Haiti 101 Years After US Invasion, Still Resisting Domination

US invaded and occupied Haiti 101 years ago today, and remained there for nineteen years. Accomplishments of the occupation include raiding the Haitian National Bank, re-instituting forced labor, establishing the hated National Guard, and getting a 25-year contract for the US corporation, United Fruit.

There was a pretext for the invasion – the assassination of Haiti’s president in 1915. But to understand the event, which has lessons to draw from a century later, it is necessary to look more closely at the invader than the invaded.

In 2016, the United States is living through a presidential campaign with a candidate willing to exploit racism and pander to anti-immigrant sentiment. Police are killing black people in cities across the US. Having drawn down troop levels in its two big wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still runs air srikes and drone strikes in the region, and covert actions all over the world. The US is still the determining voice in Haiti’s politics and economy. In other words, one hundred and one years after its invasion of Haiti, the US retains two features of what it was then: violent racial inequality, and empire.

The US presidential candidates can be looked at from the perspective of Haiti. One candidate has an extensive record there. The other has some historical parallels.

The Clintons have treated Haiti as a family business. In 2010, after an earthquake devastated the country, the Clinton Foundation was among the horde of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that stepped up their role in the still unfinished rebuilding phase. Haiti’s social sector had already been taken over by NGOs and its streets, since the 2004 coup and occupation, were patrolled by United Nations troops. The Clinton Foundation received pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to rebuild Haiti. The crown jewel of the Foundation’s work: the disappointing Caracol Industrial Park, opened in 2012, which promised and failed to expand Haiti’s low-wage garment-processing industry, long a source of foreign profits and little internal development.

Hillary Clinton made her own interventions into Haiti politics as secretary of state. At a key moment in Haiti post-earthquake politics, Clinton’s State Department threw its weight to presidential candidate Michel Martelly. His electoral legitimacy was dubious and his presidency led the country to a constitutional crisis when people mobilized against another stolen election in 2015. That crisis is still ongoing, and will no doubt provide pretexts for the next US intervention.

To try to imagine the impact of Trump on Haiti, one need only look back a century. As Trump continues his seemingly unstoppable march to the presidency, he is compared to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and other populist buffoon-politicians have been made. Woodrow Wilson, the invader of Haiti in 1915, may be a better example of the damage a president can do.

When Woodrow Wilson became president, he set about doing what today would be called “Making America Great Again”. Decades had passed since the US Civil War. The post-war Reconstruction involved efforts to desegregate cities and government workplaces and make a place for newly freed Black people. Wilson reversed these efforts, strengthening racial apartheid in the US. His administration made sure there were separate bathrooms in federal government offices. Although Trump is unlikely to re-introduce segregation, something else happened under Woodrow Wilson’s rule that is relevant in this context: white vigilante violence and lynching spiked.

Wilson created a permissive environment for such atrocities. First elected in 1912, Wilson only got around to making a statement against the organized white violence – called “mob violence” or “race riots” – in mid-1917.

When more riots broke out in 1919, this time designed to suppress the democratic impulses of black soldiers returning from WWI, the NAACP implored Wilson to make a statement. But it was Wilson, himself, who had restricted black soldiers to non-combat roles during the war.

In foreign policy, Donald Trump’s pronouncements have been predictably incoherent and uninformed. But Woodrow Wilson’s presidency suggests that domestic policies of racism will not be confined to the domestic arena.

Wilson sent US troops all over Latin America – Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua and and of course, Haiti – which may have got it the worst of all. Racist wrath has been a constant in Haiti’s history since it became independent in a slave revolt, and Wilson unleashed that wrath on the island in the 1915-1934 occupation. Chomsky’s Year 501 gives a flavor for what US occupiers were thinking and doing:

“Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, found the Haitian elite rather amusing: “Dear me, think of it, Niggers speaking French,” he remarked. The effective ruler of Haiti, Marine Colonel L.W.T. Waller, who arrived fresh from appalling atrocities in the conquest of the Philippines, was not amused: “they are real nigger and no mistake…real nigs beneath the surface,” he said, rejecting any negotiations or other “bowing and scraping to these coons,” particularly the educated Haitians for whom this bloodthirsty lout had a special hatred. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while never approaching the racist fanaticism and thuggery of his distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, shared the feelings of his colleagues. On a visit to occupied Haiti in 1917, he recorded in his diary a comment by his travelling companion, who later became the Occupation’s leading civilian official. Fascinated by the Haitian Minister of Agriculture, he “couldn’t help saying to myself,” he told FDR, “that man would have brought $1,500 at auction in New Orleans in 1860 for stud purposes.” “Roosevelt appears to have relished the story,” Schmidt notes, “and retold it to American Minister Norman Armour when he visited Haiti as President in 1934.”

Chomsky concludes this section of horrifically racist quotes from the US elite about Haiti with a warning: “the element of racism in policy formation should not be discounted, to the present day.”

Nor should Haitian resistance.

The US occupiers of 1915-1934 faced a rebellion led by Charlemagne Peralte. Marines assassinated him and circulated a photograph of him crucified. Rather than intimidating Haitians, the photo enraged them, and cemented Charlemagne Peralte’s place as a national hero.

If Haitians had a say in the US presidential election, a case could be made for the devil-you-know of Clinton rather than the risk of a new Woodrow Wilson in Trump. But subjects of the empire can’t vote, only citizens. Worse, Haitians have been punished if the US didn’t like who they chose in their own elections. The US tried to set the tone 101 of master years ago.

But people still resist.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Haiti-101-Years-After-US-Invasion-Still-Resisting-Domination-20160727-0048.html

Colombia: The possibilities opened by the peace agreement

On June 23, at the end of a four-year long peace negotiation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signed a ceasefire agreement in Havana. In cities around Colombia, people left signs on the streets reading: “R.I.P. Civil War, 1964-2016”. There are good reasons to date the civil war’s origin even further back, all the way to 1948. In either case, this is a historic moment, the signing of a peace to end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.

Like many other guerrilla movements in Latin America the FARC took up arms in part to defend peasant lands from powerful interests: local big landowners, the state, and multinational corporations, and their military and paramilitary forces. The peace agreement they signed contains a mandate for land reform, as well as for restitution for the victims of the conflict, a transitional justice process for guerrillas who committed crimes during the war, and a process for the guerrillas to enter Colombia’s electoral political system.

The process isn’t finished: the final agreement will be signed in Colombia. It will have to be approved in a referendum, and legislation to support it will have to be passed in the Colombian Congress. But the FARC said on June 28, in a sign of how far the process has advanced, that they would not return to war even if the people rejected the accords. There are also other cautions, caveats, and limitations to the process to dampen the understandable celebration.

We have been here before. There have been two peace processes that took years, became very popular in Colombia, and ultimately failed. In the 1980s, a peace process saw thousands of revolutionaries associated with the guerrillas enter politics through the Patriotic Union (UP) party only to be killed by state-backed paramilitaries. From 1999-2002, peace talks ran at Caguan, while the Colombian government built up its military through Plan Colombia. They ended with the Colombian Army driving the FARC out of their safe zone, and another decade and a half of massacres, assassinations, and kidnappings.

While it is the largest, the FARC isn’t the only guerrilla group in Colombia. The National Liberation Army (ELN) is also in a peace process with the government, but it is in relatively early stages. Until that process is also concluded, the armed conflict cannot be declared over.

By every measure, the deadlier force in Colombia, and the bigger problem, is paramilitarism. The paramilitary strategy was introduced in Colombia from the very beginning of the civil war, with US support. Counterinsurgency doctrine starts from Mao’s dictum that the guerrilla is a fish and the people are the water; paramilitaries are supposed to drain the water (“drain the swamp”, is the way it is written in the US). In Colombia, “draining the swamp” has involved massacres against peasant and indigenous communities, campaigns of assassination against progressive politicians, union activists, journalists, human rights and women’s rights activists – anyone seeking any sort of positive change in the country has been targeted.

It is important to understand that despite their self-declarations, these paramilitary forces did not arise in response to the guerrillas, but operate according to their own political logic of terror and control of the population. An example: some of the worst paramilitary massacres were committed after the 1991 Constitution, which guaranteed indigenous and Afro-Colombian rights to land. Paramilitaries slaughtered their way down the pacific coast as the number of people killed grew to thousands each year and the number of displaced people grew into the millions. It is much more difficult to claim territorial rights guaranteed by the constitution when you have been forced to flee your territory.

The evidence linking these paramilitaries to the US-backed Colombian Army, to Colombian politicians, to narcotrafficking, and to multinational corporations, is voluminous.

The leader of the camp dedicated to spoiling the peace agreement is ex-President Alvaro Uribe Velez, who initiated a theatrical peace process to demobilize the paramilitaries in 2003. The paramilitaries spent the next few years demobilizing, bringing rusty weapons to photographed ceremonies and getting special benefits like the right to keep the profits of their crimes. Despite all this demobilizing, the paramilitaries are as active as ever. During Uribe’s tenure as president, a scandal called “para-politica” or “para-Uribismo” emerged, in which paramilitaries revealed signed pacts between their groups and elected politicians in Uribe’s party. He also had the ‘wiretapping scandal’, which revealed that Colombia’s intelligence agency was wiretapping government officials, journalists, and supreme court judges. Uribe continues to have his own intelligence network and has leaked things on twitter about the peace process well before they were public. To get a flavor of what the paramilitaries have been up to recently, read a communique from Colombia’s social movements (see for example this one translated by the Colombia Support Network: http://colombiasupport.net/2016/03/s-o-s-for-our-lives-for-human-rights-and-for-peace-guarantees-that-there-will-be-no-repetition/).

Like many ongoing conflicts, Colombia’s civil war has been deadlier for civilians than combatants. Unarmed social movements argued throughout this peace process (and previous ones) that the unarmed people who have suffered the most from the war should have a say in the peace. Just this past April, in Northern Cauca, Afro-Colombians marched in defense of their traditional lands against mining encroachment and were met with riot police beatings and tear gas. The movements understand very well that inequality, and the violence required to sustain it, did not begin with the armed conflict with the FARC and will not disappear after the FARC lay down arms and enter politics.

But even looking at it with no illusions, the peace process can be celebrated for the possibilities it opens.

Paramilitarism may not be a mere reaction to the state-guerilla confrontation, but it has certainly fed from it. Popular repudiation of specific guerrilla tactics, such as kidnapping civilians, also helped create a stronger right-wing constituency. The Colombian civil war became a laboratory for counterinsurgency, paramilitarism, and covert action that devastated not just Colombia, but other countries as well. Colombian paramilitaries popped up in countries from Venezuela to Honduras. Counterinsurgency experts took the Colombian experience on their resumes and went to Afghanistan and beyond. With peace in Colombia, all of this could change.

On the other side, the state’s first line of defense against every social movement has been to accuse it of collusion with the guerrillas. An unarmed organization would then be treated like a military target. Without the armed conflict as a pretext for the state, Colombia’s movements could end up on a more level political playing field in their struggles for land, union rights, and social justice.

The fine print will have to be read carefully and there will be many traps and risks ahead. But a negotiated end to the Colombian armed conflict has been a demand of Colombia’s unarmed social movements for many decades. They have struggled for it and many have died for it. This peace is their victory, as much as it is that of the two parties who signed the accords.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Colombia-The-Possibilities-Opened-by-the-Peace-Agreement-20160629-0009.html

From Saudi Arabia to Israel, Stéphane Dion is continuing Harper’s policies

In his short time as foreign minister, the former Liberal leader is building a legacy of disgrace

Published by Ricochet Media: https://ricochet.media/en/1078/from-saudi-arabia-to-israel-stephane-dion-is-continuing-harpers-policies

Editors’ note: Today the Globe and Mail reported, “Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly granted Ottawa’s crucial approval for a controversial $15-billion shipment of armoured combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia in early April – even though the Liberals insisted they could not reverse a ‘done deal’ clinched under the Harper government.”

Stéphane Dion has been an easy figure to ridicule. He was once famous for handing a silly video to media networks during the political crisis after the 2008 election. After Dion’s departure, Canadians wondered if a Liberal could possibly do worse than Dion, and it took Empire Lite Michael Ignatieff in 2011 to prove that, indeed, one could. Dion’s 2008 candidacy was probably sabotaged from within the Liberal Party. Back then, I thought it was unfair that the media were treating him as some kind of buffoon.

But that was then. Dion, as Trudeau’s appointed foreign minister, has racked up quite a few new zingers. Recently, he’s defended a $15-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Cancelling the deal, he has said, “would not have an effect on human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

“Riyadh does not care if the equipment comes from a factory in Lima, Ohio or Sterling Heights, Mich., rather than one in London, Ont.,” he said. He didn’t specify whether he thought there might be an impact on human rights in Yemen, where the Saudi kingdom is busy slaughtering civilians and devastating infrastructure with weapons like the ones Canada’s selling. But Dion’s point came through: Saudi Arabia is indifferent to human rights. Canada’s only choice is whether to profit from the kingdom’s desire for weapons.

But the Saudi achievement is only one of Dion’s disgraceful acts in his short time as foreign minister.

Israel vs United Nations

The United Nations Human Rights Commission recently appointed a Canadian professor, Michael Lynk, to be Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the (Israeli-)Occupied Palestinian Territories. Lynk will be in eminent company. Previous special rapporteurs include John Dugard from South Africa and Richard Falk of the United States.

Reports by previous rapporteurs documented the rise of systematic malnutrition in Gaza under Israel’s siege, Israel’s practices of jailing Palestinians without legal proceedings (“administrative detention”), the killing of Palestinians without legal proceedings (“targeted killings”), the Wall that Israel has built deep in Palestinian territory and between Palestinian communities, and Israel’s periodic massacres in Gaza (2008-09, 2012, 2014). The report on the 2008-09 massacre in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) stated that “the Palestinian right of resistance within the limits of international humanitarian law and Israeli security policy will inevitably clash, giving rise to ever new cycles of violence”.

A major theme of the reports, especially since the 2008-09 massacre, has been Israel’s refusal to allow the rapporteurs access to occupied Palestine. Phrases such as “owing to the failure of Israel to provide full and free access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and “once again it is necessary to highlight the failure of the Government of Israel to cooperate in the implementation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, even to the extent of allowing him to enter occupied Palestine” abound.

The rapporteur that Lynk will be replacing, Makarim Wibisono, resigned because the lack of access caused his mission to fail. “Unfortunately, my efforts to help improve the lives of Palestinian victims of violations under the Israeli occupation have been frustrated every step of the way,” he wrote. The Palestinian side complied fully. Israel didn’t even bother to reply to his requests.

Israel is no fan of the United Nations. It famously targeted and killed five UN peacekeepers in Lebanon in 2006. In 2014, it targeted United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools that had been used as civilian shelters, targeting and killing children and families who had fled to UN facilities, thinking foolishly that the UN could keep them safe. Having been bombed, UNRWA then had to answer Israeli (false, invented) accusations that UNRWA had allowed its civilian shelters to be used by the people Israel was trying to kill: Hamas.

Israel bombs civilians, including children, hiding in UN shelters, and the UN finds that it has explaining to do. Such is the logic of this conflict. The UN does its best to placate the power that kills its personnel and bombs its schools.

But for Israel and its advocates, it’s never enough. In addition to the right to kill civilians and UN personnel at will, in addition to the right to prevent UN rapporteurs from even getting into the territories it occupies, Israel also wants the right to veto and malign these rapporteurs. Israel hated Dugard and Falk, and as Michael Harris reported in iPolitics, Israel advocates also “knocked” Penny Green, a law professor and reknown critic of Israeli human rights violations, “out of the running” before going after Michael Lynk.

Real change missing on foreign policy

Israel’s methods are standard and probably written in a manual somewhere: find instances of criticism against Israel, highlight them, and accuse the rapporteur of bias against Israel.

Since Israel is the more powerful party and since Israel has been on an increasingly genocidal path towards the Palestinians, anyone who reports honestly about what Israel is doing will find plenty of violations of international law and human rights to describe. If they are legal advocates, they then typically make recommendations about how to hold powers like Israel to account. Such reports and recommendations, to advocates of Israel, are evidence of intolerable bias.

Of course, the only people that have not made such reports and recommendations are either unqualified for the position of special rapporteur, since they have no experience with the conflict, or they are advocates of Israel who ignore Israeli crimes and show interest only in the crimes committed by the occupied, not the occupier, in the conflict.

For Israel and its advocates, the only acceptable rapporteur would be one who went on a guided tour of Israel, accepted a complete denial of access to the Occupied Territories, ignored Israel’s crimes, and repeated whatever Israeli officials said about the Palestinians.

Perhaps they felt that Michael Lynk would not be such a rapporteur. Luckily for them, they found an ally in Dion, who promptly fired up his Twitter account and tweeted at the UNHRC to reconsider Lynk because of his bias. In so doing, he managed to insult Lynk, malign the UN, and embarrass Canada, sending a message to the world that in foreign policy, changes of government from Conservative to Liberal matter very little indeed. Perhaps in so doing he made Israel advocates happy. But, like the UN, he should know that it will never be enough.

The message from Israel advocates to Lynk was clear enough: Israel can get the Canadian government to denounce you, before you’ve written a word in your capacity as rapporteur. Lynk was forced to respond by emphasizing how balanced he is, even describing his willingness to expand the rapporteur’s mandate to look more closely at crimes by Palestinians under occupation. Lynk told the press that he had never said Israel was an apartheid state and never compared Israel to Nazi Germany — a comparison he said he finds “odious.”

Odious? Saying things the Nazis said is odious. Doing things the Nazis did is odious. But is comparing people, countries, or political movements to Nazis out of bounds now? I don’t think the Internet got the memo (see Godwin’s Law). Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, compares Iran to Nazi Germany frequently and has done so for many years. He has also invented outright fictions about the Holocaust, in order to incite violence against the Palestinians.

As for Lynk’s vehement assertion that he has never said that Israel is an apartheid state, would that be such a strange thing to do, following Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and several Palestinian and Israeli writers who have done so? Since apartheid is a crime under international law, and the UN is one of the only spaces where states can be held accountable, that the UN rapporteur was forced to distance himself from any mention of Israel’s policies before starting his job does not bode well. Surely whether Israel is committing the crime of apartheid is a matter for investigation.

Lynk, in other words, had to try to prove himself to Israel and its advocates in the public arena. By qualifying himself to fanatical supporters of Israel, he is forced to declare reasonable and well-evidenced positions out of bounds. The bullied have to explain themselves to the bully.

Condemning BDS

Dion’s disgraceful speech and action on this issue doesn’t start and end with Twitter. He came up with another zinger when the Canadian Parliament voted to condemn a nonviolent, largely campus-based movement based on international law: the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The demands of the BDS movement are equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the dismantling of the Wall and an end to the occupation, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. All these rights are enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. The BDS movement’s methods are entirely nonviolent and largely based on trying to spark debate and discussion of the issue.

Opponents of BDS use methods that are largely based on trying to shut down debate and discussion, regardless of Charter rights, constitutional rights, or academic freedom — for example, having Parliaments and legislatures condemn the BDS movement. After the Liberals voted with the Conservatives to condemn little groups of activists for Palestinian human rights, Dion came up with this brilliant comment: “The attempt of the Conservatives to divide this House on this issue failed yesterday, and it will always fail as long as we have this government.” This is typically convoluted, but translates more or less to “Liberals and Conservatives stand together forever for Israel’s right to do whatever it wants to the Palestinians.”

Israel/Palestine has offered, and will continue to offer, many opportunities for Canadian politicians to disgrace themselves and support bullies. Ignatieff and Bob Rae had a public row while fighting for the Liberal leadership, because Ignatieff referred to some Israeli war crimes as war crimes (then said he wouldn’t lose sleep over them). Harper spent a decade proving he was more pro-Israel than Israel. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair declared himself an “ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and circumstances” and purged the party of pro-Palestine candidates (although credit goes to the NDP for not voting with the Liberals and Conservatives on the condemnation of BDS, and credit goes to Elizabeth May for this sensible and minimalist petition).

And of course it isn’t just Canadian politicians. Everybody kisses the rings. Supposed maverick Donald Trump got standing ovations at AIPAC for channeling Netanyahu (take a look at Rania Khalek’s interesting social experiment on the similarities between Trump and Netanyahu’s inciteful rhetoric), and Hillary Clinton has been talking about taking the U.S.-Israel relationship to the next level. It’s hard to imagine the dizzying heights.

Scrolling backwards from late March on Dion’s Twitter feed, there’s a tweet about Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s conviction for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Dion commented that the conviction proves that the reach of justice is long. Karadzic, a political leader, was found guilty for a massacre committed by military forces. In the Bosnian Civil War, Karadzic’s Serb forces faced Muslim forces that had a much better military balance than the Palestinians have compared to Israel. The Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995 separated and targeted males for massacre — unlike Israel, which kills children and families indiscriminately in its aerial and artillery massacres.

By the logic of International Criminal Tribunal, Israeli political and military leaders could be tried and sentenced for the Gaza massacres of 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. For the time being, that is a very remote prospect: first, because international criminal courts are not for all war criminals, just those who lose wars, and second, because the world’s foreign ministries are populated by people like Dion.

Linda McQuaig wrote a book about Canadian foreign policy, published in 2007, called Holding the Bully’s Coat. Dion has only just started, but his foreign policy legacy is setting up to turn the country into a coat rack, with hooks for the United States, the Saudi kingdom, and Israel. Can you picture Dion, in a grainy video, standing in front with his hand out, waiting for the next coat to hang?

Paz Colombia: the latest US attempt to control Colombia?

The U.S. has announced funding for a new Plan Colombia as the country moves towards a resolution to its civil war. What is its real purpose?

Colombia’s peace process has entered its final phase. Agreements have been reached on land reform, political participation, and the rights of victims. The discussions are now focused on ending the conflict and implementation and verification of the accords. The deadline for a final agreement is March 23, and it might be met.

In this last phase of negotiations, Colombia’s president reached out to the US for aid. On February 4, a new initiative was unveiled in Washington by presidents Santos and Obama: the new version of Plan Colombia, which they called “Paz Colombia”. Obama began by commemorating the success of Plan Colombia, a plan that brought military helicopters and escalated aerial fumigation to the country. “We were proud to support Colombia and its people as you strengthened your security forces, as you reformed land laws, and bolstered democratic institutions,” he said. “And after 15 years of sacrifice and determination, a tipping point has been reached. The tide has turned.”

Santos elaborated on the successes since Plan Colombia was rolled out in 2000: “Today we can say without a doubt that the goals that we had in 2000 — such as fighting the drug war, strengthening institutions, and imposing the rule of law, and to take social programs to great parts of remote Colombian territory — those objectives have been met.”

The history of Plan Colombia is slightly different than that presented by Obama and Santos. As lawyer Dan Kovalik outlined in this article for TELeSUR English, the problems the presidents claim Plan Colombia solved were mostly made worse by it.

Take Santos’s objectives, which Plan Colombia supposedly met: The drug war? There may be a peace agreement between the government and FARC, but the drug war promises to go on and on. The rule of law and the strengthening of institutions? These were certainly areas of struggle over the past 15 years, but any gains made there were fought for by the people, not flown in by the military helicopters of Plan Colombia. Social programs and protections? Many have been lost under neoliberalism – some have been preserved by struggle by Colombia’s movements.

What about Obama’s list? Security forces were strengthened, to be sure. New equipment was introduced and soldiers were trained in its use. But the Plan Colombia years were years of collaboration between the military and the paramilitaries, who were responsible for the most horrific violence. Reformed land laws? The 15 years of Plan Colombia were a time of losses of land and of rights to land. Colombia’s 1991 Constitution was one of the most progressive in Latin America when it came into force. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian territorial rights were enshrined. Paramilitary violence escalated after this constitution, as elites deployed their forces to create facts on the ground: specifically, to use terror and massacre to force people to flee the territories they had just won legal rights to. Millions of people were displaced from their lands in this way. Legal changes under the 15 years of Plan Colombia, the “reformed land laws”, attempted to retroactively legalize this loss of land. As for the bolstering of democratic institutions, it was in the Plan Colombia years that the “para-politica” or “para-Uribe” scandal occurred – evidence of signed contracts between politicians and paramilitaries to kill and displace local people.

There were other scandals too, in the Plan Colombia years. The Colombian security services wiretapping politicians involved in the peace process. The Colombian military entrapping and murdering completely innocent peasants, dressing them up as guerrillas, and using the deaths to inflate the numbers of casualties their units were inflicting (“false positives”).

At the announcement of the Paz Colombia plan, Obama said that the US would support the peace the same way it had supported the war. If this is the plan, it is frightening. When Plan Colombia started in 2000, there was actually a peace process underway between the FARC and the government. It had begun just a year before, in 1999. There is little question that Plan Colombia helped to derail it, steering the Colombian government towards a military solution.

At $450 million USD, the scale of Paz Colombia was reportedly disappointing to President Santos. The original Plan Colombia was announced at $1.3 billion USD, most of which paid for US-manufactured attack helicopters. Colombia paid several times that amount out of its own budget for Plan Colombia. Colombians paid for Plan Colombia, and they will be paying for Paz Colombia.

Those were not the only costs Colombians paid. The environmental and health costs of the spraying are difficult to calculate. In 2008, Ecuador took Colombia to court over the ecological and health damage caused by aerial fumigation on the Colombia-Ecuador border. In 2013, the lawsuit was settled for $15 million, which environmentalists argued was an extreme undervaluation of the damage. The true damages might be in the billions.

Many problems remain. Neither the peace accords nor Paz Colombia deal with the bigger cause of violence over the decades: the paramilitaries. Implementation will be fraught with difficulties. When previous guerrilla groups disarmed and joined politics (Union Patriotica and M-19), they were devastated by state-backed paramilitary assassination campaigns. Unarmed social movements have struggled during the talks, as they did during the war, to get their voices heard and their sacrifices recognized.

But a negotiated end to the armed conflict has long been a demand of these movements, and its realization is to be celebrated. The movements will be the ones fighting to prevent Colombia’s post-war reality from being “mired in structural poverty and violence and endemic corruption”, as Hector Perla wrote in TeleSUR last week.

It is not accurate to say that the US is standing with Colombia in peace as it did in war. It might be more accurate to say that the US is trying to control the peace as it controlled the war. If the history of Plan Colombia is a guide, an independent path might yield a better peace.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Paz-Colombia-the-Latest-US-Attempt-to-Control-Colombia-20160208-0015.html

War is still not the answer: Antiwar sentiment may mostly have evaporated, but war is as horrible as ever

The unelected Saudi monarchy began the year by executing 47 people. It continues to bomb hospitals, homes, and civilians in Yemen as it has done for nearly a year. In October of last year, a few weeks before the election, the Turkish state almost certainly arranged bombings in Ankara that killed more than one hundred people at a peace demonstration. The ruling party won the election, have now accelerated their own war on the Kurdish population of their country, and are targeting anti-war academics. Egypt’s current dictatorship came to power in a coup and cemented its power with a major massacre in August of 2013. Israel has spent the months since October extrajudicially executing Palestinians. When the Swedish Foreign Minister mentioned the possibility of investigating these executions, a former educational secretary in Israel suggested that the Swedish Foreign Minister should be assassinated.

All of this is to say, a quick regional roundup of very recent atrocities suggests that there are few governments in the region that have not lost the moral authority to govern. If Syria’s dictator, Assad, must go, perhaps these other governments must, as well.

But how? What if, in a moment of republicanism, the US decided on regime change in the Saudi Kingdom? What if in a fit of sympathy for the Kurds, Washington were to draw up a plan to bomb Turkey from the air until it withdrew from the Kurdish areas? Or to bomb Cairo, until Sisi resigned and elections were held? Or to bomb Israel until it ended the occupation of Palestinian lands?

Or, if they wanted to avoid open warfare, perhaps Washington could sponsor some republican armed groups in Saudi Arabia, provide advanced weapons and conduct assassinations on behalf of the Kurds and the Palestinians, arm and train the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, all in the name of helping the oppressed?

All of these would be horrible ideas, with horrible outcomes. The result would be tremendous death and suffering, and the intended beneficiaries of these policies, the ordinary people in these countries, would suffer the most. What’s more, it’s not clear – whatever the moral authority of the targeted regimes – that the US (or any other government) has the moral authority to go around deciding, through violence, who governs. Instead, as painful and long as the road to liberation is, it is the task of the oppressed people in the region to liberate themselves from dictatorship and occupation. What outsiders in the West can offer is not war, but solidarity – often in the form of stopping the West from helping (or being) the oppressors.

This used to be somewhat widely understood. After World War II, a body of international law was created and one of the intentions motivating it was to prevent war. International aggression was deemed the supreme crime of WWII, the crime from which all the other crimes flowed. When the US went to war in Vietnam, the antiwar movement spelled out a series of arguments, none of which depended on the angelic nature of the Vietnamese communists that the US was fighting or the Soviet Union that was supporting them. Those arguments included legal (international law), moral (aggression was the wrong means, for the wrong ends, and would cause harm to people), and practical (war would be harmful to US interests, create more enemies, be costly in economic terms and in lives). The US ruling class blamed the antiwar movement for a “Vietnam Syndrome” that constrained the US’s ability to fight wars.

Antiwar arguments held through the 1980s, through decades of covert operations. They were present in 1990/1 when the US first attacked Iraq. There were cracks in the antiwar bloc in 1999, when the US went to war in Kosovo, but among leftists, the antiwar idea remained strong. Even in 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, the opponents of war held to all three lines of argumentation – legal, moral, and practical, despite the horrible nature of the Afghanistan’s Taliban government that was targeted by the US. The movement peaked in 2003, in the lead-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, with millions of people in the streets and the declaration that global public opinion was a second superpower – again, despite the horrible dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Antiwar arguments continued to be made in spite of the nature of the governments targeted. Antiwar movements sought alternatives to aggression, especially the use of international law and diplomacy. They also made a deeper critique of the arms industry and war profiteering, of the power politics of regime change, of racism and indifference to the lives of people bombed, and of war propaganda and deception.

In 2011, the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya faced no meaningful antiwar opposition. Leftists split like they hadn’t in decades over a question that had not arisen even with governments at least as bad or worse than Gaddafi’s (Saddam Hussein, the Taliban) by human rights measures. Hillary Clinton was able was able to quote Julius Caesar (who was writing about a country that his Roman army destroyed and annexed using genocidal warfare, including kidnapping and publicly murdering the opposing general at a parade) and say “we came, we saw, he died”, as a kind of joke. The moves from the beginning of the civil war to the establishment of a no-fly zone to regime change and Gaddafi’s lynching all proceeded with almost no debate or dissent and with amazing speed. A “Libya Cure” was found to the “Vietnam Syndrome”.

Today, the Syria civil war rages with about 10 countries participating, some of whom, including the US, are fighting on both (or perhaps more accurately multiple) sides. The number of people in the West – including leftists – who are arguing that war is not the answer, is almost zero. The number of people – again including leftists – who see war as the answer if it can meet this or that imaginary criterion is much higher. People who oppose regime change through war are ridiculed as naive or unprincipled.

But are they (we) ridiculous? Has the record of war really changed so much since 2011? Did Libya really disprove the many arguments that antiwar movements used to hold to? Is Syria a case of the success of war as a strategy for accomplishing something? Something other than more war and more destruction?

Here are some easy predictions: In the years ahead, we are promised austerity, poverty, violence, and ecological catastrophe. If societies want to deal with any of these problems, they will also have to deal with the problem of war, because through all this, we will also have war. As a result, people will need to develop antiwar movements. The arguments that those movements will rely on will be the same ones that are mocked today, the very same ones that used to be more widely accepted, but have somehow been forgotten.

First published at TeleSUR English Jan 28, 2016

Vaccinations and the war on science: Donald Trump’s championing of the “anti-vaxer” cause takes advantage of scientific illiteracy

Science is a massive, ongoing human undertaking. It is a creative endeavour: the greatest scientific discoveries have involved wild guesses and hypotheses. But it also depends on rigor, self-criticism, and self-correction. The wild guesses must be tested against evidence. Science is the most dynamic of endeavours: the accepted claims of today may be overturned tomorrow. Ambitious scientists dream of changing our understanding of the world.

So how can someone make decisions that rely on science? If science is always changing, if claims are being tested and overturned, if tomorrow’s discovery could change our whole way of looking at things, why should we believe anything scientists say today? How can a creative and dynamic endeavour become a source of legitimate authority to be followed? Most of us are not going to collect and analyze atmospheric data to test whether burning fossil fuels causes climate change, but we have to decide whether to press for reduced emissions based on what scientists are saying.

This decision of the ordinary person to trust scientific authority is made even more difficult because scientific authority can be abused, and has been abused in the past. Take scientific authority in the area of mental illness. The manual of mental illness produced by the American Psychiatric Association is the famous DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We are currently (as of 2013) on the DSM-V. Prior to a change made in the DSM-II in 1973, ‘homosexuality’ was defined as a mental illness. Before the DSMs, in the 19th century, an American physician defined ‘drapetomania’: a mental illness that caused African-American slaves to try to escape. Diagnoses of ‘hysteria’, ‘frigidity’, and many others were used to control women since the 19th century. Psychologist Bruce Levine has argued that diagnoses of ADHD and ODD are similar tools that “psychopathologize” and “medicate” people who are “natural anti-authoritarians”, “before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.”

In this fraught space of mental illness, where scientific authority has been abused and politicized and where scientific understanding is desperately needed, a debate on the causes of autism is taking place in a way that is harmful to public health. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is in the DSM, and diagnoses of autism have been going up and up. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows a prevalence of 6.7 per thousand in 2000 and 14.7 per thousand in 2010. The simplest explanation for this huge increase turns out to be the most likely: that it is the result of changes in the way autism is diagnosed (Science for discussion of the US, Forbes for discussion of a study from Denmark).

Like so much in the field of mental illness, autism is very poorly understood. The diagnosis is based on a checklist of behaviors. Psychologist Enrico Gnaulati wrote sensitively in Salon about a case of “overdiagnosis”, in which a “brainy, introverted” boy was incorrectly diagnosed with autism – something Gnaulati believes is happening all the time.

The solution to the problems caused by trying to treat illnesses we don’t understand is to try to improve our understanding. The discovery of the “overdiagnosis” issue with regards to autism, for example, came from the scientific community. Bruce Levine’s critique of the overdiagnosis of ADHD and ODD is also one grounded in scientific principles. A major recent study has linked antidepressant drugs in pregnancy to increased risk of autism. The way to correct scientific errors, in other words, is to do better science.

But the self-correcting mechanisms of science are slow. While scientists struggle for answers, suffering people have difficulty waiting. They turn to online communities that do not use the methods of science, communities that attack the failures of scientific authority and the limitations of scientific knowledge. A large community has arisen that claims a connection between vaccinations for preventable diseases and autism. The community has grown so large and has convinced enough parents not to vaccinate their kids that public health impacts are beginning to be felt and preventable diseases may be making a comeback. It has seized on a study from the 1990s that found a correlation in a small sample group, a study whose conclusions were later overturned by massive studies of huge sample groups. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccination, or “anti-vaxer” movement, was not placated by scientific self-correction. With celebrity endorsements and a genuine online community, the anti-vaxers have become so numerous that they are being courted by politicians, most famously Donald Trump.

Trump’s rise has been characterized by the willingness to say ever more outrageous things. The Republican debates have seen candidates compete to see who is most willing to diverge from scientific and moral principles, and who is willing to diverge the furthest. With the anti-vaxer claims, Trump is taking advantage of scientific illiteracy.

Scientists are not without blame in all this. Whenever scientists fail to explain science in simple language, whenever scientists rely on authority rather than trusting people to understand scientific argument and evidence, they create space for people like Trump. People need to feel empowered, like science is something that belongs to them, not something that is done to them by alien creatures in mysterious laboratories. In the case of vaccines and many others, popular science, and going further, people’s science, are actually matters of life and death. The only long-term protection against Trump and pseudo-science on the one hand, and illegitimate scientific authority (whether it’s “drapetomania” or diagnosing anti-authoritarians with ODD) on the other, is if ordinary people are able to reach an understanding not just of specific scientific claims, but of how to think scientifically. It’s a huge responsibility for proponents of science. If we’re not up to the task, the Trumps of the world will be waiting.

First published TeleSUR English January 12, 2016

Who is ISIS afraid of? Popular outrage in Afghanistan sees the Islamic State avoiding responsibility for beheadings of families

Kabul is Afghanistan’s capital, a city of over five million people that has transformed completely since 2001. Kandahar was, and remains, a stronghold of the Taliban. The highway between Kabul and Kandahar, which passes through Wardak, Ghazni, and Zabul, is sometimes called the Highway of Death. One British journalist, writing in 2012, called it a “bomb-cratered, 300-mile long shooting gallery”. Most Afghans have no option but to travel along it. Tens of people are killed taking the highway each year.

In early 2015, survivors of the highway told journalist Samad Ali Nawazesh about the pattern of attack:“When we go off the Kabul-Kandahar highway towards Jaghoori we are accosted by many types of robbers and armed individuals. They search the passengers, rob and release some. Sometimes they behead passengers”.

Before that, in 2014, the Kabul-Behsud highway (that intersects the Kabul-Kandahar highway) had become famous as a “Death Road” where Afghanistan’s minority Hazara were specifically targeted for murder by the Taliban. The Hazara are a traditionally oppressed minority. In recent decades, they have begun a resurgence, attaining opportunities in education and employment that had traditionally been closed to them. The Taliban’s persecution of them has been partly sectarian (Hazara are Shia, while the Taliban are Sunni), partly traditional oppression (trying to keep the Hazara in their lower-status place through terror). Many factions in the civil wars Afghanistan has suffered since 1979 have targeted Hazara civilians with a particular ferocity.

So, when, a few months ago, a group of Hazara civilians – four men, two women, and a child – were abducted on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, held for a month, probably by ISIS-Afghanistan (a split from the Taliban), and then beheaded, the authors of the atrocity, as well as the country’s government, may have expected the same kind of terrorized response that they have grown accustomed to.

The response was not what they expected. The families of the victims refused to bury the bodies. They marched with the coffins in Kabul.

Writing in the Swedish Feministiskt Perspektiv, Dr. Farooq Sulehria, a journalist with extensive experience in Afghanistan, described the mass protest of November 11, in which Kabul “erupted” on a scale seen “for the first time in three decades”, with a “30,000-strong rally” that “stretched over 15 kilometres.” The protest was remarkable not solely for its size: “While Hazara dominate numerically, every ethnicity is visible in the rally... Women in their thousands, sometimes carrying coffins on their shoulders, are marching at the vanguard.” The protests, Sulehria writes, sidelined the traditional Hazara leadership. “Muhammad Mohaqiq, a warlord and second deputy to CEO, as well as Karim Khalili, former vice president, were not spotted at the rally.” The Afghan diaspora also mobilized, with rallies in many cities at Afghan embassies all over the world. Among the chants there was one notable for its simplicity: “death to the Islamic State”.

And even though since November there have been more abductions of Hazaras along the highways and more people found beheaded, there are signs that the protests may have shaken both perpetrators and the government. To date, no one has taken responsibility for the murders, even though everyone holds ISIS-Afghanistan responsible.

The scale of the protests took the Afghan authorities by surprise. The protests had several new features: solidarity across Afghanistan’s Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara groups; their grassroots nature, sidelining the traditional warlord-type authorities; and their militancy. After a long period of official silence, Afghanistan’s president promised to take action.

Afghanistan has many traditions. Yes, some of these are conservative and religious. But one that is rarely remembered is the tradition of nationalism that united the country’s ethnic groups in the struggle for sovereignty and development – there were many mass protests on that basis in the 1970s.

Another tradition that is rarely remembered is the tradition of women’s struggles. In the spring, I wrote about the massive outpouring of rage and protest after the murder of a woman named Farkhunda outside of a mosque in Kabul. That outpouring, which also surprised both the murderers and the authorities, forced the government to act to arrest and jail some of the perpetrators.

It is too early to know if the protests of 2015 are the beginning of something bigger in Afghanistan. But there is certainly potential. Maybe enough potential to scare those who are most comfortable terrorizing others. Large numbers of people that are militant, hard to scare, and hard to divide on sectarian lines are a formidable force, one Afghanistan may see more of in 2016.

First published on TeleSUR English December 23, 2015

2015 in review (at this blog)

A report on 2015 activities for readers of this blog.

I spent a fair amount of time working on a couple of books, that I am hoping you will be able to read in 2016. Although I type fast, and write fairly fast, I haven’t got the knack for getting books done fast. The truth is that the Demands of the Dead was started in 2000, and published in 2014, and Haiti’s New Dictatorship was started in earnest in 2006, and published in 2012. The two books I am working on now have start dates around 2010 and 2014. There’s a first draft of one and a half a draft of the other.

Always trying to improve my writing, so I took a MOOC at the University of Iowa on How Writers Write Fiction. It was a good time.

The Ossington Circle, Season 2, did not come out in 2015. It is in the works, and we do have plans to get the show going again in 2016. We’re going to try to raise our game on the show, with better equipment and a different style. We’ll see how we do.

I taught a course on online anonymity – how to encrypt your email, protect your chats, etc. at WISC. I also met the good people at toronto crypto in 2015, which was a good connection to make.

Mostly I focused on writing my TeleSUR columns, which covered the conflicts that I have studied and written about here: Iraq/Syria, Palestine, the DRC and neighbours, Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and India. If I had something to say about an issue in North America, I also did a column about it.

Here are the TeleSUR columns:

Escalating violence in Burundi TeleSUR English December 14, 2015
Elections theater TeleSUR English November 26, 2015
The end of universal jurisdiction TeleSUR English November 13, 2015
Silent Compromises on Israel TeleSUR English October 28, 2015
Syria and Iraq: The Limits of Bombing TeleSUR English October 19, 2015
The Uses of ISIS TeleSUR English September 25, 2015
A breakthrough in Colombia’s peace talks TeleSUR English September 23, 2015
Modi’s Decline and India Dangers TeleSUR English August 31, 2015
The Dominican Republic Deportations TeleSUR English August 16,2015
The US State Murder of an Activist TeleSUR English July 25, 2015
#HackedTeam & Colombia TeleSUR English July 20, 2015
The Beginning of the End for Kagame? TeleSUR English June 26, 2015
Israel’s battles in sports, law and science TeleSUR English June 17, 2015
ISIS is the child of chaos, not religion TeleSUR English May 29, 2015
We are all Farkhunda TeleSUR English May 13, 2015
Profiting from Egypt’s Dictatorship TeleSUR English April 29, 2015
The Filimibi Affair and #Telema TeleSUR English April 14, 2015
The North American, All-Administrative University TeleSUR English March 24, 2015
Online privacy is worth the extra work TeleSUR English March 2, 2015
The Rojava Revolution: Interviewing Sardar Saadi TeleSUR English February 13, 2015
Taylor Swift’s Millions Aren’t Worth a Single Prison Term TeleSUR English Jan 30, 2015
#IStandWithPanzi TeleSUR English Jan 12, 2015

I also did a few columns for Ricochet, which had a great 2015 that I was proud to be part of. Usually Canada-related, of course, but the last one was more on ‘the world for readers in Canada’.

For Venezuela’s Bolivarians, victory even in defeat Ricochet Media December 7, 2015
NDP Purge of pro-Palestine candidates plays into Harper’s hands Ricochet Media August 25, 2015
Why leftists should read John Ralston Saul – critically Ricochet Media May 21, 2015
York strikers show the way – now let’s build a truly public university Ricochet Media Mar 30, 2015

Thanks for stopping by and reading in 2015, and hope to have interesting things for you to read in 2016.

Escalating violence in Burundi

Even when there are constitutionally mandated term limits, many leaders try to hold on to power. In Central Africa (where the small country of Burundi, with its population of 10 million, is located) there are several leaders that have tried, or are trying, to bend the rules to stay in office. The DR Congo, Burundi’s giant neighbour, is currently the site of a democratic movement to try to uphold the Constitution and stop President Joseph Kabila from changing the rules to stay in office. Rwanda is sometimes called Burundi’s ‘twin’: it has about the same land area. It has about the same population (slightly higher), which has the came ethnicities in the same proportions (Tutsi minority, Hutu majority, and Twa). It was once jointly ruled with Burundi by the colonial powers. In Rwanda, too, the president, Paul Kagame, has recently made all the necessary moves to stay in power beyond his term limits – a special exception to the Constitution, just for him.

The current round of political violence in Burundi began in April when its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he intended to seek a third term in office. In May, a military coup was attempted against him, and failed. In July, Nkurinziza was re-elected with 69% of the vote, after months of heavy-handed tactics. The opposition did not recognize the legitimacy of the result. A major crackdown on the opposition by the government began in November – hundreds killed, hundreds of thousands displaced to neighbouring countries. Now, after the failed coup and the disputed election, Nkurunziza’s government is facing an armed rebellion.

Rebels attacked military bases on December 11th with 87 deaths before the attacks were repulsed. The next morning the capital city, Bujumbura, woke up to find 34 murdered bodies in the streets, probably extrajudicial executions. The UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, quoted in the journal Foreign Policy, raised a dire warning: “I am not saying that tomorrow there will be a genocide in Burundi, but there is a serious risk that if we do not stop the violence, this may end with a civil war, and following such a civil war, anything is possible”.

Some context: Burundi has lived through civil war before, as well as dictatorship and genocide. Scholar Rene Lemarchand has called Rwanda and Burundi “genocidal twins”. Had Burundi’s post-independence ended up a little bit differently, the whole region may have seen a lot less anguish. Immediately after independence in 1959, a multi-ethnic unity party led by a massively popular young leader, Prince Louis Rwagasore, was set to take power electorally. Rwagasore was assassinated by a European in 1961. Within a few years, a group of Tutsi military officers seized power and proceeded to rule an ethnically exclusive state with an iron fist.

In 1972, in the context of a Hutu rebellion, the establishment organized a genocide against Hutu, killing hundreds of thousands, targeting intellectuals and potential leaders. There were new massacres against Hutus in 1988. In 1993, when a Hutu leader, Melchior Ndadaye, won a democratic election, he was assassinated by the army. More massacres followed, and a civil war began. These events, and the refugees of these massacres, influenced events in Rwanda, including the 1990-1994 civil war and the 1994 genocide that occurred there.

Burundi’s civil war ended through a negotiated settlement in 2006, with a UN force installed (its mandate ended at the end of 2014). Analyst Patrick Hajayandi describes the arrangements agreed upon in the settlement:


“The armed and security forces of Burundi are composed of 50% of Hutu and 50% of Tutsi, in line with the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accords, and the Global Ceasefire Agreement…


In the current national and local government, as well as in both the Parliament and the Senate, officials are also composed of Hutu and Tutsi, at a rate of 60% and 40% respectively. Unlike in previous pogroms that afflicted Burundi, in 1972 and 1993, the integrated nature of social and political life significantly diminishes the prospect of an unraveling genocidal conflagration.”

Hajayandi advocates a cautious approach based on dialogue, and argues that warnings of imminent genocide and talk of foreign military intervention will inflame a situation that could be kept at a low-intensity and resolved through negotiation. Burundi’s citizens, he writes, are “war-weary”, and have shown “great resistance against efforts by war mongers and ethnic entrepreneurs”.

These “war mongers” may include Rwanda, Burundi’s “twin”. Former UN official Jeff Drumtra told journalist Ann Garrison that, working in the Mahama refugee camp for Burundian refugees in Rwanda, he saw a Rwandan rebel recruitment (perhaps better described as conscription) effort. The rebels would be conscripted and then sent into Burundi. In a letter to the Washington Post, Drumtra cited an al Jazeera story from July about the recruitment of Burundian rebels in refugee camps in Rwanda.

If Drumtra is correct and the “hand of Rwanda” is at work here, it would not be the first time. Successive waves of rebellions in the eastern DR Congo, most recently the M23 rebellion, were conducted by Rwandan proxies. Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame fought in a war in Uganda, came to power in a war in Rwanda, and ran one war after another in the DR Congo. It would be an obvious observation to note that he favours military solutions over other kinds.

If diplomatic efforts are going to succeed in de-escalating Burundi’s conflict, they may have to apply some pressure on Rwanda to stand down as well. This was done successfully with M23 in the DR Congo, and could be done again.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Escalating-Violence-in-Burundi-20151212-0018.html

For Venezuela’s Bolivarians, victory even in defeat

What preceded this 17-year Bolivarian era? A corrupt power-sharing electoral machine (resulting from the Punto Fijo Pact, signed by the country’s main political parties and effectively keeping them in power) ruled Venezuela after a period of dictatorship ended in 1958. From 1958 to 1998, Punto Fijo administered poverty for the population, enforcing it through limiting press freedom, police violence, and even state-sponsored murder and disappearances. I went to a very moving event in Caracas in 2004 in which survivors of the “dirty war” of the 1960s and 1970s commemorated their lost loved ones.

The beginning of the end for Punto Fijo was the 1989 riots — known as Caracazo — that were sparked when people woke up to doubled bus fares. The army was called. Hundreds of people were killed. In 1992, a group of army officers, among them Hugo Chavez, tried to overthrow Punto Fijo. When the coup failed, Chavez went on television to call on the soldiers to stand down, took responsibility, and went to jail. When he got out, he advocated an electoral and constitutional path to change. Twenty successful elections later, the Bolivarians have lost the legislature.

Why did they lose? From 2008 on, and especially since the oil price drop in 2014, Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy suffered, as did the Bolivarian social programs and the people that benefited from them. Macroeconomic mistakes by the government in an already difficult situation fed the black market in dollars and the smuggling economy (see analysis by Greg Wilpert), which led to major suffering, frustration and a loss of support for the government.

Continuing problems of corruption within the state, as well as crime, also hurt. Both of these problems preceded the Bolivarians, but the revolution was not successful enough in dealing with them. The opposition earned points campaigning on both.

The Bolivarians accomplished much since arriving on the scene. Massive barriers to health care and education were removed. Social services were built where there had been none. Before it became the target of smugglers, a program guaranteeing affordable prices for staple grocery and other items was very successful.

But here is the Bolivarian accomplishment to celebrate after Dec. 6: The opposition, who look nostalgically on the days of Punto Fijo, were only able to win by using the fair electoral system and constitution established by the Bolivarians.

The opposition had tried a military coup in 2002. They had tried a national strike and sabotage of the country’s oil infrastructure from 2002 to 2003. They tried a recall referendum in 2004 and made false claims of fraud when they lost. They tried sabre-rattling and foreign threats. They tried skirmishes on the border with Colombia, and they tried infiltrating paramilitaries across the border to carry out acts of destabilization.

Most recently, there were violent opposition actions in the streets and another Venezuela-Colombia border problem. Day in, day out, for the entire 16 years of Bolivarian rule, virulent, false, anti-government broadcasts have been on Venezuelan television and in the Western media. The Bolivarian movement survived it all, always forcing the contest onto the democratic field of elections and winning. And when they lost on that field, they conceded defeat.

Much remains to be seen: how the Bolivarian president and the opposition legislature will manage, the extent to which the opposition will respect the democracy and the constitution that brought them into the legislature, whether the movement can regroup and find a way to resolve the country’s economic problems.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering at this time that Venezuela’s democracy is an achievement of the Bolivarians. Even in losing, they have won, at least for now.

First published on Ricochet: https://ricochet.media/en/804/for-venezuelas-bolivarians-victory-even-in-defeat