Wednesday, August 30, 2006

National Immigration Coalition


I offer this as a brief summary of the main points of the National
Immigrant Strategy Convention. While I realize that not all the
points are included, these are just my brief recollections of the
conference for the uses that any one desires.

Prepared by: Nativo V. Lopez, National President, Mexican American
Political Association, and National Director, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana
August 16, 2006

1. The convention was held at the Holiday Inn Hillside Hotel in
Chicago, Illinois on August 11-13th;

2. There were 761 delegates in attendance representing 400
organizations from 40 states;

3. The convention brought together immigrant base organizations
and coalitions, unions, and faith-based organizations who were clearly
responsible for the mega-marches organized throughout the U.S. from
February to May 1st this year;

4. The purpose of the convention was to unite these
organizations under a national umbrella network and hammer out a
strategy to proceed with the goals of this broad national immigrant's
rights movement;

5. The convention established the network under the name of
DERECHOS DEL INMIGRANTE, and created a Provisional National Council
comprised of 100 delegates to lead the work of the NAIR over the next
three months until a permanent governance structure is created;

6. The convention resolved to repudiate the two immigration
legislative proposals before the U.S. Congress ­ H.R.4437 and S.2611
as unsatisfactory to the needs of the immigrant communities, and
demanded they be defeated this year;

7. The convention further resolved that the premise of its
existence is the demand for LEGALIZATION FOR ALL and an immediate
moratorium of immigration raids and deportations;

8. The delegates further reaffirmed support for the basic
points of unity that brought them together ­ see for the complete list, and they further
adopted the political statement prepared before the convention
outlining the basic tenets of the national immigrant's rights

9. The convention emphasized the importance of uniting with the
labor movement, and unanimously resolved to endorse and actively
support various organizing campaigns of immigrant workers in various
industries ­ Smithfield Company in Red Springs, North Carolina (the
largest hog slaughter plant in the world) being organized by the UFCW
­ United Food & Commercial Workers Union; the Port Driver's organizing
campaign by the Teamsters Union and the Change to Win Unions (Los
Angeles, Long Beach, and other cities); the Wal-Mart organizing
campaign by the UFCW and Change to Win; and other campaigns;

10. The first major actions resolved by the convention include
national marches with labor on the Labor Day Weekend ­ Sept 4th ­ to
create the ONE MOVEMENT concept between labor and immigrant's rights

11. The second major action will take place on September 30th ­ the

12. The convention further resolved to support ALL voter
registration and U.S. citizenship campaigns conducted by organizations
supportive of immigrants;

13. The convention also emphasized the importance of supporting all
immigrants in their efforts to create base organizations to develop
their leadership, capacity, resistance to right-wing attacks either in
the manifestation of "Minutemen-type" organizations and/or hate talk
radio and television, and municipal and state legislation which seek
to curb their civil liberties, constitutional, civil, and labor

14. The convention noted with special urgency the need for unity
between all the organizations, unions, faith-based entities,
coalitions, and other formations who support immigrants to one degree
or another, and the necessity to maintain a dialogue with all
irrespective of major or minor differences that may exist or occur
between the organizations within the movement;

15. Two important caucuses were formed at the convention to address
the specific needs and advocacy positions of both ­ women and youth.
It was resolved to establish a network, internet list-serv, and
organizing, within the context of building the national immigrant
movement, corresponding to both constituencies. Gender equity of
leadership, within the formal governance structure and informal
representations, was emphasized. This was unanimously embraced by the

16. The special case of Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant
mother with a U.S. citizen minor son, resident of Chicago, IL, who
faces deportation, was acknowledged and acclaimed as a symbol of all
persons similarly affected by our unjust immigration laws. The
convention resolved to raise her case to national stature, fight to
prevent her deportation, and raise the demand for an immediate
moratorium against raids and deportations;

17. The delegates resolved to return to their respective cities and
states and begin working to broaden the NATIONAL ALLIANCE by including
base organizations and coalitions who were not able to attend the
convention, and put into practice the resolutions adopted; this will
result in developing state affiliates with the Alliance and eventually
establishing a permanent national and state governance structure which
is representative (of the immigrant communities themselves),
democratic, and transparent.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Left Grows in Mexico

Mexico Approaches the Combustion Point

Mexico City.
August 23, 2006

"God doesn't belong to the PAN!"
"AMLO deserves a miracle"
"No Pasaran!"

The Congress of the country is ringed by two-meter tall
grilled metal barriers soldered together apparently to
thwart a suicide car bomb attack. Behind this metal
wall, 3000 vizored, kevlar-wearing robocops -- the
Federal Preventative Police (PFP, a police force drawn
from the army) -- and members of the elite Estado Mayor
or Presidential military command, form a second line of
defense. Armed with tear gas launchers, water cannons,
and reportedly light tanks, this Praetorian Guard has
been assigned to protect law and order and the
institutions of the republic against left-wing mobs
that threaten to storm the Legislative Palace -- or so
the President informs his fellow citizens in repeated
messages transmitted on national television.

No, the President's name is not Pinochet and this
military tableau is not being mounted in the usual
banana republic or some African satrap. This is Mexico,
a paragon of democracy (dixit George Bush), Washington'
third trading partner, and the eighth leading petroleum
producer on the planet, seven weeks after the fraud-
marred July 2 presidential election of which, at this
writing, no winner has been officially declared. One of
the elite military units assigned to seal off congress
is indeed titled the July 2 brigade.

MEXICO ON A KNIFEBLADE headlines the British Guardian,
but the typically short-term-memory-loss U.S. print
media seems to have forgotten about the imbroglio just
south of its borders. Nonetheless, the phone rings and
it's New York telling me they just got a call from
their man on the border and Homeland Security is
beefing up its forces around Laredo in anticipation of
upheaval further south. The phone rings again and it's
California telling me they just heard on Air America
that U.S. Navy patrols were being dispatched to
safeguard Mexican oil platforms in the Gulf. The left-
wing daily here, La Jornada, runs a citizen-snapped
photo of army convoys arriving carrying soldiers
disguised as farmers and young toughs. Rumors race
through the seven mile-long encampment installed by
supporters of leftist presidential challenger Andres
Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) three weeks ago who have
tied up big city traffic and enraged the motorist class
here, that PFP robocops will attack before dawn. The
campers stay up all night huddled around bum fires
prepared to defend their tent cities.

The moment reminds many Mexicans of the tense weeks in
September and October 1968 when 12 days before the
Olympic Games were to be inaugurated here, President
Gustavo Diaz Ordaz ordered the military to massacre
striking students in a downtown plaza not far from
where AMLO's people are now camped out. 300 were killed
in the Plaza of Three Cultures, their bodies
incinerated at Military Camp #1 in western Mexico City.
The Tlatelolco massacre was a watershed in social
conflict here and the similarities are sinister. In
fact, Lopez Obrador has taken to comparing outgoing
President Vicente Fox with Diaz Ordaz.

Fox will go to congress September 1 to deliver his
final State of the Union address. The new legislature
will be convened the same day. The country may or may
not have a new president by that day. In

anticipation of this show-down, on August 14, newly-
elected senators and deputies from the three parties
that comprise AMLO's Coalition for the Good of All
attempted to encamp on the sidewalk in front of the
legislative palace only to be rousted and clobbered
bloody by the President's robocops.

With 160 representatives, the Coalition forms just a
quarter of the 628 members of the new congress but they
will be a loud minority during Fox's "Informe". Since
the 1988 "presidenciales" were stolen from Cuauhtemoc
Cardenas, founder of AMLO's Party of the Democratic
Revolution, PRD legislators have routinely interrupted
the president during this authoritarian ritual in
orchestrated outbursts that have sometimes degenerated
into partisan fisticuffs.

The first to challenge the Imperial Presidency was
Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a hoary political warhorse, who in
1988 thrust a finger at President Miguel De la Madrid,
accusing him of overseeing the theft of the election
from Cardenas. Munoz Ledo's J'Accuse stunned the
political class. He was slugged and pummeled by members
of De la Madrid's long-ruling PRI when he tried to
escape the chamber. Munoz Ledo now stands at AMLO's

But perhaps the most comical moment in the annals of
acting out during the Informe, came in 1996 when a
brash PRI deputy donned a Babe the Valiant Pig mask and
positioned himself directly under the podium from which
President Ernesto Zedillo was addressing the state of
the nation, and wiggled insouciant signs with slogans
that said things like 'EAT THE RICH!" Like Munoz Ledo,
Marco Rascon was physically attacked, his mask ripped
off like he was a losing wrestler by a corrupt railroad
union official who in turn was hammer locked by a
pseudo-leftist senator, Irma "La Tigresa" Serrano, a
one-time ranchero singer and in fact, the former very
close friend of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz.

This September 1, if martial law is not declared and
the new congress dissolved before it is even installed,
the PRD delegation, which will no doubt be strip-
searched by the Estado Mayor for incriminating banners,
is sworn to create a monumental ruckus, shredding the
tarnished decorum of this once-solemn event forever to
protest Fox's endorsement of electoral larceny. Some
solons say they may go naked.

But no matter what kind of uproar develops, one can be
secure that it will not be shown on national television
as the cameras of Mexico's two-headed television
monstrosity â_" Televisa and TV Azteca â_" will stay
trained on the President as he tries to mouth the
stereotypical clichÃ(c)s that is always the stuff and
fluff of this otherwise stultifying sÃ(c)ance. The images
of the chaos on the floor of congress will not be
passed along to the Great Unwashed.

There is a reptilian feel to Mexico seven weeks after a
discredited Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) cemented
Lopez Obrador into a second place coffin by awarding
the presidency to right-winger Felipe Calderon by a
mere 243,000 votes out of a total 42,000,000 cast. Both
Calderon and IFE czar Luis Carlos Ugalde (Calderon was
best man at Ugalde's wedding) make these little beady
reptile eyes as they slither across national screens.

Those screens have been the scenes of some of the
slimiest and most sordid political intrigue of late.
One of the lizard kings who is fleetingly featured on
Televisa primetime is an imprisoned Argentinean
construction tycoon, Carlos Ahumada, who in 2004
conspired with Fox, Calderon's PAN, and Televisa to
frame AMLO on corruption charges and take him out of
the presidential election."El Peje" (for a gar-like
fish from the swamps of Lopez Obrador's native Tabasco)
was then leading the pack by 18 points.

Charged by Lopez Obrador, then the mayor of this
megalopolis, with defrauding Mexico City out of
millions, Ahumada had taken his revenge by filming PRD
honchos when they came to his office to pick up boodles
of political cash. Although the filthy lucre was
perfectly legal under Mexico's milquetoast campaign
financing laws, the pick-ups looked awful on national
television. AMLO's former personal secretary was caught
stuffing wads of low denomination bills into his suit
coat pockets as if he were on Saturday Night Live.

Ahumada subsequently turned the tapes over to the
leprous, cigar-chomping leader of Fox's PAN party in
the Senate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos ("El Jefe
Diego") who in turn had them delivered to a green-
haired clown, Brozo, who was then reading the morning
news on Televisa. Then the Argentine blackmailer fled
to Cuba in a private plane. Televisa would air the
incriminating videos day and night for months.

Apprehended in Veradero after his lover Robles was
shadowed to that socialist beachfront, Ahumada spilled
the beans to Cuban authorities: Interior Secretary
Santiago Creel, who was then AMLO's lead rival for the
presidency, had cooked up the plot with the connivance
of reviled former president Carlos Salinas, Lopez
Obrador's most venomous foe, the then attorney general,
and Fox himself, to remove AMLO from the race.

The Mexican government did not ask for extradition and
Ahumada's deportation from Cuba was not seen as a
friendly gesture. Within a month, diplomatic relations
between Mexico and Cuba were broken off and ambassadors
summoned home. The construction tycoon has been
imprisoned in Mexico City ever since he was booted out
of Cuba and was last heard from when he had his rogue
cop chauffer shoot up the family SUV, a charade both
Fox and Televisa tried to pin on AMLO. Ahumada had
suggested he was about to release two more
incriminating videos. These dubious events took place
on June 6, the day of a crucial presidential debate
between AMLO and Calderon.

Then last week, Ahumada abruptly resurfaced, or at
least his videotaped confession to Cuban authorities
did. Filmed through prison bars, he lays out the plot
step by step. Yes, he affirms, the deal was fixed up to
cut AMLO's legs out from under him and advance the
fortunes of the right-wing candidate who turned out to
be Felipe Calderon and not the bumbling Creel. The
conspiracy backfired badly as his supporters rallied
around him and Lopez Obrador's ratings soared.

The origins of the confession tape, leaked to top-rung
reporter Carmen Aristegui, was obscure. Had Fidel
dispatched it from his sick bed to bolster Lopez
Obrador's claims of victory as the PAN and the snake-
eyed Televisa evening anchor Joaquin Lopez Dorriga
hissed? The air grew serpentine with theories. There
was even one school that speculated Calderon himself
had been the source in a scheme to distance himself
from Fox (there had always been bad feelings between
them) and Creel, now the leader of the PAN faction in

AMLO advanced a variant of this explanation: the
specter of Ahumada had been resuscitated to divert
attention from the evidence of generalized fraud the
Coalition had submitted to the TRIFE and the panel's
impending verdict that Calderon had won the election.

Perhaps the most nagging question in this snakepit of
uncertainty is what happened during the partial recount
of less than 10per cent of the 130,000 ballot boxes
ordered by the TRIFE to test the legitimacy of the
IFE's results. Although the recount concluded on August
13, the judges have released no numbers and are not
obligated to do so. Their only responsibility is to
certify the validity of the election.

Although AMLO's reps in the counting rooms came up with
gobs of evidence -- violated ballot boxes, stolen or
stuffed ballots, altered tally sheets and other bizarre
anomalies -- only the left-wing daily La Jornada saw
fit to mention them. The silence of the Mexican media
and their accomplices in the international press in
respect to the Great Fraud is deafening, although they
manage to fill their rags with ample attacks on Lopez
Obrador for tying up Mexico City traffic.

According to AMLO's people, 119,000 ballots in the
sample recount cannot be substantiated in about 3500
casillas, 58,000 more votes were cast than the number
of voters on the voting list. In nearly 4000 other
casillas, 61,000 ballots allocated to election
officials cannot be accounted for. The annulment of the
casillas in which these alterations occurred would put
Lopez Obrador in striking distance of Calderon and in a
better world, would obligate the TRIFE to order a total

But given the cheesy state of the Mexican judiciary
this is not apt to happen. One of the judges who will
decide the fate of democracy in Mexico is a former
client of El Jefe Diego for whom the PANista senator
won millions from the Mexico City government in a
crooked land deal.

Meanwhile, thousands continue to camp out in a hard
rain for a third week on the streets of Mexico City
awaiting the court's decision. They have taken to
erecting shrines and altars and are praying for divine
intervention. Hundreds pilgrimage out to the shrine of
the Virgin of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees,
to ask the Brown Madonna to work her miracle. "God
doesn't belong to the PAN!" they chant as they trudge
up the great avenue that leads to the Basilica. "AMLO
deserves a miracle" Esther Ortiz, a 70 year-old great
grandmother comments to a reporter as she kneels to
pray before the gilded altar.

At the Metropolitan Cathedral on one flank of the
Zocalo, a young worshipper interrupts Cardinal Norberto
Rivera and is quickly hustled off the premises by his
Eminence's bouncers. The following Sunday, the
Cathedral's great doors are under heavy surveillance,
and churchgoers screened for telltale signs of devotion
to Lopez Obrador. Hundreds of AMLO's supporters mill
about in front of the ancient temple shouting "voto por
voto" and that Cardinal Rivera is a pederast.

AMLO as demi-god is one motif of this religious pageant
being played out at what was once the heart of the
Aztec theocracy, the island of Tenochtitlan. The ruins
of the twin temples of the fierce Aztec war god
Huitzilopochtli and Tlahuac, the god of the rain, are
adjacent to the National Palace against which AMLO's
stage is set. Lopez Obrador sleeps each night in a tent
close by.

Many hearts were ripped out smoking on these old stones
and fed to such hungry gods before the Crusaders showed
up bearing the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

AMLO is accused by right-wing "intellectuals" (Enrique
Krauze and the gringo apologist George Grayson) of
entertaining a Messiah complex. Indeed, he is up there
every day on the big screen, his craggy features, salt
and pepper hair, raspy voice and defiantly jutted jaw
bearing more of a passable resemblance to a younger
George C. Scott rather than The Crucified One. AMLO's
devotees come every evening at seven, shoehorned
between the big tents that fill the Zocalo, rain or
shine. Last Monday, I stood with a few thousand
diehards in a biblical downpour, thunder and lightening
shattering the heavens above. "Llueve y llueve y el
pueblo no se mueve" they chanted joyously, "it rains
and rains and the people do not move."

The evolution of these incantations is fascinating. At
first, the standard slogan of "Voto Por Voto, Casilla
por Casilla!" was automatically invoked whenever Lopez
Obrador stepped to the microphone. "You are not alone!"
and "Presidente!" had their moment. "Fraude!" is still
popular but in these last days, "No Pasaran!" -- they
shall not pass, the cry of the defenders of Madrid as
Franco's fascist hordes banged on the doors of Madrid,
1936 -- has flourished.

In this context, "No Pasaran!" means "we will not let
Felipe Calderon pass to the presidency." AMLO, who
holds out little hope that the TRIFE will decide in his
favor, devotes more time now to organizing the
resistance to the imposition of Calderon upon the Aztec
nation. Article 39 of the Mexican constitution, he
reminds partisans, grants the people the right to
change their government if that government does not
represent them. To this end, he is summoning a million
delegates up to the Zocalo for a National Democratic
Convention on Mexican Independence Day September 16, a
date usually reserved for a major military parade.

Aside from the logistical impossibility of putting a
million citizens in this Tiennemens-sized plaza, how
this gargantuan political extravaganza is going to be
financed is cloudy. Right now, it seems like small
children donating their piggy banks is the main mode of
fund-raising. Because AMLO's people distrust the banks,
all of which financed Calderon's vicious TV ad
campaign, a giant piggy bank has been raised in the
Zocalo to receive the contributions of the faithful.

Dreaming is also a fundraiser. 10,000 raised their
voices in song this past Sunday as part of a huge
chorus assembled under the dome of the Monument to the
Revolution to perform a cantata based on the words of
Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. This too is a
form of civil resistance, Lopez Obrador commended his

The first National Democratic Convention took place
behind rebel lines in the state of Aguascalientes in
1914 at the apogee of the Mexican Revolution when the
forces of Francisco Villa and his Army of the North
first joined forces with Zapata's Liberating Army of
the Southern Revolution. The second National Democratic
Revolution took place 80 years later in 1994, in a
clearing in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas when the
Zapatista Army of National Liberation wedded itself to
the civil society in an uprising that rocked Mexico all
throughout the '90s. Eclipsed by events, the EZLN and
its quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos have
disappeared from the political map in the wake of the
fraudulent election.

What this third National Democratic Convention is all
about is now being debated in PRD ruling circles and
down at the grassroots. Minimally, a plan of organized
resistance that will dog Felipe Calderon for the next
six years, severely hampering his ability to rule will
evolve from this mammoth conclave. The declaration of a
government in resistance headed by Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador is one consideration. The National Democratic
Convention could also result in the creation of a new
party to replace a worn-out PRD now thoroughly
infiltrated by cast-offs from the PRI.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution has always
functioned best as an opposition party. With notable
exceptions (AMLO was one), when the PRD becomes
government, it collapses into corruption, internecine
bickering, and behaves just as arrogantly as the PAN
and the PRI. No Pasaran?

Seven weeks after the July 2 electoral debacle, Mexico
finds itself at a dangerously combustible conjunction
("coyuntura") in which the tiny white elite here is
about to impose its will upon a largely brown and
impoverished populous to whom the political parties and
process grow more irrelevant each day. "No Pasaran!"
the people cry out but to whom and what they are
alluding to remains to be defined.

John Ross's ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible:
Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 will be published by
Nation Books this October. Ross will travel the Left
Coast this fall with both ZAPATISTAS! and a new
chapbook of poetry BOMBA! and is still looking for
possible venues. Send suggestions to

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Our Struggle and Brazil

Our Struggle and Brazil

Understanding Brazil is important to understanding Latin America and the U.S. relationship to Latin America. They have an important election in October. I, as a intense reader of Latin American stuff, dramatically under estimated the size and dynamic nature of the Brazilian economy and society prior to visiting there. It is the major player on South America. Sao Paulo, for example has 20 million people. And the P.T. has often governed that state.

I think we have much to learn from Brazil; and from the PRD in Mexico. They went from a small, dedicated group of socialists to mass parties able to win elections.

Often, the P.T. has faced governing several states and the nation, It is important to see how a left changes when it moves from organizing to governing. We have much to learn.

Note: in judging the P.T., they never had a majority in the Congress. They won the Presidency, but the Congress is divided among over 13 parties with shifting alliances. This explains a great deal about the P.T's ability to implement all of the intended reforms.
One of the most important reforms was in public education.

The piece below is from the conservative magazine The Economist.

"The political system is notable for the fragmentary nature of parties and the efforts that governments must make to forge and to maintain workable congressional coalitions. The PT has a minority in both houses of Congress, but has the support of several centre-left parties. During 2003 it also secured the backing of the elements of the centrist PMDB, support from which strengthened the administration’s position in the Senate.
The opposition comprises the PFL, a conservative party that originated in the north-east, and the PSDB. The PT will be able to count on the support of PSDB for support on legislation such as social security reform only to the extent that it pushes that party’s reform agenda in Congress; the PSDB is already irritated that the PT voted against these measures in opposition. Worried that the PT will usurp its position as the leading party on the centre-left, the PSDB has targeted the PT’s record on social policy for criticism. A more vigorous opposition is likely to emerge if Mr da Silva’s popularity diminishes.
Despite his strong personal mandate and authority within the PT, Mr da Silva will have to work hard to maintain party discipline within the governing coalition. The PT, in power for the first time, traces its origins to trade union struggles against the military regime in the 1970s and early 1980s. The party constitutes a broad political church, embracing individuals whose views range from traditional socialist to more modern social democrat. Mr da Silva himself has undergone a political transformation. Born into a poor family, he worked as a lathe operator before coming to prominence as a radical union leader. Having lost the previous three presidential elections, he moderated his stance, taking the PT to the centre, a policy that paid off in the 2002 election. Part of the modern social democratic wing of the PT, Mr da Silva now espouses a range of pragmatic economic and social policies, and accepts that the market and the private sector have an important role to play in the development of Brazil. These views are not universally accepted within the PT or by some parties in the congressional governing coalition. Consequently, Mr da Silva will have to overcome resistance from his own political supporters to implement his programme of orthodox macroeconomic policy and social reform. At the end of 2003 the government showed its determination to carry through its agenda by expelling from the PT those of its legislators who had voted against the social security reform. Outside Congress, the media, in particular television, play a significant role in forming public opinion. Since the advent of democracy investigative journalism has had a decisive role in politics, notably in the impeachment of Mr Collor in 1992. Elements of the broadcast media have not been well-disposed towards either Mr da Silva or his party in the past, but relations have improved since the election as the president has maintained a prudent policy stance.
Mr da Silva will draw support from another important extra-congressional political constituency, the trade union movement. The main union organisations, the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores and Forca Sindical, have a long history of supporting the PT, and this position is unlikely to change, although the unions are wary about the possibility of the introduction of new labour legislation. Business organisations, notably the Confederacao Nacional das Industrias and the Federacao das Industrias do Estado de Sao Paulo, have usually opposed the PT’s policy platform, but have reassessed this stance since the party gained power and shifted to the centre, and the private sector is working productively alongside the new government. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement) has also traditionally been closely aligned with the PT. It had curtailed direct actions using land invasions during the election campaign to help the PT to win over moderate voters, but has now stepped up direct action again in support of its demands for land distribution."
Duane Campbell

Friday, August 18, 2006

National Immigration Conference

700 Immigrant Rights Activists form National Alliance;
set protests for Labor Day weekend and September 30

By Joaquin Bustelo

cross-posted from

CHICAGO - Hundreds of immigrant activists and
supporters met in Chicago August 11-13 in a national
strategy convention of the legalization-for-all wing of
the movement.

The event was the largest of at least three national
gatherings of immigration activists held over the
summer, and the one that was directly based on the
"Calendar Coalitions," as the Latino-led grass-roots-
based left wing of the immigrant rights movement is
popularly known because many local groups take their
name from the date they were formed or held a
significant action.

The main decision of the convention was to found a
National Alliance for Immigrant Rights around the
central demands of a halt to all deportations and full
legalization for all immigrants. A national
coordinating council was created with the participation
of activists from all over the country.

"The most important thing is that we gave the movement
a national structure that will allow us to coordinate
our actions," Jorge Mujica, one of the key organizers
of the convention told reporters shortly after the
meeting concluded.

"We have transformed ourselves into a national

The Alliance also projected a series of nationally-
coordinated local actions, the first during the Labor
Day holiday weekend, the second on September 30, right
before the beginning of the government's new fiscal
year and Congress's adjournment for the elections.

These protests will be demanding not just legalization
for all, but an immediate moratorium on all
deportations and round-ups pending Congressional
enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform.

Right now Congress is deadlocked on the issue. The
House has passed a punitive, so-called "enforcement"-
only act which militarizes the border and brands all
undocumented immigrants as "aggravated felons."

Attempts by the Senate to reach a "compromise" with the
House have only led to a Senate Bill that incorporates
many of the repressive features of the House version
and has a convoluted, multi-tiered structure for a
temporary semi-legalization that would not cover many
millions of undocumented workers already in the country
and puts off citizenship for those that do qualify
almost two decades.

This attempted "compromise" has been rejected by the
Republican House leadership.

The conference voted to oppose both these bills.
"Better no law than a bad law," said Nativo Lopez,
president of the Mexican American Political Association
and a leader of the movement in Los Angeles.

Instead, the convention agreed to counterpose to bills
like those, an immediate a moratorium on raids and
deportations pending further Congressional action.

The generalization of the moratorium demand to the
national movement as a whole represents an important
advance in taking into account the desperation of
millions of undocumented who want full legalization for
all, but consider even a partial and punitive
legalization better than no legalization at all.

Attendance at the convention far exceeded the
expectations of the organizers. They had expected 300
participants at the event. In reality more than 400
formally registered, and many more participated without
registering. Organizers estimated that, in all, around
700 people took part.

The big majority of those attending were Latinos, with
Mexicans the biggest Latino nationality, as they are in
the population as a whole. Reflecting the immigrant
composition of the majority, the convention was mostly
conducted in Spanish with simultaneous translation into

For many participants, an important part of the
conference was the convening of a women's caucus that
demanded full, equal participation by women in all
aspects of the movement.

The impetus for the formation of the caucus came from
Latina activists in their 20's who objected to the
virtually all-male slate of presenters and chairs
organized for the first plenary session of the

The convention as a whole unanimously approved motions
from the caucus requiring equal female representation
in all leading bodies and among spokespeople and
national coordinators.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Venezuelan democracy looks alive, despite doubts
Wed Aug 16, 2006 8:09 AM ET

By Terry Wade

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Listen to the White House and one might think President Hugo Chavez has turned oil-rich Venezuela into a totalitarian state like Cuba, lacking a free press, freedom of speech and multi-party elections.

Despite the United States' rhetoric against Chavez, elements of democracy are easy to see in Venezuela, political scientists say. But they warn that a drop in oil prices would change the country's political dynamic and could prompt Chavez to become more repressive.

A vigorous local press now frequently lambastes Chavez, berating him for buying billions of dollars in weapons from Russia or accusing him of giving away huge quantities of oil to foreign allies. Newspapers run the gamut of political opinion.

Voter registration has risen sharply, the government says, as it brings people -- often poor -- into the political system who never before exercised their right to vote.

Chavez has called for a social revolution in Venezuela, and the government has an incentive to sign up the poor as most of them will vote for Chavez to thank him for his generous social programs, analysts say. But enabling people to cast ballots is widely viewed as fundamental to democracy.

Sky-high oil prices have made it easier for Chavez to fund campaign pledges to fight poverty. That reciprocity between voters and elected officials is also viewed as a cornerstone of democracy -- and has kept his popularity above 50 percent.

"The system is more democratic than many people believe, though that could change in the future," said Thad Dunning, assistant professor of political science at Yale University who does research in Caracas.

The country's 1999 constitution has at times made Chavez vulnerable, although it also broadened his powers. The constitution allows citizens to petition for a referendum to keep or fire the sitting president.

In 2004, Chavez survived a referendum to depose him. After stalling, he won his third election in a vote international observers called clean though the opposition cried foul.


To be sure, critics say Chavez has populist tendencies and sometimes has shown an urge to centralize power. He has ridiculed the opposition press and threatened to close TV stations under a new law that could be used to quash dissent.

Opponents say he stacked the supreme court, the electoral authority, the state oil company and central bank with allies.

The European Union and Organization of American States have denounced officials for using voter data to fire state workers who signed a petition for a referendum against Chavez.

Chavez' foreign policy includes visiting Iran, forging close ties to Cuba and jousting verbally with the White House.

President Bush has called Chavez a threat to democracy. But political scientists say the biggest recent threat to democracy in Venezuela was a failed coup attempt against Chavez in 2002.

In the domestic sphere, Chavez's revolutionary rhetoric has mostly translated into social spending for the impoverished. Chavez, a flamboyant speaker first elected in 1998, funds programs for cheap food, literacy and healthcare.

In the financial world, he has faithfully paid foreign and local lenders.

Unlike previous socialist regimes around the world, the rich have not been forced to leave the country. Thousands fled revolutions in China and Cuba, fearing political violence.

Wealthy Venezuelans are enjoying the current economic boom, driving big cars, wearing fancy jewelry and living in luxurious homes surrounded by the verdant hills of tropical Caracas.


Still, tensions between the rich and poor could intensify, analysts say, if oil prices drop from record levels.

"The big question is what Chavez would do," said Pedro Palma, economist and lecturer at the IESA business school in Caracas. "There could be a very dramatic crisis."

Businesses owned by the rich could suffer and, lacking windfall profits from oil exports, Chavez might be forced to cut back on generous social programs or raise unpopular taxes to keep them going.

In that case, Chavez -- who is widely expected to defeat a splintered opposition in December and win re-election to a six-year term -- might evolve to become more hard-line.

His power grew last year when an opposition boycott of parliamentary elections handed Chavistas all seats in Congress.

"I think that if petroleum prices decline then authoritarianism will increase because the government would have to repress demands from the poor," Eduardo Fernandez, a former presidential candidate, told Reuters.

"It is sad that there is no viable alternative to Chavez because you end up with an unbalanced political system."