Electronic Journal & Daily Report OIL SHOCK REDUX Is OPEC the Real Cartel —or the Transnationals? by Vilosh Vinograd, WW4 Report GLOBAL WARMING AND THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE by Brian Tokar, Toward Freedom MARLON SANTI The New Voice of Ecuador’s… Read moreIssue #. 142. February 2008
Tamils in the UK marked the 60th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence Feb. 5 with a hundreds-strong protest at Downing Street demanding “real freedom” and “real rights” for the Hindu minority on the island. That same day, at least 14… Read moreTamil Tigers in London?
Jane’s Country Risk News reports Feb. 1 that renewed US attempts to woo Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to open his country’s vast natural gas reserves may be “too little, too late.” Russia already accounts for 97% of Turkmenistan’s gas exports…. Read moreTurkmenistan tilts to Russia, China
Iraq has halted oil exports to Austria’s OMV, Central Europe’s leading oil and gas group, to protest a deal with the autonomous Kurdish region. An official at the Oil Ministry said OMV will no longer receive 10,000 barrels per day… Read moreIraq cancels oil contracts in showdown over Kurdistan
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Seemingly irregular oil contracts have emerged as a factor in the ongoing political scandal that last week brought down Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Following accusations from left-opposition congressmembers, state agency PeruPetro admitted that hours before leaving office, Kuczynski had issued a Supreme Decree initiating the process of approving five offshore oil concessions with a private company—but without the involvement of PeruPetro in vetting the contracts, as required by law. Calling the deals "lobista," Dammert is demanding that new President Martín Vizcarra declare the contracts void. (Photo: Gestión)
by Michael Eamonn Miller, NYC Pavement Pieces
The noisy, bustling streets of upper Manhattan known as “El Barrio” bear scant resemblance to the farmlands of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest, southernmost state. But three decades of Mexican immigration to New York have subtly transformed the neighborhood, establishing ties between the two communities and injecting new, sometimes controversial, ideas into the fight against gentrification in El Barrio.
No group demonstrates these ties or this controversy as strikingly as Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB). Founded in December 2004 by tenants fighting eviction from their East Harlem apartment building, MJB now considers itself a “Zapatista” organization—a name normally reserved for armed revolutionaries fighting for their indigenous Mayan lands in Chiapas. But to the extent that the affiliation has brought new methods of grassroots democracy and community organization to East Harlem, MJB’s brand of Zapatismo holds promise for a neighborhood undergoing rapid gentrification.
Gentrification affects many of New York’s poorer neighborhoods, not just El Barrio. Loosely defined as an influx of money and development, gentrification causes the displacement of low-income families by wealthier ones, its critics argue. As New York crime rates have fallen over the past 15 years, parts of the city once shunned by young, wealthy professionals have become targets for development. In neighborhoods like El Barrio, where many poor families have only recently arrived in the US, the potential for rapid change—and displacement of the poor—is even greater. Across New York, rising rents have led to confrontations between landlords and tenant organizations, between the tenants’ need for affordable housing and the owners’ property rights. In this clash of philosophies, New Yorkers’ homes are at stake.
“Gentrification is a fact of life,” argues East Harlem landlord Scott Zwilling.
“People look at me and say ‘the big, bad owner kicked me out,'” Zwilling said. “But if it wasn’t me buying the property and raising the rent, there would have been 10 others ready to do the same thing.”
But gentrification is neither inevitable nor desirable, according to Movement for Justice in El Barrio.
“What initiated the organization was the housing crisis,” said MJB founder Juan Haro. Fearful of eviction, tenants in five East Harlem buildings approached Haro for help. “People were trying to figure out how to combat the effects of gentrification,” he said.
Since 2004, MJB has grown to more than 380 members in 25 buildings around El Barrio. One key to this growth has been MJB’s link to the Zapatistas—a connection that, while intuitive for some members, may surprise Americans who remember 1990s images of masked Zapatista peasants clutching rifles.
MJB’s embrace of Zapatismo began in summer 2005. Far from a publicity stunt, the move was “organic,” Haro said.
“What happened early on was we began an internal discussion to learn about different social movements based in the US and abroad,” explained Haro. “Zapatismo made sense because most of our members are Mexican.” One of the group’s first meetings coincided with the “Sixth Declaration of the Lacondan Jungle,” a Zapatista call for an international campaign against neoliberalism and repression. “Our members read the declaration and got very excited,” Haro said.
El Barrio has had a large Hispanic population since the 1950s. But today’s neighborhood reflects recent national immigration trends. Just as Hispanics are now the largest minority in the US—growing from 9 to 12.5 percent of the population from 1990 to 2000—they have risen from 32 to 55 percent of the population in El Barrio since 1970, according to US Census and city government statistics. Meanwhile, the makeup of Hispanics in El Barrio has also changed. While Puerto Rican flags can still be seen on neighborhood murals and in shop windows, El Barrio’s cultural and political movements increasingly reflect its growing Mexican population.
But MJB’s affiliation with the Zapatistas goes beyond mere cultural connections, instead relying upon the perception of a common enemy and a shared solution.
Like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, MJB sees neoliberalism—free trade and unregulated international businesses—as the underlying problem. In New York, MJB members argue, the gradual weakening of rent control laws fits this neoliberal pattern and has led to gentrification.
After MJB’s early campaigning against local landlord Steve Kessner, he sold all 47 of his buildings to a London-based investment bank, Dawnay, Day. It was an important but Pyrrhic victory for MJB. Unlike Kessner, “Dawnay, Day has from the outset been very explicit about what they are trying to do,” Haro said.
“It’s not our goal to kick people out of their homes,” said Michael Kessner, director of operations for Dawnay, Day in New York and a relative of former owner Steve Kessner. “But obviously we’re out to make a profit, too.”
“Movement for Justice is out to serve their own interests,” Kessner said, describing MJB as “very confrontational” and only representing a small percentage of Dawnay, Day’s tenants.
At the heart of the disagreement are Dawnay, Day’s business practices since buying the apartments in March.
Dawnay, Day has aggressively tried to replace tenants in rent-controlled apartments with those willing to pay higher amounts, Haro said. “Dawnay’s other new tactic is offering money to the tenants to vacate.” The company has introduced a “buy out program,” he said, in which longer-term tenants have been offered $10,000 to leave their apartments. “Because of rent control, they’re targeting longer term tenants, some of whom have lived in El Barrio for 30-40 years.”
A lawsuit filed in October by 17 MJB members accused Dawnay, Day of making “false, deceptive and misleading representations to [tenants] in verbal and written communications, including rent bills and other correspondence,” in an attempt to force them out of their apartments. If true, these charges would violate a number of New York consumer protection laws.
“Billing and accounting was an issue at first,” Kessner said, referring to rents allegedly owed to the previous owner. “I think [the lawsuit] has been resolved because we’ve credited their accounts.”
But neither the lawsuit against Dawnay, Day nor the broader fight against gentrification is over, according to MJB.
The influx of multinational companies such as Dawnay, Day is both “an international problem” and a consequence of neoliberalism, Haro said. “To combat this, we have to have an international plan. It can’t be local, can’t be regional: it has to be international.”
MJB’s response to both Kessner and Dawnay, Day has been to rely on Zapatista strategies of community consultation and cooperation. MJB’s “Consultas del Barrio” is a grassroots initiative for popular democracy within the neighborhood. MJB canvassed over 800 people—of all ages and races—from around the community, asking them to identify the issues that most affected their lives.
“Our goal is to create space and opportunity for the broader community to engage in the democratic process,” Haro said. “We can’t say we represent every single member of the community unless we consult with all of them.”
“People feel discouraged or disillusioned with the forms of discourse in civil society,” he said. “For example, when it comes to voting, they feel that the powerful always win out,” but the “consultas” represent another form of politics, independent from the government.
Though time-consuming, these “consultas” have allowed MJB to stay abreast of evolving relationships between El Barrio’s tenants and landlords—relationships which, in the case of Dawnay, Day, are volatile.
“We consider ourselves to be on ‘red alert’ because of what Dawnay, Day has been doing,” Haro said.
But an equally important side to MJB’s success has been its cooperation with other anti-gentrification and social justice groups, both in New York and around the world. On October 21, MJB hosted its first “NYC Encuentro for Humanity and Against Gentrification.”
“The encuentro is a tool very helpful in getting people from different communities to share stories that are usually left out or silenced,” said Helena Wong, coordinator for the Chinatown Justice Project and for Right to the City New York. Attending the “encuentro” made sense, she said, because MJB and Right to the City both face gentrification in their respective communities.
“Gentrification is something that’s been happening in Chinatown for 10 years,” she said, “but you don’t know it’s happening until storefronts start changing.” Companies are buying up entire blocks, “kicking people out” so that they can build luxury condos, she said. Wong sees the same erosion of New York’s once-strong rent protection laws at work in Chinatown as in El Barrio.
“It seems like our struggles are the same, the causes of the conditions in our communities are the same,” Wong said. “We’re never going to win anything by ourselves in Chinatown so it’s important to work with other communities that are marginalized.”
Although tenant groups like Right to the City and MJB see gentrification as the enemy, landlords consider it their livelihood.
According to Zwilling, gentrification is as old as the neighborhoods themselves. It isn’t just business, he argues, it’s part and parcel of the American promise of upward mobility.
Zwilling says he understands peoples’ anger towards landlords, and has offered to help former tenants find new apartments. But landlords aren’t to blame for gentrification, he argues.
“Whose fault is it? I have a family to feed, too,” Zwilling said. “Is it the former owner’s fault? Is it no one’s fault? Is it the city’s fault for not having programs in place to help these people?”
The gentrification of East Harlem isn’t likely to slow down any time soon, Zwilling acknowledged. He bought an apartment building in East Harlem one year ago for $6 million. While honoring pre-existing leases, Zwilling said he has raised rents to market value whenever possible. But most long-time tenants cannot afford market prices, meaning they lose out to wealthier newcomers.
“Since we bought it, most of the building now houses young professionals,” said Zwilling. Unlike the apartments in which MJB’s members live, these buildings are not rent-controlled, Zwilling said.
For MJB, January marks the beginning of both the New Year and a new campaign against Dawnay, Day.
“For the first time, we have an international campaign or plan to target Dawnay, Day,” Haro said, adding that MJB’s small staff had been working seven days a week to map out where the company owns property, both in the US and abroad.
MJB’s international campaign also includes cooperation with anti-gentrification groups in London, where Dawnay, Day has its headquarters. Haro met several of these groups at a conference on participatory democracy in Barcelona last April.
MJB plans to give presentations and workshops on its Zapatista-inspired “consultas del barrio” across Britain next year, Haro said, hoping to make more allies in the fight against gentrification and for affordable housing for the poor.
From our weblog:
Crime, water wars rock Chiapas Highlands
WW4 Report, Feb. 2, 2008
Zapatistas announce “new political initiative”
WW4 Report, June 30, 2005
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Photo: La República)
Legal proceedings continue in Bagua, a town on the edge of the rainforest in Peru's Amazonas region, against 25 Awajún and Wampis indigenous activists over deadly violence at a pumping station for the North Peru Oilduct in June 2009. Station 6 had at that time been under occupation by indigenous activists opposed to expansion of oil operations into their Amazonian homelands. Violence broke out at the occupied pumping station on June 5, 2009, when word reached the activists there of that morning's Bagua massacre, precipitated by National Police attacking an indigenous roadblock. Ten agents of DINOES, the National Police elite anti-riot force, were slain in the clash at Station 6. Prominent indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, already cleared of charges connected to the violence at Bagua, is now among those being tried for the bloodshed at Station 6. (Photo: Radio Reina de la Selva)
The New Voice of Ecuador’s Indigenous Movement
by Marc Becker, Upside Down World
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) has elected Marlon Santi to serve as its president for the next three years. Santi was elected by more than 1,000 Indigenous delegates gathered at Santo Domingo de los Tsa’chilas from Jan. 10-12, 2008, for the Third Congress of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador.
Indigenous activists founded CONAIE in 1986 as a national federation to represent Indigenous interests to the government. CONAIE first gained broad international attention when it led a protest in June 1990 that shut down the country. In 1995, CONAIE helped found the political movement Pachakutik to run candidates for political office.
Santi was elected by consensus of the regional organizations CONAICE, ECUARUNARI, and CONFEINIAE that represent Indigenous peoples from Ecuador’s coast, highlands, and Amazon. He is a 32-year-old native of Sarayacu in the eastern Amazonian province of Pastaza. Sarayacu has long been a center of protest again petroleum exploration. After studying in Quito, Santi returned to Sarayacu where he was a tireless fighter against petroleum companies and corrupt governments. For his activism, Santi has received assassination threats. Santi vowed to continue CONAIE’s struggle against neocolonial domination.
Official delegates and other observers arrived to the Congress on the morning of Jan. 10 in a constant rain. The Congress opened with a traditional ceremony with the participation of several leaders of the different organizations, governmental representatives, members of the national assembly, and invited national and international representatives. Jaime Pilatuña, a yachak (shaman) of the Kitu Kara people, led a ceremony together with Hector Awavil, leader of the host Tsa’chila government, to create a harmonious space for the meeting. Children and women also made a presentation in the inaugural act. Juana Nenquimo, a member of Waorani nationality, spoke in four languages of their struggles against international oil, lumber and mining companies.
The Congress began with an analysis of Ecuador’s current political situation. Jorge Guamán, National Coordinator for the Indigenous political movement Pachakutik, and Mónica Chuji, an Indigenous delegate to the Constituent Assembly, presented reports on their political activities. Guamán stated that Indigenous peoples and nationalities in Ecuador have maintained the cultural, social, and political structures necessary to create successful government processes. They have formed these under the traditional Andean code of “ama llulla, ama shuwa, ama killa,” or don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t be lazy.
Luis Macas, outgoing CONAIE president, presented a report of his work during his three-year term. He referred to the Congress as a “minga” (a communal work party) to construct a new country that would belong to all Ecuadorians. “Even though some governments have done everything to divide us,” Macas said, “this Congress is a practical demonstration of our unity and brotherhood.”
Humberto Cholango, leader of the highland regional federation Ecuarunari, said that “this congress is of vital importance because CONAIE is responding to the poverty, exclusion, mistreatment, and discrimination we have received from the government with proposals for life.”
Constituent Assembly member Mónica Chuji read a letter from Alberto Acosta, president of the Constituent Assembly that is currently re-writing the country’s constitution, in which he states that “the assembly will fight for the recognition of the rights and achievements of all Indigenous peoples and nationalities.” Acosta called for a unity of all Indigenous organizations.
Acosta’s letter emphasized that Indigenous movements and its struggles against the oligarchy and colonial powers are of great transcendental importance to the social transformation that the country is experiencing. “The historical consciousness, the cultural inheritance of Indigenous peoples and nationalities are needed to build an inclusive and just society,” he said.
At the Congress, Indigenous leaders declared their opposition to any policies that would lead to an extraction of natural resources from Ecuador, particularly petroleum and water. Instead, these are elements of strategic importance to the development of the country.
A principle demand of the Congress was the recognition of Ecuador as a plurinational state. Delegates also appealed for the development of a social economy. Indigenous leaders called on the Constituent Assembly to change government structures and the political system to end social exclusion and inequality. They presented an Integral Agrarian Reform plan to redistribute land, eliminate inequality, and to stop environmental destruction.
Delegates to the congress ratified their unlimited support to the changes in Bolivia led by president Evo Morales. They identified those developments as an example for the entire continent of Latin American. Ecuarunari leader Humberto Cholango emphasized the Indigenous movement’s defense for the changes sweeping throughout the region. Cholango stated that Indigenous communities will not allow the oligarchy to destabilize their sister nations with the support of the United States government.
The Congress elected Miguel Guatemal as vice-president of CONAIE. In addition to Santi and Guatemal, CONAIE’s governing council for the next three years will be comprised of Humberto Martínez (Organization), Silvio Chiripuwa (Fortification), Luis Champis Dirigente (Territory), Fredy Paguay (International Relations), Fausto Vargas (Education), Agustin Punina Dirigente (Health), David Poirama (Youth), Norma Mayu (Women), Janet Kuji Dirigente (Communication). The new leaders were sworn in by a ceremony of thanks to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) led by the Yachakuna (Shamans) Jaime Pilatuña and Carlos Pichimba.
This story first appeared in Upside Down World, Jan. 15, 2008
FOR THE “TOTAL TRANSFORMATION” OF ECUADOR
An Interview with Pachakutik Presidential Candidate Luis Maca
by Rune Geertsen, Upside Down World
WW4 Report, October 2006
From our weblog:
Ecuador: Correa puts down oil protests
WW4 Report, Dec. 26, 2007
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution