Greater Middle East

Dig in.

The US House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 37, calling for the withdrawal of US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The resolution states that only Congress has the authority to declare war, and notes that Congress has not made any declaration of war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are the target of Saudi-led forces. US armed forces have supported Saudi Arabia through aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling. The resolution gives President Trump 30 days to withdraw forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen. Forces which are involved in operations directed at al-Qaeda in the region are exempt from the resolution. The resolution also does not restrict the sharing of intelligence. It also specifies that the resolution does not impact military operations undertaken in cooperation with Israel. (Photo via Jurist)

Greater Middle East

Protests follow anti-Christian terror in Egypt

Coptic Christians took to the streets in Egypt in a series of angry protests after a deadly blast during New Year’s Eve midnight mass at Alexandria’s al-Qiddisin Church.

Coming Soon: World War 4 Report Reloaded

Dear Readers:

World War 4 Report’s autumn hiatus turned out be longer and deeper than we had anticipated, with your chief editor and trusty blogger under a state of force majeure for several weeks. But we are back. The Daily Report news blog is being updated each day, with some (shall we say?) lively interchanges in the reader comment section.

We are currently preparing a long-overdue major redesign of the website, which we will be unveiling sometime over the winter. After years of reader complaints about the format, we are working on something that will be more graphically exciting and user-friendly.

One question we are still grappling with is whether to continue the monthly e-journal in the new format. How much does it mean to you to have a magazine-style forum for a few offerings of finished journalism and commentary each month, in addition to the daily digests and bloggery? We put it to the readers as this month’s Exit Poll, as well as asking you to vote with a donation.

Before we went on autumn hiatus, we pledged that if we could raise $500 over the autumn, we would keep the monthly edition going. One reader in Japan immediately contributed $100 towards that goal. That makes $400 to go.

What do you say, readers? Please be in touch with feedback—and, if you want to give us some encouragement, a donation. (It doesn’t have to be anywhere near what our Japanese reader gave, of course.)

Thank you, arigato, shukran and gracias,

Bill Weinberg

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Continue ReadingComing Soon: World War 4 Report Reloaded 

Issue #172, January 2011

Electronic Journal & Daily Report BOLIVIA’S NEW WATER WARS Climate Change and Indigenous Struggle by Bill Weinberg, NACLA Report on the Americas BOLIVIA’S CLIMATE PARADOX Latin American progressive governments still bet on “extractivismo” by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, Latin America Energy &… Read moreIssue #172, January 2011


by Rohan Jayasekera, Index on Censorship

With maybe hundreds of human rights activists named in the WikiLeaks files, and frontman Julian Assange threatening to throw them open to the world if “forced” to do so, it’s time for fair assessment of the potential threat to whistle-blowers and free expression advocates argues Rohan Jayasekera

When WikiLeaks turned from publishing battlefield reports to secret US State Department cables, the initial effect of seeing state-to-state relations shorn of traditional diplomatic obfuscation was electric. The lasting effect was more like reading your teenager’s Facebook page, initially shocking but ultimately predictable, and for those with the right experience, actually pretty familiar.

Again, there were fears about exposure and endangerment. The Atlantic magazine even alleged that WikiLeaks had exposed Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to treason charges by revealing his views on sanctions, as if Robert Mugabe had ever felt that he needed “evidence” to jail someone.

Some regimes are passing laws to extend the meaning of treason to cover economic “attacks” as well as military or political ones. In that particular hall of mirrors simply voicing sympathy for a tourism boycott can get you bundled into the back of a van.

And any association with the US looks bad to a lot of people in some parts of the world, especially when done in private. WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange hardly helped this week by telling al-Jazeera TV that many officials visiting US embassies are “spies for the US in their countries.”

Generally though, the diplomats and politicians named and shamed (and sometimes praised) in the WikiLeaks cables tended to escape chastened but safe from the experience.

The risk is far greater for the many ordinary human rights defenders and civil society activists who have risked a visit to US embassies in their home countries. They come, often in surprisingly large numbers, to make advocacy cases to what they hope are sympathetic US ears, and until WikiLeaks, away from the dictators’ prying eyes.

Mercifully, it seems—though Assange now suggests otherwise, to al-Jazeera at least—the rights defenders have been saved from being cited in US embassy CIA staff reports.

Intelligence officers have a reputation for boosting the significance of their reports by making more out of routine contact with dissidents than the exchanges actually deserve. But the CIA removed them all from the SIPRNET digital shoebox of US diplomatic cables that alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning drew from.

But the risk remains, as I was firmly told by a US embassy political attache in an Arab state this month. A veteran human rights campaigner had already warned that many local rights activists expect more support from US diplomats than they will actually get; in the vault-like security of a typical US embassy they speak more freely than they possibly should.

The embassy attache was adamant. It was only a matter of time before a human rights defender was exposed by WikiLeaks, and jailed or killed as a result. “Then in that case,” he said grimly, “you may ask Mr Assange exactly what he thinks he has done for ‘transparency and human rights.'”

Weirdly, almost on cue, Wikileaks released a cable that might have proven his point, in which the name of the source—a public critic of a particularly reprehensible head of state — was redacted by WikiLeaks. However the redactor, presumably unfamiliar with the dissident’s work, failed to recognise a giveaway clue cited in the cable’s title.

Even with the redactions, anyone with reasonable knowledge of the country concerned could have guessed who was being quoted giving off-the-record, publicly unatributable, deep background information—or so he thought—to US diplomats about top-level state corruption.

Again, dictators don’t need evidence to jail people, and the key equation at the heart of the work of free expression defenders supported by Index on Censorship is simple: risk balanced against effect.

The risk posed by exposure by WikiLeaks is one more fresh edge to the multi-faceted threat they, their families and friends already face.

But WikiLeaks is supposed to be helping, no?

Redaction of data was never meant to be WikiLeaks’ prime duty, so it should be no surprise that they do it unwillingly, and when they do, that they can do it badly or obscurely. Index on Censorship raised the issue of the giveaway clue in the title of the otherwise redacted leaked cable with WikiLeaks directly.

They replied sympathetically, but noted that the redacted name was already out there as author of a critical book about the head of state. “…[S]o we feel that too much redaction is futile,” said the reply. “However, we do feel it is better to be safe than sorry and so have redacted the title…”

Well, OK, but the root of the question is the same as that raised everywhere, very specifically at an Index on Censorship debate between WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and UK journalist David Aaronovich at London’s City University this year.

Since WikiLeaks decided to take editorial responsibility for selecting, redacting and publishing the content, what editorial criteria do they apply, what process is followed, what in-house oversight is there of their work and what qualifies for redaction under its “harm minimisation procedure“?

WikiLeaks itself said this was a problem, solved by opening up the data in advance to selected international publications, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times among them. That relationship has since splintered over coverage of Julian Assange’s personal issues, but the relevance of adding external expertise to the process—expertise that WikiLeaks doesn’t have—still stands.

Assange repeatedly maintains that “[WikiLeaks] must protect our sources at whatever cost. This is our sincere concern.” But while he says his organisation presently releases files in a “responsible” manner, he fears extradition to the US and makes a clear threat to everyone involved, willingly or otherwise. “If I am forced we could go to the extreme and expose each and every file that we have access to.”

It’s easy to underestimate how much time US embassy staff spend talking to dissidents, opposition leaders, human rights and civil society activists. Hundreds could be named in the WikiLeaks collection of diplomatic cables still unreleased. It might be helpful to provide advance warning to dissidents about to get their moment in the WikiLeaks sun, and prepare the various organisations charged to defend them.

The WikiLeaks core principles, at least as they were when Index on Censorship honored the organisation in 2008, are good ones. But surely it’s possible to bring together independent groups of advisors, or draw on the advice of local human rights defenders. Maybe just three experts, easy to find, who before redacting or not redacting a name, will have at least read one of the redactee’s books or are more personally acquainted with the threats he or she faces?


Rohan Jayasekera is Associate Editor and Deputy Chief Executive of Index on Censorship

This story first ran Dec. 31 on Index on Censorship.

From our Daily Report:

Enough with the Julian Assange hero worship
World War 4 Report, Dec. 26, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Belarus affair
World War 4 Report, Dec. 30, 2010

See related stories, this issue:

State Department Busted on Support of Coup
by Robert Naiman, TruthOut
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Cable Lays Bare Washington’s Stance Toward Evo Morales
by Benjamin Dangl, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution



WikiLeaks Cable Lays Bare Washington’s Stance Toward Bolivia

by Benjamin Dangl, Toward Freedom

A classified cable from the US embassy in La Paz, Bolivia released by WikiLeaks lays bare an embassy that is biased against the Evo Morales government, underestimates the sophistication of the governing party’s grassroots base, and out of touch with the political reality of the country.

The recently released Jan. 23, 2009 cable, entitled “Bolivia’s Referendum: Margin of Victory Matters,” analyzes the political landscape of the country in the lead up to the January 2009 referendum on the country’s new constitution, and was sent to all US embassies in South America and various offices in Washington.

In 2006, the leftist union leader and politician Evo Morales was inaugurated as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Since his election he and members of his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), have partially nationalized gas reserves, enacted land reform and convoked an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. Following years of debates among assembly members, this constitution was passed in a national referendum on Jan. 25, 2009.

The US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks that was written during the politically-charged days leading up to this vote shows a mischaracterization on the part of embassy officials of the MAS government and its supporters.

The cable cites Bolivian newspaper reports that many community leaders and their supporters in the Altiplano, the high plains of western Bolivia, where much of the MAS support lies, had not even read the constitution, and instead would simply “take their marching orders from the MAS, and vote for the constitution.” Many had not read the document out of, according to the US embassy, “disinterest, blind faith in Evo Morales’ political project, and illiteracy.” The cable describes one meeting between members of the US embassy and Bolivian political officials who “lamented the way the MAS had ‘cheated’ and ‘fooled’ campesinos into believing Morales was himself truly indigenous or cared about indigenous issues.” The officials said the MAS popularity was due to “‘vertical control’ in the countryside…”

These are all inaccurate portrayals of the dynamics of the MAS party and its grassroots base. Support for the constitution and the MAS did not simply grow out of illiteracy, disinterestedness, blind faith or the vertical control of the MAS over its members, as embassy officials would have those reading of this cable believe.

While many social sectors in Bolivia had serious critiques of the new constitution, the writing and passage of it was largely the result of years of discussions and consultations with constituents. The political consciousness among the MAS party base, both rural and urban, is highly sophisticated and has benefited from years of social mobilizations and a first hand understanding of the needs of the impoverished majority of the country. People support the MAS because the party speaks to those needs, has opened up political participation to marginalized sectors of society, and has developed a political project that seeks to empower disenfranchised and indigenous communities.

Such democratic tendencies challenge the economic interests and political power of Washington and the Bolivian right. It is telling, therefore, that many of the sources the US embassy drew from in this cable are members of the Bolivian right and critics of Morales.

For example, in the cable, the embassy officials cite Bolivia’s Santa Cruz Civic Committee as a source on the supposed electoral fraud of the MAS. Since Morales’ election, this Civic Committee has risen to notoriety as a fierce critic of the MAS government, and is tied to Bolivian business elites, racist youth groups, and acts of violent repression against indigenous activists and MAS supporters.

According to the released cable, US embassy officials were told by members of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee that they did not trust international electoral observers—including those from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center, the United Nations and the European Union—because they had “blessed” an August 2008 recall vote which empowered Morales with over 60% of the vote. Therefore, members of the Civic Committee did “not expect an honest review of the constitutional referendum” in January of 2009.

These views are illustrative for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the US embassy, in this diplomatic primer on one of the most important votes of the decade in Bolivia, emphasized electoral fraud on the part of the MAS where leading international observers saw none. Secondly, it looked to the Civic Committee, an organization that is totally unrepresentative of the views of the majority of the population, as a source on the topic.

Such misdirection and detachedness from Bolivia’s political reality was also demonstrated in a section of the cable which described a conflict in the department of Pando, Bolivia in September of 2008. Here, the embassy shares the views of an unnamed source:

In a conversation with PolOff, xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged the MAS deliberately fomented unrest in Pando in September to justify a military siege, depose Prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, and arrest opposition-aligned leaders to swing the balance of power to the MAS in the Senate. Besides disabling the opposition’s ability to campaign by arresting many of its leaders,xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged the government crackdown changed Pando’s electoral map by causing hundreds of opposition voters to flee to Brazil while importing 2,000 new security forces, which xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed were likely MAS voters from the Altiplano (Reftel B).

This is an egregiously inaccurate portrayal of events. In September of 2008, in what Morales called a civic coup attempt, right forces in the country mobilized against the MAS government, ransacking human rights offices, attacking indigenous people and MAS supporters, and destabilizing the country. The most violent manifestation of this uprising occurred in Pando, where paramilitaries hired by Pando Prefect Leopoldo Fernandez fired on unarmed campesinos marching in support of the MAS. Following this upheaval, the US ambassador to Bolivia was kicked out of the country by Morales for “conspiring against democracy” and funding right wing opposition groups in Bolivia.

This cable provides useful insights into the inner workings of Washington’s diplomacy toward Bolivia, and will hopefully be one among many more such cables that become available to the public, thus spreading awareness about the true tactics of Washington in international relations. These revelations have contributed an already extensive lack of trust among citizens around the world toward the US government.

According to Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera, this lack of trust toward Washington won’t be erased by castigating those who downloaded and leaked the documents. It will only be erased, said Linera, through “a change of attitude on the part of the North American government.”


Benjamin Dangl is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press, 2010), and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007). He is the editor of Toward Freedom, a progressive perspective on world events, and Upside Down World, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.

This story first ran Dec. 1 on Toward Freedom.

From our Daily Report:

Bolivia charges dozens in destabilization complot
World War 4 Report, Dec. 20, 2010

A dissenting view:

Enough with the Julian Assange hero worship
World War 4 Report, Dec. 26, 2010

See also:

by Benjamin Dangl, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, November 2008

See related stories, this issue:

State Department Busted on Support of Coup
by Robert Naiman, TruthOut
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Released Diplomatic Cables Place Dissidents at Risk
by Rohan Jayasekera, Index on Censorship
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Climate Change & Indigenous Struggle
by Bill Weinberg, NACLA Report on the Americas
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution



State Department Busted on Support of Coup

by Robert Naiman, TruthOut

By July 24, 2009, the US government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. The US embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable to Washington with the subject, “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” asserting that “there is no doubt” that the events of June 28 “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” The embassy listed arguments being made by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed them thus: “None…has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.” The Honduran military clearly had no legal authority to remove President Manuel Zelaya from office or from Honduras, the embassy said, and their action—the embassy described it as an “abduction” and “kidnapping”—was clearly unconstitutional.

It is inconceivable that any top US official responsible for US policy in Honduras was not familiar with the contents of the July 24 cable, which summarized the assessment of the US embassy in Honduras on key facts that were politically disputed by supporters of the coup regime. The cable was addressed to Tom Shannon, then assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs; Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser; and Dan Restrepo, senior director for western hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council. The cable was sent to the White House and to Secretary of State Clinton.

But despite the fact that the US government was crystal clear on what had transpired, the US did not immediately cut off all aid to Honduras except “democracy assistance,” as required by US law.

Instead, a month after this cable was sent, the State Department, in its public pronouncements, pretended that the events of June 28—in particular, “who did what to whom” and the constitutionality of these actions—were murky and needed further study by State Department lawyers, despite the fact that the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold Koh, knew exactly “who did what to whom” and that these actions were unconstitutional at least one month earlier. The State Department, to justify its delay in carrying out US law, invented a legal distinction between a “coup” and a “military coup,” claiming that the State Department’s lawyers had to determine whether a “military coup” took place, because only that determination would meet the legal threshold for the aid cutoff.

Question: And so—sorry, just a follow-up. If this is a coup—the State Department considers this a coup, what’s the next step? And I mean, there is a legal framework on the US laws dealing with countries that are under coup d’etat? I mean, what’s holding you guys [back from taking] other measures according [to] the law?

Senior State Department Official:
I think what you’re referring to, Mr. Davila, is whether or not this is—has been determined to be a military coup. And you’re correct that there are provisions in our law that have to be applied if it is determined that this is a military coup. And frankly, our lawyers are looking at that exact question. And when we get the answer to that, you are right, there will be things that—if it is determined that this was a military coup, there will be things that will kick in.

As you know, on the ground, there’s a lot of discussion about who did what to whom and what things were constitutional or not, which is why our lawyers are really looking at the event as we understand them in order to come out with the accurate determination.

But the July 24 cable shows that this was nonsense. The phrase “military coup” occurs nowhere in the document, a remarkable omission in a cable from the embassy presenting its analysis of the June 28 events’ constitutionality and legality one month after the fact, if that were a crucial distinction in assessing US policy. And indeed, initial press reports on the statements of top US officials in response to the coup made no such distinction, using the descriptions “coup” and “military coup” interchangeably.

Why did the State Department drag its feet, pretending that facts which it knew to be clear-cut were murky? Why didn’t the State Department speak publicly after July 24 with the same moral clarity as the July 24 cable from the embassy in Honduras? Had the State Department shared publicly the embassy’s clear assessment of the June 28 events after July 24, history might have turned out differently, because supporters of the coup in the United States—including Republican members of Congress and media talking heads—continued to dispute basic facts about the coup which the US embassy in Honduras had reported were not subject to reasonable dispute, and US media reporting on the coup continued to describe these facts as subject to reasonable dispute, long after the embassy had firmly declared that they were not.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted in an August 2009 report, in the previous 12 months the US had responded to other coups by cutting US aid within days. In these cases—in Africa—there was no lengthy deliberation on whether a “coup” was a “military coup.”

What was the difference?

A key difference was that Honduras is in Central America, “our backyard,” so different rules applied. Top officials in Washington supported the political aims of the coup. They did not nominally support the means of the coup, as far as we know, but they supported its political end: the removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. On the other hand, they were politically constrained not to support the coup openly, since they knew it to be illegal and unconstitutional. Thus, they pursued a “diplomatic compromise” which would “restore constitutional order” while achieving the coup’s central political aim: removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. The effect of their efforts at “diplomatic compromise” was to allow the coup to stand, a result that these supporters of the coup’s political aims were evidently content with.

Why does this matter now?

First, the constitutional and political crisis in Honduras is ongoing, and the failure of the US to take immediate, decisive action in response to the coup was a significant cause of the ongoing crisis. After nominally opposing the coup, and slowly and fitfully implementing partial sanctions against the coup regime in a way that did not convince the coup regime that the US was serious, the US moved to support elections under the coup regime which were not recognized by the rest of the hemisphere, and today the US is lobbying for the government created by that disputed election to be readmitted to the Organization of American States, in opposition to most of the rest of the hemisphere, despite ongoing, major violations of human rights in Honduras, about which the US is doing essentially nothing.

Second, the relationship of actual US policy—as opposed to rhetorical pronouncements—to democracy in the region is very much a live issue from Haiti to Bolivia.

Yesterday there was an election in Haiti. This election was funded by the US, despite the fact that major parties were excluded from participation by the government’s electoral council, a fact that Republican and Democratic Members of Congress, in addition to NGOs, complained about without result. The Washington Post reports that the election ended with “nearly all the major candidates calling for the results to be tossed out amid ‘massive fraud'”: “12 of the 19 candidates on Sunday’s ballot appeared together at a raucous afternoon news conference to accuse the government of President Rene Preval of trying to steal the election and install his chosen candidate, Jude Celestin.”

Yesterday’s election in Haiti had the fingerprints of the US government all over it. It was funded by the US “Security” for the election was purportedly provided by UN troops, paid for by the US And the crucial historical context of the election was the 2004 coup that deposed democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a coup engineered by the US with years of economic destruction clearly intended to topple the elected government.

Last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales called out the US for its recent history of supporting coups in the region.

AP’s treatment of President Morales’ remarks was instructive:

Morales also alleged US involvement in coup attempts or political upheaval in Venezuela in 2002, Honduras in 2009 and Ecuador in 2010.

“The empire of the United States won,” in Honduras, Morales said, a reference to the allegations of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya that the US was behind his ouster.

“The people of the Americas in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, we won,” Morales continued. “We are three to one with the United States. Let’s see what the future brings.”

US officials have repeatedly denied involvement in all of those cases and critics of the United States have produced no clear evidence. [my emphasis]

It’s certainly true that critics have produced “no clear evidence” of US “involvement” in any of these cases – if your standard for “clear evidence” of US “involvement” is a US government document that dictated in advance everything that subsequently happened. But this would be like saying that critics have produced “no clear evidence” for the Armenian genocide because researchers haven’t yet found a Turkish Mein Kampf. [Some who dispute that there was an “Armenian genocide” do actually claim something like this – “there is no proof of a plan” – but claims like this are generally not taken seriously by US media – except when the US government is an author of the crime, and the crime is recent.]

In the case of the coup in Venezuela in 2002, we know the following:

* Groups in Venezuela that participated in the coup had been supported financially and politically by the US.

* The CIA had advance knowledge of the plans for a coup, and did nothing to warn the Venezuelan government, nor did the US do anything meaningful to try to stop the coup.

* although the US knew in advance about the plans for a coup, when these events played out, the US tried to claim that there was no coup.

* the US pushed for international recognition of the coup government.

* the International Monetary Fund, which would not take such action without advance approval from the United States, announced its willingness to support the coup government a few hours after the coup took place.

These facts about US government “involvement” in the coup in Venezuela are documented in Oliver Stone’s recent movie, South of the Border. This is why it’s so important for as many Americans as possible to see this movie: because there are basic facts about the relationship of actual US government policies—as opposed to rhetoric—to democracy in Latin America that major US media simply cannot be counted upon to report straight. In order to successfully agitate for meaningful reform of US government policy in Latin America, Americans have to know what the actual policy of the US government has been.


This story first ran Nov. 30 on TruthOut.


South of the Border
Film website

Senior State Department Officials on Honduras
State Department press release, Aug. 25, 2009

Bolivian leader lectures Gates about US behavior
AP, Nov. 22, 2010

From our Daily Report:

Honduras: Resistance Front protests Porfirio Lobo’s presence at UN
World War 4 Report, Sept. 26, 2010

Haiti: protests greet dubious election results
World War 4 Report, Dec. 14, 2010

World Bank, EU, NATO certify “constitutional rule” in Mauritania
World War 4 Report, Oct. 11, 2009

From our Archive:

Venezuela: Anatomy of the Coup d’Etat
World War 4 Report, April 21, 2002

A dissenting view:

Enough with the Julian Assange hero worship
World War 4 Report, Dec. 26, 2010

See also:

by Nikolas Kozloff and Bill Weinberg, NACLA News
World War 4 Report, May 2010

See related stories, this issue:

Cable Lays Bare Washington’s Stance Toward Evo Morales
by Benjamin Dangl, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Released Diplomatic Cables Place Dissidents at Risk
by Rohan Jayasekera, Index on Censorship
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Frontera NorteSur

If anything could be said about 2010 in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua, it might be stated that any semblance of human rights flew out the window. Ushered in with the January murder of Juarez Valley human rights defender and army critic Josefina Reyes, the year drew to a close with the December slaying of activist Marisela Escobedo in the state capital of Chihuahua City, a crime which was captured on camera and transmitted across the world via the Internet.

Despite the immediate outrage provoked by the murder of Escobedo, who had spent more than two years protesting the disappearance and murder of her daughter in Ciudad Juarez, gunmen soon not only burned down the business of Escobedo’s male partner, but also kidnapped and murdered the man’s brother in the beleaguered border city.

Four of Escobedo‚s surviving relatives took the hint and hightailed it across the Rio Bravo to El Paso, where they are expected to seek political asylum.

From January onward, the killing machine greased by the mechanics of the underworld roared non-stop. The slaughter of 14 young people in Ciudad JuĂĄrez’s Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood plunged the troubled city and Mexico into deepened crisis. Villas de Salvarcar popularized the word “youthcide” [jovenicidio] in the national vocabulary. Additional massacres at house parties, in bars and on public streets kept the public in a perpetual state of terror.

The Calderon administration unveiled a reconstruction plan for Ciudad JuĂĄrez, “We are all JuĂĄrez,” and put the Federal Police instead of the army in charge of the city‚s security. Yet the killing intensified, more people fled and the once-vibrant business/tourist and residential districts of Ciudad JuĂĄrez fell into an eye-grabbing decay.

Tourism Ministry statistics obtained by Ciudad JuĂĄrez’s Diario newspaper via Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act, reported that hotel occupancy plummeted from 447,034 people from January to October 2007 to 310,000 people during the same period in 2010.

The crash surely would have been much worse. Some establishments managed to stay afloat thanks to the Federal Police officers in need of lodging and the involuntary guests from across Mexico seeking US residency who were forced by the US government to stay in Ciudad JuĂĄrez while completing their approval process.

“We don’t have visitors coming for border tourism, or for shopping or for realizing cultural and sporting activities,” said Jorge RuĂ­z Carres, president of the Ciudad JuĂĄrez Hotel and Motel Association. “That type of visit is almost non-existent.”

Added to the factory lay-offs related to the global financial melt-down and the financial losses from extortion and robbery, the disappearance of tourist revenues from the local economy will be felt for a long time.

In 2010 international media devoted much reporting to the violence that engulfed Ciudad JuĂĄrez, blamed on the conflict between the JuĂĄrez and Sinaloa syndicates, but less international attention was given to the war also battering many other parts of the state of Chihuahua.

Nobody really knows for sure how many people perished in the course of the year. Citing official numbers from the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office, the Reforma news agency reported 5,212 people were murdered in the state between Jan. 1 and Dec. 19 of 2010. The authorities blamed organzied crime for the bulk of killings, or 3,766 homicides, according to Reforma.

Violence hit hard the state capital of Chihuahua City, where 488 people were reportedly slain just between the months of May and August. In a city where extreme insecurity should imply at least a modicum of government security response, the brazen murder of Marisela Escobedo in front of Chihuahua state government offices and in plain public view was quite noteworthy.

The public security crisis had its repercussions on the political scene. In July, a minority of eligible Chihuahua voters elected CĂ©sar Duarte of the Institutional Revolutionary Party to the governorship and chose HĂ©ctor “Teto” MurguĂ­a (Ciudad JuĂĄrez mayor 2004-2007) for a second try at leading an embattled municipality.

As he was preparing to leave office, Ciudad Juårez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz created a stir by accusing outgoing Governor José Reyes Baeza of abandoning Ciudad Juårez to the wolves during the past three years. Others criticized Reyes Ferriz for making untimely remarks and shirking his own responsibilities for the crisis.

The atmosphere surrounding the political transition got uglier. Media-savvy kidnappers snatched Mario GonzĂĄlez, the brother of former Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia GonzĂĄlez, and released a series of videotaped “confessions” in which GonzĂĄlez, surrounded by a group of armed, hooded men, detailed the alleged participation of his sister in murder and crime. He named individuals supposedly connected to femicides, publicly tarred members of the political class-including former Governor Reyes Baeza— with accusations of illicit activities, and fueled new doubts among a public increasingly fed up with the political system.

A key player in the US Agency for International Development’s program to reform Mexico’s legal system, Patricia GonzĂĄlez was also a partner in the efforts of the outgoing Richardson administration in neighboring New Mexico to expand legal, trade and other ties with Chihuahua.

GonzĂĄlez challenged the credibility of statements her brother made under extreme duress and offered to sacrifice herself for his life. No matter. Mario GonzĂĄlez was executed and, despite the arrests of suspects allegedly behind the kidnap/murder, the scandal was largely forgotten amid fresh headlines publicizing an endless slew of new murders and crimes.

Other crucial events occurred in 2010 that could influence developments in 2011. Perhaps most significantly, civil society began stirring and emerging as an independent voice in a socio-political melodrama dominated by business groups, politicians, urban and rural bosses, and government and private security forces.

In the northern Chihuahua farming town of Ascension, thousands of residents rose up against kidnappers, killed two suspected criminals, disarmed police accused of corruption and temporarily occupied city hall. In December, thousands of doctors and health care workers carried out a one-day work stoppage in Ciudad JuĂĄrez to protest criminal attacks on members of their profession and the overall public safety situation in their city.

Galvanized into action by the Villas de Salvarcar massacre, groups of youth, especially from the Autonomous University of Ciudad JuĂĄrez took to the streets to protest death and uphold life.

In one such action on Oct. 29, 19-year-old José Dario Alvarez was shot in the back by members of the Federal Police. Alvarez survived but was left physically impaired- possibly for life.

The murder of Marisela Escobedo sparked a wave of protest across Mexico and the world, eliciting condemnations from the European Union and the Organization of American States‚ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Civil society organizations from the US, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, Ireland, and the Philippines joined hundreds of individuals and groups from Ciudad Juarez and Mexico in signing on to a December 20 statement that demanded a genuine investigation of the activist‚s murder, protection for members of the Escobedo family and government compliance with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ 2009 sentence related to the murders of women in Ciudad JuĂĄrez.

The statement read in part: “More than 50 million poor people, more than 7 million young people that don‚t work or study, more than 3,000 murders this year in Ciudad JuĂĄrez, more than 10,000 orphans, hunger, and unemployment are definitive evidence that we have failed as a society.”

Tracing Ciudad JuĂĄrez’s and Mexico’s troubles to corruption, myopia, authoritarianism, patronage politics, impunity, and an ineffective citizenry, the Dec. 20 statement declared, “A society in peace is built on freedom, truth and justice.”

Widespread protests against the Escobedo assassination continued into the holiday season. In Chihuahua City, thousands of candles that had been placed at the murder scene to honor the fallen activist were mysteriously removed but then quickly replaced by enraged citizens and activists. Decorated with altars, the scene outside the state government complex soon resembled a shrine.

In California, activist groups including Centro Azteca, Amnesty International and the Mexican American Political Association plan a Dec. 30 protest at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco.

“We are demanding that the government of Mexico stop protecting murderers and drug cartels and instead stand up to protect the women, children and other innocents of Mexico,” read a flier announcing the protest.

A former Chihuahua state and federal lawmaker, columnist Victor Quintana wrote that Escobedo’s murder could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Quintana contended that Marisela Escobedo’s relentless pursuit of justice was now spreading to many sectors in Ciudad JuĂĄrez and Chihuahua.

Escobedo’s example, Quintana wrote, could inspire a new determination to “rebel for life.”

Expect more grassroots mobilizations in 2011. For instance, on Jan. 29, near the date of the first anniversary of the Villas de Salvarcar slaughter, citizen groups in the El Paso-Ciudad JuĂĄrez area plan a joint, binational protest at the borderline dividing the common and bloodied land they inhabit.


This story first ran Dec. 29 on Frontera NorteSur.

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: activist murdered, survivors harassed
World War 4 Report, Dec. 21, 2010

See also:

Demanding Justice for Missing Migrants
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, June 2010

Media Misreadings of the Border Violence
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, May 2010

from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, December 2009

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Climate Change & Indigenous Struggle

by Bill Weinberg, NACLA Report on the Americas

The stark and arid Bolivian Altilpano is one of the regions of our planet most susceptible to the impacts of climate change—ominous portents can already be seen. Yet, as South America’s poorest country, Bolivia is among the least prepared on Earth to meet these challenges.

Last year, water levels in Lake Titicaca—upon which some 2.6 million people depend for their sustenance—dropped 81 centimeters (2.6 feet). The Lake Titicaca Authority, jointly overseen by the governments of Bolivia and Peru, found that the lake is at its lowest level since 1949. Water levels in the lake fluctuate due to El Niño weather phenomena—but this time it looks uncertain that Titicaca will recover. Over the past four years, seasonal rainfall and the flow into Titicaca from feeder rivers was insufficient to compensate for evaporation and drainage. The authority says 95% of the lake’s inflow is being lost.

Bolivia’s National Meteorological and Hydrological Service notes that the region’s rainy season has been reduced from six to three months in recent years. The drought has prompted water rationing in some Altiplano towns and cities.

Last year also saw the 18,000-year-old Chacaltaya glacier overlooking La Paz vanish—six years earlier than scientists predicted—threatening water supplies to the Bolivian capital. The World Bank warns that water could be diminished imminently to the 2 million people in La Paz and neighboring El Alto. Chacaltaya—”bridge of ice” in the Aymara language—became barren for the first time as the Southern Hemisphere’s 2009 summer came on. The World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich had forecast its disappearance for 2015.

In a front-page article timed to coincide with the United Nations’ Copenhagen climate summit last December, “In Bolivia, Water and Ice Tell A Story of Changing Climate,” the New York Times noted growing water shortages in El Alto and La Paz—disproportionately affecting low-income areas, despite what the Times called the government’s “socialist rhetoric.”

The reality that—locally and globally—the poor bear a disproportionate risk from climate change was one that Bolivia’s President Evo Morales sought to address when he called the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of the Mother Earth (CMPCC), held in Cochabamba from April 19-22. Conceived as an alternative to the moribund UN process that failed to produce a binding treaty at Copenhagen, the CMPCC sought to bring governments and civil society groups together to work to address climate change. The conference explicitly looked to indigenous cultures and movements for wisdom and leadership on the question.

Some 30,000 people from over 150 countries attended the Cochabamba summit, Morales jointly presiding with Venezuela’s Hugo ChĂĄvez. The “People’s Accord” produced by the CMPCC, presented by Morales to the UN after the summit, calls for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by developing countries over the next seven years. It demands that the UN adopt a “Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth”; that the industrialized nations provide annual financing equivalent to 6% of their GDP to confront climate change in the developing world; and that an International Tribunal on Environmental and Climate Justice be created, with its seat in Bolivia. The summit called for a new global organization to press for these demands, tentatively dubbed the World Movement for Mother Earth—by its Spanish acronym, MAMA-Tierra.

These resolutions emerged from the CMPCC’s 17 “tables,” or working groups, organized around themes such as “Structural Causes,” “Indigenous Peoples.” and “Rights of Mother Earth.” Representatives of the working groups submitted their resolutions to the assembled government officials at a joint meeting at the Hotel Regina, in the Cochabamba suburb of Tiquipaya, on the morning of Earth Day, April 22. They were then officially adopted.

President Morales told the press at Tiquipaya that he would demand the resolutions be endorsed at the upcoming UN climate summit in CancĂșn, Mexico, and warned that he would otherwise seek redress at the International Court of Justice.

Table 18: Intransigent Voice of the “Andean Cosmo-Vision”
As the CMPCC opened April 19 at Tiquipaya, a controversy emerged over an “18th table” demanded by Aymara indigenous leaders, on social conflicts related to climate change. Bolivian Environmental Vice-minister Juan Pablo Ramos dismissed the demand. “In reality, there is no Table 18,” he said, asserting that since it proposed discussion of Bolivia’s “internal problems,” it was therefore not appropriate to an international forum.

But Rafael Quispe, leader of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Cullasuyu (CONAMAQ), countered: “Table 18 is going ahead whether the government likes it or not, and it does not only deal with Bolivia’s problems.” He said the table would be held on the streets of Tiquipaya outside the official summit if it wasn’t allowed in. Refering to Bolivia’s government, he said: “We are not opposed to the process of change, nor are we against the forum, but it is important to deal with the problems in our own house.”

As the CMPCC convened for a second day April 20, Table 18 opened. Barred from the official summit grounds on the Tiquipaya campus of the University del Valle, Aymara elders convened the forum in a Brazilian restaurant just off the campus.

Cleared of tables to make room for rows of chairs, the premises filled with pungent smoke as incense and coca leaves were ritually burned for the opening ceremony. With many drawn by the controversy, Table 18 was well-attended—despite a contingent of UTOP, the national police anti-riot force, stationed at the restaurant’s door.

Officially dubbed the table on “Collective Rights and the Rights of Mother Earth,” the panel credited the Evo Morales government with recognizing the collective rights of Bolivia’s “original nations,” Afro-Bolivians and “inter-cultural communities” (mestizos). But panelist Pablo Regalsky of the Andean Center for Communication and Development (CENDA) stated: “Here in Bolivia, we are building a new model—in practice, not theory—so we have to discuss the problems that arise in the creation of this new model.” He warned that there are some in the Morales government—especially the Finance Ministry—who seek a “forced march to industrialization.”

Despite “the anti-capitalist discourse of Brother Evo,” he charged that “foreign capital” still often plays a decisive role in Bolivia’s development policies. He cited moves towards reviving plans for an inter-oceanic transport link through Bolivia, and mineral and gas exploitation on indigenous lands. Refuting government charges that Table 18 was only dealing with internal Bolivian issues, Regalsky said, “These questions also have implications for Paraguay, Brazil, Chile and Peru. And they have implications for the rights guaranteed by the Bolivian constitution.”

Grievances aired by Aymara and Quechua leaders at Table 18 centered on ecological impacts of mineral projects, including the Japanese-owned San CristĂłbal mine in southern PotosĂ­ department and the state-owned Corocoro mine in La Paz department.

Figures in the Bolivian government attempted to discredit Table 18, with Chancellor David Choquehuanca unsubtly stating that any effort to divide the summit is the work of “opponents and capitalists.”

Yet, when Norma Pierola, a national legislator from Cochabamba with the right-opposition National Convergence party, attempted to enter the restaurant to address Table 18 (on environmental concerns, she said), her way was blocked by attendees who barred the entrance with their bodies, chanting “¡No pasará!” (she shall not pass).

When she finally gave up and turned away, Pierola spoke to a clatch of reporters outside the restaurant, railing against the supposed environmental impacts of coca-growing, and calling for a crackdown on the cocaleros.

At the end of the CMPCC’s third day, the Aymara elders who convened the dissident table held a final meeting, where CONAMAQ’s Rafael Quispe announced that President Morales had agreed to meet with the Table 18 leaders and hear their demands. Quispe said the Table 18 representatives would demand “the expulsion of all extractive resource industries” from Bolivia, and the adoption of a new development model based on the “Andean cosmo-vision” of ayllus and local self-sufficiency.

Rafael Quispe on Evo Morales: “neoliberal, capitalist”
Table 18’s final resolution was handed in to Morales with the “official” resolutions on the morning of Earth Day—but not formally adopted by the CMPCC, of course. Morales, it must be noted, really had no choice other than to meet with Quispe, because the CONAMAQ leader had also convened the “official” Table 3 on the Rights of Mother Earth.

CONAMAQ is a body of traditional leaders (mallkus) representing collective land-holdings (ayllus) and regions (markas) from throughout the Aymara realm (Cullasuyu). It is based among several villages in the Aymara heartland of La Paz department. Quispe says it was founded 1997 “to reconstitute Collasuyu, to work for the restitution of its authorities.”

CONAMAQ has been working to re-instate traditional indigenous government—known as “usos y custumbres””—in the hamlets or ayllus of Pacajes province in La Paz department. Using its original indigenous name, Quispe calls the province Suyu Pacajaqi—the suyu being a region made of markas, or regional clusters of autonomous ayllus. Suyu Pacajaqi, in CONAMAQ’s vision, is in turn part of Cullasuyu, which covers most of the Altiplano.

“When the Spaniards arrived 500 years ago, they began to exterminate our indigenous culture, our structures of government,” Quispe says. “And since 1997, we have been in the process of reconstituting our traditional authorities.”

Quispe hopes one day this system will cross national borders, uniting ayllus and markas in Peru, Chile and Ecuador. “Collasuyu was one state within Tawantinsuyu, a great federation made up of four federations of nationalities,” he says. “This is the system that we are in the process of reconstituting.”

Interviewed during a break in the proceedings at Tiquipaya, Quispe insisted that Table 18 was relevant to the Cochabamba summit.

“To speak of the rights of Mother Earth isn’t just a discourse. To speak of protecting the Mother Earth is to speak of extractive industries like petroleum and mining. These are the industries that are harming the Mother Earth. And it cannot be outside the working tables to speak of socio-environmental conflicts related to these industries.”

For Quispe, Morales’ program hasn’t gone far enough. “Today in Bolivia, 80% of state revenues are derived from extractive industries like petroleum and mining—as in much of the rest of Latin America. What is causing global warming are the greenhouse gases that come from these same fossils such as petroleum. How can we not speak of social conflicts related to their extraction?”

But Evo’s project is to use these resources to lift Bolivia out of poverty. What is the alternative?

“Capitalism or socialism is extractive, consumerist, developmentalist,” Quispe replies. “In this sense, they are the same. We have to speak of a new model of development, an alternative to this system. Because both capitalism and socialism will go on changing the planet. And the development model of the indigenous peoples is the allyu, the communitarian development model.”

“We original indigenous peoples for thousands and thousands and thousands of years have been living in equilibrium and respect for our Pachamama, from whom we emerged,” he adds, using the word for Quechua earth goddess.

The nation needs electricity, transportation, roads, education, I persist. How can you have this without resource exploitation?

“Wind energy is clean technology. This electricity can power transportation too. But petroleum exploitation and projects like the inter-oceanic corridor do not correspond to the needs of the indigenous peoples.”

What is your attitude towards Evo Morales?

“We support the process of change, and CONAMAQ is a protagonist, but we do not participate in the government. We don’t make deals, we don’t support candidates—absolutely nothing.

“And this systematic violation of the rights of the peoples and of the Pachamama shows that there is something wrong with the process. In these last elections, I had to say, ‘Evo, you are wrong. What you are saying is pure talk. You are not complying with your own discourse.’ And therefore, I didn’t vote.”

And when Evo first won the presidency in 2005?

“We thought that he represented hope, we identified with him. He won, we gave him all the power. But the process has given us nothing. It has been all discourse, no application. He speaks of the Mother Earth, and he is the foremost violator of the Mother Earth.”

What is Quispe’s response to the charge that he is aiding the right opposition?

“When he doesn’t have responses, his only response is ‘you are a rightist, you are a capitalist.’ It is his only response—to stigmatize. But we in CONAMAQ have the moral authority to say, ‘You are wrong, Brother Evo Morales.'”

Quispe’s words are even stronger when we speak a week later at the CONAMAQ office in La Paz. Morales hadn’t shown up for a follow-up meeting in the capital to discuss Table 18’s demands, he tells me. “There’s still no response,” Quispe says. “There’s just a lot of bureaucracy.”

Now, he openly accuses Morales of hypocrisy. “The government say ‘capitalism or pachamama.’ But this government is neoliberal and capitalist. It’s all a political show. Evo’s election was a step. But the marches, strikes, blockades that brought him to power are continuing.”

Corporate Power and PotosĂ­’s Disappearing Waters
Ironically, three days before the Cochabamba summit opened, a group of some 900 local comunarios (communal peasants) invaded the operations area of San Cristobal Mining Company in Nor LĂ­pez province, PotosĂ­ department, burning the company’s office and overturning two rail-wagons loaded with some 20 tons each of lead, silver and zinc ore. The comunarios were protesting the contamination of local water sources by the mining operations, while the company uses 50,000 cubic meters of water every day free of charge. Comunario leader Mario Mamani said the protesters are demanding that company, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational Sumitomo, pay local communities directly for use of the water, as well as paying for electrification projects. They pledged to continue their occupation, and overturn another wagon every five hours until their demands were met.

The comunarios said they had been petitioning authorities for months to no avail. For five days before invading San Cristobal’s installation, they had been peacefully blocking the border crossing with Chile at Avaroa. Interior Vice-Minister Gustavo Torrico said dialogue had been established with the protesters via the PotosĂ­ prefectural authorities—but that due to the “intransigence of the comunarios, we cannot rule out the use of public force.”

Mining Minister JosĂ© Pimentel admitted that the mine’s contract was granted under “neoliberal laws”—a reference to the 1997 mineral code—but said that since the law had not been amended, it must be honored.

A new mineral law then being prepared mandates that private interests develop leases instead of sitting on them—but in other circumstances, the leases will remain in private corporate hands.

After occupying the mine, the rebel comunarios set up barricades on the major rail line from their remote desert region to the Chilean border. It wasn’t until the summit was well underway that they agreed to lift the barricades, on a pledge of dialogue.

The mine occupation was a wildcat action not endorsed by the Sole Regional Federation of Campesino Workers of the Southern Altiplano (FRUTCAS). Francisco Quisbert, a former FRUTCAS president, attended Table 18. He’s from Calcha K, 30 kilometers from San CristĂłbal, a key community behind the direct action. After the summit, a long, frigid overnight bus ride on sporadically paved roads brought me to Uyuni, on the edge of the desert, where I met with Quisbert. He approached me amiably on an old bicycle with no breaks.

Quisbert doesn’t endorse the wildcat action, but understands what provoked it. The Quechua campesinos are increasingly leaving the area because of climate change, he believes. After three years of failed rains, there is no quinoa, and the llamas are thinning. The Cochabamba summit was held at quinoa harvest time, just after the rainy season—and there was no crop to harvest, nor had there been rain.

“The people are obligated to migrate to Argentina, Chile,” Quisbert says. “Some local people work in the mine, but it is very mechanized and can’t provide for all the communities.”

Quisbert acknowledges political factors in the agricultural crisis in northern PotosĂ­. “There is no government presence here,” he says. “We have been waiting years for irrigation. Now we work with artisanal canals”—meaning those made with local technology, as best they can.

What water exists is at risk. Local lakes are contaminated with arsenic and other mine waste, from subterranean movement of water, he says. New roads and explosions at the mine site mean more dust in the air, affecting crops.

During Bolivia’s constituent assembly in 2006, FRUTCAS proposed a constitutional provision that 10% of all mineral investment go to environmental remediation. It was not accepted.

But there is no getting around the water shortage. “There has been three years of almost no rain,” Quisbert says. “Some people blame the mine, but I think it is global warming. It’s a big doubt.”

Whether the mine’s consumption of water is responsible for local aridity is hotly contested. The mine’s own study says no; the deep, heavily mineralized water the mine uses is unfit for human consumption or agriculture. Nor does it affect the fresh-water aquifers that lie above. The government accepts these findings.

FRUTCAS does not. After fruitless meetings with the mine in 2006, FRUTCAS and the municipality of Colcha K, with aid from CENDA and other NGOs, contracted their own hydrological study—which reached opposite conclusions.

FRUTCAS, formed a generation ago to pressure for titling of collective lands, is neutral on the mine occupation. PorfĂ­rio Cruz, the current director, sits in his office on the dusty outskirts of Uyuni under a large portrait of Evo Morales. On the wall a poster from the group CENDA reads in Quechua: “ÂĄCapitalistas Pachamamata Kankapuchkaku!” Below is the Spanish translation: “Capitalismo estĂĄ liquidando al planeta y la humanidad.” Capitalism is killing Mother Earth and humanity.

At odds with the government on the San CriistĂłbal issue, Cruz still has faith in Evo Morales. He shows me correspondence from the Environment and Mines Ministry on the local water issue, and says it is unprecedented that the government is hearing grievances. “This is the democracy that we are practicing in Bolivia thanks to the process of change that is taking place,” he says. “There is no need for blockades and occupations.”

Uyuni is full of Israeli and Japanese tourists, who contract Quechua guides in all-terrain vehicles to go out into the unearthly Salar de Uyuni—the vast salt flats at the heart of the desert. I contract one to go out to the desert pueblos of Colcha K and Calcha K.

The first stop is Nuevo San CristĂłbal, the canton that was relocated before the mine was opened in 2005 by Denver-based Apex Silver. The mine was bought by Sumitomo three years later, after the site of former pueblo had been turned into one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.

Like most local cantons, Nuevo San CristĂłbal has a Quechua corregidor, but it is clearly a company town. The most visible exponent of governance is the non-governmental San CristĂłbal Foundation, which is attempting to promote eco-tourism with a mountain bike rental initiative. The Foundation’s Ascensio Caso nearly portrays the settlement as a boom town.”There were 20 families in Viejo San Cristobal; now we have 500.” He says the quinoa and llamas are doing fine, and a 10-year development plan for the area will eventually include reforestation programs. He says 90% of Nuevo San CristĂłbal residents work in the mine. He says the mine uses “cutting edge” technology to control pollution.

Some 50 kilometers across the desert in the canton of Calcha K, it is clear there is widespread support for the direct action. Freddy Cayo, the corregidor, takes me out to the ayllu on edge of the pueblo, traditionally full of quinoa ready for harvest this time of year. It is brown and barren. “This is our fourth year without a quinoa harvest,” Cayo says “The level of water is dropping in our wells since operations began at the mine. We demand nationalization of the mine.”

Unlike San Cristóbal, Calcha K is not on the electricity grid, and only received running water in recent years. The same is true of the municipal seat, Colcha K, my next stop. In his office in the pueblo’s adobe town hall, municipal officer Julio Huanca warns me that anger is rising.

“The people have always been so pacific here,” he says. “But they are tired of being ignored by the government—no roads, no development, no jobs. We are more economically linked to Chile than to Bolivia. And the mineral wealth of this region is contributing much to the national economy.”

Do you support the direct action?, I asked.

“As an institution, no,” he says, “But as people, yes.”

Huanca says the municipality has had dialogue with mine on issues of protecting local waters—to no avail. He charges that Huaylla Kjara, a desert lake that is Andean flamingo habitat, has been contaminated with mine wastes—and the mine has taken no responsibility. “Sooner or later the mine will leave, but we will always be here,” he says.

Although he does not speak of nationalization, Huanca supports the demand that the mine pay for water.

Sumitomo claims the mine only draws water from the Jaukihua micro-aquifer which represents only a minute part of the Salar de Uyuni watershed. Exploitation of these saline waters causes no type of regional impact, the company asserts. It also denies that mine waste is contaminating Huaylla Kjara, saying it is a “closed aquifer.”

Hydrological consultant Robert Moran, co-author of “Mining the Water,” the study commissioned by FRUTCAS, is dismissive of the company’s claims.

“I’ve seen the same situation all over the world,” he says. “The source of information is always the company itself, so they can make any claim they want. Its very facile to say its all salty, but that’s not true. We don’t have the data to answer the question, but they’re just making blanket statements. They haven’t dug the test wells to do the measurements.”

“Mining the Water” asserts that even if the mine is only extracting deep saline waters, it is almost certainly drawing down the fresh-water aquifers above. “They are clearly dropping water levels,” Moran charges. “If you’re a local farmer, you’re going to have to dig deeper wells, pay more money to pump it up, and find that it is degraded.”

He adds on a sarcastic note: “But the nice thing is there’s no data to back this up because the company wasn’t required to do the kind of studies they’d be required to do in the US or Canada or Western Europe.”

And the fact that government is backing the mine’s position? “The Bolivian government has an interest in having revenues come in from San CristĂłbal, so it doesn’t surprise me that the La Paz government would say that.”

Strategic Salt Flats
The remote desert of northern PotosĂ­ is emerging as a strategic resource zone for the Bolivian state. The government is embarking on a massive lithium development project in the Uyuni salt flats. A pilot plant is under construction at the southern end of the Salar for exploitation of what is expected to be one of the most critical substances of the 21st century. Lithium, the key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops, is also envisioned to power electric cars—giving the substance a “green” cachet.

The lithium exploitation will be under state control, and is explicitly aimed at advantageously positioning Bolivia on the global stage. At a ceremony marking the 199th anniversary of the Bolivian army last year, President Morales warned his armed forces that the US has military designs on his country’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth—especially singling out lithium.

The government also recently announced a preliminary study for a program of uranium exploration in the PotosĂ­ desert, and broached the possibility of uranium exports to Venezuela. The Bolivian Institute of Nuclear Technology, a moribund agency since its uranium processing plant in PotosĂ­ was closed 25 years ago, may be revived if the exploration program is successful.

The Canadian firm Mega Uranium—part of the U308 Corporation, with operations in Guyana, Colombia and Argentina—in association with Australia-based Intrepid Mines worked uranium exploration leases in Potosí in 2006, but never announced results.

As the uranium project was announced, Leonid Golubev, the Russian ambassador in La Paz, told the press the Moscow was prepared to provide aid for Bolivia “to begin to develop an atomic industry with peaceful ends.” As if anticipating the US reaction, he added that Russia would consider supplying Bolivia with missiles.

Climate Change, Indigenous Autonomy and the Resource Wars
Mario Katari is environmental director at YPFB, the Bolivian state hydrocarbon company. I ask him via e-mail how growing state control over hydrocarbon and mineral resources impacts global climate change. The hydrocarbons have been partially nationalized under Evo Morales, and this may be an advance for Bolivians. But carbon now under Bolivia’s earth will still be burned and released into atmosphere as greenhouse gases.

“The nationalization, as a method of recovering the property rights of the Bolivian state, does not imply change in technology,” Katari concedes. “If the environmental controls do not change and the consciousness does not change, it cannot be said that nationalization averts climate change.”

But he adds that the nationalization has coincided with a commitment to protect the environment. He notes that the new Hydrocarbon Law bans the use of flares to burn off excess gas. He also says there has been a “significant decrease in exploration and exploitation” since nationalization. However he also admits that the government policy is to “increase production and all activities related to the hydrocarbon cycle,” and that this could lead to “greater foci of greenhouse gas emissions if there isn’t a corresponding environmental control.”

His words on Table 18 are harsh. In an evident reference to Rafael Quispe, he says, “I consider that it was led by someone influenced by the first world and out of touch with the national reality.” He says that the demand to end all extractive activities in Bolivia would mean a “dramatic contraction in the national economy, with consequences that cannot be predicted.” He says this demand would only be acceptable “if the compensation Bolivia receives for putting an end to all extractive activities in the country is equivalent to or greater than the amount that would be received from these activities.”

He dismisses the talk of a nuclear plant as “no more than speculation, thanks to the ‘cost’ that this would mean for the country.” Evoking Iran, he cites a likely “economic blockade.”

Bolivia saw a wave of angry protests across the country in the aftermath of the Cochabamba summit. One was in the desert of PotosĂ­, where “Ayllus Guerreros”—warrior ayllus—lynched four police officers they accused of corruption. They claimed the right to do so under usos y costumbres, and threw up barricades to bar national police. They declared the local municipality of UncĂ­a a “red zone.”

In Cochabamba, factory workers went on hunger strike in protest of the 5% raise offered by the government. This would escalate to a national general strike by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) after May Day. National police officers also staged public hunger strikes in a salary dispute with the government.

In El Alto, the sprawling working-class city on the plateau above La Paz, residents erected barricades on thoroughfares to demand better services.

In Las Yungas region of La Paz department, campesinos shut down the highway at Caranavi village with roadblocks, paralyzing all traffic for days, to demand the government build a citrus processing plant for their communities.

In eastern Santa Cruz department, squatters occupied lands controlled by sugar interests at San Aurelio.

Also in Santa Cruz department, pro-development residents at Puerto SuĂĄrez blocked the border with Brazil to demand that the government resolve its dispute with India’s Jindal Steel and allow the controversial iron mining project at El MutĂșn to go ahead.

On the right, opposition party supporters held hunger strikes and mock “crucifixions” over the assigning of seats in the new departmental assemblies following April elections. In La Paz, opposition protesters repeatedly clashed with police, who responded with tear gas.

Evo Morales, just before flying to New York to present the Cochabamba demands to the UN, spokes about the general strike: “This president will never take measures against workers, but workers also have to be rational for the sake of the country.” Again echoing the rhetoric employed against Table 18, he also questioned the motives of the workers: “Some sectors [of labor] appear to be infiltrated by the right that wants to confuse the workers.”

Similar charges were made in June, when the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Oriente of Bolivia (CIDOB) launched a cross-country march on La Paz from the jungle department of Beni to demand greater powers of local rule than those allowed by the new autonomy law. Minister of Autonomy Carlos Romero warned CIDOB to “shake off” the interference of foreign-backed NGOs. The comment came as President Morales threatened to kick out USAID.

Despite such accusations, Francisco Quisbert defends the airing of concerns about San CristĂłbal at Cochabamba—and the ongoing indigenous and campesino protests over resource issues. “The international debate on climate change needs to be had, and it is good that our compañero Evo is doing this,” he says. “But in our own house, we are not guarding the environment. This is my difference with President Morales.”


This story first ran in the fall 2010 edition of NACLA Report on the Americas.


World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

From our Daily Report:

Afghan lithium bonanza bad break for Bolivia?
World War 4 Report, June 14, 2010

Evo Morales delivers Cochabamba climate summit resolutions to United Nations
World War 4 Report, May 10, 2010

See also:

From Copenhagen to Cochabamba to CancĂșn
by Karah Woodward, The Indypendent
World War 4 Report, June 2010

See related stories, this issue:

Latin American progressive governments still bet on “extractivismo”
by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, Latin America Energy & Environment Monitor
World War 4 Report, January 2011

by Michelle Chen, ColorLines
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Michelle Chen, ColorLines

After days of agonizing negotiations, the climate conference in CancĂșn ended on a somewhat hopeful note, with a last-minute agreement that largely reflects the lowered expectations that permeated the atmosphere of the conference. The provisions are more detailed than the half-baked plans outlined at the failed 2009 Copenhagen talk. But like the summit itself, the accord was shaped more by diplomatic fatigue than by a desire to act collectively to deal with climate change. That’s what happens at a conference where thousands of people who are genuinely interested in getting something done aren’t even allowed inside.

There will be much self-congratulations over the framework endorsed by most participating countries. It references worldwide targets for significant emissions cuts, but lacks a meaningful legal framework for achieving those targets or enforcing regulations on a global level. The biggest concrete achievement is the establishment of a $100 billion climate fund to be used for poorer nations seeking new technology to cope with climate-related impacts. Yet we know little about how the expenditures will be managed, the role of international financial institutions like the World Bank, or how resources will be targeted to the most vulnerable communities. The haste with which this measure was approved suggests an ongoing pattern of rich countries buying off poorer ones with the low-hanging fruit of promised foreign aid.

From a climate justice standpoint, the deal lost credibility once it was tainted with REDD, a supposed anti-deforestation initiative that indigenous communities have long decried as an assault on native people’s sovereignty and way of life. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, representing the lone country at CancĂșn that rejected the final document, warned the plan would blaze new trails for industry’s destruction of precious forests. The driving principle of REDD, to deter deforestation under a market scheme in which businesses buy the “right” to pollute, strikes many indigenous activists as a blank check for the commodification of critical habitats under the guise of conservation.

An official statement from Bolivia reads the CancĂșn deal as the codification of institutional betrayal:

A so-called victory for multilateralism is really a victory for the rich nations who bullied and cajoled other nations into accepting a deal on their terms. The richest nations offered us nothing new in terms of emission reductions or financing, and instead sought at every stage to backtrack on existing commitments, and include every loophole possible to reduce their obligation to act.

The CancĂșn deal appears to affirm the revelations of documents published by Wikileaks suggesting that the US cynically used the promise of aid (or withdrawal of it) to wheedle support from delegates representing the Global South.

According to a study by UNFairPlay, the very people who have the most at stake in the climate debate were the least represented in CancĂșn. From the beginning, those participating in the negotiations were insiders and influence brokers, while the groups locked out were the impoverished nations who are marginalized ecologically and socially: islanders fearing sea level rise, farmers ravaged by floods in South Asia, refugees of wars in places like Sudan, motivated by the growing scarcity of land and water resources. The Guardian reported, “For every 100 [million] people living in Africa there are three negotiators—the equivalent figure for the EU is 6.4.” Moreover, the report suggested that delegates from small poorer nations who did attend the event may have been effectively silenced by inadequate technical support and translation services.

Activists reported throughout the conference that they were systematically blockaded and shut out of the negotiations. As with Copenhagen, the talks were not so much about what was said than what was not—the perspectives that never broke through to the inside network of negotiators. From the Global Justice Ecology Project:

Activists and representatives from civil society have been systematically excluded from the meetings and even expelled from the UNFCCC itself. When voices have been raised in CancĂșn, badges have been stripped. 
 Youth delegates were barred for spontaneously taking action against a permitting process for protests made unwieldy and inaccessible. NGO delegates were banned from the Moon Palace simply for filming these protests.

Despite the specter of “manufactured consent,” Shefali Sharma at Think Forward argues that activists were still missing critical opportunities to shift the agenda.

For civil society organizations, CancĂșn must be a wake up call for serious reflection. How have we been complicit in an outcome that has ultimately not respected the science of global warming?

While some may say a weak agreement is better than none at all, many are wary that CancĂșn has crystallized a model for closed political decision making. The inevitable result will be climate policy that enables polluters to profit from cleaning up their own mess and barely pays the interest on the climate debt held by rich industrialized nations, which continues to be financed by the devastation of historically exploited communities.

Yes, civil society has some tough questions to ask itself about how it can bring its voice into the next phase of negotiations. But it’s not just about representation. While the CancĂșn agreement was disturbingly vague on critical issues, the parallel agenda raised at the alternative climate summit in Cochabamba earlier this year feels similarly amorphous. At that conference, a coalition of indigenous and civil society groups denounced capitalism as the cause of the crisis, championed the concept of food sovereignty, and defended the “Rights of Mother Earth.” But their broad vision didn’t yet add up to a concrete plan for controlling carbon emissions through a fair regulatory system. So how do those ideas translate into an enforceable international treaty?

In struggling to democratize the climate negotiation process, activists should plan to come to the table with a proactive alternative to the status quo. In the coming months, the Global South will be challenged to present a long-range program to reorient the political economy of climate change. Unless they want corporations to steal the show again, the grassroots will have to prove to delegates and the public as a whole that the value of preserving the earth outweighs the profits to be gained from destroying it.


This story first ran Dec. 13 on ColorLines.

From our Daily Report:

Tianjin climate talks break down on North-South divide
World War 4 Report, Oct. 10, 2010

See also:

From Copenhagen to Cochabamba to CancĂșn
by Karah Woodward, The Indypendent
World War 4 Report, June 2010

See related story, this issue:

Climate Change and Indigenous Struggle
by Bill Weinberg, NACLA Report on the Americas
World War 4 Report, January 2011

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution