It might sound implausible, but surely it is no less plausible than Kerry being to blame for the Haitian resistance? It’s true folks, the coup-installed Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has decided that South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki is using South African territory to help “organize violence” in Haiti. Mbeki, according to Latortue, is “not respecting international law.” This raises some questions.
A bizarre story from the Haitian occupation, in which a Brazilian general whose military forces are overseeing the massacre of hundreds after ratifying a coup joins the electoral campaign on behalf of the makers of the coup in the name of the massacred.
Was that a mouthful? Let me explain. During the coup, Kerry said one of the few things that distinguished him from Bush. He accused Bush of having an “ideological and theological hatred” of Aristide. He said that “as president he
would have sent American troops to protect Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was ousted from power in February.” (This is a quote from a BBC report).
Brazilian general Augusto Heleno, who is part of the UN mission in Haiti — commanding Brazilian UN troops who are currently overseeing the slaughter of hundreds of Haitians by Haitian police, army, and paramilitary units — didn’t like that comment. He told the Brazilian news agency that “Statements made by a candidate to the presidency of the United States created false hopes among pro-Aristide supporters. His (the candidate’s) statements created the expectation that instability and a change in American policy would contribute to Aristide’s return.”
The problem? Such comments “have offered hope to Aristide’s supporters that should Mr Kerry win the US election in November the former Haitian president might be restored to power. ” And Heleno, who is using his troops to help Haiti’s dictatorship ensure that Lavalas people are dead or terrorized, says that such hopes are “completely unfounded”. He’s making sure that’s the case, too.
What a tragedy for Haitians, to have a general like this in charge of the troops who ought to be protecting their lives. A tragedy for Brazilians, too, to have its army off explicitly killing hope and explicitly siding with the more rabid of the two imperialist factions in the United States, accusing the less rabid faction of the terrible crime of making Haitians feel hope.
Some more background (it’s repetitive, but with a story like this I feel the need to provide context frequently) below.
To repeat what we know so far. There was a coup that ousted Aristide in February 2004. That coup was backed by the US and featured former Haitian military and paramilitaries invading from the Dominican Republic and US marines kidnapping Aristide himself. Following the coup the paramilitaries began to liquidate Aristide’s followers. Thousands have been killed and that process of terror and installation of dictatorship continued under US/Canadian/French occupation, and now it continues under UN-sponsored, primarily Brazilian occupation. (Brazil is, presumably, doing this as angling for a seat at the UN Security Council, where presumably it wants to try to do decent things which will, presumably be vetoed by the US.)
On September 30, 2004, these same police opened fire on a Lavalas (Aristide’s party) demonstration (as they had done in the past with US soldiers watching), killing two people. Then they arrested various public figures and politicians. The most recent arrest was on October 13, of “a Catholic priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, [who] the government accused of trafficking in weapons and harboring gunmen in his parish. Human rights organizations and legal experts have condemned the arrest as “arbitrary” and an effort by the authorities to repress political dissent.”
In some slums, notably Bel Air, people began to fire back. The dictatorship circulated a story that these Lavalas people were beheading police officers and calling it “Operation Baghdad”. This is suspicious. According to a Haiti Information Project report: “Two demonstrators were killed on Sept. 30th and the U.S.-backed government claimed that the headless bodies of three policemen were later discovered. The identities of the headless policemen were released at a funeral held for them earlier this week. The bodies of the headless men were reportedly cremated before journalists and human rights groups were given an opportunity to perform an independent examination of the corpses to confirm the government’s claims. ”
A feature of the police repression against poor communities where Lavalas is politically strong (ie., most of the country) is raids, often joint raids in which the UN soldiers establish a cordon and the police enter and raid. On October 15, HIP reported that Bel Air resisted such a raid: “Armed units of the Haitian
National Police (PNH) entered the pro-Ariside slum of Bel Air as thousands of residents took to streets to demand the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Marchers defied a shutdown of the capital by the business community and threats issued by the former military. Heavy gunfire erupted as the police reportedly fired shots to disperse the crowd. The police were then forced to withdraw as unidentified gunmen returned fire from surrounding buildings in a thunderous volley.”
It also said that “The morgue at the General Hospital issued an emergency
call this afternoon stating that there was no longer space for new corpses and it had reached full capacity.”
Corporate Canada has been ’tilting’ towards Israel for a long time, building roads that Palestinians can’t drive on in the territories, for example. (That link goes to the “Canada Highways Infrastructure Corporation”, a company with a contract worth hundreds of millions to build said roads).
I was listening to democracy now the other day, listening to (another) rather demoralizing debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali. Hitchens seems difficult to debate. He’s very smart, he’s careful not to fall into the traps that various conservatives fall into, and he deliberately tells outright lies and makes outrageous statements interspersed with intelligent analysis. It’s very confusing and disconcerting. Tariq’s response seems to be to say what he was going to say anyway, which is not a bad way to go. At any rate, Hitchens’s opening shot was that “the United States is not going to be militarily defeated in Iraq. You can draw whatever conclusions that can be drawn from that and you should. Military superiority is something that has to be seen and felt to be really understood, and the US is not going to be defeated.”
He then inferred from this that since the US isn’t going to be defeated, the insurgency is going to be defeated — forgetting the lesson of the great villain of one of his books, Kissinger, who said “a guerrilla army wins if it doesn’t lose”. He also believes, like all the other tough guys, that the US has to stay until the insurgency is defeated.
Problem is, that word, defeat, like victory, doesn’t mean very much in this war between the US and the population of Iraq. The US can destroy the whole place, or any given place, or population for that matter, but it can’t control it. The insurgenc(ies) can prevent the US from controlling it but any social or political control it wins over any parts of Iraq is subject to physical destruction by the US.
In this context, the refusal of a group of US soldiers in Iraq to follow orders over a dangerous resupply mission is a potentially important development.
US power depends, and has always depended, on its economic power (by which it punished Vietnam for example after withdrawal), its cultural appeal (which meant until recently that everybody in the whole world loved Americans and America despite its foreign policy), and of course its military power. But military power itself rests on support in the society for militarism (of which there is plenty) and the willingness of the military to do what it’s told. In long, costly wars this support can begin to wear down — American planners called it the “Vietnam Syndrome”. The lesson they took from this was that they have to win quickly and easily without many casualties.
As invincible as the US might seem (ask Hitchens) the whole equation of power is more complicated and more delicate than it seems. US militarists will still have tremendous support. But this refusal by the reservists is a crack in that. They will be attacked as traitors who are betraying other soldiers, cowards; they will be smeared on the talk radio shows and television and spit on by the very people who traffic in myths about leftists spitting on Vietnam veterans. But it’s unlikely that they took this decision lightly, and the way they are being treated in the army is already no picnic. A quote from one of them who called home: “We had broken down trucks, non-armored vehicles and, um, we were carrying contaminated fuel. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners.”
Repression within the military itself is very tricky business. It was a breakdown in the military more than anything else that led to “defeat” in Vietnam (I don’t like talking about Vietnam as a “defeat” for the US, as people who follow this blog know. The Vietnamese suffered a holocaust to “defeat” the US). If the military does start to break down, it will be amazing how fast liberals stop talking about a “quagmire” that it is very hard to get out of and start talking about withdrawal in earnest, since the US military itself will be at stake and all the “difficulties” and phony concern for Iraqis that are part of the “quagmire” analysis will seem to melt away at that point.
Samer Elatrash from Concordia University in Montreal wrote a funny satirical piece about some serious issues of terrorism and free speech that were raised by the local pro-Israel group’s attempt to bring Ehud Barak to campus to speak. Samer makes a modest proposal for consistency’s sake on rabble.ca.
The above is by the talented graphic artist Tyson Kingsbury, who is responsible for many of the banners of the ZNet Watch Pages. I think you’ll find that his work is quite special in that he really creates a mood, grabs the eye without sacrificing subtlety. Every once in a while I might put up a piece of art like this, if it’s original to the blog and can’t be found anywhere else. Tyson here is invoking the film “Citizen Kane”, casting George W. Bush in the title role. If Kerry wins in November, satire like this will cease to have political value for a few years, so now is the best time to put it out there.
Now on to content promised yesterday.
C. P. Pandya mentioned in the blog today about how mercenary companies are still making massive profits in Iraq. Bombings and massacres continue to happen on a daily basis in Iraq: today’s by insurgents killed 4 American DynCorp mercenaries and 6 Iraqis inside the famed “Green Zone”. Massacres by US are reported by Seymour Hersh in talks, as this one, which comes from A Tiny Revolution via underthesamesun.org.
Iraqis don’t want this.
They’ve never been asked.
But I think it would be a very good test of the antiwar movement. In Brazil in 2002 they had a people’s referendum against the FTAA in which 10 million voted and 98% of them voted against FTAA. That referendum was organized by the incredibly large and popular Landless Peasant’s Movement (MST). We have nothing remotely like the MST in the United States. But we could have a referendum on the occupation. A simple question, like: “Do you believe the United States should leave Iraq and allow self-determination for the Iraqi people?” [That’s a rough cut — the question would have to be carefully done]. It is an idea with a lot of potential.
It could emphasize reaching people in communities that are actively being disenfranchised by the main parties and showcase the sham that “democracy” is in this country.
It could, by its simplicity, be a powerful demonstration of how convoluted and absurd the electoral college system is.
In campaigning for it, it could provide an opportunity to discuss democracy here and in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Venezuela, and Colombia.
It could provide an opportunity for the antiwar movement to organize for something other than another big demonstration that will be ignored (not that a people’s referendum wouldn’t be ignored, but if it did get big, it would be hard to repress) and have debates other than on the efficacy or morality of breaking windows.
It could provide an opportunity to showcase the immorality of the war, the illegality of it, the massive suffering imposed on Iraqis, the destruction of people’s aspirations there, the resultant insecurity and bankruptcy of the US arms race with itself and the “war on terror”.
It would be good regardless of who wins in November: if Bush wins, antiwar forces will need to do something big and creative quickly. If Kerry wins, antiwar forces need to demonstrate their power and their militancy. But in either case, it would be not only a demonstration in the real sense of the word to elites, but it would also be a demonstration to the world that (hopefully) the majority of Americans are against their country’s murderous foreign policy.
There are pitfalls.
First, such a thing would be a huge project and would take tremendous effort and resources to do properly (remember it was the MST who did it in Brazil, and we don’t have such a thing in the US). Liberal groups and unions have resources but they would inevitably try to water down the question (“Should the United States withdraw but only after we’ve fixed the country up and ensured that there won’t be a civil war or any terrorists coming from there to threaten us in the foreseeable future?”) and gut the whole project of all the things that would make it important.
Second, even if the resource question could be solved, it would be incredibly important to do it all in the right way — to use it to reach constituencies that radicals (and the mainstream parties) don’t reach, to use it to actually grow the movement.
Third, I have to wonder — what if the majority votes against an end to occupation? If it started to become clear that the initiative was going to be popular and lots of people were going to vote, the establishment would kick into high gear and try to stop or discredit the whole thing. Failing that, they would try to get people to vote against withdrawal. What if that worked — the antiwar movement would have organized a referendum against the occupation and wound up helping militarists politically.
Still, I think I’d be up for such a battle.
So I just finished watching the last debate between John Kerry and George Bush. This seemed the most scripted piece. Lots of spin, lots of posturing and rhetoric. Not really much that was spontaneous or interesting. So, for favourite phrases, I only have a few.
From Bush, it is definitely the business about “unleashing the Armies of Compassion to Heal the Hurt”. As I mentioned in the earlier post today, a lot of this language is code words for his own constituency, and doesn’t really have much meaning other than for that constituency.
From Kerry, there was a nasty little bit during the immigration debate where he said that he had heard there were people from the Middle East coming into the country illegally. That was it — he just wanted to point that out. Just straight pandering to racism to try to score points. Whenever liberal types do this, it is odd, because they will never be able to beat the right at racism. Whenever they try, they are just handing weapons to the other side.
As usual, lots of agreement from both sides. One thing about the illegal immigration issue. Bush said that if you make 50 cents in Mexico and 5.15 in the US (minimum wage which he doesn’t want to raise, though Kerry says he does) you will want to go to the US. Fair enough — but of course NAFTA led to major decreases in average wages in Mexico and the collapse of the agricultural economy there. The real solution to “immigration problems” is to stop plundering the poor countries so that there are opportunities and hopes for people there. That would be a major overhaul of the global economy though, and of course Bush and Kerry only care about Americans.
Bush also said that health care costs were rising because consumers don’t have a say. He wants to appoint Supreme Court judges who may repeal abortion rights because he doesn’t like “activist judges” (although “activist judges” got him the presidency in the first place) and wants the people to be able to decide. Sounds like he’s advocating participatory democracy. Maybe he’d be up for a referendum on the occupation?
More on this last tomorrow.
So, as the movements promised, Oct 12 was a day of mobilization against Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Oct 12, I didn’t realize until the day itself, is the “Day of Indigenous, Black, and Popular Resistance” in the Americas. In Colombia there was a march of some 300,000 — in Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and other cities, there were large demonstrations. The platform was against bilateral “Free Trade” with the US, against Uribe’s re-election, and a for political solution to armed conflict.
In Peru, the main action of the 12th was the beginning of the collection of signatures to begin the process of an official referendum on Free Trade.
In Bolivia, thousands began on October 11 to march from Caracollo to the seat of government in La Paz (a distance of 190km, so the plan is to get to La Paz on the 18th). They want a new law regulating hydrocarbons and they want to sanction the President for human rights violations.
In Costa Rica, 30,000 marched against bilateral free trade with the US. There were other demonstrations all over Central America and the Caribbean: El Salvador, Panama, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
On a personal note: While they were battling neoliberalism in Latin America, however, I was experiencing neoconservatism in the United States. It made me realize just how different these two killers of aspirations in the world really are.
I listened to a little talk radio, for example. All of the AM radio stations are talk radio. Local hosts. All deeply, profoundly right wing and taking repetitive, hateful aim not at the left (which doesn’t exist in any form which these guys think it’s worth attacking) but at “liberals” and “liberalism”, exemplified by Kerry.
I realize there’s been a ton written about this but I realized then that the difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush is not so much what they say or what they promise to do or what they will do once in office. The difference is that John Kerry is a slimy politician flailing around looking for a winning formula and George Bush is at the head of a massive, incredibly well organized, incredibly well disciplined, incredibly well resourced, truly revolutionary movement. And movements, radicals ought to understand, are serious business.
Movements can force governments out of power. Movements can constrain what elites can do even from a position of opposition. Movements can organize for the long haul and change the culture and context in which everyone has to operate. Movements can set the agenda even if they do not have majority support, compensating for that with ideological clarity, discipline, and organization. And that is exactly what the right has done in the US.
Its enemies, as I have said, are not the left — if, by the left, we mean people who want equality, solidarity, some radical notions of democracy, liberation for the third world and oppressed people. Those principles are not part of mainstream discourse, they are not part of the political culture, and the right doesn’t need to take them on in any serious way. Instead, the enemies of the right are the liberalism that people outside of the US have long believed defined the US: secularism, the separation of church and state, checks and balances in government, freedom of speech, journalistic independence, academic freedom, and indeed rational thought or debate itself. It is not any particular arguments about society or the future that is being undermined day by day in the US by the work of this movement. It is the possibility of having rational argument itself, the basis for having an argument — agreement on the rules of evidence, logic, and reasoning.
I just started reading Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the matter with Kansas” which this article by Serge Halimi about these issues cites. These pieces describe how all this came to pass.
I realize I’m coming to all this a little late in the game, but that’s part of the point — people outside of the US have very little idea what an important development the coming to power of this movement is. Partly because the movement itself is so oriented towards the US and part of its ideology is contempt for the rest of the world. Partly because radicals in the rest of the world are so focused on neoliberalism as the enemy.
But like many latecomers, once I notice something I start to see it everywhere. Like in Chomsky’s blog entry today:
Activists have quite different concerns. They are engaged with the public, and try to help in the growth and development of popular organizations that will become powerful enough so that they cannot be ignored by centers of power. If Pat Robertson says, as he recently did, that he’ll start a third party unless the Republicans are sufficiently extreme in “support of Israel,” that’s a threat, because he might be able to mobilize tens of millions of evangelical Christians who already form a significant political force, thanks to extensive work over decades from local levels and on, and on numerous issues apart from the political choices from school boards to presidents.
A lot of different ideas come up. In a book of interviews with David Barsamian called “Confronting Empire”, lifelong anti-imperialist activist Eqbal Ahmad said that one limitation on the US’s ability to be an empire was that the American people just “did not have the will to dominate”. His example? The American people’s reaction to the Clinton sex scandal — a society with a real will to dominate would have punished Clinton severely. I believe that things have changed in the years since Eqbal Ahmad said those words, and that things go further and further in the direction of domination each day. In the 1990s, Michael Albert described the United States as an “organizer’s paradise” because dissatisfaction with the status quo was so widespread. Well it was an organizer’s paradise, and then the right went to work, and now tens of millions of the poor are diehard and organized with the goals of destroying liberalism and, to use a phrase out of Thomas Frank’s book, “repealing the twentieth century”.
I’m about to watch the debate now, but I can already tell you that the liberals are not ready for this battle. They aren’t sure they want to fight it, and they definitely wouldn’t know what to do if they won. They want to try to convince the constituency of this movement that the fact that the Democrats would slow the slashing of what little economic programs still exist makes them the natural choice for the working people who are voting Republican. But it won’t work. Those people are not being duped by the Republicans. They are making moral choices — in their view, to defend America, to spite hypocritical and patronizing liberals, to stop the murder of foetuses, to keep the sacred right to bear arms. And, like radicals, they are willing to sacrifice for these moral choices. Sacrifice education for their children, maybe, sacrifice health care, maybe, sacrifice a whole world of opportunities and solidarity, even. Though, to be fair, no one is offering them any of these latter — certainly the Democrats are not, and radicals don’t really get the chance.
What’s important for radicals to understand though is that the enemy isn’t just elites and it isn’t just the business class or corporations or neoliberals. It is an organized mass movement, including a huge number of poor people. Bush is so effective because he concentrates on his constituency and ignores the rest — the majority of the population. Liberals might be more effective if they did the same: if they focused on blacks, latinos, women, unionists, immigrants — on cultural, social, and political issues. Making moral arguments and writing off the hard right movement’s constituencies the way the hard right has written off these constituencies. But they won’t do so. What’s left for them is to try to convince the elite that they can do the job better than the Republicans can. The trouble is that this movement is now a player in the game, perhaps every bit as powerful as the elite, and has to be taken into account in any equation of power. This is a new environment. Radicals have to understand this in order to figure out how to operate in the world.
Now I’m off to watch the third and final presidential debate.
Let’s summarize a little. Aristide was forced out of Haiti in a paramilitary coup because the US was arming the paramilitaries and Aristide had no force of his own. By all accounts, his people, the Lavalas activists and grassroots, were actually much more radical and had much more will to resist and fight for their country’s independence and against a return of the vicious dictatorship that plagued that country for decades (with a very brief and partial interruption under Aristide). But Aristide needed to take the lead, and Aristide did not, and so the coup happened.
There was some international sentiment against the coup, from South Africa, Venezuela, Jamaica, and a few other countries — but most of the countries who you might have hoped would defend the independence and democracy of a small weak country did not do so. Instead, countries like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina joined the UN occupation force that is effectively guaranteeing that neither Aristide nor democracy can be restored, while the forces of the Haitian dictatorship reconstitute themselves and return to their work of liquidating the social and activist base of the popular movements in the country.
It is early to tell. But there are beginning to be signs that the Haitian movements are engaging in armed resistance against the occupation and the Haitian police.
I’ve been republishing and reporting news from the Haiti Information Project here (get on their list by writing ot firstname.lastname@example.org). Today’s report says that the slum of Bel Air, a very poor part of the very poor city of Port Au Prince, is still being besieged by Haitian police and UN troops. Those forces have been raiding into the slum for days now, but people in the slum have been shooting back. It all started on September 30 with a set of killings and arrests against unarmed Lavalas demonstrators. They’ve been ‘sweeping’ the slums since, killing a few here, arresting a few dozen there. In Bel Air yesterday, the Haitian Police and Brazilian UN troops raided a slum, killed 5, and arrested 34, according to the HIP report, which uses testimony from residents. According to those same residents, one of the Brazilian soldiers was wounded in the foot by gunfire.
There was a story that crept into the mainstream media about Lavalas people beheading Haitian police and calling it “Operation Baghdad”. This is being used to justify the raids. I’m dubious. There’s very little real evidence. And in any case resistance movements don’t just start off by beheading people. They start off as this one might be — demonstrations, that are then repressed; firing back at vicious raids. It’s all very convenient too, a pretext to attack and do mass reprisals in the neighbourhoods and a chance to smear Haitians and Iraqis all at once.
The problem is that if this does become an insurgency/counterinsurgency dynamic, Haitians will have the same problem they always have had. The people they are fighting are the most powerful in the world or backed by them. They, by contrast, are almost completely alone and no one in the world seems to care at all.