Our Readers Have Spoken!

Dear Readers:

Last September, we asked you if you thought World War 4 Report should continue its monthly magazine-style E-Journal when we switch to our new format. Although the redesign has taken longer than we anticipated, it should happen this summer. And, although a few of you did urge us to keep the monthly edition going, a general lack of reader response has led to us to decide to drop it.

The professional website developer who is volunteering his services to us has meanwhile been busy designing two new sites for us, which are already online. World War 4 Report has always striven to provide a large view, hopefully making the connections between seemingly disparate issues. We now perceive that perhaps we have been overly ambitious, and are spinning off some areas of focus to new additions to the World War 4 Report Family of Websites.

The flagship site, World War 4 Report, will now begin to focus more narrowly on indigenous peoples’ and autonomy struggles, and US military interventions around the world. For the past year, we have started to spin off news related to the “War on Drugs” and particularly cannabis to our new site Global Ganja Report: Resisting the Eradication Regime, Defending Your Right to Cannabis. With over 100,000 people behind bars in the US alone for nonviolent drug offenses, and the US still intervening in Latin America and elsewhere around the world in the name of narcotics enforcement, we make no apologies for treating cannabis as a serious political issue—it clearly is.

But our newly unveiled site is perhaps more controversial. For years it has been a source of great frustration to us that wag-the-dog conspiracy theories that scapegoat perceived Jewish interlopers for the crimes and aggressions of US imperialism have gained currency on the left, while those that challenge this fascistic thinking have been almost exclusively neo-conservatives, interventionists and Israel supporters. There has been a nearly complete paucity of voices that really treat Jew-hatred as a serious issue while cutting no slack either for imperialism or its oppressive client state and local surrogate cop in the Middle East, Israel. To fill this void, we have launched New Jewish Resistance: Fighting Zionism and Anti-Semitism, Defending Pan-Semitic Unity.

“Pan-Semitic,” if it isn’t obvious, means Jews and Arabs. As the site’s mission statement explains: “New Jewish Resistance aspires to be a movement uniting all Jews who believe in fighting Jew-hatred in the diaspora and making common cause with the opppressed, not rallying around an illegitimate settler state.” But you certainly don’t have to be Jewish (or Arab) to support us—you just have to share our aims. Or at least acknowledge that we are adding a needed voice to the debate, even if you do not fully accept our admittedly very radical and iconoclastic view.

We have put out this probably final edition of World War 4 Report‘s monthly E-Journal because the redesigned site isn’t ready yet, and we have some vital material we wish to share with you. In the new format, feature-length material (probably less of it) will be posted intermittently, as it comes in, and there will be no monthly mailing. The Daily Report, which is the bulk of our work, will of course continue.

So please check out both our new websites, and let us know what you think. And if you want to sustain and encourage us as we struggle to redefine ourselves—you know what to do. Your donations are always needed, and appreciated. You can donate to any of our new projects at the same link. Just let us know in an e-mail (or a note with your check) which one you wish to support.

Thank you, shukran and gracias,

Bill Weinberg

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Continue ReadingOur Readers Have Spoken! 


Lessons for Libya?

by David L. Wilson, World War 4 Report

On the night of September 29, 1991, Haitian army officers launched a coup d’Ă©tat against the country’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. By the next afternoon, soldiers had arrested Aristide and had started gunning down coup opponents in the street. The toll would reach more than 3,000 over the next three years.

US liberals didn’t take long to see that the Haitian crisis could provide a good test case for the newly fashionable doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” Within days of the coup, Robert Pastor, a national security aide to former president Jimmy Carter, was hinting at the possibility of military intervention by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS needed “sufficient leverage to assure the desired outcome,” he said; it should “send a clear message to the [Haitian] military of the consequences of its failure to step down.” (NYT, Oct. 3, 1991)

The invasion talk soon grew more open and more insistent. Some Republicans held back, but others eventually joined the bipartisan war party—such as Richard Haass, special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, who co-wrote a Washington Post editorial with liberal New York Congressman Stephen Solarz, “The Case for Invading Haiti.” Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire wrote in May 1994 that Haiti needed “a Bay of Pigs option.” (NYT, May 9, 1994) Liberal Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote in June that Haiti “for all the historical doubts about US intervention is a boil waiting to be lanced.” (NYT, June 3, 1994)

“Operation Uphold Democracy” finally came to Haiti on September 19, 1994. Some 20,000 US soldiers occupied the country, and within a month Aristide had been returned to the National Palace. Like the current military intervention in Libya, the US occupation of Haiti had the authorization of the United Nations Security Council—and the backing or acquiescence of much of the US left.

Voices We Never Heard
One thing that was striking about the run-up to the invasion is how rarely we heard from the many Haitians who struggled for Aristide’s return but opposed any US military action.

Aristide himself was ambiguous almost to the end. On June 3,1994, three months before the invasion, he endorsed “swift and determined action
to remove the coup leaders,” but he also expressed reservations. “If I were to ask for a military intervention, I would be impeached under my Constitution,” he said, referring to Article 263-1 of the 1987 Constitution, which bars any “armed corps” other than the army and police “in the national territory.” (WP, June 4, 1994; Constitution of the Republic of Haiti)

Many of Aristide’s allies in Haiti—members of the peasant organizations, of the Catholic base communities known as Ti Legliz, of other grassroots movements—were much more sweeping and passionate in their rejection of interventionism.

These groups had certainly suffered under military rule. The Movman Peyizan Papay (MPP)—the Papaye Peasant Movement, an organization of cooperatives based in the area near Hinche in the Central Plateau—reported that at least two of its organizers were murdered, 180 members were arrested, and more than 3,000 activists had to abandon their homes. Still, the group’s US office wrote in its newsletter for the summer of 1994: “The MPP completely rejects all forms of American or multinational military intervention.” (“MPP Is Surviving the Haitian Crisis,” The Peasant, summer 1994)

This was not because organizations like the MPP had any delusions that they could take on the Haitian military through armed struggle. But these groups had formed during the Duvalier family’s 1957-1986 brutal dictatorship and had outlasted it; many activists reasoned that they could do the same with the military regime. Aristide “should have stayed outside and let us continue the struggle for democracy,” a leader of another rural group, TĂšt Kole Ti Peyizan (Small Peasants’ Unity), said in 2004, looking back on the period. (Socialist Worker, March 12, 2004)

Haitian activists were also skeptical about claims by the U.S. and the international community that they had exhausted all non-military options for removing the military junta. The main international action against the de facto regime was a trade embargo—”a porous embargo,” the MPP wrote, “that is enriching the coup leaders and Dominican businessmen, while hurting only the poor.” (The Peasant, op cit)

And few if any Haitians put much stock in the US government’s threats against the military junta. These officers were longtime US allies; their leader, Gen. Raoul CĂ©dras, had been an “intelligence source” for the US for years. As Noam Chomsky remarked in an interview in 2010, President Bill Clinton “of course supported the military junta…he strongly supported it, in fact. He even allowed the Texaco Oil Company to send oil to the junta in violation of presidential directives; Bush Sr. did so as well.” (NYT, Nov. 14, 1993; CounterPunch, March 9, 1010)

A regular joke among Haitian leftists at the time was that if Clinton really wanted to end the coup regime, why didn’t he just make a phone call to his employees in the National Palace?

For these activists, any US invasion would have less to do with “upholding democracy” than with imposing what Haitians called the “American Plan.” Although US officials always denied its existence, Haitian analysts felt that at least since the 1980s the US had followed a program of undermining small-scale agriculture and driving peasants and their families into the cities, to be exploited as cheap labor for assembly plants exporting to the US market.

A popular uprising in 1986 had halted the implementation of this plan under Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier. The short-lived military governments that succeeded Baby Doc had been unable to impose it effectively, and the coup government that replaced Aristide had done no better. Now the US hoped to get Aristide to endorse the plan in return for an end to the coup, Haitian activists thought, and to accept a military occupation that would reduce Haiti to a virtual UN-US protectorate.

Troops weren’t needed to fight the coup leaders, in this view. They would be there to keep the Haitian masses in check—or, as the New York Times had explained in 1992, to “reassure” the Haitian elite “that their rights will be protected from vengeful Aristide partisans.” (NYT editorial, Feb. 19, 1992)

Ignoring an “Anguished Appeal”
On July 14, 1994, the Group for Reflection of the Haitian Conference of Religious Workers, said to represent some 1,400 Haitian priests and nuns, issued what it called “an anguished appeal to our friends in solidarity groups and institutions.” An intervention “will be against the people of Haiti,” the statement said, “since it arises from the same logic as the coup d’Ă©tat, which simply means to ‘legitimize,’ under international cover, its principal achievement: the total erasure of the Haitian people from the political scene of [their] own country.”

The religious workers insisted “1) that the only intervention capable of restoring the democratic process in Haiti is massive and democratic popular intervention
2) that any solution which does not give first place to that primary truth is doomed to total failure and will only add irreparable disasters to the already intolerable sufferings of a martyred population.”

The Haiti Information Bureau provided an English translation of the document and called for wide distribution “across the Americas and Europe.”

This was a moment when the US left could have had a real effect on events. It’s true that US progressives didn’t have the forces to prevent a US military intervention, but a public campaign exposing the Clinton administration’s hypocrisy might have limited some of the damage. At the very least, it could have educated parts of the US public about the realities of their government’s foreign policy and its plans for Haiti.

The investigative journalist Allan Nairn showed what could be done. In the October 24 edition of The Nation, for example, Nairn revealed that Emmanuel (“Toto”) Constant—head of a notorious right-wing death squad, the Front pour l’Avancement et le ProgrĂšs HaĂŻtien (FRAPH, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti)—was on the CIA payroll. This was a major embarrassment for US officials claiming that the invasion was necessary to stop abuses by “FRAPH thugs.”

In the July/August 1994 Multinational Monitor, Nairn reported on a secret document, “Strategy of Social and Economic Reconstruction,” which the Aristide government presented to international donors on August 22. In what certainly appeared to be a trade-off for his return to office, Aristide had agreed to a classic neoliberal economic program, including a “drastic reduction of tariffs”—most importantly, the tariffs meant to protect Haitian food producers from foreign competition. Nairn read parts of the document to MPP leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a member of Aristide’s government. “This is the plan of the World Bank and the IMF,” Jean-Baptiste told Nairn, referring to the International Monetary Fund. “It’s the same plan they’ve always offered for years, what they used to call ‘The American Plan.'”

But Nairn was the exception. Even as The Nation was carrying Nairn’s exposĂ©s, it also ran columnists like Christopher Hitchens, who wrote after the invasion: “The left will probably make up its mind on this sometime in the next century, but for now I proudly wear the yellow ribbon that supports our boys in Hispaniola.” (The Nation, Oct. 17, 1994)

Activist Randall Robinson, then the respected head of the African-American human rights organization TransAfrica, was an influential intervention supporter. Robinson had done important work to support the rights of Haitian refugees; he even carried out a 27-day hunger strike in the spring of 1994 to call attention to the issue. But on the question of intervention he was hard to distinguish from Establishment figures like Haass and Safire. “We must get ready for military action in Haiti,” he wrote in the Washington Post on May 15, 1994. Noting evidence that some Haitian military officers were involved in drug trafficking, he cited President Bush’s bloody 1989 invasion of Panama, supposedly to fight drug trafficking, as “a recent and relevant precedent.” Bush’s even bloodier 1991 “Operation Desert Storm” against Iraq was obviously another “recent and relevant precedent”—Robinson’s piece was headlined: “Operation Island Storm? It’s Time US-Led Forces Ended Haiti’s Nightmare.”

Robinson said a number of leading African Americans shared his position, including US representatives Maxine Waters, Cynthia McKinney, Charles Rangel, John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Many US progressives simply took no position.

Noam Chomsky was and remains probably the most influential leftist intellectual in the United States, if not in the world. His ability to see through rationalizations for US foreign policy is well known, and a word from him to support the “anguished appeal” of the Haitian religious workers would have had a powerful effect on the US left.

But Chomsky let himself be swayed by a natural desire to end the immediate pain in Haiti—and maybe also by pressure from some of Aristide’s more conservative allies. In the same 2010 interview in which he acknowledged that Clinton “of course supported the military junta,” Chomsky went on to say:

I talked to labor leaders [in Haiti] who’d been beaten and tortured but were willing to talk, and to activists and others. And what most of them said is, Father [GĂ©rard] Jean-Juste for example, what he said is, “Look, I don’t want a Marine invasion, I think it’s a bad idea. But on the other hand,” he said, “my people, the people in the slums—La Saline, CitĂ© Soleil and so on—they just can’t take it anymore.” 
And that was the dilemma. I don’t have an answer to that. [CounterPunch, op cit]

Apparently no major US progressive publication ever bothered to print the statement from the Haitian religious workers, with its warning of “irreparable disasters.”

Assessing the “Collateral Damage”
The 1994 invasion itself was remarkably free of what the U.S. military calls “collateral damage.” In large part this was because Haitian military officers didn’t resist the occupation. Most of them cooperated with the invaders, and the coup’s leaders were allowed to fly off into comfortable exiles. Toto Constant, the chief “FRAPH thug,” fled to the United States; after a year in immigration detention, he was allowed to settle in Queens. Constant was finally sentenced to prison in 2008—for real estate fraud on Long Island, not for mass murder in Haiti.

While the relative absence of bloodshed was a relief for Haitians, it had serious consequences for other peoples. By reinforcing the US public’s perception of US military operations as bloodless and antiseptic, as “surgical strikes,” the Haiti invasion helped lay the groundwork for US wars in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

And the Haitian people experienced a different form of collateral damage. In 1995 Aristide’s government carried out the “drastic reduction of tariffs” it had agreed to the year before, even though this, like the military occupation, was in violation of the 1987 Constitution—of Article 251, which seeks to protect local agriculture. As Haitian activists had predicted, a flood of grains from subsidized U.S. agribusiness quickly devastated Haitian farming. Oxfam wrote later:

Unable to compete with cheap rice imports, many Haitian farmers joined the exodus from the countryside that began during the Duvalier era. An estimated 75,000 people stream into Port-au-Prince each year. The city, designed for 250,000 residents, was home to nearly 3 million by the time of the 2010 earthquake. [Oxfam Briefing Paper, October 2010, PDF]

There’s probably no way to establish how many of these economic refugees were among the tens of thousands of people killed in the earthquake.

In another fulfillment of activists’ predictions, the country quickly became a de facto UN-US protectorate, with public services mostly turned over to foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), with the police force vetted and trained by the United States, with the government entirely dependent on aid from the international community. When Aristide was removed from office a second time, in 2004, the United States again turned to the UN Security Council. Following its 1994 precedent, the council approved a mandate for a new, more or less permanent occupation force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

Established in June 2004, this “peacekeeping force” soon provided its own collateral damage. In 2005 and 2006 the troops carried out military operations against alleged criminal gangs in Port-au-Prince, firing thousands of rounds of ammunition in crowded urban areas and killing or injuring dozens of people who lived near the intended targets. In November 2007, 108 MINUSTAH soldiers were repatriated to Sri Lanka because of accusations that they had sexually exploited underage Haitian girls. (The Guardian, Jan. 21, 2011; AlterPresse, Nov. 8, 2007)

In October 2010, Haiti experienced its first cholera outbreak in at least a century. While refusing to apportion blame, in May 2011 a UN-mandated “independent” panel provided conclusive evidence that the outbreak was caused by irresponsible sanitary practices at a MINUSTAH base near Mirebalais; incidents of the disease started downstream from the base at a time when new troops were being rotated in from Nepal, where the disease is endemic. As of April this year some 300,000 Haitians had already contracted the disease and 4,575 had died, according to official figures. (Final Report of the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti, United Nations, May 2011, PDF; Agence HaĂŻtienne de Presse, May 5, 2010)

* * *

Once the 1994 invasion was under way, on October 24, 1994, The Nation wrote in an editorial:

For activists north of the Caribbean who have sustained Aristide and Haitian democrats in their years of exile, the emphasis must now shift from arguing the merits of the occupation—like it or not, an established fact—to bolstering Haiti’s grassroots social justice, human rights and environmental organizations.

The advice to support the grassroots organizations was excellent, but most activists north of the Caribbean took the easier course of simply not arguing the merits of the occupation. The subject rarely comes up now, even in debates about “humanitarian intervention,” and leftist discussion of Haiti is still largely dominated by the people who back in 1994 either supported the invasion or refused to take a position.

If we don’t argue the merits of past actions, it should be no surprise if we keep making the same mistakes.


From our Daily Report:

Haiti: UN office criticizes aid distribution
World War 4 Report, June 28, 2011

See also:

An Interview with Batay Ouvriye
by David L. Wilson, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, June 2010

by Seth Weiss, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, May 2011

Special to World War 4 Report, July 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Israel sabotages aid flotilla ship in Greece?

Activists preparing the new aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip charge that Israel sabotaged one of their boats at the Greek port of Piraeus—and denied Israeli reports that they intend to kill soldiers, using chemical weapons.

The Caribbean

Haiti: UN office criticizes aid distribution

The distribution of international aid after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in southern Haiti has been slow and in some ways counterproductive, according to a UN report.


China’s Growing Presence in Latin America

by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, Americas Program

For four centuries before the 1898 Spanish-American war, Europe was practically the only destination of Latin America’s much-coveted raw materials, from gold and silver to sugar cane and spices. Then in the 20th century the United States took Europe’s place as main importer of these commodities.

Now in the 21st century, China is fast overtaking and displacing both the United States and Europe in Latin American trade. Latin American business elites and governments on the left and the right, hungry for foreign investment and exchange, welcome the opportunity to do business with the Chinese. But environmentalists and progressives in the region are concerned about China’s growing influence, decrying that much of its investment is going into environmentally unsustainable activities and is putting local and national sovereignty into question.

“China is a net commodity importer with vast foreign reserves looking to diversify its resource supply and to secure upstream and downstream ownership stakes where necessary,” according to the Emerging Markets website. “Moreover, many South American countries have abundant natural resources but lack investment capital, and are keen to cultivate new investment and trade partners, not least to break a long-standing dependence on the US.”

“The implications of this sudden influx of Chinese capital are less obvious,” warns Emerging Markets. “Although the inflows have served as a major short-term boost to regional economies, they could exacerbate long-term overreliance on commodity exports and hinder diversification. What’s more, growing Chinese trade and investment in the region is likely to shift the economic centre of gravity of the region further away from the US, and increasingly towards emerging Asia, and China in particular.”

The sheer scale of Chinese investment in Latin America in recent years is staggering. From January 2000 to January 2010, Latin American imports into China increased by 1,800%, while Chinese exports into the region increased 1,153% over the same period. In 2004 Chinese president Hu Jingtao predicted that his country’s trade with the region would reach $100 billion by 2010, but it reached that goal by 2007. China is today Brazil and Chile’s main trading partner and occupies the number-two spot in Peru and Argentina.

Just in the first ten months of 2010 China engaged in nine major business transactions in Latin America with a total value of $22.74 billion, according to a report of the Washington-based Interamerican Development Bank. These include the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) purchase of 50% of Argentina’s Bridas Holdings for $3.1 billion. CNOOC, founded in 1982 and headquartered in Hong Kong, is a state-controlled yet publicly traded company with oil operations in diverse locations, including Australia, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Bridas, founded by the influential Bulgheroni family in 1948, is one of Argentina’s major oil producers and has international operations as far away as Central Asia. Bridas in turn had a 40% stake in Pan American Energy (PAE), which owns oil and gas reserves in Argentina and Bolivia. By the end of the year, the CNOOC-controlled Bridas bought Pan American’s remaining 60% stake, which belonged to BP, for $7.06 billion.

Another of these major 2010 transactions is Sinopec’s $7.1 billion investment in the Brazilian subsidiary of the Spanish giant, Repsol. The resulting partnership is one of the largest energy companies in Latin America, with a $17.8 billion value. Sinopec, ranked at #9 in Fortune’s Global 500 list in 2009, is China’s largest oil company, with operations in over 20 countries.

Other major 2009 China-Latin America deals include Petrochina’s $1 billion oil-for-loan deal with Ecuador’s state-run Petroecuador oil company and a Chinese Development Bank $10 billion loan to Brazil’s Petrobras. In exchange, Petrobras will supply Sinopec with 200,000 barrels of oil a day for nine years.

Latin America is also becoming a major importer of finished goods from China. Chinese electric home appliance manufacturer Haier is selling telephones and air conditioners in Argentina, which will soon be assembled in factories in Cuba and Venezuela.

By all indications, Chinese investment in the Latin America sector will continue to grow and diversify. According to a 2010 article in Argentina’’ daily La NaciĂłn:

“Among the investment opportunities in Argentina, PAE and Bridas president Alejandro Bulgheroni pointed to the wind energy sector. Fan Jixiang, director general of China’s leading hydro dam builder, SinoHydro, said he is pushing for projects in the country. China Radio’s International Executive Vicepresident Ma Bohui said they will soon install a broadcast station in Buenos Aires. Gao Xiching, president of the world’s fifth largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, the China Investment Corporation, pointed out opportunities in forestry, highways, airports, ports and bullet trains.”

China and Venezuela
China and Venezuela have particularly close trade relations. In September 2010 both countries signed a deal whereby Venezuela gets a $20 billion line of credit in exchange for crude: 200,000 barrels daily in 2010, no less than 250,000 in 2011, and 300,000 daily by 2012. This means that Venezuela will soon be exporting more than a million barrels a day to China—roughly equivalent to exports to the United States.

“All the petroleum that China could need to consolidate itself as a great power is right here,” said Chavez on Sept. 18 upon receiving the accord’s first $4 billion.

“China also made other investments in Venezuela linked to mining which include 50 projects for the exploitation of aluminum, bauxite, coal, iron and gold, and another agreement to enter the Orinoco oil basin for $16 billion which will permit PDVSA [Venezuela’s state oil company] to raise production by almost a million barrels daily,” writes analyst Raul Zibechi. There are also plans to be completed by 2030 for “the integral development of eight sectors: electricity, transport, mining, housing, finance, oil, gas and petrochemicals. [They] include the joint manufacture of oil drills, platforms, railways that will cross the Orinoco basin, and 20,000 housing units in Venezuela’s southeast.”

Land grab in Rio Negro
Concerns about China’s growing presence infringing on local sovereignty have reached their highest point in Argentina, where the government of the Rio Negro province signed a 2010 agreement with China’s Beidahaung Group to lease some 320,000 hectares of its finest farmland for the production of soy, wheat, canola and other products. The company, which is one of China’s largest rice millers and soy processors, will invest in this venture $1.45 billion over twenty years.

This deal, which was made public only after it was signed, has generated enormous local and national opposition. The Foro Permanente por una Vida Digna, a local community organization declared, “We oppose the agricultural export megaproject being carried out by the national and provincial governments, which jeopardizes 320,000 ha of land and nature in our province by handing it over to the Republic of China to do with it as it sees fit. This violates our sovereign laws, posits a future of farming without farmers, and contaminates us with pesticides. It is a project that does great harm to this generation and the ones to come.”

The international organization GRAIN criticized the agreement in a January 2011 report, asking, “Why is the government paving the way for these deals, with all sorts of privileges promised to the Chinese investors, and not considering the implications for the region’s food sovereignty?”

According to Argentina’s Grupo de ReflexiĂłn Rural, “unconditional set-asides of land for China to produce Roundup Ready soy represent an immeasurably greater risk than the impacts of large-scale chemical agriculture itself. If this project goes ahead, an enclave would be formed in Patagonia on a scale similar to what China and several European countries are doing in Africa; namely, they are buying up and taking vast areas of land out of circulation to meet their own food and forage production demands.”

The Rio Negro deal is part of a larger worldwide phenomenon documented in recent years by NGOs such as GRAIN, La Via Campesina and the Oakland Institute, known as the “global land grab.” Farmland-poor, heavily populated states with emerging economies, such as China, India, South Korea and the Persian Gulf states, are buying or leasing farmlands in poorer countries, mainly in Africa and South America, to insure their food security. These are joined by speculators and hedge funds that view farmland as a sure bet among volatile markets.

China is the leading player in this land grab. “China is ostensibly self-sufficient in food, but its population is gigantic, its farmland is disappearing under the encroachment of industry, its water supply is under intense pressure, and the Communist Party has a long-term future to think about,” says GRAIN. “With 40% of the world’s farmers but only 9% of its farmland, China has understandably made food security one of the main points on its agenda. And with over $1.8 trillion in currency reserves, China has enough money to invest in its own food security overseas.”

Argentine economist Claudio Katz warns of a downside to Chinese investment, “When [China] comes to countries like Peru and Argentina it establishes terms of investment which are at least exactly the same as those established by any foreign investor, assuring itself of conditions for profitability, low taxes, subsidies.”

“It’s very aggressive in demanding conditions of free trade and placement guarantees for its manufactured products, and this is deadly for Latin American industry, which obviously cannot compete with a country like China that has extremely low wages.” Katz concludes that “If Latin America’s trade profile with China repeats the traditional profile we had with Europe in the 19th century and with the United States in the 20th, we’ll be providers of raw unprocessed materials and after a while we’ll be left with little mining, little water, few oil and food resources, and no degree of industrial development.”


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is an independent environmental journalist and an environmental analyst for the CIP Americas Program, a Fellow of the Oakland Institute and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program. In addition, he is founder and director of the Puerto Rico Biosafety Project. His bilingual web page, Carmeloruiz.blogspot.com, is dedicated to global environmental and development concerns.

This story first ran April 12 by CIP Americas Program.


Matthew Plowright, “Chasing the Dragon,” Emerging Markets, March 28 2011

Alejandro Rebossio “Por fin llegan las inversiones chinas,” La Nacion, October 31, 2010

RaĂșl Zibechi. “RepĂșblica Bolivariana de Venezuela: pieza geoplĂ­tica global,” La Jornada, September 26 2010

“New Agricultural Agreement in Argentina: A Land Grabber’s ‘Instruction Manual,’” GRAIN, January 2011

“Colonias del Siglo XXI: Alimentos, Especulación y Arrebato Territorial,” Grupo de Reflexión Rural, September 2010

Claudio Katz, “Los países que apuestan a las materias primas están condenados a la pobreza y la dependencia,” La Haine, November 11 2010

From our Daily Report:

China to build trans-oceanic rail link through Colombia
World War 4 Report, Feb. 17, 2011

Chinese mining interest to relocate Peruvian peasants
World War 4 Report, June 20, 2008

See also:

Towards an Independent Labor Movement?
by Lance Carter, Insurgent Notes
World War 4 Report, July 2010

by Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus
World War 4 Report, May 2007

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

Continue ReadingCHINA SYNDROME: 


by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur

Completing an epic journey across Mexico, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived June 10 to a tumultuous welcome in Ciudad JuĂĄrez, the beleaguered border city poet and caravan organizer Javier Sicilia calls Mexico’s “epicenter of pain.”

Over the course of two hectic and memorable days, perhaps thousands of Juarenses turned out to different events to remember the dead of the so-called narco-war and other forms of violence, to demand justice for victims and, in a sweeping response to social, economic and political decay, to begin drafting the blueprint of a new nation.

Leobardo Alvarado, organizer for the Juarez Assembly for Peace with Justice and Dignity, told Frontera NorteSur that more than 100 local groups coalesced to support the caravan and its message. “I think the most important thing is that we are together,” Alvarado said. “We have never seen this before.”

The caravan rolled into Ciudad JuĂĄrez at a time when not only violence continued unabated, but when the earth itself was seemingly withering in anguish. As a blistering heat pounded the city, dust rose from a land sucked dry by months of unrelenting drought.

Instead of life-giving water, clumps of trash littered the bed of the Rio Grande; to the northwest a mammoth wildfire drove thousands of people from their homes in Arizona and sent dense smoke over New Mexico, coloring the normally blue skies more like the dull gray of the worst years of smoggy Los Angeles or Mexico City.

On Friday, June 10, hundreds of people from Ciudad JuĂĄrez, Mexic and the US gathered at the Autonomous University of Ciudad JuĂĄrez (UACJ) to hack out a national citizens’ pact for peace, justice and social reform. Going into the meeting, six points—guided by a commitment to peace and non-violence—provided the framework for a more detailed national pact among civil society organizations.

Activists with Chihuahua City’s new Citizen Movement for Peace and Dignified Life, sisters Alejandra and Ari Rico participated in the meeting.

A day earlier, on June 9, thousands of people staged a march in the Chihuahua state capital in support of the caravan. According to Alejandra, the march and rally in front of state government offices was a “marvelous event” that signaled the stirring of grassroots response to years of spiraling violence.

In 2009 and 2010, the Rico sisters returned to their hometown after years away in the US and other parts of Mexico. Alejandra worked as an educator in the Other Mexico, living in the “New Chihuahua” of the Colorado mountains where Mexican immigrants toiled away in affluent tourist communities enjoying a then-thriving leisure economy

But the city the Rico sisters came back to was a far different one they left a decade before. Soon the returning siblings heard first-hand accounts of shoot-outs, robberies, auto thefts and kidnappings. A cousin was injured by shattered glass from a stray bullet fired during a shoot-out he had nothing to do with. Alejandra’s parents warned her against walking at night.

“This did not go on at all in my Chihuahua of my childhood, of my adolescence, of my youth,” Alejandra reflected.

Conversely, the city’s pro-caravan mobilization indicated that the public is wearying of the violence and demanding genuine solutions, added Ari. “It is the hour that Mexico unites,” she said. “It’s time that we leave behind the north, the south and the center. We are one country.”

Meeting in nine thematically-assigned workshops, different groups at the UACJ discussed tactics and strategies of the six-point citizen pact. Reconvened for a popular assembly, they reviewed the proposals for later possible incorporation into the pact and agreed to them by consensus.

A few of the proposals included holding an international conference against money laundering and arms trafficking; symbolic occupations of banks; expropriating illicitly-obtained businesses for the social good; naming a white-collar prosecutor; establishing a youth television network; and ensuring that the minimum wage, ground up by inflation, be sufficient to cover basic expenses as guaranteed by the Mexican constitution.

Going beyond violence and justice issues per se, activists voiced strong support for labor and indigenous rights. The caravan participants demanded that Mexico live up to its national and international obligations to indigenous people under the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People and the 1995 San Andrés Accords between the Mexican government and Zapatista National Liberation Army.

The Ciudad JuĂĄrez meeting protested the criminal burnings of seven indigenous communities in Durango and Chihuahua; backed the struggle of the Purepecha community of Cheran, MichoacĂĄn, against illegal logging; supported the right of autonomy for the Nahuatl community of Santa Maria Ostula, MichoacĂĄn; and endorsed the opposition of indigenous communities in San Luis PotosĂ­ and Guerrero to new mining concessions.

After the university assembly, the caravan rambled over to the Benito JuĂĄrez Monument in the city’s downtown for a mass rally and pact signing. Erected in honor of one of Mexico’s most revered historic leaders, the monument was decked out with pictures of the murdered and disappeared, poems, messages and slogans.

A remarkable cross section of Mexican society filed into the monument grounds-former braceros, small farmers, workers, professionals, students and housewives. A contingent from Justice without Borders marched across one of the international bridges from neighboring El Paso and into the unfolding demonstration.

Holding banners and chanting “Miss Ana, Miss Ana,” one vocal and well-organized group called for the freedom of respected El Paso elementary school teacher Ana Isela Martínez, who was jailed May 27 in Ciudad Juárez for allegedly possessing marijuana. Supporters contend she was set-up to transport a load of dope across the border without her knowledge.

“We are going to continue with the public pressure, because any resident of Ciudad JuĂĄrez can be Miss Ana,” said Carlos Barragan, MartĂ­nez’s nephew.

Standing out in their pink t-shirts, members of Mothers in Search of Justice milled around the quilt they are patching together that shows the pictures of murdered loved ones and features written remembrances. They call it the Blanket of Love.

Vicky Caraveo, group coordinator, said the quilt is a work-in-progress that will be taken around the community so people can add photos and stories to the blanket.

“We can display what is happening, but with love and respect,” Caraveo said. “So the world can understand that our kids are not a number.” According to the long-time women’s activist, who along with the late Esther ChĂĄvez Cano began protesting gender violence nearly two decades ago, the quilt will even be available for exhibition in the US.

Guadalupe Ivonne Estrada is one of the people on the Blanket of Love. Found murdered in Chamizal Park in 1993, the 16-year-old was one of the first publicized victims of the Ciudad JuĂĄrez femicides. Estrada left behind an infant daughter who is now turning 19. The young woman stood at the edge of the quilt but declined to talk about a mother she never really knew.

“All this is very difficult for her,” said Victoria Salas, the grandmother of the young woman and Estrada’s mother. According to the Ciudad JuĂĄrez resident, her teenage daughter disappeared from the Phillips plant where she worked. A company professional was implicated in the slaying but managed to wiggle his way out of punishment, Salas said.

“We don’t have justice in Ciudad JuĂĄrez. There is none, and no explanation why [Guadalupe] disappeared,” Salas said. “We are in a lawless land.” In 2011 young girls keep disappearing, including three from her own neighborhood, she added.

As the event kicked into high gear, spokespeople for the movement gathered on the stage-Javier Sicilia; Olga Reyes, member of the exiled JuĂĄrez Valley family devastated by homicides and violence; Julian LeBaron, brother of slain anti-kidnapping activist and Chihuahua Mormon community leader Benjamin LeBaron; and Luz Maria Davila, mother of two young men shot down in the infamous Villas de Salvarcar house party massacre last year.

They were joined by other victims’ relatives from across Mexico. A speaker reminded the crowd that this day, June 10, was chosen for the signing of the citizen pact to honor the students who were massacred by government paramilitary squads on the same date in Mexico City in 1971.

Magdalena GarcĂ­a, widow of architect Ricardo Gatica, told how her husband disappeared and was then found murdered in 2009. GarcĂ­a recounted how she conducted her own investigation, tracing the car in which GarcĂ­a vanished. Despite informing the authorities of the lead, no justice has been achieved in the case, she said.

“I want justice!” GarcĂ­a shouted. “It’s not fair that they left my children without their father. I will continue until the end!”

“You are not alone!” the crowd roared back.

Buckets of tears, pent-up emotions and oodles of anger burst and flowed from the stage and from the large crowd-almost as a cancerous bubble of violence, corruption and impunity that had been building up for 20 years suddenly popped just like Wall Street did in 2008.

“We are fed up!” shouted the crowd. More chants followed: “Up with JuĂĄrez!” “Long Live Mexico!” “Long Live Spain!” “Long Live Egypt!” “The People United Will Never be Defeated!” Beaming from the stage, the portraits of Mexican army officer Orlando Muñoz GuzmĂĄn, disappeared in Ciudad JuĂĄrez in 1993, and a more recent group of men from Guerrero rounded out the scene.

Looking visibly exhausted, Javier Sicilia stood on the stage with a Mexican flag. The poet, whose trademark floppy hat has some comparing him to Indiana Jones and who could easily pass for a botanist or a fly fisherman, is the anti-thesis of the traditional macho leader. Arguably, however, he is Mexico’s man of the moment.

Sicilia’s uncompromising stance in protesting the murder of his son Juan Francisco in Morelos state earlier this year, inspired tens of thousands of Mexicans to join a still young but growing movement against violence and for deep-seated change.

In a subdued but firm voice, Sicilia said the caravan’s laying of a plaque n memory of Marisela Escobedo, the Ciudad JuĂĄrez activist mother brazenly murdered in Chihuahua City last December, is an example of how Mexicans need to recover the memories of violence victims.

“We have to fill the country with the names of the dead, so that the authorities remember the obligation they have,” Sicilia declared. He then read Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy’s “Ithaca.”

“In the history of tragedy and pain that this country is going through, the Mexican government did not count on the strength and the consistency of a poet,” observed Ciudad JuĂĄrez writer and activist Juan Carlos MartĂ­nez.

On one side of the stage, a man with sad, protruding eyes held up a large poster of a young girl with big and happy eyes. The man was JosĂ© Rayas, father of Marcela Viviana “Bibis” Rayas, a 16-year-old girl murdered in Chihuahua City in 2003.

In comments to Frontera Sur, Rayas told how Chihuahua state law enforcement authorities tried to get him to go along with pushing “an absurd story” that pinned the murder on two former Chihuahua City residents, US citizen Cynthia Kiecker and her Mexican husband Ulises Perzabal.

Tortured into making a false confession, Kiecker and Perzabal were later acquitted by a judge after an international campaign for their freedom made the case a diplomatic issue between Mexico and the US in 2004.

More than eight years after his daughter’s slaying, Rayas said there has been no movement in the halls of justice. Different justice officials come and go, he said, promising to reopen the murder investigation but always producing the same null results.

Rayas added that he’s lost faith in the justice system, but found inspiration with Javier Sicilia’s movement. The caravan, he said, gave birth to a nationwide “union of victims.”

On his poster, Rayas introduces the public to his slain daughter. Biographical tid-bits reveal a Chihuahua City teen who liked the color green and dreamed of becoming a psychologist. A lover of rock and trova music, she also liked to eat spareribs.

As the caravan wound through Mexico, Rayas said he added a few more words to the poster of the girl he calls “his little swallow,” the beauty who abruptly left the world “without even a kiss”:


Although you are not with us now,
You will always be in our hearts
We miss that look, that smile you gave us
We miss all of you
We miss you a lot
Remember that we love you a lot
Don’t forget it.

In Ciudad JuĂĄrez and Mexico, even as violence continues rage away, many question what impact-if any-the caravan and the citizen pact will have on the course of history. While future developments are increasingly difficult to predict in an age of social, environmental and economic upheaval, it’s probably a safe bet to conclude that Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity have added a new, unforeseen force in the political and social landscape of the country.

“We are going to continue with this,” JosĂ© Rayas vowed. “I think it is time to stop this violence.”


This story first ran June 15 by Frontera NorteSur.


Red por la Paz y la Justicia

In Memoriam: Esther Chavez Cano
V-Day, Dec. 25, 2009

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: “drug war” protest leaders meet with CalderĂłn
World War 4 Report, June 24, 2011

See also:

Escalating Terror in Borderlands Bloodletting
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, January 2011

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



US Solidarity with Iran

by Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, WIN Magazine

As members of a feminist collective founded in part to support the massive post-election protests in Iran in 2009 while opposing all forms of US intervention, we take this opportunity to reflect on the meaning and practice of transnational solidarity between US-based activists and sections of Iranian society. Both protests against and expressions of support for Ahmadinejad are articulated under the banner of support for the “Iranian people.”

In particular, critics of the Iranian regime have advocated the use of “targeted sanctions” against human rights violators in the Iranian government as a method of solidarity. Despite their name, these sanctions trickle down to punish broader sections of the population. They also stand as a stunning example of US power and hypocrisy, since no country dares sanction the United States for its illegal wars, torture practices, and program of extrajudicial assassinations. Some “anti-imperialist” activists not only oppose war and sanctions on Iran but also defend Ahmadinejad as a populist president expressing the will of the majority of the Iranian people.

In fact, Ahmadinejad’s aggressive neo-liberal economic policies represent a right-wing attack on living standards and on various social welfare provisions established after the revolution. We offer an alternative notion of and method for building international solidarity “from below,” one that offers a way out of “lesser evil” politics and turns the focus away from the state and onto those movement activists in the streets.

“Targeted” Sanctions
From 1990 until 2003, a US-led UN coalition placed crippling financial and trade sanctions on Iraq in an ostensible effort to weaken Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime. Sanctions, we were told, amounted to a humane way of combating intransigent authoritarianism around the world while avoiding mass bloodshed. The complete collapse of the Iraqi economy during 13 years of sanctions coupled with the inability of ordinary Iraqi people to access banned items necessary for their day-to-day survival—such as ambulances and generators—led to over half a million Iraqi civilian deaths. Furthermore, the sanctions were an utter failure in their purported primary goal—thwarting the Hussein regime while avoiding full-scale war. Finally, in March 2003, the United States and a small “coalition of the willing” began a full-scale military intervention in Iraq, which has shredded the fabric of Iraqi society and left a network of permanent US military bases—and Western oil companies—behind.

Some form of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran has been in place with little effect for more than 30 years. But since President Barack Obama took office, the sanctions have been amped up. In June 2010, a US-led UN coalition passed the fourth round of economic and trade sanctions against the Islamic Republic since 2006. The stated goal: limiting Iran’s nuclear program. Soon after, the European Union imposed its own set of economic sanctions. A month later, with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), President Obama signed into law the most extensive sanctions regime Iran has ever seen.

It should not be surprising, given the United States’ historic attempts to control Iranian oil, that CISADA’s primary target is the management of the Iranian petroleum industry. These sanctions would penalize any foreign company that sells Iran refined petroleum products, which are a necessity for the country’s primary industry, as well as for the everyday functioning of modern life. This winter, shortages of imported refined gasoline forced the Iranian government to convert petro-chemical plants into makeshift refineries that produce fuel loaded with dangerous particles. As a result, the capital city of Tehran has been plagued by unprecedented levels of pollution, shutting down schools and businesses for days at a time and leading to skyrocketing rates of respiratory illnesses and at least 3,641 pollution-related deaths.

Parts and supplies for a great deal of machinery—and not only those potentially associated with nuclear industry—are denied entry into Iran; indeed, one of the deadly examples of the effects of these sanctions in recent years has been the spate of crashes by commercial Iranian aircraft due to faulty or out-of-date parts.

No member of any Iran-based opposition group—from leaders of the “green” movement, to activists in the women’s and student movement, to labor organizers—has called for or supported the US/UN/EU sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On the contrary, leaders from virtually all of these groups have vocally opposed the implementation of sanctions precisely because they have witnessed the Iranian state grow stronger, and the wellbeing of ordinary Iranians suffer, as a result. The US government’s long record of either complicity with or silence regarding the treatment of dissidents in Iran—from the 1950s when it helped train the brutal SAVAK torture squads right through to the post-election crackdown in 2009—makes it nothing if not hypocritical on the issue of human rights in Iran.

The Spectrum of Support
In stark contrast to the range of groups protesting the Iranian president and the Islamic Republic’s policies, some 130 activists from antiwar, labor and anti-racist organizations took an altogether different approach in September 2010, attending a dinner with Ahmadinejad hosted by the Iranian Mission to the United Nations. According to one attendee, the goal of the dinner was to “share our hopes for peace and justice with the Iranian people through their president and his wife.” During two and half hours of speeches, activists embraced Ahmadinejad as an ally and partner in the global struggle for peace and, with few exceptions, ignored the fact that his administration is responsible for a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Rather than listening to the millions of Iranians who protested unfair elections and political repression, these activists heard only the siren song of Ahmadinejad’s “anti-imperialist” stance, his vehement criticism of Israel, and his statements about US government complicity with the September 11 attacks. Many of these groups are numerically small organizations with histories of denying atrocities carried out by heads of state that oppose US domination.

One of the most bewildering misrepresentations of Ahmadinejad outside Iran has been around his economic policies, which are often represented by the US left as populist or even pro-working class. In reality, the extent and speed of privatization in Iran under Ahmadinejad has been unprecedented and disastrous for the majority of the Iranian people. Recently, despite vast opposition even from the parliament, the government annulled gasoline and food subsidies that have been in place for decades. The massive unregulated import of foreign products, especially from China, has made it impossible for agricultural and industrial domestic producers to survive. These hasty and haphazard developments have severely destabilized Iran’s economy in the past few years, leading to rocketing inflation (25–30 percent) and growing poverty. Unemployment is very high; no official statistics are available, but rough estimates are around 30 percent, creating fertile ground for recruitment into the state’s military and police apparatus (similar to the “poverty draft” in the United States).

The 1978–79 revolution was one of the most inspiring popular uprisings against imperialism and homegrown despotism the world has seen, successfully wresting Iran away from US control over Iranian oilfields and ending its role as a watchdog for US interests in the region. Denunciations of US imperialism were a unifying rallying cry and formed a key pillar of revolutionary ideology. However, in the more than 30 years since, the Iranian government has, like all nations, ruthlessly pursued its interests on the world stage. Despite its anti-American/anti-imperialist rhetoric, Iran cannot survive without capital investment from and trade with other “imperial” nations, without integration into a world market that is ordered according to the relative military and economic strength of various states.

The Iranian government’s support for Palestinians scores it major points with many leftists in the United States and around the world. While the Iranian government does send material aid to Palestinians suffering under Israeli blockades and in refugee camps in Lebanon, it has also manipulated the situation for purposes that have nothing to do with Palestinian liberation. Using money to buy support from Palestinians and financing and arming the Hezbollah army in Lebanon are crucial ways the Islamic Republic exerts its influence in the region.

Currently no form of independent organizing, political or economic, is tolerated in Iran. Attempts at organizing workers and labor unions have been particularly subject to violent repression. No opposition parties are allowed to function. No independent media—no newspapers, magazines, or radio or television stations—can survive, other than websites that must constantly battle government censorship. The prisons are full of journalists and activists from across Iranian society. Prisoners are deprived of any rights or a fair trial, a violation of Iranian law. Iran has the second-highest number of executions among all countries and the highest number per capita. In January 2011, executions soared to a rate of one every eight hours.

The women’s movement has been another major target of repression in the past few years. Dozens of activists have been arrested and imprisoned for conducting peaceful campaigns for legal equality; many have been forced to flee the country, and many more are continually harassed and threatened. Women collecting signatures on a petition demanding the right to divorce and to child custody are often unfairly accused of disturbing public order, threatening national security, and insulting religious values.

Ahmadinejad’s anti-immigrant positions and policies are the harshest of any administration in the past few decades. The largest forced return of Afghan immigrants happened under his government, ripping families apart and forcing thousands across the border (with many deaths reported in winter due to severe cold). Marriage between Iranians and Afghan immigrants is not allowed, and Afghan children do not have any rights, not even to attend school. Moreover, government has been repressive toward different ethnic groups in Iran, particularly Kurds. It is promoting a militarist Shia-Islamist-nationalist agenda and escalating Shia-Sunni divisions.

Despite the many differences between the individuals and groups represented at that dinner with Ahmadinejad, what the overwhelming majority of them have in common is a mistaken idea of what it means to be anti-imperialist or antiwar. Part of the confusion may stem from a distorted notion of what it means to speak from inside “the belly of the beast.” In other words, the argument goes, those of us in the United States have a foremost responsibility to oppose the actual and threatened atrocities of our own government, not to sit in hypocritical judgment over other, lesser state powers. But in the case of the vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent inside Iran, not judging is, in practice, silent complicity. If anti-imperialism means the right to criticize only the US government, we end up with a politics that is, ironically, so US-centric as to undermine the possibility of international solidarity with people who have to simultaneously stand up to their own dictatorial governments and to the behemoth of US power.

Solidarity: Concrete and from Below
There is no contradiction between opposing every instance of U.S. meddling in Iran—and every other country—and supporting the popular, democratic struggles of ordinary Iranians against dictatorship. Effective international solidarity requires that the two go hand in hand, for example, by linking the struggles of political prisoners in Iran with those of political prisoners in the United States, not by counterposing them.

Internationalism has to start from below, from the differently articulated aspirations of mass movements against state militarism, dictatorship, economic crisis, and gender, sexual, religious, class, and ethnic oppression, in Iran, in the United States, and all over the world. For activists in the United States, this means being against sanctions on Iran, whether they are in the name of “human rights” or the nuclear issue. It means refusing to cast the United States as the land of progress and freedom while Iran is demonized as backward and oppressive. Solidarity is not charity or pity; it flows from an understanding of mutual—though far from identical—struggle.

For solidarity to be effective, it must be concrete. US-based activists need to educate ourselves about Iran’s historic and contemporary social movements and, as much as possible, build relationships with those involved in various opposition groups and activities in Iran so that our support is thoughtful, appropriate to the context, and, ideally, in response to specific requests initiated from within Iran. It is our hope that these struggles may be increasingly linked as social justice activists in the United States and Iran find productive ways of working together, as well as in our different contexts and locations, toward the similar goals of greater democracy and human liberation.


Raha Iranian Feminist Collective is a New York City-based group of Iranian and Iranian-American women working toword gender and sexual justice and opposed to militarism and imperialism. They believe that all genuine liberation comes from below. Contact them at rahanyc[at]gmail.com.

A longer version of this article appeared Feb. 19 in Jadaliyya, the online magazine of the Arab Studies Institute. This version ran in the Spring edition of WIN, the magazine of the War Resisters League.

From our Daily Report:

Iran: contract workers demand rights
World War 4 Report, June 9, 2011

Idiot leftists schmooze Ahmadinejad
World War 4 Report, Sept. 25, 2010

See also:

Ahmadinejad, Privatization and a Bus Diver Who Said No
by Billy Wharton, Dissident Voice
World War 4 Report, July 2009

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



Book Review:

by Izzeldin Abuelaish
Walker & Company, New York, 2011

by Randy Rosenthal, The Brooklyn Rail

Aiming to “reveal the secrets of Gaza,” Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate is a supremely moving memoir of a doctor-turned peace activist’s harsh life. It is widely known that life in Gaza is hard, but Abuelaish’s story makes it seem like Job had it easy. Besides the daily humiliations of being hassled at checkpoints and the deprivation of basic human necessities all Gazans share, Abuelaish loses his wife to leukemia and then three of his eight children in the Israeli siege of Gaza of December 2008/January 2009. After a lifetime spent dedicated to helping others and trying to bridge the divide between Israel and Palestine, he demands answers from the Israeli government as to why his house was targeted, but he does not allow himself to succumb to the “disease of hate.” He has experienced heartbreaking tragedies, but keeps a positive, balanced outlook on life, always seeing “the good chapter of the bad story.” His benevolent philosophy has been earned piece by piece from his life experiences, which he shares in candid detail.

From a literary standpoint, the book descends too often into sentimentality and repetitive preaching, which dilutes Abuelaish’s noble message. Even so, his story is powerful enough. His grandfather voluntarily leaves their family home when Israel is declared a state in 1948. Abuelaish was born in the Jabaila refugee camp, where, like many Gazans, he is taught from birth that Israelis are monsters. Advised that education is the only escape from dire poverty, he becomes a diligent student, studying at night by kerosene lamp after a full day of work and school. One of his first jobs is on a farm for an Israeli family who treat him kindly, overturning his previous bias. A week after this job is over, Israeli tanks bulldoze Abuelaish’s house, along with thousands of others in Gaza. How does he reconcile these two experiences? He does not blame Israeli citizens for the latter oppression, but he does blame Israel for causing the “disenfranchised, dismissed, marginalized, and suffering” state of Gazans. His memoir shows that the Palestinians’ enemies are not the Israelis, but rather a military-bureaucracy motivated by mistrust, and in some cases, the Palestinians’ own irrational behavior.

While Abuelaish’s own example destroys the stereotype of a fanatical Palestinian, much of his memoir criticizes his own side. He evenly relates that during the first Intifada, as many Palestinians were killed “by their brothers” as were killed by Israelis (about 1,000), and how Gaza exploded into a violent civil war between Fatah and Hamas during the 2007 elections, in which his nephew was almost fatally shot. Later, Abuelaish narrates the story about a Gazan woman who has been severely burned. Despite the border restrictions, she is given a special permit to be treated in an Israeli hospital. She is stopped at the border and found to have dynamite strapped to her chest, with the intention of killing as many Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients as possible. After his great efforts at reconciliation, Abuelaish sees incidents like these as “acts of evil.” He criticizes Palestinians, as well as the governments of other Arab nations, because he knows that if he does not try to see all perspectives no one will listen to him. He understands frustration. He feels anger. He simply chooses not to act from anger.

The solutions Abuelaish offers for a complex problem are simple. He aims for co-existence through open dialogue and mutual respect. He believes this is not accomplished through councils and panels, but by getting to know one another on a personal level, seeing the similarities that Israelis and Palestinians share, such as the boisterous way they socialize and the way they embrace ancient traditions with a sense of honor. His doesn’t want to talk about peace and forgiveness, but rather “trust, dignity, and our shared humanity.” In addition, Abuelaish believes that the solution lies in the empowerment of Palestinian women, who are often denied education and barred from political involvement. In setting up Daughters For Life, a foundation to liberate women from traditional Islamic oppression, he is not only risking opposition for trying to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians he is also challenging his own culture’s entrenched customs.

A major aim of Abuelaish’s book is to rectify prejudices—even his own. It was only while getting a master’s at Harvard that he realized not all Americans are arrogant, and that a people should not be judged by the foolishness of their government. At one point in his life, Abuelaish moves toward politics. He is recruited by Fatah, but ran, and lost, as an independent after seeing the “dirty games” played by political parties. Anyone who desires a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation can only hope that Abuelaish attempts to run again, and that others with his balanced vision and impartial wisdom become the decision-makers of the world.


This review first appeared in the April issue of The Brooklyn Rail.

From our Daily Report:

Congress members protest Clinton’s “green light” for deadly force against Gaza blockade busters
World War 4 Report, June 26, 2011

See also:

Dockworkers Worldwide Respond to Israel’s Flotilla Massacre
by Greg Dropkin, LabourNet, UK
World War 4 Report, August 2010

Israeli Blockade, Naval Attacks Push Fisheries to Collapse
from IRIN
World War 4 Report, March 2010

by Bassam Aramin, Sara Burke and Yaniv Reshef, Peacework
World War 4 Report, January 2010


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

Continue ReadingTHE SECRETS OF GAZA 


Labor Unions and the Uprising in Tahrir Square

by Dan Read, Toward Freedom

Kamal Abbas
Kamal Abbas comes across as a modest man. As coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) in Egypt, nearly twenty years of activism under repressive conditions seem to him little reason to boast. Others beg to differ.

Kamal recently arrived in the UK as part of a speaking tour to visit with British activists and trade unionists. His talks focused on the victory won four months ago when Abbas and his fellow activists overthrew long-hated President Hosni Mubarak.

“What we witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia, and now in Libya, Syria and Yemen, is that the struggle for freedom is not limited to one nation,” said Kamal, his quietly spoken Arabic relayed via a translator to an enthralled London audience.

Abbas’ story, however, begins way before the tumultuous events witnessed in Tahrir square; it is part of a legacy of resistance that goes back decades. Under the regime of former President Mubarak, grass-roots workers’ organizations in Egypt had to operate in conditions that could at best be described as “semi-legal.” This had been the rule since 1957, when President Nassar had ordained it necessary for all Egyptian unions to join a single organization, known as the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

This became the norm in much of the Arab world, where mainstream union leaders held to a tradition that saw the state as being integral to the functioning of the labor movement. In the case of Egypt, the ETUF tried to hold onto its government-approved monopoly, even at the expense of other, independent and democratic initiatives such as the CTUWS.

“The Egyptian trade unions were a lot like those in the Stalinist countries,” said Eric Lee, international trade union activist and founder of the LaborStart campaign website. “They were a state-controlled federation. It was a complete monopoly; you could not form an independent trade union. And the federation just supported the state—if the state supported privatizations they the federation supported privatizations.”

It was not unheard of for disillusioned workers to seek their own solutions to wider problems of poverty, unemployment and draconian government measures. Kamal Abbas himself began his time as a worker activist when he participated in a strike at the steel works in Helwan, just south of Cairo. The strike was put down with several deaths, yet despite brutal repression, the ETUF did little to help the workers’ cause. Abbas and others then decide to start a new, grass-roots workers organization.

“The situation for trade unions in Egypt was difficult,” Abbas explained. “The official federation was dominated by the government since its establishment. However, in 1990 we managed to form the CTUWS and for the next twenty years were advocating and defending workers’ rights such as the right to strike and form independent trade unions.”

Unsurprisingly, then President Mubarak did not look kindly on such endeavors. Kamal and those like him were frequently harassed and arrested by security forces. In 2007, the organization came under particularly heavy pressure due to their involvement in on-going strikes in the textile sector. Although less than a year later over twenty thousand workers were again on strike, the CTUWS headquarters in Helwan was shut down, alongside several other branch offices.

In this instance the ETUF directly turned on the CTUWS, attacking them in the media and blaming them for the onset of industrial unrest. The CTUWS in turn claimed they had a responsibility to defend the workers, yet coupled with increased government scrutiny over CTUWS moves to annul state interference in internal trade union elections, the union was largely forced underground.

“They had endless difficulties,” Eric Lee said. “Kamal was in and out of jail often. What the union was clever about was that they looked for international support from early on. They knew that international support would help them survive the onslaughts. But they faced constant repression. When I attended a meeting with them last year, only nine months before the regime was overthrown, they said to all of us ‘you are aware that at any moment the police could burst in and arrest everyone.’ That was the atmosphere, even as recently as a year ago.”

The Arab Spring appeared to catch Western commentators off guard. Given that the mainstream media appeared to want to avoid reporting on events such as the 2006-2007 textile strikes, this is perhaps unsurprising.

Revolutions, however, do not appear out of thin air. “People who think that revolutions come out of nowhere have never studied revolutions,” said Lee. “Many international activists knew that Egypt was absolutely bubbling in turmoil. When I was there last year I knew very little about Egypt—the Solidarity Centre which is the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy arm—was there in strength, they had been backing the CTUWS for some time. And they were distributing a book which had some academic material about the Egyptian working class which covered right up to about a year ago.”

The book described the past decade’s union struggle which led to a wave of strikes which continued for the last five years. The strike, explained Lee, “involved millions and millions of workers, and enormous street demonstrations—they had ten thousand workers camped outside the Prime Minister’s office. This proved that society was losing its grip—the police couldn’’ control the streets, ten thousand workers camped out is a very significant protest and this wasn’t picked up on most of the global media; they just weren’t looking for it. Trade unionists who were involved did know about it.”

When mass street protests erupted last January, however, the CTUWS began to play a decisive role. As demonstrators took to the streets in their thousands and huge swathes of the urban working class came out on strike, Tahrir square became world famous as the focal point for revolution. It was in this square that Kamal Abbas made his first appeal for a new federation of trade unions.

“On January 30th we met with representative of other independent trade union organizations and we discussed forming a new federation,” said Abbas. “We then made an announcement in Tahrir square, calling for a new federation. But at the time we had no idea what would happen. Since then this call has been responded to by the workers. The challenge now that the revolution has succeeded is to be able to build a society of social justice.”

During this time, the old ETUF largely ignored the protest movement and instead committed itself to “monitoring” the labor force for signs of discontent. In the process, they effectively signed their death warrant as an alleged workers’ organization by showing clearly which side they were on.

Additionally, the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU)—a conservative body influenced by Muamour Gadaffi—appears to have taken a back seat in the face of independent unionism. Having long pursued a policy of Arab nationalism that saw non-Arabs in the Middle East excluded from membership, some have called for the ICATU’s disbandment and the formation of a more ethnically inclusive body.

“ICATU does not accept unions that are not Arab,” said Lee. “So people like the Kurds are not welcome, Iranians are not welcome and of course the Israelis are not welcome. Not only that, but the Palestinians are not welcome. The Palestine General Federation of trade unions, which is generally accepted to be the Palestinian labor movement, has never been a member of ICATU because ICATU deemed they were tainted by collaboration with Zionism.”

ICATU, arguably now something of a relic which fails to represent the true ethnic diversity of the Middle East, now stands to be swept away by a new tide of popular trade unionism standing in a different tradition than that of Arab nationalism and state control.

Hope for the future now takes precedence in the minds of a population long accustomed to living under a repressive government. With the military government having made moves to ban strikes and curtail workers’ organizations, Egyptians are generally feeling optimistic about future possibilities.

“This revolution in Egypt started with the uprising of young people, which shows that this revolution has a great future,” said Abbas.

It remains to be seen how far the Arab Spring may continue, considering the convoluted situation in Libya and the savage repression in Yemen and Syria. Given that the Egyptian and Tunisian former presidents in particular were long-supported by western powers, another question is what relationship the new Egypt may pursue with their former imperial partners in the west.

Abbas believes that the political situation may have changed fundamentally with the entry of popular protest and upheaval. “The policy-makers of Europe and America have been shown that the people in the Middle East are not satisfied with dictatorships. This revolution has really forced them to acknowledge that the people themselves can act in their own interests.”


Dan Read is a freelance writer in Britain. Photo of Abbas by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

This story first ran June 22 on Toward Freedom.

From our Daily Report:

Egypt: protesters clash with security forces in Tahrir Square —again
World War 4 Report, June 29, 2011

Egypt: Suez Canal zone workers go on strike again
World War 4 Report, Feb. 20, 2011

See also:

by Pierre Beaudet, Viento Sur
World War 4 Report, March 2011

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