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:

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:

‘The Butterfly Prison’ reignites hope for a better, more just world

The Butterfly Prison
by Tamara Pearson
(Open Books, 2015; $20.65)

Tamara Pearson is an independent left journalist from Australia who writes about Latin America. Her novel, The Butterfly Prison, set in Sydney, weaves together three different threads. In the following spoiler-filled review, I discuss each thread.

In the main thread, a young working-class woman named Mella leaves an unhappy home as a teenager, finding herself in an exploitative relationship while working in an exploitative retail job. At the job, she meets a friend, an Iranian refugee named Rafi, who introduces her first to union politics, then to radical politics, before being summarily deported to Iran and never seen again.

Mella has already become a part of an activist network by the time of Rafi’s deportation, so her growth continues without him. We read about Mella’s political awakening, her political education, and her participation in an ultimately successful revolution.

In the second thread, we read the story of an Aboriginal man named Paz as he grows up in a childhood marked by constant police harassment and violence. As a youth, he sets up a house with some young friends in the poor suburb of Macquarie fields, where they support one another and try to get by.

Paz takes shifts at a 7/11, works as an office cleaner for a few months; his friends busk in the subway, gamble for money, and make repairs in the neighbourhood. None of this is enough, as the police constantly return to raid their house, injure them, destroy their property, plant bugs, and make their lives intolerable.

In a (slightly) fictionalized version of the incident that precipitated the actual Macquarie fields riots of 2005, Paz is driving a car from a party when the police begin a chase. Paz loses control of the car, which crashes, killing one of his best friends. Paz surrenders to police and is imprisoned, where he lives the rest of his life, partly in solitary confinement, which destroys his sensitive mind. A fire in the prison sees him escape, but he has no options or hope, and commits a very violent suicide.

In the third thread, the author presents vignettes of incidents from various corners of the world. Inspired by Eduardo Galeano, the author turns a sensitive eye to environmental destruction, wasted human potential, and war, shown as the outcomes of the inequality and violence of capitalism.

The central metaphor of the book, which gives the book its title, is that each person has invisible butterfly wings, and that the system clips these wings and denies people their chance to fly.

Paz’s plot line, and the vignettes of the first few hundred pages, are unrelentingly bleak, violent, and overwhelmingly hopeless. Small acts of kindness, gestures of mutual aid and solidarity, pervade the lives of the characters around Paz, but they are ultimately all overwhelmed by the violence of the system.

Through Paz’s journey and his attempts to do everyday things like make rent, get paid at work, get from one part of town to another, or make a phone call in prison, we are shown in detail the evils of racism and the destructive absurdities of bureaucracy as they play out in Paz’s life and death, and those of his friends.

Mella’s plot line and the sketch of the post-revolutionary society presented in the last 30 pages breaks the hopelessness, presenting some of the possibilities as the “army of the poor,” the revolutionary force awakened at the end of the book, rises. A series of more hopeful vignettes of examples of resistance accompany this late turn in the plot.

Unlike Paz and his friends, who are overwhelmed by the system and can only try to cope, Mella and the group of activists around her are able to act, not solely react.

When Mella fell in with the activists, I had a moment of fear that this would be yet another disillusioning experience, that they would be rigidly and inhumanely ideological, or exploitative in a new way, or cult-like (like the similar group presented in Doris Lessing’s book The Good Terrorist) — but no, this group stays true to their principles. Mella finds education, love, and ultimately, the revolution.

In both plot lines, the author presents us a different way of looking at familiar spaces. We see department stores and shopping malls, poor people’s subdivisions, a refugee detention centre, a prison, an activist office, an activist house, and street protests of different sizes. Most of the book consists of complex images wrought in long, poetic sentences, invented compound words, and original metaphors.

Showing the underside of a first-world city, the novel implicitly critiques the invisible privilege inherent in most fiction today (David Wong’s list on, “5 Ways Hollywood Tricked You Into Hating Poor People,” comes to mind, as The Butterfly Prison falls into none of these traps).

The Butterfly Prison isn’t perfect. It seemed to me that the author tried to encompass every issue, every destructive aspect of capitalism, in the chapters and the inter-chapters. The characters’ dialogue sounded very similar to the author’s voice and weren’t differentiated from one another. More could be done with plot, dialogue, and voice, to match the excellent work done setting the scene and providing description.

A few notes on the character, Paz, are in order. I had hoped that Paz and Mella would cross paths, that they might actually meet and do something together.

And while Paz’s plot line could be read as a parable of the ongoing genocide against Indigenous people in Australia (and Canada, and the U.S., among other places), I thought it unfair that there should be no hope for Paz while there was hope for Mella.

Leslie Marmon’s 1977 book, Ceremony, presented an Indigenous person going back to tradition in order to heal. Books by Indigenous authors from Canada don’t shy away from the violence of the colonial situation, but find strength and possibility in Indigenous traditions and spirituality: Richard Wagamese’s 2012 book Indian Horse, Tomson Highway’s 1998 Kiss of the Fur Queen, Lee Maracle’s 2014 Celia’s Song, all offer examples.

None of these books were easy reads, but I found the horror of Paz’s death after everything he went through in The Butterfly Prison especially deflating and demoralizing.

If the theme of the book is wasted potential, then perhaps Paz’s character is an example of wasted potential. The last 30 pages or so, after Paz’s death, are dedicated to showing some elements of the future society, which has a 15-hour work week, a sprawling education system, participatory councils deciding on production and distribution, and the chance to love, dance, and be close to nature.

Given all this, it is clear the book isn’t devoted solely to brutal realism, but is able to speculate about a better world. Couldn’t some of that speculation have encompassed Paz’s story? Couldn’t Paz have made it here, couldn’t he or other aboriginal characters have contributed to the decolonization of this new world? And what happened to the deported Rafi? Was there no chance of reconnection after the revolution?

A reader reading for plot, or to watch the journey of these characters, will find these loose or cut threads disappointing.

A reader who is looking for descriptions, images, and views of the world from a too-rarely represented political and aesthetic perspective, however, will not be disappointed.

Even in its most painful moments, The Butterfly Prison is a book of hope by a sensitive observer, deeply invested in the world and its people, who wants us to soar, who feels the pain of our clipped wings, and who writes in a way to ensure that we feel it too.

Justin Podur is a writer based in Toronto.

Published on the rabble book lounge:

Elections Theater: Are fair elections too hard for the international community to manage?

For the past eleven years, since the coup and overthrow of the elected government in 2004, Haiti has been deemed so dysfunctional, so failed, a state, that the international community has decided to run it directly. UN troops patrol its streets. Nongovernmental organizations oversee most aspects of social provision. Donors provide the finances. The resources and reach of the government is limited. There were elections in 2010/11 and there will be a runoff presidential election at the end of December – both of these took place under this limited-government, maximum-international-community, regime (which could be called ‘donor rule’ and which I have called ‘Haiti’s New Dictatorship’). The 2010/11 elections were politicized and unfair. They banned the most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, from running. The first round of the current elections have been characterized by massive fraud, and Haitians know it. They have no confidence in the elections. They are protesting, and their protests are met with tear gas from police – one of the few things that the government is allowed to do (though this important duty is often shared with the UN).

Some observers may throw up their hands and say, how could you expect credible elections, Haiti is a poor, dysfunctional country. But Haiti has had fair elections – they occurred in 1995 and in 2000, before the UN took over. The international community, which has been governing Haiti directly since 2004, is the body that is incapable of running a fair election. As in Haiti, so in Afghanistan, where the 2014 presidential elections were won by Ashraf Ghani, after which the international community imposed a power-sharing arrangement with the loser, Abdallah Abdallah. An extraordinary agreement was brokered as part of this, that the exact vote totals would not be made public.

The first-world version of what is happening in Haiti and Afghanistan is what Tariq Ali calls the Extreme Centre, in which political parties are indistinguishable from one another on most important issues, and alternate in power. Under such conditions, with major issues out of contention, fair elections are acceptable to elites.

The rich Western countries have their own problems with elections, of course. The most famous case was the US presidential election of 2000, with voting machines and ballots that were made incomprehensible for voters, supreme courts intervening to prevent recounts of votes, and other stranger-than-fiction happenings. Electoral cheating in Canada in 2006 and 2011 was relatively minor by comparison. When Jeremy Corbyn became the Labour leader in the UK, a general there told the media casually that there might be a military coup if he ever won a general election.

If electorates could be relied upon to do the right thing, then there would be no need for cheating by those in power. Many tyrants have mastered the art of elections theater: Egypt’s President Sisi managed to win the 2014 presidential election with an astounding 96.91% of the vote. Syria’s President Assad held elections in 2014 in a country where most people were running for their lives, and in which his army and its opponents were slaughtering large numbers of voters. He won a remarkable 88.7% of the vote. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who recently got term limits lifted so that he (and he alone) can keep running for president, won the 2010 election with 93%. Kagame’s neighbours, Joseph Kabila in the DRC and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, use some of the same techniques, including arresting opponents and terrorizing the press, but they have had much more modest success (Museveni only won the 2011 election with 68%, Kabila won the 2012 election with a mere 48.95%).

Some countries don’t bother with the pretense. Two examples: Israel doesn’t pretend to give the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, whose lives it controls to the last detail, any say in how they are occupied. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, one that also schedules beheadings and crucifixions of youths like Mohammed Nimr, who is still very much in danger. The Western governments that watch keenly and comment severely on the fairness of elections in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia do happy, multibillion-dollar business with apartheid Israel and the Saudi Kingdom.

But the pretense clearly does matter. Very few countries get the kind of immunity that Israel or Saudi Arabia do. Despite the openness of the fraud and the incredibility of the results, most dictatorships do hold electoral exercises. In most cases, the appearance of electoral legitimacy is important enough to keep up elections theater, even if electorates are not powerful enough in many places to actually impose their will through elections.

On the other hand, there are still fair elections, ones where the electorate actually has a say. One example: Narendra Modi’s BJP were surprised to lose the recent elections in Bihar, in which the electorate gave their verdict on the BJP’s unsubstantiated claims of development and their anti-secular, divisive program. Another example: while the wealthiest and most powerful nation in human history continues to struggle with incomprehensible combinations of paper ballots and voting machines, Venezuela has managed to create a voting system that is very difficult to defraud (and I believe that at least at one time its voting machines were made in the USA – at least the machines contributed to fair elections somewhere).

Even these real elections pose dangers, because the belief in electoral legitimacy is not shared by all contestants. The BJP’s desire to make India a Hindu nation conflicts with India’s democratic constitution. If the Venezuelan opposition comes to power in December, it is unlikely that it will respect the constitution or maintain the integrity of the electoral system.

Elections matter. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be so much effort put into manipulating them, limiting options available to the electorate, and preventing them from being free. Nor would so many tyrants still feel they need to go through the motions of demonstrating that they have elections, however unfree. But a world of free, fair, meaningful elections with choices for voters is still a distant utopia.

And even where there are relatively fair elections, good electoral systems are always at risk. Electoral systems are not technical matters run by disinterested parties. They are political, which is why even the most disinterested-seeming parties, like the international community ruling Haiti, can’t seem to get them right. To get them right, the international community would have to value Haitian democracy more highly than its own continued rule, and believe that Haitians had the right, and the ability, to make their own decisions about their government. That kind of democratic feeling is surprisingly rare, especially among those who have grown accustomed to ruling, unelected.

First published on TeleSUR English:

The end of universal jurisdiction

At the beginning of October, Spain’s supreme court dismissed the case known to Rwanda watchers as the Merelles (2008) indictments. Judge Andreu Merelles had charged forty Rwandan military officials of crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and genocide, and issued warrants for their arrest. The indictment was launched because some Spanish citizens had been killed in the Rwandan civil war. But it expanded to include Rwandan and Congolese victims of the armed forces of Paul Kagame, the winner of the 1990 civil war and the man who may have just become Rwanda’s President-for-life (more on that below).

The indictments had always excluded Kagame because of Kagame’s presidential immunity. Kagame went about protecting himself in two ways, both of which eventually succeeded. First, Kagame may have reasoned, if the president is immune to prosecution, why not stay president forever, making whatever constitutional changes necessary to do so? Second, the indictments themselves were challenged and the doctrine underlying them, ultimately defeated.

The doctrine in question was called ‘universal jurisdiction’. The idea was that a crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity were not crimes that stopped at national borders. As a result, any country could charge and try those accused of such crimes, even if they were from another country. Universal jurisdiction is a liberal doctrine, analogous to the selectively applied Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Universal jursidiction is not as prone to abuse as R2P mainly because it is not as asymmetric as R2P: any country with a judiciary can hold a trial and issue arrest warrants, but only two or three countries in the world have the military might to send military forces to other countries, whether on the pretense of protecting people or some other. For non-superpowers, for smaller countries, there was only the threat of the law.

Spain was just such a small country whose judges took up the law against human rights abusers in other countries. Under the universal jurisdiction doctrine it attempted to try Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, Guatemalan military officers, and Argentinian military officers. But the Spanish judges didn’t just chase fallen dictators from smaller countries. They also pursued former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, US soldiers for crimes in Iraq, Chinese politicians for crimes in Tibet, and Israeli generals for massacres of Palestinians.

By going after the big fish and people currently in power, the Spanish judges set alarm bells ringing. Israel, which famously used the doctrine of universal jursidiction in its trial of Eichmann 1961, got the investigation against its officers stopped. Kissinger argued that the doctrine would degenerate into show trials against political opponents.

Last year, Spain’s legislature reduced the applicability of universal jurisdiction. An NYT article (Feb 10/14, “Spain Seeks to Curb Law Allowing Judges to Pursue Cases Globally”) suggests that China was the last straw. But the doctrine was targeted earlier. And the last straw was not China, but the arrest in June of one of Rwandan ruler Kagame’s intelligence officers, Karenzi Karake, in London, on a European arrest warrant filed based on Merelles’s 2008 indictments. Karake was released in August through the strenuous efforts of the Blair family (Tony Blair is a friend and advisor to Kagame, and Cherie Blair was Karake’s lawyer). Less than two months later, Merelles’s indictments were dismissed in the Spanish Supreme Court.

Kagame and his men could breathe a little easier. As for Kagame himself, lest any other countries get any universal jurisdiction ideas, the Rwandan parliament voted to allow Kagame to extend his tenure beyond the end of his term limits in 2017. Maybe he’ll stay on until 2034. The parliament didn’t change the law for everyone: just for Kagame.

Is anything left of the indictments? For 29 of the 40 indicted, there remains a possibility of prosecution should they enter Spanish territory.

But the doctrine on which it is based, universal jurisdiction, has been eroded. Journalist Judi Rever, describing the case in the Digital Journal, used the term “gutted”. After this decision, the international legal arena has become a bit safer for war criminals.

Partial justice and victor’s justice will still take place through these international tribunals. If you are a dictator, if you lose a war, if you end up on the wrong side of Western weapons – you should continue to fear trial and execution in international courts.

But if you are perpetrating crimes against Asians or Africans, in places like Rwanda or the DRC, or in Palestine or Afghanistan or Iraq, under the protection of a major power like the US – well then, rest easy. The law will not get you.

First published TeleSUR English:

Silent Compromises

Many vicious attacks have been reported.

On Friday, Oct. 23, a rabbi named Arik Ascherman was chased by a masked man trying to stab him near the Itamar Israeli settlement. On Oct.,22, a Jerusalem man named Simcha Hodedtov was shot and killed by police as a terrorist. On Oct. 18, a 29 year old named Haftom Zarhum was shot and then beaten to death by a mob in Beersheba. On Oct. 13, Uri Rezken was stabbed in the back while shopping. He screamed “I am a Jew, I am a Jew” to his attacker, but was stabbed four times anyway.

This list of incidents above is selective, though not exhaustive. It consists solely of attacks by Israelis against Israelis who were mistaken for (or in Ascherman’s case thought to be too close to) Palestinians. It does not include the vast majority of deaths and injuries in this latest round of violence, deaths and injuries of Palestinians attacked by Israeli security forces, accompanied by horror stories of children shot while seeking help; children imprisoned without trial; planted weapons after shootings. Nor does it include massive, organized attacks by mobs of settlers against Palestinian villages. It also does not include the deaths and injuries of Israelis killed by Palestinians in the knife attacks that are much more thoroughly covered in the Western media than the much larger numbers of Palestinians killed.

What started this round of violence? Israel’s armed settler movement is attempting to change the way that Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque is run. In fact, they want the mosque torn down, like the Babri Mosque was torn down in India in 1992. The Israeli government, which the settler movement has largely taken over, has a strategy that probably involves ultimately dividing the mosque site and banning Palestinians from it, as has been done in Hebron. As with the second intifada in 2000, Israel put pressure on the al-Aqsa site until Palestinians resisted. When Palestinians resisted, Israel escalated with lethal force, and now continues to escalate with no end in sight.

In the midst of this violence, Israel’s political leaders are attempting to suppress what a George W. Bush advisor called the “reality-based community” and replace it with a set of racist fantasies. The Israeli Justice Minister who last year brought you the genocidal comment that Palestinian children were “little snakes,” this month has said “there never will be a Palestinian state.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu topped this all off with a rehabilitation of Hitler. Offering a denialist version of history, Netanyahu made a speech claiming that Hitler didn’t want to kill the Jews until the Mufti of Jerusalem gave him the idea. German government spokespeople attempted to correct the record, emphasizing that Germany spends time and energy on Holocaust education and does not wish to see politically convenient revisionism undermining those efforts. Max Blumenthal, who has documented Israel’s descent into chaos in his book Goliath, writes about the effects of Netanyahu’s incitement:

“By blaming a Palestinian for the Final Solution, Netanyahu has helped his countrymen adjust to the macabre reality. He reassured them that they were not settler overlords or vigilante brutes, but Inglorious Bastards curb stomping SS officers in the woods outside Krakow. And he sent them the message that those Palestinians lurking behind concrete walls and under siege in ghettoes were not an occupied, dispossessed people, but a new breed of Nazis hellbent on Jewish extermination. Netanyahu’s comments about the Mufti were much more than a hysterical lie; they were an invitation to act out a blood soaked fantasy of righteous revenge.”

Israel was founded to be a refuge for Jews who were persecuted in Europe. Some of its founders had democratic and socialist aspirations that were contradicted by their militarist and colonizing plans and methods. After decades of failure to reconcile these, Israeli society has abandoned pretense, and embraced racism and violence from the highest levels of government to the settler masses celebrating attacks on social media.

It is obvious why such politics and such fantasies would be appealing to right-wing politicians and their constituencies in the West, like the outgoing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the 5.6 million people who voted for him, or the Democrats and Republicans in the US who support Israel.

What is more difficult to understand is how those who espouse liberal politics can continue to hold on. Some no doubt see Israel as it was decades ago, in some kind of struggle between different kinds of Zionism, one of which sought a two-state solution. Having out-of-date information can be a problem, but refusing to update one’s information is a political decision.

Two months ago when the Canadian election had just begun and the New Democrats were purging pro-Palestine candidates, I argued that they were playing a game they were guaranteed to lose. I strive to stay in the reality-based community: I do not think that being pro-Israel cost them the election. But backing down in the face of right-wing bullying, and declaring unconditional support for a society that is sliding into fascism, form political habits. They broadcast either a lack of courage or the support of a racist and violent project. Julian Assange wrote that “every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.” Could it be that people so trained make uncompelling candidates for progressive voters?

One reason Westerners find themselves with an out-of-date idea of Israel’s society and its trajectory is that we are not allowed to talk about it anywhere, including university campuses. A report called The Palestine Exception, by Palestine Legal, documents 292 incidents of the suppression of free speech on campuses, used against advocates of human rights for Palestinians. The report groups the incidents into nine categories of tactics: 1. False accusations of antisemitism and terrorism; 2. Official denunciations; 3. Bureaucratic barriers; 4. Administrative sanctions; 5. Cancellations and alterations of events; 6. Threats to academic freedom; 7. Lawsuits and legal threats; 8. Legislation; 9. Criminal investigations and prosecutions. The report is important, especially for student activists who are starting out and should know what to expect. The Palestine Exception reveals many things. One of them: the unconditional defense of Israel regardless of what it does and what it becomes, has political consequences. The more indefensible Israel’s behaviour, the more debate has to be avoided, the more taboos have to be established, and the more those who speak about it have to be punished. This is true on campuses, where the freest possible research is supposed to take place and where students are supposed to be taught to think critically and contribute their knowledge to society. It is also true in the media, which is supposed to inform our decisions about what to do in the world. It is true in democratic politics, in which we are supposed to be able to deliberate with the widest possible range of discussion in order to make decisions. The farther Israel slides down its current path, the more unfree we will all have to be, the more disconnected from reality we will have to become, in order to continue to accept it.

First published TeleSUR English:

Syria and Afghanistan: The Limits of Bombing

Just a few days before the 14th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, U.S. planes bombed a hospital run by the extremely credible, competent international organization, Medicins Sans Frontieres, in the country’s north, in the city of Kunduz. The bombing was, apparently, requested by the Afghan government, who had lost the city to the Taliban and whose initial counterattack had failed.

Fourteen years before, the U.S. invasion of 2001 had the explicit goal of regime change, of getting rid of the Taliban. Fourteen years and thousands of lives later, the Taliban are still here, and are still able to take a city well outside of their traditional zone of influence in the south. There are many causes for this failure. Ahmed Rashid wrote in his book “Descent into Chaos” about “Operation Evil Airlift,” in which the Taliban’s Pakistani patrons were allowed to escape to Pakistan in 2001. The people running the Taliban went back to Pakistan, while thousands of civilians perished under the bombs.

But more important than the fact that the Taliban dispersed to Pakistan to return and fight another day was the fact that when NATO ousted the Taliban, they installed their opponents: warlords who were as misogynist and violent as the Taliban were. That reality has only slowly and partially changed despite several elections since 2001: senior posts and elected offices are still populated by the warlords, and the occupation-created Afghan army apparently shares many of the problems of corruption with the Iraqi army created by the U.S. around the same time and in approximately the same way. It is an army more efficient at enriching commanders than defending the country’s sovereignty.

2001, the year the U.S. invaded, is a key year for Afghanistan, but it was not the beginning of the horrors Afghanistan had been living. The wars of the 1980s, as the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistan coalition poured ever more investment into groups of fighters who were fighting against a Russian-backed regime, were decisive. Once those fighters succeeded in regime change in 1992, they spent the next decade fighting one another and completing the destruction of the country. The Taliban had established a shaky control over most of the country when the U.S. invaded in 2001.

Today, the U.S., Israel, the Saudi Kingdom, Turkey, and a few other countries are similarly pouring ever more investment into groups of fighters (some of the same groups as fought in Afghanistan, including al-Qaida) trying to change a regime in Syria. There is every reason to believe that if regime change succeeds, the winners will be al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Whether they then fight among themselves as the Afghan mujahadeen did, or consolidate an Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond, they, too, will complete the destruction of their country. In a few decades, we will be looking at pictures of Syria in the 1990s and early 2000s that will be completely unrecognizable as Syria, like the 1960s and 1970s photos of Afghanistan are unrecognizable today.

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the New York Times famously called global public opinion the “second superpower”. But the anti-war movement failed and has not recovered. Anti-war principle has weakened among progressives, replaced by limited support for limited Western intervention in specific cases, where bombs might be able to do some good. Numerous progressive voices that might have been expected to take an anti-war stance supported bombing and regime change in Libya in 2011 and continue to support regime change in Syria today. Some even cite Libya as a success story.

I have seen writers who I respect arguing or retweeting that because Syria has had many more deaths and refugees than Libya since 2011, overthrowing Assad (the “how” of this overthrow remains unspecified) would have prevented the refugee crisis. The counterfactual is also presented: that without regime change in Libya in 2011, Libya would have produced a refugee crisis of the same magnitude as Syria had.

I have read other progressive writers arguing that the “world’s powers” should have set a “red line” for Assad much sooner than they did, and if they had done so, again, the Syria crisis would have been averted.

The trouble with this analysis is the assumption that Syria’s regime existed at the whim of the “world’s powers” – that these “world’s powers” could, once the “red line” was set, press a button and exchange Assad for a democratic regime that respects human rights. It is this flawed assumption that leads to magical thinking about what the West can do in countries that it bombs.

Vijay Prashad has argued that the Libyan regime was already collapsing when NATO’s bombs arrived to finish it off. The Libyan armed groups, for which NATO provided the air force, committed massacres after their victories in Sirte and elsewhere. These armed groups are still an ongoing concern, as the U.S. knows. And there were many local and international consequences of what happened in Libya in 2011. One of these was that powers outside of the West, especially Russia, saw how seamlessly Western support for “moderate rebels” led to regime change.

Syria’s regime was not collapsing when the West started backing the rebellions there. Syria is, evidently, not Libya. But not for lack of trying by the West, and its Saudi, Israeli, and Turkish allies. Regime change has been the goal, but only chaos has been the result. There is a lesson to be learned from these decades of regime change. Twelve years since the invasion of Iraq, 25 since the first U.S. war on Iraq. Fourteen years since the invasion of Afghanistan, 35 since the Western backing of the Afghan mujahadeen. The outcomes: the Islamic State group and the Taliban ruling over de-developed, devastated areas, corrupt governments extracting wealth from the rest of the country, with the U.S. occasionally flying over and bombing something – a wedding here, a hospital there. If Libya looks different from this in a decade or two – and that is far from certain – it will be in spite of NATO’s bombs, not because of them.

People who don’t like these outcomes should not put faith in these means. The West’s bombs are instruments of chaos.

First published on TeleSUR English:

The Uses of the Islamic State Group

Who is really fighting ISIS? In Iraq and Syria, ISIS faces Kurdish forces, the Iraqi Army and the Western air forces supporting it, and the Syrian Army and its allies from Hizbollah, Iran, and Russia. The Kurds of Rojava have been fighting for survival, and while outgunned, they have both political and military preparation, and something to fight for. They have been successful in their battles with ISIS, even though they have suffered immensely in the process.

The Iraqi Army? ISIS's spectacular rise coincided with the Iraqi Army's collapse. To understand this, as with so much about ISIS, it is necessary to look back at the early days of the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, when the decision was taken to disband the Iraqi Army that had existed under Saddam Hussein and create a new one. The old army had training, organization, most of their weapons, and had just reached the point of having nothing to lose. Many of them joined the insurgency against the US. Among those who did, many were killed, many were tortured and killed, and many survived. Some of those survivors, now battle-hardened veterans, are now part of ISIS. One of those who made his way through the US prison system in Iraq is ISIS's leader. These veterans, joined by al-Qaeda fighters, with Saudi and Qatari funding, and Turkish help getting across the border, have become ISIS, the force that controls a big part of Iraq and dominates and absorbs all other opposition forces in Syria.  

What about the new army, the one built by the US during the occupation? That army was built, like post-2003 Iraq, as an experiment in a new kind of neoliberal occupation. George W Bush had declared that the US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not "nation building" exercises. The trillions of dollars that were spread around in Iraq went to contractors and subcontractors, and the Iraqi army was built on the same principles. Commanders bought their way in, collected money for more soldiers' salaries than he had under command, and kept the difference. Other commanders paid for their posts and recouped the money at checkpoints on the roads: the army became, as Patrick Cockburn wrote in his new book The Jihadis Return, "a money making machine for senior officers and often an extortion racket for ordinary soldiers" (pg. 51). As it turned out, the "money making machine" didn't prove especially effective as a fighting machine. Instead, as the Iraqi army fell apart and ran from ISIS in the early battles, most of the equipment they received ended up in ISIS's hands.  

What about the Syrian Army? Russia, having supplied Syria's government for years, has now entered the war on Syria's side. Lebanon's Hizbollah, with Iran's help, entered Syria to help Syria's government some time ago, judging that the fall of Syria to ISIS would be the loss of their own lines of supply and support. These forces are holding territory against ISIS, but the government's way of fighting mirrors their enemies. For several decades war has not primarily been about armies fighting each other, but about the unarmed getting killed by the armed. One siege in 2014, written about by Patrick Cockburn, illustrates this:  

"Rather than taking over rebel-held areas, the government simply bombards them so that the civilian population is forced to flee and those who remain are either families of fighters or those too poor to find anywhere else to live. Electricity and water is then cut off and a siege is mounted. In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed Jabhat-al-Nusra forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians. The government did not counterattack but simply continued its siege." (pg. 76)

In the West, ISIS videos are used to stoke nightmares and justify police powers, and are politically valuable to fear-mongering politicians. As the collapse of Syria proceeds under the weight of the war and millions of Syrians are on the move, Westerners are being led to believe that every refugee family might be a secret ISIS cell. Local countries are hit far harder by the refugee crisis: Western countries are only taking a small fraction of the refugees.  

Despite the horrors of their videos, and the airstrikes that have been organized against ISIS, the West, and its allies, have found several uses for ISIS.  

ISIS provides Western allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar a way to advance their influence in the region against Iran. ISIS provides an outlet for the people that Saudi clerics have fired up to hate everyone but their sect, people who might otherwise stay in their own Gulf countries and take up arms.  

ISIS provides the troops for Western ally, Turkey, to fight the Kurds, who created an autonomous zone in Iraq, have recently done so in Syria and have long been trying to advance their agenda of self-determination in Turkey.  

For Western ally, Israel, ISIS bleeds Hizbollah and has helped destroy Syria, creates massive numbers of refugees, and so diverts and destroys military forces that might otherwise be facing off with Israel.  

The Gulf countries and Israel are also not taking refugees. Israeli soccer fans proudly display banners that say "Refugees Not Welcome", and Saudi Arabia is running its own murderous war in Yemen, creating refugees of its own.  

For the West, these alliances with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, are more important than fighting ISIS. For Israel, the possibility that Assad might be overthrown and Hizbollah harmed is more important than fighting ISIS.

Diplomatic solutions, the latest of which has been written about by Vijay Prashad, have floundered on the Western insistence on Assad's departure as a precondition. That insistence has amounted to an acceptance of this destruction over a negotiated end to the war. Syria is on its way to complete destruction. Most of its population is on the move. Responsibility for this is shared between Assad's regime and those fighting him.  

More than Gulf funds and captured weapons, more than twisted religious ideology and military corruption, ISIS has thrived because of the chaos of war and the collapse of society. ISIS will not be part of a negotiated solution, but an agreement between its Western sponsors and those of the Syrian government would isolate and contain ISIS, and make peace in the region imaginable.  

What could be more important than an end to the war and the defeat of ISIS? For the West, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel, many things: weakening Iran and Hizbollah, showing toughness to Russia, the chance of overthrowing Assad, destroying the basis for Kurdish independence. To those steering the Syrian war, these are higher priorities than the plight of millions of refugees and the destruction of several countries.

Originally published on TeleSUR English

A breakthrough in Colombia’s peace talks

On Sept. 23, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba to sign an agreement with the FARC on transitional justice. “Peace is close,” he told the press. An agreement on justice and reparations for victims was one of the most contentious areas of discussion, and one on which Santos and FARC had exchanged some harsh public words over recent months. The FARC announced their willingness to lay down their arms; the possibility of a truth commission has also been discussed. Coming at one of the most dangerous points in the talks, and on one of the most difficult areas of negotiation, this agreement is a breakthrough moment.

The 40th round of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla organization ended on August 30th. Ten days before, the FARC had declared another unilateral ceasefire, one of many that have taken place during these multi-year negotiations. Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, have also been in secret negotiations with the government and may begin an official negotiation soon, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo (Sept 7).

There continue to be signs of significant investment in peace by the government and reasons for optimism about an accord. A package of constitutional reforms to facilitate a peace accord was scheduled to be debated in Colombia’s Congress on Sept 11.

El Tiempo also reported an unusual step taken by the U.S. Ambassador, who on September 8 hosted Colombian government representatives as well as ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez to try to win Uribe over to the peace accord. Uribe has been the leader of the opposition to peace, running his own intelligence network, leaking information, and posting inflammatory tweets. While Uribe was in office, from 2002-2010, his policies aligned seamlessly with the U.S. of the War on Terror. If the U.S. Ambassador is, as El Tiempo reports, trying to coax him into acting less of a spoiler, that is a sign of strong support for an accord from the U.S.

But there are negative signs as well. During the previous unilateral ceasefire declared in July, the FARC killed Afro-Colombian activist Genaro Garcia – an act for which FARC took responsibility and vowed to punish its perpetrators. A coalition of social movement groups marched in Genaro’s name at the end of August, demanding a bilateral ceasefire and a role in the negotiations.

The Indigenous movement also suffered a major blow at the hands of the state when, on Sept. 15, Feliciano Valencia was detained by the court on a charge of “kidnapping” a soldier, which carries a sentence of 192 months. In fact, Valencia is one of many Indigenous leaders in Northern Cauca, a territory that has suffered tremendous military aggression over the years. In the incident for which Feliciano is being charged, the Indigenous foiled an aggressive plot by an armed soldier, tried him, punished him according to their traditions, and released him. Their rights to do this are protected by the Colombian constitution: this is an illegal persecution of an Indigenous leader, occurring in the middle of a breakthrough in the peace process.

At the end of June, after the breakdown of a ceasefire and a series of battles, a Gallup poll showed a drop in public support for the peace process, with a nearly even split over support for a military vs. a diplomatic solution (46% favoring military, 45% favoring a negotiated solution), and only 33% believing that the peace process would successfully end the armed conflict. Agreements on transitional justice, ratification, and how to actually end the armed conflict are all ahead, and none of these are easy, as the mainstream think-tank the International Crisis Group argued in July.

More dangerous than any of these, however, are the regional dynamics. The Colombia-Venezuela border remains closed at the time of writing and, although here, too, there are encouraging signs of diplomacy, media operations in Colombia are adding heat to the conflict. So too, in this arena, is Colombia’s ex-president Uribe. The Colombia-Venezuela border has been militarized and dangerous for more than a decade. In 2004, when Uribe was in power, he pursued an arms deal for a large number of Spanish-made tanks to be deployed to the border. Then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, convinced the incoming Spanish government to cancel the deal and de-escalated the tensions, although there have been armed border conflicts and closures in the decade since.

The military dimension of the long-standing border problem is linked to the paramilitary problem, given the long historical links between Colombia’s military and paramilitaries. Paramilitary forces control the smuggling trade on the Colombian side and have suborned Venezuelan border guards on the Venezuelan side, to the point where smuggling has done severe damage to Venezuela’s economy. The Venezuelan government has enacted an operation to stop smuggling, but the problems on the Colombian side remain. The current border crisis erupted when Colombian paramilitaries attacked Venezuelan soldiers on the border on August 19.

Colombian paramilitarism is responsible for much more than the violence on the border, however. It is as old as Colombia’s armed conflict, beginning in the 1960s with advice from a U.S. military delegation. Colombian paramilitaries are responsible for the worst atrocities of the civil war, for most of the displacement, and most of the killings of noncombatants. They are also intertwined with Colombia’s military and intelligence services and brought large numbers of politicians under their control: this was exposed during Uribe’s presidency and called the Para-Politica scandal. Colombian paramilitaries have been seen in other countries in the Americas: Colombia, having developed expertise in the violent repression of social protest with U.S. help, has been exporting it. The Colombian paramiltiaries were supposed to have disarmed long ago, and their links to the Colombian establishment are officially denied. The Colombian government calls them "criminal bands" (Bacrim) and claims to be fighting them. Because of this official denial, it will be difficult to resolve the issue at the negotiating table. The paramilitary strategy is one that the U.S. has found invaluable since the 1960s. It will not disappear even if an accord is reached.

What really might sink the accord, though, are changes in regional politics. What brought Colombia’s government to the negotiating table in the first place probably had to do with not wanting to be isolated as a right-wing, U.S.-manipulated holdout in a continent that was taking steps in the direction of independence and social progress, with progressive regimes in many countries and Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution leading the group. Today the Bolivarian revolution is threatened like never before, and left writers like Raul Zibechi argue that "the cycle of Latin American progressive politics appears to be coming to an end," soon to be replaced with a "repressive right wing environment." If Zibechi is right, then the Colombian government need not sign an accord: it need only wait for the rest of Latin America to catch up to its own "repressive right wing environment." If he is wrong, and there is still some progress left in progresismo, there is still a chance for peace.

But if it does come, Colombia’s peace, however welcomed, will be a violent and unequal one, as I have argued before. Many problems will remain, but peace still deserves support. With peace there are greater possibilities for democratic struggle and civil resistance.

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Many dangers for India ahead despite Modi’s decline

Since Narendra Modi began campaigning to be Prime Minister of India in 2013, he and his party, the BJP, gave the impression of an unstoppable march, culminating in a massive electoral victory in 2014. The BJP’s story went like this: Anti-incumbency was strong, and the people were sick of Congress corruption. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had administered the Gujarat miracle, reaching developmental heights unheard of elsewhere in India. Given the chance, he could do the same for the entire country. If there were accusations that he had also been Chief Minister during an organized massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, well, was there any proof? Hadn’t the courts given him a clean chit? And anyway, with so many terrorist threats facing India, maybe a tougher hand like Modi’s was needed: to keep Kashmir in line, to fight the Maoist rebels in central India, and, of course, to stand up to Pakistan.

None of the elements of the story were actually true. Economist Jean Dreze showed that Gujarat’s economic achievements were middling. They also "largely predate(d) Narendra Modi, and have as much to do with public action as with economic growth". Nirmalangshu Mukherji showed that there was, in fact, no clean chit and there was plenty of evidence of Modi’s involvement in the massacres of 2002 in Gujarat. The Indian state under Congress had shown plenty of "toughness", if "toughness" includes the willingness to violate human rights, in Kashmir, in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere in the counterinsurgency war against the Maoists. As for Pakistan, even the "toughest" leaders on either side need to be careful, given the possibility of mutual nuclear annihilation.

Even the electoral victory was not quite what it seemed. Nirmalangshu Mukherji’s post-electoral analysis in Kafila foretold some of what was to happen this year. Mukherji’s analysis argued that Modi’s party, the BJP, had only a very modest increase in the popular vote from 19% in 2009 to 31% in 2014. The major achievement of the BJP, Mukherji argues, was the scientific method used by the campaign of increasing communal strife in key disctricts and profiting from these electorally, gaining the maximum number of seats with the minimum increase in the popular vote. When, in February of this year, the BJP were routed in the Delhi legislative elections, with a relatively new party, the AAP, winning 67 of 70 seats, the BJP’s march was shown to be stoppable, indeed.

Once unable to get a US visa because of the 2002 massacres, Modi now has a direct hotline to Obama, reports the NYT. The hotline, if the NYT article is to be believed, appears to mainly be to talk about how to "contain" China – a very dangerous road for the US to take, and ten times more so for India. And a little bit of saber-rattling with Pakistan over Kashmir is also happening right now.

But domestically, the Delhi elections were a blow and his legislative program has been slowed down by opposition. The Indian media talk about a ‘resurgent Congress’: left writer Badri Raina analyzed the Congress return in May. Modi had planned a series of changes to India’s Land Acquisition Act, changes to facilitate the transfer of peasant and indigenous lands into corporate hands. Economist Smita Gupta, in an interview on Newsclick, called the planned act a "return to colonial oppression". But strong opposition in the legislature has set the Act back: now it will wait for the winter session of parliament.

In a new interview for Outlook, Arundhati Roy summarized these developments: "The attack we are up against is wide and deep and dangerous, but the euphoria around the Modi government has evaporated pretty fast, much before anyone would have expected. I fear that when they get really desperate, they’ll get dangerous." As an example of the danger, Arundhati mentioned the hanging of Yakub Menon, convicted of participating in a conspiracy in a series of 1993 bombings. Badri Raina wrote about the BJP euphoria around the hangings and the hatred directed against those espousing a position against capital punishment, as the arrival of India’s own Tea Party.

India’s Tea Party has another target, one of the lawyers who has been following up on Modi’s role in the 2002 massacres: activist-lawyer Teesta Setalvad, who has been targeted for some malicious and frivolous prosections as well as an organized campaign of bullying by BJP followers – a campaign so vicious that it has made the NYT as well, in a story by David Barrow on August 19 titled "Longtime Critic of Modi is now a Target."

Another area of danger where all of these threads come together: the political value of a "war on terror", valuable land to be acquired for corporates, the need to overcome legislation protecting people and the environment – is in central India, where an active counterinsurgency operation continues against the Maoists, and ends up violating the rights of indigenous people throughout the territory. In 2005, the state of Chhattisgarh was carved up into a series of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with corporations. The MOUs coincided with the rise of the paramilitary, anti-Maoist organization, Salwa Judum, by Mahendra Karma. Salwa Judum was declared an illegal organization by the Supreme Court, after they had already burned villages, killed, and displaced people across the state. Mahendra Karma was killed in an ambush by Maoists in 2013. His son, Chavindra Karma, founded a new successor to Salwa Judum in May of this year. Activist Gautam Navlakha, in an interview on Newsclick, argued that the re-founding of Salwa Judum followed a visit by Modi to Chhattisgarh and the announcement of a whole slate of new MOUs with corporations. On this file, the state has distinguished itself with the "insane, inhuman" arrest in May of a completely paralyzed academic, N. Sai Baba, because he expresses views sympathetic to the Maoists.

Modi may be running out of steam, or he may find a second wind. The deeper issues India faces preceded his rise and will continue after he’s gone: the extraordinary and deadly inequality, the ongoing land grab, counterinsurgencies in Kashmir and central India, and a justice system that still has the death penalty and that offers those trapped in it a horrendous and impossible bureaucratic maze (see Manisha Sethi’s book, "Kafkaland", for examples). Modi has channeled these problems in anti-secular, chauvinist directions and exacerbated them; India is a more dangerous place because of him and his party. But resistance to him and his agenda has arisen fast. It has been surprising. Perhaps there are more surprises ahead.  

First published at TeleSUR English: