How the Saudis Escalated Yemen Struggle Beyond All Control

The Yemen Civil War could have been a local power struggle, if not for the Saudis’ heavy hand.

Yemen is a small, poor country in a region empires have plundered for centuries. This civil war is a local struggle that has been escalated out of control by the ambitions of powers outside of Yemen—mainly Saudi Arabia.

The British Empire ruled the Yemeni city of Aden in South Yemen as a colony, a refueling station for ships on the way to the Empire’s Indian possessions. Gaining independence in 1967, South Yemen had a socialist government from 1970 on, becoming the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

Northern Yemen was ruled by a king from the city of Sana’a who followed of the Zaydi denomination of Islam, clashing periodically with both the British and with the Saudi kingdom over borders in the 1930s. Arab nationalist revolutionaries overthrew the king in 1962, starting a civil war between nationalists, backed by Arab nationalist (Nasserite) Egypt and royalists, backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iran (then a monarchy too). A peace deal was reached and by 1970, even Saudi Arabia recognized North Yemen as the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR).

North and South Yemen talked about unification throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and it finally happened in 1990, after the fall of the Soviet Union that had been South Yemen’s most important ally.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed this December 3, was a military man who had been president of North Yemen since he was appointed by a junta in 1978. He became president of the unified country in 1990.

Saleh had to navigate a dangerous time for the Arab world. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, the US under Bush declared a New World Order, showing that the US could now operate in the region without any concern about a Soviet deterrent. Yemen happened to be on the UN Security Council in November 1990 when Resolution 678 authorizing the use of force to remove Iraq from Kuwait—authorizing the first Gulf War, in effect—came up for debate. Yemen voted against the resolution. The American representative famously told his Yemeni counterpart, “That was the most expensive vote you ever cast.” Yemen, which had hundreds of thousands of workers in the oil-rich Gulf countries including Kuwait, found its workers expelled and its Western aid programs cut when the war was over. Yemen was made an example of.

The post-1990 war sanctions on Iraq, which by most estimates killed hundreds of thousands of children through malnutrition and preventable disease, as well as the US military bases in the Arabian peninsula, were extremely unpopular in Yemen (as elsewhere in the Arab world). So was the lack of progress in ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, as people gradually realized that the Oslo Accords had frozen the occupation rather than ending it.

People from wealthy and powerful Yemeni families, among them veteran of the Afghan jihad Osama bin Laden (in fact there were numerous Yemenis who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan), wanted to raise a local Arab force to secure the Arab peninsula and have the US military leave. But the idea was a non-starter with the Saudi kingdom that hosted the Americans.

When bin Laden’s al Qaeda attacked US embassies (killing 44 embassy personnel and 150 African civilians), a US naval vessel (the USS Cole), and finally US civilians on 9/11, the US declared a war on terror. Saleh had learned his lesson from 1990 and agreed to cooperate with the US after 2001.

By this time, Saleh had been in power for more than two decades, and had enriched himself and his family in the process (his son, Ahmed Saleh, was a commander in an elite army unit). The vice-president, Abdrabbah Mansur Hadi, also headed a powerful and wealthy family. Other “big names” in Yemen include the Al-Ahmar family (which includes the current Vice President in exile and army general Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, billionaire media owner Hamid al Ahmar, and the founders of the Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islah party) and of course the Houthi family of Sa’ada, a mountainous governorate on the border with Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, like the old kings of North Yemen, are of the Zaydi denomination.

The term “tribe,” used by the British Empire for its imperial purposes of classification and rule, refers to a genuine social phenomenon, but is not especially useful in explaining the politics of Yemen. The country’s elite is indeed organized in extended family networks, but this is arguably not so different from Western countries (how many Bushes and Clintons have participated in ruling the US empire by now?). Politicians and bureaucrats use public office to enrich themselves.

This, too, is not so different from Western countries, with the Trump brand being the starkest example. The Yemeni version of elite profiteering is exemplified in the smuggling of diesel fuel out of the country. Sarah Philips, author of Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, cites analyses suggesting that 12% of Yemen’s GDP is smuggled out, the profits siphoned off by the elite – dollar estimates run as high as $900 million, with reports of a single man from a prominent family taking $155 million in smuggling profits in one year.

As Yemenis watched Israel crush the second Intifada from 2000 on, as well as the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, Saleh’s cooperation in the war on terror became ever more unpopular. One prominent scion of the Houthi family, Hussein al-Houthi, led followers in Sa’ada in a famous chant: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse on the Jews, victory to Islam.”

In the chant, “curse on the Jews” stands out from the group of otherwise hyperbolic items seeking victory for one’s own side and death to the other. Even before this civil war, the Jewish community in Yemen was very small and long-suffering. Ginny Hill, author of the 2016 book Yemen Endures, found in her travels that “prejudice against the Jews was prevalent and unabashed,” and that Yemeni Jews in Sa’ada and elsewhere have suffered greatly from being caught in the middle of the Houthi insurgency.

Provoked by the Houthi chant and hoping to show his eagerness to fight the war on terror, Saleh sent the army into Sa’ada in 2004. The Houthis fought back. The army killed Hussein al-Houthi, who became a martyr of the Houthis’ cause. Six waves of warfare followed over the next seven years, as Saleh’s forces kept trying to quell the Houthis, whose power base in the north continued to grow. Saudi Arabia stepped in to support Saleh in 2009, and the Houthis responded with a quick raid from Sa’ada into the Saudi kingdom itself.

Meanwhile, in what had been South Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) was growing as well, and also challenging Saleh’s government. President Obama’s drone program blasted away in the south, leaving civilian casualties and terror in its wake. Saleh’s strategy was to focus on fighting the Houthis and make exaggerated claims that they were sponsored by Iran, while keeping a lighter touch with AQAP, which had more powerful patrons in Yemen’s elite.

At the same time, the Saudi royals were escalating their arms purchases, with contracts in the tens of billions with the US (and a $1.5 billion contract with a Canadian company now famous in that country). Saudi oil sales to and arms purchases from the US underpin the unbreakable bond between the kingdom and the empire. It explains why you hear much more about Russian (a competitor in the global arms trade) than Saudi (the greatest and most reliable purchaser of US arms) collusion in the US media. It also explains why the US provides military advice and help with targeting and intelligence to the Saudis as they use all their expensive purchases destroying Yemen.

In 2011, the Arab Spring came to Yemen and an alliance from the elite families joined the mass call for the end of Saleh’s rule. Saleh first agreed to step down, then refused. He was injured by a bomb blast in June and went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. He finally did step down, handing power over to his vice-president, Hadi, in 2012.

Hadi presided over a constitution-drafting exercise. One feature enraged the Houthis: a plan to redraw the regions of Yemen, making Sana’a and Aden self-governing and merging Sada’a into a new highland governorate, “a formation that would deny the Houthis control over the Red Sea coast to west, cut them off from natural resources to the east, and fence them up against the Saudi border to the north,” as Ginny Hill wrote.

The Houthis, in alliance with the ex-president Saleh, arrived in force in the capital, besieging the presidential palace in 2014 and taking it at the beginning of 2015. Hadi fled to Aden, where he declared that he was still the lawful president of Yemen.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in support of Hadi in March of 2015. The Saudi intervention magnified the humanitarian impact of the civil war into a full-blown catastrophe, bombing, besieging, and blockading the entire country to try to force the Houthis out.

The Saudi blockade and bombing have scaled up a local power struggle to genocidal proportions. They believe Yemen is their backyard and that it is their right to impose a solution. Military victory has proven elusive for them, but their unlimited resources and the wide license given them by the Western media to freely commit crimes has allowed them to keep raising the stakes and nudging Yemen towards catastrophe.

The Houthis have held on, however, withstanding the bombardment and siege, even as the humanitarian catastrophe continues to expand. By now, the casualty figures are more than 10,000 dead, two million displaced, 2.2 million facing starvation, and one million infected with cholera since 2015 (27% of whom are under 5 years old). In addition to directly helping the Saudi military use its weapons, the US, including the media, has continued to run interference for the Saudi intervention. The humanitarian disaster is presented as a natural disaster, not a direct outcome of the way the Saudi kingdom has pursued the war.

Saleh, a wily operator who had survived in power since 1978, could not survive this last alliance with the Saudis: he was killed within 24 hours of making it. This December 3, Saleh announced he was switching sides, leaving his alliance with the Houthis and joining Hadi and the Saudis. The Houthis quickly routed his forces in the capital and blew up his house. The next day they stopped him at a checkpoint and killed him too, announcing that they had avenged Hussein al-Houthi. Saleh’s son Ahmed quickly announced his plans to avenge his father.

The UN, Oman, Iran, and others have put forward peace plans to end the Yemeni civil war. Most feature a national unity government that includes the Houthis, who will convert their movement into a political party, with elections to follow. Saleh switching sides and the Houthi killing him makes a peace deal much less likely in the short term. But the biggest obstacle to peace remains Saudi Arabia, which has also been the biggest escalating force of the war.

Published in Alternet Dec 10/17

Afghanistan’s Painful, Never-Ending War Takes a New Bad Turn

The return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Butcher of Kabul, is the latest symbol of the country’s destruction.

This past May, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, sometimes known as the Butcher of Kabul, Afghanistan’s most famous and probably most hated warlord, returned to Kabul through a negotiated deal with the government. He arrived in a convoy of trucks, with armed followers brandishing their military hardware. The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said that Hekmatyar’s return would “pave the way for peace” with the Taliban. A holy warrior who once refused to shake hands with then-President Ronald Reagan, Hekmatyar reached a hand out to the Taliban: “Come forward, let’s talk about peace and prosperity.”

Peace processes are painful. For the sake of the country, victims are asked to forgive what was done to them. If the prospects for peace are real, some are willing to do it so that the war does not go on. So it is worth looking at what Afghans are being asked to forgive, and what relationship Hekmatyar’s return has to peace.

The war in Afghanistan today is not a war about ideology, progress, or what kind of society Afghanistan will be. The belligerents are the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the one side and the Taliban on the other. Both sides are coalitions that spend resources and lives on infighting. There are defections and local understandings, alliances made and broken. Local life is determined by warlords. This is how the Afghan war has been fought for more than 25 years.

Hekmatyar has been active for much longer than that. When Hekmatyar’s career started in the 1970s, Afghanistan’s war had a very different character. Afghanistan wasn’t always an eternally conservative place: people like Hekmatyar had to kill a lot of Afghans to make it seem so.

The debate about reform in Afghanistan is an old one. One reform-minded monarch, Amanullah Khan, defeated the British imperial armies in 1919 and spent the next 10 years building girls’ schools, overturning dress codes for women, putting forward a constitution, and trying to weaken tribal ties. There were revolutions and changes happening all over that part of the world, from East Asia to the newly created Soviet Union. Such reforms, 100 years ago, did not seem so unusual for a progressive government in Asia to attempt.

Amanullah was overthrown though, by rivals operating with support from the vengeful British. He had a series of short-lived successors who sacked Kabul, rolled back the reforms, and repaired the relationship with the British Empire. After four years of this chaos, King Zahir Shah (who would rule for 40 years) arrived on the throne, and reform was back on the agenda.

In a chapter of a new book on Afghanistan’s Islam from Conversion to the Taliban, Afghan-Australian scholar Faridullah Bezhan writes about the first political party to work openly in Afghanistan: the Awaken Youth Party, which emerged in the 1940s. The AYP espoused nationalism and constitutionalism against the religious establishment. According to Bezhan, the AYP’s nationalist ideas were popular with a large portion of the country’s educated class. Nationalists sought to counter the influence of the religious establishment, whose members had often been sponsored by the British and who were happy to undermine national agendas in exchange for imperial support for their social conservatism. The AYP sought to reform Afghan society into a constitutional monarchy through modern education. They believed in the “fight against superstition and bad social customs,” and even in “consuming local products as much as possible.” By the 1950s, religious figures were leading demonstrations against modern education and nationalists were leading demonstrations in support. At this point, the Islamists started to try to organize political parties to imitate the effectiveness of the nationalists. The government cracked down on all parties in 1952.

But a decade later, reform was back again. Zahir Shah introduced a new constitution in 1964, beginning the constitutional decade. The constitution guaranteed the vote, women’s rights, and parliamentary elections, but the king stopped short of legalizing political parties. Parties worked unofficially at the new educational institutions, which each had foreign sponsors: Kabul University, which attracted foreign aid from the US, and the Polytechnic, which attracted Russian aid. The strongest political parties were communists (Parcham and Khalq factions), Maoists (Shola-e-Jawedan), and Islamists (Hekmatyar was in the Jawanan-e-Musalman, but the Islamists split into a number of groups). The debates in the constitutional decade are as unrecognizable compared to today’s Afghanistan as the now-famous photos of female students from the period are. A major dispute with the Shah’s Iran over water rights and a hydroelectric dam brought thousands into the streets. A dispute with Pakistan over the status of Pakistan’s Pashtun areas and populations (the so-called “Pashtunistan” issue) preoccupied successive elected governments.

But Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—who flunked out of engineering school at Kabul University at this time—had other concerns.

These were conducting acid- and rock-throwing attacks against female students, and murdering leftists, whether they were Parcham, Khalq, or Shola-e. Hekmatyar was jailed in 1972 for the murder of Maoist student and poet Saydal Sukhandan, but escaped a year and a half later—though not before he was given a leadership role in the Islamist movement, directing their political activities in jail. Shortly after he got out of jail, Hekmatyar fled to Peshawar, Pakistan, along with other famous Islamist leaders, Burnuhuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud. These Islamists, led by Massoud, launched a failed uprising against the government in 1975. Massoud, who was later known as the Lion of the Panjshir Valley, was routed quickly by the Afghan army and by people of that valley, who, at the time, supported the government and had no interest in an Islamist uprising. This was years before the Soviet invasion: the Islamists, who became the mujahideen, were fighting against Afghan nationalism and progressive reform. And the US supported them the whole time.

This history matters because it dispels some very pernicious myths about Afghanistan. Eternally conservative countries don’t need men like Hekmatyar to murder leftists and assault female students. And the mujahideen, supported by the empire of the day (the US), were trying (and failing) to overthrow reform long before the communist coups of 1978 and the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Based on his experiences there in the early 1980s, Guardian correspondent Jonathan Steele’s book Ghosts of Afghanistan dispels some persistent myths about the country. He notes that:

  • The civil war (and Western support for the mujahideen) preceded the Soviet invasion by several years.

  • The USSR was not really defeated by the Islamists in battle: indeed the vaunted Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud, made a non-aggression pact with the Soviets from 1983, allowing Soviets to set up a base in his valley (partly because Massoud felt he needed to conserve his forces to defend his valley against – Hekmatyar).

  • The vaunted Stinger missiles from the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War didn’t affect the Soviet decision to withdraw, which was made in 1985, a year before the missiles arrived (in 1986). The main effect of the missiles was to force Soviet and Afghan government forces to bomb from higher altitudes.

The USSR left Afghanistan because it was collapsing internally and because it wanted to repair its relationship with the West. Withdrawal was one of Gorbachev’s first decisions when he came to power in 1985, and it was completed by 1989. But the Afghan government, then under President Mohammad Najibullah, held on until 1992, with a bit of Soviet aid and the support of a population that greatly (and correctly) feared what would happen if the Islamists like Hekmatyar came to power.

The United States didn’t just “walk away” in this period, either: that, too, is a myth. The U.S. kept on supporting the mujahideen after the Soviets left in 1989, making it clear that they would not allow any reconciliation effort or national unity government that included any progressive, liberal, or communist.

Throughout the war, Hekmatyar became famous for his own brand of warfare: torturing and killing people because they were from Tajik, Hazara, or Uzbek minority groups, assassinating rival Islamist commanders and their troops, skinning Soviet soldiers alive, hijacking aid caravans carrying medicine and food, killing foreign journalists. Hekmatyar took over the heroin trade after assassinating smuggler Mullah Nasim in 1990 in Peshawar. But a higher priority was the murder of leftists and liberals: Dr. Faiz Ahmad of the Maoists; Meena, the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA); philosophy professor Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh.

The Afghan government was not easy to defeat. President Najibullah coordinated the battle of Jalalabad when Hekmatyar tried to take the important city in 1989, a decisive moment that showed that the government could hold on indefinitely. Najibullah also foiled a coup by his own defense minister, Shahnawaz Tanai, who quickly fled in 1990 to join Hekmatyar in Pakistan.

The Afghan communists lost not on the battlefield, nor in Afghan public support, but when the collapsed Soviet Union under its drunken president Boris Yeltsin (who also oversaw the greatest economic collapse perhaps in human history in his own country) handed Afghanistan to the mujahideen in August 1991. Yeltsin did so in a way that would be maximally damaging to the Afghan government’s morale and will, meeting Islamist leaders in Moscow in November 1991, announcing the “complete transfer of state power to an interim Islamic government,” and that there would be no more aid beginning in 1992. Steele compared this to Obama announcing in 2008 that Afghanistan would be handed over from Karzai to the Taliban.

The defections began immediately, with Afghan army commanders like Rashid Dostum carving out their own fiefdoms and taking their men and equipment with them. When Najibullah tried to flee in 1992, Dostum didn’t let him go. Najibullah hid in the UN compound in Kabul until 1996, when he was hanged from a lamppost by the Taliban.

Once Yeltsin handed them the country and the government began to collapse, the mujahideen finally had their chance to show how they would govern in power. Hekmatyar took his forces and raced to Kabul, but Massoud got there first. Hekmatyar besieged the city and spent the next three years launching indiscriminate rocket attacks that destroyed the capital and killed at least 25,000 people.

Along with another leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani (of the Haqqani group famous for kidnapping the main character in “Serial” season 2, Bowe Bergdahl, and more recently the Canadian Boyle family), Hekmatyar had been the recipient of the greatest US and Pakistani largesse to fight the Soviets: the estimates cited by Ishtiaq Ahmad, who wrote a biography of Hekmatyar, are that the US sent $3 billion to the mujahideen throughout the 1980s, and $600 million of it went to Hekmatyar.

After a couple of years of watching Hekmatyar lay waste to Kabul, Pakistan’s intelligence agency despaired of their proxies ever setting up a stable government. They switched horses and chose a new armed group that had grown up in Pakistan’s refugee camps for Afghans on the border: students (“Taliban”) of the teachings of one of the old Islamist leaders, Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi. As the Taliban broke the impasse and routed mujahideen forces, heading for the capital, Massoud and Rabbani became desperate and brokered a deal with Hekmatyar, the very commander who had been shelling their capital city to rubble for years. Hekmatyar entered that capital as prime minister, further insulting and demoralizing Kabul’s people who had suffered from his siege. He lasted about two months (during which he imposed various new restrictions on women’s rights) before the Taliban took Kabul and Hekmatyar fled again, this time to Iran, where he lived from 1996-2002 in a palace outside of Tehran.

The war didn’t end when the Taliban took the Kabul in 1996 and it didn’t end when they fled US bombing and went to Pakistan in 2001. Their mujahideen rivals fought on, and in 2001 the US ousted one group of mujahideen and installed another. President Bush clarified that the US interest wasn’t nation-building—a consistent position, given all the US had done to kill the nation-builders.

The Afghan people, it is still said, had rejected the nation-builders. The communists, who tortured and killed their political enemies, lost the support of the people. They engaged in purges and infighting. Their reform programs of women’s rights and land reform alienated the conservative population. That, not billions of dollars in Western aid and weapons, not the Soviet Union’s collapse, was why the mujahideen were able to win. Even mythbusters like Jonathan Steele engage in this sort of myth-making, arguing that the Afghan communist governments tried to change too much too fast when they canceled peasant debts, redistributed land, forbade child marriages, reduced dowry payments, and launched literacy programs. He quotes a former member of the government, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, saying that the Afghan communist government of Hafizullah Amin and Noor Muhammad Taraki in 1978 “wanted to eradicate literacy within five years. It was ridiculous. The land reforms were unpopular… Society wasn’t ready.”

There is plenty to criticize about Afghan communists Taraki (killed by Amin), Amin (killed by the Soviets), Karmal, and Najibullah (killed by the Taliban). The reports of tortures and murders under their governments are well documented and are to be believed. And no doubt their reforms were unpopular with at least a significant segment of the population.

But was Afghanistan really “not ready?”

Because the (real) tortures and murders by Amin and Taraki are dwarfed by the now heroically returned Hekmatyar and the numerous other warlords running parts of Afghanistan today. And if Afghans weren’t ready for a redistributive land reform, were they ready for the Khalid-bin-Walid land project in Mazar e-Sharif under the US-backed government of Karzai? The governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, gave land out to his friends, former mujahideen commanders, who bought it at a subsidized rate and rented or sold it at a vastly higher market price, becoming a land mafia in Mazar (the story is told in a recent book on warlord governance by Dipali Mukhopadhyay). The governor of Nangarhar from 2005-2009, Gul Agha Sherzai, ran an electricity mafia and collected taxes on trucks, perhaps pocketing half of the funds designated for reconstruction. The people of Afghanistan can’t stomach land reform, but they are happy to tolerate land mafias? They couldn’t tolerate women’s rights, but were fine with warlords pillaging reconstruction funds?

Maybe there is another explanation.

History is written by the victors, after all, and if myths about the Afghan civil war don’t hold up, if the mujahideen are revealed to be a collection of imperial-backed mass murderers, thieves, and nation-destroyers, of which Hekmatyar is the quintessential example, then new myths have to be created to justify their continuance in power and Western indulgence toward them. Of the few myths left, the communists would have been worse and the country wasn’t ready still offer some comfort.

With politics based on these myths, how could they not welcome Hekmatyar back? He is just an extreme version of the kind of man the US looks for, the most uncompromising opponent of the same forces the US opposes everywhere in the world—independent nationalism and leftism. With US help, men like Hekmatyar excluded and destroyed the left and killed a generation of nationalists. For that service, they are allowed to destroy the country and to continue to loot the ruins.

Hekmatyar’s return will not bring peace or reconciliation. It has nothing to do with these things. It is the latest and most powerful symbol (so far) of the destruction of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

First published on Alternet October 24, 2017: https://www.alternet.org/world/return-gulbuddin-hekmatyar

The Afghans are being used!

 

The Fatimeyoun division. I found myself wondering if ethnicity or sect could be discerned from a photo like this.

 

Five months ago I wrote an article for TeleSUR English following the story (more of a meme, really) about, and this should pronounced as a single phrase, “Afghan Shia Militias in Syria”. I compared it to the older story about Gaddafi’s “African Mercenaries”, used to good propaganda effect in that war. I spent some time trying to get to the bottom it and find what sources writers were basing their stories on when they wrote about the “Afghan Shia Militias in Syria”. What I found was thin indeed: anonymous Syrian opposition fighters who talked about facing off with these (fast running, death-defying) Afghans on the battlefield; pseudonymous Afghan fighters who told journalists unverifiable stories; and finally poorly-sourced statements by anonymous Iranian officials. Based on these shoddy sources, journalists were building up to some outrageous conclusions: that the Afghans were an “inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate”, that they “run faster” than the Syrians they were fighting, and that they had the miraculous ability to “keep shooting even when surrounded.”

There was an Afghan community in Syria at the start of the war; some of these Afghans did join the civil war on the government side. As for Afghan fighters from Iran, the most promising reports to continue following the story were on the Iranian side. There are millions of Afghan refugees in Iran; many of them (perhaps most) are Shia, from the Hazara ethnic group. Some of the young men from this group have fought with Iran’s military in their own unit (the “Fatimeyoun”) in Syria. Since my story came out in May, I have seen reports from Iranian news agencies about such fighters – specifically about their bodies being returned to Iran for burial. 

Human Rights Watch has documentation about these fighters, among whom they recently found tombstones for eight child soldiers.

The HRW reports are framed differently than the Syrian opposition-sourced stories about Assad’s use of “Afghan Shia militias”. Those stories emphasized that these were Afghans and Shia who were fighting for Assad – invoking ethnic and sectarian phobias in the service of war propaganda. The subtext in those stories, I wrote in May, was ” if Assad has “Afghan Shiite Militias” fighting for him, what atrocity is he incapable of?” By contrast, HRW’s reports are about the cruelty of recruiting soldiers from a vulnerable refugee population.

On that score, HRW’s reports are right. Afghan refugees are mistreated everywhere they go. Iran – where Afghans have suffered mass executions and deportations – is very much included. If the story of Afghans fighting in Syria is used with an agenda to help protect Afghan refugees in Iran, that is a far better outcome than the story being used to fuel sectarian conflict in Syria’s bloody civil war.

Photo from Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Won’t American Media Tell the Truth About What’s Happening in Venezuela?

Earlier this week, Donald Trump stood before the U.N. and called for the restoration of “political freedoms” to a South American nation in the thoes of an economic crisis. The country in question was Venezuela, but he could have just as easily been describing Argentina, whose right-wing government imprisoned indigenous politician Milagro Sala, has run inflation into the double digits and is in the process of re-imposing the sort of austerity policies that triggered a popular revolt and debt default in 2001.

The description also fits Brazil, where President Michel Temer has been caught on tape discussing bribes, his former cabinet member’s apartment recently raided to the tune of 51 million reais ($16 million). Temer, who assumed office only after leading the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, has also run an aggressive program of austerity, dissolving the programs that lifted tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class.

In both countries, right-wing forces have taken power and undermined fragile democratic norms with the objective of reversing the modest redistribution of wealth achieved under left-wing administrations over the past 15 years. Backed by a United States government with a long history of subverting leftist movements in the region, and a mainstream media that’s all too eager to carry its water, the right is now attempting the same feat in Venezuela.

How the opposition fights a popular government

Unlike Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela has been victimized by a number of factors outside of its control, but especially a precipitous drop in the price of oil, the country’s main source of revenue.

The oil price drop of 2015 was a global phenomenon. Since the formation of OPEC in the 1970s, the Saudi Kingdom has been able to use its immense reserves to undermine other oil-producing countries’ attempts to maintain a high and stable price for petroleum. Even if all these nations were to ally, the Saudi Kingdom can turn the tap up or down and change the entire global economy to benefit its own geopolitical agenda and that of its U.S. patron. It did so in the late 1970s to offset lowered production in Iran after the 1979 revolution. And it did so again in 2015, partly in response to the success of the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal. It’s not a perfect mechanism; the price drop hurt the Saudi economy before prices slowly climbed anew. But the most severe effects were felt by the United States’ designated enemies: Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Since 1999, the Venezuelan government has experimented with a process of social and economic reform using constitutional and electoral means. The president who initiated the experiment, Hugo Chavez, called it the “Bolivarian Revolution,” but for the most part it is now simply called Chavismo.

Chavez held power from 1999 until his death in 2013, interrupted by a three-day coup in 2002. During his presidency, the country saw a referendum on a constitutional assembly, the election of that assembly, a referendum to ratify the new constitution, a new election under that constitution, an attempt to use a provision in the constitution to recall Chavez, and two additional presidential elections, all of which were won by Chavez’s government. To say that Chavismo’s popularity and that of Chavez himself has been tested at the polls is an understatement.

While Chavez was alive, no politician could rival him for the presidency. This was true despite the 24-hour demonization of him in the country’s private media and the systematically negative coverage of his government across Western news outlets. As often occurs whenever a country runs afoul of the U.S., Chavez was presented as a dictator, despite his numerous electoral victories. So popular was he that when opposition leaders seized power for 72 hours in 2002, one of their first orders of business was to shut down the government’s TV channel. As the 2003 documentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, reveals, the coup was ultimately defeated when officials managed to get back onto the airwaves.

Phases of economic warfare

When coup and media campaigns failed to upend the government or silence its mouthpiece, the opposition resorted to economic warfare. This war has had several phases: a national strike in 2002-2003 brought Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, to a halt, denying the government its main source of revenue. But despite their personal suffering, the company’s lower-ranking officials remained loyal to Chavez (as did many of the middle ranks), stepping up to replace the striking managers and engineers in order to get the oil flowing again.

A more recent phase around 2014 saw smugglers take huge quantities of subsidized fuel, food and staples across the border to Colombia to sell or simply dump, denying poor Venezuelans essential goods as a means of exerting pressure on the federal government. The Maduro administration has been able to mitigate some of these losses by carefully controlling the distribution of subsidized staples.

Ultimately, the greatest source of Venezuela’s economic woes has been its own currency, the bolívar. Global markets can wreak havoc on governments by making runs on their currency, and Venezuela has attempted to immunize itself against this by imposing a fixed exchange rate. Any fixed exchange rate invites a black market, but the fixed rate in Venezuela is so far off the black market rate that anyone who obtains U.S. dollars stands to profit handsomely. Dollars can only legally be obtained through the sale of oil, so the black marketeers’ gains are the government’s losses.

Two decades of relentless critcism from the right has created an unforgiving environment for mistakes. And mistakes have been made. Over the long term, the Venezuelan revolution has not been able to surmount the country’s dependency on the extractive industry generally or petroleum specifically, which had always been one of its goals. Nor has it been able to dislodge entrenched bureaucracies or elite corruption, persistent problems that would be faced by any progressive government or movement. More recently, sensible economic proposals like those of UNASUR have been ignored, or even dismissed as capitulations to neoliberalism, when they likely would have strengthened the Chavista project. Without real changes to its economic policy, Venezuela will continue to lurch from one crisis to another.

The opposition’s politics of rejection and the threat of U.S. military intervention

If the opposition has succeeded in sabotaging the economy over the past couple of years, it has also benefited from Chavez’s death. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) may have lost the presidential election to Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, but it captured the National Assembly.

No sooner did MUD assume its new seat of power than it immediately declared it would not work with Maduro. Rather than help solve the country’s economic crisis, it has celebrated it, hoping it will finally topple the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Its aims are entirely negative: MUD has no positive economic or political program of which to speak. It wants only regime change, if necessary through another military coup or a U.S. intervention, which some officials have openly pined for.

If the opposition does ultimately capture the presidency, the best-case scenario is that Venezuela adopts the ruinous austerity policies of Macri’s Argentina or Temer’s Brazil. The worst-case scenario could look something like the U.S.-led occupation of Haiti, with the country’s oil industry turned over to the multinationals, like Iraq’s was more than a decade ago.

How the opposition might rule is a matter of less speculation. During its three-day coup in 2002, it annulled the constitution and immediately began persecuting Chavistas. Older Venezuelans remember the years before 1999, when austerity policies were enforced with torture, disappearances and even massacres like the Caracazo of 1989.

Violent threats have always been leveled against Chavismo, mainly through paramilitary incursions from Colombia. At the moment, the Venezuelan opposition is conducting a small-scale urban insurgency against the government. Abby Martin’s July program on TeleSUR, “Empire Files,” offers a flavor of what this looks like: the assassination of Chavistas, the intimidation of Chavista voters and the destruction of government buildings and warehouses (including those for subsidized food).

The insurgency has put the government in an impossible position: If it represses these protests, it risks providing a pretext for a U.S. intervention or another coup. If it does not, a relatively small and unpopular opposition could impose minority rule. Meanwhile, the opposition adds fuel to the flames by refusing the government’s attempts at dialogue (which the Pope has offered to mediate).

The Venezuelan government recently tried to bring its opponents back into the fold by calling for a new constitutional assembly, whose members were elected in July 2017 and which is currently in session. Its reward? Another boycott, and the rejection of all constitutional changes the elected assembly makes as illegitimate.

The coup playbook

These methods—foreign incursions, sabotage and violent demonstrations, combined with a refusal to negotiate—were part of the Haitian opposition’s playbook in the years preceding the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. Despite the mass anti-war protests of that period, the Haitian coup was met with surprisingly little international resistance, which helps explain why Venezuela finds itself in such a precarious position. What in the early aughts looked like the birth of a new Latin American sovereignty has been rolled back: coups have overthrown governments in Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012) and arguably Brazil (2016).

As the U.S. steps up its regime change efforts in Caracas, many leftists in progressive and social media have expressed confusion or equivocation. Their difficulty in distinguishing between an embattled social democracy and a violent, right-wing rejectionist opposition is a testament to the weakness of anti-imperialism in Western politics at the moment. Progressives should have no such difficulty. Chavismo is an incomplete, flawed, ongoing democratic experiment. The alternatives on display are clear: terror, occupation and austerity.

This was published on Alternet

Canadian Extraction in Colombia: The Case of Parex

The following is the English translation of episode 23 of The Ossington Circle. The discussion featured the host Justin Podur, Professor Anna Zalik from York University, activist Manuel Rozental from Pueblos en Camino, and activist Oscar Sampayo from the Environmental and Extractive Studies Group in Magdalena Medio. The discussion focused on the activities of Parex, a Canadian mining company operating in the Colombian region of Magdalena Medio.

Justin: Welcome to the Ossington Circle. This is a special episode, because, well, first it’s in Spanish and second, we have three guests instead of the usual one. The topic today is Colombia and the extractive industry, focusing on the Parex corporation, Parex is a very interesting corporation, with an interesting role in Colombia – I will give the floor to the participants to delve into this topic, We have here Oscar Sampayo, member of the group of extractive and environmental studies of Magdalena Medio. We also have Professor Anna Zalik, professor at York University whose research on extractive industry focuses on the global South. And we have Manuel Rozental, activist with the Pueblos en Camino collective. Manuel has been a guest on this program twice already and probably will return many times in the future. Well, guests, thank you for being here in the circle.

Manuel: Thank you so much Justin, Anna hello, and hello Oscar.

Justin: Okay. Let’s start with Oscar. You are in a research group, investigating the role of extractive industries in Colombia, in Magdalena Medio, tell us a little about the context, the current situation and the role of this company called Parex.

Oscar: Greetings Justin, greetings Manuel, Anna, listeners of the world and America. We are here located in the Magdalena Medio region, in Barrancabermeja, the main port within the coast in Colombia, which recently a multinational upgraded through its auxiliary called Impala, so Barrancabermeja is now largest port that exists today in Latin America. It’s a port of 1.5 km and a half on the river and a depth of 1km.

Barrancabermeja is from 1918, 1910, the main region where oil is extracted and refined. Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio is rich in oil, rich in gas and rich in minerals, and in addition Barrancabermeja hosts the Ecopetrol refinery. It refines about 300,000- 350,000 barrels a day. From the territory of the Magdalena Medio is extracted about 200- 210 thousand barrels of oil. Since 1918, we have the presence of multinational companies, extractive companies. We had at the time Tropical Oil Company, which was the local subsidiary of Standard Oil. We had both Standard Oil New York, and Standard Oil New Jersey. We had Shell. In short, we have had the presence of multinationals since 1918 or 1920.

Oil was eventually nationalized – production and refining of oil was nationalized and the creation of Ecopetrol is part of the history of this region. But the multinationals continued to offer the services of extracting oil to Ecopetrol. Ecopetrol has not handled all the production and all the extraction of the oil. It owns the reserve, owns the oil, but all the associated services to be able to extract it have always been contracted with the multinationals.

Justin: Oscar forgive me, but where do the profits of the company go in this scheme?

Oscar: If it is extracted by Ecopetrol it goes to the nation. 90% of Ecopetrol’s profitability goes to the state, to the Colombian state, the country’s public finances, but all the associated services to be able to extract it are offered by multinationals. So Ecopetrol has never been 100% state, the oil is removed Ecoptrol its reserves is owned by Ecopetrol but its associated services, both the maintenance of refining and its extraction in the wells, have always been done by the multinationals. In 2007 Colombia made a public offering of Ecopetrol stock. Ecopetrol went public and 10% of those shares were distributed to the population, some stock packages were created, and 10% of what is now Ecopetrol was sold. In the process, Ecopetrol lost the management of hydrocarbon reserves. In 2007, Ecopetrol becomes a company. The national hydrocarbons agency, which is the office responsible for delivering the oil concepts and awarding the contracts, is created, and Ecopetrol remains as one more company with its assigned blocks but the reserves are now managed by the national hydrocarbons agency. That is a drastic change, a monumental change to what Ecopetrol meant before and after 2007.

Justin: And you can also say that there are implications for the sovereignty of the country over natural resources.

Oscar: We lost that, we lost sovereignty, Justin, we lost the ability to decide. An example: from 1918 to 2007, 600 concessions were given out. Since 2007, we have given out between 6-7000 concessions. We see this national hydrocarbons agency was created just to grant licenses without proper knowledge of the territory, without due rigor to identify the social, economic, and environmental impacts that this type of industry would generate as it is built up over certain territories or over certain environmentally sensitive regions. In the 1960s and 1970s Ecopetrol managed, identified the territory, studied it and granted the licenses. But after the creation of the national hydrocarbons agency, there is a profileration of licensing of oil blocks without due rigorous technical environmental and scientific assessment. The licenses are granted practically in an office in Bogota without identifying and without recognizing the bulk of Colombian territory. That is where the multinational Parex and partners start appearing in the Colombian context.

Justin: Ah. So this company operates under the new regulations that came after 2007.

Oscar: Yes, sir, exactly. After these types of changes in the management of the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons all these companies begin to appear again. Once again the Oxy Andina Company appears, Exxon appears again, BP appears again. Before they had worked with Ecopetrol under very rigorous conditions. Now no. Now these multinational companies were given 100% control over their concessions. They pay a tiny 8% in royalties.

Canadian capital begins to appear in our territory, specifically in the basin of the Eastern plains. Parex starts in Casanare, starting in El Meta, which is an oil rich region, known in Colombia, because it’s very close to the Rubiales oilfield, which was exploited by the Pacific Rubiales company of this Brazilian man, owner of Avianca, Efromovich.

With Eframovich’s contacts from investment funds from Canada, he set out to develop these basins in Colombia. In this context, this multinational Parex appears.

What worries us is that in 2014 Parex directly entered Magdalena Medio in block VMM9. Tihs block is located in the municipality of Simitarra in Santander. That block is destined for the development of a nonconventional deposit using fracking.

In 2015 we saw in several news outlets – business sections – that Ecopetrol had signed an agreement with this company Parex to develop a field near Barrancabermeja, which is the Aguas Blancas field in the municipality of Simacota. Since then we’ve discovered that Parex has interests in several blocks in Magdalena Medio. We have heard some very worrying facts about Parex in Casanare and El Meta on the eastern plains. At the moment Parex extracts 29 thousand barrels of oil in the block NL34, is where it has its largest production. It extracts around 17,516 thousand barrels in 2016. The plan of this company is to extract 60 thousand barrels by 2022, focusing on the eastern plains and Magdalena Medio.

What concerns us is that Parex has arrived in the territory without any environmental document, no assessment, no meetings or information for the communities where it will do its work. There is no public information about the magnitude of the activities that are going to be performed. We see a certain, revising of the financial, we see a certain latitude of both the Colombian state and institutions not to require the payment of taxes for the exploitation of these resources.

Justin: And these are sensitive ecosystems? What are the environmental impacts, which can be predicted or anticipated?

Oscar: The part of the Magdalena Medio where they are operating is close to two sensitive protected areas: one that is the area of the Serranía de los Yariguies, a beautiful mountain range, with a wealth of fauna and flora impressive in that national park of yariguies. Many migratory birds arrive from the US and Canada to spend the winter. Besides that, it is the source, the mountain range of the yariguíes is the source for the water for around 40 municipalities in Santander. Thanks to the mountains of yariguies we have these marshes, and all this marshy complex, wetlands, lakes, swamps, in the middle cupola that make up about 50 totally beautiful marshes, where you can find the Manati. Where Parex is performing its activities is habitat for the American Jaguar. The jaguar is a sensitive species, environmentally protected and at risk of extinction. Here in Barrancabermeja we watch it, it sleeps 40km from Barrancabermeja, but it sleeps in a habitat full of oil wells, of African palm, that if we do not stop, that American jaguar is going to disappear. They are very sensitive ecosystems, they are ecosystems and very delicate regions with lots of water but also with a lot of oil.

Justin: Will communities also face displacement due to this project?

Oscar: That is the position of development, these extractive projects, have this as a consequence. A concrete case, on a farm, a land owner of 100 hectares, they only buy 3 or 4 hectares, These 4 hectares make an activity so polluting, totally aggressive that ends up affecting the remaining 60, then the peasant has no recourse but to move to seek new conditions. What activities can be imposed next to oil activities? The African palm or the oil palm, then that is the option that the peasant will move to – forced to cultivate oil palm, disturbing and affecting nature, and establishing a monoculture, all for the logic of foreign capital.

Justin: Let us switch now to Prof. Anna Zalik to ask about how these companies work in the world, unless Oscar there is something else you want to add before this.

Oscar: No, so far, I’ll leave it there so that Anna and Manuel continue to expand on this what happens when this type of capital is arriving in a small territory — not only here in Colombia but in the rest of Latin America.

Justin: Anna, you’ve researched the role of these extractive companies. We gave you some time to do a little research specifically about Parex. Can you give us a panoramic view, and some details you discovered about Parex?

Anna: Thanks to all of you. I am learning a lot now through Oscar, about this story. In the research I did to prepare today, I was reviewing works by a historian colleague, Stefano Tijerina, and some work on Canadian imperialism, by Todd Gordon and Jeffrey Webber. I was going through through Stefano’s work concerning Canadian companies and capital and how Canadian firms took advantage of the competition between the empires of US and Great Britain during the twentieth century to enter Colombia. The United States did not want England to have a very significant role in Colombia, and thus Canada could take advantage of that. In that area there are several parallels with Mexico where I have conducted most of my work in Latin America.

Mexico after the revolution, nationalized the oil industry, and this was a very significant moment historically, which frustrated the very powerful oil companies of England and USA, which were Shell, Standard Oil (The Mexican subsidiaries were El Aguila –Shell_ and the Huasteca Oil Company – Standard Oil of Pennsylvania).

Colombia is passing through a stage with several parallels with Mexico. So Oscar explained after 2007 in Colombia, Canadian companies are benefiting from the process of privatization of the oil industry. In trying to better understand what Canadian companies are doing in Mexico, I have gone in to look at the financing through a Canadian government export promotion agency (the Export Development Corporation or EDC), a type of credit agency that seeks to promote Canadian industry in the southern countries. Because also before it was difficult for the countries of the south to finance controversial projects with companies like Shell. What I have seen is the way that Parex is doing, entering into transactions that are compiled on the EDC’s website, and I see a lot of financing of Parex, of Ecopetrol, la Gran Tierra, which is another Canadian company working in Colombia. So the EDC’s public filings are supposed to be a way for civil society organizations to find information, to see if the necessary environmental assessments have been done. What I’ve seen is that according to the EDC’s regulations for financing, the environmental assessments that should be there, are not available on the web.

Justin: So the company hasn’t met the environmental assessment requirements for financing.

Anna: It is a bit unclear in the sense that the EDC states that businesses must make these documents public if they fit into certain categories of social and environmental impact and petroleum extraction certainly fits under these categories. The EDC has categories A and B, but one can’t find any Colombian project in Category B on the EDC’s site. And the EDC says if it isn’t on our site, it must be published by the company somewhere else. But it is not on Parex’s site either. No social or environmental impact studies. (Some ofthis arises from the category of ‘financing’ which EDC uses instead of project in many cases and which requires less reporting. But presumably all of the ‘financed’ activities are associated with a project undertaken by Parex. As such, Parex is expected to report on these activities.

Oscar: Justin and Anna, sorry to interrupt. The method that you were commenting on Anna, is that when we have sat in at Parex operations in Colombia, they say that because they are partners of Ecopetrol they have no obligation to present these documents.

When they came to do work at Aguas Blancas near Barrancabermeja, we asked for the environmental assessment, where they are obliged to account for the totality of fauna and flora that was there in these four territories. To date 2017, June 26, we do not have those documents and they have not been delivered to the community, but they have already drilled 5 to 6 wells. We also ask ourselves that, how a company can operate without any environmental assessment in Colombia or if it is operating through an environmental assessment delivered to a third party – which in this case is Ecopetrol.

Anna: I imagine you know this issue very well, Oscar. Justin maybe with today’s discussion we can start this process and do the type of campaign to start some kind of pressure. They obviously don’t want people to know because they fear any kind of public pressure or accountability. The problem is also that Parex has projects that are not developed with in partnership with Ecopetrol. It has projects in Casanare, and other places where Parex does not have Ecopetrol as a partner. Even in these projects they are not disseminating the data, so there is certainly no excuse, saying it’s Ecopetrol who must show that data. It is a similar strategy (that international, including Canadian) companies use in Mexico with PeMex, they are going to say that all responsibility Is PeMex. This is how they work in any country in the South: they always put the responsibility on the government or hide behind the state oil companies. I think we should call the EDC to demand that this data be made public.

Justin: I have another question for you Anna. Here in Canada, when a company wants to do an extractive activity there is a requirement to consult for example with indigenous communities. When a Canadian company operates, for example in Colombia, does it have this obligation to consult with indigenous communities if it is indigenous territory?

Anna: I’d like to say yes, but actually, no. In Canada through judicial decisions, we now have what is called, the duty to consult. It is not free, prior informed consent, which is what should be required under the UN declaration on indigenous rights and the ILO. There is, however, in Canada at least the duty to consult (and accommodate) which indigenous communities can use to make (some legal) demands against companies. When Canadian companies operate in other countries they don’t have such obligations.

Justin: Anna, do you have anything else? Or do you or Oscar have questions for each other? Or can we continue with Manuel?

Anna: Let’s continue with Manuel and see.

Justin: Okay, Manuel. It was your idea to do the program, to investigate the activities of this company at the Canadian and Colombian level. I don’t know if you want to deepen this idea or give another view of the context.

Manuel: Yes, thank you Justin, Anna and Oscar. As Anna said, I’m learning a lot, from this exchange and have learned from Justin over the years; Anna, I have heard about some of your work in Mexico where I have been living until very recently, and Oscar and his environmental studies group (GEAM) are exemplary people in a very difficult context.

I would like two things: First to give listeners the context about where Oscar is. The Magdalena Medio is a region that has been affected since the beginning of the Spanish Conquest by a particular strategy of conquest: terror. In the Magdalena Medio, war, the different forms of violence, have been used from the outset seeking the extinction of the Indigenous Yarigui who resisted the Spanish. That same strategy of terror and extinction remains the emphasis of conquest today.

The second, that maybe Oscar can comment later and that would be very important, is to give listeners background in case they don’t know Colombia. And it is precisely that the first great oil concession of Colombia was made in that region and the extractive management of oil resources has everything to do with that first oil concession: the Mares concession. That region of the Magdalena Medio and particularly the city of Barrancabermeja are also the heart of Ecopetrol, the Colombian petroleum company, the state oil company in Colombia. After Mares and after the Magdalena Medio there are other discoveries, but extractivism of oil, conquest and its history start from this region, so that both the changing patterns of extractivism and the conquest as of resistance, of the different forms of resistance, have a long and fundamental history precisely in this region where Parex enters, in an illegal, abusive, authoritarian way with the complicity of the national hydrocarbon agency (ANH) of the Colombian state. This region is a microcosm of the history of the conquest not only of Colombia. It goes further, it is a model, a living story that perpetuates itself on how the conquest to extract wealth has been: the extractivist conquest for the accumulation of global capital. This is a question, for that open and ongoing story that I leave to Oscar but I think I can comment on something briefly. Something that seems very important to me to understand about the territory where Parex and its extractivism now imposes itself. What is happening is not new to the region.

What is new is that people like Oscar and the GEAM who are trying to defend territories, resources, and even demanding compliance with regulations through legal channels, are people who are particularly at risk. For Oscar to speak as he is speaking now is dangerous to do so even after the signing of peace agreements (between the FARC and the state), it’s terribly risky, for one reason: to a large extent, peace agreements are signed – we know – to allow greater dispossession and greater extractivism in territories of the Magdalena Medio. There, where we see the presence of the FARC, the Colombian state signed the peace accords, the FARC are concentrated and demobilized. Now two groups are expanding their presence throughout the country: 1. paramilitaries and death squads with different names, and 2, openly, the huge extractive and infrastructure projects at the service of transnational corporations. That is to say, the peace agreements in Colombia are not understood if the extractive megaprojects are not put in perspective. It is this fundamental point that I wanted to expose in terms of context. These are the two first things I wanted to say. It is in this context that I wanted to set up this conversation, to show what the environmental group (GEAM) and Óscar have discovered in Magdalena Medio: the way Parex is entering a territory to do fracking, cause environmental disasters and go beyond the law and the ethical obligations that obviously do not matter here for the Canadian transnational oil company.

What is happening here, in the Magdalena Medio, fits in a larger context that I would like to comment on and I will do it quickly. Here is a problem and a challenge for the people of Canada and the people of Colombia, and it is the problem of destruction of nature, of the destruction of an ecosystem. To be able to destroy nature and ecosystems and to accumulate with the extraction of petroleum one has to do something, that they are doing at the moment, and you have to count on what they are counting at the moment, and that is exactly what we are trying to break with this type of communications: the innocence, the unconsciousness and the disinformation of the people. If people were informed and aware, such abuses and crimes would not occur. So there is a strategy in many areas to prevent people from understanding what Oscar and Anna have already talked about.

Today, I can be in my home, in my territory, live as a community, in my territory, and today, a transnational corporation, particularly a Canadian oil or mining company, throughout the Americas, may have made a agreement with government authorities (in this case of Colombia), violating the law, to enter my territory, my very house, without the people realizing. Enter my house and destroy my ecosystem, expel me from my territory. People will not have the knowledge to defend themselves and if they try to defend themselves, they will suffer legal attacks, media attacks, intimidation, legal accusations, persecution of different groups and even the application of terror and death.

Global power today is transnational corporations and in particular transnational extractivist corporations everywhere. That is the fundamental social actor. That social actor has supplanted the people, the citizenry, before the state. Today the role of states is not the defense of human rights, because the subject, the legal person, whose rights the state has to defend, are transnational corporations. No longer the people. That is why it is the same in every country where there are extractive projects by transnational corporations: the same as in Colombia. However, the discourse in both Canada and Colombia, with great differences and specificities, the discourse of states and the legal framework, apparently defends territories, ecosystems and people, both in Canada and in Colombia. While in practice, the role of the Canadian State, EDC and other entities cited as the role of the Colombian state openly and covertly is to protect the interests of transnational corporations. Behind this there is corruption. Behind this there is a violation of the law, but above all there is a lot of money, and the money from transnational corporations and their profits count more than any other priority. That’s what people are not clear about.

If you open the Parex website, and investigate, one can begin to discover inconsistencies, but above all you discover a page prepared for investors. It is a page that promises to extract increasing amounts of oil and increasing profits for those who put their money into these extractive projects of Parex. This is how Parex is promoted. So, one sees in the page easily the plans for how they are going to get more oil, how the people that invest in Parex will make more money and that is the function of Parex: to attract more money of investors in search of profits, to remove the Magdalena Medio’s oil. But what we have just heard is that the oil that profits investors and Parex is at the cost of destruction.

The second thing we see on the page is necessarily false propaganda of the guarantee of the protection of the environment and of “social responsibility” with the communities. Things that have no basis in reality. Both Parex and other Canadian oil and mining extractive transnationals do exactly the same thing, promise money to some and guarantee it in words that will not harm the environment or the communities. What they promise, they also promise to communities in Colombia and many people do not know the impacts of fracking. They do not know what an extractive transnational corporation is doing without prior consultation and with the risk that is run. That is a fundamental point and Parex is no exception. On the contrary, it exemplifies the behavior and interests of transnational corporations of its type.

The essential point to make in this conversation, is that people in Canada, as Anna said, if people in Canada learn that a corporation that has its headquarters there is committing irregularities, is not transparently proposing information for the sale to the public of investment opportunities, covering up what is actually knowingly doing, the damage fracking is doing in different places in Colombia. That all this is being done with the support of the Canadian government. Because the people of Canada do not know. The people have been deceived or do not want to know what in their government and the corporations based in that country are doing in mining and extractivism, in the Parex case and in many other cases of many extractive corporations and throughout the continent and beyond.

And also, every time the citizenry has become aware, breaking the siege of lies and deceit, of propaganda, demanding that its government and corporations comply, each time they wake up to defend nature, territory, dignity and compliance with the laws that remain, the impact of coherent actions is greater when there are actions in Canada for the benefit of the peoples and of these territories, than when people act alone in the countries and territories affected, persons or groups representing the defense of peoples and territories. In solitude locally, they end up being repressed, judicialized, imprisoned or isolated for the extractive project to develop. This is the fundamental issue.

The other point I want to make, and it is very large and very generalized, I will set the example this way: From the beginning of the conquest of this continent, from the misnamed “discovery”, Portugal and Spain, they claimed for themselves the Americas and half the world. They met each other on the return of Columbus to Portugal with evidence of the existence of this continent, to divide the world with the mediation of the Pope and the Catholic Church. The Pope divides the planet in agreement with the kings of Spain and Portugal in Tordecillas. Half for the Portuguese and the other half for the Spanish. That is why the map of South America has half the continent as Brazil and the other half the Spanish speaking countries. That madness, at a time when they did not even know the territories, did not know which peoples lived there, condemned to the inexistence and the service of economic gain for Portuguese and Spanish this entire continent, and condemned to slavery and extinction the peoples of this continent. It is ancient history, recognized and ignored, but it is precisely what I want to highlight here. At this time, transnational corporations have divided the world as did Spain and Portugal in Tordecillas. They fight between them to stay with territories, and Petrosur fights with Petro Andina, and other oil and mining companies fight to hold their territories and riches. But that’s an internal fight, between corporations. On this side, the peoples and territories have no defense. They are dividing the planet without knowing it to take away riches and territories, but with a difference. Today is a planet that is almost completely occupied. There is nowhere else to go. If capitalism wants to extract more oil later, there is no later and there is no more planet. We are reaching the limit of the planet.

These extractive projects like those of Parex are the final threat of destruction of the planet, against which capital has to eliminate the surplus population, eliminate the corporate competition and the resistance that the biggest capitalists face to stay with everything and everything leave all the wealth, in particular, energy and water wealth, in very few hands and very few corporations. Why do I say this? I do not say it to put it in an interesting theory. I say this because in practice, the Parex case, puts forth something very clear: If Parex continues with the fracking; if it has converted the National Agency of Hydrocarbons of Colombia, that was created just to deliver Colombian ecosystems and resources to the transnationals in exchange for the destruction of these same; if this is done and we do not take action in Canada and Colombia to prevent it, we agree that the last reserves of life, water, oxygen, oil and energy sources, minerals and biodiversity disappear and be destroyed by the greed of a few with all power.

Parex is unable to see the destructive consequences of lying to the people and the destructive consequences of performing extractivism, do not see it, do not understand it, because its norm, its necessity is to make the most amount of gain in the least amount of time.

From that side, from accumulation by destruction, as Héctor Mondragón calls it, they are. On this side is Oscar, is the population affected, there are the Canadians who decide to open their eyes and we are all and all conscious or unconscious, because the life of this planet and ours as humanity is at stake.

That is the intention to make known these facts: we must demand from Parex transparency, the Canadian government transparency, the people of Calgary, Alberta of Canada who has the capacity to be made aware that these are crimes. Crimes committed in complicity with governments like Colombia and other governments of the continent and crimes that threaten to destroy the life of the entire planet. The Lakota Sioux in the United States rose up against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the whole world found out becausee of their efforts. We in Canada and Colombia have to stop these projects that will also affect the own children of the owners of the Parex Corporation and the senior government officials. We have to stop profit at the cost of death, self destruction.

My last sentence is this: in this context the government of Colombia, pressured by Canadian transnationals and others, modified its mining code to give the country to mining extractivism years ago. The Canadian government, as listeners heard Anna explain, generates structures to legally, politically and economically favor the illegal extractivism of transnational corporations, but the whole illegal framework leaves the responsibility to the governments of the affected countries. So Colombia creates, for example, the National Hydrocarbons Agency, whose purpose is to prevent Ecopetrol from having control over reserves. In other words, as Oscar said, the specific intention behind the creation of the National Hydrocarbons Agency is to give riches and territories to transnational corporations that can destroy territories and peoples without any consequences and without political obstacles. That’s what it’s all about. So here is a complicity. Let us summarize: when greed is sacred, stealing is law. But that kills us and destroys the territories. Defending the territories of the Magdalena Medio and the rest of the country of the fracking and defending them from Parex, is to defend life in both Canada and Colombia, and this case is one of those who put on the table the complicities of who govern us, of the transnationals and the need for consciousness among the people.

Justin: Thank you Manuel. Oscar, maybe you want to elaborate on the specific context of the Magdalena Medio that Manuel mentioned.

Oscar: In Barrancabermeja, exactly in the El Centro district, was discovered the second oilfield in Colombia. The first was the Tubara well in 1883, with an important production of hydrocarbons, and the second well was Infantas II. The story of that well is something particular, that well was given to Joaquin Bohórquez, a man who began in 1904 to frequent the territory and realized the presence of chapapote. Chapapote was the viscous substance, it was oil, but the chapapote guided the Yarigui to the oil. On the corregimiento El Centro, very close to the Infantas Creek, there was presence of chapapote and it was above sea level. This Mr. Joaquin Bohórquez didn’t have the capital to develop his oilfield so he negotiates with a man named Roberto de Mares, we are talking about 1908-1910. This Mr. de Mares, equally is not able to do the job of developing it so he sells his titles, goes to the United States, New York, Houston and get some investors, brings a few Americans to the territory and so begins the Tropical Oil Company.

The Tropical Oil Company drill this well Infantas II on November 27, 1918. In 2018 it will celebrated 100 years. So in 1918 begins all that is known in the development of oil and the extractive industry of what is Colombia today. The Tropical Oil Company, then, is a company of the Standard Oil Company or Mr. Rockefeller. Because of the antitrust situation in the US, the Tropical Oil Company becomes the owner of Standard Oil New Jersey. And after that, somewhere in 1948-50, presumably before giving it to Ecopetrol, Canadian capital appears, seizing or buying from Standard Oil New Jersey these positions at El Centro. So Canadian capital is not recent in Colombia.

It’s a very interesting thing, it’s a lot of historical material from here in Barranca, including at the Glenbow museum (http://www.glenbow.org/). In that museum there is a lot of anthropological and historical material about how these companies like the Tropical Oil Company murdered the Yarigui. It was allowed, as a sort of norm, of ordinances, that indigenous people could be murdered. Then the indigenous yariguies are exterminated by the implantation of these extractive projects also in the territory.

Some time later, in 1964, in a territory very near here in Barrancabermeja, the creation of a movement to demand a change in the economic and social situations of the country.

When extraction began at the Mares oil field, the maximum peak of the extraction was 40 thousand barrels. Production was supposedly nationalized or becomes Ecopetrol in 1954. Between 1954 and 2008 that production is reduced to only 4 thousand barrels per day, from 54 thousand that were taken in 1954 to 4 thousand that were taken in 2007. In 2007 the Mares concession is given to Oxy, other capitals there of Houston and elsewhere in the US. And today that field, La Cira, of the El Centro block, is extracting about 38 thousand barrels per day.

We have seen through history, how the different administrations of Ecopetrol are harmful to it. Their practices cause the deterioration of mature fields. They call them unproductive and give them to third parties who then revive them. This is how the Magdalena Medio is divided, it is taken up by companies like Exxon, Oxy, Shell, and also Canadian capitals that have been present in Colombia or watching it since 1918 and were in the territory until 1960. They avoided the conflict in Colombia and now they have begun to return to finish the work they started in the early decades of the last century.

Justin: I want to go back to Canada. Anna, 10 or 15 years ago I discovered this book that was published in the 70’s: The genocide machine in Canada (Davis and Zakis, Black Rose Books 1973), and it deals with mining companies in Northern Canada and the idea is that Canada specifically developed an extractive model because extracting in the north is expensive and the idea is to extract as much as possible in the least time and leave communities destroyed, and they presented this picture of a Canadian model of extraction that has been exported to Latin America, Africa and other parts of the world, that this type of extraction imposed on indigenous communities of Canada and exported to the world. Anna, I know you’ve studied this type of extraction and studied fracking, so maybe you can comment on this idea.

Anna: You were the one who told me about the book, by the way. To your question: there are several practices that had to do with the discrimination and violence against indigenous communities that started in Canada. South Africa’s apartheid pracices were modeled on the Canadian reserve system. It is a story of settlers and imperialists and these major companies. There are several facets, but many large trading companies, for example, British and Dutch, were important in these processes of imperialism.

There is one thing I would like to comment, about what Manuel said. I completely agree with what he said about extractivism and the system in which all capitals are linked in a process of displacing people to seize resources in a way that has serious consequences throughout the world. But to try to be optimistic, I know that the companies are afraid of people finding out about these things. I have seen commentary by people who have observed the oil price drop that have made it impossible to sustain jobs in the oil sands. It is a small part of the story and I know that companies are leaving the oil sands in pursuit of offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in the deep ocean, at a very significant level and the explanation for that is because intercession has already been made in these deep deposits and even with fracking it remains viable to produce, since the investments are already made. But one of the reasons for this is because people have organized to confrnt the extractive industry in land areas and industry has responded by going out to sea to avoid social conflict on the ground. Many people have been murdered by the extractive industry, by private armies and national armies used in their service, but I also want to recognize that people’s organization and strategies have forced the companies to change their strategies too. So the people have to keep on top of this, in that sense it is like a game of “whack-a-mole”, as a friend of mine put it. I am not sure how to say that in Spanish.

Justin: Haha, that game, Manuel, you know the game where the moles pop up and you have to hit each one as it comes up?

Manuel: The idea of this game is exactly the idea behind what the Zapatistas call ‘la hydra capitalista’, or the Hydra, which has many heads.

Justin: Yes, yes.

Anna, Ah, yes. So activists against pipelines in Canada have this experience. They launch a pipeline, people mobilize against it, industry stops it and starts another one. I don’t want to make the claim that we are wiping out capitalism with this kind of social mobilization because we will need something much deeper, but what I would like to point out is that through a mobilization or better starting here to work together with people in Colombia who have already faced a lot of risk and threat to their lives in their work as I imagine Oscar has, that we should start to insist that what is happening be made public, and I think we can have an impact. There is a way to have an impact, that we can have some successes through collective action, we can have successes here and there.

Justin: That is the point that I take from what you’re saying Anna: the defense of the earth, can succeed, it is possible to succeed, in spite of the power of this machine.

Anna: We are going to have to defend the areas of the seas, those that are outside of territorial waters because they are already trying to go there.

Justin: Yes but you can look at it like this … if we can push them to the sea maybe we can push them to interstellar space. Oscar, Manuel, you want to say something … Oscar we started with you, if you want to finish something.

Oscar: No, thank you Justin, thank you also Manuel and obviously to Prof. Anna, for this space, and the idea is to continue weaving, to see there in Toronto or in Calgary, the situation of this company Parex, and as discussed by Prof. Anna, the lack of environmental documents required for Parex, as it operates alone, here in several blocks. It should have to provide documentation for those projects, which are demanded by both the government of Canada and the stock exchanges. The projections for Magdalena Medio in 2020 are for extraction of far too much oil, coal, too much gas, and we need to be able to stop that, because the sacrifice will be high, different animals, different living beings will be harmed, and we, the inhabitants of this region, rich in water, abundant in water, are going to be displaced so that water can be used to frack hydrocarbons. We cannot continue in that logic, to enrich a few as Manuel said. And the idea is that Anna, that we can arrive with this voice, and provide evidence that a series of investments are being made with many inconsistencies and being imposed against the interests of the communities, the law and the rules. That cannot be allowed today.

Justin: Yes, we’ll start with this program, we’ll translate it into English, and we’ll put it wherever we can, and we’ll continue with this, we’ll try to make a campaign about it. Manuel you have the last word to conclude.

Manuel: There is no last word! But I would like to comment on two things, in terms of what to do, how fantastic this amount of information in this short time and with people who know the subject as much as Anna and Oscar.

I would propose two tasks in initial campaign terms from what was said.

One: We have to demand documents and compliance with environmental regulations starting with Canada, that is to say we have to ask questions in Canada and I think, it seems to me that what we hear, to make that demand in Canada, however preliminarily, will allow us to begin to make this type of demand among different environmental groups, and social projects and movements in Colombia. Then we move on the side of compliance and non-compliance with norms and nonexistent information or contradictions. This is very important in the framework of this extractive project, directing ourselves to investors, which is what Parex would care about, and the Government of Canada in terms of the irregularities being committed. Under this scope to ask questions, and that the questions reach the people of Canada within the framework of what Oscar already told us, what is happening with Parex in the Magdalena Medio.

The other thing is precisely is to emphasize the need to save the Magdalena Medio from destruction. The Yariguí, never submitted to the conquest, never stopped resisting and for that reason they faced extermination, that is to say, they had the dignity of not accepting a project that threatened its territory and in doing so they preferred to die than to undergo this type of project. We have to build around the idea of defending the Magdalena Medio, its wealth and beauty that are being attacked now.

The second: I totally agree with Anna in that optimism, that’s precisely why I point out what I pointed out, look … we have just completed a seminar with two people from Guatemala, a researcher on the whole war in Guatemala and an outstanding Indigenous activist, Isabel Solis, who is telling us how people in Guatemala are now defeating extractivism all over the country. The problem is that they are not sufficiently aware of how many different groups and communities are doing it across the country and have not linked up but they are doing it despite repression and despite the mafias.

A mayor of Panama was telling us of both contradictions and struggle, the extraordinary capacity of resistance of the people and in his words: the resistance is actually more powerful than the aggression. The problem is that it is hidden, it doesn’t registers and does not coordinate. But that is another reason for optimism.

And in Peru, we know that the Ayacucho people have been able to stop mining extractivism, they have done it. The struggles are there.

Mapuche women, despite the aggression, monocultures and extractivism, are guarding seeds and strengthening their territory, the problem they have is coordination and awareness to make it possible for people to resist together.

The director of OCMAL, Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina, told us exactly what you told us Anna, which, for example, big projects like Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama, between the Argentine-Chilean mountain range are projects that are have become so costly, because of the struggle of the people, they have been practically abandoned at least temporarily.

There is resistance to a project of oil extraction off the coast of Brazil.

And that the social cost has grown that although there are hydra and other heads appear, what if has been demonstrated is that when the peoples rise to consciousness from the territories and have backing, then the transnationals although they do not admit it, are being defeated.

The last example that I want to give is the most important. Emiliano Teran, I recommend reading his exceptional book, La Fantasma de la Gran Venezuela. Without that research, one does not understand what is in Venezuela, does not understand what happened in Libya, what is happening now, nor understand Syria, nor Ukraine. What does he say in that very serious and optimistic political and historical investigation? He says in essence is that there is a triad, first the oil, second the state as administrator of the oil that is delivered to the transnationals, and third, the people, descendants of those extractive industries.
 

That triad is the history of Venezuela. When a situation like this arrives in which the oil sands of the Orinoco, which impose an unprecedented environmental destruction, a destruction of indigenous communities and culture without precedent and in the context of falling prices of oil and high extraction and environmental costs of these methods of tar sands and fracking, etc. are leading to a deep crisis in the extractive industry, and in that context will be the crisis of Venezuela, which leads to a context and a situation that if Venezuela continues to depend on oil, whether progressive government or right-wing government, the only possibility is the destruction of that country, its regions and its cultures.

People today are understanding it, when you can not get toilet paper, you can not drink coffee, you can not bake because there is no flour, people are planting, exchanging seeds, protecting the water, fighting – despite what the media tell us — not to fall as Syria has fallen into a situation of war that only serves capital. They are trying desperately to prevent that war in Venezuela. Now Venezuela is physically very close to the Magdalena Medio that Oscar is talking about, and it is absolutely necessary to understand it to understand what we’re talking about here. So I’m optimistic here as Anna, and I think that you can only be optimistic if we understand and face aggression. Because from the villages and territories it can be defeated. The biggest problem we have is awareness and action and that is why I believe that these kinds of exchanges are wonderful and hopefully the beginning of a task that continues so I am very grateful to all of you.

Justin: Yes, we will keep in touch and maybe do a part 2 in a few months to see where we are. Many thanks Manuel, Anna Zalik, Óscar Sampayo, many thanks for being here, friends.

La Extraccion Canadiense en Colombia: el Caso de Parex

Aqui esta la transcripcion de la discusion que se realizo en The Ossington Circle Episode 23, entre:

  • Justin Podur, anfitreon.
  • Prof. Anna Zalik, York University.
  • Manuel Rozental, Pueblos en Camino.
  • Oscar Sampayo, grupo de estudios ambientales.

En la discusion tratamos el caso de la compania Canadiense Parex y cuyas actividades de fracking en el Magdalena Medio en Colombia.

Justin: Bienvenido al círculo Ossington, este es un episodio especial, porque, bueno, primero está en español y segundo tenemos tres invitados, y vamos a hacerlo. El tema de hoy es Colombia y la industria extractiva, sobre todo vamos a hacer una investigación de la corporación Parex, Parex es una corporación muy interesante, con un papel en Colombia interesante, voy a dar a los invitados la palabra para profundizar en este tema, tenemos aquí Oscar Sampayo integrante del grupo de estudios extractivos y ambientales del magdalena medio, tenemos también la profesora Anna Zalik, profesora en Nueva York University investigadora de industria extractiva con un enfoque en el sur global, Manuel Rozental también activista con el grupo “Pueblos en camino tejiendo autonomías”, Manuel ha sido invitado en este programa dos veces ya y probablemente muchas veces en el futuro.

Bueno invitados gracias por estar aquí en el círculo.

Manuel: Muchas gracias Justin, Ana hola, y hola Oscar, un abrazo.

Justin: Ok. empezamos con Oscar, cual es, usted está en un grupo de investigaciones, investigan el papel de industrias extractivas, en Colombia, en magdalena medio, cuéntenos un poco sobre el contexto, la situación actual y el papel de esta compañía, en particular que se llama Parex.

Oscar: Muy buenas Justin, muy buenas Manuel, muy buenas Anna, muy buenas oyentes del mundo y América. Pues sí, nosotros estamos aquí ubicados en la región del magdalena medio, exactamente en Barrancabermeja, el principal puerto Inland, el principal puerto dentro de la costa, que está en Colombia, acá recientemente la multinacional transfigura a través de su Subsidiaria Impala, construye el mayor puerto que existe hoy en Latinoamérica, es un puerto de 1 km y medio sobre el rio y una profundidad de un 1km. Barrancabermeja es de 1918, 1910, la principal región donde se extrae y se refina el hidrocarburo, Barrancabermeja y el magdalena medio es rica en petrolero, rica en gas y rica en minerales y además de eso , en Barrancabermeja se estable la refinería de Ecopetrol. Refina alrededor de 300.000 mil 350 mil, barriles diarios de crudo, el territorio de la Magdalena Medio extrae alrededor de 100- 150 mil barriles días de petróleo, desde 1918, nosotros tenemos presencia de empresas multinacionales, empresas extractivas, en su momento se llamó Tropical oil Company, que era del standard oil. tanto la standard oil Nueva York, como la standard oil nueva jersey, la Shell, en fin, tenemos presencia de las multinacionales desde 1918-1920. El asunto qué ocurre, se nacionaliza el petróleo, se estataliza en un sentido la producción y la refinación, de la extracción de hidrocarburo con la creación de Ecopetrol pero bueno se crea Ecopetrol y todas estas multinacionales continúan ofreciéndoles los servicios de extraer petróleo a Ecopetrol entonces en su totalidad, Ecopetrol , nosotros, en si no ha manejado toda la producción y toda la extracción del petróleo, es dueño de la reserva, es dueño del petróleo , pero todo los servicios asociados para poder extraerlo siempre han estado obligado con las multinacionales que hacen este trabajo,…

Justin: ¿Oscar perdóname, pero a donde van las ganancias de la empresa, entonces de este esquema?

Oscar: Ecopetrol, si va para la nación, Justin, el 90% de las rentabilidad de Ecopetrol se lo gira el estado, al estado colombiano, al hueso de las finanzas públicas del país, entonces Ecopetrol es 90% del estado, pero como les vengo comentando, todos los servicios asociados para poderlo extraer se los ofrecen las multinacionales Justin, entonces Ecopetrol nunca ha sido 100% estatal, el petróleo lo saca Ecopetrol sus reservas es dueño Ecopetrol pero sus servicios asociados, tanto la manutención de la refinación como su extracción en los pozos, siempre lo han ofrecido las multinacionales, en el 2007 Justin, se da un caso muy difícil y es que Ecopetrol antes era 100% pero en el 2007 se ofrecen unos paquetes accionarios al grueso de la población colombiana y a diversas instituciones, y es por ello que Ecopetrol entra a cotizar en bolsa, entonces 10% de esas acciones se distribuyen a la población, se crean unos paquetes accionarios, y se venden el 10% de lo que hoy es Ecopetrol y allí con esa figura también se le quita a Ecopetrol el manejo de las reservas de hidrocarburos , Ecopetrol antes era las reservas y manejaba todo el negocio de la exploración y la explotación y ahora no, ahora Ecopetrol se convierte en una empresa y se crea la agencia nacional de hidrocarburos que es la oficina que se encarga de entregar las concepciones petroleras y adjudicar los contratos y Ecopetrol queda como una empresa más con sus bloques asignados pero ya las reserva las maneja la agencia nacional de hidrocarburos , esos es un cambio drástico y un cambio monumental al aparato productivo a lo que significaba Ecopetrol antes y después del 2007,

Justin: y también se puede decir que hay implicaciones para la soberania del país o sobre los recuerdos naturales.

Oscar: Total, perdimos eso, perdimos ,la soberanía, Justin, perdimos la capacidad de decisión, y un ejemplo desde 1918 hasta el 2007 se habían entregado en Colombia alrededor de unas 600 concepciones o algo menos para bloques petroleros pero desde el 2007 a la fecha se han entregado alrededor de 6 a 7 mil títulos, entonces vemos esta agencia nacional de hidrocarburos se creó pero para otorgar las licencias sin el debido conocimiento del territorio sin la debida rigurosidad para identificar los impactos ambientales social económicos que iba a generar este tipo de industria sobe ciertos territorios o sobres ciertas regiones sensibles ambientalmente entonces vemos eso Justin. Desde 60 o 70 años, Ecopetrol manejaba, identificaba el territorio, lo estudiaban y le otorgaban las licencias porque se las otorgaba él mismo, pero después que se crea la agencia nacional de hidrocarburos se da una proliferación de otorgamiento de licencias a bloques petroleros si la debida rigurosidad técnica ambiental y científica, otorgan prácticamente en una oficina de Bogotá. Sin identificar y sin reconocer el grueso del territorio colombiano y es allí donde empieza la multinacional Parex y socios aparecer en el contexto colombiano.
 

Justin: entonces estas compañías operan bajo las nuevas regulaciones que llegaron después del 2007.

Oscar: Si, señor, exactamente. Después de ese tipo de cambios, en el manejo de la actividad exploratoria y explotación de hidrocarburos es que empiezan aparecer toda esta cantidad de compañías. Nuevamente aparece la Empresa Oxy Andina, nuevamente aparece Exxon, nuevamente aparece la BP, antes trabajaban asociados con Ecopetrol con un condicionamiento muy riguroso, ahora no, ahora a estas empresas multinacionales se les otorgaban ciento por ciento las actividades, y otorgándoles unas regalías minúsculas de un 8%, entonces es así que este capital canadiense, empieza a aparecer por nuestro territorio específicamente en la cuenca de los llanos orientales. Parex empieza en Casanare, empieza en el meta, que es una región rica en petróleo, conocida en Colombia, porque allí queda muy cerca al campo rubiales, que la exploto la empresa Pacific Rubiales, de este señor brasileño ,dueño de Avianca, Efromovich, con contactos de unos fondos de inversiones de Canadá y se había traído toda la cúpula para desarrollar estas cuencas en Colombia, entonces en ese contexto aparece esta multinacional Parex; lo que nos preocupa, es que en el 2014 Parex, entra directamente con intereses en el magdalena medio, específicamente sobre el bloque vmm9, bloque valle medio del magdalena, está ubicado en el municipio de cimitarra, en el departamento de Santander. Ese bloque está destinado para el desarrollo y yacimiento no convencionales utilizando el fracking, es allí donde nosotros empezamos a conocer de Parex y en el magdalena medio. En el 2015, aparece en varios portales noticiosos, especializados en economía como portafolio, que Ecopetrol había firmado un convenio con esta empresa parex, para desarrollar un campo cerca de Barrancabermeja, que es el campo agua blancas, en el municipio de Simacota, y después de eso , nos hemos encontrado, que la empresa parex tiene todos unos intereses sobre varios bloques en el magdalena medio pero con unos antecedentes muy preocupantes sobre el Casanare y sobre el meta, sobre los llanos orientales. En estos momentos la multinacional Parex, saca 29 mil barriles de petróleo, en el bloque nl34, es donde saca su mayor producción, saca alrededor 17516 mil barriles en el 2016, la meta de esta empresa es hasta el 2022 va a sacar 60 mil barriles, enfocándose en los llanos orientales y en el magdalena medio, pero en el magdalena medio tiene sus intereses para sacar esta producción y es lo que nos preocupa. Porque esta empresa ha llegado al territorio sin ningún tipo de documento ambiental, no ha socializado con las comunidades donde va a hacer sus trabajos, no ha socializado la magnitud de las actividades que van a realizan y tras de eso, vemos un cierto, revisando, lo financiero, vemos una cierta latitud tanto del estado colombiano, como las instituciones al no exigirle el pago de los impuestos. que debería estar entregando al estado colombiano por la explotación de estos recursos.

Justin: y se trata de ecosistemas sensibles y cuáles son los impactos ambientales, que se pueden predecir o anticipar.

Oscar: pues es que la parte del magdalena medio donde ellos están operando queda cerca de dos áreas protegidas sensibles, una que es el área de la serranía de los Yariguíes, una serranía hermosísima , con una tradición y una riqueza de fauna y flora impresionante de Santander ,allí en ese parque nacional serranía de Yariguíes, llegan muchas aves migratorias de Estados Unidos y Canadá , para allí pasar su temporada, aparte de eso, es la fuente , la serranía de los Yariguíes se fabrica el agua que nace para alrededor de 40 ciudades o municipios de Santander, y gracias a la serranía de Yariguíes es que tenemos estas ciénagas, y todo este complejo cenagoso, de humedales, lagos, ciénagas, en el magdalena medio que la conforman alrededor de 50 ciénagas totalmente hermosas, donde hoy se encuentra el manatí, donde ellos están perforando o Parex está realizando sus actividades queda el corredor de jaguar americano, el jaguar es una especie sensible ambientalmente protegida y con peligro de extinción, aquí en Barrancabermeja la vivimos, la observamos, duerme a 40km de Barrancabermeja, pero duerme en un hábitat llena de pozos petroleros, de palma africana, que si no detenemos, ese jaguar americano va a desaparecer. Entonces son ecosistemas muy sensibles, son ecosistemas y regiones ambientales muy delicadas con mucha agua, pero también con mucho petróleo

Justin: ¿Pero también se anticipa, el desplazamiento de comunidades por este proyecto?

Oscar: Esa es la posición de desarrollo, esos proyectos extractivos, trae como consecuencia eso Justin, esas empresas están llegando sobre un predio, un caso concreto, en una finca, de un propietario de 100 hectárea, solo le compran 3 o 4 hectárea, esas 4 hectárea hacen una actividad tan contaminante , totalmente agresiva que termina afectando las 60 restantes, entonces no le queda de otra al campesino sino desplazarse para buscar unas nuevas condiciones para poder producir o pasa lo contrario la imposición de los monocultivos. ¿Qué actividades se puede imponer al lado de las actividades petroleras? la palma africana o la palma aceitera, entonces esa es la opción que le pasan la campesino, pasando una actividad o se le impone la actividad petrolera, y usted la tiene que transformar a sembrar palma aceitera, molestando y afectando la naturaleza, y estableciendo un monocultivo igualmente activista, y para la lógica del capital extranjero.

Justin: Yo pienso ahorita preguntarle a Anna Zalik como funciona estas compañías en el mundo, Oscar si hay algo más que quiera agregar antes de esto?

Oscar: no, por ahora Justin dejo hasta ahí, para que Ana y Manuel sigan ampliando esta edición, de cómo el capital está llegando sobre pequeño territorio no solo aquí en Colombia sino en el resto de América Latina.

Justin: Anna, usted ha investigado el papel de estas compañías extractivas, nosotros dimos tiempo para hacer una investigación pequeña de Parex, usted puede darnos una vista panorámica, y algunos detalles que descubrió sobre Parex?

Anna: Gracias a todos ustedes, estoy aprendiendo mucho ahora a través de Oscar, acerca de esta historia en las investigaciones que hice para preparar hoy, estuve revisando unos trabajos de un colega historiador, Stefano que está en la universidad, algunos politólogos canadienses, que trabajan sobre el imperialismo canadiense, como señaló Oscar, puedo revisar a través de los trabajos de Stefano, las empresas y los capitales canadiense, aprovecharon de la competencia entre los imperios de EE.UU y Gran Bretaña durante el siglo XX para poder entrar en Colombia, porque bueno, los estadounidense, no quisieron Inglaterra tenía un papel muy significativo en Colombia, y así Canadá pudiera entrar y hay varios paralelos con México donde yo hecho la mayoría de mis trabajos en América Latina, como señaló Oscar, en el siglo XX; México a través después de la revolución , nacionalizó la industria petrolera, y esto fue un momento muy significativo al hacer esto estropearon las empresas muy importantes de Inglaterra y EE.UU, que eran la Shell, Standard Oil, y en México ahora están señalando con Parex. En Colombia están pasando por una etapa, tiene varios paralelos, de modo que explicó Oscar después del 2007 en Colombia, están en un proceso muy fuerte de nacionalización de la industria petrolera que ya tienen 10 o 20 años en empezar, pero ya se observa mucho a través de una reforma que se hizo en el 2014, entonces estoy por tratar de entender mejor lo que están haciendo las empresas canadiense en México y he entrado en mucho por ver el financiamiento a través de una agencia de fomento de exportaciones del gobierno canadiense, es un tipo de agencia de crédito que trata de promover la industria canadiense en los países del sur, en los últimos años ya están en todas partes. porque también antes difícilmente era para los países del sur entrar, por ejemplo, financiamiento a otros proyectos muy controversiales como la Shell Estados Unidos, pero lo que vi, de una manera lo que está haciendo Parex, seria de entrar en las transacciones que están compilados en la página web de esta agencia de crédito de exportaciones y vi mucho financiamiento a Parex, a Ecopetrol, la Gran Tierra, que es otra empresa canadiense trabajando en Colombia, pienso que podría ser una manera para que los organismos de la sociedad civil podrían entrar recoger información ,de ver si han hecho los estudios necesarios de lo que yo veo, esos estudios ambientales que según , las políticas de esta agencia deben estar públicos no los he podido encontrar estos estudios por Parex en su página de internet.

Justin: O sea, no se encuentran los documentos sobre el análisis ambiental para recibir este tipo de financiamiento.

Anna: si, si es un poco oscuro en la manera en que se señala en la página web de la agencia de fomento de exportaciones, dice que esta agencia pide a las empresas que ellos hacen público estos documentos, en el caso que están bajo ciertas categorías de impacto ambiental y social, pero según sus políticas los proyectos de extracción de hidrocarburos deben ser bajo estas categorías de impacto. En EDC, se llaman categoría a y b, pero en lo que yo pude encontrar no había ningún proyecto colombiano en la página web de EDC de categoría a y b que estaban divulgados, EDC que, si no están en nuestra página, la empresa deben hacerlo público en otro lugar, y en su página web no están sus estudios de impacto ambiental y social

Oscar: Justin y Anna, que pena interrumpo, es que el método que usted estaba comentando Anna, es que nosotros nos hemos sentado en sus operaciones de Parex en Colombia, ellos dicen que por ser socios de Ecopetrol no tiene obligación para presentar estos documentos, ellos cuando vinieron a hacer el trabajo de aguas blancas cerca de Barrancabermeja, se les pidió el diagnóstico ambiental, donde den cuenta de la totalidad de fauna y flora que estaba allí en estas cuatros veredas, hoy a la fecha 2017, 26 de junio, no tiene esos documentos y no se los han entregado a la comunidad y ya han perforado de 5 a 6 pozos, nosotros también nos preguntamos eso , como una empresa opera sin ningún tipo de documento ambiental en Colombia o si lo opera es a través a un documento ambiental entregado a terceros. que en este caso es Ecopetrol

Anna: bueno, me imagino usted conoce muy bien este asunto que si lo hacemos público. Y bueno, Justin, con esa platica de hoy, empieza este proceso y hagamos el tipo de campaña que sacamos en los medios informativos va a empezar algún tipo de presión, porque de todas maneras una de las razones que no quieren que la gente sepa lo que está pasando, eso forma parte de este paso la presión pública, está mal. No es decir una palabra fea, a estilo mexicano, el problema también es que Parex tiene proyectos que no están desarrollados con Ecopetrol, tiene nuestros proyectos en Casanare, y otros lugares que Parex está solito, no tiene a Ecopetrol como pareja y aun en estos proyectos están diseminando esos datos, así que allá no tienen seguramente esta excusa, es Ecopetrol quien debe mostrar esos datos, que seguramente va a hacer la estrategia que va a usar las empresas canadiense en México que ahora toda con Pemex van a decir que toda responsabilidad es de Pemex, es de esta manera hacen sus trabajos en cualquier país del sur, siempre ponen su responsabilidad en el gobierno, o en el Parex estatal nacional que ellos son los responsables de difundir esos datos, y como se esconden a través de las empresas Parex estatales, pero en el caso de los proyectos de Parex hay otras personas que no son con Ecopetrol , no tienen excusa, y bueno yo pienso que debemos llamar a la agencia de exportaciones canadiense para exigir que estos datos se hagan públicos.

Justin: ¿tengo otra pregunta para usted Anna, aquí en Canadá, cuando una compañía quiere hacer una actividad extractiva hay un requerimiento de consultar por ejemplo con comunidades indígenas, cuando una compañía canadiense opera, por ejemplo, en Colombia tiene esta obligación de consultar con comunidades indígenas si es territorio indígena?

Anna: Quisiera decir que si, pero en realidad, es que no. En Canadá. A través de unas decisiones judiciales, ya hay lo que se llama, la ubicación a consulta, no es lo que deben hacer libre consentimiento, tiene que ser bajo declaraciones derechos indígenas de las naciones unidas, esto es lo que debe hacer la mayoría de los países, no exigen este nivel de consulta pero si hay varios que a nivel internacional, a través de la organización internacional laboral, pero si hay varios se puede también demandar este nivel de consultas y muchos de las quejas hacer que los derechos indígenas utilizan el derecho al consentimiento previo para reclamar a las empresas.

Justin: ¿Anna, tiene algo más? Oscar tiene preguntas entre ustedes? ¿o podemos seguir con Manuel?

Anna: Seguimos con Manuel y luego vemos.

Justin: Ok, Manuel. fue idea de usted hacer el programa, para investigar al nivel canadiense y colombiano las actividades de esta compañía, no sé si usted quiere profundizar esta idea o dar otra vista del contexto.

Manuel: Sí, gracias Justin, Anna y Oscar. Como dijo Anna, estoy aprendiendo muchísimo, he venido aprendiendo de Justin. Con los años de Anna. He sabido algo de su trabajo en Mexico donde estaba viviendo hasta hace muy poco y Óscar y su grupo de estudios ambientales (GEAM) es gente ejemplar en un contexto muy difícil.

Yo si quisiera dos cosas: Una primera darles el contexto donde se encuentra Oscar; muy importante. El Magdalena medio es una región que ha sido afectada desde el comienzo de La Conquista (española) por una estrategia particular de conquista: el terror. En el Magdalena medio la guerra, las distintas formas de violencia, han sido utilizadas desde un comienzo para la extinción de los indigenas yariguíes que se resistieron a la conquista. Esa misma estrategia de terror y extinción sigue siendo el énfasis de la conquista hasta hoy.

Lo segundo, que tal vez Oscar pueda comentar después y que seria muy importante, dar antecedentes para quienes nos escuchen y no sepan de Colombia; y es justamente que la primera gran concesión petrolera de Colombia se hizo en esa región y el origen del manejo extractivo de los recursos petroleros tiene todo que ver con esa primera concesión petrolera: la concesión Mares. Pero que también esa región del Magdalena medio y particularmente Barrancabermeja son el corazón de Ecopetrol, la compañía Colombiana de petróleos, la estatal del petróleo en Colombia. Después de Mares y después del Magdalena medio hay otros hallazgos, pero extractivismo del petróleo, conquista y su historia parten de esta región, de modo que tanto los patrones cambiantes de extractivismo como de la conquista como de la resistencia, de las distintas formas de resistencia, tienen una larga y fundamental historia justamente en esta región donde entra Parex, de manera ilegal, abusiva, autoritaria con la complicidad de la agencia nacional de hidrocarburos (ANH), del Estado Colombiano. Esta región resume la historia de la conquista no sólo de Colombia. Va más allá, es un modelo, un relato vivo que se perpetúa respecto de cómo ha sido la conquista para extraer riqueza; la conquista extractivista para la acumulación del capital global. Esta es una pregunta, por ese relato abierto y en curso que le dejo planteada a Oscar que creo nos puede comentar algo someramente. Algo que me parece muy importante para entender el territorio donde ahora se impone Parex y su extractivismo. Lo que está pasando no es nuevo para la región.

Lo que sí es nuevo es que gente como Óscar y el GEAM que están tratando de defender territorios, recursos, y exigiendo inclusive por las vías legales que se cumplan las normas, es gente que se encuentra particularmente en condición de riesgo. Para Óscar hablar como está hablando ahora es peligroso hacerlo incluso después de la firma de los acuerdos de la paz (entre las FRAC y el Estado), es terriblemente riesgoso, por una razón: en gran medida, los acuerdos de paz se firman -como sabemos- para permitir mayor despojo y mayor extractivismo en territorios del Magdalena medio. Ahí, donde vemos que han tenido presencia las Farc, el estado colombiano firmo los acuerdos de paz, las FARC se concentran y desmovilizan y están entrando dos grupos ahora mismo y en todo el país: 1. los paramilitares y los escuadrones de la muerte con diferentes nombres, y 2, abiertamente los enormes proyectos extractivos y de infraestructura al servicio de transnacionales. Es decir, los acuerdos de paz en Colombia no se entienden si no se ponen en perspectiva los megaproyectos extractivos, Es en punto fundamental que quería exponer en términos de contexto. Estas son las dos cosas que quería decir, que son en gran medida el motivo por el cual conversamos con Óscar, con Justin, Justin con Anna, para hacer esta conversación, esto que descubre el grupo ambientalista (GEAM) y Óscar, en el Magdalena medio: la forma en que Parex está entrando en un territorio para hacer fracking, causar desastres ambientales y pasarse por encima de la ley y de las obligaciones éticas que obviamente no tienen importancia aquí para la transnacional petrolera Canadiense.

Esto que está pasando aquí, en el Magdalena medio, cabe en un contexto más amplio que quisiera comentar y lo voy a hacer rápidamente. Aquí hay un problema y un desafío para la gente de Canadá y la gente de Colombia, y es el problema de destrucción de la naturaleza, de la destrucción de un ecosistema. Para poder destruir naturaleza y ecosistemas y acumular con la extracción del petróleo hay que hacer algo, que están haciendo en estos momentos, y hay que contar con lo que están contando en estos momentos, y que es justamente lo que estamos empezando a romper con este tipo de comunicaciones: La inocencia, la inconsciencia y la desinformación de la gente. Si la gente estuviera informada y consciente, este tipo de abusos y crímenes no se daría. Entonces, hay una estrategia de muchos ámbitos para impedir que la gente entienda de lo que ya hablaron Óscar y Anna.

Hoy, yo puedo estar en mi casa, en mi territorio, vivir como una comunidad, en mi territorio, y, hoy día, una corporación trasnacional, particularmente una petrolera o minera canadiense, en todo el territorio de las Américas, puede haber hecho un acuerdo con autoridades del gobierno (en este caso de Colombia), violando la ley, para entrar a mi territorio a mi casa sin que la gente se de cuenta. Entrar a mi casa y destruir mi ecosistema, expulsarme de mi territorio. Ante todo eso ni siquiera la gente va a tener conocimiento para defenderse y si trata de defenderse va a sufrir ataques legales, ataques mediáticos, intimidación, acusaciones legales, persecución de distintos grupos e incluso aplicación de terror y la muerte. Eso es lo que quiero poner en perspectiva.

En primer lugar , el poder global hoy en día son las corporaciones transnacionales y en particular las corporaciones trasnacionales extractivistas en todas partes. Ese es el actor social fundamental. Ese actor social ha suplantado a la gente, a la ciudadanía frente al Estado. Hoy en día la función de los estados no es la defensa de los derechos humanos, porque el sujeto, la persona jurídica legal, cuyos derechos tiene la obligación el estado defender, son las corporaciones trasnacionales. Ya no la gente. Por eso es lo mismo en cada país donde hay proyectos extractivos por parte de transnacionales; lo mismo que en Colombia. Sin embargo, el discurso tanto en Canadá como en Colombia, con diferencias y especificidades grandes; el discurso de los estados y el marco legal, aparentemente defiende territorios, ecosistemas y personas, tanto en Canadá como en Colombia. Mientras en la práctica, la función del Estado Canadiense, EDC y otras entidades citadas, como la función del estado colombiano abierta y encubiertamente es proteger los intereses de las trasnacionales. Detrás de esto hay corrupción. Detrás de esto hay violación de la ley, pero sobre todo hay muchísimo dinero, y el dinero de las transnacionales y su ganancia cuenta más que cualquier otra prioridad. Eso es lo que no tiene claro la gente.

Si uno abre la página web de Parex, e investiga, uno puede empezar a descubrir inconsistencias, pero sobretodo descubre una pagina preparada para inversionistas. Es una página que promete extracción de crecientes cantidades de petróleo y crecientes ganancias para quien ponga su dinero en estos proyectos extractivos de Parex. Así se promueve Parex. Entonces, uno ve en la pagina fácilmente como cada vez van a sacar mas petróleo, cómo la gente que invierte en Parex va a hacer mas dinero y esa es la función de Parex: atraer más dinero de inversionistas en busca de ganancias, para sacar el petróleo del Magdalena medio. Pero lo que acabamos de escuchar es que el petróleo que da ganancias a inversionistas y a Parex es a costa de destrucción.

Lo segundo que vemos en la pagina es propaganda necesariamente falsa de la garantía de la protección del ambiente y de “responsabilidad social” con las comunidades. Cosas que no tienen ningún sustento en la realidad. Tanto Parex como las demás trasnacionales extractivas petroleras o mineras canadienses, hacen exactamente lo mismo, les prometen dinero a unos y a esos mismos y a otros le garantizan en palabras que no van a dañar el ambiente ni a las comunidades. Eso que prometen, lo prometen también a las comunidades en Colombia y mucha gente no conoce los impactos del fracking. No saben lo que una corporación trasnacional extractiva está haciendo sin consulta previa y con el riesgo que se corre. Ese es un punto fundamental y Parex no es una excepción. Por el contrario, ratifica la regla del comportamiento e intereses de las transnacionales de su tipo.

El punto esencial para hacer esta conversación, es que la gente en Canadá, como decía Anna, si la gente en Canadá se entera que una corporación que tiene su sede allí está cometiendo irregularidades, no está proponiendo con trasparencia información para la venta al público de oportunidades de inversión, encubriendo lo que está haciendo en realidad a sabiendas el daño que hace el fracking en distintos sitios en Colombia. Que además todo esto se está haciendo con el apoyo gobierno canadiense. Porque la ciudadanía de Canadá no sabe. Ha sido engañada o no quiere saber lo que en su gobierno y las corporaciones con sede en ese país están haciendo en minería y extractivismo, en el caso Parex y en otros muchos casos de muchas corporaciones extractivas y en todo el continente y más allá.

Y además, que cada vez que la ciudadanía ha hecho consciencia, rompiendo el cerco de las mentiras y los engaños; de la propaganda, exigiéndole a su gobierno y a las corporaciones que cumplan; cada vez que se despiertan para defender naturaleza, territorio, dignidad y el cumplimiento de las leyes que nos quedan, el impacto de las acciones coherentes es mayor cuando se actúa en Canadá para beneficio de los pueblos y de estos territorios, que cuando actúan solos en los países y territorios afectados, personas o grupos que representan la defensa de pueblos y territorios. En soledad localmente, terminan siendo reprimidos, judicializados, encarcelados o aislados para que el proyecto extractivo se desarrolle. Este es el asunto fundamental.

El otro punto que quiero señalar, y es muy grande y muy generalizado, voy a poner el ejemplo de esta manera: Desde el comienzo de la conquista de este continente, a partir del mal llamado “descubrimiento”, Portugal y España, reclamaban para sí las Américas y medio mundo. Se reúnen entre sí al regreso de Colon a Portugal con evidencias de la existencia de este continente, para dividirse el mundo con la mediación del Papa y la iglesia católica. El Papa divide el planeta de común acuerdo con los reyes de España y Portugal en Tordecillas. La mitad para los portugueses y la otra mitad para los Españoles. Por eso el mapa de America del Sur, tiene la mitad del continente como Brasil y la otra mitad los países de habla hispana. Esa locura, en un momento en que ni siquiera conocían los territorios, no sabían qué pueblos vivan ahí, condenó a la inexistencia y al servicio de la ganancia económica para portugueses y europeos todo este continente, y condenó a la esclavitud, y a la extinción a los pueblos de este continente. Es historia antigua, reconocida e ignorada, pero es justamente lo que quiero resaltar acá. En este momento, las corporaciones trasnacionales se han dividido el mundo como lo hicieran España y Portugal en Torrecillas. Pelean entre ellas para quedarse con territorios, y pelean Petro Sur con Petro Andina, y otras petroleras y mineras entre sí por quedarse con territorios y riquezas. Pero esa es una pelea interna, entre corporaciones. De este lado, los pueblos y territorios no tenemos defensa. Se están dividiendo el planeta sin conocerlo para quitarnos riquezas y territorios, pero con una diferencia. Hoy es un planeta que está casi completamente ocupado. Ya no hay más para donde irse. Si el capitalismo quiere extraer mas petróleo después, no hay después y no hay mas planeta. Estamos llegando al limite del planeta.

Estos proyectos extractivos como los de Parex, son la amenaza final de destrucción del planeta, frente a lo cual el capital tiene que eliminar los excedentes de población, eliminar la competencia corporativa y la resistencia que enfrentan los más grandes capitalistas para quedarse con todo y sobretodo dejar toda la riqueza, en particular, la riqueza energética y del agua, en muy pocas manos y en muy pocas corporaciones. ¿Por qué digo esto? No lo digo para plantearlo en una teoría interesante. Lo digo porque en la práctica, el caso Parex, pone en evidencia algo muy claro: Si Parex continúa con el fracking; si ha convertido a la Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos de Colombia, que fue creada justamente para entregar ecosistemas y recursos colombianos a las trasnacionales a cambio de la destrucción de estos mismos; si esto se hace y no nos levantamos a consciencia, en Canadá y Colombia a impedirlo, estamos de acuerdo con que las últimas reservas de vida, de agua, de oxigeno, de petróleo y fuentes energéticas, de minerales y de biodiversidad desaparezcan y sean destruidas en el afán de codicia de unos pocos con todo el poder.

Parex es incapaz de ver las consecuencias destructivas de mentirle a la gente para hacer el extractivismo y las consecuencias destructivas de realizar ese extractivismo, no lo ve, no lo entiende, porque su norma, su necesidad es hacer la mayor cantidad de ganancia en el menor tiempo posible.

De ese lado, de la acumulación por destrucción, como bien la denomina Héctor Mondragón, están ellos. De este lado esta Óscar, está la población afectada, están las y los Canadienses que deciden abrir los ojos y estamos todas y todos consciente o inconscientes, porque está la vida de este planeta y la nuestra como humanidad de por medio.

Esa es la intención de dar a conocer estos hechos: debemos exigirle a Parex transparencia, al gobierno canadiense transparencia, a la gente de Calgary, Alberta de Canadá que tenga capacidad de hacerse consciente que estos son crímenes. Crímenes que se cometen en complicidad con los gobiernos como el de Colombia y otros gobiernos del continente y crímenes que amenazan con destruir la vida del planeta entero. Si los indigenas en EE.UU se levantaron contra el oleoducto y el mundo entero se enteró,este tipo de esfuerzos nos deben ir ayudando a detener estos proyectos que van a afectar también a los propios hijos de los dueños de la corporación Parex y de los altos funcionarios de gobiernos. Ganancia a costa de muerte, de auto destrucción.

Mi última frase es esta: en este contexto el gobierno de Colombia, presionado por las trasnacionales canadienses y otras, modificó su código minero para entregarle el país al extractivismo minero hace años. El gobierno canadiense, como escuchaban a Anna mencionarlo hace un poco, genera estructuras para favorecer legal, política, económicamente el extractivismo ilegal de corporaciones trasnacionales, pero todo el marco ilegal lo deja como responsabilidad de su contraparte que son los gobiernos de los otros países. En consecuencia con eso, Colombia crea, por ejemplo, la Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos, cuyo propósito es impedir que Ecopetrol, pueda tener control sobre las reservas. En otras palabras, como decía Oscar, la intención concreta detrás de la creación de la Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos, es entregarle las riquezas y territorios a las corporaciones trasnacionales y que puedan destruir territorios y pueblos sin que tenga consecuencia alguna y sin obstáculos políticos. De eso se trata. Entonces aquí hay una complicidad. Resumamos: cuando la codicia es sagrada, robar es ley. Pero eso nos mata y destruye los territorios. Defender los territorios del Magdalena medio y del resto del país del fracking y defenderlos de Parex , es defender la vida tanto en Canadá como en Colombia, y este caso es uno de los que ponen sobre la mesa las complicidades de quiénes nos gobiernan, el poder de las trasnacionales y la necesidad de consciencia de los pueblos.

Justin: Ok, muchas gracias Manuel, para esto. Ahora creo que podemos ampliar la discusión un poco, y ustedes pueden hacer preguntas entre sí. Tenemos 20 minutos más. Quizás empezamos, tengo unas cosas que me han dado cuenta cuando hablaban todos ustedes tres, quizás empezamos con Oscar. Que quizás Oscar puedes hablar un poco de la historia particular del Magdalena Medio que Manuel mencionaba.

Oscar: Sì, Justin, el asunto es que en Barrancabermeja, exactamente en el corregimiento El Centro, se da el trabajo de perforación del segundo en Colombia, el primero el Pozo Tubara 1 en 1883, con una producción importante de hidrocarburos, ese pozo fue Infantas II; la historia de ese pozo es algo particular, ese pozo se lo entregan a Joaquín Bohórquez, es un señor desde 1904 empieza a frecuentar el territorio y se da cuenta de la presencia del chapapote; el chapapote era la sustancia viscosa, era el petróleo pero el chapapote le decían los indigenas Yariguíes al petróleo , entonces sobre el corregimiento El Centro, muy cerca al riachuelo Infantas, había presencia del chapapote y estaba por encima del nivel del mar, este señor Joaquín Bohórquez, no es capaz de desarrollar su petróleo entonces negocia con un señor llamado Roberto de Mares, estamos hablando de 1908-1910, este señor de Mares, igualmente no es capaz hacer el trabajo de desarrollar y vende sus títulos, va a Estados Unidos, Nueva York, Houston y consiguen unos inversores, vienen unos estadounidense a el territorio y empieza la Tropical Oil Company.

La Tropical Oil Company, perfora este pozo Infantas II, el 27 de noviembre de 1918, en el 2018 se cumple 100 años, y empieza todo lo que se conoce en el desarrollo de la industria petrolera y extractiva de lo que es Colombia hoy, desde esa historia. Entonces, la Tropical Oil Company, es una empresa de la Standard Oil Company o del Señor Rockefeller, debido a las situaciones que pasó allá en EE.UU, por el monopolio, la Tropical Oil Company, queda como dueño la Standard Oil New Jersey, y después de eso, por ahí en 1948-1950, supuestamente antes de entregársela a Ecopetrol aparecen unos capital canadienses, apoderándose o comprándole a la Standard Oil New Jersey, estos cargos de El Centro, entonces aquí el capital canadienses no es reciente sobre Colombia y sus sectores es desde hace mucho tiempo. Es una cosa muy interesante, es mucho material histórico de aquí en Barranca, y deseas extracciones que están el museo Glenbow (http://www.glenbow.org/). En ese museo se encuentra mucho material antropológico, histórico, de cómo estas empresas como la Tropical Oil Company, asesinaban a los indígenas Yariguíes, aquí se les permitió, hubo como una especie de norma, de ordenanzas, que se podía asesinar a indígenas Yariguíes, entonces los indígenas Yariguíes son exterminados por la implantación de esos proyectos extractivos también en el territorio y eso empieza a mover las fibras, toda esta situación social que está en el territorio. Tiempo después, en 1964 en un territorio muy cercano acá en Barrancabermeja se da la creación pues de un movimiento insurreccional para exigencia de un cambio en las situaciones económicas y sociales del país, que toda esta situación no se pervirtiera más como lo está actualmente. La historia del Magdalena medio es muy compleja, la historia de la concepción de mares, bueno la concepción de mares, empezó a extraer, el pico máximo de la extracción fue 40 mil barriles, supuestamente se nacionaliza o se convierte en Ecopetrol en 1954.Desde 1954 a 2008 esa producción se reduce a solo 4 mil barriles diarios, de 54 mil que se sacaban en 1954 a 4 mil que se sacaban en el 2007. En el 2007 esta concepción de mares se la entregan a la OXY, otros capitales de allá de Houston, Texas, EE. UU.; y hoy ese campo, La Cira, del bloque El Centro, está extrayendo alrededor de 38 mil barriles diarios, entonces nosotros lo que hemos visto a través de la historia, es como las diferentes administraciones de Ecopetrol son lesivas con la misma empresa, deterioran diferentes campos maduros, dicen que improductivos, dicen que no sirven, se lo entregan a terceros y revientan los campos. Entonces el Magdalena Medio está dividido, está analizado por empresas como la Exxon, la Oxy, la Shell, y también capitales canadienses que lo analizaron desde 1918 que estuvieron en el territorio hasta 1960, se dio el conflicto que vivió en Colombia y de ahí retoman los capitales a terminar el trabajo que empezaron a principio de década del siglo pasado.

Justin: Yo quiero volver a Canadá, Anna, hace 10 o 15 años que descubrí este libro que se publicó en los 70’s, yo sé que usted conoce Anna, “La máquina del genocidio en Canadá”, y se trata de las compañías mineras en el norte de Canadá y la idea es que Canadá específicamente desarrolló un modelo extractivo que tiene que ver con extraer los más, porque extraer en el norte es caro y la idea es extraer lo más posible en el mínimo tiempo y dejar a las comunidades en condición destruidos, y ellos los autores presentaron este dibujo de una modelo canadiense de extracción que se ha exportado a Latinoamérica, África y a otros partes del mundo, que este tipo de extracción ha desarrollo sobre las comunidades indigenas de Canadá y exportado al mundo. Anna, yo sé que usted ha estudiado este tipo de extracción y ha estudiado sobre el fracking, entonces quizá puede comentar sobre esta idea.

Anna: Bueno, tengo que decir para empezar que no conocía este libro. Seguramente hay varios prácticos que tenían que ver con la reflexión y las matanzas de las comunidades indigenas que empezaron en Canadá porque fue a través de Canadá que la estrategia que se usó en África del sur fue aplicada en sistemas de dividir y conquistar a la gente. Diría la historia por los colonizadores e imperialistas de las empresas, hay varias facetas, seguramente todas las empresas, por ejemplo , de Gran Bretaña, holandeses, eran muy importantes en el proceso de aplastar a las comunidades, hay una cosa que quisiera comentar, que es lo que comentó Manuel, estoy completamente de acuerdo con lo que él decía acerca del extractivismo a nivel grupal y el sistema que en lo cual todos los capitales están vinculados en un proceso de desplazar a las personas y aprovechar los recursos de una manera que tienen consecuencias graves por todo el mundo. Pero para tratar de ser optimista, o quizá inspirador de este asunto yo diría lo que paso con las grandes empresas ya están sabiendo de alertas, y hoy suena alerta de origen. Una de las razones que están saliendo por los comentaristas dentro de las personas que trabajan que tienen ver con precios de petróleo que no pueden sostener los costos de trabajos en las arenas bituminosas ,además solo sé una parte de la historia, porque aun cuando están saliendo de las arenas bituminosas están persiguiendo los trabajos en el Golfo de México ,en los mares profundos ,en un nivel muy significativo y la explicación para eso es porque la intercesión ya se hizo en estos yacimientos profundos y aun con fracking es menos costoso, ya se hizo esta inversión entonces estos yacimientos se van a seguir explotando, una de las razones de esto es porque la gente se ha organizado para enfrentar la industria extractiva en las zonas terrestres y la industria en una manera bastante indirecto han dicho que quisieran ir a la zona, mares afuera para evitar el conflicto social en el terreno y bueno como señaló Manuel ,ellos no hay ningún manera en que van hacerlo sin violencia, mucha gente se han ido a la muerte por parte de la industria extractiva, y las empresas militares, de diferentes tipos de seguridad que dan servicio a las industrias extractivos y también a los ejércitos nacionales han sido utilizado en este esquema, pero esto que las personas organizaron es decir, el impacto y las estrategias de las empresas, y si a través de la modernización las empresas se han ido cambiado sus estrategias cada vez. Aunque como se dice en inglés, un amigo una vez nos decía que era como “whaccamole” no sé cómo se traduzca esto.

Justin: ¿Jaja, este juego, conoce Manuel este juego, cuando sale la cabeza de este y da un empuje y después, otra cabeza sale de otra parte, ustedes conocen este juego?

Manuel: La idea de este juego es exactamente lo que los zapatistas, acaban de plantear, están empujando muy claramente a rodilla de la hidra.

Justin: Sí, sí

Anna, Ah, sí. Ahí están hablando del oleoducto de Canadá, cuando estrenaron uno, empezaron otro, eran todos oleoductos para tratar las arenas bituminosas, cuando la movilización social tenía éxito, y pudieran frenar algún proyecto y empezaban otro proyecto. Y esto es precisamente los activistas están señalando ahora lo que es, no voy a hacer demasiado optimista que estamos acabando con el capitalismo con este tipo de movilización social porque vamos a necesitar algo más profundo, pero lo que si quisiera señalar es que a través de una movilización o mejor empezando acá para no poner demasiado riesgo, las personas en Colombia que ya han tenido muchísimo riesgo y amenaza a su vida en sus trabajo como me imagino Oscar, empezamos a exigir estos caso para hacer público lo que está pasando, este sí va a tener un impacto en la estrategia, obviamente no podemos controlarlo, porque puede ser así de nuevo , que tenemos un proyecto pero este trabajo necesita más dureza

Justin: Jajaja Paciencia

Anna: Hay manera de tener un impacto, que podamos tener unos éxitos, no sé, suficientemente grandes, a través de la acción colectiva, podemos tener unos éxitos aquí y allá.

Justin: Sí, el mensaje que yo llevo, que usted planteó Anna, es la defensa de la tierra, puede tener éxito, es posible tener éxito, en esta máquina

Anna: Nosotros vamos a tener que defender las zonas de los mares, los que están afuera de mares territoriales porque ya tratan de irse allá…

Justin: Si, pero puedes verlos así… si los empujamos al mar podemos empujarlos, por ejemplo, al espacio interestelar…bueno Oscar, Manuel, ustedes quieren decir algo …Oscar empezamos con usted, si quiere concluir algo.

Oscar: No, pues agradecerle a su persona Justin, agradecerle también a Manuel y obviamente a la profe Anna, por este espacio, y la idea es continuar tejiendo, que visibilicemos allá en Toronto o en Calgary, la situación de esta empresa Parex, y como lo comentaba la profe Anna, la falta de documentos ambientales que se requieren que debe tener Parex, como opera él solo, aquí en varios bloques, tiene que presentar por esos índices, que le exigen tanto el gobierno de Canadá como las bolsas o los inversos, Hoy día ,el Magdalena Medio, está proyectado en el 2020 para sacar demasiado petróleo, carbón, demasiado gas, y necesitamos poder detener eso, porque el sacrifico va a ser alto , diferentes animales, diferentes seres vivos van a ser perjudicados, y nosotros, los habitantes de esta región, rica en agua, abundante en agua, nos van a desplazar solamente para esa agua dedicarla en extraer más hidrocarburos, entonces no podemos seguir en esa lógica, de estar sometiendo la vida por enriquecer a unos cuantos como decía Manuel. Y la idea es esa profe Anna, que podamos llegar con esta voz, a donde tengamos que ir, y evidenciar que se están realizando unas series de inversiones con muchas inconsistencias y atropellando y pasando por encima a las comunidades, a la ley y a las normas y bueno eso no se puede permitir hoy día.

Justin: Sí, empezamos con este programa, la traducimos al inglés, y ponemos en todos lados donde podemos, y seguimos con este, intentamos hacer una campaña, sobre todo. Manuel usted tiene la última palabra para concluir.

Manuel: No, la última palabra no existe.

Pero, quisiera comentar dos cosas, en términos de qué hacer. Pues fantástico tener y compartir ésta cantidad de información en tan poco tiempo y con gente que conoce tanto del tema como Anna y Óscar. Que esté disponible para la gente, en español y en inglés. A partir de esto yo me permitiría proponer dos tareas en términos iniciales de campaña a partir de lo que se dijo:

1. Hay que exigir los documentos y el cumplimiento de la reglamentación ambiental empezando por Canadá. O sea hay que hacer preguntas en Canadá y creo yo, me parece que por lo que escuchamos, hacer esa exigencia en Canadá. Por inicial que sea, estas exigencias en Canadá, nos van a permitir empezar este tipo de exigencia entre distintos grupos ambientalistas y proyectos y movimientos sociales en Colombia. Entonces movernos por el lado de exigir el cumplimiento y señalar el incumplimientos de normas y de transparencia o de contradicciones e inconsistencias. Esto es muy importante en el marco de este proyecto extractivo, dirigiéndonos, claro, a los inversionistas, que es donde Parex se preocuparía. También dirigiéndonos al gobierno de Canadá en términos de las irregularidades por complicidad que está cometiendo. Bajo este ámbito hacer preguntas, y que las preguntas les lleguen a la gente de Canadá en el marco de lo que ya nos contó Óscar, qué está pasando con Parex, en el Magdalena Medio de Colombia.

2. Lo otro, lo del tema de fondo, es justamente poner énfasis en la necesidad de salvar el Magdalena Medio de su destrucción. Los indígenas Yariguí nunca se sometieron a la conquista. Nunca se separaron de sus territorios y por eso fueron exterminados. Es decir, tuvieron la dignidad de no aceptar un proyecto que amenazaba su territorio y al hacerlo prefirieron morir que someterse a este tipo de proyectos. Entonces, creo que hay que construir por ahí la idea de defender el Magdalena Medio, su riqueza y su hermosura que están siendo atacados ahora. Tomando como ejemplo e ilustración la resistencia Yariguí, podríamos pensar por ahí como símbolo, imagen y principio para seguir adelante.

Además estoy totalmente de acuerdo con Anna en ese “optimismo” cuidadoso propuesto. Justamente por eso señalo lo que señalé: Miren… aquí estamos ahora con dos personas de Guatemala, un investigador sobre toda la guerra en Guatemala y una dirigente indígena, excepcional, Isabel Solís, que nos están contando cómo la gente en Guatemala ahora está derrotando el extractivismo por todo el país. El problema es que no se sabe suficientemente lo que están haciendo pero lo están haciendo a pesar de la represión, de la mafias transnacionales. Lo segundo, un mayor indígena Kuna de Panamá nos está contando tanto de contradicciones como de lucha, la extraordinaria capacidad de resistencia de la gente y en sus palabras: hay más actuando en resistencia de lo que hay en agresión. El problema es que está oculto. Que no se registra y que no se coordina. Esa es otra razón de optimismo. La otra es en Perú, ya sabemos que gente de Catamarca y de Ayacucho ha podido detener el extractivismo minero, lo han hecho; las luchas están ahí. Hay aquí con nosotras una mujer mapuche. A pesar de la agresión, monocultivos y extractivismo, están custodiando semillas y están fortaleciendo su territorio. El problema que ellos, las corporaciones tienen y el desafío que enfrentamos es la coordinación y la consciencia en palabra y acción entre pueblos y procesos para que entre muchos sea eficaz la resistencia y alternativas. A nosotros nos dijo el director de OCMAL, Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina justamente lo que tu dijiste Anna, que por ejemplo, proyectos grandes como el de Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama, en la cordillera entre Argentina y Chile, son proyectos que se han vuelto tan costosos, por la lucha de los pueblos, que prácticamente están abandonados por lo menos temporalmente y que el costo social ha crecido de tal manera desde la resistencia minera, que aunque hay hidra y aparecen otras cabezas, lo que sí ha quedado demostrado es que cuando los pueblos se levantan a consciencia y se organizan desde los territorios y tienen respaldos, las trasnacionales, aunque no lo confiesen, están siendo derrotadas.

El último ejemplo que quiero dar es el más importante. Aquí ha estado con nosotros, Emiliano Terán. Les recomiendo leerse en línea su libro excepcional, que es su investigación y se llama “El mito de la gran Venezuela”; sin eso, a mi parecer, uno no entiende lo que está pasando en Venezuela, no entiende lo que pasó en Libia, lo que está pasando ahora mismo allí. Ni entiende Siria, ni Ucrania. ¿Qué dice él en una investigación muy seria, ambiciosa, amplia, política, histórica y optimista? Él lo que dice en esencia es que hay una triada, primero el petróleo , segundo el estado como administrador del petróleo que lo va entregando a transnacionales y tercero pueblos dependientes de esas industrias extractivas. Esa triada es la historia de Venezuela. Cuando se llega a una situación como ésta en que las arenas bituminosas del delta del Orinoco, que imponen una destrucción ambiental sin precedente para extraer petróleo; una destrucción de comunidades indigenas y de culturas sin precedentes y en el contexto de la caída del precio del petróleo y los altos costos extracción y ambientales de estos métodos de arenas bituminosas y fracking, ésta ecuación extractiva de alto costo está llevando a una crisis profunda a la industria extractiva, y en ese marco es que se da la crisis de Venezuela. Lo que lleva a un contexto y una situación que si Venezuela sigue dependiendo del petróleo, sea gobierno progresista o sea gobierno de derecha, la única posibilidad es la destrucción de ese país, de sus regiones y de sus culturas. La gente hoy lo está entendiendo. Cuando no se puede conseguir papel para ir al baño, no se puede tomar café, no se puede hacer arepa porque no hay harina, la gente está sembrando, está intercambiando semillas, está protegiendo el agua y está luchando a pesar de lo que nos dicen los medios, para no caer como Siria, en una situación de guerra de la que sólo gana el capital. Venezuela está muy cerca del territorio del Magdalena Medio de lo que está hablando Óscar, y todavía muy cerca de una guerra civil por el petróleo y la ganancia, de lo que entendemos que se vino encima.Entonces soy aquí optimista como Anna, y yo solo creo que se puede ser optimista si entendemos y enfrentamos la agresión del capital transnacional. Porque desde los pueblos y territorios se puede derrotar y se está derrotando. El mayor problema que tenemos es de consciencia y acción consecuente, y por eso creo que este tipo de intercambios son maravillosos y ojalá sea el comienzo de una tarea que continúe y que yo agradezco de corazón.

Justin: Sí, seguimos en contacto y quizá hacer una “Part 2” de esto en algunos meses para ver en donde estamos. Muchas gracias Manuel, Anna Zalik, Óscar Sampayo, muchas gracias por estar aquí amigos.

 

The Afghans are Coming!

There’s a phrase that keeps popping up in discussions of Syria. It’s a string of words that always appear together, without variation, which is a tell for propaganda phrases and talking points. In the context of Libya, there was a line about “African Mercenaries”. The one I keep hearing about Syria is that Assad has “Afghan Shia militias” fighting for him.

The phrase caught my attention, because when I heard it used, it was by people who don’t know Afghanistan. The country has sectarian and linguistic differences: there are two official languages (Dari and Pashto), there are different self-identified ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara), there are rural-urban differences, and there are differences of sect within the main religion (Sunni and Shia Islam). For the first few centuries of its existence, including the first several decades of the 20th century, Afghanistan’s leaders tried to create a nationalism that transcended these differences. Then came the war and the foreign interventions that played the differences up for short-term gain, destroying the country so thoroughly that it now sits near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index.

The phrase “Afghan Shia” doesn’t mean much in Afghanistan. There are rare exceptions, but if you are talking about “Afghan Shia”, you are probably talking about the Hazara, a group of people traditionally oppressed along caste and ethnic lines. The one book many Westerners have read about Afghanistan, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, prominently features the oppression and violence against a Hazara boy, a friend of the protagonist. During the Afghan wars, sectarian warlords and the Taliban singled Hazara communities out for massacres and atrocities. Millions of Afghans fled to Iran during these wars — many of them Hazara – and were mistreated there, often charged with trumped-up crimes and even executed en masse. Nonetheless, there is a long-term community of Afghans living in Iran, many of whom are Hazara.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban, there have developed in Afghanistan armed Hazara groups, even Hazara warlords. These groups are mainly preoccupied with self-defense and survival: against the Taliban, other sectarian warlords, and now even ISIS in Afghanistan, which was why I was suspicious of the claims of “Afghan Shia Militia” fighting in Syria. I asked friends in the Afghan diaspora if they thought it was possible. Some thought yes, though none had heard of the phenomenon from the Afghan media or community.

I came across two sources about these Afghan Shia Militia in the footnotes of Christopher Phillips’s book, The Battle for Syria. One, an article from May 11, 2015 in Der Speigel by Christoph Reuter, is titled “The Afghans Fighting Assad’s War“. It is hard to tell whether the fact that Germany hosts a big Afghan refugee and diaspora community (or whether racist resentment against Muslim refugees in Germany is often focused on the Afghan community) played a helpful role in finding the hook for this one, but its dubious analysis is on display more clearly in other ways. After an evocative scene with “Murad”, cowering in a pile of Syrian rubble having followed his Iranian officer’s orders, Reuter provides some paragraphs of context.

“The Assad family dictatorship is running out of soldiers and is becoming increasingly reliant on mercenaries. Indeed, from the very beginning the Assad regime had an opponent that it could never really defeat: Syria’s demography.

“In order to prevent the collapse of Syrian government forces, experienced units from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah began fighting for Assad as early as 2012. Later, they were joined by Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis — Shiites from all over, on whom the regime is increasingly dependent. But the longer the war continues without victory, the more difficult it has become for Assad’s allies to justify the growing body count.”

Of course, “Syria’s demography” is only an unbeatable enemy if the demographer is a devoted sectarian who assumes that all Sunni Syrians are against Assad and all Shia, Alawi, or Christian Syrians are for Assad. Such a demographer would be at home in ISIS, in al Qaeda, or in the Saudi Kingdom and if that demographer were correct, yes, because Sunni Syrians are the majority, demography wins. But a full sectarian split in Syria remains an aspiration of ISIS and al-Qaeda, not a reality, despite what Reuter writes.

As for Reuter’s picture of “Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis – Shiites from all over”, this is a distorted mirror image of the reality, which is that foreign fighters “from all over” have come to Syria to join ISIS and fight against the Syrian government. Drinking in the sectarianism of Wahhabi clerics from the Saudi Kingdom, they hate the Shia and find religious rationales for every manner of atrocity against them. On the other side, Shia militias from Iraq are well-documented in Syria, and given the geography and the connections between the two countries (and the fact that their enemy, ISIS, operates in both countries), it makes sense. So, too, does the involvement of Hizbollah of Lebanon. But the recruitment of sectarian fighters “from all over”? That’s an ISIS/al-Qaeda cause, not a Shia one.

It is not until a few paragraphs later, though, that Reuter gets into some really ugly imagery.

“Up to 2 million Hazara live in Iran, most of them as illegal immigrants. It is an inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate, from which the Pasdars — as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are called — have recruited thousands for the war in Syria over the last year and a half.”

An “inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate”! By that logic, surely Iran’s population of 79 million would be even more inexhaustible! Some of these millions might be children, elderly, not military-aged, but no matter. Might Iran, whose interest is for Assad to actually win the war, be interested in sending some of its own half-million strong military with some training, equipment, maybe even language skills, rather than recruiting from Afghan refugee camps? Obviously not, for in Reuter’s world, the only qualification is desperation.

Reuter then returns to Murad’s story – a refugee arrested for a petty crime in Iran and offered amnesty if he would serve as cannon fodder in Syria. He then repeats the description of an anonymous Syrian rebel, who says the Afghans are “incredibly tenacious, run faster than we do and keep shooting even after they have been surrounded” – like machines, Reuter adds for colour. He outlines what happened to Murad for him to end up under rubble and how he wants to go back to Afghanistan, “to the misery he once tried to escape.” As he hangs out with the rebel commanders who are trying to arrange prisoner exchanges – rebels for Afghan prisoners — Reuter hears that the Syrian government officer Colonel Suhail al-Hassan, aka the Tiger, says “You can kill them, they’re just mercenaries. We can send you thousands of them.” An interesting response indeed for a commander whose army is “running out of soldiers”.

In the end, Reuter’s sole sources are anonymous rebels and “Murad”, whose story can’t be checked. The rest is bald assertion and “the Shia are coming” fear-mongering.

Another source is a report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which Israel Lobby scholar Stephen M. Walt has called” a key organization in the Israel Lobby”. This report, “Iran’s Afghan Shiite Fighters in Syria”, is written by Phillip Smyth, who also writes a blog called Hizballah Cavalcade “which focuses on Shiite Islamist militarism in the Middle East”; and author of another monograph called “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects”. In other words, expect fair and balanced on this one.

Smyth begins citing the WSJ (May 22/14) that Iran was recruiting “Afghan Shiite refugees to fight in Syria” with promises of Iranian residency and $500 per month. In 2012, Smyth continues, the Free Syrian Army posted on YouTube videos of interrogations of “Afghan Shiite fighter” Mortada Hussein; in 2013, “opposition and regime social media ciriculated undconfirmed images of uniformed Afghans posing together and holding weapons. In many cases, their faces – which tended to be ethnically distinct – were clearly shown… Yet these fallen Afghans were never named.”

Despite the lack of names, Smyth has more than a few “ethnically distinct faces” to show. He cites Afghan writer Ahmad Shuja, who had written about a small refugee community of Afghans (mainly Hazara) who had been living in Syria before the conflict broke out. “Their migration to Syria occurred in several small waves,” Shuja wrote, “with most fleeing Afghanistan to escape ethno-religious persecution and a few settling in the country after their pilgrimage to the holy Shiite sites in the country.” Shuja’s article describes the dire humanitarian situation of these Afghan refugees who were displaced from their neighbourhood of Syeda Zainab in 2012, “easily identifiable by their Asiatic features and foreign accents, making them easy targets for attacks by all sides.” Shuja quotes from a letter from an Afghan refugee reporting that “Afghan Refugees are victimized of torture and they have been threatened just because they are different and they believe in a religion as called ‘Shiite’.” Based on this piece by Shuja, Smyth makes the following suggestion (my emphasis): Fighters from this refugee population appear to have followed an organizational model similar to Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), the main pro-regime Shiite brigade in Syria. What follows in Smyth’s piece is a description of LAFA, which it turns out comprises Iraqis, not Afghans.

Another source, Smyth says, is what Reuter called the “inexhaustible reserves of the desperate” – the Afghan refugee population in Iran. For this claim, Smyth cites “Iranian government-backed newspapers and Afghan Shiite sources”. And “a third and more debatable source of Afghan Shiite fighters is refugee populations in countries other than Iran and Syria”, but “real evidence of direct recruitment in Afghanistan has yet to surface.

The rest of the article is mainly speculation of what Iran could be thinking by using these fighters. There is mention of Afghans captured by Syrian rebels. Three names are offered: Reza Ismail, who “had attended Iran’s University of Mashhad” and was “beheaded by Sunni jihadist rebels”, Ali Saleihi, an Afghan refugee in Syria who joined the fight and was killed around Damascus, and the aforementioned Mortada Hossein. In other words, the report is a mix of rebel videos, rebel testimonies, mention of “Iranian newspapers and Afghan Shiite sources”, and speculation.

By 2016, some amazing numbers are being bandied around. An Iranian foreign legion apparently includes 20,000 “Afghan Shia fighters”, according to Al Jazeera. The source? Anas al-Abdah, “the secretary of the opposition Syrian Coalition’s political committee.” A Guardian report from June 2016, like many others, cites “a senior Iranian official” saying that Iran’s “Foreign Legion”, called the Fatimeyoun, has 18,000 Afghans fighting in Syria. The report acknowledges that the number could be “exaggerated” and cites “an independent Iran analyst” who thinks there are “a couple of thousand” Afghans fighting in Syria.

Maybe. But it remains impossible to get verifiable information from rebel held areas, as Patrick Cockburn wrote last year. As for the broken telephone that led a “senior Iranian official” to report tens of thousands of Afghan fighters operating in Syria and that getting reported in Western outlets like the Guardian and Gulf-Western outlets like Al-Jazeera? Again, maybe. But the certainty with which these speculations are discussed and the ready quality of the phrase, “Afghan Shia Militias”, suggests some other function at work.

The Hazara of Afghanistan are discriminated against in their country, as Hazara. They are attacked by the Taliban, massacred by ISIS, and embattled by other sectarian warlords as Shia. They are discriminated against in Iran as Afghans. They are mistreated and oppressed in Europe and North America as migrants, as refugees, and as Muslims. It seems to me that the phrase “Afghan Shia Militias” is actually about rubbing some of that racial stigma off on the Syrian government and its supporters. In that sense, the “Afghan Shia Militias” play a similar symbolic role to the myth of the “African Mercenaries” that was used to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. Patrick Cockburn wrote about this at the time:

“The killing of so-called mercenaries in Tripoli is a case in point. Since February, the insurgents, often supported by foreign powers, claimed that the battle was between Gaddafi and his family on the one side and the Libyan people on the other. Their explanation for the large pro-Gaddafi forces was that they were all mercenaries, mostly from black Africa, whose only motive was money. In the early days of the conflict, some captured Gaddafi soldiers were shown off at press conferences as mercenaries. Amnesty International investigators discovered that all had subsequently been quietly freed since they were, in fact, undocumented labourers from Chad, Mali and West Africa. But the effect of this propaganda has been to put in danger many African migrants and dark-coloured Libyans.”

Maximilien Forte, author of Slouching Towards Sirte, wrote about the “African Mercenaries” of Libya in 2011 as well:

“The “African mercenary” myth continues to be one of the most vicious of all the myths, and the most racist. Even in recent days, newspapers such as the Boston Globe uncritically and unquestioningly show photographs of black victims or black detainees with the immediate assertion that they must be mercenaries, despite the absence of any evidence. Instead we are usually provided with casual assertions that Gaddafi is “known to have” recruited Africans from other nations in the past, without even bothering to find out if those shown in the photos are black Libyans. The lynching of both black Libyans and Sub-Saharan African migrant workers has been continuous, and has neither received any expression of even nominal concern by the U.S. and NATO members, nor has it aroused the interest of the so-called “International Criminal Court”.”

Yesterday’s “African Mercenaries”, today’s “Afghan Shiite Militias”. The subtext is the same as it was with Gaddafi: if Assad has “Afghan Shiite Militias” fighting for him, what atrocity is he incapable of?

The truth is a casualty of war. Propaganda operations are some of modern warfare’s most important strategies and no rebellion could afford to neglect them. The phrase “Afghan Shiite Militias” is a tool of the war, and it is no mystery why the Gulf monarchies and the rebels they sponsor would use it. What is harder to stomach is when people who have never met an “Afghan Shiite” and have no knowledge of Afghanistan repeat the phrase.

First published on TeleSUR on May 18, 2017: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Afghans-Are-Coming-20170518-0011.html

The much-maligned views of Rania Khalek on Syria

When journalist Rania Khalek’s lecture was cancelled on February 27, the group that invited her, Students for Justice in Palestine – University of North Carolina (SJP-UNC) issued a statement saying that the cancellation was because of Rania’s “views” on Syria, and that they believed “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. They also added that they “do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania’s analyses.”

Image of RK

In response to the cancellation, a large number of signers, many of whom have been involved with Palestine solidarity, signed a statement against Rania’s blacklisting but also against blacklisting in general. That statement concluded:

“The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.”

The statement “against blacklisting” triggered another wave of slanders, as many of the same people who had pressured the SJP to cancel her talk approached signers to argue that they should not have signed. Among their arguments was that there is and should be a political litmus test, one that Rania fails. As an initial signer myself, I was approached more than once by friends who suggested that I didn’t really know Rania’s views.

The people that have written about Rania publicly range from truly creepy stalkers to left academics who fired off a quick set of libels and then expressed dismay at the responses to them. But other than people talking about her, it is in fact rather difficult to find any sources for these “views” of hers that apparently disqualify her to speak or publish on any topic.

Out of concern that maybe I didn’t really know them, I sought Rania out to ask her about these much-maligned but rarely aired “views”.

Justin Podur (JP): Are you an Assadist?

Rania Khalek (RK): I am not a fan of the Syrian government. I’m not out here to support the Syrian government.

What I oppose is the dismantling of the Syrian state which is what several major powers have tried to do in the past six years. I oppose that because we’ve seen what it looks like in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and I don’t want to see that happen to Syria.

I also oppose the current alternative to the Syrian government, which is a patchwork of Salafi Jihadist groups that want to impose strict religious law, kill minorities, and stone women for adultery. That’s unacceptable to me, and to many people including my relatives who live in Syria who happen to be minorities.

JP: So, this is your first “view”. Based on your understanding of what happened after the removal of Gaddafi in Libya, Saddam in Iraq, and other countries, you oppose the destruction of the state, and based on your understanding of groups like Nusra and ISIS, you do not support the opposition to the Syrian government. The people who call you Assadist for this should also call people who opposed the war in Iraq Saddam-ist, the people who opposed the war in Libya Gaddafi-ist, etc.

RK: Exactly. And I think it is an unfair portrayal and an inaccurate binary because if you don’t support these Islamist rebel groups that have ultraconservative ambitions, that supposedly makes you a supporter of a dictator and that’s not fair.

I would love to see a democratic Syria. I would love to see a Syria where parties other than the Ba’ath could flourish and run in elections. The fact now is that there’s a right-wing, far-right insurgency funded by some of the biggest powers in the world trying to destroy the country. Under current conditions it’s nearly impossible for people to organize for basic reforms.

JP: Ah. Here too there is a genuine difference of opinion with supporters of the Syrian revolution who argue the opposite: that as long as Assad is in place, you can’t have reform.

RK: Right, but that should be a debatable point for political discussion. Why can’t we debate it?

JP: I agree. Your contention that reform is impossible while this rebellion continues and the contention that reform is impossible while the regime is in power are different assessments of the situation that it should be possible to discuss within the movement.

My next question: Did you attend an Assad-sponsored public relations (PR) conference in Damascus?

RK: I was able to travel to Syria, was able to get my visa approval to Syria, by agreeing to attend a 2-day conference in Damascus hosted by a pro-government British NGO.

I went there along with several prominent journalists from every mainstream outlet in the West: NYT, Washington Post, NPR, BBC, LA Times, Telegraph, The Times (UK).

JP: I recently watched a PBS documentary from a few years ago called Inside Assad’s Syria. That journalist was on a regime-guided tour.

RK: That’s the only way to get into the government-controlled areas of Syria. It’s a police state. They only allow you to see certain things. If you are a journalist you should have that in mind and keep that clear.

JP: It is often the case that if you’re a journalist reporting on any kind of conflict, the only way to get in is to go with one side or the other. It is one of the reasons it is so hard to get good information about conflicts and something Patrick Cockburn wrote about last year.

RK: All of these journalists agreed to go to this conference so they could go to the government areas, where the majority of people still remaining in the country live. If you want to talk to these people, you have to get a visa, which means you have to get the agreement of the government. Each individual paid their own way, stay, transportation. I wasn’t funded by the regime. I paid my own way. I didn’t even end up going to the conference. I was pressured not to go after it was discovered that my name was included on the program even though I didn’t agree to speak (along with several others who hadn’t agreed to speak).

Mainstream journalists spoke at this conference, on more than one panel. None of them were smeared the way I was. It was a campaign to get me fired and it worked. Because of this smear against me, there has been a soft boycott of any of my reporting, which is the point.

Anybody who repeats that I “spoke at an Assad-sponsored PR conference in Syria”, may be misled or malicious, but either way they are participating in a process that tries to ensure none of my reporting gets any airtime.

JP: So, on this point: like every mainstream journalist working on Syria, and alongside many of them, you traveled to government-controlled areas and attended government events with government permission.

My next question: Reuters, Al-Jazeera, and other outlets reported in December 2016 that rebels had poisoned the Damascus water supply. I remember you tweeted about it. And in March, a UN report looking at satellite photos and asking people there, said that it was the government bombing its own water supply. According to the NYT in March 2017 “investigators said video of the bombings, witness testimony and satellite imagery showed the water supply system had been damaged in at least two airstrikes using high-explosive bombs,” and that the idea that the water facilities were damaged from the ground was “inconsistent with observable physical evidence”. What do you make of this?

RK: The rebels in Wadi Barada were al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria – they have changed their name again since but they are still al-Qaeda). Wadi Barada is where the water supply for Damascus comes from. My own sources on the ground said that al Qaeda affiliated rebels put diesel in the water. There was a water shortage and it was bad for everybody in Damascus including friends of mine who live there. The valley where this water is, was destroyed in some bombing. Both sides blamed each other, although there were pictures of rebels victoriously standing on top of the destroyed water infrastructure. You have claims from both sides and in this case it doesn’t make sense to me that the government would bomb its own water supply.

JP: Damascus is the capital, a government-held area. This one seems to me to be debatable as well. The government has been brutal towards rebel-held areas, but it is hard to identify what the logic might be for the government to destroy its own water supply, and easy to identify why the rebels would want to do it.

RK: The rebels have done this before, in Aleppo; ISIS has done it when they controlled the Euphrates.

I have no problem believing that the government of Syria has done bad things. They have. In this case, sources that I trust, that aren’t in the government, are telling me that this report is inaccurate. There’s no way I or my detractors can prove it one way or the other.

JP: So, in your opinion, this is an open and factual question that is difficult to resolve. Like many others, you reported that the rebels damaged the water supply and you continue to believe that it was the rebels. This, too, seems like an area in which people could disagree in their assessments of the evidence and the logic.

Now I have a question that reasonable people cannot disagree on – claims about you that I believe are false and want to check. One academic said that you “defend Syrian bombing of heavily populated civilian areas”. Do you?

RK: I have never done this. Not once. Not ever. That is all.

JP: Doing so would make you some kind of monster. It would be an ugly thing to do, like when Hussam Ayloush from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of your detractors, tweeted that he was “sad” that a Russian military plane crash killed “just 92” people when the plane could have fit 180. He later apologized, but it is hard not to note that his first instinct was to celebrate deaths and wish for more of them.

RK: I don’t support the violence dished out by the Syrian government. I have never done that. I never would. I’ve never even cheered on Syrian government violence against Al Qaeda. Civilians? I would never ever in a million years support violence against civilians and I never have.

JP: The same professor who said you did, also said you “attack reputable human rights organizations that document such war crimes”. Not sure what he means by “attack”, but what is your response to this one?

RK: I find it really surprising that so many people want to accept any narrative they are given from any organization – and it’s usually the same people who are constantly questioning these organizations on other issues, especially related to Palestine. On Palestine we know everything is so biased, yet on Syria we are supposed to accept every claim from the same outlets and organizations. We should always be challenging these things especially when our government is involved. I’m not denying atrocities have taken place. I feel it’s necessary to challenge human rights organizations when they are reporting claims made without evidence.

JP: So, to summarize, if you have a “view” about this, it is that one should “challenge human rights organizations when they are reporting claims made without evidence.”

RK: These organizations have a history of playing fast and loose with the facts when the countries accused are on the wrong side of US foreign policy. Then there are the human rights organizations that receive funding from USAID. It is crucial that we question claims that they’re making as well.

JP: So you are saying: when you receive a claim of an atrocity, regardless of source, look at evidence.

RK: Yes, look at evidence. Don’t take claims by rebel groups at face value when there aren’t independent human rights organizations on the ground. The Syrian government lies too. I don’t think you should accept their claims without evidence either. In Gaza you had independent human rights investigators and journalists. You don’t have that in Syria really on either side. Anything coming out on Syria from either side should be looked at with a great deal of scepticism.

JP: So, if the professor had rephrased “attack reputable human rights organizations” to “challenge claims that come without evidence, even from reputable human rights organizations”, he would be on solid ground.

The last thing this professor added was that you apparently “insist that the Syrian resistance consists of only foreign-backed Islamist terrorists”. I guess he is upset because to people who favour the opposition, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are not “foreign-backed Islamist terrorists”. Do you insist that they are? Even if you did, I think that too is an assessment that could be debated, but please tell me your view.

RK: I don’t use the word “terrorist”, so I wouldn’t accept that statement about me. As for what I think about the FSA: It was a loose collection of fighting factions. There may have been some moderate ones at the beginning, but that did not last, and what matters is what it’s become, which is basically absorbed into the other, Islamist armed groups. The FSA has worked alongside Nusra and even carried out operations with ISIS before ISIS and Nusra became enemies. The FSA and Nusra have a similar goal, which is some sort of state with Islamist elements. That doesn’t mean everyone who fought with the FSA were trying to impose an Islamic state. But the strongest fighters were Islamist and sectarian and it is that strain that prospered. At this point in 2017 no one can name a fighting group trying to overthrow the government that isn’t completely Sunni and extremely sectarian. The armed opposition never got majority popular support because it was from the start very sectarian and eventually entirely Sunni, it was fighting for Islamist aims and to impose an Islamic state. The vast majority of people in Syria oppose that, even people who don’t support the government. They fear the rebels more than they fear the government. I am talking about the facts here, not my views. In 2017, is there a fighting force in Syria trying to overthrow the government that isn’t sectarian and Islamist? I don’t see one.

JP: What about the idea that there are local councils flourishing in rebel areas?

RK: The local councils quickly lost control in rebel areas. There is still local control in areas that have participated in reconciliation agreements with the government. There will probably be more local control going forward and that’s a good thing. And it’s important to remember that the local councils in rebel areas were promoted and even funded by people who wanted intervention and escalation, including the state department.

An encouraging development in Syria that often goes ignored is that many people who supported the opposition are now in reconciliation processes with the government that are being facilitated by mediation groups. The local councils that are in charge in those reconciliation-agreement areas never had a chance under an extremist opposition that was armed by Saudi, Qatar, Turkey, and the US—countries that have zero interest in actual democracy, progressives, or liberal feminists in the region.

JP: So, here we have two factual or perhaps analytical questions: 1. What is the extent of non-Islamist armed opposition? 2. To what extent was unarmed opposition able to flourish in rebel-held areas? According to your analysis, the answer to both questions is “virtually none”. But these, too, seem to me to be questions about how one assesses evidence about the war, not about whether you hold some sort of discriminatory views.

RK: Look, I am a minority Arab woman with relatives in both Syria and Lebanon. The opposition groups that weren’t al Qaeda, they often worked alongside it. They have killed people like me based solely on their identity. This isn’t about supporting dictatorship. It’s about survival for many people in the region, for people who don’t want to live under a Saudi-Arabia style system. That’s what is happening here. A lot of the people smearing me are coming at me from a very sectarian and conservative place. I’m being attacked by the most conservative elements in the Arab community. It’s been really stunning to see so many people who call themselves leftists and progressives buy into their side of the story and completely brush me aside as a dictator-lover without considering that – hey, maybe there’s a reason why secular Arabs and minorities like Rania wouldn’t want to live under Salafi Jihadist groups.

JP: Your February disinvitation came after some tweets about Wahhabism and Salafism. You wrote that “Yes, being Salafi or Wahhabi doesn’t mean you’re violent, but it definitely means you’re an extreme bigot and misogynist.” I noticed a very quick and extraordinary reaction to that tweet. One of the first reactions that I saw was someone who told you to “Stop talking about Palestine” if you believed this. I have seen that reaction many times. I found it a very interesting reaction – “stop talking about Palestine”. Why is that the first reaction? Here’s a topic that is basically taboo in the West, something that one can’t talk about without potentially severe consequences, and when you say something these people don’t like, they tell you to “stop talking about Palestine” as if every other part of society isn’t already telling you to shut up about Palestine.

RK: It is really striking the way that Palestine solidarity, outlets, and activists have been attacked from the beginning by the people who support intervention in Syria. They are going out of their way to silence Palestine activism.

Even in the region now, Palestine is the last thing on people’s minds. There’s also an attempt to equate Syria with Palestine. The tactic of saying, if you support resistance in Palestine but not the Syrian opposition, you’re a hypocrite and you have no right to talk about Palestine. But Palestine and Syria are different. Palestine is being occupied and colonized by the Israelis. That is what Palestinians are fighting against. You don’t have to like the Syrian Army to recognize that, unlike the colonial Israeli army, it is indigenous to Syria and fighting an armed insurgency that includes tens of thousands of foreign fighters who have more in common with the religious and supremacist ideology of Israeli settlers than with Palestinians. You can’t just support any armed resistance. It matters what the resistance is fighting for. If you are fighting colonialism, I can support that. If you are fighting to impose an Islamic State, I can’t support that.

On top of that, there is no consensus among Palestinians about Syria. Among the many Palestinians who live in Syria, there are those who support the opposition, those who have tried to remain neutral, and those who are fighting on the side of the regime. It isn’t an easy situation. There is no consensus among Arabs or Palestinians. It’s disingenuous to use the issue of Palestine to sell your position on Syria.

JP: I have been struck by how focused it all is on preventing people from speaking.

But back to that tweet. I can understand how that might incense someone who identifies themselves as Salafi or Wahhabi, being called an “extreme bigot and misogynist”, and would lead to them countering by calling you an Islamophobe. How would you respond to that accusation?

RK: I made a statement about this on Facebook. It isn’t Islamophobic to criticize Salafism and Wahhabism. These are far-right, puritanical ideologies that promote genocide against minorities and whose belief systems are at the inspirational root of what drives al Qaeda and ISIS and groups like them. It’s shocking to me to see people try to suppress criticism of these ultra-conservative ideologies by invoking Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a serious issue in this country and should not be thrown around lightly. It is analogous to labeling people who criticize Zionism as anti-Semites. People have said that I am not Muslim so I can’t criticize these things. But these ideologies address me directly – they say I’m killable and nonhuman. This is not some hypothetical. The fatwas of Salafi and Wahhabi scholars are invoked by Salafi Jihadist groups to justify forcibly converting, enslaving and killing people like me. As a minority from the region I have every right to talk about murderous ideologies that call for my enslavement and/or death.

More importantly, the US is very supportive of these ideologies and has used them against Arab nationalists and communists. People on the left shouldn’t be defending these ideologies in the name of combatting Islamophobia. First, it’s insulting because it equates all Muslims with Wahhabis and Salafists. Secondly, Shia mosques are being blown up all over the world because of these ideas, which have been spread deliberately by petrodollars from Saudi Arabia. It’s the same US-backed ideology that inspired 9/11. We need to talk about this honestly.

JP: The academic mentioned above who accuses you of whitewashing government crimes points to a story you did about how sanctions are damaging Syria’s economy. I’m not sure how the latter leads to the former. But maybe you can elaborate.

RK: I don’t deny the Syrian government is killing people. I’ve seen the results of their bombings. They bomb everything. It’s an overwhelming indiscriminate level of violence against opposition areas. But this is a two-sided war, a multi-sided war in fact. I have been saying this is a two-sided war.

So the charts saying the government is responsible for 95% of all civilian deaths shouldn’t be believed. The opposition has killed around 100,000 pro-government fighters. If the government has killed 95% of the civilians, then that means the side of the war that has al Qaeda in it has almost exclusively killed government forces, which would make it the noblest fighting force in history. I don’t whitewash the government’s atrocities. I have said something that’s obvious – there are many sides fighting and many sides killing civilians.

JP: Al Qaeda is famous for anti-civilian operations. But let’s continue about the sanctions.

RK: I wrote a report that said that sanctions are destructive to civilians. I am not ashamed for reporting on that. People have tried to distort my reporting on sanctions by saying it whitewashes government atrocities. The sanctions have destroyed Syria’s economy and made it extremely difficult to get humanitarian aid in during one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in the world. The US has flooded Syria with weapons and money for armed groups while its sanctions obstruct humanitarian aid to people caught in the crossfire. That’s something that should be opposed. Stephen Zunes wrote about the sanctions against Iraq and how awful they were. He’s saying I whitewash the regime for having the same position on the Syria sanctions, which have by the way denied cancer medications to children in Syria. The hypocrisy is cartoonish. People who opposed sanctions on Iraq are attacking me for having the same position on Syria.

JP: It is really bizarre because if opposing the sanctions on Syria makes you an Assad apologist, opposing the sanctions on Iraq must make you a Saddam apologist, and Saddam is not someone these people would want to be associated with any more than Assad.

RK: I think the difference is this: The US invaded Iraq with tens of thousands of American soldiers. Syria has been a proxy that the US outsourced to Salafi jihadist groups. So people don’t see it as a war on Syria.

JP: To conclude, I see four things here:

1) a set of assessments about you have about specific issues like the Damascus water supply, the extent of non-Islamist armed groups and popular support for the opposition, and the impact of the sanctions;

2) a set of political views you hold that are fairly common among leftists including strong support for secularism, opposition to Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies, and scepticism of even mainstream human rights organizations when they present claims that go beyond the evidence they present;

3) a set of statements about you that are false (e.g. that you “defend attacks against civilians”, “went on an Assad-sponsored PR tour”, etc.).

4) mixing all these together to talk about your “views” as if you hold discriminatory views about defined groups of people.

But you don’t. You are a leftist supporter of equal rights for all and a holder of unequivocal anti-discrimination views. Nobody should be doing #3 and #4, and if people have issues with #1 and #2, we should be debating those on the merits.

Originally published at ZNet on March 31/17

The Carnage of Demonetisation in India

On the evening of November 8, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, went on live television to tell over one billion people that their 500- and 1000- rupee bills were invalid as of that night. They could exchange their invalid bills for new 500- and 2000-rupee bills at the bank. The exchange of notes was stopped on November 24, equally abruptly. There is a new deadline of December 30, 2016 for the deposit of all of the demonetised notes.

The economic damage caused by this unannounced fiat remains to be calculated. But it will be devastating. A ratings agency, Fitch, predicted a reduction of growth of 0.5% of GDP solely due to this ‘demonetisation’. Other estimates have been a 1% reduction, or a 2% reduction in growth. But the Forbes article reporting the prediction, in its title, points out that “No One Really Knows”. As for the editor of Forbes Magazine, he has called demonetisation “sickening” and “immoral”: “What India has done is commit a massive theft of people’s property without even the pretense of due process–a shocking move for a democratically elected government.” Forbes compared the move to the forced sterilization program of the 1970s: “Not since India’s short-lived forced-sterilization program in the 1970s–this bout of Nazi-like eugenics was instituted to deal with the country’s “overpopulation”–has the government engaged in something so immoral.” Historian Sashi Sivramkrishna pointed out that induced currency shortages helped cause the Great Bengal Famine of 1770.

The idea of demonetisation was to crack down on “black money”. The government claims that the users of this “black money” to attack India’s currency and conduct illicit business include, of course, the insurgents in Kashmir, the Maoists in Central India and of course, Pakistan. A flood of articles predicting the damage that would be done to these “black money” users followed – sourcing the police and army. Like this one, that said the demonetisation was “set to cripple the Maoists”. Or this one, a week after the announcement, that says that youth in Kashmir stopped throwing stones at the Indian military because of demonetisation. Other miracle cures by demonetisation will surely follow, as these ones are discredited.

It is worth noting that “black money” is unpopular. But, as this video from The Wire shows, demonetisation doesn’t address “black money” production by big businesses who don’t declare income or bribes by politicians who move their money overseas. Indeed, an astounding exemption was made for political parties who will be able to deposit their old currency freely.

The problem is that hundreds of millions of Indians – 80% of them, providing 40-50% of the GDP – work in the rural and informal economy and depend on cash transactions to survive. They don’t have bank accounts and consequently faced strict limits on how much they could exchange. Their small businesses are done in cash. Investigators from the left website Newsclick found a 25% reduction in the flow of vegetables to Delhi. These people had to run to banks that don’t work well for them at the best of times. They traveled to the banks however they could, stood in queues, and went back cashless day after day. The Indian Express counted 33 deaths in the first week. This video by the news site The Wire is indicative. A villager needed cash to see a doctor. Her husband waited in line for four days at the bank before giving up. She died. Now the husband has no cash for her funeral rites.

The other problem is that, while the surprise nature of the announcement was designed to catch black money users off their guard, the government also surprised itself – the banks weren’t ready, the printing presses weren’t ready to produce the new currency, and people who got the new notes were so afraid that a problem of hoarding the new currency immediately arose – a classic cash crunch. The best move at this point, would probably to be to walk back from this manmade disaster and re-monetise the notes, as Sashi Sivramkrishna argued in The Wire. Sivramkirshna also noted that the government was unlikely to re-monetise, but instead likely to double down and proceed into an artificially induced recession.

The government’s response has been to ease the process of demonetisation for the middle class – those with bank accounts and cards for cashless transactions – and to mount a PR campaign, including some paid tweets with the hashtag #IndiaDefeatsBlackMoney. But “black money” will emerge from this fiasco unscathed, while poor people lose their livelihoods and, in unforgivable numbers, their lives.

As Venezuela, facing genuine economic warfare including attacks on its currency, makes desperate moves to try to counter its own “black money” problems, Modi’s demonetisation should be a warning. The Venezuelan government backed away from a sudden plan to demonetise the 100-bolivar bill and has extended the deadline once, showing a flexibility in the face of reality that Modi has lacked. There are better plans out there for a government that actually cares about its poor majority than following Modi in bankrupting them.

First published by TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Carnage-of-Demonetisation-in-India-20161223-0011.html