Category Archives: El Salvador

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America.

In fact, no other country is as accountable as the United States for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.

So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, both media outlets are working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?

In recent years, state and gang violence – coupled with extreme poverty – have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries, in Central and South America.

US mainstream media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.

Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by President Donald Trump, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists, who pose a threat to US national security.

At a press conference last October, Trump urged a reporter to take his camera into ”the middle” of a caravan of migrants on the treacherous journey through Mexico, to locate ”Middle Eastern” people that have infiltrated the crowd. In Trump’s thinking, ‘Middle Eastern people’ is synonymous with terrorists.

CNN has, on the other hand, labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant official and media sentiments that have plagued the US, a discourse that is constantly prodded and manipulated by Trump and his supporters.

However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.

The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country.

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.

Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in varied degrees, outcomes of military interventions, a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invaded these once stable and sovereign homelands.

Trump has often referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan as an ‘invasion’.  Fox News parroted that claim, and injected the possibility of having the refugees shot upon arrival.

If Fox News lacked the decency to treat refugees as human beings deserving of sympathy and respect, CNN lacked the courage to expand the discussion beyond Trump’s horrid language and inhumane policies.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but by Bill Clinton and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Media grandstanding aside, both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Millions of people – who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups – were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during the Bush terms, 2.5 million were deported under Obama.

A terrible situation was exacerbated. Violence and want flared even more.

To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to build a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the US immigration law.

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy, stretching decades.

But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they, too, were duly blamed for their hardship.

Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, starting with the CIA-engineered coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between these dates.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as early as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘right’ of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.

Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too.

But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm.

This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

The American Dance of Life: A Handful of Unrelated but Connected Notes on the U.S. and War

Diego Rivera’s painting at the beginning of this article is called “Gloriosa victoria” (“Glorious Victory”) and was done by him in 1954 as a protest against the U.S. overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected government that same year. At the painting’s center, U.S. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles shakes hands with the new (Washington-approved) president of Guatemala while behind them other U.S. officials hand out money to Guatemalan soldiers.

This past Memorial Day, one vet who wasn’t honored by anyone but me was my Uncle Adam on my dad’s side. He died only a few years ago, my last older relative. A civilian for god knows how many decades, he was still a corporal at heart. And he had the mouth to prove it. If there was a version of Scrabble for only four-letter words, he would’ve never lost a game.

But the important thing is this. If you’re a vet like he was, when you die the government suddenly appears out of nowhere to describe your death as the passing-on of an American hero, all past crimes absolved. The VA may have scorned your claim that your cancer resulted from your tour of duty at Area 9 of the Nevada Atomic Test Site, or it may have turned a blind eye to the symptoms you suffered after your exposure to napalm in Vietnam, or it may have been aggravated by your claim that you returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, but once you’re dead everything’s forgotten and the White House bellows —

This man’s a hero!

You see, that’s how it happens. They bury you as a hero to hide the fact that when alive they treated you like shit.

*****

One event from almost thirty years ago left an indelible impression on me. It illustrated for me how society as a whole, including every institution and product and entertainment that’s part of it, increasingly becomes a mass-delivery device for saturating us with the propaganda necessary for keeping us synced to what’s psychologically required of us in order for the nation’s economic elites to retain power — and grow wealthier. Just think of how often we buy a tee-shirt emblazoned with the name of the company which manufactured it. This shows how the U.S. economic (and cultural) system has conditioned us to do what would have been considered impossible years ago: to fork up our hard-earned cash for the “privilege” of advertising a manufacturer’s product with no cost to the company! We’ve turned ourselves into walking billboards for corporate America’s further enrichment.

But that’s only the small-fry stuff.

On Super Bowl Sunday 1991, while Frank Gifford and his colleagues announced the game on ABC, their play-by-play commentary was spliced with live war-updates from the network’s then-top newscaster, Peter Jennings.  After a while, it was impossible for the viewing audience to tell which was the main attraction: the game or the war. But in reality, the question was irrelevant. The truth was that ABC had created a new kind of event, a hybrid form of activity which switched effortlessly back and forth between the “pastime” of real blood being spilled in a real war and another pastime, the football game’s highly disciplined athletic violence. An amazing simultaneity had been achieved: the crowd’s roar was like a split-personality screaming in 2 voices at once — one voice cheered on Baghdad’s obliteration, the other shouted for running back Otis Anderson as he plunged off-tackle toward MVP immortality.

This display of athletics and patriotism was reinforced by a Disney-influenced halftime show that featured a blond child, surrounded by a chorus of other kids, singing, “You are my hero, you are everything I want to be” in honor of US service people in the Gulf. As the boy’s sweetly warbled song turned the Florida air into an oozing goo of patriotic emotion, upbeat images of US military personnel periodically flashed on the TV. All this activity soon led to a special message, projected on the stadium’s giant screen as well as on televisions across the nation, from President Bush. In his message, the president extolled the virtues of fighting a war in which goodness (i.e., the US) would triumph over evil (i.e., Iraq). As halftime ended and the 2 teams prepared to resume their battle on the field, fans waved flags and a patriotic jolt better than any crack high swept through the stadium crowd and the nation’s millions of TV viewers.  When the kickoff occurred, somewhere in the Middle East an Iraqi target was undoubtedly leveled, detonated by a high-tech US weapon. The crowd cheered.

In the midst of such patriotism-infused cultural events, with people who are ready to kill for their country bonding everywhere in a euphoria of nation-love, it’s difficult to be a nonconformist, which is why the idea of turning the whole of society into a sprawling propaganda machine appeals to the 1 percent.

Events like the 1991 Super Bowl raise politics to the level of pure spectacle.  Such events — with their efforts to induce a trance-like national pride, and their emphasis on the wholesomeness of the military mentality and the moral purity of those in power — are not confined solely to the US and are not without precedent in the past. An example of this is Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will, the German film that is a classic of Nazi propaganda and which includes many of the same elements that the 1991 Super Bowl/Gulf war extravaganza included. Riefenstahl’s film is alive, not with apparent hatred, but with the apparent power of goodness. Triumph is a feast of the images of such goodness: blond young men smiling and expressing male solidarity, buxom women working hard for the national good, a feel for the middle-European beauty of German cities and countryside, and a night-time political rally at Nuremberg which, with lit torches and an almost churchly atmosphere, seems, not like a mundane political event, but rather like a futuristic mass in honor of everything mysterious and noble in the galaxy. The film’s purpose was to create in the hearts of “good” Germans a sense of grand national destiny, a euphoric awareness of their historic mission to reorganize life on the planet in the name of a higher good that only they, among the world’s peoples, were capable of comprehending. Nazism’s deepest realities — racism, hatred of democracy, its belief in the usefulness of genocide — were hidden in the film behind images of happy nuclear families and individuals devoted to traditional values. In the end, of course, those romanticized traditional values killed 6 million Jews and millions of other people.

Just as Triumph obscured the details of Nazism’s character as a hate philosophy, so the 1991 Superbowl spectacle obscured the details of the US elite’s political/economic ambitions with regard to the middle east.  It also hid some of the war’s dirtier details — for instance, the US government’s willingness to expose its troops (and then to deny it did so) to chemical and biological weapons, and also the Pentagon’s policy of killing Iraqi civilians as a way of trying to force the population into removing Saddam Hussein from power. The burial of such details shouldn’t surprise us. Like Riefenstahl’s film, the purpose of the 1991 Superbowl spectacle was not to provide us with objective war-related information while the game was going on, but rather to manipulate people emotionally. Adopting techniques similar to the ones used in the pro-Nazi documentary, ABC and the White House employed wholesome-looking images for the purpose of instilling in the viewer a grandiose sense of national superiority. All of this is part of the language (words, symbols, images) of our American identity, our (theoretically) undeniable wholesomeness.

*****

None of us can escape it. It may be only a noise in the distance now, but it’s growing louder. As thousands of feet drum the ground, a procession of refugees, most of them from Central America, march toward the U.S.’s southern border.

These are the people who make up Trump’s hated “caravan.”

But it’s wrong to link the caravan issue only to Trump. Doing so not only misses the point, it trivializes the point to the brink of irrelevance.

The point is this: Why are they marching here? Is it simply because they’re jealous of U.S. wealth and want a piece of the pie? Or is it out of pure malice; do they get a sick thrill out of the idea of stealing U.S. citizens’ jobs?

It’s said that those in the know — the insiders with security clearances, the higher-ups, the experts — understand better than we do what’s going on in the world. The common wisdom assures us of that. Theoretically, it’s precisely such better understanding that has led the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security to increasingly resist immigration from the southern Americas. Similarly, it prompted Obama to deport more immigrants from Latin America than any president prior to him. It’s also why Trump, Obama’s successor, now talks in reverent tones about a Glorious Wall, which supposedly will protect us from Latin America’s unwanteds.

What, though, is this trend’s purpose? What do “those in the know” know that has persuaded them this is a good idea? What secret information do they possess that purportedly makes them better able to grasp this issue than we are?

Well, whatever it is, it can’t be so covered up that we can’t locate it. Why not? All that’s required of an efficient knowledge-hunter is a strong stubborn streak, a lot of digging in the dark, a talent for scavenging and a low tolerance for b.s.

From 1980–1992, El Salvador was torn by violence precipitated by its military-led government. Even with all the resources made available to it as the result of U.S. aid, the government couldn’t suppress popular dissent over its broken promises to increase economic equity and political democracy. One reason for the government’s difficulty was that in response to its previous acts of repression, by 1980 the most important left and progressive formations in the country had formed an umbrella organization, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), whose guerillas fought the elites’ armies.

As Washington looked on, the government it propped up resorted to even more violence to restore order. Although some of these incidents — like the rape and murder by El Salvadoran National Guardsmen of four churchwomen1 from the U.S. who were sympathetic to the rural poor and other oppressed sectors of the population  — caused outrage among American citizens, the White House persisted in its support of the regime. As Jeffery M. Paige wrote in an essay on the situation during that period, “It is clear that El Salvador would fall tomorrow without United States military aid.”2

But the U.S. wasn’t merely helping out with aid; it was, in fact, participating. One dimension of Washington’s commitment to assist the El Salvadoran government was to involve our own military in training Salvadoran units in counterinsurgency. The most prized of these units was the Atlacatl Battalion, which soon after its creation became well-known for its relentlessness throughout El Salvador.

Created in 1981, the battalion was a rapid-response unit which specialized in battling leftist guerrillas. Designed to be an exemplary fighting team, its purpose was broader than merely killing FMLN guerillas. It was also meant to be a sort of living advertisement for proving to folks in the U.S. “how American money and training could transform the Salvadoran army into a professional fighting force.”3

What “professional fighting force” meant in this instance was that the unit’s efficiency in the field entailed massacres and other forms of illegal violence (e.g., purposeful killing of noncombatants, etc.). However, since El Salvador’s rulers were willing to crush any left-leaning peasant, worker or student demands which might clash with its U.S. patron’s financial or other regional interests, Washington continued to consider the nation an ally. The U.S. remained unbudging in this relationship throughout the 1980s, regardless of what happened.

And a lot happened.

One of those things, a mass killing perpetrated by the Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, was detailed in the 1993 “Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador.” After invading the village, the battalion murdered everyone they found, after dividing them into groups. First, they slew the men, who were mostly agricultural laborers and farmers with meager landholdings, then the women, then the children. Although initial death totals were estimated to be in the 200-plus range, later searches of particular sites in the village — like Santa Catarinain church where eventually more than 135 bodies were found, almost all under age twelve — expanded the verified number too much higher, somewhere in the range of 794-1000.4

The Truth Commission also cited in its 319-page report many other incidents of war-crime-level brutality, including 118 civilians killed close to Lake Suchitlán, an area supposedly under rebel control, and the 1989 slaying of “six Jesuit priests, a cook, and her 16-year old daughter . . . at the Pastoral Centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador.”

Further, the UN reports that in total 75,000 El Salvadorans were killed during the 1980-1992 period, with 85 percent of the civilian deaths caused by “agents of the State, paramilitary groups allied to them, and the death squads,” with the FLMN causing only 5 percent.

As Michael J.  Hennelly’s essay “US Policy in EI Salvador” (1993) at the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) establishes, during this same period “the military and political role played by the US government was one of the most significant aspects of the Salvadoran war.” He reinforces this point by tabulating the dollar amounts spent by the U.S. on military trainers, specialized interrogation classes, military hardware, etc., plus “over $4 billion in assistance to help ensure the survival of the Salvadoran government”. Hennelly calculates that these expenditures amounted to “about one million dollars a day in US assistance” during the period.5

His final judgment is that the operation was well worth the investment.

The proof’s in the pudding, I guess. 75,000 people dead apparently isn’t a debit in his rose-colored-glasses account. Neither was the coincident destruction of much of the economic infrastructure upon which the poorer and working classes depended for survival. It’s all part of the game called Empire.

Now it’s years later. Some of the children born back then, adults now, are approaching us. They’re part of the caravan mentioned earlier, men and women plodding forward, babies crying, a ragged column winding northward. What drives them?

In many cases, as in El Salvador, the refugees are in flight from poverty and violence, residues of the harm done by U.S. policies to their nations. These policies, neocolonial/imperialist in nature, prioritized alliances with dictators while methodically retarding those nations’ independent political and economic development as part of a U.S. strategy for making sure no leftist reformers mobilized sufficient numbers of people to jeopardize U.S. plans for the area.

One more example of this U.S. approach is its operations in Guatemala, particularly in relation to that nation’s thirty-plus year civil war, which stretched from the 1960s into the 1990s.

In 1999 the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification released a report, Memory of Silence, on human rights violations and mass killings during the Guatemalan government’s repression of leftist anti-government forces. In the report’s Introduction, editor Daniel Rothenberg described the period as

a thirty-four year conflict forged by the Cold War, strongly influenced by U.S. foreign policy, and so severe that the commission determined that the state committed genocide against its own indigenous people.6

Regarding the genocide accusation, in 2013 the Guatemalan courts found General Ríos Montt, one of the dictators who led the government during the conflict, guilty of genocide against the Mayans, Guatemala’s indigenous people and the hardest hit of all the population sectors attacked by government forces and death squads. Although sentenced to 80 years in prison, his conviction was later overturned. He died in a helicopter crash before he could be retried.7

The question here is why, as documented by Memory of Silence, did the U.S. under the Reagan administration advise, train and provide international cover for Guatemalan units that killed over 100,000, mostly Mayan, people and disappeared countless others? Although Reagan was advised by the CIA of Guatemalan President Ríos Montt’s approval of such killings at the height of the death squads’ massacre spree in the early 1980s, Reagan nonetheless lauded Montt in a December 4,1982 statement following a meeting with him in Honduras. “I know,” Reagan pronounced, “that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment” whose “country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas.”8

The “brutal challenge” mentioned here by Reagan was a lie. As Memory of Silence points out, 93 percent of all deaths during the Guatemalan government’s war against its own people were perpetrated by Guatemala’s government-supported death squads, not by Reagan’s fantasy of an evil enemy’s brutality. The report also stressed that U.S. involvement in the conflict “had significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation.”

No wonder, given the amount of money we poured into the country. The quickest way to indicate the level of support given by the U.S. to the Guatemalan government in the latter part of the last century is to view a small slice of that assistance. From 1980-1986, U.S. aid to Guatemala grew from $11 million to $104 million9 But U.S. involvement in Guatemalan politics didn’t begin in the 1980s. It began long before.

Yet such is the power of our government’s culture of non-transparency that it is able to excommunicate such information from our nation’s official histories. Which is why historically the U.S. looks with distaste at serious investigative journalists and out-of-the-box analysts in the mold of Angela Davis, I.F. Stone, and Alexander Cockburn.

But even when buried information is unburied in the contemporary world, the media reburies it under so many pundit interpretations of what it supposedly means that the information is once again lost. What’s left afterward is society’s background noise: the ghostly echo of many simultaneous specialist monologues dissolved into a soup of endless chatter, not one detail of which makes sense anymore.

Given this context, it’s no surprise that as a nation we know so little today about Washington’s relationship with Guatemala. A relationship that also includes an issue not mentioned here yet: the CIA overthrow in 1954 of a democratically elected Guatemalan government led by President Jacobo Árbenz, an event believed by many to have precipitated decades of U.S.-provoked  death and ruination in the country.

Philip Rothenberg, Memory of Silence’s editor, described the overthrow and its aftermath this way: “In the mid-1950s, a successful ten-year democratic process that challenged the status quo was overthrown with support from the United States.” He then further states that from the coup onwards the U.S. exerted significant control “through overt and covert means” over Guatemalan politics for decades. This control includes the so-called civil war, which was actually a clash between a succession of U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictatorships and the people of their own country, people fighting to recapture some of the freedom and hope they’d experienced during the Árbenz period of leftist democratic reform. A period which we, the U.S., brought to a violent end.

The story of this violation of international law is one more tale that, if told in the U.S. in combination with the story of our intervention in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America, would help us to better understand the caravans of refugees which periodically march toward our southern border.

Whether we understand the reason for them coming or not, they keep coming. The reason for their coming is no surprise. It’s not because the caravans consist of rabid mobs foaming at the mouth to steal our livelihoods. It’s not because, as Carson Tucker suggested on Fox TV on July 17, 2018, that there’s a plan afoot for assimilating darker-skinned refugees from Latin America for the purpose of “changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.”

The caravans head here not for these reasons but for others. They migrate in significant part because over the decades U.S. policies have left (and often still leave) disaster in their wake: fractured economies, austerity budgets shaped by the IMF and World Bank, giant gulfs between poor and rich, and drug lords and street gangs filling the gaps left by corrupted political leadership.

Today, fleeing violence and poverty at home, many Central Americans head north to the U.S. This is irony in the form of the darkest black humor. In-flight for their lives, asylum-seekers quit homelands wrecked by U.S. neocolonialism, then migrate toward the U.S. in hope of a better future! Such is the life of the international poor under advanced capitalism. Constantly caught between a rock and a hard place, they must accept help even from those imperial outsiders responsible for much of the hardship they’ve suffered.

*****

I saw an interesting fellow last night in Philadelphia on the corner of Chestnut St. and 2nd Ave., only a block or so from the Indian restaurant where Suman (my wife) and I ate earlier.

He was one of those guys you can find in any city, a bearded character who knows how to attract a crowd with his shenanigans. Dressed cleanly, although, in faded loose-fitting clothes that looked like they’d been in and out of a thousand laundromats on the wrong side of the tracks over the years, he wore a kid’s party hat, the kind shaped like a cone and secured in place by a rubber band under the chin. Playing the buffoon, but nonetheless showing his smarts, he glanced merrily at his growing number of listeners. An artist of the nonstop soliloquy, complete with punchlines and melodramatic facial expressions, his oratory soared like an MC who never saw an audience he didn’t love. I couldn’t keep up with everything he said, but at one point he mentioned a neighborhood called Star-Spangled Estates, then a while later joked, “If you’re gonna pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you best buy a new pair of colorful Nike laces first, so when you get where you’re going they’ll know you’re the man!”

The crowd loved him. A marvel of streetsmart articulacy, he was on a roll. Later, as he brought his spiel to conclusion, he did a sort of bump-and-grind to punctuate his words, then twirled in a circle and suddenly stood still, holding his hands, palms upward, in the air, with a plastic statue of liberty on one palm and a toy automatic weapon on the other —

“Oh yeah, folks, let me teach you the American dance of life! Let me show you how to let it all hang loose!”

The swarm of onlookers, which had grown much larger by then, roared their approval for his performance. It was his appearance that made their hearts go out to him. For them, for all of us, he was the spitting image of an old Uncle Sam down on his luck.

The government must have fired him years ago, then outsourced his job to god knows where.

*****

Rather than expressing a truth, the phrase “The land of the free and home of the brave” impersonates a truth.

The phrase is a lure like the lure on a fishing line. We are meant to bite down on it in a gluttonous spasm of patriotic hunger, only to have a hook rip open the roof of our mouth, then anchor itself unbudgingly in the wound.

This is how we’re caught. How groupthink triumphs.

Revolting against such a reality makes sense. But to revolt doesn’t mean lecturing people about what they should do. It means working alongside people so we can learn together how to transform ourselves into a relentless mass force for a revolutionary reorganization of the nation and a reinvention of values.

The wars are everywhere. Wars at home. Imperial wars overseas. Our struggle may be complex, but our goals aren’t. We must fight injustice and inequity wherever we find them within the U.S., and stop exportation of violence, murder, and oppression to other lands. We don’t need reform, we need revolution.

  1. Haggerty, Richard A., ed. 1990. El Salvador: A Country Study. Library of Congress, Federal Research Division.
  2. Paige, Jeffery M. 1993. “Coffee and Power in El Salvador.” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 28, No. 3. 1993.
  3. Wilkinson, Tracy. “Notorious Salvadoran Battalion Is Disbanded: Military: U.S.-trained Atlacatl unit was famed for battle prowess but was also implicated in atrocities”, LA Times, December 9, 1992.
  4. Malkin, Elisabeth. 2016. “Survivors of Massacre.” The New York Times, May 16, 2016; Tawney, Joseph. 2018. “The Long-Game.” International Policy Digest, January 12, 2018.
  5. Hennelly, Michael J. 1993. “US Policy in EI Salvador.” Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).
  6. Rothenberg, David, ed. 2012. Memory of Silence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  7. Kinzer, Stephen. 2018. “Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemalan Dictator Convicted of Genocide, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, April 1, 2018.
  8. Reagan, Ronald. 1982. “Remarks in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Following a Meeting With President Jose Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala.” UC Santa Barbara: The American Presidency Project.
  9. Grandin, Greg. 2013. “Guatemalan Slaughter Was Part of Reagan’s Hard Line.” The New York Times, May 21, 2013.

The Millstone around Trump’s Neck?

This Bible passage (Matthew 18:1-6) is getting a lot of attention recently. Let me use the King James Version so beloved by evangelicals:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

This text has been used to criticize Trump’s grotesque child-abusing border policy by a range of Christian groups, pro- and anti-Trump and maybe some others. Anyway the passage occurred to me as I watched the news, and I’m not even Christian, just familiar from childhood with gospels. I can understand why it might have crossed a few million other minds simultaneously as this horror story unfolded.

Some of the most moving passages in the New Testament deal with the treatment of children. When the chief priests in the Temple in Jerusalem hear children cheering Jesus and complain, he cites Psalm 8:2 about how praise for the Lord comes out from the mouths of babes and sucklings (Matthew 21:16). In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus, in response to protests he is spending too much time with children, says famously, “Suffer the little children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Et cetera.

This is why Karl Marx told his daughter Eleanor (after, as she recounted, “patiently elucidating the story of the carpenter whom the rich men killed”): “We can forgive Christianity much because it taught us the worship of the child.” (Not once but often in her childhood, according to her account.) Marx was very pro-child.

In 1975 McGraw-Hill published a volume in its Karl Marx Library series entitled On Education, Women and Children. I don’t have it on hand and can’t readily cite it now but remember feeling impressed by Marx’s psychological insights about how children grow up.

Socialist societies, to the extent that societies deserving that designation have ever existed, have placed priority on the care of children. Certainly children’s housing, security, education, medical care. These efforts have been widely studied in this country and sometimes inspired “socialist” institutional changes. One could mention the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal assistance program begun during the New Deal in this country in 1935 (but ended during Bill Clinton’s tenure in 1996).

The International Year of the Child pronounced by UNESCO in 1979 led to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ten years later. (One must mention, however, that the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO last October—in protest of its bias against Israel, surprise, surprise—and the U.S. Congress has never ratified the Convention.)

In the U.S. groups like Focus on the Family depict themselves as protectors of children (or imagined children, including every human egg fertilized as we speak). One of the most horrible pieces of recent U.S. legislation is referred to as the “No Child Left Behind” act. Hillary Clinton ran twice as a mother—-so warmly maternal, did you notice?—who had told us it takes a village to raise a child.

The worship of the child, that is to say, passed from Christianity into Marxism and the socialist experiments that prompted in response global reforms. But in the 90s triumphant capitalism became crueler; most notably, the 1994 crime bill endorsed by Clinton virtually criminalized a generation of black youth. Still, there remained a thin veneer of humanitarianism. Clinton’s attorney general had the good sense to let Elian Gonzalez return to his dad in Cuba, for example, in 2000.

But now the world hears these reports and sees these images of the U.S.A. that had once said: “Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now the message is: You tired, poor people, hardly breathing after your 1000-mile trek, need to be detained as criminals, the children among you held separately and dispersed all over the country pending some possible reunion somewhere at some point, there being no guarantee parents won’t be deported while their children remain in confinement. That’s not as evil as stuff terrorists have done to children in Iraq and Syria. ICE is not ISIS. But it’s shockingly bad.

All of Latin America knows that Trump is a racist buffoon using anti-immigrant (especially anti-Hispanic immigrant) sentiment and the issue of the wall to maintain his appeal to his base. The “zero policy” is overwhelming supported by Republican Party voters.

But It’s one thing to inveigh against Mexican advantages within NAFTA or accuse Mexico of sending its rapists to the U.S. It’s one thing to insult leaders of neighboring nations. That’s just adults, acting childish.

It’s another to cruelly treat Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan families including those seeking asylum, ripping parents from their kids after their hazardous 1000-mile trek. It’s another thing to compound childhood trauma with more trauma, to show the state of the power to enforce obedience to its laws.

In a CIA study of world infant mortality rates, the U.S. stands at 170 out of 225—behind virtually all of Europe, and, of course, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong. It is tied with Serbia. Trump’s stand on Planned Parenthood promises no improvement.

How can you more alienate normal humanity than inflicting pain on children, wrenching them from their mother’s arms? There are several millstones around Trump’s neck, but this could be the one that drags him down.

More on “Keeping Families Together”

Good on everyone who rallied in such large numbers on behalf of keeping families together. I will generalize and break down the participants into three groups. The first was composed of folks who may have participated in their first protest and responded with genuine empathy and moral outrage regarding a transparently immoral situation. They are well-intentioned and believe the Federal government is not acting in ways commensurate with America’s highest ideals. For them, the blame largely lies with Trump but they’re not opposed to hearing more discussion on the subject.

A second group understood that public pressure must be sustained to force any meaningful change. They also grasp that this didn’t begin with Trump but with a long history of brutal bipartisan U.S. policy in Central America‘s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These three countries suffer the first, fourth and fifth highest homocide rates in the world. U.S action on behalf of empire stoked this desperate situation; this second group also refuses to exempt the Democrats for their complicity, including Obama’s horrific immigration policies. They know that in 2014, Hillary Clinton spoke in favor of deporting thousands of Central American migrant children, saying “We have to send a clear message that just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”

These participants largely connected the dots and know the history of U.S. officials breaking and destroying families both here and abroad from the very beginning. These folks might have read books like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States or Robert Jensen’s Citizens of the Empire. Further, they might have wondered, as did commentator Elizabeth Oram, that considering this past, “Where were the masses, outrage, the fury? Do we care about families or do we just want to make a partisan challenge to an embarrassing Republican?” In addition, the second group are right to worry there will be 24/7 efforts by DNC-level Democrats to coopt the movement and use it to protect incumbants and increase their seats in November.

Those in the third group might have a ”Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign, mouth the right phrases and take part in one-off, media-celebrated, “feel good,“ anti-Trump events. And not a few of them come across as self-righteous while keeping cognitive dissonance at bay. As Noam Chomsky observes, such people are “…deeply and deliberately apolitical in the sense they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decision making, or how to bring about change.”

I take no pleasure in saying it’s the latter who must “get woke“ from their moral amnesia if they’re serious about safeguarding children and families everywhere. It’s not too late but time is exceedingly short.

Shakespeare said it best

Much ado about nothing.

That’s the “Russian interference” in the 2016 American election.

A group of Russians operating from a building in St. Petersburg, we are told in a February 16 US government indictment, sent out tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings, etc. to gain support for Trump and hurt Clinton even though most of these messages did not even mention Trump or Clinton; and many were sent out before Trump was even a candidate.

The Russian-interference indictment is predicated, apparently, on the idea that the United States is a backward, Third-World, Banana Republic, easily manipulated.

If the Democrats think it’s so easy and so effective to sway voters in the United States why didn’t the party do better?

At times the indictment tells us that the online advertising campaign, led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency of Russia, was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election. The Russians supposedly wished to cause “divisiveness” in the American people, particularly around controversial issues such as immigration, politics, energy policy, climate change, and race. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry. “We must not allow them to succeed.”1

Imagine that – the American people, whom we all know are living in blissful harmony and fraternity without any noticeable anger or hatred, would become divided! Damn those Russkis!

After the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants “used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment also states that defendants in New York organized a demonstration designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, defendants and their co-conspirators, organized another rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President”.

Much of the indictment and the news reports of the past year are replete with such contradictions, lending credence to the suggestion that what actually lay behind the events was a “click-bait” scheme wherein certain individuals earned money based on the number of times a particular website is accessed. The mastermind behind this scheme is reported to be a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin of the above-named Internet Research Agency, which is named in the indictment.2

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Point 95 of the Indictment summarizes the “click-bait” scheme as follows:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

Although there’s no doubt that the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton, the whole “Russian influence” storm may be based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in US social networks.

Here’s some Real interference in election campaigns

[Slightly abridged version of chapter 18 in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; see it for notes]

Philippines, 1950s:

Flagrant manipulation by the CIA of the nation’s political life, featuring stage-managed elections with extensive disinformation campaigns, heavy financing of candidates, writing their speeches, drugging the drinks of one of the opponents of the CIA-supported candidate so he would appear incoherent; plotting the assassination of another candidate. The oblivious New York Times declared that “It is not without reason that the Philippines has been called “democracy’s showcase in Asia”.

Italy, 1948-1970s:

Multifarious campaigns to repeatedly sabotage the electoral chances of the Communist Party and ensure the election of the Christian Democrats, long-favored by Washington.

Lebanon, 1950s:

The CIA provided funds to support the campaigns of President Camille Chamoun and selected parliamentary candidates; other funds were targeted against candidates who had shown less than total enchantment with US interference in Lebanese politics.

Indonesia, 1955:

A million dollars were dispensed by the CIA to a centrist coalition’s electoral campaign in a bid to cut into the support for President Sukarno’s party and the Indonesian Communist Party.

Vietnam, 1955:

The US was instrumental in South Vietnam canceling the elections scheduled to unify North and South because of the certainty that the North Vietnamese communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would easily win.

British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:

For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to prevent Cheddi Jagan – three times the democratically elected leader – from occupying his office. Using a wide variety of tactics – from general strikes and disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms – the US and Britain forced Jagan out of office twice during this period.

Japan, 1958-1970s:

The CIA emptied the US treasury of millions to finance the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections, “on a seat-by-seat basis”, while doing what it could to weaken and undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party. The 1961-63 edition of the State Department’s annual Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1996, includes an unprecedented disclaimer that, because of material left out, a committee of distinguished historians thinks “this published compilation does not constitute a ‘thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’” as required by law. The deleted material involved US actions from 1958-1960 in Japan, according to the State Department’s historian.

Nepal, 1959:

By the CIA’s own admission, it carried out an unspecified “covert action” on behalf of B.P. Koirala to help his Nepali Congress Party win the national parliamentary election. It was Nepal’s first national election ever, and the CIA was there to initiate them into the wonderful workings of democracy.

Laos, 1960:

CIA agents stuffed ballot boxes to help a hand-picked strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, set up a pro-American government.

Brazil, 1962:

The CIA and the Agency for International Development expended millions of dollars in federal and state elections in support of candidates opposed to leftist President João Goulart, who won anyway.

Dominican Republic, 1962:

In October 1962, two months before election day, US Ambassador John Bartlow Martin got together with the candidates of the two major parties and handed them a written notice, in Spanish and English, which he had prepared. It read in part: “The loser in the forthcoming election will, as soon as the election result is known, publicly congratulate the winner, publicly recognize him as the President of all the Dominican people, and publicly call upon his own supporters to so recognize him. … Before taking office, the winner will offer Cabinet seats to members of the loser’s party. (They may decline).”

As matters turned out, the winner, Juan Bosch, was ousted in a military coup seven months later, a slap in the face of democracy which neither Martin nor any other American official did anything about.

Guatemala, 1963:

The US overthrew the regime of General Miguel Ydigoras because he was planning to step down in 1964, leaving the door open to an election; an election that Washington feared would be won by the former president, liberal reformer and critic of US foreign policy, Juan José Arévalo. Ydigoras’s replacement made no mention of elections.

Bolivia, 1966:

The CIA bestowed $600,000 upon President René Barrientos and lesser sums to several right-wing parties in a successful effort to influence the outcome of national elections. Gulf Oil contributed two hundred thousand more to Barrientos.

Chile, 1964-70:

Major US interventions into national elections in 1964 and 1970, and congressional elections in the intervening years. Socialist Salvador Allende fell victim in 1964, but won in 1970 despite a multimillion-dollar CIA operation against him. The Agency then orchestrated his downfall in a 1973 military coup.

Portugal, 1974-5:

In the years following the coup in 1974 by military officers who talked like socialists, the CIA revved up its propaganda machine while funneling many millions of dollars to support “moderate” candidates, in particular Mario Soares and his (so-called) Socialist Party. At the same time, the Agency enlisted social-democratic parties of Western Europe to provide further funds and support to Soares. It worked. The Socialist Party became the dominant power.

Australia, 1974-75:

Despite providing considerable support for the opposition, the United States failed to defeat the Labor Party, which was strongly against the US war in Vietnam and CIA meddling in Australia. The CIA then used “legal” methods to unseat the man who won the election, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Jamaica, 1976:

A CIA campaign to defeat social democrat Michael Manley’s bid for reelection, featuring disinformation, arms shipments, labor unrest, economic destabilization, financial support for the opposition, and attempts upon Manley’s life. Despite it all, he was victorious.

Panama, 1984, 1989:

In 1984, the CIA helped finance a highly questionable presidential electoral victory for one of Manuel Noriega’s men. The opposition cried “fraud”, but the new president was welcomed at the White House. By 1989, Noriega was no longer a Washington favorite, so the CIA provided more than $10 million dollars to his electoral opponents.

Nicaragua, 1984, 1990:

In 1984, the United States, trying to discredit the legitimacy of the Sandinista government’s scheduled election, covertly persuaded the leading opposition coalition to not take part. A few days before election day, some other rightist parties on the ballot revealed that US diplomats had been pressing them to drop out of the race as well. The CIA also tried to split the Sandinista leadership by placing phoney full-page ads in neighboring countries. But the Sandinistas won handily in a very fair election monitored by hundreds of international observers.

Six years later, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s specially created stand-in for the CIA, poured in millions of dollars to defeat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the February elections. NED helped organize the Nicaraguan opposition, UNO, building up the parties and organizations that formed and supported this coalition.

Perhaps most telling of all, the Nicaraguan people were made painfully aware that a victory by the Sandinistas would mean a continuation of the relentlessly devastating war being waged against them by Washington through their proxy army, the Contras.

Haiti, 1987-1988:

After the Duvalier dictatorship came to an end in 1986, the country prepared for its first free elections ever. However, Haiti’s main trade union leader declared that Washington was working to undermine the left. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”. Meanwhile, the CIA was involved in a range of support for selected candidates until the US Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the Agency to cease its covert electoral action.

Bulgaria, 1990-1991 and Albania, 1991-1992:

With no regard for the fragility of these nascent democracies, the US interfered broadly in their elections and orchestrated the ousting of their elected socialist governments.

Russia, 1996:

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the goal line. The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing, etc., and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. Before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favored by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent.

Mongolia, 1996:

The National Endowment for Democracy worked for several years with the opposition to the governing Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRR, the former Communists) who had won the 1992 election to achieve a very surprising electoral victory. In the six-year period leading up to the 1996 elections, NED spent close to a million dollars in a country with a population of some 2.5 million, the most significant result of which was to unite the opposition into a new coalition, the National Democratic Union. Borrowing from Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the NED drafted a “Contract With the Mongolian Voter”, which called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment. The MPRR had already instituted Western-style economic reforms, which had led to widespread poverty and wiped out much of the communist social safety net. But the new government promised to accelerate the reforms, including the privatization of housing. By 1998 it was reported that the US National Security Agency had set up electronic listening posts in Outer Mongolia to intercept Chinese army communications, and the Mongolian intelligence service was using nomads to gather intelligence in China itself.

Bosnia, 1998:

Effectively an American protectorate, with Carlos Westendorp – the Spanish diplomat appointed to enforce Washington’s offspring: the 1995 Dayton peace accords – as the colonial Governor-General. Before the September elections for a host of offices, Westendorp removed 14 Croatian candidates from the ballot because of alleged biased coverage aired in Bosnia by neighboring Croatia’s state television and politicking by ethnic Croat army soldiers. After the election, Westendorp fired the elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, accusing him of creating instability. In this scenario those who appeared to support what the US and other Western powers wished were called “moderates”, and allowed to run for and remain in office. Those who had other thoughts were labeled “hard-liners”, and ran the risk of a different fate. When Westendorp was chosen to assume this position of “high representative” in Bosnia in May 1997, The Guardian of London wrote that “The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, praised the choice. But some critics already fear that Mr. Westendorp will prove too lightweight and end up as a cipher in American hands.”

Nicaragua, 2001

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was once again a marked man. US State Department officials tried their best to publicly associate him with terrorism, including just after September 11 had taken place, and to shamelessly accuse Sandinista leaders of all manner of violations of human rights, civil rights, and democracy. The US ambassador literally campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolaños. A senior analyst in Nicaragua for Gallup, the international pollsters, was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.”

At the close of the campaign, Bolaños announced: “If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I’m not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism.”

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

Bolivia, 2002

The American bête noire here was Evo Morales, Amerindian, former member of Congress, socialist, running on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign. The US Ambassador declared: “The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism.” Following September 11, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then the ambassador and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia’s main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Morales’s opponent, Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

Slovakia, 2002

To defeat Vladimir Meciar, former prime minister, a man who did not share Washington’s weltanschauung about globalization, the US ambassador explicitly warned the Slovakian people that electing him would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. The US ambassador to NATO then arrived and issued his own warning. The National Endowment for Democracy was also on hand to influence the election. Meciar lost.

El Salvador, 2004

Washington’s target in this election was Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group. He said he would withdraw El Salvador’s 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

During a February visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, “it could mean a radical change” in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington’s attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, who mounted a scare campaign, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador declared that Washington’s policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN.

Afghanistan, 2004

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, went around putting great pressure on one candidate after another to withdraw from the presidential race so as to insure the victory for Washington’s man, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai in the October election. There was nothing particularly subtle about it. Khalilzad told each one what he wanted and then asked them what they needed. Karzai, a long-time resident in the United States, was described by the Washington Post as “a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill.”

“Our hearts have been broken because we thought we could have beaten Mr. Karzai if this had been a true election,” said Sayed Mustafa Sadat Ophyani, campaign manager for Younis Qanooni, Karzai’s leading rival. “But it is not. Mr. Khalilzad is putting a lot of pressure on us and does not allow us to fight a good election campaign.”.

None of the major candidates actually withdrew from the election, which Karzai won with about 56 percent of the votes.

The Cold War Forever

On March 7 British police said that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a city southwest of London. The police said that Skripal had been “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals, but rather by states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB Operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents in 2006, becoming the first victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Before he died, he spoke about the misdeeds of the Russian secret service and delivered public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady.

Because of this the Skripal poisoning looks like an open-and-shut case.

But hold on. Skripal was sent to Britain by the Russian government eight years ago in an exchange of spies. Why would they want to kill him now, and with Putin’s election coming up? And with the quadrennial football (soccer) World Cup coming up soon to be played in Russia. Moscow is very proud of this, publicizing it every day on their international television stations (RT in the US). A murder like this could surely put a serious damper on the Moscow festivities. Boris Johnson has already dropped a threat: “Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”3 It was totally predictable.

Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain by an assassination of an opposition figure?

So if Russia is not responsible for Skripal’s poisoning, who is? Well, I have an idea. I can’t give you the full name of the guilty party, but its initials are CIA. US-Russian Cold Wars produce unmitigated animosity. As but one example, the United States boycotted the Olympics that were held in the Soviet Union in 1980, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union then boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Ideology and Evolution

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently declared: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The New York Times is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”4 The man is correct as far as he goes. But there are two historical factors that enter into this discussion that he fails to consider:

    1. Socialism may well have surpassed capitalism as an anti-poverty program and engine of progress if the United States and other capitalist powers had not subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening capital imperialists.
    2. Evolution: Social and economic systems have evolved along with human beings. Humankind has roughly gone from slavery to feudalism to capitalism. There’s no reason to assume that this evolution has come to a grinding halt, particularly given the deep-seated needs of the world in the face of one overwhelming problem after another, most caused by putting profit before people.
  1. New York Times, February 16, 2018.
  2. Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme,” Moon of Alabama, February 17, 2018.
  3. The Independent (London), March 6, 2018.
  4. Huffington Post, February 27, 2018.

Toronto Maple Leafs go Full Military

Hey, Maple Leafs, be careful what traditions you honour.

On Saturday the Leafs are playing an outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. To mark the occasion the team created a jersey with the Royal Canadian Navy’s “Ready, Aye, Ready” motto on it. The website unveiling the sweaters includes a brief history of the RCN, and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan said the jerseys were designed to honour “the traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy” whose sailors “stand always ready to defend Canada and proudly safeguard its interests and values whether at home or abroad.”

Sounds all maple syrupy, but there are a couple of nagging questions: Whose “interests and values” are we talking about? Should we honour all their traditions?

For example, in 1917 the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay, saying the Canadian bank knew Tinoco was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” reports Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney in Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, “Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”

In 1932 RCN destroyers Skeena and Vancouver assisted a month-old military coup government that brutally suppressed a peasant and indigenous rebellion in El Salvador. London had informed Ottawa that a “communist” uprising was underway and there was a “possibility of danger to British Banks, railways and other British lives and property” as well as a Canadian-owned utility. Bolstered by the RCN’s presence, the military regime would commit “one of the worst massacres of civilians in the history of the Americas.”

In 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined US, British and French warships, reports Maloney, that “conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti’s] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government.” That mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Haiti did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later thousands of US troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the US invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.”

After dispatching three vessels during the First Iraq war in 1991 Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes on Iraq. In the months just before and after the second US-led invasion of Iraq at least ten Canadian naval vessels conducted maritime interdictions, force-support and force-projection operations in the Arabian Sea. Canadian frigates often accompanied US warships used as platforms for bombing raids in Iraq. A month before the commencement of the US invasion, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq.

In 2011 HMCS Charlottetown and Vancouver were dispatched to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. But, they allowed weapons, including from Canadian companies, to flow to anti-Gaddafi rebels. They also helped destroy Libyan government naval vessels.

Last summer HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg participated in “freedom of navigation” operations alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels responded by “shadowing” the Canadian vessels for 36 hours.

The honest truth is that the RCN is employed mostly to advance corporate and Western geostrategic interests, something many of us would prefer not to honour.

Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About the “Ecology of War”

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta is the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon. He specializes in: reconstructive surgery. What it means in this part of the world is clear: they bring you people from the war zones, torn to pieces, missing faces, burned beyond recognition, and you have to try to give them their life back.

Dr. Abu-Sitta is also a thinker. A Palestinian born in Kuwait, he studied and lived in the UK, and worked in various war zones of the Middle East, as well as in Asia, before accepting his present position at the AUB Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

We were brought together by peculiar circumstances. Several months ago I burned my foot on red-hot sand, in Southeast Asia. It was healing slowly, but it was healing. Until I went to Afghanistan where at one of the checkpoints in Herat I had to take my shoes off, and the wound got badly infected. Passing through London, I visited a hospital there, and was treated by one of Abu-Sitta’s former professors. When I said that among other places I work in Lebanon, he recommended that I visit one of his “best students who now works in Beirut”.

I did. During that time, a pan-Arab television channel, Al-Mayadeen, was broadcasting in English, with Arabic subtitles, a long two-part interview with me, about my latest political/revolutionary novel “Aurora” and about the state of the global south, and the upsurge of the Western imperialism. To my surprise, Dr. Abu-Sitta and his colleagues were following my work and political discourses. To these hardened surgeons, my foot ‘issue’ was just a tiny insignificant scratch. What mattered was the US attack against Syria, the Palestine, and the provocations against North Korea.

My ‘injury’ healed well, and Dr. Abu-Sitta and I became good friends. Unfortunately I have to leave Beirut for Southeast Asia, before a huge conference, which he and his colleagues are launching on the May 15, 2017, a conference on the “Ecology of War”.

I believe that the topic is thoroughly fascinating and essential for our humanity, even for its survival. It combines philosophy, medicine and science.

What happens to people in war zones? And what is a war zone, really? We arrived at some common conclusions, as both of us were working with the same topic but looking at it from two different angles: “The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in refugee camps, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.”

We talked a lot: about fear, which is engulfing countries like the UK, about the new wave of individualism and selfishness, which has its roots in frustration. At one point he said: “In most parts of the world “freedom” is synonymous with the independence struggle for our countries. In such places as the UK, it mainly means more individualism, selfishness and personal liberties.”

We talked about imperialism, medicine and the suffering of the Middle East.

Then we decided to publish this dialogue, shedding some light on the “Ecology of War” – this essential new discipline in both philosophy and medicine.

Ecology of War

(The discussion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, in Cafe Younes, on April 25, 2017)

Broken Social Contract In The Arab World, Even In Europe

GA-S: In the South, medicine and the provision of health were critical parts of the post-colonial state. And the post-colonial state built medical systems such as we had in Iraq, Egypt and in Syria as part of the social contract. They became an intrinsic part of the creation of those states. And it was a realization that the state has to exercise its power both coercively, (which we know the state is capable of exercising, by putting you in prison, and even exercising violence), but above all non-coercively: it needs to house you, educate you, and give you health, all of those things. And that non-coercive power that the states exercise is a critical part of the legitimizing process of the state. We saw it evolve in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So as a digression, if you want to look at how the state was dismantled: the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was not to weaken the Makhabarat or the army; the aim of the sanctions was to rob the Iraqi state of its non-coercive power; its ability to give life, to give education, and that’s why after 12 years, the state has totally collapsed internally – not because its coercive powers have weakened, but because it was robbed of all its non-coercive powers, of all its abilities to guarantee life to its citizens.

AV: So in a way the contract between the state and the people was broken.

GA-S: Absolutely! And you had that contract existing in the majority of post-colonialist states. With the introduction of the IMF and World Bank-led policies that viewed health and the provision of health as a business opportunity for the ruling elites and for corporations, and viewed free healthcare as a burden on the state, you began to have an erosion in certain countries like Egypt, like Jordan, of the non-coercive powers of the state, leading to the gradual weakening of its legitimacy. Once again, the aim of the IMF and World Bank was to turn health into a commodity, which could be sold back to people as a service; sold back to those who could afford it.

AV: So, the US model, but in much more brutal form, as the wages in most of those countries were incomparably lower.

GA-S: Absolutely! And the way you do that in these countries: you create a two-tier system where the government tier is so under-funded, that people choose to go to the private sector. And then in the private sector you basically have the flourishing of all aspects of private healthcare: from health insurance to provision of health care, to pharmaceuticals.

AV: Paradoxically this scenario is also taking place in the UK right now.

GA-S: We see it in the UK and we’ll see it in many other European countries. But it has already happened in this region, in the Arab world. Here, the provision of health was so critical to creation of the states. It was critical to the legitimacy of the state.

AV: The scenario has been extremely cynical: while the private health system was imposed on the Arab region and on many other parts of the world, in the West itself, except in the United States, medical care remains public and basically free. We are talking about state medical care in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

GA-S: Yes. In Europe as part of the welfare state that came out of the Second World War, the provision of healthcare was part of the social contract. As the welfare state with the advent of Thatcherism and Reagan-ism was being dismantled, it became important to undergo a similar process as elsewhere. The difference is that in the UK, and also in countries like Germany, it was politically very dangerous. It could lead to election losses. So the second plan was to erode the health system, by a thousand blows, kill it gradually. What you ended up in the UK is the piece-by-piece privatization of the health sector. And the people don’t know, they don’t notice that the system is becoming private. Or in Germany where actually the government does not pay for healthcare – the government subsidizes the insurance companies that profit from the private provision of healthcare.

AV: Before we began recording this discussion, we were speaking about the philosophical dilemmas that are now besieging or at least should be besieging the medical profession. Even the social medical care in Europe: isn’t it to some extent a cynical arrangement? European countries are now all part of the imperialist block, together with the United States, and they are all plundering the rest of the world – the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia – and they are actually subsidizing their social system from that plunder. That’s one thing. But also, the doctors and nurses working for instance in the UK or Germany are often ‘imported’ from much poorer countries, where they have often received free education. Instead of helping their own, needy people, they are actually now serving the ageing and by all international comparisons, unreasonably spoiled and demanding population in Europe, which often uses medical facilities as if they were some ‘social club’.

GA-S: I think what has happened, particularly in Europe, is that there is a gradual erosion of all aspects of the welfare state. Politically it was not yet possible to get rid of free healthcare. The problem that you can certainly see in the United Kingdom is that health is the final consequence of social and economic factors that people live in. So if you have chronic unemployment, second and third generation unemployment problem, these have health consequences. If you have the destruction of both pensions and the cushion of a social umbrella for the unemployed, that has consequences… Poor housing has health consequences. Mass unemployment has health consequences. Politically it was easy to get rid of all other aspects of the welfare state, but they were stuck with a healthcare problem. And so the losing battle that the health systems in the West are fighting is that they are being expected to cater to the poor consequences of the brutal capitalist system as a non-profit endeavor. But we know that once these lifestyle changes are affecting people’s health, it’s too late in terms of cure or prevention. And so what the European health systems do, they try to patch people and to get them out of the system and back on the street. So if you have children with chronic asthma, you treat the asthma but not the dump housing in which these children are living in. If you have violent assaults and trauma related to violence, you treat the trauma, the physical manifestation, and not the breakdown of youth unemployment, or racism that creates this. So in order to sustain this anomaly, as you said, you need an inflated health system, because you make people sick and then you try to fix them, rather than stopping them from being sick. Hence that brain drains that have basically happened, where you have more Ghanaian doctors in New York than you have in Ghana.

AV: And you have an entire army of Philippine nurses in the UK, while there is suddenly a shortage of qualified nurses in Manila.

GA-S: Absolutely! This is the result of the fact that actually people’s health ‘happens’ outside the health system. Because you cannot get rid of the health system, you end up having a bloated health system, and try to fix the ailments that are coming through the door.

Collapse Of The Health Care In The Middle East

AV: You worked in this entire region. You worked in Iraq, and in Gaza… both you and I worked in Shifa Hospital in Gaza… You worked in Southern Lebanon during the war. How brutal is the healthcare situation in the Middle East? How badly has been, for instance, the Iraqi peoples’ suffering, compared to Western patients? How cruel is the situation in Gaza?

GA-S: If you look at places like Iraq: Iraq in the 80’s probably had one of the most advanced health systems in the region. Then you went through the first war against Iraq, followed by 12 years of sanctions in which that health system was totally dismantled; not just in terms of hospitals and medication and the forced exile of doctors and health professionals, but also in terms of other aspects of health, which are the sewage and water and electricity plants, all of those parts of the infrastructure that directly impact on people’s lives.

AV: Then came depleted uranium…

GA-S: And then you add to the mix that 2003 War and then the complete destruction and dismantling of the state, and the migration of some 50% of Iraq’s doctors.

AV: Where did they migrate?

GA-S: Everywhere: to the Gulf and to the West; to North America, Europe… So what you have in Iraq is a system that is not only broken, but that has lost the components that are required to rebuild it. You can’t train a new generation of doctors in Iraq, because your trainers have all left the country. You can’t create a health system in Iraq, because you have created a government infrastructure that is intrinsically unstable and based on a multi-polarity of the centers of power which all are fighting for control of the pie of the state… and so Iraqis sub-contract their health at hospital level to India and to Turkey and Lebanon, or Jordan, because they are in this vicious loop.

AV: But this is only for those who can afford it?

GA-S: Yes, for those who can, but even in those times when the government had cash it could not build the system anymore. So it would sub-contract health provisions outside, because the system was so broken that money couldn’t fix it.

AV: Is it the same in other countries of the region?

GA-S: The same is happening in Libya and the same is happening in Syria, with regards of the migration of their doctors. Syria will undergo something similar to Iraq at the end of the war, if the Syrian state is destroyed.

AV: But it is still standing.

GA-S: It still stands and it is still providing healthcare to the overwhelming majority of the population even to those who live in the rebel-controlled areas. They are travelling to Damascus and other cities for their cardiac services or for their oncological services.

AV: So no questions asked; you are sick, you get treated?

GA-S: Even from the ISIS-controlled areas people can travel and get treated, because this is part of the job of the state.

AV: The same thing is happening with the education there; Syria still provides all basic services in that area.

GA-S: Absolutely! But in Libya, because the state has totally disappeared or has disintegrated, all this is gone.

AV: Libya is not even one country, anymore…

Intifada Gaza

GA-S: There is not a unified country and there is definitely no health system. In Gaza and the Palestine, the occupation and the siege, ensure that there is no normal development of the health system and in case of Gaza as the Israelis say “every few years you come and you mown the lawn”; you kill as many people in these brutal and intense wars, so you can ensure that the people for the next few years will be trying to survive the damage that you have caused.

AV: Is there any help from Israeli physicians?

GA-S: Oh yes! Very few individuals, but there is…

But the Israeli medical establishment is actually an intrinsic part of the Israeli establishment, and the Israeli academic medical establishment is also part of the Israeli establishment. And the Israeli Medical Association refused to condemn the fact that Israeli doctors examine Palestinian political prisoners for what they call “fitness for interrogation”. Which is basically… you get seen by a doctor who decides how much torture you can take before you die.

Gaza Shifa Hospital – wounded by Israeli soldiers

AV: This actually reminds me of what I was told in 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa, where I was invited to participate as a speaker at the International Conference of the Psychologists for Peace. Several US psychologists reported that during the interrogation and torture of alleged terrorists, there were professional psychologists and even clinical psychiatrists standing by, often assisting the interrogators.

GA-S: Yes, there are actually 2-3 well-known American psychologists who designed the CIA interrogation system – its process.

AV: What you have described that is happening in Palestine is apparently part of a very pervasive system. I was told in the Indian-controlled Kashmir that Israeli intelligence officers are sharing their methods of interrogation and torture with their Indian counterparts. And. of course, the US is involved there as well.

Conflict Medicine

GA-S: War surgery grew out of the Napoleonic Wars. During these wars, two armies met; they usually met at the frontline. They attacked each other, shot at each other or stabbed each other. Most of injured were combatants, and they got treated in military hospitals. You had an evolution of war surgery. What we have in this region, we believe, is that the intensity and the prolonged nature of these wars or these conflicts are not temporal-like battles, they don’t start and finish. And they are sufficiently prolonged that they change the biological ecology, the ecology in which people live. They create the ecology of war. That ecology maintains itself well beyond of what we know is the shooting, because they alter the living environment of people. The wounds are physical, psychological and social wounds; the environment is altered as to become hostile; both to the able-bodied and more hostile to the wounded. And as in the cases of these multi-drug-resistant organisms, which are now a big issue in the world like the multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 85% of Iraqi war wounded have multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 70% of Syrian war wounded have it…

So we say: this ecology, this bio-sphere that the conflicts create is even altered at the basic DNA of the bacteria. We have several theories about it; partly it’s the role of the heavy metals in modern ordnance, which can trigger mutation in these bacteria that makes them resistant to antibiotics. So your bio-sphere, your bubble, your ecological bubble in which you live in, is permanently changed. And it doesn’t disappear the day the bombs disappear. It has to be dismantled, and in order to dismantle it you have to understand the dynamics of the ecology of war. That’s why our program was set up at the university, which had basically been the major tertiary teaching center during the civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion. And then as the war in Iraq and Syria developed, we started to get patients from these countries and treat them here. We found out that we have to understand the dynamics of conflict medicine and to understand the ecology of war; how the physical, biological, psychological and social manifestations of war wounding happen, and how this ecology of war is created; everything from bacteria to the way water and the water cycle changes, to the toxic reminisce of war, to how people’s body reacts… Many of my Iraqi patients that I see have multiple members of their families injured.

AV: Is the AUB Medical Center now the pioneer in this research: the ecology of war?

GA-S: Yes, because of the legacy of the civil war… of regional wars.

AV: Nothing less than a regional perpetual conflict…

GA-S: Perpetual conflict, yes; first homegrown, and then regional. We are the referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Health, referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, so we act as a regional center, and the aim of our program is to dedicate more time and space and energy to the understanding of how this ecology of war comes about.

AV: In my writing and in my films, I often draw the parallel between the war and extreme poverty. I have been working in some of the worst slums on Earth, those in Africa, Central America and Caribbean, South Asia, the Philippines and elsewhere. I concluded that many societies that are in theory living in peace are in reality living in prolonged or even perpetual wars. Extreme misery is a form of war, although there is no ‘declaration of war’, and there is no defined frontline. I covered both countless wars and countless places of extreme misery, and the parallel, especially the physical, psychological and social impact on human beings, appears to be striking. Would you agree, based on your research? Do you see extreme misery as a type of war?

GA-S: Absolutely. Yes. At the core of it is the ‘dehumanization’ of people. Extreme poverty is a form of violence. The more extreme this poverty becomes, the closer it comes to the physical nature of violence. War is the accelerated degradation of people’s life to reaching that extreme poverty. But that extreme poverty can be reached by a more gradual process. War only gets them there faster.

AV: A perpetual state of extreme poverty is in a way similar to a perpetual state of conflict, of a war.

GA-S: Definitely. And it is a war mainly against those who are forced to live in these circumstances. It’s the war against the poor and the South. It’s the war against the poor in the inner-cities of the West.

AV: When you are defining the ecology of war, are you also taking what we are now discussing into consideration? Are you researching the impact of extreme poverty on human bodies and human lives? In this region, extreme poverty can often be found in the enormous refugee camps, while in other parts of the world it dwells in countless slums.

GA-S: This extreme poverty is part of the ecology that we are discussing. One of the constituents of the ecology is when you take a wounded body and you place it in a harsh physical environment and you see how this body is re-wounded and re-wounded again, and this harsh environment becomes a continuation of that battleground, because what you see is a process of re-wounding. Not because you are still in the frontline somewhere in Syria, but because your kids are now living in a tent with 8 other people and they are in danger of becoming the victims of the epidemic of child burns that we now have in the refugee camps, because of poor and unsafe housing.

Let’s look at it from a different angle: what constitutes a war wound, or a conflict-related injury? Your most basic conflict-related injury is a gunshot wound and a blast injury from shrapnel. But what happens when you take that wounded body and throw it into a tent? What are the complications for this wounded body living in a harsh environment; does this constitute a war-related injury? When you impoverish the population to the point that you have children suffering from the kind of injuries that we know are the results of poor and unsafe housing, is that a conflict-related injury? Or you have children now who have work-related injuries, because they have to go and become the main breadwinners for the home, working as car mechanics or porters or whatever. Or do you also consider a fact that if you come from a country where a given disease used to be treatable there, but due to the destruction of a health system, that ailment is not treatable anymore, because the hospitals are gone or because doctors had to leave, does that constitute a conflict-related injury? So, we have to look at the entire ecology: beyond a bullet and shrapnel – things that get headlines in the first 20 seconds.

AV: Your research seems to be relevant to most parts of the world.

GA-S: Absolutely. Because we know that these humanitarian crises only exist in the imagination of the media and the UN agencies. There are no crises.

AV: It is perpetual state, again.

GA-S: Exactly, it is perpetual. It does not stop. It is there all the time. Therefore there is no concept of ‘temporality of crises’, one thing we are arguing against. There is no referee who blows the whistle at the end of the crises. When the cameras go off, the media and then the world, decides that the crises are over. But you know that people in Laos, for instance, still have one of the highest amputation rates in the world.

AV: I know. I worked there in the Plain of Jars, which is an enormous minefield even to this day.

GA-S: Or Vietnam, with the greatest child facial deformities in the world as a result of Agent Orange.

AV: You worked in these countries.

GA-S: Yes.

AV: Me too; and I used to live in Vietnam. That entire region is still suffering from what used to be known as the “Secret War”. In Laos, the poverty is so rampant that people are forced to sell unexploded US bombs for scrap. They periodically explode. In Cambodia, even between Seam Reap and the Thai border, there are villages where people are still dying or losing limbs.

GA-S: Now many things depend on how we define them. It is often a game of words.

AV: India is a war zone, from Kashmir to the Northeast, Bihar and slums of Mumbai.

GA-S: If you take the crudest way of measuring conflict, which is the number of people killed by weapons, Guatemala and Salvador have now more people slaughtered than they had during the war. But because the nature in which violence is exhibited changed, because it doesn’t carry a political tag now, it is not discussed. But actually, it is by the same people against the same people.

AV: I wrote about and filmed in Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, on several occasions. The extreme violence there is a direct result of the conflict implanted, triggered by the West, particularly by the United States. The same could be said about such places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It has led to almost absolute social collapse.

GA-S: Yes, in Jamaica, the CIA played a great role in the 70’s.

AV: In that part of the world we are not talking just about poverty…

GA-S: No, no. We are talking AK-47’s!

AV: Exactly. Once I filmed in San Salvador, in a gangland… A friend, a local liberation theology priest kindly drove me around. We made two loops. The first loop was fine. On the second one they opened fire at our Land Cruiser, with some heavy stuff. The side of our car was full of bullet holes, and they blew two tires. We got away just on our rims. In the villages, maras simply come and plunder and rape. They take what they want. It is a war.

GA-S: ICRC, they train surgeons in these countries. So the ICRC introduced war surgery into the medical curriculum of the medical schools in Colombia and Honduras. Because effectively, these countries are in a war, so you have to train surgeons, so they know what to do when they receive 4-5 patients every day, with gunshot wounds.

Med Experiments in Haiti

AV: Let me tell you what I witnessed in Haiti, just to illustrate your point. Years ago I was working in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They say it is the most dangerous ‘neighborhood’ or slum on Earth. The local wisdom goes: “you can enter, but you will never leave alive”. I went there with a truck, with two armed guards, but they were so scared that they just abandoned me there, with my big cameras and everything, standing in the middle of the road. I continued working; I had no choice. At one point I saw a long line in front of some walled compound. I went in. What I was suddenly facing was thoroughly shocking: several local people on some wooden tables, blood everywhere, and numerous US military medics and doctors performing surgeries under the open sky. It was hot, flies and dirt everywhere… A man told me his wife had a huge tumor. Without even checking what it was, the medics put her on a table, gave her “local” and began removing the stuff. After the surgery was over, a husband and wife walked slowly to a bus stop and went home. A couple of kilometers from there I found a well-equipped and clean US medical facility, but only for US troops and staff. I asked the doctors what they were really doing in Haiti and they were quiet open about it; they replied: “we are training for combat scenario… This is as close to a war that we can get.” They were experimenting on human beings, of course; learning how to operate during the combat…

GA-S: So, the distinction is only in definitions.

AV: As a surgeon who has worked all over the Middle East but also in many other parts of the world, how would you compare the conflict here to the conflicts in Asia, the Great Lakes of Africa and elsewhere?

GA-S: In the Middle East, you still have people remembering when they had hospitals. Iraqis who come to my clinic remember the 80’s. They know that life was different and could have been different. And they are health-literate. The other issue is that in 2014 alone, some 30,000 Iraqis were injured. The numbers are astounding. We don’t have a grasp of the numbers in Libya, the amount of ethnic cleansing and killing that is happening in Libya. In terms of numbers, they are profound, but in terms of the effect, we are at the beginning of the phase of de-medicalization. So it wasn’t that these medical systems did not develop. They are being de-developed. They are going backwards.

AV: Are you blaming Western imperialism for the situation?

GA-S: If you look at the sanctions and what they did to their health system, of course! If you look at Libya, of course! The idea that these states disintegrated is a falsehood. We know what the dynamics of the sanctions were in Iraq, and what happened in Iraq after 2003. We know what happened in Libya.

AV: Or in Afghanistan…

GA-S: The first thing that the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or the Nicaraguan Contras were told to do was to attack the clinics. The Americans have always understood that you destroy the state by preventing it from providing these non-coercive powers that I spoke about.

Afghan kid – is he at peace?.

AV: Do you see this part of the world as the most effected, most damaged?

GA-S: At this moment and time certainly. And the statistics show it. I think around 60% of those dying from wars are killed in this region…

AV: And how do you define this region geographically?

GA-S: From Afghanistan to Mauritania. And that includes the Algerian-Mali border. The Libyan border… The catastrophe of the division of Sudan, what’s happening in South Sudan, what’s happening in Somalia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai Desert, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, even Pakistan including people who are killed there by drones…

AV: But then we also have around 10 million people who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 1995 Rwandan invasion…

GA-S: Now that is a little bit different. That is the ‘more advanced phase’: when you’ve completely taken away the state… In the Arab world Libya is the closest to that scenario. There the oil companies have taken over the country. The mining companies are occupying DRC. And they run the wars directly, rather than through the Western armies. You erode the state, completely, until it disappears and then the corporations, directly, as they did in the colonialist phase during the East Indian Company, and the Dutch companies, become the main players again.

AV: What is the goal of your research, the enormous project called the “Ecology of War”?

GA-S: One of the things that we insist on is this holistic approach. The compartmentalization is part of the censorship process. “You are a microbiologist then only look what is happening with the bacteria… You are an orthopedic surgeon, so you only have to look at the blast injuries, bombs, landmine injuries…” So that compartmentalization prevents bringing together people who are able to see the whole picture. Therefore we are insisting that this program also has social scientists, political scientists, anthropologists, microbiologists, surgeons… Otherwise we’d just see the small science. We are trying to put the sciences together to see the bigger picture. We try to put the pieces of puzzle together, and to see the bigger picture.

AV: And now you have a big conference. On the 15th of May…

GA-S: Now we have a big conference; basically the first congress that will look at all these aspects of conflict and health; from the surgical, to the reconstruction of damaged bodies, to the issues of medical resistance of bacteria, infectious diseases, to some absolutely basic issues. Like, before the war there were 30,000 kidney-failure patients in Yemen. Most dialysis patients are 2 weeks away from dying if they don’t get dialysis. So, there is a session looking at how you provide dialysis in the middle of these conflicts? What do you do, because dialysis services are so centralized? The movement of patients is not easy, and the sanctions… One topic will be ‘cancer and war’… So this conference will be as holistic as possible, of the relationship between the conflict and health.

We expect over 300 delegates, and we will have speakers from India, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, from the UK, we have people coming from the humanitarian sector, from ICRC, people who worked in Africa and the Middle East, we have people who worked in previous wars and are now working in current wars, so we have a mix of people from different fields.

AV: What is the ultimate goal of the program?

GA-S: We have to imagine the health of the region beyond the state. On the conceptual level, we need to try to figure out what is happening. We can already see certain patterns. One of them is the regionalization of healthcare. The fact that Libyans get treated in Tunisia, Iraqis and Syrians get treated in Beirut, Yemenis get treated in Jordan. So you already have the disintegration of these states and the migration of people to the regional centers. The state is no longer a major player, because the state was basically destroyed. We feel that this is a disease of the near future, medium future and long-term future. Therefore we have to understand it, in order to better treat it, we have to put mechanisms in place that this knowledge transfers into the medical education system, which will produce medical professionals who are better equipped to deal with this health system. We have to make sure that people are aware of many nuances of the conflict, beyond the shrapnel and beyond the bullet. The more research we put into this area of the conflict and health, the more transferable technologies we develop – the better healthcare we’d be allowed to deliver in these situations, the better training our students and graduates would receive, and better work they will perform in this region for the next 10 or 15 years.

AV: And hopefully more lives would be saved…

• All photos by Andre Vltchek