Category Archives: Chile

Reject Militarism on the Anniversary of 9/11

Nineteen years after more than 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, there remains a bipartisan commitment to fight an endless “war on terrorism,” instigate regime change coups, increase military spending, enhance US nuclear weapons, deport undocumented residents, curtail civil liberties, and militarize the police.

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US have obscured “The Other 9/11,” the US attack on Chilean democracy in the US-backed coup on September 11, 1973. The two 9/11s are connected by what the CIA calls “blowback.” The CIA first used the term in describing the unintended negative consequences of the US and UK sponsored coup against the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. The September 11, 2001 attacks were blowback from decades of US intervention in the Middle East. That doesn’t justify the terrorism, but it does explain it. If we want peace and security for our nation, we should respect the peace and security of other nations.

Contrary to Trump’s lies about ending the endless wars, his administration has escalated the “Long War” in the Middle East and North Africa with increased troop deployments, drone strikes, and Special Operations.

Trump is also morphing the War on Terror abroad into a war against dissent at home. He encourages and uses law enforcement to attack nonviolent protesters, calling them “thugs” and “antifa terrorists.” He encourages white racist vigilante militias that show up armed to menace Black Lives Matter demonstrators and to intimidate local and state governments in armed protests against climate action (Oregon) and COVID-19 public health measures (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin).

Trump encourages these actions with statements that amplify paranoid far-right fantasies that call climate change and COVID-19 hoaxes perpetrated by secret elite conspiracies. Trump has instructed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Border Patrol to violate immigration laws and subject immigrants and asylum seekers to unspeakable brutality, including separating children from their parents and internment in concentration camps where COVID-19 is running rampant. He stokes racial fears and civil strife to justify authoritarian rule. He calls the news media “fake,” the elections “rigged,” and promotes conspiracy fantasies on Twitter. Trump is sowing confusion and demoralization so people will not be able to resist repression by sections of law enforcement and the racist militias should Trump decide to resist a peaceful transfer of power. The ultimate blowback against US coups and wars abroad against democracy threatens to be a coup against democracy at home.

End the Wars on Terrorism Abroad and Dissent at Home

One of my first steps as President would be to end the wars on “terrorism” abroad and at home. Neither major party calls for ending the endless wars against “terror” abroad even though the top priority in the official National Security Strategy of the United States has changed to “Great Power Competition” with the goal of preventing the emergence of strong regional powers in Eurasia, namely China, Iran, and Russia. This New Cold War, like the War on Terrorism, is about the profits of US-based global corporations abroad, not the security of the people of the United States at home.

The nuclear modernization program initiated under Obama and continued under Trump with bipartisan support has destabilized the nuclear balance of terror and kicked off a new nuclear arms race. The nuclear threat, coupled with inaction by the great powers on the climate emergency and the proliferation of disinformation propagated by state actors on all sides that makes it difficult for publics to come to agreement on what to demand of their governments, has prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move their Doomsday Clock the closest it has ever been to midnight.

I would end the saber rattling against Russia, China, and Iran in the Great Power Competition strategy and focus on diplomacy. We need to partner with other major powers to address our common problems, notably nuclear arms, climate, and cyberwar.

I would also end the bipartisan repression of dissent at home. With Trump’s encouragement, law enforcement is using militaristic tactics to suppress peaceful protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Both major parties are united in suppressing whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and publishers like Julian Assange, whose real crimes in the eyes of the National Security State is that they exposed its secret wrongdoings.

The US should speak out against violations of human rights and democracy wherever they occur, but that should not preclude also working with authoritarian governments to resolve life-or-death global issues like climate change and nuclear arms. War and threats of war are the most powerful destroyers of civil liberties, democracy, and human rights. Military threats, economic sanctions, and covert meddling in the politics of other countries only reinforces the nationalist rationalizations of authoritarian governments for repression at home in order to ward off threats from abroad.

The most powerful way to promote human rights is to set a good example. If the US wants its advocacy of human rights to be credible and effective, it must set the right example at home, where police killings of Black people are seen on social media around the world.  A country where there is mass incarceration in the largest prison system in the history of the world, and from where the US military is deployed in some 800 foreign military bases for its endless wars, making the US the nation that the world’s people consider the biggest threat to peace.

The Other 9/11: Chile

Thirty years before the United States’ 9/11, the CIA orchestrated the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected socialist government of Chile on September 11, 1973.

It is a tragic coincidence of the US bloody intervention history in Latin America that President Salvador Allende was overthrown and pushed to suicide on the same date that decades later would affect US soil by a terrorist attack. The same feelings that American felt of being violated by the first foreign attack since Pearl Harbor were felt in Chile that September 11 in 1973. The sin of Salvador Allende in the eyes of Nixon, Kissinger, and CIA Director Richard Helms was to advance deep socialist reforms that would create a more equal society, a just distribution of incomes, real freedom of expression, and a truly democratic framework that could allow, finally, the participation and voices of all sectors, specially the impoverished workers of Chile.

Sound familiar? These are exactly the challenges that the US faces today, problems that have riddled the US throughout its history and become worse in the Trump era – the authoritarian duopoly of Republicans and Democrats, voter suppression, third party suppression, deep inequality from coast to coast, and chronic poverty. It is the same kind of repression that Chile suffers today under the conservative millionaire Sebastián Piñera when people again advance the same reforms that Allende worked for and paid for with his life. It is the same social, economic, and political oppression that the two countries share on this anniversary of 9/11.

Aid, Not Arms – Make Friends, Not Enemies

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Green Party of the United States warned against the danger that the two major parties and the corporate media would turn this horrific crime into a rationale for destructive wars abroad and political repression at home.

Instead of treating the 9/11 attackers as criminals to be brought to justice, the US used the attacks as a pretext for a long series of regime change wars in the Middle East and North Africa. The foreign policy leadership of the Bush administration had already written about the need for a “new Pearl Harbor” in order to provide the pretext for an invasion of Iraq to seize its oil fields. They wasted little time in getting started after 9/11.

The Authorization To Use Military Force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks passed Congress on September 18 with only one dissenting vote. The US invasion of Afghanistan started on October 1. The AUMF legislation is still the legal basis for today’s endless wars.

The Patriot Act, which gave the federal government broad new intrusive surveillance and investigatory powers that weakened civil liberties, was overwhelmingly voted through Congress by October 25.

The Bush administration, joined by the Democratic amen corner led by Senator Joe Biden, lied about weapons of mass destruction and about Iraq’s alleged role in 9/11 to start a second war in Iraq by March 2003.

After 19 years, US combat troops are now engaged in 14 wars. At least 37 million people, and as many as 59 million people, have been displaced by these wars, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.

The annual observation of 9/11 has been turned by politicians into a militaristic celebration of American power that is used to garner public support for US military spending and imperial aggression abroad. Right after 9/11, the world was united in its grief for our country. It was a moment that should have been used to build peace based on mutual cooperation and respect.

Let us remember 9/11 this year by demanding that the US withdraw from its endless wars, prioritize diplomacy to resolve conflicts, end arms sales to belligerents, and provide humanitarian aid for war refugees, including reopening immigration to the US from these countries.

Let’s turn the US into the world’s humanitarian superpower instead of its global military empire. Providing aid instead of arms is the best way to promote peace and security. It is time for the US to make friends instead of enemies.

The post Reject Militarism on the Anniversary of 9/11 first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Racism in Chile

They killed black woman

Recently, when a retired Chilean U.N. employee tried to enter ECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in

Santiago de Chile) to claim her pension in a bank inside the compound, her car was stopped by a U.N. security officer. She was asked to complete formalities. To her taste, the process was taking too much time, and she began honking. The head of security approached her, trying to explain the procedure, which had recently toughened up, due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The security head happened to be an African-Brazilian.

She clearly did not like this fact, and she exploded:

That spicy nigger (‘el negro picante’) is the security head? I’m going to send him to the United States so that they could kill him there! I’m going to write to ‘El Mercurio’ newspaper! Who would think that this nigger could be a boss?

Her horrid outburst was reported, and it quickly reached the ECLAC head who happens to be a progressive Mexican scientist – Alicia Bárcena – who is a vocal admirer of AMLO, Hugo Chávez, Correa, and Lula. Indignant, she took immediate action, barring the former employee’s entry to the compound and reporting the incident to the U.N. headquarters in New York.

This story could be dismissed as an ugly anecdote, as something sick and unusual. Except, it is not unusual at all. Chile is a dreadfully racist place, although, as many countries where racism thrives, it does not openly admit that it is.

Gone are the internationalist ideals of Allende’s era, gone is solidarity with other Latin American nations. It appears that only the Chilean Communist Party has at least some sympathy with the plight of Venezuelan people. And no one here is demanding the return of the access to the sea to Bolivia: access which was literally stolen during the shameful “War of the Pacific,” during which Chile disgracefully joined forces with Great Britain against Bolivia and Peru.

*****

“We are English of Latin America.” This is how Chileans like to view themselves.

And they openly despise those who are not as white as they are: Peruvians, Bolivians, Haitians.

Throughout the 20th Century, Chilean immigration policy was based on a determined effort to attract the whitest of whites, from Germans to Czechs, Croats, Swiss. Even the Italians were not good enough for them. A new wave of European migrants was mainly settling in the south, pushing indigenous, native Mapuche people to the margins, and into misery.

Chilean Left has very little to do with the indigenous struggle. It is a Western-style left, much closer to defunct “anarcho-syndicalism” in the United States, then to Cuban, Venezuelan, or Bolivian pan-Latin American struggle. The majority of Chilean ‘revolutionaries’ feel much more at home in Miami, Paris, or Rome than with their own oppressed people in such places as Puerto Saavedra or Temuco.

In Chile, race plays an extremely important role. It opens and closes doors. It determines who gets what jobs, and who ends up living in inescapable misery.

*****

Under the cover of “fight against COVID-19”, Chilean extreme right-wing government of Sebastian Piñera unleashed a new stage of the war against Mapuche people, a war that even some foreign mass media outlets could not ignore, anymore.

Fight against the fascist Pinera

According to Thomas Reuters Foundation News report from 17 June 2020:

The Mapuche, which means “Earth People” in the Mapudungun tongue, make up about 10% of Chile’s population of 19 million and mainly work as subsistence farmers in the Araucania region – one the poorest areas of the country.

Mapuche activists have gone on hunger strike, occupied and burned forestry and farming lands, and cut off highways to demand territories they say were stolen from them.

Mapuche leaders say that, like black Americans, they have lost a disproportionate number of their own young men to police violence.

One such case was Camilo Catrillanca, who was shot dead in 2018 during a police operation that sparked widespread fury among Chileans.

The 24-year-old became a symbol of police brutality, and his death triggered the resignation of the country’s police chief.

Mapuche people expressing their frustration

However, while there is now even the “Papuan Lives Matter” movement, in far-away Indonesia, until this very moment, there is nothing resembling like “Mapuche Lives Matter” movement in Chile.

The Reuters report continues:

Still, the struggles of indigenous people remain unknown to many, according to Karina Riquelme, a Chilean lawyer.

Every day they (the Mapuche) live in fear that one of their members could end up dead,” said Riquelme, who works with indigenous groups.

I don’t think people can imagine, but there are tanks, helicopters, and police installations in their communities.

Holding those responsible to account and getting justice is rare, said opposition lawmaker Emilia Nuyado, Chile’s first Mapuche congresswoman elected in 2018.

 *****

The plight of non-white migrants in Chile is horrific, particularly of those with non-white skin.

Haitians are taking the worst part.

Even Venezuelans, those who were leaving their country mainly because of the economic difficulties which have risen due to illegal U.S. sanctions against their country, have to face discrimination and often even open hostility.

When the Chilean neoliberal economy began collapsing as a result of the 2019 popular uprising, as well as mismanaged COVID-19 crisis, most of the Venezuelan migrants lost their jobs. They ended up literally on the street, facing insults, ridicule, even attacks. Hundreds gathered in front of their Embassy in Santiago, hoping to return home, but there were no flights. The temperature was dropping as winter had arrived. The Chilean state did nothing to help. In the end, it was the Communist mayor of Recoletta, who took decisive action and housed all Venezuelan people in need in his neighborhood.

Venezuelans who want to return home

The Chilean government began preparing what is termed as ‘voluntary repatriation’ of both Haitian and Venezuelan citizens, demanding that they sign an affidavit with a clause that they cannot re-enter the country for at least nine years. Thoroughly unlawful and unconstitutional move, but here nobody cares.

*****

In Chile, racism has many diverse forms, and some of them are truly monstrous.

Right after the Pinochet dictatorship officially ended, I went to Chile, to write about, and to expose “Colonia Dignidad,” an evil German enclave, run by extreme right-wing (some of them Nazis) child molesters (listen to my interview here). This huge compound, in remote Maule Region, spreading towards the Andes and the border with Argentina, was, particularly during the dictatorship, notorious for torturing, raping, and disappearing people. Its name was changed in 1991 to Villa Baviera, but even after that, for years it continued to function as a state inside the state, equipped with barbed wire at its perimeter, as well as searchlights, German shepherds, two airstrips, power plant, and the arsenal of weapons stored in the underground tunnels.

After returning to Chile, several months ago, I discovered that all major Chilean supermarket chains are stuffed with the Villa Baviera products, from German bread to sausages of all kinds.

This pinnacle of racism, bigotry, sexual abuse (mainly pedophilia), and torture, the colony is now operating as some sort of “tourist resort.” This is clearly a spit in the face to its countless victims, many of them kidnapped and ‘adopted’ Mapuche children, and to the Chilean democracy, which was broken to shards on 11 September 1973, during the fascist, US-backed military coup. Democracy, which was never restored, until this very moment.

*****

Even in the United States, one statue after another is getting desecrated, painted with graffiti, or simply destroyed. Crimes against humanity are being exposed. With each of the statues, respect to US racist past has been vanishing.

In Chile, racist, white pro-imperialist figures have always been admired and revered. During the last year’s uprising, however, several monuments were attacked, including those to the conqueror Pedro de Valdivia, in the cities of Concepcion, Valdivia, and Temuco.

History of the country has been closely tied to various brutal conquerors, butchers of the native population, and to the collaborators with the European and lately North American interests: Pedro de Valdivia, General Baquedano, and others.

Desecrated statue of mass murderer Baquedano

In Santiago de Chile, a huge statue of General Baquedano was painted over with graffiti. It served as a gathering place for the anti-government demonstrations at the end of 2019.

However, under cover of the four months long COVID-19 lockdown, the government of Sebastian Piñera managed to stop most of the protests, and consequently repaint the Baquedano’s statue. At one point, the president himself stopped his motorcade and took his own selfie in front of the monument to the butcher of Bolivia and Peru.

*****

In Chile, there is no love for the Chinese or other Asians. The country fell under the total influence of the U.S./European political and cultural propaganda.

I knew several Asian women who used to face intimidation and harassment in Santiago.

Here, to be white, to be of European stock, is worn like a coat of honor. The highest honor.

Twenty years ago, when I lived here for over two years, Chileans were obsessed with different cultures. People appeared to be thirsty for everything coming from Asia or the Middle East. Now, it is back to the mainstream Western offerings: from U.S. pop music to Hollywood junk. The number of art cinemas shrank dramatically. Santiago reduced itself to a provincial, culturally dull capital. Unless one is interested in the second-rate Western offering, there is very little of interest here now.

Little wonder. Under the neo-liberal model, Chile’s upper and upper-middle classes adopted the Western/white complex of superiority fully.

Obviously, individuals who spit at black people will not be seeking African art.

In a report published by Palabra Publica, some facts and analyses appear to be shocking:

The report ‘Manifestations of Racial Discrimination in Chile: A Study of Perception’s, published by the National Institute for Human rights (NIHR) in February of this year, indicates that 68.2% of surveyed individuals declare that they agree with measures to limit the entrance of migrants into Chile. In turn, a third of them consider themselves “whiter than other people from Latin American countries” and almost 25% in the Metropolitan Region see immigrants as “dirtier” than Chileans. Additionally, the National Institute for Human rights indicates in their report that “the fact that skin color and indigenous features are indicated as reasons for rejection denotes their use as indicators of social exclusion and, therefore, as an implicit expression of racism (…) the indicators of the responses show that over 30% of the participants do not clearly reject the idea of stigmatizing them.

Black lives do matter, increasingly, even among the many progressive groups of people in the United States. But not in Chile. Despite gross discrimination, assaults and even killing of the people with a different color of skin, (one of the most ‘famous’ cases was that of a 27-year-old Haitian immigrant, Joanne Florvil, who got, in 2017, arbitrarily detained, denied an interpreter and killed), there seems to be no organized, powerful movement in Chile, which would stand determinately against racism and continuous theft of what is left of the Mapuche lands, or for the return of access to the sea to Bolivia.

Now, during the draconical COVID-19 lockdown (Chilean neoliberal government absolutely failed in its ‘battle’ with the novel coronavirus — Chile presently having the highest number of infections in Latin America, per 1 million people), Haitian immigrants are abused more and more, openly and brutally. Bizarrely, many Chileans believe that Haitians are ‘dirty’ and that they are responsible for spreading the virus. Horrid conditions in which they have to live, as well as abuses they have to face, were recently depicted even by Al-Jazeera and otherwise staunch neo-liberal reporter Lucia Newman.

*****

In a way, Chilean racism and racial divisions are an extreme version of what is happening in several countries of South America. Here, the European descendants became what is called ‘elites.’ They control political, cultural, and economic life, and they control land, despising other ethnic groups.

Politically, they are controlling not only the right-wing, but also in some cases (like Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay), a substantial part of the Left. Here, much of the Left now has nothing to do with the Latin American Left, which is governing in countries like Cuba and Venezuela. As described above, in Chile, it is a defunct pseudo-left similar to the Western anarcho-syndicalism, which is alien to the mentality of the native, non-Western cultures. It is all about ‘rights’ and individualism, and very little or none, about internationalism. In Chile, during the big uprising which took place at the end of 2019 — an uprising which I photographed, filmed and covered — there were almost no voices supporting Venezuela or denouncing US-backed coup in Bolivia. However, there were many demands for free abortion.

*****

Chilean racism is deadly. Here, European migrants ruined great native cultures, both in the south and north. Alliance of Chile and the U.K. robbed Bolivia of its access to the sea and damaged Peru. Chile spied on Argentina, on behalf of the U.K., during the War of Malvinas. The country was the essential participant in Operation Condor, with Colonia Dignidad being one of the main torture centers on the continent. Until now, Santiago plays a crucial role in isolating and intimidating Venezuela and other left-wing countries in Latin America.

All this, because of desperate desire to be accepted, to be part of the Western club of predominately white nations.

“The English of Latin America,” Chile does not want to be a victim. It prefers to be a victimizer. And in many ways, it is. Domestically and internationally.

But the word is quickly changing, and Chile may find itself on the very wrong side of history. The Western regime, the Western empire, is rapidly collapsing. And the white color could and should, very soon, become just that and nothing more — a color.

While the great original cultures of Latin America will, no doubt, return to both prominence and former glory.

It says it all

* Written for and first published by Orinoco Tribune in Venezuela

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

The Ravages of Lithium Extraction in Chile

In Chile, the Covid-19 pandemic is raging with an unprecedented speed. There are more than 300,000 confirmed cases with one of the highest per capita infection rates of 13,000 cases for every 1 million people. The economy is severely experiencing the repercussions of Coronavirus-caused restrictions and the historically high national unemployment rate of 11.2% is an indicator of such damage. Chileans have took to the street to protest against the malfunctioning right-wing government of the billionaire president Sebastian Pinera and the police force has responded aggressively by shooting dead a young agitator.

Amid this Coronavirus chaos, the Chilean lithium sector is poised to economically expand itself due to an anticipated increase in demand. Albemarle, a North Carolina-based corporation and one of the two companies extracting lithium from the Chilean salt plain Salar de Atacama with Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM) or Chemical and Mining Society, said that “the current slump in prices is belying a looming supply shortfall, especially as expansion projects are delayed by the crisis”. TDK, a Japanese multinational electronics companies and battery giant, predicts that the global market is going to witness a surge in demand for lithium. Shigenao Ishiguro, the CEO of the company, told in an interview that “Digital transformation is a huge opportunity for us and I have no doubt that the coronavirus will push the world to go that direction at a faster pace,”.

In spite of Covid-19 pandemic, the battery market is expected to grow “at a compound annual growth rate of about 7% during 2019-2024. The market in cathode for lithium ion batteries, the most common rechargeable car battery, is expected to jump to $58.8 billion by 2024 from $7 billion in 2018”. According to Bloomberg, the pandemic can prove to be an opportunity for the lithium market “with at least some governments, including those of Germany and France, using virus recovery funds to help accelerate a transition from internal combustion engines to battery-powered alternatives. France will offer about 8 billion euros ($9 billion) to its auto sector to bolster support for electric vehicles; Germany’s stimulus package includes about 5.6 billion euros for the sector and will require gas stations to install charging units.”

A likely intensification of lithium exploitation in Chile does not bode well for the working class and the myriad indigenous communities such as the Atacameños, Licanantay, Colla, Aymara and Quechua living in the Atacama desert. The most recent manifestation of the exploitative practices of lithium mining companies has been the maintenance of “operational continuity” to achieve a minimal impact on output. This basically translates into a policy of profit maximization, brutally indifferent towards the existential conditions of workers. In the lithium mining region of Antofagasta, the Coronavirus positivity rate was a stupendous 46.1%. Along with this sheer infliction of necropolitical violence upon the working class, the indigenous people are also reeling under the pressures of lithium extraction in the form of a water crisis. While singular focus has been placed on the issues of water scarcity in urban areas, it is important to remember that indigenous communities living in Salar de Atacama too are coping with an acute water scarcity, artificially caused by lithium operations. In the aforementioned mining region, 65% of water has been consumed by lithium activities. This is one among the many environmental injuries sustained by the ecosystem of the Atacama desert due to the unhindered workings of lithium imperialism.

Instead of seeing the ongoing suppressive squeezing of the working class and indigenous communities in Chile as a one-off phenomenon, it is necessary that it be contextualized in the global structure of lithium imperialism. Lithium imperialism came to be installed as a fraction of global capital and primary commodity production due to two major developments – planetary mine and green extractivism. Firstly, planetary mine, as said by Martin Arboleda, “designates a convoluted terrain where fences, walls, and militarized borders coexist with sprawling supply chains and complex infrastructures of connectivity.” This denotes the establishment of an extractive economic exoskeleton on a planetary scale through the simultaneous use of violent and militarized techniques of oppression and policing.

Secondly, green extractivism refers to “the subordination of human rights and ecosystems to endless extraction in the name of “solving” climate change.” Lithium serves as an important modality for substituting fossil fuel extractivism with green extractivism and consistently maintaining a relentless system of commodification. Instead of “tackling the systemic bloating of northern economies and the excessive demands this places on the world’s resources.”, green lithium extractivism allows capitalists to stabilize the unequal imperialist architecture of core-peripheral countries. Tesla, for examples, uses the discourse of electronic vehicles to cloak its capitalistic carnage of Latin America with the cosmetic coverings of climate change.

Lithium imperialism indicates the cohesive amalgamation of planetary mining with a climate change-covered discourse of extractivism. The fusion of these two distinct strategies initiates a reign of hyper-exploitation, extraction, violence and dispossession in the name of climate change. But this oppressive underside of lithium business is sordidly shadowed by the propagandist puffery of an energy transition which actually feeds upon the body of oppressed workers of Global South. Lithium imperialism, therefore, involves the perpetuation of core-periphery relations under the discursive regime of climate change.

Chile is a victim of contemporary lithium imperialism due to the vast lithium reserves which it has. The country has 48% of the total lithium reserves in the world which amounts to 7.5 million tonnes of lithium, of which 6 million tonnes is found in Salar de Atacama. Chile is part of the lithium-rich area christened and commodified by the bourgeoisie as the “Lithium Triangle”. It is formed by northern Chile, northern Argentina and south Bolivia and has 70% of the world’s lithium brine deposits. Apart from the abundance of lithium, Chile is also attractive for lithium neo-conquistadors “because it costs about $2,000 to $3,800 a ton to extract lithium from brine, compared with $4,000 to $6,000 a ton in Australia, where lithium is mined from rock.” Capital cost for exploration and construction is lower in brine extraction than hard rock extraction due to the different locations of brine lakes and hard rock lithium reserves: “A hard rock project in a remote mountain location with limited access to transportation and energy infrastructure is going to require a lot more money in the exploration budget than a salar in flat terrain…with well-established mining roads and a line to the electrical grid.” In terms of quality, Salar de Atacama “has the best quality reserves of lithium in terms of lithium to potassium concentration as well as low magnesium to lithium ratio.”

The low-cost and high-grade lithium brine deposits have spelled doom for the indigenous people living in the Atacama Salt Flats (AFSs). While lithium brine extraction is economically viable for capitalists, it has deleterious effects on water availability and is therefore, injurious to the social metabolism of indigenous communities. In lithium brine extraction, “up to 95 per cent of the extracted brine water is lost to evaporation and not recovered”. Furthermore, to extract a ton of lithium from brine, 500,000 gallons of water is required. The two companies, Albemarle and SQM, operating in Salar de Atacama have been given “licences to extract almost 2,000 litres of brine per second.” Besides brine water, mining companies “need the fresh water to clean machinery and pipes, and also to produce an auxiliary product from the brine – potash – which is used as a fertiliser.” The use of fresh water by mining companies is indicated by the fact that between 2000 and 2015, the amount of water that was extracted from Atacama was 21% greater than the flow of water to that area.

According to a report produced by the Observatory of Mining Conflicts of Latin America (translated from Spanish), “The greatest socio-environmental impact of lithium mining lies in the indiscriminate expenditure of water for the evaporation of brines and the production of the necessary tasks. Considering that the Atacama salt flat is located in one of the most arid regions in the world, the Atacama desert, the large-scale extraction of water and the basic processing of lithium brines generates severe damage to the fragile ecosystems that depend on those sources.” In the same report, it is written that “the communities originating from the high Andean salt flats suffer serious environmental damage due to the indiscriminate and poorly controlled extraction from the hydro-saline deposits of the salt flats, thus reinforcing their historic place of marginalization, exploitation and subordination.”

This indicates that water scarcity is not a localized phenomenon, restricted to a mere depletion in water levels. Rather, water scarcity contributes to a generalized impoverishment of indigenous people and drastically degrades their everyday living. Degeneration of existential conditions happens, inter alia, through the degradation of soil and vegetation covers. In the Atacama region, indigenous collectivities grow quinoa and look after llamas. For the growth of quinoa plants, an evenly moist soil is required and for herding llamas, it is necessary that there be an adequate vegetation cover on which they can feed. But lithium operations have undermined both these prerequisites and School of Sustainability at Arizona State University reports that “An expansion of lithium brine mining area of one square kilometre was found to correspond to a significant decrease in the average level of vegetation and in soil moisture.”

Through the deliberate disorganization of traditional occupational configurations, lithium companies are able to culturally colonize and proletarianize the spiritual and agro-pastoral practices of communal indigeneity. In the international value chains of lithium, the utter subjugation of indigenous people to the deformed logics of e-mobility is cruelly concealed and as said by the Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salares (translated from Spanish), “The incessant production of disposable electronic devices and the growing market for electric cars for the energy transition of countries in the global north…is becoming today the main threat to the subsistence of any form of life in the basins that host these [lithium] mining deposits”.

Chilean indigenous people have not acquiesced to the economically destructive and culturally catastrophic operations of mining corporations and have reacted strongly to lithium imperialism. In 2019, indigenous people protested against the water-intensive mechanisms of lithium brine extraction and the state, in response, paradoxically charged some communities for “water robbery”. The protests were initially triggered by the underhand dealings of SQM in which “the Chilean economic development agency CORFO signed a contract with SQM that enabled the company to triple its lithium extraction over the coming years and extended its mining access to the Atacama until 2030.” The tripling of lithium extraction till 2030 raised SQM’s lithium extraction quota to 350,000 tons. It is not entirely coincidental that a month after the agreement, Eduardo Bitran, head of CORFO, met with Tesla to propose “a project to Tesla in which SQM would provide brine, the raw material from which lithium is produced, to the carmaker for refining into battery component lithium hydroxide in Chile.”

It was in opposition to this intricate complex of lithium imperialism that indigenous people protested. These protests smoothly synchronized with the larger anti-neoliberal protests occurring in Chile and bolstered the indigenous-working class alliance. But this working class-indigenous movement was soon suppressed by the Chilean state which, in order to stabilize neoliberalism and lithium imperialism, cracked down on protests through rapid detentions, declaration of a state of emergency and the deployment of more than 9,000 soldiers. Because of the protection provided by the state, Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of SQM, was able to say that the protests won’t “be a strong issue in our business goals in the medium and long term.” He further added that “We are going to deliver our products to our customers according to our previous forecast despite the situation in Chile,”. From Ramos’s statement, we discern that there exists a structural arrangement for the cementing of lithium imperialism: companies like SQM economically exploit and culturally hegemonize lithium-rich areas; indigenous people combatively confront the predatory mechanisms of these companies; the Chilean state ultimately intervenes in order to regularize mining operations through the violent deactivation of protests.

While it may seem that the 2019 protest against lithium extraction was a spontaneous eruption of anger, it is necessary that we briefly examine the historical background against which it took place. Apart from signing a shady deal without any consultation, SQM “has been investigated for several cases of tax evasion, money laundering and illegal campaign-funding. In a major public scandal in 2014, politicians from across the spectrum were found to have received major sums of money to look after the company’s interests.” SQM also has a dubious distinction of causing major conflicts and in 2007, for example, there was a skirmish between the company and the Toconao community. Increased extraction of water from unauthorized wells and the contamination of water sources by sewage discharge were the contributory causes behind the SQM-Toconao conflict. Albemarle too has been progressing in its march towards class struggle-free lithium imperialism and in 2017 CORFO amended the corporation’s agreement through which Albemarle got “sufficient lithium to produce over 80,000 MT annually of technical and battery grade lithium salts over the next 27 years at its expanding battery grade manufacturing facilities in La Negra, Antofagasta.”

The rapid ramping up of lithium production by two companies in Chile has successfully benefitted major electronic companies such as Samsung, Apple and Panasonic. In the automobile sector, Toyota, General Motors, Tesla, Volkswagen and BMW are some of the companies reaping economic advantages of the lithium sources of Chile. Figure 1 and 2 depict the multiplex and labyrinthine circuit of lithium in the international market. To satiate the vampire-like thirst of different companies for lithium, there has been a global increase in production and the role of Chile in catering to the lithium hunger of “white gold rush” is indicated by the contemporaneous expansion of Chilean lithium output with world lithium output: “The value of Chile’s lithium carbonate production rose to US$200 million by 2007, to US$500 million by 2012 and to more than US$800 million by 2017. It exceeded US$1 billion in 2018. There was a parallel surge in the value of world first-stage lithium output— reaching US$484 million in 2007, US$998 million by 2013 and US$2865 million in 2017.”

Figure 1, Source: Washington Post, “Indigenous people are left poor as tech world takes lithium from under their feet

Figure 2, Source: Danwatch, “There’s probably Chilean lithium behind the screen you’re reading this on

With the demand for lithium expected to grow in the global market, indigenous people and the working class would start encountering greater difficulties in sustaining themselves as indigenous ecosystems are efficiently eradicated and labor productivity is ruthlessly increased. During the Fastmarkets’ 11th Lithium Supply and Markets Conference in Santiago, “Producers Albemarle, SQM and Tianqi [which has a 23.77% stake in SQM]… agreed that flexibility in production remains vital for addressing diverse industrial and technological challenges.” This was a colloquial way of saying that workers need to be ready to be exploited, discarded and denigrated as mere commodities. For the indigenous people in Chile, life would be wrung economically dry as energy transition occurs in the Global North and magnificent Tesla vehicles silently operate on their blood-stained lithium batteries.

We need to remember that this dystopia of EVs parasitically procuring lithium from the open veins of Chile is avoidable and as said by Thea Riofrancos, “A world buzzing with hundreds of millions of Teslas (or worse, e-Escalades), made with materials rapaciously extracted without the consent of local communities, manufactured under a repressive labor regime in polluting factories — in other words, a world not unlike our own, but powered by wind and sun — is not an inevitability.” To move away from such lithium imperialism, we need to listen to the smothered voices of the Global South. An economic-ecological model based upon the anti-imperialist foundations of the Global South is radically different from capitalist models of extraction. Instead of conceptualizing a “development alternative”, the oppressed masses of the Global South imagine an “alternative to development”. In the interstices of this “alternative to development”, one can locate the seeds of resistance to lithium imperialism.

Jakarta: Force and Fraud at Home and Abroad. What’s Next?

I’m guessing that “Jakarta Is Coming” or “Plan Jakarta” won’t elicit immediate recognition from most of you and until very recently that was also true for me. But before defining it, here’s a bit of necessary background:

In 1965-66, the United States engineered a systematic mass murder in Indonesia that killed more than one million civilians and an additional one million were herded into concentration camps. I’ve been following this case for years but reliable information has been hard to come by. Recently, thanks to determined scholars and courageous Indonesian activists, previously classified documents have become available in Washington, DC. The entire sordid tale is exposed in Vincent Bevins just released book, The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murders That Shaped Our World.  (Public Affairs, 2020).

Bevins details how democracy in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world at 270 million, was snuffed out when the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), a totally legal, non-violent, mass-based party of the poor was decimated. The C.I.A. provided money, training, propaganda tools and arms to elements within the Indonesian military and most importantly, supplied “kill lists” of PKI members, ranging from the higher echelons of the party to local cadres in the smallest rural villages. The lists also included anyone thought to have the slightest leftist inklings and U.S. managers of Indonesian rubber plantations added the names of suspect union organizers. Those on the list were checked off as they were captured, tortured and killed.

President Sukarno, a highly vocal anti-imperialist who had led the struggle against the Dutch colonialists and founded the non-aligned movement, was deposed and replaced with the vicious right-wing dictator Maj. Gen. Suharto who had been an ally of the Japanese fascists in the Second World War. Previous reforms were rescinded, the capitalist model of development was fully adopted and foreign investors descended on Indonesia like vultures.

Inside the beltway liberals in the U.S. were either silent or, as James Reston, the NYT’s leading op-ed writer (an archetypical liberal) quipped, “This is a gleam of light in Asia.” Although claiming its actions were about preventing the spread of the “Red Menace,” Washington was solely motivated by the need to violently liquidate the “threat of a good example,” to offer a harsh lesson to anyone who might challenge the new U.S. world order by trying to obtain control of their country’s resources and use them for the general welfare.

Bevins tells us that “Jakarta” became a code word for “anti-communist mass murder and the state-organized extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States.” Indeed, a compelling case can be made that “Indonesia 1965” was the crucial victory for Washington during the so-called Cold War. And whereas easily accessible material is available on U.S. covert operations to overthrow democratic regimes in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), the Indonesian case remains virtually unknown in the United States. I want to believe that Americans would not only be horrified to learn about it but willing to reconsider some of their deepest beliefs about American exceptionalism.

I’ve highlighted Bevin’s new book because it appears at a serendipitous moment. In the rush of current events we don’t always pause to connect some important dots, in this case the indivisible string of dots between American domestic and foreign policy. That is, the same class warfare practiced by highly class-conscious U.S. elites and their junior partners in Indonesia in 1965 is now playing out in response to Racism 2020 and COVID-19, albeit with different methods.

Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and someone for whom I have enormous respect, observes that “The mentality that crushes a brother’s neck — as in the case of George Floyd — is the same mentality that sends black, brown, poor and low-income workers of all colors into the lethal path of the COVID-19 pandemic without needed protections, health care and economic resources.” Barber doesn’t say so and I don’t know if he believes it, but it’s my sense that the same mentality and dynamic of predatory capitalism that rips off the labor and land of those around the empire also operates here.

Domestically, the U.S. oligarchy has never hesitated to deploy deadly force, periodic severe repression against perceived internal threats and to rely on mass incarceration but the clear preference is for what Noam Chomsky terms “fraud and deception.” Why? Because they’re more efficient and sustain the necessary illusion that we live in a self-governing, albeit sometimes flawed democracy. This method results in citizens policing themselves but only after absorbing a lifetime of capitalist ideology. In short, in a society like the United States, “control of thought is more important.”1

Workers and peasants in Indonesia and elsewhere throughout the American empire harbor no illusions about who rules. Based on first-hand experience, they know their masters demand absolute obedience under penalty of torture and death. People have internalized the expectation that even demands for mild reforms will be met with state terrorism. They’ve learned to keep their thoughts to themselves.

In the United States, the abysmally low level of working class consciousness permits our rulers a much wider latitude of options to insure, in Bertrand Russell’s phrase, “the habit of submission.” We, “the ignorant masses,” participate in formal mechanisms like political parties and voting but these only ratify decisions made by our “betters. The option of radically changing society will neither appear on the ballot nor even be imagined in the public mind. Put another way, “Democracy is permissible as long as the control of business is off-limits to popular deliberation or changes; i.e., so long as it isn’t democracy.”2

How does all this relate to our present situation? I don’t have definitive answers, but I will suggest that the critical questions before us include: Has the official response to COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and the pandemics of racism, greed, poverty, imperialism, inequality, ecocide and exploitation finally sundered the aforementioned “habit of submission?” Does a sizable, multicultural swath of our citizens now view the political and economic system as illegitimate? Do enough people now grasp that the two parties and their corporate sponsors have nothing to offer? Do enough people understand that those on top not only want more from us but want everything? Is the multiplying convergence of aggrieved people sufficient to move from righteous insurrection in the streets to a revolutionary project that can totally reconstruct our society? If not, how can we move more of our fellow citizens in that direction? Are we prepared for the inevitable future efforts to co-opt dissenters? Finally, if fascism is capitalism with the gloves off, is it hyperbolic to suggest that the capitalist state and its enablers will entertain Jakarta-like options in the near future?

  1. Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion,” Z Magazine, July-August, 1991.
  2. Robert W. McChesney, “Noam Chomsky on the Struggle Against Neoliberalism,” Monthly Review, April 1, 1999.

Eight Day Journey from Hong Kong to Chile, Covid-19 on my Tail

Imagine that you are in Hong Kong, in a city where “you are actually not supposed to be”, in the first place. You are ready to go home, to South America. But just two days before your departure, via Seoul and Amsterdam, your first Sky Team carrier, Korean Air, unceremoniously decides to cancel all flights from the territory.

Several Korean religious freaks, apparently, are to blame.

On 22 February, 2020, Mail Online, reported:

More than half of all South Korea’s coronavirus cases are linked to a secretive ultra-religious cult whose leader believes he is immortal.

Just reading that, I knew I may get royally screwed. Nothing good comes from ultra-religious fanatics, and South Koreans are notorious for their political and religious extremism.

But that was not all. The report continued:

There are further reports of outbreaks in the psychiatric unit of a hospital in Cheongdo county, infections in Busan, and on the island of Jeju.

Korean Air, which was supposed to fly its glorious new Boeing 747-8 from Hong Kong to Incheon (Seoul international airport), has been carving its service, first reducing it to Boeing 777s, then to Airbus 330s, and in the end, cancelling all of its flights 3 days before my departure.

Korean Air – lounges closed down

To secure my monstrously long commute, I spent most of my Sky Team miles, to secure a business class set of tickets.

There was a reason for it: I could not see. Well, I could hardly see at all.

Before Hong Kong, I had worked in Kalimantan, in the Indonesian part of Borneo, on an island which has been totally plundered by greed, corruption and the ineptness of the Javanese neo-colonialists. An island where the present administration of president Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”), is planning to build and move the new capital city, abandoning the enormous, more than 20 million population sized urban area of Jakarta which is “sinking”, ridden with countless urban slums, lack of sanitation and safe drinking water.

Writing a book about this monumental insanity, I continued investigating. And in a process I got attacked, as almost anyone who visits Borneo does, by various and vicious parasites. My guts got infected by something terrible, and then my eyes. I flew between Balikpapan and Pontianak on Lion Air’s Boeing 737 (yes, that Lion Air, which keeps cramming and periodically crashing planes, ever since the beginning of its operation). I have no idea whether my eyes got attacked there, on board, or in some filthy ditch near the palm oil plantations, where they are cutting down what is left of the tropical forest.

Wherever it was, it did get infected. First the left eye. It was like a white foam. I could only see extremely abstract contours, as if between me and the world there was a thick, white blanket. It was scary, very scary. I am not only a writer and a philosopher, but I am also a filmmaker and photographer. Doing what I do and not seeing almost anything is, you know, quite terrifying.

Before flying to Hong Kong, where I have been covering the riots ignited and financed by the West, I stopped over in Bangkok and went to an eye clinic, but the doctors there only cared about the payment. They had no clue what was happening to my eye.

Hong Kong

Then, in Hong Kong, as Korean Air cancelled my flight, my right eye also got attacked.

At night, as I lay awake in my hotel room, I suddenly recalled how on board the Garuda Indonesia, between Pontianak and Jakarta, at least four people were coughing, loudly and desperately. Nobody was checking them. The Indonesian government had suggested that people pray to avoid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“What else,” I thought. “Am I also going to get the coronavirus?”

*****

I refused to succumb to this horrible situation.

By then I knew that Korean Air was determined to ruin me. While Air France (my Sky Team carrier) and KLM were offering re-routing and compensation to their passengers stranded in Asia, Korean Air showed a clear and vulgar indifference. It did nothing to help. It never even replied to my queries.

I was also aware of the fact that I may have to travel, at least for 7 days, through various detours, and without seeing almost anything. Also, with twisted guts and a diabetic attack which had kicked my backside because of the tremendous stress.

Was it worse than being in Syrian Idlib, in Afghanistan, or near Mosul after it had been taken over by ISIS?

In a way, it was. Being blind, chased by the new coronavirus type, with airports closing one after another, and with the prices of airline tickets going sky-high, everything seemed to be demeaning, depressing and unsettling.

Strangely enough, I felt no fear of the COVID-19. I kept discussing the new type of coronavirus with my medical colleagues, through WhatsApp, until my eyes totally let go and collapsed.

I had to make it through to Santiago de Chile, which happened to be on the total opposite side of the world.

Western doctors that I knew were sending long and useless advice which mainly repeated “go see a doctor” idiocy. I told them I was in Hong Kong, which had been experiencing a near total lock-down. I told them that I had already been to a Thai eye doctor who had absolutely no clue about my condition.

Then, I realized that I could not rely on those that I am fighting against! I needed comrades to help me.

My family contacted a Syrian lady doctor, an expert in infectious diseases, and a sister of my friend in Damascus. I sent photo-images of my eyes. She saw, asked for symptoms and prescribed some powerful oral antibiotics and drops. I managed to convince a Hong Kong pharmacist to sell the medicine over the counter: I said it was a matter of life and death. She understood.

Syria and China saved me. People were guided by intuition, not by rigid rules.

I was going home.

*****

My nearest and dearest began helping me to re-route. It took days. It was horrible.

Airlines, from Korean Air to Cathay Pacific, began to cover their backs; trying to squeeze every penny from those who were still able and willing to fly. Some one-way economy tickets for 2 hours flights shot up to 1,600 US dollars. Business class on certain routes became miraculously cheaper. As long as one could search, and as long as one could look at a screen.

To avoid quarantining, and to get out of Hong Kong, the easiest way was to fly in the totally opposite direction than where I was heading: to Bangkok, on Emirates. A few business class tickets were still available, but at $600, on a route where they used to cost under $400. It was one of the last available ways out of the almost locked out city.

Emirates 380-800 – overpriced but one of the last escapes from Hong Kong

I grabbed a seat on the Airbus 380-800. I somehow pulled through the totally empty Hong Kong Airport. I could hardly see anything. There were hardly any seats to rest on in the departure hall. My backpack was almost 20kg heavy, with a professional camera, computer and mobile phones.

I have no idea how I managed to get to my plane. With my damaged eyes, I could still see those huge numbers indicating gates. I collapsed into my seat. The super-jumbo took off, Southeast; away from where I was trying to fly. I was some 20 thousand kilometers away from Santiago de Chile.

Santiago was bleeding, too! Its eyes were damaged. People were fighting against the fascist regime imposed on them by Washington, and by the multinational corporations, in 1973. Like my own, their eyes were inflamed; some, over 300 individuals, even lost their eyes, as they were shot at by the police.

On board my flight to Bangkok, I was not sure whether I was going to be able to return home, alive.

But I was going through the night towards Bangkok. Would they even let me in? The first step.

*****

They did. Miraculously. I must have looked like shit, but an unfriendly, insulting border police officer slammed a stamp into my passport, fingerprinted me, photographed me, and in the end, let me go.

That was it. Hong Kong does not stamp passports. Officially, my journey would begin in Thailand.

I had only 9 hours on the ground. The airport was eerily empty. People looked like streetwalkers, wearing masks, some even things resembling ski-glasses. I went home to my place by the river, without even opening my luggage, I collapsed into my bed, but could not sleep the entire night. Tugboats were pulling ghost-like barges, 31 floors below. I could not see the barges, only contours. This was my first day into the journey.

In the morning, very early, I somehow managed to return to the airport, and rechecked my luggage all the way to Suriname, as that was the only airport in South America, which I was able to get to free (using my air miles) business class tickets, at least from Seoul. Instead of re-routing or compensating me, Korean Air which had brutally cancelled my tickets from Hong Kong, was now charging me something absolutely ridiculous, to get from Bangkok to Seoul, where I was to catch a KLM flight to Amsterdam and many hours later, to Paramaribo.

Thai fingerprinting and photographing again. The taking the shoes off, precisely as the U.S. masters have ordered. The saturated spite of the Thai officials suffering from superiority complexes, followed by an old, dirty, 777-300 Korean Air aircraft. I crashed into its unmaintained seat. Just glanced at the food (inedible-looking, cheap version of bibimba), and slept all the way to Seoul.

*****

Coronavirus, greed, extreme capitalism, rudeness: everything accumulated into this monstrous journey.

Taking off from Hong Kong and later Bangkok, I experienced almost absolute blindness. Then, the Damascus-prescribed antibiotics began to kick in. They were terrible, but I was warned. Either or. Either blindness and white fog, or total exhaustion, a collapsed body, but clearer sight. I opted for sight.

I landed in Seoul, like a zombie, heavy rucksack on my back, wobbly, almost desperate.

My luggage was automatically transferred all the way to Paramaribo, using the Sky Team system.

But this was South Korea. At the transfer desk I was refused boarding passes: “Go through security, then go to Sky Team Lounge and wait 8 hours for your flight. They will give you boarding passes at the gate,” I was told.

At the security check, they could not read English, or understand what was written on my E-tickets. 3 times I was humiliated, going back and forth between the transfer desk and security checkpoint. The staff were clearly enjoying the game, perhaps waiting for when I would finally collapse. The transfer desk person refused to walk with me to the security check. Security people were stubbornly refusing to read English.

This was precisely one of those moments when one loses all hope in humanity. You think: “Your body will let go! You will collapse, at any moment. Collapse and die.” All this, just because you have been putting your life on the line for some poor, devastated, enormous tropical island. Just because some South Korean religious freaks went bananas. Just because of human indifference and racism. Just because, just because… The brave new world. The creepiness of a capitalist, right-wing trash universe.

Incheon, South Korea. Usually one of the busiest airports

I made it to the lounge, eventually, moving through the empty airport. Everything was shut down. The lounge was empty; almost nothing to eat there. The coronavirus scare.

At this point, all I wanted to do was to sleep. I found a transit hotel and paid an exorbitant price for only a few hours of rest. I collapsed. I cursed capitalism, greed, and humanity’s collapse.

I knew that as I was entering the disturbing world of dreams, or should I say nightmares, the People’s Republic of China, as well as Cuba, were fighting for our human race, against all the odds, against the monstrous propaganda originating from the West.

I had no right to kick the bucket in some bloody transit hotel room at the Incheon Airport. China, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela needed me. I saluted my comrades, the old fashioned way, and fell asleep.

*****

The Korean Air clerk at the gate had no idea where Paramaribo was, or where Suriname is located. He was moonlighting for KLM, but was wearing a Korean Air uniform.

I told him what I thought about Korean Air. Before that, he had not liked me for flying to “some Paramaribo”, but after that he started to hate me, openly. The fact that I am a platinum member of his alliance meant nothing.

He began treating me as if I was the coronavirus incarnated.

By then, I could hardly see him. My legs were about to collapse, at any moment. But I was not going to show weakness.

He began: “Where is your visa to Suriname”?

“Here,” I replied.

“What is that?”

“My visa.”

“So, where is your visa?”

“My visa is here.”

“You have to show it to me.”

“It is in front of you.”

Korean Air had stolen my money by cancelling flights and by refusing to re-route me. Now, it was ruining my health. But, there was zero remorse coming from the staff.

Eventually, a supervisor came, and began abusing me, too.

I told her directly to her face: “You should learn from North Korean people how to treat visitors!”

Her apparatchik essence kicked in. She began threatening me.

I pulled out five press cards: “Do you want to arrest me for expressing my opinion?”

She started to look hesitant. I demanded her name card. She said she does not have one. Bullshit: in north Asia everybody has one.

“Are you a security agent or an airline staff?” I asked her, point-blank. I knew that in South Korea, it was the same thing.

Finally, she gave me my boarding passes, together with a look, which was full of hate.

This legendary racist horror, South Korean -style then disappeared. I saw the way she humiliated herself, bowing and kissing the asses of her fellow, South Korean, citizens.

I was welcomed on board by an outraged flight hostess who was originally from Suriname: “She did not even know that my country exists, did she?” She patted me on the shoulder.

*****

While Seoul was terrified of the coronavirus, the Europeans looked totally indifferent to the possible danger.

That was on March 3rd, 2020.

After the more than 11 hours flight from Seoul to Amsterdam, Schiphol airport appeared to be totally relaxed.

Even passengers from Seoul to Amsterdam looked undisturbed. No masks, no panic. Snoring contently into the air.

777-200ER landed very early, at around 5 am.

Amsterdam Airport – no masks, no fear

I went through security, and located the Sky Team Lounge. It was stuffed with excellent food, but it happened to be totally empty. I found a comfortable chair and fell asleep, almost immediately. When I woke up, the lounge was full; literally packed.

After being used to masks being worn all over North and Southeast Asia, what hit me was the absolute lack of any face protectors at the major Dutch airport.

People were drinking, eating tons, talking. There was no sense of any emergency.

European and North American daily newspapers, in all languages, were full of the coronavirus headlines. Those freely distributed in the lounge were only attacking China, totally and bizarrely avoiding the absolute lack of preparedness in the West.

Even the Italian daily papers, at that time at least, showed no signs of concern.

Not far from me, a group of Italian travelers, was chatting, embracing, kissing, drinking prosecco and coffee for breakfast, and calling home on their mobile phones.

There was only one lax coronavirus checkpoint upon arrival from South Korea, at the time one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

In retrospect, this was all totally bizarre and irresponsible.

Was the Western medical system so unprepared? Or was it told, even ordered, to behave in such a manner?

Waiting for my flight to Paramaribo, I called my 84-year old mom, who has been living in Germany, where she is married.

“They feed us with such crap,” she told me, in Russian. “I mean, that stuff that they tell us through the mass media. I don’t believe anything they say or write,” she concluded. “All this is not going to end well.”

And she was absolutely right.

*****

The Queen of the Sky, a majestic old Boeing 747-400 took off on time, towards Suriname. Both KLM and British Airways were still flying these beautiful planes, although there were rumors that KLM will retire most of them in 2021.

This was the last flight of the captain. He was leaving KLM. The flight hostesses were urging all the passengers to write something short, something personal. There was supposed to be a great celebration, a great party, in Paramaribo.

By then, I was almost losing my consciousness. My eyes cleared, almost totally. But the monstrous antibiotics and chronic exhaustion, doubled my body down. Chile appeared to be far, far away.

Again, no masks, no precautions. The 747 was going southwest, full of passengers, with zero medical safeguards.

The plane landed, and it was sprayed with water by a fire engine, to celebrate the last flight of the captain.

No jet-ways: passengers had to climb down off the enormous aircraft. Those who couldn’t were met by special vehicle, functioning as a lift, and by a bus.

But the lift and other vehicles were quickly engaged by the celebrations of the captain’s retirement. Countless Surinamese passengers who were returning from Holland, after being treated in European hospitals, were waiting in the lift and the bus, abandoned by the ground staff. No one to measure their temperature. Nobody to even ask what kind of medical conditions they were suffering from.

By then, I had turned into a zombie. I somehow managed to sail through the immigration of a shack defined as an airport.

I almost collapsed. I asked for help, but was told by a local staff member: “If you feel sick, go get medical help”. Later, the hotel manager told me that this is the “usual treatment people get here”.

I somehow got stabilized, by getting my hands on a luggage trolley. The universe was spinning around me.

My pre-paid taxi did not wait for me. The hotel was some 50 kilometers from the airport.

In the end, I went to the airport police. Instead of helping me, they began a rude scrutiny, clearly trying to extract some bribe.

“I feel very sick,” I said. They couldn’t care less.

No questions asked about what had made me sick. Was it the coronavirus? By then it was already called COVID-19, and it was on my tail, chasing me as I was circling the globe.

*****

I filmed the Suriname River and the rainforest of Suriname, to show the contrast with Borneo.

Suriname has been terribly damaged, but Borneo has been ruined, endlessly and some say, irreversibly.

Empty crossing of Suriname Rive

I only had one full day. I had to work fast. My Indian driver had to hold me up while I was working, otherwise I’d collapse.

On the 5th of March, I returned to the airport, ready to fly to Belem, Brazil.

Further humiliation, overcharging, insults. I wanted to get out. And never return. One day I will write about those repulsive 48 hours in Suriname, but not now.

A 90 minutes flight, and everything fully changed. Even under the fascist government of Bolsonaro, Brazilians were kind and caring.

Shortly after the plane door opened in Belem, I was put into a wheelchair and zipped through immigration and other formalities. There was no overcharging, no humiliation and no dramas.

Empty river front in Belem, Brazil

Brazil was what it always has been: a great country with dire problems. But a great country, nevertheless.

The next day I flew from Belem to Rio de Janeiro, via Brasilia.

Still, almost no masks. Once or twice my temperature was checked. That is all.

In Belem, all the Amazon riverfront cafes were kept open.

In Rio, while waiting for my flight to Chile, I went to the legendary and packed Vinicius bosanova club, and to the totally packed Caso de Chuva cultural center, where Tom Veloso was singing the songs of Gilberto Gil. Absolutely no precautions, no masks, people squeezed like sardines. The evening of March 8th.

A day later, on March 9th, the airlines in South America began catching up with turbo-capitalist games. Chilean LATAM, when I asked for an extra legroom seat, suggested that I pay $1,500, for 4 hours on board a small Airbus 320 plane. Naturally, I refused.

Coronavirus check iat Santiago Airport, Chile

Santiago airport took the coronavirus seriously. There were several checkups. End of the games.

This is when strange things began to happen.

Two days after I landed in Santiago de Chile, South America moved from inactivity to hyperactivity.

One country after another began lock-ups; from Argentina to Peru, to Chile.

Santiago began resembling a ghost town. Entire regions of Chile began to close down.

I needed to recover, quickly, and to travel to Venezuela and Cuba, but it was becoming thoroughly impossible.

I arrived, I survived, but right away, I was grounded.

*****

From one extreme to another. In South America and the West.

When confronted with the terrible medical emergency, China reacted like a Communist country, which it is. It mobilized in the name of the people, and began fighting the battle. It acted rationally and responsibly. It never performed a total lockdown.

It demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm and discipline.

Without thinking twice, it sacrificed its economic interests, putting the people first.

It has won the battle; beating the virus back. Almost no new cases now. The hospitals constructed to treat the coronavirus are closing down. Doctors and other medical staff are celebrating.

Cuba is near to developing a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

China and Cuba are cooperating. China is sending airplanes with help to Italy, Spain and Serbia.

In the meantime, people in certain Western countries are being told that over 80% of their citizens will get infected, and that hundreds of thousands, even mullions, will die!

Why?

Why the hell, really?

Some nations, from Italy to Chile (where I am right now), are locking up everything: entire countries, entire regions, everything.

At the height of the crises, Beijing was open, and so was Shanghai and almost all other major cities. Flights were arriving and departing. What confidence! What a success!

A clear victory of socialism over capitalism.

Just look at the Western nations, at Southeast Asia, or at South America; people are petrified. Control of the population is much more brutal than anything that has ever been implemented in China.

And what do they tell the Italians, French, Brits and North Americans? That they will be dying like flies! Even now, when this essay is being written, more Italian people have died than the Chinese. That is on a per capita basis about 22 times more. And in the West, things are getting worse and worse.

And, until now, it is not yet clear, who brought the epidemy to Wuhan, to begin with. Many believe that it was the U.S. military. Still, China never stopped behaving like an internationalist country!

*****

During my more than 20,000 kilometers long journey, I have seen a frightened, divided planet.

And then, I saw a great Chinese victory, and a Cuban victory.

I read how Cuba has rescued 600 people stuck on a cruise ship, the MS Braemar, belonging to one of its tormentors.

I witnessed panic in extreme right-wing countries like Chile. I was ready to drive south, to Araucaria, to speak to the discriminated against Mapuche indigenous people (according to Word they do not exist, as I am given red error sign), but precisely that area got hermetically sealed, closed down, one day before my planned 900-kilometer journey, and a month before the planned constitutional referendum.

In the West, and allied countries, the coronavirus has been used for political ends.

I am almost certain the Bolivian elections will be ‘postponed’, “because of the coronavirus”, to prevent socialist MAS from regaining power.

I am back home, but home is not a real home, anymore.

Home is now China, Cuba, Russia. Countries which are fighting against the Western tyranny that is sacrificing millions of human lives.

The coronavirus is a barometer of the state of the world.

It shows which countries bring shame to the word “humanity” and which bring pride.

• First published by 21 Century Wire

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

“A Policeman, A Pastor and A Palestinian”: The “Chilestinians” as a Model for Palestinian Unity

I was only introduced to the term ‘Chilestinians’ last February at a conference in Istanbul, during a presentation by the Director of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, Anuar Majluf.

When Majluf referred to the well-rooted Palestinian community in Chile, who number between 450,000 and half a million, using that unfamiliar and peculiar phrase, I smiled. Others did, too.

It is quite rare that a conference on Palestine, anywhere, would include such an upbeat atmosphere as that introduced by the Chilean-Palestinian leader, as the current discourse on Palestine is one that is saturated with a deepening sense of political failure, disunity and betrayal.

I say ‘Chilean-Palestinian’ for the sake of convenience because, later on, I realized that the term ‘Chilestinians’ was not coined haphazardly, or jokingly.

Dr. Lina Meruane, a Chilean scholar of Palestinian descent, told Bahira Amin of the ‘Scene Arabia’ online magazine, that the term ‘Chilestinians’ is different from ‘Chilean-Palestinians’ in the sense that it is a demarcation of a unique identity.

“It’s not a hyphenated identity, but the fusion of two identities that belong together and have no issues belonging together,” Meruane said. Amin refers to this as a ‘third space’ which was created in diaspora, over the course of 150 years.

It might come as a surprise for those of us not familiar with the Palestinian experience in Chile to learn of the old adage, “for every village in Chile you will find three things: a policeman, a pastor, and a Palestinian.” But the saying, indeed, expresses a historical bond between Palestine and a country that is located on the extreme south-western coast of South America.

The immense distance – over 13,000 kilometers – between Jerusalem and Santiago, might in part, explain the reason why Chile and its large ‘Chilestinian’ population did not occupy its deserved status in the collective imagination of Palestinians everywhere.

But there are other reasons too, leading among them the fact that successive Palestinian leaderships have failed to fully appreciate the immense potential of Palestinian communities in diaspora, especially the Palestinians of Chile. The latter’s story is not only that of struggle and perseverance, but also of great success and vital contributions to their own society and to the Palestinian cause.

Starting in the late 1970s, the Palestinian leadership labored to politically engage with Washington and other Western capitals, culminating in the pervading sense that, without US political validation, Palestinians would always remain marginal and irrelevant.

Palestinian calculation proved disastrous. After decades of catering to Washington expectations and diktats, the Palestinian leadership returned empty-handed as the Donald Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ has finally proven.

Political decisions have their cultural repercussions as well. For at least three decades, Palestinians have re-oriented themselves politically and culturally, disowning their historical allies in the southern hemisphere, as a whole. Worse, the new thinking widened the chasms between Palestinians in Palestine and their own brethren, like Palestinian communities in South America who held even tighter to their identity, language, music and love for their ancestral homeland.

What is so unique about Palestinians in Chile and other Palestinian communities in South America, is that their roots go back decades before the destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel on its ruins in 1948.

Israel often claims that its Palestinian victims lacked a national identity in the modern sense. Some scholars, at times well-intentioned ones, concur, claiming that a modern Palestinian identity was largely articulated after the Nakba – the ‘Catastrophic’ destruction of historic Palestine.

Those who are still stuck at this historical distortion must introduce themselves to Palestinian historians like Nur Mashala and his must-read book Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History.

‘Chilestinians’ offer a real living example of the true strength of the collective Palestinian identity that existed before Israel itself was violently imposed on the Palestinian map.

Deportivo Palestino’, a prominent football club that plays in Chile’s Primera division, was unofficially established in 1916 and, officially, four years later. I learned from the ‘Chilestinian’ delegation to Istanbul that the founders of the Palestinian community in that country established ‘Palestino’ to ensure their children never forget the name, and that they continue to chant the name of Palestine for many years to come.

The football club – known as Palestine’s ‘second national football team’ – will soon celebrate its one hundred year anniversary, a celebration that is likely to take place amid the predominant chant of ‘Gaza resists; Palestine exists’.

Palestino’s La Cisterna stadium in Santiago, a towering edifice adorned with Palestinian flags, is not only a testament of the tenacity of Palestinian identity, but the generosity of Palestinian culture as well, as the stadium is one of the city’s largest communal hubs bringing people from all backgrounds together in an ongoing celebration of everything that we have in common.

Trudeau Government’s Effort to Overthrow Venezuelan Government

What’s more likely to shape Canadian policy in the Hemisphere: human rights and democracy or bankers’ bottom-line?

Last week Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa. The self-declared president met Canada’s Prime Minister, international development minister and foreign minister. Trudeau said, “I commend Interim President Guaidó for the courage and leadership he has shown in his efforts to return democracy to Venezuela, and I offer Canada’s continued support.”

Last month Guaidó was dethroned as leader of Venezuela’s national assembly. While the vote was contested, it represents a significant blow to Guaidó’s year-old claim to be Venezuela’s legitimate President. To shore up his position as opposition leader, Guaidó travelled to a number of international capitals, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and was a guest of Donald Trump at the US president’s state of the union adress.

The Ottawa stop on Guaidó’s legitimacy seeking tour was the latest installment of the Trudeau government’s multipronged effort to overthrow Nicolás Maduro’s government. In a bid to elicit “regime change”, Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed illegal sanctions, took that government to the International Criminal Court, financed an often-unsavoury opposition and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president.

On the same day Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa, Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter penned “A call to action on Venezuela” in the National Post. The op-ed urged governments to “seize assets of corrupt regime officials” and to use the proceeds to give “support to the democratic movement in Venezuela.” Porter also applauded the Liberal’s “moral clarity by unambiguously condemning the Maduro regime’s abuses” and praised their “tremendous courage and leadership in the hemisphere and on the world stage.”

Scotiabank has long had frosty relations with the Bolivarian government. A few days after Hugo Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe & Mail Report on Business published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: “Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.”

The perspective of the world’s 40th largest bank has shaped Ottawa’s position towards Caracas. At the other end of the continent, its interests have contributed to the Trudeau government’s support for embattled billionaire president Sebastián Piñera. A number of stories have highlighted Scotiabank’s concerns about recent protests against inequality in Chile. The Financial Post noted, “Scotiabank’s strategic foray into Latin America hits a snag with Chile unrest” and “Riots, state of emergency in Chile force Scotiabank to postpone investor day.” Last week Scotiabank’s CEO blamed the protests that began in October on an “intelligence breakdown” with people outside Chile “that came in with an intention of creating havoc.” In a story titled “Why Brian Porter is doubling down on Scotiabank’s Latin American expansion”, he told the Financial Post that Twitter accounts tied to Russia sparked the unrest!

Two weeks into massive demonstrations against Pinera’s government, Trudeau held a phone conversation with the Chilean president who had a 14% approval rating. According to Amnesty International, 19 people had already died and dozens more were seriously injured in protests that began against a hike in transit fares and morphed into a broader challenge to economic inequality. A couple thousand were also arrested by a government that declared martial law and sent the army onto the streets.

According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau and Piñera discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president and the Prime Minister criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia”, which were disingenuously used to justify ousting leftist indigenous president Evo Morales. A Canadian Press story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Piñera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”

Despite numerous appeals from Canada’s Chilean community, the Trudeau government has stayed quiet concerning the fiercest repression in Chile since Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. A delegation of Québec parliamentarians, professors and union leaders that travelled to Chile in late January recently demanded Ottawa speak out against the abuses (four died in protest related violence last week). In a release about the delegation Mining Watch noted that over 50% of Chile’s large mining industry is Canadian owned. Canadian firms are also major players in the country’s infrastructure and Scotiabank is one of the country’s biggest banks. Chile is the top destination for Canadian investment in Latin America at over $20 billion.

As I detail in my forthcoming book House of Mirrors — Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy (Black Rose), the Liberals have said little about hundreds of killings by regimes in Haiti, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. On the other hand, they’ve aggressively condemned rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Many on the Left would say that is because those governments are aligned with Washington, which is true. But, it’s also because they are friendly to corporate Canada. If you want to understand Ottawa’s positions in Latin America look to what Canadian bankers have to say.

• House of Mirrors — Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy will be released in March. To help organize an event for the Spring tour please email yvesengler (@) hotmail.com.

Colombia: Where Life has to Defeat Death

In one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bogota, Belen, I saw two people bleeding in the middle of the road. One person was clearly dead. A group of onlookers was moving frantically, shouting loudly. There was an attempt to resurrect an injured man. I asked the driver to inquire whether our help was needed, but he was told something insulting by the locals, and insisted that we leave the scene immediately.

Was it a traffic accident? Or a murder? The driver did not know. He actually did not want to know.

“Look,” he said. “You may be a Russian or Chinese Communist, or whatever, but here, in the middle of this slum, you kind of look like a gringo, and that is a damn big disadvantage to both of us, and to my car. So, if you don’t intend to bury your bones here, we should not stop in the middle of this neighborhood, for too long.”

“I thought they love Gringos in Colombia,” I uttered, sarcastically.

“Down there, yes,” my driver waved his hand towards the financial center of Bogota. “But not here. Not up here.”

Before becoming a driver, this individual used to be a top manager at one of the biggest South Korean electronics companies operating in Colombia. I have always been having good luck with my drivers. During the Dirty War in Peru I once was driven, for weeks, by a retired and thoroughly broke army general, and in Bulgaria, after the East European collapse, by a former ambassador to the United Nations.

Neo-liberal Colombia has some of the greatest and most bizarre disparities I have witnessed anywhere on Earth.

After filming and photographing in the middle of various tough slums that have mushroomed along the hills ‘above’ the capital, I returned to my hotel.

Just a few kilometers away from the misery-stricken dwellings, in a coffee shop of my hotel, a group of upper-class Colombians from Cali was having a casual dinner. The people were loud and I could not avoid overhearing their conversation. They spoke about their dogs having diarrhea, regularly, and how it could actually be stopped or prevented.

“It is outrageous,” one of them lamented. “Poor animal has been shitting and shitting. What is it telling us about the quality of Colombian food and water?”

*****

Obviously, someone had enough of such contrasts. Or more precisely, few millions of Colombian people decided that the situation is, should we say, “indigestible”.

And, so, on November 21, 2019, Colombia exploded.

Like Chile did, a few weeks earlier.

The explosion has been spontaneous, angry, and for the extreme right-wing government of President Iván Duque Márquez, very embarrassing. Some would say even, scary. His approval rating hit the bottom, 26%. Not as bad as in Chile, where the admirer of Pinochet’s dictatorship, President Pinera, ended up with just a pathetic 10% support from his citizens. Not as bad, but bad enough.

Colombia and Chile united in rage

Imagine that you are presiding over a fundamentalist neo-liberal country with hardly any public education or healthcare, with monstrous disparities, with some 9 U.S. military bases (it really depends how you count them; could be bit less or more), and with a foreign policy which has been shamelessly dictated from the North. Imagine that you still have those semi-active left-wing guerilla movements on your territory, but at the same time your government is simply super-hostile towards anything socialist, Communist, red or pink or even slightly progressive. And that many people in your own country actually strongly dislike the direction in which you are moving the nation.

Imagine that you have all sorts of problems at home, and that the left-wing guerilla movements are not the only issues you have to face here: you also have fascist militias which are murdering and disappearing people, you have those narco-mafias which sometimes have better social programs for the poor than your government does, and you also have the anti-imperialist Venezuela fighting for its survival immediately next door; a country which the United States has been trying to destabilize, ruin and turn into a regressive, oppressive Gulf state.

You have hundreds of thousands of the Venezuelan ‘refugees’ on your territory. Some say millions. People who have been escaping from the monstrous U.S. sanctions and from the outright U.K. and German theft of the Venezuelan gold, and monetary assets. It is scary, isn’t it? You have no idea who these people are. Are they really against the Venezuelan President, Maduro? For decades, millions of your people, Colombians, were crossing the border, escaping misery, seeking a better life in Caracas and Maracaibo. You know why it is now the other way round: because Venezuela has been raped, plundered by your masters in the United States and Europe. And it was done with your help, Mr. Duque. Now nobody knows what is coming next.

Your people are waking up, rising and starting to demand your resignation, or even the demise of the entire Colombian regime.

What do you do; how do you react?

First you pretend that you are listening. Even that you have some sympathy with your own people. But when you see that the protesters think that all that you offer (actually, not that much) is not enough, you deploy the special forces; you do it the Chilean way; you start using brutal police and military contingents, as well as under-cover para-military units. That is what your masters in the North tell you to do, and you are a good obedient servant of the U.S. government and those several “international organizations” controlled by Washington, including the Organization of American States” (OAS), World Bank, IMF, to name just a few.

You get a clear and loud message from Mike Pompeo in Washington. You can go ‘all the way’. You can kill, without being criticized. You can torture. This is all in the frame of the Monroe Doctrine, or, as some say, of the Second Operation Condor. As long as the killing and torture are done by the “right” people, against the “wrong” ones, they can never be criticized.

You begin frightening people. People begin getting injured, or even dying.

Where Dilan Cruz was killed, torn Colombian flag

You killed a boy. A young kid. His name was Dilan Cruz. His entire life was ahead of him. He was only 18 years old. Your forces shot him in the head with a bean bag round.

I went there, where it happened. People waved torn Colombian flags where Dilan was murdered.

That’s where Colombia is at this moment.

National strikes are shaking the capital and other major cities. Smoke and teargas are filling the air above several major streets. The atmosphere is tense. Nihilist, frightening graffiti is everywhere. The glass at your idiotic, overpriced ‘public’ transportation system (just glorified buses, nothing else) is shattered.

It may be just a beginning. Most likely it is.

Your regime is waiting. Will the demonstrators get tired and return home? If they retreat, fine. If not, it is likely that the state is ready to protect the status quo by crushing them; by killing many, injuring thousands, like in Chile.

In neo-liberal Latin America, which is governed by the U.S. and its “Monroe Doctrine”, human lives are worth nothing. What people demand is listened to, then analyzed, and in the end, used against them.

*****

In Bogota, in front of the building of the Attorney General of the Nation (Procuraduria General de la Nacion), hundreds of protesters, mainly indigenous, were blocking a square, despite a heavy police presence in the area.

Mainly indigenous protesters

One of the protest leaders, Mr. Felix Rueda, spoke to me, in front of the camera, while the notorious Colombian police force, “Esmad” (the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron), was slowly closing in on us, controlling all the nearby streets:

We are victims of the armed conflict. We are people who were hit hard by violence; something we thought would never happen again in this country. I represent the victims. And I fight for human rights. All these people around here are victims of the armed conflict.

A lady behind him begins to shout:

Here, almost all of us are victims. We are peasants, with no protection, whatsoever.

Mr. Rueda continues:

These people are victims of the state violence; perpetrated by the armed groups.

I asked him why there are no mass media outlets covering their plight.

Sometimes they come. But mostly just when we break down some doors, or when someone dies. One person has already died during the last weeks. Many were injured. Again, Colombians are now fighting against Colombians.

Another woman from the crowd screams at me:

There are also rapes; girls are being raped, even boys…

Police, military and the para-military response to the protests in Colombia has been so outrageously tough, so violent, that even some mass media outlets in the West had no choice but to notice and to report the gravest excesses. The Guardian wrote on 11 December, 2019:

For the past three weeks, Colombia has been racked by demonstrations triggered by widespread discontent with the proposed economic reforms of the rightwing president, Iván Duque, whose approval rating has dropped to just 26% since he took office in August last year.

Protesters are also angry at the lack of support for the historic 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which formally ended five decades of civil war that killed 260,000 and forced more than 7 million to flee their homes.

In a country which not long ago suffered the highest kidnapping rate in the world – and whose security forces have themselves been implicated in forced disappearances – the videos of police snatching protesters evoked disturbing memories.

According to the national victims’ agency more than 150,000 people were forcibly disappeared between 1986 and 2017, with up to 80,000 still missing. Combatants on all sides of the conflict engaged in the practice.

Police in slums protects or scares?

Since the beginning of the protests, Colombian forces have been disappearing people from the streets; something that is bringing traumatic memories to the citizens. In one case, a young woman protestor, was grabbed and pulled into an unmarked vehicle. Two people jumped into their car and chased the vehicle, persistently, until the victim was released. This was a well-documented case: “a young woman dragged into an unmarked Chevrolet”. But I was told that there were many other cases, that went unreported and almost unnoticed.

*****

I flew to Barranquilla, a city on the majestic River Magdalena. This is where this great Colombian waterway joins the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

This is where one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, Love in the Time of Cholera, written by the Colombian Communist writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, took place. This is where Florentino Ariza waits for the love of his life, Fermina Daza, for fifty-one years, nine months and four days. This is where he makes love to her, finally, on a river boat, at old age. Looking at the surface of this majestic river, Garcia Marquez, finishes his novel. I always thought that the book was fully connected to Cartagena, but I was explained to, that no; it was linked inseparably to the Magdalena River.

Constanza Vieira and her partne

And this is where my friend, one of the most important Colombian journalists, Constanza Vieira, lives.

She picked me up at the airport, together with her partner, drove me to the long, new riverside, where we sat down and spoke for hours about Colombia; her beloved and tortured land.

Her father had met Mao, on two occasions. She knew all about the negotiations between the government and FARC. She is a walking encyclopedia, when it comes to Colombia. But this is not what I wanted to know this time.

Latin America was in turmoil. The Bolivian government was overthrown in a brutal, fascist coup. Chile and Colombia were rising. Venezuela was fighting for its survival. Where was this country going?

Constanza spoke about corruption under Duque, about Uribe’s crimes, and about the grave violations of human rights in her country:

Colombia in a setting of South America, is a conservative country; very conservative. It is suffering from one right-wing government after another. Here, the inequality is tremendous, one of the greatest in Latin America. When the protests had erupted here, the governments negotiated with the protesters, but never delivered on what they agreed. Colombia is a neo-liberal country. Now it is being shaken by huge protests. In this context, we have to thank Chile. Because whenever in the past Colombians were demanding true changes, our government would tell us: ‘look at Chile! Chileans and all of us have to be thankful to General Pinochet. The country is so prosperous. Capitalism works!  So, the uprising in Chile, where people are rejecting neo-liberalism, is having a tremendous impact on Colombia.

The situation in Colombia is truly grotesque, and the cynicism endless. Constanza mentions just one example, which would be hard to even imagine in most of the other countries on the continent:

In this country, corruption is just enormous. And so are violations of human rights. Now imagine: the government of Duque decided to pay compensation to the victims of human rights violations, as well as victims of corruption – from the budget allocated to public universities!

Joint US-Colombian Air Force Facilities

I asked her about the U.S. military bases.

You see, it is not as simple as it used to be. United States is not staffing the bases with its own soldiers, permanently. The soldiers who come here are usually under-cover. It is often an intelligence unit or two, or these are soldiers who come and go, using local military bases only when they need them.

As we are parting at the airport, late at night, her partner, a writer, goes back to the “basics” – to Simon Bolivar:

If you talk to people all over Latin America, the great majority will say that they admire Simon Bolivar. Our great Liberator! But if you listen and look closer, you soon realize that the Bolivarian ideals are being betrayed, almost everywhere, all around us.

*****

Colombia is boiling. There is not just one problem that the country is facing; there are dozens, perhaps hundreds.

While indigenous people have been marching on Bogota, protesting and struggling for their rights and culture to be respected, the coca leaf cultivating farmers (most of them indigenous families) are demanding that their crop finally gets legalized.

All this, while the Colombia peace court is exhuming some 50 bodies in extra-judicial killings cases, presumably committed by the military.

As recently reported by Reuters:

False positive killings numbered at least 2,248 between 1998 and 2014. The majority of the murders took place during the term of former President Alvaro Uribe, according to the attorney general’s office.

People were defined as dying in combat, but in reality, they were victims of extra-judicial killings.

Misery and shame

Extreme poverty, extra-judicial killings, corruption, unemployment, an embarrassing foreign policy, police brutality, extremely high crime rate – everything is inter-connected. Everything seems to be explosive.

*****

One night, all around rebellious Bogota. Graffiti everywhere. Police on high alert. Clusters of people, assembling, then disappearing into the night.

Behind the airport, in the center of a town called Fontibon, there is a meeting of the committee which is organizing one of the strikes. I am being taken there by David Curtidor, a prominent Colombian activist.

He introduced me to Ms. Luz Janneth Zabaleta, a professor of mathematics, who is deeply involved in the organization of the protests. She explained to me:

Until now, all those government’s so-called reforms were made against the workers, indigenous people and students. This uprising will change everything.

 Her comrade, Arturo Partilla Lizarazo, a labor lawyer passionately supported her words:

Now Colombia is entering a huge struggle; it is fighting for the dignity of human beings, inhabiting this country. Neo-liberal policies have failed, here and elsewhere. And Colombia is ready to defeat those neo-liberal policies, which have already destroyed so many lives of our people.

We talk about the former government of President Uribe, which according to both, was basically following a policy of war. We also discuss the awful plight of the common Colombian people, of millions of starving children, the horrendous unemployment rate among young people, and the unimaginable hardship endured by elderly, retired people.

Later, at Parkway, which is a narrow park in the center of the city, I witnessed protesters waving Colombian and Chilean flags. There is live music. Young people are dancing. Units of the riot police are moving along the edges of the park. Are they going to attack? If yes, when? Nobody knows.

I drive through the now empty Bolivar Square, then near the Presidential Palace, barricaded, blocked by the military. Several government buildings are covered by black, protective curtains. Somehow, they look like a funeral halls.

Right next to the government district, there is a red light district’; full of sex workers, pimps and police units. In Colombia, power and misery shamelessly coexist next to each other.

*****

On my last day, before departing Bogota for La Paz, Bolivia, I was visited by a legendary educator, German Vladimir Zabala Archila, a liberation theologist who used to work with, among others,  Ivan Illich.

Still very active all-over Latin America, helping to set up revolutionary educational systems in various, particularly indigenous-majority countries, Vladimir is promoting the so-called “Pedagogy of Otherness” (Pedagogia de La Otredad).

Vladimir is an eternal optimist. He believes that Colombia, as well as the entire Latin America, are undergoing tremendous, irreversible transformations:

We are in the middle of great cultural changes. I can see it even in my own middle-class part of the city. My neighbors, whom I thought were very conservative ladies, are these days banging their pans in the middle of the street, in what is clearly a protest against the system and the government. We call it here “I am scared, but I am marching!”

One of our previous presidents used to say: ‘All we have to do is to become part of the United States.’ Colombian paramilitary groups infiltrated Venezuela, on behalf of the West. But look now. There is growing solidarity among black and indigenous people in such places like Cali. And even Evo [Morales] was here, marching with us. He is beloved by the people of Colombia.

“And now?” I asked Vladimir. “Evo… How does it all look from here?”

He does not hesitate:

We didn’t expect this coup. We were quite certain that Evo’s popularity in Bolivia would protect him. We were confident in Cuban intelligence. We did not think that Santa Cruz would succeed, with its horrible Nazis like Camacho, who are connected with narco-traffickers, and backed by the West…

But Vladimir is still optimistic, and so am I.

Latin America is waking up. United, as they say here, people can never be defeated. And slowly, reluctantly, Latin American nations are finally trying to unite.

*****

Things will not change overnight in Colombia, but they will eventually change.

As I drive through Bogota, I see anti-government graffiti, I see damaged buildings, the remains of the battles fought between protesters and the security forces. But I also see some strange attempts to infiltrate the rebellion, like the clenched fists that look just too familiar; like Otpor, a symbol of the Western-backed “Color Revolutions”.

It is too early to draw conclusions, but Colombian rebels have to be vigilant. While people are fighting for a new South America, while they are getting injured, while some are even dying, the West is plotting, together with President Duque and his regime; they are analyzing and trying to figure out how to keep things as they have been, for those long stagnant decades. If the government can get away with it, it would give absolutely nothing — zero.

This will be a long and difficult struggle.

Colombia is one of the most damaged places in Latin America; one of the most turbo-capitalist, and one of the most sold out to the West.

On the other hand, its opposition is vibrant and diverse. Its people are amazing; many very brave, educated and determined people.

*****

My last day in Bogota, as I was falling asleep, I heard some loud gunshots right in front of my hotel.

After years in Beirut, I was used to such sounds. ‘Celebratory shooting into the air’, I thought, half asleep. But people were screaming, too. Exhausted, I fell asleep.

The next morning, on the way to the airport, I was told by my driver: “At night, they killed a French man, right in front of the entrance to your hotel.”

‘Too many corpses’, I thought. ‘Too many people are dying in Colombia. For whatever reasons, but dying unnatural deaths.’

At Bogota Airport hundreds waiting for hours in line while officers playing and chatting

At the airport, passport control check took almost two hours. Immigration officers were showing absolute and open spite towards the passengers. They were chatting with each other, banging into their mobile phones, even eating. While people waited in endless lines, like cattle. Absolute impunity.

On the Avianca flight from Bogota to La Paz, my neighbor was a typical US lady-apparatchik.

“Where are you from?” she asked me in an arrogant tone of voice, right before take off.

“Russia,” I said.

What?”

“Russia.”

“What’s that?”

“Russian Federation”.

“Oh, Ru-siah!” She gave me a bizarre, pre-programmed, aggressive look.

I was leaving an old US colony for a new one, recently ‘acquired’ one.

The woman who was sitting next to me on the plane was radiating the unmistakable chill of death. My body began shaking slightly. But then I recalled the last words of Garcia Marquez’s brilliant novel, written on the shores of the Rio Magdalena:

The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.

My body relaxed. And I was suddenly certain that it will be life, as well as the great passion for it, that will finally liberate Colombia from the appalling embrace of death.

First Published by 21WIRE

All photos by Andre Vltchek

2019 Latin America in Review: Year of the Revolt of the Dispossessed

A year ago, John Bolton, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine making explicit what has long been painfully implicit: the dominions south of the Rio Grande are the empire’s “backyard.” Yet 2019 was a year best characterized as the revolt of the dispossessed for a better world against the barbarism of neoliberalism. As Rafael Correa points out, Latin America today is in dispute. What follows is a briefing on this crossroads.

Andean Nations

Venezuela, the leader for regional integration and 21st century socialism, continued to be ground zero in the clash between the empire and those nations pursuing post-neoliberal alternatives and a multipolar world.

On the evening of January 22, trained US security asset and head of the suspended Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó received a call from US Vice President Pence, giving Guaidó the green light to declare himself president of Venezuela. The next day, Guaidó proclaimed his presidency on a Caracas street corner. Within minutes Trump recognized the self-appointment, later followed by some fifty US allies. Still most nations in the world did not recognize Guaidó, and the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro as the constitutional president of Venezuela.

Guaidó called for harsher US sanctions on his own people and even the US “military option.”  Gone was the pretext that sanctions targeted only the government. The former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield  boasted that these measures “would have an impact on everyone… to accelerate the collapse.” From President Barack Obama’s sanctions in 2015, Trump progressively ratcheted up the pain to the current blockade. This illegal collective punishment had already caused over 40,000 deaths by the beginning of the year according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in a war by economic means, denying the Venezuelan people vital food and medicine.

Yet Guaidó failed to come to power. His publicity stunt on February 23 to bring “humanitarian aid” from Colombia fizzled. To make things worse, envoys of Guaidó in Colombia were caught embezzling some of the very funds slated for humanitarian assistance. Soon after this debacle, a staged coup on April 30 by Guaidó and a few military officers on an overpass in eastern Caracas aborted. In November, Guaidó made an even more pathetic coup attempt. His ability to garner support atrophied, drawing the ire even of some hardline opposition who formerly backed him, while the Maduro government continued to rally substantial popular demonstrations and signed a peaceful coexistence agreement with some moderate opposition parties in September.

Despite attempts by Washington to incite ruptures within the Venezuelan security forces, the “civic-military union” built by Chavez and continued under Maduro held firm, and the ranks of the militias continue to grow. And despite heavy lobbying by the Trump administration, Venezuela was voted onto the UN Human Rights Council on October 27.

In a bid to compensate for the diminished stature of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group,  on December 3, Colombia convened a summit for the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) against Venezuela, to ratchet up sanctions even further and keep the military option on the table. By the end of 2019, even the Wall Street Journal conceded, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, once thought ripe for ouster, looks firmly in place.”

In Washington, North American solidarity activists defended the Venezuelan embassy from being taken over by Guaidó collaborators (April – May 2019). With the permission of the Venezuelan government and pursuant to international law, the Embassy Protectors held out for 37 days until expelled by the Secret Service. The four last defenders – Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, David Paul – will go to trial, facing possible stiff penalties. On October 25, journalist Max Blumenthal was also arrested and charged (subsequently dropped), as the US government cracks down on dissent both at home and abroad.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model leads the world in extra-judicial killings of journalists, union leaders, and environmentalists. Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine.

A 2016 peace agreement saw the guerrilla FARC lay down their arms, but the government has honored the agreement mainly in the breach. Death squad activity continued in 2019, targeting former FARC militants. A faction of the FARC returned to the guerrilla path.

In a sign of growing disaffection with the hardline right-wing influence of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his protégé and current President Iván Duque, the far right suffered significant losses in the October regional and municipal elections. Left-leaning Claudia López became the first woman and first lesbian to be mayor of the capital city of Bogotá. By year-end, Colombia experienced massive general strikes opposed to government austerity policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia. Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of this largely indigenous country. Under the 14 years of his Movement for Socialism party (MAS), Bolivia had the highest economic growth rate and the greatest poverty reduction in the Western Hemisphere. Bolivia became a world champion for indigenous and poor people, aligning with the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Morales was fairly re-elected president on October 20. Because the US-backed candidate lost, the US called his election “fraudulent.” A compliant Organization of American States (OAS) disseminated misleading information on the validity of the election. Thus, the stage was set for the November 10 coup, when Morales was forced to “resign” by the military.

Thirteen US members of Congress sent a “dear colleague” letter condemning the “Administration’s support for [the] military-backed regime and silence on violent repression [which] contributes to spiraling crisis.” This letter stands in stark contrast to the close association of key figures behind the coup with allies in Washington, the OAS Secretary General’s embrace of coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho, and the endorsement of the coup by the right-wing neighbors. President Trump “applauded” the Bolivian military despite its well documented systematic  violations of human rights.

The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Áñez smeared indigenous communities as “satanic” in tweets, later deleted. Morales is now in exile, and the indigenous and other poor continue to protest in the face of lethal, racist repression.  At this writing, Morales, the MAS, and most of the popular sectors have agreed to new elections but efforts are underway by backers of the de facto government to disqualify the MAS from participating in an eventual election.

Ecuador. Speaking of reversals, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno took the prize. Moreno had served as vice president in a previous leftist government headed by Rafael Correa, who had campaigned for Moreno. Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Moreno inexplicably and unexpectedly betrayed the platform, the voters, and the party that put him in office. He jailed his vice president and later other leaders of his former party and put out an arrest warrant for Correa, who is now in exile. On April 11, Moreno handed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had been in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to the British police.

Moreno withdrew Ecuador from ALBA, the leftist regional organization of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and some Caribbean nations. Last January, he recognized the US puppet Guaidó as president of Venezuela. By mid-year, Moreno gave the US an airbase on the Galápagos.

Moreno forgave some $4.5 billion in fines and debt by major corporations and oligarchs and then papered it over by an IMF loan. With the loan came austerity measures, el paquetazo, including removing fuel subsidies. The mass protest of the dispossessed, led by the indigenous CONAIE organization, was so overwhelming that Moreno was temporarily forced to flee the capital city of Quito and rescind some elements of the paquetazo. Moreno continues to push IMF stipulated austerity measures, while repressing his former party’s elected representatives.

Peru is in crisis, wracked with corruption scandals. In April 2019, former President Alan García shot himself as the police were preparing to arrest him for corruption, while fellow former President Alberto Fujimori is in jail on corruption accusations and human rights violations.  Former President Alejandro Toledo also faces corruption accusations and is fighting against extradition from the US. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the last directly elected president of Peru. Formerly a US citizen and an IMF and World Bank official, he was forced to resign for corruption in March 2018 shortly before he was slated to host a meeting of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group to expose Venezuela for corruption.

Ever since, the presidency of Peru has been disputed. The current moderate-right President Martín Vízcarra dissolved the congress; the congress controlled by the far-right Keiko Fujimori (free after a year in detention for corruption) impeached the executive, although Vízcarra recovered the presidency. In the context of this dog fight among the elites have been massive anti-corruption mobilizations from below.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. New Year 2019 marked the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. The election of hard-right Bolsonaro – called the “Trump of Brazil” by friends and foes alike – was a major reversal from the previous left-leaning Workers Party governments.

Brazil has by far the biggest economy in Latin America and the eighth in the world and is part of the BRICS bloc including Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With a sycophant of Trump heading Brazil, both hemispheric and world geopolitics suffer the loss of a countervailing element to US hegemony. Brazil voted with the US and Israel for continuing the US blockade on Cuba and against 187 other UN members.

Former left-leaning President Lula da Silva would have easily beaten Bolsonaro, if the polls were any indication, but corrupt judge Sergio Moro sent Lula to prison on evidenceless charges. The judge was rewarded by ironically being made minister of justice in the new Bolsonaro government. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s left-leaning successor as president of Brazil, had been deposed on a technicality by the right-leaning congress in what amounted to a parliamentary coup in 2016.

An international campaign to free Lula finally succeeded in November, but far too late for him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula is free and fighting now, but could be incarcerated again.

Bolsonaro went about dismantling social welfare measures, firing government workers, and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned. Predictably the popular sectors arose leading to an uncertain political situation in Brazil.

Chile. The Chilean people launched a general strike against austerity with slogans such as “neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die here.” Reacting to the “privatization of everything,” the uprising this fall has been truly from the grassroots with the established political parties sprinting to catch up with the popular revolt of the dispossessed.

Over a million protestors have taken to the streets in a country with a population of only 19 million. Many have remained there for weeks despite severe repression by the state, leaving numerous killed by live ammunition and rubber bullets. According to official state data, more than 8,000  have been jailed, almost 3,000 injured, and over 200 suffered ocular damage. Hundreds of  lawsuits for police brutality have been filed, including sexual abuses. The right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera suspended some constitutional rights, declaring a “state of emergency” in a country still under the constitution created by the dictator Pinochet.

Argentina. After right-wing President Mauricio Macri imposed textbook perfect neoliberal economic reforms, the Argentine economy spectacularly and predictably failed with rampant inflation, food shortages, currency free-fall, and capital flight. Even the middle class protested in the streets in enormous uprisings of the dispossessed.

On October 27, the center-left ticket of Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Fernández as VP won and announced Argentina will leave the regional anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They will also have to deal with Macri’s record breaking $50.1 billion IMF loan, saddling the people with austerity measures in a country that is broke and again at the edge of default.

Uruguay. The ruling left-center Frente Amplio’s candidate, Daniel Martínez, won in the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on October 27, but by a too narrow margin to avoid a runoff election. He faced a united right-wing in the November 24 runoff against Luis Lacalle Pou, which ended his party’s 15-year rule.

The Caribbean

Cuba. The US embargo of Cuba, initiated  by US President Kennedy and now a blockade (el bloqueo), along with covert regime-change operations and occupation of Guantánamo have continued in an unbroken policy of aggression through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Most recently Trump resurrected Title III of the Clinton-era Helms-Burton Act to intensify the blockade. The Cuban people show no sign of capitulating.

Cubans welcomed a new president, as Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro. On April 10, they ratified a new constitution, after an extensive consultative process, engaging some 9 million people, 780,000 suggestions, 9,600 proposals, and 133,000 citizen meetings.

Puerto Rico and Cuba were the spoils of the first imperialist war, the 1898 Spanish-American War. Unlike free Cuba, Puerto Rico is still a neglected colonial possession of the US. And that political fact has never been clearer with Puerto Rico still not fully recovered from Hurricane María and still not governing itself to solve its own problems.

Puerto Rico experienced mass protests and a general strike in 2019. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló was forced to resign on July 22. Puerto Rican liberation hero Oscar López Rivera observed: “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.”

Haiti. After the harsh 29-year US-backed Duvalier dictatorships and the subsequent “military transition,” a brief flourishing of democracy ended in Haiti when the US brazenly kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him into exile in 2004. Since then, a series of dubiously elected presidents – some literally installed and all propped up by the US – have produced human rights and social welfare conditions worse than under the dictatorships.

Billions in relief after the 2010 earthquake and in Petrocaribe funds from Venezuela have largely “disappeared” into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In response, the ever-restive Haitian populace has yet intensified the uprising of the dispossessed throughout the country. The newly formed Patriotic Forum united 62 social movements, who call not only for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, but a complete dismantling of the “system of exclusion” and for a new republic of justice, transparency, and participation. They demanded chavire chodyè a (overturn the cauldron).

Central America and Mexico

Honduras. The designation of Honduras as a narco-state is supported by the October 18  conviction in US federal court of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) brother Tony for cocaine smuggling.  JOH, the latest of a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup, is identified as co-conspirator by the prosecutors. Testimony in the US court revealed that the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo gave JOH $1 million to help him rig the presidential election in 2013.

The US continued to prop up the tottering JOH regime staggering in the face of huge waves of popular protests including a prolonged national strike this summer. And those not opposing the government in the streets headed for asylum in the US, fleeing from gang violence and government malfeasance.

Guatemala. Right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales became president of Guatemala in August. In response to the revolt of dispossessed against his neoliberal rule, he declared a state of siege in five departments. Tens of thousands marched on Guatemala City, including the indigenous Xinkas, while many more Guatemalans fled the violence and everyday oppression seeking asylum at the US border.

The wounds of the US-backed genocidal dirty war of the 1980s against the largely indigenous population, taking some 200,000 lives, have not been healed but continue to be reinforced by harsh neoliberal measures and a regime of impunity fueling the exodus to the north. While lamenting the plight of these migrants, the corporate press in the US failed to recognize the made-in-America causes of their evacuation.

El Salvador. Likewise, El Salvador, another former victim of the US-backed dirty wars, added to the stream of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants seeking asylum in the US from the conditions created in large part by the country of their intended refuge.

Businessman Nayib Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party and now turned right, was elected under the banner of the right-wing GANA party. He assumed the presidency on June 1, replacing Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the FMLN. Bukele has fallen in line with Washington’s drive to curtail emigration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and has reversed his nation’s foreign policy to accord with the Lima Group’s drive for regime change in Venezuela.

Nicaragua. 2019 was a year of hopeful recovery in Nicaragua, healing from successfully repulsing a US-backed coup the previous year. The domestic perpetrators were granted amnesty by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and social welfare indices were again on the ascent. Although the poorest country in Central America, Nicaraguans were for the most part not fleeing for the US but were rebuilding their homeland.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin American and the eleventh in the world. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed the presidency last December and his new MORENA party swept local and regional offices with the expectation that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices would be addressed. AMLO dissented from the anti-Venezuelan Lima Group and instituted a series of progressive domestic reforms.

Trump forced AMLO to contain the Central American immigrants massing on the US southern border or face tariff increases and other measures that would wreck the Mexican economy. As nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

A New Year’s message

2019 has not been an entirely bullish year for US imperialism, notwithstanding the hard turns to the right in Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  Powerful winds against neoliberalism are gusting in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico. Regime-change operations failed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. US-preferred candidates suffered losses in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia (later reversed by a coup). And the hegemon is challenged in its own “backyard” by the increased influence of Russia and especially China, now the second largest trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recently Cuban President Díaz-Canel addressed the 120-state Non-aligned Movement (a third of which are sanctioned by Washington) with this perceptive thought for a multi-polar world: “There are more of us. Let us do more.”

Operation Condor 2.0 Expanded

According to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the US will help “legitimate governments” in Latin America, in order to prevent protests from “morphing into riots”.

From what we are seeing this “legitimization” may be expanded to rest of the world. Because Washington-instigated destabilizing unrest goes on throughout the world. We may as well call it “Operation Condor 2.0 – Expanded”. It promises to become devastating, oppressive and murderous on all Continents. A transformation from whatever ‘freedom’ may have existed to neoliberal dictatorships bending towards neofascism.

The original “Operation Condor” was a campaign by the United States to bring ‘order’ into her backyard; i.e., Latin America. In other words, it was a repressive move that started in 1968 and concluded around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are talking about more than 20 years of right-wing repression especially, but not exclusively directed, on the Southern Cone of South America.

It included such military dictators like Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina. He came to power in 1976 by a US supported military coup, deposing Isabel Martinez de Perón. Comandante Videla stayed in power during five years until 1981, a period in which he brutally oppressed Argentinians, especially the opposition. It is reported that during this period more than 30,000 people ‘disappeared’ – never to return. They were tortured and killed. Some of the dissidents were dropped from helicopters into the Rio de Plata.

Another, better known dictator was Augusto Pinochet, who was directly helped by the CIA and then President Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger – to overturn the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a bloody coup on 11 September 1973. Pinochet introduced as a first in Latin America neoliberal economics through a group of economists from the Economic School of Chicago, the so-called “Chicago Boys”. The resulting austerity brought extreme poverty and famine to Chileans. The ensuing 17 years were a horror, with over 40,000 people ‘disappeared’ or outright murdered.

Other countries that went through one or several “Operation Condor” cleansings, included Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and possibly others. It was a despicable and deadly period for Latin America. In all, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed and some 400,00 taken as political prisoners.

Secretary Pompeo’s words could not be clearer. He added that protests in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador reflect the “character of legitimate democratic governments and democratic expression. We’ll work with legitimate governments to prevent protests from morphing into riots and violence that don’t reflect the democratic will of the people.”

Not to forget any invented villains, he added, the US will “continue to support countries trying to prevent Cuba and Venezuela from hijacking those protests.” He went on and accused Russia of “malign” influence in Latin America and of “propping up” the democratically elected Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro.

Such remarks come after the US-led November 10 military coup in Bolivia. Amazing that nobody dares stand up and answer him. Are all afraid?

And this especially in the light of having in Bolivia now an opposition dictator, the self-declared interim President (much like Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó),Jeanine Añez, who acts with impunity following fascists and racist orders from Washington – indiscriminately killing her own country-women and men – who happen to be indigenous people. Although she promised new elections, Añez has not set a date, but rather is undoing almost everything Evo Morales has achieved for the people of Bolivia, by privatizing public assets and services, as well as abolishing social safety nets by decree.

Pompeo concluded by saying there remains an “awful lot of work to do” in the region, meaning Latin America as the US’s “back yard.” He also warned against “predatory Chinese activities” in the region, which he claimed can lead countries to make deals that “seem attractive” but are “bad” for citizens.

The new repression that we see in Latin America is not homogenous. In Chile at the surface it looks like the protests started over a metro-fare hike of the equivalent of 4 cents (US-dollar cents) – and then expanded violently to oppose political and economic injustice in Chile, directed against Chile’s neoliberal President, Sebastian Piñera. In Bolivia protests are against an US-induced military coup; in Ecuador they are directed against an austerity-inflicting IMF loan, in Colombia, they appeared suddenly against the corruption and injustice of the Iván Duque presidency; and in Brazil, against the neofascist austerity reforms by Jair Bolsonaro. Copy cats? What’s good for our neighbors, is good for us? – I don’t think so.

It looks much more like a concerted effort by the US to enhance and bolster protests from whatever side they come, to be able to install fully repressive governments, of course, with the help of the US and her secret services – funded by the usual NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and other NGOs that would help install within the respective governments strong 5th Columns, so as to detect early warning signals and crackdown in time on any opposition.

“Operation Condor 2.0 Expanded” – Expanded refers to similar violent protests going on in other parts of the world – practically simultaneously. Take Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and now France.  No matter from which side they come repression and state of siege, if necessary, are of the order – total repression, that is. All with the help of the US – and, not to forget NATO. This is certainly a key justification to keep NATO alive — to avoid opposition to spread and to risk abolishing the faltering US hegemony.

We are, indeed, in the midst of a new “Operation Condor”; or “Operation Condor 2.0 – Expanded”. Full repression worldwide. In preparation of the next planned global recession, planned by the US-led western banking and financial sector, a recession that will likely outdo whatever we have known in the recent past, and make the 2008 /09 downfall look like a walk in the park. The repression now, it is hoped, will prevent people from going on the barricades when they suffer the next cut in salaries, pensions and other social services, already at an unlivable level.  Authoritarianism and tyranny must be efficient and total with a para-military police, enhanced by the armed forces, if necessary. It’s going to be another transfer of assets and social capital from the bottom to the top.

This has been sensed perhaps intuitively by the French – who have been protesting in the form of Yellow Vests against Macron’s regime for more than a year – and now in the form of a CGT- syndicate organized open-ended general strike. Repression is massive – an estimated 1.5 million people in the streets of the major French cities, all public transportation disrupted. There have even been rumors that the police forces may also join the strike, because they realize they are part of the oppressed and abused by Macron’s neoliberal austerity policies. This is reflected by the four times higher suicide rates among police officers, as compared to the average French.

China and Russia beware. The rogue nation and bulldozer won’t stop necessarily in front of your borders. To the contrary, they may seek any entry they can get – as they are already doing in China with Hong Kong, not letting go despite the various concessions already made by HK’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, supported by Beijing; and also in the autonomous Region of Xinjiang, with the mostly Muslim Uyghur people, many of whom are being recruited  by the CIA across the border from Afghanistan, trained and funded to cause destabilizing unrest.

In view of all of this, President Putin’s recent overture to Israel, especially to PM Netanyahu, is worrisome. Netanyahu is by all accounts part of the repressive wave engulfing our Mother Earth, and, in addition, with his cruel policies against Palestine, he may be considered a mass-murderer.