All posts by Andre Vltchek

Palangkaraya: Dreaming about the “Soviety” Capital of Indonesia and the US-Backed Killing Fields

Believe it or not, but decades ago, Indonesia was a socialist country, the cradle of the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’, with the progressive and fiery President Soekarno leading the nation. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was then the third largest Communist Party in the world, after those of China and the Soviet Union, and was it not for the US-orchestrated coup of 1965; it would easily have won elections in 1966, democratically and comfortably.

President Soekarno landed

All the key natural resources of Indonesia were in the hands of its people and the government; firmly and uncompromisingly. Indonesia was becoming one of the world leaders: still a poor country, but optimistic, determined and full of hope.

Soekarno was a dreamer, and so were his Communist comrades.

But besides being a ‘political poet’, Soekarno was also a pragmatic civil engineer, who knew a thing or two about both architecture and city planning.

One of his great visions born at the end of the 1950’s was to build a brand-new capital for his enormous country of thousands of islands. It is believed that one day he calculated the precise location of the ‘geographical center’ of Indonesia, inserted a pin there, and declared that this is where the new ibu kota (capital or ‘mother’ city) would be constructed.

The proverbial pin had marked the area which, in reality, was in the middle of the impenetrable jungle of Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo), some 200 kilometers from the nearest city of some size – Banjarmasin.

Before construction began in 1957, there was only a village – Pahandut – soon to become the capital of the new Autonomous Region of Central Kalimantan, with Soekarno’s comrade, Tjilik Riwut accepting the role of the first governor. One year later, however, the future city was renamed, becoming Palangkaraya.

The task of designing the urban area came from Comrade Semaun, who was one of the founders and the first chairman of the PKI. He graduated from the ‘Communist University of the Toilers of the East’ in the Soviet Union. He often performed tasks of a city planner and, together with Soekarno, he was determined to erect the ‘second Moscow’ in the middle of Kalimantan/Borneo, with magnificent research centers, theatres, concert halls, libraries, museums and public transportation, as well as fountains, wide avenues, squares, parks and promenades.

Soviet architects, engineers and workers, (but also teachers) were invited to help with this mammoth task.

In the middle of the wilderness, between two tropical rivers, Kahayan and Sabangau, one of the greatest Asian projects of all times was slowly beginning to take shape.

President Soekarno inaugurating future capital city

It was launched by President Soekarno himself, who on 17 July 1957 marked the inauguration of the monument in the middle of a new roundabout, which was expected to become the very center of the new city, of the new province, and eventually of the entire Republic of Indonesia (RI).

The project started to move forward, feverishly, and enthusiastically. Soviets, side-by-side with their Indonesian comrades, were building roads and erecting structures.

There were even plans to construct tunnels, practically bomb shelters, against potential attacks by the Malaysian and British forces; tunnels which could, at some point, be further deepened, widened and serve as the basic infrastructure for the underground public transportation of the city (metro).

The revolutionary zeal of Soekarno’s idealism was igniting both local and foreign (Soviet) builders. It was that chaotic but marvelous ‘nation and character-building’ period often described by the greatest Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer – without any doubt the greatest era of the otherwise gloomy history of the archipelago.

*****

Then, suddenly, full stop!

On September 30/ October 1, 1965, the West, together with treasonous Indonesian military cadres led by General Suharto and by the religious cadres, overthrew the young socialist democracy, and installed one of the most brutal fascist dictatorships of the 20th century.

What followed was genocide. The country lost between 1-3 million intellectuals, Communists, atheists, artists and teachers. Rivers were clogged with corpses, women and children gang-raped, almost all progressive culture banned, together with the Chinese and Russian languages.

Communism and atheism were banned, too. Even words like ‘class’ were forbidden, together with the Chinese dragons, cakes and red lamps.

The Palangkaraya ‘project’ came to an abrupt halt. Soekarno was put under house arrest in Bogor palace, where he later died.

Soviet engineers and workers were flown to Jakarta and unceremoniously deported. All Indonesians who came in touch with them, without exception, were either killed, or ‘at least’ detained for a minimum of one year; interrogated in detention, tortured and in the case of women, raped.

The ‘Killing fields’ were not only in Java, but also both north and west of the city of Palangkaraya.

The master plan, drawings, in fact, almost all information related to the ‘second Moscow’ in the middle of Borneo, suddenly ‘disappeared’.

Palangkaraya is now geographically the largest city in Indonesia, but it counts on only about 250,000 inhabitants.

Like all other cities of the archipelago, it has inadequate infrastructure, notorious absence of cultural life, and it is dotted with miserable slums. It has absolutely no public transportation.

Big dreams fully collapsed. But not only that: now, almost no one in the city or anywhere in the country, is even aware of those grandiose plans of the past, of that enormous project to build a ‘different Indonesia’. A truly independent, anti-imperialist country led by President Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), has died; was smashed to pieces. The stepping down of General Suharto changed nothing. No renaissance of socialism ever arrived. The Communist Party and thoughts are still banned.

*****

While working on a documentary film about the natural devastation and collapse of the third largest island on earth – Borneo – we came to Palangkaraya, the first time, in October 2018.

What impressed us the most was how thoroughly the regime has wiped out everything related to the city’s past.

People were scared to talk, or they simply ‘did not know’. As I recorded on film, children knew absolutely nothing about the past, except those few deceptive and primitive barks that were forcibly injected into their brains.

We searched, but could not find any detailed references or drawings – here, or even in Jakarta, Bandung and abroad. All gone!

Obviously, the great past of Indonesia remains classified, as ‘top secret’. It is because the contrast between the revolutionary dreams and monstrous present-day reality, is too great and potentially, ‘too explosive’.

*****

Pararapak Village, South Barito District, Central Kalimantan Province.

Mr. Lanenson, a 78 years old Dayak man appears to be the only person who can still ‘remember’, and is willing to talk openly about the Soviet people and their involvement in this country.

Mr. Lanenson (Photo:  Andre Vltchek)

Mr. Lanenson is a strong, determined man; he is proud. His face is animated, and he speaks loudly, passionately, as almost all progressive men of his generation (be it the greatest Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer who has already passed away, or the extremely talented Javanese painter Djokopekik who is still active and full of spite towards the present regime), are capable of speaking.

He worked with the Soviets, closely, side-by-side, like a comrade. Before 1965, he was employed by the Kalimantan road project agency (PROJAKAL), in the human resource division.

Soviets building new capital in middle of jungle

And he was one of those who were later arrested, jailed and brutally interrogated, simply because he interacted with the Soviet citizens, and because he was trying to build, together with his foreign friends, a much better Indonesia. He spent an entire year in Suharto’s prisons, without one single charge being officially brought against him.

After the coup of 1965 which took place in Jakarta, there were arrests and massacres of people who were suspected of being related to the PKI, or for being ‘Soekarnoists’. Everyone related to Russia had been taken away. I was held in a detention camp in Palangkaraya.

Army treated prisoners inhumanely. Every morning we woke up and were beaten and shouted at. Guards were brutalizing us.

Mr. Lenenson’s eyes were shining with excitement when his mind began wandering to the bygone days before 1965:

Russians, they are very hard-working and good people; they were never confrontational towards the local people. I even remember all little details about spending time with the Russian people. In the afternoon after we finished working, we played badminton and sometimes football, together. At times, Russian friends would ask me to catch a wild pig, a boar, so we could roast and eat it together. I still remember the name of a Russian teacher -Ms. Valentina. But Muslims were very confrontational even then; some were ‘anti-Soviet’, only because most of the Soviet people were not religious.

Does he still remember the enthusiasm of Soekarno era; the ‘different Indonesia’ of dreams, hard work, and of ‘nation and character building’?

The optimism and enthusiasm were there; I felt it when working together with the Soviet people, building the city of Palangkaraya.

He also strongly believes that if the coup of 1965 had not happened, Palangkaraya would be an absolutely different place.

He spoke a few words in Russian to me – simple and disconnected words, but surprisingly, with perfect pronunciation. Rabota – work. Zdrastvuite– good day…

At one point, it began to rain. A heavy, tropical downpour. I could not record well, but he was unwilling to stop.

“You can stay overnight,” he suggested.

‘Like in Afghanistan’, I thought, ‘whenever I work there and begin to speak Russian’, people want to host me, feed me. They want to speak and remember. Because the dreams of the past is all they have left now.

*****

Back in Palangkaraya, Ms. Ida, Tjilik Riwut’s daughter, sits in café that she owns, surrounded by black and white photos of her father, the former governor of the province, who is in them working, speaking and travelling together with President Soekarno and various other top officials, as well as with many common local people.

She and her daughter Putri, do not know much about the 1965 massacres. Or they say they don’t know. Many topics, including this one, are fully taboo, until now. Or especially now, that the island of Borneo is thoroughly ruined, mined out, deforested and poisoned by foreign corporations and local thugs described as ‘businessmen’; those who got into the driving seat after the 1965 genocide. Perhaps, they simply do not want to address the topic. I will never find out. Whatever it really is, ‘they don’t know’.

But Ms. Ida speaks, openly, about the days when the city was born:

I still remember when the Russian engineers were building the infrastructure here. Palangkaraya was built from zero. Russians, together with the local Dayak people, were cutting through the forest, putting tremendous effort converting wilderness into the city.

Behind her back is an old photo of her father, with his famous quote engraved on top of it:

It is my obligation, to fight for this region, and it is also my obligation to listen to the voices of the people. It is because we are servants of the people and our nation.

We hear basically the same things from a famous local journalist, Mr. T. T. Suan. Unfortunately, we find him bed-ridden, in grave medical condition. We do not want to disturb him, but his family insisted that we come in and sit at the edge of his bed. During the exchange, his daughter held his hand and shouted into his one good ear (he is deaf in the other ear, after being beaten, brutally, after the 1965 coup, as he was accused of ‘collaborating with Tjilik Riwut’).

With weak but determined voice, he explained:

I still remember that era, when we, together with the Soviets, were building progressive Palangkaraya City. This was era full of enthusiasm and discipline. Yes, Russians really taught us about discipline: when we came to the office in the morning, and planned our activities, you could bet that by night, everything would be implemented.

We asked him about the disappeared master plan of the city.

Lost in dreams, he began recalling details that he still remembered by heart:

The main roundabout – that is where the huge lake was supposed to be. That would be the center of the city, where all protocol roads would be growing from. Around there, the most important and impressive buildings would be located: government offices, National Hospital, library, university, museums, theatres as well as National Radio of Indonesia.

Indonesian people and the world are not supposed to know all this. But it has to be known, documented, and explained. Before it is too late, before everything disappears, before people who can still remember will pass away.

We are frantically calling and contacting the TjilikRiwut family, which is now spread all over Indonesia. We are told that some members of this family may be in possession of the master plan of the city. But we receive no reply. The master plan was either destroyed, or it was converted into a ‘top secret’ document, and is rotting somewhere in a metal safe box. The optimism of the socialist era is banned; strongly discouraged, almost never discussed. Grand public projects have been stopped, after the 1965 extreme capitalist and pro-Western regime had been injected from abroad, paralyzing the nation.

As elsewhere in Indonesia, fabrications and censorship of facts is total. Both the press and academia are complicit.

An architect and professor of the University of Palangkaraya, Wijanarka – author of a book about Soekarno’s design of Palangkaraya City (“Sukarno dan Desain RencanaI bukota RI di Palangkaraya”), avoided meeting us, refusing to comment on the political context of the story:

Just read my book. This book is about the search of architectural form of the city. But if you ask me anything related to the Soviet Union, I will tell you that I don’t know, because I only care about the architectural aspect of this, not about politics.

Obviously, a socialist, Soviet-style master plan of the city is part of the ‘politics’, as he had shown no interest in it.

*****

On our second visit to the city, an electric tower collapsed, after a storm. The entire city was covered in darkness, without electricity. It was desperately dark at night, except for ridiculously brightly-lit cigarette advertisements, banks, and a few hotels that were using their own private generators.

Collapsed electric tower in Kelampangan (Andre Vltchek photo)

When we reached the village of Kelampangan where the wreck of the high-voltage tower lay on the ground, we saw dozens of workers smoking, laughing, and doing nothing.

As a matter-of-fact, a few of them called me ‘bule’, a violently racist but very common Indonesian insult which means ‘albino’.

“We are waiting for cranes,” one of them said, after I asked why everyone was chatting, smoking and doing nothing.

Someone was flying a drone above the accident site. Police officers were laughing. The city suffered, for several days, before ‘the crane arrived’ and the line was fixed. Nobody complained. People are used to the total collapse of their island and the country. Nothing is expected, nothing is demanded from the system; in Palangkaraya, or elsewhere in Indonesia.

*****

At the library of Central Kalimantan, an employee began to speak, enthusiastically into my camera and into recorder:

At that time, after 1965, most of the educated people of the city were either killed or arrested, without any clear charges… sometimes everything was blurry: we never knew precisely what was happening in Jakarta, everything was just a rumor… There is not one single book or reference about the km 27, where the mass killings took place, or about the killings in Pararapak village… Also, in the libraries, we never saw anything resembling the master plan of the city…

Once she found out what the purpose of our visit was, and once she saw my name card, she backpedaled:

Do not use my name, you hear me? If you do, I will sue you!

*****

The village next to the Km 27 (from Palangkaraya) is called Marang. I film illegal gold mining boats or platforms, floating on the river. There is no cover, no fear of getting caught while ruining the environment, illegally.

Misery is everywhere.

Again, nobody knows anything. People are openly laughing in our faces, when we ask about the mass killings and the mass graves.

Finally, an old lady, Ms. Aminah opens the door of her wooden house and speaks about those terrible events of the 1965 coup. It is as if she was waiting for us. She came to the door, listened to our introduction and question, and began speaking:

During those times I was still a teenager. I only heard old people telling stories through the word of mouth. We, Marang villagers, did not know what really happened in Palangkaraya, or in Jakarta. We only knew, that people who were registered as the PKI were arrested and killed. I remember at that time our village was full of fear and obscurity. But here, fortunately, no one was arrested because we had no official members of the PKI.

In the building called Ureh (Gedung Ureh, in Palangkaraya City) everyone who was suspected of supporting PKI or somehow related to it, was detained. Yes, hundreds of people were detained there, with no adequate facilities. Men and women were forced to be mixed together. Some women were raped, got pregnant. Torture was common. From there, people were brought here, to KM 27, and killed.

How many? “Many, many…” She does not know, precisely. She was too young; she was too scared.

We drive to Km 27. There is a river, a ‘secondary forest’. Silence. Nobody knows. Nobody knows anything here, or in the Pararapak Village. At both places, there is dead silence, periodically interrupted by the badly tuned engines of scooters belonging to the villagers.

We found a creek where thousands of bodies were dumped. Everyone whom we approach is laughing. It is bit like in Oppenheimer’s film “Act of Killing”.

These used to be Indonesian concentration camps, of which the largest one was located on the Buru Island, where almost all the intellectuals who were not murdered, were detained after the so-called‘1965 Events’. Here, outside Palangkaraya, those who are not afraid to speak, call these smaller camps and killing fields “Buru in the rice fields”.

The West, which takes full advantage of the mass plunder of Borneo and entire Indonesia, calls this country ‘normal’, ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’.

*****

Balanga Museum, Palangkaraya. This was supposed to be a tremendous National Museum, if the plans of Soekarno had been implemented.

Now it is just a complex of beat-up, one storey barracks, badly kept, underfunded and understaffed.

We visited a building dedicated to the collection of photos and artifacts from the Tjilik Riwut era.

Two museum curators, or call them attendants, had absolutely no idea about how Palangkaraya was exactly built. Nothing about its master plan, not even precisely what the ‘master plan’ consists of.

“Socialist past of Indonesia?” wondered one of them, after I asked. “Actually, honestly, we do socialize here, even now.”

The senior attendant knew nothing about the mass killings in the region. When we insisted, she began looking at us with fear. She wanted us gone, far away, but was too polite to insist that we leave the premises.

The other woman began explaining about the genocide:

Everybody knows about it, but all evidence was destroyed. Stories flow from grandparents to parents, to us, children. But only stories; nothing concrete.

Pupils – girls from a local junior high, some of them 12, others 13 years old first giggled, then blushed when asked about the city and its history. They knew absolutely nothing about the past of Paklangkaraya. Asked about conditions in the city, they answered, in unison:

The city is cool!

What about the future of the city? We got pre-fabricated, ‘pop’ answers:

We hope for the future of the city full of cars, schools…

*****

The Indonesian writer J.J. Kusni, who was born in Central Kalimantan, but spent many years in France, is now back. With his wife, he lives in Palangkaraya.

So far it is not clear whether he was exiled in France, or whether he went to study in Europe and stayed there for decades. What is known is that during Orde Baru (Suharto’s fascist “New Order”) he was banned from entering Indonesia.

We met him, and he explained that now he would oppose moving the capital of Indonesia from Jakarta to Palangkaraya, because the conditions had changed, after several decades:

I believe that now Palangkaraya and Central Kalimantan have the characteristics of semi-colonies. In Seokarno times it was very different, it all made sense: if you’d move the capital to Palangkaraya, militarily, we’d have space to maneuver. And the others – Malaysia and the British – would not be able to attack us easily. Central Kalimantan is in the middle of the country.

J.J. Kusni tells us about the concentration camps, and the killing fields. He also paints a bleak picture of despair, when speaking about the present state of the city and the province.

*****

Could Palangkaraya be described as a total failure, a cemetery of dreams?

Most definitely!

Palangkaraya today

An enormous territory of the city is covered, like in the rest of the cities of Indonesia, by badly planned neighborhoods. There are slums on the banks of the rivers; brutal shanty towns, some on stilts, with no basic sanitation and the extremely sparse supply of water and electricity.

Huge mosques are being constructed everywhere.

There is no culture here, and very few public spaces.

Just a regular Indonesian city, where the “state is unable to provide basic services for its citizens” (the definition of a failed state, in theory).

Kiwok D. Rampai, a 74 years old senior archeologist, known for his many studies about the history of Central Kalimantan, especially the culture of the Dayak people, likes to speak about the optimism brought by Soekarno to Palangkaraya:

I remember Soekarno’s era as a period of high optimism and enthusiasm. Palangkaraya was built by Soekarno, together with Dayak people of Central Kalimantan, and the foreign workers, especially those from the Soviet Unions. Everything was done with great dedication…

Unfortunately, the historical studies conducted by Mr. Kiwok for decades, have not been well promoted. Allegedly there was even an attempt to eliminate the documents, most likely for political reasons.

*****

In the library, we asked whether there are many Indonesian and foreign investigators and researchers interested in the history of the city.

“No one ever comes to ask questions similar to those you asked,” is the answer.

The Soviets are gone from Palangkaraya. Their legacy had been wiped out by the loud shouts of hatred, by blood spilling, implanted ignorance and by determined propaganda and intimidation campaigns.

Nowadays the Soviet Union is no more, too, although the strong anti-imperialist Russia, in many ways, has replaced it on the global stage.

Everyone remembers the “Russian Road”, the one that leaves the circle and moves westward.

It is allowed to mention, even to glorify this well-built artery. But only if it is done ‘out of context’. “Russians built the road; good road, perhaps the best road ever built in Indonesia.” Full stop. Nothing about socialism, Communism, the Soviet Union. Nothing about Soekarno the PKI, and nothing about the anti-imperialist mood of the young, independent – yes truly independent – country.

In reality, Russians (not really ‘Russians’, but people from all parts of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics), came to Kalimantan in order to support the newly independent, socialist Republic of Indonesia. They came to offer internationalist help and solidarity, to build the capital city, and eventually the industry, infrastructure, hospitals and schools. That’s what the Soviets regularly did: in Africa, Vietnam, and Afghanistan or in the Middle East.

After the 1965 US-backed coup, a new sort of people came, mainly from the West, but many from Java, even from Kalimantan itself. They helped to cut down the beautiful and pristine tropical forest, flatten the mountains, poison the rivers and exterminate countless endemic local species. They planted malignant palm oil plantations. They robbed people of their land and, in fact, of everything, and they advised the Indonesian regime how to conduct ‘transmigrasi’ – the program designed to turn the native population into a minority in its own land, so they could never aim at independence. They also educated, or call it ‘re-educated’ the entire nation, including the Central Province of Kalimantan: ‘They forced the masses to love their tormentors. They turned them into obedient beings. They destroyed their ability to dream, to fly, to struggle for a better future.’

The Palangkaraya of Soekarno has collapsed. It is no more.

We tried to find a quiet place to discuss the city with the granddaughter of Tjilik Riwut, who recently returned from Jakarta.

There were two places she could think of. One was a bar filled with smoke and loud shouts, as well as monstrous rock and pop fusion ‘music’. But it was impossible to talk there, due to the decibels.

The second was in one of two semi-decent hotels. But it turned out to be a whorehouse disguised as a karaoke bar.

We ended up in the garden of our hotel.

“What do people do in this city of a quarter of million?” We wondered.

There was not much she could think about. There was not much we could think about either.

We mentioned the metro, National Theatre, huge beautiful museums, galleries, concert halls, the circus, research institutes, parks with fountains, public hospitals, and universities with well-stocked libraries: all public, all for the public. We tried to engage her in a conversation about Soekarno’s and her grandfather’s dreams.

She changed the subject.

We didn’t.

And the result is this essay, and soon a book about the great socialist dream that never came through. A dream that was silenced, smashed and smeared by nihilism, servility and selfishness. But perhaps, only for the time being.

The dream was called Palangkaraya. And it was made of tremendous stuff: of zeal, of men and women, side-by-side, altruistically, building a new capital city of their new, beloved Indonesia, in the middle of nowhere, for the people – always for the people!

This dream is too beautiful. It can never be betrayed. It should never be forgotten. And therefore, we will not allow it to be forgotten.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

US Trade War with China: Desperate Move to Save Western Empire

Most of those who have had a chance to witness Chinese internationalist mega-projects, clearly understand that the West is near to collapsing; it will never be able to compete with tremendous enthusiasm and progressive spirit of the most populous country on earth, which on top of it, is built on socialist principles (with Chinese characteristics).

Writing this essay in rural Laos, I just saw literally an entire army of Chinese engineers and workers in action, building huge bridges and tunnels, connecting one of the poorest countries in Asia, to both China and Southeast Asia, erecting hospitals and schools, small factories for the rural population, airports and hydro-electric power plants or in brief: putting the great majority of Laotian people out of poverty by providing them with both livelihood and infrastructure.

China does precisely this all over the world, from the tiny South Pacific island nations to African countries, plundered for centuries by Western colonialism and imperialism. It helps Latin American nations that are in need, and while it does all that, it is also quickly growing into a middle class, ecologically and culturally responsible nation; a nation which is likely to eradicate all extreme misery very soon, most likely by the year 2020.

The West is horrified!

This could easily be the end of its global order, and it could all actually happen much earlier than expected.

And so, it antagonizes, provokes China, in all imaginable ways possible, from the US military buildup in Asia Pacific, to encouraging several Southeast Asian countries plus Japan to politically and even militarily irritate the PRC. Anti-Chinese propaganda in the West and its client states has lately been reaching a cacophonic crescendo. China is attacked, as I recently described in my essays, from literally all sides; attacked for being ‘too Communist’, or ‘for not being Communist enough’.

The West, it seems, despises all the economic practices of China, be it central planning, ‘capitalist means for socialist ends’, or the unwavering desire of the new Chinese leadership to improve the standard of living of its people, instead of enriching multi-national corporations at the expense of the common citizens of the PRC.

It looks like a trade war, but it actually is not: like the ‘West versus Russia’, the ‘West versus China’ is an ideological war.

China, together with Russia, is effectively de-colonizing part of the world which used to be at the mercy and disposal of the West and its companies (as well as the companies of such client-states of the West as Japan and South Korea).

However it is being labelled, de-colonization is clearly taking place, as many poor and previously vulnerable countries worldwide are now seeking protection from Beijing and Moscow.

But to ‘add insult to injury’, parallel to de-colonialization, there is also ‘de-dollarization’, that is inspiring more and more nations, particularly those that are victims of Western embargos, and the unjust, often murderous sanctions. Venezuela is the latest such example.

The most reliable and stable ‘alternative’ currency that is being adopted by dozens of countries, for international transactions, is the Chinese Yuan (RMB).

*****

The prosperity of the entire world, or call it ‘global prosperity’, is clearly not what the West desires. As far as Washington and London are concerned, the ‘surrounding’, peripheric world is there predominantly to supply raw materials (like Indonesia), cheap labor (like Mexico), and guarantee that there is an obedient, indoctrinated population which sees absolutely nothing wrong with the present arrangement of the world.

In his recent essay for the Canadian magazine Global Research titled “IMF – WB – WTO – Scaremongering Threats on De-Globalization and Tariffs – The Return to Sovereign Nations” a distinct Swiss economist and a colleague of mine, Peter Koenig, who used to work for the World Bank, wrote:

As key representatives of the three chief villains of international finance and trade, the IMF, World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) met on the lush resort island of Bali, Indonesia, they warned the world of dire consequences in terms of reduced international investments and decline of economic growth as a result of the ever-widening trade wars initiated and instigated by the Trump Administration. They criticized protectionism that might draw countries into decline of prosperity. The IMF cuts its global economic growth forecast for the current year and for 2019.

This is pure scaremongering based on nothing. In fact, economic growth of the past that claimed of having emanated from increased trade and investments has served a small minority and driven a widening wedge between rich and poor of both developing and industrialized countries. It’s interesting, how nobody ever talks about the internal distribution of GDP growth…

Peter Koenig further argues that globalization and ‘free trade’ are far from desirable for the majority of the countries on our planet. He is giving an example of China:

Time and again it has been proven that countries that need and want to recover from economic fallouts do best by concentrating on and promoting their own internal socioeconomic capacities, with as little as possible outside interference. One of the most prominent cases in point is China. After China emerged on 1 October 1949 from centuries of western colonization and oppression by Chairman Mao’s creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Mao and the Chinese Communist party first had to put a devastated ‘house in order’, a country ruined by disease, lack of education, suffering from hopeless famine as a result of shameless exploitation by western colons. In order to do that China remained practically closed to the outside world until about the mid- 1980’s. Only then, when China had overcome the rampant diseases and famine, built a countrywide education system and became a net exporter of grains and other agricultural products, China, by now totally self-sufficient, gradually opened its borders for international investments and trade. And look where China is today. Only 30 years later, China has not only become the world’s number one economy, but also a world super power that can no longer be overrun by western imperialism.

To be self-sufficient may be great for the people of every country on our planet, but it is definitely a ‘crime’ in the eyes of the West.

Now China is not only independent, but it dares to introduce to the entire world a totally new system, in which private companies are subservient to the interests of the state and the people. This is the total opposite to what is happening in the West (and its ‘client states’), where the governments are actually indebted to private companies, and where people exist mainly in order to generate huge corporate profits.

On top of it, China’s population is educated, enthusiastic, patriotic and incredibly productive.

As a result, China competes with the West, and it is easily winning the competition. It does it without plundering the world, without overthrowing foreign governments, and starving people.

This is seen by the United States as ‘unfair competition’. And it is being punished by sanctions, threats and provocations. Call it a ‘trade war’, but it actually isn’t.

And why unfair competition? Because China is refusing to ‘join’ and to play by the old imperialist rules dictated by the West, and also readily accepted by countries such as Japan and South Korea. China does not want to rule. And that scares the West.

*****

In a way, both President Trump and the present leadership of China want to make their countries ‘great again’. However, both countries see greatness differently.

For the United States, to be ‘great’ is to control the world, once again, as it did right after WWII.

For China, to be great is to provide a high quality of living for its citizens, and for the citizens of most of the world. It also means, to have great culture, which China used to have for millennia, before the ‘era of humiliation’, and which was rebuilt and greatly improved from the 1949, onward.

*****

A leading US philosopher, John Cobb Jr., in a book which we are writing together, recently pointed out:

Ever since World War II, what the United States has done has been widely copied.  Hence this country has had a great opportunity to lead the world.  For the most part, it has led in the wrong direction.  The United States and the whole world, including China, are paying, and will continue to pay, a high price.  But the days of American leadership are ending.  I would still like for the U.S. to engage in major reforms, but it is too late for these to change the world. We can rejoice that the American century is giving way to the Chinese century.

Many do, but some don’t. The end of the American leadership, or call it the “American Century”, may scare people in various Western countries, particularly in Europe. Rightly so! Those days of unopposed Western economic dictatorship are over. Soon, perhaps, Europeans will have to really compete, and work hard for their money, instead of living high life relying on plunder of natural resources and cheap labor in their semi or neo-colonies.

While many in the West are scared, the situation is simultaneously rising hopes in all other parts of the world.

For China, not to yield to the US pressure, is to show that it is serious when it comes to its independence. The most populous nation on earth is ready to defend its interests, its people and its values.

It is far from being alone. From Russia to Iran, from Venezuela to South Africa, new and newer nations are going to stand by China, and by doing so, they will be defending their own independence and freedom.

• First published by International Daily News in China

Korea: Unification, but does not have to be “German Style”

It is strange that when you come from the south, near to the DMZ (De-militarized zone, which divides Korea into two parts), you will see many flags and sentimental ‘peace’ slogans, but nothing that would represent the points of view of the North Korean people. All the flags are those of ROC (Republic of Korea, otherwise known as South Korea).

Many people near the division line have turned this entire area into a tourist trap, with observation towers ‘to get a glimpse of North Korea’, with stores selling ROK and US military ‘souvenirs’, even old military gear. As if North Koreans were some rare animals living in a cage, fascinating to study and to observe, but dangerous to touch.

Near DMZ between ROK and DPRK

Yes, all flags here are those of the ROK. Even if the two flags are crossed, in what should be a fraternal symbolic unison, they are always two identical ones – those of South Korea. This looks truly bizarre, but that’s how it is.

Something always seems to be desperately missing in this South Korean ‘strive for peace’ and for the re-united Korea. And what is missing is somehow totally basic: it is at least some essential symbolism from the north – the DPRK!

I know both parts of Korea – DPRK and ROK. And what worries me is that it looks as if the South thinks it can pull this entire ‘businesses of unification’, alone, without considering the needs and desires of the other side.

And the West takes it for granted that the North will be, eventually, simply swallowed by the South. Because it is used to get what it wants. Because in its fundamentalist zeal, it is not even capable of considering the sensitivities and goals of other political, philosophical and social systems.

The plan of both the West and South Korea is simple, although it is mostly never clearly defined, for ‘strategic reasons’: ‘Once the moment of potential unification arrives, the DPRK would simply cease to exist, as East Germany ceased to exist three decades ago. Right after that, the entire Korea would be run on capitalist principles, under the ‘patronage’ and diktat of the West.’

And both the people and the leadership of North Korea will just fall on their knees and surrender, after the masses break down the border fences with their bare hands. Ordinary people will happily renounce their system, as well as the several decades of determined struggle and sacrifice. Everything will be thrown to the altar of mighty South Korean corporations and the pro-Western regime.

Correct? Keep dreaming!

Korea is not Germany. And the second decade of the 21st century is very different from those bizarre, confused years when Gorbachev brilliantly demonstrated to the world how much damage one naïve and useful idiot could cause to his own country and the entire planet.

The truth is – North Korea will never disintegrate the way East Germany did for many reasons, one of them being that, German history is very different: Germany was divided between 4 victorious powers after WWII. The Western part did not necessarily want to be capitalist and pro-Western (US and UK forged the post-war elections), and the East did not necessarily want to be in the Soviet orbit, either. Let’s be honest: the entire country was, just a bit earlier, running amok, shouting bizarre slogans and salivating under swastikas, maniacally admiring a murderous psychopath.

No, North Korea was not and is not East Germany! It was not ‘designated’ to any bloc. It fought a tremendous battle for its own system; it lost millions of its people during the brutal war, or call it genocide, committed by the West. And in the end, after receiving fraternal help from China, it finally won.

Since the beginning, the DPRK was an internationalist country, very much like Cuba. Not yet fully recovered from horrific devastation, it helped to liberate great parts of Africa.

It always knew what it wanted, it fought for it and in the end, it achieved many of its goals!

It never crumbled under sanctions and the combined propaganda of the ROK and its Western backers.

Even after the Soviet Bloc collapsed, it did not change its course.

It is an amazing country, no matter what some people think about its political system. And North Koreans are amazing people (I was privileged to film there, for my ‘poetic’ 25-minute film “Faces of North Korea”). They will not sell their ideals for bigger cars and a pair of designer jeans. Just like for Cuba, the North Korean motherland is not some commodity.

*****

Then also imagine China and Russia, how ‘ecstatic’ both countries (increasingly under threat from the West) would be, if the entire Korea were to fall into North American hands. Imagine those military bases intimidating Herbin, Dalian, Beijing, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok!

South Korea suspects that the North will not yield.

War Museum in Seoul

They have tried everything: erecting enormous propaganda palaces like that infamous “War Museum” in Seoul.

Wedding chapel inside war museum in Seoul

They broadcasted their propaganda sermons via radio stations, even huge loudspeakers, placing them right near the division line. They joined efforts with the West, trying to isolate, even starve, their own sister in the north. Nothing helped.

Propaganda %22 art%22 in Seoul

ROK used to censor the press, disappear and murder its own dissidents, torture and rape political prisoners. All that, just in order to break any sympathy left for Communist ideals in the South. The South Korean campaign of terror was horrible, only comparable to those in South America under the right-wing dictatorships, and, of course, to that in post-1965 Indonesia.

Seoul never really apologized to the victims. Unlike in Taiwan, no monuments or museums were erected to the fatalities of the right-wing terror.

*****

Trying to ‘soften’ the DPRK by sanctions, arms race, and intimidation, has not brought any fruits. And it never will. Just the opposite: North Korea managed to harden itself; to mobilize and learn to produce basically everything: from automobiles to rockets, from computers to cutting edge medical equipment and medicine.

The only way for the two parts of Korea to find a common language is to show to each other deep respect. The German scenario would not, and, never should work here.

Both flags have to fly next to each other. Both political and economic systems have to be respected. When talking about unification, both ‘ways’ should be considered.

If South Korea were to ‘devour’ the North, nothing good would come from it: only more tension, discontent and possible confrontation. The North is a proud land. It has achieved plenty, alone. It has survived, against all the odds. It has helped oppressed parts of the world, honestly and generously. It has much to be proud of. Therefore, it will never surrender.

Yet, Korea is one nation and it is longing for unity. It will get it, but first: the ‘two sisters’, both beautiful, both brilliant, both very different, have to sit together and talk honestly and sincerely. They have done it before, and they will do it again. Both, together, are forming a family. But they cannot live together in one room. Not yet. In one house, yes, but in two different apartments.

And when they talk and try to build their home, again, there should be no interference from outside. They don’t need anybody to tell them what to do. They know, they will find a common language if left alone. It is all possible, and hopefully, soon, it will happen. But not the ‘German way’; it will either happen the ‘Korean way’, or not at all.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Filming in the Most Depressing City on Earth: Jakarta

It stinks, it is the most polluted city on earth, but that is not the most terrible thing about it.

You can drive for ten or even twenty kilometers through it, and see only ugliness, fences and broken pavements. But there are many miserable cities on this planet, and I have worked in almost all of them, in 160 countries.

So why is ‘Jakarta killing me’?  Why am I overwhelmed by depression whenever I decide to film here, or to write about the state in which its citizens are forced to live? Why, really, do I feel so desperate, so hopeless?

I am tough. I hardly succumb to depression even in such places like the war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, or in the middle of the toughest slums of Africa.

So, what is it, really, about Jakarta?

Here, I often speak about ‘immorality’, but again, what do I mean by this term? I am not a moralist, far from it. I have no religion, and I very rarely pass ‘moral judgments’, unless something truly outrageous unveils in front of my eyes.

So why, as so many others, do I land in this city in good spirits, and leave one or two weeks sick, broken, literally shitting my pants, full of wrath, despair?

Why? The Western mass media and local servile sheets are constantly bombarding the world, describing Jakarta as a ‘sprawling metropolis’, or to use the terminology of the Australian National University, as a ‘normal city’.

But it is not. In fact, it is the most ‘immoral’ place on earth that I know. It is one enormous monument to fascism, intellectual collapse, Western neo-colonialism and turbo-capitalism.

This time, right here, I will explain, briefly and determinately, why!

*****

You can actually avoid feeling this way, if you decide to land in Jakarta, work for a week or two surrounded by local ‘elites’ (usually shameless thugs), sail through life here with half-closed eyes. Or if you get paid well ‘not to see’. You can also be a Western journo who lives in one of high-rise condominiums, gets himself local bimbo for a girlfriend, and collects his ‘news’ from official briefings and press conferences.

Such foreign ‘visitors’ are warmly welcomed in Jakarta, and they get incorporated into the life of local tsars, of feudal ‘cream’, of bandits who double as business people or politicians.

It is not so difficult! You land at that lavish Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (half of things do not work here, already, or ‘yet’, but the terminal does look lavish), you can take a luxury limo to one of so many 5-star hotels, have meetings at a steel-and-glass office tower, dine in a posh mall where nobody shops (a money laundering concept), but where those with unlimited budgets, often dine. After all this you can leave thinking that Jakarta is just cool – bit ‘shallow’, too loud and too vulgar – but a ‘kind of cool’ city.

And you can, if you choose to never learn that about 90% of its citizens are actually living in slums.

That is, if ‘international standards’ for what is a ‘slum’ and what is ‘poverty’ or extreme poverty, were to apply here.

You see, ‘officially’, according to the treasonous Indonesian regime, only 9.9% of Indonesians are ‘poor’.

In Indonesia, you are not really ‘poor’, not necessarily, if you or your children are shitting into canal, and that canal is literally toxic from chemical, medical or other waste, and if, just a few meters ‘down the stream’, someone is washing clothes, or even brushing teeth, getting bit of your excrement. You are not ‘poor’ if you have no access to clean water, or to a decent electricity supply (almost nobody does in Jakarta, as the voltage fluctuates and destroys almost all electric appliances in no time). You are not poor if your children cannot afford to eat milk products and become physically or mentally ill from a lack of vitamins, minerals, or out rightly suffering from malnutrition. You are not poor if you are ‘functionally illiterate’, cannot compare and know close to nothing about the world.

In Indonesia, you are poor if your income is below Rp.400.000 per month (the definition applied since March, 2018). That is, as I write this essay, the equivalent of US$26 per month. Even the most cynical ‘absolute poverty’ line stands at US$1.25.

According to the UN declaration that resulted from the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, absolute poverty is “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information. It depends not only on income, but also on access to services.”

If this definition were to be applied to Jakarta, at least, but probably more, than 90% of the population would have to be considered as ‘absolutely poor’. And most likely between 95 and 98 percent of people all over the entire archipelago.

But this whole country is wrapped in a duvet of lies and fabrications. Several years ago, when I was writing my big book about Indonesia Archipelago of Fear, Pluto, UK), I spoke to several leading statisticians from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), which is based in Montreal, Canada. I was told, on the record, that Indonesia does not have 245 million people as was commonly reported, but more than 300 million. However, all international and local statisticians are strongly discouraged from disclosing the real numbers. Why? Because those 60 or probably millions of more people simply ‘do not exist’.

If they ‘do not exist’, the state, the government, the regime, do not have to take care of them, to feed them, to even bother registering them. These are the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable individuals.

Almost everywhere in the world, poor countries are addressing their social problems publicly, because they want to raise awareness of the plight of their people. Some nations are then combating their problems themselves (like China or Venezuela), or they are asking the international community for help.

In Indonesia, the rulers are covering-up the true horrors of the Indonesian reality. Why?

Because they don’t give a damn about the poor. They couldn’t care less about the great majority that actually lives in destitution. They don’t need ‘help’, because the people do not matter. What matters is the profits of the few who are from the ‘elites’, as well as servitude and prostitution to the Western rulers. After all, it was the West that triggered the 1965 coup in which between 1-3 million intellectuals, ‘atheists’, Communists and unionists lost their lives. And so, the Indonesian treasonous business ‘heads’, the military generals, religious leaders as well as the servile scholars and media ‘stars’ are merrily prostituting themselves, eternally grateful to Washington, London and Riyadh, for saving them from the just and egalitarian society, which the great father of the nation Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were aiming at.

‘Positive statistics’, which are actually easily detectable lies, bring ‘more investment’ for their enterprises. Or so they believe. The Indonesian economy is almost exclusively based on the plunder of natural resources by foreign multi-nationals, as well as local companies. Profits end up in the pockets of very few. The business of the savage plundering of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra and Papua has been monumental. The country has been almost fully stripped of its forests; it has leveled to the ground entire mountains and polluted mighty rivers. But the loot flows abroad, or it stays in the pockets of Jakarta’s chosen few.  Apart from ‘commodities’, Indonesia produces almost nothing of value. Its scientific research is basically nil, and its intellectual output minimal. Even judged by Western standards: the 4th most populous country on the planet, does not have one single Noble Prize laureate, and not one internationally recognizable thinker or a writer.

And so, there are those 5-star hotel towers, office buildings, and ridiculously overpriced malls and supermarkets (most of them designed and built by foreign companies), basically catering for those who steal, and never had to work for their money.

Living in slums that are not called slums

But in between, there are the so-called kampungs – ‘villages’ – where the great majority of Jakarta’s citizens live. A Kampung sounds romantic, but in reality, it is not – anywhere else on earth it would be called a slum. The slums of Jakarta and, in fact, of the entire Indonesia, are rat-infested, open sewage colossuses, with dark narrow alleys, toxic canals, and extremely limited access to drinking water (water in the capital was privatized by French and British companies, and as a result, the quality dropped and prices became unrealistically steep for the majority of people).

Except for just a few tiny dirty specks of green areas, and the most of the time closed small square in the center of the city called Monas, Jakarta has no public parks. Forget about public playgrounds for children, or public exercise machines! In fact, Jakarta has nothing ‘public’ left. Nothing ‘belongs to people’ – as everything was sold, corrupted, grabbed and privatized. A family of 4 has to pay around 7 USD to even enter Ancol, the only available beach area, despite the fact that Jakarta is theoretically a maritime city. But even in Ancol, despite the entrance fee, the tiny beach is littered with garbage, and a narrow promenade is broken and outrageously filthy. Otherwise – there is nothing!

A tiny public space a la Jakarta

In one enormous slum (sorry, kampung), I recently filmed hundreds of children playing in the middle of a cemetery, simply because they have no other places to go.

On the other hand, Jakarta has more mosques per square kilometer than any other city on earth that I know (and I have visited almost all Muslim countries). Mosques and small mushollahs, are literally growing on every street, often taking over land that should be intended for public use. But unlike in Malaysia or Turkey, these religious institutions do not provide playgrounds for children, or a ‘public space’.

The contrast between the tiny minority of extremely rich, and the destitute majority (I don’t believe that Jakarta has any substantial ‘middle class’, anymore), is so tremendous, that these two groups appear to be living on two absolutely different planets, while inhabiting the same city. The structure of Jakarta is such that the two realities often never even meet. And it is considered normal, by both the exploiters and the deprived masses.

Poor are used to being poor, obedient and ‘entrusting their fate into God’s hands’, in the Indonesian language called pasrah. And the rich are secretly laughing at the poor, all the way to the bank. I know them, the rich of Indonesia, too. I worked, for decades, with Indonesians from across the spectrum – from the poorest of the poor, to the richest of the rich.

*****

So why do I feel as I do? Why do I want to throw up?

Haven’t I worked in Mathare and the other tremendous slums of Nairobi, Kenya, or in Uganda, or India?

Yes, of course. I made films about the misery in Africa. But it is different there. In the entire city of Nairobi, which is the so-called service center of East Africa (much of the money from Uganda, Rwanda and even DRC Congo is being washed there), there is only one truly huge luxury mall, of which Jakarta has dozens. Comparing the palaces (ugly, vulgar, but palaces) that the Indonesians are building from the blood and sweat of the poor and from the theft of the natural resources, with those in Africa, the African ‘elites’ at least have some shame left. They don’t make contrasts so visible. They intuitively know that what they are doing is wrong, and often try to hide their wealth.

And in Africa, slums are called slums, and every slum dweller knows that his or her life is shit.

In India, things are bad, almost as bad as in Indonesia, but at least there is some true resistance, and the Communist Parties are regularly in control of various Indian states. Left-wing guerillas are fighting a civil war all over the sub-continent, and the country has some true great thinkers and intellectuals, most of them from the left.

The Indonesian poor have no idea that they are poor, they ‘thank God’ for what they have, or, more precisely ‘do not have’. And the super-rich looters are proud of their achievements. They are hiding nothing. On the contrary – they flash their wealth, knowing that they are above the law, or any moral principles. They drive their Mercedes limos right next to the slums, without fear. They are actually respected, not only feared. The more they steal, the more they are admired.

And if they are crossed, they kill.

They kill human rights activists, peasants who refuse to give up their land, or anyone who stands in their way.

Justice is totally corrupted. Actually, everything is. Only those who pay are protected.

To even just irritate the true owners of the city can lead to death. In Archipelago of Fear I wrote about the case of an owner of the former Hilton Hotel, who shot a waiter point-blank in his own establishment. Why? Because he had humbly dared to inform the owner’s girlfriend that her credit card had been declined. For the murder he only got a few years, and he bribed himself out just a few months after being put behind bars.

Not long ago, they put into prison the former moderately left-wing governor of Jakarta, known as Ahok, for trying to improve the infrastructure, sanitation and public transportation. The official charge: “insulting Islam”. A bad joke, really, as almost all Indonesian linguists agreed that there was no insult whatsoever. But again, it worked: to do something for the people, one risks being branded as a socialist, or a Communist (which here is illegal). To pay too much attention to the wellbeing of the common citizens may brand you as an atheist, which is also illegal. So, if you build a few new train lines, a few sidewalks, erect a couple of parks; you are risking ending up deep behind bars. Religions – be they Wahhabism or Pentecostal Christianity – have, for decades, been fully encouraged by the West, which is gaining greatly from destitution, ignorance and the obedience of the Indonesian masses.

Yes, I have seen a lot of horrors in this world, and faced indescribable cynicism. But Indonesia is truly ‘unique’, and so is its capital city.

It is like a huge, decaying carcass of a fish, inside which 12 million people breathe the most polluted air on earth, surrounded by indescribably ugliness, gloominess and pop-ridden meaninglessness.

And there is no fight, no true rebellion against this totally fascist arrangement of the city and the society.

The poor ‘know their place’. They have obediently accepted their fate. They steal from each other, insult and oppress each other. They do not dare to take on the real usurpers and bandit rulers. Or more precisely: they do not find them to be the real reason of their plight. In Jakarta, there is so much tension and hatred, but it is not directed against those who brought the city and the nation to their knees.

All this, while the rich do not even bother to look down at the masses. They actually do not even notice that the masses even exist. They make sure of not counting the tens of millions of monstrously poor human beings.

And the West lies, its media lies, and so do its economists.

Read the US and European newspapers and you will be told that Jakarta is a ‘sprawling metropolis’, that Indonesia is the ‘third biggest democracy’ (my god, according to them, India is No. 1), and that the Indonesian religions are moderate and tolerant.

*****

Jakarta is a shameless fusion of fascism and feudalism. As the great Australian painter George Burchett (the son of the legendary left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett) once told me: “Cities are usually built for the people. But the Indonesian cities, particularly Jakarta, are built against the people.”

Ciputra Mall

I have written many times about Jakarta’s ‘cultural offering’. With 12 million inhabitants, it has not one permanent concert hall, its cinemas exclusively showing Hollywood junk, with some variations of Southeast Asian horrors and other garbage. The only art cinema at TIM has only around 30 seats and a very sporadic schedule. The few modern art museums are all privately owned, and avoid all social topics, or any criticism of capitalism and Western imperialism. But there are, of course, the paintings of Warhol and a few decadent Chinese artists mocking Communism, hanging on their walls. This way, the local elites can get even further indoctrinated, while taking their selfies.

Deeper thoughts are discouraged. Pop culture – its lowest grade – is literally everywhere. Intellectually, the city has been ruined since 1965.

Noise is everywhere, too. Loud, aggressive noise. Monstrous decibels that would be banned anywhere else in the world, beat people who are visiting malls. Mosques all over the city are, unlike their counterparts even in the Middle East or Malaysia, broadcasting entire sermons over the Orwellian-style loudspeakers, at least five hours a day, but sometimes much longer. Churches of extreme right-wing orientations preach ‘Prosperity Gospel’, periodically telling the worshipers that “God loves the rich and that is why they are rich, while hating the poor and that is the reason why they are poor.” To escape religions is impossible. To escape noise is impossible. It often appears that the people of Jakarta are terrified of silence. Silence would make them think, and thinking could lead to some extremely frightening conclusions.

*****

And therefore, I film.

I film broken pavements – tiny narrow sidewalks made from unmatched tiles, polluting scooters and unhygienic eateries blocking the way of the few daring pedestrians. Why is all that happening? Because nothing public is respected or put together well. Everything that is not for a fee, is simply dreadful. And it is designed to remain that way.

I am filming slums. I am filming filth, such filth which these days hardly exists even on the Sub-Continent. I cannot believe my own eyes, and so I film. I always believe my lenses.

Bus way stop — doors not working, people often fall to their death

I know the arteries of the city, big and small. I know the corners, back alleys, clogged waterways. I know the humiliated, imprisoned waterways, surrounded by miserable dwellings.

I know the old city – Kota Tua, built by the Dutch and so badly restored, that UNESCO recently refused to put it on its prestigious World Heritage Sites list.

It is easy to accuse me of being anti-capitalist, or “anti-Indonesian regime” of thieves and of barefaced collaborators. But it is impossible to accuse me of not knowing the country and its capital city. I have literally been everywhere, covering every conflict here, for more than twenty years, witnessing the atrocities committed against the people, nature and the culture.

Wherever I go in this world, I speak about Indonesia and Jakarta. It is my warning to the world.

The Indonesian nightmarish scenario has already been implemented in many parts of the world, by Western imperialism, but, has often failed as it was too monstrous for other people to swallow. The West tried to replicate Jakarta in those countries that I deeply love and call home: they tried it in Pinochet’s Chile (“Watch out, comrades, Jakarta is coming”, Allende’s people were told), but Chile rose and both the regime and the fascist system were smashed. They tried it in Yeltsin’s Russia, and again, the people rejected this horrible extremist horror show.

Jakarta is not just a city – it is a concept. Perhaps it should one day become a verb – “to Jakarta”. That would mean, to sacrifice people to greed, corruption, business, religion and foreign interests.

But it is not omnipotent. It can be confronted and defeated. We fought against Jakarta in both Santiago de Chile and Moscow. And we won.

And we will win elsewhere, too. Maybe even in Jakarta itself, one day…

All this explains why I often come to both Borneo and Jakarta – to work on films, to define and document the horror, to warn the world what has already been done to the Indonesian nation.

I try to cut through lies. I try to explain that Dilma Rousseff, the former President of Brazil who was impeached (during a constitutional coup) because of the ‘massaging of statistics’ before the elections (something that is commonly done in many countries including those in the West) would have to be, theoretically, executed by a firing squad, or quartered by a mob, if she were to do proportionally what the government of Indonesia is doing without any scruples or second thought. In Jakarta, they do not ‘massage’ – they pervert, lie, and call black, white, and day, night. And they get away with everything. No one dares to challenge them. And they get rewarded by the West – as long as they rob the country and its people of everything, and deliver huge part of the loot to the gates of Washington, Canberra, Paris and London.

I get exhausted. And ‘broke’ once in a while (because almost nobody wants to read about Indonesia, or watch films about it). And once in a while I get thoroughly depressed, temporarily losing faith in humanity. And I shit from the terrible food. And I get sick from the pollution. And I get exhausted from constant racist insults of the passers-by in this, one of the most racist countries on earth, which in just a bit over half a century has committed 3 monstrous genocides: in 1965, against the people of East Timor, and now against the Papuans. It is constant ‘bule’ (albino, or worse), but I am lucky, as my Chinese comrades suffer much worse insults, and, of course, my African comrades do as well, not to speak of my Papuan brothers!

Fascist Jakarta is a tough adversary. But I am tough, too. And so I go, drive and crawl through the dirt, noise and insults. Because it is needed. Because here is buried the key to the countless other conflicts that the West has implanted all over the world.

The Economist once described Indonesia as the least documented large country on earth. Right. And there are many reasons for it. I often describe 1965 as a “Cultural Hiroshima”, because almost all the intellectuals were either, killed, imprisoned or muzzled – overnight, and on the direct suggestions and orders from the West.

This is the most intellectually and mentally damaged country on earth, which often feels like one huge mental asylum. It is the biggest untold story of the 20th Century. Too many people got killed here. Too many people had killed. Everybody fears everything. But nobody dares to speak or to define things.

Jakarta is a city where people ‘don’t know’, or they simply refuse to know that they are being robbed of everything, that they have been fooled, and that they had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Here, cheap pop culture, Western junk food and forced dependency on filthy scooters and private cars are called ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Watching European football is a ‘sign of progress’. Mobile phones and text messages double as culture, and so do video games. Nobody reads books.

You ask the poor about poverty, and what do you hear? Women ‘put their fate in the hands of God’. Men begin ‘analyzing’, speaking like the IMF, using business jargon: “exchange rates, global economic situation, support for small businesses…”

In reality, the majority of local families, according to my own survey, lives on US$2-3 dollars a day (family of 4-5). Food in supermarkets costs 2-8 times more than in places like Germany. Therefore, the supermarkets are empty. The Majority of people shop at pasars – markets, where food is often full of cancerogenic chemicals, and filth is everywhere.

But most of people do not feel poor. They feel insulted when they are told that they live in misery. All without exception answer that they have nothing against capitalism. Most of them know nothing about the world; they have never been taught to compare.

Anti-Communist Museum

Everybody ‘hates Communists”, as demanded by the West and by the local rulers. There are entire anti-Communist museums here, and people going out to go there, even paying from their own pocket to get further indoctrinated. If you tell them that all they see is one huge lie, they get mad, angry, sometimes even violent. Their entire lives are based on myths. Their lives depend on them, psychologically. If myths were to be taken away, their entire lives would collapse, as they would lose meaning. That is why there is too much noise, and no substance. People are scared. But they don’t know what frightens them.

Everybody thinks the same. There is hardly any variety. It is scary. Indonesia feels like North Korea, as it is presented by the West and its propaganda. But North Korea is actually totally different – there I found definitely much more intellectual diversity than in Jakarta!

Nobody wants to change things – at least not the system, the essence. People want “more money and better life”. Is their life bad now? “No!” Do they hold their elites responsible? “For what?” They don’t understand – they don’t know what I am talking about, or pretend they don’t know, when I ask such questions.

And the rich? Their kids are in the US, Japan or Europe, studying how to screw their own population even more, after returning back. For them, the greatest pride is to work for some foreign company, or to be awarded with the Western diplomas, and to be given some reward from Europe or the United States.

And the city is choking on its own gasses, garbage and excrement. While the rich have their condos and villas in Australia, California, Singapore and Hong Kong. They can get out of Indonesia whenever they want, as they have already stolen millions, billions of dollars. When they come back to Indonesia, it is to rob even more.

I have to admit, it is all ‘a little bit tiring’. Fine, honestly: it is exhausting. Documenting all this is deadly. So now you know.

And I also have to admit, it is often lonely working here. No one in his or her sane mind would come here to work. The expenses, both financial but also related to mental sanity and physical health, are tremendous. Rewards are near zero. The West does not allow the truth about Indonesia to reach the world, and therefore, no powerful criticism of the country can ever by aired by the mainstream media.

But it is my duty to speak. Therefore, I speak. And write. And film. And as my maternal Russian and Chinese grandparents did – I fight against fascism, regardless of the cost!

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Saudi Arabia has to be stopped and this time it may get stopped

It appears that the KSA has crossed all lines of decency, if there were ever any.

In the eyes of many in the West, it crossed them not because it has been brutally killing tens of thousands of innocent people in Yemen, not even because it keeps sponsoring terrorists in Syria, (and, in fact, all over the world), often on behalf of the West. And not even because it is trying to turn its neighboring country, Qatar, from a peninsula into an island.

The crimes against humanity committed by Saudi Arabia are piling up, but the hermit kingdom (it is so hermit that it does not even issue tourist visas, in order to avoid scrutiny) is not facing any sanctions or embargos, with some exceptions like Germany. These are some of the most barbaric crimes committed in modern history, anywhere and by anyone. Executing and then quartering people, amputating their limbs, torturing, bombing civilians.

But for years and decades, all this mattered nothing. Saudi Arabia served faithfully both big business and the political interests of the United Kingdom first, and of the West in general later. That, of course, includes Israel, with which the House of Saud shares almost a grotesque hatred towards Shi’a Islam.

And so, no atrocities have been publicly discussed, at least not in the Western mass media or by the European and the US governments, while weapons, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, have been arriving into the KSA, and the oil, that dark sticky curse, kept flowing out.

Was Riyadh enjoying total impunity? Definitely!

But all this may soon stop, because of a one single man, Mr. Jamal Khashoggi or more precisely, because of his alleged tragic, terrifying death behind the walls of the Saudi Consulate in the city of Istanbul.

According to the Turkish authorities, quoted by The New York Times on October 11, 2018:

Fifteen Saudi agents arrived on two charter flights on Oct. 2, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared.

Supposedly, they brutally murdered Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, and then they used sawmills to severe his legs and arms from the body.

All this, while Mr. Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, was waiting for him on a bench, in front of the consulate. He went in, in order to take care of the paperwork required to marry her. But he never came back.

Now the Turkish nation is indignant.

Ten years ago, even one year ago, everything would have been, most likely, hushed up. As all mass murders committed by the Saudis all over the world were always hushed up. As was hushed up the information about the Saudi royal family smuggling drugs from Lebanon, using their private jets – narcotics that are clouding senses and are therefore used in combat zones and during terrorist attacks.

But now, this is the end of 2018. And Turkey is not ready to tolerate an atrocity by an increasingly hostile country; an atrocity committed in the middle of its largest city. For quite some time, Turkey and the KSA are not chums anymore. Turkish military forces were already deployed to Qatar several months ago, in order to face the Saudi army and to protect the small (although also not benign) Gulf State from possible attack and imminent destruction. In the meantime, Turkey is getting closer and closer to Iran, an archenemy of Saudi Arabia, Israel and US.

It has to be pointed out that Mr. Khashoggi is not just some common Saudi citizen – he is a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but most importantly, in the eyes of the empire, a correspondent for The Washington Post. Critic but not an ‘outsider’. And some say, he was perhaps too close to some Western intelligence agencies.

Therefore, his death, if it is, after all, death, could not be ignored, no matter how much the West would like the story to disappear from the headlines.

President Trump remained silent for some time, then he became “concerned”, and finally Washington began indicating that it could even take some actions against its second closest ally in the Middle East. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been ‘cultivated’ both by Washington and other Western powers, but now he may actually fall from grace. Is he going to end up as Shah Pahlavi of Iran? Not now, but soon, or at least ‘at some point’? Are the days of the House of Saud numbered? Perhaps not yet. But Washington has a track record of getting rid of its ‘uncomfortable allies.

*****

The Washington Post, in its editorial “Trump’s embrace emboldened Saudi Crown Prince’, snapped at both the ‘Saudi regime’ (finally that derogatory word, ‘regime’ has been used against the House of Saud) and the US administration:

Two years ago it would have been inconceivable that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, would be suspected of abducting or killing a critic who lived in Washington and regularly wrote for the Post – or that they would dare to stage such operation in Turkey, another US ally and a NATO member. That the regime now stands accused by Turkish government sources of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, one of the foremost Saudi journalists, in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate could be attributed in part to the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 33-year-old de facto ruler, who has proved as ruthless as he is ambitious. But it also may reflect the influence President Donald Trump, who has encouraged the Crown Prince to believe – wrongly, we trust – that even his most lawless ventures will have the support of the United States.

“Wrongly, we trust?” But Saudi Arabia and its might are almost exclusively based on its collaboration with the global Western ‘regime’ imposed on the Middle East and on the entire world, first by Europe and the UK in particular, and lately by the United States.

All terror that the KSA has been spreading all over the region, but also Central Asia, Asia Pacific, and parts of Africa, has been encouraged, sponsored or at least approved in Washington, London, even Tel Aviv.

The Saudis helped to destroy the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and then the socialist and progressive Afghanistan itself. They fought Communism and all left-wing governments in the Muslim world, on behalf of the West. They still do.

Now both the West and the KSA are inter-dependent. The Saudis are selling oil and buying weapons, signing ‘monumental’ defense contracts with the US companies, such as Lockheed Martin. They are also ‘investing’ into various political figures in Washington.

The current alleged murder of a journalist triggered an unusual wave of soul-searching in the Western media. It is half-hearted soul searching, but it is there, nevertheless. On October 2018, the Huffington Post wrote:

By directing billions of dollars of Saudi money into the U.S. for decades, Riyadh’s ruling family has won the support of small but powerful circles of influential Americans and courted wider public acceptance through corporate ties and philanthropy. It’s been a solid investment for a regime that relies heavily on Washington for its security but can’t make the same claims to shared values or history as other American allies like Britain. For years, spending in ways beneficial to the U.S. ― both stateside and abroad, such as its funding Islamist fighters in Afghanistan to combat the Soviet Union ― has effectively been an insurance policy for Saudi Arabia.

It means that the White House will most likely do its best not to sever relationships with Riyadh. There may be, and most likely will be, some heated exchange of words, but hardly some robust reaction, unless all this tense situation ‘provokes’ yet another ‘irrational’ move on the part of the Saudis.

The report by Huffington Post pointed out that:

One of the few traditions in American diplomacy that Trump has embraced wholeheartedly is describing weapons sales as jobs programs. The president has repeatedly said Khashoggi’s fate should not disturb the $110 billion package of arms that Trump says he got the Saudis to buy to support American industry. (Many of the deals were actually struck under Obama, and a large part of the total he’s describing is still in the form of vague statements of intent.)

Keen to keep things on track with the Saudis, arms producers often work in concert with Saudi Arabia’s army of Washington lobbyists, congressional sources say.

This is where the Western reporting stops short of telling the whole truth, and from putting things into perspective. Nobody from the mainstream media shouts: ‘There is basically no independent foreign policy of Riyadh!’

Yes, oil buys weapons that are ‘giving jobs to men and women working in the US and UK factories’, and then these weapons are used to murder men, women and children in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere; they threaten Iran, Qatar and several other countries. Oil and Western support also help to recruit terrorists for the perpetual wars desired by the West, and they also help to build thousands of lavish mosques and to convert tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere to Wahhabism, which is an extreme, Saudi-UK religious dogma. (My book Exposing Lies of the Empire. contains important chapter on this topic – “The West Manufacturing Muslim Monsters: Who Should Be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism”).

*****

Despite what many in the West think, there is hardly any love for Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. The KSA is sometimes supported, out of ignorance, commercial interests, or religious zeal, by such far-away Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, but as a rule, not by those who live ‘in the region’.

Many, if not most, in the Arab countries have already had enough of Saudi arrogance and bullying, by such monstrous acts like the war against Yemen, or implanting/supporting terrorists in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, or by recent the de facto kidnapping of the Lebanese Head of State, by moral hypocrisy and by turning holy Muslim sites into business ventures with vulgar commercialism all around them, and the clear segregation of the rich and poor.

Many Arabs hold Saudi Arabia responsible for turning an essentially socialist and egalitarian religion into what it has become now, of course, with the determined support from the West, which desires to have an obedient and rituals-oriented population all over the Muslim world, in order to control it better, while plundering, without any opposition, its natural resources. Saudi Arabia is a country with some of the greatest disparities on earth: with some of the richest elites on one hand, and widespread misery all around the entire territory. It is an ‘unloved country’, but until now, it has been ‘respected’. Mainly out of fear.

Now, the entire world is watching. Those who were indignant in silence are beginning to speak out.

Few days ago, an Indonesian maid was mercilessly executed in the KSA. Years ago, she killed her tormentor, her old ‘a patron’ who was attempting to rape her, on many occasions. But that was not reported on the front pages. After all, she was ‘just a maid’; a poor woman from a poor country.

All of us, writers and journalists all over the world, are hoping that Mr. Khashoggi (no matter what his track record was so far) is alive, somewhere, and that one day soon he will be freed. However, with each new day, the chances that it will happen are slimmer and slimmer. Now even Saudi officials admit that he was murdered.

If he was killed by Saudi agents, Mr. Khashoggi’s death may soon fully change both his country and the rest of the Middle East. He always hoped for at least some changes in his country. But most likely, he never imagined that he would have to pay the ultimate price for them.

This time, the Saudi rulers hoped for a breeze, which would disperse the smell of blood. They may now inherit the tempest.

Mexico: Is the End of “Magic Imperialism” Approaching?

You all know how the saying goes: “Poor Mexico – too far from God, too close to the United States”.

This proud, beautiful and deep part of the world has been plundered, ravished and humiliated for many centuries, first by the Europeans (both the Spaniards and French), then by the Norteamericanos.

The vulgarity and brutality of the conquest had often been unbelievably grotesque, unreal, insane – to the point that I decided to name it a “magical imperialism” (or call it ‘magical colonialism’ if you wish).

Great cultures created by Mayas, Aztecs and other native people – cultures much more advanced than those of the Europeans, have been crushed, tricked, cheated, and finally forced into submission. Local gods were ‘sent to a permanent exile’ and Catholicism, under the threat of death or torture or both, was forced down the throat of everyone.

Yes, Western colonialism often takes truly bizarre, surreal, forms. What example should I provide, to illustrate ‘magic imperialism’? For example, this one: in Cholula, near the city of Puebla, Spaniards slammed their church on top of the biggest (by volume) pyramid on Earth – Tlachihualtepetl. It is still sitting there, even now as I write this essay: the church is sitting on top of the pyramid, unapologetically. Local authorities are even proud of its presence, promoting it as a ‘major tourist site’. I hope, one day, UNESCO includes it in the “memory of humanity” list, as a symbol of cultural vandalism.

Catholic church arrogantly slammed on top of the biggest pyramid in the world, outside Puebla

I summoned the curator at a local museum, Ms. Erica, asking her about this insanity. She explained, patiently:

We are strongly discouraged from speaking about brutality of the past. Mexico’s attitude towards its own history is truly schizophrenic. On one hand we know that our country was plundered, raped and abused, by the Spanish colonizers, by the French, and then by the U.S. But we, scholars, teachers, curators, are literally ordered to ignore it, to ‘be positive’; to ‘look for good things’ in what was done to us, and what we inherited.

Clearly, Ms. Erica has had enough. She speaks openly, passionately:

In the past, the church had been hit and damaged by lightning, on several occasions, and the local people believe that it happened because of the wrath of local gods, who were protesting against the desecration of their site and an architectural masterpiece – the pyramid. However, the structure was always quickly restored by the religious and state authorities. The church still dominates the landscape, visible from as far as the city of Puebla, while the grand pyramid looks humiliated and belittled, like nothing more than a forested hill.

*****

Mexico suffered for centuries, and it is suffering now.

It is one of the greatest countries on Earth. In fact, it is not just a country, but a universe, not unlike those ‘universes’ created by other great countries, like ‘universe China’, ‘universe India’ or ‘universe Russia’. Mexico is ancient and deep, and as mentioned above, it gave birth to some enormous civilizations, which were self-sufficient and much more advanced than the cultures of those who came to attack it, to plunder and enslave it.

These civilizations, however, were robbed of their identity by the invaders, forcefully Christianized, then reduced to the level of ‘minorities’ in their own land. Natives were forced into slave labor, and used to mine their own silver and other raw materials, which were quickly shipped far away, enriching first Europe and later North America.

Originally, all this was done by the colonists from abroad, and later, by the local elites on behalf of the West.

The same story could be traced to all corners of Latin America; and a similar story to so many parts of the world.

All this was done straight-faced. The West is never famous for soul-searching or spasms of guilt. No justification was provided. After all, there has been a Cross above the country named Mexico, and an imaginary ‘banner of civilization’ (Western one, naturally).

I call all of it a ‘magic imperialism’, because the whole destruction of this ancient and beautiful world was done in an almost ‘poetic’ way: built on faith-based dogmas, as well as on military and expansionist theories, and the myths of racial, cultural and religious supremacy.

All this took place during the colonial period, and it is taking place now, in the days of ‘free market fundamentalism’.

“Is all this good or bad for the Mexican people?” Who cares! Such questions are not allowed. Mexican people are supposed to listen, accept, and obey the West, simply because the West is the most enlightened part of the world, because ‘it knows better’. The word ‘superior’ is hardly used (as it is ‘politically incorrect’), but it is presumed.

*****

Now Mexico is boiling. It has had enough of being treated like a child, like a slave, like an inferior part of the world.

This time I travelled for three weeks all over the country, revisiting my ‘old places’. I wanted to hear what people think and say.

I used to live in this country, for an entire year, some 20 years ago. Deep in my heart, I never really left.

Now, everything looked both familiar, and at the same time, foreign. I spoke to people in Mexico City and Puebla, in Guadalajara, Tequila, Tlaxcala, Tijuana, Merida, Oaxaca, and I went deep into the countryside. Wherever I was, I felt fear. I detected anxiety, terrible anxiety.

Yes, there was fear, but also determination to change everything, and to start from scratch.

I was filming a documentary here, with the working title: “Mexico – Year Zero”. It was not a binding title, but I was getting used to it, it was somehow fitting.

Left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) won the Presidential Elections, securing great support in all but two states of the country.

This can mean total overhaul, true change, a new beginning, if Obrador fights, if he is determined, if he serves the interests of his people. Or it may mean nothing, almost zero, if he hesitates, loses guts and surrenders to inertia.

I spoke to at least a hundred people, in many parts of the country, perhaps many more. Not one, not a single one said, that his or her country is doing well! This, despite all sorts of positive economic indicators, despite a good position on the Human Development Index (HDI), and the fact that Mexico is, after all, an OECD country and the 15th largest economy in the world.

‘Magical imperialism’ brought this great nation to its knees.

Everything here is full of contradictions.

Mexico has much greater culture and lifestyle than the United States, but it is subservient to the North. 90% of its exports go straight to North America (U.S. and Canada). The Mexican view of the world is fully shaped by the brainwashing right-wing propaganda, literally flooding the country through such outlets like CNN en Español and FOX.

Outraged by North American behavior, Mexico is nevertheless forced to see the world through the eyes of its great tormentor. RT, CGTN, PressTV, or even Telesur, are only available through the internet.

This has to change. Everybody knows it has to, somehow. But how? So far, there is no plan. Is the President-elect going to come up with the one? And if he does, can he survive, or will he be harassed or even kicked out from his post or killed, as has happened to so many others, including Chavez and Dilma?

Can any Latin American country gain its true independence from the global dictatorship of the West? Cuba did! Or should I write: so far, only Cuba has. And Venezuela, to a great extent, but both are paying a horrendous price.

*****

All over Mexico, there are reminiscences of the Western ‘involvement’, or should I say ‘monuments of barbarity’. Often, one has to search for them, or even read between the lines, in order to identify them.

Spanish conquest, inquisition, massive theft of land, natural resources, and then massacres, massacres, torture…

On February 7, 2016, Telesur reported:

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being complicit in the killing of over 24 million Indigenous people.

Some 30 Indigenous communities of Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding Pope Francis apologize for the genocide committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church against their people during the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th century.

“For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted,” the Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan said in a statement.’

Well, Pope Francis, any comments; at least some desire to speak about justice?

The United States invasion, and the grab of enormous Mexican territory:

…The Mexican War was instrumental in shaping the geographical boundaries of the United States. At the conclusion of this conflict, the U.S. had added some one million square miles of territory, including what today are the states of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, as well as portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada…

Reading what it says above, one would believe that this account would be followed by the expression of horror at what took countless lives of the Mexican people, and resulted in the theft of tremendous territory. But no; of course, no! This quote is from the introduction written by John S. Brown, Chief of Military History, to a brochure (the Occupation of Mexico May 1846 – July 1848) described as being “produced by in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Stephen A. Carney.” Instead of apology and indignation, the further quote follows:

…The Mexican War lasted some twenty-six months from its first engagement through the withdrawal of American troops. Fighting took place over thousands of miles, from northern Mexico to Mexico City, and across New Mexico and California. During the conflict, the U.S. Army won a series of decisive conventional battles, all of which highlighted the value of U.S. Military Academy graduates who time and again paved the way for American victories. The Mexican War still has much to teach us about projecting force, conducting operations in hostile territory with a small force that is dwarfed by the local population, urban combat, the difficulties of occupation, and the courage and perseverance of individual soldiers…

The self-congratulatory, almost poetic language of both the brochure and the introduction to it sounds truly, as if it is trying to fit into a magic imperialist realism. But it is not: it is just how history is taught in the United States, in Europe, and unfortunately, in many schools in the formerly and presently colonized countries.

French intervention in Mexico

Then the French massacred people in Mexico City, as well as all over the territory that was left to the Mexicans after the 1846-1848 U.S. invasion. The French ‘intervened’ in Mexico on two occasions: from 1838 to 1839, and from 1862 to 1867, in which conflict, at least 12,000 Mexican people were killed. The French were killing, plundering and imposing their dictate, shamelessly and mercilessly, but that was not really ‘something exceptional’, as they were doing precisely the same, or worse, all over Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Caribbean and Oceania.

*****

Now, right at the northern part of the enormous city of Tijuana, the U.S. authorities and their contractors, are building an enormous wall. It does somehow not look unlike the ‘perimeter’ built by Israel, between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria proper. But then, many things look suspiciously similar, these days.

This used to be a great proud hacienda of Yucatan

This wall is a clear expression of a thorough imperialist madness. This entire land used to belong to Mexico, before the 1846 invasion, or call it ‘officially’ Mexican-American War. Both countries are part of one continent. Both sides of the border are inhabited by essentially the same people. There are millions of Mexicans living in California, and there are millions of North Americans who are seeking better life south of the border – in Mexico – either in the retirement colonies, or, for instance, as students at much cheaper and good Mexican universities, or as artists. North Americans travel to Mexico to get their teeth fixed, Mexicans go north to get better paid jobs; the border area is basically an integrated zone, with its own music, traditions, history and folklore. I know it well, and I know that it used to have its own magic and, yes, its realism too.

Now it is gone, thoroughly ruined.

Elites partying

But as if in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, even through all that dust and insanity, one can still feel the magic. Here, I am still in Latin America, at its edge, at the last inch. And, screw the wall!

I shout at a U.S. contractor, through the bars. I want to know what he thinks about all this, if he actually thinks at all. He replies honestly and phlegmatically: “I am not allowed to speak about this.”

I face a Mexican woman; whose back is against the U.S. constructed wall. Her house is just one meter from the perimeter. If she sticks her finger through the bars, she is technically in the United States. Her name is Leticia.

She doesn’t care about politics. Her biggest fear is that the creatures inhabiting this area will get hurt:

They are cutting the natural flow of water in this area. This will not end well. And the animals cannot migrate, anymore. This is so brutal. I am happy where I am, and so is my family. At this side, I am fine. But you know, the creatures are different – they need to move…

She almost brings tears to my eyes. A narco, a ‘small fish narco’ who is accompanying me to the wall, explaining ‘the reality of the border’ and how the drug cartels here work, suddenly produced one short and loud sob. He is a Latino, after all. He may be a gangster, but he has a heart.

I know, mostly it is not Mexicans who are trying to jump the fence. The majority of Mexicans are middle class, and the middle class lives a better life here than in the constantly stressed and overworked U.S. It is those desperate people from Central America who are risking their lives, crossing – from Guatemala, Honduras – people whose governments were overthrown by Washington, people whose countries were destroyed. People who are suffering from gangs and narco-mafias – direct consequences of the civil wars triggered by the West.

These people are traveling on the monstrous Mexican cargo trains called “La Bestia”, “the beast”; they are having their limbs cut off when they fall from the roofs down onto the tracks. I follow them, I film them, I talk to them. They are on the move, from the southern Mexican border towns all the way to the north; to the U.S. border. They have no choice. And Washington knows it. It took socialism away from them – in Honduras and Guatemala it did. Then it rewarded them with this damn wall.

Magic imperialism!

Central America is in ruins. Mexico, potentially one of the greatest nations on Earth, is stagnating, living in fear, suffering from corruption and crime, from servile and obedient (towards the West) elites. This entire mess has been triggered by neo-liberalism, as well as the selfish over-indulgence in the North.

Comes Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico is tired. It does not believe in itself, anymore, but it voted, clearly and proudly. It wants to hope. It wants to believe. It wants to live. It tries.

People spoke, people voted.

For them, Mexico has to change

They have no clue what will come next. Is the man they voted for really with them?

Radical intellectuals at UNAM do not think so, they told me. But the poor Mayan and Azteca villages, the core of this country, are with him. They trust him. They hope. He has no right to fail them.

“If he fails the poor, there will be a civil war. He is our last hope,” I was told in Tijuana.

Again, and again, I recall what I was told by one of the greatest South American writers and thinkers of all times, Eduardo Galeano:

Hope is all that poor people have. That is why, comrades, do never play with hope!

If Obrador succeeds, if he delivers even half of what he promised, Mexico will dramatically change. The entire Central America will change, perhaps the entire Latin America will. This is the most populous Spanish speaking country, a cultural and intellectual powerhouse that has been asleep for many long and painful decades.

This is where magic realism rubs shoulders with that magic imperialism imported and implemented by the West.

I landed here, symbolically on September 14, the night when Mexican Independence Day is, historically, celebrated. I did not sleep. I went to Zocalo, to see the people. Enormous fireworks illuminated the sky of the city where the Spanish cathedrals are built on top of the ruins of the great native civilizations. Poor and rich were standing, watching the colorful show, looking at an enormous flag.

Independence Day in Mexico City 2018 — new beginning?

The day after, I was filming at the splendid Bellas Artes, one of the most beautiful theatres on Earth. There, a Soviet-trained conductor was facing a brilliant ‘youth orchestra’, which consisted of once poor boys and girls from deprived communities. On the stage, the legendary Folkloric Ballet of Mexico was performing; with proud native themes, and with young women holding rifles, marching towards the redness of the revolution. The audience roared. People, strangers, were embracing, shaking hands. There were tears; tears of joy.

At Bellas Artes, Soviet-trained Mexican conductor evokes great pride in audience

Oh Mexico! 2018. Year Zero, I call it. Yes, this is how I will name my film.

Year Zero. The revolution, hopefully. The new beginning. The independence. Hopefully.

Yes, I wrote it, of course, I did: “People are reluctant, skeptical.” But they are both – reluctant and full of hope. I was told in Guadalajara, by an accountant who was forced by circumstances, to drive a taxi:

I did not vote for Obrador, because I do not believe that what he was promising during his campaign, could be achieved. But I hope that he is real. If I see that he is real, I will drop everything and dedicate my life to supporting him.

To save Mexico is to stop neo-liberalism, dependency on the West, and to join countries that are fighting against the global dictatorship. Can it be done? Will it be done?

I trust Obrador. I have no other choice. I travelled all the way here, to the country that I still love, profoundly; I travelled here in order to offer my help. I am not an ‘impartial spectator’. This is not the time for those…

In a few short months, the fate of those humble villages of Yucatan and Chiapas will be decided. The entire Latin America is watching.

To change Mexico looks like an impossible task. But it has to be performed. True revolution should put the Mexican people first, and put the final end to those terrible centuries of plunder, humiliation and terror.

To hell with magic imperialism. To hell with any imperialism, full stop.

Viva Mexico! Viva Patria Grande!

• Read Part One here:

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

 

Laos: China is Building, West is Destroying and Spreading Nihilism

It is one of those complex stories that are so difficult to tell, and yet they should, they have to be shared.

Imagine the splendid Mekong River, as it flows not far from an ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. The river is powerful, with muddy banks, surrounded by lush mountains. Imagine poor villages and old ferry crossings, as well as broken plastic sandals on the feet of local people.

Then suddenly, near the village of Phonesai, you can spot several tremendous concrete pillars. They are growing out from the water, and from both river banks, literally connecting two mountains.

Soon it will be a bridge for high-speed trains. It is being built by China, a nation with the most advanced high-speed rail technology on earth. And a bit below, there will be another bridge, for cars and pedestrians.

Both mountains are being drilled, carefully and sparingly. This is where two tunnels will be passing through.

It is, of course, much cheaper to blow the mountains down with explosives. But earlier this year, China engraved the “Ecological Civilization” into its Constitution, and what it preaches at home, it also implements abroad.

This is the biggest project in the history of Laos, and it is often described as a mammoth engineering task: with 154 bridges and 76 tunnels, as well as 31 train stations. The Laotian terrain is very complex, its nature still pristine at large, and it is supposed to remain as such. The railroad will be 414 kilometers long, connecting Boten on the Laos-China border and the Laotian capital Vientiane. It is estimated that 20,000 Chinese workers will take part in the construction, as well as further tens of thousands of local laborers.

The railroad is expected to be operational in 2021, linking Laos with both China in the north, and Thailand to the south.

China Daily reported:

The Lao government hopes that the completion of China-Laos railway will bring powerful momentum to social and economic development, while the construction of the railway has already brought great changes in many areas along the route.

At Sinohydro Bureau 3 Co Ltd’s railway construction site between towns of Luang Prabang and Vangvieng, local staffs outnumber Chinese workers. Nearby hilly villages have over 300 people while some 20 of them have been employed to work for Sinohydro 3. Lao staffs are learning the advanced technology and management from their Chinese colleagues.

Chinese construction companies also donated money to local villages for building bridges and roads.

And not only roads, I saw and photographed new workshops, hotels, small factories and hospitals, along the road from Luang Prabang to Phonesai Village.

This is all part of Belt and Road Initiative, an optimistic, internationalist plan of China and its leadership, designed to connect and lift out from poverty, a great number of nations, among them various previously colonized and plundered (by the West) countries in all corners of the globe.

*****

While the Chinese workers are sweating, constructing the future of Laos, several French-speaking tourists on the main street of Luang Prabang are having beer.

Beautiful but sentimental touristy Luang Prabang

In 1995, UNESCO inscribed this ancient capital of Laos onto the world heritage site list. Mass tourism, mainly from the West, followed.

Restored strictly the ‘French-way’ into a sentimental, colonialist nostalgia ‘living museum’, Luang Prabang caters mainly to European tastes. The local people are here predominantly to serve, to ‘just be there’ for decorative purposes; poor and ‘native’, humble, selling craft, sitting on the asphalt and making sure to look appropriately destitute but ‘friendly’.

There are a few posh boutiques and high-end hotels in town. No Laotian person could ever be able to afford a glass of Belgian beer on offer, or a meal in one of identical ‘traditional’ restaurants.

Signs are in English, sometimes in French or Laotian, but very rarely in Chinese.

Official Communist flags of Laos have almost entirely disappeared from the main streets of Luang Prabang.

In a local library, I am told by Mr. Seng Dao, who is the main librarian:

Foreigners, mainly Europeans, used to come to local people and ask, sarcastically, even aggressively: “Why do you show Communist flags here? Or: ‘Why do you have Communist history in your books?

Within few years, in the center of the city, the proud Communist legacy and identity of Laos has almost been entirely replaced with mass-produced low-quality silk, banal toys and other kitsch catering to the Western cultural fundamentalists, mainly from Europe.

But Laos is a Communist country, and flags are still waving in the wind as a rebellion, from various tuk-tuks and from the houses.

*****

At UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) Center in Luang Prabang, I was unceremoniously kicked out, as they were expecting the visit of ‘her royal highness’, Princess Beatrice. A member of the vile British royal family responsible for the horrendous colonialist legacy all over the world (including Southeast Asia), Ms. Beatrice came to Luang Prabang mainly to attend a charity gala at the newly built Pullman hotel (where I happened to be staying), where she addressed 230 guests, most of them Western ‘expats’ – mostly men who have settled in and around Luang Prabang.

Princess Beatrice in Luang Prabang (Photo by “pilou”)

Rumors spoke of the possibility of collecting enough money to build a bigger structure for UXO in the city.

I used to work in Laos, on several occasions, but especially in 2006, when I reported on the activities of the British de-mining agency MAG, in the devastated Plain of Jars.

For many years I have been passionate about this part of the world, trying to understand what really happened during the horrendous ‘side-kick’ wars initiated by the Empire: those in Cambodia and Laos.

In a beastly show of cruelty and indifference, the West took millions of innocent human lives in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We will never know the precise numbers, but combined, the death toll of the civilians most likely reached between 5 to 8 million. The West murdered and maimed people, and it poisoned entire huge areas of what was once known as ‘Indochina’. And it got away with it, as it has done in virtually every corner of the world, where it brought genocide, thorough destruction and indescribable misery.

International Lao-China Hospital

I spoke to dozens of local people in the Plain of Jars, using the services of my patient and deeply compassionate local interpreter, Mr. Luong.

There, in a small village of Ban Khai, Mr. Phommar who was then already 81 years old, revealed to me all the horrors of the so called “Secret War”, unleashed by the West but particularly by the United States, against the scarcely populated Laos:

We used to hide by the side of the road, in the ditch. Bombs kept falling and once our entire family was buried and we had to dig ourselves out. People were dying all around us. They used to bomb us with enormous airplanes which flew so high that we couldn’t see or hear them approaching. And they used to send small planes which were looking for people on the ground; those flew so low that we were able to see faces in the cockpits.

But the carpet bombing was the scariest. There was no warning. Bombs began to explode all around this area and we had no idea where they were coming from. On average, they bombed us five times a day. They bombed us almost every day, for more than ten years. Laos had only two million people then. And we were later told that the U.S. and its allies dropped three million tons of bombs on us.

Eventually, nobody could survive here, anymore. Our houses were destroyed and our fields were full of unexploded substances. People were dying and so were the animals. We had to leave and so we decided to go to Vietnam, to search for refuge. But the journey was tremendously arduous. We were moving at night, carrying few possessions. During the day we were hiding from the enemy planes.

During the war I was very angry at Americans. I couldn’t understand how can somebody be so brutal. How can somebody kill fellow human beings in such cold blood? But now my government tells me that everything is ok, that it is past and we should forget. But how can we forget? I don’t feel angry anymore, but I would like the world to know what happened to us.

US bombs in Laos

John Bacher, a historian and a Metro Toronto archivist once wrote about The Secret War in Laos:

More bombs were dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1973 than the U.S. dropped on Japan and Germany during WWII. More than 350,000 people were killed. The war in Laos was a secret only from the American people and Congress.

Jeremy Kuzmarov described in detail and in full psychological horror, what the West did to Laotian men, women and children:

Military planners and “defense intellectuals” saw Laos as a testing ground for new forms of counterinsurgency and automated warfare the Pentagon had been developing, unencumbered by media or congressional scrutiny. A State Department official said: “This is [the] end of nowhere.  We can do anything we want here because Washington doesn’t seem to know that it exists. While USAID provided rice drops in the effort to win “hearts and minds,” the military pioneered computer-directed bombing along with drone surveillance and dropped over 270 million cluster bombs, 80 million of which did not detonate… These strategies helped to delay the victory of the Pathet Lao revolutionary forces by over a decade, while providing a template for the automated warfare of the 21st century.

Conclusions of Jeremy Kuzmarov are chilling but precise:

If the Nazi activities represented a kind of apex to an age of inhumanity, American atrocities in Laos are clearly of a different order,” Branfman wrote, “Not so much inhuman as a-human. The people of Na Nga and Nong Sa were not the object of anyone’s passion. They simply weren’t considered.  What is most striking about American bombing in Laos is the lack of animosity felt by the killers to their victims. Most of the Americans involved have little if any knowledge of Laos or its people.

To put numbers into perspective, as reported by Santi Suthinithet, at Hyphen:

From 1964 to 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs – about 2.5 million tons of munitions – on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos.

My credentials as a writer, film-maker and investigative journalist who was risking his life for Laos (and Cambodia), browsing through the minefields, interviewing victims of the beastly Western campaigns in this part of the world, got me, this time, absolutely nowhere. Or more precisely, they got me just 5 minutes of a visit to the UXO center. After that I got escorted to my car, so the safety of a member of mass-murderous British monarchy could be guaranteed.

Did Laos really need Princess Beatrice? It does not need charity, does it? The UK, together with the US, Australia and few other nations were fully responsible for the death of at least 300,000 Laotian people. The West killed here; it lied, and it has been covering it all up until today.

For experimenting on defenseless and innocent human beings, for ruining their land, poisoning rivers, slaughtering animals from the comfortable distance and height of the B-52 strategic bombers flight-paths, in an ideal, or even just ‘normal world, the West should be standing on its knees throwing ashes on its head, begging for forgiveness. Naturally, it should be paying war reparations amounting to trillions of dollars; to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. All this and much more it should be doing, to offset at least some of the monstrosities it committed, instead of throwing gala charity parties for the royal mafia, in the middle of  5-star establishments surrounded by local rice fields.

*****

But we are not living in an ideal or even ‘normal’ world. The West is unapologetic. Despite everything, it feels morally superior to the rest of the world. It preaches its fundamentalist gospel. And here, in Laos, it is trashing China for pulling this wonderful gentle nation out of decades of horrors, misery and dependency.

Western propaganda against the Chinese projects in Laos, is now in top gear.

Like in Africa, Western-financed NGO’s are in full force in Vientiane and other cities of Laos. Instead of building or improving Laos, they are there just in order to push the Western agenda; to agitate against the Communist government and its projects and cooperation with China.

Bizarre and totally false stories are circulating in many major Western publications, accusing China of virtually everything, from not paying adequate wages, to ruining the Laotian environment.

The reason for all this propaganda is clear: Laos is an extremely strategically-located country, bordering China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

It is a Communist country. It is still very poor, but with tremendous potential. And now it is clearly aware of the fact that it can soon stand on its own feet.

China is capable and willing to transform this country, literally overnight, from a recipient of meager aid, to a powerful nation of 7 million inhabitants.

Railway project

China is involved in building roads, railroads, hospitals, factories, workshops, as well as dams and hydroelectric power plants on the Mekong River. The latter is solving the notorious electricity shortages of Laos, while turning it into a net exporter of electricity, particularly to neighboring Thailand. It is also pulling hundreds of thousands of Laotian people out of poverty.

An article published on February 1, 2016 by NEO Magazine (“Laos: The new Cold War Battleground You Don’t Know About”) addresses the issue:

Protesters paradoxically claim that the dams will disrupt both the environment and traditional fishing communities along rivers downstream from dams. Traditional fishing communities, however, are generally synonymous with both unsustainable environmental destruction and poverty. Conversely, environmental impacts by dam construction can be mitigated through careful planning, while working to lift surrounding communities and the nation as a whole from poverty through improved infrastructure and cheaper and more accessible energy.

Protesters are not campaigning for careful planning, or better oversight of projects, they are campaigning instead for arrested development for Laos and its people – the sort of campaign only Wall Street and Washington could benefit from.

The West has built nothing substantial in Laos. And it is horrified by the possibility that under the Chinese leadership, Laos will provide an example to the world, proving that even a poor and once destroyed country could stand independent and tall, if it is helped by its mighty, ideologically close neighbor.

While the West is helping to build a few services in the old city, mainly for its own tourists and profits, China has already built the efficient Luang Prabang International airport, replacing the old tiny yellowish building that used to serve as a terminal.

Railroad and highway projects that will be passing through Laos will connect China with several countries of Southeast Asia, and secure for Laos substantial transit fees. It is a win-win situation, but not when observed from the point of view of those who just want the continuation of Western supremacy in the region and the rest of the world.

And what about the people of Laos? Is the West really treating them better than they are treated by the Chinese? This is what I learned from Mr. Seng, a Laotian supervisor working at a luxury international hotel 3 Nagas in Luang Prabang:

I am really glad that the Chinese are here. They are now involved in many projects here in Laos, including power plants and this high-speed train project which will interlink Laos with China, Thailand and hopefully, Cambodia. Chinese are treating us very well. My brother works for them; he is a driver. He earns 900 dollars monthly. This is enormous amount of money here. In fact, Chinese are paying him 1.500 dollars, but the government here takes 600 as an income tax, or something… I work for a French hotel chain ACCOR, which is the biggest hotel company in the world, and I earn 200 dollars, as a supervisor. Local staff earns on average 120 dollars.

I checked with a French ACCOR employee who is based in Luang Prabang, and he confirmed the numbers.

The conclusions are clear: China pays local people the same wages as they pay to the Chinese workers. The French are paying local staff approximately 25-30 times less than what they pay their own people.

But search the net: at least in the English language, and all you will find is an avalanche of fake news about the Chinese involvement in Laos. This is all that the world is allowed to know about this country, and its epic battle for true independence.

As always in the Western media: black is white, boys are girls, war is peace, and flamingos are pigs.

*****

In the meantime, as I wrote earlier, the Communist flags have almost entirely disappeared from the center of Luang Prabang. It is because, I was told, the European tourists don’t like to see them.

Yes, UNESCO supervised the preservation work of the old capital, but what is the result? Sentimental, feel-good ‘colonial charm’; temples, silk shops and cafes with the Western beer and free WIFI. Old Chinese-Lao architecture looks, suspiciously, French. Not a word about the horrors that the country had to go through in recent history; not a word that hundreds of people of Laos are still losing their lives due to the UXO, all over the country. Not a word about the French colonialism, the Western genocide during the so-called “Secret War”, which was unleashed against the defenseless Laos.

And yes, not a word about the heroic Pathet Lao, and its superhuman struggle for a Communist fatherland, against the Western imperialist monsters.

On the outskirts of the city, predominantly European tourists visit the fake ‘bear rescue center’ (it is really nothing more than a depressing zoo for foreigners), overcrowded waterfalls and caves with religious motives. Hardly anyone goes to the real, tough and beautiful caves, where the Laotian patriots hid while they fought against the West.

Now the “National Museum” in the center of the city is basically an implanted (from abroad) glorification of the departed Laotian monarchy. While its shabby theatre shows, exclusively for foreign tourists and at an ‘international price’, several fragments of Ramayana.

And the public library in the city center has, since several years ago, something called “The American Corner”. You can find Allure there, Entrepreneur, Reader’s Digest

Mr. Seng Dao, my friend, a librarian, explains:

There is not much we can do. We can’t just say ‘no’ to their corner, to their books. We cannot yet openly say ‘no’ to them, when it comes to so many things. But Lao people did not lose their memory. We know, we remember very well what was done to us. And our government reminds us; through our radio stations, through our press, our history books…

In the old city, there are hardly any Chinese language signs. Yes, it is paradoxical, as the city is built in a Chinese style, although it now feels ‘colonial’, or call it Europeanized; catering to standardized, mainly ignorant German and French tastes.

Lao people are supposed to look native, cute and poor. They do, here in the city. But only for now.

A few kilometers away from this pseudo-reality, from this over-sugary and to some extent treasonously demeaning tourist bordello, Chinese signs are proudly displayed, next or underneath Laotian writing. Chinese people, who are engaged in building Laos, prefer to live on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, together with local people, eating their food, sleeping in their guesthouses.

The presence of the Chinese engineers and workers is transforming, improving reality. Workshops are growing, eateries flourishing, and the real local economy is growing.

Railway project

Further away from the city, powerful machines are roaring, drilling tunnels, building bridges. Laos is undergoing electrification; it is getting connected to the rest of the world through high-speed railroads and new highways. Schools and hospitals are being built, roads paved. Two Communist countries; two Asian sisters, side-by-side, are hard at work.

Nobody chases me away when I photograph Chinese construction sites. Proud smiles welcome me. Workers wave at me, or bow, and then, immediately, they go back to work. There is nothing to hide. There is no time to waste. This is reality; good, progressive reality!

Nothing is perfect, here or anywhere else in the world, but this is as good as it gets. I believe it is. I watch a giant construction site and people who are building the nation, raising it literally from the ashes, left by imperialism. The lenses of my glasses get foggy. Mekong is flowing below, and intact, pristine green mountains are resting in a tender embrace of white clouds.

I think: “The West dares to talk about ‘environmental damage’ here? Yet they have already ruined, thoroughly poisoned and literally liquidated some of the most pristine parts of the world that I know: Borneo, Papua, the Democratic Republic of Congo! How dare they?” But they do; they dare, and still getting away with it.

The nihilism, smear, filth that pours from the muzzles of the West and its regional servants, but it cannot deter this revolutionary optimism, which is so clearly detectable. It is simply beautiful to watch both Chinese and Laotian people working side by side, for a better world.

What did the countries that are attacking this tremendous effort, ever do for Laos? What has the West done for the people here? It colonized and enslaved Laos. And then, in one prolonged and truly incomprehensible horror show, carpet bombed, for years, the entire nation, murdering hundreds of thousands, without even declaring war against it!

US cluster bombs in Laos

How can the countries that committed genocide against Laos (and the entire world) be allowed to criticize Laos and China, belittling their efforts to improve lives of their people? And how come that Laotian people are still tolerating, even ‘welcoming’ Westerners in places like Luang Prabang, while they show clear disrespect for true essence of the Laotian state, for which so many local people sacrificed their lives? What are Westerners going to teach Laos, what can they teach, really: how to serve, how to be good obedient neo-colonial subjects?

Nobody needs that here, except the few members of the treasonous elites.

How can people like Princess Beatrice, or any of those ‘royal’ freaks be even allowed on the premises of such places as the UXO? The British royal family is the symbol of global colonialist holocaust. In their name, hundreds of millions of ‘un-people’ vanished, all over the world.

In the past, these were only rhetorical questions. Now such questions are being asked, in order to be answered.

What goes on in Laos is what I call the war between revolutionary optimism and Western nihilism (my latest book has the same title: Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism ).

It is the last attempt of the monstrous Western imperialist culture to retain its control over the Planet.

Laos Plain-of-Jars village fence made of American bombs

Laos, in the past one of the most devastated countries on earth, is not going to allow being lectured to by its tormentor – the West – anymore. In the past, it fought, and against all odds, it won. Now it is winning again. But the ‘weapons’ are different than in the days of the so-called “Secret War”: they consist of high-speed railroad tracks, bridges and tunnels, mighty power-plants, hospitals and schools.

My driver and comrade

• Text first published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek unless otherwise indicated

West is losing and so it is bashing China and Russia “Left and Right” Literally

The insanity and vileness of Western anti-Chinese propaganda used to make some of my Chinese friends cry late at night. But things are changing. The lunacy of what is said and written about China (and Russia, of course), in the US and Europe, is now clearly reflecting frustration and the bad manners of sore losers. One could almost be inclined to pity the Western empire, if only it wasn’t so violently murderous.

The Empire’s propagandists are pitying nobody – they are now shooting like maniacs, but without any coherent plan.

Various Western ‘experts’ and journalists cannot really agree on the basics: ‘what is really wrong with China’. But they are paid extremely well to find new and newer skeletons in the huge Chinese closets, and so they are constantly competing with each other, looking for the juiciest and the most scandalous stories. Often it appears that it pays to assume that absolutely everything is flawed with the most populous, and on top of it, Communist (with the ‘Chinese characteristics, of course) country on earth!

China will end extreme poverty by 2020, but do not look for cheers and applause from Berlin, Paris, London and Washington. China is far ahead of all the large countries on earth in building a so-called ‘ecological civilization’, but who is willing to notice? China is constructing public parks, boardwalks and playgrounds, the biggest on earth, but who cares? The Chinese government is introducing sweeping educational reforms, while flooding the entire nation with concert halls, museums and theatres. But that’s not worth mentioning, obviously!

Western propaganda tries to discredit China literally from both ‘left and right’, sometimes accusing it for being too Communist, but when it is suitable, even for ‘not being Communist enough’.

The New York Times ran a cover-page story on October 5, 2018, “Unlikely foe for China’s leaders: Marxists”. For this highly sarcastic piece, a reporter visited the Chinese city of Huizhou, from where he wrote about a group of over-zealous young Marxists who are demanding things to be as they were in Mao’s days:

But the Huizhou activists represent a threat the authorities did not expect.

Seriously? A threat? China is moving towards Communism, again, under the current leadership. We are talking about democratic, socially-oriented Communism. But let us not argue with the official U.S. newspaper. It is definitely not a pro-Communist publication, but they had to show some sympathy (by running a cover story!) to a small bunch of over-zealous ‘opposition’ Marxists, just to spread doubts among the readers, suggesting that the Chinese government is not that Red, anymore.

The next day (Saturday-Sunday edition, October 6-7, 2018), the same New York Times published two cover stories on China. One was along its usual anti-Chinese and anti-Russian conspiracy lines “Will China hack U.S. mid-terms?”, but the other basically contradicted the story from the previous day, accusing Beijing this time of cutting the wings of private companies: “Beijing is pushing back into business”, with a sub-title:

Government flexes muscle as private companies that built economy lose ground.

‘Wherever it can hurt China, just write it’, could be the credo of thousands of European and North American journos: ‘as long as the news about or from China is bad, really dark and negative, anything goes!’

Too much Communism, or too little… As far as the West is concerned – China can never get it right! Because… simply because it is China, because it is Asia, and because it waves the red flags.

And so, The New York Times ran two totally contradictory stories. An editorial blunder, or a pre-meditated attempt to inflict maximum damage, by kicking ‘left and right’?

*****

It is, of course, fun, to follow this propaganda trend, ‘from a safe distance’ (meaning: ‘not believing a word of what it says’). But what is happening is not a joke; what is being done can actually be deadly. It can trigger, unexpectedly, a chain of events that could truly hurt China.

‘An explosion’ could originate in Taiwan, in Southeast Asia, or from the PRC territory itself.

Look at Brazil, look at Venezuela! Look at all those Color Revolutions, Umbrella Revolutions, ‘Springs’ from Europe to Arab countries. And look at China itself: who triggered; who sponsored the so-called Tiananmen Square events? There is clearly enough evidence, by now, that it was not some spontaneous student rebellion.

The West has convinced several countries such as the Philippines, that they should confront China, through various territorial claims in which, honestly, almost no serious Filipino historian or political scientist is ready to believe (unless he or she is paid royally from abroad). I talked directly to several top historians and political scientists in Manila, and I got a clear picture of whom and what is behind those territorial claims. I wrote about it in the past, and soon will again.

China is too big to tolerate dangerous subversions from abroad. Its leadership knows well: when the country is in disarray, hundreds of millions of human beings suffer. To preserve the nation’s territorial integrity is essential.

*****

So, what is China really; in a summary?

It is a Communist (or you may call it a socialist) country with thousands of years of a great and comparatively egalitarian history. It has a mixed economy but with central planning (government tells the companies what to do, not vice-versa). It is clearly the most successful nation on earth when it comes to working on behalf of, and for the benefit of, its citizens. It is also the most peaceful large nation on earth. And here are two more essential points: China is at the forefront of saving the world from the looming ecological disaster. And it has no colonies, or ‘neo’-colonies, being essentially an ‘internationalist’ state.

Its political system, economy, culture: all are diametrically different from those in the West.

China has millions of things to say about how this planet should be governed, how it should be marching forward, and what is true democracy (rule of the people).

Now honestly: does Western mainstream, which manufactures ‘public opinion’ all over the world, allows many Chinese (PRC) patriots, Communists, thinkers, to appear on television screens, or to write op-eds?

We know the answer. Almost exclusively, it is the Westerners who are, (by the Western rulers), entrusted with the tremendous task of ‘defining what China is or isn’t’. And what the entire world is or isn’t.

If China says that it is ‘socialist with Chinese characteristics’, they say ‘No!’ with their perfect Oxford accents. And their arrogance from telling the greatest civilization on earth what it actually is or isn’t, gets accepted because of the fact that most of them are white, and they speak perfect English (paradoxically, still a seal of trustworthiness, at least in certain circles).

The West never hears what the Chinese or Russians think about the world. While the Chinese and Russians are literally bombarded by what the West thinks about them.

Even Chinese people used to listen to such ‘false prophets’ from the ‘civilized West’. Now they know better. Same as the Russians know better. Same as many in Latin America know better.

The spread of Western propaganda and dogmas used to appear as a battle, an ideological combat, for Chinese and Russian brains (if not for hearts). Or at least it appeared as such, to many naïve, trusting people.

Now it is all much simpler and ‘in the open’: the battle continues, but the frontlines and goals have shifted. How?

What is taking place these days, is simply an enormous clash between Western imperialism plus its propaganda, versus the determination of the Chinese and Russian people to live their own lives the way they choose. Or to put it into even simpler terms: the battle is raging between Western imperialism on one side, and democracy with ‘Chinese and Russian characteristics’ on the other.

West is bashing China and Russia ‘left and right’, literally. But it is definitely not winning!

*****

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

What Killed Thousands of Indonesians: The Quake or the Misery?

As I was reading, on board an Air Canada flight from Mexico City to Vancouver, The Globe and Mail coverage of the horrors that have been unraveling for several days on the island of Sulawesi, I felt two powerful and contradictory emotions: I wanted to be there, immediately, ‘on the ground’, in the city of Palu, filming, talking to people, doing everything possible to help… and at the same time, I sensed that I was ‘already there’, so many times before, whenever the nightmares like those in Sulawesi were taking place all over the Indonesian archipelago.

And I wrote about them, I documented them, I was sending warnings, but nothing was done. The government (or I’d rather call it the ‘Indonesian regime’), is expert in hearing nothing and doing nothing, ignoring all frontal criticism. The same goes for the Indonesian elites. They are blind as they are deaf, as long as they can grab, steal and then, do absolutely nothing for the welfare of the Indonesian people.

Look, in 2004, I was there, right after the tsunami hit Aceh. It took me just a few days to arrive. More than 200,000 people died! The same stuff: a powerful earthquake, then tsunami. Well, nobody really knows how many vanished, but 240,000 is the absolute minimum! A quarter of a million! That is 100 times more than a number of those who died during 9-11 in New York.

What was left of Banda Aceh

In Banda Aceh, I lived in a tiny house that had been flooded just a few days earlier, in a room where two children died; two little girls. There were stuffed animals all over, wet, soaked wet, everywhere. The bodies of the children were taken away. I swear I thought I heard their voices every single night – voices talking to me, pleading with me…. After sundown, the family would lock me inside the house, simply in order to protect both me and the house, from the looters.

The Indonesian state did nothing to help the people. In Aceh, as well everywhere, where the disasters hit, the relief operations immediately become a huge commercial operation. ‘Compassion’? Solidarity? Get real! Please get real. Everything became a ‘commodity’, even the excavation of the corpses; even burying them was done for a fee – for an incredibly high fee. After all, Indonesia is one of the most turbo-capitalist countries on Earth. Death is a good business. Everything is. The bigger the natural disaster, the more dead bodies there are – it all immediately turns into huge commerce, at least for some.

I can show you the photos, but better not, as the faint-hearted would puke, or faint. Do you know how the bodies look, if they are left rotting in a pit, in the tropical heat, for several days? Better not ask. But you know why they were there? Because the relatives could not pay bribes to have them buried!

In Aceh, everyone was complacent, including the UN. Indonesia is hardly criticized by the West – it is Washington’s, Canberra’s and London’s great chum, perfectly corrupt, capitalist, anti-Communist and anti-Chinese. The West does not care about the rest.

Do you know that the Indonesian police and army were going from posko to posko, from local NGO tents to others, demanding money, bribes, in order not to destroy drinking water deposits for the victims; water that was delivered from abroad. If bribes were not paid, they used their knives, cutting through the plastic deposits.

While people were dying from thirst and hunger.

Then the Vice-President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kala, to boost his popularity among the Muslim cadres, kicked out dozens of Indonesian doctors, volunteers, from the heavy Hercules transport planes. Engines were running at Halim Airport in East Jakarta. Instead of doctors and their gear, he stuffed the aircraft with several hundred religious zealots. Later, they landed in Banda Aceh, saw corpses, took selfies, puked, and eventually flew back to the capital.

Should I go on or are you getting the point?

Like now in Sulawesi, in Aceh, all the warning signals ‘miraculously’ failed. And there was never enough of the national relief supplies.

You know why? Because Indonesia is a failed state. Because nothing works there. Because nobody gives a damn about anything, except money and the religious rituals (of any denomination, to be precise).

But you will never read it in the pages of The Globe and Mail or The New York Times.

I saw disasters in Indonesia, I saw ‘sectarian’ and religious killings, and I saw genocides, from East Timor to Aceh, Central Java, from Lombok to Ambon. And periodically, I feel that I cannot take more of the same, but the situation is so horrific, that in the end I always come, again and again, and I film, document. It is because I feel that I have to come, that it is my ‘internationalist’ duty; because if I don’t come, then really, damn it, who will?

*****

But once again: why do these horrors happen?

Indonesia is, according to the UN, the most ‘disaster-prone country’.

But why? Is it really because of nature, because of that proverbial ‘Ring on Fire’ on which it is sitting?

No, of course not!

Look, basically it is like this: no matter how the statistics are ‘massaged’, no matter how the UN grazes on the pathetically distorted data coming from the Indonesian authorities, the country is extremely poor. Most people there are miserably poor. And even what they call the ‘middle class’, or at least most of it, would hardly qualify as the middle class anywhere else.

All this is being covered up, by 5 and 4-star hotels in every provincial capital, and by monstrous luxury hotels in Jakarta and Bali. Plus, mass-produced shopping malls were constructed everywhere. And those tremendous, out of place mosques made of marble, flooded with Saudi/Wahabi money.

But Jakarta and, of course, every single island of Indonesia, is inhabited by the poor, extremely poor people. The great majority of the Indonesians lives in destitution, but it does not know how poor and miserable it actually is (there is no opposition mass media to inform them, and no decent school to educate them about their conditions). Everything is make-believe, or pop, or however you choose to call it.

I filmed in Borneo and in Surabaya, where people shit into the rivers, and then use the same water to brush their teeth and wash dishes (I have it all clearly documented, on film), but if you ask people about their misery, they would get offended, or even attack you, because they have been brainwashed into believing that they are living some kind of biasa (normal) lives. They know nothing about the surrounding world, and they have been conditioned into not being able to compare. China, Bolivia – these are different planets for them.

In Aceh, or in Sulawesi, or even in Central Java, local kampungs (villages in both rural and urban areas) are made like shit, and they are made of shit, and there is almost no government supervision, because everything can be simply bought, or because there is no one who would like to supervise anything (it is easier to steal money than to work).

A great majority of the dwellings in Indonesia are absolutely unfit for being inhabited by human beings!

Anyone who would like to prove it could easily do so. Thousands of PhDs could be made on this and similar topics, but the Indonesian academia (and media) is paid and scared into being quiet, and so the ‘academics’ (who often happened to double, ‘as government or public employees’) are writing bizarre works, instead of laboring on behalf of the Indonesian people, who are thoroughly poor and hopelessly ignorant of their condition.

Such submissiveness, such cowardice, kills people.

But who cares, as long as the West says and writes that Indonesia is a ‘normal’ and ‘democratic’ country.

Indonesian elites are living from plundering the natural resources, and stealing from the poor. Indonesia used to be incredibly rich, insanely wealthy; not unlike another failed state – Saudi Arabia, which is still relatively rich (but full of social disparities and injustice), because of the oil. Indonesia used to have everything under and above its surface, but most of it is now gone! The West helped to trigger the 1965 anti-Communist coup, and since then, everything was robbed and disappeared into the deep pockets of the local gangsters – corrupt and unpatriotic new rich, foreign companies, and their servants at the top government positions.

The masses are unprotected. Communism and socialism are basically banned, and so is atheism. If someone, like the former left-leaning Governor of Jakarta, tries to improve his city and lives of the Indonesian people, he is thrown into jail, in his case, for ‘insulting Islam’.

And so, whenever natural disaster strikes, all lies immediately collapse, together with the shacks and other terrible dwellings, in which most of the Indonesian people live. But they collapse only for those who are well aware of the conditions inside the country, never for the masses.

But things are never reported as such. There is always a plentitude of ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ reasons, for the country’s failure to protect its people.

Early tsunami warnings equipment? Well-planned villages that would be earthquake-resistant? The use of the high-quality design and materials, which would be fit for the seismic and geographical condition of each particular area of the country? The money that should be allocated to such ‘frivolous’ designs, found in such places as, most likely, in Australia, or Singapore; could be found in the huge villas of Indonesian officials and ‘business people’, or in the luxury vehicles shamelessly licking the edges of countless slums of Jakarta.

How many tasteless palaces were already built from the misery of the Sulawesi people? And how many of them will be built now, after this?

In Banda Aceh, recently, the city planners were seriously discussing, at a national conference, how to turn tsunami ‘heritage’ into a tourist attraction, not unlike that of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. They should, but it ought to be a monument to corruption, the total collapse of human decency, and greed.

Now the government of Indonesia says that it is open to receive help from abroad. What great benevolence! One does not know whether to laugh or to throw up! Does the cynicism of Indonesian regime know no bounds? All like during the Aceh disaster!

Instead of allocating state funds (there are plenty of them, especially from the plundering of natural resources or Borneo/Kalimantan, Papua, Sumatra and yes, Sulawesi itself!) that are going to buy the Prada skirts of the official’s wives, or the new fake-baroque palaces, let the foreigners ‘come and save the poor’.

The ruin of Aceh

I remember in Aceh, while the Singaporeans and Japanese and others were digging corpses out of the mud, countless local ‘crews’ and ‘relief workers’ were crouching nearby, smoking kretek, pointing fingers at the foreigners and laughing at them, for ‘working too hard’.

But it is ‘all fine’; it is biasa

*****

And so, here is conclusion: Those thousands of people in Sulawesi who recently vanished, or who are still vanishing, did not die because of some earthquake, or tsunami. They vanished because they are poor, because their rulers have no morals, and because society abandoned them, basically already collapsed.

Indonesia is losing both its people and its resources. But the people, the majority of them poor, have absolutely no understanding of their condition.

In Aceh, after the tsunami, some were using the fact that one big mosque survived intact, in the middle of the total desolation, as a proof that there was some kind of divine intervention. The reality was different: the mosque survived because the Gulf States pumped millions of dollars into it. It was made of marble and granite, while the ‘houses’ around it were made of mud and shit.

The poor died in both Aceh and Sulawesi, simply because all over Indonesia, the poor (and I have to repeat – the poor form the great majority of the citizens) were robbed of absolutely everything. Unless they learn how to fight; how to protect themselves, many more will continue to die, aimlessly.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Can President-elect Lopez Obrador pull Mexico out of slumber?

After decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the United States, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is considered by many ordinary people, as well as by intellectuals, to be the last chance for Mexico.

His only hope is Obrador

Two important news developments are circulating all over North America: US President Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of the Mexican left-wing President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). And, yes, despite all tensions and disagreements, the new deal to replace NAFTA has been reached. It is called the USMCA – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Paradoxically, if Obrador is to fulfill at least half of his electoral promises, it would inevitably lead to a clash between Mexico and both the United States and Canada. The US absorbs around 80 percent of Mexican exports. Various Mexican intellectuals believe that their country was, until now, nothing more than a colony of their ‘big brother’ in the north. Canadian mining companies are brutally exploiting Mexico’s natural resources, and united with local politicians and paramilitaries, are tormenting almost defenseless native people.

National Folcloric Ballet of Mexico marching, joining revolution

After decades of inertia and decay, Mexico is ready for dramatic, essential change which, many argue, will this time not arrive directly under red banners and through revolutionary songs, but with the carefully calculated, precise moves of a chess player.

Only a genius can break, without terrible casualties, the deadly embrace of the United States. And many believe that President-elect Obrador is precisely such leader.

‘Not a poker player, but a chess player’

Mexico is in a ‘bad mood’, despite the victory of a left-wing leader. Hope is in the air, but it is fragile hope, some even say ‘angry hope’. Decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the US, have had an extremely negative impact on the nation.

John Ackerman, US-born, Mexican naturalized legendary academic at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) explained during our encounter in Coyoacan:

This has been a long time coming. Throughout Latin America there has been great transformation, except in Mexico. Mexico has been the same since 1946 since PRI was created… Education, healthcare, serious commitment to social system, infrastructure; he promises to improve all this… in terms of working-class population, he expresses great interest in the union democracy, which could be a true vehicle of revolution … unions could be used to create democratic participation in the country.

We both agree that Obrador is not Fidel, or Chavez. He is pragmatic and he knows how dangerous the proximity of Mexico to the US is. Governments get overthrown from the north, and entire socialist systems get derailed, or liquidated.

Professor Ackerman points out:

Obrador is not a poker player, like Trump; Obrador is a chess player.

He is extremely well informed; on his own and through his wife, an accomplished Mexican academic from a prominent left-wing family, Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros. She will soon become Minister of Public Administration in the Obrador administration, which means she will fight against endemic Mexican corruption.  This will be, no doubt, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

The author and Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros

Among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. According to the government, about 53.4 million of Mexico’s 122 million people were poor in 2016.

Crime is out of control, and so is corruption. According to Seguridad Justicia y Paz, a citizen watch dog NGO in Mexico, five out of ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are located in Mexico: Los Cabos (1), Acapulco (3), Tijuana (5), La Paz (6), and Ciudad Victoria (8).

Gang land, Tijuana

Some 460,000 children have been recruited by the drug rings in Mexico, according to the incoming Minister of Public Security of the Obrador government. As bodies are piling up and insecurity grows (recently, at least 100 dead bodies have been found in the state of Jalisco), the Mexican police continues to be hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But it is now everywhere, ‘true reason for astronomic crime rate’, say many.

Misery everywhere

It is all elegance and style at one of an old hacienda, lost in time in the middle of jungle, in the State of Yucatan. Some twenty years ago I used to live very near this place, working on my novel, in self-imposed-exile. Even then, Yucatan was poor, conservative, and traditional. But there was pride and dignity even in the poorest of the villages.

Things changed dramatically, and not for the better. Now naked misery is everywhere. Just two kilometers from the hacienda Temozon, traditional rural houses have holes in the roofs, and many dwellings have already been abandoned. People are not starving; not yet, but that is mainly due to the fact that in Yucatan, there is still a great sense of community and solidarity.

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham and Dona Consuelo

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham lives in a village of Sihunchen. Half of the roof of his house is missing. He is blind in one eye. He is dirt poor. I asked him how things have been here, since I left. He just nodded his head, in despair:

You just saw my house, there… You can imagine how it is…I cannot fix anything. For years I did not have any work. And now I am old.

Senora Consuelo Rodriguez, his neighbor, jumps in. She is an outspoken, tough but good-hearted matron, always surrounded by a flock of chickens:

Look, he has really nothing! Here, we are trying to help those in need, but ourselves we have close to nothing. Few years ago, the government sent some people to help to fix our houses, but they never came back again.

In theory, Mexico has free education and health care, but in practice, it is just for those who hold government or good private jobs. President-elect AMLO  is promising to fix all that, but people all over the country are skeptical, including Senora Consuela.

If we get sick, we have to pay, unless we have insurance from our work. And most of us, here, don’t have any steady job.

Do people here have faith in the new government? She shrugs her shoulders:

We will see.

This is what I hear everywhere, from coast to coast of this enormous and potentially rich country, which is the 15th largest economy in the world. There is very little enthusiasm: the majority of people adopted a ‘wait and see strategy’.

Don Rudy Alvarez who has worked for more than 20 years at one of the luxury hotels in Yucatan, is only cautiously optimistic about the future.

Even we who have permanent jobs at the multi-national establishments, cannot dream very big. I can feed my family well, and I can send one son to study law at the university. But no bigger dreams. My family would never be able to afford a car or any other luxury. We hope that Obrador (AMLO) will change things. Here, many people feel that Yucatan has been sold to tourists as the ‘Mayan Disneyland’, with very little respect for our culture.

Mexico is the second most visited country in the Western hemisphere, right after the United States. But income from tourism very rarely brings a better life for local people.

Crime and drug wars are far from being the only concerns. In the center of the indigenous and historic city of Oaxaca, the armed forces are blocking the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Why? The graffiti protesting against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the activists, as well as forced evictions of indigenous people by the multinational companies.

Ms. Lisetta, who lives with many others, as a protest, in a tent right in front of the palace, explained:

For 9 years we have no home. Paramilitaries and the government forces came and threw us out of our dwellings, in San Juan Copala. Some people were killed, women raped, many disappeared. We are here to demand justice.

Recently, police came, broke my cell phone, and then injured my arm…

She showed me her bruises.

At night, live bands are playing old ballads, all over the city center. People are dancing, drinking and promenading. But displaced men, women and children living in the tents are brutal reminder of real Mexico, of true suffering of many poor and almost all native people.

Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State.

I found Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State. She spoke to me bravely, coherently and with passion:

In 2007, San Juan Copala declared autonomy and became autonomous municipality.  There was much peace and tranquility in our community. Then in 2009 the PRI-led government of Oaxaca started making noise as San Juan Copala is the ‘head’ of 32 communities of Trique District. The PRI-government did not want autonomy of San Juan Copala, thus unilaterally finished it in 2009. From 2010 we resisted for 10 months so that we could bring food to our children. They had blocked our roads. We didn’t have anything to eat anymore. They were killing our colleagues, but also children. Women were raped as they went looking for food and brought it back to their children. They cut off their hair as well. I am talking about the rape of a 65-year-old community member, for instance.  Another woman was gravely injured. The attackers and rapists all escaped.

For ten months we resisted with no water, no food, no electricity as the PRI-government had cut us off from everything. The date of 16 September 2010 was when PRI-backed paramilitaries entered our community, first to the municipality building, and used big microphone to tell us to leave our houses. We were not given any time at all to leave. Because they saw smoke come from houses, which was basically because we were cooking, they were shooting at our houses and us. We just had to escape with nothing and were forced to find a way to survive with our children, with nothing at all, not even our id cards. We needed to make sure to escape with our children because we were warned that if we didn’t, then they would burn alive our children. By 18 September 2010, PRI-backed paramilitaries started entering our houses, burning and destroying them.  We fled as by then they had killed another community member who had been resisting forced displacement. This is when a group of women started demanding the State Government to intervene in our community. The State nor Federal Government ever intervened.  We demanded that something is done, so that we could safely return to our community. Since September 2010, we have been here.  But they have never done anything to let us return, nor to get rid of those who displaced us because they were the accomplice of those paramilitaries who made us forcibly displaced.

I asked her why it happened? Were multi-national companies involved?

Yes, there are mineral resources. The government wants to take charge of this community. We have very futile lands. Lots of water, vegetables, fruits. The government wants to suck everything from our community.

I recalled massacres in Chiapas, that I covered some two decades ago and later described, under different name in my revolutionary political novel Point of No Return  (Point of No Return – ebook).

At the Center of Photography Manuel Alvarez Bravoin Oaxaca, Mr. Leo (who only gave his first name), confirmed:

It is terrible what happened to those people. Imagine that you are at home, and suddenly someone comes, with armed forces, and kicks you out. But in Mexico it’s normal, and not only in this area. Multinational companies, particularly Canadian ones, are controlling around 80 percent of the mining in this country. People, particularly indigenous ones, are treated brutally. Mexico suffered terribly from the Spanish colonialism, but it often feels that things didn’t change much. We are not in full control of our country!

And the new administration of Obrador? Leo and his colleagues are only moderately optimistic.

We are not sure he would dare to touch essential problems: the dependency of this country on the North, and the horrendous disparities between the rich and poor, between the descendants of the Europeans and the majority, which consists of the indigenous people. Until now you can see it everywhere: Westerners and their companies come and do what they want, while the native people are left with nothing.

But many others remain hopeful. AMLO’s left-wing Moreno Party will soon govern in a coalition with PT (Partido del Trabajo) and the conservative Social Encounter Party. Again, it is unlikely that Mexico will follow the path of Cuba or Venezuela, but the Bolivian model is very likely. It could be a silent revolution, a change based on an extremely progressive and truly socialist constitution of the country, remarkably dating back to 1916.

A Mexican academic, Dr. Ignacio Castuera who teaches at Claremont University in California, explains:

I believe Obrador has to bring several factions together to implement some of what he wants to achieve. No individual alone can solve the problems of a nation. I hope many rally around him, if that happens then significant changes can be brought about. The long shadow of the US policies and corporations will continue to exert major influence.

*****

Construction of US-Mexico wall

In Tijuana I witness absolute misery. I visit multinational maquiladoras that pay only an equivalent of $55 USD per week to their workers. I manage to enter gangland, and I see how the US is building a depressing wall between two countries.

Sra. Leticia facing the wall

I spend hours listening to stories of Sra. Leticia, who lives just one meter away from the wall.

They are cutting across our land, and it harms many creatures who live here. It also prevents water from circulating freely.

All this used to be Mexico. North Americans had stolen several states from us. Now they are building this wall. I visited their country on several occasions. And let me tell you: despite all our problems, I like where I am, at this side!

Then, late at night, I listen to a man who knows his country from north to south, from east to west. We are sitting in a small café; sirens are howling nearby, another murder has just taken place. He faces me squarely and speaks slowly:

Mexico has its back against the wall. This situation cannot continue. This is our last chance – Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We will rally behind him, we will help him. If he delivers what he promises, great; then Mexico will change and prosper. If not, I am afraid that our people will have no other choice but to take up arms.

From the revolutionary days

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• This is extended version. Essay was originally published by RT.