The Last Nomadic Indigenous in the Hemisphere

This comes from the Colombia Support Network…



S.O.S.On behalf of the Indigenous Peoples: Nukak Makú, Guayabero, Sikuani, and Tucano
( Translated by Nolen Johnson a CSN translator)

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, is sending an S.O.S. because of the grave and repeated human rights violations against the Nukak Makú, Guayabero, Sikuani, and Tucano indigenous peoples. In a visit made to the state of Guaviare we witnessed first hand the critical human rights situation in which these indigenous people are living.

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NYC Transit Strike!

I got a note in the mail with the following question – before the strike started:

In NYC there almost was a transit strike. The city government went to court to impose large fines on the union if it did a strike.

There are good reasons to protect the whole city from the harmful effects of a strike of workers that do essential jobs. However, simply prohibiting the strike solves that problem in a way that hurts only the workers. So I have an idea for offering the workers an alternative way to strike.

The idea is a money strike.

When workers declare a money strike, they work unpaid, but the employer has to pay twice their wages to the Red Cross. Thus, both sides feel the pain.

To create this option would require laws, but it might be possible to win public support for these laws in a place like New York. What I don’t know is whether this would do any good, or whether changing some details could make it workable. Do you know people to ask?

So I asked some friends – a labor researcher, a union activist, and a NYC journalist, what they thought. Because their answers were so interesting, I asked if I could share them with you. They said yes, so they are below. It goes without saying that I wish the workers well and hope they win a total victory.

[I figured that discussing the idea of donating to Red Cross, as opposed to other organizations, would be irrelevant.]

First, my reply:

Actually the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation employees, when they were locked out, did something similar – essentially doing their jobs and more except broadcasting only on the internet. I’m sure that contributed to their victory.

In order for transit workers to do what you propose though, there would
have to be:

1. A combative union in a very good legal position to fight and, yes, as
you say
2. A legal situation that’s conducive.

Both are very difficult. Legally, labor has been hit hard by the Bush people and wasn’t exactly in a strong position even before that. The psychological barrier to taking such action for union workers seems to me to be just as big. It’s a very repressive context for labor, and I think the only reason that isn’t obvious is because labor isn’t even in a position to fight.

BUT, the kind of strike action you are talking about – striking in a way that benefits the public but hurts the authorities – would be politically far stronger than just trying to shut down the transit system in New York. The public sector union in Cali, Colombia, in an even more repressive context, managed to prevent privatization precisely by making providing affordable access to public services a high priority as a UNION issue.

In the US, on this specific idea, agitation for a ballot initiative – drawing on right-to-strike legislation – could be interesting.

Sam wrote:

A middle-of-the-night response:

Some time ago, in British Columbia – Victoria I think – the bus drivers continued to work but turned a blind eye to people paying for the ride. This improved the public service and set an example for the future that would have increased riders and therefore jobs – the basis for a powerful alliance. And it forced the government’s hand re turning this into a lockout rather than a strike, making it easier to blame the employer, not the workers.

In LA, the Bus Riders Union was formed to mobilize access to decent public transit as a basic civil right for poor people having to get to work. The organizing space was on the bus itself as well as in the communities, but for various reasons, its support from the bus drivers’ themselves was mixed and rather limited.

Some variation of such strategies are absolutely crucial because in their absence, a strike simply leads to a back-to-work order with heavy threats of fines. That is, the basic right to withdraw your labour is denied and that ends the story. Unfortunately, some labour leaders implicitly accept this: they can posture as militantly as they like then blame the municipal government. The crucial point therefore is to mobilize public support as THE strategy and this means getting ready long in advance and basing your strategy on the importance of expanding/improving the service, the working conditions of those providing the service (e.g avoiding long hours, safety, limiting overcrowding), and on insisting that those providing the service are adequately compensated. This must happen long in advance of any strike and must be a main activity of the union and not just a supplement to strikes. Moreover, if it is to be successful, it must raise broader class issues re municipal services (Why are they under funded? Who is affected?) and worker rights (What is happening to other workers in the city?). I also presume that you cannot address such issues in the city of NY without recognizing that race place an important role.

All this suggests a different kind of unionism. As far as I know the NY bus drivers have not done any such preparations. They should be supported, but if the strike fails, it is crucial that a discussion is initiated, and bus drivers included, as to why it failed and how it might be successful next time so the drivers don’t sink into fatalism and cynicism. Out of such discussions must come both creative tactics locally as well as deeper analyses of what is going on in society and what kinds of alliances and institutional forums might be built to give people hope. Such questions obviously apply to all unions in various ways, but starting such a discussion here might actually stimulate that wider debate (why not invite responses from across the continent?).

The Delphi workers (auto component workers) are currently trying to figure out what to do in a confrontation that will affect standards and expectations across the country and much of what I raise above would not apply. So what do we do there? The Delphi workers are currently mobilizing around this and any larger discussion should include what they are doing (I’ve also tried to address this from both a Canadian and solidaristic perspective – including a critique of responses from the Canadian autoworkers in a series of short article in the Bullet, available on the Socialist Project’s home page).

Kevin wrote:

First of all, you’re touching on what may be the single most sensitive and
challenging aspect of being a trade unionist within the public sector – we
are cultivating a collective identity as workers, but workers working for
the public at large. When our collective anger is expressed in militant
job action, this tends to mean simple withdrawal of labour – strike action –
from that same public, and this generates intense popular opposition to
our action (often understandably, though these reactions are inflamed by
the usual propaganda and an anti-union, anti-worker competitive climate).

The other major challenge is that when private sector workers strike, their
employers are helpless unless they can quickly deploy scabs. In the public
sector, employers are – or are related to – governments, often having the
power to simply suspend the collective bargaining rights that had theoretically
empowered the workers to choose to strike. In practice, this has (increasingly)
meant that the “right” to strike is heavily circumscribed. When we add to
this the increasingly popular practice of declaring more and more sections of
the public sector workforce (initially emergency hospital personnel, now its
moving to teachers and school board workers, postal workers, etc.) to be
“essential” – and therefore stripping them of their right to strike. This
simply describes what’s now happening in Canada and, as far as I can tell, in
the U.S. and elsewhere where public sector workers had fought for and won
these rights. We are in the process of returning to the time when only private
sector workers had these rights.

Your question, or suggestion for an alternative direction for job action, is
a good one. How might we creatively come up with different means of exerting
pressure on our employers, in a way that achieves our goals but does not punish or hurt other workers or the general public?

Justin’s reference to the CBC lockout this past summer is one such. Another one that I’ve heard of from a friend at our postal workers’ union was an effort
(back in the 70s) to establish an alternative postal service during a legal
strike by postal workers. Apparently, it was incredibly difficult, and it
fizzled. Another is the initiative that some newspaper workers have launched
while on strike – publishing their own alternative newspaper. I believe there
are several examples of this. These are all worthy efforts, and there are probably many more out there.

The thing is, the viability of such ideas greatly depends on the sector and nature
of the workplace. A transit system seems relatively straightforward – try to provide at least some basic bus service. It may be daunting volume-wise – most unions would be unable to launch hundreds of buses out to the general public. But an urgent needs service might be developed that would at least show some good faith efforts.

This is a lot more difficult for, for example, hydro workers, school custodians,
hospital lab techs, or flight attendants, none of whom can realistically set up their own alternative service provision arrangements during a strike. In this sense, it all depends on the work, and a lot involves the composition of the workforce as well (i.e. are other unionized or non-unionized workers also needed to provide the service – as in hospitals, schools – sometimes)?

One other direction to move which gets around some of these problems and keeps within the conventional legal framework of collective bargaining is to foster bargaining strategies that put forward demands that will immediately benefit the users of the service involved, and/or the broader community. When teachers demand smaller class sizes as part of their bargaining, this is popular in the community, as most parents want their children in smaller classes – and it lightens workloads for teachers. Bus drivers could, theoretically, foster relationships with riders by demanding increased frequencies of route runs (creating jobs and benefiting riders), or service to under-serviced neighbourhoods. Even more radically, demands could be put to freeze or even lower fares – if alternative sources of bus-system revenues could be shown to viably make up for the losses and still pay for fair wage increases. This sort of thinking could be extended many places – though again there are limits, depending on the sector and the work. The idea is to try to make demands that will generate popular support – not just irritate. CUPE, the union I work for, sometimes tries to negotiate protections for workers against privatization and contracting-out – and we make arguments (often persuasive!) that what we are attempting to block is not only to protect workers’ livelihoods and rights but also affordable, quality public services. Fighting privatization is one of the struggles that many public sector unions engage in, but is often viewed (and portrayed) as narrowly self-interested.

Sam might point out that this thinking and these strategies are not limited to the
public sector. Among many innovative bargaining strategies the Canadian Auto Workers have explored, one is to actually negotiate commitments from the major auto makers operating in Canada to publicly stand up in support of the Canadian public health system, and even to communicate with the Canadian government in opposition to their plans to privatize or undermine that system. Such experiments move way beyond the traditional realm of collective bargaining, and show that unions have a whole lot of potential for building social alliances and generating a public profile that is very different from the inward-looking and money- focused image that many people have. Personally, I would argue that the most progressive unions are already experimenting with or thinking about these sorts of strategies, and the least progressive are not – one of the issues that allows us to distinguish one union to another.

Last point – unions in both the public and private sector also argue – I think correctly – that even without the sorts of direct strategies referred to above, union bargaining successes such as wage gains, job security gains, and gains in health insurance/benefits/pensions often “lift all boats” – or at least “many boats”. Overall wage and working conditions in the economy are – at least partly – “pushed” by what is freely negotiated by the unionized sector.

When unionized workers in a company town, for example, settle a solid wage increase in a contract, this has direct spin-offs and benefits (multiplier effects) throughout the economy of the town. The same is true, though less obvious, in larger communities. So, we often like to argue that we “lead” through tough bargaining, and non-unionized and unemployed workers gain from our victories indirectly. Of course, having said that, we do also see unions sometimes work the reverse of the “social” strategies I referred to above – so, for example, when workers (in both Canada and the U.S. actually) are successful in negotiating health insurance coverage for services not properly provided for through the public health insurance system, this sometimes diminishes their drive to demand that such services be provided to the public at large (and funded through the tax system). Again, when this is explicit, this is regressive, but it’s often not explicit, sometimes not even conscious.

Chhandasi wrote:

Being based in New York, I find it interesting that this is the second time in as many years that the Queens private bus company workers have went on strike. The public employees union have always joined in the threat of action but haven’t been able to follow through. It looks like things might be different this time around. The pressure for the union to cave in must be substantial as most New Yorkers rely on the MTA to get around. Manhattan would come to a halt since most of the support staff of buildings, restaurants and shops in the borough live outside of it. The strike then would have serious ramifications for the working class, making public support for the strike rather difficult. Your idea of a money strike is interesting…I think a good organization to contact would be The New York Taxi Workers Alliance to get a firmer understanding the labor situation in New York. The alliance, while clearly a different animal tha! n the transit workers union, has been successful against Guliani and Bloomberg in the past.

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!

Brazil and the NYT

When the US decided it was going to add a little extra humiliation for foreigners to the process of traveling through that country (which multinational transportation networks, especially in the Americas, have made difficult to avoid) by fingerprinting and scanning them, Brazil decided to do the same to US visitors of Brazil. This was greeted with gasps all over the world. The temerity! Galeano wrote about it, eloquently as usual:

“Many condemned this normal act as an expression of perilous insanity. Perhaps, if the world were not so misconditioned, things would be seen in another light. At bottom, what was abnormal was not what the Brazilian president Lula did but the fact that he was the only one to do so. What was abnormal was that everyone else simply accepted the conditions that Bush imposed on the rest of the world with the exception of a privileged few that were held beyond suspicion of terrorism and evil-doing.”

Well, President Lula has done it again. This time, Larry Rohter, the NYT bureau chief, accused Lula of being a drunk. His visa was cancelled.

Unlike the fingerprinting at airports, there are legitimate reasons why Lula ought not to have done this. But the private media, especially the US media, in Latin America, especially in Venezuela but also in Brazil, are instruments of destabilization. Perhaps the media and governments should consider a negotiated solution: the media will stop lying and participating in foreign attempts to overthrow democratic regimes; those regimes will stop doing things like these.

The truth is, this is the only incident of its kind I’ve heard about — for the most part, governments are fulfilling their end of the bargain. Reuters story below.

By Axel Bugge
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has run into fierce criticism at home and abroad over his decision to expel a New York Times correspondent who wrote about his heavy drinking, with one critic calling him a “dictator of a third-rate republic.”

It will be the first time a foreign journalist has been thrown out of Brazil since the end of a 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The nation’s military rulers even jailed Lula, a former militant unionist who made his name standing up for the oppressed.

The government defended its move to cancel the visa of Larry Rohter, New York Times bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro. It said the article, which ran on Sunday, offended his honour.

The government said there was no chance it would reverse the expulsion.

“The Brazilian government is not going to retreat on this issue,” Lula’s spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility to defend Brazil.”

Many Brazilians thought the story itself unfair. But the government’s reaction was slammed by Brazil’s opposition, human rights groups and media watchdogs, who called it an attack on press freedom.

“This was absurd, an immature decision by a dictator of a third-rate republic who does not understand the role of government,” said Sen. Tasso Jereissati of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party opposition.

The furore follows other spats between Brazil and the United States over trade policy and fingerprinting at airports.

It is also another distraction for the Lula government, which has just emerged from a corruption scandal and is struggling to get Brazil’s economy back on track and make good on its electoral promises of broad social reforms.

Two former presidents backed the expulsion. But Lula’s predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso did not, saying there were misinformed articles all the time but “I never thought of taking reprisals against a journalist.”


Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the issue was not about press freedom. The article “was intended to diminish the figure and dimension of the president.”

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that the expulsion could “do irreparable damage to freedom of expression in the country.” And U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision was “not in keeping with Brazil’s strong commitment to freedom of the press.”

New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said there was no basis for Rohter’s expulsion and the paper “would take appropriate action to defend his rights.”

The government’s move gives Rohter, a veteran Latin American correspondent, eight days to leave Brazil once police inform him he has lost his visa. He is now travelling outside Brazil.

The reaction prompted some to question if Lula overreacted.

“What was wrong with the story was that it said Lula’s drinking was a national worry, which is wrong, but the government’s response has become a national question,” said analyst Carlos Lopes.

Lula, who took office in January 2003, is known to enjoy a drink or two and Brazil has a generally relaxed attitude toward alcohol.

Lula’s personal doctor of ten years told Reuters the president did not have a drinking problem.

“I never noticed alcohol abuse,” cardiologist Roberto Kalil said in a phone interview. “He’s a normal, healthy person.”

More Bolivia: a coup in the offing?

Folks might recall that in October of last year there were massive mobilizations in Bolivia (you can look back through ZNet Bolivia Watch for lots of material) that led to the ouster of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a fellow nicknamed the ‘gringo’ for his American accent and his propensity for selling the country off to US Multinationals (to be fair, he wasn’t alone in it, nor did he invent the practice, even in Bolivia). Unlike in Haiti, Sanchez de Lozada really did resign, after trying and failing a vicious repression that killed dozens of unarmed protesters (and unlike Haiti, they really were unarmed protesters and not paramilitary killers). The Vice President, Carlos Mesa, took over.

Well one of the demands of the movement was that the military officers involved in the killings last year be judged. The Military Court absolved them, but the Constitutional Tribunal overturned that verdict. Now the Army has now taken protest action against the Tribunal’s decision. This is essentially a repudiation of the judiciary’s authority over the army. Admiral Oscar Ascarraga, president of the Military Court, says this is because “you can’t judge someone twice for the same crime”.

There is video footage that has been shown on television of these soldiers (Grover Monroy, Rafael Mendieta, Yamil Rocabado and Enrique Costas) shooting and killing people.

This could well be the first step in a coup against the civilian regime. President Mesa says he is “truly worried.”

[Source: DPA and AFP via La Jornada]


For North American watchers of Latin America the work of Forrest Hylton is as indispensable on Bolivia as the work of Gregory Wilpert is on Venezuela (you can find Forrest’s work on Bolivia at ZNet’s Bolivia Watch and Wilpert’s at Venezuela Watch or, of course, Both of these provide sympathetic, knowledgeable material and are very scrupulous about letting the people of these countries speak with their own voices, which is what is most needed.

Forrest Hylton recently published two stories on a political prisoner in Bolivia, accused of ‘terrorism’ because he’s Colombian: Pacho Cortes. Take a look at the story Hylton wrote and the one he translated. Now, how do you reward a good writer for doing a thorough job, presenting the facts, and actually interviewing people involved in the flesh?

You accuse them of terrorism, of course.

I got this in the mail from Forrest… he wants to send it out just so people are aware of what might come down next.

Comrades, Friends,

Greetings to all. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but following the counsel of a trusted advisor, I wanted to let everyone know that my compañera Lina and I have been accused of being members of the Colombian ELN as a result of our efforts to free Francisco “Pacho” Cortes, who, being Colombian, is currently Bolivia’s “trophy” terrorist. On Wednesday night (if I remember correctly), DA Rene Arzabe, who’s trying to put Pacho away for 30 years, said on TV that he has proof that the foreigners who’ve been visiting Pacho all along (and we’re the only ones he could be talking about) are ELN, and that they would be arrested and detained next time they tried to visit Pacho.

Obviously this is nothig more than a crude, albeit effective, way of silencing dissent and squelching human rights activism. We do not anticipate that anything will come of these threats, but they arise at a time when Pacho’s “comrades” are cutting a deal with the DA to turn state’s evidence on Pacho. To ram the deal through, the DA has demanded that we shut up. Which is what we plan to do until the heavy weather clears.

This e-mail is obviously intended to serve as a preventive security measure in case anything happens to us. In the meantime, and although we are expecting the best rather than the worst, please alert whomever you think should know about this.



Some Shady Arms Dealings

Some stuff that came through a little while ago. There is a trial in process of a fellow called Montesinos. He’s your friendly neighbourhood arms dealer, with a long resume of CIA work, as well as work for the notorious Peruvian democrat Alberto Fujimori. Obviously his work with the CIA involved providing weapons to illegal armed groups with the purpose of destroying social movements in Latin America.

The odd thing is, however, that he’s on trial in Peru right now for an arms deal — selling 10,000 AK-47 rifles to FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Why would someone with a CIA resume sell weapons to FARC? That’s actually the basis of his plea for innocence: “I never sell to the left,” he’s said. As for the CIA, they say the matter is before the courts. One thing is for sure: this is not the whole story.

In other shady dealings:

Israel is apparently trying to figure out how helicopters sent to it from the United States (for the purpose of attacking more or less helpless Palestinian civilians) ended up in Colombia (where they are presumably being used for the purpose of attacking more or less helpless Colombian peasants). Canadians: make sure you read to the end of the article — there was a Canadian corporation involved. Somehow, there always is…

And finally, what this blog is about…

Last entry for the night, to explain, as promised, what the blog is about. It’s pretty simple. My process of writing articles involves receiving a lot of information, usually from friends in Latin America, in Spanish, and to a lesser extent from friends in other places, about what is going on. I collect all these things, and try to put them together in articles. But there is usually a great deal more material than can be put into articles…

So the blog will contain a lot of these kinds of things. Quick notes from the Latin American press, or reports from the International Solidarity Movement, or something noteworthy I saw on a fine site like the News Insider, or some other kind of report that would otherwise not see the light of day. Occasionally, I might add some commentary on something in the mainstream/corporate press (perhaps the Canadian press, since I have the (mis)fortune of being exposed to it here), although I expect there will be fantastic blogging on that here in the Z Blogging area — by Wise, Street, Petersen, UTS, Chomsky — and of course just outside of the Z Blogging area in Rahul Mahajan’s Empire Notes.

Q & A on Bolivia

What is happening in Bolivia?

A massive popular mobilization is demanding the resignation of the President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and several ministers, including the Minister of Defense. On October 16 hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the main square in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. The presidential palace, guarded by tanks and trenches, is surrounded by demonstrators.

Continue reading “Q & A on Bolivia”