Why the Pentagon Can’t Put America Back to Work

by Frida Berrigan, Tom Dispatch

It’s the magic incantation to fix our economic woes. Many states and federal agencies have already gone from scouring their budgets for things to cut to green-lighting construction projects. The Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package is sure to muster many shovels in an effort to rouse a despondent economy and put Americans back to work.

Here’s the strange thing though: That package was headline news for weeks, bitterly argued over, hailed and derided in equal measure. And yet road construction, housing projects, and green retrofits aren’t the only major projects getting the shovel-ready treatment via massive infusions of cash.

At the end of February, another huge “stimulus” package was announced but generated almost no comment, controversy, or argument. The defense industry received its own special stimulus package—news of the dollars available for the Pentagon budget in 2010; and at nearly $700 billion (when all the bits and pieces are added in), it’s almost as big as the Obama economic package and sure to be a lot less effective.

Despite the sort of economic maelstrom not seen in generations, the defense industry, insulated by an enduring conviction that war spending stimulates the economy, remains almost impervious to budget cuts. To understand why military spending is no longer a stimulus driver means putting aside memories of Rosie the Riveter and the sepia-hued worker on the bomber assembly line and remembering instead that the Great Depression came before “the Good War,” not the other way around. In World War II, it’s also important to recall, the massive military buildup was labor-intensive, employed millions, and was accompanied by rationing, austerity, and very high taxes.

This time around, we began with boom years and spent our way into the breach, in significant part by launching unnecessary, profligate wars. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush cut taxes at a more than peacetime pace and borrowed like an addicted gambler on a losing streak to underwrite his wars of choice, including his Global War on Terror. If the former president’s nearly trillion dollar (and counting) global war got us into this mess, by simple logic it’s not likely to bail us out as well.

Riding the Slide to Billions
While the good times rolled during the long slide from surplus to deficit, from no war to global war, it wasn’t just the Merrill Lynches and subprime mortgage giants that cleaned up. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman—the top three defense contractors—had a ball, too.

In 2002, the first full year of what came to be known as the Global War on Terror, for instance, those three companies — ranking first, second, and third on the Pentagon’s list of top ten contractors — split $42 billion in contract awards, more than two-thirds of the $67 billion distributed among the top 10 Pentagon contractors.

In 2007, the last year for which full contracting data is available, the same Big Three split $69 billion in Pentagon contracts, which was more than the total received by the top 10 companies just five years earlier. The top 10 divvied up $121 billion in contracts in 2007, an 80% increase over 2002. Lockheed Martin, the number one Pentagon contractor, graduated from a mere $17 billion in awarded contracts in 2002 to $28 billion in 2007. That’s a leap of 64%. Given such figures, it’s easy enough to understand how the basic military budget—excluding money for actual war-fighting—jumped from about $300 billion to more than $500 billion during the Bush years.

Given the economic climate, it’s no surprise that the three defense giants have all posted losses in the past few weeks. But before the hankies come out and the histrionics start, it should be noted that Lockheed Martin alone has an $81 billion backlog in orders, enough to keep chugging along for another two years without a single new contract.

If such war spending had been an effective stimulus for the economy, we would be roaring along on 12 cylinders today. But increasingly this kind of spending mainly stimulates corporate shareholders, stock prices, and (of course) war itself.

No matter, the staggering new defense budget ensures that, for the defense industry, some version of good times will continue to roll, even if the economic impact of these huge military investments proves negligible and the need in other areas is staggering.

The 2010 Defense Budget
President Obama is reportedly intent on digging deep into the Pentagon budget. He has given his Office of Management and Budget until April to complete an “exhaustive line-by-line” review of the detailed budget request before it is released. In speeches, he has focused on wasteful and unnecessary defense spending.

Just days ago, Obama insisted that “the days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over.” To underline that assertion, he cited a 2008 Government Accountability Office study that found 95 military projects over budget by a total of $295 billion. He pledged to end such egregious practices, and the no-bid contracts that often go with them. That applause line plays well at a time when belts are tightening uncomfortably and boot straps remain elusive, but it misses a reality, no less potentially important in the Obama era than in the preceding one: for (at least) the last eight years, defense contractors haven’t needed a “blank check” because they already have the combination to the safe, the PIN number to the account, and a controlling interest on the board of the bank.

Given the promised size of the next Pentagon budget, no matter what weapons programs are cut or companies and contracts disciplined, the “bank board” will remain the same because the overall amount available to it shows no signs of changing. In fact, basic funding levels (not including money still being set aside for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) are remarkably in line with the most recent Bush administration budget, right down to prospective further increases. The just released overall figure for the 2010 Pentagon budget is actually $533.7 billion; that is, $20.4 billion higher than Bush’s last base budget.

President Obama does not like the term “Global War on Terror” (GWOT), dispensing with the Bush administration’s moniker of choice to describe the most costly array of military operations since 9-11. But Obama’s Pentagon will continue to spend a GWOT-sized chunk of our national treasure, even as troops trickle home from Iraq, and the surge relocates to Afghanistan’s inhospitable steppes. The preliminary figure for war-fighting in 2010 is $130 billion, which represents a modest decrease from the $144 billion that is expected to go to military operations in 2009. Add that to the base Pentagon budget and you get a subtotal of $664 billion for 2010 military expenditures.

If the estimated costs of military spending lodged in other parts of the federal budget (like funding for nuclear weapons which is considered the bailiwick of the Department of Energy), as well as miscellaneous non-Defense Department defense costs—about $23 billion last time around—are also included, then President Obama’s first military budget should come in at around $670 billion.

After the preliminary budget figures were released, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters, “In our country’s current economic circumstances, I believe that represents a strong commitment to our security.” Almost $700 billion is a strong commitment alright. Unfortunately, as a stimulus commitment—and a largely unquestioned one at that—it is certain to prove a drag on our economic recovery, despite the claims of the defense industry and their ever-present publicists and lobbyists.

Lifting America by the (Combat) Bootstraps?
And are we hearing those claims these days! The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), representing more than 100 leading defense and aerospace corporations, has been trumpeting their contributions to the economy in a print ad campaign and on their website under the catch-phrase: “Aerospace and Defense: The Strength to Lift America.”

In terms of American well-being, the AIA estimates that defense and aerospace manufacturers contribute $97 billion in exports a year, while maintaining two million jobs. As Fred Downey, an association vice president, told the Associated Press, “Our industry is ready and able to lead the way out of the economic crisis.”

As the association sees it, defense and aerospace corporations are about as shovel-ready as you can get. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), however, offers quite a different view of the AIA’s two-million jobs claim. Their “Career Guide to Industries,” for example, looks intensively at Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing (which would also include some non-defense related corporations) and finds that the sector employed 472,000 wage and salary workers in 2006. Now, this is not the whole picture of defense-related employment, but according to the Associated Press, the BLS estimates that only 647,000 people work in industries where at least one-fifth of the products are defense-related.

Perhaps the AIA was including not just jobs making weapons, but jobs lobbying Congress to pay for them. Then Downey and crew might almost have a case. The BLS would probably not consider lobbyist jobs to be defense-related, but maybe they should because the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in politics, reports that the industry spent $149 million on lobbying firms to get its points across to Congress and the administration last year. That has to be a lot of shovel-ready jobs right there.

Speaking of shovel-ready jobs shoveling out defense industry claims, if the lobbying sector is happy, ad firms must be ecstatic. These days, defense contractors and associations are spending striking sums on what’s politely termed “public education”: full-page ads in major newspapers, ads in Washington metro stations near the Pentagon, Crystal City (a Virginia community where many Pentagon satellite offices are located), Capitol Hill, and other places where the powerful congregate when their limos are in use, not to speak of aggressive pop-up ads on political news sites like the National Journal.

Lockheed Martin, for example, recently unveiled a new ad campaign pitched towards troubled economic times. It depicts proud blue-collar workers above the tagline: “95,000 employed, 300 million protected.” At the bottom of the ad are the logos of the supersonic fighter plane known as the F-22 Raptor and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers whose members build it. As if to underline these messages, 200 members of Congress signed a January 20th “Dear Mr. President, Save the F-22” letter, meant to be waiting for Barack Obama as he entered the Oval Office. The letter asserted that the F-22 program “annually provides over $12 billion of economic activity to the national economy.”

Even if that dubious claim were substantiated, the economic activity comes at a high cost. The United States spent more than $65 billion to design and produce the F-22 Raptor—a fighter plane originally conceived to penetrate the airspace of the long extinct Soviet Union, to counter large formations of enemy bombers in Cold War scenarios that are today inconceivable, and to achieve air superiority high over Eastern Europe whose greatest problems now involve a potential region-wide economic meltdown. In the wake of the Cold War, as military analyst Chalmers Johnson recently pointed out, the F-22 lacks a role in any imaginable war-fighting scenario the US might actually find itself in.

Efforts to promote the plane as a critical tool in the Global War on Terror floundered when Defense Secretary Gates spoke plainly about the system’s uselessness last year. “The reality,” he said, “is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater.”

Fortunately for Lockheed Martin, once the U.S. economy began to crater, it could emphasize a new on-the-ground use for the F-22—as an instant make-work jobs program.

However, even there the plane’s utility is questionable. William D. Hartung, director of the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative, points out that, if the F-22 program is cut, the “job losses will be stretched out over two and half years or more, and could happen after the end of the current recession.” In addition, Lockheed has had to back away from the 95,000 jobs claims, clarifying that more than 70% of those jobs are only indirectly related to the F-22, and that just 25,000 workers are employed directly on the plane’s construction. Winslow Wheeler is the head of the Center for Defense Information’s Straus Military Reform Project and his scholarship is built on more than 30 years of service at the Government Accountability Office and on the Senate Budget Committee, among other places. He points out that, when it comes to high-tech weapons, today’s military-industrial complex bears not the slightest resemblance to its World War II predecessor as a job generator. As he describes it, in the early 1940s “production lines cranked out thousands of aircraft each month: as fast as the government could stuff money, materials and workers into the assembly line.”

In stark contrast, the F-22, he points out, is essentially an artesanal product. “Go to Lockheed Martin’s plant,” he writes. “You will find no detectable movement of aircraft out the door. Instead you will see virtually stationary aircraft and workers applying parts in a manner more evocative of hand-crafting. This ‘production rate’ generates one F-22 every 18 days or so.” This is, in fact, what shovel-ready largely means in Pentagon stimulus terms these days.

War for Jobs?
Economists have also weighed in on why “war for jobs” as a way out of recession or depression has entered the world of mythology. An analysis from the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute, for instance, finds that, for every one billion dollars invested in defense, 8,555 jobs are created. By contrast, the same billion invested in health care would create 12,883 jobs, and in education, 17,687 jobs or more than double the defense stimulus payoff.

It has often been said that World War II—and the production stimulus it offered—lifted the United States out of the Great Depression. Today, the opposite seems to be the case. The “war economy” helped propel the US into what might turn out to be another great depression. Unlike in 1929, as our economy crumbles today, we are already on a global war footing.

As the Obama administration grapples with economic disaster and inherited wars, it will have the added challenge of confronting a military-industrial complex accustomed to budgets that reach almost three quarters of a trillion dollars, based on exaggerated global threats, unsubstantiated economic claims, and entrenched profligacy. When Obama’s analysts pour over the budget, looking at all those overpriced weapons and plum contracts, they’ll have to ask: Is each weapons system or program actually needed for American security and is it cost effective? Or are the defense contractors shoveling a load of shovel-ready bull?


Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative (ASI). She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times.

This story first appeared March 12 on Tom Dispatch and also ran on The Socialist Webzine.

See also:

by William Wharton, CounterHegemonic
World War 4 Report, December 2008

From our Daily Report:

Obama administration drops GWOT nomenclature
World War 4 Report, March 26, 2009


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



Zapotec leader calls for withdrawal of US military-funded mapping project from rural Oaxaca communities, accusing geographers of counter-insurgency activities

by Ramor Ryan, Upside Down World

When the Union of Social Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) released a press statement last January denouncing the Mexico Indigena/Bowman Expeditions extensive geographical project to produce maps of the “digital human terrain” of Zapotec communities, they had little idea the storm it would create across the globe. Charging the US geographers with lack of full disclosure with regard to the funding received from the US Military Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), UNOSJO claimed that the Zapotec participants felt like “they had been the victims of an act of geo-piracy.”

Following sensational headlines in local Oaxaca newspapers, the story was taken up at a national and international level, from Mexico to Moscow to Seoul. Although hardly meriting a mention in the US media, the controversy did however ignite fury in the blogsphere, and on English language listservs and websites. While raising significant questions regarding research ethics and academic collaboration with the military in the US, the crucial issue at hand in Mexico remains US interference in the region, by conducting an intelligence-driven mapping project focusing on both counterinsurgency and bio-piracy. Taking into account the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca that almost overthrew its incumbent governor as well as the existence of armed insurgent groups in the state, Oaxaca does lend itself as a staging ground for focusing on what the US Foreign Military Studies Office calls “emerging and asymmetric threats.”

The Mexico Indigena project leader Peter Herlihy completely denies all accusations and reasserts his team’s “abiding dedication to the indigenous people of Oaxaca and our neutrality in all things political.” Bowman Expeditions leader Prof. Jerome Dobson, however, defends the military connection and what he believes is the role for his particular academic discipline in government affairs. “My whole rationale for Bowman Expeditions is based on my firm belief that geographic ignorance is the principal cause of the blunders that have characterized American foreign policy since the end of World War II,” wrote Dobson in his Feb. 5 statement answering his critics. “America abandoned geography after World War 2 and hasn’t won a war since.”

Upside Down World spoke to Aldo GonzĂĄlez recently at the Zapotecs’ 3rd Feria of the Cornfield—entitled “Globalization and the Natural Resources of the Sierra”—which was convened by the UNOSJO at the rural indigenous town of Asuncion Lachixila, where representatives of UNOSJO’s 24 affiliated communities gathered to celebrate Zapotec autonomy and discuss the mapping controversy.

UDW: Bowman Expeditions say that UNOSJO have no authority to speak for the two individual Zapotec communities in question who accepted the Mexico Indigena study. “Does Aldo GonzĂĄlez legally or politically represent the people of the rural villages where we work?” asks Prof. Dobson, answering himself, “No. He is simply the director of a small NGO called UNOSJO.” What is your response?

Aldo Gonzalez : Mr Herlihy and Mr Dobson—and indeed the US military—are used to speaking to individuals. For them it is sufficient to ask one person as the owner of a piece of land for permission. But for the indigenous communities things aren’t like that. Today we are struggling for the autonomy for our indigenous peoples, and this is a project bigger than any one single community. So what is happening in Tiltepec and Yagila is affecting other Zapotec communities. For this reason, we have the courage, the duty and the reason to protest against Bowman Expeditions because it is not just the communities of Tiltepec or Yagila, but all the communities in that region, all the Zapotec communities, and indeed, ultimately, all of the indigenous communities in Mexico who are being or will be affected by the studies.

So in some sense, this conflict is about the clash of two visions of life that are very different. This one, the project of the indigenous communities, is collective, and theirs—which is the one that the US government wants—is to individualize. Bowman Expeditions clearly state that in this mapping project they are collecting information so that the US government can make better foreign policy decisions. So obviously they are going to take into consideration the information gathered here in these communities and apply it in general to all the communities in similar circumstances in Oaxaca and all over Mexico.

By not really revealing their intentions, by not revealing the sources of their funding, by not giving all the information, Mexico Indigena are violating the communities. They are concealing the truth, they are lying. The two communities who decided to accept the Bowman study did so without being fully informed.

UDW: Project leaders professors Herlihy and Dobson say that the project doesn’t present any danger whatsoever for the communities being mapped. On the contrary they say that they are helping the communities, and those in other regions of Mexico like San Luis Potosi—where they oversaw another mapping project—say their study helps communities counter land privatization schemes.

AG: Well they would say that, wouldn’t they! But it’s not true. UNOSJO has been revealing how Dobson, or better said, the US military authorities who are behind project, are very interested in seeing that indigenous land be privatized, individually.

So when they are doing their studies in indigenous communities we can clearly see that, for example in San Luis Potosi the community lands that were studied there were communally held land, ejidos, and PROCEDE—the government privatization scheme of communally held land—entered into practically all the states’ ejidos. The question is different in Oaxaca, where the communal land fall under different ownership laws as they are called agrarian communities, not ejidos, so they can’t be so easily privatized, and what’s more, the majority of the communities in Oaxaca didn’t participate in the PROCEDE scheme. So for sure, the geographers and the US military are interested to know more about why the indigenous communities resisted that government program and seem intent of disrupting the process of privatization.

Well of course, its very clear to us here why we didn’t take part in PROCEDE, but they don’t understand why. In the United States, private property is everything, but for the indigenous communities in Mexico, property is something different entirely. We don’t want to privatize our communities. Nor do we want that the land of one ejido be sold. Today our agrarian communities’ lands can’t be sold by law, but they can be converted into ejidos, and thus under ejido law, they may be privatized through PROCEDE, divided up and sold individually. We don’t want this to happen, but we think they, the FMSO and their people, are interested in seeing this process of selling off the land. So during their mapping investigations, they are seeking to identify some kind of mechanism or some kind of way of obliging or forcing the communities to join the PROCEDE program.

UDW: Why is the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office interested specifically in the Zapotec?

AG: Principally they are overseeing their studies with a view to counterinsurgency, but not only this. Also—ever since Vietnam—they have adopted the strategy of attempting to convince or win over the hearts and minds of the people who oppose them. They do this by offering little gifts, crumbs as such, so it is said that the wars of the US are to win over the hearts and minds of the people they are trying to subjugate—and we think you can include the resistance of the Zapotec in that category.

So, its not just about military control, but also about strategic control over the communities, controlling their land and their consumption.

UDW: How do you view the current situation?

AG: We have been talking to the communities involved in the US studies and they maintain that they were not sufficiently informed about the source of finance and they feel angry because of this. For sure the Herlihy team will try and go to them to change their minds and convince them otherwise, and that will generate more debate. Nevertheless, we must point out that this debate doesn’t only include the two places where they did the studies. There are other Zapotec communities affected by the situation and they must be included in the debate too.


Ramor Ryan is an Irish journalist based in Chiapas, Mexico. His book Clandestines: the Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile was published by AK Press in 2006.

This story first appeared March 12 on Upside Down World.


Grassroots International page on UNOSJO

American Geographical Society page on AGS Bowman Expeditions

US Army page on FMSO

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: indigenous protests in Oaxaca
World War 4 Report, March 24, 2009


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



by Nathan Einbinder, Environment News Service

Tailings pond at the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The water is ultra-blue due to the cyanide and other chemicals used to extract gold from the soil. Photo by author.

GUATEMALA CITY — Amidst the growing controversy surrounding foreign-controlled resource extraction and mega-development projects in Guatemala, populist leader Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, together with a group of community leaders, is demanding a two-year moratorium on the granting of mining concessions by the Guatemalan government.

In the municipal capital of San Marcos in northwest Guatemala, Ramazzini, with several hundred of his supporters, took to the streets Feb. 24 to call on the country’s Congress for a two-year halt to the sale of mineral rights to international companies. This pause would give the current government enough time to review a petition to reform the existing mining code.

Ramazzini and numerous local and international organizations contend that the current mining law does not properly consult local communities as defined by the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, which guarantees the right of indigenous people to exercise control over the form of development that occurs in their traditional territory.

Guatemala signed onto the ILO 169 agreement shortly after the affirmation of the Peace Accords in 1996.

Critics of the current government led by President Alvaro Colom argue that the existing mining law fails to address issues surrounding water usage and the low requirement of royalty payments to the state, which stands at one percent of the revenue earned.

According to Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, there were 356 mining licenses granted as of December 2006, with hundreds more in the process.

Oxfam International reports that at least 10 percent of the country’s land has been turned over to international corporations for mineral exploration and exploitation.

In recent months, as many as 20,000 citizens from the Highland departments of Huehuetenango and San Marcos have voted against mining operations in regional consultas, or community referendums, which are legal yet non-binding in Guatemalan courts.

The nearby Marlin Mine, a cyanide-leaching, open-pit gold mine owned and operated by Canada’s Goldcorp Inc., has been one target of community criticism, given its well-documented health and water contamination issues, as well as its local opposition movement.

A large dike is holding the cyanide-tainted mine tailings in a pond, but the pond is filling up rapidly, and the mine company is expected to release the tailings into the river at some point in the future.

Countrywide Resistance
The Feb. 24 rally was by no means unusual in Guatemala. Hardly a day passes without news of another protest, roadblock, or urgent community meeting to discuss the prospects of another mega-project.

Across the country, from the Western Highlands to the lowland Oriente, large hydroelectric dams, mines, super-highways, and cement plants are being planned, often with limited consultation with, or support from, the indigenous Maya majority.

The number of proposed mega-projects has increased as part of the government’s plans for development and modernization, and under the framework of the newly ratified Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, which offers incentives to international companies.

Despite the promise of much needed job opportunities and rural services, this model of development often leaves communities socially divided and environmentally damaged, and, according to Ramazzini, leads to an increase in poverty and inequality.

“Green” Mega-development
After mining, hydroelectric dams are the target of the hottest mega-development debate in Guatemala. As stated by the current administration, there is an energy crisis in Guatemala, and one of the methods in solving this issue is by implementing clean “green” energy producers.

According to Julio GonzĂĄlez of Madre Selva, a Guatemala City-based environmental organization, the motive behind these new hydro-projects is for the sale of electricity to surrounding countries, which they say will benefit only particular economic interests and foreign companies.

Far from bringing new employment to dam-affected regions, GonzĂĄlez told the daily La Prensa that, “they [the companies] hire 50 or 60 laborers during the construction, and afterwards, no one.”

The latest high-profile conflict is taking place in the Ixcan, in the far north of the country, where the $400 million, 181 megawatt Xalala dam has been proposed and aggressively pursued by the current administration and the National Institute for Electricity, INDE.

According to a study by International Rivers, a US based nongovernmental organization, if the dam project is carried out, at least 2,300 Maya-Qeqchi farmers will be displaced, and the local environment will be severely damaged.

In April 2007, a popular consulta was carried out in the affected communities. Of the more than 21,000 people who voted, 91 percent rejected the Xalala dam proposal. Nevertheless, INDE continues to solicit from international development agencies for funding to carry out the project.
Paulina Osorio was born in a village flooded by Chixoy Dam. Her parents were killed by the Guatemalan Army when she was nine. Photo by Erik Johnson, International Rivers Network.Paulina Osorio was born in a village flooded by Chixoy Dam. Her parents were killed by the Guatemalan Army when she was nine. Photo by Erik Johnson, International Rivers Network.

Digging Up the Past
Guatemalans believe they have good reason to resist the prospect of more hydroelectric dams.

Over 30 years ago, when the INDE started the initial construction on the Chixoy hydroelectric dam in Baja Verapaz, about 90 miles north of the capital, it was hailed by the World Bank, one of its principal lenders, as an engineering miracle.

Since then Chixoy has nearly tripled its initial estimated cost, and now accounts for roughly 50 percent of the country’s national debt.

Despite the economic mishaps, and the fact that the dam may have to be completely dismantled in the near future due to structural problems and the lack of a proper environmental impact statement, Chixoy remains a symbol of a turbulent era in Guatemala’s history.

When the Maya-Achi people of RĂ­o Negro, one of the main villages affected, decided they would resist their forced displacement to make way for construction of the reservoir, they were labeled “subversives” by the military, and systematically massacred by paramilitary groups.

According to official reports, 444 men, woman and children were killed, and many others lived in hiding for years in the wooded gulches above the flooded basin.

In all, at least 3,400 people were displaced in the region, and many are still waiting for promised reparations from INDE and the World Bank.

Small Gains
Between the media’s coverage of assassinations, bus accidents, and illegal security organizations that murder with impunity, there is an occasional story detailing the small gains made in the countryside, as ordinary Guatemalans stand against the growing forces of globalization by initiating their own vision of development.

Last week, community leaders from five municipalities met in Chiquimula, in southwestern Guatemala, to discuss a massive reforestation, sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, and potable water project, which will receive funds in part from the Nature Conservancy.

“Today a project is born that will develop the mountain, that for years was neglected,” said a mayor from Huite, a nearby community.

Elsewhere, such as in Chuarrancho, where a large dam is planned on the RĂ­o Motagua in the dry intermountain region north of the capital, local leaders have voiced their opposition over the lack of consultation, and the likelihood that such a project would destroy their way of life.

In years past, this type of discontent would label them as subversive, or communist, but today, the open dialogue is empowering and has the potential to bring about a change in the way development is perceived and carried out.

Due in part to the massive opposition against the Xalala hydro-project, the only construction company to show interest in building the dam, Odebrecht [of Brazil], has withdrawn its submission.

With funds drying up in the United States and Canada because of the economic crisis, numerous mega-development projects, such as Skye Resources’ nickel mine in El Estor, are in an indefinite holding pattern. –

This story first appeared in March 5 on Environment News Service.


International Rivers

See also:

by Thaddeus al Nakba, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, June 2008

by Sandra Cuffe, Rights Action
World War 4 Report, September 2007

From our Daily Report:

Guatemala: US knew about 1980s abuses
World War 4 Report, March 24, 2009

Salvadorans march against free trade deal
World War 4 Report, March 15, 2009

Guatemala: convictions in RĂ­o Negro massacre
World War 4 Report, May 31, 2008

“Goldcorp 7” trial underway in Guatemala
World War 4 Report, Nov. 19, 2007

Reprinted with permission by World War 4 Report, April 1, 2009
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.



by Jane Guskin, Huffington Post

Most analysts agree that the chances of immigration reform in the first year or two of Obama’s administration are extremely slim. We can’t expect politicians and policymakers to take action. The change we want to see has to come from below.

We can make it happen if we unite around a common goal: swift, practical, inclusive legalization NOW, as a first step, and eliminating the backlog for people whose immigration cases are in process. Bring people out of the shadows, resolve their status, reunite their families. (And don’t worry about what to call it—amnesty, legalization, regularization, path to citizenship, etc. We know what we’re talking about, and we’re not fooling our opponents by coming up with new names for it.)

A simple bill we could get behind might look something like this:

1) Change the “registry date” in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), currently set at January 1, 1972, to January 1, 2006. That will allow anyone here since that date to apply for residency through the relatively straightforward registry process.

2) Restore Section 245(i) of the INA, which lets people who entered the US without permission adjust their immigration status here without having to first return home and face the punitive 10-year bar. Section 245(i) has been lapsed since 2000, leaving millions of people without options to legalize.

3) Get rid of the national origin quotas on family-based petitions and expand the total number of family-based visas available, so people don’t have to wait 20 years to reunite with their relatives.

4) Pass the Child Citizen Protection Act, to restore the power of judges to weigh the impact on children when considering the deportation of a parent.

Those four steps will provide options for a huge number of people, including those who would benefit from measures like the DREAM Act (undocumented youth) or AgJobs (farmworkers.) If we’re strong enough, we can also win the Uniting American Families Act (equal immigration rights for same-sex couples), a repeal of the harsh 1996 laws, an end to employer sanctions and other badly-needed measures.

We can win these changes now if we:

– Mobilize, organize, march, petition. We need mobilizations twice as big as the ones we saw between Valentine’s Day and May Day in 2006, in the months after the House passed anti-immigrant bill HR4437. Those mobilizations changed the whole climate in Washington, leading the Senate to approve a package that included AgJobs and the Dream Act. Unfortunately, the mobilizations didn’t continue past May 1, 2006, and the measures approved by the Senate never made it through the House.

– Don’t wait. The sooner we act, the sooner we’ll see results. By the time Obama’s administration passes the 100-day mark on May 1, millions of people should be marching in the streets and calling or visiting their members of Congress.

– Dialogue. Slogans and soundbites won’t convince people who aren’t already on our side. We need to get people talking to each other about immigration, sharing thoughts and experiences, working through fears and doubts and taking a deeper look at the root causes.

Let’s not forget that Congress, not the president, has power over immigration. We don’t need to convince Obama, we just need to make sure that the Democrats in Congress understand that they will benefit from swiftly passing a measure to legalize the undocumented—and they will pay a price if they don’t. Latino voters were key in this latest election, and even though many Latinos are not immigrants and many immigrants are not Latino, a large number of US-born Latinos have immigrant relatives, have experienced anti-immigrant racism and are sympathetic to immigrants. Most naturalized immigrant voters are also sympathetic, having struggled through the system themselves.

Inclusive legalization can consolidate the demographic shift of rural America and permanently change the electoral map. Many of the rural areas which overwhelmingly voted for McCain include substantial immigrant populations—often working in agriculture, meatpacking or other industries—which have been clamoring for legalization. In Finney County, southwestern Kansas, fewer than 10,000 people voted in this year’s presidential election, and McCain beat Obama by 35 percentage points (67%-32%). Yet on April 10, 2006, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people rallied for legalization in Garden City, the county seat, out of a total population of around 30,000. McCain won with similar numbers in nearby Ford County, where several thousand people rallied for immigration reform in the county seat, Dodge City, in April 2006. Over in Madison County, Nebraska, with just over 13,500 voters, McCain won 69%-30%; on April 10, 2006, the Tyson Fresh Meats pork plant in the county seat, Madison, had to shut down because so many of its employees walked out to demand legalization. McCain won with 62% of just over 20,000 votes in Hall County, Nebraska, where on May 1, 2006, hundreds marched in the county seat, Grand Island, for immigrant rights.

It’s clear in the minds of most immigrants and their friends and families that during eight years in power, the Republicans did nothing good on immigration. Most people don’t remember the anti-immigrant bills approved under the Clinton administration, or that the last amnesty came under a Republican presidency. So right now, while the Republican Party is busy trying to develop a strategy for winning Latino support without alienating its white racist base, the Democrats have a chance to move. The Democratic Party needs to see that if it approves legalization now, it will win the continuing loyalty of a large bloc of existing voters, and at the same time create a large bloc of future voters, spread over rural and urban areas, whose gratitude could boost the party’s standing over the next decades.

Will there be a backlash if Congress approves legalization? The 52% of voters who elected Obama mostly don’t hate immigrants, so they won’t get too riled up about legalization, and many will support it, especially if we work to win over those still unconvinced. Among the other 48% of voters, many probably resent immigrants and oppose legalization, but three years from now, most will have forgotten about it or will have gotten used to it. We will likely see a rise in hate crimes and racist attacks over the next four years, with or without legalization for immigrants, but a focus on dialogue will help to ensure that hateful acts don’t gain wide support. And if everyone has legal status, at least immigrants will be able to report threats to police and protest publicly when they are victimized.

There’s no time to waste. Any delays in pushing through legalization will hurt its chances. We need to mobilize behind a united demand, and make our voices heard every single day until we get what is needed.


Jane Guskin is co-author of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, published by Monthly Review Press in July 2007. She lives in New York City, where she is co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a grassroots foundation supporting nonviolent action for social justice.

This story first appeared March 4 on Huffington Post.

See also:

by David L. Wilson, MR Zine
World War 4 Report, January 2009

Sami Al-Arian Case Exposes Federal Immigration Gulag
by Jane Guskin, Huffington Post
World War 4 Report, October 2008

A Class Analysis
by George Caffentzis, Metamute
World War 4 Report, August 2006

From our Daily Report:

US detains record number of immigrants: report
World War 4 Report, March 17, 2009

Deadly repression greases “guest worker” program (on AgJOBS Act)
World War 4 Report, May 25, 2007

Arizona: students march against anti-immigrant measures (and for DREAM Act)
World War 4 Report, Jan. 13, 2007


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



by Julianne Ong Hing, Color Lines

Dan Millis is a volunteer with the border humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, which regularly leaves water and sets up aid camps in the Arizona desert for immigrants. In February 2008, Millis was issued a $175 ticket for littering in a section of the Arizona/Mexico border that’s also part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The US Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers issued the ticket after Millis put several canisters of water along oft-traveled trails. The humanitarian worker faced a $5,000 fine and six months of jail time for his refusal to pay the ticket.

In September, a federal judge found Millis guilty of littering, but didn’t issue a punishment, which Millis found strange but telling. “The ruling was an admission of the contradictory, hypocritical stance on immigration issues in this country,” Millis said. “The judge basically said, ‘Humanitarian aid is a crime, but the fact that it is a crime is ridiculous, so I’m not going to punish you.'”

Millis noted that the group’s relationship with law enforcement is usually cordial. “Border Patrol knows about us,” he said. “A lot of them have respect for our work because they find dead bodies, too, and no one likes that.”

Walt Staton, who also works with No More Deaths, pointed out that the problem wasn’t littering. When Fish and Wildlife officers cited Millis, they confiscated the 22 gallons of water he intended to leave for immigrants but didn’t take the trash that he had also collected that day.

No More Deaths began in 2004 as a response to the spike in immigrant deaths in the desert. “The only safe way for migrants to cross through these militarized zones is on foot,” Millis said. “They’re taking superhuman, 100-mile hikes.”

Just two days prior to Millis’ run-in with the Fish and Wildlife officers, he was on a similar water drop when he found the body of Josseline Jamileth HernĂĄndez Quinteros, a 14-year-old Salvadoran migrant. “Had we found her sooner, or had she found our water, she would have been celebrating her quinceñera [now],” Millis said.

According to Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 117 migrants died in the first half of 2008 trying to cross the border. The Department of Homeland Security reported 204 migrant deaths along the border in 2007.

The federal program Operation Gatekeeper that went into effect 15 years ago to deter immigration by ramping up enforcement has instead forced immigration to the mountainous hinterlands of Arizona and Texas, where temperatures hover around 110 degrees in the summer, and flash floods and lightning storms are a constant threat. Immigration officials, who were once certain migrants would not dare cross in these areas, have largely turned a blind eye to the yearly death counts at border crossings, according to immigration activists. Construction of the border wall has been very fast, as well, which has funneled migrants to the harshest parts of the border.

Last summer, the group’s volunteers had face-to-face contact with 580 migrants, giving them food, water or medical attention. It’s a statistic, Staton added, that does not count the untold numbers who empty the canisters of water and supplies left along the trail by humanitarian aid groups every night.

“We’re not trying to be confrontational,” said Staton, adding, “We’re just seeing that the US has chosen a style of enforcement that has led to too many deaths and human rights violations. We want to see the end of the militarization of the border.”


This story first appeared in the March/April edition of Color Lines.


No More Deaths

See also:

Obama’s Southwest Challenge: “Tear It Down”
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, January 2009

From our Daily Report:

Agent Orange strategy for Mexican border?
World War 4 Report, March 25, 2008


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



Mexico’s Internal “Surge” on the Rio Grande

from Frontera NorteSur

In an operation reminiscent of the US military surge in Iraq two years ago, thousands of Mexican soldiers and federal police are swarming the streets of Ciudad JuĂĄrez. On a recent day, small convoys of troops were readily visible patrolling streets where countless “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs dominate public space. Other groups of soldiers, meanwhile, searched vans and SUVs entering the city from El Paso, Texas, or meticulously ran their fingers through the baggage of every arriving and departing passenger at the main bus station.

In a scene symbolic of Mexico’s multi-layered socio-political mosaic, a squad of federal police with riot shields stood on one side of the international Bridge of Americas as dozens of street vendors, including colorfully-dressed Raramuri indigenous migrants expelled from their Chihuahua mountain homeland by the triple plague of drought, poverty and violence, joined windshield washers and car buffers trying to goad motorists into handing over pesos, flimsy notes of a currency which has lost 50% of its value since last fall.

The Ciudad JuĂĄrez surge was formalized at a Feb. 25 meeting attended by Mexico’s National Public Security Council in addition to state and local government representatives. The official rationale behind the action was, of course, the unprecedented violence tied to the border city’s war between competing crime gangs. February, in particular, cut a bloody trail. A record body count of 231 victims was reported by the end of a month that is sometimes called in Mexico “Crazy February” anyway.

In response to the public safety crisis, the Mexican government’s Joint Operation Chihuahua plans to deploy a total of 8,500 army troops and 2,300 federal officers in Ciudad Juarez, ultimately bringing the combined number of security personnel stationed in the violence-wracked city of 1.3 million people to about 12,000.

Beyond simple numbers, an important distinction exists between this year’s troop deployment and a similar but smaller one last year, when 2,500 soldiers were dispatched to Ciudad Juarez ostensibly to control the burgeoning narco-violence, which only worsened after the army’s entry onto the scene.

Unlike in 2008, the Mexican military will be given authority over the local police department, the municipal commerce department and the troubled state prison on the outskirts of Ciudad JuĂĄrez, where 21 prisoners were killed by fellow inmates in a premeditated March 4 murder spree that likely happened with the collusion of prison authorities.

Military personnel could also be assigned the task of rooting out the extortion and kidnapping rings which have proliferated since the always-iffy public safety situation in Ciudad Juarez nevertheless took a sharp turn for the worse beginning fourteen months ago.

On Monday, March 16, 2009, Ciudad Juårez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz publicly named several retired or active-duty military officials who will be in charge of security in the city. A former army man, Roberto Orduña, served as a previous police chief but resigned on Feb. 20 after reportedly receiving threats from presumed drug traffickers.

A former commander of the army garrison in Parral, Chihuahua, retired Gen. Julian David Rivera Breton, will be Ciudad JuĂĄrez’s new public safety chief. Gen. Rivera also served in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Hidalgo, and Veracruz. Infantry Col. Alfonso Cristobal Garcia Melgar, meanwhile, will steer the municipal police department.

The Public Speaks Out
Given the depth of the public safety crisis, many residents of Ciudad JuĂĄrez initially applauded the surge. Arturo Valenzuela Zorrilla, secretary of a local organization of health care professionals, said the extra troop presence was a “necessary” measure because of the emergency situation confronting his city. The military’s visibility, Valenzuela argued, gave the citizenry a special chance to “come together, organize ourselves and make JuĂĄrez different.”

Taxi driver Javier HernĂĄndez offered a mixed assessment of the surge. “I have confidence in the soldiers that stop and search you,” HernĂĄndez said, “but the federal police made me pay 200 pesos for not carrying identification and wanted to take away the car.”

On March 12, top Chihuahua state and Ciudad JuĂĄrez officials met with business and religious leaders who belong to the citizens’ council of Joint Operation Chihuahua, including maquiladora industry founder Jaime BermĂșdez.

Also in attendance was President Felipe CalderĂłn’s national security advisor, Jorge Enrique Tello PeĂłn, who served as head of CISEN, Mexico’s equivalent of the CIA, during the administration of former President Ernesto Zedillo in the 1990s.

Meeting participant Daniel Murguia Lardizibal, president of the Ciudad JuĂĄrez Chamber of Commerce, was optimistic of the surge’s potential for restoring order to a crisis-ridden city. Only days into the deployment, the atmosphere on the streets was noticeably different, Murguia said. Restaurants and commercial centers—public places where shootings and kidnappings have been common since last year—witnessed more customers on a recent weekend, he added.

Molly Molloy, a New Mexico State University librarian who carefully monitors press stories for her Frontera news service, reported the murder rate in Ciudad Juárez averaged two homicides per day during the first two weeks of March, a dramatic drop from last month’s toll, excepting the mass slaughter at the prison.

Frequent government-sponsored television spots tout Operation Joint Chihuahua, detailing reported drug and weapons seizures.

But prominent social activists are criticizing the militarization as an elite exercise in attempting to resolve a crisis at the point of a gun while marginalizing broader, popular input and missing an opportunity to tackle varied facets of complex social problems.

“A serious plan has to be made in coordination with the JuĂĄrez community, something specific and having to do with security plans,” said Cirpriana Jurado of the local Worker Research and Solidarity Center (CISO). “There are many examples from other countries of preventing such public insecurity.”

No timetable has been announced for the duration of the military occupation of Ciudad Juarez’s streets.

In a press conference almost one year ago, Mexican security czar Genaro GarcĂ­a Luna said a possibility existed the military could be withdrawn from its law enforcement functions by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009. As the spring of 2009 fast dawns, the Mexican government is banking on the army more than ever.

Enrique Torres, spokesman for Joint Operation Chihuahua, told the Albuquerque Journal the troops would stay until the cartels are “exterminated.”

On the streets, however, few Mexicans agree that the government will ever truly succeed in stamping out the narco business.

Where Does the Surge End?
The Ciudad JuĂĄrez surge is front-page news in both Mexico and the US. Especially omitted from US stories is the issue of the operation’s illegality under current Mexican law. The nation’s constitution does not allow military personnel to act outside their bases during peacetime or permit soldiers to assume civilian functions like running police departments.

Mexican legislators are quite aware of the legal conflict, but many argue the extreme violence of the narco war coupled with rampant police corruption leaves the country no choice but to turn to the military.

In 2008, for instance, the Mexico City daily Reforma’s news agency reported the army and Federal Police initiated legal actions against 752 police officers suspected of involvement with the narco underworld in 16 states. The state of Mexico, which has served as a recruiting ground for Ciudad JuĂĄrez police officials and officers in the past, led the naughty list with 536 municipal and state police officers implicated in criminal violations.

In a ceremony outside Mexico City last month, President Felipe CalderĂłn extolled the armed forces as an essential institution that will guarantee the triumph of moral values. Yet many analysts concur that the more the military becomes involved in enforcing drug laws and waging war against organized crime, the more susceptible it becomes to falling prey to the very corruption it is supposed to counter. Indeed, previous instances of narco-induced military corruption abound.

In the latest scandal to touch the army, 12 active-duty soldiers were quietly picked up early this month in the central state of Aguascalientes and accused of working on behalf of the notorious Zetas gang.

Signs are emerging that the CalderĂłn administration’s anti-drug offensive, which has dragged on for more than two years even as Mexico has witnessed more than 10,000 slayings connected to narco violence, is beginning to tug at the armed forces.

In unusual comments last month which were not followed up by the press, Mexican Gen. Ramón Mota Sánchez urged the federal government to speed up the establishment of reliable, clean police forces so soldiers can return to their barracks—at least the medium-term.

Columnist Jorge Luis Sierra, a veteran analyst of military affairs, recently described how soldiers are increasingly becoming the targets of violence as well as the alleged perpetrators of human rights violations.

“It is necessary to honor the fallen soldiers and at the same time prosecute the ones responsible for abuses committed,” Sierra wrote.

Recent reports from both the official National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the non-governmental Miguel Agustin Pro-JuĂĄrez Human Rights Center (PRODH) have documented alleged human rights violations committed by the armed forces during the course of the drug war in Ciudad JuĂĄrez and elsewhere in Mexico.

Nationwide, the CNDH processed 1,602 complaints against soldiers from Jan. 1, 2007 to December 31, 2008. In at least eight cases, the CNDH documented instances of illegal detention, torture and excessive use of force.

In a separate study, the PRODH found that civilian law enforcement authorities turned over 500 legal complaints against soldiers to military officials for possible prosecution between January 2006 and November 2008. In Mexico, crimes and human rights violations allegedly committed by soldiers are usually investigated by the military itself.

The PRODH’s study discovered that initial legal actions were taken in about one third of the referred cases, resulting in a grand total of 11 prosecutions.

Rising concerns over military impunity and human rights violations prompted the Mexican Senate to pass a resolution March 5 appealing on the army to cooperate with the CNDH in fomenting a “solid culture for the respect of human rights.”

In Ciudad Juårez, it was announced this month military representatives will receive human rights training at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juårez. On a similar note, the offices of Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz and two city council representatives, Leopoldo Canizales Såenz and Gustavo Muñoz Hepo, announced they will accept citizen complaints against personnel attached to Joint Operation Chihuahua.

Others continued to express worry at the sight of soldiers in the streets.

The Mexico City-based PRODH, for example, said the military deployments in Ciudad JuĂĄrez and other regions of Mexico carry far-reaching political ramifications. During the CalderĂłn administration, “civilian controls over military power have disappeared,” the group charged. In an era when Latin American military governments are a relic of the past, “military involvement in [Mexican] civil life blocks the road to democratization,” the human rights organization warned.


This story first appeared March 17 on Frontera NorteSur.

See also:

by Bill Weinberg, AlterNet
World War 4 Report, March 2009

Low-Intensity War in MichoacĂĄn and Guerrero
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, March 2009

from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, February 2009

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: US backpedals on “failed state” claim
World War 4 Report, March 27, 2009

Mullen mulls Mexico intervention
World War 4 Report, March 12, 2009


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