Five more former Chilean army officers have been charged for involvement in the burning of two teenage activists protesting against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1986, bringing the total to 12 people.
Last week, seven former soldiers were charged for complicity in the incident in which photographer Rodrigo Rojas was killed and Carmen Quintana was severely disfigured after the two were doused in gasoline and set on fire.
After setting them ablaze, soldiers abandoned the two activists outside of the capital city Santiago, where they managed to get help to take them to a hospital in critical condition, where Rojas later died of injuries.
Carmen Gloria Quintana is seen near her home in Santiago in July of 1987. In 1986, when she was 18, she suffered severe burns on 65 percent of her body. She spent decades in treatment in Chile and Canada. | Photo: Reuters
The case, closed in the 1990’s after a single conviction of negligence and reopened in 2013 when relatives filed a new lawsuit, is considered among the highest profile among tens of thousands of dictatorship-era human rights abuses carried out during the 1980’s.
The arrests follow the recent conviction of 10 former army officers in the 1973 assassination of Chile’s well-known leftist political folk singer Victor Jara in 1973. Soldiers had cut off Jara’s fingers, broke his hands and wrists, and shot him more than 40 times.
The charges also come as part of a larger investigation into war crimes carried out during the 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Over 36,000 people were tortured and at least 3,200 killed or disappeared under the rule of the Chilean dictator.
The fundamental argument in favor of Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal is that it will change the structure of Nicaragua’s economy in such a way as to dramatically reduce poverty and so enable a reversal of the current destructive national and regional trends of impoverishment-driven environmental depredation.
Progressive and radical opinion in North America and Europe tends to skew discussion towards the Canal’s alleged potential environmental effects, generally ignoring both the urgent economic imperative of poverty reduction and the Canal’s wider regional and global significance.
The environmental argument in favor of the Canal is usually met with perplexed scepticism, blank incomprehension or, very often, deliberate misrepresentation.
Like almost all the articles that have criticized Nicaragua’s Canal, Truth Out’s recent article by Thomas J Scott,“Nicaragua’s Flirtation With Environmental Disaster” focuses largely on the Canal’s environmental aspects while omitting Nicaragua’s fundamental dilemma, one typical of impoverished countries. Namely, Nicaragua’s environmental sustainability requires significant new economic resources in the short term so as to reverse decades of poverty driven deforestation, contamination and inadequate water management.
Only massive structural investment in the economy will provide those resources. Some environmental impact from that level of investment is inevitable. But the resources generated by the investment will more than compensate for the initial limited local environmental impact by generating enough resources to finally enable adequate environmental recovery programs. Addressing environmental concerns, Thomas J. Scott’s account relies narrowly on other ideologically compromised media outlets highly critical of the Canal.
In doing so, Scott not only marginalizes the Canal’s fundamental economic logic, he also gets basic facts wrong.
Scott’s Truth Out article asserts, for example, that 120,000 people may be displaced by the Canal. That is completely untrue. The actual figure is around 7,000 families amounting to around 35,000 people along the Canal’s 275 kilometre length. Scott also asserts that the indigenous Rama-Kriol group may lose 40% of their land, referring to a negotiation process yet to be completed, a fact which undermines the very basis of the claim brought before the International Commission for Human Rights by the group’s lawyers, alleging lack of consultation. Similarly, Scott cites various environmental and scientific opinions against the Canal but fails to put them in context.
For example, he uncritically quotes a supposedly scientific calculation that up to a million acres of rainforest and wetlands could be destroyed by the Canal. Even a cursory look at that claim shows how nonsensical it is. The Canal is 278 kilometres long of which about 23km run from the Pacific Coast north of San Juan del Sur to Lake Nicaragua, known here as Lake Cocibolca. Then, 105km of the Canal route run across Lake Cocibolca. None of that part of the Canal or its related sub-projects affect any rainforest or wetlands, leaving 150km from the area of San Miguelito on the eastern edge of the lake to Punto Aguilar on the Caribbean coast.
Much of the area between San Miguelito and Punto Aguilar is already intervened by agricultural cultivation and cattle ranching and by often illicit timber activity. Here, the total area affected by the construction of the Canal itself is certainly not greater than about 150 square kilometres, equivalent to 37,500 acres. To guarantee adequate water for the canal and improve the region’s water management, an artificial lake will be created of about 395 square kilometres, equivalent to 98,750 acres. So the total affected land area of the Canal in this part of Nicaragua will be around 136,250 acres.
Even if one overstates that 70%-75% of that affected land area is vulnerable wetlands or forest, the total such area affected will be around 100,000 acres, equivalent to about 40,000 hectares, around one tenth of the area of one million acres mentioned by Scott in his article. The canal runs well south of the hugely important Bosawas reserve and well north of the equally important Indio Maiz reserve. Much smaller reserves like Cerro Silva may be directly affected, but these reserves are already suffering significant deforestation and contamination at the hands of the local population.
The canal projects have to reforest more than the forest it will displace over the five year period of its main construction, because the Canal depends on water conservation to be able to operate.
Currently Nicaragua is losing 65,000 to 70,000 hectares of forest a year to agricultural cultivation, cattle ranching and illicit timber felling. Under-resourced, government promoted reforestation programs only replace around 15,000 hectares a year
None of this information appears in Scott’s account in Truth Out or other similar anti-Canal reports. It puts in context the outrageous, nonsensical claim that a million acres of pristine rainforest may be destroyed by the project. It also highlights the truly urgent nature of Nicaragua’s environmental and economic dilemma.
The same is true in relation to the exaggerated claims that Lake Cocibolca may be destroyed by the huge dredging the project entails. The lake is already contaminated and suffering heavy sedimentation. But that information too is omitted from Truth Out, which alleges “The possibility the HKND environmental protection plan will mitigate the scientists’ concerns is questionable, given the scale and complexity of the project.” In fact, far more questionable is the wild speculation clearly underlying those often ideologically motivated scientists’ concerns and their own misleading interpretations of inadequate data.
The canal’s pre-feasibility studies by a Dutch company began in January 2013 and lasted six months. The complete feasibility studies by international specialist companies lasted 23 months from July 2013 until May 2015. The cost of these studies over almost two and a half years has been well over US$150 million. The canal company HKND puts the figure at around US$200 million.
By contrast, the environmental scientists critical of the canal can marshal no data remotely equivalent to these substantial, large scale, detailed, highly resource intensive and very expensive studies.
In any case, as the planning process for the canal has progressed, legitimate, relevant environmental concerns have indeed been taken into account. For example, the location of the proposed deep water port on the Pacific Coast has been moved so as to minimize damage to local mangroves. The final precise route of the Canal has been subject to similar change. So it is far from true that environmental and other concerns in relation to the Canal have not been heeded. But that fact too is completely missing from Truth Out’s article.
Politics and geopolitics
Shifting from the environment to political analysis, Scott’s article makes the completely ahistorical assertion that “Sandino led an armed resistance movement against US plans to build a canal in 1927.” Sandino campaign was not against US plans to build a canal in 1927. The US government had no plans to build a canal in Nicaragua in 1927. Sandino’s guerrilla was was very clearly and overwhelmingly against the US imperialist military occupation of his country. The US government already controlled and occupied the Panama Canal zone, invading Nicaragua only so as to consolidate its regional political and economic domination.
In his manifesto “The Supreme Dream of Bolivar”, Sandino himself wrote, “nothing is more logical, nothing more decisive and vital than the union of the twenty-one states of our America into a single unique Latin American Nationality, which may make possible, as an immediate consequence, the right to the route of an Inter-oceanic Canal through Central America.” The US military occupation of Nicaragua vetoed that right. In his Truth Out article, Scott himself proceeds to row back from his incorrect, ahistorical assertion ending up suggesting that critics of the canal have legitimate concerns about Chinese imperialism in Nicaragua.
But most of those same critics are people bought and paid for by US government money in one form or another. Right-wing opposition to the Canal comes from politicians who are explicit allies of the United States government. Currently those politicians and their political parties have around 8% support nationally. Social democrat opposition to the Canal comes from ex-Sandinista politicians now closely identified with US government and European Union policy. They currently enjoy under 1% support nationally. These critics have zero credibility when they express their clearly hypocritical concerns about Nicaragua’s sovereignty in relation to growing Chinese influence.
Nicaragua’s sovereignty over the canal and the rights of its population are protected by the legislation for the Canal and its sub- projects which place the overall project under the control of a government Commission. The government’s Minister for National Policy, has explained, “The incentives have to be strong because Nicaragua isn’t giving a sovereign guarantee….. After 50 years Nicaragua will already have 50% of the profits from the Canal. Then in the second 50 years the share goes up 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%. Finally Nicaragua will take over after benefiting by over 50% for 50 years. While considerable, that benefit is tiny compared to doubling the economy, and reducing poverty.”
Not only do decisions in relation to the canal have to be authorized by the government, but ownership of the Canal’s business will pass progressively to the Nicaraguan government on an already agreed schedule.
Scott’s inaccurate and misleading analysis of the canal and of the national context in Nicaragua extends equally to his article’s geopolitical analysis. He manages to write his article without once mentioning ALBA, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or Mercosur. Scott completely ignores the diverse tensions between the Pacific Alliance countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) and their ALBA and Mercosur counterparts. Nor do US sponsored supra-national trade structures like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership figure in their extremely superficial report.
But all of these are extremely and immediately relevant in any serious discussion of China’s growing world role, especially in Latin America and especially in relation to Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal. Perhaps the most astonishing omission in the Truth Out article’s geopolitical sketch of the meaning of Nicaragua’s Canal is the absence of China’s alliance with Russia India, Brazil and South Africa, in building a multipolar world. Scott still seems deeply invested in the long since discredited idea of Western, especially US, political, economic and moral global leadership.
The inaccuracies, falsehoods and omissions of Thomas J. Scott’s article about Nicaragua’s Canal are symptomatic of that intellectual and political narcissism, placing the US and its concerns at the center of every world trend.
In fact, the US government is increasingly losing influence in Latin America and the rest of the world as a result of its absurdly inept, aggressive foreign policy. Neither the US government nor its European Union allies have anything to offer countries like Nicaragua beyond the old neocolonial traps of onerous debt, inequitable trade and meager development aid.
The fundamental question Western progressives never pose, let alone answer, when criticizing the Interoceanic Canal is how Nicaragua will otherwise generate the enormous resources it needs to end looming poverty-driven environmental disaster. The Sandinista government has taken the strategic sovereign decision to prioritize the Interoceanic Canal so as to achieve the massive structural investment it needs in the short term to break out of low wage under-development. The decision itself is grounded in the vision of Simón Bolivar, one explicitly fought for by Sandino, of Latin American integration.
This vision underlies the Sandinistas’ historic program of political pluralism, a mixed economy and a non-aligned foreign policy. Inherently and necessarily, Nicaragua’s Canal is not just a national project but rather one that will multiply benefits in Central America and the Caribbean, generating trade and investment throughout the region. Likewise, in the global environmental picture, the Canal will encourage maritime shipping over air transport by shortening voyages. A study of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal by Hong Kong academics argues, “Maritime transport will become more dominant in international trade by taking over from the air transport. To further take advantage of the low carbon opportunities, the shipping liners will use larger vessels and enjoy economies of scale for both economic and environmental benefits, while the hub and spoke system will be chosen to maximize the operation efficiency.”
In summary, the Nicaraguan Canal is a strategic national, regional and global development project based on the historic socialist program of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. That program develops in harmony with the anti-imperialist vision of regional integration promoted by Nicaragua’s ALBA partners led by Cuba and Venezuela in the context of developing policy embodied in CELAC, where the US and Canada have neither voice nor vote. Primarily, Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal project is designed to resolve the threat posed to national environmental sustainability by the economy’s current slow incremental economic development. But the Canal will also contribute to resolving that wider environmental dilemma regionally and globally. It is an integral part of the changing pattern of global seaborne trade and the infrastructure needed for that change in a multipolar world. This process and its respective outcomes are under way now with or without the say so of the United States and its Western allies and regardless of ill-informed, inaccurate and misleading propaganda from Western neocolonial media.
Many indigenous groups have opted to enter the national dialogue (teleSUR)
Many in Ecuador’s robust indigenous movement are questioning a call by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, also known as CONAIE, for a national uprising against the government of President Rafael Correa.
CONAIE has rejected a call for dialogue sponsored by the government and have instead have called for an indigenous-led uprising, which will begin with marches on Aug. 2 in the Zamora province and conclude in Quito for an uprising on Aug. 10.
“Everyone needs to know that CONAIE is not the only indigenous voice in the country,” Franklin Columba, leader of the National Confederation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) told teleSUR English on Thursday. “Here there are many organizations that also have their own processes.”
CONAIE’s demands are varied. For many indigenous activists government withdrawal from their land and a repeal of water laws are essential. Others have joined protests lead by the wealthy right-wing opposition leaders that have rejected of the capital gains bill and inheritance tax proposed by the national government to redistribute wealth.
“This march is to try and force the national government reconsider its political positions that they have been imposing. This uprising is demanding that the national government give concrete responses to our historic demands, our concrete demands in this country,” said President of CONAIE Jorge Herrera to the press.
The organization has taken a hardline to those who question their tactics, saying that they will sanction indigenous leaders who refuse to participate in the August uprising.
Columba told teleSUR that FENOCIN has rejected CONAIE’s uprising and it’s call for a national strike because “we as a national organization are not going to lend ourselves to playing the right’s game,” referring to the wealthy right-wing opposition who have used the momentum of current protests to denounce laws to redistribute the wealth in the country.
This is not the first indigenous uprising which has been called for in Ecuador. Indigenous nationalities from across the country converged on Quito on May 28, 1990. They blocked highways, held hunger strikes and occupied public spaces until they reached an agreement with the national government on June 11.
During the 1990 uprising CONAIE received popular support, as many of their demands represented those who lived harsh lives in Ecuadorean society. The movement is today under new leadership, and analysts have pointed to the fact that Pachakutik, the political party representing CONAIE, seems to be forging alliances with right-wing parties like former presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso’s CREO party.
“The alliances which we have seen Pachakutik make, the political arm, party of the indigenous movement of CONAIE and the Ecuarunari movement, are with right-wing groups. They are having meetings. This is a blow to their own ideological principles. They have always said that any type of relationship with the right would be impossible, because of what the right stands for,” said analyst Werner Vasquez to teleSUR English.
“(The right-wing) is the symbol of historic repression and exploitation suffered by the indigenous population. So it seems impossible to try to understand these alliances. I think it comes from them wanting to align themselves with those who are also opposed to the Citizen’s Revolution, and who have a common enemy, which is the state.”
Many indigenous organizations who participated in the 1990 uprising today feel that CONAIE no longer represents their interests. Some organizations, like FEI, agree that the land and water laws need to be revised, but they have chosen to participate in the National Dialogue on Equality and Social Justice to discuss these measures.
“We have proposed for this dialogue to cover fundamental issues, transcendental issues, like the agrarian revolution, also putting this in the context of diversifying production in the country, to support small and medium scale producers, campesinos and indigenous peoples,” said Jose Agualsaca, president of the Indigenous Federation of Ecuador (FEI) following a meeting with representatives of the national government to teleSUR English.
He went on to say, “We believe that these marches and this uprising wants to destabilize the country, and what they really want is to overthrow President Rafael Correa from power. But it would not end there, they want to take him out, then convoke a new constitutional assembly, and make a new constitution which would serve the interests of the richest sectors of society. This is the position of the FEI.”
Indigenous organizations across Ecuador are finding themselves at odds with CONAIE’S leadership, which has been viewed as moving further and further away from its historic support base. These groups are opting for dialogue, discussing their concerns and ideas with national authorities, in an effort to become key participants in constructing the future of the country.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered to suspend air strikes on positions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), he said via his Twitter microblog.
On Monday, FARC ordered all their units to observe a ceasefire and released a Colombian soldier it had captured earlier this month as a gesture of goodwill.
“I have ordered to suspend airstrikes on FARC camps starting today. They will be carried out only in the case of an explicit order of the president,” Santos said Saturday.
He added that the sides were able to revive the peace talks and “are closer than ever to put an end to the war.”
Colombian armed forces have been fighting FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, since 1964. The two sides have been holding peace talks in Cuba since 2012.
Recent progress in peace talks between FARC and the government was achieved in June with an agreement on the creation of a joint Truth Commission.
The commission is tasked with gathering testimony from victims and witnesses of Colombia’s civil war. However, it is unable to use the information to bring up criminal charges against FARC members, government troops or other fighters.
As many as 220,000 people have been killed as a result of the armed conflict in Colombia.
The statue of Juana Azurdy is a gift from Bolivia to Argentina. | Photo: telam
Bolivian President Evo Morales’ visit to his Argentina counterpart Cristina Fernandez Wednesday will focus not only on bilateral agreements between the two nations, but also South America’s independence history, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reported.
The two South American leaders will inaugurate a monument to independence heroine and South American guerrilla military leader Juana Azurduy.
The 15-meter high (52 feet) bronze statue has been erected outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires in the place that a monument to Christopher Columbus once stood.
Festivities throughout the week will celebrate the monument’s inauguration as a symbol of “Patria Grande,” a term that roughly translates as “Big Homeland,” used in Latin America to refer to the integration process in the region.
The statue, which will be Argentina’s largest once officially revealed, was made by sculptor Andres Zerneri, who began working on the statue three years ago with the help of a team of 45 assistants.
Zerneri said Azurduy led battles that were fundamental for South American independence and her legacy is part of the longstanding regional defense of Patria Grande.
Morales and Fernandez will also further consolidate bilateral ties with the signing of various agreements, including energy integration deals laying the foundation to build an electrical line connecting Yaguaca in southern Bolivia to Tartagal in northern Argentina.
Government sources have said that the meeting reinforces the relationship between the two South American nations linked by trade, political ties, and Bolivian immigration to Argentina, according to Prensa Latina.
After concluding talks in Argentina, both Morales and Fernandez will travel to Brazil for a summit of the regional organization Mercosur, during with Bolivia could be welcomed as a full member of the bloc.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961. Fifty-four years later, on Monday the 20th of July, the United States and Cuba will advance toward normalization of diplomatic relations. Presumably, the US will no longer treat Cuba as its enemy and treat the island simply as its next-door neighbor. Maybe …
The raising of the flags at the embassies on the 20th of July is much anticipated. But what does this all really mean? After more than 56 years of trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution through US sponsored terrorism, an invasion organized and launched by the CIA, biological warfare, an economic and commercial blockade, clandestine infiltrations and a permanent propaganda campaign against Cuba, what would constitute “normal” relations between Washington and La Habana?
The word normal derives from the Latin normalis. In the context of US-Cuba relations it refers to civilized diplomatic behavior, according to historically established philosophical precepts: norms or rules of peaceful conduct between nations.
What rules of peaceful conduct by the United States towards Cuba may we expect from now on? Which normative rules could be considered normal and which abnormal?
It’s normal for two neighboring countries, separated by a mere 90 miles of water, to have diplomatic relations. It’s not normal for the United States to impose an economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.
It’s normal for the US to have an embassy in Havana and for Cuba an embassy in Washington. It’s not normal for the US embassy in Cuba to function without an ambassador, simply because some in the Senate oppose it.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but it´s not normal to prohibit tourists from the US to travel to the island.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage in “people to people” contact, but it’s not normal that the Office of Finance and Assets Control (OFAC) limit it to only group-travel through licensed organizations, thus making travel to Cuba prohibitively expensive and inconvenient for many Americans.
It’s normal for Washington to permit businesses in the US to engage in commerce with private individuals in Cuba, but it’s not normal to make it illegal to do business with state enterprises on the island.
It’s normal for the United States to want a second consulate in Cuba to better serve the public, but it’s not normal that it uses its diplomats to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs.
It’s normal for the United States to support a process of legal and orderly immigration from Cuba, but it’s not normal for Washington to maintain a Cuban Adjustment Act as a tool to stimulate an illegal, dangerous and disorderly immigration of Cubans to the United States.
It’s normal for the United States Embassy in Havana to provide an open-door policy for Cubans. It’s not normal for its diplomats to organize, direct and employ as salaried dissidents a few Cubans of their choosing.
It’s normal for Washington to contribute to the entertainment of the Cuban people with radio and television programs. It’s not normal for it to maintain a multi-million dollar budget to fund Radio and TV Marti as propaganda instruments.
It’s normal for Washington to want a reputation as a great defender of human rights. It’s not normal for the United States to imprison without due process or civil rights dozens of persons in Guantánamo, as well as torturing them in Cuba.
It’s normal for the United States to have an embassy in Cuba, even a large one, located in prime real estate on the famous Malecón overlooking the bay in Havana. It’s not normal for the United States to occupy, against the wishes of the Cuban people, a large swath of Cuban territory in the province of Guantánamo.
It’s normal for the Pentagon not to invade or send military drones to Cuba. It’s not normal that Washington earmarks a $30 million budget for fiscal year 2016 for a project whose declared purpose is to remove the government of Cuba from power.
It’s normal for Mississippi to be one of the 50 states of the US. It’s not normal for Washington to assume that it has jurisdiction in Cuba as well.
It’s normal for the US to do business with Cuba, but it’s not normal for the US to intervene in her internal affairs.
It’s normal for Washington to condemn terrorism. It’s not normal that it protect in Miami dozens of terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles, who have committed heinous crimes against civilians in Cuba.
The US blockade against Cuba is a relic of the Cold War whose days are numbered. President Obama’s new Cuba policy, announced on the 17th of December, is a chronicle of the blockade’s death foretold. And it unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm from American businessmen who want to make money by investing there. Businessmen will pressure the Congress to lift the Helms-Burton law that codified parts of the blockade.
But let’s not be naïve. In order to truly say that relations between the US and Cuba are normal, Washington must understand that Cuba does not belong to it, that it is a violation of international law for the US to try and foment regime change in a foreign country and that Cuba must and ought be respected for what it is: a sovereign nation.
President Obama’s Cuba policy is a seismic shift in strategy for the United States. “The old policy did not work. It is long past its expiration date”, said Obama, in his most recent State of the Union speech before Congress. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”
What is the end game for the United States regarding Cuba? What is it that US Presidents wished had worked? Clearly, the major premise of Washington’s Cuba policy was always regime change. It failed, and the Cuban Revolution remains strong. That is why President Obama said that Washington should “try something new.” Perhaps business can do what isolation could not. Engagement is the new strategy to try and topple the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba is ready for Washington’s policy of engagement. Just as she learned to build trenches to defend the island from invasion, terrorism, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, Cuba will now help the bridges that American businesses will cross to invest there. But Cuba will also be wary. To be sure, Cuba knows that Washington’s end game remains regime change. Cuban laws have always regulated foreign business ventures, and American investment in Cuba will be no different.
Cuba welcomes better relations with the United States and hopes to advance toward normalization. But unless and until the government of the United States has a political metanoia and cancels its desire to dominate Cuba, as if she were its vassal state, normal relations in the true sense of the word will not come to pass.
José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels have come to a landmark agreement to de-escalate fighting in the country, sources say.
The Colombian government pledged in the Sunday deal to halt its military action against the rebels, who last week announced a one-month unilateral ceasefire starting from July 20, both parties said in a joint statement.
“The national government, from July 20, will launch a process of de-escalation of military action, in response to the suspension of offensive actions by the FARC,” said the statement issued in the Cuban capital, Havana, and read by Cuban and Norwegian diplomats, who have been mediating the talks.
The agreement will come into force if FARC fulfills its promised unilateral truce.
The FARC’s top negotiator in Havana expressed hope that the ceasefire would lead to the resumption of bilateral negotiations.
“This is undoubtedly a strong, promising, and hopeful re-launch of the dialogue process,” said Ivan Marquez.
His government counterpart, Humberto de la Calle, said the accord indicates that “the opportunity to end the conflict is alive.”
FARC will later decide if it will extend its ceasefire, while both sides will revisit the agreement in four months, mediators said.
Also on Sunday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hailed the deal, calling it an “important step” toward a total peace agreement.
It is the first time the Colombian government has agreed to curtail its military actions against the rebels since peace talks began in November 2012 in Havana.
The negotiations have produced partial agreements on several issues, but have not resulted in a final deal.
FARC is Latin America’s oldest rebel group and has been battling the government since 1964.
Bogota estimates that 220,000 people have been killed and more than 4.5 million others have been displaced due to the FARC insurgency.
Later this month the outcome is expected of the completely unjust and incompetent show trials held in Libya over the last year or so of around 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya. If that outcome is reported at all in North American and European media, its real meaning will be completely hidden in self-serving apologetics for NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2011.
The same psy-warfare framework that justified NATO’s campaign of terrorist aggression will falsely present the show trials’ outcome as rough justice dealt out to individuals who deserve no better.
That outcome should put on high alert anyone defending the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas against very similar psychological warfare and terrorist subversion supported by NATO governments of the US and its allies. Not for nothing did Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega speak out in defense of Muammar al Gaddhafi and Libya against NATO’s terrorist war. They had already learned long ago the very same lessons to have emerged more recently from the utterly depressing human, moral and political catastrophe of Libya’s destruction.
In 2013, a study by a distinguished Harvard University academic acknowledged that the failure in Libya of the US government’s ostensible avowed policy in Libya and in North and West Africa was based on serial falsehoods. That fact-based, acerbic policy criticism from a source generally supportive of US government foreign policy should give much pause for thought. Along with support for Libya from outstanding revolutionary leaders like Ortega, Chavez and Nelson Mandela it amounts to a categorical indictment of received Western opinion about Libya which, across virtually the entire Western political spectrum, sided either openly or indirectly with NATO’s 2011 war.
No one genuinely concerned to defend progress towards an equitable, peaceful multi-polar world based on mutual respect between sovereign, autonomous nations and peoples should underestimate or forget the horror of what NATO did to Libya. Tens of thousands were killed and wounded in attacks by the bombers and helicopters of many NATO countries. Millions were displaced or forced into exile. Cities like Sirte and Bani Walid were devastated. Schools, universities, hospitals, factories producing food products and other essential civilian infrastructure were targeted and severely damaged or destroyed.
The destruction of Libya marked the categorical abandonment of whatever vestigial moral authority may still have remained to the European Union and its member governments.
It demonstrated in the most humiliating way the impotence and irrelevance of the African Union.
It put hard questions about the anti-imperialism of the Iranian and Syrian governments as well as highlighting the race supremacism of the governments of the Arab League and the already damaged integrity of the Palestinian authorities.
Almost all of them quickly recognized the overtly racist renegade Libyan CNT junta. For their part, the then governments of Russia and China weakly accepted NATO country assurances about the defensive nature of the air exclusion zone.
The only governments to emerge with any real credit from the destruction of Libya were the governments of the ALBA countries and a few African governments like Zimbabwe.
Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have all been victims of comprehensive disinformation campaigns of demonization and caricature, although perhaps not so extreme as the final campaign against Libya’s Jamahiriya and Muammar al Gaddhafi.
It is worth considering the basic component of that disinformation war against Libya. What is sometimes called 4th generation warfare is as old as warfare itself. Like Athens versus Sparta, or Rome versus Carthage the fundamental objective of NATO governments and their allies is to make their chosen target seem Other, creating a despised, outcast doppelganger anti-image of the West’s own phony self-image.
So Libya’s Jamahiriya was tagged as undemocratic by hypocritical Western governments, most of whom came to power with around just 20% to 25% of the vote of their electorates, thanks overwhelmingly to elite corporate funding. Libya’s democratic process was one that recognized its society’s contradictions and attempted continual self-renewal.
By contrast, the Western corporate oligarchies offer virtually meaningless periodic elections obfuscated by public relations and organized on a yes-or-yes basis to favor politicians groomed and bankrolled by their countries’ anti-democratic elites. Muammar al Ghaddafi was labeled a dictator even though his policy initiatives were not infrequently rejected within Libya’s system of popular congresses.
In 2009, during a policy conflict between Muammar al Gaddhafi and pro-Western so-called reformers, these could not get their way in Libya’s popular assemblies so they chose staging a violent putsch to achieve the regime change their Western government backers wanted. Venezuela’s experience has been almost identical, although, to date, the country has avoided the kind of coup d’état and subsequent NATO driven war that destroyed Libya Libya was portrayed as a systematic human rights violator.
But Libya’s response to the constant terrorist attacks and subversion it suffered from the very start of its Revolution in 1969 was no different to that of any Western government faced with a similar threat. The British government tortured and murdered alleged subversives all through the Irish war, colluding with sectarian paramilitary death squads. The same pattern of torture and extrajudicial murder also consistently marked the Spanish authorities’ campaign against Basque separatists. Guantanamo’s torture camp symbolizes the brutality and illegality of the US government’s response to terrorist threats.
Libya’s Jamahiriya probably conformed as closely to international human rights norms in relation to fighting terrorism as the three Western governments that led NATO’s war of destruction. Human rights protection in Libya was certainly superior to Western allies like Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the other quasi-feudal Gulf State tyrannies.
All the pretexts for the Western assault on Libya’s legitimate government were completely bogus. In any case, as Gerald Perreira points out, the fundamental objective achieved by the destruction of Libya was to shut down the decisive impetus towards African integration led by Muammar al Gaddhafi.
CNT leaders like Mustafa Abdul Jalil were Arab supremacists who fiercely resisted the Pan-African policies advocated by Muammar al Gaddhafi. Arab supremacism, phony neoliberal reformism and the treachery of repressive human rights abusers like Mahmoud Jibril made a lethal reactionary cocktail perfectly suited to ruthless NATO government manipulation. On cue, Western corporate and alternative media presented the corrupt political project of these viciously reactionary elements as a “revolution”, part of the absurdly hyped “Arab Spring”. As if NATO country governments, dedicated to the service of their countries’ corporate elites, have ever promoted genuine democracy or comprehensive human rights around the world.
From Ukraine and Greece, to Yemen and Syria, to Haiti and Honduras, what the Western powers and their allies want is access to natural resources, control of strategically important territories and decisive advantages for their trade and finance. Destroying Libya effectively removed a real threat to Western control and domination in Africa.
Currently, the NATO country elites’ political sales staff, for the moment President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, are battering Greece into submission. But those leaders and their allies are using economic and psychological warfare to attack many other targets, not just Greece. They do so against Venezuela and other stubbornly independent countries around the world.
That is why the leaders of Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela very publicly welcomed the No vote in the Greek referendum. Unlike Libya, in their different regions Syria and Venezuela are part of regional alliances backed at long last by firm leaders in Russia and China, strong enough to face down any likely economic or military threat from the United States and its allies.
But it would be a mistake to forget Libya. Defending the people of Libya represents an important self-defense measure against Western predators in their global psychological warfare assault on the free, anti-imperialist world.
As a leading force in that free world, ALBA country governments should urgently consider challenging the governments of North America and Europe to protect the thousands of political prisoners in Libya who have been tortured and denied due process.
The ALBA country governments and their allies have infinitely more moral and political authority than Western leaders to speak out in defense of fundamental human rights. They should make outspoken use of that authority now to expose the sadism and hypocrisy of Western governments in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
In Libya, they may perhaps yet help to save the lives of as many as 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya at risk from quasi-judicial murder by the West’s corrupt terrorist proxies in a country they have devastated with merciless cynicism.
Fensuagro, the largest agricultural workers union in Colombia, held its 11th National Congress on June 5 – 8 in Bogota. The theme there was: “We advance for peace, rural peoples’ rights, and food sovereignty.” Fensuagro – the full name is the United Agricultural Trade Union Federation – reelected Húbert Ballesteros as vice president and member of its board of directors.
Ballesteros, however, is a political prisoner, one of 9500 Colombian political prisoners and one of 130 Fensuagro leaders who are in prison. His victimization symbolizes repression directed at Fensuagro since 1976, when the union was formed. As of December 2013, assailants had killed 1500 Fensuagro members over 37 years. More have died since then. […]
Fensuagro has a stake in the outcome of peace talks underway in Cuba between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The reason is twofold: persecution visited upon the union during the civil war and Fensuagro’s revolutionary orientation shared with the FARC.
Fensuagro exemplifies peaceful mobilization at the Colombian grassroots on behalf of social justice and, in effect, works in parallel fashion with the FARC’s armed struggle for the same purpose. If the union’s record is any indication, Fensuagro will likely be continuing its fight even if, ultimately, the FARC is unable to negotiate peace with justice.
Húbert Ballesteros’ own story reflects Fensuagro’s militancy and its leadership role in targeting monopolization of land in Colombia, the basis actually of capitalist power there. The regime’s enmity toward union and Ballesteros surely is no accident.
An agrarian strike broke out in August 2014 and 200,000 strikers soon carried the action to 17 Colombian departments. Over two weeks authorities arrested 500 strikers; nine strikers were killed. “Colombia has seen one of the most powerful mobilizations in its history,” a contemporary observer said. […]
Political Declaration of the Fensuagro Congress
June 14, 2015
We declare that:
As a consequence of the structural crisis taking place in rural areas of Colombia, very high levels of impoverishment and absolute dependency are affecting vast sectors of the Colombian population, especially those living in zones of misery surrounding big cities and in rural areas. The cause is application of neo-liberal policies and institutional and fiscal adjustments imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development. A submissive national government takes its turn in carrying them out.
We point to efforts complementing policies aimed at greater concentration of wealth in our nation, consolidation of trans-national finance capital, and plundering of our territories. These include: free trade treaties; the legal project on Zones of Interest for Rural Social and Economic Development; expanding agricultural business enterprises, concentration of land ownership; the impetus behind mining and energy development; and the recently-approved National Development Plan, especially the part on Transformation of the Countryside.
The war continues as the principal instrument for plunder and concentration of wealth on the part of the Colombian oligarchy. It operates in conjunction with transnational capital and the destructive power of imperialism. Rural peoples; indigenous peoples; African-descended communities; and, generally speaking, the working class of our country are being robbed continually of their fundamental rights. The executive and legislative power and the judicial branch that are harmoniously integrated with the interests of trans-national and national capital constitute part of this machinery of war.
Violence and systematic persecution against rural and indigenous peoples is no recent phenomenon. This cropped up in the first years of the previous century and continued throughout the entire 20th century and into the 21st century. The current armed conflict stems from the historical causes of violence, from political persecution, from plundering of rural peoples, and from overt North American imperialist intervention in our country.
The fact of more than 9,900 political prisoners in Colombia shows that to designate a country like ours as the continent’s “oldest democracy” is a solemn lie. Numbers don’t lie: more than seven million displaced persons, thousands of disappeared, around 25 million acres of land stolen from rural people.
The peace negotiations taking place in Havana, Cuba, between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrillas, represent Colombian society’s best hope for reaching a definitive agreement that might end armed confrontation and open the road to a political solution leading to a long, stable peace and social justice. From our Federation, we call upon the two sides to … not rise from the negotiating table until they sign a final agreement. We call upon the national government immediately to implement agreements already reached on agrarian policies and also those agreements likely to contribute to building confidence in the negotiations process.
Fensuagro declares itself in favor of the constituent process. Necessary time must be dedicated for organizing and promoting the convocation of a Constituent National Assembly. It may be possible there to transform agreements reached in Havana into the reality of a new political constitution that would establish peace as a fundamental principle for Colombians, and establish social justice and democratization of wealth and the nation’s political life. The National Constituent Assembly must embrace the fundamentals for constructing a democratic society marked by self-determination, anti-imperialism, and unrestricted national sovereignty. Peace must become a basic principle for the Colombian people, guaranteeing them the right to free health care and education, the right to enjoy suitable housing, access to drinkable water, high quality foods, dignified work, land for the landless, and other modalities permitting direct state support for rural people’s economy.
Wealth and natural resources will have to be declared the strategic patrimony of Colombians thus prohibiting privatization and sales to foreign owners. Land will have a social and ecological function. No longer will monopolized land-holding in the hands of a few be legitimate. Legislation will have to be developed guaranteeing effective and efficient control of tax evasion by trans-national and national companies and by finance capitalists. Those companies violating fundamental rights of workers will be expelled from the country. Millions of rural inhabitants dispossessed of lands, territories, and wealth are still waiting upon the state to give them back. Four years in existence, the Law of Victims does not pass the test. According the government itself, only 215,000 acres have been returned out of 25 million acres that farming people say drug-trafficking big land owners stole from them ….
… We commit ourselves to join with social and popular forces in consolidating the Agrarian, Small Farmer, Ethnic and People’s Summit (1) and converting it into a space of unity in diversity. Its goal is permanent mobilization and struggle against the trans-nationals for the sake of retrieving land, territory and a worthy life. We also commit ourselves to organizing and preparing people – centered protest actions in a spirit of unity and leading toward the Agrarian and People’s Strike. …
…. Likewise, we call for a redoubling of efforts from the agrarian sectors, small farmers, and social, political and people’s organizations to strengthen the “Broad Front for Peace” that is working to achieve an immediate, bilateral ceasefire, for de-escalation of military actions, and the signing soon of an agreement putting an end to armed confrontation. The Broad Front seeks a stable, durable peace and social justice. The door thus would be closed to reactionary forces intent upon condemning the Colombian majority population to the harsh, painful road of war and systematic violence. The country’s social organizations and people’s organizations have borne the brunt of that experience….
(1.) “On September 13, 2013 and as a result of the agrarian strike of August, people’s organizations installed the Agrarian Summit. [Participants] since then have been trying to balance problems of the agrarian sector with the demands of the State.” They are giving consideration to renewing the agrarian strike.
W. T. Whitney Jr. translated.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced changes to military leadership Monday, with newly appointed heads of the country’s army, navy, and air force.
Santos said changes in command are “normal” and “necessary” procedures within the country’s armed forces.
Santos named General Alberto Mejia as army commander, Admiral Leonardo Santamaria as navy commander, and General Carlos Buenos as air force commander. The government also ratified Juan Pablo Rodriguez as general commander of the military and Rodolfo Palomino as head of the national police.
Santos thanked outgoing commanders Jaime Lasprilla, Hernando Wills, and Guillermo Leon for their service with the army, navy, and air force as he announced the changes.
The military leadership shakeup comes just days after the Colombian government signaled openness to exploring the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire in ongoing peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), marking a shift from the government’s previous position.
Recently, the armed conflict between government forces and the FARC has escalated as the government stalled on accepting a ceasefire. The FARC suspended its unilateral ceasefire after the government massacre in the Cauca region killed 27 rebels.
The new leadership also comes just two weeks after Luis Carlos Villegas took over as the Colombia’s new minister of defense.
The Pasión River in northern Guatemala is a disaster area. Beginning on June 6, residents along the river in the municipality of Sayaxché, Peten, began to find millions of fish, their primary source of food and income, floating dead in the river. Community members quickly accused the Palm firm, Reforestadora de Palma del Peten, S.A (REPSA) of contaminating the river. Communities have called the pollution of their river an “ecocide.”
“Unfortunately, there has been a massive pollution of our river,” said Rigoberto Lima, a community representative from Sayaxché. “We need to put an end to the problem of palm in northern Guatemala.”
The Public Ministry of Guatemala initially declared a red alert on June 11; days after the fish first began to appear floating in the river. The Public Ministry initially confirmed that the disaster was caused by run off of the pesticide Malathion into the river, but in the weeks after, they would take back the accusations against the palm company.
However, these accusations were supported by a toxicological study preformed by University of San Carlos, which found elevated levels of the pesticide, and other agro-chemicals in the river. The report determined that the local palm industry was responsible for the contamination.
The contamination affects 106 kilometers of river, and 65 communities. These poor communities have all been forced to rely more and more on the river for their sustenance because of the expansion of palm in the region.
Communities have called on the government to perform an investigation into the pollution of the river.
Late in the evening of June 23, nearly 45 members of communities along the Pasión River arrived to Guatemala City to denounce the pollution of their river. Following a late afternoon press conference, the community members began a sit-in outside the offices of the Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism in Guatemala City to condemn and repudiate the contamination of their river by the palm company. They also demanded that the company be temporarily shut down for threatening life, and that they be allowed to be involved in the investigation of what occurred in Pasión River in order to ensure transparency.
The following day, members of the Public Ministry visited the encampment. Community members expressed frustration at being treated with disrespect and contempt by the state and the firm.
Denial of Responsibility
On June 17, the company, the mayor of Sayaxché, and community members gathered in Guatemala City to sign a document stating that the company “was not responsible for the death of the fish,” and that there “was no ecocide.” In exchange for the signing of the document, the company agreed to provide the communities with water, the improvement of town streets, and the construction of wells.
The document also states that the company is committed to taking better care of the river, but they stress, “They are not the cause of the killing of fish.”
REPSA is a subsidiary of the powerful Grupo Olmeca, Guatemala’s largest palm oil producer, which is owned by the powerful Molina family. The conglomerate was the first to begin the production of African palm in the late 1980s, and today cultivates nearly 46,000 hectares of land in Escuintla, Ocós in San Marcos, and Coatepeque in Quetzaltenango, and Sayaxché.
Those affected by the pollution do not agree with this declaration.
This isn’t the first time that communities in Guatemala have accused the palm industry of polluting their rivers.
Communities in the Municipality Chisec, Alta Verapaz filled a complaint in the Guatemalan Public Ministry against the Ixcan Palm Company in 2013, for the contamination of their river. The following year, communities in Peten also filed a complaint in the Public Ministry against the pollution of their river. In both cases, the Pubic Ministry failed to investigate the contamination.
“This is not the first time that the fish have died in our rivers,” said Margarita, a representative from the Organization of Women of Alta Verpaz. “In 2013, there was massive death of fish in the rivers of northern Chisec. We have made denouncements against the palm firms in the region.”
The Public Ministry and Environmental ministry have called previous contaminations “accidents,” which have not resulted in new regulations.
The failure of the government ministries to respond to the concerns of the communities has increased frustrations with the expansion of palm across the FRANJA of Guatemala, which stretches from Huehuetenango in the west to Izabal in the east. These frustrations have led communities to demand that the government begin to regulate the industry, and end the expansion.
“The palm companies cannot keep expanding,” said Margarita. “They cannot continue to keep sowing, buying, and accumulating more land. We have demanded that the government put in place a law that caps the amount of land used for palm, and allows for us poor farmers to have access to land.”
Expansion of Palm Across Guatemala
The first palm plants were brought to Guatemala in the late 1980s and have since spread like a virus across Guatemala and Central America. The expansion was strengthened especially in the years after the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which guaranteed multinational companies with security in their investments into sectors such as palm oil.
The fruit of the palm is a high-yielding oil plant, which has gained a significant importance in the processed food industry. Palm oil production has spread because of the increased demand in the United States and Europe as vegetable oil used in a wide range of products including soaps and waxes, as well as popular food products such as Nutella, and Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby Ice Cream. Increasingly the production has been promoted as a renewable biofuel, which has further brought people into the industry.
The bunches of palm oil berries, commonly called Racimos, contain roughly 2,300 berries, and are harvested by hand. From there they are loaded onto a truck, and taken to the processing plant.
The expansion has exasperated the crisis over land that has historically plagued the region; in Guatemala, 3 percent of the population owns nearly 85 percent of arable land.
According to statistics from the Guatemalan National Bank, production of palm oil has spread by nearly 270 percent since 2006. This expansion has been partially influenced by a campaign by the Guatemalan Ministry of the Economy to attract foreign direct investment. In 2011, the ‘Invest in Guatemala” campaign was launched, in which the ministry claims that “88 percent of fertile land is vacant.”
But as production of palm has expanded, small farmers have been pushed further and further to the margins.
“We need the fish,” said Juan Choy. “We are living without land. People are migrating to Mexico and the United States, and families are disintegrating. Where are we supposed to produce? There is no land. The cost of meat has skyrocketed, and our maize is coming from Mexico.”
Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist currently based out of Guatemala. He has covered human rights, social moments, and issues related to education, immigration, and land in the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala. Follow him on twitter @palabrasdeabajo
Last week we saw an encouraging sign that the 50 year cold war between the US and Cuba was finally coming to an end. President Obama announced on Wednesday that the US and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and that embassies could be re-opened in each country by the end of the month.
For this achievement, which was resisted by vested interests in the US, Obama should be praised. However we shouldn’t be too optimistic about truly establishing normal relations until we understand how relations became so abnormal in the first place. The destruction of relations between the two countries was preceded by US intervention on behalf of a hated Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, which had turned the Cuban people against the United States and set the stage for the emergence of Fidel Castro.
In 1944, after Batista’s first term as president of Cuba, he emigrated to the United States. When his campaign to return to office in 1952 looked lost, he led a military coup, seized power, and declared himself president. The US government quickly recognized his military junta as the legitimate government of Cuba and began propping him up. Much of the Cuban economy was in the hands of well-connected US companies, and the US government exerted its influence to their financial benefit.
The Cuban dictatorship was helped along by US assistance. The secret police was trained by the United States and was used to brutally suppress any political opposition. Almost all US aid to Cuba was in the form of military equipment used brutally against the Cuban people. The US was seen as the force behind Batista’s dictatorship.
As John F. Kennedy said while campaigning for the presidency in 1960:
Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state — destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror.
US intervention in Cuban affairs really got a boost when Batista was overthrown by the young revolutionary Fidel Castro. As Stephen Kinzer writes in the excellent book, “The Brothers,” Castro’s rise to power was not immediately condemned by the US. When Castro traveled to the US shortly after taking power, he met with Vice President Richard Nixon, who found that Castro “has those indefinable qualities which make him a leader of men.” But Nixon worried that the US might not be able “to orient him in the right direction.” Nixon was concerned that Castro sounded too much like Indonesian president Sukarno, who urged countries to join a non-aligned movement to resist both superpower camps at the time. The US could not tolerate the non-aligned movement and pushed a zero-sum game in global politics.
When Washington realized it could not control Castro, it embargoed the island and began launching plots to overthrow and even kill him. US policy likely was responsible for Castro turning to the Soviet Union in the first place.
This US intervention in Cuba’s internal affairs continues to this day. Even under Obama several US plots to overthrow the regime have been exposed. So while opening an embassy in Havana is a positive step, this embassy must be used to help promote truly normal relations with Cuba. That means an end to the embargo, an end to the travel ban, and an end to US interference in Cuba’s internal affairs. A more free and prosperous Cuba will not emerge as long as US interventionism continues to turn Cubans against the United States.