Autonomy Under Siege in the Zapatista Zones

by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, CIP Americas Program

Autonomy Under Siege, a series of reports on the five Zapatista autonomous centers, or caracoles, by Gloria Muñoz RamĂ­rez was first published in Spanish as a special section of the Mexican national newspaper La Jornada, Sept. 19, 2004, following a series of on-site reports by the author. On the 15th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising, the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program presented the first full authorized translation to English, by Americas Program director Laura Carlsen. Last year, much of Muñoz RamĂ­rez’s work was published as a book, The Fire and the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement, by City Lights Books of San Francisco.

The Caracol founded in La Realidad—the first autonomous center built by the Zapatistas—is still celebrating its first anniversary. The rains have flooded the land, mud has washed out the roads, the maize has been harvested, and the indigenous people have doubled their stores of maize seed. Maybe there isn’t less hunger than before, the situation is still difficult in these jungle lands, but a journey through the region today shows something that didn’t exist 10 years ago when we reporters first entered this territory.

At the entrance to the community that is home to the Good Government Board (GGB) “Hacia la Esperanza” (“Toward Hope”), there’s a small wooden clinic painted green with dozens of people standing around it. A white cardboard sign advertises different methods of contraception and vaccination campaigns for kids and adults. “We are fighting diphtheria and tetanus,” a middle-aged indigenous man who works as a health promoter says proudly. In the line, women carry vaccination cards issued by the autonomous government for their children.

Doroteo, a member of the Good Government Board, states, “Before our uprising, the Zapatistas had begun to organize their healthcare, because health is one of the main demands of our struggle—we need it to live, and our struggle is for life.”

This place, now called “Madre de los caracoles del mar de nuestros sueños” (the literal translation from Spanish is “Mother of the Sea Snails of our Dreams”) is famous in the world of resistance because in 1996 one of the founding acts of the anti-globalization struggle took place here—the First Continental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. Most recently, the biggest achievement in health has been the inauguration of an operating room. The community had the operating room for three years but couldn’t use it because there were no doctors and also, they admit, due to a lack of organization in the four autonomous municipalities of the region: San Pedro de Michoacán, General Emiliano Zapata, Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas, and Tierra y Libertad.

“We’ve only operated on two men—one with a hernia, the other with a tumor—and on one women with a cyst where we even did a salpingo [removal of the fallopian tube], but at least now we’re operating in this zone,” says Doroteo. Meanwhile, the woman who recently had the operation is recovering well. “How many indigenous women with cysts are waiting for an operation in this zone?” The reply is cause for concern, but as they say, “Now we’ve started.”

Health is one of the areas where the most progress has been made here in Zapatista territory. This jungle area on the Guatemalan border is not without its problems, both internal and external, but preventive medicine campaigns are multiplying. For example, health commissions in many communities now clean latrines with lime on a weekly basis. In some areas, however, there are communities that “still do not understand the importance of cleaning, and we have to explain that health is the most important and precious thing you can give to the struggle.”

This zone has one of the two largest autonomous hospitals in rebel territory. It is called “Hospital la primera esperanza de los sin rostro de Pedro” (Hospital “The First Hope of the Faceless Ones of Pedro”) in honor of Subcomandante Pedro who was killed in combat in January 1994 and was a leader and compañero of the people of these villages.

The hospital stands amid dense vegetation and is separated by a bridge from the village of San JosĂ© del Rio. It serves the four autonomous townships but, like all resistance projects, it has caused plenty of problems for the Zapatista communities. Local inhabitants note that it took a lot of work to organize the rotating shifts of the thousands who helped build it over three years, they admit that they faced many obstacles to get it going—they haven’t had and still don’t have doctors of natural medicine, they have only recently started using the operating room, once they had to close for an entire month, they spent a lot of money supporting health promoters, plus a long list of other predictable problems and unimaginable obstacles.

But the hospital exists and now competes with the big state hospital in Guadalupe Tepeyac that was established in 1993, just before the Zapatista uprising, by then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. This white elephant was run by the Red Cross until February 1995, when it was scandalously taken over by the Mexican Army (without any action by the Geneva Convention) before eventually being handed back to the state health authorities.

The Zapatistas say that in the Guadalupe Tepeyac hospital, “Sometimes they don’t want to give us medical attention if we say we’re Zapatistas, or they ask us a lot of questions to find out about our organization, or they treat us like the government treats us, which is with contempt, like they treat all indigenous people. Because of that, we don’t want to go there and now even the PRI members prefer to come to our hospital or micro-clinics because we treat everyone there—Zapatista or not—and we treat them with respect as human beings.”

It is common to find members of the PRI and other organizations in the autonomous hospital. They have chosen not to go to the huge hospital in Guadalupe Tepeyac because, “being indigenous, they, too, are treated very badly, or they tell them they don’t have any medicines.” In the autonomous clinics, those who are not Zapatistas pay only 10 pesos (less than a dollar) for a consultation, and “if we have donated medicines we give them that for free, and if we only have medicines we had to buy, then we charge what it cost us. We don’t make a commercial business out of health,” Doroteo says.

The challenge of providing healthcare not only to members of the base communities, but to all the population in the area is gigantic. Members of the GGB say, “We have a lot of work to do because the need is so great. Sometimes it seems like we need to do a lot more, it feels like we need to do twice as much, but other times it seems like we’re getting there.”

The hospital at San José is also a school for health promoters. It was built with the support of an Italian organization and has dental and herbal clinics and a clinical lab. In addition, there are three municipal clinics—one in Tierra y Libertad, one in Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas, and another in San Pedro de Michoacán.

In the entire zone there are 118 health promoters dealing with primary illnesses in the same number of community health houses. In the main hospital, in the three municipal clinics, and in the community health houses, the base communities are provided with free consultations and, when available, free medicine.

The health promoters explain that up until several months ago the hospital functioned with health promoters who were economically supported by the four townships. They were given 800 pesos a month each to stay at the hospital full time. In total, the communities spent more than 100,000 pesos over three years. The money came from a warehouse project in the zone.

“But now when the Board was established, we decided to ask the villages for volunteers who would work full-time to care for people’s health in the hospital. Three men and three women answered the call, and they left their families and are now working as interns. The Board supports them with food, travel, shoes, and clothes. We buy them what they need, but they aren’t paid a wage nor given money. These interns are conscientious and working for their people and benefiting from the opportunity to learn about health.”

Midwives, Bone Healers, and Herbalists Strengthen Traditional Medicine
There is a new building nearly ready in La Realidad. It is an herbalist lab and center for preserving foods, and it forms part of a health project that is the pride of this zone. The project has meant the empowerment of more than 300 women herbalists, bone healers, and midwives.

“This dream,” they explain, “began when we realized that we were losing the knowledge of our old men and women. They know how to cure bones and sprains, the use of herbs, and how to deliver children, but all this tradition was being lost because of the use of pharmaceutical medicines. So we agreed in the villages to make a call to those men and women who know traditional healing. It wasn’t easy. At first many didn’t want to share their knowledge. They said it was a gift that could not be passed on because it comes from within. We then started discussions on health in the villages to raise awareness, and as a result many people changed their minds and decided to participate in the courses. There were 20 men and women, great people from our villages, who were appointed as teachers of traditional medicine with 350 pupils, most of them women. As a result, the number of midwives, bone healers, and herbalists in our communities has multiplied.”

The new herbalist laboratory has a story behind it. “An Italian soccer player who died left in his will money to build a soccer field on Zapatista territory. This field was only going to benefit the people of Guadalupe Tepeyac, so we talked with the community and explained that we had other more urgent needs that would benefit all the communities, like a place where compañeros could work on traditional health. The village understood and agreed that it was fair to use the money for the health of everyone. The second step was to talk to the donors. At first they didn’t want the money to be used for anything else, but later they said it was okay.”

More Than 300 Education Promoters Give Classes in Their Villages
Another area that the communities have been working on, despite all odds and overcoming internal obstacles and governmental counter-insurgency campaigns, is education. “For us, the education of our children is the foundation of our resistance. The idea came about because most of us have not been educated, or if we have, it was a very bad official education. There were no schools in the communities, and when there were, they didn’t have teachers, and if we had teachers, they usually didn’t show up and so there were no classes. That was before,” explain the autonomous authorities in the region. “In 1997, we began to work on our plans and programs of study. And seven years later we now have three classes of education promoters able to give classes in their villages. In our schools we teach the history of Mexico, but real history—what has happened to those who struggle in this country. We also teach children about the Zapatista struggle, the struggle of the people,” says Fidelio, an education promoter.

“Most of the villages now have education promoters. Only 30 communities don’t, and we have them in all the villages of the four municipalities,” the Board says. “In this region, in La Realidad, we organized the first Zapatista education in 1997. In 1999 and 2001 we taught other groups of promoters and finished with more than 300 indigenous people able to teach classes in their villages.” Nevertheless, “we have a problem that some single promoters lose interest when they marry, or the village does not give them much support; or there are some who go to work in the United States. We’re trying to resolve this because there is desertion, with promoters leaving.”

While the interview with the Good Government Board was taking place, a course with more than 70 promoters was coming to an end in La Realidad. “Those you see walking around the Caracol are taking a course needed to bring everyone’s knowledge up to the same level. Then they will go through a second course, like a secondary course, although we don’t call it that,” explains Doroteo.

In the four rebel municipalities in the jungle zone there are 42 new community schools: 10 in Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas, four in General Emiliano Zapata, 20 in San Pedro de Michoacán, and eight in Tierra y Libertad. The schools have cement floors, wooden walls, and laminated roofs. They all have a blackboard, desks, the Mexican flag and, of course, the Zapatista flag, and some have tape recorders and other teaching tools.

To provide for the educational needs of the 30 communities without promoters, the Board asks those in charge “to raise awareness of the importance of this work. We will not force this; the villages need to understand the importance and apply this in their villages because they are convinced it’s worthwhile.”

Most of the communities in this region have two schools—one official, the other autonomous—and the Zapatistas say that in their schools, “Our children learn to read and write first, and they are more hard-working. We do not blame the government teachers, but they leave their classes a lot because they say they have to attend meetings. Our promoters don’t take breaks or get paid.”

Only One Woman is Part of the Autonomous Government
The Good Government Board is composed of seven men and only one woman. Three out of the four autonomous councils do not have a woman member and only one autonomous township—Tierra y Libertad—has a woman member. Out of over 100 education promoters, only six are women (five from Tierra y Libertad and one from San Pedro de Michoacán). The other two townships in this zone, General Emiliano Zapata and Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas, do not have any women responsible for education.

The area of health is no better for women. There are only seven female promoters in the four municipalities—five in Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas and two in Tierra y Libertad. “We are aware,” the Board states, “that in this zone there is still very little participation of women, but we see a small improvement because in the past it was unthinkable that even a single woman should participate. We need more women to participate, but the change must begin in the family.

“We need to do more political work in the villages with families. Unfortunately, there is still a belief that if daughters leave the village they will get up to no good. Because of this we need to strengthen discussion and work. On the Board we have a woman compañera, and she goes with us everywhere, and we have never had a problem because we respect her and she respects us. Many women in the villages still think that women could encounter problems if they go and work with men, but that’s not the case. And so we need to raise awareness more among husbands and fathers. They need to get it into their heads that men and women have the same rights.”

Fighting the Coyote: Another Challenge
In the community of Veracruz, the Zapatistas run a warehouse that supplies hundreds of small community shops, both Zapatista and non-Zapatista. This store, named “Todo para Todos” (“Everything for Everybody”), exists so that the shopkeepers in the villages are spared the trip to get supplies from Las Margaritas or Comitán. After the success of this store, another one was opened in Betania and another in Playa Azul. The stores supply the villagers throughout the zone with oil, soap, salt, sugar, beans, maize, and coffee.

During the past three-and-a-half years, the profits from the Veracruz store—over 100,000 pesos—have gone to support the health promoters in the main hospital. The profits also go to support the travel of the autonomous councils and other parts of the organization. In total, 116,614 pesos were spent to support various activities. In these stores, maize bought by the Board is traded in a project aimed at stopping intermediaries (coyotes) from buying up maize at low prices and selling at high prices. Profits from sales go to support the Board’s work and the activities of the four autonomous townships in the region.

“This first year, we bought more than 500 bags of maize—around 44 tons. We’ve already sold half of it, and the rest has been stored in the warehouse, and we are trading it,” explains Doroteo.

There is a big red vehicle just in front of the Board’s office in the Caracol. It’s called Chompiras. It’s the truck the Board recently acquired to transport their goods. Chompiras crosses the jungle and goes as far as the coast and Los Altos to distribute their products. They also have a passenger truck that travels from Las Margaritas to San Quintin. Its first profits went toward the creation of a regional food store.

“The difficulties never end… However, now we even have the Internet, and we are learning to use it to directly manage our communication. What we feel most is that we have a lot of responsibility. Sometimes we feel like the world is on our shoulders because it is difficult to govern, and above all to carry out what the people ask, to govern by obeying, and we don’t have resources. Sometimes it’s as if we’re addicted to problems or that we like them, but we go on learning to overcome them,” conclude the three members of the Good Government Board interviewed.


This piece first appeared Dec. 12 on the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program.

Gloria Muñoz is a Mexican journalist that has lived with and written extensively on the Zapatista movement. Her most recent book is The Fire and the Word, a history of the Zapatista movement translated by Laura Carlsen, director of the CIP Americas Program.

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: EZLN celebrates 15 years
World War 4 Report, Jan. 6, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Frontera NorteSur

Virtually forgotten amid the ongoing slaughter engulfing Ciudad Juárez, a long-running land battle involving members of one of Mexico’s most prominent families drags on with no immediate resolution. Located in a now-strategically important zone on the northwest edge of Ciudad Juárez, the future of hundreds of acres is the object of contention between businessmen Pedro and Jorge Zaragoza and about two dozen families who call the dusty patch of land known as Granjas de Lomas de Poleo home.

The once-isolated collection of very modest homes and family ranches could one day become an important annex to the developing, binational border city of Santa Teresa-Jeronimo promoted by the Mexican government and state government of New Mexico.

Lawyers for the Zaragozas contend the land in Lomas de Poleo was legally purchased by the family decades ago, but residents—some of whom count decades residing on the disputed parcel—say they have the right to the property by virtue of a 1975 decree issued by Mexico’s federal Agrarian Reform Secretariat.

With papers in hand and accompanied by supporters from the Zapatista-inspired Other Campaign, Lomas de Poleo residents appeared in a Chihuahua City federal court Jan. 8 to defend their case. The embattled Ciudad Juárez residents were represented by Barbara Zamora, a well-known Mexico City human rights attorney.

No lawyer for the Zaragozas showed up in the Chihuahua City courtroom, and the legal battle continues. In subsequent comments to Ciudad Juárez’s El Diario newspaper, Zaragoza attorney Juan Manuel Alfaro said an earlier court ruling that resulted in an order for the Federal Electricity Commission to remove electrical poles proved his clients had legal claim to the land.

While a war of words continues in the courts and in the press, Lomas de Poleo residents accuse Zaragoza henchmen of waging a low-intensity war designed to force people from their homes.

In a press statement released this week, Lomas de Poleo resisters charged the Zaragozas and collaboraters with being behind the destruction of dozens of homes and a church, the cutting off of electricty and the encirclement of the semi-rural neighborhood with fences, towers and armed guards since 2003.

In the most recent incident that reportedly occurred on Jan. 7, a group of men destroyed the home of Salvador Aguero. A woman accompanying the agressors allegedly attacked Liliana Flores, who was attempting to defend Aguero’s home. Earlier, on New Year’s Eve, three men allegedly beat up 71-year-old Cruz Reza Saenz after entering the elderly man’s home.

Before leaving, the assailants then reportedly tied up Reza, stole the victim’s valuables and hurled threats.

Lomas de Poleo residents and their supporters also say Zaragoza representatives are pressuring people to abandon their homes in return for payments amounting to about $3,700. Denying the charges, Zaragoza lawyer Alfaro maintains no one is being pressured. According to Alfaro, as many as 60 families have accepted indemnification and an offer to relocate on a separate 26-acre piece of property owned by the Zaragozas.

In their most recent statement, Lomas de Poleo residents contended that powerful businessmen immersed in “false development” were attempting to turn the mesa-dwellers into “throwaway human beings.”

In a challenge to prevailing notions of progress and development, the residents said their homesteads overlooking the Paso del Norte borderland were “viable economic projects that in last 30 years have allowed us to become perhaps the last promoters and defenders of the environment on the border.”

The statement urged Chihuahua Governor José Reyes Baeza and Ciudad Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz to guarantee the rule of law in Lomas de Poleo and Ciudad Juárez. Otherwise, the residents said, they will look for justice abroad if attacks against them do not stop.

In fact, support for the residents’ cause has been expressed by various indiviudals and organizations in Europe, Latin America and the United States in recent months. Last year, a group of residents’ supporters from Las Cruces, NM, briefly discussed the land battle with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose administration has been busy pushing the Santa Teresa-Jeronimo development not far from Lomas de Poleo.

The growing importance of this region of the border was demonstrated once again when Mexican President Felipe Calderón reportedly asked US President-elect Barack Obama during their recent meeting to help facilitate the relocation of commerical train traffic away from downtown Ciudad Juárez to Santa Teresa-Jeronimo.


This piece first appeared Jan. 16 on Frontera NorteSur.

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: home destroyed at contested Juárez barrio
World War 4 Report, Dec. 5, 2008

Chiapas: Zapatistas to host “Festival of Dignified Rage”
World War 4 Report, Dec. 6, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Obama brother busted for ganja in Nairobi

George Obama, half-brother of President Barack Obama, was arrested for possession of one joint in Nairobi on Friday. He is denying the charge against him. Kenya has some of the world’s harshest marijuana laws.

North America

Obama and Lincoln: our readers write

In the inevitable Lincoln-Obama analogy, it is largely forgotten that Lincoln was only pushed to emancipation by the Civil War. Will Obama similarly be radicalized in office by historical circumstance?


New International Standards Needed to Resolve Dispute

by William K. Barth, OpEdNews

For where no law is, there is no transgression.—Romans 4.15

President Obama’s most immediate foreign policy challenge is to determine how to deal with the recent Israeli action in Gaza, and with the broader conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s partial withdrawal from Gaza appears to have been timed to coincide with President Obama’s inauguration, rather than to answer any of Israel’s security concerns. Clear international standards for resolving intra-state group conflicts are required if the longest-standing problem in the Middle East is ever to be resolved.

While the application of international law is no panacea, nor an excuse for unlimited intrusion into a state’s sovereignty, what is beyond doubt is that the uncertain legal status of Palestinian residents makes continued violence in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem likely. The Israeli attack on Gaza is an example of what happens in the absence of an international forum that can assist states to implement their human rights obligations.

The continued ethnic violence within Israeli jurisdiction raises the question: what exactly is the status of Palestinians who reside within so-called Occupied Palestinian Territories? Numerous international legal instruments have recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. However, despite the publication of President Bush’s so-called Road Map to Peace, there remains ambiguity about the procedure by which Palestinians may obtain self-determination. The delay in implementing the Road Map has contributed to the cycle of Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks against Israel, and the retaliatory Israeli invasion of Gaza, which has produced yet another round of violence.

A brief review of history helps us to understand the confusing legal status of the Palestinians. Israel was established shortly after the end of the Second World War, with the support of the victorious Western Allies, as well as a majority the United Nations General Assembly, which in its Resolution 181 proposed a partition plan for the region. Currently, “the Quartet” (Russia, the US, the European Union and the UN) plays an important mediating role for the area.

Early international efforts in the region proposed that Jews and Palestinians live together within a single state called Palestine. For example, the 1917 Declaration by the British Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, together with the British Mandate for Palestine (established by the League of Nations in 1922), envisaged both groups being placed under the jurisdiction of a single state. It was not until 1937 that a British Royal Commission of Inquiry (the Peel Commission) concluded that it was necessary to sunder Jews and Palestinians into separate states. This was deemed necessary to prevent Palestinian opposition to the increasing Jewish migration from igniting inter-group violence. UN Resolution 181 (1947) authorized a partition of the region into separate Jewish (Israel) and Arab (Palestine) states.

Partition, or the so-called “two-state solution,” remains the goal of multiple UN Resolutions (181, 242, 338, & 3236), as well as the Camp David Accords (1978), the Oslo Accords (1993), and the current Road Map to Peace.

Unfortunately, international law has failed to establish a procedure for qualified groups to pursue statehood. Although the UN Charter and two international treaties—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights—provide for the right to self-determination, no international remedy exists to realize such claims. Peoples that exist under alien domination are trapped within what human rights jurists describe as the “iron cage” of the domestic state laws which subjugate them. A central idea of human rights is that it permits individual(s) to appeal to a regional or international adjudication body for relief denied them by their host states. The lack of such a remedy, combined with the failure of current international initiatives, has stalled the realization of Palestinian statehood.

Enhancing the jurisdiction of treaty monitoring bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) will help states to understand their treaty obligations with regard to internal groups that jurists term “peoples” and, therefore, qualified for self-determination. This is because adjudicative procedures offered by the HRC help ensure protection for ethnic, religious, national and linguistic groups. At this time, the HRC does not take up claims for self-determination.

Thus far, nations have achieved statehood in only carefully prescribed situations. Some examples include European states created out of empires controlled by the defeated Central and Axis powers after WWI and WWII; the grant of independence to the African, Asian and Caribbean colonies by the European powers ending the colonial era in the decades after WWII; the emergence of independent states from long-standing federations after 1990 (15 in the case of the Soviet Union and six in the case of Yugoslavia); and UN-supervised paths to independence for subjugated provinces, namely East Timor (formerly part of Indonesia) in 2002 and Kosovo (formerly part of Serbia) in 2008.

The Palestinians’ current legal existence is statu nascedi, meaning that they are at the beginning of a process that is leading to statehood. However, self-determination is not necessarily co-terminus with statehood, and may be achieved through a variety of means that protect group autonomy. The preferred type of self-determination, i.e. autonomy or statehood, is a question decided by the group itself. Palestinians can realize their right to self-determination in either the single-state or two-state forms.

The plan to disassociate Israelis and Palestinians into separate states raises another theoretical question—namely, should international bodies incorporate new states based upon the national, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity of a single group?

The classic formula of nationalism, to make “every nation a state and every state a nation,” results in what the Minorities Section Director of the League of Nations, P. de Arcarate, described as an international “crisis.” This is because the world contains 3,000-8,000 ethnic groups living in 192 UN member-states. How do international organizations go about determining which of these human communities are deserving of statehood?

The League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine proposed that Israelis and Palestinians live together within a single, bi-national state. The Mandate established a Jewish national home located within Palestine with self-governing institutions while guaranteeing the civil, political, and cultural rights of Palestinians, as well as other minority groups. Moreover, even in present-day Israel, Arabic is an official language alongside Hebrew, bearing testimony to the state’s bi-national character. However, the Mandate’s single-state solution never received much support from Israelis or Palestinians, and now languishes in obscurity in most of the international discourse.

It is surprising that, given the historic failures of partition, most Israelis and most Palestinians prefer separation over integration. For example, the partition of India (Hindu) to create Pakistan (Islamic) produced inter-group violence, which continues to this day. Witness the recent terror attacks on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi-Trident Hotel.

Furthermore, a partition of the region will be no simple matter, given the dispersion of Israelis within Occupied Palestinian Territory. Although Israel withdrew from its settlements in Gaza in 2005, it has long encouraged settlement in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We must remember that Palestinians reside in non-contiguous areas—the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. As a result, Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed, creating an obstacle to partition and separation.

Resolution of the Middle East conflict necessarily requires that international and regional powers complete the process that began with the post-WWII establishment of Israel. That is, a political framework must be created either for Israelis and Palestinians to live together, or to separate them. The lack of an international forum that could oversee this process has prevented the creation of a Palestinian state. Clearly, both Israelis and Palestinians are unable to resolve the conflict in the absence of international participation.

The international Quartet has an obligation to assist the Palestinians to realize their right to self-determination in a responsible fashion, by creating such a forum. It is to be hoped that President Obama will encourage new international standards on self-determination that will assist Israelis and Palestinians to recognize each other in an atmosphere characterized by what Ronald Dworkin describes as equal concern and respect.


Dr William K. Barth is a lawyer who researches the politics of minority rights. His new book, On Cultural Rights: The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition, is published by Martinus Nijhoff.

This piece first appeared Jan. 21 on OpEdNews.

See also:

A Debate between Ilan Pappé and Uri Avnery
from Gush-Shalom/Peacework
World War 4 Report, July, 2007


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



“A Risk That is Unacceptable”?

by Billy Wharton, CounterHegemonic

Of course, Obama is no George W. Bush. He knows well how to pick off the low-hanging political fruit in order to forestall decisions which threaten to bring his administration into conflict with organized interest blocs. Moving swiftly to close the moral eyesore that is the detention center in Guantánamo Bay signals a return to the normal operation of US Empire. Equally useful is his enactment of measures furthering governmental transparency. This may sooth lingering doubts about Obama’s associations with now-impeached Illinois Governor Rod “Let’s Make a Deal” Blagojevich. It would be difficult to discover many speakers—apart from those on the fringe of the radical right—willing to defend either Guantánamo or presidential secrecy.

More significant resistance will be provided to any serious attempt to end the US occupation of Iraq. Evidence of this was provided during the nightly “News Hour “program aired on Jan. 21. The segment was entitled “Next Steps for Iraq,” and featured the pro-Bush retired Gen. Jack Keane and the Obama-ally retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Both Keane and Clark delivered a clear message—no troop removal anytime soon.

Keane, the military author of Bush’s “surge strategy,” claimed that Obama’s campaign pledge to remove troops by 2010 “rather dramatically increases the risks” in Iraq. He recommended a “minimal force reduction” in order to “protect the political situation.” Though a 2010 departure was “a risk that is unacceptable,” Keane assured viewers that “Everyone knows that we are going to take our troops out of Iraq.”

The Democratic Party’s dog in the fight, Wesley Clark had little bite as he agreed with Keane’s assessment that “it [Obama’s troop removal pledge] is risky.” “When President Obama made that pledge almost a year ago,” Clark claimed, “the context of what combat troops was, was taken from the legislation that was going back and forth through the House and the Senate.” He then provided a key qualification: “Distinguishing combat troops from trainers, from counter-insurgency troops or counter-terrorist troops that would go against al-Qaeda in Iraq and distinguishing them from the logistics troops.”

“So,” Clark concluded, “to say that all combat troops will be out in 2010 in sixteen months doesn’t necessarily mean that all troops will be out by 2010.”

If this double-speak was not enough, Clark then provided another clear signal that the Obama campaign pledge may fall far short of anything resembling a remotely anti-war position. Clark praised Keane as the architect of the surge policy and “the success that has been achieved through it.”

Not surprisingly, Keane agreed with the non-combative Clark. He said he “understands the distinction” between combat and other types of troops. Even if some combat troops were removed, Iraq would still require “a significant number of combat troops” to protect the other types of American troops. Clark then introduced a new term to the discussion (any possibility of a debate had long since passed)—”re-deployed.” He ended his contributions by highlighting the “the need for troops in Afghanistan.”

The Clark-Keane discussion should be quite useful for anti-war activists. It clearly signals that the “surge-consensus” forged by the Bush administration is still fully operative among the military establishment in Washington. Obama’s desire for continuity in military strategy, signaled clearly through his re-appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, should be understood as his acceptance of the positions articulated by Keane and Clark. This presents a sharp challenge to the anti-war movement.

Two tasks are clear. The first is to articulate a clear demand for the complete removal of all US military forces from Iraq. The anti-war movement cannot allow distinctions to be made between combat or counter-insurgency troops, military advisers or technicians. All troops need to be removed immediately. Second, and perhaps even more challenging, is the demand to remove all troops from Afghanistan and to resist any attempt at re-deployment from Iraq. Perhaps a bit of cold-eyed realism—beginning with the fact that more than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the US occupation—should be employed by the anti-war movement as we begin the process of challenging an Obama presidency whose military policy has started off sounding a lot like a re-hashed version of George W. Bush.


This piece first appeared Jan. 21 on the blog CounterHegemonic.

From our Daily Report:

Potsdam peaceniks give Obama a chance
World War 4 Report, Jan. 26, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Abdul Aziz Yaqubi works in the office of the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker-founded aid and advocacy group, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sam Diener, co-editor of the AFSC journal Peacework interviewed him via e-mail in November 2008. The interview was conducted with assistance from AFSC staff members Peter Lems, the program director for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran; and Patricia Omidian, the acting country representative for AFSC in Kabul and a faculty member of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.

In the Christian Science Monitor recently, an article described a growing peace movement in Afghanistan, saying “The National Peace Jirga…organized a series of peace assemblies in recent months, drawing thousands of people. The meetings often feature fiery speakers who condemn international forces for killing civilians but who also criticize the Taliban.” What are your feelings and thoughts about these peace jirga initiatives?

Afghans are absolutely tired of war and violence. We want to live and raise our families in peace. We also know we are pawns of the US policy against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s forces, and that our government is corrupt and only acting in its own self-interest. We are caught between the warlords, the drug lords, corrupt government officials, international armies, and the Taliban. None of these major players have an interest in peace.

The peace jirgas are critically important and need to be fostered, but they also need some teeth. Without some process of reconciliation and restorative justice, nothing will change. Leaving aside the extremists and the outsiders of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda, the anti-government groups have legitimate complaints. All these need to be listened to and brought into the discussions. The Afghan Taliban are Afghans and have the right to talk. As long as insecurity and lack of resources continue, the insurgency will have traction.

If there are talks between the current Afghan government and the Taliban about ending the killing, do you see potential for common ground? What kinds of ideas might the two sides agree upon? What kinds of ideas might be resisted by both these powerful forces, but might be good for the people of Afghanistan?

I think the mistake was the US pushing for the party system that was set up in Afghanistan. What was needed was a system like the first Loya Jirga that was based totally on local models of governance—tribal. In that system villages selected a representative that was sent to the next level and upwards until there were representatives at the national Loya Jirga in 2002. It worked and they made decisions. But the US did not accept their decisions and the delegates went back to their villages knowing that they did not really have any say in their government.

I think one of the first things that has to happen is a tightening up on corruption in the government. Government officials are as bad as their counterparts in the insurgency, or worse. But there are people on both sides who have integrity and those need to be brought in to talk.

Please describe the work being done by the AFSC office in Kabul.

AFSC is working to promote peace by giving people the emotional tools to deal with their trauma, suffering, and losses, while helping them rebuild communities from the inside—social connections and networks. We work mostly through schools, teacher training, and the training of interns (university students in the psychology department).

What women’s rights work going on right now do you believe is particularly effective?

I think this is an area of incredible gains and incredible mis-steps. Local women moving the situation forward with the help of foreigners is productive. Foreigners coming in and demanding changes causes a backlash. Training women is great but men have to change too, so the training needs to target men as much as women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been mostly ineffective because it is easy to relegate it to the sidelines. In some ways it does as much to keep women from gaining parity as it helps. It has a very tarnished image in the country, and is seen as more like an NGO than a ministry. It tends to do programs rather than set policy.

Are there sectors inside of Pakistan that also support the kinds of peace initiatives you advocate? What is your impression of Pakistan’s Awami Party, which opposes the violence of the government and the Taliban? Since the party routinely invokes Ghaffar Khan and he, in addition to being a devout pacifist, was a Pashtun nationalist (members of the the Pashtun ethnicity make up about 40% of Afghanistan and 15% of Pakistan), does the Awami party’s work have appeal to Afghans?

The Awami party of Pakistan is not a party of Afghanistan’s politics. It is moderate but it is in a very precarious position because of the hugely powerful and armed Pakistani Taliban. As you see in the news, there have been many incidents in Peshawar, Pakistan, of late. The whole of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where the Awami Party won a provincial election in the Spring of 2008, is now in a situation similar to Afghanistan’s.

The cross-border effects of the Afghanistan war are astounding but the government of Pakistan has continued over the years to use Taliban extremists to keep Afghanistan unsettled and at war. This policy has now come back to bite them. And the people of NWFP are really caught between the army and the anti-government groups.

The Awami party does have the support of most people in the region. Ghaffar Khan is gaining attention and there are a number of groups trying to revive his legacy, showing that within Pashtun culture there are nonviolent traditions.

How is the government of Iran currently involved in Afghanistan and how might it be engaged to play a more constructive role?

Iran is using Afghanistan in a proxy war against the US. But it could help reconstruct this country since it has the best education and health systems in the region.

What do you think of the idea of channeling the poppy crops into pain relievers for hospitals (instead of going to make heroin)?

This is controversial but it would work. I would like to see it promoted.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to escalate the US military role in Afghanistan. What do you think the results of such a military escalation would be?

More of the same. This is not a war that will be won militarily. Please read the history of Russia’s attempts to control Afghanistan militarily.

What is most important for peace movement advocates in the US to understand about the current situation in Afghanistan that we might not know much about?

This is not Iraq. The solutions won’t be the same. Remove the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (militarized “aid” workers) and be willing to talk to anyone. The Quakers and Mennonites have the right attitudes. Do not bring in missionaries but bring in people who know Islam and who can talk in local terms.

The solutions lie within Afghan culture and character. Using the peace messages of Islam is a key, as is giving tools for reconstructing communities—psychosocial models adapted to the local culture. We are helping people and groups find ways to make peace happen on our own terms and in our own culture.


This interview first appeared in the December-January edition of Peacework.


American Friends Service Committee

“Afghanistan’s emerging antiwar movement,” Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 20, 2008

“Obituary: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 98, a Follower of Gandhi,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 1998

“Let a Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom” by Maia Szalavitz, New York Times op-ed, July 13, 2005

See also:

The Politics of Militarism and Islamist Extremism in Pakistan
by Beena Sarwar, Himal Southasian
World War 4 Report, October 2007

From our Daily Report:

Afghanistan: US air-strike sparks protests —again
World War 4 Report, Jan. 24, 2009

CIA chief sees progress in Afghan border region —amid growing chaos
World War 4 Report, Jan. 16, 2009

Pakistan elections: Islamists lose —despite intimidation
World War 4 Report, Feb. 24, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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