Saturday, July 28, 2007

Correa's War : Ecuador

By Mark Weisbrot

Guardian (UK) - July 26, 2007

In Ecuador a reforming government is battling against a
hostile opposition media as well the country's corrupt
political class

In his recent book The Assault on Reason, former vice-
president Al Gore describes how "the potential for
manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially
discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even
more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media
Machiavellis." The concentration of broadcast media
ownership is indeed a real threat to democracy, as we
learned the hard way when more than 70% of Americans
were convinced, falsely, that Saddam Hussein was
involved in the attacks of September 11 - thus enabling
the launch of a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq.

The problem is even worse in Latin America, where
monopolised TV media provides a much larger share of the
news that people receive, and is even more shamelessly
manipulated for political purposes. In Ecuador,
President Rafael Correa, an economist with a PhD from
the University of Illinois, was elected last November
with a broad mandate for economic reform, pro-growth
development policies, and poverty alleviation. One of
his government's first acts was to double the monthly
stipend for single mothers, the disabled and elderly

Although Corrrea ran without a political party or
candidates for the congress, his mandate was strongly
reinforced when the government won a referendum to draw
up a new constitution by an even larger margin of 82%.

As in a number of other countries in the region, which
has seen a record economic failure over the last 25
years, voters endorsed the sweeping institutional and
political changes they saw as necessary to enfranchise
the majority.

But on May 21 the opposition media launched an assault
on President Correa's finance minister, Ricardo Patino.

In a seven-minute grainy video clip from a hidden
camera, they showed the minister meeting on February 12
with two representatives of a New York investment firm,
as well as a former finance minister. Patino talks about
"scaring the markets", in what looks like a plot to
manipulate the country's bond market. The clip, taken
out of context, was shown repeatedly for days on the TV
news, spliced with gratuitous, unrelated images of
faceless people counting large amounts of cash.

It turns out that the video was authorised by Patino
himself, an odd thing to do if one is meeting to plan a
crime. Patino claims that the purpose of the meeting and
the taping of it was to investigate corruption. And
indeed the rest of the video - not shown on TV but
presented in a transcript published in Ecuador's major
newspapers - supports his explanation. In the rest of
the meeting, Patino is probing for information on
corrupt activities - including past market
manipulations. He allows the others to present and
explain the possibilities in detail, never agreeing to
go along with anything - just as one would expect in an
investigation of this sort.

In fact he states that it would be wrong to manipulate
the market. The meeting ends with one of the investors
stating that nothing would be done regarding the current
debt payment - which was due three days after the
videotaped meeting - but that they could think about
what to do in the future.

But the TV media's repeated, propagandistic images -
playing on people's cynicism from decades of corrupt
government - had the most influence. This emboldened the
opposition to make more wild allegations of secret deals
with foreign banks, and vote to censure Patino in the
Congress - which they control. All of this has been done
without anyone presenting evidence that the finance
minister was involved in any wrongdoing.

If all this seems Orwellian, it is. Ecuador currently
has the most honest government it has ever had - that is
why it has had so much support from the beginning. Yet
the impression that is coming across in the media - both
Ecuadorian and now spilling over into the international
press - is one of corruption.

Correa remains immensely popular, and he has defended
Patino, who has now taken another cabinet position. The
government will survive this assault, and move forward
with its agenda. But the opposition, led by the
traditional elite and corrupt politicians, will use this
"scandal" - with the help of the media - to undermine
the government and the reforms that the voters have

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cesar Chavez and Unions

No Cesar Chavez
Leo Casey

As an undergraduate in the early 1970s, I attended Antioch College, a great institution of education in the John Dewey mold of learning by doing. This is a distinction I share with some notable activists in the field of education [Deborah Meier and Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools] and teacher unionism [the late, sorely missed Tom Mooney of the Cincinnati and Ohio Federation of Teachers and Mark Simon, currently director of the Institute for Teacher Union Leadership]. There was something about the Antioch experience that set us all off on remarkably similar life journeys.

Antioch is apparently in its last days, barring a miraculous resurrection. Its departure will leave American education all that much more poorer. In an age when some conservatives are engaged in thoughtless assaults on the very idea of an education committed to social change, Antioch continued to proudly wear the motto of Horace Mann, its founder and a pivotal figure in the emergence of American public education — “Be ashamed to die until you have won some visctory for humanity.” Antioch led the way in admitting women and African-American students into its student body and its faculty, well before the Civil War.

One of Antioch’s distinctive features from the Depression era presidency of Arthur Morgan until a decade ago was a work-study program, in which one studied for six months of the calendar year and worked for the other six months in a field related to your studies. My second six month job, as a 19 year old young man, was working with Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers [UFW] in California. It was there that I first learned, in a way that book learning itself could simply not convey, the centrality of trade unionism in the struggle for human dignity and social justice. It was my first schooling in the techniques of organizing, as Chavez was a very able student of the famous Saul Alinsky, but it was much more: it was an introduction into the great untapped potential of ordinary working men and women as agents of progressive social change, once they were 0rganized. I went to the UFW an anti-Vietnam War activist of the Catholic Left, attracted by Chavez’s dedication to non-violence in the tradition of Martin Luther King, and I left with an immeasurably enrichened and broader understanding of the world.

Antioch was also one of the first testing grounds of my parent’s remarkable patience with their son’s political activism. They were awoken in the middle of one night, about 3 AM New York City time, to be told that I was in a California hospital, having been hitten over the head and knocked out cold while canvasing for the UFW. But don’t worry, the caller told them, he will be okay. My mother slept not another wink, and called sick into her job in a Bushwick elementary school the next day — for which she received some less than supportive comments from the officious school principal. Some things never change.

I offer this little autobiographical sketch of a moment in my life as an explanatory preface to the fact that one of the more powerful moments of my UFW experience was seeing Cesar Chavez in action, up close, a number of times. I can still recall a moment at a staff meeting at the La Paz union headquarters in the California desert where Chavez took on, directly and without the slightest equivocation, a Chicano narrow nationalist who suggested that there was no place for non-Chicanos in La Causa. The UFW was a multi-racial institution of all working people, Chavez responded, and so long as he was its leader, it would never turn one race against another, set up one ethnic group in opposition to the next. Anyone willing to assume the conditions of all UFW staff [which could only be described as a form of extreme voluntary poverty] was welcome in its ranks. I also recall how Chavez would join us, as we spent hours holding signs on freeways — the UFW’s answer to the grower bought advertising — to convince voters to reject a ballot referendum designed to destroy the UFW. No organizing task was below him.

This moment came back to me when I read this remarkable post from Mike Klonsky’s Small Talk, “Chavez and DuBois Rolling In Their Graves?” Klonsky provides a remarkably long list of charter schools that have assumed the name of Cesar Chavez, while denying their teachers the right to organize into an union. To borrow a somewhat worn turn of phrase, I knew Cesar Chavez and the members of the boards of trustees of these schools are no Cesar Chavez.

There is an incredibly thin, transparent veneer to the right wing rhetoric in education which seizes the mantle of the civil rights movement. The notion that Chavez would have given a moment of his day, much less his good name, to an anti-union institution is shameless.


Over at Eduwonk, Andy Rotherham thinks it is “preposterous” to suggest that unions have more of “a claim” on the legacy of Cesar Chavez than an anti-union Chicana daughter of migrant workers. But this is precisely the sort of shallow identity politics that Chavez so strongly opposed — the notion that one’s ethnic identity, one’s parentage, is more important than one’s substantive politics and one’s actual work in the world. Chavez’s unambiguous stand on this question was exactly the point of the anecdote I cited in the original post. The notion that Chavez would lend his name to an enterprise that opposes the right of its employees to organize into an union and bargain collectively, whether those employees be farmworkers or teachers, is one that can only rest on a complete misunderstanding of his life’s work for justice for all working people. The argument that he would have foregone the core principles of that life’s work simply because opposition to them came from a Chicana is beyond incredulous. There are also a great many teacher unionists of Latin American descent, including notable AFT leaders, who would take considerable exception to the notion that the union to which they belong is an “Anglo” institution.

Further, the notion that Chavez was a man whose principles could be bought for any amount of money, much less for $200,000 a year of AFT support for the United Farmworkers, is completely scurrilous. He led a life of great sacrifice for La Causa. Union solidarity may be a foreign concept to some, but in the AFT, it is a principle we hold dear — and that it why we have supported the UFW and other unions, when we could. We are proud of our solidarity work. That the claim of Chavez’s silence for money comes in the form of a report of a rumor of a personal conversation — none of it in the slightest verifiable — says just about everything that needs to be said on the subject.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Drug money and the Mexican government

From Wikipedia
Zhenli Ye Gon (Traditional Chinese: 龔 禎利 葉[1]) (born January 31, 1963, Hong Kong[2]) is a Mexican business man of Chinese origin, accused of trafficking pseudoephedrine into Mexico from Asia. He is the legal representative of United Pharm Chem.
In an interview with the news agency AP, Mr Ye Gon stated that he kept the money found recently in his house in Mexico, which is the largest illegal fortune ever found in the world, after having been blackmailed by Mexican Secretary of Labor Javier Lozano. According to Mr Ye Gon, the money's ultimate destination was the presidential campaign of Felipe Calderón, the current president held by many to be spurious. In this respect the money scandal has become a nightmare for the current presidency, which is still under attack by the opposition under charges of committing fraud in the 2006 general election against Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
According to Mr Ye Gon, Mr. Lozano told him he should "cooperas o cuello" (literally, cooperate or neck), by this meaning if he did not co-operate then he would be killed.
The fortune, found by the police on March 15, 2007 at his residence at Lomas de Chapultepec in Mexico City included the following:
205 million American dollars
18 million Mexican pesos
200,000 Euros
113,000 Hong Kong dollars
11 centenarios (highly valued Mexican gold and silver coins)
A great amount of jewels, of unknown value
Confiscated along with the money were also:
2 Mexican style dwellings of approximately 20 million pesos
1 lab in construction of unknown value

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Guerrillas attack Pemex pipelines in Mexico,0,5950315.story?coll=la-home-center
From the Los Angeles Times
Mexico sends 5,000 troops to guard energy facilities
President Calderon dispatches an elite unit in response to guerrilla attacks on oil and natural gas pipelines. Fuel shortages have forced thousands of businesses to close.
By Héctor Tobar
Times Staff Writer

3:08 PM PDT, July 12, 2007

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Felipe Calderon has dispatched a new 5,000-strong elite military unit to guard strategic sites, including oil refineries and hydroelectric dams, in the wake of guerrilla attacks on pipelines operated by the national oil and gas company, Pemex, according to news reports Thursday.

Business leaders said as many as 1,000 manufacturing plants and other businesses in the Guanajuato-Queretaro region of central Mexico have been forced to shut down or scale back operations this week due to fuel shortages caused by the July 5 and July 10 attacks.

The leftist Popular Revolutionary Army, known by the Spanish initials EPR, claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday, saying they were in retaliation for the disappearance of two of their militants last year in the southern state of Oaxaca.

The EPR communiqué said the rebels had bombed three pipelines and a switching station in the states of Queretaro and Guanajuato. The explosions severed natural gas pipelines and a crude oil pipeline that links storage facilities in the Gulf of Mexico port of Poza Rica to a refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato, reducing fuel supplies in the region.

A fire that had burned in Queretaro since a bombing at 1 a.m. Tuesday was extinguished late Wednesday, Pemex officials said. Two hundred workers were working Thursday to repair the damaged lines.

Natural gas deliveries to residential customers have scaled back in several cities in the region this week, including Celaya and Irapuato.

The attacks shook a government already facing challenges on several fronts: drug traffickers who outgun the police in several corners of the country, a stalled immigration reform bill in the United States, and declining output from Pemex, the country's main source of foreign exchange.

"All we Mexican men and women of good will categorically reject violence because we wish to live in liberty and peace," Calderon said Wednesday in his only reference to the attacks this week, at a ceremony announcing a new commuter rail project for Mexico City.

Calderon is dispatching the Corps of Federal Support Forces, an elite army unit created in May in response to the challenges of the government's war against drug trafficking, the newspaper El Universal reported Thursday. Mexican officials have confirmed the presence of troops at the oil facilities, but have not said which units have been sent.

The Chamber of Transformation Industries, a business group, estimated that shutdowns caused by the pipeline explosions were costing businesses in central Mexico between $5 million and $10 million in losses each day.

The region known as the Bajio, centered in Guanajuato and Queretaro, is home to some of Mexico's largest industrial plants. And at least a dozen major companies in the region reported shutdowns or slowdowns this week related to the attacks, including Honda Motor Co., The Hershey Co., Kellogg Co and Nissan Motor Co.

Grupo Modelo SA, Mexico's largest beer maker, was impacted because Mexico's largest glassmaker, Grupo Vitro, temporarily shut down glass factories in Queretaro and Guadalajara.

"The damage to the economy is serious," Ruben Aguilar Valenzuela wrote in the commentary in the newspaper Reforma on Thursday. "This [guerrilla] action was well thought out.... They picked a strategic objective."

According to news reports, Mexican authorities believe the bombers used an explosive gel often used in underground mining. A similar explosive was used in an attack on three banks in the southern state of Morelos in 2005.

Howard Zinn, on the purpose of the war on immigrants

Of the People:
A Conversation with Howard Zinn
by Gabriel Matthew Schivone

G.M.S.: Here in Tucson, Arizona, 70 miles from the border, we are feeling the effects of President Bush's deployment of National Guard troops at the U.S. border. The first hundreds arrived last summer, and 2,500 are expected to be in our "Tucson Sector" by August. Moreover, the Border Patrol is to grow from 12,400 agents today to 18,000 by 2008. What are the purposes of a greatly militarized border?

H.Z.: I think the main purpose is not so much to keep people from crossing the border -- they will always find a way to do so -- but to create an atmosphere in the country which is viciously nationalistic, xenophobic, hostile to strangers of any kind. Creating fear of people on the other side of the border gives the government more control over its own people.

There are many striking parallels in immigration policies and social discriminations against the Mexican and Chinese throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which included massive deportation and legal exclusion, for instance, through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. What conclusion may be drawn from the treatment of the Chinese, Mexican, and other immigrant workers?

The conclusion to be drawn from this history is that we have an economic system which sees human beings as property, to be used when it is useful, to be discarded when it is no longer profitable.

The Chinese were welcomed to provide cheap labor on the transcontinental railroad, but then they were not needed, and creating hostility against them turned the attention of white workers away from their own exploiters and against "the other." This has been the historic device used by the great corporations to divide the working class. The same factors operate today with Mexicans and other immigrants.

You've written and spoken much about how crucial a knowledge of history is for us to understand the present conditions in which we find ourselves. You, as well as others like Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky, emphasize that it is a vital interest of the government to keep people in a state of "historical amnesia." Would you explain?

When people don't know their history (and I'm not speaking of the sanitized, nationalistic history that we get in school and in the media) -- they are easily deceived. When the President tells the nation that "we must go to war" for liberty, or democracy, or because we are being threatened, a public with no knowledge of history has no way of checking up on this. But if people knew the history of presidential deceptions to get the nation into war, they would not go along, they would be very skeptical. If they knew history, they would know that U.S. President James Polk pretended he was making war on Mexico because of a clash on the border in 1846 and bringing civilization to the Mexicans. They would understand that he lied about his true motive, which was to acquire almost half of Mexican land. If they knew history, they would remember that the U.S. went into Cuba in 1898, claiming to liberate the Cubans, and then made Cuba a virtual colony of the United States. They wou
d know that President Mckinley lied about his real motive for going into the Philippines, and Woodrow Wilson lied about World War I, and Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin in getting the U.S. into the Vietnam War.

You have done extensive research on war and human nature. What can studies of history, psychology, and anthropology tell us about human nature and the conditions of war?

A common belief, which you see all the time, is that wars are the result of "human nature." But there is no evidence for this in genetics, or in anthropology, or in psychology. The only evidence given is that we have always had wars. True, but you could say the same about slavery, or any institution that has lasted a long time. But it's a way of avoiding the fact that war, slavery, and other phenomena are not natural but created by human beings under certain social conditions. If wars were the result of human nature, it would not be necessary for governments to work so strenuously to mobilize their populations for war. People would naturally, spontaneously rush to kill. But that's not the case. Governments have to deceive the population, use enormous amounts of propaganda to persuade people to go to war, entice young people of the working class into the military in the hope of bettering their lives. And if none of that is sufficient, the government must coerce the yo
ng, draft them, threaten them with prison if they don't join.

I can tell you from my personal experience in the Air Force in World War II: my fellow crew members were not lovers of war. They were persuaded that they were doing something good in fighting fascism, that this was a just war. You can see, in the Vietnam War, how, once soldiers saw through the propaganda of the government, many of them turned against the war.

Why do some believe that there is a human instinct for war and that it's inherent human nature to kill?

It is an easy explanation. And it is useful for governments because it turns people away from examining the imperial motives of governments.

You have expressed immense reverence and gratitude for artists during times of war and popular struggle. Would you discuss the role of artists?

Artists have a special role in social movements -- they lend passion, poetry, humor to the principles any movement espouses. With that, they enhance the power of a social movement, which needs every additional strength it can muster to challenge the power of authorities.

The opening passage in Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls quotes a very moving "Meditation" by John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am a part of mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." What do you feel it says, not only to activists, but all people who are seemingly safe and far away from misery, famine, atrocity, and injustice?

It reminds people that we all share a common humanity and that if we turn our faces away from people who are in trouble, we are being less than human.

You've written and spoken much about the importance of civil disobedience. A prevalent mood of ordinary citizens is aversion to breaking the law under any circumstances. Many are led to believe, "If it's against the law, you shouldn't be doing it." What moral and pragmatic arguments would you give, both to activists and the public, regarding the legitimacy of civil disobedience in the face of legal injustice?

It's important to know that the law is not made by any divine being, it is not sacred; that the law is made by the people who run the society; and that they make the law to serve their own interests.

Even if there are organs of representative government in the United States, these are not truly representative of the people but serve the interests of the elite, so it is not sufficient to tell people, "Go through the regular channels," because those channels are controlled in such a way as to block radical change. That's why civil disobedience is necessary, in order to fulfill the requirements of democracy, that the interests of the people should be served. Without civil disobedience, we are at the mercy of people in power who make the laws, execute the laws, decide which laws to enforce and which not to enforce.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Murder of women in Guatemala

Gender Savagery in Guatemala

by Michael Parenti and Lucia Muñoz
Published on Sunday, July 8, 2007
by CommonDreams.org

On the outskirts of Guatemala City the body of an 18-
year-old woman of indigenous ethnicity was recently
discovered by her frantic parents who had been
searching long and hard. Forensic evidence showed that
she had been repeatedly raped and tortured and that her
head had been severed from her body with a blunt knife
while she was still alive.

This killing was more than just a passing aberration.
Nightmarish crimes against women have been occurring
with horrifying frequency in Guatemala. In the last
seven years, over 3,200 Guatemalan women have been
abducted and murdered, with many of them raped,
tortured, and mutilated in the doing. The number of
victims has shown a striking increase in the last few
years with some six hundred murdered in 2006 alone.

The victims often are from low-income families
deracinated from their rural homesteads during the
civil war and forced to crowd into Guatemala City and
other urban areas in search of work.

We might recall Guatemala's horrid history of violence.
From 1962 to 1996, a popular insurgency was defeated by
that deranged murder machine known as the Guatemalan
Army, trained, advised, financed, and equipped by the
United States. A United Nations-sponsored Truth
Commission in 1999 characterized much of the
counterinsurgency as a genocide against the Mayan
people, a holocaust that left 626 villages destroyed,
approximately 200,000 people dead or disappeared,
including many labor union leaders, student leaders,
journalists, and clergy. Hundreds of thousands more
were either displaced internally or forced to flee the

Those years of untrammeled massacres provide some
context for the current wave of femicide sweeping the
country. The 1996 peace accords officially declared an
end to the butchery but the war against women continues
albeit in more piecemeal fashion. Guatemalan women are
enduring the whiplash of decades of dehumanizing
violence-boosted by the same kind of deep-seated sexism
and gender-specific crimes (rape) that are perpetrated
in many societies around the world.

Independent investigators charge that the vast majority
of present-day atrocities against women have been
committed by current or former members of the
Guatemalan intelligence services. Having escaped
prosecution for human rights violations during the
internal war, these trained killers are now members of
private security forces or police and paramilitary
units that have been strongly implicated in the crimes
of the last seven years.

For the most part, authorities show little inclination
to bring the perpetrators to justice. Some officials
blame the victims for their own deaths, implying that
the women bring it on themselves because of their
supposed involvement in gang activities or drugs, or
because in some way or another they refuse to lead
properly conforming lives within the safe confines of a
traditional family and community

Some of the victims indeed may have been entangled in
shady operations. But many more have been working
women, including those of indigenous stock, trapped in
poverty. They are the prime victims of a broader
'social cleansing' that reactionary hoodlums are
conducting against a variety of groups including street
children, teenagers, gays, and homeless indigents, a
campaign that has claimed thousands of additional

Guatemala is known as the country of 'eternal spring.'
Some analysts have called it the land of 'eternal
impunity,' given how right-wing thugs continue to get
away with rape, torture, and murder. Statistics reveal
that hardly one percent of the perpetrators are ever
tried and convicted and the sentences are outrageously

Even those rare cases that make it all the way to a
prosecutor's desk have little chance of resulting in a
conviction due to the lack of reliable evidence. Recent
reports reveal the continuing failure of investigators
to collect and preserve essential evidence from crime
scenes. More than ordinary incompetence is operative
here. Guatemalan authorities manifest little interest
in training skilled cadres who might unearth really
damaging information about who is behind the crimes.

Anonymous death threats have been sent to the volunteer
exhumation teams that locate and examine the bodies of
the murdered women and who try to publicize the
evidence they discover. In May 2007 the leader of one
such team was informed that his sister would be 'raped
and dismembered into pieces' if he continued to
investigate the crimes.

While these murders may seem like little more than
random thrill killings to some observers, in fact they
serve a function of social control much as would any
form of state terrorism. The violence perpetrated
against individuals creates a pervasive climate of fear
and horror within the victimized families and
communities, thereby discouraging social protest and
popular resistance. Instead of organizing around any
number of crucial politico-economic issues, many of the
demoralized and traumatized families cower in stunned

In time people grow numb to the violence. Feeling
helpless they almost routinely check the news each day
to see how many additional victims have been reported.
The effects on children can be especially telling.
Growing up in a climate of fear, they learn that their
parents and community cannot keep them safe and that
homicidal fury might strike anyone at any time.

Family members of murdered women report that
authorities show hostility towards them when they
request government intervention.

Guatemala's legal system is rife with provisions that
minimize the seriousness of violence against women, a
system codified and enforced by men who have seldom
displayed any concern for the safety of women. The
Guatemalan Penal Code long reflected this bias,
treating domestic abuse as a minor offence and
generally offering scant protection from gender-based

Guatemalan president Oscar Berger voices a commitment
to confronting the crisis but has done next to nothing.
Rather than devoting the necessary resources to
investigation and enforcement, Berger appeared on
national television in 2005 to announce that, for their
own safety, women would do best to stay at home.

In 2005 Guatemala appointed its first female Supreme
Court President, Beatriz De Leon, and two years later a
female police chief. But there is little indication
that high-placed female officeholders are going to buck
the Old Boys network. Until the government makes some
significant efforts towards implementing the
recommendations outlined by human rights organizations
(such as Guatemala Peace and Development Network, MIA,
NISGUA, GHRC-USA, Rights Action, and Center for Gender
Studies), the lives of Guatemala's women will hang in
the balance.

There are some encouraging signs. The Human Rights
Committee of the Guatemalan Congress is giving serious
consideration to a bill that purports to guarantee
life, liberty, dignity, and equality for women along
with stiffer penalties for those who physically and
mentally abuse women and otherwise violate their

Meanwhile a growing number of Guatemalan women are
moving into nontraditional careers. In the upcoming
election, at least one hundred women will be running
for Congress. Some parties have designed campaign
strategies intended to promote electoral victories for
more women. At present of a total of 158 seats in the
Guatemalan Congress only fourteen are occupied by

There also are efforts by human rights organizations to
create a central, unified database of femicide victims,
as well as an emergency response system for missing
girls and women that would include utilization of
state-of-the-art internet capabilities, DNA testing,
and the like.

Awareness of the atrocities has been reaching other
countries and gaining international attention. There is
a growing demand from abroad that Guatemalan law
enforcement agencies get serious about responding to
the gender-based atrocities. The U.S. Congress is being
pressured to get into the act. A House resolution
condemns the murders and expresses condolences and
support to the families of victims. The resolution
urges the government of Guatemala to recognize domestic
violence as a crime, and to investigate the killings
and prosecute those responsible.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on the
Guatemalan Congress to approve the actions of the U.N.-
sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in
Guatemala. The commission intends to investigate the
clandestine groups that use violence to advance their
illicit political and financial interests.

Meanwhile innocent and unoffending women continue to
suffer nightmarish fates at the hands of misogynistic
maniacs who, some years ago, developed a taste for
inflicting rape, torture, and death 'in service to
their country.'

Michael Parenti is a noted author and social
commentator. His recent books include Contrary Notions:
The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); The Culture
Struggle (Seven Stories); Democracy for the Few 8th ed.
(Wadsworth/Thomson) and The Assassination of Julius
Caesar (New Press). See

Lucia Muñoz is founder and president of Mujeres
Iniciando En Las Americas, and co-founder of Guatemala
Peace and Development Network. She has lectured widely
across the United States on the struggles facing
Guatemalan women. See

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Vieques: Puerto Rico

Vieques: The Struggle Continues

Vieques and Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean archipelago: the smallest of the Greater
Antilles. Invaded by the United States in 1898 during the Spanish American
War, Puerto Rico was put under US rule as war booty. Today, Puerto Rico is
still a militarily occupied colony. In 1917 US citizenship was imposed upon
Puerto Ricans without the right to vote for president or be represented in
the US Congress. However, Puerto Ricans were and are subject to obligatory
U.S, military service.

Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico. Just 21 miles long and 4
miles wide, it is located 8 miles from the southeast coast of the main
island. During the1940s the U. S. Navy occupied three-fourths of the
territory of Vieques. For sixty years the Navy utilized Vieques as a base
for its military operations in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. The
Navy transformed Vieques into one of the world's most active bases to train
pilots and test new armament systems. The Navy also rented the facilities
to arms manufacturers and allied armed forces for practice and testing.

The military exercises provoked grave ecological, economic and social
damage, which contributed to extreme poverty and forced migration of many
Viequenses to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the United States. For
decades those who remained lived in terror of the physical and physiological
impacts of live, high explosive bombs. They also suffered from hostile and
abusive behavior by US Navy personnel, many of whom sexually assaulted women
and attacked and even murdered civilians.

The bombardments contaminated the waters, soil and air with alarming levels
of heavy metals and toxins such as mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum and
uranium, which has provoked a health crisis among Viequenses. For example,
Vieques' cancer rate is at least 30% higher than that for the rest of Puerto
Rico. In addition there are high incidences of lung disease, respiratory
aliments and skin problems, all of which are associated with the
high levels of environmental contamination.


For over six decades the people of Vieques have used different forms of
struggle against the military presence. In April of 1999, a bomb
accidentally hit an observation post, killing a local security guard named
David Sanes. This incident triggered the best-known and most dramatic phase
of Vieques resistance, which included massive civil disobedience.
The Vieques campaign against the US Navy received help and solidarity from
nearly all sectors of Puerto Rican society, as well as from the
international community. People from Vieques appeared several times before
of the United Nations Decolonization Committee and addressed multiple forums
in the United States and other countries, such as Brazil, Cuba, India,
Philippines, Japan, Korea, Guam, Guatemala and Geneva, Switzerland. Nearly
1,500 persons were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience in Vieques.
Hundreds of these people served time in federal prison for misdemeanor
trespassing. As consequence of this Puerto Rican struggle with international
help, military operations ceased on May 1, 2003, and the US Navy left

What does peace really involve?

The people of Vieques have a vision for the development of a new Vieques,
free from the US Navy, living in peace with a quality of life that responds
to the people's historic demands, which are summarized as follows:

· Recognition by the United States government of the right of the people of
Vieques to their lands.

· The departure of The Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States
Department of Interior from Vieques

· Creation of an organization of Viequenses to conserve, preserve and
protect the demilitarized lands, not to restrict the people but to help
teach them how to love, manage, conserve and protect their resources.

· The Master Plan for Sustainable Development should include mechanisms of
land control, conservation and management to guarantee proper use in
accordance with the interests and necessities of the community.

· Community control of the lands rescued from the US Navy through a
Community Land Trust or Cooperative to avoid speculation by large foreign

Recognition and realization of the above will fulfill the historic demands
of the people of Vieques, also known as the "Four D's":
Demilitarization, Decontamination, Devolution and Development.

For complete demilitarization the people of Vieques demand withdrawal of all
military personnel and all war related artifacts in Vieques. This includes
the Relocatable Over The Horizon Radar (ROTHR).

For complete decontamination, the US Navy must clean all contamination
caused by sixty years of bombings and other war related practices. They must
leave our house as clean as they found it when they first arrived. This
process requires that the corresponding governmental agencies give priority
attention to the most serious health problems in Vieques caused by the
contamination - because without good health there is no peace.

For complete devolution every inch of Vieques land must be returned to its
people. We need land to build homes, schools and hospitals, to develop
agricultural, tourist and fishing projects, and to leave to our future
generations. The rescue of this land is absolutely indispensable for the
future development of Vieques.

For sustainable development the people of Vieques must be allowed to put
into practice their vision of a Vieques not only without the US Navy, but
truly at peace. Community-controlled projects centered on eco-tourism,
agriculture and fishing, studies in marine biology and archeology - among
other economic sectors - will provide employment for our population and will
generate momentum to end the socioeconomic crisis of the past sixty years.

What can you do for Vieques?

· Start discussions of this new phase of the Vieques struggle in your
workplaces, schools, universities, and communities, as well as in meetings
with religious and governmental leaders. Call us and ask for a speaker to
come and give a presentation on Vieques.

· Write articles and letters to the editor in local and national newspapers

· Participate in activities of mobilization and protest

· Keep informed about activities through our electronic newsgroup: