Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Resistance in Honduras

Thousands of Hondurans are now in the streets to protest the coup d'etat in their country. They have been met with tear gas, anti-riot rubber bullets, tanks firing water mixed with chemicals, and clubs. Police have moved in to break down barricades and soldiers used violence to push back protesters at the presidential residence, leaving an unknown number wounded.

If the coup leaders were desperate when they decided to forcibly depose the elected president, they are even more desperate now. Stripped of its pretense of legality by universal repudiation and faced with a popular uprising, the coup has turned to more violent means.

The scoreboard in the battle for Honduras shows the coup losing badly. It has not gained a single point in the international diplomatic arena, it has no serious legal points, and the Honduran people are mobilizing against it. As the military and coup leaders resort to brute force, they rack up even more points against them in human rights and common decency.

Only one factor brought the coup to power and only one factor has enabled it to hold on for these few days—control of the armed forces. Now even that seems to be eroding.

Cracks in Army Loyalty to the Coup?

Reports are coming in that several battalions—specifically the Fourth and Tenth—have rebelled against coup leadership. Both Zelaya and his supporters have been very conscious that within the armed forces there are fractures. Instead of insulting the army, outside the heavily guarded presidential residence many protesters chant, "Soldiers, you are part of the people."

President Zelaya has been remarkably respectful in calling on the army to "correct its actions." It is likely the coup will continue to lose its grip on the army as intensifying mobilizations force it to confront its own people.

International Community Imposes Sanctions

The meeting of the Central American Integration System in Managua
became a forum for pronouncements from the major diplomatic groups
in the region. Photo: www.granma.cu.
In the diplomatic arena, it's not that the coup is losing its grip—it never even got a foothold. The meeting of the Central American Integration System in Managua Monday became a forum for pronouncements from one after another of the major diplomatic groups in the region. Latin America is a region where diplomatic recombinations have proliferated in recent years, so the alphabet soup of solidarity statements just keeps on growing.

The Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) issued a resolution, announcing the withdrawal of its ambassadors while continuing the member countries' international cooperation programs in Honduras. The group urged other nations to do the same—a growing list including Brazil and Mexico has already followed suit.

The ALBA group cited the Honduran Constitution, which states in Art. 3:

"No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order."

Putting teeth behind the words has already begun. The Central American countries agreed to close off their land borders to all commerce with Honduras for the next 48 hours. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration has cut off all lending until the president is restored to power.

It also called for sanctions in multilateral organizations: "We propose that exemplary sanctions be applied in all multilateral organizations and integration groups, to contribute to bringing about the immediate restitution of the constitutional order in Honduras, and to make good on the principle of action that Jose Marti taught us when he said: 'If each one does his duty, no one can overcome us.'"

The Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean nations also met in Managua and issued a statement condemning the coup and supporting Zelaya. Organization of American States Sec. General Jose Insulza was there too. President Zelaya received a standing ovation following his closing speech.

The U.S. government has been unambiguous in its condemnation of the coup and support of President Zelaya. President Obama stated today:

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there." He added, "It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

After years of the Bush administration, when the commitment to democracy abroad was decided more on the basis of ideological affinities than democratic practice, some sectors have trouble accepting that the U.S. government is condemning the overthrow of a president who espouses left-wing causes. Note the obstinacy of reporters at today's State Department press conference:

QUESTION: "So Ian, I'm sorry, just to confirm—so you're not calling it a coup, is that correct? Legally, you're not considering it a coup?"

MR. KELLY: "Well, I think you all saw the OAS statement last night, which called it a coup d'état, and you heard what the Secretary just said ..." (Clinton explicitly called it a coup).

This discussion and another drawn-out discussion in which reporters attempted to open up a window of doubt over support for reinstatement of Zelaya went on quite a while. Ian Kelly, the Dept. spokesperson, held fast as reporters tried to equate supposed violations of law by Zelaya with a military coup in a fantasy "everyone's-at-fault" scenario. Kelly reiterated that the coup is indeed an illegal coup and the only solution is the return of the elected president.

The "coup question" is more than semantics and has implications beyond conservative media's political agenda to justify the coup leaders. When a legal definition of coup is established, most U.S. aid to Honduras must be cut off.

Here's the relevant part of the foreign operations bill:

Sec. 7008. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.

So far, the Obama administration has focused on diplomatic efforts and is waiting to see how long the Honduran stand-off will last before looking to specific sanctions. The probability that the coup's days are numbered makes that a reasonable strategy for the time being.

Attack on Freedom of Expression

The military coup has also launched an all-out attack on freedom of expression in the country. Venezuela's Telesur reports that its team was detained and military personnel threatened to confiscate its video equipment if it continued to broadcast.

The ALBA declaration notes the use of censorship as a tool of the coup, "This silence was meant to impose the dictatorship by closing the government channel and cutting off electricity, seeking to hide and justify the coup before the people and the international community, and demonstrating an attitude that recalls the worst era of dictatorships that we've suffered in the 20th century in our continent."

Grassroots organizations that support President Zelaya have faced an uphill battle against the media, which alternates between scaring people about the risk to keep them out of the streets and denying the existence of those who do go out. A message from Via Campesina Honduras warns people that information is controlled by the coup to hide opposition, cut off communications on many channels, and only allow information that favors them. They have now organized to open up contact with reporters throughout the world.

An increasingly organized opposition and independent media on the scene and on the net are breaking through the information blockade. A third source is Twitter. A major player in the Iranian uprising, Twitter has become the pulse of, if not the body politic, at least some bodies of that politic.

All this means that the information black-out designed by the coup is riddled with points of light. It's still hard to get statistical information like crowd numbers or figures of killed and wounded, but Honduras is certainly not the isolated and insignificant "banana republic" it once was.

The Return of the President

Zelaya now leaves for New York City where he will speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations to further outpourings of support. In Managua, he announced that from there he will return, accompanied by Insulza, to Honduras.

In an interview with CNN a coup leader said that Zelaya "can return to Honduras—as long as he leaves his presidency behind."

The Honduran ambassador to the UN, Jorge Reina, said that although the coup leaders have asked to address the UN, "the UN does not recognize them ... They have made a serious mistake, those who think that countries can be led through coups."

"That history has passed."

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org) is the Director of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

To reprint this article, please contact americas@ciponline.org. The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIP Americas Program or the Center for International Policy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Military Coup in Honduras

Protesters Confront Soldiers After Coup in Honduras

Published: June 29, 2009
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — One day after the country’s president, Manuel Zelaya, was abruptly awakened, ousted and deported by the army here, hundreds of protesters massed at the presidential offices in an increasingly tense face-off with hundreds of camouflage-clad soldiers carrying riot shields and automatic weapons.

Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters
Soldiers guard the presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Monday.
Honduran President Is Ousted in Coup (June 29, 2009)

The protesters, many wearing masks and carrying wooden or metal sticks, yelled taunts at the soldiers across the fences ringing the compound and braced for the army to try to dispel them. “We’re defending our president,” said one protester, Umberto Guebara, who appeared to be in his 30s. “I’m not afraid. I’d give my life for my country.”

Leaders across the hemisphere joined in condemning the coup, the first in Central America since the end of the cold war. Mr. Zelaya, who touched down Sunday in Costa Rica, still in his pajamas, insisted, “I am the president of Honduras.”

The Honduran Congress late Sunday officially voted Mr. Zelaya out of office, replacing him with the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti. As of Monday morning, however, Mr. Micheletti had not yet addressed the public

Though political tensions had been building within the government for weeks, the final move to oust the president came unexpectedly, and confusion reigned among many Hondurans about what exactly had happened overnight. People crowded around newspaper stands and spoke among themselves about whether the power shift was temporary, what it meant and how the underlying conflict would be resolved.

“I’m not sure who our president is anymore,” said an elderly man in the border town of El Amatillo.

Mr. Zelaya, 56, a rancher who often appears in cowboy boots and a western hat, has the support of labor unions and the poor. But he is a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and the middle class and the wealthy business community fear he wants to introduce Mr. Chávez’s brand of socialist populism into the country, one of Latin America’s poorest. His term was to end in January.

The Honduran military offered no public explanation for its actions, but the country’s Supreme Court issued a statement saying that the military had acted to defend the law against “those who had publicly spoken out and acted against the Constitution’s provisions.”

Mr. Zelaya ’s ouster capped a showdown with other branches of government over his efforts to lift presidential term limits in a referendum that was to have taken place Sunday. Critics said the vote was part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the Constitution’s limit of a single four-year term for the president.

Early this month, the Supreme Court declared the referendum unconstitutional, and Congress followed suit last week. In the last few weeks, supporters and opponents of the president have held competing demonstrations. The prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal issued orders for the referendum ballots to be confiscated, but on Thursday, Mr. Zelaya led a group of protesters to an air force base and seized the ballots.

When the army refused to help organize the vote, he fired the armed forces commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez. The Supreme Court ruled the firing illegal and reinstated General Vásquez.

As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.

The two nations have long had a close military relationship, with an American military task force stationed at a Honduran air base about 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa. The unit focuses on training Honduran military forces, counternarcotics operations, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions throughout Central America.

In Costa Rica, Mr. Zelaya told the Venezuelan channel Telesur that he had been awoken by gunshots. Masked soldiers took his cellphone, shoved him into a van and took him to an air force base, where he was put on a plane. He said he did not know that he was being taken to Costa Rica until he landed at the airport in San José.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Military Coup in Honduras

A military coup has taken place in Honduras this morning (Sunday, June 28), led by SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez. In the early hours of the day, members of the Honduran military surrounded the presidential palace and forced the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, into custody. He was immediately flown to Costa Rica.

A national vote had been scheduled to take place today in Honduras to consult the electorate on a proposal of holding a Constitutional Assembly in November. General Vasquez had refused to comply with this vote and was deposed by the president, only to later be reinstated by the Congress and Supreme Court.

The Honduran state television was taken off the air. The electricity supply to the capital Tegucigalpa, as well telephone and cellphone lines were cut. Government institutions were taken over by the military. While the traditional political parties, Catholic church and military have not issued any statements, the people of Honduras are going into the streets, in spite of the fact that the streets are militarized. From Costa Rica, President Zelaya has called for a non-violent response from the people of Honduras, and for international solidarity for the Honduran democracy.

While the European Union and several Latin American governments just came out in support of President Zelaya and spoke out against the coup, a statement that was just issued by Barack Obama fell short of calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya as the legitimate president.
Call the State Department and the White House

Durazo, fighting for union workers

Recession No Time to Retreat, Says LA Labor Leader

by Patrick J. McDonnell

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Maria Elena Durazo makes no apologies for continuing to push her cause: fighting for union workers.

The state may be going broke, jobs may be vanishing like the morning mist, and the nation may be enduring its worst economic stretch in decades. But Southern California's top labor leader says this is not the time for unions to beat a retreat. On the contrary.

"It's more important for workers to have a voice in an economic crisis than it is when times are at their best," said Maria Elena Durazo, chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Durazo, who rose to prominence as an outspoken advocate for immigrant hotel workers, has now completed three years atop the powerful federation, representing more than 350 affiliated locals and 800,000 workers, including janitors, teachers, government staffers and others. She assumed the post a year after the death of her husband, Miguel Contreras, an astute strategist who guided the federation during its surge to prominence atop a resurgent Southern California labor movement.

Durazo's rise underscored the ascendance of a Latino-labor alliance that now dominates much of regional and state politics. The federation's endorsement can swing an election, doom a bill or guarantee its passage. But the deep recession poses new challenges for labor and its allies at City Hall, in Sacramento and in Washington.

"Unions have to walk a fine line," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. "They want to push to get as much as they can, but if they take too much and undermine the entities that employ them - be it private employers or local government - that could negatively affect unions and everyone else."

Unlike her late husband's comparatively reserved style, Durazo, 56, had long been known as a firebrand with a flair for the dramatic: On one occasion her former local organized a noisy protest in which low-wage hotel maids embroiled in a labor dispute made up beds - in the middle of rush-hour traffic on Figueroa Street.

Early last year she caused a stir when she publicly endorsed Barack Obama, at the time a long-shot contender, in the Democratic presidential race against Hillary Clinton, then the favorite of much of organized labor. Her close ally, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, another ex-union organizer, was national co-chairman of Clinton's campaign.

Now Durazo rides atop a Southern California labor movement that some critics deride as obsolete in the midst of a crisis economy, a guardian of bloated pensions and arcane workplace rules.

"Public-sector unions are beggaring the state," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

Not so, says Durazo, one of 11 children of Mexican immigrant farmworkers. Today's economic crisis, she argues, underscores the urgent need for more union jobs. Rebuilding the middle class is her often-repeated mantra. "We have to make sure that as many of our decent-paying jobs are protected as possible," she said.

Despite criticism as being intransigent, public-employee unions, she says, are ready to work "responsibly" with government to reduce budget deficits - while resisting "unilateral, draconian cuts." In the private sector, she says, workers must be prepared to stand up to corporate "greed," a management failing she cites in recent labor disputes.

Though union membership in California grew last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, union members represent just 18.4% of wage and salary workers - fewer than 1 in 5 employees. Nationally, the figure is 12.4 %.

Organized labor's top national priority is congressional passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposed law that would ease union organization drives. Labor and big business have spent fortunes on conflicting propaganda campaigns.

"As we look forward to rebuilding the economy, we have to ask: Are we going to rebuild it with poverty jobs?" said Durazo, arguing, for instance, that coming jobs in solar and wind power and weatherization should be union.

"If we do not have new rules about union organizing," she said, "I can guarantee you that these new 'green' jobs, these new technology jobs are going to be low-end, poverty-level jobs."

Like others in labor, Durazo sees the era of Obama, once a community organizer, as a singular opportunity. But she also bemoans the labor movement's deep divisions, including splits in her own union, Unite-Here, now in the midst of a fierce factional battle.

Durazo exudes pride over the Southern California labor movement's trajectory of growth: From "an ATM for politicians" into what she now calls a dynamic, truly rank-and-file movement, with substantial support of low-wage, new-immigrant workers, a group that organized labor once viewed with wariness, even hostility. The push for immigrant rights and expanded legal status is at the top of her agenda.

"We now do have the ability to make sure that our point of view is taken into consideration," Durazo said. "We've changed the political landscape."

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nativo Lopez charged

Veteran Latino-rights advocate charged with voter fraud
7:09 AM | June 25, 2009
Felony charges have been filed and an arrest warrant issued for a well-known Orange County political activist suspected of committing election and voter registration fraud, the California secretary of State's office announced Wednesday.

Investigators in the agency's election-fraud unit said Nativo V. Lopez, 57, of Santa Ana leased office space in Boyle Heights and registered to vote using that address although he lived with his family in Orange County. They also say Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Assn., cast an illegal ballot in L.A. in the 2008 presidential primary.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which is working with the secretary of State, charged Lopez with four felonies: fraudulent voter registration, fraudulent document filing, perjury and fraudulent voting. A warrant was issued for his arrest and bail was set at $10,000. The offenses carry penalties of up to three years in prison.

Lopez is a longtime Latino political-rights advocate in Orange County who served on the Santa Ana school board. Lopez has been a vocal advocate for Latino voting rights and supported immigrant amnesty and allowing undocumented workers to have driver's licenses. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 1997, the Orange County district attorney opened a criminal investigation into allegations that a group in which Lopez was a leader registered some clients to vote before they took the oath of citizenship. No criminal charges were brought, and Lopez demanded an apology from critics.

-- Dan Weikel and Shelby Grad
Nativo is President of the Mexican American Political Association and a friend.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Race and the U.S. Left

Bill Fletcher
Race and the Left

It is almost a cliché to speak in terms of "race" as a socio-political construct, nevertheless, "race", as we have come to know it since the 1500s, is undeniably so. For the purposes of this essay the critical features of an understanding of contemporary race and racism in the USA include:

Ø The lack of scientific relationship to biology since there is only the human race.

Ø The creation of categories of inferior and superior based upon arbitrary characteristics and definitions.

Ø The creation and perpetuation of a system of oppression of the "inferior" group in all aspects.

Ø The reinforcement of a relative differential in treatment—and its ideological justification—between those considered inferior and those considered superior.

Ø The use of race as a principal means for social control.

Ø Rendering irrelevant the experiences and viewpoint of the subordinated population except and insofar as interpreted by dominant population. This specifically has been applied to African descendents, Indigenous peoples, Asians and Latinos, those usually referenced as "people of color."

Race is, then, not a state of mind, but a socio-political reality. Even though there is no scientific basis for race, it occupies a real space and the institutions of the racial-capitalist society reinforce this reality every day.

Much of the Left, particularly what is described as the "white Left", has failed to appreciate the significance of race. The dominant approach has been to either attempt to ignore it or to attempt to inoculate against race and racism. These two approaches are often linked. In the popular movements and the Left notions of avoidance, either through "see no evil" or "inoculation" mediums, are recurring themes. In either case, the mistake comes from viewing race and racism as matters of the mind, or perhaps of the imagination, rather than being the mortar of US capitalism.

"Inoculation" generally takes the form of concentrating on so-called common economic issues as a way of taking everyone's eyes (and minds) off of race. This practice is very common in the labor union movement, but it is not restricted to organized labor. The Alinskyist approach to community organizing also contains this feature. In addition, this obsession with common economic issues was associated with the old Socialist Labor Party, the Socialist Party, and the early Communist Party. The Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary syndicalist labor federation, had a complicated understanding of race, on the other hand. More than most other US radicals, particularly white radicals, they appreciated the significance of race as a divisive force and held that racism must be opposed. At the same time, their understanding of race and racism was limited to a ‘divide and conquer' analysis and, as such, was not at all linked to national oppression and self-determination.

The white Left's failure to appreciate the significance of racist oppression also could be found in their misappraisal of the importance of Reconstruction and its ultimate overthrow. The white Left in the 19th century was not only divided on the question of slavery, but later divided over how to interpret Reconstruction. It did not see in Reconstruction a revolutionary moment in which Black freedom could have been won and which represented a challenge to class forces dominating the USA. In fact, for much of the white Left, Reconstruction was, at best, a footnote. Standing in contrast, W.E.B. Dubois' Black Reconstruction in America (a leftist challenge to the maligning of Reconstruction) is a must-read, even today, for any radicals attempting to understand the historical reality of race and social control.

Another important example of both the construction of race and the inconsistent approach of the white Left towards it revolves around Asian immigrants. It is ironic that as intense as was racist oppression against African Americans, Asians were regularly excluded from otherwise progressive formations that would include African Americans. In the mass movements this was in evidence in organized labor with the exclusion of Asians from the Knights of Labor, and later their exclusion from many unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. [Note: There is the infamous example in the AFL of the effort by the Japanese Mexican Labor Union of California to affiliate only to be told that the Mexicans would be accepted but the Japanese must be left out. The Mexicans rejected this "offer."]

The capitulation to anti-Japanese bias during World War II is one of the more ignominious moments in the history of the Communist Party, USA. This capitulation, taking the form of support for the interning of Japanese and Japanese Americans, did not come out of nowhere, however. It was rooted in the demonization of Asians and a stereotypical portrayal as being sly, sneaky and otherwise untrustworthy. The betrayal, later acknowledged and self-criticized, nevertheless undercut the important work that the CPUSA had carried out over the years to organize Asian immigrants.

Thus, if there were one feature or characteristic of the US Left that can be identified as being at the root of its dilemma, it would be a form of "economism," to borrow Lenin's term, i.e., the belief that the pure economic struggle is the road to the emergence of revolutionary consciousness. This economism, by the way, played itself out both with regard to race but also with the matter of empire, as shall be discussed below.

Settlerism and the National Question

The USA is not only characterized by a racial capitalism, but a racial-settler capitalism. Specifically, capitalism in the USA was constructed within the context of a settler state. By a settler state we mean a state based upon the forceful imposition of an alien population onto an indigenous population. Settler states are always racial, but not all racial states are settler states as such. Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel and Canada can be described as settler states. The settlers did not seek to accommodate the indigenous population at all, absorb them, nor did they simply set up outposts and attempt to control indirectly. The aim of the settler state is generally to remove the indigenous entirely, by whatever means is necessary. This may or may not involve extermination (Note: in the case of the USA there was a combination of displacement and extermination).

With a settler state comes the assumption of who is civilized and who is not. It is also accompanied by a variety of myths, most of which are religious or quasi-religious. The settler state acts on behalf of the settler, seeking the territory that it believes that the alien population is entitled to control. As such two (or more) different worlds come into existence; the world of the settler and the world of the indigenous, this resulting in a complete distortion in any notion of class struggle or democratic struggle. It is not an exaggeration to speak of two worlds. An examination of Israel, for instance, reveals that there are political forces that are on the right, center and left WITHIN the world of Israel, nevertheless with regard to the Palestinian Question may adjust where they fall dramatically on the ideological spectrum. An example of this was the "Black Panther" movement that arose in Israel in the early 1970s. Adopting their name from the Black Panther Party of the USA, this was a movement within Israel largely of Jews from the Arab World. Their principal claim was that Afro-Asian Jews were being discriminated against by the European Jews. While this may appear to be a progressive struggle, the irony was that the "Black Panthers" were in no way sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians! Thus, as settlers they were on the "left" within the context of the settler state and the settler world, but with regard to the Palestinians, their position was far from being on the Left.

It is in the context of the creation and expansion of a settler state that the national question and US imperialism can better be understood. Each of these, of course, is linked with race and racist oppression, however, they also have their own respective identities. Most of the US Left has chosen to ignore the matter of a settler state and the national question entirely, or to submerge it within the broad category of race; the assumption being that the borders of the USA are the borders and, in effect, that which was done—Manifest Destiny and the like—was done and there is no turning the clocks back. This is why, unfortunately, so many people on the Left (and not just the white Left) see the demand for reparations as both fanciful and unrealistic, not to mention, lacking relevance to the contemporary struggle.

The construction of a settler state complicates the matter of the determination of what actually constitutes a "nation." Most definitions of a "nation" diverge little from the notion that they are a people, usually the inhabitants of a specific territory, who share common customs, origins, history and frequently language or related languages. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). In Marxism the notion of nations is identified with the emergence of capitalism, recognizing that other forms of organization and relationship preceded (and often overlap) its development (e.g., tribes; ethnic groups).

Yet the notion of a "nation" is more often than not associated with the development of nations in Europe, and ultimately with the development of the European nation-state. In its attempts to look at the development of nations, the Russian Bolsheviks did not alter this basic view until the 1930s, at which time they elaborated an intriguing notion called "national-territorial delimitation." The theory in essence proposed—under socialism—the creation of modern nations out of peoples who existed as tribes or ethnic groups, but had not yet approached the contemporary notion of a nation. [Note: among other groups, national-territorial delimitation was applied toward Jews in the USSR who had been viewed by most Russian Marxists as not a nation but a national minority. Nevertheless a Jewish republic was established in Birobizhan, though by all accounts it was a failure.]

European colonialism, a subset of which was the settler state, encountered existing peoples who lived as tribes, ethnic groups, kingdoms and empires. In some cases, these peoples were developing or near developing capitalism. In other cases they lived in what Samir Amin has described as "tributary social formations" (e.g., feudalism); and in still other situations their social formations were less developed. In any case, the entrance of European colonialism, to borrow from Amilcar Cabral, took these peoples out of their own history. Among other things this meant that their economic and social development was shaped around the needs and aspirations of colonialism rather than their internal needs.

In this sense, nations in what we today term the "global South" (Asia, Africa, Latin America) developed very differently than in Europe. In some cases one could argue that nations, as such, did not develop even though nation-states did.

Settler capitalism in the thirteen colonies in North America and then in the USA created a nation-state, initially through the amalgamation of many European peoples who came to be defined as "white." The characteristic of the settler state was that of being a "white" settler state whose raison d'être was the protection of the interests of the white bloc, i.e., the settlers.

The settler state found itself defining its existence largely through a definition of the "Other." The first clear "Others" were the African slaves and the Native Americans. The racial settler state acted in the interests of the white settlers on multiple levels including land acquisition. The racial settler state, through its aggression, forced the annihilation, removal or amalgamation of peoples. In the case of African Americans it forced a reconfiguration among hitherto separate peoples; what had not existed—a nation—slowly came into existence.

The oppressed nations that emerged in the USA over the last two hundred years did so as a direct result of the calculations of the settler state. This does not mean that the settler state set out to create oppressed nations. More accurately, it means that a binary system exists between settler states and oppressed nations. Ethnic groups, tribes, and similar kinships take on a different existence and, indeed, are transformed through the mechanisms of the oppressor/settler state. They are forced to assume an identity (not in a post-modern sense) and a collective history that they may not have once thought possible.

In the case of the Native American, the great Shawnee leader from the early 19th century, Tecumseh, attempted to articulate the path toward Indian nationhood as a necessary and conscious step. His was not a vision simply of an alliance of tribes against the white USA but rather the development of a structure to counter the invasion—an Indian nation-state. In certain respects Tecumseh's vision was not altogether different from that of the Japanese elite that pursued the Meiji Restoration later in the 19th century in response to the aggressiveness of the USA and Western Europe. From the standpoint of the Native American and other oppressed peoples, Tecumseh's efforts unfortunately failed.

In the US Southwest, the Mexicano/Chicano people developed an independent history from Mexico with the annexation of the northern part of Mexico by the United States in 1848. The US settler state constructed a de facto Jim Crow existence for the annexed population, subordinating them to white settlers. Ironically, while the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo of 1848 classified the annexed Mexicans as "whites" [the alternative was to be classified as Black (slave) or Indian] and guaranteed them their land rights, they were treated as anything but white. Though annexed, the soon-to-become Chicanos did not cease to have contact or a relationship with Mexico. Nevertheless, their existence was to be defined by their relationship with the settler state and its efforts to shape the annexed population (or displace them) to meet the needs of the settler state. The defining feature of the annexed population, then, was (a)their annexation, and (b)their relationship with the settler state. To that extent efforts undertaken by many theorists to define the independent identity of the Chicano people, while historically important, are in many respects secondary to the question of annexation.

Puerto Rico, on the other hand, was annexed wholesale. A population that was moving toward nationhood with the fusion of European, African and Taino blood, was recast when turned over to the USA by Spain and deprived of its right to self-determination. Within the borders of the USA, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii provides examples of more of the classic colonial mold, whereas the development of African American, Chicano, and Native American nations has come about for the most part due to their relationship to the racial settler state.

With national oppression emerge forms of national consciousness, not all of which are progressive. Yet the development of national consciousness is a critical step in the development of nationhood and the possibility for emancipatory action. During the post war period and through the 1970s the revolutionary aspect of national consciousness was very much apparent (and as noted by Frantz Fanon, was a step towards internationalism). This was true both domestically and internationally. Again drawing from Cabral, national consciousness sought to return oppressed and marginalized people to their own histories. As such it represents an effort to create a new ‘identity' for peoples that had existed, hitherto, as isolated (and often hostile) pockets within a given territory.

National consciousness in the USA was very much linked with this international phenomenon (the rise of anti-colonial and pro-national liberation movements). It was, to a great extent, racial/national in that it represented the rejection of racism and racist oppression. It represents the rejection of racist categories and subordination, and the rejection of even the notion of racial privilege. It was (and is) also racial in that it did not always conform to specific ethnic groups. African American national consciousness was/is at the same time "Black" [i.e., not white; being of the Diaspora] and African American [of the population that had been brought to the USA as slaves, added to which were Cape Verdeans and Caribbeans who integrated into the greater fabric of the African American people]. National consciousness among Asians did not necessarily conform to their individual identities as Chinese, Filipino, etc., but overlapped both the individual national identities as well as the broader "racial" category of "Asian". [Note: Asians in the USA would not correspond, in either numbers or their relationship with the settler state, to one or several oppressed nations. Nonetheless, this does not make them in any sense less important social movements. It is simply a different categorization.]

Frantz Fanon pointed out what he termed the "pitfalls of national consciousness." There are many. In the USA it became evident from the 1970s on, that among oppressed nationalities there was a devolution away from a radical national consciousness. Our movements have tended more in the direction of an ethno-nationalist consciousness where the particular ethnic group, nation or nationality counterposes its interests to other groupings, including but not limited to other oppressed groupings, rather than against the oppressor state. Among African Americans this could be seen earlier, for sure, in the contention between African Americans whose roots lay in North American slavery vs. those from the Caribbean (and in a different way, those from the Cape Verde Islands). Nevertheless, "Black America" underwent significant demographic changes and racial/national consciousness served as something of a unifying force. By the 1970s, however, the devolution had begun such that—and despite progressive efforts such as Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition—African American racial/national consciousness (or at least a segment of this consciousness) was being counterposed to the interests of other oppressed groups, most notably more recent Latin American immigrants.

A final point about racial/national consciousness. Racial/National consciousness in the context of the USA has historically both a domestic and international character in that it offers a challenge to domestic racism, as well as to global imperialism. Pan Africanism, in general, serves as one example, having promoted various solidarity movements with struggles against colonialism and imperialism over the years. Forms of Indigismo and Raza consciousness have represented an analogous tendency in opposing domestic national/racial oppression, but also US imperialism in Latin America. The relationship, then, between race and empire were and are keen elements in racial/national consciousness.

A significant section of the US Left has failed to appreciate these features of the "national movements" in the USA. For much of the white Left (and a small numbers of leftists from among oppressed nationalities), any form of racial/national consciousness is perceived as threatening, if not divisive. Thus, the fact that racial/national oppression results in the potential for a multi-class anti-imperialist project can be portrayed by segments of the Left as class collaboration (in the obviously negative sense, as opposed to class alliances). For example, despite the vigilance of their anti-racism, the IWW nevertheless failed to get the national character of the struggles of African Americans, or for that matter the Chicanos (Note: though as internationalists they did seem to recognize that the Chicano struggle and the Mexican struggle—in Mexico—were interrelated.] For the IWW, the only struggle was the class struggle, therefore making the IWW allies of a component of the struggle against racist and national oppressions.

The empire

The westward expansion of the settler state was deeply linked to the development of empire. As noted elsewhere, the Founding Fathers saw no necessary contradiction between a [white] democratic republic and an empire. The first steps towards empire involved, in fact, the westward expansion and the defeat of the Native Americans. This is not simply a historical footnote. Often, it is stated that the USA did not seek a territorial empire (with colonies). That was true at a certain moment and to a certain extent. The expansion westward, much like the Russian expansion eastward toward and into Siberia (and actually into Alaska and northern California), did not involve the absorption of uninhabited territories. Territories and peoples were forcefully absorbed into the USA and concurrently the construction of a system was undertaken to ensure the suppression, passivity or complacency of the indigenous population. It was after the securing of the continental USA that the ruling circles could generally agree to an overseas expansion, albeit a complicated one that did not place a priority on the direct rule of significant numbers of colonies.

The point is that for the USA, the settler state and its expansion was linked to the development of empire. It is not the case in every settler state. Moreover, it historically accurate that the vast expansion did not go unchallenged, even from within the settler population. The US war of aggression against Mexico, for instance, and certainly the war of aggression against the Philippines witnessed significant domestic opposition, coupled with the resistance from the victims of the aggression. The reasons for the domestic opposition were not always noble, but resistance it was nevertheless.

Particularly because the US empire did not rely, primarily, on direct colonies, defense of empire was less about territory and more about ‘mission.' Mission was treated as being equivalent to patriotism. As a result, each action by the USA overseas was supposed to be accepted as having a righteous objective. What compounded this was a particular form of isolationism that became quite popular in the USA whereby there would be tolerance for US activity overseas particularly when it did not necessitate the deployment (and loss of lives) of US troops.

The US Left has historically been very divided over whether and how to challenge empire, in part because challenging empire has been portrayed by the mainstream as precisely the challenging of patriotism. When challenges are mounted they tend to be at times of military conflict, but much less attention is devoted to non-military involvement, or for that matter, even covert military operations. The accumulation of wealth that results in the centers of capitalism from imperialism is, as an issue, either sidestepped or is the source of moralizing. The US Left rarely engages in a concrete discussion concerning the need for a global wealth redivision. Rather, it is more likely to engage in the assumption that wealth redivision need not be discussed because with the advent of a post-capitalist society everything will be taken care of for everyone. This is the global counterpart to domestic economism when it comes to matters of race (related, indeed, to what Lenin termed "imperialist economism" during World War I when he was pressing Marxists to address the national question). That is, in recognizing that the matter of global wealth redistribution (and how the wealth came to be so unequally divided in the first place!) is a hot-button matter, much of the Left would rather take a pass or reserve such discussions for study groups rather than to ascertain a means to make that a significant component of the mass left politics that need to be articulated and practiced.

The US Left, then, is challenged by the need to take on, that is confront, imperial consciousness, something that it cannot do successfully through an ‘economist' framework. Empire will not be challenged by promoting the notion that a rising tide raises all boats. Global wealth redistribution will necessitate a different way of living in the global North, and throughout the entire world for that matter. The need for wealth redistribution does not necessitate poverty, although it will indeed represent a frontal assault on capitalist consumerism. Further, it will necessitate a challenge to the manner in which wealth is distributed within the capitalist states of the global North.

Implications for socialist strategy

Socialism, at least according to its original theorists, was/is to represent an expansion of democracy. For Lenin and those Marxists who followed him, socialists were to be those upholding the struggle for what he termed "consistent democracy," the basic notion being that democratic capitalism is, by definition, wholly inconsistent. This ranges from the division of wealth to the control over the means of production. It also, and all too often overlooked, relates to other features of society, particularly areas of gender and nationality/race. Therefore, socialists should be the ones that are at the forefront of struggles against the unjust and undemocratic practices of capitalism and through such struggles represent in practice the sort of world that we wish to bring into being.

When it comes to racist oppression and national oppression, 20th century socialism (and now 21st century socialism)—and not just in the USA—was been inconsistent. While generally better than practices in the capitalist states, socialists—in and out of power—often stumbled when it comes to race and national oppression (not to mention gender and sexuality), often in the name of keeping issues of class central. The reality is that rather than keeping matters of class central, these socialists have fallen prey to the economism and economic determinism that Lenin and others warned about so long ago.

In reviewing the successes and failures of US socialists in addressing race, national oppression and empire since the 19th century, there are important conclusions that need to be placed squarely on the table for further examination:

(1)Race and the national question keep "getting in the way": Attempts by those on the Left to avoid race and national oppression are doomed to failure. Similarly, focusing exclusively on economics or in the post-modern framework putting all "oppressions" on the same plane, are approaches that are doomed to failure. The history of the USA should demonstrate the particular power that exists when it comes to race and national oppression. Not only does ambivalence on racist oppression and national oppression lead to alienating groups historically victimized by racism and national oppression, but it ensures that whites continue to live in a dream world that ignores the realities of structural oppression.

(2)Right-wing populism and imperial consciousness will block the revolutionary potential of a significant percentage, if not a majority of whites: This is a controversial point but one that needs serious attention. The US Left has generally assumed that most whites can, eventually, be won to be part of the historic bloc that brings into being a revolutionary post-capitalist (what I would describe as socialist) system. This may not be the case. Right-wing populism and imperial consciousness exert a very strong pull on white America. It is very much wrapped up with the myth of US history and the blindspots that have continue to exist when it comes to racism, national oppression and empire. Challenging these myths and embracing what can be described as a counter-narrative regarding US history will be central to uniting with a Left historic bloc by whites in the USA. Thus, a historic bloc in the USA may be a majority of its people, but it may not be a majority of whites.

A second aspect of this point is that right-wing populism and imperial consciousness exist as a cancer in the US political scene. This particular cancer can metastasize into significant right-wing social movements, one of which could be neo-fascist. Concretely, this means that active work against right-wing populism—at the ideological and practical level—must be a central component of the work of the Left.

(3)Anti-racism must be more than diversity, and instead go to the heart of power: In an age when mainstream discourse revolves around the myth of "post-racialism" it is critical for the Left to identify the concrete manifestations of structural racist and national oppression. The political Right is doing all that it can to redefine racism as an abstract concept that is equivalent to personal prejudice. We, on the other hand, must demonstrate that racist and national oppressions are real world and manifest themselves in a differential in treatment in all spheres, including but not limited to education, health, jobs, housing and political participation. Demonstrating this differential involves more than policy papers. Progressive struggles must be conducted that identify these sites and forms of oppression and work to demolish them.

(4)Movements of internal oppressed nations in the USA will continue to be waged for self-determination, even if the demand for self-determination is not explicit: "Self-determination" is a term that has a very broad usage in popular language, but in this instance it refers to the right of a nation to determine its own destiny, including matters of sovereignty. It goes way beyond the notion of ‘we can do it on our own.'

There are not currently major movements in the USA, with the exception of Native Americans, that have made territorial sovereignty a plank of their central demands. This does NOT mean that the demand for land has disappeared. In both the African American and Chicano movements there continue to be demands for land (e.g., African American farmers; Chicano land and water rights demands). In the case of African Americans and Chicanos, however, while there are political tendencies that have and continue to demand secession and the establishment of an independent homeland, these tendencies are small.

The limited discussion regarding the matter of land and sovereignty may lead many to believe, mistakenly, that the demand for self-determination is outdated or otherwise inappropriate. Self-determination, in the sense of national sovereignty, is more complicated today due to the realities of globalization. For those of us in the USA, it is further complicated by being in the heart of the empire. Despite this, self-determination remains a critical demand for nationally oppressed groups. In the 21st century, the form that it takes may change a great deal from struggles that have taken place in other countries and at other times.

The USA, unlike Czarist Russia (which contained many oppressed nations), has geographic areas that have large concentrations of oppressed nationalities, e.g., the Black Belt South (African Americans); the Southwest (Chicanos), however, these areas are not so separate nor so overwhelmingly populated by these respective nationalities that territorial separation can be viewed as a realistic option in the foreseeable future unless dramatic political and demographic changes take place. [Note: Puerto Rico is an obvious exception to this, where in fact, there is an independence movement, albeit weaker than it once was.] Those geographic areas can, however, be major base areas for these national movements as well as for democratic and left-wing multi-racial/multi-national movements. In Czarist Russia, for instance and by contrast, the territory that is now known as Uzbekistan had few ethnic Russians (though those there existed in a relatively privileged position over the native Uzbeks) and was clearly controlled by the Czarist regime. In effect, it was colonized. The expansion of the US settler state created the conditions for an African American and Chicano nation but never allowed those areas of concentration to be significantly separate from both the Anglo/white population (except in a Jim Crows sense) and their integration into the overall US political system.

Self-determination in a US context may more take the form of the demand for reparations, whether or not the term "reparations" is used. It may take the form of concrete demands and struggles around the end to structural oppression. Within that the demand for land will be important, but not necessarily as a demand for a separate national-territorial existence. Reparations, then, is part of a global struggle for a re-division of the wealth as well as being a demand of the nationally oppressed groups in the USA who have been robbed of their histories, land and labor.

(5)Movements of racially/nationally oppressed peoples in the USA can challenge imperialism domestically as well as building alliances with external anti-imperialist movements: The demands of the racially and nationally oppressed peoples are counter to the inconsistencies that are contained in democratic capitalism, but also to the external practices of US imperialism. These movements have seen the underside of the "American Dream" and their demands challenge the myths of US history. Insofar as their demands call for an expansion of democracy, they are key allies of other progressive social movements. Indeed, these movements are generally the leading forces in the cause of consistent democracy.

Yet, these are multi-class movements, a fact with which sections of the Left—as noted earlier—have difficulty. They are multi-class because the various classes within these racially and nationally oppressed peoples have an interest in the end of racism and national oppression. The situation has changed dramatically, however, since the 1970s, as desegregation partially materialized. Desegregation led to erosion in the economic barriers—in place since slavery, and certainly since Jim Crow segregation was established—that had often allowed a weak ‘internal' bourgeoisie to develop among these peoples that was based almost exclusively on the market created by these racially/nationally oppressed groups. An example would be the African American cosmetics firm Johnson Products that, for years, was protected from competition from the larger white firms because the latter had no interest in the African American market. This changed in the 60s and 70s when the white firms discovered the ‘green' in the African American market. Resistance was futile, forcing firms such as this to adjust their entire strategies, or in some cases, to be absorbed into larger white and transnational firms, or go out of business altogether. In political terms, the change was evident in the declining support by the Black elite for progressive social movements after the victories against legal segregation (and externally, in the victory over white minority rule in southern Africa). We should be clear that for the Left, multi-class alliances within these national movements can be particularly tricky and, therefore, must be approached carefully.

The conclusion from all of this is that the movements of the racially and nationally oppressed must be recognized as central to the historic bloc the Left needs to win socialism.

(6)Challenging imperial consciousness means challenging the empire: Socialist strategy, which is always purported to be internationalist, must identify at least three key components in the struggle against empire:

Ø Immigration: The fight is not simply for improved immigration policies. There has to be a broader recognition in the US public that current immigration is largely the direct result of imperialism. The massive waves of migrants are directly related to the legacy of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and the destruction of economies in the global South. Far from an external invasion, immigrants are refugees from the literal and figurative battles carried out over more than two hundred years by imperialism. In fact, the current migratory patters and the anticipation of its increase the world over require that immigration policies must reflect the current objective conditions.

Ø Democratic foreign policy: The immediate struggle must be for a dramatic shift in US foreign policy, a shift that actually speaks to matters of respect for national self-determination and global governance. This includes the closing of US military bases around the world; de-nuclearization; commitment to international agreements to address the global environmental crisis; revising or rewriting trade agreements; and the end to US bullying. While, as Leftists, we realize that imperialism cannot change its spots, at the same time we recognize that there can be significant policy changes that give other countries the requisite breathing room in order to exert their sovereignty.

Ø Reparations and global wealth redistribution: Reparations is not only a domestic demand, but an international one as well. It is a demand that falls before the countries of the global North and particularly the main centers of historic imperialism, e.g., the so-called G-8 nations, which have enriched themselves directly through the suppression, pillage and rape of the global South. The demand for reparations and global wealth redistribution is not a demand that can await socialism, but must be one that we act upon now through our struggles for reform in the international arena.

Read the entire essay at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/21673

PRD conflicts

The PRD, Mexico's ostensibly left-center political party, continued to self
destruct this week as party bosses fought over the official candidate in
Iztapalapa, Mexico City's largest barrio with 6 million inhabitants. You'll
remember the PRD as the party that was unable to organize clean internal
elections last year. Two party factions have been battling ever since for
control of lucrative posts and federal funds. In anticipation of this
summer's mid-term elections, the factions agreed to a tentative peace, but a
fight over control of the huge Iztapalapa delegation broke the agreement in
spectacular form. Long time party hack and "New Left" leader Rene Arce
wants his wife, Silvia Oliva, to run the delegation, while the "United
Left," aligned with former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador, prefers Clara Brugada. Internal PRD organs controlled by the
United Left gave Brugada the candidacy, but Oliva challenged the decision in
Mexico City's Electoral Tribunal, a state agency with heavy PAN influence,
where she was awarded the official candidacy this week. Now Lopez Obrador
is asking the electorate to vote for the Workers Party candidate, who would
turn the post over to Brugada if he wins the election. Party officials are
threatening to expel Lopez Obrador from the PRD for supporting a rival party
- but not until after the elections. Apparently the appearance of "party
unity" is more important than a nasty battle over the widely popular Lopez
Obrador's status. If this all seems impossibly complicated, imagine what
voters will have to sort out in July, or what the Mexican public has to face
every day as the political class literally disintegrates before their eyes.

From the Mexico Solidarity Network news bulletin, June 15-21

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Secret Courts and Immigrants

Secret Courts Exploit Immigrants
By Jacqueline Stevens
The Nation
June 16, 2009

You don't need to go to Iran or North Korea to find
secret courts. They're alive and well right here in the
United States. On March 26, 2009, I was denied access to
immigration courts in Eloy and Florence, Arizona, even
though a federal regulation states, "All hearings, other
than exclusion hearings, shall be open to the public"
with a narrow range of exceptions--none of which were
cited as a reason for excluding me.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this report
erroneously stated that the fences around the Eloy,
Arizona detention center were electrified. In fact, they
are not.

I'd heard horror stories about mass hearings and the
humiliation of detainees by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) attorneys and judges, and I wanted to
see for myself. But a guard told me only family members
or attorneys could be admitted. An attorney in the lobby
affirmed the legality of my request and invited me to
attend his hearing. After waiting forty-five minutes and
missing his hearing, I was told by the head of security
to go to my car and call Eloy's ICE office. That's when
I learned that detention centers across the country were
restricting public access to immigration courts.

Mark Soukup, Eloy's supervisory detention and
deportation officer, explained that ICE required anyone
entering the immigration courts at Eloy to undergo a
background check, for which one would need to submit in
writing two weeks in advance one's name, date of birth,
Social Security number, a home address and the
particular hearing one wanted to attend. "The problem is
that anyone with a felony or misdemeanor conviction in
the last five years can be prohibited to come in for
security reasons," Soukup explained.

The Eloy immigration courts are housed in a building
behind two fences topped with barbed wire. You must be
buzzed through two gates to enter the building. Access
to the courts themselves requires going through a metal
detector in a lobby with several guards and another
locked door. Mentioning this, I asked Soukup how a
background check enhanced security. He told me these
were the rules that applied to everyone, including
contractors. I replied that contractors did not have a
right to work at a detention center, but the public has
the right to attend immigration proceedings.

In 2002, the courts overturned a related policy closing
immigration hearings to the public--the earlier
rationale was that accused terrorists might disclose
information prejudicial to "national security." Sixth
Circuit Judge Damon J. Keith smacked down the Bush
administration: "Today, the Executive Branch seeks to
take this safeguard [open hearings] away from the public
by placing its actions beyond public scrutiny.... The
Executive Branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside
the public eye, and behind a closed door. Democracies
die behind closed doors."

Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney
whose arguments persuaded Judge Keith in the 2002 case
that forced Attorney General John Ashcroft to rescind
the exclusionary policy, finds the two-week prescreening
policy unacceptable: "It is critical that the public and
press have access to immigration proceedings to ensure
that the proceedings are conducted fairly and consistent
with due process principles. It is absolutely unlawful
for the DHS to place unreasonable restrictions on access
to immigration court."

Central Arizona is not lacking in immigration courts in
detention centers, so I drove about thirty miles to the
Florence Detention Center, which also had immigration
court hearings scheduled that day. A judge at Florence
had just deported a US citizen born in Colorado. I was
curious about the courtroom demeanor of someone who
would credit a 17-year-old's statement renouncing a
claim to citizenship signed after a Border Patrol agent
had torn up a copy of his birth certificate and
threatened him with arrest, and would ignore his later
freely made, sworn statement stating he was a US

The statement signed at the border is evidence of
nothing except government misconduct. What kind of
person ignores a birth certificate and extensive
documentation of birth in a Denver hospital, including
newborn infant reflex tests and an enlarged photo of the
respondent holding the exact same birth certificate when
he was about eight years old, and decides to permanently
remove a US citizen from his country and render him
stateless? How does he conduct his hearings? What was
happening that day in his Florence courtroom?

I can't answer these questions because I was refused
entry. After standing twenty minutes at the front gate--
there's a sentry post regulating cars and foot traffic--
the ICE guard said they would not allow me to enter,
only attorneys and family members. I asked him if he was
aware that immigration courts were supposed to be open
to the public. He was affable, and said, "Yes, I know. I
thought it was going to go good but then they called a
supervisor and they said, 'No, we're not letting her
in.'" He also gave me a phone number for ICE at
Florence. The agent answering said that I needed to
speak with someone else and then connected me to a
woman's voicemail. No one returned my call that day or
on subsequent occasions. The immigration courts at
Florence are either closed to the entire public or are
screening for ICE critics. Both actions are illegal.

In an interview, Representative Zoe Lofgren, a
California Democrat and chair of the House subcommittee
overseeing immigrant rights, expressed concern about the
public's exclusion from immigration courts in detention
centers. "A federal regulation requires proceedings to
be open. The public has a right to attend these hearings
under this regulation and any limit of this is in
violation of this regulation," with the exceptions,
Lofgren noted, of restrictions imposed at the discretion
of the judges--for asylum claims, cases of sexual abuse
or at the request of the respondent.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), an
agency in the Department of Justice charged with
managing immigration courts, reports that in 2008 its
judges decided 134,117 deportation cases, of which 48
percent were for detainees. The individuals facing
deportation hearings in these remote sites--far from
their families, indigent and without attorneys--are the
most legally fragile population in the country. The
least the government can do is follow the law and allow
public access to the courts. ICE is physically barring
entry into the immigration courts in detention centers,
but the real culprit is the EOIR. If that agency, under
the Department of Justice, cannot arrange to allow the
public into immigration courts in detention centers,
then the Justice Department should house the courts in
other facilities.

Mary Naftzger, a member of the Chicago New Sanctuary
Coalition who frequently attends immigration hearings,
said, "We have feedback from lawyers who say the judges
are more respectful when court watchers are there." She
explained that most of the respondents do not have
attorneys and that judges ask them questions en masse
"rather than examine their cases individually, a
practice that changes once the court watchers arrive."

ICE and EOIR spokespersons state that a screening
requirement is consistent with public access. But unlike
other courts, those in the detention centers had no
court watchers from the public that I could locate.

When I asked Tracy Blagec of ABLE, an interfaith
coalition of churches, grassroots groups and unions
doing immigration court watching in Atlanta--where the
hearings are open to the public--how a screening
requirement would affect her willingness to attend
hearings, she said, "I wouldn't feel good about that,
especially with it being Homeland Security. You just
wonder what's it going to lead to," and she speculated
about one's name being on a list flagged for security
checks in airports or other forms of government
harassment. She concluded that pre-screening would be
"detrimental for the immigrants because it would
severely limit the people who are advocating for them."

Blagec pointed out that this policy also gives the DHS a
handy list of immigrant rights activists. DHS has one of
the largest surveillance operations in the world. Who
wants to be on that list? ICE Spokesperson Kelly Nantel
said she did not know if ICE retained the names of those
it screened in any database.

Naftzger, the Chicago-based activist, said a screening
requirement would reduce participation in their program
"a lot. Some of [the court watchers] are students, or
have very busy schedules, and would not be able to
submit that information two weeks ahead of time. We
would resent doing that because it's a public courtroom.
It fits an image that ICE may not want to portray, that
all citizens are suspect, that they lump everyone as a
potential suspect and can't trust people to come to into
a public courtroom and behave."

"The only thing I want a courtroom to do, for the
detained or non-detained, is make sure no one's carrying
a knife or gun," said Dan Kowalski, an Austin
immigration attorney and expert on immigration court
procedures. Beyond that they have no business knowing
the identity of the people going into the courts."

Hannah August, spokesperson for Department of Justice,
minimized the screening requirements. "You just need to
go through security, like a metal detector. You also
need to get rid of your cellphone," she said. How would
one know how to obtain prescreening? I asked. "To find
out the rules you have to contact the facility." I told
her that no one had answered the phone at Florence. "You
go there." I told her I was calling from the front gate,
and I reminded her that it took two weeks at Eloy for a
prescreening, to which she replied, "What I've heard is
that it's more like a day turnaround." When I asked her
where she heard this, August said, "I can't go into this

ICE spokespersons say that as a result of inquiries on
court access by public radio reporter Claudine LoMonaco
and myself, Dora Schriro, a special advisor to Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, is including
immigration court access under the policies she is
evaluating. If the policy is not changed, Kowalksi says
he and other civil liberties lawyers will file a


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fired for working

Fired for Working
New America Media, News Report, David Bacon,
Posted: Jun 17, 2009
VERNON, Calif. -- On May 31, 254 people were fired in the southeast Los Angeles industrial enclave of Vernon. Their crime? According to Overhill Farms, their employer, they had bad Social Security numbers. Behind this accusation is the unspoken assumption that the workers' numbers are no good because they have no legal immigration status.

This mass termination is the largest in many years, the first of its scale under the Obama administration. Workplace enforcement is a keystone of the administration's immigration policy, as it was under George Bush. The Overhill Farms firings are a window into a future in which this kind of immigration enforcement becomes widespread in workplaces across the country.

Overhill Farms, with more than 800 employees, was audited by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year. According to John Grant, packinghouse division director for Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, "They found discrepancies in many Social Security numbers. Overhill then sent a letter on April 6 to 254 people, giving them 30 days to reconcile their numbers with Social Security. They are all members of our union."

After the workers got the letters, they organized a protest in front of the plant on May 1. On May 2 the company stopped the lines. According to worker Isela Hernandez, "They told us there would be no work until they called us to come back." For 254 people, that call never came. The company then terminated their employment.

The fired employees contacted the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, a Los Angeles immigrant rights organization. Hermandad president Nativo Lopez helped them mount demonstrations that have taken place in front of the factory ever since.

Alex Auerbach, spokesperson for Overhill Farms, said, "The company was required by federal law to terminate these employees because they had invalid social security numbers." Auerbach says the company "did not have any role in selecting which employees were subject to IRS action. Overhill Farms had no role in initiating this action, and certainly did not benefit from it."

But Grant says the union never saw any IRS letter. "We've never heard of the IRS demanding the termination of a worker. The company doesn't have to terminate these people. No document we know of says they do."

In addition, a few of the workers actually had shown the company valid Social Security cards. A year ago, Lucia Vasquez changed her name and Social Security number when she regularized her immigration status, and the company began paying her in the new name and number. Nevertheless, she got a termination letter too. When she pointed out the change to the human resources manager, she was told she was fired anyway.

Workers say the company is replacing the fired employees, some of whom have worked as many as 20 years in the plant, with lower-paid, non-union employees with no benefits. The company denies this charge, although one recently hired worker, who asked not to be identified because he still works there, said, "They call me a part timer, but I have no benefits -- no vacation, medical plan or anything. I've been working 45 to 50 hours a week."

Whether or not immigration status is a pretext for terminations motivated by economic gain, however, the firings highlight a larger question of immigration policy. "These workers have not only done nothing wrong, they've spent years making the company rich," Nativo Lopez emphasizes. "An immigration policy that says these workers have no right to work and feed their families is wrong and should be changed."

However, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed in 1986, says employers may not hire people who are "not authorized" to work in the United States. In effect, it makes it a crime for undocumented workers to work at all.

In 2007 the Bush administration proposed a regulation that would have forced employers to fire any worker using a Social Security number that doesn't match the SSA database. Faced with the potential termination of millions of workers, including union members, the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center won a federal court injunction stopping the proposed regulation from taking effect. That injunction still stands. Former President Bush also created a database called E-Verify, to check the immigration status of any existing or prospective employee. The main source of information for E-Verify comes from Social Security numbers.

Many expected the incoming Obama administration to drop Bush's "no-match" rule and put E-Verify on hold. Instead, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that DHS will work "to maintain a legal workforce through training and employee verification tools like E-Verify." And the White House Web site says President Obama "will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers."

When Overhill Farms says it is firing 254 employees for bad Social Security numbers, it is acting in accordance with this policy. Unions and immigrant rights groups around the country now have to choose whether or not to defend the undocumented workers the policy targets.

Some Washington, D.C. immigration lobbying groups, however, have decided to support sanctions enforcement. Reform Immigration for America, for instance, says, "Any employment verification system should determine employment authorization accurately and efficiently."

In 1999 the AFL-CIO called for the repeal of sanctions because they were being used against workers who were trying to organize and improve conditions. But a new joint statement by the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win labor federation supports a "secure and effective worker authorization mechanism."

At Overhill Farms, the 254 fired workers paid union dues for many years. UFCW 770 filed a grievance against the firings. And Grant agrees that sanctions are a bad idea. "The companies exploit workers, and then claim that sanctions require them to fire them when it's convenient. Firings like the ones at Overhill are a clear example of what's wrong."

But labor support in Washington for work authorization undermines this position, and raises a difficult question. How can unions fight to defend people like the women at Overhill, and at the same time agree that people without authorization shouldn't be working?

And if existing unions don't defend those workers, will they try to form or find unions who will? The Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana last year took the initial steps to form such a union, to begin organizing workers on a community basis. It opposes employer sanctions and advocates organizing workers to resist them.

"When I look around Vernon," Lopez says, "all I see are other factories like Overhill, filled with immigrant workers in the same abysmal conditions. If they start firing people and we fight to defend them, we can organize them."

Anger over the firings would certainly fuel such an effort.

"The company treats us like criminals," Bohemia Agustiano charges. "I worked there for 18 years. Was I a criminal when I was working all those years?"

Ethnic Studies in Arizona

Tom Horne to Ethnic Studies: Drop Dead!
New America Media, Commentary
Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Posted: Jun 19, 2009

TUCSON -- Arizona is the New South and the new South Africa. It is the
home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, where racial profiling is official policy.
Now, in another form of profiling, State Superintendent of Schools Tom
Horne wants to eliminate ethnic studies.

At his behest and by a 4-3 Senate panel vote, an amendment to
education bill S.B. 1069 was passed that emphasizes the teaching of
individualism at the expense of ethnic studies. The bill would permit
the department of education to withhold 10 percent of state monies if
ethnic studies continue to exist. The full legislature is expected to
pass it within several weeks, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is
expected to sign it into law.

Horne has spent two-and-a-half years pushing this bill, and it will
effectively send Arizona school children into the dark ages.
Overriding the concept of local control, Horne wants Arizona teachers
to impose one view of America upon the state’s children.

The rest of the column can be read at:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Indigenous People and Peru

Bolivian leader 'enemy of Peru'

By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima
Peru's foreign minister has accused Bolivian President Evo Morales of being an enemy of Peru.

Jose Antonia Garcia Belaunde's remarks followed Peru's withdrawal on Tuesday of its ambassador to Bolivia.

That move, on Tuesday, was a response to Mr Morales's remarks about violent clashes that have erupted in Peru over Amazon land rights.

Mr Morales described the deaths of indigenous protesters in the dispute as a genocide caused by free trade.


The Peruvian foreign minister's response marks an escalation of tension and bad feeling between the governments of the neighbouring Andean countries.

Mr Garcia Belaunde said the Bolivian leader appeared to believe he had a messianic role to play in liberating Peruvians from the government of President Alan Garcia.

Mr Morales's comments on free trade appeared to be a reference to Peru's bilateral treaty with the United States, which facilitated the decrees that the native Amazonians believed to be a threat to their lands.

At least 34 people were killed when police attempted to clear a roadblock of indigenous protesters this month.
President Garcia blamed foreign forces - widely believed to mean Bolivia and Venezuela - for inciting the unrest.
Mr Garcia Belaunde reinforced that allegation, saying there were many indications that Bolivia was behind the violence in Peru.
Some experts say the relationship between the two countries has never been so bad.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Peru's Congress revokes controversial Amazon land decrees
3 hours ago
LIMA (AFP) — Peru's Congress on Thursday revoked two controversial decrees on land ownership in the Amazon river basin which triggered protests by indigenous groups that left at least 34 people dead in early June.
The measure was approved 82-12 after a nearly five-hour debate in Peru's single-chamber legislature.
A group of some 30 Amazon natives of the Ashanika community wearing feather headdresses and traditional garb led by Lidia Rengifo and Daysi Zapata, two of the national protest leaders, witnessed the vote in Congress.
"This is a historic day because our demands were just and finally the government acknowledged that we were right," said Zapata.
She called on native protesters in the vast Amazon river basin to lift roadblocks that had halted traffic on key regional highways and put an end to the protests.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Terror in Peru

Blood at the Blockade: Peru's Indigenous Uprising

By Gerardo Renique

Created Jun 8 2009

NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America)


Beginning with a series of protests last year, Peru's
Amazonian indigenous groups are now leading a
full-fledged rebellion against the pro-business
policies of President Alan Garcia. The government has
responded with brutal violence to the protests, which
are demanding that a series of decrees to promote
extractive industries in the jungle be overturned among
other things. Amazonian groups, who are being joined by
an ever-widening swath of society, are now calling for
Garcia's resignation.

On June 6, near a stretch of highway known as the
Devil's Curve in the northern Peruvian Amazon, police
began firing live rounds into a multitude of indigenous
protestors - many wearing feathered crowns and carrying
spears. In the nearby towns of Bagua Grande, Bagua
Chica, and Utcubamba, shots also came from police
snipers on rooftops, and from a helicopter that hovered
above the mass of people. Both natives and mestizos
took to the streets protesting the bloody repression.

From his office in Bagua, a representative of Save the
Children, the child anti-poverty organization, reported
that children as young as four-years-old were wounded
by the indiscriminate police shooting. President Alan
Garcia had hinted the government would respond
forcefully to "restore order" in the insurgent
Amazonian provinces, where he had declared a state of
siege on May 9 suspending most constitutional
liberties. The repression was swift and fierce.

By the end of the day, a number of buildings belonging
to the government and to Garcia's APRA party had been
destroyed. Nine policemen and at least 40 protestors
were killed (estimates vary). Overwhelmed by the number
of wounded, small local hospitals were forced to
shutter their doors. A Church official denounced that
many of the civilian wounded and killed at the Devil's
Curve were forcefully taken to the military barracks of
El Milagro. From Bagua, a local journalist told a radio
station that policemen had dumped bagged bodies into
the Utcubamba River.

Indigenous leaders have accused Garcia of "genocide"
and have called for an international campaign of
solidarity with their struggle. Indigenous unrest in
the Peruvian Amazon began late last year. After an ebb
of a few months, the uprising regained force again on
April 9. Since then, Amazonian indigenous groups have
sustained intensifying protests, including shutdowns of
oil and gas pumping stations as well as blockades of
road and river traffic.

The Devil's Curve massacre is not the only instance of
repression. Garcia recently sent in the Navy to
violently break through indigenous blockades on the
Napo River, also in northern Peru. But few expected
such a violent reaction from the government. Garcia
says the response was appropriate and blamed the
indigenous for thinking they could decide what happens
in their territories: "These people don't have crowns.
They aren't first-class citizens who can say... 'You [the
government] don't have the right to be here.' No way."
The president called the protestors

Indigenous representative Alberto Pizango called
Devil's Curve the "worst slaughter of our people in 20
years." And added, "Our protest has been peaceful.
We're 5,000 natives [in the blockade] that just want
respect for our territory and the environment."

Protestors' top demand is the repeal of a series of
decrees, known collectively as the "Law of the Jungle,"
signed by Garcia last year. The President decreed the
legislative package using extraordinary powers granted
to him by Peru's Congress to enact legislation required
by the 2006 U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Indigenous
groups are also demanding the creation of a permanent
commission with indigenous representation to discuss
solutions to their territorial, developmental, health
and educational problems.

One of the most controversial aspects of the decrees is
that they allow private interests to buy up indigenous
lands and resources. Following a colonial logic of
"progress," Garcia's decrees foster the commodification
of indigenous territories, ecological reserves,
communal and public lands, water, and biogenetic
resources to the benefit of powerful transnational
interests. What's more, the "Law of the Jungle"
implicitly conceives of indigenous Amazonia as an open,
empty, bountiful, and underdeveloped frontier and its
inhabitants as obstacles to neoliberal modernization
and investment schemes.

History of Plunder and Resistance

Neoliberal elites are apparently oblivious to
indigenous historical agency and political activism in
Peru, where there is a long-standing trajectory of
Amazonian insurgency. Since the eighteenth century,
indigenous groups in the rainforest have successfully
rolled back the incursions of colonial missionaries,
rubber barons, gold miners, lumber contractors, Sendero
Luminoso guerrillas and others whose expansion
represented a direct and serious threat to their
cultural autonomy and territorial integrity.

Garcia and his predecessors have tried to give
transnational companies - logging, oil, mining, and
pharmaceutical etc. - unfettered access to the Amazon's
riches. The potential plunder not only poses a threat
to the very existence of indigenous peoples, but also
presents a serious danger to the region's diverse and
fragile ecosystems.

Protests have occurred in the past, but this time is
different: The scope of the ongoing mobilizations,
which cover almost the totality of Peru's Amazonian
territories, is historically unprecedented, as is the
government's violent reaction. Coordinating the
mobilization effort is the Inter-Ethnic Development
Association of the Peruvian Amazon (Aidesep), an
umbrella group of indigenous organizations. Established
almost three decades ago through the incorporation of
more than 80 federations and regional organizations,
Aidesep's reach and strength rests on its 1,350
affiliated communities representing 65 different
Amazonian peoples.

Under mounting pressure from the protests, the
government finally agreed to a closed-door meeting held
the morning of May 27 in Lima with indigenous
representatives. (Aidesep had demanded such a meeting
for years.) Prime Minister Yehude Simon - himself a
former leftist and political prisoner - and Aidesep
representative Alberto Pizango held a brief press
conference after the sitdown announcing the start of
formal negotiations.

Following weeks of a racist and dirty government
campaign against indigenous leaders, a subdued Simon
acknowledged both the Garcia administration's "bad
communications" and - more importantly - "the lack of a
state policy towards Amazon communities for over a
century." He also emphasized government willingness to
revise and modify Garcia's decrees.

Meanwhile, a defiant Pizango maintained that Aidesep's
campaign of civil disobedience would only be lifted
with the total repeal of Garcia's "Law of the Jungle."
Pizango also announced a platform of issues that
indigenous representatives planned to bring to the
table, including points on indigenous territorial
rights, self-determination, health and education,
development, and cultural integrity.

Failed Talks, Failed Government

The last time the government agreed to negotiations in
August 2008 - again, under pressure from an indigenous
uprising - the talks collapsed due to government
unwillingness to engage indigenous representatives in a
respectful and honest manner. Aidesep withdrew from the
talks when the government tried to undermine the
group's position by inviting (unannounced) groups of
indigenous leaders and academics aligned both with the
government's discredited Development Institute for
Andean, Indigenous, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples
(INDEPA) and the Confederation of Amazonian
Nationalities (CONAPA), which groups together a small
number of opportunistic Indigenous leaders.

Using INDEPA and CONAPA, the government has initiated
"cooperation agreements" between friendly indigenous
communities and foreign oil and gas companies. Outraged
by their presence at the negotiating table Aidesep
denounced the move as a "smoke screen" covering up the
government's spurious collusion with the gas and oil

Meanwhile, Aidesep kept open negotiations with members
of Congress, where its demands received support from
the left-of-center opposition and even some members of
Garcia's ruling party. With the start of formal
negotiations (Mesa de Dialogo), Aidesep honored the
compromise and halted protests on August 20, ending the
11-day uprising. With growing popular sympathy with
indigenous demands and support from the political
opposition in late September, congress passed a law
that canceled two of the most odious presidential
decrees that sought to diminish indigenous territorial
rights and political autonomy.

Aidesep's direct action campaign marked the emergence
of Amazonian indigenous peoples as an influential and
autonomous force in Peru's current political landscape.
The mobilization also sparked a public realization that
the defense of Amazonian resources is an issue of
national importance and not only a regional or
indigenous problem. The indigenous uprising has also
increased public awareness of the predatory nature of
free trade, the prevalence of public good over private
interests, and the meaning and importance of citizen
participation in the formulation of a sustainable and
democratic future. All of this constitutes a healthy
questioning of the toxic neoliberal paradigm based on
the commodification of life and resources as the only
possible alternative to "progress" and "modernization."

In October 2008, video recordings surfaced of
conversations between high-ranking officials from the
Garcia administration and a lobbyist for transnational
gas and oil companies. The recordings show the men
negotiating the fraudulent concession of oil rights in
natural reserves and indigenous territories. The video
not only starkly revealed the real intentions behind
the "Law of the Jungle" and Peru's handful of recently
negotiated free trade agreements, but also further
boosted Aidesep's legitimacy and the moral authority of
its struggle. The scandal also helped catalyze the
current Amazonian insurgency, coalescing an emerging
popular and autonomous anti-systemic bloc and further
diminished Garcia's popularity, which has been
abysmally low. (Approval ratings have hovered at 30
percent in the city of Lima and are even lower in rural
areas, especially the Amazon.)

Amazon 'Insurgency' Declared

By late March, triggered by renewed incursions into
their territories, abusive labor conditions in the gas
and oil industry, high levels of contamination and
government reluctance to address their demands,
indigenous peoples in various Amazonian localities
staged a number of marches, demonstrations, blockades,
and hunger strikes. Incensed by the government's
repressive response to their demands and its threat to
declare a state of emergency in the most combative
Amazonian provinces, Aidesep renewed mobilizations,
blocking ground and river traffic, and occupying
hydrocarbon installations.

In an April 9 declaration, Aidesep demanded that
Congress rescind the "Law of the Jungle," establish a
genuine Mesa de Dialogo, and promote the creation of
new branches of government charged with implementing
"intercultural" solutions to indigenous health and
education problems. The document also calls for the
recognition of indigenous collective property rights,
guarantees for special territorial reserves of
communities in voluntary isolation, and the suspension
of land concessions to oil, gas, mining, lumber, and
tourism industries. Indigenous organizations are also
demanding a new constitution that incorporates the
United Nation's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples and the International Labor Organization's
Convention 169, both of which guarantee indigenous
rights to territorial and cultural autonomy. Finally,
the April declaration also calls for the suspension of
the government's free trade agreements with the United
States, the European Union, Chile, and China, all of
which endanger indigenous territorial rights and
Amazonian biodiversity.

As indigenous groups escalated their direct action
campaign, the government declared a state of siege on
May 9 in four of the most militant provinces of
Amazonia. Despite the crackdown, Aidesep has gained
sympathy and solidarity from broad sectors of Peruvian
society. Unions, popular organizations, and highland
peasant and indigenous groups have staged "civic
strikes" and other protest actions. Elected municipal
and regional authorities across the country have also
expressed their support. While Catholic bishops across
the Amazon region have called on the faithful to
support indigenous demands, stating the "rich cultural
and biological diversity" of the region represents a
"source of life and hope for humanity."

On May 27, Peru was rocked by a national day of protest
called by the country's largest trade union federation
and other social movement umbrella groups. Thousands
took to the street protesting Garcia's neoliberal
policies and to express their solidarity with Aidesep's
struggle. In Lima a massive march arrived to the steps
of Congress, demanding that the Law of the Jungle be
declared unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the
just-concluded Fourth Continental Indigenous People's
Summit of Abya-Yala, which was held in southern Peru,
called for an international day of action in solidarity
with the Amazonian uprising. The Communitarian Front in
Defense of Life and Sovereignty established by Aidesep
together with labor, Andean indigenous, campesino and
popular organizations have called for a day of protest
and mobilization on June 11.

The Law of the Jungle

A report from the government's Ombudsman Office not
only declared the unconstitutionality of Garcia's
decrees, but also noted the legitimacy of indigenous
people's campaign of civil disobedience. In Congress,
the Constitutional Committee declared two of the
presidential decrees unconstitutional. But under
pressure from the executive, Garcia's APRA party, with
support from followers of jailed former President
Fujimori and other right-wing political parties, has
blocked discussion of the Constitutional Committee's

At the beginning of June, the situation deteriorated.
Aidesep walked away from the incipient talks with the
government, citing the executive's refusal to
acknowledge broadening public rejection of the decrees.
The government responded with increased repression that
culminated - so far - with the Devil's Curve massacre.
Garcia also lashed out against Radio de la Selva, an
Amazonian radio station that has been critical of the
government. The attorney general is considering
charging the station with inciting public unrest. When
the military violently broke up the river blockade on
the Napo River, spontaneous protests erupted against
the Navy.

The declaration of martial law in the provinces of
Bagua and Utcubamba, where the bloodiest repression
took place, and the trumped-up charges of rioting have
forced many of Aidesep leaders underground. But the
repression drove many non-indigenous sectors into the
fold of the Aidesep-led resistance. A newspaper report
interviewed a teacher who described how many
non-indigenous locals joined the June 6 protests after
the Army blocked villagers from attending to the
wounded and bringing water to the natives at Devil's
Curve. The indiscriminate shootings only fueled further
hostility toward the government. The growing unrest
among a broad range of popular forces has coalesced
into the Communitarian Front in Defense of Life and
Sovereignty, formed on June 4. Among other actions, the
new coalition has called for a national general strike
if the Law of the Jungle is not repealed by June 11.

Catholic clergy have rejected the repression and
reiterated their support for indigenous demands. In a
joint-letter the Ombudsman's Office and high-ranking
clergy called on the government to privilege peace and
negotiation over repression and violence in resolving
the conflict. In a previous statement the priests
expressed their discontent with the "attitude taken by
the government, foreign and national businessmen and a
large sector of the media" against "the just demands of
Amazonian indigenous peoples." (These conservative
sectors have ridiculously dismissed the protests as the
work of presidents Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.)

La Lucha Sigue

The outcome of this current crisis is highly uncertain.
Indigenous are calling for Garcia to resign, while a
chorus of groups (newspapers, unions, opposition
figures) are at least demanding that Garcia sack
cabinet members, particularly Prime Minister Simon and
the Minister of the Interior. The police union issued a
statement lamenting the death of both the officers and
their "Indian brothers," while placing the blame for
these deaths squarely on Garcia.

One thing, however, is certain: The recent repression
laid bare Garcia's naked slavishness to foreign capital
investment and his double-talk of feigning negotiation
and dialogue, while implementing an evidently
well-planned counter-insurgency operation. Much of the
national media has obediently obliged with a
fear-mongering campaign. Under the government's current
plan, oil and gas concession blocs alone would cover 72
percent of Peru's Amazon, according to a recent study
by Duke University.

Will energy, agribusiness, lumber, and mining
corporations gain exclusive benefit to one of the
largest repositories of fresh water, biodiversity, and
other resources? Will the indigenous succeed in
protecting their lands - a final frontier - from the
rule of global capital? The answers to these questions
will depend on many things, including indigenous
people's ability to sustain protests and their growing
allegiances with other sectors as well as the
government's willingness to use brute force.

Indigenous peoples in Peru have reconfigured - perhaps
irreversibly - popular anti-systemic forces in the
country from their weakness and dispersion of recent
years. In the immediate future, however, the next weeks
will be crucial for determining the outcome of the
crisis. International solidarity with the Aidesep
struggle will be central in deterring the predatory
advance of the government and capital. The defense of
Amazonia, as Peruvian clergy pointed out, "is not of
the exclusive concern of Peruvian citizens but of all

Gerardo Renique teaches history at City College, New
York. He edited "The Uprising in Oaxaca," a special
section in Socialism and Democracy 44, July 2007 (vol.
22, no. 2).