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A Burmese court sentenced prominent Rakhine ethnic leader Aye Maung to 20 years in prison for treason and defamation stemming from a January 2018 speech made one day before deadly riots broke out in Mrauk-U township. Maung, a member of parliament and former chairman of the Arakan National Party, was arrested along with writer Wai Hin Aung days after giving "inflammatory" speeches. Maung is said to have accused the ethnic Bamar-dominated ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government of treating the ethnic Rakhine people (also known as the Arakan) like "slaves." Seven people were killed the evening after the speeches, when Rakhine protestors seized a government building and police opened fire. Maung’s lawyers are unsure if he will appeal at this time, as a new trial in the case could result in a death sentence. (Photo via Myanmar Times)

‘THIS LAND IS OURS!’

Land Theft as Legacy of Genocide in Guatemala

by Frauke Decoodt, World War 4 Report

"This land is ours! It does not belong to the State. It is ours, as indigenous people!" So said 20-year-old Guatemalan Lorena Sánchez on May 3, 2011 when a state representative from Fondo de Tierras, a government department regulating access to land, arrived in Tzalbal to tell its people they are living on state property.

Tzalbal, a village of fourteen settlements, is located deep in the Cuchumatanes mountains. Tzalbal is home to the Ixil, a native Mayan people. The Ixiles live in the municipalities of Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal, in the northwestern department of Quiché. Tzalbal lies the municipality of Nebaj.

The villagers had no idea that their land had been nationalised in 1984—a fact that was concealed from them for 28 years. They are perplexed, shocked, and angry. In the 1980s, the area was scorched with genocide and state repression, and the majority of Ixiles were forced to flee their land.

The genocide of the Maya-Ixil People
During the 36 -year conflict in Guatemala, 98% of the 7,000 victims in the Ixil region, were Ixiles. A sixth of the Ixil population was assassinated by the army, and 70% of their villages were obliterated. Most Ixiles fled to the mountains; many died due to cold, starvation and disease.

Although the Ixil area was one of the worst affected, the whole of Guatemala suffered during the conflict that raged until 1996, which saw 12% of the population displaced and more than 200,000 killed or disappeared. The state army was responsible for 93% of the atrocities and 626 massacres. Approximately 83% of the victims were indigenous.

Post-conflict investigations from Guatemala's Catholic Church and the United Nations have established that during the 1980s the state committed genocide in Guatemala.

A people displaced from its lands
Though the genocide can be explained by the racism towards and the dehumanization of the indigenous people who comprise more than 60% of the Guatemalan population, one cannot fully understand the pattern and formation of the genocide in Guatemala without taking into account the importance of land.

The residents of Tzalbal comprehend, only too well, the intimate relationship between land and conflict. Patricio Rodríguez is only 66 years old but the wisdom of age and the harsh experience of poverty and conflict are inscribed on his face. Patricio points out that their present conditions are "because of the war, the repression, the massacres of the government in the eighties. So many years they burned our houses, they killed our animals and destroyed our milpas [small plots of maize]. Because so many people had been killed, we fled to the mountains to save our lives. The army then thought this land was abandoned, empty. But we deserted our land because of the repression. Now we are starting to realise that during the armed conflict they stole from us. And to legalize their theft they made a law."

The conflict for the land and the land for the conflict
It is the unequal distribution of the land in a principally agricultural society like that of Guatemala that has been the primary cause of poverty and conflict. In 1964, 62% of the land lay in the hands of just 2% of the national population, whereas 87% of citizens barely had sufficient land for subsistence farming.

Since independence, the Guatemalan state apparatus has largely served the interests of the Guatamalan oligarchy, in effect becoming a guarantor of land and cheap indigenous labor. These guarantees have always been provided through the use of violence and the legal system.

In the "Guatemalan Spring" that began in 1944, the state began to serve the interests of the majority of its rural population, eventually introducing an agrarian reform program. However, in 1954 these reforms were quashed in a coup d' etat, with the support from the United States of America.

The equal redistribution of the land was one of the main demands of numerous indigenous, peasant and guerilla movements that rose from the 1960s through the 1980s. Violent repression of these movements has allowed unequal land distribution to be maintained and expanded. As the post-conflict investigations by the Catholic Church and the United Nations established, land became a gain of the conflict.

After their accession to power in 1954 the army generals decided that the state apparatus should not only serve the oligarchy but also their own interests. One of their primary interests was land; their means to acquire it was through violence and laws, or what were euphemistically known as "development projects."

An assembly to inform the community
If one explores the chronology of law drafting and violent events that engulfed the region it becomes very clear how the state usurped indigenous lands. For the locals, it became clear when they researched their case.

Ronaldo Guttiérez is the young "indigenous mayor," the communitarian authority of Tzalbal. Wearing the typical red jacket emblazoned with black embroidery of the Ixiles, he explains to me in a quiet voice and broken Spanish that after the state representative left he called a meeting of the representatives of the other thirteen settlements. With the help of others, they investigated the case and decided they would organise a popular assembly to inform the whole community.

On October 6, the community hall fills with people and the sounds of Guatemalan marimba music. A painting remembering the atrocities of the conflict adorns the outside wall. About seven hundred Ixil are present, the majority of the men wear their typical straw hats, some wear their red jackets. A fair amount of women are also present, all wearing embroided blouses or huipiles and traditional traje skirts. Some, mainly older women, wear colourful ribbons knotted in their hair.

The laws of war
Ramón Cadena, a lawyer from the International Commission of Jurists, is one of the people that offered to help investigating the case of Tzalbal. At the assembly he explains that the root of the problem is a law called "Decreto No. 60-70," passed in 1970 by General Carlos Arana Osorio who declared "the establishment of Agrarian Development Zones of Public Interest and National Urgency." Quiche was one of many northern departments declared a "Development Zone."

The "public interest" was the colossal project called the "Franja Transversal del Norte"—Northern Transversal Strip—which converted a group of generals and their allies into gigantic land owners. Together with the following "National Development Plans" of 1971 to 1982, these projects aimed to promote the production and exportation of petroleum, minerals, electric energy, monoculture crops, and precious timber in the north of the country.

It should be noted that the departments mentioned in these laws were also the ones that suffered most massacres. I was informed by the lawyer Ramón Cadena that these laws are the basis for the theft of the land and natural resources of the indigenous people. They are also the root of the war that was unleashed by the government of Guatemala against the peoples of Guatemala. State violence and repression were undertaken in parallel to the "Development Plans."

Another law that sealed the destiny of Tzalbal is "Decreto Ley No. 134-83," ordained in 1983 by General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores. With this law, the army measured and territorially reorganized the Ixil region in order to establish the "model villages " and legalize nationalization.

Like many other villages, Tzalbal was converted into a "model village" or "center of development." Instead of the randomly scattered houses of an indigenous village, houses were rebuilt in a pattern where its inhabitants would be easy to control. The people that were not massacred and did not flee to the mountains, or who returned because they could not bear the harsh conditions in the mountains, were resettled in these villages. Many inhabitants refer to these villages as "concentration camps."

‎"Civil Self-defense Patrols" or PACs, were established in the model villages. These were militarised civil vigilantes organized by the army. By 1985, more than a million men collaborated with the army in the PACs. Failure to participate flagged one as a suspect subversive, which often had lethal consequences.

In 1983, as ordered in Decreto Ley No. 134-83, the PACs of Tzalbal were forced to measure their land. In front of the whole assembly, a courageous man stands and explains how the army had promised them land if they would measure the boundaries. But they were cheated. The land was measured to be nationalized.

Ramón Cadena concludes that on May 11, 1984, the state officially dismembered the original land title of 1903 and seized approximately 1495 hectares of Tzalbal land.

The laws that legalized the usurpation of indigenous land, Decreto No. 60-70 and Decreto No. 134-83, are laws emitted during wartime; locals refered to them as "laws of war." ?The peace accords were only signed in 1996. In a communiqué released after their assembly, the communities demanded that their constitutional right to possess the land be reinstated.

History repeats itself…
After so many development projects, development laws and "centers of development," the indigenous population of Guatemala is rather suspicious of any initiative that bears the name "development." The gold mine in San Marcos department is said to bring development, as is the the cement factory in San Juan Sacatepéquez. Both seem to bring more development to its owners then to the local population.

The laws passed during the war remain in force, and other new laws have since been added which open opportunities in new territories or reinforce control over the land already seized. Such is the case with the Law for Public-Private Alliances, which allows the state to legalize land evictions for the sake of "public interest." Under the Development Plan of the present government of President Álvaro Colom the economic development of the "Franja Transversal del Norte" continues, adding amongst other regions Petén rainforest and the Pacific Coast. The evictions of peasants and indigenous communities continue.

Mega-projects continue to flood Guatemala like the hydroelectric dams that are slated to inundate its indigenous lands. Such is the case with recently approved "Oregano" project, a hydroelectric dam that will inundate land of the Chortis living in the municipality of Jocotán, near the Honduran border. Electric energy is indispensable for big industries like mining companies, oil refineries, and the massive monoculture plantations of sugar, oil palm trees, bananas or coffee. And of course one needs gigantic roads and a large infrastructure to transport all this produce.

The same unequal land distribution continues. According to the last census of 2003, almost 80 percent of the productive land remains in the hands of less then eight percent of Guatemala's population of 14 million. More than 45 percent have not enough land for subsistence farming. Not surprisingly, half the population lives in poverty and 17 percent in extreme poverty.

And many of the same people remain in power. "It was Tito who was the commander of the army, he was the chief," explains 20-year-old Lorena, in a low and preoccupied voice. Tito is seared in the collective memory as commander of the Nebaj military base in 1982 and 1983. "General Tito" is the local nickname of Otto Pérez Molina—the presidential candidate who won the elections held on Nov. 6. A villager remembers: "It was he that obliged us to measure the land, he was in command when our land was stolen from us ."

The fear remains too. When one speaks of Otto Pérez, one does it anonymously.

Finally, the same indigenous peoples also remain, still fighting for their land. As Lorena insists, "We have natural resources to defend; as indigenous people we have a right to defend our water, our forests, our rivers." Old Patricio Rodríguez asserts that multinationals "should return to their own lands with the plans they have…"

In unity, the struggle continues
I am told Tzalbal is the first village to find out that their land was nationalized, and the first to publicly denounce this, and to demand, unconditionally, that their land be returned. Nonetheless, the case of Tzalbal is illustrative of what the conflict in Guatemala was about. This conflict was about land.

‎The methods used to acquire land in Tzalbal are also familiar. The natives of Tzalbal appear to be the unwilling actors in a drama that always seems to repeat itself in Guatemala. A drama which has run for more than 500 years where invaders—whether Spanish, military or "representative" democratic governments—steal the land of the indigenous peoples through laws and violence.

But the struggle of the communities persists. In the assembly, the words "worried" and "capitalism" are heard over and over. But the community hall is filled with a militant conviction. United, the gathered Ixiles shout, "We don't want another master!," "Overturn the law ! Give us back our land!"

When I ask Patricio Rodríguez how he thinks they will recover their land, he responds, "through unity, through demonstrations, through national and international organizations concerned with our rights. We will get our land back, bit by bit, step by step."

Gregorio, the man responsible for Tzalbal's drinking water continues, "All together, we will go to congress, to the ministries, until they take us into account. As they stole from the community, they have to return the land, without any conditions, in the name of the community. Because it is unquestionable, the land is from our forefathers, from our great grandfathers that have passed away; they left the land to us as we are their children ” .

For safety reasons the names of the interviewees in Tzabal were changed.

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This story and accompanying photo first appeared Oct. 21 on Frauke Decoodt's blog.

From our Daily Report:

Guatemala: president-elect accused in 1980s genocide
World War 4 Report, Nov. 8, 2011

Guatemala: thousands march against cement plant
World War 4 Report, July 29, 2009

See related story, this issue:

1954 REVISITED
Justice and Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala
by Paul Imison, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, December 2011

See also:

GUATEMALANS RESIST MEGA-MINES, HYDRO-DAMS
by Nathan Einbinder, Environment News Service
World War 4 Report, April 2009

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

Continue Reading‘THIS LAND IS OURS!’ 

1954 REVISITED

Justice and Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala

by Paul Imison, Upside Down World

The news barely raised a murmur in the US media and the BBC covered it only fleetingly, but last week the Guatemalan government of Álvaro Colom formally apologized to the family of former president Jacobo Árbenz who was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1954 and later died in exile in Mexico. The apology came after a lengthy case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that ended in a “friendly settlement” between the Guatemalan state and Árbenz’s heirs.

Through the settlement, the Guatemalan state recognizes its responsibility for “failing to comply with its obligation to guarantee, respect, and protect the human rights of the victims to a fair trial, to property, to equal protection before the law, and to judicial protection, which are protected in the American Convention on Human Rights and which were violated against former President Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, his wife, María Cristina Vilanova, and his children…”

The coup against Árbenz—one of the most infamous that the CIA executed during the Cold War—directly led to the brutal thirty-year civil war that left up to 250,000 Guatemalans dead or disappeared. The conflict saw a right-wing military dictatorship carry out a savage counterinsurgency against anybody vaguely associated with the “left,” including students, journalists and labor unionists, but particularly the country’s majority indigenous population. Some 83% of victims of the violence were indigenous Mayans. Death squads routinely massacred Guatemalan peasants, including women and children, in a strategy since classified as genocide by the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission.

The great tragedy of the 1954 coup and all that followed is that the Guatemalan military and the CIA overthrew a democratically-elected reformist with the interests of the country’s impoverished majority at heart. Following the 1944 “October Revolution” that ousted the dictator Jorge Ubico, Guatemala had entered a politically progressive era known as the “Ten Years of Spring.” Jacobo Árbenz, elected in 1950 with 65% of the vote, took the liberal policies of his predecessor Juan José Arévalo a step further by promising to enact agrarian reform to raise the living standards of the primarily rural population.

The other great tragedy is that the coup against Árbenz came about at the whim of one major US corporation: the United Fruit Company, which since the early 1900s had been the largest employer in Central America, buying up vast tracts of land and wielding huge political sway in the region (the origin of the term “banana republic”). By the 1940s, United Fruit held controlling shares in Guatemala’s railroad, seaport, electricity, and telecommunications utilities. The company also owned some 70% of the country’s arable land, of which it utilized a mere 12%.

The agrarian reform passed by Árbenz gave his government power to expropriate only that land which was uncultivated and which belonged to estates larger than 672 acres; land that would then be allocated to individual families via agrarian councils. Árbenz offered compensation to United Fruit and other powerful landowners amounting to the value of the land claimed in their tax assessments, which were often hugely understated. A landowner himself through his wife, Árbenz gave up 1,700 acres of his own holdings in the process.

In response, the United Fruit Company sought to portray Árbenz as a communist and lobbied the US government to have him removed from power. Ironically, Árbenz had stated in his inaugural address as president that his aim was to transform Guatemala from “a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern capitalist state.” Unfortunately, the US Congress of the day contained many United Fruit shareholders, who were making a steal off the corporation’s dominance and opposed Guatemala’s moves towards economic independence.

The subsequent plot, known as Operation PBSUCCESS, was the brainchild of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and his brother, head of the CIA Allen Welsh Dulles—both of whom happened to be shareholders in United Fruit. The inspiration was Operation Ajax, the elaborate and highly successful plot the CIA had used to overthrow Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh – another democratically-elected reformist – a year earlier. Operation Ajax in fact became a template for many a CIA-backed coups in the following years—including the Bay of Pigs Invasion—and its execution is the origin of US-Iran hostilities that persist to this day.

The first move, as in Iran, was to convince the US press and public that Árbenz’s nationalist policies were the fruit of an alliance with the Soviet Union. Five years before the Cuban Revolution, Allen Dulles dubbed Guatemala a “Soviet beachhead in the western hemisphere.” In reality, the US later abandoned a post-coup plan called PBHISTORY intended to associate Árbenz with Moscow as they simply could not find sufficient evidence of an alliance.

Operation PBSUCCESS also utilized psychological warfare within Guatemala as the CIA hijacked the country’s airwaves to broadcast anti-communist messages and airdropped leaflets urging Guatemalans to turn against Árbenz. The Catholic Church viewed communism as “God’s enemy” and readily supported the coup. Árbenz resigned as president on June 27, 1954, after opportunistic generals, fearing a US invasion was imminent, turned against him. [A CIA-organized right-wing mercenary army did invade the country from Honduras, and US Air Force warplanes bombed the capital.—WW4 Report]

Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, whom the US had replace Árbenz as president, was assassinated in 1957, but the Guatemalan military clung onto power for nearly 30 years—banning political opposition, labor unions and social movements, and waging a brutal war against dissidents of the regime, from rural peasants to the middle-class. Guerrilla groups such as the Armed Rebel Forces (FAR) sprung up in the 1960s but were powerless to bring down the regime, whose heavily-armed death squads were trained and funded by Washington.

After the UN Peace Accords of 1996 between the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas and the National Advancement Party (PAN) administration of President Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen, the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission attributed 93% of atrocities that took place during the civil war to the Guatemalan military and only 3% to left-wing guerrillas. The conflict left around 200,000 people dead and over 40,000 missing as well as creating some 1 million refugees.

Last week, in what The New York Times described as a “muted ceremony” in Guatemala City’s National Palace, President Álvaro Colom told Árbenz’s son Juan Jacobo: “That day [the coup] changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet. It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.” In addition, the Guatemalan government will revise Árbenz’s legacy within the national school curriculum and he gets a highway and a hall of the National Museum of History named after him.

Ironically, Colom himself was elected on a progressive platform in 2007 as part of the social-democratic National Unity of Hope, but the masses who voted for him have since largely lost faith in his policies. Far from emulating the “Ten Years of Spring,” Colom’s tenure has seen the US-Central America free trade agreement (DR-CAFTA)—which Jacobo Árbenz would have fiercely opposed—have the same devastating effect on Guatemala’s rural population as NAFTA had on Mexico’s.

Although the constant and savage violence of the civil war is over, reports of human rights abuses by the military and the forced displacement of rural inhabitants are ever-present, while Guatemala is the second most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists after Colombia.

According to UN figures, roughly half of the country’s 13 million people live in poverty and 17% in extreme poverty. Despite the nation’s vast potential for food security, the neoliberal mentality prevails and a wealthy 5% controls 80% of farmland, an almost unperceivable change from the injustice that Árbenz and Guatemala’s liberal revolution railed against.

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This story first ran Oct. 28 on Upside Down World.

Resources:

An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later
New York Times, Oct. 20, 2011

Guatemala: Memory of Silence
Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, 1999
Online at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

From our Daily Report:

Guatemala: president-elect accused in 1980s genocide
World War 4 Report, Nov. 8, 2011

See also:

GUATEMALA: GENOCIDE PLAINTIFFS TESTIFY
by Thaddeus al Nakba, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, June 2008

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

Continue Reading1954 REVISITED 

WILL ASEAN BETRAY BURMA’S PRO-DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT?

by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report

Burma’s elevation as the “would-be chair” of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has irked many—primarily the pro-democracy Burmese and their sympathizers in Asia. Terming the recent initiative of ASEAN to grant Burma the 2014 chair as “premature as the authorities have failed to fulfill key promises of reform,” a number of organizations argued that the “decision might even embolden them [the Burmese government] to continue committing human rights abuses with total impunity.”

“We call for ASEAN to keep its options open on reversing its decision on Burma’s chairing the regional bloc if the military-led government backslides on promises concerning human rights and democracy,” said the statement issued by the organizations. They also asserted that ASEAN’s decision to deliberately ignore the new war in Kachin state and escalation of military attacks in eastern Burma this year is a betrayal of its international and regional obligations to the wellbeing of ASEAN citizens. Southeast Asian leaders meeting in Bali for the 19th ASEAN Summit in November agreed to allow Burma to assume the chairmanship, and allow the country to host the annual meeting in 2014.

ASEAN’s move comes one year after elections were held in Burma for the first time since 1990. The National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s main opposition party, boycotted in protest of bureaucratic hurdles to candidate registration that assured a leading role to military-backed parties. Nonetheless, Burma has since then showcased some changes. As the military-ruled country was put under a semi-democratic regime, the government lifted the house arrest of opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Thousands prisoners, some of them NLD leaders, were also released from the jails. Recent reports from Rangoon reveal that Suu Kyi may contest a by-election in the coming days after completing formalities with the government.

The Burmese government led by the former general Thein Sein asked its pro-democracy activists in exile around the world to return to their country. Some of the exiles have reportedly returned, although many still have apprehension about the democratic commitment of the present Burmese regime.

The northeast of India, primarily the state of Mizoram, supports nearly 80,000 Burmese Chin people who have left their country fleeing repression. Some 20,000 other Burmese are living in India as laborers, domestic workers and petty vendors, suffering acute poverty and insecurity. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officers in New Delhi has registered only few thousand Burmese refugees in India, facilitating some support to them. The Burmese government with its changing image wants the economic sanctions imposed by the US and various European nations to be lifted. Recently, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepted an invitation from Burma to visit the country in the near future. US President Barack Obama announced at Bali that his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting Burma in the coming days.

Nonetheless, the ASEAN decision to offer the chair to Burma invited criticism from various political observers who argued that the country should have been offered the opportunity only after the administration at Naypyitaw initiates significant democratic changes and improves its human rights record.

“The ASEAN leaders must be prepared to face the national and regional consequences of its premature decision, including increased displacement, undocumented migration and drug production that results from its ill-timed decision to grant Burma the 2014 chair,” added the statement, which was signed by the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, the Asian Centre for Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the South Asia Forum for Human Rights, the All Student and Youth Congress of Burma, All Women’s Action Society, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, the Burma Centre Delhi, the Forum for Democracy in Burma, the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Women’s League of Burma, and others.

“We are extremely disappointed that ASEAN did not use the unique opportunity it had to influence the Thein Sein government to take meaningful steps towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation,” asserted the statement.

Added Khin Ohmar, coordinator of Burma Partnership and chairperson of the Network for Democracy and Development: “ASEAN has never been a strong promoter of peace and democracy in Burma. Even in 2006 when Burma was due to take up the chair, it was under pressure from the West and not ASEAN itself that Burma forfeited its turn after Western nations threatened to boycott the bloc’s meetings.”

She charged that ASEAN’s decision also failed to take into consideration that the regime has not taken any steps to end the longest running civil war in the world, but has instead deployed more troops in ethnic-nationality areas, nor has it shown any willingness to engage in genuine and inclusive political dialogue with opposition forces in the country.

Human rights violations and atrocities in northeastern Burma have significantly increased since the supposed reformer President Thein Sein came to power in March 2011. Between August 2010 and July 2011, the Burmese regime forced at least 112,000 people—the highest estimate in a decade—to flee their homes in eastern Burma. In addition, over 20,000 fled their homes as a result of Burmese army offensives in Kachin state and northern Shan state. The government has released a few high-profile prisoners, but there are believed to be over 1,600 political prisoners still behind bars—despite the recent denials of Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan that there are any political prisoners in Burma. The new parliament has refused to repeal oppressive laws that facilitated the imprisonment of political dissidents, and in fact adopted new restrictive laws that disenfranchise many activists convicted in the past.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma claims that narcotics production and trafficking continues to run rampant throughout Burma with active support of the regime. Speaking to this writer from Bangkok, Stothard asserted that Burma is the second largest producer of opium in the world. In some areas of Shan state under the control of the military-led government, opium cultivation has increased by nearly 80% within the last two years, creating a greater threat to the security of neighboring states, she added.

In short, these critics maintain, the Thein Sein government has embarked on a series of largely cosmetic changes with the aim of gaining international legitimacy—but the reality on the ground remains almost the same.

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Resources:

Western states dismiss Burma’s election
BBC News, Nov. 8, 2010

Meth madness behind Mekong massacre?
Global Ganja Report, Nov. 1, 2011

Burma prepares offensive against Shan State Army
Global Ganja Report, March 26, 2010

From our Daily Report:

Obama’s Australia deployment signals new cold war with China?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 19, 2011

See also:

INDIA-BURMA ALIGNMENT AGAINST ETHNIC GUERILLAS
New Delhi Betrays the Pro-Democracy Movement
by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, October 2011

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

Continue ReadingWILL ASEAN BETRAY BURMA’S PRO-DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT? 

OCCUPY JUAREZ DEFIES REPRESSION

by Dawn Paley, Upside Down World

CIUDAD JUAREZ — On October 15, people all over the world responded to a call from Occupy Wall Street to join and become part of the movement. Folks from all walks of life who identify as part of the now famous 99 percent responded to the call, setting up tent villages and holding actions in public (and private) spaces around the globe.

In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a group of activists from various organizations, collectives and political persuasions got together and decided that they too would organize in response to the call, under the name Indignadxs de Juárez.* They held two events to coincide with the call on October 15, but were unable to set up a permanent, occupy-style camp.

“Here in Juárez, demonstrating is dangerous, the conditions don’t exist [to occupy],” said Gero Fong, a local activist and Indignado. “One of our intentions was to set up a permanent camp, but given our numbers it wasn’t possible.”

Instead of camping out, Juárez’s Indignadxs called for a series of actions. On November 1, they gathered again for a demonstration that was to include street theater and the symbolic wheat pasting of 9,000 paper crosses around the city, in memory of the over 9,000 people murdered here since 2008.

The police response to the November 1 demonstration quickly transformed into a national scandal. Police beat and arrested 29 people, among them activists, their supporters, and journalists.

“They threw me on the ground and between 10 and 15 officers started to beat me,” said Gerardo Solís, a secondary school teacher who was arrested in front of the police station while demanding the names of the detained. He was jailed overnight with the others. “They jailed me with the rest of the compañeros, and inside [the police] told me they were going to disappear me, that they have assassins working for them, that they’re going to disappear me, that they already knew that I’m a teacher and where I work, and that they would go after me,” he said.

The next evening, arrestees were released on bail amounting to approximately US$40. In the days following, there was increasing clarity on why the police repressed demonstrators so intensely.

“The population here feels helpless, and I think [the police] are exercising preventative repression,” said Fong. The collective, public attack on protestors must be understood in the context of the militarization of Juárez since early 2008, when 7,500 troops were deployed to the city, followed by thousands of federal police.

“I believe that Ciudad Juárez is being taken as an experimental city, this is the first place [in Mexico] that was militarized, this is where the assassinations began, where a series of bi-national policies have been experimented with, and now what they’re trying to do is apply repressive policies with the clear objective of introducing fear among those who protest and set the example that here there will be no protests,” said Fong, still sporting a black eye from the beating he received from police.

Long time Juárez activists say it is the first time in almost 20 years that so many comrades were beaten and jailed at once in a clear act of political policing.

“”[The police] showed its force against people it shouldn’t have, against us, the people who want this city to be in peace,” said Elizabeth Flores, who has been active in movements in Juárez since the early 1990s. “They don’t do this against delinquents, against those who are committing crimes in these moments.” Flores pointed to the economic system, unemployment, militarization and impunity as the root causes of the violence that the Indignadxs de Juárez are standing against.

When asked why the Indignadxs de Juárez are in the streets, Dr. Arturo Vasquez Peralta responded without hesitation, his words sharp and his face tight. “Nine thousand dead in Ciudad Juárez. Lack of investigation of those 9,000 dead. Lack of will to clarify those 9,000 deaths,” he said. For Peralta, the repression of the November 1 action is the sum of policies that have been used in Juarez for years, designed to send a message that protests will not proceed, under the threat of violence.

Regardless, in their first meeting after they were released from prison, the Indignadxs de Juarez decided that they will demonstrate again on November 26, crosses and wheat paste in hand. I asked Julian Contreras, a community activist, what it is like to organize in this kind of atmosphere.

“According to their logic, given the scale of the repression happening in this city, we should already be hiding under our beds trembling with fear, but that’s not what happens,” said Contreras.

“We’ve arrived to such a high level of violence, where people are cut into pieces and their bodies spread around the city, and we know that this is a state strategy: they can kill your family, your siblings, your in-laws, your friends, they can disappear you,” he said. “And you still go into the streets because you know there is no other option, because what is under threat isn’t you but the entire community.”

The fact that conditions are so difficult in Juarez has led to more unity among groups and movements, says Contreras, who points out that Zapatistas, anarchists, socialists, Stalinists, Trots, social democrats, NGOs, human rights organizations, and Christians have come together to protest. “That, on a national level, is inconceivable,” he said.

Regardless of this unity, Fong classifies the movement in Juarez as one of qualitative force rather than quantative force. “Numbers-wise, in our strongest moment we were 3,000 when we did a march because of a shooting of a student during a march for peace,” said Fong. “Our movement has since oscillated between 10 and 100 people, rising and falling, rising and falling.”

For Fong, Contreras, Flores, and others, there is no doubt that regardless of the fact that speaking out can be deadly, they will continue to stand up and resist militarization and the dominant economic paradigm.

“We haven’t managed to create a mass movement, but yes an important movement that denounces things that many people here are not ready to denounce because of fear,” said Fong.

*Indignadxs is a non-gendered way of referring to those participating in these movements. It was widely used to refer to those who participated in the protest encampments in Spain that preceded Occupy Wall Street.

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This story first ran Nov. 18 on Upside Down World.

See also:

OCCUPY TIJUANA TESTS RIGHTS
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, October 2011

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

Continue ReadingOCCUPY JUAREZ DEFIES REPRESSION