The 5-point plan for the Colombian paras

The farce of negotiation between the Colombian paramilitaries and the state is underway in force. Another irony, I suppose, that it's happening at around the same time as the trial of Saddam Hussein gets underway. One mass murderer gets a theatrical trial for crimes against humanity. Another group of mass murderers get to present their government with a platform for negotiation. The paramilitary demands are even more farcical.

They want 1) human rights (try not to die laughing) 2) implementation of Uribe's 'democratic security' (but of course there's no connection) 3) their own zones of control (making their control official) 4) eradication of 'illicit cultivation' in their areas (making the Americans happy) and 5) guarantees of reincorporation into civilian life.

For readers who don't know, the paramilitaries are the state-backed, narco-trafficker funded, army-trained and backed, mass killers who do the dirty work of the state in killing campesinos, indigenous people, unionists, and anyone who opposes the social or political goals or project of the regime. The 'negotiations' are being presented as if they were rebels against the government, when in fact this is the state negotiating with itself.

The negotiation itself can only strengthen the insurgency, since joining the guerrillas is one of the only ways people can think of to try to protect themselves or fight back against the paramilitaries.

The US ambassador has declared American support for the negotiations. An indigenous senator in Colombia has asked that the demand that the paramilitaries stop massacring indigenous people be raised at the negotiations.

It's definitely a time of low expectations.

On action and disproportion

About a year ago I was meeting with a very very exemplary local organizer. There had been some international day of action against the Apartheid Wall in Occupied Palestine and he had pulled together a little information picket at a Starbucks, whose CEO is a major supporter of Israel.

Our meeting had finished, and we were heading our separate ways. He cracked a joke at my expense, about how writing articles for the internet wasn't going to lead to social change. I came right back with my own crack about how I guessed that meant what we all needed to do was picket coffee shops. I guess at root we were both lamenting our inability to respond to the problems of the world with anything approaching proportion. They bomb: we talk to our neighbours. They cause starvation: we pass out leaflets. They engage in coups: we march on the street. The disproportionality is glaring and can lead one down very dangerous roads.

Yesterday there was a march in my city, Toronto, protesting the sham 'handover of sovereignty' on June 30th. Accepting the disproportionality as a given, I thought the march was a very good one and a success. Here is a description of the event.

In the afternoon, there were pickets at the Canadian Commercial Corporation and Interhealth, both Canadian companies that are profiting from the occupation of Iraq: CCC by arranging arms deals to the US, Interhealth by trying to get into private health care markets in West Asia. Next, a high school student group called 'Stir It Up' made an attempt to take a major intersection of the city, but there were around a hundred young people at that point and the City Police was taking the whole thing rather badly, and had at least 100 riot police of their own. So there was a kind of rally on the street corner, followed by a march to the US consulate and another rally.

Shock and awe (C.P. Pandya)

Coming to an electronics store near you: high-voltage stun guns. I couldn't make this up if I tried. Wall Street-darling Taser International, maker of "nonlethal weapons" (that have been shown on at least 40 occasions to contribute to death), said recently it is in talks with electronics chain Sharper Image, among other retailers, to sell "consumer-friendly" stun guns in the U.S. and Canada. For those of us not near a Sharper Image, Taser also plans to sell a "consumer-friendly" version of its 50,000-volt weapon on its Web site -- just a shock and click away.

This very frightening bit of news thrilled Wall Street investors, who sent the stock's value soaring 19 percent the day the deal was announced, June 25. The value of Taser's stock has tripled in one year and the company expects its revenue to jump 150 percent from $24.5 million as orders for its weapons come flooding in. Just this past week, Taser received a $436,000 contract from the Dayton, Ohio police department and a $1.8 million from the U.S. military.

The increasing popularity of these very dangerous "nonlethal weapons," is making it easier (if it wasn't easy enough) for law enforcement throughout the U.S. and Canada to use excessive force in unjustified circumstances. The company has continually used the twisted logic so dear to corporate America that its product is actually helping save lives and cause less injury. But, Amnesty International has shown that police officers throughout the country have been trigger happy with the Taser gun even after they have a person in custody, simply because of the gun's "nonlethal" categorization. Taser's guns send 50,000 volts of electricity through a person's central nervous system, causing them to instantly fall into a heap. But, since these guns aren't marketed as killing machines, law enforcement officials seem encouraged to use them handily. Also, the after-effects of these guns hasn't been studied, according to Amnesty, which has since February 2003 called for a ban on the guns.

Haiti

An interesting piece from a few days back. Argentines are supposed to be sending 600 troops to Haiti as part of the multilateral occupation/coup protection force. Some Argentines, like the Chileans I blogged about earlier, are displeased with the idea. An EFE story from June 25 describes it (I've pasted it below).

In other Haiti news, a delegation of the coup makers of Group 184, including sweatshop owner Andre Apaid, is making the rounds in Miami, and according to the Miami Herald, getting an underwhelming response with their 'social contract' that will overcome the deep class divisions and polarization in Haiti (by killing all the activists and thus convincing the poor that starving and lacking water is their inevitable fate -- the best way to combat polarization and division). One Haitian in Florida said it quite eloquently: ''We are talking about a small group of families that have run Haiti and today they are talking about a new social contract? With whom and for what?''

I got an interesting story from the mainstream media via Dru Jay of the Dominion. A profile of a Canadian sniper who 'worked' in Haiti, the story quotes Master Corporal Scott Richardson saying: “It’s a lot of fun. Miserable and fun,” he said. “We’re the cool guys. We’re the ones who fly around in the helicopters, drop into the
mountains looking for the baddies ... It’s a cool job.”

Good to know everyone from the public to the military is treating this murderous slaughter with the seriousness it deserves.

Meanwhile, as Justin Felux reports, the coup continues its filthy work, with the arrest of Haiti's deposed Prime Minister Yvon Neptune.

Below, the story on the Argentine demonstration.

June 25, 2004

Argentines burn U.S. flag to protest sending troops to Haiti

EFE NEWS SERVICE: Leftist activists on Thursday set fire to the flags of the United States and the United Nations on the terrace of the Argentine Defense Ministry here as a protest against the deployment of troops to Haiti.

The demonstrators burned tires and threw firecrackers at the door of the building, which also houses Argentine army headquarters.

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The suspension of the sale of Spanish tanks to Colombia

It's just a headline at VHeadline.com and you have to register to see more. But this is very good news as well. As readers know, the tanks were of serious concern to Venezuela. Again, you have to admire the Venezuelan regime for handling the thing this way: once they had the 'smoking gun' and Colombia's plans were leaked, they could have announced their own buildup at the border and escalated the arms race. Instead, they used politics and diplomacy and got the Spanish to kill the deal themselves.

Now, it isn't as if Colombia can't get a tank battalion from the US, who provides probably billions in military hardware (incidentally, in case people think the money for these comes from US taxpayers, some of it does -- but most of it comes from Colombian taxpayers) every year. But this was a major deal and it will take time, and I increasingly believe time is on the side of Venezuela's 'proceso'. Above all, if Venezuelans can have time to consolidate their movements, to build a leadership and a political culture that goes well beyond Chavez, and demonstrate what such a process can actually achieve, it will become increasingly difficult for the US and the local oligarchy to stop them.

Canada!

The Canadian population, like India's a few months ago and Spain's before that, has stared into the abyss and decided not to jump in.

To do so, they had to hold their nose and vote in a system of lousy choices. But even with all their limitations, elections often reveal a kind of democratic genius on the part of people when they have the space to express it. So Canadians managed to humiliate the corrupt Liberals quite a bit, by handing them a minority. They managed to humiliate the despicable Conservatives a lot by handing the Liberals far more seats than the Conservatives. They managed to express why they are humiliating both of these gangs of crooks when they voted for social democrats and Quebec sovereigntists in more seats than before. In the context of a pretty abysmal system (although it doesn't compare to the US system for being a farce of a democratic system) it is really as good an outcome as could have been hoped for.

The CBC story reporting the election outcome discusses what I think is a serious issue as well: the polls lied. This is no isolated incident for Canada nor is it a small thing. Someone will have to look into it, but it seems obvious that polls are increasingly done to be self-serving prophesies: the polls predicted a Conservative minority government and a much closer race than actually happened. It might be that that polls intended to strengthen Conservatives by reporting artificially high strength galvanized people into voting liberal out of fear of Harper's potentially disastrous agenda.

There is still plenty of trouble on the horizon, both for Canadians themselves and in terms of the mischief Canada will be doing in the world, accompanying the US. But things are much better than they could have been today, and there is more space for movements, if we can figure out how to take advantage of it, than there would have been.

NOTE: Samer Elatrash from Concordia University pointed out to me this morning that Jeffrey Simpson from the Globe and Mail has analyzed the Canadian election in terms of fear and loathing. Coincidence? Hmmm...

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Iraq, War, Farenheit, Clinton, and other stuff

A few things, now that I have a minute to blog again.

First, it seems they did the 'handover' of sovereignty in Iraq a couple of days early. Now Saddam Hussein can be tried before an Iraqi court. One wonders if that court will get into his long history with the CIA and such... perhaps not, since the current PM also has such a history.

A comment on this: it makes the 'sovereignty' bit into a bit of a joke, doesn't it? Rather like Bush asserting his firm control over Iraq by sneaking in like a thief in the night to 'handover' some turkey in November? You know you've got amazing sovereignty when you get it in a surreptitious ceremony. Why did they do it? Did they suspect the insurgents would mount an ambitious serious of bombings and attacks on the 30th, and there will be various protests and so on, and they wanted to manipulate the timing and the media? Or maybe they just wanted to do something to counter Michael Moore's film on opening weekend?

I said last night, under the influence of a multifaceted good mood, that I thought Farenheit 9/11 is just what the US needs right now. It seems to me, from the content of the film and the response to it, that Michael Moore has essentially become the official opposition in the United States. When Tariq Ali did various speaking engagements in North America last year as the Iraq insurgency was beginning to become widespread, he said: the difference between the US and Iraq is that Iraq has an opposition and the US does not. Moore is filling that void.

I realize the film has limitations, and so on. But even the limitations are understandable choices I think. What I like about it more than anything else is that it is really making a case, in a very strong way. Moore knows how to talk to people who are undecided, or rather, to tell a story that makes the case on its own. He understands North Americans and US culture.

Speaking of US culture, it's worth talking a little bit about Clinton, hype about whose book is overshadowed only by Moore's movie right now. Why do we have to suffer Clinton after having suffered Reagan?

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Your blogger goes to bed in a good mood

More tomorrow, but three pieces of excellent news.

First, the Canadian elections -- the Conservatives lost. It looks like a Liberal minority government. The NDP is stronger and so is the Bloc. This is very good. It's a capitalist system, the rules are unfair, but there is a tiny bit of space for citizens to do the right thing -- and they really did do it tonight. Something to celebrate.

Second, apparently the sale of tanks to Colombia by Spain, something that has been worrying many Venezuelans for quite some time, has been suspended. More on that tomorrow.

Third, I saw Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 tonight. It is an exemplary movie. Exactly what the US needs at exactly the right time. Genius. No real complaints, though I'm sure leftists will have many.

As I said, more tomorrow. Tonight though, is a night for some small comfort amid the world's horrors.

Countdown to Canadian Election

So it's almost over, and it's still the 'nail-biting' race that it was at the beginning. It is ironic that this is the weekend of gay/lesbian pride, when probably millions all over Canada will celebrate, and tomorrow we could elect a homophobic fascist for a prime minister.

It always amazes me how hard-right administrations squeak into for various bizarre reasons or with very narrow mandates (Bush because the election was a statistical tie, his brother helped him cheat, and the Reagan-era appointed Supreme Court sealed the deal; Harper because of media 'scandals' and divisions in the Liberal party) and then proceed to do devastating, irreparable damage to the infrastructures and political culture of the country. More left or centrist administrations get in with bigger mandates and find they can't do anything at all... sometimes not even because they don't want to do anything.

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Some serious killing in Nablus

This being one of those periods of 'calm' when only Palestinians are being killed, you probably wouldn't know that 11 Palestinians were killed in Nablus by the Israeli military in the course of a recent 'operation'. And dozens of people injured along the wall as they try to protest against it. And the starvation in Gaza. And the humiliations of the checkpoints. Is Palestinians' desperation really so difficult to understand?