WHAT SHIFT TO THE LEFT IN LATIN AMERICA?
Over the pond in Latin America it appears that White House Inc.
has been too bogged down in the Middle East - sucking the region
dry of its black gold for the shareholding buddies of the Bush-Cheney
Junta - to notice the radicalisation of some of its Southern neighbours.
With experience of a US foreign policy which has overthrown the
democratic regimes of almost every Latin American country over the
past century, the continent is strangely bereft of coups and dictatorships
at the moment. Theres been a lot of talk of left-wing
resurgences in the region, but is it all as positive as it
Increasingly some of the new left leaders have been
showing their true colours: a love for power, money and a tendency
to shaft the more radical groups they relied on to win office in
the first place. At the same time though, the upsurge in support
for left wing presidents has created a demilitarised space for some
community groups to come together to tackle the common misery which
affects the lives of half the continents population: poverty.
This is, after all, a region where military dictatorship, repression,
disappearance and torture of activists have been the
norm for most of the last 100 years.
Despite calling Que se vayan todos! (All must go!)
to a string of corrupt presidents during the countrys economic
collapse in 2001, a minority of Argentineans did subsequently back
Nestor Kirchner for President. Coming from the traditional Peronist
faction of Argentinean politics, Kirchner might have refused to
bow to all of the International Monetary Funds demands, but
hes still paying off the countrys colossal debt, despite
half the population living in poverty. He successfully managed to
co-opt some of the more moderate social movements during
his election campaign and now, just like the politicians before
him, hes clamping down on anti-authoritarian movements such
as the piqueteros (unemployed picketers) and workers involved in
the occupied factories movement. The Zanon ceramics factory (see
SchNEWS 477) is among the most successful
of these; since the occupation the cooperative has taken on 50%
more workers and production levels have increased threefold. However
Zanon workers are now facing a new challenge, one which has strange
echoes of the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early
Back then, car maker Ford supplied the Argentinean military with
thousands of vehicles - especially the green Ford Falcon which quickly
became a symbol of repression. One of these driving up your street
meant that a kidnapping was in the air, and in Argentina kidnappings
were almost always followed by torture and disappearance.
The car company now faces a class action from relatives of former
Ford factory workers whose details, as left wing subversives and
union activists, were given to the military top brass by company
bosses. Despite this, the green Falcons are back on the road, this
time being used in the kidnapping and torturing of a Zanon factory
worker last spring. Although Kirchner has been prosecuting some
of the military for crimes committed during the dictatorship, he
continues to cosy up to Ford despite its dodgy record. With his
clampdown on the occupied factories he has shown that his sympathies
lie with the corporations which continue to line his governments
KISSINGER OF DEATH
Back in 1970, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger commented that
he didnt, see why we need to stand by and watch a country
go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.
While he was referring to Chile, and setting the scene for the military
dictatorship installed by the CIA three years later, current spooks
must be thinking the same about Bolivia. The second poorest country
in South America has recklessly gone and elected a coca farmer and
indigenous man, Evo Morales, for President. Hes just announced
plans to nationalize the countrys gas reserves and redistribute
land to poor farmers - and companies like British Petroleum and
British Gas who have invested £500m buying up oil and gas
reserves, are none too pleased.
Worse still is the support the Bolivian government is giving to
the growing of the traditional coca plant, despite the US governments
£80m crop eradication plan. La Paz, the capital of Bolivia,
lies at 4,000m above sea level and Coca is given to relieve altitude
sickness to new arrivals, just as it is chewed by long distance
lorry drivers and even coppers on night shifts. This is not about
adding kerosene and sulphuric acid to the coca leaf and making cocaine
for export to the West; it is a way of life for the indigenous Amerindian
population who make up two thirds of the countrys 9 million
Like Kirchner in Argentina, Morales came to power on the back of
co-opted social movements under the banner Movement Towards
Socialism. He has been careful to keep the middle class on
board, by tempering the demands of many of his supporting groups.
But now hes in power a number of these movements are threatening
that if he adopts a more moderate line, theyll organize the
type of protests and strikes which ousted two presidents in two
years. Whether this will keep Morales true to his words only time
will tell, and with battalions of US troops stationed in neighbouring
Paraguay things are sure to heat up.
The use of social movements for political gain has not gone unnoticed
in Venezuela, which was host to last months Americas Social
Forum. The lefty shindig was heavily sponsored by the Venezuelan
government and worked neatly as an introduction to the re-election
campaign of President Hugo Chavez. Neo Labour would have been proud
to witness last Thursdays Chavez frenzy; a well-choreographed
event at a stadium on the edge of Caracas complete with translation
headsets for foreign supporters.
More autonomous groups, meanwhile, had other ideas and an Alternative
Social Forum (ASF) was set up. Taking notice of the contradiction
in terms that is Chavezs revolutionary state,
the ASF refused to construct itself on the back of sponsored debates
and ran workshops on direct action, video activism and autonomy.
Distant admiration for Latin American autonomists may be short-sighted
though. ASF meetings were not packed to the rafters with the Latin
American poor, but frequented by middle class intellectuals and
westerners from the US and Canada - the shanty towns were poorly
represented. Meanwhile, Chavez always found himself flanked by supporters
with a few western ideological groupies in tow. And its easy
to see why. In a country with massive literacy and health promotion
programmes which permeate the shanty towns around Caracas and other
major cities, people are better off. We experience poverty
every day says Paulo, No leader is perfect but under
Chavez we are better off today, not in some distant future. If we
dont go with Chavez the business elite will gain power and
once again we will be searching for food for our children.
A positive note for those who possess a healthy suspicion of government
is the space that has been createdfor more inspired grass roots
action. Despite continuing corruption and the obvious self interest
of politicians, the military are not on the streets as previously.
The regional co-operative movement has never been so strong - occupied
factories are breaking production records and essentials like gas,
water and electricity are being brought back under public control.
But whether by force or covert action, White House Inc. is not going
to sit back and watch its profits dry up. The real question is not
whether people like Chavez and Morales are good or bad, but whether
grass roots organisations can take advantage of the current breathing
space and become a real force to be reckoned with - before power
shifts back to corporate-military regimes which have characterised
Latin American politics for so long.
* A report from the ASF at www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=72541
* More on Venezuala at www.nodo50.org/ellibertario/seccioningles.htm
Following up from last week... of the nine arrested three
are still in jail on attempted homicide charges, and the police
are maintaining a heavy presence in the area with random ID checks
on the street. The six on lesser charges are under police pressure
to testify against the other three, and making sure anyone who saw
what really happened (as opposed to the official version)
are too scared to testify. For more email email@example.com
or visit http://barcelona.indymedia.org/?lang=en_us
The 100 year old Queens Market in Londons Newham is
a lifeline to the locals. Over 150 stalls and shops provide work
and affordable food to the areas many low-income residents.
Newham Council want to knock it all down and build a new ASDA,
amongst other atrocities. Development company St. Mowdens
are bidding for a contract that would demolish existing houses in
favour of 200 new flats - offering first refusal to Newham locals.
And refuse most of them will have to, as no social-housing flats
are on offer. St. Mowdens were previously involved in a similar
development project in nearby Edmonton Green Market.
And the outcome of that? Domination by the chainstores as the local
stallholders went bust.
Friends Of Queens Market are a pressure group made up of
people who use and work in the market. Frequent demos outside the
Council Offices and a 12,000 strong petition are all part of an
active campaign to preserve the communitys autonomy. If you
are in the area get involved. firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone Sasha on 08956 649 696
The NCADC (National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns) are
in danger of being closed down due to lack of funds and are making
an urgent call out for help. For the past decade the NCADC have
run a 24-7 service to help so-called failed asylum seekers,
and fight Britains inhumane immigration laws. They have prevented
thousands from being deported back into life threatening situations
in the countries they have come from. Funding has got more difficult
in recent years for groups who oppose UK laws, and NCADC may now
be forced to close its offices. They are requesting financial help
such as committing £5 a month as a standing order.
Make cheques to NCADC. Tel: 0121 554 6947. Email email@example.com
Faslane Peace Camp has been a thorn in the side of the nearby nuclear
submarine base, with a permanent peace camp outside the gates since
1982. Since then countless protests have come out of the camp including
blockades of the base and military convoys, canoeing to the submarines,
as well as the camp becoming a living community. The camp needs
support and all are invited to come up and check it out.
* Camp address: A814, Shandon, Nr Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire,
G84 8NT. Tel: 01436 820901 Web: www.faslane.co.nr
* Faslane 365: As Blair aims to spend £40billion to replace
the current Trident nuclear weapons housed at the Faslane
base - there will be a year-long continuous blockade of the base
starting on October 1st this year. (See www.faslane365.org)
News tends to mean the reporting of distinct events,
ones which are easily packaged and pigeonholed. This leads to a
massive distortion in whats reported - easily described and
understood events take much higher precedence than difficult to
analyse situations. A tsunami is nice and easy: it occurs, devastates,
leaves and then people pick up the pieces. Then a sea of headlines
washes in. A complex, multi-factioned civil war, on the other hand,
can be so difficult to make sense of that no one bothers, and the
public can remain largely unaware that the worst humanitarian crises
since the Second World War has actually been taking place over the
past few years
While we on our entertaining media-saturated island live largely
unassaulted with real reality, another country of 56 million have
been living in a nightmare which gets far less coverage than Galloways
pussy impressions. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is just
emerging from a vicious five-year civil war, leading to the deaths
of over three million people and mass displacement, poverty, violence
and misery. This was driven largely by the misfortune of DRC being
one of the planets most abundant areas for natural mineral
resources, and the subsequent scramble by foreign corporations to
get a slice of the action - prepared to deal with anyone and fund
militias and bandits (often using child slave labour) if precious
commodities such as coltan - used in mobile phone manufacture (see
SchNEWS 407) - gold and diamonds could
be obtained nicencheap. (Amnesty recently highlighted
the catastrophic effects of those particularly blood-soaked trades,
but we at SchNEWS assume that most SchNEWS readers wont have
been saying it with bling this Valentines Day.)
Whilst remaining tight lipped about the crisis, and largely ignoring
the hell on earth Congo became during the war, so long as the resources
continued to be mined, the Wests humanitarian
response to all this was a small, merely representative UN Peace-Keeping
force given insufficient funds, equipment or numbers to achieve
very much. Well, theyre only Africans arent they? Not
to mention that their resources werent so interesting at the
time to the US Inc. either, who were busy plotting with the likes
of Dick Crack Shot Cheney to plunder a different regions
Five years and millions of dead later, the place is now devastated.
And while there were well-supported UN-sanctioned elections held
at the end of last year, establishing a transitional democratic
government (read neo-liberal friendly), the state is still
plagued by corruption. It has little control of the situation, struggling
to reign in or prosecute ex-military war criminals such as Laurent
Nkunda - despite claims that they are well aware of his whereabouts.
The eastern provinces are still dominated by militias and banditry
with murder, torture and rape all commonplace.
Large areas of the country are still overrun by armed militias,
with 1.6 million people displaced, and life expectancy dropping
by 10 years since 1997. Last week the UN and the European Commission
announced a new appeal for $681 million to respond to the terrible
circumstances over 30 million Congolese people are facing
which will be too little too late.
As usual, the West and their economic concerns have been prime
motivators behind a terrible war, turning a blind eye to the bloodshed
before riding back over the horizon as emergency-aid-heroes. But
dont expect the suffering to end until all the resources in
Congo have been bled dry.
* Background to the war at www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/Africa/DRC.asp
* For history see www.schnews.org.uk/sotw/congo.htm
* Keep an eye on Human Rights Watch at www.hrw.org
- Camcorder Guerillas will be showing Why Close
the G8? Dear Mrs Blair and Dungavel
Monster of the Glen this Saturday (18th) at Edinburgh
Filmhouse, Lothian Road, 1pm, followed by a discussion on issues
of production and distribution in a voluntary, non-profit film
- Challenging Corporate Power meeting next
Wednesday (22nd) with speakers talking about Nestle and the baby
milk boycott, private banks, the oil Sector and Asda-Walmart.
Room E171, London School of Economics (tube: Temple and Holborn)
- Talk about rubbish, consumption, climate chaos and capitalism
with Heather Rogers who has a new book out Gone Tomorrow:
The Hidden Life of Garbage (www.gonetomorrow.org).
Thursday (23rd) 7.30 pm LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
- Want to know about the Radical History of Cycling? Get
along to London Radical History Group next Thurs (23rd) at 56a
INFO SHOP 56 Crampton St, London, SE17 (Elephant & Castle
- Brighton Critical Mass cycle ride happening next Friday
(24th) 6pm The Level. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/criticalmassbrighton
- Next Saturday (25th) the No Borders Network in South
Wales presents a free workshop by Legal Action for Women,
based on their booklet For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters:
a self-help guide against detention and deportation Also
featuring: film showing, discussion, free information and food
3pm Friends Meeting House,Charles St, Cardiff firstname.lastname@example.org
A new anti-prison group established itself at a Prison Abolition
Seminar in London recently. Spearheaded by former prisoners, health
workers and academics, No More Prison calls for a moratorium on
prison building and a redirection of the massive prison budget in
to more successful projects for victim and felon alike.
Britain has the highest prison population per head in Western Europe
88,000 men, women and children. No More Prison are an activist
organization and welcome support. Check them out at www.alternatives2prison.ik.com
As recruitment for the US military hits an all time low, the Bush-Cheney
axis are set to get a boost from an unexpected direction. On Valentines
Day, grey haired members of San Franciscos Bay Area Grandmothers
for Peace turned up at their local recruiting office and tried to
sign up to fight the insurgency. The crowd of 300 eager, young-at-heart
enlistees carried banners demanding, Stop Mad Cowboy Disease.
Despite the crowd of potential recruits ready to rush the doors,
the Oakland recruiting office was dark and the doors locked during
While the office remained empty, one camouflaged soldier stood
watching from down the block. He said that he has been assigned
to the recruiting office for the past two months and that he was
used to protesters at the site. The pink ladies come every
Wednesday, the sergeant said. They hold up signs of
dead people and stay for about a half and hour.
In Fresno, California, 25 members of the Raging Grannies tried
to enlist in the military. After a sing-song, the Grannies entered
the military recruiters offices. The marines, air force, and
army recruiters were so afraid of the rampaging Granarchists that
they closed and locked their doors. Eventually the sheriffs
department put in an appearance and rescued the marines, air force,
and army from the avenging Grey Panthers.1
SchNEWS warns all readers... dont blame it on the boogie,
blame it on capitalism. Honest!
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