A Muslim American claims he was detained in the UAE last year and tortured by FBI agents. He says he was beaten, threatened with death and kept in solitary confinement for over three months before they let him go.
Naturalized US citizen Yonas Fikre, who is currently seeking asylum in Sweden, says he was interrogated in connection with a terror plot in Portland, Oregon
Fikre says he had attended the same mosque in Portland as a man who has been charged in connection with a plot to detonate a bomb in the city in 2010.
The man claims he was arrested last June while in the United Arab Emirates and taken to a prison in Abu Dhabi to be questioned about the activities of the Portland mosque.
According to Fikre, his interrogators became very upset when he presumed they were working for the FBI.
“They got very angry and they said ‘We don’t work with the Americans, we are an independent country,” he told a news conference on Wednesday. But later one of them acknowledged FBI involvement in the operation, Fikre says.
“He confirmed to me that the FBI were there. Also, when I was getting beaten, they did admit that the FBI knew exactly what was happening and they were working with the FBI,” he said.
He also told journalists he was warned to say he was being treated well in custody or “more torture would take place.”
The FBI has refused to comment so far. Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not talk about the specifics of the case.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called upon the US Department of Justice to investigate whether Fikre was tortured at the behest of the FBI, AP reports.
Fikre is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland’s Masjid-as-Sabr mosque.
The mosque has a notorious reputation within US secret services. Ten years ago seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested after they tried to enter Afghanistan to fight US forces.
- Michigan Muslims sue FBI and U.S. border agents over “discriminatory” treatment (blogs.windsorstar.com)
The FBI and the Justice Department are still up to their old tricks. Not only do they continue to entrap Muslims in terror cases that wouldn’t exist without FBI involvement, but now they silence anyone who complains, charging them with trumped up offenses and insuring that the assault on law continues.
Khalifa al-Kalili is an American Muslim from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Beginning in January of this year he was stalked by a man calling himself Muhammad but who has now been identified as Shahed Hussain. Hussain was on the verge of being convicted of a felony when he became an FBI informant in 2002. It was Hussain who entrapped four African American men from Newburgh, New York, into a phony plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx.
Al-Kalili was rightly suspicious when Hussain and another informant befriended him and spoke of the need for jihad. Al-Kalili was not as naïve as the Newburgh Four or the dozens of other people who were charged and convicted of committing terror acts which were created solely by the government.
Al-Kalili voiced his concerns very publicly, to the Albany Times Union newspaper and posted his fears on his Facebook page. He used Google to identify the cell phone number of the man who was stalking him and discovered that he was in fact Shahed Hussain. Al-Kalili’s attempts to protect himself were of no avail. After he scheduled a press conference to announce his plans to sue the FBI, he was suddenly arrested for a firearm violation and remains held behind bars without bail.
This case is one of many in which the American government has created a separate and decidedly unequal system of justice for Muslims. Shahed Hussain is now well known and notorious for tricking people into committing crimes. He is so brazen that he felt no need to hide or to even get a new cell phone number. Obviously he knows that the FBI is his protector and that he need not take any precaution to avoid detection. Even when his victims use legal means to avoid being ensnared, they go to jail anyway.
These entrapment tactics began during the Bush administration, but as in other instances, the Obama administration is nothing more than Bush part two. The president of the United States, the attorney general and the FBI director are all complicit in violating not only the protections granted to Americans in the constitution, but in establishing a system of separate and unequal justice for Muslims in this country. Once again, the value of having a former constitutional law professor sitting behind the desk in the oval office is less than negligible and an insult to anyone who cares about justice.
The story of Khalifa al-Kalili is an example of the rot which permeates the American political and judicial systems. Mass incarceration, selective prosecution, prosecutorial misconduct and police brutality all make a mockery of the claim that there is equal justice under American law. There have always been groups who were subject to brutality and injustice and now the first black president has proven that the system cannot be changed from within. It must be uprooted by people who first are willing to call the evil by its name and who are willing to dedicate themselves to eradicating it once and for all.
There are a multitude of reasons not to vote for Barack Obama, but his decision to continue a wholesale subversion of what is left of the justice system is one of the most important. How does anyone claim that the Democrats are our saviors and the Republicans are the evil doers, when all evidence points to criminality on both sides?
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are fit to govern this country. It is useless to continue revealing the injustices suffered by al-Kalili and others if the end result is a continuation of the status quo. Good journalism brought this case to light, but if must go further. A laundry list of people who have been turned into criminals by our government is useless unless a call to action comes along with it.
What will the call to action be for al-Kalili? Will people who excoriate Obama because of the injustice perpetrated by his Justice Department still make the case for his re-election? If so, they need not have bothered with al-Kalili at all. They should have swept his case under the rug and forgotten him. Voting for Obama and the Democratic party is tantamount to doing that anyway.
Margaret Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
- US Muslim claims detention and torture by FBI (rt.com)
- Entrapment blues: Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Trouble follows some (miscellany101.wordpress.com)
- Interview: Infiltrator who spied on Muslims reveals FBI techniques (alhittin.com)
KHARTOUM – A senior Sudanese official has accused Western countries of waging an economic war against his country and aiding neighbouring South Sudan in its alleged support of Sudanese rebels.
Nafie Ali Nafie, a Sudanese presidential assistant, said while addressing a rally in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday that the West is aware that “the rebels and mercenaries” had destroyed oil facilities in the Heglig area which was captured by South Sudan’s army last week.
“They [Western countries] believe this could weaken the Sudanese economy” he said before adding that the government knows how to run the battle and organise its priorities.
Heglig, which produces half of Sudan’s daily oil production of 115,000 barrels a day, was occupied by South Sudan’s army last week in the most dangerous escalation of military confrontations between the two neighbours since the south gained independence last year.
In his speech, Nafie said that Sudan must talk to its friends in the international arena in order to prevent Western countries from supporting Sudanese rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) via the UN.
His statement appears to be related to international efforts spearheaded by the US to allow aid groups to the country’s border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where Sudan’s army has been fighting SPLM-N rebels since last year.
Nafie went on to dismiss concerns that his government would use the war over Heglig as a pretext to increase repression of dissent but he put a caveat saying that Khartoum will not tolerate “traitors”
“There will be no curtailment of public liberties but traitors are entitled to no freedom” he declared.
Nafie further accused the Sudanese Revolutionary Forces (SRF), a rebel coalition including the SPLM-N, of occupying Heglig and then handing it over to the “enemy”, meaning South Sudan.
He described SRF’s supporters as “agents and traitors” and reiterated Khartoum’s commitment not to negotiate with South Sudan’s government.
He further sought to allay concerns that the government would terminate fuel subsidies against the background of losing Heglig’s oil, saying that such actions would only occur within calculated measures.
Sudan admitted this week that the loss of Heglig’s oil will affect government income but government officials said that plans have already been initiated to assimilate the deficit.
WASHINGTON – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday revised down its forecast to Sudan’s economy to show a significant shrinkage in 2012.
According to the latest release of the World Economic Outlook (WEO), the East African nation achieved a -3.9% growth in 2011. The figure includes South Sudan only up until July 2011 when the country officially broke into two.
In 2012, Sudan’s economy will contract by -7.3% before improving in 2013 to -1.5% and to 1.7% in 2017.
The loss of oil-rich South Sudan last year meant that Sudan no longer has access to billions of dollars worth of crude reserves. Oil was the main source of foreign currency and revenues for Sudan prior to the country’s partition.
To make matters worse, South Sudan managed last week to take over one of Sudan’s major oilfields of Heglig in South Kordofan through a military occupation that took everyone by surprise. Analysts say that damages to the facilities in the area, which produces half Sudan’s oil, as a result of military operations means that production will not resume anytime soon.
Furthermore, landlocked South Sudan shut down its own roughly 350,000 barrels per day in January in a row over how much it should pay to export crude via Sudan. The latter has built in oil transit fees as part of its budget at the rate of $36 per barrel.
Khartoum has undertaken measures since last year in anticipation of the sharp curtailment in revenues. This includes cutting government spending, partially lifting subsidies and banning a wide range of imports to stop depletion of foreign currency reserves.
But nonetheless, food prices soared to unbearable levels for many citizens prompting limited demonstrations in the Sudanese capital last year. The exchange rate of the Sudanese pound also deteriorated to unprecedented levels amid sharp shortage in hard currency which further fueled price hikes.
The IMF projected consumer prices in Sudan to increase by 23.2% in 2012 and 26.0% in 2013, which is the highest in the Middle East region.
Sudan has turned to a number of friendly nations seeking help to shore up its budget deficits and boost its foreign currency reserves directly or through investments. So far only the Arab Gulf state of Qatar made a $2 billion pledge to assist in the form of buying Sudan government bonds and investments in several economic sectors.
Sudanese officials assert that their country will overcome the loss of oil revenue by exporting more gold and revamping the agricultural sector.
However, this week the Sudanese finance and national economy minister Ali Mahmood Abdel-Rasool said that the 2012 budget as it stands is unsustainable and needs to be amended.
The pro-government al-Rayaam newspaper reported that the Sudanese parliament is poised to approve a second round of lifting subsidies on fuel amid strong objections from the labour union.
- World demands South Sudan pullout of Heglig, end to Khartoum’s air raids (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South Sudan playing into the hands of foreign states: Bashir (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Rodolfo Vecino has a death sentence on his head. He has been told he will be kidnapped, tortured and his family will be murdered. Already this year one of Vecino’s colleagues has been killed – in January, Mauricio Arrendondo and his wife Janeth were gunned down in front of their children.
Vecino is the president of Colombian oil workers union (USO), which was last year declared a “military target” by right-wing paramilitaries for its campaigns against what the union says are the abusive labor practices of Canadian oil giant Pacific Rubiales. The union’s campaign began last summer; just two months after Colombia signed a Labor Action Plan (LAP) with the U.S. pledging to tackle the very practices used by Rubiales and the type of anti-union violence that USO has suffered. The signing of the pact unblocked negotiations over the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the countries, which had stalled over Colombia’s abysmal labor rights record.
A year on, and at last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, the U.S. declared it was satisfied that Colombia had complied with the LAP and was enacting the reforms called for. The decision opens the way for full implementation of the FTA in May, even as unions and human rights groups in both countries continue to accuse the U.S. of “rewarding promises not actions”. Meanwhile, USO’s campaign against Rubiales continues and it is far from an isolated case. Unions across Colombia maintain they face the same problems of violence, worker abuse and anti-union practices, all committed with seeming impunity.
Protests against Rubiales began after workers at the company’s Puerto Gaitan site contacted USO and described how 12,000 sub-contracted workers – the overwhelming majority of the workforce – were enduring low pay, appalling conditions and instability while being denied the right to bargain collectively and associate freely.
Ending the abusive sub-contracting system commonly used in Colombia was one of the principal aims of the LAP. The practice began in the late 70s, when businesses began to take advantage of the fact that many of Colombia’s labor regulations did not apply to worker cooperatives. Companies fired their entire workforce then forced workers to sign on with contractors calling themselves cooperatives. As the workers were then classified as temporary employees and could be laid off without cause, the cooperatives forced them to accept whatever pay and conditions were on the table. It was also a useful tool for preventing unionization as any worker who began organizing or agitating could be immediately fired. “They lost their rights, they lost money [and] they lost their working stability,” said Andres Sanchez from Colombia’s National Union School (ENS). The practice continues today, utilizing Colombia’s army of the unemployed and underemployed as ready replacements for sacked workers.
The LAP called for Colombia to enforce pre-existing but widely ignored legislation banning the cooperatives. However, as the Rubiales workers testified, in many sectors little has changed. Because the cooperatives are now banned, most of the contractors have simply changed names and become Simplified Stock Companies or Temporary Service Companies. “The phenomenon continues the same,” said Sanchez. “It is the same dynamic, they do the same things, workers [still] can’t demand that they benefit from their labor and not the third party,” he added. According to Sanchez, over 2 million workers in Colombia are still employed through these sub-contractors.
In Puerto Gaitan, the sub-contracted Rubiales’ workers have been forced to accept what Rodolfo Vecino called, “truly humiliating and poverty stricken” conditions. “They don’t have the conditions of a dignified life, they don’t have dignified salaries, they don’t have contracts that genuinely give the workers respectable levels of stability,” he said.
The workers have also testified to being pressured and threatened because of their association with the union and being told they would not be employed again while they were still members. “Although I am aware of my rights,” said one worker in a letter to USO, “in this case my need to survive and stay in work is more important.”
The ENS and USO both say they have persistently informed the government of the continued use of the cooperative style sub-contracting but little action has been taken despite the harsh penalties now demanded by law. So far, one company has been hit with a $6.5 million dollar fine over its use of contractors in the African palm sector. However, the fine was only imposed after a 107-day strike and came a week before Colombia’s labor minister traveled to the U.S. to discuss progress on labor rights. According to Sanchez, several months later and the fine has yet to be paid.
The paramilitary right and anti-union violence
After five months of strikes, blockades, occupations and violent clashes between riot police and protesters in USO’s confrontation with Pacific Rubiales, Rodolfo Vecino announced he had been threatened by four men claiming to be from the Auto-defensas (Self-defense forces). According to Vecino, the men told him he had been “sentenced” because USO’s confrontation with Pacific Rubiales made him an “obstacle to development.”
The term Auto-Defensas refers to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an umbrella group for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary movement that controlled vast criminal networks and infiltrated the core of Colombia’s political and economic systems. Its stated mission was to combat Colombia’s leftist guerrilla groups, something it did in part by waging a dirty war against “guerrilla collaborators” – members of leftist political parties, community organizers, human rights workers and unionists. From 1986–2011, nearly 3000 unionists were murdered, and although most of the cases remain unsolved, in Colombia there is little doubt that paramilitary groups such as the AUC were responsible for the overwhelming majority of the killings.
The AUC officially demobilized in 2006 after negotiations with the government of Alvaro Uribe. However, the much criticized process gave rise to a new wave of illegal armed groups. These new organizations mostly consist of former mid-level AUC commanders and foot-soldiers that either never demobilized or simply re-enlisted after demobilization. For the most part they no longer fight the guerrillas – in some cases they even collaborate with them – but instead concentrate on drug trafficking and maintaining the AUC’s criminal networks and commercial interests. However, the end of the ideological war between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas did not lead to a significant drop in anti-union violence and Colombia remains by far and away the most dangerous place in the world for unionists.
According to Vecino, three of these groups operate in the same areas as USO – the Rastrojos, the Urabeños and the Popular Revolutionary Anti-terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC). He believes the continuing violence against unions is because of the links between businesses and the paramilitaries. “We believe there are links in the zone,” he said. “Today there are no political lines of definition of these groups but interests around drug trafficking [and] they sell themselves to the highest bidder,” he said. “If [the company] gives them money it wouldn’t be the first time multinationals have associated with paramilitaries or common criminals to strike against the union sector.” Vecino also claimed that some of the cooperatives have ties to armed groups and are used to launder drug money.
Pacific Rubiales has adamantly denied any contact with paramilitary groups. Jorge Rodriguez, the company’s head of corporate affairs, told news website Colombia Reports: “We are very sorry for the USO union. We reject any type of threat, any type of intimidation, not only to trade unionists but to anyone in the country.”
Andres Sanchez agrees with the theory that the new groups continue to act as the armed wing for powerful commercial interests, pointing to how Chiquita bananas and Coca Cola have been implicated in the murder of unionists. “It is a culture where some businesses have used violence as a way of solving labor relation problems,” he said. “In Colombia, the links between paramilitaries and business have not yet been uncovered.”
For most American politicians and unionists, anti-union violence was the biggest obstacle to the passing of the FTA with Colombia and curbing that violence the LAP’s greatest promise. In the first year of the plan, 27 unionists were murdered and 2 disappeared, according to the ENS. While that remains the highest murder rate for unionists in the world by some distance, it does represent a significant reduction; in 2010, 51 unionists were murdered and 7 disappeared. However, Andres Sanchez believes the drop in homicides does not tell the whole story. “The situation with the violence has shown changes in its logic,” he said. “Now, it is not necessary to murder a unionist to successfully freeze a union. We have seen that threats, injuries and displacement have increased … homicides have gone down a bit [but] the situation persists.”
In the LAP, the Colombian government pledged to increase protection for unionists by broadening the coverage of its protection program, clearing the backlog of applicants for the program and speeding up the application process. According to the U.S. government this is exactly what it has done. However, while the unions acknowledge there have been some improvements, they remain critical. “They say ‘no one in the program has been killed,’” said Sanchez. “So we say the program is badly designed, because they kill the unionists who aren’t in the program.”
The unions complain that the protection program excludes too many people and that the Colombian authorities have cleared the backlog and sped up the process partly by rejecting more people more quickly. According to Sanchez, this has involved turning down unionists who have received death threats. “They say that if they threaten someone it is a salvation because generally, the ones who are murdered have not been threatened, [and] the threat is to silence someone so it is not necessary to take measures after,” he said.
The approach has had a serious impact on USO leaders. Last August, USO received a letter informing them that protection programs for 23 leaders and a number of regional offices would either be terminated immediately or only extended temporarily. Three of those leaders were involved in organizing in Puerto Gaitan.
The LAP also pledged to tackle the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the anti-union threats and violence. Less than 10% of the more than 3000 cases of murdered unionists have resulted in convictions. Many of those convictions came not from successful investigations but from confessions by paramilitary killers and, while the perpetrators of the crimes identified themselves, the intellectual authors remained hidden.
In 2007, the Attorney General’s Office set up a specialist sub-unit dedicated to anti-union violence. However, of the 195 murders that took place between the start of the sub-unit’s operations and May 2011, only 6 resulted in convictions. The unit did not obtain a single conviction for the 60 homicide attempts, 1,500 threats and 420 forced displacements in the same period.
The prosecutor’s office’s shortcomings in investigating anti-union violence were supposed to be addressed by 15 measures in the LAP, ranging from assigning more full time investigators to the unit to establishing victims assistance centers. As Congress approved the FTA in October, American union AFL-CIO reported that all but three of the obligations had either not been met, had been met insufficiently or there was no evidence of progress.
Progress for labor or for free trade?
Although he believes the LAP has failed to significantly improve the labor rights situation in Colombia, Andres Sanchez says the plan was an important step. “Yes, [the LAP] was to facilitate the unfreezing of the FTA,” said Sanchez, “but it was also a serious attempt.” However, he thinks the LAP will not be effective unless the government does more to involve unions in the process. “They are important measures,” he said, “expensive measures that could be effective but with this great vacuum of not taking into account the unions, they are measures that could fail.”
In the U.S, the implementation of the LAP has been monitored by the AFL-CIO, which has been critical of the government for using it to push through the FTA. “We don’t think the plan was sufficient to accomplish the goals but we do think it was a step in the right direction, a step towards meaningful change,” said the AFL-CIO’s Celeste Drake. “Unfortunately, with the continued violence against unionists and too little progress on cooperatives and other practices like collective pacts [worker agreements used to sideline unions], it is far too soon for the US government to declare victory on the LAP and move ahead on the FTA. Colombian workers will lose whatever leverage they have to make real progress if the US moves too quickly.”
On the front line of the struggle against the violence and abuse suffered by Colombian workers and unionists, Rodolfo Vecino says he has seen very little change since the LAP came into force. “At the moment it is innocuous,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what is written there, they are dead words, they don’t have life because there isn’t anyone who is putting it into place.”
James Bargent is a freelance journalist based in Colombia. See jamesbargent.com
- Colombia: Obama’s Bloodiest Betrayal? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Small-Scale Miners Face Crackdown as Foreign Companies Set Sights on Colombia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Trade deal to be implemented (politico.com)
When the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) arrived in San Onofre in northern Colombia in the late 1990s, they came after dark, dragging people from their homes and disappearing into the night.
Soon, they did not need the cover of darkness. People were executed in public plazas in broad daylight. Women and young girls were openly raped and abused.
Since the demobilisation of the local AUC bloc in 2005, 42 mass graves have been discovered in the municipality. Locals say about 3000 people disappeared and tens of thousands fled their homes and abandoned their land to escape what one survivor called a region of “concentration camps”.
Seven years on from the AUC demobilisation, San Onofre is now the site of thousands of hectares of teak trees belonging to one of Colombia’s five biggest companies, Argos S.A.
In February last year, Argos’ commercial monocrop plantation was approved for the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) carbon trading scheme. This means it can sell carbon credits to industrialised countries trying to meet Kyoto Protocol emission reduction targets.
The company says the plantation will capture 37,000 tones of CO2 a year for 25 years – worth about $12.5 million in the current carbon market. It also plans to use another teak plantation in the nearby municipalities of El Carmen and Ovejas for the CDM.
Argos claims the teak plantation is helping fight climate change and contributing to the sustainable development of a conflict scarred region, but the project has proved controversial.
Survivors from the paramilitary era and land restitution campaigners claim the plantation and its CDM status is not only an attempt to cash in on the lucrative carbon credits market, but also legitimise a mass land grab that followed paramilitary violence, and prevent land restitution to a displaced population.
The municipalities of San Onofre, El Carmen and Ovejas are in the Caribbean region Montes de Maria. A heavy guerilla presence in the area led to the creation of AUC bloc, the “Heroes of Montes de Maria” in 1997. The paramilitaries soon gained complete social and economic control of the region by murdering, torturing and displacing local farmers with the support of local state security forces.
Between 1995 and 2005, 54 massacres were reported in the three municipalities of San Onofre, Ovejas and El Carmen and, says government agency Accion Social, 117,097 people have been displaced there since the paramilitaries first arrived.
The AUC era ended with demobilisation in 2005. However, in 2008 El Espectacor reported a new invasion, of “strange personalities” in bulletproof Hummers.
A land grab ensued, in which desperate, indebted or frightened people were pressured into selling property. Abandoned land was snapped up by speculators.
Next came big business. What had previously been an area of smallholder and subsistence farming rapidly became dominated by large-scale agro-industrial enterprises ― dairy, timber, African palm and teak.
As the land became more concentrated in fewer hands, the landscape of Montes de Maria began to change. Most of Montes de Maria is now owned by just a handful of large businesses, among them Argos, which owns an estimated 12,500 hectares.
Argos claims it bought its land in San Onofre directly from the owners in 2005, after the paramilitaries had left. However, the CDM validation report indicates it first bought land in 2003 and continued to do so until 2008.
Camilo Abello, the vice-president of corporate affairs at Argos, claims the company entered “a completely peaceful zone. The Argos representative who made the purchases was able to go into the zone because there were no paramilitaries, there was no violence.”
“Juan Carlos”, a San Onofre local whose family sold their land to Argos, disagrees.
Juan Carlos’ family owned land close to the El Palmar ranch, headquarters of the infamous local AUC leader known as “Cadena” and site of a mass grave containing 72 tortured and mutilated bodies.
“We had to sell the land because we were in an unbearable situation,” he said, “Our lives were in danger.”
Juan Carlos said his family had to ask Cadena permission to sell to Argos. He said that although he knew of no formal contact between the AUC and Argos, paramilitaries visited the farm while the Argos representative was measuring the land.
Government statistics show that nearly 2000 people were forcibly displaced in San Onofre in 2005, more than in the previous two years. More than 1000 people were also displaced in 2006 and again in 2007.
Murder and displacement rates have dropped sharply since, but government risk reports on San Onofre show a renewed and growing paramilitary presence in the area.
In El Carmen de Bolivar and Ovejas, Argos bought land from the speculators who flooded the region in the wake of the paramilitaries.
One of the main sources was a group of powerful businesspeople and ranchers called the Amigos de Montes de Maria. Locals say they pressured campesinos into selling their land and evicted families from land bought for agro-industrial projects.
Testimonies collected for two NGO reports said that in at least one case Argos bought land acquired by Amigos de Montes de Maria from demobilised AUC members who had displaced its owners.
Residents also report how one alleged demobilised AUC member, Silvio Flores, went to work for the company after it bought the land he managed on behalf of a member of the group. Locals claim Flores then began pressuring other campesinos to sell; abusing and threatening them, killing their animals and burning down houses.
In the report, residents of Ovejas also describe being threatened by heavily armed camouflaged men who claimed to be the company’s security.
Argos denies any involvement in pressuring people to sell or buying from displaced people. “What we did was buy from people who wanted to sell,” said Camilo Abello, “without any coercion or pressure”.
Abello also denied any links to paramilitary groups and claimed the company does not use any type of security at the plantations. According to Abello, the company is helping the region by creating jobs.
“We don’t think that we are taking advantage, on the contrary we are supporting the reconstruction of the fabric of society, we are investing in a post-conflict zone,” he said.
The issue of land ownership in Montes de Maria has been complicated further by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ new flagship policy ― the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
The law is designed to address the desperate plight of the estimated 3-5 million Colombians forced from their lands into city slums and squatter camps by conflict and violence. Its main focus is the restitution of lands to the displaced.
Critics of Argos claim the company is using the teak plantations and their CDM status to ward off the danger of losing their lands because of the Victims Law. If Argos faces claims on its Montes de Maria land, it can retain the plantations by exploiting a loophole in the restitution process.
The Victims Law says land will not be taken from companies that are using it for agro-industrial enterprises if the company can prove it bought the land in good faith. Instead, the authorities will try to negotiate a financial agreement between company and claimant.
Colombian Congressperson Ivan Cepeda campaigns on land rights and has raised the issue of Montes de Maria land grabs to Congress.
“The operation [Argos] has done in Montes de Maria is a clear example of how the government’s proposed restitution with the Victims Laws is going to work,” he said. “All of this is a big, sophisticated operation to legalise the lands they have robbed from the campesinos.”
Cepeda is scathing of Argos’ claims to have acted in good faith when it bought the lands.
“[Paramilitary violence] did not happen in isolation,” he said. “It is a fact of public knowledge and frankly it is illogical and incomprehensible that these businesses did not know which land they were dealing with and who had lived on that land.”
He added: “[Argos' project is] a business that it is presenting as clean when in reality it is a business drenched in blood ― the blood of campesinos that were the victims of massacres.”
The company itself says it welcomes the Victims Law and would cooperate fully with any claims on land owned by the company.
In October, Cepeda wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to expel Argos from the CDM program and enforce the UN Global Compact, which commits associated companies to human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption principles.
Ban did not publicly respond, but the CDM board chair Martin Hession said responsibility for the matter lay with the Colombian government.
“Primarily, it is for (them) to resolve issues like this as they certified the sustainable development of the project,” he said in an interview with Point Carbon News.
A spokesperson for the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development said, “Only the CDM Executive Board can take this decision [to remove Argos’ approval].”
Compared with the horrors of the turn of the century, life for the campesinos of Montes de Maria is quiet. But with growing tensions over landownership and the resurgence of paramilitarism, violence and conflict still lurk beneath the surface.
“We believe that it is not going to stay calm,” said “Andres”, a campesino from Ovejas.
“It is going to continue, we are going to see deaths here, we are going to see pressure, we are going to see evictions and displacement because they are going to try to reclaim the land like a debt and we are not going to let them.”
[The names of the campesinos interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their identities.]
- Small-Scale Miners Face Crackdown as Foreign Companies Set Sights on Colombia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Colombia: Obama’s Bloodiest Betrayal? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Land-rights activist missing in Colombia (upi.com)
- Sovereignty For Sale: Corporate Land Grab in Colombia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Global Capital’s Death Squads and Night-Riders
Make no mistake. We had some ugly anti-labor mischief of our own during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where union organizers, political radicals, suspected anarchists and Bolsheviks were blackballed, beaten, imprisoned, deported, murdered, and state-executed—all in the name of “law and order.” But while many of these men (and women, too….they deported Emma Goldman to Russia) were clearly railroaded, at least the high-profile figures were given the semblance of a jury trial.
Question: So what happens these days in developing countries when a prominent, charismatic union activist—with the courage to stand up to sinister, government-supported business groups who have, on more than one occasion, already threatened his life—attempts to get the country’s underpaid, under-benefited workers to join a labor union? Answer: They kill him.
It was reported Monday, April 9, that the body of Aminul Islam, the charismatic and widely respected union leader of Bangladesh’s garment industry, had been found (on Friday, April 6) dumped along side a road in Ghatail, a town approximately 60 miles northwest of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Not only had Islam been murdered, local police reported that the corpse bore evidence of “severe” torture.
Since 2006, Aminul Islam had been a major thorn in the side of the garment bosses, as he fought for higher wages, safer working conditions, and increased employee dignity. Many Bangladeshis work 12-14 hour days, make as little as 21-cents per hour, and don’t even get regular breaks. With a reported $19 billion in overseas sales in 2011, Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter. The stakes are enormously high. With an estimated 5,000 factories cranking out fabric night and day, the textile industry is single-handedly keeping Bangladesh’s economy afloat. Which is why they were so frightened of Aminul Islam.
Most recently, Islam had been trying to organize workers at factories owned by a company called the Shanta Group. According to shipping records, Shanta produces garments for many well-known American companies, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Ralph Lauren. Because Islam’s activism was acknowledged to have been largely responsible for worker uprisings and demonstrations in 2010—demonstrations that nearly crippled the industry—business groups weren’t going to stand idly by and watch him convince Shanta’s 8,000 workers to join the union. They weren’t going to allow it. So they killed him.
Mind you, these atrocities aren’t happening only in faraway Bangladesh; they are happening in our own hemisphere as well—in Central and South America. In fact, the place where they have occurred the most—and continue to occur with chilling regularity—is Colombia. According to the Solidarity Center (the labor federation’s international arm, headquarted in Washington D.C.), nearly 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered over the last 20 years. Indeed, more trade unionists are killed in Colombia each year than in the rest of the world combined.
The United States supports the government of Colombia. We support this anti-labor government that gives lip service to initiating programs designed to stop the violence, but who, in truth, has done little to prevent death squads and night-riders from tooling around the country murdering trade unionists.
And that’s where the arrangement now stands. Our clothing is made by workers whose factory conditions are deplorable; our produce is harvested by pickers whose field conditions are deplorable; and our government supports regimes whose human rights records are a joke. The U.S. has more than 800 military bases strewn around the word, we spend more money on defense than the rest of the world combined, and Barack Obama is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s a very weird trifecta.
DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
On March 24, in the Public Health Workers neighborhood in Guatemala City, community leaders and neighbors chatted in a regular gathering place in front of a local store. The relaxed Saturday night was broken up by gunfire, a massacre that killed health care union leader Ovidio Ortiz, along with Bildave Santos Barco, Fredy Leonel Estrada and Oscar Alexander Rodriguez.
Public health workers unions are a strong force in defense of public services and natural resources, and among the most outspoken critics of the abuses of transnational corporations in Guatemala.
Ovidio Ortiz, a life-long health union leader, community organizer and political activist, was apparently the main target in the massacre; he received 8 bullets.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State’s Visit to Central America and the Return of Repressive States in Central America
The next day, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield arrived in Central America on a two day trip, visiting Honduras and Guatemala. Brownfield’s trip is to promote the US’s “drug war” in the Central America, in close coordination with a government born of a military coup in Honduras, and in Guatemala, a government led since January 7, 2012 by President Otto Perez Molina, a former general accused of participation in genocide.
Politically motivated killings apparently by death squads have been growing over the past few years in Central America, and concern in Guatemala is heightened as the new administration has brought back to public office many of the same individuals directly implicated in the State repression and genocide of the 1980s.
Ex-General, now President Perez Molina is no stranger to death squads. According to declassified State Department and CIA documents, in 1994 while head of Military Intelligence, Perez Molina ran a secret torture center with over 300 political prisoners rounded up by military intelligence. An investigative journalist reported that Perez Molina was a CIA asset at the time.
Human rights activists reflect that the Public Health Workers neighborhood massacre appears to be one in a series of incidents indicating the return to the repressive State, what one Guatemala sociologist describes as the return of the three rights, the neoliberal right, the anti-communist right and the counterinsurgency right.
Criminal Network Death Squads Re-enter Politics
Like the death squads in the 1960s-70s, recent crimes in Guatemala appear to employ criminal networks, drug trafficking network hit men, to carry out violence against unions and communities organizing against abuses by transnational corporations, with the collusion or support of the military and police.
The return of the repressive state in Guatemala is part of a regional process that mixes drug war, anti-terrorism and anti-communist rhetoric and partners US security experts and agencies with repressive States, States made up of many of the same individuals responsible for crimes against humanity carried out just one generation ago with the assistance of US military advisors.
In Honduras, death squads targeting anti-coup activists have been operating across the country since the June 2009 military coup; human rights activists denounce over 300 politically motivated killings. In the Bajo Aguan region, since January 2010 death squad killings have been spearheaded by private security forces working for transnational palm oil corporations with the collaboration of police and the same Honduran military units that have received ongoing training from US military forces. As a result over 60 campesinos and journalists have been killed.
Killing Ovidio, Killing Democracy: Counterinsurgency Violence without the Violence
On September 2, 1993 Ovidio Ortiz helped lead public health workers in recovering a tract of land that the then-militarized Health Ministry had purchased in 1982. Though ostensibly purchased to build a hospital, years passed and public health workers worried the property would fall into the hands of military linked businesses, as has happened with other public lands purchased under military governments, such as a now cement mine on the South side of the city. So, they occupied the land and the union negotiated with the Health Ministry to facilitate access to housing lots for health workers.
Ever since Ovidio was elected either president or vice president of the neighborhood development committee; he was vice president when he was killed. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the National Union of Health Care Workers of Guatemala, and the Conflict Resolution Secretary of the National Front for Struggle in Defense of Public Services and Natural Resources (FNL), an alliance of public health unions and community organizations. And, he was a political activist with the URNG party born from the URNG revolutionary movement.
Over the past decade, health workers have been the most outspoken defenders of public services, with a strong and public political identification with the Latin American “left,” emphasizing the importance of sovereignty, an end to North American hegemony in the region, and popular struggle.
Ovidio was killed just two days after the National Union of Health Workers signed a hard-fought collective agreement with the Health Ministry. The March 22, 2012 agreement was the product of difficult negotiations that involved months of work stops, protests and road blockades. Though most of the struggle took place during the previous presidential administration, on February 24, 2012 the FNL, comprised in large part of the health workers unions, froze the nation for five hours blocking the eight major highway intersections. Public health workers showed their strength, leaving no doubt they are a force to be reckoned with.
Shooting Sprees in Working Class Neighborhoods Spread Fear
Guatemalan human rights organizations observe that the Public Health Neighborhood massacre is also part of a trend of shooting sprees in meeting places like corner stores that began occurring in working class neighborhoods.
On January 15, 2012, in Zone 6 of Guatemala City, young people were reportedly kidnapped by a military patrol. A similar action is reported to have occurred again two weeks later in the El Mezquital settlement, when men dressed in black with ski masks again kidnapped young people.
Six days after the March 24, 2012 Public Health Workers Neighborhood massacre, on March 30, 2012, a passing car sprayed bullets on residents gathered in front of a neighborhood store in Zone 18 in northern Guatemala City, injuring 8.
8 FNL Energy Nationalization Movement Leaders Killed in 6 Months
The National Front for Struggle (FNL), an organization where Ovidio Ortiz held a leadership position, is among the most outspoken opponents of the abuses of transnational corporations in Guatemala, and has been a target of death squad killings. The FNL has led a struggle for the nationalization of electrical services in Guatemala, privatized in 1999, while denouncing illegal surcharges and other abuses by Union Fenosa, a Spanish distribution company that benefitted from the privatization.
Communities organized with the FNL in the Department of San Marcos were part of a movement to withhold payment for electrical services in protest of abuses, including non-compliance with court mandated refunds to clients.
Murders of FNL Members
- On October 24, 2009, Victor Galvez, a local leader in opposition to Union Fenosa and member of the Front in Defense of Natural Resources (FERNA), a San Marcos based organization that belongs to the FNL, was shot 32 times as he left his office in Malacatan, San Marcos.
- On December 15, 2009, Union Fenosa cut electrical services to entire townships of San Marcos, and a State of Emergency was declared in response to the resulting protests. Over the next few months, during the state of emergency, a further seven FNL activists were killed in San Marcos.
- On January 13, 2010 Evelinda Ramirez was shot and killed in the municipality of Ocos while driving to her home in nearby Chiquirines.
- On January 29, 2010, energy nationalization activist, member of the FNL and the Malacatan municipal workers union Pedro Garcia was shot and killed while driving home.
- On February 17, 2010 Octavio Roberlo, a principal leader of the FNL in San Marcos was shot 16 times from a passing car when he was closing up his store in the bus terminal.
- On March 21, 2010, Carlos Noel Maldonado Barrios, Leandro Maldonado, and Ana María Lorenzo Escobar, three community leaders active in the denouncements against Union Fenosa were brutally killed by gunshots and machete wounds in the municipality of Ocos.
- On March 22, 2011, during protests in reaction to Union Fenosa cutting electrical service to the town of Las Brisas in Ocos, Guatemalan soldiers shot and killed Santiago Gamboa, head of the local committee for the nationalization of energy, while injuring six others.
Drug Hitmen Working for Spanish and US Transnational Businesses?
Ocos and Malacatan in the department of San Marcos are towns renowned to be controlled by drug trafficking networks. Reportedly following the December 15, 2009 massive suspension of electrical services, including to medical centers, Union Fenosa moved their San Marcos offices to a building owned by one of San Marcos’ most infamous drug traffickers, which to local residents appeared to be a signal of an alliance between the Spanish electrical company and traffickers.
The 2009-2010 killings of FNL leaders and supporters in San Marcos were carried out in a way characteristic of drug hit men killings.
The municipality of Morales in Izabal is another area dominated by drug traffickers where unionists are being killed in an apparent alliance between transnational corporations and drug traffickers.
Del Monte Fresh Produce banana workers are organized into the SITRABI union. Del Monte Fresh Produce is charged with hiring some of Guatemala’s most important drug traffickers, including Mario Ponce (extradited to the US on drug charges in January 2012), to kidnap SITRABI leaders in 1999, at the same that Marvin Bush, the brother of Jeb and George Bush, sat on the Florida based Del Monte Fresh Produce board of directors.
Over the past year a new round of hit style killings of SITRABI unionists are terrorizing banana workers: Oscar Humberto Gonzalez Vasquez was killed on April 10, 2011; Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy was killed on May 26, 2011; on September 24, 2011 Henry Anibal Marroquin Orellana was killed; on October 16, 2011 Pablino Yaque Cervantes was killed; and most recently, Miguel Angel Gonzalez Ramirez was shot to death while holding his son.
Death Squad Denounced in Cement Plant Conflict with Swiss Investment
In 2007, indigenous communities denounced the emergence of a death squad in San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala, where 12 Kaqchiquel Maya communities are resisting the entry of a cement plant which will decimate their territory, a project promoted by a consortium of the Guatemalan cement monopoly Cementos Progreso, owned by the politically powerful Novella and Torrebiarte families, and by the Swiss cement giant Holchim.
Community activists report that the violent group emerged following the May 13, 2007 community consultation that rejected the cement companies’ presence in the municipality, claiming it is run by former military officers and known as El Escuadron (The Squad). It first began extorting local residents, generating a ‘security crisis’ and then began killing accused “gang members” they claimed were responsible for the extortion.
Community leaders resisting the cement plant were subject to constant threats and violent attacks, and subject to flawed and apparently malicious prosecution for killings apparently carried out by El Escuadron.
1960s-1980s Death Squads Grew from Criminal Networks and US Security Advisors
The United Nations sponsored Truth Commission, published in 1999, reported on atrocities committed during Guatemala’s 36 year civil war (1960-1996). US government documents declassified in the 1990s as a contribution to the Truth Commission demonstrate that in the mid-1960s a U.S. public safety advisor to Guatemala, John Longdon, pressed superiors over the need to set up covert operations centers, a safe house for coordination of security intelligence and the designation of a room in the National Palace, the starting point of the infamous “El Archivo” parallel intelligence center and nerve center for death squads.
In mid-1966, US Southern Command forwarded a request from the Guatemalan government to the US government for assistance in setting up kidnapping squads. A surge of death squad killings that began in 1966 resulted in thousands of deaths.
The UN Truth Commission found that the death squads of Guatemala’s ‘internal’ conflict were initially criminal groups made up of civilians whose actions were tolerated and covered up for by State authorities, which received logistical support from the military, responded to decisions made in the military command structure, and eventually incorporated military personnel.
Death squads that incorporated drug traffickers like Arnoldo Vargas, a member of the infamous 1980s ‘Mano Blanco’ squad and the first Guatemalan extradited to the US on drug charges in 1992, carried out politically motivated killings.
The Truth Commission’s description of the origins of Guatemalan death squads is disturbingly similar to the picture emerging in Guatemala and Honduras today.
Post Peace Process Police Forces and One Alleged CIA Asset
The military intelligence networks were restructured after the 1990s peace processes and have continued as criminal networks. They shied away from political killings, likely due to the strong international presence accompanying the peace processes. But these intelligence / criminal networks continued to infiltrate the States on all levels.
With the partial demobilizations of the militaries and creation of new National Civilian Police forces after the signing of the peace accords in El Salvador and Guatemala, which involved the large scale recycling of soldiers as police officers, a new generation of death squads was created in Central America.
In the early 1980s, Victor Rivera, a Venezuelan national and reported Central Intelligence Agency asset, came to the Ilopango Airforce base in El Salvador to work alongside the infamous Cuban American bomber and alleged former CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles in running Oliver North’s National Security Council covert operations that employed former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen who had been operating as criminal gangs in Guatemala in attacking the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, the “Contra supply operation.”
Rivera went on to become a security advisor to El Salvador’s post peace accord Vice Minister of Security, Hugo Barrera. Rivera assisted in the creation of an unofficial police unit that operated out of the office of a business owned by Barrera. When the “Police Analysis Unit” was implicated in the killing of a medical student, he fled to Guatemala in 1996.
In 1996, the same year as the signing of the peace accords, wealthy Guatemalans became concerned about a rash of kidnappings, and organizations like Madres Angustiadas (Anguished Mothers) and Friends Against Extortion and Kidnapping (FADES) were formed. They welcomed Victor Rivera who set up another special parallel police team, this one in Guatemala.
Adela Torrebiarte, a founder of Madres Angustiadas and member of the Novella-Torrebiarte family which owns Cementos Progreso involved in the mining conflict in San Juan Sacatequez, supported Rivera’s entry into Guatemala. The two reportedly were close over 12 years.
The United Nations peace process verification mission MINUGUA reported that in 1996 a covert anti-kidnapping commando operated out of the Presidential Palace, and was involved in the capture of kidnappers of the elderly Isabel Bonifasi de Botran (brutally murdered in the course of the kidnapping), and in the capture and forced disappearance of a member of the ORPA revolutionary movement involved in the kidnapping of Olga Novella of the Novella-Torrebiarte family.
In 1997, when Victor Rivera’s parallel security teams office was raided by police, Madres Angustiadas jumped to his defense claiming that he had helped them resolve kidnapping cases. On May 4, 2001 Adela Torrebiarte’s nephew, Juan Andres Torrebiarte Novella, was kidnapped, but was rescued on May 24. MINUGUA reported that four of his captors were severely tortured.
Social Cleansing or Organized Crime Violence?
While kidnappings were the topic of concern in the late 1990s, from 2001 to 2005 it was murder, gangs and social cleansing. The murder rate grew 40% from 2001 to 2005. A large number of killings of young people, apparently gang related and murder of street children by police and gangs was widely reported.
Investigations by the UN-backed special prosecutors unit CICIG demonstrated in 2010 that in 2004 a network of officials in the Ministry of Governance and Police used their positions to engage in a range of criminal activities, including murder, robbery and drug trafficking. In 2010, arrest warrants were issued for 18 officials involved, including the Director of the National Police Erwin Sperinsen and the Secretary of Governance Carlos Vielmann.
Though reporting focused on their role in the death squad killings of prison inmates and escapees, the breadth of activities that this network was allegedly involved in leads to the conclusion that the inmate killings were not simply about cleaning up society or “social cleansing” but related to other criminal activities the officials were involved in.
This leads one to question what other motives besides “cleaning up” society may have been behind the crisis of killings of young people in the early 2000s.
Guatemalan Death Squads Reemerge in the Public Eye
In 2006, questions about Veilmann’s, Sperinsen’s and Rivera’s activities began to surface after compromising information surfaced in the press that seemed to link them to questionable conduct related to the 2006 killing of three Central American parliamentarians, and the ensuing investigation of the crime. Two fled to Europe in 2007.
Victor Rivera was also suspected to have been in some way involved in the killings of the Central American Parliamentarians. Rivera visited four police officers detained as the material authors of the Parliamentarians’ murders in prison just hours before they were killed in a suspicious prison massacre, and a video was circulated of the officers threatening to bring down Rivera, essentially that they would not be his scapegoats, when they were first detained, illegally, by Rivera.
Then President Oscar Berger named Adela Torrebiarte, founder of Madres Angustiadas, as the new Secretary of Governance after Vielmann, and she kept Rivera on as an advisor.
However, shortly after Torrebiarte left the Ministry of Governance, Rivera was fired on March 30, 2008 and a week later, on April 7, 2008 he was murdered as he drove in Guatemala City.
CICIG’s investigations of Rivera’s murder identified drug kingpin Jorge “El Gordo” Paredes as a suspect. CICIG’s director described Paredes as a long-time associate of Rivera, and described one of two potential motives for Rivera’s murder as the consequence of a collaboration with Paredes that had gone bad. Parades was also implicated in the killing of the Central American Parliamentarians.
Former Police Director Arrested for 2009 Death Squad Killing
The most recent death squad scandal erupted on March 23, 2012 when Marlene Blanco, Director of the National Civil Police in 2008 and Assistant Secretary of Governance for Community Security in 2009, was arrested on charges of running a death squad that tortured and murdered suspects in the extortion and murder of bus drivers. She has been charged with three 2009 killings and is being held in prison.
A dramatic rash of killings of bus drivers began during the 2007 presidential campaign, won by Alvaro Colom, and continued during his presidency to be so dramatic that they were deemed to be a source of political instability.
Marlene Blanco’s brother, Orlando Blanco, was prominent in Colom’s administration as Secretary of Peace and is currently a congressman for Colom’s UNE party. Marlene Blanco’s arrest is the latest in a series of cases initiated against prominent figures or relatives of prominent figures in the outgoing administration, including a sister of the former First Lady in what seem to some to be a political vendetta by the ruling party against the outgoing UNE party, its stiffest competitor.
While some suspect that the case against Marlene Blanco may be politically motivated and promoted by current functionaries, the case has been investigated by CICIG, which has gained a great deal of legitimacy. The public prosecutor in charge of the case requested that the proceedings be reserved from the public
2012: New Police Forces in Central America – Restructuring Death Squads?
Sweeping police reform and the creation of new police forces is planned as part of the Regional Security Strategy backed by the US State Department.
In February 2012, a proposal for the creation of a tri-national police composed of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador emerged, and Brownfield promoted that initiative during his March 2012 tour. The tri-national force would be charged with controlling a 20 mile perimeter around borders of those nations, and would undoubtedly be trained in the Regional Security Strategy’s regional training center in Panama whose focus is training in border security and is run by US and Colombian security forces.
In January 2012, incoming Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina named Adela Torrebiarte as the special commissioner in charge of police reform. Torrebiarte helped bring Victor Rivera to Guatemala in 1996, the reported CIA asset who had created some of the first parallel networks in the El Salvadoran police, and was suspected to be implicated in 2006 and 2007 death squad scandals.
Torrebiarte’s family business is suspected by indigenous rights activists in San Juan Sacatepequez to be implicated in the creation of death squads to facilitate the entry of a controversial cement plant in their communities.
She will now be in charge of reforming the Guatemalan police, and participate in the creation of a regional police force, with extensive US assistance.
We can expect that death squads will weather the reform, and probably even flourish.
(Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action, since 1995, and has written extensively about Central American human rights issues, about the historic and on-going role of the USA in the region, and about global business and investors interests in the region. email@example.com).
- The roots of Bain Capital in El Salvador’s civil war (blacklistednews.com)
Responding to the Obama Administration’s latest national drug control strategy, leading drug policy reform advocates assailed the president for “prioritizing low-level drug arrests” over other policies that even the White House has acknowledged to be more effective in boosting public health and safety.
In an introductory statement (PDF) issued Tuesday, President Barack Obama wrote that his strategy outlines “A Drug Policy for the 21st Century“ that emphasizes addiction treatments over incarceration and life-saving outreach over harsh law enforcement. The White House website even brags about the effectiveness of harm-reduction strategies over mass incarcerations, saying the approach is “grounded in decades of research and scientific study.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that drug prevention and treatment programs achieve meaningful results with significant long-term cost savings,” the Office on National Drug Control Policy claims. “In fact, recent research has shown that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.”
By implementing a drug control strategy that acknowledges the growing body of knowledge on how to mitigate the worst effects of substance abuse, “we will not only strengthen our economy but also sustain the national character and spirit that has made the United States a world leader,” Obama’s statement explains.
“Drug policy under Obama has been strikingly lacking in leadership,” Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Raw Story on Tuesday. “I was initially optimistic that Gil Kerlikowski, the director [of the ONDCP], would really push things in a new direction. I think there are a few areas where they’ve made positive steps in the right direction… but [they're] mostly following other agencies, rather than leading.”
The president’s drug control strategy comes just days after Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas asked Obama to consider legalization as a potential cure for the black market violence that plagues so many of their countries. President Obama responded by saying he’s open to a discussion on drug policy, but does not believe legalization is the answer, and the summit ended with Latin leaders wondering what they should do next.
“The chorus of voices calling for a real debate on ending prohibition is growing louder all the time,” Neill Franklin, a former Boston police officer and the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), said in an advisory. “The time for real change is now, but at the Summit of the Americas President Obama announced more than $130 million in aid to fund the continued effort to arrest drug traffickers in Latin America. This prohibition strategy hasn’t worked in the past and it cannot work in the future. Latin American leaders know it, and President Obama must know it.”
“This strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the DPA, said in a media advisory. “While the rhetoric is new – reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure – the substance of the actual policies is the same. In reality, the administration is prioritizing low-level drug arrests, trampling on state medical marijuana laws, and expanding supply-side interdiction approaches – while not doing enough to actually reduce the harms of drug addiction and misuse, such as the escalating overdose epidemic.”
“The president sure does talk a good game about treating drugs as a health issue but so far it’s just that: talk,” Franklin concluded. “Instead of continuing to fund the same old ‘drug war’ approaches that are proven not to work, the president needs to put his money where his mouth is.”
What could your not for profit organization, community or arts group, labor union, school, or local church do with its own fully operational low power FM radio station? This is not a rhetorical question, it’s a very practical one. Late in 2012, or early in 2013, the Federal Communications Commission will be accepting license applications to operate what could be hundreds of neighborhood FM radio stations in cities and towns across the country.
For most of the last two decades, the Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project, which you can find on the web at http://www.prometheus.org has led this fight, partnering with local forces to bring the technical knowledge, and doing the watchdogging and advocacy on the national level that got the laws passed and appropriate regulations enacted. And now the licensing window is almost here. It’s a moment that’s been a long time coming. Corporate broadcasters, and even so-called public broadcasters have spent millions to hire lobbyists and rented congressmen and senators to deny the broadcast microphone to anything or anybody that is not, or isn’t owned by a greedy for-profit corporation.
Commercial radio has impoverished our music, by preventing local artists from reaching local audiences. Commercial radio has starved our communities of news by withdrawing corporate support for the gathering and broadcasting of original news, especially local news. Without local artists reaching local audiences, without local news and without the ability of people to listen to and lead their own local conversations, we are NOT communities, we are ONLY markets. Turning our collective relations into exclusively market-mediated relations is in fact the vision of the corporate America.
The fight for the rights of nonprofit community broadcasters to access the radio dial is nothing less than a fight for the rights of people to hear their own voices. It’s a fight for the right to own and operate media which recognizes and builds communities, where commercial media ignores communities, instead recognizing only markets to be delivered to its advertisers.
What could your organization do with its own low power FM radio station? Think about it. Low power FM stations will broadcast to an area 12 miles in diameter. We’re talking about neighborhood radio that binds actual neighbors together around their own needs, concerns and objectives, the same needs, concerns and objectives that caused you to form your local not for profit organization in the first place.
While individual nonprofit organizations can apply for station licenses, preference will be given to coalitions of two, three and more local organizations, because a wider base ensures more success both at fundraising and at the production of original programming for your local radio station. The minimum financial barriers to application and station startup are not terribly high, either, often in the low to mid single-digit thousands. Do your organization’s capacity-building and community building efforts a favor, and find out just what your organization could do with its very own low power FM radio station.
To find out more about this once in a liftetime opportunity, join Black Agenda Report and Prometheus Radio for a one hour informational conference call with Prometheus Radio on Thursday, April 26, at 9PM EST, 8PM CST. That’s Thursday evening, April 26 at 9PM Eastern, 8 PM Central and 6PM Pacific time. To obtain the number and code, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce A. Dixon lives in Marietta GA, and is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
- FCC Decision on Local Community Radio Act a Boon for Communities (commondreams.org)
The Indian government has confiscated the bank guarantees of a blacklisted Israeli military company following an Indian defense ministry probe into the Israeli firm’s “murky” arms deals.
The Indian ministry has penalized the Israeli Military Industries (IMI) by cashing its $70 million bank guarantees for “violating an integrity pact” in a contract to set up a plant to produce bi-modular charge systems, a propellant for 155 mm guns, at Nalanda in Bihar in eastern India.
The IMI signed the contract with the Indian OFB-Ordinance Factory Board to build ordnance factories in Bihar for manufacturing bi-modular charges for the Indian Army’s 155mm howitzers. The $260 million contract contained an “integrity pact” covering a commitment to abstain from “malpractice.”
Delhi says the IMI forfeited its guarantee as it was “involved in the offer of a bribe” to the former director general of OFB in 2010.
The IMI was among six firms banned by the Indian defense ministry over corruption charges.
The Indian defense ministry hopes that the Nalanda plant, crucial for the army, would start functioning by the end of this year.
The project has been jinxed right from the point it was conceived in the 1999.
The first contract was awarded to South African company Denel, which was banned on allegations of corruption.
The contract, which has resulted in cost over-runs, was then awarded to IMI, which again got into trouble.
- Indian Defence Ministry Bans Israeli Military Industries (Uzi Manufacturer) For 10 Years For Corruption (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
- Scams that rocked India’s defence since 2007 (indianmilitarynews.wordpress.com)
- Israel stunned by India’s ban on defense contracts (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
Knesset to discuss bill authorising settlers’ seizure of Palestinian landIsrael’s Knesset (parliament) is due to hold a special session on Wednesday to discuss a bill which would authorise Jewish settlers to build on private Palestinian land, especially in the Migron settlement outpost and other such places. All Jewish settlements, “outposts” or not, are illegal under international law. That the Israeli parliament even gives time to debate such a law is a strong indication of the contempt in which it holds international laws and conventions, and the international community at large.
The parliamentary session will take place because MK Danny Danon, of the ruling Likud Party, has been able to collect the signatures of 25 MKs for this purpose; this is required during the parliament’s Passover recess.
The bill drafted by Danon proposes compensation for the Palestinian owners of land where settlements are to be built. This would cover dozens of families as such a law would give legitimacy to many settlement outposts.
The right-wing members of the Knesset are seeking the support for the bill from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has announced his intention to strengthen Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to Hebrew media sources, Danon’s efforts follow the Supreme Court decision to cancel an agreement between the Israeli government and the settlers in the Migron outpost which would require them to be re-housed somewhere else. Danon has also been motivated by the decision of Defence Minister Ehud Barak to evict Jewish settlers from a Palestinian house that they seized recently in Hebron.
“The Supreme Court is trying to prevent the government from working,” said Danon, “and we are trying to prevent the evacuation of Jews from their homes. We will not accept another court decision such as the one on Migron and we will not accept an evacuation process such as the one in Hebron.”
Arab MKs expect the Knesset’s summer session to witness a race by right-wing parties in the Knesset for laws supporting settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including the illegal (even under Israeli law) outposts, especially in light of hints about early parliamentary elections.
- Jewish settlers stealing Palestinian water springs: UN (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli settlers storm into Palestinian home, occupy residence (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Settlers Install New Outpost Near Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Study: Israeli ‘state land’ illegally taken from West Bank (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In the early morning hours of Monday March 26th, a large force of Israeli soldiers surrounded the Haniyeh house in Al-Bireh, located in the heart of the West Bank’s capital city of Ramallah. After setting up a perimeter around the house, 12 well-armed soldiers kicked down the Haniyeh’s door and entered the home.
“They broke the door. They didn’t knock. They didn’t ring. They broke the door and we found them in the middle of our bedroom,” says 26 year-old Dima Haniyeh.
After confining Dima’s parents to their bedroom, the soldiers proceeded on to the next bedroom shared by Dima and her 22 year-old sister, Ola.
Right off the bat, Dima recalls, it was clear the soldiers had an apparent interest in her young sister. “They wanted to search us both and they wanted Ola’s mobile phone and laptop.”
A female soldier was brought in to search them both.
Coincidentally, Ola’s phone had been lost several days before but the soldiers didn’t believe her.
“If you don’t give us your phone we are going to destroy the room. We will destroy every room until we find it,” Dima remembers one of the soldiers having said.
They did just that—, emptying every drawer onto the floor, flipping the beds, and clearing the shelves. Eventually, they told Ola to get dressed. They wanted to take her with them for questioning.
Ola remembers her father saying, “Why don’t you ask her here?! You’ve been here an hour and a half and haven’t asked a single question!”
Brushing aside her father’s supplications, and in violation of Fourth Geneva Convention, the soldiers took Ola with them and brought her directly to Israel’s Askalan prison in the Naqab Desert.
Another Detainee Without Charges
Ola has been held in Askalan ever since. Although no charges have been officially filed against her, a review trial held at the Askalan military court on Thursday April 5th ruled in favor of a 7-day extension of Ola’s detention. Ola was given another trial on Wednesday April 4th which resulted in yet another detention extension for the second time, as the prosecutors and Israeli judge did not carry out an investigation as they were on a vacation. Ola’s third court extension date was given this week, with her due to appear in court on Thursday, April 19.
“She is being interrogated daily regarding internet activity. The suspicion is that the internet pages are connected to ‘security activities’”, says Amal Husein of Addameer.
Ola’s detention was up for review on Tuesday April 17th. Her family and friends are confident that she will be released, as she hasn’t been accused or charged of anything as of yet. However, given the Israeli authorities’ administrative detention track record, anything is possible.
“People have said that the Israeli authorities have taken many people because of Facebook,” says Dima. “But everyone has a Facebook. Everyone puts his or her opinion on Facebook. There is nothing serious about it… it is freedom of speech.”
Ola recently graduated with a degree in Media and Political Science from Birzeit University last Fall. “She might go to protests sometimes, as all of us do, to speak out against the occupation and to support people- nothing extraordinary,” says Dima. “All of us participate—its part of being in Palestine and living under occupation.”
“She’s a quiet girl,” continues Dima. “She is a genuine and passionate person. She has friends and is lively, but she is much more the quiet type.”
Ola’s sister Dima says that Ola had perhaps had made comments on Facebook in support of Palestinian prisoners in general and against Israel’s policy of administrative detention but had done nothing out of the ordinary. “She is a journalist. This is her job. She should be able to do that,” argues Dima.
Ola’s sister and friends are quite confident that she was arrested simply because she voiced her opinions—a scary thought in the Facebook age.
“When you don’t have charges against someone—why… how can you keep them detained?” asks Dima. “When you don’t have any serious charges, how can you break down someone’s door in the middle of the night and take them? What happens when they have a serious case? What will they do then? Its scary.”
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- Israel – Israeli troops force two Palestinian TV stations to close (en.rsf.org)
- Report: 201 Palestinians Died in Israeli Jails (and more…) (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)