the struggling peasantry.

In 1933, Law 28, “Governing the Rights and Duties of Cultivators,” made formerly free peasants virtual serfs to new absentee landlords by imposing stringent responsibility for debts and the risks of agriculture.

In 1927, oil production began at Kirkuk under the control of the British-dominated Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Few Iraqis were initially employed or reaped economic benefit.

Britain also played an ethnic divide-and-rule card to pacify the country—which the locals would eventually pay for in harsh inter-ethnic reprisals. With the Sunni and Shi’ite peasantry largely united against the occupation, Assyrian Christian refugees from Turkish Anatolia were armed and trained as a British proxy force known as the “levies.”

In 1932, the mandate ended and Iraq became officially independent, although still under the compliant regime of King Faisal. But the following year Faisal died, and his more nationalist son Ghazi took power. The Assyrian levies were crushed by the new Arab army which then consolidated, led by officers trained under the Turks. Reprisals against Assyrian civilians claimed many lives.

King Ghazi was killed in a mysterious car crash in 1939, and a pro-British regent took power in stead of his infant son. During World War II history seemed to repeating itself in Iraq. In 1941, the British re-occupied the country after an abortive coup against the regent in favor of Rashid Ali, the nationalist prime minister. Ali fled to Germany, and the pro-British foreign minister Nuri Said filled his shoes. Sunnis and Shi’ites again united in a jihad against the British, this time with encouragement from Germany. This was suppressed, but more unrest would follow. A 1945 strike by railroad workers spread to the Kirkuk oil fields, and was joined by student protests—all put down harshly

Home rule was again restored as the war ended, but the United States increasingly stepped into Britain’s role as the power behind the throne. In 1955, Nuri Said, still prime minister, established the Baghdad Pact with the US to oppose the influence of Gamal Nasser’s nationalist revolution in Egypt.

And again, this only provoked a backlash—this time, one that would change the political face of Iraq for more than a generation. The 1958 nationalist coup d’etat ushered in the era Polk calls “Revolutionary Iraq.” Nuri Said was put to death. After some initial jockeying among the rival officers, Abdul Karim Qasim emerged as Iraq’s new leader. But his reign was a precarious one, having to balance the rival tendencies of Nasserism and Ba’athism, a more extreme and “mystical” (although secular) exponent of Arab nationalism founded a decade earlier in Damascus. (A third pillar of this uneasy regime, and by far the weakest, was the Communist Party.) A 1959 attempt on Kasim’s life was made by a young Ba’ath militant named Saddam Hussein. Here, Polk’s wry anecdotal material makes its first appearance. He recounts being shown by a proud Qasim the blood-stained uniform he kept in a glass case. “They were not professionals, not serious,” the ruler told the author. “You always fire a second burst. They didn’t. Too bad for them.”

Polk describes how both the Nasserists and Ba’athists exploited and wrestled with two basically contradictory conceptions of Arab nationalism: wataniyah, allegiance to the watan, or geographical nation; and qawmiyah, allegiance to the ethnic nation, which transcends state boundaries. Pan-Arabism glorified the qawm and saw the watan as a “perversion hatched by imperialism.” Yet the contest for which strongman and capital would lead the Arab nation threw the rival factions back into wataniyah. Betrayal of qawmiyah was therefore a convenient charge against opponents, but accommodation with wataniyah seemed an inevitable consequence of maintaining power.

As the nationalists engaged in court intrigues, what Polk calls “political Islam” began to emerge as an opposition movement: the Iraqi branch of the Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood among the Sunnis, the more homegrown and influential Dawa Party among the Shi’ites.

Qasim was finally ousted in a February 1963 coup and put to death. Col. Abdus-Salam Arif, a fellow nationalist officer Qasim had fallen out with and imprisoned, was installed as president, and the Ba’athist Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister. Thousands were killed in a purge said to have been overseen by the CIA, which favored the Ba’athists for thier anti-communism. But Arif ousted al-Bakr and the Ba’athists in a November counter-coup—only to be killed himself in a (mysterious, of course) 1966 helicopter crash. He was followed in power by his brother Abdur-Rahman Arif. But the Ba’ath Party exploited Iraq’s failure to join the ’67 war against Israel, portraying this as a betrayal of the qawm. Ironically assisted by the US once again, the Ba’athists ousted the regime in another coup the following year.

Polk describes how Saddam Hussien rose to power in the regime’s intelligence apparatus, collecting files on everyone for purposes of blackmail and manipulation in the style of J. Edgar Hoover or East Germany’s Stasi. He also became as adept at divide-and-rule as the British before him. Under his direction, Shi’ites became the regime’s official scapegoats. Among the executed Shi’ite leaders was the father of Moktada al-Sadr, the contemporary militia leader. Gruesome public hangings were held. Scorched-earth campaigns were also launched against the Kurds in the north.

But there were populist carrots as well as repressive sticks. The regime instated an agrarian reform that restored some status and security to the peasantry. Strides were made in education and industry. Most importantly, in 1971 the IPC (then consisting largely of British Petroleum, Shell, Esso and Mobil) was nationalized.

Given his exacting account of the coups and counter-coups of the ’60s, it is surprising that Polk does not even note the 1979 putsch in which Saddam consolidated total power. But he does note how the subsequent war with revolutionary Iran made Saddam’s Iraq useful to the United States, oil nationalization notwithstanding. Iraq was removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist sponsors (and Iran added) weeks after presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to meet with Saddam in December ’83.

As harshly as Polk treats Saddam, his descriptions of this period betray him as an old “Arab hand” who by his own admission remained on good terms with high-ranking figures in the Baghdad regime. He does not hedge on the reality that Saddam’s 1988 poison-gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja was an atrocity, but does perhaps clean it up a little. He claims leaflets were dropped to warn the inhabitants of the impending attack. By most accounts, the leaflets were dropped to determine wind direction, and contained no warnings.

He sees a tilt against Iraq in Washington by the late ’80s, portrayed as a design of the then-emergent “Neo-Cons,” an appellation he always capitalizes. He concedes that Saddam’s “brutal policies…made him deeply unpopular,” but seems sorry that Washington was turning against him, and may even overstate the degree to which it, in fact, did. He writes that “by 1990” the US press and Voice of America were “talking about his overthrow.” But was this the case before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in August of that year?

Polk’s discussion of the invasion will shock many readers. He notes that Kuwait provoked Saddam by keeping oil prices low (through high output) when Iraq needed to rebuild following the long war with Iran, which had been undertaken in the first place with the encouragement of the Gulf mini-states, to protect them from potential Iranian subversion or aggression. Then, he was given a “green light” for the invasion by US ambassador April Glaspie, who told him Washington had no position on border disputes between Arab states.

The portrayal of Saddam as goaded into the invasion is convincing. Less so is Polk’s semi-apologia for the argument that Kuwait was an historical part of geographic Iraq, which Saddam was entitled to recover. By way of analogy, Polk invokes Jawaharlal Nehru’s nearly forgotten 1961 invasion and annexation of Goa, the Portuguese coastal enclave, on the grounds that it was an historical part of geographic India.

Kuwait was never part of the state of Iraq. Before British imperialism carved new states out of the Ottoman Empire, there was no Iraq, and no Kuwait. Polk acknowledges that Kuwait became a British protectorate in the late 19th century, while Iraq did not even exist as a concept until after World War I. The confusion over the Iraq-Kuwait border stemmed from the fact that in 1932, when Iraq became independent, it was all remote desert that nobody wanted. It subsequently became an area coveted for oil exploitation, claimed by both sides. Polk also notes that Saddam was angered by Kuwait’s unscrupulous use of “slant” oil drilling technology to tap reserves under Iraqi soil. However, he fails to remark that this technology was developed and supplied by Santa Fe International, whose board members included Brent Scowcroft, US National Security Advisor at the time of Operation Desert Storm.

India’s claim to Goa was arguably no stronger than Iraq’s claim to Kuwait, but Nehru’s invasion wasn’t carried out with the kind of brutality Saddam used in ’90—even discounting the fictional atrocities which were created by the Kuwaiti regime and its PR firm. And Kuwait was at least ostensibly independent in 1990, whereas Goa was an outright Portuguese colony in 1961. So the fact that “Goa had no oil” wasn’t the only difference.

Still, whatever the merits of Saddam’s annexation, it indisputable that George HW Bush wanted war. He acknowledged as much in his memoir, A World Transformed (co-written with Scowcroft). In another telling quote Polk presents, the elder Bush relates hearing a news report in the midst of Desert Storm stating (inaccurately, it turned out) that Saddam had agreed to capitulate to the UN’s demands and withdraw from Kuwait. “Instead of feeling exhilarated, my heart sank,” Poppy wrote.

Polk is appropriately outraged that the US acquiesced when Saddam exacted brutal vengeance against the Shi’ites and Kurds who had revolted against the regime with Bush’s encouragement in the aftermath of Desert Storm. But his account is ambiguous. Writing of the Shi’ite rebellion centered in Basra, he states: “The American commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, allowed Saddam’s regime to use helicopter gunships against the rebels. On the ground, the American forces allowed attacking Iraqi army troops to pass unopposed through their positions and even defended arsenals to prevent Shiis from arming themselves.” The affair was indisputably shameful, but Polk doesn’t explain how US forces were in a position to be that intimately complicit in the repression, given that they never actually occupied Basra, but held off just outside the city. It was perhaps more akin to Stalin holding his armies back at the very gates of Warsaw in September 1944 to give the Nazis time to put down the uprising in the city, sparing the Red Army the trouble.

Polk accepts that it was wise of Poppy Bush to leave Saddam in power. A particularly prescient passage he quotes from A World Transformed shows the elder Bush as far more savvy and realistic than the younger. Polk only uses the chilling final sentence of a paragraph which is worth quoting in full: “Trying to eliminate Saddam…would have incurred incalculable human and political costs… We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq…. [T]here was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Polk’s chapter “American Iraq” actually begins in 1990, because starting then “it has been mostly American action that has determined events.” He portrays the sanctions which were imposed after Desert Storm as placing Saddam in a double-bind, unable to sell oil to raise funds to pay the war reparations which were a prerequisite for lifting the sanctions. The real motive, Polk argues, was to destabilize the regime. Saddam rode out the crisis by falling back on tribalism and nepotism, particularly favoring his own al-Majid clan as local administrators and enforcers.

This section too contains some inexplicable contentions. Polk has the no-fly zone that the US and its allies established in northern Iraq lasting “until 1998.” We hadn’t heard that it was lifted before the US invasion of March 2003.

Still apparently on good terms with the regime he acknowledges was tyrannical, Polk flew to Baghdad in February 2003, where deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz told him (with good reason, hindsight reveals): “America has long since decided to attack Iraq and nothing Iraq could do would prevent it.” Days later, Colin Powell gave his famous pitch at the UN for the case (which he has since disavowed) that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Polk’s final chapter raises the question: “Whose Iraq?” His depiction of the US occupation as an unmitigated disaster needn’t be elaborated on. Bush has replicated the worst errors of his British forebears, and reaped an even stronger insurgency. Moves to “liberalize” the economy, throwing thousands out of work and exacerbating the decline of industry, and especially the occupation authority’s control-by-fiat of the oil industry, are all redolent of the British hubris of the 1920s.

Unfortunately, Polk lays himself bare to charges of overstating his case, which would hardly seem necessary. For instance, he cites without caveat the figure of 100,000 civilian deaths in the bombing and subsequent fighting in Iraq, published in the November 2004 issue of the Lancet medical journal, based on the findings of a team from Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities that conducted interviews with Iraqi doctors. But this figure has been widely questioned. The far more cautious findings of the Iraq Body Count database, based on a global monitoring of press accounts, puts the ever-rising number of Iraqi civilian deaths since March 2003 at a maximum of nearly 50,000 as we go to press. Since the more cautious figures are ghastly enough, why go with the possibly exaggerated ones?

But Polk’s greater error, paradoxically, may be one of unwarranted optimism. He writes that “foreign occupation has at least temporarily driven the Sunni and Shia Iraqi Arabs together in common cause.” Is there much evidence for this? The Sunni insurgents seem as intent on killing Shi’ite civilians and blowing up Shi’ite mosques as fighting the occupation forces. Shi’ite death squads seem quite busy exacting grisly reprisals against Sunnis. The fighting in Iraq seems much more like a sectarian civil war than a national liberation struggle at the moment. This is where the analogy to the 1920s insurgency against the British breaks down. It is “political Islam,” not Arab nationalism, which today dominates the scene.

It is all too clear that Bush’s blundering invasion “has created an entirely new form of instability for Iraq and greatly increased danger for America.” And the solutions Polk advises in his closing pages do seem the best bet: Bush should admit defeat and withdraw, as Charles de Gaulle did from Algeria in 1962; the UN should step in with peacekeepers to oversee new elections untainted by an American military presence, and the return of real sovereign control of the oil to the new regime. Ironically, Polk warns against establishing an Iraqi national army, pointing to Iraq’s sorry history of military meddling in politics. But this recommendation goes against his thesis that national sovereignty must be fully restored for there to be peace.

The more serious weakness is his assumption that if the US withdraws as France did from Algeria, “fighting will quickly die down as it did there and in all other guerilla wars.” Attacks on oil infrastructure now prevent recovery of this critical sector, but “when the Americans leave, those attacks will cease.”

Writers should be wary of predicting the future. If we are to advocate a US withdrawal, we must prepare ourselves for the possibility that it could initially lead to an increase in violence, as sectarian factions perceive that the political order is up for grabs. The US has played a divide-and-rule card at least as aggressively as either the British or Saddam, and the cost in local reprisals has been far worse, actually becoming inimical to the aim of a stable occupation. As the perceived protector of the Shi’ites and Kurds, the US presence antagonizes the Sunni Arabs, and the cycle of vengeance has now taken on a life of its own. The painful paradox may be that a post-withdrawal conflagration is now inevitable, but the longer the US remains in Iraq the worse it will be.

If we think we stand any chance of really pressuring the US to withdraw, we had better inoculate ourselves now against charges of betraying the Iraqis to a sectarian maelstrom. Bush got us into this mess through his apparent utopian assumption that his invasion would bring democracy and stability on short order. Let’s not replicate his error.



William R. Polk’s homepage

Iraq Body Count


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

Continue ReadingIRAQ FOR NITWITS 


from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On the evening of Sept. 19, in front of an overflow crowd of public spectators, the No. 1 Federal Oral Court in the Argentine city of La Plata, Buenos Aires province, sentenced former police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz to life in prison for the crimes of wilful homicide, illegal privation of liberty and application of torture. Etchecolatz must serve his sentence in a common prison; he will continue to be held at the Marcos Paz prison, where he has been detained since shortly after the trial began in June.

The court treated the charges as crimes against humanity in the context of genocide, ruling that the kidnappings, torture and murders carried out by Etchecolatz were part of a systematic extermination plan by the state. It was the first official court recognition that the actions of Argentina’s military regime (1976-1983) constituted genocide. An estimated 30,000 people were detained and disappeared by the regime, and presumably murdered, though most of the bodies were never found.

Etchecolatz was the director of investigations for the Buenos Aires provincial police, which operated under the armed forces during the dictatorship. As his defense, he claimed he was merely following orders–specifically that he was carrying out a decree issued on Feb. 5, 1975, by the constitutional government of Isabel Peron, which ordered the military to use any necessary means to neutralize rebels operating in Tucuman province. (Adital, Sept. 21; Justicia Ya – La Plata, Sept. 19)

On the morning of Sept. 18, Jorge Julio Lopez, a member of Argentina’s Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared, was scheduled to appear at the municipal building in La Plata to observe the Etchocolatz trial as a witness and plaintiff in the case. But the 77-year-old Lopez failed to appear at the hearing, and when he was still missing at the end of the day, his colleagues quickly became alarmed; they filed habeas corpus petitions with the appropriate authorities and began a massive search effort.

Lopez had testified in the trial that he saw Etchecolatz shoot to death two detainees, Patricia Dell’Orto and her husband, Ambrosio De Marco, in the clandestine prison known as Pozo de Arana. Lopez had also identified Etchecolatz as a member of the gang that illegally detained him at his home in October 1976. Lopez, who had worked as a bricklayer, was tortured while detained at Pozo de Arana and the Fifth Police Station of La Plata.

The Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared reports that a number of its members have suffered intimidations and threats during the course of the Etchecolatz trial, and they are concerned that Lopez’s disappearance could be related to his testimony against the former police chief. Association member Nilda Eloy, another survivor who testified against Etchecolatz, received phone calls on the night of Sept. 16 in which recordings of torture sounds were played. Activists were further spooked by the Sept. 20 discovery of a burned corpse at a site known as Camino Negro, where authorities frequently dumped their victims during the dictatorship. The body turned out to not be that of Lopez–though it remains unidentified–but Lopez’s lawyer, Guadalupe Godoy, called the incident “symbolic and threatening; when we found out, we understood the message.”

The Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared has formed a coalition with other human rights groups, Justice Now – La Plata, which is leading the campaign to demand Lopez’s safe return. Human rights supporters, union members, students and others held a vigil on the night of Sept. 20 in the San Martin plaza in La Plata to demand that Lopez be found alive and well. Another demonstration was held the next evening, Sept. 21. Supporters held another, larger march for Lopez on Sept. 22 in La Plata.

On Sept. 21, the Buenos Aires provincial government announced a 200,000-peso ($64,541) reward for anyone providing information about the whereabouts of Lopez. (Communiques from Asociacion de ex Detenidos Desaparecidos, Sept. 19, 20, 22 via Red Solidaria por los Derechos Humanos-REDH; Pagina 12, Buenos Aires, Sept. 20, 22; Diario Hoy, La Plata, Sept. 20; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Sept. 22; Argentina Indymedia, Sept. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006

“Argentina: ex-agent gets 25 years”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 8, 2006


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Sept. 11, Peruvian police agents entered the community of Sion, San Martin department, in the Alto Huallaga region, and physically attacked a group of campesino coca growers (cocaleros). The agents fired tear gas canisters, shot weapons into the air and beat residents. At least 30 cocaleros were injured, one of them seriously. Sion mayor Nestor Sallago Mateo said three community members were detained by police and their whereabouts are unknown.

Initially, the government blamed the cocaleros for the clash in Sion, but on Sept. 14 Nancy Obregon, Peru’s top cocalero leader and member of Congress with the Union for Peru party led by Ollanta Humala Tasso, gave reporters a videotape of the incident showing clear evidence of excessive force on the part of police.

On Sept. 14, Interior Minister Pilar Mazzetti acknowledged that she had seen the video–Obregon showed it to her on Sept. 12–and that it confirmed police had committed “excesses” in Sion following “an eradication operation that went out of control.” According to Mazzetti, eradication agents are supposed to limit their actions to coca plantations, and cannot intervene in towns or use tear gas in residential areas. Calling the incident “inadmissible,” Mazzetti announced she had fired the director of the Alto Huallaga coca control and reduction program (CORAH), Jose Yale Morales, transferred six police officers who were in charge of the operation and ordered an investigation to determine responsibilities. Mazzetti also ordered the temporary suspension of coca eradication operations in the area, and said the government was reevaluating its eradication plans. Cocalero leaders were set to meet on Sept. 18 with Agriculture Minister Jose Salazar to discuss crop substitution programs. (AP, Sept. 14; AFP, Sept. 15; El Comercio, Lima, Sept. 12, 14; La Republica, Lima, Sept. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 17


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

In the early hours of Sept. 1, a fight broke out in Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly in the Gran Mariscal theater in the city of Sucre. The Assembly was elected on July 2 and inaugurated on Aug. 6 to write Bolivia’s new Constitution. Witnesses say Assembly member Ignacio Mendoza, the body’s secretary, was reading proposed internal debate rules when Assembly member Gamal Serhan of the right-wing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) party planted himself in front of Mendoza and tried to block him from continuing. Assembly members from the ruling left-wing Movement to Socialism (MAS) tried to pull Serhan away, and more Podemos delegates jumped into the fray. A shoving match ensued, and Roman Loayza, leader of the MAS bloc in the Assembly, fell from the stage and suffered a severe head injury. Loayza, longtime leader of the Only Union Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers (CSUTCB), was treated at a nearby hospital in Sucre, and later transported to a hospital in Santa Cruz, where as of Sept. 3 his condition had improved slightly but was still considered critical. (Argenpress, Sept. 1 from Agencia Boliviana de Informacion; El Mundo, Santa Cruz, Sept. 3)

The proposed internal rules that sparked the controversy allow assembly decisions to be adopted by simple majority. The rules were approved on Sept. 1 by a vote of 139-1 with 10 abstentions after most of the opposition stormed out of the session. The MAS holds a simple majority in the 255-seat Assembly, but less than two thirds. The rules must still be ratified in a second vote. The rules require the final Constitution to be approved by a two-thirds vote, as laid out in the law convening the Assembly, but also provide that if in three votes the Constitution is not approved, it is to be put to a popular referendum. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 2; EconoticiasBolivia, Sept. 1)


A series of strikes and protests swept Bolivia during the week of Aug. 28. On Aug. 29, President Evo Morales Ayma managed to negotiate an agreement with bus drivers, putting an early end to a 48-hour transport strike that shut down the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Sucre that day. On Aug. 30, Morales tried to defuse a protest by the Civic Committee of Chuquisaca department, where protesters shut down the Sucre airport and civic leaders began a hunger strike on Aug. 29. Morales responded to their demands with decrees to build a new airport in Sucre and provide potable water for campesinos in the department’s rural areas.

Alfredo Rada, Vice Minister of Coordination with Social Movements, said an agreement was signed to appease residents of border towns in southern Tarija department, whose protests were supported with an Aug. 29-30 civic strike by the Tarija Civic Committee. Since Aug. 24, residents of San Jose de Pocitos and Yacuiba had been protesting the Argentine government’s restrictions on small-scale merchants who transport goods across the border. On Aug. 29, the demonstrators forced workers on the Transredes gas pipeline, owned by an affiliate of the British companies Shell and Ashmore, to shut down the pumping of gas to Argentina. Police and soldiers intervened and got the pumps running again 12 hours later.

The combative urban teachers’ union began a 48-hour strike on Aug. 29 in the cities of La Paz and El Alto; teachers in Santa Cruz joined the strike on its second day, Aug. 30. The teachers are demanding better wages, a new congress on education and the removal of Education Minister Felix Patzi. In a counter-protest against the teachers’ strike, the Federation of Parents of El Alto organized a march of thousands of people from El Alto to the government’s headquarters in La Paz.

Workers at the National Health Department (CNS) held a three-day strike Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 to protest the agency’s restructuring and demand the rehiring of three former union members fired for alleged corruption. (La Jornada, Aug. 30, 31; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 31)

As of Aug. 30, members of the Assembly of the Guarani People (AGP) continued to occupy a gas pipeline station of the Transierra company in Santa Cruz department, and were threatening to take over two more facilities. (LJ, Aug. 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 3


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006

“Bolivia: Evo caught between opposing hardliners” WW4 REPORT, Sept. 26


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



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Sept. 19 troops from the Colombian National Army’s Nueva Granada Anti-Aircraft Battalion murdered campesino leader and [independent, small-scale] mining union activist Alejandro Uribe in a rural mining area in the south of Bolivar department. Uribe was president of the Community Action Board of the village of Mina Gallo, in Morales municipality, and a member of the Agromining Federation of the South of Bolivar (Fedeagromisbol). He was killed while returning to Mina Gallo from the rural community of Las Culebras, in Montecristo municipality. Uribe had gone to the mining association’s farm in Las Culebras that morning with Emiliano Garcia, an official with the Agromining Federation and legal representative of the Mina Gallo Association.

On Sept. 20, after Garcia and Uribe failed to return home as planned, a commission from the communities of Mina Gallo and Mina Viejito went looking for the two leaders. On the road they found Uribe’s clothes, and were told by local residents that army troops had transported Uribe’s body on a mule, apparently to the military base at San Luiquitas, in Santa Rosa municipality.

Some 600 residents of the area then traveled to San Luquitas to demand that Nueva Granada Battalion personnel hand over Uribe’s body. On Sept. 21, members of the battalion threatened the protesting residents, saying: “This is not the only corpse you’re going to have, there will be more dead leaders.” Members of the battalion had previously warned that they had a list of local leaders and members of the Agromining Federation, and that they were hoping to find the listed individuals alone on rural roads.

The Nueva Granada Battalion troops who killed Uribe were commanded by Capt. Blanco under the orders of Benjamin Palomino, the battalion’s Official Captain of Operations. The battalion, which is attached to the army’s Fifth Brigade, had already been accused of a series of abuses in Mina Gallo and elsewhere in the mining region of southern Bolivar.

On Sept. 7, less than two weeks before he was killed, Uribe had gone with representatives of human rights groups to the Office of the Defender of the People to report that the battalion’s troops had executed local resident Arnulfo Pabon on Aug. 18 in the rural village of Bolivador, Arenal municipality.

On Sept. 8, Uribe took part in an assembly in Mina Gallo of more than 18 mining communities of southern Bolivar, accompanied by representatives from the Office of the Defender of the People and human rights organizations, to analyze the human rights situation in the region and adopt protective measures. The meeting also served as a pre-hearing assembly for the Permanent People’s Court, which is to be held in Medellin Nov. 11-12. Participants discussed the army’s recent abuses and suggested they may be an effort to clear the way for the multinational company Kedahda S.A.–an affiliate of Anglo Gold Ashanti–to engage in mining operations in southern Bolivar. Uribe and other mining union leaders in the region oppose the company’s presence.

In a radio interview, Gen. Jose Joaquin Cortes Franco, commander of the army’s Fifth Brigade, claimed that his troops had killed an armed leftist rebel from the National Liberation Army (ELN), only to discover later that he was a local community leader. Cortes would not confirm that the man killed was Alejandro Uribe; he said the attorney general’s office was in charge of determining the person’s identity. Cortes claimed the man was in a “hostile position” when killed in combat, and that five other men were with him but managed to escape. Cortes confirmed that the man killed was wearing civilian clothing. (Joint Communiques from Corporacion Sembrar, Federacion Agrominera del Sur de Bolivar, Coordinador Nacional Agrario, Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia, Sept. 20, 22 via dhColombia; Communique from the Diocese of Magangue, Sept. 22)

Cortes served as an instructor at the US Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, from January 1993 to January 1994, while he was a major. In 1976, as a 2nd lieutenant, he took a course in “small unit infantry tactics” at the school, then located in Panama. (SOA Graduates List from soaw.org) [SOA was forced to shut down its Panama location in September 1984; it reopened at Fort Benning, Georgia, in January 1985.]

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24


On Aug. 17, soldiers from the Colombian army’s Nueva Granada Anti-Aircraft Battalion arrived at the village of Mina Central, in Morales municipality, in the south of Bolivar department. The soldiers occupied six homes, insulted the inhabitants and forced the women to cook for them. On Aug. 18, the same troops arrived at a home in Bolivador village, Arenal municipality, where local resident Arnulfo Pabon, known as “Lulo,” handed a pistol and communications radio over to the soldiers without offering any resistance. The soldiers ransacked the home and stole personal belongings, money and the identity documents of Bibiana Marin, Cosme’s partner. They grabbed Marin, dragged her outside the house and threatened to rape her in front of Cosme and the couple’s three-year old son.

The soldiers released Marin but detained, beat and tied up Cosme, and took him into the woods, where about an hour later local residents heard gunfire. Hours later several soldiers appeared with Cosme’s dead body, claiming he was a guerrilla, and forced several residents to help tie the corpse to a pole to carry it around the village to intimidate other residents. Witnesses noted that Cosme’s body had a single bullet wound at the base of the skull.

The soldiers also detained three local residents, two women and a man known as “Picas”. The women were questioned and released but the soldiers took “Picas” away. The soldiers then took a mule from a local resident, mounted Cosme’s body on it, and took it on a tour of the communities of Mina Viejito and Mina Central, urging residents to “greet their friend Lulo.” The soldiers also brought “Picas” on the tour, insulting and beating him as they forced him to walk with his hands and neck tied and carrying a military suitcase on his shoulders.

On Aug. 4, troops from the same battalion, accompanied by hooded individuals, abducted a campesina woman known as “La Cachaca” and her son and a young miner known as “Guaranda” in the hamlet of Mina Esperanza, in Mina Gallo village, Morales municipality. The three were taken away in an army helicopter and their whereabouts remain unknown. “Picas” remains missing as well, and the whereabouts of Cosme’s body are also unknown. (Corporacion Servicios Profesionales Comunitarios Sembrar, Aug. 29 via dhcolombia.info)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 10


On Sept. 4, more than 300 displaced Colombians took over an abandoned slaughterhouse owned by the district of Bogota to demand that the district government fulfill its promises to provide them with housing. Many of the participants in the protest action had taken part in a larger occupation a year ago at the Riveras de Occidente housing development in the Patio Bonito sector of western Bogota’s Kennedy neighborhood. The displaced people say the national and district governments have failed to fulfill the commitments they made when they signed an accord to end that occupation on Sept. 7, 2005. The accord committed the government to take measures guaranteeing the displaced people’s health, education, housing, humanitarian aid, accompaniment and safe return to their places of origin. Before carrying out the Sept. 4 occupation, the displaced families produced a lengthy communique detailing the government’s specific failings on each of the accord’s points.

Almost as soon as the occupation began, troops from the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the National Police and agents of the Metropolitan Police arrived at the slaughterhouse in four armored vehicles and began attacking the displaced protesters with tear gas, beatings and verbal aggression. Nearly 200 people were detained, and at least 26 were also seriously injured. Fifty people, including a number of women and children who were beaten or affected by tear gas, were taken to the Family Police Station; the other 150 were detained at the Permanent Justice Unit (UPJ) facility.

Plainclothes agents from the Judicial Investigations and Intelligence Service (SIJIN) of the National Police detained four members of the International Peace Observatory (IPO), an organization which since August 2004 has provided accompaniment to Colombian communities nonviolently resisting armed conflict and social injustice. The police presented the four international detainees to the press as “instigators” of the protest. The four internationals were taken to SIJIN headquarters, then to an Administrative Security Department (DAS) immigration office “with the purpose of verifying the legality of their presence in the country.” All four–Alex Juanmarti of Catalonia (in Spain), Marianna Garfi of Italy and US citizens Carmen Rivera and David Feller–were released 11 hours later.

Col. Yamil Hernando Moreno Arias, head of the No. 2 Operative Command of the Metropolitan Police of Bogota, told the media that the intention of the demonstrators was to seize the Health Department of Bogota, that the four foreign nationals “are not international observers” and that they had participated in an occupation by displaced people of the central plaza in Bosa, in the south of Bogota, several weeks earlier. (Agencia Prensa Rural, Sept. 4, 7; Adital, Sept. 6; Movimiento de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado Communique, Sept. 4, posted on www.peaceobservatory.org; Report from Colectivo de Abogados ‘Jose Alvear Restrepo’ posted Sept. 9 on Colombia Indymedia)

Until November 2005 Col. Moreno served as police commander in Uraba, where he was apparently in charge of trying to undermine the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. While there, Moreno admitted that one of his men was a known paramilitary, Wilmar Durango. (APR, Sept. 4) Durango has been accused of carrying out numerous threats and actions against the Peace Community.

Col. Moreno is apparently only opposed to certain types of foreign intervention: at an April 2005 meeting in Carepa, Antioquia, with representatives from the US-based Colombia Support Network he bragged of having had extensive training at a number of places in the US. (Notes from Sept. 20 Interview with Col. Moreno posted on ttp://colombiasupport.net) In February 1994, when still a captain, he served as an instructor at the US Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). (SOA Watch List of Graduates)

Ironically, one of the arrested IPO observers, Carmen Rivera, was once a national organizer with SOA Watch, a Washington-based organization which works to close the school (now called WHINSEC) and expose the actions of its graduates. (SOA Watch News & Updates, Sept. 6)

District Security Under-secretary Andres Restrepo told the media that the four foreigners’ “life histories were being analyzed to proceed with their deportation” since their actions were “altering the citizen coexistence.” (APR, Sept. 7)

In a Sept. 5 communique, the volunteers wrote that “IPO did NOT at any time participate in the displaced community’s legitimate action to reclaim their rights, much less did we organize the protest. The community of displaced people requested IPO’s presence so that we could produce a documentary about the action, as was done last year during the nonviolent takeover at Patio Bonito. IPO volunteers arrived at the site of the takeover, the old district slaughterhouse, at 7:30 AM, just after the police had fenced in the protest inhibiting us from entering.”

Moreno’s assistant, Maj. Mendez, later “falsely declared to Coronel Moreno and to the members of the media that IPO volunteers had arrived at the protest at 6:30 AM, that we had organized the action, and that we had falsely identified ourselves as United Nations officials,” the volunteers wrote.

“We repudiate this tactic used to distract national and international attention from the critical condition of displaced people in this country, people who struggle to reclaim their rights from a government that has repeatedly denied them,” the statement continued. “We stress that there are two Colombian nationals facing charges because of their participation in the protest and one Colombian national who was disappeared from the site, in addition to the hundreds of people imprisoned and wounded due to the Colombian government’s unwillingness to respond peacefully to the situation. While national and international attention has focused on us and on the absurd tale invented by the police, hundreds of homeless families continue to go hungry.” (IPO Communique, Sept. 5 posted on www.peaceobservatory.org)

The Movement of Victims of Crimes of State is demanding that district and national authorities fulfill their obligations under the accords they signed a year ago with the displaced families, follow the Constitutional Court’s 2004 ruling (T 025) on the vulnerability of the displaced population and respect the right of the victims to peaceful and legitimate protest. (Movimiento de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado Communique, Sept. 4, posted on www.peaceobservatory.org)


Early on Sept. 1, university professor Edgar Fajardo was taken from his apartment by several individuals and shot to death at the entrance of the residential complex where he lived, in Soacha municipality, on the southern edge of Bogota. Fajardo was a member of the Colombian Communist Party. An unidentified young man was also killed in the incident. (Diario VEA, Caracas; Vientos del Sur, Sept. 2 via Colombia Indymedia)

On Aug. 16, community leader Walter Alvarez Ossa disappeared while returning to his home in the city of Guadalajara de Buga, Valle del Cauca department. As of Sept. 6, his whereabouts and fate remain unknown. Alvarez is a founder and member of the board of directors of the Buga section of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH). For over 30 years he has led efforts to win basic rights and alternative development for the most vulnerable sectors of Buga and Valle del Cauca. In 2004, he was arbitrarily detained by the Attorney General’s office. In February 2006, Alvarez was threatened with death in a flier written by individuals who identified themselves as members of the rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Despite the flier, neither departmental nor municipal authorities took any measures to protect his life.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders urges people to demand the safe return of Alvarez to his community; full protection for him, his family and all CPDH members in Valle del Cauca; and a full investigation into his disappearance. Letters can be sent to President Alvaro Uribe Velez (auribe@presidencia.gov.co); Vice President Francisco Santos (fsantos@presidencia.gov.co); Defender of the People Volmar Antonio Perez Ortiz (secretaria_privada@hotmail.com); Attorney General Mario Hernan Iguaran Arana (contacto@fiscalia.gov.co); Procurator General Edgardo Jose Maya Villazon (cap@procuraduria.gov.co); Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos Calderon (siden@mindefensa.gov.co); and Carlos Franco, director of the Presidential Program of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (cefranco@presidencia.gov.co). (Adital, Sept. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 10


Close to midnight on Sept. 16, Colombian army troops fired a mortar grenade at the indigenous village of Zumbico in the southern department of Cauca. The troops were from the National Army’s Pichincha Battalion, part of the Third Brigade, camped in the urban area of Jambalo. The grenade landed 40 meters from the site where more than 2,500 indigenous people were celebrating at a fundraiser event, and five meters from the residence of Bautista Yule Rivera, where the explosion killed 10-year-old Wilder Fabian Hurtado and badly wounded Yule Rivera. A number of people at the celebration were also injured.

It was not the first such incident in the indigenous communities of Cauca department. On June 9, a mortar grenade lobbed by the same troops caused serious injuries to Robinson Ullun in the community of Moterredondo. On several other occasions, mortar grenades have landed close to homes. The Indigenous Council of Jambalo responded to the latest attack by calling a public hearing of the indigenous court for Sept. 19. (Cabildo Indigena de Jambalo-Cauca, Sept. 17)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


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



Popular Movement Stands Up to Privatization

by Jason Wallach, Upside Down World

When residents in Santa Eduviges entered their second month without running water, everyone knew something had to be done. A meeting was called. Community members expressed outrage that the water company’s $7 per month bill always arrived on time, but taps barely flowed. When they did, the liquid that came out was an ugly brown.

Anger quickly turned toward system operator Roberto Saprissa. He received the money, but was doing nothing to fix the system’s problems. They complained that service under Saprissa was deficient, polluted and un-hygienic—even after a number of meetings with governmental officials. The company simply did not respond to anyone.

The community discussed the issue and came to a decision. Their demand? De-privatize the town water system and turn over its management to El Salvador’s national water agency, ANDA (AdministraciĂłn Nacional De Acueductos Y Alcantarillados).

Days later, on Sept. 7, residents of this small community near the San Salvador suburb of Soyapango, overtook the Gold Highway that leads into the capital. Young and old occupied the busy thoroughfare from the morning rush until 6 PM. The community made their demand clear: “Give us clean water and put our system under government control.” That evening, police fired tear gas to dislodge the crowd and arrested five people.

While dozens of communities in El Salvador have occupied roads demanding water service, the particular conflict that confronted this village of 300 people—and their unusual demand—could be replicated if El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approves a controversial General Water Law. The proposed legislation would shift water administration from the national to the municipal level and obligate local governments to sign “concessions”—or contracts with private firms—for up to 50 years.

The proposal has become a lightning rod for opposition from religious and civic groups who say it amounts to a privatization of the country’s water.

Congressmen from the ruling ARENA party have signaled that the legislation could be submitted for Assembly debate before the end of the year. ARENA, which has occupied El Salvador’s executive branch for 17 years, is counting on votes from the right-wing National Reconciliation Party for the 44-vote majority. But legislators are confident of passage. A similar bill was retracted last August by popular pressure and the familiar election-year reticence of ruling party to tackle controversial issues.

Who Wants Privatization?

Since the early 1990‚s the international financial institutions (IFIs), like the Interamerican Development Bank (IADB), have encouraged the privatization of water systems throughout Latin America through “Structural Adjustment” loans. The IFIs require governments to open water management to private investment as a condition for receiving loan money, which is usually destined for infrastructure repair or new construction.

The IADB stopped using the word “privatization” after the 2000 disturbances in Cochabomba, Bolivia. In that conflict over water privatization, tens of thousands marched until the local government annulled a water management concession with a subsidiary of the US-based Bechtel corporation. Today, the IADB prefers terms like “concessions,” “decentralization,” or “private sector participation.” But critics say whatever the euphemism, the result is privatization.

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

In El Salvador, the IADB approved loan 0068-ES, “Reform Program For the Water Sector and the Potable Water and Sanitation Sub-sector.” One of the main functions of the loan is to transfer state-run water companies “under a decentralization of services with private sector participation.” The IADB directed $36 million of the loan for the “promotion of such private sector participation (PSP) using specialized consultants to give support and financial advice to the government towards the effective organization of PSP schemes.” The text is from a document entitled “Executive Summary of the Reform Program For the Water Sector and the Potable Water and Sanitation Sub-sector (ES-0068), IADB, 1998,” The word “scheme” is the Bank’s, from the English original.

The focus of the IADB’s hydro-related projects is to implement a systemic shift of management from public water companies to corporate board rooms.

ANDA: History from Above and Below

For residents of Santa Eduviges, deciding on ANDA management was to opt for the lesser among various evils. The national entity is mired in corruption scandals and has been the target of extreme budget cuts by President Tony Saca. Its budget was slashed 15% last year to its lowest level since 2000—a perplexing reduction in a country where the need is great. The percentage of rural Salvadorans with potable water hovers around 60%.

In mid-September, El Salvador’s Court of Accounting (an agency equivalent to the US GAO) implicated two ex-presidents of ANDA, Carlos Perla and Manuel Arrieta, in a corrupt well-drilling deal worth $7.5 million. In January, Perla, who has fled with his family to France, failed to appear at two hearings where he was accused of fraudulent deals on 13 separate contracts totaling $42 million. Indictments alleged that in one case, Perla accepted a $2 million bribe from two Spanish firms that sought lucrative government contracts on the Lempa River, which provides about 60% of El Salvador’s potable water.

While it is clear that the state-run ANDA isn’t the smoothest-sailing ship in the sea, many believe it remains the most accessible and accountable entity for communities scrambling to meet the urgent need for water.

ANDA workers responsible for repairing water systems agree. They say they want to work, but the government has engaged a plan to discredit the agency and thus, justify privatization as a solution to poor service. In fact, workers say, even without the proposed General Water Law, a de facto privatization is already taking place.

“People complain about ANDA’s slow response time” says Wilfredo Romero, general secretary at SETA, the union of ANDA workers. “But delays happen not because workers don’t want to work. We do. To make repairs, we need an assignment order from management.”

Those orders, argues SETA’s press secretary Jorge RenĂ© Cordoba, “are prioritized for systems that are planned to be concessioned off. The rest have to wait their turn.” SETA members argue that municipalities that reject water concessions are put at the end of the line. As a result, service has slowed to a crawl in San Salvador, where Mayor Violeta MenjĂ­var opposes concessioning the city’s water services.

SETA took out half-page ads in the nation’s two biggest daily newspapers opposing the General Water Law, which according to the ad, “would privatize water and condemn thousands of our compatriots to suffer thirst for the inability to pay…”

SETA members are also motivated by the string of recent privatizations in El Salvador’s telecommunications and electricity sectors. In both cases, the private contracting led to the layoff and firing of thousands of workers. Many of these workers were forced to re-apply for the same jobs at half the pay with none of the state-provided benefits. The average ANDA worker makes about $300 month.

Workers aligned with SETA have paid a price for their resistance to privatization. On the night of July 18, an anonymous death threat was slipped under the SETA office door. Hearkening the memory of El Salvador’s death squad past, the letter was signed by the previously unknown “Viva Mi Major!” Movement—or, My Major Lives!

“My Major” is a direct reference to Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, the deceased founder of the ARENA party and a School of the Americas graduate. D’Aubuisson is generally considered the intellectual author of El Salvador’s death squads, which throughout the 80’s executed and disappeared thousands of Salvadorans who struggled for social and economic justice.

The reference was not lost on SETA general secretary Romero. At a press conference on the subject convened by the union, he said: “The Constitution gives us the right to form any type of labor union. This repression is a sign that we’re doing our job well.”

Environmental Realities

“Water doesn’t come from the faucet, it comes from the watershed!” exclaims Angel Ibarra of the National Ecological Union of El Salvador (UNES). It’s a phrase he has repeated to grassroots groups, legislators, and anyone else who will listen. The stout Ibarra has argued for years about the need to develop a national plan aimed at protecting El Salvador’s river systems and aquifers.

He says that deforestation, which has left only 2% of El Salvador’s original forest intact, has contributed to the deterioration of water quality. He says the major threats to water quality include proposed mines and dams. Fertilizer run-off and untreated sewage are not being addressed by the government, nor are they considered in the proposed General Water Law. The result, says Ibarra, is a damaged water cycle that fails to meet the needs of the growing Salvadoran population.

Together with the Catholic-based charity, CARITAS, the UNES has developed its own alternative General Water Law. The UNES proposal advocates public not corporate control of water, declaring: “The state should assume principal responsibility [for water], including financial responsibility, since water should not be converted into merchandise, or subjected to workings of the market.”

The UNES/CARITAS plan places watershed care at the center of any water reform in El Salvador and calls for a holistic conservation plan aimed at protecting rivers, aquifers and springs. It also calls for a government-regulated rate scale, which charges corporate customers at higher rates than households.

CAFTA’s Hidden Influence

As political parties gear up to debate the General Water Law, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) will quietly form the background for the discussion. Under CAFTA, multinational water companies must be given “national treatment,” though they are not obligated to sell water nationally. If a new concessions law is passed, as President Saca and the IDB wish, multinational corporations could start bidding over El Salvador’s lavish supply with an eye toward more lucrative consumer markets.

According to Alejandra Castillo of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), CAFTA’s public service provisions were practically written for the multinational water companies.

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

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

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

People Claim Their Right to Water

In July, over 100 activists held a national gathering to jumpstart efforts to defend the public right to affordable water access. In September, a second gathering was held in which participants inaugurated the “National Forum for the Defense of the Sustainability and the Right to Water.” The Forum plans to make their first public announcement on Oct. 17, which coincides with the “Day of the ANDA Worker.” A mobilization and march is also planned for the near future. According to the group’s charter, its mission is to “stop [legislative] proposals that work against the sustainability of water” and to “promote alternatives to uncontrolled urbanization, mines, and dams that threaten the quality and renewal of water resources.”

Back in Santa Edviges, one community among hundreds craving affordable access to potable water, the community celebrates. Five residents who were arrested in the Sept. 7 protest were released with all charges dropped. And the community won a rare signed agreement with ANDA committing the state-run company to assume control of their small water system. People were generally satisfied with their tactics, but fear repression and possible sabotage by Sabrissa, the former owner.

However, the fate of the rest of El Salvador’s water systems lies in the balance. ANDA director Cesar Funes—a champion of the privatization cause—has signaled that the government’s Water Law is 80% complete and will be submitted for debate by El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly before the end of the year. Activists at the UNES and SETA have vowed to fight its passage. The coming months will decide whether the future of El Salvador’s water will be decided by a central water agency, by multi-national water companies, or by the people themselves.


Jason Wallach is an editor at UpsideDownWorld.org, a website uncovering activism and politics in Latin America. He is based in El Salvador.

This story originally appeared Sept. 27 on Upside Down World

See also:

“El Salvador: No Business as Usual as CAFTA Takes Effect”
by Paul Pollack, WW4REPORT #120, April 2006

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



Canadian Mining Project Tainted by Rights Abuses

by Cyril Mychalejko, Upside Down World

“Welcome to Ascendant Copper, a socially responsible corporate citizen,” states the Canadian mining company’s website. Ascendant also boasts of being a member of the UN Global Compact. Ironically it was officially accepted into the group on July 12, the same day that several hundred residents of the village of Intag marched in Quito to protest the company’s mining project.

The Global Compact is a voluntary initiative developed by the UN to streamline the human rights agenda into the day-to-day practices of global corporations. There is no monitoring or enforcement of declared standards, which relegates the compact to nothing more than a public relations tool for corporations, helping to put a human face on often inhumane business practices, such as those carried out by Ascendant.

Now welcome to Intag, Ecuador, home to Ascendant’s Junin Project, where one sign (among many) posted on a local road reads: “The Communities of Junin, Cerro Pelado, Barcelona, El Triunfo and Villaflora do not permit mining.” The company is awaiting confirmation from the Ecuadorian government to begin the exploration phase for a potential open-pit copper mine in these areas.

According to human rights organizations and lawyers representing many residents of the region, the company’s activities in the area are anything but socially responsible and even amount to complicity in human rights abuses with the Ecuadorian government.

The company’s most recent press release on Sept. 19 described opponents of its project as “eco-terrorists”, “extremists” and “radicals.” This accusation is a reaction to a conflict in which company employees, one armed with a pistol, trespassed in Junin’s community reserve to conduct tests that the company alleges were meant to support its environmental impact study (EIS), which is complete and awaiting approval by Ecuador’s Ministry of Energy and Mines. However, the approval can only be granted if a local court fails to rule in favor of local communities that filed a suit charging that the company didn’t follow standards set by Ecuadorian law in its EIS.

Two of the employees were detained by local residents after they were discovered trespassing. The employees were fed and treated well–they testified as much to the police. Subsequently, without a warrant or evidence, the police arrested two individuals on charges of kidnapping. The local campesinos arrested weren’t even present when the company workers were detained. The men were held in jail for eight days before being released Sept. 21. The judge released them without requiring bail, which suggests a lack of evidence for their arrest.

The arrest “was completely unlawful,” says Isabella Figueroa, a human rights lawyer who represents residents of the region affected by the company’s activities.

Ascendant, however, stated in its press release that “two of the kidnappers have been arrested, arraigned, and are in prison awaiting sentencing.” Company president, Gary E. Davis, is apparently unaware that, as in the United States, the accused in Ecuador are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. By stating that these individuals are not only kidnappers but terrorists, he potentially violated Ecuadorian law protecting citizens from slander. The law, called Injuria Calumniosa, protects citizens from claims such as responsibility for a crime before being convicted by a judge or jury.

According to David Cordero Heredia of the Ecumenical Comission of Human Rights (CEDHU), Davis’ remarks might put him in front of a judge, even though he is a foreign national and didn’t issue the statement in Ecuador. “The consequences of Davis’ words are present here in Ecuador,” said Heredia. “The people whose reputations were injured are here.”

In addition, the company’s press release is in violation of Article 12 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Furthermore, the police violated Article 9 which prohibits arbitrary arrests and detention.

Opponents of the mine believe that the company is using this rhetoric to persuade the government to crack down on any mining opponents.

Subsequent events turned ugly when the company sent several truckloads of workers to block the road to Junin, thus preventing food trucks from entering the community. Local residents from all over the region walked or drove to Junin to support the community in its struggle against the company, with numbers reaching close to 200. Residents of Junin were worried about being able to feed themselves and supporters. The police were no help in diffusing the standoff, allowing company workers (some with family members) to continue the road blockade. In addition, two truckloads of Ascendant workers drove into the community of Junin–where they are unwelcome–and started a fight with community members. No serious injuries were reported.

The failure of the police to respond appropriately has created the perception among many area residents that police are working with the company.

Human Rights Dismissed

The UN Declaration of Human Rights embodies the principals of the UN Global Compact which the company professes to follow. The Compact also uses other international human rights treaties as a guide for companies on how they should behave as global “corporate citizens.”

According to a legal suit filed in the Eight Civil-Law Court of Imbabura, the company is in violation of the Protocol of San Salvador, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Declaration of Rio on Environment and Development, the Inter-American Democratic Charter and Convention 177 of the International Labor Organization. Ecuador is a signatory to these treaties and the country’s constitution guarantees that these international laws will be recognized and enforced.

In June the Intag Solidarity Network (ISN) presented a 12-page denouncement of the company’s activities in the region to the Canadian embassy. ISN is a grassroots organization which maintains an international human rights observer program in the region at the request of the community of Junin. Its human rights program is recognized and endorsed by Alexis Ponce, director of Ecuador’s Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos, as well as Pablo de la Vega, director of Centro de DocumentaciĂłn en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S. J.”

ISN denounced company activities including:

* The use of death threats against mining opponents.

* Employing armed guards who don’t wear visible identification or uniforms when operating in public spaces.

* The misprepresentation of company activities and local realities in Intag through misleading statements and press releases.

* The use of children in its propaganda and “socialization” campaign.

* Trespassing on community property (as in Junin), despite the presence of signs explicitly stating company personnel are not welcome.

* The refusal to honor the demands of local communities that the company leave.

Had the Canadian embassy and the Ecuadorian government acted on ISN’s report, the most recent events in Intag could have been avoided.

In addition, the company is a past employer of Cesar VillacĂ­s Rueda, a former army general with deep ties to Ecuador’s military intelligence, who also studied at the School of the Americas. The former general is known to have said that he believes that people who work for human rights, indigenous rights and workers’ rights form a “triangle of subversion.” The company is also accused of senidng employee Betty Sevilla into Junin, posing as a “freelance journalist,” to gather information on mining opponents.

According to CEDHU’s Heredia, investors should be concerned because it’s their money that is enabling and encouraging the abuse against the communities of Intag and the threat to the region’s pristine environment.

“If they want to have a clear conscience they will not invest in this company,” he added.


Cyril Mychalejko is assistant editor of UpsideDownWorld.org and is currently based in Ecuador. He was recently questioned by the police and warned to stay out of the politics of the country.

This story originally appeared Sept. 27 on Upside Down World


Ascendant Copper, SA

United Nations Global Compact

Intag Solidarity Network

Also by Cyril Mychalejko:

“Guatemala: Indigenous Resistance to Glamis Gold Project”
WW4 REPORT #114, October 2005

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



An Interview with Pachakutik Presidential Candidate Luis Maca

by Rune Geertsen, Upside Down World

The powerful Ecuadorian indigenous movement faces one of its biggest challenges yet in the October 15th presidential elections—for the first time they are presenting their own candidate. For them it is not about winning, it is about continuing the indigenous struggle after a great crisis. When the Ecuadorian indigenous movement backed a candidate in the last presidential elections, it was a huge victory that quickly turned into a disaster.

In 2002 Pachakutik, the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), formed an alliance with Lucio Gutierrez, former coup leader, military man, and a fierce anti-neoliberal. Gutierrez won. Four Pachakutik members were appointed ministers, most notably the indigenous foreign minister, Nina Pacari. Yet only a few months after taking office, Gutierrez shifted to the political right and signed deals with the IMF, thus continuing the country’s neoliberal track. At the same time, he began to subvert the indigenous movement from within.

Pachakutik left the Gutierrez government after only three months in 2003, but the political credibility and the strong organization that the indigenous movement had built up through 20 years of scrupulous work and periodic uprisings was left shattered. Commentators who had once called CONAIE one of the strongest social movements in Latin America started writing obituaries on the movement.

Yet after licking its wounds, CONAIE reorganized and elected their historic leader Luis Macas president. He traveled all over the country outside the media spotlight, and visited indigenous communities with a message: “We are in danger, get ready for a new uprising.” The danger was the government’s plan to sign a free trade agreement with the US, and the indigenous movement was intent on stopping it.

In March of 2006—with a level of strength and element of surprise almost equal to the 1990 Inti Raimi uprising that made visible indigenous presence and demands—the indigenous rose again, along with workers, students and peasants, and paralyzed the country for weeks with their “Defense for Life” mobilizations. They demanded an end to free trade agreement (TLC) negotiations with the US, the expulsion of US oil giant Occidental, the nationalization of the oil industry, and a call for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

The mobilizations were not only proof that CONAIE was very much alive: they created a domino effect that led to the government cancellation of the Occidental contract, and then, to the US pull-out of free trade agreement negotiations.

The October 15 presidential elections neared. Left-wing candidate Rafael Correa, recognizing the importance of the indigenous vote, invited Pachakutik into an electoral alliance and promised the vice-presidency, if elected. But after lengthy discussions and analysis, the indigenous movement opted to run their own candidate: Luis Macas. He co-founded CONAIE in 1986 and is one of the movement’s most important personalities. He organized the 1990 uprisings and was the first indigenous man elected to parliament in 1996. Macas served as Minister of Agriculture in the Gutierrez government until Pachakutik pulled out in 2003.

This interview with Macas took place in early August, when he was polling at less than 10%.

Rune Geertsen: Why did you decide to run for president after the bad experiences Pachakutik has had at the last presidential elections?

Luis Macas: Well, first of all it wasn’t my decision. Everything we do within the indigenous movement is a collective decision. My candidacy came as a proposal from Ecuarunari [biggest regional indigenous organization in Ecuador, part of CONAIE] and was later passed in Pachakutik, where there were some difficulties because Pachakutik converges various social sectors. There are the indigenous, the workers, the peasants, the students, the women’s movements, the urban movements. Some of these sectors preferred to back Rafael Correa but the indigenous sectors have been united in supporting me as candidate. I accepted because they asked me to.

RG: Why was it necessary for the indigenous movement to present its own candidate?

LM: In recent times there has been dispersion within the indigenous movement after the political participation in alliance with Lucio Gutierrez. So we have been working to recompose the organization and hopefully these elections will maintain and strengthen this reconstruction of the indigenous movement. What we want to achieve in these three months of campaign is to clearly position Pachakutik as a leftist movement, a revolutionary movement. We are not here just to participate, to get seats as mayors or councilmen. We are here to fight.

RG: Some say you are losing out on a great opportunity to be vice-president, an opportunity that would give you power to redistribute wealth to the poor for example.

LM: I have fundamental things to say about that. First of all, we don’t know who Rafael Correa really is. Just like we didn’t know who Lucio Gutierrez really was. Gutierrez tore us to pieces. His intention was to divide the indigenous movement. We are not in these elections to win. We won with Gutierrez and where did that leave us? The country is worse off than ever!

We are in this because we are constructing a solid process from the roots, a political project with our own hands, using our own minds. This is how we will advance. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose.

RG: Your most important proposal is the creation of a plurinational state—why is this necessary?

LM: It comes from a critique of the established political system. The political institutions here are exactly the same as the ones that were constructed in Europe. There hasn’t been a contribution from the social and historical processes from here. We speak thirteen languages in this country, we are thirteen nationalities here, but these are not recognized by the state, and they are not reflected in the educational system.

We want a state that covers everyone, that reflects the sociopolitical, cultural, and regional reality in this country, where every nationality can express its fundamental cultural, political, and historical rights. What we have now is a colonial state, an exclusionary state, a uni-national state that says that the culture is this, the official language is that, etc.

RG: Will this not just split the country in thirteen small states?

LM: We are not seeking to atomize the country, not at all. What we are saying is that every ethnic group should have the right to exercise its territorial and political rights and decide how they organize themselves. The way different peoples exercise democracy should be in accordance with their own process, not homogenic. Another thing is diversity. We don’t see participation of women, or of the youth. They need to exercise their rights too.

Everyone in Ecuador says they want national unity, but how? By putting everyone in the same sack? By imposing the same way of living on everyone? I don’t think so. What we want for this country is unity in diversity, for if this doesn’t exist, the unity is in danger. We need to establish, little by little, a different coexistence between the whites, the white-mestizos, the indio-mestizos, the blacks, in the context of mutual respect. We call it: “to weave a different fabric.”

RG: How do you see the indigenous peoples excluded from the state as it is now?

LM: We are excluded in general, but if you look at these elections, it [is clear]. True, our constitution says that everyone has the right to be a candidate, to be elected. But in practice, what are the possibilities for indigenous people if there has never been an education system in the indigenous communities? If we never had basic services like water, lights, electricity? In this country, thirty percent of the population is illiterate. This is a form of social exclusion.

Another problem is the distribution of wealth, which is totally discriminatory. If you look at the campaigns of Roldos or Viteri [other presidential candidates]—they have huge political machines. We hardly have the means to move around. Our only strength is that we have to work together, united, what we call the minga, collective work where everyone helps out. Some help with transportation, others come with food, everyone chips in for gasoline and other necessities. This is how we’ve worked since we started participating in electoral politics in 1996. We have to rise up united. Any other way would be impossible.

RG: In your election rallies you say we live in a global crisis that is the absence of self-recognition, absence of human values and community. What do you mean by that?

LM: I am talking about the crisis that people who belong to a certain culture, a certain identity, are going through. Modernity is finishing off the identities that exist in the world, not only the small indigenous peoples in our region. I see it as a true plague, really. Because when you don’t have the possibility of doing what you have always done, to stay in your territory, when economic hardship forces you to move away to find a way to survive, this provokes the decomposition of the family, the decomposition of the community. It makes you a different being. You are no longer part of the community you were before, you have to dress differently, you have to eat other things, you have to act differently. The value, for example, of learning collectively disappears when you are displaced.

That is why I say that the ruling economic model—neo-liberalism-is perverse. It will definitively finish off the indigenous cultures. And this economic model is much more perverse when it arrives in indigenous communities. When the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank (IADB) and others come and say: “This is what we will do so these people can develop themselves”—even though it is foreign to the people’s vision. We are obviously, in these moments, in great danger.

RG: And how can you confront these dangers?

LM: Well, not only do we have to strengthen our instruments of resistance, but we have to begin to somehow combat these harmful things that arrive in our communities, our peoples. And how will we do that? Like we’ve done historically, through struggle. We’ve carried out mobilizations and uprisings. That is one front.

Electoral politics is another front where we come forward with our proposal, not only for the indigenous movement, but for the whole nation. Like a constituent assembly, which we see as the only way to transform the structures of the state, the political system. We do not only want a plurinational state within in a bourgeois state; it has to be a total transformation, a social and economical transformation

RG: The mobilization against the free trade agreement in March was part of this struggle?

LM: Yes. The TLC is the clearest example in recent times of how an economic empire, with its surplus, is imposed on us. It is like saying: “Well, we don’t have room for all this in our warehouse, so here is our corn, our rice, our milk, our meat.” But what happens with our food sovereignty? It is a way of weakening us in every way. [Food] is a fundamental part of our lives, of our families, of our communities. It has to do with our history, our culture, our territory. That is why I call it “nutritional independence.”

We don’t want to happen to us what happened in Cuba, for instance, in the early ’90s. Cuba got so accustomed to receiving everything from the former Soviet Union. And when the Soviet Union fell, it left an enormous crisis in Cuba. We don’t want that. And we don’t want what happened in Mexico when the US came with their corn. Now there are ten million people unemployed.

If we don’t find a way out, if we don’t find an alternative to strengthen ourselves internally, strengthen our productive apparatus with technology, improve the quality of our land and water to secure our daily nutrition—well, they are going to impose everything on us.

RG: What did you learn from being in government as minister of agriculture?

LM: Well, I learned what a government is. I learned what political spaces are. I learned that you cannot do anything if there is not support and understanding from the president. And there clearly wasn’t in the case of Lucio Gutierrez. The guy went to the US shortly after he was elected and got cozy with the [multilateral institutions] and did exactly what the governments before him did. He didn’t even take into account the plan to strengthen national agriculture in Ecuador that we had elaborated.

RG: How did you feel personally when he betrayed Pachakutik?

LM: I felt very, very sad. But at the same time I left with a lot of courage: This Gutierrez is not going to deceive me. We are going to recover our strengths and never again let anyone else be in charge of what we need to do.


Rune Geertsen lives in Bolivia and is a journalist with the Danish NGO IBIS that works with indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

This story first appeared Sept. 20 in Upside Down World


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



Revolution or Populist Theater?

by Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News & Analysis

Two months after Mexico’s contested July 2 presidential elections, the Federal Electoral Tribunal recognized Felipe CalderĂłn as president-elect, while a massive National Democratic Convention has proclaimed AndrĂ©s Manuel LĂłpez Obrador to be the “legitimate president of Mexico.” He is now creating an alternative government, and says he will call a constituent assembly that will write a new constitution. What is happening here? Is this a radical fight for reforms? A potentially revolutionary movement? Or a spectacular piece of populist theater?

More than a million people gathered on September 16, Independence Day, on Mexico City’s national Plaza of the Constitution and the surrounding streets for blocks around and-after enduring a drenching cloud burst-proclaimed that AndrĂ©s Manuel LĂłpez Obrador is the “legitimate president of Mexico. The massive National Democratic Convention (CND) repudiated the “usurper” Felipe CalderĂłn and called for the end of the existing Mexican government, for the “abolition of the regime of privileges.” The CND also called for the organization of a campaign of national civil disobedience with one of its objectives being to prevent CalderĂłn from taking the oath of office. LĂłpez Obrador has once again demonstrated that he is a brilliant populist politician with a remarkable ability to mobilize the masses and to maintain a posture of defiance toward the government while avoiding the dangers of direct confrontation.

In calling the Convention, López Obrador stated that he was acting in the great Mexican revolutionary tradition beginning with Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo and José María Morelos in the Independence struggle of 1810-1825, through Benito Juárez, leader of the Liberals in the Reform Movement and the war against France in the 1850s and 60s, Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917. Yet while claiming the revolutionary inheritance, and adopting a revolutionary rhetoric, López Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), seem loath to give up the foothold they have in the old order.

While proclaiming a position tantamount to revolution, LĂłpez Obrador and the PRD have continued to work within the existing power structure. The National Democratic Convention authorized that the parties which made up LĂłpez Obrador’s For the Good of All Coalition–the PRD, the Workers Party (PT), and Convergence–should reorganize to create the Broad Progressive Front (FAP) which will work as a bloc in the newly elected Mexican parliament. That is, in the parliament of the actually existing Mexican government. The PRD’s legislative coordinator, Javier González Garza, met with coordinators of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to create a more efficient and dynamic congress, one that would, according to the PRD’s González, end log-jams in the lower house. The PRD has also agreed to serve with the PAN and the PRI in the collective leadership of the legislature with Ruth Zavaleta Salgado as vice-president of the lower house Chamber of Deputies. PRD governors in Baja California Sur, Guerrero, Michoacán, Zacatecas and Chiapas will also serve within the existing governmental structure. PRD governors have just participated in the National Governors Congress (CONAGO) with PAN and PRI governors. So, apparently, while repudiating the old regime, the PRD will also continue to work and to serve in leadership positions in it.

Just what is happening here? Are we witnessing the emergence of a revolutionary alternative? Or is this an extraordinary and spectacular populist theater intended to project LĂłpez Obrador into power in the next election? Some have referred to this as “dual power,” but where is LĂłpez Obrador’s power? Where is the peoples’ power?

From the Election to the CND

The current situation results from the irregularities, challenges, and disappointments with the Mexican election of July. The Mexican Electoral Tribunal had earlier rejected LĂłpez Obrador’s call for a vote-by-vote, polling-place-by-polling-place recount of the election. And, while the court recognized that Mexico’s President Vicente Fox had violated election law by intervening in the election campaign and that Mexican corporations had violated the law by paying for last-minute advertising attacking LĂłpez Obrador, they would not on that basis overturn the election results as they might have. The National Association of Democratic Attorneys (ANAD) argued in a statement that the courts could have and should have overturned the election for those reasons. The court instead proclaimed Felipe CalderĂłn the president-elect of Mexico, but LĂłpez Obrador and his supporters refused to accept the decision.

Believing that the national election in July had been stolen from them, hundreds of thousands of supporters of LĂłpez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) rallied in the national plaza and then camped there for 48 days and at the same time blocked the length of the city’s principal Reforma Boulevard and its major intersections, paralyzing the heart of the capital. The night of September 15 they struck camp, clearing away their lean-to’s and tents, to permit the Mexican Army’s annual Independence Day march, but then they returned the next day for the CND, joined by over a million other Mexicans from Baja California in the North to Chiapas in the South.

The organizers claimed that 1,025,724 delegates had actually registered to be present at the convention, coming from all of the 32 states of Mexico. Many of those present on the plaza were los de abajo, Mexico’s underdogs: factory workers, peasants, the self-employed, street vendors, school teachers, and college and high school students. Entire families and neighborhoods, from babes-in-arms to the elderly, filled the streets, many carrying hand-made banners and signs.

The CND Conducts Business by Voice Vote in the Open Air

The CND assembly, in a series of voice votes, proclaimed LĂłpez Obador the legitimate president, instructed him to create a cabinet, and to establish the seat of government in Mexico City, the national capital. At the same time the government was instructed to be itinerant, moving about throughout the country to hear from and to lead the Mexican people. The new government was instructed to take power on November 20, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Getting the jump on his rival, LĂłpez Obrador will then “take office” as “legitimate president” more than a week before Felipe CalderĂłn, who will not be sworn in until December 1.

The CND also created a national commission lead the movement of civil disobedience and prevent CalderĂłn from taking office. The next full CND assembly was scheduled for March 21, 2007. At that next assembly the CND is expected to organize the convocation of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and re-found the Mexican government.

A Constitutional and Peaceful Revolution

LĂłpez Obrador argues that Felipe CalderĂłn, “the usurper,” has violated the institutional order of Mexico. LĂłpez Obrador poses himself as the defender of Mexico’s democratic traditions, and bases the calling of the CND and the projected Constituent Assembly on Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, which reads: “The national sovereignty resides essentially and originally in the people All public power originates in the people and is instituted for their benefit. The people at all times have the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government.” This article, he argues, give the people the right to meet and to re-found their government. The Constituent Assembly which is to take place, he argues, will establish a more democratic government, protect the national patrimony and stop the privatization of the oil and electric power industries. It will provide for the good of all Mexicans, but will put the poor first on the list of national priorities.

Throughout the weeks of protests, sit-ins, and marches, LĂłpez Obrador has constantly cautioned his followers to remain non-violent, to refuse to be provoked into confrontation, and, remarkably, not a window has been broken nor a slogan painted on a single wall in the city. Many among the hundreds of thousands participating in the events commented that the city as actually safer during the huge mobilizations. All of this has been made possible by the fact that the PRD controls the government of Mexico City, which has been the host of these massive protests. The PRD city government has insured that the police have functioned to facilitate the protests and protect the protestors, rather than to suppress them. Unable to control the capital, President Vicente Fox decided not to give the traditional “grito” or Independence Day “Viva Mexico!” shout, from the balcony of the National Palace which overlooks the Plaza of the Constitution, and instead flew to Dolores, Hidalgo, the site of the first grito given by Miguel Castillo y Hidalgo on September 16, 1810. Federal security officials said that there had been plans for a violent attack, perhaps an assault on his life, if he attempted to give the grito in Mexico City. No evidence was given.

Plebiscitary Democracy

The National Democratic Convention was not a “national democratic convention” as most people understand those words. This was not a delegated convention, but a mass assembly. The CND was not organized through the structures of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, nor through coalitions of existing organizations, nor was any other structure very transparent. LĂłpez Obrador and the leaders of his campaign created a committee to convene and preside over the Convention, but the movement’s rank and file had no opportunity to choose its leadership or to shape its agenda. LĂłpez Obrador did not attempt to prepare the convention by convening the many mass organizations of peasants, workers, and the urban poor. LĂłpez Obrador did not involve in the planning or given an active role in the Convention to groups such as the Mexican Mine and Metal Workers Union or teachers union Local 22 or the leaders of the rebellious town of Atenco, or to any other of the existing movements which have waged intense social struggles this year. Those who attended the convention and stood in the rain did so as individual supporters of LĂłpez Obrador.

While there was enormous popular participation and popular approval of the positions presented, a convention en masse does not permit the presentation of resolutions, debate over alternatives. This was a plebiscitary democracy where the masses shout “yeah” or “nay” to the positions and alternatives offered by the person on the platform. While LĂłpez Obrador is less rhapsodic than Fidel Castro and less charismatic than Hugo Chavez, this was a convention based in large part on the direct communication between the leader and the people, in the style of Latin American caudillos since Juan PerĂłn and long before. Which is not to say that the CND did not have a clear political content, for it clearly did: an end to the ruling elite, defense of the national patrimony and social welfare for the people.

Critics to the Right and Left

As one would expect, all of the conservative forces have given their full support to CalderĂłn while damning LĂłpez Obrador. Throughout this process of post-election protest and the proclamation of an alternative president and government, President Fox and the National Action Party have upheld the legitimacy of the election and hailed the victory of Felipe CalderĂłn. Like LĂłpez Obrador, Fox and CalderĂłn put themselves forward as the defenders of Mexico’s democratic institutions. They argue that LĂłpez Obrador threatens those institutions and raises the possibility of conflict and violence. Predictably, the Mexican business class, represented through COPARMEX, the Mexican employers association which stands at the heart of the PAN, has also welcomed CalderĂłn’s victory and scorns LĂłpez Obrador. Mexico’s leading bishops have also called upon LĂłpez Obrador to concede defeat and recognize the victory of CalderĂłn. US President George W. Bush called to congratulate CalderĂłn on his victory early on.

But LĂłpez Obrador also has critics on the left. CuauhtĂ©moc Cárdenas, founder of the PRD and twice its candidate for president, severely criticized LĂłpez Obrador for surrounding himself–and filling the party–with opportunists; for lack of a serious political program; for intolerance of political differences. Cárdenas has argued that it is a great mistake for LĂłpez Obrador to proclaim himself president, and predicts that it will do permanent damage to Mexico’s left.

Adolfo Gilly, Mexico’s leading left intellectual theorist, concurs with many of Cárdenas’ criticisms, but also attacks the PRD for its two-faced position of supporting LĂłpez Obrador’s campaign while making deals with the PAN, and adds the failure of LĂłpez Obrador and the PRD to support the struggle of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and other popular movements.

Marco RascĂłn, former Mexican leftist guerrilla, former PRD congressman, and irascible radical critic, argues that LĂłpez Obrador is a populist with “a Bonapartist attitude”–that is, a would-be dictator. RascĂłn argues that the CND represents a fundamental break with the great Mexican revolutionary traditions, from Ricardo Flores MagĂłn and Emiliano Zapata of the first decades of the 20th century to the Cardenismo of the 1930s and the neo- Cardenismo of the 1980s.

The Zapatistas, of course, have never liked LĂłpez Obrador. Subcomandante Marcos–leader of the EZLN, which mounted its own rather marginal non-electoral campaign for a socialism-from-below–has from the beginning attacked LĂłpez Obrador as fundamentally conservative and opportunist. Marcos did, however, speak out against the fraud in what he openly calls a stolen election.

Whatever his critics on the left may think, however, LĂłpez Obrador has not only captured the imagination of the people but has also in effect become the dominant force on the left–a great mass movement in which other leftists can now only attempt to offer alternative programs and directions.

The Balance of Forces

Do LĂłpez Obrador, the PRD, CND and Broad Progressive Front represent the emerging institutions of a new class power? Do we see in the movement which LĂłpez Obrador leads institutions that give expression to the struggles of working people and the poor, and which begin to represent an alternative to the existing Mexican state?

Fox, the PAN and its ally the PRI, of course, control the Mexican government, its bureaucracy, the Army and the police, and could use them to put down any serious opposition. Since 1994 ,the Mexican government has used the Army against the Zapatistas and the broader social movement in Chiapas in the South, and throughout the 1990s against drug gangs in the North. During the last year the federal government has deployed the new Federal Prevent Police (PFP) against striking workers and community activists in central Mexico. While LĂłpez Obrador has called upon the Army to refuse to obey orders to repress Mexican citizens, there is no reason to doubt the loyalty of the Army and the PFP and other police forces to the government. Mexico has used the military to put down popular movements in 1959 (railway strike), 1968 (student protests), and 1976 (electrical strike), and called out the army in 1994 against the Zapatistas. There seems no reason that it would not be able to do so again.

Do the Numbers Exist?

LĂłpez Obrador does not appear to have the sheer numbers of supporters throughout Mexico to challenge the state. Each of the leading candidates won 16 states: LĂłpez Obrador and the PRD won in the poorer Center and South of Mexico while Felipe CalderĂłn of the PAN won almost all of the more prosperous North. However, according to the disputed official count, LĂłpez Obrador captured only 35.3% of the vote, while CalderĂłn won 35.9 and Roberto Madrazo of the PRI won 22.3%

That is, almost two thirds of all voters voted for the two more conservative candidates, while only about one third supported a program of reform based on increased social welfare. Even if LĂłpez Obrador was cheated out of a million votes, as many believe, he would still have had only a somewhat large plurality but nothing near a majority of support. While some people who voted for LĂłpez Obrador as a reformer might be moved to adopt a position of revolutionary opposition to the state if they felt their votes were stolen, one would suspect that not all PRD supporters would take that position, while very few from other parties would join him.

Perhaps some on the far left would support LĂłpez Obrador in a battle over democracy, but their numbers are few. No far-left revolutionary party even qualified to appear on the ballot. Moreover, the explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-electoral “Other Campaign” of the Zapatistas vehemently opposed Lopez Obrador during the campaign, and is unlikely to support him now.

Does the Organization Exist? Nor does the opposition appear to have the organization, structure and leadership to put together a force powerful enough to challenge the Mexican government at this time. Except for Mexico City and a few states such as Michoacan, the PRD has been a minority party, and a deeply divided and factional party. Founded in 1989, the PRD has throughout its brief history been an electoral party, not a party either founded upon nor leading a social movement. While during the campaign the PRD appeared at times to be badly divided, at the moment it seems to be showing remarkable cohesion, with the marked exception of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.

During the current struggle, there have been enormous demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins in Mexico City, but so far such demonstrations have been limited to Mexico City.

While the PRD at times came to a working relationship with the National Union of Workers (UNT), it has never been able to give leadership to the working class or even much support to the UNT or any other union, and LĂłpez Obrador has not had a labor program. The PRD does have a significant following among working people and the poor of the central and southern states, as its electoral results indicate, but beyond elections this has not been much of an organized following.

True, there are large and significant social struggles taking place today in Mexico, particularly the series of strikes by members of the Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM) and the teachers strike in Oaxaca by Local 22 of the Mexican Education Workers Union (SNTE). However the PRD has not given leadership to these struggles, nor do those involved in these struggles necessarily support the PRD. The leadership of Local 22 declined to formally participate in the National Democratic Convention, and it continues to negotiate with Secretary of the Interior Carlos Abascal, suggesting that it looks to the current Mexican government to resolve its problems, not to some possible future republic.

Finally, Vicente Fox, Felipe CalderĂłn and the PAN have the support of the US government, which certainly does not want social upheaval taking place in its neighbor nation. Without a doubt, Fox has been conferring with the Bush government about the situation, and one would suppose that the Mexican military has been in touch with its North American counterpart. Although it would prefer that Mexico’s elite take the necessary political action to resolve problems, the US will certainly be prepared to use whatever means are necessary to support the Mexican government in the event of a real revolutionary situation.

The Balance Might be Changed

Some have spoken of what’s happening in Mexico now in terms of “dual power.” Leon Trotsky used that term in his History of the Russian Revolution to describe what happens when a rising social class creates new and alternative institutions of political power. So far we have not seen that happen in Mexico where a real power, the Mexican state, confronts LĂłpez Obrador and his CND–an important political and social movement, but not one that has been built upon or yet given rise to alternative institutions of governance that can represent a second power. Nor is it clear that LĂłpez Obrador has the will or the capacity to create such institutions. What he has created is a mass movement on the left with a radical rhetoric, a movement made up of people who yearn for a new society of democracy and social justice. While his rhetoric promises revolution, his actions suggest a militant struggle for reform–which is not therefore to be discounted. Within that struggle for reform, genuine revolutionary voices and forces may develop.

Social movements, especially if they begin to have some success, can grow rapidly, and unfolding events can force them to change their character. The balance of forces can shift rapidly and radically under the right circumstances. The power of mass movements has played a significant role in the change of governments in Latin America in the last decade. So, while LĂłpez Obrador and the PRD may not yet have sufficient strength, a mistake by the government could suddenly give a lift to the opposition movement–and perhaps create the conditions for the emergence of real dual power.


This story also appears in Mexican Labor News & Analysis


Andrés Manuel López Obrador official campaign website

From our weblog:

“Subcommander Marcos declares Lopez Obrador legitimate winner”
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 21, 2006


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



The African Liberation Forces of Mauritania Speak
on Slavery and Genocide in the Sahel

by Bill Weinberg

At opposite ends of Africa’s Sahel, Sudan and Mauritania hold the distinction of being two nations where the practice of slavery remains intact at the dawn of the 21st century. Sudan is in the headlines now, due to the crisis in Darfur, and mounting calls for foreign intervention. Mauritania remains in the shadows—despite the fact it is still reckoning with the consequences of a Darfur-style wave of ethnic cleansing that began in 1989, with little note from the international community.

On Sept. 19, two days after the Save Darfur rally in New York’s Central Park, Bill Weinberg spoke with Mamadou Barry and Abdarahmane Wone, North American representatives of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM) over the airwaves of WBAI Radio in New York City. They spoke about the continuing struggle in Mauritania one year after a coup d’etat which promised to bring democratic rule to the impoverished nation, and about the ethics and politics of multinational military intervention in the Sahel region.

Bill Weinberg (BW): Abda, I ran into you on Sunday at the rally for Darfur in Central Park. And then yesterday, the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania held a rally of your own at the United Nations.

Abdarahmane Wone (AW): Yes, our rally was to let the world know what’s going on in Mauritania. Since many world leaders were at the UN yesterday, as a political movement we thought it would be a good idea to go to protest, and let them know that something ought to be done—not only to free Mauritanians from racism and slavery, but also to build a more democratic country. We came with our declaration, and we were covered by NY1 television. We had the chance to explain that we are not for Black supremacy, we just want to be respected in our country.

BW: The struggle in Mauritania very rarely makes headlines, while Darfur is in the headlines a lot at the moment—because of the calls for military intervention. But, for different reasons, people on both the left and right in this country are very wary of intervention in Darfur.

AW: What is happening in Darfur is mass killing, and something has to be done. But let me make clear that calling for the UN to intervene is not the same thing as calling for NATO to go there. I am against any kind of imperialism. But at the same time there must be an end to the killing. It is time to do something.

My brothers are suffering in Sudan as a consequence of the [1884] Berlin Conference to divide the continent of Africa. And they put together two groups who are not the same—Arabs from the northern part and Blacks from the southern part of Sudan. And that is exactly the situation in Mauritania. I am glad many Americas, many Westerners are now aware of what is going on in Sudan, and trying to do whatever they can to save people in Darfur. But nobody talks about Mauritania. It is our duty to inform the world about what is going on in Mauritania, and let them know that in both Mauritania and Sudan, Blacks are still treated as second-class citizens.

BW: The man who has been in power in your country for a little over a year now, Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, actually failed to show up at the UN General Assembly debate that just opened.

AW: Yes, we let him know that where-ever he shows up, we will do our best to have justice. Since we cannot have justice in our own country, we will do our best to have justice in the United States or in Europe or elsewhere in Africa. When he first came to power in August of last year, I was really hoping he would be the Frederik de Klerk of Mauritania. Frederik de Klerk was the South African leader who understood that different races should talk in South Africa, and he agreed to talk with Mandela. But Vall failed to be the de Klerk of Mauritania. He never wanted to talk about what’s going on in Mauritania, and how to bring peace.

BW: In August of last year, he overthrew the PW Botha of Mauritania, so to speak, Ahmed Ould Taya, who had been in power since the 1980s. And despite your hopes at the time, you are saying that he has failed to initiate a national dialogue…

AW: Yes. And because he doesn’t want to bring justice, or talk about all the people still living in refugee camps, we will continue to struggle and let the world know what’s going on in our country. Because nobody is going to free Mauritania in our place. That’s what we know. We are convinced of this.

BW: There are two major issues that you’ve said need to be addressed. First is the more than 100,000 refugees who were pushed from their homes into the neighboring states of Senegal and Mali in a wave of so-called ethnic cleansing that began in 1989—fairly analogous to what’s happening in Darfur right now. And the other issue, which is also analogous to what we’ve seen in Sudan in recent years, is the system of slavery that persists in Mauritania.

AW: Exactly. More than 30% of Mauritanians are descendants of slaves. And among them, more than 500,000 people are still enslaved today.

BW: So there’s an hereditary slave caste in Mauritania that goes back hundreds of years.

AW: Yes. And among them, many are still enslaved by light-skinned Arabs. And nobody seems to care. In 2006, there are people who own other people. In this country, when children wake up, the first thing they do is have breakfast and go to school. In my country, when a young Haratin wakes up, the first thing that he or she has to do is to carry water for his or her master, to dedicate his or her day to his or her master.

BW: You use the word “Haratin.” This is the hereditary slave caste…

AW: Yes. They are the majority ethnic group in Mauritania, and 500,000 are still enslaved today.

BW: Out of a total population of…?

AW: We are some two-and-a-half to three million in Mauritania today.

BW: So, quite a large chunk of the population. And these 500,000 are completely excluded from education and political rights? Has there been some progress, at least, in recent years?

AW: There has been some progress, because the FLAM and some Haratin organizations have been fighting to bring justice. But the response has been very timid. We want a free country, where there are no slaves, so we can move on and try to build democracy. I think Africa as a continent has suffered enough. It is time to stop the mass killing, it is time to stop the dictatorship and build a more democratic and sustainable society.

BW: So the majority of these 500,000 are still in slavery as we understand the word, excluded from all political rights…?

AW: They are excluded because they vote for their masters. They are denied education. They belong to other people. They do what their masters want them to do.

BW: Not even rudimentary education?

AW: No. If they are slaves, they are slaves.

BW: The Haratin are a distinct ethnicity. What language do they speak?

AW: They speak Arabic. Let me make it clear. Some 20% of Mauritanians are light-skinned Arabs, and 30% are Haratin. So Arabic is the largest language in Mauritania. But that doesn’t mean that the majority is not Black in Mauritania. The majority is Black. And among the Black population you have Fulani, Soninke, Wolof, Bambara and Haratin.

BW: So the Haratin are a Black African people, but they’ve adopted the Arabic language.

AW: They’ve adopted the Arabic language because they are enslaved and have been forced to learn the language of their masters.

BW: Hundreds of years ago…

AW: Exactly.

BW: A year after Col. Vall’s coup, which was supposed to usher in a democratic transition, you are moving towards elections in Mauritania. There was a constitutional referendum in June which instated term limits for presidents, as a measure against another presidency-for-life situation such as existed under Taya. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November, and presidential elections for January. And I understand the FLAM is participating in the elections.

AW: That’s actually FLAM-Renovation. They are our ancien comrades. We respect their point of view. They returned to Mauritania to try to participate in the democratic transition. They are trying to do their best. But Ely Ould Mohamed Vall is not welcoming them. We respect their view, but that is not our position. The Arab-dominated regime does not want to do anything to bring peace in Mauritania. We cannot really talk about democracy when 120,000 refugees are left behind, and we cannot talk about democracy when people are enslaved. Before organizing elections in Mauritania, we must free those who are still enslaved, and bring the refugees back. That is our position.

Mamadou Barry (MB): Since Ely Mohamed Vall came to power, we have been waiting for him to say something about racial discrimination and slavery in Mauritania. He just says he will surrender power in the elections. But the Haratin will vote however their masters tell them to under the current system. So we don’t believe voting is the way to tackle this. Even if slavery is not stopped right now, today, there has to be a decision taken on this issue, letting all of Mauritania know this issue needs to be addressed.

Similarly, the regime says any refugee can come back if he can prove he is Mauritanian. But they know that when these people were deported, all their papers were taken. So we say the burden of proof should be on the government, not on this weak population.

AW: Between 1948 and 1994, there were elections in South Africa. But the Black majority was excluded. So those elections were not free and fair. And that is the situation we face in Mauritania. In order to have a real democracy, we have to have a constitution that gives guarantees to everybody.

But the problem of Mauritania is not just the constitution or the written document. The problem, as in many African countries, is to make what is written apply. Slavery has been abolished three times in Mauritania. But it is still going on. It was abolished under the [French] colonial regime, then again in the ’60s, and the last time was in the ’80s.

BW: Before Taya came to power?

AW: Yes, before Taya. But he helped slavery to flourish, because he didn’t do anything to stop it. He encouraged it.

BW: And in the June constitutional reform the issue was not addressed at all?

AW: Not at all.

MB: We believe this constitutional reform was done just because Mohamed Vall wanted something to show after one year in power.

BW: Well, European Union observers have just arrived. There does seem to be a possibility that Col. Vall will step down after these elections, no?

MB: He said he will not run. But we believe whoever wins will be his puppet. Whoever wins will not say anything about the past, about the deportations, about the exiles. They say the elections will be impartial and they are not helping anybody, but we don’t believe that.

BW: Is Taya’s party still around, or has it been disbanded?

MB: The people are still around, and they hold all the important positions in the government. They just changed the name.

AW: And even the name change was not that big. It used to be the PRDS. Now it is PRDR.

BW: Sounds very subtle. And what do these two acronyms stand for, respectively?

MB: It was the Democratic and Social Republican Party—they put all these nice things together. [Laughs]

BW: And now they’ve dropped the word “social,” very fashionably, to show they are post-socialist I suppose. So what is the new name?

AW: Parti Républicain pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau

BW: Some of the same international players are involved in both Sudan and Mauritania. The Chinese National Petroleum Company, which has come under great criticism for its investments in Sudan, is now beginning exploration in Mauritania. There’s more and more talk that West Africa is going to be very strategic in the coming century as a new source of global energy. And the Pentagon also has a presence—Taya had invited in a detachment of US Special Forces to train the Mauritanian army to stop supposed terrorist infiltration from the Sahara. And as far as we know, the Special Forces are still there. So it seems the new regime is playing ball with both sides.

AW: What matters for the new regime is to save their skin. Whoever can help them save their skin, they will go with. Everybody knows that during the first Gulf War in 1991, Mauritania was one of the few countries to support Saddam Hussein. And after Saddam was defeated, Taya just changed his position to save his skin…

BW: Rather completely. In fact, he became one of the few governments in the region to recognize Israel.

AW: Yes, he was the one who said he would never acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a state, and he just changed his policy completely. That’s how they play the game in our country. Its time to stop it.

BW: So Vall didn’t show up for the General Assembly session, but sent his foreign minister. Do you have a sense of why?

AW: He wanted to come to show the world that he is the peacemaker and the man who brought democracy to Mauritania. But that is not true, he is just continuing what Taya started. We were hoping he would come so we could face him and let the world know who he really is. He is just a dictator who came to power by means of a coup. He is not a hero; if I were to speak French, I would say he is a zéro.

MB: My sources tell me that he wanted so bad to come, but when he heard we were organizing a demonstration he was worried and decided to send somebody else. You mentioned China earlier. In the UN, there are clubs. China, Sudan, Mauritania and all those countries which are practicing discrimination within their own borders form a club. China has their problem in Tibet, and they do not want any other country which doing this sort of thing to be sanctioned…

BW: …because it would set a precedent for them.

MB: Yes, so they don’t want Mauritania to be sanctioned in the UN and they always vote with the Mauritanian government.

BW: And economics apparently follow politics. It seems that China is trying to beat the US to the punch in securing the oil resources of the Sahel.

MB: Yes, world policy now is designed by economics. Soon, all the world will know about Mauritania because of our oil resources. And we want the regime to know that they have to take us into account. Even if we are not in power, we can make it difficult for people to get the oil…

BW: How so? Just by embarrassing the investors and protesting and so on?

MB: That’s one thing. But, well, everything is open…

BW: Oil seems to play a role in the Darfur conflict. Just as the Chinese National Petroleum Company has investments in Sudan, Exxon has signed a deal with Chad, the country immediately to the west, and the World Bank is funding a new pipeline to deliver Chad’s oil to the Atlantic Ocean. The conflict in Darfur began two years ago when guerilla groups emerged there. They felt Darfur had been left out of the peace deal that ended the north-south civil war in Sudan, and they took up arms to demand autonomy and local rights for the Fur and other Black African ethnicities in the region. There have been allegations that the government of Chad backed the guerillas. And it was in response to this guerilla uprising that the government of Sudan, in turn, began backing the so-called Janjaweed militias, which have now apparently been responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 people.

So, as in many conflicts around the world, the people on the ground may think they are fighting for ethnic supremacy or cattle grazing lands, but these conflicts are exploited by those with interests in resources far more fundamental to the global economy—like oil. So while there were a lot of idealistic and good-intentioned young people at the Darfur rally on Sunday, I was very disturbed when I found out that former Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke there…

AW: My opinion is that in a situation like Darfur everybody must come together because its is human beings being killed. It is time to stop seeing Africans as people who are always manipulated by others, by the left or by the right. We have our own brains, we think, we are educated. Of course, whoever comes first to help us is the person with whom we will ally our forces.

BW: There are currently African Union troops in Darfur, but this has apparently been insufficient to stop the violence, so there are now calls for a UN force—and even NATO has had a hand in air support for the African Union force. So fears have been raised about the re-colonization of Africa. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to have your anti-imperialist or pacifist ideals intact when there aren’t any paramilitary troops coming to burn down your village. So I don’t feel like I’m in a position to be too judgmental of the people in Darfur who seem very eager for some kind of outside intervention.

MB: It is sad, but my feeling is that there will be resolution after resolution at the UN and nothing will change. Unless the conflict begins to affect Western governments, no-one will act.

BW: The world paid little note to what happened in your country in 1989. Perhaps it was carried out with less violence than in Darfur, but still, over 100,000 displaced…

MB: I think those two governments went to the same school—the school of Arabization. The professor was Saddam Hussein, and the doctrine was developed in Egypt by Nasser. They follow the pattern of Baathism and Nasserism. In the color of their skin they may not be Arabs, they may be Black. But they want to be Arab, and they follow this policy of Arabization in Mauritania and Sudan.

AW: The problems of Sudanese and Mauritanians shouldn’t be left to Sudanese and Mauritanians alone. My message to the left in this country is to stop asking who is behind us and assuming that Africans must be always manipulated. It is time to help Black Mauritanians who live in refugee camps to have a better life, and in the long run to help them go back to their country. It is time to stop slavery and mass killing in Africa.



African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM)

See also:

“Mauritania: Slavery, Ethnic Cleansing, Democratic Opposition
Voices of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM)”
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT #113, September 2005

From our weblog:

“UN officials: drop Darfur peacekeepers plan”
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 30, 2006

“Mauritania moves towards democracy …except for slaves”
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 19, 2006


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