A massacre in the NAFTA zone

Written for Ricochet Media

A national day of action in protest against the disappearance and massacre of 43 education students in Mexico occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 8. The national teachers’ union made the call to protest, which was answered in 59 cities in Mexico and included a silent march organized by the Zapatistas in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Protests occurred all over the world, including Canada.

The college students from the Mexican community of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, 43 of whom were disappeared from a bus on Sept. 26, were studying to be teachers and protesting the starvation of the public system they were planning to work in. The bus was ambushed by police, probably on orders from officials in the nearby city of Iguala, Guerrero, from the director of Seguridad Publica (Public Security), Francisco Salgado Valladeres, and the mayor, José Luis Abarca. Both of these men are currently on the run. Six people were killed in the ambush, among them people on an unrelated bus, which was mistaken for a bus with student protesters and was actually carrying a soccer team.

An unknown number of bodies, 34 at last count, almost certainly belonging to these students, were unearthed in a mass grave in Iguala. The bodies had signs of torture and were probably burned alive.

Randal Archibold, writing in the New York Times, put forward the theory that the police were a part of a gang, or passed the kidnapped students on to a gang, which was strange because the students “were not known to have criminal ties.”

Canadian journalist and author Dawn Paley, currently studying in Mexico, writes, “The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.” This massacre, Paley notes, is far from the only mass grave in Mexico. The New York Times report went so far as to say the country was “accustomed to mass killings.”
the key context for these killings is the use of state violence, up to mass murder, to manage social protest and to dismantle the public sphere

Democracy: Failed Installation In Afghanistan

Written for TeleSUR English

In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore were the winner and loser in a very close US presidential election, with Gore getting 48.4% and Bush getting 47.9% of the vote amid irregularities and fraud. The issue was ultimately decided not by recounting the votes, but by a decision of the US Supreme Court not to count the votes. This was irregular, bizarre, and made a mockery of the election. But the recent Afghan election was worse.

Take all of the despair of those who realized their votes didn’t count, all the disillusionment in a nontransparent electoral system that came about in the US in 2000, and imagine a few changes. Imagine a foreign country, say the UK, coming to broker a power-sharing deal between Gore and Bush. Imagine the deal involving making emergency changes to the US constitution in order to accommodate the ambitions of both the winner and the loser in the contest. Imagine the loser of the contest insisting not only on the nullification of the electoral outcome, but also that the outcome never be made public. That gets us closer – but the recent Afghan election was still worse.

Some background: In October of 2001, the declared winner of the US election, George W. Bush, sent troops to invade Afghanistan and bring about a regime change in Kabul. Most of Afghanistan had, from 1996-2001, been under the control of the Taliban, a Pakistan-sponsored group that was battling for control of Afghanistan’s territory and resources. The Taliban’s opponents were a coalition of commanders, who combined military, territorial, and business power, and legal and illegal activity, in a way that got them characterized as ‘warlords’. The warlords had ruled in Kabul, destroyed and plundered their parts of Afghanistan from 1992-1996, and still held parts of Afghanistan in 2001. Bush’s invasion sent the Taliban into retreat and the warlords back to power. The Taliban went first across the border into Pakistan and then, years later, returned to fight the Afghan government and the US from base areas in southern Afghanistan.

Reading from and a review of The Demands of the Dead, Oct 10, 12pm, Toronto Public Library

I will be reading from the Demands of the Dead on Friday Oct 10, 12pm, at the Toronto Public Library. If you're in the city, come and check it out.

I also wanted to call attention to the review of the book by Megan Cotton-Kinch at the Two Row Times, which was also republished at Countercurrents.org.

Here's the event listing:

The Demands of the Dead: A crime novel by Justin Podur

Fri Oct 10, 2014

12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

75 mins

Toronto Reference Library, Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium

Here's Megan Cotton-Kinch's review:

Book review: A detective story set in the middle of an Indigenous insurgency

Demands of the Dead, By Justin Podur
Reviewed by Megan Cotton-Kinch

While I’ve always enjoyed a good detective novel, I’ve always felt like this genre usually contains an underlying message of support for the police, and never really takes a critical look at the role of “law-and-order” in maintaining a society based on the oppression of poor people and the theft of Indigenous land. At best, this kind of stories will look at corruption in police and politics but offer no solutions. This is where Demands of the Dead transcends the genre, and moves beyond works like The Wire by actually looking at the larger political context and offering possible solutions. In the case of Podur’s novel these are represented by the Zapatista Indigenous insurgency, which has an important presence in the book.

In the opening of Demands of the Dead, an ex-cop receives an email, in Spanish that says, “The dead demand so much more than vengeance.” But the dead are more than the two dead police, or his dead friend, but include all the dead in southern Mexico who have been killed in the counter-insurgency. And unlike most books in the detective genre the novel does offer up the possibility of solutions that go beyond personal vengeance.

The Indian Electoral System's Victims

First published on TeleSUR english

Narendra Modi, at the head of the right-wing BJP, leading an alliance of parties of the right, won a crushing victory in the April-May 2014 elections in India, with 336 seats (282 of them to Modi's own BJP party) compared to the incumbent, the Congress Party, whose alliance ended up with 60 seats (44 of them belonging to Congress). Leading the largest majority government in 30 years, Modi's victory could be viewed as a mandate for big changes in India.

But is it such a mandate? A close analysis of the election, as was done by Nirmalangshu Mukherji in his essay, "A Stolen Verdict", for Kafila.org, (http://kafila.org/2014/05/23/a-stolen-verdict-nirmalangshu-mukherji/), suggests the outcome had as much to do with the careful, strategic, methodical use of electoral violence in key areas than it did with a massive change in opinion in the country. Modi's alliance won 51.9% of all seats, with 31.0% of the votes. A massive victory indeed, in terms of seats. In terms of the popular vote? Not spectacular - according to Mukherji, considering that many seats, judging by past elections of majority governments in India, even with the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, the BJP should have had about 45% of the vote, not the 31% it got.

How did the BJP-led alliance win such an extraordinary seat-to-vote ratio? There were two states in which the BJP made its greatest gains: Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. In these states, in the year leading up to the 2014 election, the Hindu-right street organizations affiliated with the BJP, especially the RSS, instigated and led dozens of communal incidents, violent individual acts against people of other religions and even riots in which hundreds of people (mostly Muslims) were killed. The electoral beneficiaries of this violence were the BJP. In Mukherji's words:

Aristide Summoned: The courts in Haiti's New Dictatorship

First published on TeleSUR english

On August 12, a court in Haiti summoned former President Jean Bertrand Aristide to appear on charges of corruption. Aristide's lawyers quickly filed a motion with the Supreme Court seeking the recusal of the judge who issued the warrant. Lawyer Mario Joseph, from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, accused judge Lamarre Belizaire of engaging in a political trial, bringing baseless accusations forward, violating due process in the way Aristide was informed of the summons (through the press), and questioning the process by which the case came to be under Belizaire's jurisdiction. Aristide and his lawyers argued that, since due process was not observed in summoning him to the court, he did not have to appear. For his part, neither did judge Belizaire, who left the country (see the AP story, Evens Sanon Aug 14/14, "Haiti tense after summons issued for ex-president").

Judge Belizaire is an interesting character. One of Aristide's lawyers, Brian Concannon Jr., told journalist Kevin Pina (see the Haiti Information Project blog: - August 19/14, "Haiti: IJDH Director Dismisses Allegations Against Aristide As False") that Belizaire was so famous for misusing judicial authority to persecute enemies of president Martelly that he had been banned by the bar association for 10 years; that he was a political appointee, appointed directly from the prosecutor's office without the legally mandated 3-year hiatus; that he lacks the minimum qualifications (either a specialized course or 8 years of specialized practice) to be a judge; and that he didn't have jurisdiction to bring the case.

Supporters of Aristide mobilized in front of his house in Port au Prince to physically prevent an arrest. They remained on vigil for days. United Nations forces, continuing their decade long dishonorable role in Haiti, brought an armored personnel carrier, sirens, tear gas, and soldiers in riot gear to try to make the arrest. From the video of the attack, it is impossible to tell which country the UN soldiers are from - Brazil remains in command of the mission. For all of the excessive and partisan force they brought to bear against Aristide's supporters, international forces didn't manage to kidnap Aristide again.

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The Demands of the Dead: a novel

My novel The Demands of the Dead is out as of September 2014. It's a self-publication, inspired by authors like Hugh Howley, available on KDP and Smashwords (as an e-book) and on CreateSpace as a physical book. Cover design by Suzy Harris-Brandts.

Get the e-book on KDP

Get the e-book on Smashwords

Get the physical book from CreateSpace

Torture is neither inevitable nor endless: a reply to Gerald Caplan

by Justin Podur and Dan Freeman-Maloy

Imagine an anti-racist with decades of work in the struggle writing the following about the popular upheaval and police attacks witnessed this month in Ferguson, Missouri:

Half a century after summer 1964 (when major US ghettos famously erupted in rebellion), we are once again being shown the nature of blacks and whites in the United States. The “wretched blacks,” along with the police attacking them and the whites who cheer, remain trapped in “a classic tragedy where characters cannot escape their nature.” But this is just how conflicts based on “visceral antagonism” go. The basic nature of the peoples involved is to blame, and this can’t be escaped. So why bother to think, say, or do anything about it? Whatever it is, “none of it makes the slightest difference”.

Or, imagine someone who has stood up against extractive industry for decades writing the following about climate change:

“Two hundred years into the industrial era, it is clear that the institutions propelling climate change are too strong, the imperative of extraction and profit too pervasive, for meaningful action on the climate. For thriving corporations, whose minds are full of indifference, it means waiting for a day when the ocean level rises up to the windows of their skyscrapers. For wretched peoples, whose minds are full of nonsense, it means starvation, thirst, and death.”

Or, imagine someone like Gerald Caplan, who has been a rare Canadian voice for decency on the Israel/Palestine conflict, reflecting on this summer’s Gaza massacre in precisely the words used above about Ferguson. In an article this week written for the Globe and Mail and reproduced by Rabble.ca, Caplan writes that, in the words of Rabble’s headline, “War between Israel and Palestine” is our “endless, inevitable future”.

Line 9 resources

Neither the NEB, nor the very nice Line 9 Communities, nor Stop Line 9 has a shapefile that a GIS person could use to study line 9. I used the map at stop line 9, re-georeferencing and re-digitizing, to create a line shapefile in WGS 84 of the part of line 9 that goes through Toronto. I also created a KML file.

Small Genocides

First published at Telesur English August 12, 2014.

When the word genocide is invoked, many people might think of Rwanda 1994. In that genocide, the government of the country targeted a minority population for massacre during a civil war that had begun three years before, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. That government lost the civil war, and was replaced by the regime that still rules Rwanda today, the RPF government of Paul Kagame.

Others might think of the Nazi holocaust. In the holocaust, Germany invaded many of the countries of Europe, captured and killed millions of people. The German Nazi government, like the Rwandan government of 1994, lost the war, and was occupied by the very country (Russia) that it had invaded.

We remember these genocides. We remember their victims. We remember their perpetrators. There are museums dedicated to them, and academic scholarship, and media attention. We are taught the slogan, never again.

But these genocides are unique mainly because their perpetrators lost. In many cases, including recent cases, genocide has been a path to power, a way of achieving a goal. The perpetrators have power. No one is able, or willing, to stand up to them. This is frightening for the rest of us because the powerful can, in fact, get away with genocide.

Returning to Rwanda: Kagame's RPF, which defeated the Rwandan government in
1994 and took over the country, massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in Rwanda in 'reprisal', in highly organized massacres. Then, in 1996, Kagame's RPF invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, directly and indirectly over the next 15 years, occupied it. The violence of Rwanda's occupation of the eastern DR Congo has led to excess mortality in the millions, hundreds of thousands of which were from direct violence not unlike the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But Kagame remains in power, his regime is a highly unequal police state, and wealth continues to flow from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda, to the West.