Zapatistas Sixth Declaration

I just read the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacondona (in Spanish). In it the Zapatistas outline their plan for the next little while. First, they clarify what their plan is *not* – it is *not* to break their unilateral ceasefire or initiate any armed actions, nor to provide any aid to any other armed groups, overtly or covertly. They do, however, intend to send some material (corn) to Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador; in the first case to symbolically break the embargo on Cuba, and in the latter cases as part of exchanges with indigenous peoples of the Americas, of whom they are a part. They’ll also be launching a national campaign, sending a delegation around Mexico, to meet with people all over the country and develop a national plan of struggle against neoliberalism. I’m sure irlandesa is translating it even as I write, so you’ll have their own words on the topic before too long!

Legislating the indigenous out of existence

An announcement from the indigenous people of Northern Cauca in reaction to recent legislation working its way through the Colombian Congress. The announcement is simple: the indigenous will not obey laws against nature. By saying this, the indigenous are trying to make clear that the legislation is in effect a declaration of war against them. It will be treated as such by them. It should be understood as such by others.

In other Colombia news. Plan Colombia is up for renewal in the US Congress. While it misunderstoods who the corrupters are and what the flow of resources is between Colombia and the US, the McGovern amendment would be a positive development if passed. The proposal by Congresswoman McCollum is below the communique from the indigenous of Cauca.

Author: Indigenous Authorities of Cauca


June 24, 2005

The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC), the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca (ACIN CWAB WALA KIWE), and the Environmental Economic Authority, in the face of the legislative bills on Waters, Forestry and Mountains that is being processed by the Fifth Commission of the Senate of the Republic,

Based on our customary law, Law 89 of 1890, the rights enshrined in the National Political Constitution of 1991, Articles 3, 7, 63, 67, 246, 329, 286, 330 and on Convention 169 of the ILO ratified by Law 21 of 1991 and Resolution Number 1 of May 1, 2005, emanated in the Twelfth Congress of Indigenous Peoples of Cauca,

We declare our opposition as peoples and Indigenous Authorities of Cauca to the legislative bills on Waters, Forestry, and Moors that are being processed in the Senate of the Republic. We do so because these bills have as their fundamental purpose that of making possible and legalizing the CONCESSION of the waters, forests, and moors, that is to say, of all of LIFE, to private corporate interests so that they, driven by their insatiable global egoism, may exploit them for their benefit, converting them into profits at the cost of abusing and destroying them and along with them the balance and harmony that guarantees their survival and that of us peoples and cultures who coexist with them in our lands.

Furthermore, for us indigenous peoples rooted in our cosmovision, the forest, the moor, and the springs of water are sacred spaces of life in which the spirits live, and it is, therefore, unthinkable to engage in extractive and/or intensive productive activities in them. These sacred spaces are visited by traditional doctors to learn from the spirits and to gather medicinal and/or magical plants to strengthen culture and to harmonize life. From the concept of the holism, the unity of the indigenous people involves the spirits, people, plants, animals, water, soil, and other forces such as thunder and rain, among others, as integral elements of the system of life and existence. Its purpose, therefore, is for the use and sustainable contribution to the dignified life of the communities in harmony with nature and not for the accumulation of capital.

Each being has its place and is in relationship with other beings and places in rhythms and processes that must be recognized and respected with wisdom and conscience. That relationship of wisdom with rhythm and the place of all beings that make up life is the law of origin. To violate it or do it violence for any motive is the greatest crime possible against Mother Earth, its beings, and its rhythms. The purposes and powers that are designing the current legislative bills and which respond to the interests of transnational accumulation are by principle incapable of recognizing and respecting the rhythms and places of beings and their coexistence. For this reason, they are a threat to peoples and territories and go against LIFE.

On the other hand, these legislative bills are grounded in an ignorance of the content of Article 1 of Law 99 of 1993, which in its Numbers 2, 3, and 4 proclaims the rights and duties with respect to the ecosystemic and cultural biodiversity of the country: Number 2. “The biodiversity of the country, because it is a national patrimony and of interest to humanity, must be protected as a priority and used in a sustainable way. Number 3. “Policies will take into account the rights of human beings to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” Number 4. “The zones of moors, sub-moors, the springs of water and the areas of replenishment of the aquifers will receive special protection.” Number 5. “In the use of water resources, human consumption will have priority above any other use.”

We know that these bills are being articulated to the negotiation and signing of the Free Trade Agreement and all of the other strategies geared towards favoring the interests of transnational capital and promoted by foreign governments and multilateral entities with the purpose of privatizing the life of the planet in all corners to exploit it and transform it into a commodity and profit and destroying it in the process. For this reason, we know that these bills do not come from Colombia nor are they only for Colombia. They are global laws that respond to transnational interests and powers, which also promote war, looting, and deception and which have disguised their intentions from the time of the conquest with discourses of protection and respect through the falsehood of the propaganda of pretty words. The history of the blood and death of the conquest and concessions is not new: that is why we can recognize it behind the mask of lies and false promises of protection, welfare, development, and progress.

As a result, rooted in our Law of Origin, we demand that the Colombian people be consulted in advance about these legislative bills. We reiterate our call on international solidarity, on the peoples of the world and on organizations and people committed to the defense of life and of Mother Earth, to actively give us backing, so that our just demands be respected by the National Government and by the multinational interests who promote and represent and who come to strip us of our ancestral lands and knowledge. We do not understand, we do not accept, and we reject as criminal the concession of life to the multinationals. It is our clear duty to struggle and defend the rights of the peoples who defend life and their natural resources since they are not and will never be up for sale.

We announce to the Government, to the People of Colombia, and to the world our decision to disobey and ignore the laws that violate the right to Life and our Law of Origin, because we cannot accept orders from those who promote death.



Congresswoman Betty McCollum

McGovern Amendment to Reduce Military Aid to Colombia by $100 Million

June 28, 2005


Mr. Chair, the McGovern Amendment to cut $100 million from Plan Colombia is about accountability and sending a message that cutting deals with narcotics traffickers who pose as politicians will not be tolerated by the American tax payer.

After six years and over $4 billion dollars, Plan Colombia is not reducing the supply of cocaine on our streets, but has succeeded in making cocaine in America cheaper, more available and more potent than ever before.

The drug war in Colombia is failing – failing the people of Colombia and the American taxpayer. Spending another $735 million to stay the wrong course and continue to finance failure is irresponsible. Let us send a message to Colombia that there are no more blank checks in American taxpayers’ checkbook.

Unfortunately, Plan Colombia has not made the Colombian people any safer. More than 2 million Colombians have been forced to flee their homes, 90% of violent crimes – murders and rapes – go unpunished, and human rights abuses among Colombia’s military and law enforcement are all too common.

These are deeply disturbing trends. There is cheaper cocaine on America’s streets, millions of innocent people fleeing for their lives, and lawlessness. This is hardly what we could call “good governance.” In return for the narco-terrorism and corruption, the American taxpayers are being asked to reward the Colombian government.

Now, a law passed by Colombia’s Congress and supported by President Uribe provides immunity and protection for right-wing death squads and narco-terrorists.

For ending their participation in death squads, Colombia will be giving virtual immunity and protection from extradition to narco-traffickers, many under indictment in the United States.

One paramilitary death squad, the AUC earns 70% of its income from narcotics trafficking and the AUC is listed as an official terrorist organization by the U.S. Government. The AUC’s leader, Diego Murillo, is described as a “brutal paramilitary warlord who made a fortune in the drug trade.”

Under the plan for disarmament supported by our allies in Bogotá, Murillo and terrorists like him who have committed massacres, kidnappings, drug trafficking and the murders of elected officials receive freedom from prosecution – and keep possession of their riches.

In Colombia, if crime pays, if drug trafficking pays and if terrorism pays – let’s not have the American tax payer pay for it. Congress needs to cut funding for Plan Colombia – save the American taxpayers $100 million and send a message that Colombia cannot protect narco-terrorists with our tax dollars. I strongly urge my colleagues to support the McGovern Amendment.

People of Color Talk is Cheap

Any category or concept is going to leave important things out. It’s the nature of abstraction. Using the term ‘Black’ to describe a group of people can obscure more than it reveals. As a biological category it is meaningless, as is the concept of race generally. There is no clear biologically relevant distinction between blacks and non-blacks. There are some genetic diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, that are more prevalent among those with African ancestry compared to those with European ancestry. Other diseases prevalent in the Black community, like hypertension, however, are related to social, not biological phenomena.

Even as a social category, it abstracts a lot of differences. Within the group of Black people, there are men and women, there are children and adults, there are wealthy and poor, there are powerful and disenfranchised, there are those with access to resources and those without, there those with legal status and those without. So a lot of detail and nuance is lost in the use of the concept.

Despite this, it is still very meaningful as a social category. Black people in the United States, for example, have less wealth, less income, suffer poorer health, and are disproportionately incarcerated compared to people who are not Black. To say that the concept of race has no biological value and that individuals are what they are, cannot be made into an argument to deny the social reality of racism. Racism is real. It is brutal. And in the system of caste that is US racism, Black people, and indigenous people, are at the bottom.

What about the concept of ‘People of Color’? That, too, obscures a great deal. It obscures differentials in political power; it obscures class differences; it obscures gender differences; it obscures questions of imperialism; it obscures the crucial distinction in this world of those who have papers and passports and can cross borders and those who do not, cannot, and are ‘illegal’.

Does it, however, have merit, like the concept of Black race or ethnicity, that countervails what it costs in abstraction? It has the merit of excluding whites, who, while they can be oppressed on gender or class lines, are at the top of the racial caste system. It can be a useful substitute for the term ‘non-white’. But it can also lead to simple-minded analysis.

When whites in movements argue that everyone needs to get over race, transcend it, and work on common issues of class, against capitalism and the ruling elite, antiracists are unimpressed because such an approach enables the most privileged and powerful groups to impose their agenda on the rest. Such an approach denies problems of privilege and differentials of power within movements and organizations for social change. Denial is no basis for solidarity. As a substitute for denial, antiracists ask white activists to think about privilege, to be attuned to hierarchies and exclusion that can happen in organizations, and to work to overcome them. Pretending equality is already here is a recipe for maintaining inequality. Addressing and attempting to make structural redress for inequality can make a group, or a movement, stronger.

The way to fight racism is not to deny differences and hierarchies of privilege but to bring them out in the open and try to change them. But if that is the case, the ‘People of Color’ label is often not helpful, for several reasons.

First, because it leads to the same kinds of denial as comes from denying race altogether. There is a hierarchy of privilege within the group ‘People of Color’. At the bottom are poor African Americans, indigenous people, and Latinos. At the top are an elite of people from different ethnicities selected and adopted into the ruling class. In between are groups of immigrants, some of whom have historically had a degree of upward mobility and are used against those below them as rhetorical devices: ‘model minorities’ who are supposed to have ‘made it’, proving that racism does not hold ‘People of Color’ back and thus that African Americans (as an example) have not ‘made it’ through their own fault. There are also groups of brutally exploited and oppressed immigrants and refugees, who work at low wages to try to remit money to support their families in poor countries under constant threat of deportation. These groups are treated differently within the racial system. They are subject to different stereotypes. They have different, and sometimes opposed, interests. Black people, for example, have an interest in a tighter labor market, while immigrants have an interest in the chance to go to the US to work. Many institutions, and often the law, think affirmative action obligations to Blacks to redress centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation and violence are met when an upper class Asian is hired.

Collapsing all of these groups under the rubric of ‘People of Color’ does exclude those at the top of the hierarchy (white people) but it leaves the rest of the hierarchy intact. As a result, people at the top of the new hierarchy – in movement organizations these are often drawn from the ranks of class-privileged academics from the least oppressed racial groups – can claim the oppression of everyone below them as their own. Rather than trying to understand and addressing our own privilege and hierarchy, we can posture and be righteous. This does not help those we ought to be most concerned about – those who are most oppressed, those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy.

If addressing privilege and working against it within social movements and organizations is onerous, then why should whites shoulder the burden alone, since they are not the only ones with privilege? If, conversely, as antiracists claim, addressing privilege and working against it is a positive personal growth experience, then why should whites monopolize such a wonderful thing? We could all benefit from understanding how privilege and hierarchy work, and taking an honest look at where we stand. Perhaps we could start by being a little more specific about the racial system and its impacts, which do not come down on everyone equally. Using a better set of categories might help. The categories I use for North America, with their own flaws and problems, are: European or white, South Asian, East Asian, West Asian, Latino, African or Black, and Indigenous; always with the question of citizenship and status (immigrant, refugee, status/non-status).

Recognizing these differences is particularly important when ‘People of Color’ groups, caucuses, and organizations are formed. A ‘People of Color’ caucus in a community antiwar group is an example. The idea here is good: to create an autonomous space where an oppressed group can work and develop without constantly negotiating boundaries and issues of privilege. So long as the creation of such a space does not come at the expense of representation of the oppressed in larger, integrated groups (in the antiwar example, the existence of a caucus should not prevent people of color from being represented in the leadership of the larger antiwar organization or coalition). But if the autonomous space is a ‘people of color’ space where highly privileged people of color interact with much less privileged people of color, the most oppressed still have no space, and can now be denied a voice, of their own.

It’s true that no set of categories or concepts is perfect, and it would be easy to come up with arguments against the set I’ve chosen. But starting with a concept like ‘People of Color’, which obscures privilege and hierarchy within the racial system itself, can often make work harder for antiracists.

Justin Podur is a writer and activist based in Toronto.

Crash and Race

I watched the movie ‘Crash’ (Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Ryan Philippe, Mat Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, lots of others). It was fascinating. I’m not sure what to make of it, still, but I would recommend it. If I were putting together a film festival of recent mainstream fiction movies ‘Crash’ would be in it (So would ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ and ‘Red Dust’, and even ‘The Interpreter’, but we’ll leave those for another time).

Continue reading “Crash and Race”

Yvon Neptune and Faking Genocide

A very important, very substantial two part research article by Kevin Skerrett on Haiti and the case of Yvon Neptune, the former Prime Minister of Haiti who was ousted in the Feb 29 2004 coup and who has been languishing in prison for about a year, having been charged after 11 months of languishing, with a set of total sham charges. Neptune is wasting away on hunger strike and is very likely going to die of starvation, one of the thousands of casualties of the coup. Skerrett reviews the evidence and examines the role of the Haitian ‘human rights’ group NCHR, including looking at where the money comes from… Canada… of course.



Quick story I got in the email. African American pharmacists at Walgreens have launched a class action lawsuit against that corporation for racial discrimination. I’ve blogged elsewhere about Black Americans and health care. It is among the deadliest impacts of racism in the US, though it is not usually understood that way. It is also one of the easiest to fix – universal health care would do nicely. Of course, it is harder to campaign for such a thing when the notion of ‘undeserving poor’ is so deeply ingrained into the culture, and when ‘undeserving poor’ is actually code for ‘Black’, and relies on racism, that makes it still harder. This lawsuit shows some of the connections as well: corporate power, the health care industry, and racism, all coming together.

Haitian Blood on Canadian Hands, etc.

Devoted followers of this blog might remember a photo I posted of activist and writer Yves Engler confronting Canadian Foreign Minister and coupster Pierre Pettigrew with a copy of the University of Miami Human Rights report aka ‘Griffin Report’, a harrowing and meticulously documented piece that shows the devastation in the wake of the coup. Pettigrew dismissed this as ‘propaganda’, without responding to any of the claims or evidence or photos. I suppose that is what one would expect from a vicious liar and a gangster (sorry for mincing words, I’m trying to keep this a family blog).

At a recent conference on Haiti in Montreal (June 17-18) where the future of occupied Haiti was being planned, Engler had another encounter with Pettigrew, the beginning of which is shown here:


It ended with Engler splashing Pettigrew’s hands with fake blood (cranberry juice, I believe). Engler was wrestled to the ground and arrested, spending the night in jail (charges were later dropped, except for disturbing the piece – I suppose they don’t want a trial and for Engler to have a platform). Pettigrew, after cleaning up, tellingly quipped about his favourite Calvin Klein suit. At least one letter-writer wondered in a Canadian daily newspaper about whether the CK suit was made in a Haitian sweatshop, where the minimum wage had been lowered since the coup.

Naomi Klein was in South Africa a few days ago and interviewed ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, asking him his opinion on the incident:

Naomi Klein:

Pierre Pettigrew just hosted a summit on the ‘transition’ and some Haitian
solidarity activists did an action where they put some red paint on [Foreign
Minister Pierre] Pettigrew’s hands to symbolize that Canada has blood on its
hands in Haiti. Does Canada have blood on its hands in Haiti?

President Jean Bertrand Aristide:

Some people in the Canadian government yes, they have Haitian blood on their
hands. But not Canada as all the people of Canada or as one country. I try
to make a clear distinction between the Canadian people who didn’t decide to
have their government going to Haiti, seeing Pettigrew and the others with
the Haitian blood on their hands.

Aristide also took some pains to distance himself from the action – no doubt wanting to avoid the constant propaganda about him pressing buttons from Africa and causing crimes halfway around the world. He told Naomi:

I don’t encourage people to go against any government in Canada or to go
against the de facto government in Haiti. I encourage them to resist in a
peaceful way while they are asking for my return.

There was a bit of tactical debate about Engler’s action, which I thought was wonderful. Some who wrote me wondered whether it would be counterproductive. I think not. I worry when tactics seem disproportionate – when the ‘punishment’ seems to exceed the crime. Pettigrew’s crimes so far exceed what Engler did or could do that it’s uncomfortable to make the comparison, so there’s no proportionality problem there. What about consequences? Because it was obviously a Canadian acting on his own initiative, it can’t be easily used to attack Lavalas or Haitians, so there is insulation for the victims. Engler made a calculation about the possible personal costs, and I think made a courageous decision. He could have faced jail time, etc. – but that would also have given him a platform from which to attack Canada’s horrendous actions in Haiti. As it was, he put the fact that there is opposition in Canada to what the Canadian government has done and is doing on the table in a way that had not been on the table before, despite efforts at mobilization and small (hopefully growing) efforts at organization and education. So, I’d have to say thanks to Engler, and look forward to seeing his book (with Anthony Fenton) on Canada in Haiti, which is coming out in the fall.

More on the Red Alert

First, if you only read english, you should know that Irlandesa, the main english translator of Zapatista material, has a new blog and will be posting her translations there, though that wasn’t her intention in starting the blog, as she says. She translates everything from the Zapatista command, and does so very fast.

ZNet has republished two communiques explaining a little more about the Red Alert.

Continue reading “More on the Red Alert”

Happy Birthday, OCAP

Yesterday was a good day. I spent the afternoon reading Ralph Ellison’s ‘The Invisible Man’. It’s a classic, and one I’d heard a lot about, but in my tastes of these things I have no ability to differentiate between great classics and cheap thriller novels, and the same goes for movies and music. But this was a really great book about race in the US, though not just about that. The main character, a young black man whose name you never learn, grows up in the southern US, I guess around the 1950s or early 1960s, goes to a black college there, gets expelled, goes to Harlem, falls in with the local Communist organization, which is fighting street battles with the black nationalist organization, and leaves that group in disgust of their inability to understand or see the reality right in front of them. He ends up living in a hole in the ground, surrounded by hundreds of lightbulbs. My summary abstracts out some extraordinarily painful and unforgettable scenes, some brilliant dialogue, and some amazing insights. The title comes from the fact that, because he’s Black, no one is able to see him. People are able to use him, and eager to do so. But not to actually see him. It’s also a brilliant book because you see the character grow and evolve over the course of the book.

Having read The Invisible Man, I went to a party organized by Toronto’s invisible: the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. In fact it is inaccurate to call them Toronto’s invisible. It is rather those who would be invisible if it weren’t for OCAP itself. But they are most certainly not invisible. As Eqbal Ahmad once said about the Palestinians, refuting Golda Meier’s famous atrocious remark (‘the palestinians don’t exist’) they damn well exist now.

The party was a fundraiser on the approximate occasion of OCAP’s 15th birthday (hence one of the slogans, ‘kicking the ass of the ruling class since 1990’). It was at a little bar in downtown toronto, but the back room had been taken over and made into an exhibit of an extraordinary history. Several walls were full of press coverage accumulated over 15 years of action – a large portion of which was truly absurd and hilarious for those who actually know what OCAP is about. There was a constant slideshow running of extraordinary photos taken by OCAP folks. And then there were toasts – on an open mic, about a dozen people spoke to celebrate what the organization has meant to them (and it has meant things like the difference between homelessness and housing, the difference between deportation and staying, the difference between wanting to get up in the morning and not). And unlike the organizations encountered by the main character in The Invisible Man, this one is not concerned with making reality fit its theory. It is concerned, first of all, with the survival of its constituents, who are society’s most vulnerable people. And it fights for this survival in the most dignified way – by actually fighting, intelligently, politically. Oh, there are problems, and they are serious, but they arise because this thing is alive.

I realized that it’s far too easy for someone like me to take an organization like that for granted. It is a blessing. It is also, for lack of a better term, the most civilizing influence in the city. That word usually isn’t associated with the kind of uncompromising anger one hears from OCAP – but that anger, as far as I’ve seen, is completely appropriate and proportionate. I wish those people OCAP always ends up fighting could understand that.

There were a lot of really moving toasts people made at the mic, and I can’t really do justice to all of them. So I’ll just quote the last line of the first toast, that went something like this: ‘OCAP is hated because it is a thorn in the side of the powerful. But it’s not enough to just be a thorn in their side. So in the next few years let’s go from being a thorn in their side to being a stake through the bloody bastards’ hearts!’

I could drink to that…