On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired between 61 and 67 shots into a crowd of unarmed anti-war protestors at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four students and wounding nine others. My 19-year-old sister, Allison Krause, was one of four students shot to death by the Ohio National Guard in the parking lot of her university campus as she protested the Vietnam War. I was 15 years old at the time.
It has been 44 years, and the U.S. government still refuses to admit that it participated in the killing of four young students at Kent State. There has not been a credible, independent, impartial investigation into Kent State. No group or individual has been held accountable. In 2010, after undeniable forensic evidence emerged pointing to direct U.S. government involvement in the killings, Emily Kunstler and I founded the Kent State Truth Tribunal (KSTT). Our hope was to finally receive a full account of the tragic events and to see that the victims and their families receive redress. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to reopen the case, claiming there were “insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers.”
But justice for Allison doesn’t have to end there. To that end, we are traveling to Geneva, Switzerland, next week to demand accountability for the Kent State massacre before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which will be reviewing U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the few human rights treaties ratified by the United States.
The right to assemble and protest is a cherished American value and is a universal human right. But the United States – and so many other proclaimed democracies around the world – repeatedly and shamelessly commits gross violations of this human right. We were recently reminded of extensive U.S. government surveillance of anti-war activists in the 1960s, but sadly, such dangerous activity isn’t a thing of the distant past. As recently as 2011, with the start of the “Occupy” movement, protestors were labeled “domestic terrorists,” surveilled by the FBI, and arrested in massive numbers for nonviolent demonstrations and assemblies.
The Kent State precedent has cast a shadow over our democracy for over 40 years. If Kent State remains a glaring example of government impunity, it sends a message that protestors can be killed by the state for expressing their political beliefs. This lack of accountability and hostility towards peaceful expression flies in the face not only of our Constitution, but also our international human rights commitments.
Though we are a small organization, KSTT is committed to seeking justice for the victims of the Kent State massacre. Next week, representatives from KSTT will be briefing the U.N. Human Rights Committee about the United States’ failure to provide full accountability for the Kent State massacre. We hope the Committee will ask our government to provide answers regarding its complicity in the killing of peaceful protesters, or at the very least acknowledge its failure to conduct a thorough and credible investigation. We intend to make it clear that we have not forgotten the horrific event that took place at Kent State. Allison stood for peace and died for peace. May no other protestor in the U.S. ever have to pay the price she paid for her peaceful political expression and dissent.
An Israeli military contractor, whose surveillance technology is used along Israel’s apartheid wall constructed in the Palestinian West Bank, has been chosen by the United States to provide similar services on the southern border with Mexico, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.
Elbit Systems announced on Sunday that the US Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had awarded its subsidiary a $145 million contract to deploy border surveillance technology in southern Arizona, Reuters reported.
But according to Bloomberg analyst Brian Friel, quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the one-year contract could expand to a broader $1 billion deal if the US Congress passes stringent immigration legislation.
Elbit Systems is set to install watch towers along the border with sensors for spotting, tracking, and classifying data, along with command and control centers.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona hailed the deal as a “step in the right direction.”
“Arizonans have been waiting more than a decade for the Department of Homeland Security to place the needed technology along our border to support the Border Patrol and fully secure our southern border,” he said in a statement.
“If this technology is developed, integrated and fielded correctly, these Integrated Fixed Towers in southern Arizona, coupled with the tremendous work of the Border Patrol, will give our agents the ability to detect, evaluate, and respond to all illegal entries crossing our border.”
A government contractor said the choice of an Israeli firm was justified by of its “advanced” experience in maintaining separation barriers.
“It is odd to go offshore for this work, but in extraordinary circumstances, one really wants to employ the best,” Haaretz quoted Mark Amtower, a partner at Amtower & Co, as saying.
Elbit Systems is one of the primary military suppliers of the Israel’s occupation forces. Its Hermes 450 attack drone has been used extensively in the besieged Gaza Strip, as well as in Lebanon during the 2006 war.
The company is also responsible for surveillance technology along the apartheid wall erected by Israel within the West Bank. Only 15 percent of the separation barrier is built along the so-called 1949 Green Line, which is recognized by the international community as the border of Israel proper, UN figures show, with most of it jutting into the occupied West Bank.
The 440-kilometer long barrier is considered illegal under international law.
Among its many international contracts, Elbit contributed in 2013 to a $40 million expansive Internet surveillance program for the Nigerian government.
Elbit Systems has officially pledged on its website to “contribute to the enhancement of quality of life and the environment of the communities in which we live and work.”
But this contribution mainly consists of supporting Israeli occupation forces through the “Adopt a Combat Unit” program.
Elbit is targeted by the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for “directly contribut[ing] to violations of international humanitarian law.”
The Stop the Wall campaign has called Elbit a “symbol” which“thrives on and fuels war, repression and control in Palestine and around the globe.”
“Elbit offers its experience in ghettoizing and killing Palestinians to repress other people,” the campaign wrote of the company’s international projects.
“Because Elbit Systems is knowingly participating in and aiding Israeli war crimes and Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, investors in and partners of the security firm are, by extension, accessories to Israel’s many violations of international law and human rights standards.”
By the early 1980s the more perceptive sectors of the neoliberal ruling classes realized that their policies were polarizing the society and provoking large-scale social discontent.
Neoliberal politicians began to finance and promote a parallel strategy “from below,” the promotion of “grassroots” organization with an”anti-statist” ideology to intervene among potentially conflictory classes, to create a “social cushion.” These organizations were financially dependent on neoliberal sources and were directly involved in competing with socio-political movements for the allegiance of local leaders and activist communities. By the 1990s these organizations, described as “nongovernmental,” numbered in the thousands and were receiving close to four billion dollars world-wide.
Neoliberalism and the NGOs
The confusion concerning the political character of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stems from their earlier history in the 1970s during the days of the dictatorships. In this period they were active in providing humanitarian support to the victims of the military dictatorship and denouncing human rights violations. The NGOs supported “soup kitchens” which allowed victimized families to survive the first wave of shock treatments administered by the neoliberal dictatorships. This period created a favorable image of NGOs even among the left. They were considered part of the “progressive camp.”
Even then, however, the limits of the NGOs were evident. While they attacked the human rights violations of local dictatorships, they rarely denounced the U.S. and European patrons who financed and advised them. Nor was there a serious effort to link the neoliberal economic policies and human rights violations to the new turn in the imperialist system. Obviously the external sources of funding limited the sphere of criticism and human rights action.
As opposition to neoliberalism grew in the early 1980s, the U.S. and European governments and the World Bank increased their funding ofNGOs. There is a direct relation between the growth of social movements challenging the neoliberal model and the effort to subvert them by creating alternative forms of social action through the NGOs. The basic point of convergence between the NGOs and the World Bank was their common opposition to”statism.” On the surface the NGOs criticized the state from a “left” perspective defending civil society, while the right did so in the name of the market. In reality, however, the World Bank, the neoliberal regimes, and western foundations co-opted and encouraged the NGOs to undermine the national welfare state by providing social services to compensate the victims of the multinational corporations (MNCs). In other words, as the neoliberal regimes at the top devastated communities by inundating the country with cheap imports, extracting external debt payment, abolishing labor legislation, and creating a growing mass of low-paid and unemployed workers, the NGOs were funded to provide “self-help” projects, “popular education,” and job training, to temporarily absorb small groups of poor, to co-opt local leaders, and to undermine anti-system struggles.
The NGOs became the “community face” of neoliberalism, intimately related to those at the top and complementing their destructive work with local projects. In effect the neoliberals organized a “pincer” operation or dual strategy. Unfortunately many on the left focused only on “neoliberalism” from above and the outside (International Monetary Fund, World Bank) and not on neoliberalism from below (NGOs, micro-enterprises). A major reason for this oversight was the conversion of many ex-Marxists to the NGO formula and practice. Anti-Statism was the ideological transit ticket from class politics to “community development,” from Marxism to the NGOs.
Typically, NGO ideologues counterpose “state” power to “local” power. State power is, they argue, distant from its citizens, autonomous, and arbitrary, and it tends to develop interests different from and opposed to those of its citizens, while local power is necessarily closer and more responsive to the people. But apart from historical cases where the reverse has also been true, this leaves out the essential relation between state and local power—the simple truth that state power wielded by a dominant, exploiting class will undermine progressive local initiatives, while that same power in the hands of progressive forces can reinforce such initiatives.
The counter position of state and local power has been used to justify the role of NGOs as brokers between local organizations, neoliberal foreign donors (World Bank, Europe, or the United States) and the local free market regimes. But the effect is to strengthen neoliberal regimes by severing the link between local struggles and organizations and national/international political movements. The emphasis on “local activity” serves the neoliberal regimes since it allows its foreign and domestic backers to dominate macro-socio-economic policy and to channel most of the state’s resources toward subsidies for export capitalists and financial institutions.
So while the neoliberals were transferring lucrative state properties to the private rich, the NGOs were not part of the trade union resistance. On the contrary they were active in local private projects, promoting the private enterprise discourse (self-help) in the local communities by focusing on micro-enterprises. The NGOs built ideological bridges between the small scale capitalists and the monopolies benefiting from privatization—all in the name of “anti-statism”and the building of civil societies. While the rich accumulated vast financial empires from the privatization, the NGO middle class professionals got small sums to finance offices, transportation, and small-scale economic activity.
The important political point is that the NGOs depoliticized sectors of the population, undermined their commitment to public employees, and co-opted potential leaders in small projects. NGOs abstain from public schoolteacher struggles, as the neoliberal regimes attack public education and public educators. Rarely if ever do NGOs support the strikes and protests against low wages and budget cuts. Since their educational funding comes from the neoliberal governments, they avoid solidarity with public educators in struggle. In practice, “non-governmental” translates into anti-public-spending activities, freeing the bulk of funds for neoliberals to subsidize export capitalists while small sums trickle from the government to NGOs.
In reality non-governmental organizations are not non-governmental. They receive funds from overseas governments or work as private subcontractors of local governments. Frequently they openly collaborate with governmental agencies at home or overseas. This “subcontracting”undermines professionals with fixed contracts, replacing them with contingent professionals. The NGOs cannot provide the long-term comprehensive programs that the welfare state can furnish. Instead they provide limited services to narrow groups of communities. More importantly, their programs are not accountable to the local people but to overseas donors. In that sense NGOs undermine democracy by taking social programs out of the hands of the local people and their elected officials to create dependence on non-elected, overseas officials and their locally anointed officials.
NGOs shift people’s attention and struggles away from the national budget and toward self-exploitation to secure local social services. This allows the neoliberals to cut social budgets and transfer state funds to subsidize bad debts of private banks, and provide loans to exporters. Self exploitation (self-help) means that, in addition to paying taxes to the state and not getting anything in return, working people have to work extra hours with marginal resources, and expend scarce energies to obtain services that the bourgeoisie continues to receive from the state. More fundamentally, the NGO ideology of “private voluntaristic activity” undermines the sense of the “public”: the idea that the government has an obligation to look after its citizens and provide them with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that the political responsibility of the state is essential for the well-being of citizens. Against this notion of public responsibility, the NGOs foster the neoliberal idea of private responsibility for social problems and the importance of private resources to solve these problems. In effect they impose a double burden on the poor who continue to pay taxes to finance the neoliberal state to serve the rich, but are left with private self-exploitation to take care of their own needs.
NGOs and Socio-political Movements
NGOs emphasize projects, not movements; they “mobilize” people to produce at the margins but not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth; they focus on technical financial assistance of projects, not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The NGOs co-opt the language of the left: “popular power,” “empowerment,” “gender equality,” “sustainable development,” “bottom-up leadership.” The problem is that this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate practical activity to non-confrontational politics. The local nature of NGO activity means that “empowerment” never goes beyond influencing small areas of social life, with limited resources, and within the conditions permitted by the neoliberal state and macro-economy.
The NGOs and their post-Marxist professional staff directly compete with the socio-political movements for influence among the poor, women, and the racially excluded. Their ideology and practice diverts attention from the sources and solutions of poverty (looking downward and inward instead of upward and outward). To speak of micro-enterprises, instead of the elimination of exploitation by the overseas banks, as the solution, is based on the notion that the problem is one of individual initiative rather than the transference of income overseas. The NGO’s aid affects small sectors of the population, setting up competition between communities for scarce resources, generating insidious distinctions and inter- and intra-community rivalries, thus undermining class solidarity. The same is true among the professionals: each sets up its NGO to solicit overseas funds. They compete by presenting proposals more congenial to the overseas donors, while claiming to speak for their followers.
The net effect is a proliferation of NGOs that fragment poor communities into sectoral and sub-sectoral groupings unable to see the larger social picture that afflicts them and even less able to unite in struggle against the system. Recent experience also demonstrates that foreign donors finance projects during “crises”—political and social challenges to the status quo. Once the movements have ebbed they shift funding to NGO-style “collaboration,” fitting the NGO projects into the neoliberal agenda. Economic development compatible with the “free market” rather than social organization for social change becomes the dominant item on the funding agenda.
The structure and nature of NGOs, with their “apolitical” posture and their focus on self-help, depoliticizes and demobilizes the poor. They reinforce the electoral processes encouraged by the neoliberal parties and mass media. Political education about the nature of imperialism, and the class basis of neoliberalism, the class struggle between exporters and temporary workers, are avoided. Instead the NGOs discuss “the excluded,” the “powerless,” “extreme poverty,” “gender or racial discrimination,” without moving beyond the superficial symptom to the social system that produces these conditions. Incorporating the poor into the neoliberal economy through purely “private voluntary action,” the NGOs create a political world where the appearance of solidarity and social action cloaks a conservative conformity with the international and national structure of power.
It is no coincidence that as NGOs have become dominant in certain regions, independent class political action has declined, and neoliberalism goes uncontested. The bottom line is that the growth of NGOs coincides with increased funding under neoliberalism and the deepening of poverty everywhere. Despite the claims of many local successes, the overall power of neoliberalism stands unchallenged and the NGOs increasingly search for niches in the interstices of power.
The problem of formulating alternatives has been hindered in another way too. Many of the former leaders of guerrilla and social movements, trade union and popular women’s organizations have been co-opted by the NGOs. Some have undoubtedly been attracted by the hope—or the illusion—that this might give them access to levers of power which would allow them to do some good. But in any case, the offer is tempting: higher pay (occasionally in hard currency), prestige and recognition by overseas donors, overseas conferences and networks, office staff, and relative security from repression. In contrast, the socio-political movements offer few material benefits but greater respect and independence and, more importantly, the freedom to challenge the political and economic system. The NGOs and their overseas banking supporters (Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank) publish newsletters featuring success stories of micro-enterprises and other self-help projects—without mentioning the high rates of failure as popular consumption declines, low-priced imports flood the market, and interest rates spiral, as in Mexico today.
Even the “successes” affect only a small fraction of the total poor and succeed only to the degree that others cannot enter the same market. The propaganda value of individual micro-enterprise success, however, is important in fostering the illusion that neoliberalism is a popular phenomenon. The frequent violent mass outbursts that take place in regions of micro-enterprise promotion suggests that the ideology is not hegemonic and the NGOs have not yet displaced independent class movements.
Finally NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism and dependency. Projects are designed, or at least approved, based on the “guidelines” and priorities of the imperial centers and their institutions. They are administered and “sold” to communities. Evaluations are done by and for the imperial institutions. Shifts of funding priorities or bad evaluations result in the dumping of groups, communities, farms, and co-operatives. Everything and everybody is increasingly disciplined to comply with the donors and project evaluators’ demands. The new viceroys supervise and ensure conformity with the goals, values, and ideologies of the donor as well as the proper use of funds. Where “successes” occur they are heavily dependent on continued outside support, without which they could collapse.
In many ways the hierarchical structures and the forms of transmission of “aid” and “training” resemble nineteenth-century charity, and the promoters are not very different from Christian missionaries. The NGOs emphasize “self-help” in attacking “paternalism and dependence” on the state. In this competition among NGOs to capture the victims of neoliberals, they receive important subsidies from their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The self-help ideology emphasizes the replacement of public employees by volunteers, and upwardly mobile professionals contracted on a temporary basis. The basic philosophy of the NGO intellectuals is to transform “solidarity” into collaboration and subordination to the macro-economy of neoliberalism, by focusing attention away from state resources of the wealthy classes toward self-exploitation of the poor.
But, while the mass of NGOs are increasingly instruments of neoliberalism, there is a small minority which attempt to develop an alternative strategy that is supportive of anti-imperialist and class politics. None of them receive funds from the World Bank, European, or U.S. governmental agencies. They support efforts to link local power to struggles for state power. They link local projects to national socio-political movements: occupying large landed estates, defending public property and national ownership against multinationals. They provide political solidarity to social movements involved in struggles to expropriate land. They support women’s struggles linked to class perspectives. They recognize the importance of politics in defining local and immediate struggles. They believe that local organizations should fight at the national level and that national leaders must be accountable to local activists.
Let us examine some examples of the role of NGOs and their relation to neoliberalism and imperialism in specific countries:
In 1985 the Bolivian government launched its New Economic Policy (NEP) by decree: freezing wages for four months while inflation raged at a 15,000 percent annual rate. The NEP annulled all price controls and reduced or ended food and fuel subsidies. It also laid the basis for the privatization of most state enterprises and the firing of public-sector employees. Massive cutbacks in health and education programs eliminated most public services. These structural adjustment policies (SAP) were designed and dictated by the World Bank and the IMF and approved by the U.S. and European governments and banks. The number of poverty stricken Bolivians grew geometrically. Prolonged general strikes and violent confrontations followed. In response the World Bank, European, and U.S. governments provided massive aid to fund a “poverty alleviation program.” Most of the money was directed to a Bolivian government agency, the Emergency Social Fund (ESF), which channeled funds to the NGOs to implement its program. The funds were not insignificant: in 1990 foreign aid totaled $738 million.
The number of NGOs in Bolivia grew rapidly in response to international funding: prior to 1980 there were 100 NGOs; by 1992 there were 530 and growing. Almost all the NGOs are directed toward addressing social problems created by the World Bank and the Bolivian government’s free market policies, which the dismantled state institutions no longer can deal with. Of the tens of millions allocated to the NGOs, only 15 to 20 percent reached the poor. The rest was siphoned off to pay administrative costs and professional salaries. The Bolivian NGOs functioned as appendages of the state and served to consolidate its power. The absolute levels of poverty stayed the same and the long-term structural causes—the neoliberal policies—were cushioned by the NGOs. While not solving the poverty problem, the NGO-administered poverty programs strengthened the regime and weakened opposition to the SAP. The NGOs, with their big budgets, exploited vulnerable groups and were able to convince some leaders of the opposition that they could benefit from working with the government. According to one observer, commenting on the NGO role in the “poverty program”: “If this (NGO programs) did not create direct support, it at least reduced potential opposition to the government and its program.”
When the public school teachers of La Paz went on strike to protest $50-a-month wages and crowded classrooms, the NGOs ignored it; when cholera and yellow fever epidemics raged in the countryside, the NGO self-help programs were helpless where a comprehensive public health program would have been successful in preventing them. The NGOs did absorb many of Bolivia’s former leftist intellectuals and turned them into apologists for the neoliberal system. Their seminars about “civil society” and “globalization” obscured the fact that the worst exploiters (the private mine owners, new rich agro-exporters, and high paid consultants) were members of “civil society” and that the SAP was an imperial design to open the country’s mineral resources to unregulated pillage.
In Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973-1989, the NGOs played an important role denouncing human rights violations, preparing studies critical of the neoliberal model and sustaining soup kitchens and other poverty programs. Their numbers multiplied with the advent of the massive popular struggles between 1982 and 1986 that threatened to overthrow the dictatorship. To the extent that they expressed an ideology, it was oriented toward “democracy” and “development with equity.” Of the close to two hundred NGOs, fewer than five provided a clear critical analysis and exposition of the links between U.S. imperialism and the dictatorship, the ties between World Bank funded free market policies and the 47 percent level of poverty.
In July of 1986 there was a successful general strike—a guerrilla group almost succeeded in killing Pinochet—and the United States sent a representative (Gelbard) to broker an electoral transition between the more conservative sectors of the opposition and Pinochet. An electoral calendar was established, a plebiscite was organized, and the electoral parties re-emerged. An alliance between Christian Democrats and Socialists was forged and eventually won the plebiscite, ending Pinochet’s rule (but not his command of the armed forces and secret police); this alliance subsequently won the presidency.
The social movements which played a vital role in ending the dictatorships were marginalized. The NGOs turned from supporting the movements to collaborating with the government. The Socialist and Christian Democratic NGO professionals became government ministers. From critics of Pinochet’s free market policies they became its celebrants. Former President of CIEPLAN (a major research institute) Alejandro Foxley publicly promised to continue managing the macro-economic indicators in the same fashion as Pinochet’s minister. The NGOs were instructed by their foreign donors to end their support for independent grassroots movements and to collaborate with the new civilian neoliberal regime. Sur Profesionales, one of the best known research NGOs, carried out research on the “propensity for violence” in the shantytowns—information that was useful to the police and the new regime in repressing independent social movements. Two of its chief researchers (specialty: social movements) became government ministers administering economic policies that created the most lopsided income inequalities in recent Chilean history.
The NGOs’ external links and the professional ambitions of its leaders played a major role in undermining the burgeoning popular movement. Most of its leaders became government functionaries who co-opted local leaders, while undermining rank-and-file style community assemblies. Interviews with women active in the shantytown Lo Hermida revealed the shift in the post-electoral period. “The NGOs told us that because democracy has arrived there is no need to continue the (soup-kitchen) programs. You don’t need us.” Increasingly the NGOs conditioned their activities on supporting the “democratic” free market regime. The NGO functionaries continued to use their participatory rhetoric to hustle votes for their parties in the government and to secure government contracts.
One striking impact of the NGOs in Chile was its relationship to the “women’s movement.” What started as a promising activist group in the mid-1980s was gradually taken over by NGOs who published expensive newsletters from well-furnished offices. The “leaders” who lived in fashionable neighborhoods represented a shrinking number of women. During the Latin American Feminist Conference in Chile in 1997, a militant group of rank-and-file Chilean feminist (”the autonomists”) provided a radical critique of the NGO feminists as sellouts to government subsidies.
The most dynamic social movement in Brazil is the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). With over five thousand organizers and several hundred thousand sympathizers and activists, it has been directly involved in hundreds of land occupations over the past few years. At a conference organized in May 1996, by the MST, at which I spoke, the role of NGOs was one of the subjects of debate. A representative from a Dutch NGO appeared on the scene and insisted on participating. When he was told the meeting was closed, he told them that he had a “proposal” for funding ($300 thousand) community development, and insisted on entering. In no uncertain terms the MST leaders told him that they were not for sale and that anyway, they, the MST, design their own “projects” according to their own needs and don’t need NGO tutors.
Later the women’s caucus of the MST discussed a recent meeting with rural-based feminist NGOs. The MST women pushed for a class struggle perspective, combining direct action (land occupations) and the struggle for agrarian reform with gender equality. The NGO professionals insisted that the MST women break with their organizations and support a minimalist program of strictly feminist reforms. The end result was a tactical agreement opposing domestic violence, registering women as heads of families, and encouraging gender equality. The MST women, mostly daughters of landless peasants, perceived the NGO professionals as divisive careerists, not willing to challenge the political and economic elite that oppressed all peasants. Despite their criticisms of their male comrades, they clearly felt greater affinity with the movement than with the class-collaborationist “feminist” NGOs.
In our discussion, the MST distinguished between NGOs that contribute to the movement (money, resources, etc.) to finance class struggle, and NGOs that are essentially missionary outfits that fragment and isolate peasants, as is the case with many pentecostal and USAID and World Bank sponsored NGO projects.
Throughout Latin America peasant militants have voiced serious criticisms of the role and politics of the vast majority of NGOs, particularly about the patronizing and domineering attitude that they display behind their ingratiating rhetoric of “popular empowerment” and participation. I encountered this directly during a recent visit to El Salvador, where I was giving a seminar for the Alianza Democratica Campesino (the ADC, or Democratic Peasant Alliance) which represents 26 peasant and landless workers’ organizations.
Part of our collaboration involved the joint development of a project to fund a peasant-directed research and training center. Together with the leaders of the ADC we visited a private Canadian agency, CRC SOGEMA, which was subcontracted by CIDA, the Canadian government’s foreign assistance agency. They administered a $25 million (Canadian) aid packet for El Salvador. Before our visit, one of the ADC leaders had held an informal discussion with one of the Salvadoran associates of CRC SOGEMA. He explained the proposal and its importance for stimulating peasant-based participatory research. The CRC SOGEMA representative proceeded to draw a figure of a person on a piece of paper. He pointed to the head. “That,” he said, “is the NGOs: they think, write, and prepare programs.” He then pointed to the hands and feet, “that’s the peasants: they provide data and implement the projects.”
This revealing episode was the background to our formal meeting with the head of CRC SOGEMA. The director told us that the money was already earmarked for a Salvadoran NGO: FUNDE (Fundacion Nacional para el Desarrollo, the National Foundation for Development), a consulting firm of upwardly mobile professionals. She encouraged the peasant leaders to co-operate and to become involved because, she said, it would be “empowering.” In the course of our conversation, it emerged that the Salvadoran associate of CRC SOGEMA who had expressed that outrageous view of the relation between NGOs (the head) and peasants (the hands and feet) was a “link” between FUNDE and SOGEMA. The ADC leaders responded that, while FUNDE was technically competent, their “courses” and research did not meet the needs of the peasants and that they had a very paternalistic attitude toward the peasants. When the Canadian director asked for an example, the ADC leaders related the incident of the “political drawing” and the role to which it relegated peasants.
This was, said the director of SOGEMA, a “very unfortunate incident,” but they were nonetheless committed to working with the FUNDE. If the ADC wished to have an impact they would best attend FUNDE meetings. The ADC leaders pointed out that the project’s design and goals were elaborated by middle class professionals, while peasants were invited to collaborate by providing data and attending their “seminars.” In a fit of annoyance, the director called the meeting to an end. The peasant leaders were furious. “Why were we led to believe that they (the Canadian agency) were interested in peasant participation, democracy, and all the other crap, when they are already plugged into the NGOs, who don’t represent a single peasant? That study will never be read by any peasant, nor will it be at all relevant to our struggle for land. It will be about “modernization” and how to swindle the peasants out of their land and turn them into commercial farms or tourist areas.”
The managers of NGOs have become skilled in designing projects. They transmit the new rhetoric of “identity” and “globalism” into the popular movements. Their activities and texts promote international cooperation, self-help, micro-enterprises, and forge ideological bonds with the neoliberals while forcing people into economic dependency on external donors. After a decade of NGO activity these professionals have “depoliticized” and de-radicalized whole areas of social life: women, neighborhoods, and youth organizations. In Peru and Chile, where the NGO’s have become firmly established, the radical social movements have declined.
Local struggles over immediate issues are the food and substance that nurture emerging movements. NGOs certainly emphasize the “local,” but the crucial question is what direction local actions will take: whether they will raise the larger issues of the social system and link up with other local forces to confront the state and its imperial backers, or whether they will turn inward, while looking to foreign donors and fragmenting into a series of competing supplicants for external subsidies. The ideology of NGOs encourages the latter.
NGO intellectuals frequently write about “co-operation” but without dwelling on the price and conditions for securing the co-operation of neoliberal regimes and overseas funding agencies. In their role as mediators and brokers, hustling funds overseas and matching the funds to projects acceptable to donors and local recipients, the “foundation entrepreneurs” are engaged in a new type of politics similar to the “labor contractors” (enganchadores) of the not too distant past: herding together women to be “trained”; setting up micro-firms subcontracted to larger producers or exporters employing cheap labor. The new politics of the NGOs is essentially the politics of compradores: they produce no national products; instead, they link foreign funders with local labor (self-help micro-enterprises) to facilitate the continuation of the neoliberal regime. The managers of NGOs are fundamentally political actors whose projects and training workshops do not make any significant economic impact in raising workers’ and peasants’ incomes. But their activities do make an impact in diverting people from the class struggle into forms of collaboration with their oppressors.
To justify this approach, NGO ideologies will often invoke “pragmatism” or “realism,” citing the decline of the revolutionary left, the triumph of capitalism in the East, the “crisis of Marxism,” the loss of alternatives, the strength of the United States, the coups and repression by the military. This “possibilism” is used to convince the left to work within the niches of the free market imposed by the World Bank and structural adjustment, and to confine politics to the electoral parameters imposed by the military.
The pessimistic “possibilism” of the NGO ideologues is necessarily one-sided. They focus on neoliberal electoral victories and not on the post-electoral mass protests and general strikes that mobilize large numbers of people in extra-parliamentary activity. They look at the demise of communism in the late eighties and not to the revival of radical social movements in the mid-nineties. They describe the constraints of the military on electoral politicians without looking at the challenges to the military by the Zapatista guerrillas, the urban rebellions in Caracas, the general strikes in Bolivia. In a word, the possibilists overlook the dynamics of struggles that begin at the sectoral or local level within the electoral parameters of the military, and then are propelled upward and beyond those limits by the failures of the possibilists to satisfy the elementary demands and needs of the people.
The pragmatism of the NGOs is matched by the extremism of the neoliberals. The 1990’s has witnessed a radicalization of neoliberal policies, designed to forestall crisis by handing over even more lucrative investment and speculative opportunities to overseas banks and multinationals: petroleum in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela; lower wages and less social security payments; greater tax exemption; and the elimination of all protective labor legislation. Contemporary Latin American class structure is more rigid and the state more directly tied to the ruling classes than ever. The irony is that the neoliberals are creating a polarized class structure much closer to the Marxist paradigm of society than to the NGO vision.
This is why Marxism offers a real alternative to NGOism. And in Latin America, there do exist Marxist intellectuals who write and speak for the social movements in struggle, committed to sharing the same political consequences. They are “organic” intellectuals who are basically part of the movement—the resource people providing analysis and education for class struggle, in contrast to the “post-Marxist” NGO intellectuals, who are embedded in the world of institutions, academic seminars, foreign foundations, international conferences and bureaucratic reports. These Marxist intellectuals recognize the centrality of local struggles, but they also acknowledge that the success of those struggles depends to a large extent on the outcome of the conflict between classes over state power at the national level.
What they offer is not the hierarchical “solidarity” of foreign aid and collaboration with neoliberalism, but class solidarity, and within the class, the solidarity of oppressed groups (women and people of color) against their foreign and domestic exploiters. The major focus is not on the donations that divide classes and pacify small groups for a limited time, but on the common action by members of the same class, sharing their common economic, predicament struggling for collective improvement.
The strength of the critical Marxist intellectuals resides in the fact that their ideas are in tune with changing social realities. The growing polarization of classes and the increasingly violent confrontations are apparent. So while the Marxists are numerically weak in the institutional sense, they are strategically strong as they begin to connect with a new generation of revolutionary militants, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the MST in Brazil.
The effect of the Parliament’s decision not to attack Syria last year is still reverberating through the Western military establishment.
Let’s not forget that the decision was forced on the political elite. In the days before the vote the BBC was openly speculating that any such decision would re-ignite Iraq war levels of protest. They cited opinion polling going back a decade to show that anti-war opinion had become entrenched in the UK.
Many MPs in the lobbies did not hide the fact that they were embarrassed at the Iraq vote in 2003 and were unwilling to follow the government into another deeply unpopular conflict.
More recently the Guardian has reported that the Ministry of Defence is worried that multi-culturalism in Britain has made the country systematically averse to war: ‘The MoD is still taking stock of the surprise decision of the House of Commons last summer to reject military intervention to punish President Assad of Syria for the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces’.
In fact the situation is so serious that it is impacting on the defence review, ‘A growing reluctance in an increasingly multicultural Britain to see UK troops deployed on the ground in future operations abroad is influencing the next two strategic defence reviews, according to senior figures at the Ministry of Defence’.
In the wake of the Syria vote, Robert Gates, US imperial Grandee and former Defense Secretary and director of the CIA who served under both Bush and Obama, has said the defence spending cuts in the UK mean that the ‘special relationship’ is over and that Britain ‘won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past’.
This combination of a crisis in public support for military adventures and the usual push-back from the military over defence cuts is casting a new light over the debate about the 100 year commemoration of the First World War.
David Cameron has long made it clear that huge set-piece public spectaculars are part of the government’s way of getting through the recession. The Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics were part of this ‘no bread and circuses’ strategy.
The First World War commemoration was initially thought of mainly in this register, although it was always also going to be about refurbishing the standing of the military as well.
But now, as neo-con Michael Gove’s recent intervention into the debate has made clear, it’s become an ideological offensive bound up with the post-Syria vote crisis of interventionism. Remember Gove was incandescent at the loss of the Syria vote, publically and abusively bawling out Labour MPs in the House of Commons corridors because the vote, he said, had ‘got to him’.
So make no mistake, this will be a full scale British establishment operation.
The Queen will be at a special event at Glasgow Cathedral on 4th August because the city is hosting the Commonwealth Games which end the day before. The plan is that across the country, flags on public buildings will fly at half mast on the anniversary of the outbreak of war. The day will end with a vigil at Westminster Abbey to be ‘attended by scouts, cubs and brownies’ as well as members of the Armed Forces. This will be replicated around Britain in churches, town halls, and other venues.
Ministers hope this will allow people to mark the conflict which ravaged the continent ‘with sorrow and with pride’ and have set aside £10 million just for funding art, drama and music projects linked to the war, from a total government funding for the commemoration of £50 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, a government source said ‘We are keen to ensure that this [will be] a centenary programme that the country can come together on’.
The BBC are planning major, all year coverage. There will be 1,000 books published this year alone on the First World War.
The anti-war movement must meet this ideological operation by the government just as it has met its previous pro-war propaganda efforts. The No Glory campaign, initiated by the Stop the War Coalition, has made a great start. Its initial letter is approaching 15,000 signatures, its website is drawing thousands of visitors every week, the No Glory pamphlet, The Real History of World War One, is a best seller and thousands of pounds were donated in the first few hours of its financial appeal to help fund its events and activities.
But we need to do more. No pro-war article, speech or event should go unchallenged. We need to get into the colleges and schools where these commemorations are being planned. We need to sustain the cultural events that are critical of the war.
The image of the First World War has been established in the popular mind as the most disastrous war ever. The Tories and the establishment hate that fact. And they are out to reverse it.
We cannot let that happen. The more the dead and injured of the First World War are forgotten in a rush of chauvinistic nostalgia, the more likely it is that dead will pile up in future conflicts. This is not just a battle to remember the past correctly. It’s about political priorities in the present. It’s about keeping the peace in the future.
You occasionally read a totally mind bending book that opens up a whole new world for you. The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos is one of them, owing to its unique evidence-based perspective on both “nonviolent” and “violent” resistance. It differs from Gelderloos’s 2007 How Nonviolence Protects the State in its heavy emphasis on indigenous, minority, and working class resistance. A major feature of the new book is an extensive catalog of “combative” rebellions that the corporate elite has whitewashed out of history.
Owing to wide disagreement as to its meaning, Gelderloos discards the term “violent” in describing actions that involve rioting, sabotage, property damage or self-defense against armed police or military. In comparing and contrasting a list of recent protest actions, he makes a convincing case that combative tactics are far more effective in achieving concrete gains that improve ordinary peoples’ lives. He also explodes the myth that “violent” resistance discourages oppressed people from participating in protest activity. He gives numerous examples showing that working people are far more likely to be drawn into combative actions – mainly because of their effectiveness. The only people alienated by combative tactics are educated liberals, many of whom are “career” activists working for foundation-funded nonprofits.
Gelderloos also highlights countries (e.g., Greece and Spain) which have significantly slowed the advance of neoliberal capitalism via combative resistance. In his view, this explains the negative fiscal position of the Greek and Spanish capitalist class in addressing the global debt crisis. Strong worker resistance to punitive labor reforms and austerity cuts has significantly slowed the transfer of wealth to their corporate elite, as well as the roll-out of fascist security measures.
The Gene Sharp Brand of Nonviolence
Gelderloos begins by defining the term “nonviolent” as the formulaic approach laid out by nonviolent guru Gene Sharp in his 1994 From Dictatorship to Democracy and used extensively in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This approach focuses exclusively on political, usually electoral, reform. Gelderloos distinguishes between political revolution, which merely overturns the current political infrastructure and replaces it with a new one – and social revolution, which overturns hierarchical political infrastructure and replaces it with a system in which people self-organize and govern themselves.
The nonviolent approach Sharp and his followers prescribe relies heavily on a corporate media strategy to promote their protest activity to large numbers of people. This obviously requires some elite support, as the corporate media consistently ignores genuine anti-corporate protests. As an example, all the nonviolent color revolutions in Eastern Europe enjoyed major support from the State Department, billionaire George Soros and CIA-funded foundations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Republican Institute.
Is Nonviolence Effective?
Gelderloos sets out four criteria to assess the effectiveness of a protest action:
- It must seize space for activists to self-organize essential aspects of their lives.
- It must spread new ideas that inspire others to resist state power and control.
- It must operate independently of elite support.
- It must make concrete improvements to the lives of ordinary people.
As examples of strictly nonviolent protest movements, Gelderloos offers the “color” revolutions (see * below), the millions-strong global anti-Iraq war protest on February 15, 2003 and 2011 Occupy protests, which were almost exclusively nonviolent (Occupy Oakland being a notable exception).
In all the color revolutions Gelderloos describes, the goal has been strictly limited to replacing dictatorship with democracy and free elections. None attempted to increase economic democracy nor to reduce oppressive work and living conditions. In fact, most of the color revolutions forced their populations to give up important protections to integrate more thoroughly into the cutthroat capitalist economy.
So-called “democracies” such as the US are just as capable as dictatorships of engaging in extrajudicial assassination, torture, and suspension of habeas corpus and other legal protections. However US corporations generally find “democracies” more investment-friendly. Owing to greater transparency, they are less likely to nationalize private industries or arbitrarily change the rules for doing business.
Besides failing to meet any of his criteria, the 2003 anti-Iraq war movement failed to stop the US invasion of Iraq and the 2011 Occupy protests failed to achieve a single lasting gain.
Successful “Combative” Protests
He contrasts these strictly nonviolent protests with nearly 20 popular uprisings (see ** below) and two (successful) US prison riots that have incorporated “combative” tactics along with other organizing strategies. Most have been totally censored from the corporate media and history books or whitewashed as so-called “nonviolent” actions (e.g., the corporate media misportrayed both the 1989 Tiananmen Square rebellion and the 2011 Egyptian revolution as nonviolent protests).
The US, more than any other country, uses prison to suppress working class dissent. Most prison struggles employ a diversity of tactics combining work stoppages and legal appeals with property damage, riots and attacks on guards. Nonviolent protest tends to be particularly ineffective in the prison setting. A nonviolent hunger strike usually reflects a situation in which prisoners have so little personal control that the only way to resist is to refuse to eat.
Gelderloos also analyzes a number of historical combative uprisings, pointing out their relative strengths and weaknesses. He devotes particular attention to the Spanish Civil War (a failed working class revolution), the anti-Nazi partisan movements during World War II, combative Indigenous peoples resistance to European colonizers and autonomous liberated zones created in Ukraine, Kronstadt, and Siberia following the Bolshevik Revolution and in the Skinmin Province of Manchuria in pre-World War II China.
Who Are the Pacifists?
He devotes an entire chapter to the major funders and luminaries of the nonviolent movement. Predictably most of the funding comes from George Soros, the Pentagon, the State Department and CIA-funded foundations such as USAID, NED, and NIR. Among other examples, Gelderloos describes the Pentagon running a multi-million dollar campaign to plant stories in Iraqi newspapers to promote “nonviolent” resistance to US occupation.
*Examples of political/regime change color revolutions:
- Philippines – Yellow Revolution 1983-86
- Serbia – Bulldozer Revolution 2000
- Georgia – Rose Revolution 2003
- Ukraine – Orange Revolution 2004
- Kyrgyzstan – Tulip Revolution 2005
- Lebanon – Cedar Revolution 2005
- Kuwait – Blue Revolution 2005
- Burma – Saffron Revolution 2007
**Examples of combative uprisings (despite being a partial list, it effectively illustrates the extent to which combative resistance is censored out of the mainstream media and history):
- 1999 Battle of Seattle – contrary to media whitewashing (I was there), the combative component wasn’t a matter of a few Black Bloc anarchists breaking windows. Numerous “peaceful” marchers joined in destruction of corporate storefronts, looting and throwing rocks at police. Inspired 3rd world WTO delegates to shut down Doha round of WTO negotiations.
- 1990 Oka Crisis (near Montreal) – in which Mohawk warriors took up arms to stop a golf course expansion on their lands. Successful in defeating the golf course expansion.
- 1994 Zapitista (Mexico) – armed uprising against NAFTA. Successfully seized space, liberating numerous villages which continue to be run by popular assemblies.
- 2000 2nd Palestinian Intifada – successful in seizing and defending space, defeating the CIA/Israeli army invasion of Gaza in 2009. Inspired combative insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt.
- 2001 Kabbylie Black Spring armed protest to liberate Berber territory occupied by Algeria. Successfully seized space to bring back traditional assemblies and reverse erosion of Berber culture. Won increased autonomy of Kabylie, including official recognition of Berber language.
- 2003-2005 Bolivia Water and Gas Wars against strict water privatization implemented by Bolivian government and Bechtel. Successful in ending years of Bolivian dictatorship, slowing advance of neoliberalism and restoring indigenous autonomy. Received no elite support until 2005 union and political party support elected the movement into government, putting neoliberalism back on track.
- 2006 Oaxaca (Mexico) Rebellion – coalition of indigenous people, teachers and workers fought police and military and ran Oaxaca by popular assembly for one month. No elite support until assembly taken over by politicians who convinced them not to fight back against the military. Greatly improved quality of life while it lasted.
- 2006 CPE France – combative (rioting, burning cars, fighting police and occupying public buildings) uprising against new legislation allowing bosses to fire younger workers without cause. Defeated new law.
- 2008 Athens insurrection – millions-strong armed uprising (consisting of arson attacks on banks and police stations, occupation of vacant lots and buildings to create community gardens, community centers and popular assemblies) triggered by police murder of a teenager. Besides destroying debt and tax records and providing brief period of self-governance, it inspired new cycle of anarchist activity throughout Greece.
- 2009 Guadalupe General Strike – inspired by poor living standards, especially high cost of living combined with low wages and high unemployment. After three days of rioting, setting fire to cars and businesses and opening fire on the police, demonstrators won an increase of $200 euros per month in the lowest salaries and 19 other demands.
- 2009 Oscar Grant riots (Oakland) – prompted by police murder of an African American named Oscar Grant. Spontaneous rioting, property damage, looting and shooting back at police. Resulted in first case in California history in which an on-duty police officer was charged with murder. Influenced Occupy Oakland to adopt a diversity of tactics that included combative resistance.
- 2010 Tunisian revolution – contrary to corporate media white washing, this was a violent uprising in which protestors burned tires and attacked the office of the ruling party. It failed to create any new self-organized spaces. It only received elite support, which pressured Tunisians to accept a purely political solution (i.e. regime change), when local authorities failed to quell popular unrest. Economic tyranny and police abuse/violence remain unaddressed.
- 2010 15 M Movement and General Strikes (Spain) – millions took part in general strike against austerity measures incorporating sabotage of the transportation infrastructure, blockades, looting, rioting and fighting with police. Established numerous police-free zones (which persisted for months) throughout Spain run by popular assemblies. Occupied numerous hospitals and primary care centers and established urban gardens and collective housing facilities. Prevented privatization of numerous health clinics and inspired anti-capitalist focus of Occupy movement.
- 2011 Egyptian revolution – combative rebellion (contrary to corporate media claims that it was nonviolent). Protesters burned over 90 police stations and used clubs, rocks and Molotov cocktails to defend themselves against police and government thugs. Set up self-governing assemblies in Tahrir Square and inspired a large number of activists to remain in the streets to fight the repressive Islamic government that replaced Mubarak.
- 2011 Libyan Civil War – began as spontaneous uprising but quickly transformed into a foreign military intervention. Gelderloos uses Libya to demonstrate why revolutions that wish to end oppressive social relations must never allow military or political revolution to assume precedence.
- 2012 Quebec student movement – rioting, looting, property damage and fighting back against the police prompted by massive tuition hike. Provided thousands of young people direct experience of self-governing assemblies and successfully spread critiques of debt, austerity and capitalism throughout Canada. Forced government to reverse tuition hike.
- 2013 Mapuche (indigenous nation occupied by Chile and Argentina) struggle – long history of combative resistance continues to present day. Employs both nonviolent and combative methods, including arson, sabotage against mining and logging companies and armed land occupations. In January 2013 (5th anniversary of unprosecuted police murder of Mapuche teenager) they liberated large tracts of land.
Email Dr. Stuart Bramhall at: email@example.com
Israeli soldiers have shot teargas and sound grenades at children who cross checkpoints 29 and 209 on their way to school in the morning on seven of the last eight school days.
International observers and human rights workers in Hebron have witnessed Israeli soldiers repeatedly firing grenades and sound bombs into the streets near these checkpoints while children are walking to school. The children attend several schools located both in the Old City and in the area of Hebron designated as H2, on the other side of the checkpoints, and include preschool students as young as four. Depending on where they live and which school they attend, children must cross these checkpoints in both directions to reach schools both inside the old city and in H2.
Because the Israeli military does not allow buses that transport younger children to preschool and kindergarten classes in H2 to cross the checkpoints, very young children living in the Old City must walk through these checkpoint areas in order to reach their school buses.
At times, the use of teargas by soldiers has been in response to several children throwing stones, but internationals have also witnessed soldiers firing teargas canisters without provocation. In any event, because so many children pass through the same area to reach school at the same time, hundreds of children, many of them in primary grades, suffer the effects of gas on an almost daily basis. Additionally, because the agents used to manufacture teargas are actually solids, they remain inside shops, on clothing, and in the streets where children walk and play throughout the day.
Although the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prohibits the use of teargas and pepper spray in warfare, domestic police and state forces are allowed to use these weapons on people as “riot control” agents.
Tear gas is a non-lethal chemical weapon that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tears, pain—which can be extreme, immediate and severe nausea, and even blindness. Longer term effects include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and other lung-related problems (heightened in people who already have lung problems), heart and liver damage, delayed menstruation, and an increase in miscarriages and stillbirths in women exposed to the gas. The NGO Physicians for Human Rights believes that “‘tear gas’ is a misnomer for a group of poisonous gases which, far from being innocuous, have serious acute and longer-term adverse effects on the health of significant numbers of those exposed.”
In addition to the effects of the gas, the teargas cartridges fired by soldiers can cause serious injury and even death if they strike people, especially if soldiers fire the cartridges straight into crowds rather than into the air. Internationals and Palestinians report having seen soldiers fire teargas straight into the roads near these checkpoints.
The teargas used on school children in Hebron comes primarily from the United States and is manufactured primarily by Combined Systems Inc. of Jamestown, Pennsylvania and Defense Technology of Casper, Wyoming. Combined Systems Inc. (CSI)—often manufacturing under the brand name Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) are owned by Point Lookout Capital and the Carlyle Group. CSI is the primary supplier of tear gas to the Israeli military as well as a provider to Israel’s police (and border police) for use in occupied Palestine.
Defense Technology is headquartered in Casper, Wyoming. Along with U.S. company Federal Laboratories, with which it shares a product line, it has links to the U.K. arms giant BAE Systems through BAE’s ownership of U.S. arms company Armor Holdings.
The War Resisters League has launched a campaign to abolish teargas, and to encourage people who have been impacted by its use to tell their stories. The campaign seeks “the global ban of tear gas by first ending the sale, manufacture, and shipment of tear gas made in the US through organizing and applying grassroots pressure on
- companies that produce the gas,
- the US government agencies that approve the export licenses for the sale of tear gas,
- US government officials who allow for the sale and transfer of tear gas to repressive regimes abroad,
- the prison and police forces within in the US who use tear gas and similar chemical weapons such as pepper spray to threaten, injure, and torture people.”
To learn more about teargas in Palestine and throughout the world, or to add your story to the campaign, visit facingteargas.org
Israel’s legislative branch, known as the Knesset, passed a controversial bill into law that defines 1948 Christian Palestinians as “non-Arabs”, Israeli media reported.
The new law – passed on Monday with a vote of 31 in favor and 6 against – for the first time differentiates Christian Palestinians from the rest of the Palestinian community, who had survived the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing by Zionist forces, and remained within the 1948 territories.
“This is a historic law. It’s the first time there is separate representation for Christians,” Likud Beytenu coalition chairman Yariv Levin, who proposed the bill, was quoted by the Israeli press prior to the the vote.
“Soon we’ll expand on this and give [Christians] all the separate representation they deserve,” he added.
Previously, Levin justified the bill as “an important, historic step that could introduce balance to the State of Israel, and connect us [Jews] with the Christians, I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs.”
“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims that want to destroy the country from within… We will use an iron hand and demonstrate zero tolerance of Arabs who tend to identify with the terror of the Palestinian state,” he added. According to reports, the law will enforce a separate representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity within the Employment Commission, by extending the number of panel members to ten, adding specific seats for the ultra-Orthodox, Druze, Christian, Circassian populations, and others.
‘Palestinian Christians are Arabs’
CIA statistics put the Arab Christian population living in Occupied Palestine at around 123,000. These people will be directly affected by the new law.
Arab members of the Knesset unanimously condemned the bill as a “racist” act and a “divide-and-conquer” tactic.
“Colonialists try to separate groups of natives. The prime example of this is South Africa,” MK Hanin Zoabi of the Arab political party, Balad, reportedly said to the media after the vote.
“We are the natives here and we have a clear identity, [we] are Palestinians, part of the Arab nation, and your law will fail. Part of the Zionist project is to oppress our identity, but I have the right to speak in the name of Palestinians.”
Khalid Musmar, an official for the Palestinian National Council, told Al-Akhbar,“The Palestinian Christian community will rebuke this before anyone else. The Palestinian Christians are Arab despite the wishes of anyone in the Knesset or otherwise.”
“They have always said they were Arabs and have fought side-by-side with their Muslim brethren, from the times of the Crusades to today. The Palestinian community, in all it’s colors and creeds, is a unified Arab community confronting occupation. They are struggling for a Palestinian nation with Jerusalem as it’s capital. This will not change by the acts of Knesset or anyone else,” the official said.
“The community in 1948 will not remain quiet. This is a major move by the forces of occupation and colonization, and there will be mobilizations just like how we saw the creation and continuation of Land Day protests within 1948 lands. We will see protests in the future.”
“If [Israel] wants to do right to the Palestinians in general and Christians in particular,” said Jumana, from the Galilee region of northern occupied Palestine, during a separate conversation with Al-Akhbar, “let them approve the return of the refugees and internally displaced Palestinians from the two Christian villages of Ekrith and Birem, who already have a court ruling allowing them to return to their destroyed villages.”
She added that this law comes at a time when “the government is attempting to make the drafting to the Israeli Army obligatory to Palestinian Christians, [and] this is completely not acceptable, since this is their way of dividing the Palestinian minority and fragmenting the community as a whole.”
In a similar vein, a 1948 Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Al-Akhbar, “I think [Levin’s comments] are outrageous and untrue. It is part of Israel’s broader attempt to segment and fragmentize the Palestinian community from one another inside Israel. Other examples of this are with the Bedouins and the Druze, and this is part of [Israel’s] attempt to break up what is a cohesive community. It won’t work.”
“I see myself as an Arab and so do other Palestinian Christians. [Levin’s] logic only reaffirms the agenda to separate and break-up minorities within minorities,” she added.
“There should be more representation of Palestinians in Israel in general. Christian Palestinians are just as repressed as Muslims.”
From the tenth-floor balcony of our hotel in Buenaventura, we sit with community leader Miguel Duarte and watch as the sunset over the Pacific Ocean streaks the sky with peach and mauve before fading to a shroud of lavender-gray and darkness. Below us, teenage girls chase a soccer ball. A few hundred yards away, a patch of the island is covered with tree tops like the heads of broccoli. “Take a photo of that island,” says Duarte, pointing at the tree line. “There are thousands of dead bodies buried on it.”
“We need a commission from the Attorney General’s office to count the bodies,” he continues. “The island is controlled by paramilitaries.”
The violence in Buenaventura is staggering, yet reliable statistics are hard to attain: official documentation is lacking and it’s left to community leaders, like 18-year-old Jesús, to try to compile the data independently. At our meeting, he pulls out his notebook and begins reading off his handwritten list of victims from a recent massacre. He gets to the end of his list, glances up, and says, “Children were cut up and heads were found in barrios Santa Monica and Campo Alegro. Last night Alberto’s cousin was killed in a confrontation. That one made the newspaper.”
According to a report issued in January 2014, the city sees two-to-three murders and three-to-six forced disappearances daily. In November 2013 alone, fighting between different armed groups displaced 2,500 families in Buenaventura.
“We’re convinced of one thing,” says Duarte. “This pressure is so that people leave.”
On the heels of shoot-outs in waterfront neighborhoods, city officials arrive and ask residents if they’re ready to sign documents in which they agree to vacate the zone. On February 5 and 6, local security forces staged an elaborately orchestrated tsunami drill for neighborhoods near the port, with armed men blocking off streets and redirecting traffic into the night. According to Colombian Process of Black Communities (PCN), the exercise was yet another effort to brainwash Buenaventura’s Bajamar residents into believing that it’s not safe to live in the area and that they should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Many point out that Buenaventura is dangerous for people who live in neighborhoods slated for commercial development but that, paradoxically, these same areas are safe for tourists. Below our hotel, a seafood fusion-sushi bar does slow business just yards from a neighborhood where armed groups recently did battle.
It’s Friday night in this commerce town, and clubs cater to weekend carousers with pockets full of pesos. Against a backdrop of giraffe-like cranes, half-built high-rises sprouting rebar, and a balmy breeze dispersing salsa beats, Duarte explains that 15 or 20 years ago, people began to talk about megaprojects in the region: port expansion, a cargo terminal, a tourist boardwalk, and an international airport in nearby Cali. Those conversations coincided with the beginning of the market liberalization process, as the port changed from public to private ownership.
Over the past 15 years, as the armed conflict arrived to nearby rural areas, many residents fled their farming communities at the outskirts of Buenaventura and settled in ocean-front neighborhoods near the city center, joining communities of Afro-Colombians who had arrived generations ago. In 2005, the FARC and Colombian military battled in Buenaventura. In 2006, paramilitaries entered the urban zone to protect businesses and terrorize the local population.
The first interurban displacement in Buenaventura—in which people fled from one neighborhood to another within the city—was in 2009. Today, ground zero for violent displacement coincides perfectly with zones marked for port expansion, a coal warehouse, a massive container storage area, and a tourist promenade. The violence, PCN states, is “part of the war strategy to control territory and clean out the zone to bring in projects.”
Residents in vulnerable neighborhoods are not opposed to the city’s economic growth, per se. But many feel that projects should benefit all people in the area, not bring prosperity to few while forcing misery on most.
That’s what Remedios’ husband, Eduardo believed. Their home in Caucana, about 45 minutes from the port, is along the road being widened to facilitate port expansion and accompanying projects in order to make Buenaventura competitive for Free Trade Agreement projects.
The old road is narrow, windy, and unpaved, meaning that it currently takes a truck seven or eight hours to make the trip from Buenaventura to Bugalagrande, a town along the Pan-American Highway. The new road will reduce the journey to about an hour.
Eduardo opposed the road expansion through their community because small children play there, and the project was contaminating their air and bad for people’s health. Remedios said, “He’d been looking to strengthen the community. He didn’t want to leave people in misery.” He’d been advocating for the community’s right to Free Prior and Informed Consent for new projects on their land guaranteed under Law 70, or the “Law of Black Communities.”
One morning Eduardo got a call that warned him he’d be killed if he ran in upcoming community council elections. For months he lived under the dark cloud of death threats, and on February 23, 2013, he was murdered. A year later, despite the efforts of his wife and other community members to seek justice, the government has made no progress in the investigation of his death.
“It has left me desperate, my kids too. They’re struggling at school. They don’t remember their vowels, just sleep, play, fight, scream….My children want to know why their father was murdered. They’re small, thinking bad thoughts, seeking vengeance. I’m asking for help because I don’t want my kids to become bad people.”
While we are in Buenaventura, a death threat is circulated, naming as military targets indigenous groups, campesinos, Marcha Patriotica members, protestors who block roads, and “guerilla-defending” NGOs—the name often used by paramilitaries to refer to NGOs that work on human rights issues.
Back on the tenth-floor balcony, a man whose community is surrounded by illegal armed groups looks out over the port, past the island of dead bodies, to the green lights blinking at the edge of the bay. He says, “If we don’t act quickly in Buenaventura, there will be more deaths.”
Margaret Boehme is a member of the Witness for Peace Colombia team based in Bogotá.
84-Year-Old Pacifist Nun Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison after Exposing Lack of Security at Nuclear Weapons Site
Three anti-nuclear protesters, including an elderly Roman Catholic nun, will spend multiple years in prison for breaching security at a key weapons facility previously known as the “Fort Knox of uranium.”
Sister Megan Rice, 84, and two other members of the group Transform Now Plowshares embarrassed the U.S. Department of Energy and its security contractor at the Y-12 Nuclear Complex in Tennessee two years ago.
The three activists managed to enter the top-security grounds and travel all the way to a key building that houses 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium used in nuclear warheads.
Rice along with Michael Walli, then 64, and Greg Boertje-Obed, then 57, had enough time to paint slogans like “The fruit of justice is peace” and splash bottles of human blood on the bunker wall before private security guards arrived on the scene.
They were convicted last year on two felony counts: damaging government property and obstructing the national defense, a sabotage charge. But they were not sentenced until February 18, 2014.
Rice received a prison term of two years and eleven months, while Walli and Boertje-Obed each got five years and two months because of earlier protest-related arrests.
“Please have no leniency with me,” Rice told the judge prior to her sentencing. “To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor for me.”
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar asked prosecutors before handing down the sentences what harm the activists caused at Y-12.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore responded that the defendants “had destroyed the ‘mystique’ of the ‘Fort Knox of uranium.’”
The August 2012 break-in at the complex prompted multiple federal reviews of security procedures, including congressional hearings, a report by the Energy Department’s inspector general (IG), and an independent commission review.
In the wake of the embarrassing episode, the Energy Department set about to test security readiness at nuclear weapons sites across the country. At Y-12, the IG discovered, the security knowledge exam itself was compromised when personnel disseminated it, along with the answers, ahead of time.
To Learn More:
Y-12 Protestors “Destroyed the Mystique” of Nuclear Security (by Lydia Dennett, Project On Government Oversight)
How the Obama Administration Charged 3 Pacifists with Violent Acts of Sabotage (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The 82-Year-Old Nun Who Breached U.S. High-Security Nuclear Complex (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”
Countries in the “developing world” have, since the end of formal colonialism, seen their ability to act autonomously systematically constrained by a variety of factors. These include, but are not limited to, macroeconomic policy conditions attached to World Bank and IMF loans, poor terms of trade with the Global North, lack of effective agency in international organizations, and the actions of multinational corporations operating in their territory.
Venezuela’s regionally oriented foreign policy during the Chávez era counteracted each of these dynamics, and in doing so opened up autonomous policy space for other states in Latin America and the Caribbean. The concrete achievements of a number of mechanisms, including counter-trading and credit provision within the PetroCaribe framework, and the recent establishment of a virtual regional currency, the SUCRE, all played a part in this process.
The first crucial action undertaken by Hugo Chávez as Venezuelan President in protecting regional economies was to vociferously oppose the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the third summit of the Americas, held in Quebec in 2000. The proposal represented the perfect consolidation of U.S. economic power, and was designed, in the words of General Colin Powell, to “guarantee control for North American businesses…over the entire hemisphere.”1 After Chávez voiced concerns, the Mercosur countries followed suit, stopping the FTAA conclusively at the subsequent Mar del Plata summit in 2005. If the FTAA had gone ahead, it would have resulted in the substantial economic subordination of Latin America to U.S. corporate interests. Agricultural sectors in particular would have suffered from an influx of low-cost subsidized U.S. products. In addition, areas of the public sphere that had previously avoided commoditization or privatization would have been fair game for trans-national corporations. Under the FTAA, Amanothep Zambrano, ALBA Executive Secretary, told me last August that states would not have been able to “lead any aspect of economic policy, and therefore their political capacity to solve social problems” would have been heavily constrained.
Their shared opposition to these proposals encouraged Cuba and Venezuela to form an alternative regional integration framework, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004. This quickly matured from a bilateral socio-centric cooperation agreement to a nascent regional bloc, or alliance, with the addition of Bolivia in 2006. Bolivia’s newly elected president, Evo Morales, brought with him the idea of a “Peoples Trade Treaty” (TCP), which extended the ALBA’s self-identified principles of solidarity, complementarity between economies, and respect for sovereignty, into a 23-point agreement that systematically opposed the tenets of orthodox free trade agreements. The TCP opened the possibility of pursuing economic policies outside of the market fundamentalist approach of the neoliberal era, for example by stating that people’s right to access healthcare should be prioritized above protecting pharmaceuticals’ corporate profitability. In the following three years, membership of the ALBA-TCP grew to nine countries encompassing much of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
During this time, the Venezuelan government also constructed PetroCaribe, a framework designed to facilitate the supply of its oil products to neighboring Caribbean states under preferential conditions, which at the time of writing had 18 members. Through these two channels the Venezuelan government has opened up autonomous policy space in the region, to some extent overcoming the constraints identified above. Venezuela has, largely through ALBA and PetroCaribe, become an important source of funding in the region. Oil supply agreements, signed between Venezuela and several members of both frameworks, permit countries to defer payment on set portions of their oil bill and use the capital obtained for government spending. Crucially this capital is obtained without the macroeconomic conditionality and policy prescriptions associated with World Bank or IMF loans. PetroCaribe agreements, for example, state that “member nations of the group are allowed to defer payment of 60% of their oil bills to Venezuela for 25 years, at 1% interest, in addition to a 90-day grace period on all payments, and a two year initial grace period on the credit facility.”2
This credit facility offers an alternative to IFI loans, while maintaining small Caribbean nations’ ability for autonomous decision making, which is considered critical in the post-colonial context. Specifically, credit provision has enabled Jamaica and Antigua to delay recourse to IMF loans, and put them in a better negotiating position so, I was told in August 2011 by Norman Girvan, former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, “they were able to make an easier deal.” Venezuela, under the current administration, has also purchased billions of dollars’ worth of bonds issued by the Argentine government, enabling the country’s early exit from all of its IMF debts and associated policy prescriptions.
As a result of this mechanism, PetroCaribe funding to the Caribbean now exceeds both EU and U.S. aid by a wide margin, with only remittances from the Caribbean diaspora exceeding it in funding to the signatory states.3 For Dominica, Venezuela is now the “single largest creditor…surpassing traditional sources of credit such as regional development banks and the IMF.” Venezuela is owed 27.7% of the country’s total debt, which grew 12.6% in 2011 alone, to $8.8 billion.4 Such figures inevitably raise concerns that the agreement is increasing debt levels in the region and developing dependence on Venezuelan largesse. Barbados’s Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, has stated that his country would not join because he “would not permit the present generation of Barbadians to consume oil now to be paid for by succeeding generations of Barbadians.”5 However, the deferred portion of the bill does not constitute debt in the orthodox sense, as it is kept by the Caribbean partners and can be spent as capital towards any project deemed socio-productive, or saved to accrue interest to offset the bill, as has been the case in Guyana. The domestic opposition sees the PetroCaribe scheme as Chávez “giving away” oil irresponsibly. However, the amount is relatively small and sustainable. Supply to PetroCaribe members, including Cuba, peaked in 2009 at an average of 196.4 thousand barrels daily, which constituted only 7% of total Venezuelan oil exports that year, and operates under market prices in accordance with Venezuela’s OPEC membership.6
Due to a high level of dependence on imports, Venezuela has also been uniquely able to position itself as a regional alternative to North American and European markets. This dynamic has, again, been apparent within both ALBA-TCP and PetroCaribe. In 2008, the PetroCaribe framework was augmented with a “compensatory exchange mechanism” via which oil bills from Venezuela could be offset by the export of domestically produced goods and services. The Venezuelan market is particularly important for Caribbean countries who suffer from poor terms of trade with the North due to dependence on primary commodity exports, the continued use of tariff and non-tariff barriers by developed nations, and the erosion of colonial trade preferences. For example, up to 90% of Guyanese rice exports per annum were going to EU countries when, in 2000, the Overseas Territories (OCT) loophole was closed, resulting, I was told by the Guyanese Ambassador to Venezuela, in a “50-60%” drop in prices. When the compensation mechanism was announced, the then-president of Guyana, Jagdeo Bharrat, actively sought a better deal with Venezuela through the PetroCaribe framework. The resultant export of both rice and unprocessed paddy has seen Venezuela become the single largest importer of Guyanese rice, replacing Portugal.7
In the case of ALBA countries, a strategic reorientation towards intra-regional trade, and particularly export to Venezuela, has reduced dependence on the United States and subsequently its ability to constrain autonomous action. For example, when Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008 following his alleged involvement in separatist actions in the Santa Cruz Department, Washington retaliated by excluding Bolivia from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Agreement (ATPDEA). Bolivia lost its U.S. tariff advantages, which was a particularly painful blow to its textile industry. Chávez immediately offered them a market under “the same or better conditions” that Bolivia had enjoyed with the United States. As a result, says the Bolivian Ambassador to Venezuela, in 2010 Venezuela “imported almost 50 million dollars in textiles alone, or nearly double that which [Bolivia] used to export to the USA” annually.
The purchase agreement was supported by initiatives by both governments to facilitate small and medium sized businesses’ entry into the regional market. A fund was established in the Bank of ALBA to provide short-term interest-free credit to Venezuelan importers in order to purchase Bolivian textiles, paired with a fund in the Bolivian national development bank to provide small textile producers credit to purchase raw materials. This agreement therefore not only minimized the impact that U.S. market sanctions could have over autonomous decision making by the Bolivian government, but also created direct relations between regional producers and consumers.
These patterns are part of a wider renewed focus on South-South trade, both within the region and with extra-hemispheric partners. However, the United States remains the region’s single most important trading partner. The objective is not to be “anti-American,” rather to reduce the U.S. ability to exert controlling influence over its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors by creating alternatives to the dollar in international trade. One way in which this was achieved was through the PetroCaribe mechanism and similar counter-purchase agreements with other regional allies. As direct non-market transactions, they circumvented the use of the dollar, thereby avoiding its automatic privileging in international trade, and avoiding the transaction costs associated with its use.
This concept was extended by the ALBA’s virtual common currency, the Unified Regional System for Economic Compensation (SUCRE). The SUCRE is essentially a series of clearing accounts between Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador that allow the countries to trade freely without transaction costs. Accounts are balanced every six months with one hard currency transfer. The value of trade conducted via the SUCRE in its first year of operations, 2010, was just over $8 million. It grew exponentially, to almost 100 times that the following year ($172,905,344).8 Though the SUCRE’s value was originally set against the dollar ($1 to XSU1.25), and it is typically used as the convertible currency to make balancing payments, in the long term the intention is to no longer use the dollar at all. The direct and deliberate countering of U.S. economic hegemony that the SUCRE represents has been of particular importance to Ecuador, whose macroeconomic policy options have been constrained by a prior administration’s decision to dollarize the economy in 2001. In fact, the mechanism was largely designed by Ecuadoran economists, and of the $170 million traded in 2011, $140 million was for Venezuelan purchases from Ecuador (mainly tuna).9
As we have seen, Chávez’s time in office saw an unequivocal reassertion of the state as economic actor throughout the region. This dynamic was particularly felt in the crucial energy sector. In Venezuela, governmental control of the state oil industry was consolidated, while both Bolivia and Argentina nationalized hydrocarbons with investment and technical assistance from Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), via agreements with YPFB and Enarsa, state owned gas and oil companies in Bolivia and Argentina respectively. Even in centrist or center-right Caribbean nations, Venezuelan investment has enabled state-owned oil companies and agencies to supply oil products directly to their population, “to effectively intervene in their markets to minimize retail prices” in the energy sector which had previously been “dominated by foreign companies.”10
Where state energy companies or agencies did not exist prior to PetroCaribe, they have been formed to facilitate the direct import of oil products from PDVSA. These can take the form of joint ventures with the PDVSA subsidiary PDV Caribe. Venezuelan credit and grants have also been used to fund improvements in energy infrastructure; that is namely the capacity of the member countries to store and refine oil, and in turn to generate and distribute energy. Central to this scheme has been investment in the Cienfuegos refinery in Cuba and at the Kingston refinery which now almost exclusively refines Venezuelan crude. The refinery is run by Petrojam Ltd, a mixed state enterprise in which Jamaica Oil Company owns a 51% stake and PDV Caribe 49%. This reassertion of state control over energy resources is seen as a fundamental facet of PetroCaribe’s “new oil geopolitics…at the services of our peoples not at the service of imperialism and big capital.”11
The right and power of multinationals to dictate domestic policy has been systematically undermined, both through a reassertion of the state as economic actor and in the tenets of the TCP which we briefly touched on earlier. This offers a stark contrast to the World Trade Organization’s policies such as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which consistently privilege corporate interests, and/or offer beneficial “loopholes” for developed nations. This has been possible through the creation of new regional forums in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which members’ interests are not subordinate to those of more powerful nations. For example, in the TCP, economic asymmetries between members are recognised and therefore tariff reductions do not have to be reciprocal, disregarding the “most favored nation” principle. In addition, ALBA has no supranationality; it is best described as a framework for cooperation rather than an integration body in the orthodox sense. All programs and agreements are optional, flexible, and voluntary, thereby protecting the national autonomy of members.
Though statist in its organization, ALBA facilitates continual dialogue through presidential and ministerial summits, which have also been attended by international observers. Non-member countries are also represented in the council for social movements, whose proponents include groups such as the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement. ALBA proved to be the first in a series of new regional spaces, catalysed by massive rejection of the FTAA proposal—a rejection led by Chávez—and culminating in the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was put together as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), and includes all the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada. In this way, lessened economic dependence has resulted in increased diplomatic autonomy from the United States.
There are those who argue that Venezuelan projects in the region created new constraints, replaced one set of dependencies with another. But this is not the case. Though he was a catalyst for and investor in regional development, Chávez avoided constructing a position of power or privilege for Venezuela. This is evident in the lack of conditionality attached to credit mechanisms and the fact that the controlling stake of each mixed state enterprise was maintained by the partner country. Though oil wealth put Chávez in a unique position to invest in regional projects, these were not unilaterally devised or constructed; the TCP came from Bolivia, SUCRE is an Ecuadoran concept, and of course ALBA social programs were exported from Cuba. However, these ideas were made a reality by the capacity for rapid implementation that oil largesse afforded. Such apparently altruistic actions led many to question Chávez’s motives. It is important to point out that these frameworks and counter-purchase agreements have also helped reduce Venezuela’s dependence on the United States as a market and refining destination for oil. The volume of Venezuelan oil exported to the United States decreased from 1,500,000 barrels per day in 2008, to 1,166,000 bpd in 2011, a drop of 334,000 barrels per day. This can, in part, be attributed to the diversification of markets in Latin America (190 bpd to PetroCaribe, plus supply agreements with Argentina among others). This is in addition to securing crucial imports without financial outlay, specifically agricultural commodities, which are often then provided to the Venezuelan population at low cost through state owned agencies such as the supermarket chain Mercal.
Under the last ten years of Hugo Chávez’s Presidency, Venezuela’s foreign policies resulted in an opening up of autonomous policy space in Latin America and the Caribbean. What was begun in 2004 with the rejection of the proposed FTAA continued into the post-crisis conjuncture, when Chávez was instrumental in creating a new regional financial architecture to limit the power exerted by Washington-based IFIs. PetroCaribe credit provided funds for capital expenditure, without imposing macroeconomic conditionality. In addition, guaranteed oil supplies allowed the small and energy dependent nations that made up its membership to move beyond reactive policies and look to longer term socio-productive investment.
Venezuela’s concurrent strategy of sourcing imports from the region offered primary-commodity-dependent economies some opportunity to diversify their markets and baskets, with better terms of trade than offered by the United States or ex-colonial metropoles in Europe. Chávez also took the bite out of attempted control via market sanctions, as was clearly demonstrated in the Bolivian example.
These regional imports often took the form of non-market exchanges and counter-purchase agreements within PetroCaribe, ALBA, and beyond. Combined, they arguably represented a strategic de-linking from international trade and finance systems, specifically from the U.S. dollar. As such, these frameworks have lessened both the dependence on, and influence of, the United States in the region, protecting countries’ ability to act autonomously and not follow the dictates of Washington. Chávez effectively undermined U.S. economic power by offering alternatives to the hegemony of the dollar, with the SUCRE in particular offering a concerted challenge. Lessened economic dependence in turn allowed for greater diplomatic autonomy from Washington, demonstrated in its strategic exclusion from the newly formed CELAC. The various new regional initiatives provide space to build development strategies and devise economic policies, beyond the constraints of “market-friendly” logic. This allows for a reassertion of the state as an economic actor and service provider, within a culture of regional cooperation. Though the Venezuelan state is not operating outside of capitalism per se, from the initial rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2001 the Chávez government demonstrated that there are alternatives beyond the policy prescriptions of the neoliberal era, and what’s more, facilitated their use throughout the region to mutually beneficial ends.
1. Colin Powell cited in Katharine Ainger, “Trading Away the Americas,” New Internationalist, Issue 351, November 1, 2002, available at newint.org
2. “Venezuela: Two Countries Hold Out Against Cheap Loans and Barters,” Countertrade & Offset, 26:15 (2008)7
3. Sir Ronald Sanders, “The Chavez Effect: A life belt for the Caribbean,” Kaieteur news online, July 27, 2008, available at kaieteurnewsonline.com
4. Andrés Rojas Jiménez “Deuda dominicana con PDVSA aumentó durante 201,” El Nacional, February 16, 2012, available at elnacional.com
5. Wendell Mottley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Industrial Policy 1959-2008 Kingston. (Randle, 2008) 157.
6. This data, and all data not otherwise cited, elaborated from PDVSA annual reports, 2009-2011.
7. Guyana Rice Development Board, “Guyana Rice Development Board Annual Report 2010,” 2011.
8. Consejo Monetario Regional del SUCRE, “SUCRE Informe de Gestión 2011,” 2012.
10. Curtis Williams, “Venezuela Urged to Fast-track Petrocaribe Initiative,” Oil and Gas Journal, 102 (2004):26.
11. Hugo Chávez Frías, Petrocaribe, Towards A New Order in Our America, (Colecciones Discursos, Ministerio de Poder Popular para Comunicación.)
Stephanie Pearce is a doctoral candidate at the School of Politics & International Relations, Queen Mary College, University of London. Her research focuses on the role of countertrade in Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”
Read the rest of NACLA’s Summer 2013 issue: “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”
A decade ago, I wrote a commentary for the International Herald Tribune (now the International New York Times) arguing that Israel’s wall that was then just starting to be built in the West Bank was really a land grab. Difficult to believe now, but in those days that was a controversial opinion.
The paper then received the “largest postage in our history”, as an editor told me – possibly not surprising as the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist organisation, had urged its followers to complain and had even published a template letter of condemnation on its website to help them. The result: the paper published a whole page of letters attacking me and dropped me as a writer.
So it is with some pleasure I see that the same paper has again been overwhelmed with letters following three recent articles on BDS in both the NYT and INYT : Omar Barghouti making the case, and Jodi Rudoren and Roger Cohen attacking it, the former implicitly and the latter explicitly.
What’s so different this time is that the INYT’s letters page is dominated by readers backing Barghouti and attacking Rudoren and Cohen. Not only that, but the arguments used to support BDS are intelligent and well-informed, while the few letters attacking BDS sound tired and formulaic.
The fact that the NYT has allowed the BDS debate into its pages is a triumph for the cause. That its international sister publication (and the NYT website) has then allowed its letters page to be dominated by BDS supporters is another small landmark.
We can mark a further victory when the NYT itself publishes a page of such letters. The time cannot be far off.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government is taking measures to avert a confrontation over disputed territory between Amazon Indian tribes and farmers who are believed to have encroached on their historic lands.
It says it will begin to forcibly evict non-indigenous people occupying reserves and protected forests who have been ordered off the land by local courts.
The disputes go to the heart of the delicate balance between economic growth and conservation as companies pursue forest and mineral expansion into the traditional Amazon forest heartland.
In mid-January, Brasilia redeployed hundreds of soldiers and police, backed by tanks and helicopters, to enforce a June 2013 court order to evict nearly 7,000 farmers and ranchers from the Awá-Guajá reserve in the northeastern state of Maranhão.
Earlier this week, the government said it hoped to have all farmers and ranchers evicted from the area by April. There are concerns that recent clashes between indigenous peoples and ranchers could have a spillover effect into more states.
Last June, Minister of Justice Jose Eduardo Cardozo ordered the deployment of an elite military unit to Sidrolandia in southern Mato Grosso state, after indigenous peasants were killed by landowners’ employees.
The number of land disputes – and the ensuing violence, seizures and confiscations – have increased in the past several years, a 2012 report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) said.
“Problems facing the indigenous population include murders, death threats, lack of health care and education, and delays in registering land ownership,” CIMI says in its report.
In the meantime, Rousseff has promised to suspend demarcating borders in disputed zones and said new rules will soon be in place.
Land disputes, and often the violent confrontations that ensue, have for decades posed challenges to Brazil’s government.
Advocates from the Landless Farmers Movement have for the past three years pressured Rousseff to expedite land redistribution to landless and indigenous farmers.
Rousseff is herself also being pressured by landowners.
In April 2012, Brazil’s Congress caved in to land lobbyists and voted greater flexibility regarding how much forest land farmers are required to conserve.
While Brazilian laws since 1965 call for protection of forests – including some 13 per cent of the land allocated as preserves for indigenous populations, the Congress vote weakened the means to enforce them.
There was no provision, for example, that forced landowners to reforest land that they had already cleared.
Although Rousseff vetoed portions of the bill, including a segment that issued amnesty to illegal loggers, and sent it back to Congress for a rewrite in May 2012, deforestation has dramatically surged since.