CENTRAL AMERICA: DEATH SQUADS FREELANCE FOR NARCOS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Guatemala: Three Salvadoran Reps Murdered; Accused Killers Follow Them to Grave

Three Salvadoran legislative deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) were murdered along with their driver on the afternoon of Feb. 19 as they were visiting Guatemala to attend a session of the parliament. Assailants followed them in vehicles to a place about 36 km from Guatemala City, killed them and set their van on fire—although there was evidence that some of the victims may have been alive when the fire was set.

The deputies were Eduardo D’Aubuisson, William Pichinte and Jose Ramon Gonzalez; the driver was Gerardo Ramirez. All three deputies were from the rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) of Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca; D’Aubuisson’s father, the late Roberto D’Aubuisson, founded ARENA and reportedly led the notorious death squads of the 1980s.

Four agents from the Criminal Investigation Division (DINC) of the National Civilian Police (PNC)—Luis Arturo Herrera Lopez, head of the Section Against Organized Crime, and agents Jose Adolfo Gutierrez, Marvin Langen Escobar Mendez and Jose Korki Lopez Arreaga—were arrested on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 and charged with the murders. According to the Guatemalan government, the agents had followed the Salvadorans in a patrol car with global positioning equipment, which allowed investigators to place the agents at the crime scene.

The four police agents reportedly confessed to executing the Salvadorans but claimed they thought the victims were Colombian narco-traffickers. The agents refused to say who had told them to carry out the executions. Their lawyers, Sandra Aguilar and Amanda Salazar Rodriguez, charged that the agents were beaten and tortured after their arrests. The agents were placed in the El Boqueron maximum security prison in Cuilapa, Santa Rosa department. On Feb. 23 Salazar filed an appeal asking for her clients to be placed in a more secure unit on the grounds that they feared for their lives.

The four agents were found dead in El Boqueron on Feb. 25; a prison guard was also killed. According to Governance Minister Carlos Vielman, who is in charge of national security, a group of prisoners rioted, took the warden and four guards hostage, and cut the throats of the four agents with knives. According to the authorities, the 177 prisoners who rioted were members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang. The authorities suggested that the killers were prisoners who had been arrested by these agents in the past. Some 300 polices and soldiers with anti-riot equipment regained control of the prison.

Some of the prisoners and family members visiting the prison gave a different version. According to them, a group of masked armed men entered the prison without opposition, cut the electricity and executed the agents. The other prisoners then took the warden and guards hostage because they feared that they too would be executed or would be blamed for the murders. The daily Siglo Veintiuno obtained a report from the Public Ministry that seemed to back the prisoners’ version. The killers had altered the scene to make it appear that they had had to force the lock, according to the report, which found no evidence of a struggle at the scene. The report said the agents were killed by gunfire; there was no mention of knives. Four eyewitnesses were willing to testify if they were guaranteed protection, according to the report.

On March 2 Governance Minister Vielman announced that police operations assistant director Javier Figueroa had resigned on Feb. 26 and that Victor Soto had been removed from his post as chief of DINC, the division to which the agents belonged. On Feb. 27 the Guatemalan Congress had passed a resolution calling for Vielman himself to resign, but Vielman said he would keep his position. (Guatemala Hoy, Feb. 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, March 3; Adital, March 26 from Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, March 1)

The Mutual Support Group (GAM), a Guatemalan human rights organization, charged that the murders of the agents were “a demonstration of the degree to which organized crime and drug trafficking have penetrated the structures of Guatemalan state agencies, particularly in the national security forces.” Others noted that 43 complaints were filed against the DINC in 2006, including three for extrajudicial execution and 10 for forced disappearances. The GAM called the “indifference of the international community” to criminality in the Guatemalan government “worrying.” (GH, Feb. 23; Adital, Feb. 26 from GAM)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 4, 2007

PNC agent Marvin Roberto Contreras Natareno testified on March 16 for the first time since his arrest in connection with the murder of the Salvadoran deputies. In his three-hour testimony Contreras Natareno told Judge Nery Medina that he had been called in as backup after four police agents stopped the deputies’ vehicle. According to Contreras Natareno, the deputies and their driver were still alive when he arrived, and the police agents were searching the vehicle for drugs. Later the agents shot some or all of the deputies and set the car on fire with the deputies inside. As of March 16 the Public Ministry had not decided whether to charge Contreras Natareno with murder or treat him as a witness. (Diario Colatino, San Salvador, March 16; Miami Herald, March 16 from AP; La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 16)

In an interview published on March 10, PNC director Erwin Sperisen told the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre that “Guatemalan drug traffickers” were behind the murder, but he refused to give details. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, March 11 from EFE) Salvadoran officials have said that the three lawmakers were not linked to organized crime. (MH, March 16 from AP) In Guatemala the case has led to the resignations of DINC director Victor Soto and assistant director Javier Figueroa; Figueroa fled to Costa Rica on March 4. (La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 16)

Guatemalan authorities still maintain other prisoners were responsible for the execution-style killings of the four DINC agents. According to Mario Falla, head of the attorney general’s technical bureau, four pistols were found in electrical appliances that the prisoners had in their possession; three of the pistols were used in the killing of the agents, Falla says. Some prisoners said the weapons were in fact planted in the appliances, which had been in the hands of the authorities for several days. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 15 from AFP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 18, 2007

Guatemala: Student Leader Murdered, Peasants Block Highways

On the night of March 9, unidentified assailants shot to death Guatemalan student leader Oscar Abelardo Chata as he was walking to his home in Peten. He was in his fourth year of teachers’ college. Chata’s killing is believed to be political, since none of his belongings were stolen. The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity-Broad Movement of the Left (URNG-MAIZ) condemned the killing, noting that it was one in a string of recent attacks against leftist activists. (Guatemala Hoy, March 17)

The Movement of Human Rights has recorded 278 attacks in the past three years against community leaders, human rights and union activists, designed to intimidate them into discontinuing their work. Many of the attacks and threats have come from public security forces. (La Semana en Guatemala, March 14-19)

On March 15, members of the Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) and the National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC) blocked several highways in Huehuetenango, Izabal, Zacapa and Chiquimula to demand justice for murdered community members. CUC leader Jose Domingo said the protest commemorated the second anniversary of the killing of CUC member Juan Lopez Velasquez by soldiers and police during protests against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in Colotenango. Some 500 campesinos from Izabal, Zacapa and Chiquimula held a similar demonstration to demand a prompt and thorough investigation into the murder last Feb. 6 of community leader Israel Carias Ortiz and his two sons, nine and 10 years old, in Los Achiotes, Zacapa. (La Semana en Guatemala, March 14-19)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 25, 2007

Zacapa: Campesino Leader Murdered

On Feb. 6 in the Guatemalan municipality of Zacapa, unidentified assailants shot to death campesino leader Israel Carias Ortiz and his two sons, nine-year old Ledwin Anilson Carias Ramirez and 10-year-old Ronald Haroldo Carias Ramirez. The family was ambushed on a rural road while heading home to the Los Achiotes farm. According to Radio Sonora, Nelly Ortiz, the campesino leader’s mother, died of shock upon hearing the news. Carias Ortiz was a leader of the Los Achiotes Indigenous Campesino Development Association (ACIDEA), a group of 150 families fighting to recover their lands on the Los Achiotes farm in Zacapa, which is currently occupied illegally by large-scale landholders. The Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) blamed the murders on landholders Geraldina Cordon, Faustina Barrillas, Jorge Madrid, Victor Hugo Salguero, Edwin Ruiz, Salvador Cabrera and others. According to CUC, these landholders have been threatening local campesino leaders, including Carias and his family, and regional CUC leader Abelardo Roldan. (AP, Feb. 7; CUC communique, Feb. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 11, 2007

Costa Rica: 50,000 Protest Free Trade

Some 50,000 people took to the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, on Feb. 26 to demand that the country’s Legislative Assembly not ratify the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a US-sponsored trade pact referred to in Central America by the Spanish initials for free trade treaty, TLC. The demonstration, dubbed “A Day for the Homeland” and organized by the National Front to Support the Struggle Against the TLC, was the largest one yet in Central America against the trade pact, and one of the largest protests ever in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica signed DR-CAFTA last year but is the only participating nation which has not yet ratified the pact. The Legislative Assembly had planned to debate the TLC on Feb. 26. President Oscar Arias, who has been pushing heavily for DR-CAFTA’s approval, claimed his supporters have the 38 votes they need to ratify the pact. But in the end the Legislative Assembly was unable to debate the treaty on Feb. 26 because it lacked a quorum. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26; El Comerico, Peru, Feb. 27 from DPA; Inter Press Service, Feb. 26)

Ricardo Segura of the National Committee of Struggle Against the TLC said simultaneous demonstrations were also held in San Carlos and Palmares de Alajuela in Guanacaste province, in Coto Brus in the south of the country, and in Limon on the Atlantic coast, among other areas. Carlos Arguedas, leader of the Union of Agricultural and Plantation Workers (SITRAP), said riot police violently attacked more than 600 demonstrators who blocked Route 32 in Siquirres, Limon province. The agents destroyed banners and signs and confiscated a loudspeaker vehicle, detaining its driver. At least five people were arrested, and a group of at least 80 demonstrators encircled the Siquirres jail to demand their release. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26; Argenpress, March 4)

Leaders of the Union of National University Workers (SITUN) and the Union Association of Industrial Communication and Energy Workers (ASDEICE) said separately that police stopped and searched several buses taking workers to the demonstration in San Jose, and a number of protesters had to continue on foot. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 4, 2007

El Salvador: Students Block Streets

In El Salvador, 27 people—most of them students of the University of San Salvador—were arrested on Feb. 28 for “public disorder” after blocking traffic on Constitucion Boulevard in the northern sector of San Salvador during a protest against DR-CAFTA. The protest marked the close of the country’s first year under DR-CAFTA; El Salvador was the first nation to implement the pact, on Mar. 1, 2006. (El Vocero de Michigan, March 2 from AFP)

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WW4 REPORT #130, February 2007
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From our weblog:

Guatemala: Maya priests to purify sacred site after Bush visit
WW4 REPORT, March 13, 2007
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Continue ReadingCENTRAL AMERICA: DEATH SQUADS FREELANCE FOR NARCOS 

ARGENTINA: DIRTY WAR AND HISTORICAL MEMORY

from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On March 24, two separate but nearly simultaneous marches were held in Buenos Aires to mark the anniversary of Argentina’s 1976 coup and remember the 30,000 people who were disappeared by the military regime.

The first march—attended by 10,000 people, according to the Buenos Aires daily Clarin—was called by organizations allied with or supportive of the government of President Nestor Kirchner, including the Grandmothers and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line, the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, the Good Memory Association, Relatives and Siblings of the Disappeared, and the Historical Memory Foundation. The second march was organized by the Memory, Truth and Justice Encounter, a coalition of 185 human rights, community, media and cultural groups not aligned with the government, including the HIJOS group of children of the disappeared and the Association of Former Detained-Disappeared. Both marches ended at the Plaza de Mayo, the second one arriving just after the first rally ended. According to the Buenos Aires daily Cronica, the two marches together drew about 100,000 people.

In addition to marking the coup anniversary, the marchers were commemorating the 30th anniversary of the murder of journalist Rodolfo Walsh, who authored an open letter to the military regime on March 24, 1977, the first anniversary of the coup, and was disappeared hours later. Both marches also coincided in demanding the reappearance—alive—of human rights activist Jorge Julio Lopez, who disappeared last September after testifying against former military officer Miguel Etchecolatz in a trial over dirty war human rights abuses. (Prensa Latina, March 24; Documento del 24 de marzo Memoria, Verdad y Justicia, March 24, posted on Argentina Indymedia; Clarin, March 25; Cronica, March 24; La Jornada, Mexico, March 25)

President Nestor Kirchner headed a separate commemoration earlier on March 24 at the former clandestine detention center of La Perla, in Cordoba province, where an estimated 2,000 political prisoners were held during the dictatorship. (PL, March 24; LJ, March 25)

In Jujuy, protesters held an “escrache”—a noisy human rights protest—at a police station where a detention center operated during the dictatorship. (Clarin, March 25) Protests were also held in Rosario, Salta, La Pampa, Chaco, Santiago del Estero and Entre Rios. (LJ, March 25)

Another protest was scheduled for March 25 at the former detention center of Campo de Mayo, in front of a building where pregnant political detainees gave birth; the regime routinely disappeared the mothers, and illegally gave the infants into adoption with falsified birth papers. (Clarin, March 25)

Santa Fe: Police Attack Water Protest

On the morning of March 22, World Water Day, activists from the Coordinating Committee of Neighborhood Unity-Teresa Rodriguez Movement (CUBa-MTR) in Rosario, Santa Fe province, held a demonstration protesting the government’s failure to provide running water to the city’s Santa Clara neighborhood. Provincial police attacked the protesters, firing metal bullets into the air and rubber bullets into the crowd. Dozens of people were wounded, and nine people—five women and four men—were arrested. An eight-year-old boy was among those hit by rubber bullets. Agents also used clubs to beat demonstrators, including children and pregnant women.

The protesters regrouped at the police station to demand the release of those arrested. The nine detainees were freed around 6:30 PM but were ordered to appear in court the next day. In a communique, the CUBa-MTR blamed the Santa Fe provincial government for the violence, and warned that its members would not be intimidated. (CUBa-MTR Communique, March 22)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 25, 2007

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WW4 REPORT #130, February 2007
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From our weblog:

South America protests Bush
WW4 REPORT, March 13, 2007
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Continue ReadingARGENTINA: DIRTY WAR AND HISTORICAL MEMORY 

COLOMBIA: PARAMILITARY SCANDAL AND CORPORATE POWER

from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On March 19 the Cincinnati-based banana company Chiquita Brands International formally admitted that its wholly owned Colombian subsidiary Banadex paid a total $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group, between 1997 and 2004. The company agreed to pay the US federal government $25 million in fines for supporting a terrorist group; the AUC is on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. On March 20 Colombian attorney general Mario Iguaran announced that he would seek the extradition of eight Chiquita officials to face trial in Colombia.

Chiquita officials claimed the company paid the paramilitary group to keep it from attacking Chiquita employees; the company said it had also paid off the two leftist guerrilla organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), for the same reason. But Colombian prosecutors indicate that Chiquita’s ties to the AUC are more extensive. They plan to ask the US Justice Department about a November 2001 incident in which a Banadex ship was used to unload 3,000 AK-47 rifles and more than 2.5 million bullets; these were bought by the paramilitaries from arms dealers who got them from Nicaraguan police. Colombia held Banadex’s legal representative, Giovanny Hurtado Torres, in jail for a year in the investigation of the arms smuggling, but finally released him for lack of evidence. (Reuters, March 20 via Yahoo en Espanol; Houston Chronicle, March 25 from AP)

On March 16 Sun-Times Media Group Inc., publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, said the US may investigate its chief executive, Cyrus Freidheim Jr., who headed Chiquita from 2002 to 2004. (Reuters, March 17)

Meanwhile, a suit is proceeding against the Alabama-based mining company Drummond Co. Inc. in connection with the 2001 murder of three unionists representing workers at Drummond’s coal mine in northern Colombia. The suit, filed in US federal court in 2002 by the Colombian miners’ union, Sintramienergetica, and the United Steelworkers of America, is now set for trial on May 14.

On March 14 the 11th US Court of Appeals ruled that US District Judge Karon Bowdre had exceeded her authority by sealing the documents in the case. These documents included sworn testimony by Rafael Garcia, a former Colombian security official now in prison in Colombia, that he was present at a meeting where Augusto Jimenez, president of Drummond Ltd, the company’s Colombian branch, handed “a suitcase full of money” to a representative of paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo to have the three union leaders murdered. The sealed documents also showed that Drummond attempted to lobby the US State Department, apparently to get its help to have the lawsuit dismissed. The lobby effort included working with Baker Botts LLP, the law firm of James Baker, secretary of state in the 1989-1993 government of former US president George H.W. Bush.

On March 22 Drummond officials denied Rafael Garcia’s allegations. But Jose Miguel Linares, a local Drummond vice president, acknowledged that a Drummond Ltd. director, Alfredo Araujo, is a cousin of Senator Alvaro Araujo, who was jailed in February on charges of working with the paramilitaries to kidnap a political rival; Alvaro Araujo’s sister, Maria Consuelo Araujo, resigned from her post as foreign minister in the resulting scandal. On March 20 Colombia announced that it was starting a formal investigation of Drummond’s possible ties to paramilitaries. (Forbes, March 14 from AP; Associated Press, March 16; Houston Chronicle, March 22 from AP)

Army Kills Peasants on Eastern Plains

According to information provided by the Foundation of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP) and the Social Corporation for Community Advising and Training (COS-PACC), troops from the Colombian Army’s 16th Brigade executed two campesinos, Daniel Torres Arciniegas and 16-year-old Roque Julio Torres Torres, in the rural hamlet of El Triunfo, in Aguazul municipality, Casanare department. The army then presented the victims as “subversives killed in combat.” Torres Torres had been a witness to the earlier execution of Hugo Edgar Araque Rodriguez and Freddy Alexander Cardenas by members of the same 16th Brigade; several soldiers were under judicial investigation for that crime.

Since 1996, 13 campesinos from Aguazul have been executed, another 26 have been disappeared, and there have been multiple cases of torture, forced displacement, arbitrary detention and other abuses in the municipality. The community has reported the abuses and fears retaliation. (Agencia Prensa Rural, March 20)

At least three other campesinos have been murdered in Aguazul since the beginning of this year. On Jan. 18, Angel Camacho was murdered in the hamlet of Plan Cunama las Brisas by individuals who appeared to be from a unit of the GAULA, a national anti-kidnapping force, based in Yopal, capital of Casanare. Witnesses said that after killing Camacho, the assassins placed a gun in the victim’s hand and took photos of the body before taking it away.

On Jan. 29, two young individuals in civilian clothing who appeared to be leftist guerrillas murdered Reinaldo Zea in the hamlet of Retiro Milagro. After killing Zea, the assailants threatened his wife, warning her to stay quiet or face the same fate. On Feb. 12, a heavily armed group of men dressed in camouflage, accompanied by others in civilian clothing, stopped a bus transporting British Petroleum contract workers in the hamlet of La Florida; the men took Jaime Palacios off the bus and murdered him. (Message posted by FCSPP/COS-PACC March 20 on Colombia Indymedia)

On March 15, troops from Battalion 29 of the army’s 16th Brigade, based in Yopal, took campesino Carlos Guevara from his home in the village of Ocove, in Labranzagrande municipality, Boyaca department (just northwest of Casanare), and forced him to accompany them. Hours later members of the army told the community that they had killed a guerrilla; residents recognized the body as that of Guevara. Several months earlier, the army had detained Guevara and accused him of being a guerrilla; the courts had freed him after finding no evidence for that claim. (Message from FCSPP/COS-PACC, undated, received March 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 25, 2007

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See also:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006
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More on Drummond at WW4 REPORT #43:
/static/43.html#andean3

From our weblog:

Colombia rejects CIA report on army-para ties
WW4 REPORT, March 26, 2007
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Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA: PARAMILITARY SCANDAL AND CORPORATE POWER 

TOM FORÇADE: UNSUNG HERO OF THE COUNTER-CULTURE

How a Yippie conspiracist changed America, mainstreamed marijuana and was destroyed by his dream…

Thomas K. Forçade was one of the most influential figures of the counterculture, and changed American culture as much as his confederates Abbie Hoffman and Larry Flynt. Forçade built a media empire, revolutionized journalism, mainstreamed marijuana and helped found the legalization movement before his untimely and still-mysterious apparent suicide at the age of 33. But he was the counterculture’s Howard Hughes, who labored behind the scenes, shunned the spotlight, wrote under pseudonyms—and continued to move large quantities of grass right to the end. Nearly 30 years after his death, it is time those who stand on his shoulders to know the man and the myth that was Tom Forçade.

by Bill Weinberg, Cannabis Culture

The Youth International Party (YIP)—popularly known as the Yippies—came to fame in 1968, with the violence at that summer’s protests against the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where the pro-war candidate Hubert Humphrey won the nomination. The protesters themselves had overwhelmingly been the target of violence by the Chicago police and Illinois National Guard—yet in the aftermath, eight activists associated (to varying degrees) with the Yippies were charged with federal conspiracy. In what was widely perceived as a travesty of justice, five of the “Chicago eight”—Yippie co-founders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (“The Mobe”)—were convicted of inciting to riot (although cleared of conspiracy) and each sentenced to five years. Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers was charged separately and convicted of contempt after being ordered bound and gagged in the courtroom by Judge Julius Hoffman. The convictions were reversed on appeal. But the trial—and the prankish antics by the defendants—catapulted Hoffman, Rubin and their cohorts to celebrity status. They were breathing the same rarefied air as the rock stars with whom they jointly defined the “counter-culture”—and they as eagerly exploited the media attention.

The irony of the outlandish conspiracy charges for First Amendment activity is that the Yippies did actually see themselves as a sort of conspiracy. Hoffman especially saw his mission as to bring a political consciousness to the hedonistic hippies, and to harness the creative energies of the counter-culture to protest the war in Vietnam. They set about this with a methodical intent that belied their seeming spontaneity. In fact, a case can be made that many of the vast cultural and political changes that swept America in the years of the Vietnam adventure’s grim endgame traced their origins to a New Years Day 1968 conclave, in a smoke-filled room in Hoffman’s apartment on New York’s Lower East Side, where the “Yippie” concept was conceived. And the smoke in that room wasn’t tobacco.

So the movement was riven with paradoxes from the start: Activism versus hedonism. Idealism versus opportunism. Ultra-democracy versus conspiracism. Anarchists versus hustlers. Disciplined cadre versus dope-fueled rabble. Even the “party” of Youth International Party was intended as a pun, with both senses of the word equally legitimate.

The Yippies’ unlikely fusion of these seeming opposites was, somehow, a real one. They saw themselves as the harbingers of a new culture, seeking to psychedelicize the left as well as to politicize the hippies. While the traditional left (like the Mobe) held orderly marches and chanted in unison, the Yippies used hit-and-run street guerilla tactics and bizarre theater, like their October 1967 “exorcism” ritual at the Pentagon. While the traditional left disdained marijuana and LSD as decadent self-indulgence, the Yippies embraced them as agents of liberation, and adopted their legalization as a cause. They saw themselves—however unrealistically—as genuine revolutionaries, and the notion of a populist revolution as the product of an elite conspiracy can be traced back to the 19th-century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and Auguste Blanqui, who fancied himself the secret mastermind of the Paris Commune from his prison cell. The Yippies’ ethic of media manipulation—”using the system against the system”—fit this mentality perfectly.

But if Hoffman played the media by acting the role of irreverent jester for the cameras, there is another figure who was arguably even more influential—yet virtually unknown because, by choice, he labored in the shadows. And rather than merely manipulate the media, this man of mystery (an image he consciously cultivated) actually built his own modest media empire in the 1970s, creating something that, at least briefly, approached a real alternative to the corporate press, and helped move the whole American spectrum to the left, the loose and the funky. Tellingly, he killed himself on the very eve of the Reagan revolution, in which those gains would be largely repealed.

With the country once again as divided as it was in 1968, perhaps it is time that Thomas King Forçade received his posthumous due.

THE YIPPIE YEARS: GENESIS OF THE CONSPIRACY

Born Kenneth Gary Goodson (the name-change came when he forged his new identity), he started life as the nomad brat of a military contractor. After stints in Okinawa, Alaska and Greenland, the family returned to their native Arizona—where Gary’s father met his death in a car accident when the boy was 11. Gary’s principal passion as a teenager was hot-rodding, his anti-authoritarian streak manifested by getting into chases across the desert with the Utah state police. He eventually graduated to smuggling in trunkloads of marijuana from across the Mexican border. He briefly served in the Air Force in 1965, but, feigning insanity, was dishonorably discharged before he could be dispatched to Vietnam. Back in the civilian world, he earned a degree in business administration from the University of Utah. In 1967, he caught the psychedelic wave, grew his hair long, and moved into a communal household in the Tucson area. When the commune was raided for marijuana and LSD by the police, and some members arrested, he became politicized—and somewhat paranoid. He changed his name and began publishing his drug-culture journal Orpheus, which seems to have been inspired by San Francisco’s contemporaneous Oracle. But this had more of an edge—each edition of one issue was shot through with a bullet as an artistic statement. He produced it from a 1946 Chevy school bus he drove around Arizona to avoid police harassment. The name Forçade was an intentional play on the word “facade”—a wink to the initiated that it was an alias (although some sources maintain Forçade was his paternal grandmother’s maiden name).

Isolated in conservative Arizona, Forçade identified with the then-mushrooming radical or “underground” press movement. Small publications were springing up from coast to coast. Some, like Oracle, were focused on psychedelic exploration and mysticism. Others, like the Los Angeles Free Press, were journalistic, full of leftist muckracking. But increasingly, papers like New York’s East Village Other, which merged the two sensibilities, set the template. The underground press came to be seen as the voice of the radical youth movement of which the Yippies were the avant-garde.

In 1969 Forçade drove the school bus to New York where he teamed up with John Wilcock of the East Village Other to launch what they dubbed the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), which served as a clearing house for the numerous new radical journals around the country. (The acronym, of course, was another play—on United Parcel Service.) UPS affiliates could lift material from each other, and link as a network. Forçade’s friends back in Arizona continued to publish Orpheus, which now metamorphosed into the official “directory” and periodic anthology of the UPS. But the UPS national headquarters, in a big loft on New York’s West 17th Street, became Forçade’s new base of operations.

Already Forçade was harboring dreams of the counter-culture supplanting and becoming the mainstream. “A daily underground paper in every city, and a weekly in every town,” he articulated his vision. “The underground press,” he wrote in the UPS founding manifesto, “is crouched like a Panther, dollars and days away from daily publication and thus total domination in the print media. After the underground press goes daily, they’ll die like flies.”

He saw his enterprise as on the frontlines of a culture war: “The Underground Press Syndicate papers, as advance scouts for journalism in Amerika & the world, often find themselves in conflict with the last vestiges of honky mentality… uptight Smokey-the-Bears of the totalitarian forest running around with axe-wielding blue-meanie henchmen, stomping out the fires of a people who have found their voice and are using it.” But he was convinced of victory. “The fires are too many and too big.”

The UPS claimed a collective 20 million readers, and Forçade strove to make the venture economically self-sustaining. He sold the microfilm rights of all UPS affiliates to the firm Bell & Howell for re-sale to libraries—which simultaneously brought in money and made the material more widely available. He contracted one Concert Hill Publications of Pennsylvania as the syndicate’s official ad agency. Some expressed fears that UPS was becoming too capitalistic with this move, but revenues from rock bands and concert promoters flowed in, and the underground press movement grew.

In New York, Forçade cut a strange figure. In an era and milieu of self-conscious flamboyance, he went around in an austere black outfit resembling a priest’s cassock, with a matching black wide-brimmed cowboy hat and ever-present dark glasses. He also rode around in a matching black Cadillac. He seemed to relish the rumors surrounding him that he was moving large quantities of marijuana into the city. In these years—like Hoffman, a senior figure in the New York radical scene, and clearly a role model—he actively sought notoriety, while justifying it as a tool of social change.

But, with Richard Nixon now in power, there was also an increased sense of paranoia. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the finances of Liberation News Service, the journalistic collective that serviced many UPS affiliates. Federal legislation was introduced that sought to ban publications that ran communiqués from armed groups like the Black Panthers and Weather Underground. Local district attorneys and police forces launched a campaign of harassment. The Phoenix office of the UPS was raided in an ostensible drug search; no drugs were found, but police confiscated files and subscription lists. Wrote Forçade: “With obscenity busts, they get your money; with drug busts, they get your people; with intimidation, they get your printer; and if you still manage somehow to get out a sheet, their distribution monopolies and rousts keep it from ever getting to the people.”

The obscenity busts were also real—there was a cross-fertilization between pornography and the underground press at this point, with the radical journals pushing the limits on sexual frankness, providing personal ads for amorous readers (a new idea back then), and (in theory at least) making erotic imagery less voyeuristic and objectifying and more participatory and instructive. These distinctions were, of course, lost on the authorities. And on May 14, 1970, Forçade registered a rather dramatic protest.

Dressed in his trademark outfit, Forçade showed up at the hearings of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in Washington DC, carrying an open letter to the commission listing 45 publications that had been censored or shut down by busts or intimidation. His testimony accused the commissioners of being “walking antiques…trying to stamp out our…working model of tomorrow’s paleocybernetic culture, soul, life, manifesting love force, anarchy, euphoria…flowing new-consciousness media… So fuck off, and fuck censorship!” Concluding his comments, he stepped forward and—with a war cry of “The only obscenity is censorship!”—wafted a cream pie right into the face of the commission’s chairman, Otto N. Larsen of the University of Washington.

This event—which took place the same day that two black student protesters were killed and nine injured by police gunfire at Mississippi’s Jackson State College—is now known as the first Yippie pie-ing. The tactic would later be taken up by Yippie Pie-Man Aron Kay, who would go on to symbolically “assassinate” Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt and John Dean; CIA director William Colby; UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan; conservative pundit William F. Buckley; anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly; pop artist Andy Warhol; California governor Jerry Brown; New York mayors Abe Beame and Ed Koch, and several other icons of the establishment. Other Yippies creamed H-bomb mastermind Edward Teller, anti-gay mouthpiece Anita Bryant and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, a perceived exploiter of the youth culture. (The tradition is still being carried on today by a loose network known as the Biotic Baking Brigade, which has pied many captains of government and industry in recent years, including San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, Microsoft magnate Bill Gates and corporate raider Charles Hurwitz.)

In August 1970, Forçade undertook another high-profile caper. Warner Brothers was filming a movie entitled Medicine Ball Caravan, that chronicled the adventures of a tribe of hippies—including ex-Merry Prankster Wavy Gravy and his Hog Farm commune—as they made their way cross-country to attend the Isle of Wight rock festival in England. Forçade intercepted the caravan near Boulder. In his Cadillac limousine (now painted a militaristic olive drab) was a wide assortment of fireworks and smoke-bombs. In his entourage was one of the Yippies’ most provocative characters, David Peel—the group’s official songster, whose John Lennon-produced album The Pope Smokes Dope was an underground classic then being banned all over the world (and who took his name from his habit of smoking banana peels). Peel’s incessant taunting of the caravan leaders as whores for Warner Brothers finally brought the situation to violence. The camp boss pulled a knife on Peel; then Forçade (decked out like a frontiersman in a fringed leather jacket with a skull-and-crossbones button reading “The American Revolution”) jumped the boss from behind. The whole episode was caught on film—and used in the movie. While Forçade claimed his aim had been to expose the caravan as corporate exploitation of the counter-culture, rumors circulated that he had actually been in Warner Brothers’ pay—to provide some on-camera violence and publicity. Others claimed he was piggy-backing a big cross-country marijuana run on the caravan.

In 1971, when rock producer Phil Spector was accused of sitting on money raised by ex-Beatle George Harrison and friends (Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan) at Madison Square Garden’s legendary Concert for Bangladesh, Forçade joined with another Yippie, AJ Weberman, to found the Rock Liberation Front—which occupied Spector’s office to demand the funds be released. The negative publicity worked. Finally, the money started to arrive at the relief organizations working at the camps in northeast India, where some 10 million had taken precarious refuge from the brutal war in Bangladesh.

But there was again an ambiguity of motives surrounding the next escapade, which represented both the pinnacle of Forçade’s career as a visible activist leader and the impetus for an abrupt change in his trajectory—the defining moment in his life. It was also the last gasp of the Yippies, and the group’s inevitable Oedipal revolt.

Forçade had, of course, been drawn into the Yippies’ orbit upon his arrival in New York. His first ego-clash with Hoffman surrounded production of Abbie’s third and most popular tome: the cleverly entitled Steal This Book. The previous two, the Yippie manifesto Woodstock Nation and the stream-of-consciousness Revolution for the Hell of It (written under the pseudonym “Free,” even though Hoffman’s highly recognizable image adorned the cover, and several inside pages), had been successful—as had Rubin’s own manifesto Do It! But Steal This Book would have to be self-published—given the provocative title (which Hoffman refused to compromise on), and the fact that it was an explicit how-to manual on subverting and ripping off the system, including detailed instructions on squatting, shoplifting and building pipe-bombs and Molotov cocktails, complete with charts and diagrams.

Woodstock Nation and Revolution for the Hell of It were credited to the celebrity-hungry Hoffman despite the fact that—by many accounts—they were actually collective efforts, with lesser-known and younger Yippies helping out on the editing and even writing. Steal This Book was to be an even more explicitly collaborative project. When Hoffman had to return to Chicago in 1969 to serve a 13-day jail sentence for writing “FUCK” on his forehead in public, he hired Forçade to edit, typeset and lay out the manuscript. Upon his return to New York, Hoffman was presented with a bill of $5,000 for two weeks of work. Unhappy with either the price or the work, he refused to pay. The Yippies organized a “people’s court” to settle the matter, with Hoffman and Forçade each presenting their case to a panel of three arbiters.

Forçade argued that his fee was based on what he was paid by Madison Avenue advertising agencies as a “youth market” consultant—which particularly galled Hoffman, as this was exactly the kind of work he regularly turned down. For Forçade, in turn, the Yippies’ spirit of volunteerism and shoestring improvisation masked exploitation. As panelist Craig Karpel put it: “If Tom was trying to use his competence to hustle Abbie, Abbie was trying to use his incompetence to hustle Tom.” The panel ultimately issued what was conceived as a compromise: Hoffman would pay Forçade $1,000. There is a famous photo taken after the verdict was announced, in which a smiling Hoffman extends his hand to Forçade, as one of the panelists, a young Yippie named Mayer Vishner, looks on between them, clearly hoping for reconciliation. Forçade makes no move to accept Hoffman’s hand, or even turn to face him; he looks at the camera, ramrod-straight and poker-faced.

After the verdict, Forçade hit Hoffman with a double-whammy. First, he held a press conference in which he announced that the “people’s court” had ruled in his favor because it had ordered Hoffman to pay him money. The “Abbie Guilty!” headline hit both the mainstream and underground media. Then, he sued Hoffman in civil court—which was seen as a grave betrayal of counter-culture ethics.

Ultimately, two rival editions were issued, identical in every particular except the title and cover. Ironically Hoffman’s was printed under the moniker of “Pirate Editions,” while Forçade’s smaller print run was a pirate edition of this version! Printed by “Hopscotch, Inc.,” Forçade’s knock-off was dubbed The “Steal Yourself Rich” Book. Hoffman’s name only appeared on the title page, not the cover. A line of small print read: “Large portions of this book were previously published under the title ‘Steal This Book.'” Of course, the text said nothing about getting rich, but much about living for free on the fringe of society, fighting the police and generally making trouble for the “Pig Empire.” The two titles exemplified the divergent philosophies of the two men: Hoffman’s saw theft as an act of resistance against the system of private property; Forçade’s as a mere hustle.

The Yippie split intensified with the presidential campaigns of 1972. Both the Republicans and Democrats would be holding their conventions in Miami. The Republicans stood behind Nixon, who had escalated the bombardment of Vietnam and spread the war to Cambodia. But this time the Democrats seemed poised to nominate the anti-war candidate George McGovern—in the first election in which 18-year-olds would have the vote. The old Yippie leaders announced that they were prepared to protest the Republicans, but not the Democrats. Hoffman, Rubin and Ed Sanders (the rock star/poet of The Fugs, a Lower East Side-based band) joined to co-author the book Vote!, which urged the anti-war movement to support McGovern. Read Hoffman’s jacket blurb: “This is the first time since 1776 that America is up for grabs. Vote and its yours.” Sanders: “I might have done a lot of crazy things before, but now, it’s time to get the rock and roll people to vote.”

The younger generation of Yippies wouldn’t go along with this. A counter-triumvirate to Hoffman/Rubin/Sanders congealed around Forçade, Dana Beal and Cindy Ornsteen, and insisted on protesting both parties at Miami. They assumed a more hard-left posture, arguing that the Democrats as well as Republicans were a party of big business and war, and that the founding Yippies had become ossified and sold out. The breakaway faction around Forçade dubbed themselves the “Zippies,” and adopted the slogan: “Put the zip back into YIP!” Another Zippie slogan was “We are not McGovernable!”

Accused a post-Miami manifesto officially purging Hoffman and Rubin as YIP leaders: “Their endorsement of the McGovern candidacy was an attempt to commit YIP to surrendering our independent identity to a party controlled by oil billionaires and labor reactionaries, the Connallys and Meanys. Our survival as a party is absolutely incompatable [sic] with that of the Democratic Party. We cannot represent the interests of youth within the Democratic Party.” It also accused them of being anti-democratic and elitist.

The folks around Hoffman and Rubin saw baser motives. Chicago ’68 had been the Yippies’ moment of glory, and these younger Yips had missed it. Forçade had still been in Arizona, and Beal had been in jail on a marijuana charge during the “Battle of Chicago.” Now they wanted their own chance to make history—or at least headlines.

Sexual rivalries may have also played a part—Forçade’s love interest, former Berkeley Barb reporter Gabrielle Schang, had recently dumped him for Sanders. In fact, some sources maintain that finding out Schang was in Miami with Sanders was what prompted him to go there and assume the role of protest leader in the first place—and that he took a New York City taxi-cab all the way down in a split-instant decision!

Finally, there were the inevitable rumors that Forçade was a paid agent provocateur—assigned a task of discrediting the protest movement as kneejerk nihilism, and even tilting the election to law-and-order candidate Nixon. In a possible revenge strategy by Hoffman for Forçade’s media zap against him over the Steal This Book affair, the old Yippies (or somebody) succeeded in selling this spin to the mainstream press. Wrote Jack Anderson in the Washington Post: “Published reports claim that the young radicals who slashed tires, threw rocks and terrorized Republicans at the national convention were really on the GOP payroll.” Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune: “Is somebody in the White House the real leader of the Zippies?” Both stories mentioned Forçade by name, and Anderson even revealed his real name.

The Miami protests did indeed explode into violence, and even the Zippies afterwards said that real agents provocateurs had been at work. In an effort to split the Zippies from other groups at Miami—particularly Vietnam Veterans Against the War—poison-pen leaflets were distributed bearing Forçade’s face in the style of a “WANTED” poster, accusing him of dealing heroin and getting vets hooked on smack. This was almost certainly part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program), which widely used such tactics against the New Left and especially the Black Panthers (as declassification of documents subsequently revealed). A goon squad of burly crew-cut men with shirts reading “FUC” attacked and beat up protesters. It was said this stood for Florida Undercover Coalition, a semi-official extremist wing of the Miami police.

Worse, the Miami protests failed to win the media attention that had riveted the nation and the world in the summer of ’68. Wrote historian Todd Gitlin in his account of the protest movement, The Whole World is Watching: “There was, in fact, far less live coverage of the demonstrations at the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami Beach, though those demonstrations were numerically larger than the Chicago events.”

But the real trouble came in the aftermath—when Forçade was charged by federal prosecutors with possession of a firebomb and intention to incinerate the convention center. (He had been arrested during the protests for attempting to steal a portrait of Lyndon Johnson from the convention center, but the charge didn’t stick.) The nostalgia for Chicago ’68 was becoming too real. If convicted, he faced a lengthy prison term.

Initially, he considered going underground. He laid low for weeks, checking into motels under false names with Cindy Ornsteen (while planting the rumor that he had fled to Argentina). Finally he turned himself in to face the charges—and in one last hurrah of bravado boasted to the feds that the Weathermen would soon break him out of jail (as they recently had Timothy Leary). Shotgun-wielding guards were posted outside his cell around the clock.

Forçade was cleared of the charges, but the episode prompted a radical change of direction in his life. On the lam with Ornsteen, he had arrived at a new strategy to realize his ambitions—to build the radical press movement and effect social change—but this time from the shadows rather than the limelight. And, this time, to get rich in the process.

THE HIGH TIMES YEARS: THE CONSPIRACY REALIZED

1974 was a turning point. US troops were finally home from Vietnam. Abbie Hoffman, wanted on a cocaine sale rap, went underground. Jerry Rubin dropped out of activist politics. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid facing impeachment proceedings. And Tom Forçade launched High Times magazine.

The concept was brilliant, and more successful than Forçade himself had anticipated. A whole industry of marijuana paraphernalia and growing equipment had sprung up in recent years, and needed a place to advertise. And there was a public eager for the magazine’s unique mixture of sophisticated alternative journalism and marijuana pornography. A small print run disappeared from the news-stands in a flash; more were printed, and they too were gone in the blink of an eye. It was an instant sensation.

As Albert Goldman would write in a retrospective in High Times on the magazine’s founder 15 years after his death: “Starting the magazine on a $20,000 shoestring, Forçade would see the circulation double with every issue for years, until at its peak, in 1978, High Times was read by four million people a month, grossed five million dollars a year and had been acclaimed as the ‘publishing success story of the seventies.’ The same shrewdness exemplified by the concept and the financing was evinced in the design and packaging of the product… Forçade produced a slick knock-off of the paramount magazine formula of recent times: the Playboy-Penthouse sex mag. His reasoning was flawless. Dope was the sex of the ’70s: a universal pleasure fighting for full acceptance… [W]hy shouldn’t the formula that worked for pussy work for pot?”

Forçade had found his true calling. He had once theorized to the UPS: “You’re going to have to identify…some sort of base that the straight press can’t co-opt. Either sex, drugs or politics.” Precisely because drugs were illegal, they fit the bill perfectly. Sex could be commodified, and politics could go soft. But dope was inexorably outlaw—and especially after Nixon, who had launched a “War on Drugs,” and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). High Times was inherently oppositional.

In addition to full-color centerfolds of high-grade marijuana, there were columnists—principally Ed Rosenthal and Mel Frank—who provided explicit instructions on how to grow the stuff, and one, “‘R.’, Dope Connoisseur,” who reviewed the latest strains. As the magazine was popularized, the homegrown movement flourished. There were also first-hand accounts of smuggling, and domestic growers followed in the footsteps of High Times journalists to bring back exotic strains from Morocco, Afghanistan and Nepal.

But being the Hugh Hefner of the dope culture also fueled Forçade’s paranoia. While he was both full owner and real editorial director (closely managing the official publisher, Andy Kowl, and editor, Ed Dwyer), his name did not appear in the magazine. When he wrote, it was under pseudonyms like “Leslie Morrison.” At first High Times operated out of the UPS office; eventually both moved to a bigger space at East 27th Street. Forçade (who now developed a penchant for white suits—again with matching cowboy hat and ever-present shades) rented a loft across the street, or stayed in nearby hotels, where he hosted conclaves with the staff. He ceased to be a visible figure—he now craved anonymity as avidly as he had once craved notoriety. He had become the Howard Hughes of the counter-culture, as much as the Hugh Hefner.

His old sense of absurdist humor was still at work. The company he formed as official publisher of High Times was dubbed the Trans-High Corporation, or THC—the acronym for tetrahydro-cannabinol, the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana. Its official icon was the P-38, a twin-tailed World War II fighter which Forçade re-envisioned as the ultimate smuggler plane.

A remnant faction of the Yippies, meanwhile, continued to exist under the leadership of Dana Beal, from a building at 9 Bleecker Street in the East Village. They continued to launch protests at national political conventions (Kansas City, 1976), but marijuana legalization became their special cause. They held public “smoke-ins” around the country, the most prominent being the annual affairs in Washington DC on July 4, New York’s Fifth Avenue on May 1, and Washington Square Park on Halloween. They also launched their own publication, Yipster Times. Forçade and Beal remained close collaborators—High Times publicized and covered the Yippie events, and Tom sunk money into them.

He also sunk money into an array of other publications. Just before High Times was founded, the Underground Press Syndicate officially changed its name to the Alternative Press Syndicate, hoping to win greater mainstream legitimacy—and less heat from the authorities. The APS launched its own magazine, Alternative Media, published at the High Times offices, and conceived as a more serious and activist-oriented sibling journal. Forçade also quietly provided seed money for many new additions to the APS network around the country—from gay and feminist publications to the burgeoning ecologist, anti-nuclear and Native American press.

When the punk sub-culture exploded, many old hippies were aghast, but Forçade cheered it on, providing seed money, advertisers and national distribution for Punk magazine, the brainchild of cartoonist John Holmstrom (who did the back-cover art for the Ramones’ third album, 1977’s Rocket to Russia, and the front-cover art for the following year’s Road to Ruin). This became the prototype for a whole universe of punk fanzines, and was key to popularizing the genre in America. Forçade also slapped down $400,000 for a documentary of the Sex Pistols’ legendary and star-crossed 1978 US tour, DOA.

Forçade even for a time published (it is widely suspected) his own ostensible rivals to High Times, called Stone Age and Head—another of his obsessive pranks. And he opened his own bookstore in Soho, called New Morning (from the title of both a Bob Dylan album and a Weather Underground manifesto).

High Times, it must be emphasized, contained intelligent journalism, not just pot pornography. One star reporter was Rob Singer (who in the ’90s would serve a prison term for a huge California marijuana operation, which involved moving the stuff around in a fleet of refrigerated cross-country rigs). In 1976, he authored an in-depth and highly prescient piece, “Dope Dictators,” which documented the drug ties of various despots around the planet and predicted: “In the years to come the rhetoric of the Dope War will replace rhetoric of the Cold War as the justification for foreign military intervention. Instead of sending in the Marines, Washington will send in the narcs.” These lines anticipated the 1989 invasion of Panama, and the secret war currently underway in Colombia.

Key to High Times’ success was Forçade’s partnership with Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler. Flynt bucked the Mafia, which had traditionally maintained control of pornography distribution, by establishing his own distribution company for Hustler and his other magazines. High Times also used this company, which—in a practice unheard-of in the business—paid for magazines up front. This allowed Forçade to maintain High Times’ extensive payroll (it is said two staffers were hired just to roll joints for the rest!), throw lavish parties regularly, and still sink money into political causes.

And Forçade’s success extended to his personal life—he finally won the love of Gabrielle Schang, who became his common-law wife (and editor of Alternative Media).

However, there were also contradictions eating away at the dream. Forçade, it became clear, was (like Abbie Hoffman) manic-depressive—or, more accurately, afflicted with what is now called seasonal affective disorder, SAD. He was full of frenetic energy in the spring and summer, but grew despondent as the days grew shorter. His mood swings made life difficult for High Times staff. In one episode, he staged a “Saturday Night Massacre,” firing everybody—only to hire them all back the next day. Andy Kowl related to Albert Goldman an incident in which Tom produced a .45 pistol in the midst of an argument—only to hand it to Kowl and demand he shoot him.

While Forçade ploughed money into the DC-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, founded 1970), he could also lord it over the organization in the most arrogant manner. In one famous episode, he showed up at a NORML benefit party at a posh Park Avenue apartment and intentionally offended the hostess—putting his boots up on the polished wood table, lighting a joint and meeting protests with “Go fuck yourself!”

Most bizarrely, even as High Times became massively successful, Forçade continued to smuggle massive quantities of marijuana into the country. He established a clandestine “smoke-easy” at 714 Broadway, where the city’s pot dealers congregated to share samples, compare prices and conduct business. Goldman relates one escapade in which Forçade was personally overseeing the ferrying of boatloads of Colombian to a drop-off point from a freighter off the Florida coast. The operation was discovered by the police, and Forçade fled into the Everglades, where he hid out for days before he made his escape.

One such operation in the spring of 1978 went horribly wrong—and cost the life of Forçade’s close friend and longtime smuggling partner Jack (O’Lantern) Coombs, who was flying in a load of Colombian in a twin-engine cargo plane. Forçade was to meet him mid-air in a smaller plane and guide him to a Florida drop-off point, where the cargo would be parachuted to a waiting ground crew. Coombs’ plane came in too low, hit tree level—and burst into flames. Forçade, it was said by those who knew him, always blamed himself for his friend’s death. This is counted as the beginning of his downward spiral.

Some of High Times’ journalistic coups also backfired. In 1978, President Carter’s drug policy advisor Dr. Peter Bourne—already under fire for allegedly approving a Quaalude prescription for a secretary’s recreational use—was spotted snorting coke at a NORML party in the fashionable DC district of Georgetown. High Times writer Craig Copetas had been present, and the magazine eagerly reported this hot gossip, hoping to shame Carter into following through on his promises to decriminalize marijuana. Predictably, it had exactly the opposite effect. Bourne was forced to resign, and Carter stepped up aid to Mexico to spray the defoliant paraquat on marijuana fields.

A key turning point in High Times’ fortunes came with the attempted assassination of Larry Flynt. In March 1978, during a legal battle against obscenity charges in Georgia’s Gwinnett County, Flynt and his lawyer were shot outside the courthouse. A white supremacist militant later confessed to the crime, but rumors of Mafia or CIA involvement abounded. They both survived, but Flynt was confined to a wheelchair for life—and during his lengthy recovery, the distribution business fell into disarray. High Times lost the sweet distribution deal on which it depended. Economic chaos loomed for the magazine.

Later that year, Gabrielle Schang interviewed Tom on tape at their Greenwich Village apartment, at his request. He spoke about his ongoing dreams of building a viable alternative press, about his fears of government surveillance. (“Effectively, I’ve already spent the last 10 years in jail—I’ve been under such close surveillance.”) Incredibly, he denied ever breaking any laws. (“My only crime is not agreeing with the straight media.”) He boasted of his voracious reading and work habits. Asked what motivated him, he said: “I have a deep fear of killing myself out of boredom.”

On November 16, 1978, alone in his bed, with Gabrielle in the very next room, Tom Forçade, depressed, insomniac and paranoid (and—allegedly—having taken Quaaludes in an effort to sleep), shot himself in the temple with a pearl-handled .22.

He was 33 years old.

THE AFTERMATH: STRUGGLE FOR THE LEGACY

There were, of course, the inevitable rumors of government involvement. Forçade’s old Yippie friend AJ Weberman—a notorious conspiracy theorist, author of the book Coup d’Etat in America, claiming Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt killed JFK for the CIA—immediately charged that Schang was a paid agent and had killed Forçade for the CIA. He noted that right-handed Tom had been shot in the left temple. Mel Frank would assert that Forçade had been followed by mysterious black cars in his final weeks.

Schang became the new High Times editor, but control of THC passed to Forçade’s lawyer Michael Kennedy, and she remained at the helm only a few issues. A succession of new editors followed, but it was clear the magazine was foundering.

The general cultural atmosphere changed rapidly. Reagan was elected. Hippies—and even Yippies, like Jerry Rubin—became yuppies. Colombia’s marijuana syndicates morphed into the sinister cocaine cartels, and coke replaced pot as America’s fashionable youth drug—but now as a symbol of affluence, not rebellion. Hardcore porn put the sexual frankness of the old underground press to shame, but utterly betrayed any ethic of equalitarian eroticism and de-objectification.

High Times, its circulation plummeting, followed this cultural de-evolution. Under editor Larry “Ratso” Sloman (who would later write an unflattering biography of Abbie Hoffman), photos of sparkling cocaine replaced marijuana buds and hashish balls in the centerfold spreads. Serious journalism nearly disappeared from the magazine. The APS withered, and Alternative Media ceased publication.

The remnant Yippies around Dana Beal (adopting a plethora of ad hoc front organizations) continued with their smoke-ins and protests at the political conventions (Detroit, New York, 1980; San Francisco, Dallas, 1984), but with greatly reduced numbers and far less support from High Times. Forçade’s final interview was run in the premier issue of Overthrow, as Yipster Times was re-named in 1979. Adopting a punk aesthetic and launching the American branch of the UK Rock Against Racism movement, the latter-day Yips that year opened a rock club at 10 Bleecker Street (just a few doors down from CBGB), popularly called Studio 10 but officially the Thomas K. Forçade Memorial Multi-Media Center. It would be evicted in 1981, with the gentrification of the East Village. Overthrow would finally cease publication in the late ’80s (perhaps marking an official end of the underground press movement), although Beal continues even now to reside in the building at 9 Bleecker, where a faded sign over the door reads “Yipster Times”—an incongruous anachronism among upscale boutiques and eateries. He is currently touting it as “The Yippie Museum.”

In 1986, as crack was infesting the streets of America’s cities, Reagan launched his own renewed War on Drugs. In the inevitable crackdown on the paraphernalia industry, High Times’ advertising base was virtually wiped out; the Justice Department even launched an investigation into the magazine for conspiracy to distribute paraphernalia. As the cheap freeze-dried variety became ubiquitous, cocaine quickly went from being a symbol of yuppie prosperity to a stigma associated with the urban poor and criminal element. Ironically, the official anti-drug hysteria came just as the CIA’s “contra” operations in Nicaragua were overseeing massive cocaine imports into the United States. (Abbie Hoffman, who had cut a deal with the authorities and come out from underground in 1980, made opposition to the secret war in Nicaragua one of his new activist campaigns. He too would fall victim to an apparent suicide in 1989.)

It was clear that High Times had to change. Steve Hager was brought in as the new editor in ’86. He cleaned out the cocaine, brought back the marijuana and a degree of political idealism. John Holmstrom, formerly of Punk, became publisher. In the late ’80s and ’90s High Times underwent something of a renaissance, with writers such as Peter Gorman, Steve Wishnia, Preston Peet and myself covering the War on Drugs as a serious political issue. Dean Latimer, the news editor from the Forçade era, was brought back. But this came to an end in subsequent editorial purges. High Times remains today the proverbial shadow of its former self—and something of a self-parody, with lots of pot pornography and sophomoric humor, but very little real journalism or political consciousness.

Controversy also surrounded Forçade’s stated desire that a certain percentage of High Times’ profits go to NORML in perpetuity. Former NORML board member Don Wirtshafter has accused THC of cooking the books to avoid giving the organization what it is due under Forçade’s deal. In 2000, THC was officially turned over from the trustees of Forçade’s estate (including some fairly conservative family members in Arizona) to those who had been on High Times staff for more than 10 years—again, in accord with Forçade’s stated wishes. But both Ed Rosenthal and John Holmstrom have sued THC, claiming they didn’t get what they were owed under the arrangement. Rosenthal lost his case, and Holmstrom’s was dropped. Michael Kennedy (while never a trustee or share-holder) is still seen as the real brains behind THC.

Marijuana, of course, remains illegal, with some 50,000 doing time for the stuff nationwide (out of over a million nonviolent drug offenders)—although several states have decriminalized, and several others passed laws or referenda legalizing medical marijuana, sparking a states’ rights showdown with the feds. Ed Rosenthal has been officially licensed to grow medical marijuana for the city of Oakland, California, and is prevailing in the courts against federal efforts to prosecute him on various felonies.

New publications on the High Times model have sprung up—principally Cannabis Culture, Heads and Skunk (all published in Canada), Weed World (UK), Cáñamo (Spain) and Stickypoint (Australia). The whole notion of an “alternative press” has been changed by the Internet in ways Forçade never could have anticipated, with webzines and blogs filling a similar niche. The Independent Media Centers, which emerged from the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, are in some ways an updated answer to the UPS. But the IMCs are a uniform franchise, contrasting the homespun individualism of the old underground press. And the sheer abundance of electronic media also has a marginalizing effect. With the IMCs lost amid a cacophony of right-wing blogs, there is certainly no sense of a unified oppositional culture animating the new digital alternative media.

Yet, the USA is once again bitterly divided over an unpopular war, riven by stark cultural contradictions; and issues of government surveillance and abuse of power have only grown more pressing since 9-11. These parallels make this an opportune moment to look back, re-asses what has brought us to this point. The legacy of Tom Forçade is now more worthy of examination than at any time since his death.

Bill Weinberg is a former High Times news editor and currently editor of the online journal World War 4 Report. He is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso Books, 2000), and is at work on a book on the secret war in Colombia.

This story originally appeared in the January/February edition of Cannabis Culture
http://cannabisculture.com

RESOURCES:

Tom Forçade reminiscences at AcidTrip.com
http://www.acidtrip.com/secure/forcade.htm

Abbie Hoffman website
http://abbiehoffman.org

Ed Rosenthal’s website
http://www.quicktrading.com

John Holmstrom’s website
http://www.johnholmstrom.com

Yippie Pie-Man’s Homepage
http://www.pieman.org/pageb.html

The Yippie Museum
http://yippiemuseum.org

NORML
http://www.norml.org

High Times
http://www.hightimes.com

Cannabis Culture on the Forçade Trust controversy
http://cannabisculture.com/articles/1562.html

Accuracy in Media on Ed Dwyer: “From Pot to Porn to AARP”
http://www.aim.org/aim_column/2438_0_3_0_C/

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTOM FORÇADE: UNSUNG HERO OF THE COUNTER-CULTURE 

RAPE AND REFORM IN PAKISTAN

Real Change on Anti-Woman “Hudood” Laws?

by Abira Ashfaq, Peacework

In November 2006, women in Pakistan and around the world celebrated the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill, a rare instance of positive legislative reform offering some relief from Pakistan’s infamous “Hudood Ordinances”—a set of religious-based laws that includes extreme restrictions and punishments for women. While celebration is justified, the women’s movement in Pakistan has a long way to go.

While one dictator passed the infamous Hudood Ordinances, another, an Ataturk for the 2000s, delivered the Women’s Protection Bill. But by all indicators, women have much to achieve. Sixty-four percent of Pakistani women are illiterate. Most work in the unregulated, informal sector, and play a limited role in governance. Elements of the Muslim right wing have developed strong ties with the military, and most governments have to take the Muslim right wing into account when making decisions. For many women’s rights activists, while the new legislation does amend the Hudood laws to a limited extent, its greater significance is that it shows that persistent work by the Pakistani women’s rights movement can make a difference.

The Hudood Ordinances

For 27 years the Hudood Ordinances have dominated the discourse on women’s rights in Pakistan. In 1979, Zia-ul-Huq promulgated these laws in an effort to consolidate military power through an Islamization campaign. Passed on the eve of the Prophet’s birthday, these were hastily drafted by a reconstituted Council of Islamic Ideology. Of its 17 members, only 4 had any legal background. The Ordinances, which changed rules for some offenses covered by the secular criminal laws inherited from the days of British rule (the Pakistan Penal Code) and also created new ones, covered: zina (adultery and fornication), zina-bil-jabr (rape), theft, armed robbery, qazf (false accusation of zina), the prohibited use of alcohol and narcotics, and the procedure for whipping. Zina offenses include adultery, non-marital sex, and related offenses.

Hudood is plural for hadd (limit). Offenses covered under the Hudood Ordinances are punishable by hadd, or maximum, punishment. For zina crimes, these punishments are whipping and stoning to death. These sentences are applicable only if the accused is a Muslim and if he or she confesses—or if four adult, pious, male witnesses testify as to the crime. If the evidence falls short, the accused is subject to tazir or lesser punishment, including “rigorous imprisonment” of four to ten years, whipping, and a fine.

The number of women imprisoned for zina went up an astounding 3000% from 1979 to 1988. Most convicted, though, were given a jail sentence under tazir versus hadd, as the government was rarely able to meet the rigorous evidence standard of four male eyewitnesses. In 2004, out of 77,420 Hudood cases, 3817 were zina cases. Of these zina cases fewer than 800 resulted in final convictions. As those accused were not eligible for bail, women undergoing trial ended up spending months in jail as their cases were funneled through the broken and bribery-ridden lower courts.

The Hudood Ordinances have primarily been used against women from the lowest socio-economic stratum. Nevertheless, the laws carry the dreaded potential of disempowering all women and establishing authoritarianism as dictated by the most conservative, patriarchal interpretation of Shariah. Hence, women’s rights groups like the Women’s Action Forum, the Aurat Foundation, and Shirkat Gah have mobilized against the Ordinances. Lawyers like Asma Jehangir and Hina Jilani, and activists like Mumtaz Khawar and Fareeda Shaheed have gradually became household names for their opposition to Hudood and their work for women’s empowerment.

Rape: Whose Crime Is It?

A serious criticism of the Hudood Ordinances, one for which they have become notorious, is their conflation of zina (adultery or fornication) with zina-bil-jabr (rape). Rape was also punishable under Hudood. Quite perversely, when a rape victim was unable to convince the court that she was raped, her allegation of rape (or her pregnancy) was treated as a confession of zina. Women’s groups used such cases to highlight the morbid injustice of the Hudood laws. One was the 1983 case of Safia Bibi, a blind 16-year-old girl who was raped by the sons of a wealthy landowner and was sentenced to three years in prison, 15 lashes, and a fine. Another was the case of Jehan Mina, a 13-year-old raped by her uncle and cousin. She too was convicted of zina after becoming pregnant. The Federal Shariat Court reduced her sentence, finding her “confession” faulty. Zafran Bibi’s case hit the press in 2002. She was raped by her brother-in-law and became pregnant, and was convicted and sentenced to be stoned to death. In June 2003, the Federal Shariat Court acquitted Zafran Bibi, saying that a rape victim should not be considered to have committed a sexual offense and should not be punished.

Due to intense international and domestic condemnation of the state’s misogynist punishment of rape victims, the opinion around the Hudood Ordinances has largely been negative. And under the scrutiny of civil society, Pakistan has never witnessed a stoning execution under Hudood. The Federal Shariat Court, created by General Zia in 1980 to hear appeals on Hudood cases, has overturned many cases. In 1981 the FSC found that the practice of stoning was repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. In 1989, it recommended that the rape law be amended to require two male witnesses instead of four. The Court has thus repeatedly expressed its own discomfort with the laws as they stood.

Typical Zina Cases

The rape cases demonstrate the worst of the law’s enforcement. Most cases under the zina laws do not involve women who have been raped, but rather women who are victims of a different type of violence—women being punished by their parents or husbands in a continuing progression of psychological and physical abuse that starts at home and continues with the justice system. Unsurprisingly, a large number of the women I spoke to held for zina crimes at the Karachi Jail in 2004 had suffered domestic violence, were not literate, and worked the most menial jobs. Saman’s and Zarina’s stories were typical.

Saman, 18, from Parachinar in the north, married against her parents’ wishes. Enraged, they had her lawful husband arrested on zina charges. She was arrested a few days later. Her parents procured a fake marriage certificate and claimed that she had been married before. Therefore, her “new” marriage was invalid and a crime under Hudood.

Zarina, 30, was forced by her stepbrother to marry Hanif, her first husband. He was about 30 years older than she was, and she suspected he received a payment for the transaction. He would beat her when he was high on drugs. She complained to her brother about the domestic violence. About three years ago, she left her husband and married Falak, a carpenter. She had a daughter with this man, a child she has held onto tightly even while in jail. Her ex-husband got a police officer involved in the case. “When I appeared before the magistrate I told him how Hanif abused me, but I was still sent into jail custody.” She says Falak shows up at court and threatens to kidnap her daughter.

It isn’t easy for women who have limited education to obtain divorce decrees and use the legal system.

Resistance to the Hudood Laws

In 2003, the National Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan, a statutory body created by the government, recommended repealing the Hudood Ordinances. They pointed out several errors—a minor could be punished for zina instead of being considered a victim of statutory rape; witnesses’ testimony was evaluated based on gender and piety instead of on their credibility; stoning is not mentioned in the Quran.

In 1997, the Commission of Inquiry of Women asked for repeal, saying the laws violate both the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (ratified by Pakistan in 1996) and Article 25 of the Pakistani constitution guaranteeing women and men equal rights.

In 2006, a new body of the Council of Islamic Ideology recommended serious amendments to the Hudood Ordinances. The voices representing support for the laws have remained on the fringes, lumping together all resistance to Hudood as part of a conspiracy between Western interests and local NGOs.

The Women’s Protection Bill of 2006

In 2006, GEO TV initiated a debate on the controversial nature of the Hudood laws and presented its audience with the views of diverse religious scholars, thus further normalizing criticism of the laws. In the wake of this event, the Women’s Protection Bill was passed. It does not repeal the Hudood Ordinances, but makes some significant changes to the zina sections. The Bill passed on November 23 in the Senate. Many abstained from voting and many staged a walkout.

The women’s movement was split; while some ardently favored a complete abrogation of the laws, others were pleased with the semblance of a shift, the first in 27 years. The Hudood Ordinances had survived despite efforts to repeal them by prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Their existence had seemed to be etched in stone.

Since the passage of the Bill, rape and other crimes whose punishment is not prescribed by the Quran will be covered by the Pakistan Penal Code and be punishable under tazir. The complaint process is amended to discourage the filing of false accusations of zina. The complainant must take four male eye-witnesses to a sessions judge. To issue a summons, the judge must then ensure that the witnesses meet Islamic standards of morality and truthfulness and that a prima facie case exists. Lying witnesses may be punished. The term “confession” is amended to be an explicit and voluntary admission in court before a judge. Zina defendants are now eligible for bail. Most importantly, complaints of rape can no longer be turned against the victim.

The Women’s Protection Bill does function as a safety valve—easing off some of the most intense international and domestic pressure against Pakistan’s anti-woman laws—but it does not really change the balance of power (mullah-military versus women). The Hudood Ordinances’ provisions for crimes against person and property, and their corporal punishments, still stand. Zina and false accusations are still punishable by stoning. Arguments that the high evidentiary standard provides a safeguard do not give solace. A woman I met at the Karachi Jail said her husband filed a zina complaint against her. He conjured up sixteen witnesses, mostly family members, who claimed to have known about the affair. Under the current complaint process—even since the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill—if he is able to produce four “eyewitnesses,” she could still be sentenced to death by stoning.

Activist and lawyer Asma Jehangir writes that “[t]he level of morality in Pakistan was better prior to the promulgation of the Hudood laws in 1979.” An appeal to “morality” appears hypocritical in a country where the state immorally denies women political and economic rights, yet one can see its pragmatism. Pakistan is a place where a vibrant, urban women’s movement, a largely tolerant civil society, and a liberal higher court system co-exist with the powerful Jamat-i-Islami, a robust system of right-wing religious education, and a misogynist police force. A lot of work has to be done ground-up to tip the balance toward equality. Working for women’s health, education, and economic autonomy is the only way.

Abira Ashfaq has worked as a detention attorney in the United States for over five years representing non-citizens detained by the US immigration authorities. She has also worked in Pakistan with War Against Rape and Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid.

This story originally appeared in the February issue of Peacework,
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Cambridge, MA
http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/node/452

References available on request.

From our weblog:

Pakistan: rape laws challenged, Islamists exploit backlash
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 26, 2006
/node/2839

Pakistan arrests rape victim
WW4 REPORT, June 14, 2005
/node/622

Pakistan: girl was poker debt bride
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 28, 2005
/node/3251

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingRAPE AND REFORM IN PAKISTAN 

GAZA STRIP: STILL UNDER SIEGE

Israel and its Allies Instrument Social Disaster

by Jennifer Bing-Canar and Adam Horowitz, Peacework

2006 marked yet another difficult year for residents of the Gaza Strip. In the words of John Ging, the Gaza-based director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Palestinians are “effectively living in one big prison.” Despite hopes that the Israeli withdrawal of its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005 might make life better for Gazans, 1.4 million Palestinians continue to live in devastated, poverty-stricken communities on a strip of land 25 by 6 miles long.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to be subjected to Israeli air assaults, military raids, arrests, and house demolitions. As of July 5, 2006, 840 homemade Palestinian rockets had been fired towards Israel from within Gaza that year. During the same period, the Israeli military fired 8,300 shells and rockets into Gaza, nearly ten times the number of Palestinian rockets. These attacks have resulted in eight Israeli and over four hundred Palestinian deaths. One Gaza journalist and father of two, Nidal al-Mughrabi, wrote in a personal account for Reuters this January, “It is not often safe to take your family out of the house. It’s your fortress, and your prison, much like Gaza itself.”

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is heightened due to the fact that Gaza is almost completely sealed off from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories and neighboring Egypt. Ironically, this process began in the heyday of the Oslo peace process when Israel began building a “security barrier” surrounding Gaza. Although different from the current Separation Wall in the West Bank in that it conformed to Gaza’s internationally recognized border, this barrier served a similar role in extending strict Israeli control over Palestinian freedom of movement. The 30-mile-long barrier contains three crossing points for Palestinians to exit and enter Gaza: Erez Crossing (from northern Gaza to Israel), the Rafah Crossing (from southern Gaza to Egypt), and the Karni Crossing, which is used mainly for cargo. Control over these crossings gives Israel control over daily life in Gaza, including over Gaza’s economy. Thus, Gaza remains under effective Israeli occupation nearly a year and a half after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza settlements.

Israeli control over these crossings has resulted in almost complete closure since the beginning of the Israeli military’s “Summer Rain” offensive in Gaza in June 2006. During 2006 alone, unemployment in Gaza rose from 33.1% to 41.8% due to decreases in economic activity and humanitarian aid (this is compared to less than 12% in 1999). According to the Gisha Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights group: “Imposing a strict curfew on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip and halting funding for public services have contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis in the Strip of a severity unknown in the 38 [sic] years of occupation.”

By the end of 2006, 89% of the population was living on less than $2 a day. Over 860,000 Gazans are living on food parcels distributed by the UN. The World Bank has characterized the situation facing Palestinians as the worst economic depression in modern history.

The people of Gaza have not only been physically sealed off from their surroundings—Gaza has also been diplomatically and politically isolated. The United States and the European Union have led a campaign of sanctions against the Palestinian people following the January 2006 Palestinian legislative council elections, which resulted in a Hamas party victory. The international community responded to the election by cutting off economic and humanitarian aid, and by supporting Israel as it refused to transfer tax revenue it had agreed to collect for the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo accords. As a result of these policies, over 100,000 Palestinian public employees have not received salaries in nearly a year. The economic embargo is interpreted by many as a form of collective punishment of a Palestinian populace for exercising its democratic rights.

In the United States this policy took the form of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. This draconian legislation labels the Palestinian Authority a “terrorist sanctuary” (which carries penalties for international private sector cooperation), effectively bans US aid to the West Bank and Gaza while Hamas holds the majority of the Palestinian legislative council, and encourages the US to use its influence to block international financial institutions from aiding the PA. Although there are some exemptions to the legislation, including assistance to meet human needs, democracy promotion, and “assistance in the national security interest of the United States,” the legislation has been used thus far to complement the US strategy of regime change within the Palestinian Authority. Although poverty rates among Palestinians are jumping to alarming levels, the only US aid that has been proposed to this point is a promised $86.4 million to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ security services in anticipation of an armed confrontation with forces loyal to Hamas. The US government hopes that a policy of economic deprivation, combined with the power of a US-backed proxy military force, will lead to a regime change in the Palestinian government acceptable to the US and Israel.

Thus, Israeli closure policies, international sanctions, and US maneuvering to topple the democratically elected Hamas-led legislature have together led to a devastating situation for civilians. By April 2006 79% of households in Gaza were living under the poverty line (compared to less than 30% in 2000). This outcome appears consistent with the goals Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained soon after the Hamas election victory. He joked of the sanctions, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

One result of US policies forcibly promoting regime change is a marked increase in factional violence. In the first month of 2007, over two dozen Palestinians were killed in factional violence, adding to the 300 killed in internecine fighting in 2006. The escalation in fighting followed the failed efforts to form a unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas’s call for new elections—although it is reported that even Pentagon officials have acknowledged that US policy has served as a catalyst for the violence.

Several voices, including some from within Israel, have warned of the consequences of an effort to topple Hamas’ leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Senior Israeli intelligence officials have warned that Fatah is disintegrating and would not win even if new elections were held. Civil war would be a disaster for Palestinians, and would also clearly set back any opportunities to resume negotiations for peace with Israel. Henry Siegman and Robert Malley wrote at the end of 2006: “The most fundamental miscalculation of all is the notion that there can be a peace process with a Palestinian government that excludes Hamas. Hamas is not an ephemeral phenomenon that can be extinguished by force of arms. It is as permanent a feature of the Palestinian political landscape as Fatah, which means that no enduring change in relations between Israelis and Palestinians—and certainly no end to violence, or beginning of a political process, let alone meaningful Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank—can occur over its opposition.”

Despite the growing hardship and desperation of life in Gaza, inspiring examples of nonviolent civil resistance continue. In addition to the daily steadfastness to survive under worsening conditions, there have also been several instances of unarmed Palestinian civilians offering protection for houses marked for demolition by the Israeli military. In one example, hundreds of residents of the Jabaliya refugee camp protected a house marked for demolition for several days until Israel called off the demolition order. The attack would have created widespread destruction in the incredibly densely populated camp. Women in Beit Lahiya also protested factional violence by taking to the streets chanting, “Spare the bullets, shame, shame” after a Hamas official was killed by Fatah gunners. Such actions have served as an example which many in Gaza are calling for people to emulate in hopes that Palestinians can prevent Israeli military attacks and end the recent deadly internal strife, through nonviolent means.

It is essential that we in the US work to change our government’s foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One important upcoming opportunity to stand for justice in Palestine and Israel will be June 10-11, 2007, when the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, United for Peace and Justice, and hundreds of other organizations will converge in Washington, DC to protest US support for 40 years of Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The weekend’s events will include a rally, teach-in, and lobby day and will be part of a global week of action entitled “The World Says No to Israeli Occupation.”

Jennifer Bing-Canar and Adam Horowitz work in the National Middle East Peacebuilding Unit of the American Friends Service Committee. For more information about their work visit www.afsc.org/faces-of-hope

This story originally appeared in the February issue of Peacework,
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Cambridge, MA
http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/node/445

RESOURCES:

“Working in the Gaza Strip is like…”
by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, Jan. 4, 2007
http://www.iol.co.za/index.php[…]9 131

Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement
http://www.gisha.org

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
http://www.endtheoccupation.org

See also:

ELECTIONS IN PALESTINE & HAITI:
This Is What Democracy Looks Like!
by Nirit Ben-Ari
WW4 REPORT #121, May 2006
/node/1900

From our weblog:

UN rights rapporteur on Palestine: Yes, it’s apartheid
WW4 REPORT, March 23, 2007
/node/3428

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingGAZA STRIP: STILL UNDER SIEGE 

SOMALIA: THE NEW RESISTANCE

Successor Factions to the Islamic Courts Union

by Osman Yusuf, WW4 REPORT

The downfall of the Islamic militants who had control over most of south and central Somalia until late last year has created a power vacuum that the transitional government is not at present able to fill.

In several parts of the war ravaged nation, real political authority has fallen to clan leaders and revived clan militias, often comprised of the same gunmen who had served under the Islamic Courts Union. In many areas they remain the primary source of power.

This localized prototype of authority is not new to Somali’s rural communities. But the abrupt shift of power from the Courts to clan leaders has been more destabilizing in tense urban settings such as Mogadishu-where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed up by Ethiopian and African Union troops, is attempting to impose direct rule.

The crumbling of the Courts Union, combined with the failure of the TFG to provide even a token administrative presence, has produced ideal conditions for the revival of armed criminality. Renewed sub-clan clashes in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia is seen as increasingly likely.

Observers on the scene say some members of the Islamic Courts Union may have transformed into a new organization called Shabaab, where youthful remnants of the Islamists are being trained for specialized tasks in the resistance within Mogadishu.

Shabaab means youth or young men in Arabic. Sources in Mogadishu say Shabaab is made up of young Islamic Courts supporters who have come of age in the ruthless and vicious reality of warlord Somalia. They are less educated and more rigid than the older clerics. They have had no formal jobs, apart from earning a living through using their guns to protect foreigners or fighting for those who can pay. The only piece of clothing that signifies their membership in Shabaab is a red scarf wrapped around the face and head, so they can rapidly disappear into the populace.

Sources, including a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union, also confide that the Shabaab’s commander is Aden Hashi Ayro, a young Somali said to have been trained in Afghanistan, believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s. Those close to Ayro describe him as the portrait of an intransigent young militant who is at odds with his own clan and bitter over foreign meddling in Somalia. A number of assassinations and massacres of foreigners in Somalia are attributed to him.

“This group of young men is very lethal,” said Osman Abdi, an activist who works with the Mogadishu-based Somali Human Rights Defenders. “They claim in statements that they are linked to the deposed Islamic Courts Union. They have posted a video massage on the ICU’s website, qaadisiya.com, late last month.”

Increased assassinations in Mogadishu in recent weeks have been blamed on the Islamists’ remnants, and mostly on Shabaab. The group has also threatened suicide attacks against the Ugandan AU peacekeepers that are now being deployed.

A Somali who recently fled the fighting to Nairobi reported that he witnessed a small Shabaab rally in Mogadishu, in which hooded men threatened to attack Ethiopian and Somali government troops in Somalia.” He echoed the street talk of the Shabaab’s formidable prowess. “They are very ruthless and relentless fighters who can scale walls and jump from moving trucks without dropping their weapons,” he said.

Other Somalis and analysts suspect Shabaab may have already mutated into another new organization, the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM).

“The Shabaab were elite members in the Islamic courts militia and collapsed as a group following the ousting of the courts,” says Abdurahman Warsame, a Mogadishu-based journalist who corresponds for foreign news agencies. “It is possible that this new group is the Shabaab in a new name, though that cannot be verified and the PRM has never stated that clearly.” He adds that the PRM claims responsibility for the near-daily attacks on Ethiopian and TFG troops.”

The PRM, formed in January, has posted a new warning against the peacekeepers. “We promise we shall welcome them with bullets from heavy guns, exploding cars and young men eager to carry out martyrdom operations against these colonial forces,” said a man appearing in a video posting on an Islamist website reading from a statement.

“The Ugandan troops and those from the other African states who are being sent to Somalia are in our eyes no better than the Ethiopians who are occupying our country by force,” said the statement signed by Harith Aba-Sadiq, “Organizer of Mogadishu People’s Resistance.”

“Somalia is not a place where you will earn a salary—it is a place where you will die. The salary you are seeking will be used to transport your bodies.”

The authenticity of the video, a replica of those released in Iraq and Afghanistan by Islamist insurgents, could not be independently verified. But the warning came as the first batch of peacekeepers from Uganda was to arrive in Mogadishu. They have already claimed responsibility for the March 12 attacks in which two Ugandan soldiers were injured when their convoy was ambushed while heading to a Mogadishu hotel at night.

Other groups which have claimed responsibility for attacks in Mogadishu since the fall of the Islamic Courts Union include Al-Harakah al-Muqawamah, Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad Brigades, and al-Sha’biyah fi al-Bilad al-Hijratayn.

With 4,000 troops in the streets, backed up by Ethiopian and AU forces, it is fair to say the TFG remains in control of Mogadishu. But near-daily attacks from the Islamist resistance may prevent them from extending their rule to the rest of Somalia for a while to come.

Osman Yusuf is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi.

See also:

SOMALIA: WASHINGTON’S WARLORDS LOSE OUT
by Rohan Pearce, Green Left Weekly
WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006
/node/2259

From our weblog:

Somalia: 12,000 displaced by Mogadishu fighting
WW4 REPORT, March 30, 2007
/node/3483

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingSOMALIA: THE NEW RESISTANCE 

YEMEN: ON THE BRINK OF SECTARIAN WAR

Shi’ite Insurgency in Washington’s Strategic Red Sea Ally

by Mohamed Al-Azaki, WW4 REPORT

He heard the military helicopters coming, Dr. Ali al-Wadiee told reporters in Al-Ruzamat, a small village situated amid the volcanic mountains of Yemen’s remote north, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

“There were several loud explosions,” he said, but the doctor wasn’t aware of how many helicopters dropped their payloads in al-Naqa’ah, just on the Yemeni side of the border.

In Saada province, 240 kilometers north of the capital Sana’a, nearly 700 people have been killed as fighting re-ignited in late January between Yemen’s army and Zaidi Shiite insurgents. Formed by tribal chief and Zaidi cleric Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, killed in combat with government forces in 2004, the rebel group is known as al-Shabab al-Moumin (the Youthful Believers). Their rebellion has flared even as the government has started to pacify the Sunni insurgency elsewhere in the country. Earlier this year they threatened to kill members of the small Jewish community in Saada if they did not leave the country within 10 days.

Al-Wadiee was present in a small government medical center with four health workers, when more than 100 dead were received in a period of three days March 5-7. “About 90 of the dead were in the Yemeni army, and the others were in the Shiite insurgents,” he said.

At the outskirts of al-Ruzamat, some 10 kilometers south of al-Naqa’ah, in this same region of northern Yemen, a metal sign hanging from a shiny new chain reads: “Warning: Access to this area is forbidden for security reasons. The Yemeni Army.”

The current conflict represents the third government crackdown in Saada province since 2004, where the Shiite rebellion started out as a small protest movement. Rebel clerics have denounced the government’s ties with the United States and demanded an end to its gradual shift to Western-style social and democratic reforms.

Government forces seem to have emerged victorious from the latest fighting, having crushed the main rebel strongholds in the Razih and Al-Shagaf areas of Al-Naqa’ah. But Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the new leader of the Shiite insurgency and brother of the slain founder, threatens to widen the circle of armed confrontations to areas outside of Saada. He is said to have hundreds of armed rebels under his command, and pledges to continue fighting the government if it doesn’t cut its alliance with America.

Just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia and astride the Red Sea’s strategic Bab-el-Mandeb choke-point, Yemen has received strong US military support for counter-terrorism programs in recent years. Al-Thawra, the government newspaper in Sana’a, reported on Sept. 26, 2006 that US Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski declared Washington’s support for the Yemeni government in its confrontation with al-Houthi’s insurgency.

The rebel group was formed three years ago, when Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi took up arms under the slogan: “God the Greatest… Death to America and Israel…Victory for Islam and Muslims.”

The government is determined to crush the uprising. But observers fear it may not be able to overcome al-Houthi’s group, which aims to install an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy and many compare to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“They refused all offers by the government to disarm and form a political party to live in peace,” says Abdullah al-Faqih, a professor at Sana’a University. “I think the rebels have this time lost all grounds for negotiations with the government.” To isolate the rebels, says al-Faqih, Yemeni authorities have blocked communications including mobile phone services in the restive northern province.

There are also fears of renewed targeting of Western interests in the country. In March, the Interior Ministry temporarily tightened security around foreign embassies against possible terror attacks.

“Here in Yemen, tribe, religion and weapons are the most dangerous things in the hands of tribesmen against the government,” said Abdul-Elah Haidar, a researcher on terrorism issues at the Saba News Agency and a regular columnist for the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi. “And when a group combines the three, it can easily become a substantial political force.”

Iran Seeking Proxies?

This escalation of violence has been a frightening setback for the Yemeni government, which had beat back the threats from al Qaeda and was beginning to benefit from the cautious return of tourists and foreign investors.

Lacking large oil reserves or any modern manufacturing facilities, Yemen has nonetheless drawn terrorist attacks: the September 2006 bombing of American- and French-owned oil facilities in the eastern provinces of Marib and Hadarmout; the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden; and the October 2002 bombing of the French supertanker Limburg. These have cost the government millions as insurance premiums for ship owners have soared, causing many of them to refuse to dock at Yemen’s ports.

The attacks have also frightened off thousands of mainly European tourists who come to admire the country’s unique ancient mud-brick cities and amazing landscape.

Most Yemenis believe that Iran backs the Shiite Muslim rebels in the north of the Sunni-dominated country. The Zaidi sect makes up about a fifth of the Yemen’s population. Also known as “Fiver Shia,” it is actually a small offshoot of the Ismaili schism. The Zaidis recognize only five imams from Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, while the mainline Shia of Iran’s mullahs recognizes 12.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in January that some countries were supplying al-Houthi’s group with weapons and financial support, but did not name them.

Tariq al-Shami, spokesman for President Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), says Iranian security officials have told Yemen that some Iranian religious institutions were supporting the rebels, but they added that al-Houthi’s group was not backed by the Tehran government. “There are Iranian religious institutions which are providing support to the Shiite insurgency in Yemen,” Shami recently posited on the GPC’s Web site.

In March 2006, Yemen freed more than 600 Zaidi rebels as part of an amnesty to end two years of clashes that had killed several hundred soldiers and rebels alike. But “the Houthis have used a period of truce with the state to buy heavy weapons using foreign support money,” Shami charges.

The clashes in Saada are causing great hardship for the local inhabitants. “Many houses have already been destroyed, students no longer go to school, agricultural farms have been damaged and work has come to a standstill,” said Khalid al-Anesi, director of Yemen’s non-governmental National Organization for Defending Freedoms and Rights.

Military sources say that al-Houthi’s three-year fight against the government has cost the country an estimated $800 million, with extensive damage to property.

But the greatest threat is that the Shi’ite revolt could re-ignite conflicts among other sectors of the populace. Many in Yemen refuse to operate within a political system that they see as invalid, says Haidar, leaving the potential for factional warfare. “Al-Houthi’s group is trying to copy Iraq’s sectarian strife in Yemen,” he warns.

Jihad Materials Thrive in Markets

Sunni Muslims are a majority in Yemen, a nation of 19 million, and it is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It is radical Sunnis who are circulating gruesome videos depicting murdering and mutilating “infidels” as part of a recruiting drive.

At one roadside stand, a video salesman hawked jihadi movies as radical songs blared out from speakers, with such lyrics as: “We will make jihad against the pigs”—meaning Jews.

The long-bearded buyers thronging his stall on the sidelines of a sunset prayer’s sermon in the Yemeni capital Sana’a were part of a gathering organized by the radical Sunni wing of the Yemen Reform Group, also known as Islah, a powerful opposition party.

“Here is the latest movie of the beheadings,” the salesman told his customers, as they peered into titles including “Slaughter of American Soldiers in Iraq,” “Al Qaeda Victories in Fallujah in Iraq” and “Killing of Traitors in Afghanistan.”

In Yemen, compelled to join the US-led global war on terrorism after 9-11, anger has risen over what many clerics see as an attempt by the America and the West to repress Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

But that is only part of the story. Yemen also faces a battle with its own demons, as militant attacks and sectarian violence have killed thousands since 9-11.

On March 26, four people were injured in a riot in the Yemeni port city of Belhaf, allegedly after a French engineer from the Total oil company desecrated a copy of the Koran by throwing it on the floor.

That same day, at the other north end of the country in restive Saada, a French and a British student, both Muslims, were killed and several others wounded in an attack by Shi’ite rebels on a Sunni religious school.

Yemen has come under increasing pressure from the US to take harsher action against the illicit trade in weapons, with experts warning the country is becoming a key transfer point for militant groups throughout the Middle East and Horn of Africa.

Mohammed Kuhaly, political analyst and lead researcher of the local NGO Political Development Program, says there is “no haze or cloudiness” about who the figures are behind the booming arms traffic. “They are al-Qaeda’s sympathizers of the political Islamist Islah party.”

President Saleh has banned several radical religious schools linked to Islah. But militant literature—even how-to manuals on guerilla war—continue to be widely available. One Islamist bookshop owner in Sana’a said such material could always be arranged to trusted customers.

It is certainly not difficult to find the words of one of Yemen’s most radical voices. His message of extremist Islam can be heard outside a number of well-known mosques.

Sheikh Hazza Al-Maswary, a key representative of the Islah party, has kept a low profile recently because of pressure from Yemen’s security apparatus, despite having a seat in the national parliament. But outside Mujahid mosque in Sana’a, his recorded voice blares out from speakers among the shops selling perfumes, head caps, religious books, cassettes and films after Friday prayers.

“Curse on the Christian Americans and Jews… They are killers, and we will make jihad against them, we will rob them of their peace,” legislator Al-Maswary thunders. “Muslims must not follow the Christians and Jews, as God says he will not accept anyone but Muslims.”

Not all Yemeni preachers are spreading messages of jihad. Some are actively opposing radicalism among their followers. Many exert efforts to bring a negotiated end to armed tribal conflicts, and help to bring a measure of peace to restive areas.

Yemen’s Sunni insurgency in the remote interior provinces of Abyan and Marib opened in late 2001, when tribal leaders refused to hand al-Qaeda suspects over to the government. President Bush subsequently ordered some 200 military advisors to the country, and in November 2002 a CIA drone-launched missile attack killed six al-Qaeda suspects traveling in a car in Marib. Since then the insurgency has died out, but observers now fear the new Shi’ite militancy may upset the fragile political balance, and bring sectarian war to this mountainous and strategic Arab country.

Mohamed Al-Azaki is an independent Yemeni journalist and researcher at the SABA Center for Strategic Studies, based in Sana’a.

From our weblog:

Iranian drone shot down in Yemen?
WW4 REPORT, March 29, 2007
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