Category Archives: El Salvador

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

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Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

A Gory Gift to Trump: A Cruel, Militarized, Expensive, and Decades Old, Bipartisan Border Policy

John Carlos Frey’s Sand and Blood relates the roughly 140-year history of U.S. anti-immigrant racism and policy on the southwest border, and highlights its mostly pre-Trump, bipartisan intensification over the last thirty-odd years. Frey, an American citizen born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in San Diego county, did not give the Border Patrol or border policy much thought until one day in 1977, when he was 12. His mother, a green card-holding, legally-residing Mexican American, was arrested walking near her home because a Border Patrol agent did not believe she was legal, nor that she lived nearby. She was deported to Tijuana before her family could do anything. Luckily, they were able to bring her back the next day. The experience encouraged Frey’s outlook to shift from innocent indifference to sober scrutiny, a shift that pushed him to become a leading journalist examining border and immigration policies and attitudes.

Anti-immigrant hate and hysteria in the United States is hardly an unknown matter. However, Frey managed to surprise this reader when he dug up a rather antique, if grotesque case. In 1753, Ben Franklin, sounding Trump-like, but with more august language, worried about what he considered the low-quality Germans entering the country, threatening to destroy our language and even, he must have gasped, our very nation. The expression of such anti-German opinion, however, like other early anti-immigrant expressions, never rose to the fever-pitch fixated on Chinese immigrants. And that is where Frey begins his 140-year history.

In the 1880s, the terrifying immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were desperate Chinese laborers, not Mexicans. Mexicans were crossing, returning, and re-crossing then, but their presence was mostly ignored given that they met the exploitative needs of agricultural interests and, I would guess, American insecurities lay elsewhere. Mexican migrants remained invisible near-slaves—the status of hated-celebrity near-slaves, that would be a future privilege. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese laborers from entering the country—belying the sentiments about “huddled masses” and all that, written just a year later and eventually stamped on the base of the Statue of Liberty. The focus of early military patrols along the Mexican border, as early as 1904, remained on Chinese immigrants. However, a shift characterized by increased anti-Mexican attitudes and policies soon began; policies which included such humiliations as daily stripping and delousing of migrant workers, including the spraying of clothes with toxic chemicals during a Typhoid scare.

In 1924, border and immigration policy worsened notably, though it would take decades before it reached the current systematic militarized cruelty aimed overwhelmingly at desperate and poor Central American migrants. That year, the Immigration Act prohibited entry by most Asians entirely (on whom racist hysteria, as noted, was then still fixated) and created a quota system for other immigrants, all on the basis of worries about “American homogeneity” (14)—meaning whiteness, mostly. Additionally, the Labor Appropriations Act established the Border Patrol, the pre-existing body of which was expanded from 75 agents to 450 by the previously-mentioned Act—putting it on its path to its current gargantuan, nearly-20,000-agent size. Still, the Border Patrol was, in the 1920s certainly, mostly absorbed with stemming alcohol smuggling from Canada. And for fifty years, border and immigrant policy remained relatively low key.

Frey says that in the 1970s, border security still appeared mostly a “show for the public” (5) and the border, particularly near San Diego, a tranquil “free zone” (29) where cross-border movement and family contact continued to some extent undisturbed. Politically-powerful business interests focused on maintaining cheap labor sources managed to mute racist and militaristic policies. In the 1980s, however, though the capitalist desire for cheap labor remained, as it does to this day, officials began, largely for “political reasons” (5), to shift the balance toward the racism and militarization. Reagan, though hardly anti-racist, to say the least, sincerely backed the “amnesty” angle of a mid-80s immigration bill, eventually adopted. However, the bill also made life harder and more dangerous for Central American immigrants, including those fulfilling cheap labor needs. In California, Governor Pete Wilson, despite a two-thirds disapproval rating, rode anti-immigrant Proposition 187 to a second term. President Bill Clinton noticed this, apparently, and turned increasingly anti-immigrant. Clinton built on Bush Sr. policies remarkably reminiscent of the suggestions of a hate-group, the moderately-named Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Clinton even ignored INS and Border Patrol calls for administrative reforms to accelerate legalization and opted instead for an unprecedentedly brutal militarized approach at the border that intentionally funneled migrants into desert death-zones. Presidents Bush Jr. and Obama inherited and continued the policies. 9/11 served the hysteria well, and provided an excuse for the expense and horror, though it did not originate them.

Trump did not bring border policy horror to America, either. He also inherited it. He remains unable to gain any further legal leeway to impose his vision of border policy, reports Frey. Instead, he has taken full advantage of existing laws, while trying often to stretch their applicability (which has meant increased cruelty to migrants). Though he has been “bold and brash” (178) about the policies, and his rhetoric devoid of nuance, his expressions have often merely echoed those of previous politicians, like Bill Clinton. His wall is an impossibility, in part, for the same reason migration is so deadly—the harsh terrain. The default option will remain the militarized crossing places in concert with the death zones. Yet, the impossibility of the wall did not prevent the longest government shutdown in US history, all over funding for the impossible wall—highlighting the political nature of border policy, as the death and cruelty grinds on.


The unfortunate father and daughter depicted in the image above, and how they relate to Frey’s narrative, merit notice. The AP story1 from which it was taken included a graph illustrating death rates at the border over the last twenty years, based on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol stats. These peaked, we are to believe, at nearly 500 in 2005, and again in 2013, before declining to last year’s number, 283. The father and daughter’s deaths occurred on the Mexican side of the border, so the thoroughness of the accounting for their loss of life may be hard to determine. However, a key matter to understand, as Frey tells us, is that the Border Patrol consistently and knowingly undercounts the dead, ignoring the significant numbers of border deaths discovered by others (while also sometimes exaggerating apprehensions). Such policies misinform the public, certainly, obscuring the conscious lethal-desert-method of deterrence, while playing up the apprehension-method. In Vietnam, official body-counts of enemies killed were controversial, but reportedly exaggerated to demonstrate achievement of official goals; body-counters, for bureaucratic reasons, simply double- or triple-counted those dead they found. At the modern U.S.-Mexico border, bodies are undercounted because the understood policy of deterrence by death cannot be broadcast—and so the Border Patrol ignores those dead found by others, dead who thereby do not exist in official counts converted into published graphs like the one accompanying the AP News story.


Frey and I share a birth year (1965), and we both grew up in the American Southwest, giving us a chronological as well as a cultural overlap I appreciate. However, since my entire family is U.S.-born, and because, frankly, we customarily check the ‘white’ box on the decennial census form, Frey’s experiences and mine diverge. Mercifully, the Border Patrol never arrested my mother walking down the street in her neighborhood due simply to her ethnicity and proximity to the border. Frey’s extensive work as a journalist offers another line of departure between us, toil that led him eventually to this volume.

The book is an important and very informative addition to the current conversation about immigration and border policy. It serves to support serious critique of relevant Trump policies, which have upped the ante in the worst ways, while at the same time gutting the simplified histories that leave the impression horrible border policies began in 2017. Frey demonstrates how the militarized, inhumane border policies are not Trumpian, but American, common to both liberal and conservative administrations, taking on their current hyper-militaristic and hyper-cruel qualities at the eager command of Bill Clinton, Democratic star.

Frey could have strengthened his argument that U.S. policies and behaviors have contributed to the push and pull factors encouraging immigration; details, for example, regarding such policies and behaviors in regard to places like El Salvador and Honduras. Relating the experiences of two brothers from the former country, one of whom dies while the other becomes incarcerated, Frey mentions the now-international El Salvadoran street gang MS-13, the menaces of which compelled the two brothers to leave. Frey might have given some attention to the history of the gang in the context of the illegal U.S.-proxy war against El Salvador, carried on in the country for over a decade, and its aftermath. Said history would reinforce Frey’s contention that U.S. immigration policy has been both cruel and irrational, and has long been complicated by the needs of other power centers in the United States, whether agricultural and construction interests, or the foreign policy establishment. Those of the first examples have effectively pulled migrants to U.S., while those of the other, such as our illegal intervention in the El Salvadoran civil war, or the birth of MS-13 as an outcome of the violence we magnified, pushed migrants here. Additionally, the 2009 US-supported military coup in Honduras against the country’s elected government has decidedly worsened conditions there, pushing Hondurans to go somewhere, and the US remains, ironically, the most promising destination of desperate people in Central America.

Likewise, Frey’s plea would have benefited from fuller consideration of the neoliberal capitalist context of the harshening border and immigration policies over the last thirty years. It seems hardly a coincidence these policies occurred just in the wake of the turn to neoliberal policies in the US, policies which have exported jobs like hot commodities, exalted the market at the expense of the public, increasing poverty and inequality, and cast down the government as any kind of help to the public and brake on private ambition. Clinton’s neoliberal NAFTA sent the Mexican economy into the gutter. Increased migration resulted, which he answered with death zones at the border.

Regarding nationalism and its relation to this matter, though arguably outside the scope of Frey’s reportorial approach, more discussion of the attitudes and psychology involved would have explained some of the insanity. For instance, the theme of supposed Mexican dirtiness (discussed in chapter one), arising intermittently for decades, mimics a common refrain heard from nationalist racists in many modern contexts—an attitude enlisting germ theory to serve of the cause of white supremacy, a sort of ideological cousin of social Darwinism. Also, as social psychologist Richard Koenigsberg has said:

Nations are conceived as bodies. We project our own body into a national body. One’s fragile, vulnerable self is blown up—to become a gigantic, omnipotent self. Because territory is imagined in corporeal terms (Neocleous), the state seeks to secure it borders—its “orifices and entry points.” Orifices and entry points must be closed—to prevent penetration. Porous boundaries need to be firmed up, sealed off—walls built to protect the vulnerable self. One’s actual, fragile body fuses with the fantasy of a of a gigantic, invulnerable body. National bodies require borders to prevent penetration. Anxiety is played out on a monumental scale. Walls must be built—nothing can be allowed to penetrate. Each and every orifice must be sealed.

How this “anxiety is played out on a monumental scale” is the story of a state that has arrived at both indifference and desperation. This desperation arises from a political degeneration that refuses to answer, is indifferent to, the decline of the public in any way that threatens the globalization interests of the U.S. ruling class—which, as Sean Starrs’ has written, has not declined, as commonly believed, but globalized instead. Decline is just the fate of the rest of us. And if harsh border policies, thrown as thin scraps to a deluded public, seem to ease their despair, so much the better. If society’s increasingly desperate need for some form of civic freedom, which fosters both community and popular power, and not just tolerance, is forbidden for the threat it poses to ruling class power and wealth, then closing up the nation’s orifices becomes the toxic political gruel of the day. And, in turn, opening them without thought about the issue of civic freedom and popular power, looks like the only conceivable reply.

The words of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, seem suitable here. They spoke, in part, of the Nazis and their high-tech horrors when they wrote the following line, but they also had their eyes on the West more generally, including, of course, those who triumphed over the Nazis. The “wholly enlightened earth”, they wrote, “is radiant with triumphant calamity”. Certainly, our wholly enlightened border policy radiates with a sort of triumphant calamity. The policies and infrastructure, as documented by Frey, the expensive, tax-payer-funded high-technology, a boon to private interests, the largely-privatized internment camps (what’s more enlightened than privatization?), the rationality of pushing migrants into desert and mountain death zones, and the political, corporate, and bureaucratic deceits that cover it all up, including the uncounted dead, epitomize the serene, systematic malice of a modernity sucked nearly dry of humanity.

Frey relates the shock and horror he felt while accompanying the nonprofit Angels of the Desert on a search for two missing migrants. Their faceless corpses were eventually found. “Animals and insects eat the soft flesh of the face first” (199). These were two of the officially-undercounted hundreds who die every year in our Border Patrol’s intentionally-created death zones, zones which, they say, offer them a “tactical advantage”, certainly a shrewd building block in our “triumphant calamity”. Martin Luther King Jr.’s cautionary words about “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”, cited by Frey, accord in a way with Horkheimer and Adorno’s verdict on modernity. Frey’s critique comes up short of the latter’s, but his judgment is nevertheless worth taking to heart. He reminds us that we have rejected the enslavement of African Americans, the slaughter of Natives Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, the denial of the vote to women, of interracial and same-sex marriage, and the delay of civil rights. Frey says rejecting our cruel and (objectively) irrational border policies would continue that tradition. He looks forward to all of this horror becoming a mere part of “our dark, stained history” (200).

The extremely negative impacts of Trump’s border policies on actual human beings, and the relatively-popular racist fever dreams both partially underpinning and feeding off them, illuminate our present with a hellish light. However, the neoliberal capitalist policies and transformations, and all the deceits about drugs, terrorism, and immigration, of the last forty years or more, all of which preceded Trump, and which in the wrong hands feed the racist fever dreams even more, were effectively embraced across party lines. Trump, chin up, to more cruel and deadly effect for migrants, simply took the bipartisan decorated-but-desiccated zombie of border policy and wore it like a gaudy costume.

• First published at Hard Crackers

  1. Peter Orsi and Amy Guthrie, “A grim border drowning underlines peril facing many migrants”, AP News, June 26, 2019.

Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis

History never truly retires. Every event of the past, however inconsequential, reverberates throughout and, to an extent, shapes our present, and our future as well

The haunting image of the bodies of Salvadoran father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who were washed ashore at a riverbank on the Mexico-US border cannot be understood separately from El Salvador’s painful past.

Valeria’s arms were still wrapped around her father’s neck, even as both lay, face down, dead on the Mexican side of the river, ushering the end of their desperate and, ultimately, failed attempt at reaching the US. The little girl was only 23-months-old.

Following the release of the photo, media and political debates in the US focused partly on Donald Trump’s administration’s inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. For Democrats, it was a chance at scoring points against Trump, prior to the start of presidential election campaigning. Republicans, naturally, went on the defensive.

Aside from a few alternative media sources, little has been said about the US role in Oscar and Valeria’s deaths, starting with its funding of El Salvador’s “dirty war” in the 1980s. The outcome of that war continues to shape the present, thus the future of that poor South American nation.

Oscar and Valeria were merely escaping ‘violence’ and the drug wars in El Salvador, many US media sources reported, but little was said of the US government’s support of El Salvador’s brutal regimes in the past as they battled Marxist guerrillas. Massive amounts of US military aid was poured into a country that was in urgent need for true democracy, basic human rights and sustainable economic infrastructure.

Back then, the US “went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador,” wrote Raymond Bonner in the Nation. “The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.”

These crimes, included the butchering of 700 innocent people, many of them children, by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, in the northeastern part of the country. Leaving El Salvador teetering between organized criminal violence and the status of a failed state, the US continued to use the country as a vassal for its misguided foreign policy to this day. Top US diplomats, like Elliott Abraham, who channeled support to the Salvadoran regime in the 1980s carried on with a successful political career, unhindered.

To understand the tragic death of Oscar and Valeria in any other way would be a dishonest interpretation of a historical tragedy.

The dominant discourse on the growing refugee crisis around the world has been shaped by this deception. Instead of honestly examining the roots of the global refugee crisis, many of us often oscillate between self-gratifying humanitarianism, jingoism or utter indifference. It is as if the story of Oscar and Valeria began the moment they decided to cross a river between Mexico and the US, not decades earlier. Every possible context before that decision is conveniently dropped.

The politics of many countries around the world have been shaped by the debate on refugees, as if basic human rights should be subject to discussion. In Italy, the ever-opportunistic Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has successfully shaped a whole national conversation around refugees.

Like other far-right European politicians, Salvini continues to blatantly manipulate collective Italian fear and discontent regarding the state of their economy by framing all of the country’s troubles around the subject of African migrants and refugees. 52% of Italians believe that migrants and refugees are a burden to their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

Those who subscribe to Salvini’s self-serving logic are blinded by far-right rhetoric and outright ignorance. To demonstrate this assertion, one only needs to examine the reality of Italian intervention in Libya, as part of the NATO war on that country in March 2011.

Without a doubt, the war on Libya, justified on the basis of a flawed interpretation of United Nations Resolution 1973, was the main reason behind the surge of refugees and migrants to Italy, en-route to Europe.

According to the Migration Policy Center, prior to the 2011 war, “outward migration was not an issue for the Libyan population.” This changed, following the lethal NATO war on Libya, which pushed the country squarely into the status of failed states.

Between the start of the war on March 19 and June 8, 2011, 422,912 Libyans and 768,372 foreign nationals fled the country, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Many of those refugees sought asylum in Europe. Salvini’s virulent anti-refugee discourse is bereft of any reference to that shameful, self-indicting reality.

In fact, Salvini’s own Lega party was a member of the Italian coalition which took part in NATO’s war on Libya. Not only is Salvini refusing to acknowledge his country’s role in fostering the current refugee crisis, but he is designating as an ‘enemy‘ humanitarian GOs that are active in rescuing stranded refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHRC), an estimated 2,275 people drowned while attempting to cross to Europe in 2018 alone. Thousands of precious lives, like those of Oscar and Valeria, would have been spared, had NATO not intervened on the pretext of wanting to save lives in Libya in 2011.

According to UNHRC, as of June 19, 2019, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; of them, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, while 25.9 million are refugees who crossed international borders.

Yet, despite the massive influx of refugees, and the obvious logic between political meddling (as in El Salvador) and military intervention (as in Libya), no western government is yet to accept any moral – let alone legal – accountability for the massive human suffering underway.

Italy, France, Britain, and other NATO members who took part in bombing Libya in 2013 are guilty of fueling today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Similarly, the supposedly random ‘violence’ and drug wars in El Salvador must be seen within the political context of misguided American interventionism. Were it not for such violent interventions, Oscar, Valeria and millions of innocent people would have still been alive today.

Answering the Mysterious Call of An Artist’s Spiritual Vocation

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.

— Kabir, “To Be a Slave of Intensity”

Strange how a man
Can enter your life
Just like that: a knock
Out of nowhere
And you’ve slipped away
To a rendezvous with destiny
That always awaited you.

— EJC, “The Birth and Death of Trauma”

Myths and popular tales, like life, are replete with accounts of those not answering the call, of locking the door to their hearts and shutting themselves up in sterile and safe lives where the rest of the world is not even an afterthought, where others suffer and die because of one’s indifference.  Answering can be very dangerous, for it can take you on a journey from which you may never return, surely, at least, as the same person.  Only the courageous heed the call.

When Carolyn Forché, a twenty-seven year old naïve academic poet living in the San Diego area, miraculously answered the call of a Salvadorian stranger named Leonel Gómez Vides, who showed up at her door out of the blue, to go to El Salvador, a country she knew very little about but to which he said war was coming and her poet’s eye was needed, she acted intuitively and bravely from her deep soul’s murmurings and said yes, not knowing why or where she was heading except into the unknown.

This memoir, a souvenir of hope and terror and a call to resistance, a poet’s lucid dreaming between childhood and an adult awakening, invites the reader to examine one’s life and conscience through language that emulates our living experience as it strains toward meaning through a wandering dialectical consciousness that weaves the past present with the present past and lucid dreaming with the waking state. One experiences this book as one does life, not, as the French existentialist Gabriel Marcel, has said, “as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”  It is impossible to adequately “review” a book that breathes.  One can only conspire with it to uncover the conspiracy of silence that is American government propaganda.

For at the heart of this mystery are facts, which Forché describes in graphic detail, the truth of how the United States government has long been doing the devil’s murderous work in El Salvador, throughout Latin America and the world, as current events confirm.  Forché asks us to enter into her memories not to wax nostalgic, but to wake to the truth of today.  The truth that little has changed and the past was prologue.  The U.S. is still “Murder Incorporated,” and Americans must see this clearly, and resist.

Carolyn’s “Yes” to the enigmatic stranger Leonel, so I sense from her reveries, was the fruit of a seed of faith planted when she was a child of ten or so in Michigan.

The girl I once was, who had been a Catholic, woke for the bells of the Angelus at six in the morning, Angelus Domini.  I sang to myself as I walked to morning Mass under a canopy of maples, through a wetland of swamp cabbage and red-winged blackbirds, the quiet, low Mass where it was possible to pray in peace, with the Latin liturgy a murmur in the air….I felt at peace in the church, on the padded kneeler near the stained-glass windows depicting the seven sorrows along the west wall, the seven joys along the east….When I knelt beside them, the floor, the pews, and my own body were quilted in colored light.

But she tells Leonel that she has “fallen” because she no longer attends Mass.

Leonel, a “non-believer” who says “I believe with my life, how I live,” tells her about Padre Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who was murdered with an old man and a boy by the U.S. trained and supported Salvadorian death-squads.  “God that Padre Grande taught was not up in the sky lying in some damn cloud hammock.  This was a God who expected us to be brothers and sisters and to make of earth a just place.”

This was her introduction to a new theology, a way of connecting her spiritual core from a conservative Catholic childhood piety to the liberation theology that created Christian base communities of the poor and persecuted in El Salvador and other Latin American countries.  Dissident Christianity. True Christianity. When she went to El Salvador soon thereafter, not only did the poet leave the quiet of her study where her work might have revolved around herself, but the little girl left the church building to discover, as a changed woman, Christ among the poor and persecuted in the living world.

One night she meets a man in the shadows of such a Christian base community where a few of its members had been killed and dismembered by the government death squads.  His pseudonym is Inocencio.  “You can say Chencho,” he tells her.  At first he thinks she is a nun, (“although,“ as a girl, “I considered that vocation.”) because she smokes, and some of the foreign nuns smoke and don’t dress in traditional habits.  He asks her why she is there and she says, “You know, I’m not sure.”  She then explains how an unnamed person invited her to come to see the truth for herself because war was coming, and when she returned to the United States to “explain the reasons for the war to the North Americans, because my friend tells me that this will be important, that the real reasons be known, so that the people of the United States understand.”

Chencho is a catechist who secretly moves under darkness of night from one small Christian base community to another, encouraging the campesinos to keep the faith because God is with them, la gente, los pobres, the people, the poor.  He says to Carolyn:

Listen to me, hermana.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ is moving through the world now, through us.  He is acting through us in the struggle against injustice, poverty, and oppression.  To be with God now is to choose the fate of the poor, to be with them, to see through their eyes and feel through their hearts, and if this means torture and death, we accept.  We are already in the grave.

Later, Leonel takes her to visit a friend who is in a prison from hell where men are tortured in padlocked wooden boxes the size of washing machines.  Afterwards she vomits. Then they go to visit a dirt poor young mother give birth in a casita in which there was nothing, “really nothing: a candle, a plastic basin, a ladle hanging against the wall, and, in the candlelight, the shadow of a wooden chair dancing on the wall.”

I followed him [Leonel] through the darkness into a passage, then through a door lit by a candle and, by the light of it, saw people gathered and one of them, someone, took me by the hand and drew me into the circle surrounding a young woman who was lying on her side on a blanket on the floor, her head propped in her hand.  There was a cardboard box beside her, and in the box, a newborn girl with her hair still wet, lying in a towel.  Leonel was looking at me from across the room.  ‘She was born about a half hour ago,’ a young man beside me whispered.  ‘She’s early.  We’re going to name her Alma. Bellisima!’

Then it is on through night to meet with four young impoverished men who read their “political” poems for her, written under pseudonyms for fear for their lives, poems they hope might stir the hearts of people in the United States.

That night I knew something had changed for me, and that I wasn’t going to get tired or need a shower or want to call something off so I could rest, and I hoped that if I forgot this I would somehow remember Alma in the cardboard box in the barrio, and the mimeographed poems….The woman who went into the prison in Ahuachapán left herself behind in a barrio called La Fosa, the grave.

The naïve young poet is buried and the political poet of witness is born.  It is impossible not to be deeply moved and nourished by such a birth.  Who, I wonder, are the “fallen” ones?  What is writing for?  What good are poets?  Why say yes to a stranger’s request when it is so much easier to not answer the knock on the door?  So much easier to barricade ourselves behind walls of denial and say “me first.”  So much easier to ignore the truth that this book reveals: that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and our society rests on keeping the poor poor and under the vicious thumbs of the rich.

The world is filled with writers who witness only to their imprisonment in their own egos.  When Carolyn Forché said yes to Leonel and then returned from El Salvador to write “political” poems such as “The Colonel,” she was attacked by writers wishing a poet would stay in her box and not disturb their universe.  That she was not like them angered them, J. Alfred Prufrocks who were not going to come back from the dead to tell us all as she has, poets who had time on their hands to neurotically contemplate their navels with their fellow Americans:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Having heard Leonel’s descriptions of “the silence of misery endured” and the American supported death-squads massacring impoverished Salvadorians, she tells us:

I knew that if I didn’t accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself.  I could never say to myself: If only I’d had the chance.  This was, I knew, my chance.

Wasn’t such a daring decision by this “fallen” poet the quintessence of the creative act, exactly what inspired artists do when they see the act of writing as an adventure into the unknown where startling truths wait to reveal themselves to the unsuspecting author?  A journey fraught with danger and delight, perhaps delightful danger or dangerous delight, but always ready to surprise with hidden truths that might unlock the prison gates that enclose the world in suffering and pain? Does not the artist proceed into this alien territory armed only with a fierce faith in the power of truth to reveal its face and so strengthen us through disarmament?  Doesn’t a poet trust in a power greater than herself and know what she wishes to say only in the act of saying it?  Isn’t real writing a transmission between the creative spirit and the world of flesh and blood, the living and the dead, a visionary opening into the future where freedom beckons?

Carolyn somehow knew this then and now, and her memoir is the result, a haunting trip into the past to liberate the present.  “The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps redeeming comfort that there is in writing,” wrote Kafka in his diary.  Perhaps there are certain writings that cannot be adequately reviewed but must be experienced. As I said, I think What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance is such a book.  How do you review a prayer and a mystery?  You must enter them if you are willing.

Carolyn, drawing on the uncanny spirit of her mystical, Gypsy-spirited Czechoslavian grandmother Anna (“I will get Anna out of you if it’s the last thing I do” her mother told her, to no avail), chose to develop her “legitimate strangeness,” as the French poet René Char urged, heeding his words that “what comes into the world to disturb nothing merits neither attention or patience.”  Disturbed and perplexed by the stranger’s tales and her former husband’s experiences in Vietnam and the United Sates’ savage war there, as well as by her mystical Catholic childhood’s faith and its tug of conscience, she joins the mysterious Leonel in El Salvador.

To those ensconced in instrumental rationality, her decision seems insane. However, instrumental rationality is insane, and it has taken us to the brink of nuclear extinction.  It is to the poet’s truth we should turn.  The data-driven instrumental rationalists have given us WW I, II, Auschwitz, Vietnam, the CIA, death squads, Iraq, Syria, etc. – should I give you numbers, list it all, do the logic?  When has such logic convinced the disbelievers?  Logicians don’t trust the soul’s promptings and, like Carolyn, take a chance, take a leap of faith.  They do calculations, follow computer models, and dare not enter the world outside if they are told there is a 60% chance of rain.  And if they are told the sun will shine and all will be well with the world, but a hard rain does fall and the poet shouts there is blood on our hands, they act shocked.  Always shocked at the truth that was there from the start.  If only we had known.

Is it any wonder so many Americans are depressed?

For Carolyn, the child of Czechoslovakian ancestry, the German holocaust atrocities haunted her, and she grew up suffering from periodic depressions that would lift once she felt the urge to do something about the injustices she saw. The urge to act for others freed her from wallowing in depression.  Rather than becoming a nun, she became a poet, and when Leonel told her that an American poet was needed to witness the truth of the American supported atrocities in El Salvador, she trusted the spirit to lead her on, not knowing why this might be so.  What use are poets, she wondered, in the U.S. poetry “doesn’t matter.”  She would soon help change that.

There is an old Catholic prayer that goes like this: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Might such words have bubbled up from her unconscious?  I have long felt it was a prayer for poets as well as the religiously faithful – are not all inspired together?  Is there a difference?  “I believe in the magic and authority of words,” said Char, the French resistance fighter.  Witness and resistance.  Words.  Poetry.  Prayers.

It is best that I not tell you too much about Leonel.  You will wonder about him, and you will wonder with Carolyn what her relationship with him is all about.  You will discover his essence in the reading. You will learn that he once said to Carolyn that “it isn’t the risk of death and fear of danger that prevent people from rising up, it is numbness, acquiescence, and the defeat of the mind.  Resistance to oppression begins when people realize deeply within themselves that something better is possible.”  You might, like me, question whether this is true only for the most oppressed, or whether it applies to Americans whose lives depend on the subjugation of others in foreign lands.

You will be terrified to learn of the death squads, the brutality and cold-bloodedness of their murders, and Forché’s close escapes as they hunted her.  You will feel her fear.

You will learn of the courageous women who befriend her, her meeting with Archbishop Oscar Romero the week before he is assassinated while saying Mass and Carolyn has left the country at his urging, and you too will be lost in reveries as you travel between worlds of night and day, wealth and poverty, life and death, now and then.

If you are like me, you will be inspired by what the poet Char called “wisdom with tear-filled eyes.”  This book is just that.  It is a call to Americans to face the truth and resist.

Looking Through the Screen at the World’s Suffering

If you are really going to be free, you have to overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. as quoted by Andrew Young in the documentary King in the Wilderness

Most people on this earth live on the edge of an abyss.  Life is a daily struggle to stay alive, to acquire enough to eat and drink, rudimentary health care, housing, and protection from murderous government forces, their various death-squads, and their economic vultures.  The gap between the rich and poor, while always great, has grown even more obscenely vast, and lies at the core of what so many face daily.  Their perilous conditions are sustained by imperial nations, led by the United States, who, together with its minions, buy and bribe and butcher overtly and covertly all around the world.  The love of wealth and the fear of death drive these power-mad marauders and divert the gazes of their citizens from the slaughter.  It’s an old story.

If you are reading this, I am probably not telling you anything new.  You know this, as do I, as I sit safely behind a screened-in table on a beautiful spring day in the hills of western Massachusetts.  I have had some soup and bread for lunch and there are no bombers overhead or death-squads cruising the roads here.  While my family and I live a simple life, compared to the world’s poor and persecuted, we are privileged.  One does not have to be rich to be privileged.  The advantages granted to those like me who can securely sit and pen words about the fate of the poor and persecuted victims of my country’s endless violence weighs heavy on my conscience, as they have done since I was young.

I am ashamed to say that in the early morning of May 1, as I lay in bed musing, I thought I would like to stay in bed all day, a depressed feeling that I had never had before.  Discouragement enveloped me: I was being forced out of my teaching job; I felt that my dissident writing and teaching made no difference in a world where injustice and violence are endemic and without end; and the forces of evil seemed to be triumphing everywhere.  Self-pity mixed with an angry sadness that disgusted me. I disgusted myself.  So I jumped out of bed and prepared to go and teach some of my last classes.  But I was lost in gloom as I drove along the winding roads.

When I arrived at the college and checked my mail, there was a package waiting for me.  It was a review copy of the poet Carolyn Forché’s startling new memoir (What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance) about her youthful transformative experiences in El Salvador in the late 1970s as U.S. trained and supported death-squads brutally murdered poor peasants and priests, and guerrilla resistance was growing prior to the outbreak of civil war.  I opened the book to the epigraph, which reads:

Hope also nourishes us.  Not the hope of fools.  The other kind.  Hope, when everything is clear.
Awareness.

The quotation is from the Salvadorian writer Manlio Argueta, whose deeply moving novel, One Day of Life (1980), banned by the Salvadorian government, takes the reader through one terrifying and bloodstained day in the life of peasants struggling to stay alive as they are tortured and slaughtered with impunity.  We hear the voices of the poor tell a story of the growth of conscience (“God is conscience.  And conscience is we, the ones forgotten now, the poor.”), the discovery of rights, and the awareness of exploitation.  Despite the terrifying evil that pervades this book – now considered one of the greatest Latin American novels of the 20th century – there is a luminous spirit of hope and resistance that miraculously prevails that is passed on from person to person despite death, torture, and immense suffering.  Argueta fulfills the words of the tortured Jose to Lupe: “Don’t worry, if those of us with understanding failed to act, we would all be in real trouble.”

I remembered that I had reviewed this book in the early 1980s at a time when 100 or more very poor campesinos were being murdered every week, a few years after Archbishop Oscar Romero, the courageous defender of the poor who spoke out against the killers, had been gunned down while saying Mass.  The Roman Catholic Church has subsequently declared him a saint.

Yet decades later, despite the extraordinary efforts of awakened souls like Carolyn Forché, it still seems true that Americans can’t visualize, no less believe in or care about, the death and suffering their government is inflicting on innocent people all around the world.  Today’s screen culture – I Phone therefore I Am – while seemingly allowing for the visualization of the suffering of the world’s poor, has rendered all reality more abstract and unreal, while inducing a collective hallucination sustained by media and machines that divorces us from flesh and blood, our own and others.  All the disembodied data that is daily disgorged through these screens seems to me to have rendered the world disincarnate through the metastasizing of a digital dementia tied to death denial.

I think of Galway Kinnell’s poem, “The Fundamental Project of Technology”:

To de-animalize human mentality, to purge it of obsolete,
Evolutionary characteristics, in particular of death,
Which foreknowledge terrorizes the content of skulls with,
Is the fundamental project of technology; however,
pseudologica fantastica’s mechanisms require:
to establish deathlessness it is necessary to eliminate those who die;
a task attempted when a white light flashed.

Awareness?  I sit here looking through the screen that encloses the little porch where my table rests.  MLK’s words reverberate in my mind as I watch a grey fox slink across the grass in search of prey.  What is it about the love of money and the fear of death that so cripples people’s care and compassion?  I know I don’t want to see that fox seize a screaming rabbit and worry (to kill by biting and shaking the throat; strangle) it to death.  Unlike Forché, I have not physically seen the dead and mutilated bodies of Salvadorian victims of death squads, nor been threatened by them, as she was.  Nevertheless, thanks to her and others like Manlio Argueta, I have seen them in my imagination and heard the screams, and they have haunted me.  Ghosts.

But why are some so haunted and others not?

The foreknowledge that terrorizes the contents of skulls, as Kinnell puts it – our ultimate powerlessness – overwhelms humans from childhood unless they can find a way forward that discovers power in powerlessness.  When one’s “well-being” is dependent on the death of others, as is the case for most Americans and others in the so-called first world, people tend to repress the terror of death by building various types of culturally-induced defenses that allow them to shakily believe they are in control of life and death.  One’s natural impotence is then hidden within what Ernest Becker called “the vital lie of character,” and in what, by extension, is the lie of American character that rests on money and military might.

One lives within the manageable cultural world that helps blot out existential awareness by offering various social games, agreed forms of “madness” that narcotize.  One learns to adjust, to use all sorts of techniques to blot out the awareness that each of us is essentially exposed and mortal, flesh and blood.  The aim is clearly to cut life down to manageable proportions, domesticate terror, and learn to think we are captains of our fate.  Inevitably, however, not all these social “tricks” work equally well.  Life’s terrors have a way of breaking through to dim awareness, and therefore more drastic measures are needed.  So after having lived the cultural lie uncritically, one tries to blot out awareness itself.  If shopping to forget doesn’t work, if obsessive work doesn’t do it, one turns to drugs or drink, anything to forget, anything to assuage our fears, anything to deny our need for courage.  Anything to help us refuse the truth that our lives are built on the blood of others.

The ineluctable reality of uncertainty is our fate. I have always known that, but I forget.  I have also long known that we live by faith of one kind or another, and whatever name we give it, it is by faith we enter into the holy mystery of existence.  We are carried forward by the spirit that binds us in solidarity to all human struggles for freedom and dignity, for bread and justice. The day I wished to stay in bed and wallow in self-pity and depression came as a shock to me.  It revealed to me my hubris, my sense of self-importance, as if my efforts were not just a drop in the sea, seeds scattered that may or may not take root.  I was afraid to accept possible defeat, despite my best efforts.  I was afraid of death and lacked courage.  Like those I criticize for turning their faces away from the suffering faces of America’s victims, I lost my courage that morning in bed.  And hope.

But later that day I would awaken and see through the screen of my self-importance when I leafed through Carolyn Forché’s book and chanced upon her quoting Fr. Romero’s words: “We must hope without hoping.  We must hope when we have no hope.”

Then her poem “Ourselves or Nothing” bubbled up in memory:

There is a cyclone fence between
Ourselves and the slaughter and behind it
We hover in a calm protected world like
Netted fish, exactly like netted fish.
It is either the beginning or the end
Of the world, and the choice is ourselves or nothing.

Priest and poet reminding us to fight lucidly on.  Hope when everything is clear.  Awareness.

Russia warns Bolton: “Monroe Doctrine” Remarks are Insulting to Latin America

What is the ‘Monroe Doctrine’? In brief, it is a document which defines the entire Western Hemisphere as a ‘backyard’ of the United States. It ‘philosophically’ justifies Washington’s neo-colonialism, and the most barbaric coups it has been triggering, as well as covered and open interventions in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

And now, National Security Advisor John Bolton, is using this term in connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, outraging those who are opposing the US foreign policy in the region. What he means is clear, although it is never pronounced as bluntly as that: Countries in the Western Hemisphere should never be allowed to go socialist, and they should be prevented from disobeying Western dictates.

In Doha, Qatar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed his outrage over Bolton’s evoking of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ now, when the West is doing all in its power to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government of Venezuela:

The theory and the practice of “backyards” is generally insulting…

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

Since 1945, when the UN was founded, the international law is being regulated by this universal and the most legitimate organization.

This is, obviously, not how the United States sees the world. Maybe it never even considered such an approach.

*****

But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

Surprisingly, it was not always intended to intimidate and brutalize independent and progressive Latin American nations.

According to the definition of the United States Department of State:

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

So, in theory at least, this policy was supposed to be putting the brakes on European colonialist expansionism. This may sound almost unbelievable now.

How very unfortunate that it has evolved into one of the most unscrupulous tools of oppression in modern history!

Contradictory to its original meaning, the United States used the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in order to overthrow basically all patriotic, progressive and left-wing governments in the Western Hemisphere; governments that resisted the selfish geo-political interests of Washington, or the interests of US corporations, including the infamous United Fruit Company which was notorious for treating virtually all Central American countries as if they were its private plantations.

Then during the Cold War, US foreign policy towards Latin America was built on the belief that the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ should be invoked in order to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the region.

What followed is well known: massacres in Central America, brutal coups and fascist dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and elsewhere; tens of thousands of men, women and children ‘disappeared’. Death squads murdering, raping and torturing everywhere, from Guatemala and Salvador to Argentina and Chile.

The fight for US hegemony was basically and cynically named as a ‘fight for democracy’. Slavery was defined as ‘freedom’. The ‘Monroe Doctrine’ became synonymous with Plan Condor, with monstrous torture chambers and with people being thrown alive into the sea from helicopters.

*****

Now the Trump administration is re-deploying those old and fatal Cold War warriors, elevating them to high positions, the same people who were murdering, plotting and cheering assassins. The list reads like a “Wanted for Genocide” catalogue: Elliott Abrams, Michael Pompeo and yes: John Bolton.

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

In this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. This is a country in our hemisphere and it’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely Democratic hemisphere.

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

And so, the almost 200 year old ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has been revitalized; put to deadly work once again.

As reported by the Daily Star:

Mr. Bolton said the Donald Trump administration was “not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’,” when asked why it was targeting Venezuela while maintaining close alliances with tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia. The doctrine, dating back to the 1820s, denoted the Western hemisphere as a zone of US influence.

It is clear that this time, what Mr. Bolton envisions under the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has nothing in common with the fight against European colonialism. It is a bellicose ‘modern-day’ interpretation of the doctrine: the justification for Western imperialism all over the Hemisphere. And perhaps all over the world.

Sergei Lavrov correctly defined Bolton’s remarks as ‘insulting’. They are also deadly. As they are indicative of what Western foreign policy may soon become, or has already become: an unapologetic and uncompromising return to the harshest form of expansionism.

What the US tried to avert (perhaps) some 200 years ago, it at some point joined, and then ‘perfected’. Now, it is trying to bring it to an absolute extreme.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Shifting Baselines in a Time of Climate Change, Systems Stagnation, Life and Death in a Time of Amnesia

Both of my parents were assassinated by death squads in our country. My siblings and I fled because we were afraid. We entered the U.S illegally. We crossed the river, and once inside the U.S., we applied for asylum. We were among the very few who were granted asylum. In 1988 I graduated from Bowie and studied at UTEP, receiving a bachelor’s of science.

— Former refugee at a press conference in El Paso, at Annunciation House

I once volunteered at Annunciation House, in El Paso, during the 1980s. I was chipping away at my graduate degree in English, teaching as a TA at UT-El Paso, as well as working freelance writing gigs with both the morning and evening newspapers, teaching one-on-one conversational English to an engineer in Juarez (who was working for Packard Electric getting paid one-tenth the pay as his fellow Yankees), writing a couple of books, and being active in environmental and social justice issues tied to protesting the militarization of the border and the overuse of the Rio Grande as a toxic slough and drawing down of the Hueco Basin aquifer for golf courses. Heck, in El Paso during this time I even worked for Planned Parenthood helping write a media plan against a mean son-of-a-bitch who called himself a Jew for Christ who set upon the clinic (no abortions done there) mean as cuss religious zealots who tried to block women and families from seeking STD services and such.

Ruben Garcia started the House in the late 1970s and by the time I got there, at Casa Anunciación, the dirty wars in Central America were really ramped up against teachers, unionists, activists, politicals on the left, priests, nuns and anyone questioning the right wing policies of US-backed governments and the thug henchmen of those administrations, the death squads in Guatemala, Honduras, and Salvador, and the contras in Nicaragua. Part of the fallout created by those US-trained militarists, economists and lawyers who perpetrated that harm against their own people was that many small towns and villages – regular people of the land, la tierra – were being caught in the crossfire.

Entire villages were told in the morning by the fascists to pack up and head out of their pueblitos by sundown. Many girls, women and old ladies were raped and murdered. Beheadings of husbands and grandfathers, fetuses cut out of bellies, and torture of anyone who was suspected of going against Death Squad Capitalism were the order of the day.

As far as media coverage goes: My baseline was different than that of twenty-somethings today. When I was in my mid-twenties, in El Paso and working along the border, there were much more robust forms of journalism and ground-truthing reporting going on than anyone today in their twenties could image.

The baseline was a more open, aggressive Press willing to pull away more of the onion layers to get to the truth. Really, many editors and most of the newspaper journalists had no issue with peering through the looking glass to uncover truth, and their motto was that governments do and will tell lies. Now comparing the number of print newspapers, dailies, and weeklies and monthlies, even magazines and broadsheets, newsletters, and the like that were inking up paper in my time, and then looking at the Press now, going on 38 years of study and my own battles as a writer, anyone young can never really know what has been lost in this impetus of the Press then who were striving for independence, in a good way.

It’s the old saws of not having their own boots on the ground then, not having an authentic real point of view because they never lived and worked then, what is termed liberally by me as the shifting baseline syndrome.

I’m talking about small-town journalism, medium-sized market news, and quirky and unique monthlies. While the so-called liberal media (SCLM) was not liberal at all, what was happening in newsrooms and with editorial boards, for the most part, in the 1970s and Eighties was, compared to today, more nurturing to truth tellers, with a truer sense of why journalism’s ethical code points us to looking at as many sides as possible to weigh in on editorial decision-making. Sort of akin to what a lot of people use as a baseline for liberal (sic) versus conservative, comparing today’s neoliberal democrats, for instance, to someone like Barbara Jordan, or looking at Crypo-AngloZionist Republicans such as Ted Cruz today to so-deemed Rockefeller Republicans of old. When I was born, 1957, the Republican Party’s platform was much more progressive and populist than that of the Pelosi-Schumer Party of the millionaires (or billionaires when looking at proverbial Dem Billionaire Michael Bloomberg). Get a load of this, 62 years ago:

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and”–and the president says–“their number is negligible and they are stupid.

— Dwight Eisenhower, Republican President

The platform for 1956 under the banner of the Republican Party included fighting for workers, the right to form a union, for health and safety measures at workplaces, for a strengthened eight-hour work, for social welfare programs for individual citizens to be strengthened, and more and more positive programs along the lines of today’s milquetoast progressives. Ike was backed by the Republican Party, and it was Eisenhower who fought to keep the tax rate for the very rich fair, which in today’s baseline would be considered way too high and communist!  For instance, the top income tax bracket in the 1950’s was 91%. And, Eisenhower fought tooth and nail to ensure that it remained at that rate.

Can you imagine Bernie Sanders or Obama or Clinton backing this? Forget the neocons, the professors of the Chicago School of Predatory and Culture-Destroying (brainwashing) Capitalism even wanting any tax rate other than zero percent (0.00 %) for the rich, for the corporations, who are now persons with full rights of person-hood.

How many rich individuals and how many corporations pay no taxes today, and how many have tax shelters (“legit” mafia-style money-laundering outfits) overseas, in Cayman or Panama? We have winks and nods and complete red-faced debates and retorts against the accusation that the rich pay no taxes, or certainly not enough, with bald-faced defenses by tens of millions run-of-the-mill Americans who support their flavor of rich man/rich woman in America.

Imagine, rooting for millionaires and billionaires? By welfare recipients or middle-class soccer moms. What does George Lakoff call it, Narrative Frames? For decades this was considered unAmerican to support the rich over the poor!

That’s one difference I have experienced – when I was a teenager and college puke, most people hated the rich for what they were. Many average working class people looked at rich as sociopaths who were only rich because they exploited the average American citizen. Add to the baseline shift from today versus back then: my bosses at newspapers were not multimillionaires, and many more newspapers by a factor of 5 or 10 in the 1970s and 1980s were independent and competitive, compared to 2019.

Back then, the baseline was that many reporters were vying to get the scoop on real news stories. Truth and facts were a given; anything else rose to the level of pink slip offenses. That robust nature of things back then — even though for the most part, as a socialist and Marxist, I never did fit personally into any paradigm in a newsroom — was things that you’d never see printed today in the few small town newspapers left (there are hardly any left across America, anyway) were vigorously printed in many more newspapers back then. From Salon:

According to University of North Carolina’s research, the country has lost nearly 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, and many more have lost the ability to comprehensively cover their communities.

Rural counties with poorer, older populations are most at risk — 500 rural papers have shuttered since 2004. These communities are also less likely to see a digital start-up help fill the void — as funding for both for- and non-profit models are more available in metro areas, and many rural counties across the U.S. still lack broadband internet access, which is critical for delivering online news.

More than 200 counties in the U.S. have no local paper, but that’s just part of the story, or this new shifted baseline: Local ownership of papers is eroding big time. Get this — nearly one-third of U.S. newspapers and two-thirds of dailies are now owned by 25 companies. GateHouse Media is rapacious, buying up small-town papers. That means the news is controlled by Big Brother Being The Oligarchs, many times edited a thousand miles or more from the towns or counties that are supposedly being covered. Copy-editing and editorial decisions for GateHouse originate in Austin, Texas. It’s the number one small and medium newspaper owner in the USA, and its model of “efficiency” means many fewer reporters and a more insipid and irrelevant TV style content which is also replicated (shared) widely.

Murders, celebrities, food, weather (not global warming) pet tricks, celebrity food, celebrity weather, celebrity pet tricks, celebrity murders idiocy of the umpteenth degree.

I have a case in point: a massive militarized police presence was in Beaverton, Oregon, last April, resulting in closing the main road east-west, locking down schools and the Salvation Army facility I worked at as a social worker. There were civilian-clothed snipers with high powered rifles w/ higher powered scopes all over; dozens of multi-agency personnel out in public with pistols brandished, and two armored vehicles with gun turrets that rammed the offending ex-vet’s big pick-up truck.

He had just been evicted from the Salvation Army’s homeless veterans transition center for suspect reasons. The entire homeless facility was bombarded with SWAT-outfitted police thugs, and no one was allowed to enter or leave the facility, creating high levels of anxiety with already PTSD-addled veterans and their homeless families.

The veteran was shot seven times, after only a few hours of staged hostage negation-like stuff, even though he was alone, pinned in his own pickup truck. The Salvation Army leadership later said it was a coup for them (this bizarre religious organization) – “Thank goodness we controlled the story and very few media outlets picked it up. We want to protect our brand in Oregon . . . as the number one non-profit.”

Now, imagine if there had been one or two beat reporters, like myself in my teens and twenties, vying to find out what really happened and why so much force had been deployed for a suicidal veteran basically isolated in his pick-up who could do no harm to anyone but himself? My baseline would have been news coverage galore, and better yet, follow up coverage.

Today, nothing, not even in the Portland, Oregon media market that serves millions of residents. And this is the Salvation Army, funded by the US taxpayer; i.e., VA paying for beds for those veterans to be housed.

This is the shifting baseline syndrome, which is a sickness tied to outfits like the Salvation Army using PR flaks and using the fact there are no newspapers in Washington County to cover local news and this disturbing show of military force and what the implications of a military operation in their neighborhood might mean in the future. No less, against a veteran who was getting services from a well-known homeless center.

Local news, and then news that has national and international implications, lost. Not covered. In the memory hole!

Shifting baseline syndrome means the public gets shafted and the administrators and gatekeepers of information — PR and marketers and development officers – get to lie through their teeth, or in the case of my police-involved shooting incident (even that term is dripping with propagandist flavor), no one knew the ramifications of the Salvation Army’s unprofessionalism and lack of trauma informed care leading up to the soldier’s eviction and then the suicidal behavior and then the soldier almost killed, and now, recovering in County lock-up jail serving time.  And he’s still suicidal, untreated.

Job well done by the keepers of the information flow. Shifting baseline disease.

Read the three parts of my Salvation Army mess here, II  III.

In the 1980s, I had published pieces in small towns newspapers, and later in the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post on Central American refugees, on people crossing the border seeking asylum, on groups, both religious and secular, helping undocumented people cross the border and get help once here and to apply for political asylum. Piece published on the front pages of many small town rags I worked for.

My baseline then was we still had morning and evening rags, and weeklies, that debated hard the military’s presence in towns like Tucson or El Paso. Debated hard the debasement of the environment through the unchecked developers razing the desert. Debated hard the values of community health, welfare, safety and well-being over the wants and desires of small and large companies coming into communities and demanding tax abatements, giveaway land schemes, and more-more-more from the public coffers to do their trickster capitalism to make more-more-more for the owners, CEOs and stockholders.

Now Democrats and Republican alike rah-rah cheer trillions in military spending. Job creation and Hollywood America the Greatest masturbation. –

I’m going back to Ike: In his final address to the country, in 1961, while still a five-star general, and still a believer in the American way, in American exceptionalism, in America’s greatness (both sides of the political isle yammer on and on to show their patriotism), he did at least put into check the US military industrial complex:

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.   —source

Now, I have to back up a bit to reset this essay: I continue today — just hitting 62 — to call this myopia and concerted erasure of knowledge and historical context (what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia) shifting baseline syndrome covering many aspects of my life, the life of America and the implications to the world that the US Empire negatively effects.

I explain this concept daily as I go about living and roaming, learning and teaching, struggling and rejoicing.

Here, illustratively: The baseline for divers like me, in the Sea of Cortes (called the Aquarium of the World by many then), for the 1970s and ’80s:

I was diving daily near San Carlos and Guaymas, out near Tiburon Island from the boat my buddy and I paid $500 from a lake fisherman from Phoenix. So, a typical dive – dozens of turtles of three or four species, dozens of moray eels of a dozen species; pinnipeds like sea lions by the hundreds; long beak and short beak dolphins by the dozens; hammerhead sharks by the dozen; over two hundred species of reef fish, crustaceans, and sponges and soft corals; brown pelicans by the hundreds; pelagic fish and groupers and barracuda and amazing surface fish, nudibranchs; and, well, in one hour dive, more than what any overpaid Avatar CGI technical wonk could create, let alone dream of.

That’s the baseline for an 18-year-old in 1975, me, a wanna be Jacques Cousteau and marine biology college major. Fast forward forty-four years, and the baseline of another Pablo diver, same age, well, now a decimated, overfished, multi-polluted ocean, with hardly a shadow of what I saw on typical dives in the 1970s.

The baseline shifted, and today, the syndrome, in the shifting baseline syndrome/disease analogy, would be the arrogance, historical stupidity, and hubris to believe that a healthy and normal reef dive is what it should be as experienced in 2019. The syndrome and disease of shifting baselines it that it is most likely even smart biologists might be working on staving off further decline in an ecosystem based on the present baseline. What you don’t see now normalizes one to see what they see now as the correct baseline to go by. Wrong.

Now transfer the shifting baseline syndrome/disease to almost every aspect of US society: no, the baseline for police involvement in our lives is not a Gestapo, shoot to kill first force, where we all are in fear, while witnessing pigs murder Latinos and African Americans with impunity. Judge, jury and executioner, no, is not the baseline we should be stuck with or happy with.

Baseline sickness now applied to what it means to be a student – my baseline was a university where faculty had freedom to teach, that more were on the tenure track, where students would be experimenting with ideas and learning, without fear of Goldman Sachs thugs hobbling them for life with $100 K debt or censuring like a Phil Knight of Nike fame or Monsanto do regularly to researchers.

Yes, the baseline in 1975 when I was coming of age was that we COULD protest in the streets without fear of felonies, without being sprayed upon with tear gas and rubber bullets at every event; where cops were in small numbers, and there were no drones and militarized SWAT teams for peace demonstrations.

Baseline was for 1975 one hell of a lot more book readers, more by a power of 10,000 regular thinkers, and more people who had newspapers in their hands and talked about local politics by a power of 1,000,000.

Shifting baseline syndrome is now infecting every sector of our lives, where what is acceptable thinking, behavior, standard operating procedures and collective will NOW are so bastardized, retrograded and devolved that the conversation about anything on any tract – food-medicine-science-arts-law-education-international politics-community standards-health-safety-welfare of the environment-ownership-birth and death-cradle to cradle planning — is an effort in alien talk, as if people today are from a completely new set of gravitaional laws.

Idiots call this the “new normal,” another shifting baseline of not only bastardizing language but Orwellizing it. War is Peace, Lies are Truth, Stupidity is Smarts. New normal!

Now, back to “we all are illegal aliens,” where I helped push that bumper sticker in El Paso as a solidarity protest meme, to illustrate that no American First Nations leaders came together to endorse the free passage of all those whites to use their great Turtle Island as a haul-out like a bunch of molting fur seals.

Here, my writing, 13 years ago, for Dissident Voice, just below. Talk about no shifting baseline for me, or in the case of this hatred of Mexicans and Central Americans, displayed by more than just Trump and his ilk.

Oh, once you hit 50 or 60, the ramifications of this French doozy really sink in:

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change the more they stay the same –

It hearkens to the proverb, “Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

Related image

What is the Empire’s status quo when it comes to people displaced by American Empire structural and military and economic and environmental violence? April 7, 2006:

See the source image

This Land is Their Land, and We Are the Illegal Aliens

By Paul. K Haeder, April 7, 2006

We are all illegal aliens.” It’s a bumper sticker many of us on the frontlines of the fight against the United States’ government’s assault on Central Americans plastered on our car bumpers down El Paso way.

That was in the 1980s.

Image result for childrens drawings of murders in Central America by death squads

You know, when Reagan was running amok ordering his captains Ollie North, McFarland, Casper Weinberger, the whole lot of them, to send bombs, CIA-torture manuals and US agents in order to aid terrorist contras and other despotic sorts in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in civil wars in Salvador and Guatemala and El Salvador.

We worked with women and children who had witnessed fathers, uncles and husbands eviscerated by US-backed military monsters.

Victims of torture, in Texas illegally. You know, what those brave Smith and Wesson-brandishing, chaise lounge Minutemen of today would call aliens.

We worked with people in faith-based communities, mainstream churches, and non-profits throughout El Paso, Juarez and the general area known as La Frontera. Everyone I met working with in this refugee assistance stint had humanitarian blood coursing through their veins. We were proud of our law-breaking work — we gave refuge to terrorized and sometimes half-dead civilians.

We were called lawbreakers by the Reaganites and the Minutemen of that time. Communists. Pinko-fags. Those were the good old days of low-tech surveillance and simple FBI lists.

But what we did was human and humane, in the tradition of that very universal (with roots in Quakerism) belief in bearing witness and acting upon that which has been judged as unjust and inhumane.

Of course, we were up against the laws of this land and coarse politically-driven judges who denied victim after victim permanent or temporary status while seeking asylum in the US.

We have so many stories of people sent back who were at best imprisoned, and in the worse cases, mutilated, disappeared, and murdered.

Guatemalan and Salvadorans, that is. My readers may not want to hear the narratives and visualize the descriptions of photos of those victims of torture. Ghastly things happened to teachers, nuns, medical workers and farmers, more heinous than what we’ve heard happened in the cells of Abu Ghraib.

We were there to assist, but more importantly to bear witness to our country’s terror campaign. Some of us got so riled up that later in our lives — me included — we hoofed it to Central America. Kicked around. Wrote articles for the few newspapers in this country that even cared about poor, misbegotten, displaced people of Latin America.

But no matter how hard-nosed we became, or how much we could withstand the photographs of women’s sliced backs and beheaded fetuses, we couldn’t shake the images of the children of torture at this two-story refugee house, Annunciation House. It was full of scruffy-looking East Coast volunteers who had hooked up with Ruben Garcia, the House’s director, through Catholic services organizations. It was their stint with public service, their spiritual duty calling. Part of their degree plans. But most were converted and slammed hard intellectually and spiritually by the violence their charges had suffered under in our name – as US citizens paying taxes.

Those PTSD-induced cartoons those children drew sucked the air out of even the hard-ass border patrol guys who used to “dump” the Central Americans at Ruben’s door at all hours of the night. Who can believe it now, that once upon a time official INS and border patrol officers knowingly let their perps go — knew that Ruben and his volunteers could salve emotional and physical wounds of these tortured crossers.

Their chance at freedom. Except for the piss-ant judges. And the memories of pregnant aunties being raped, their fetuses cut out alive, speared, and the laughing Reagan-loved military punks in the highlands and jungle.

Annunciation House was bulging at 100 people — disheveled lives jammed in. Beans always cooking. Songs. Mattresses and piles of donated clothes. Guitars strumming. Gueros, the white ones, and the Chicanos would help with in-takes — asylum transcripts, translation, dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. Help with getting jobs. Odd jobs in the community. Help with making sure the refugees didn’t get caught again.

But it was always those by-the-letter-of-the-law jurists helping to confound the torture. More than 70 percent of our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US were denied entry by some fat cat, many times cocaine-sniffing immigration judge who usually had a friend in the back pocket of some Bush or buddy of Bush somewhere.

Then it was trying to get the denied victims off to Canada without being caught. You remember, the Canada back then which used to open its borders to refugees, [the Canada of shifting baseline syndrome].

The judges and politicians and Minutemen all professed, “Send them back. Those aliens broke our immigration laws.”

But “we are all illegal aliens” as a rejoinder went much farther than USA’s mayhem in Mesoamerica. We worked in solidarity with the housekeepers, bricklayers, agricultural workers and so many other worthy Mexicans who worked their butts off in the US for little pay and much less respect.

These were workers who crossed the Rio Grande to find low-paying jobs with American families and businesses — working for mayors, bigwigs, even on government contracts. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, elsewhere. With a wink and a smile by the American exploiters.

Mojado — wetback. Squatter. Beaner. Illegal alien. These were the more tame epithets.

But let’s not kid ourselves about the genesis of this new round of empowered Latinos fighting against racist laws put forward by the dispassionate conservatives running the ship of fools in DC.

This is not a country of legal immigrants. It’s a country based on colonialists, undocumented white people who helped displace native tribes through broken laws and genocide.

It’s a country based on illegal occupation of native lands and on Mexico’s lands, pure and simple. Colonialists protected by Federal laws that deemed free white people as the only ones who had the right to be fully-fledged citizens.

Manifest Destiny was a violent racist act to seize lands illegally.

Everything this country’s current anti-Mexican and pro-Apartheid border war proponents stand upon — all that doctrine and those so-called laws — is based on illegally seizing lands of Native tribes.

And worse — laws that “removed” natives. Laws that starved natives. Laws that approved of eradicating native families, entire tribes.

The current massive turnout of students and workers alike in this country’s major cities is a testament to these Americans’ backbone to fight this new exclusionary law — HR4377 — a Washington, DC-inspired racist act that has its roots in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Many Americans do express a certain humanity and dignity for the people many deem aliens, but it’s not awe-inspiring that some citizens of Copenhagen, Denmark or Limerick, Ireland, disobey the so-called immigration laws of this country during their initial years as landed immigrants.

Let’s make no bones about the motives of Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of this racist House bill: He sees those brown-skinned south-of-the-border lettuce pickers, linen washers, house framers, and their US-born children as, what? “Alien gang members terrorizing communities.”

Anyone spouting that we are a nation of immigrants and laws has a disease, what George Orwell called the illness of double-think.

And until those many white Americans stop spewing that this is their land, a land of their laws, and a land made for Christians, the racist Minutemen will ramp up their gun brandishing on the southern and northern borders. And racist politicians will continue to play on the fears of uniformed constituents and try to pass the 21st Century’s racist exclusionary laws.

I wonder what these modern-day Nazis would say about those children’s cartoons — images of bodies floating in rivers. Blood-soaked church walls. Military men with their M-16s trained on men while others are sketched in their rape hunch. Beautiful jungle birds flying in the sky next to US-paid-for helicopter gunships spraying the corn and coffee fields below. Dead mommies cradling dead babies.

Yeah, I’m an illegal alien. We all are illegal aliens, under the laws of these creeps in high office. Humanity and caring and simple benedictions for suffering so much, those are alien traits only held by a minority in this country of exclusion, and slavery. Yeah, those creeps on hate-radio and in the newspaper columns and on Capitol Hill, sure, they recognize all of us who see the lies and fight the injustice as aliens.

And the children whose post-traumatic cartoons brought tears to men and women, some who had “fought” in Vietnam. Simple Crayola colorings brought tears to a county sheriff who had survived drug runners shooting up his town and unearthed bodies.

Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.

Paul Haeder worked in Central America and Mexico writing for newspapers during the 1980s and early 1990s. He’s currently in Spokane, Washington, as an instructor of writing at Spokane Falls Community College and writes sustainability-energy-environmental pieces for the towns weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander.

 

Career War Criminal Elliott Abrams to Lead US on Venezuela

In 1985, an activist for the relatives of the disappeared [persons in Guatemala], named Rosario Godoy, was abducted by the army. She was raped. Her mutilated body was found alongside that of her baby. The baby’s fingernails had been torn out. The Guatemalan army, when asked about this atrocity, said, “Oh, they died in a traffic accident.”

When [US human rights official] Elliott Abrams was asked about this accident, he affirmed also that they died in a traffic accident. This activist raped and mutilated, the baby with his fingernails pulled out, Abrams says it’s a traffic accident.

— Allan Nairn, on Democracy NOW January 30, 2019

Some say history repeats itself. Mark Twain said history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. The January 25 appointment of convicted perjurer Elliott Abrams as the new US Special Envoy on Venezuela is evidence that history just goes on and on and on with ironic cruelty and relentless injustice. That would be especially true if you happen to have the world’s largest proven oil reserve, as Venezuela does.

The malign US interference in Venezuela goes back more than a century. For decades the idea of “Venezuelan democracy” was a US-inflected oxymoron. When Venezuela somehow elected Hugo Chávez president in 1999 – legitimately – turnout was 63%, and Chávez won 56% of the vote (both better numbers than the 2016 US presidential election). Chávez was a leader of failed coups in 1992 that tried to topple the corrupt kleptocracy of then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had been elected promising to resist US meddling, only to become a corrupt tool of it (and impeached in 1993). The US responded to the democratic process in Venezuela with at least one coup attempt in 2002 and chronic economic warfare for two decades. Despite its oil, Venezuela has not prospered and remains a country of about 31 million people, one in five of whom are poor.

Venezuela is now in play once more, with no reasonably decent outcome in sight. Whichever vicious and corrupt side wins, most of the Venezuelan people are likely to lose. In a sense, it was ever thus. Presently, the US has taken sides with self-proclaimed Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaidó. On January 22, Guaidó leveraged his position as President of the Venezuelan National Assembly to make an ingenious but untested argument that the national presidency was “vacant” and he had a constitutional obligation to fill it (or something like that – try to find a coherent explanation of what actually happened). In an alternative reality, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro was re-elected president last May and sworn in on January 10. The Venezuelan constitution is invoked on both sides, and there appears to be no institution with sufficient authority to resolve the issue. The constitutional basis of Guaidó’s position is specious on its face, since he relies on Article 233 and none of its conditions apply. Guaidó asserts that the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition party, voided the May 2018 election results and that therefore when Maduro’s term expired on January 9, the presidency became vacant. On Maduro’s side is the Constituent Assembly, a murky institution created in 2017 that runs in parallel with the National Assembly. The CIA acknowledges that the “ruling party” controls the Constituent Assembly, but states: “The US Government [like 40 other countries] does not recognize the Assembly, which has generally used its powers to rule by decree rather than to reform the constitution.”

So, of course, when Juan Guaidó used the National Assembly’s power to rule by decree, the US rushed to recognize his somewhat imaginary government without hesitation, without analysis, without restraint. Even if there is no practical way to sort out the competing constitutional legalities in an orderly, peaceful way, the US might have given the rule of law at least lip service. Instead, the US polarizes the world further, demanding that other nations help make Venezuela worse. On January 26, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council:

Now, it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.

Whose mayhem? Whose economic sanctions? Whose periodic coup attempts? Pompeo embraces a version of the Big Lie about Venezuela we’ve been hearing for a long, long time. The day before he spoke at the UN, Pompeo announced the appointment of Attorney Elliott Abrams, a promising sign that the Venezuelan future will be dark and bloody. In his announcement, Pompeo invoked “the Venezuelan people” at least nine times, which should be warning enough. Pompeo said, complete with the contradiction as to which people will be served:

Elliott Abrams is coming aboard to lead our efforts on Venezuela…. Elliott’s passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition…. Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country…. he is eager to advance President Trump’s agenda and promote the ideals and interests of the American people.

President Trump was talking about invading Venezuela in 2017, but was dissuaded by Rex Tillerson, then Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster. The idea is still not off the table, as National Security Advisor John Bolton recently confirmed (along with flashing his notepad with “5,000 troops to Colombia,” unexplained). Bolton is apparently one of the architects of the current coup effort in Venezuela, along with Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Pence was on the phone assuring US support for Guaidó before he named himself president (on behalf of the Venezuelan people who were not involved).

Adding Elliott Abrams to this team does little to provide hope for the Venezuelan people. Contrary to Pompeo’s assertion, Abrams has never demonstrated “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples,” least of all Palestinians. But Abrams’s demonstrated capacity for supporting subversion, torture, and mass killing does indeed make him “a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition.” After all, Abrams represents the continuity of 40 years of genocidal US global policies. And he participated in many of them, as reported with devastating detail on Democracy NOW as well as the terror timeline in The Intercept, but not so much in mainstream media.

In 1981, at the age of 33, Abrams was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Reagan’s first choice, Ernest Lefever, had been rejected in part for his view that the US should support vicious regimes if they were our allies.

Abrams managed to carry out that policy very well, starting in El Salvador in the early 1980s, when our Salvadoran government ally could carry out human rights violations and mass killings almost without reproach. The government killed nearly 75,000 people. No atrocity was worthy of Abrams’s condemnation. He had no sympathy for those seeking asylum from US-sponsored violence, telling Congress:

Some groups argue that illegal aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often death. Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these people.

Overseeing US involvement in Guatemala, Abrams claimed to be equally oblivious to the human rights depredations of the government of Gen. Ríos Montt, a born-again evangelical Christian. He was a hero to the Reagan administration as his death squads helped kill some 200,000 Guatemalans. Ríos Montt was eventually convicted in a Guatemalan court of waging genocide against his own people. If there’s any evidence Abrams regrets his support for crimes against humanity, that evidence is well hidden. In 2017, his status as an unindicted war criminal was enough to keep Trump from naming him Secretary of State.

In 1983, Abrams supported the US invasion of Grenada. He also pushed for a full-scale invasion of Nicaragua, where he was already involved in the support of the terrorist Contras against the Sandinista government. When Congress cut off support to the Contras, Abrams was involved in the criminal activities of the so-called Iran-Contra operation that included selling drugs to support the Contras and shipping arms to Iran to support the Contras. Abrams escaped serious consequences for his crimes, pleading guilty in 1991 to two counts of lying to Congress. Without remorse, Abrams wrote what he thought of his prosecutors: “You miserable filthy bastards, you bloodsuckers.” The first President Bush pardoned him and five other Iran-Contra criminals on Christmas Eve 1992. (These pardons were supported by current attorney-general nominee William Barr.)

In 1985, the Reagan administration was aware that Panamanian president Manuel Noriega was a heavy drug dealer. When a former Panama health official was about to release what he said was proof of Noriega’s cocaine smuggling, Noriega’s agents seized and tortured the man, sawing off his head while he was still alive. When the news became public and caused a stir in the US, Abrams went out of his way to block Congressional hearings, claiming that Noriega was “being really helpful to us” with Nicaragua and that he was “really not that big a problem.”

Abrams was reportedly involved in the US-supported coup attempts against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. In 2003, Abrams played a mysterious role in squelching a peace proposal from Iran that might have ended the US war against Iraq.

In 2006, Abrams was instrumental in suppressing the results of a legitimate democratic election. In support of the corrupt Palestinian Authority, the Bush administration pushed for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. To their surprise, Hamas won. In response, Abrams and others tried to organize a coup. Hamas effected a counter-coup, the Bush administration refused to recognize the election winners, and that US-enforced injustice is at the heart of suffering in Gaza now.

Everywhere Elliott Abrams goes, innocent people are left bleeding or dead. Objections among the predominant political and pundit classes are hard to find. The conventional wisdom, especially among Democrats, is to support the US coup attempt but object to any military intervention, as if that satisfied any standard of national sovereignty. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard seems to be alone in saying that the US “needs to stay out of Venezuela.”  But now Elliott Abrams is our man for Venezuela. And that suggests that tens of thousands of Venezuelans will soon be having serious “traffic accidents.”

Venezuela: What Activists Need To Know About The US-Led Coup

Photo: John Zangas, DC Media Group.

Two things stand out about the US coup in Venezuela. First, it is unusually open. Typically, the US tries to hide its coups. Second, the coup is built on a series of obvious falsehoods, yet the bi-partisans in Washington, with a few exceptions, keep repeating them.

First, we will correct the falsehoods so readers are all working from the same facts. Second, we will describe how this coup is being defeated. It will be another major embarrassment for the Trump administration and US foreign policy.

It is important to understand Venezuela has become a geopolitical conflict as Russia and China are closely allied with Venezuela. China and Russia coming into the backyard of the United States challenges the antiquated Monroe Doctrine.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest gold reserves, as well as diamonds and other minerals such as coltan (needed for electronic devices). And, Venezuela is taking over as president of OPEC and will be in a position to push for oil payments in non-dollar currencies or in cryptocurrencies, a major threat to the US dollar.

A protest outside the United States Consulate in Sydney on January 23 to demand no US intervention in Venezuela. Photo: Peter Boyle

Correcting the Record

There are a series of false statements repeated by DC officials and corporate media to justify the coup that are so obvious, it is hard to believe they are not intentional. In his two-paragraph comment on the coup, even Senator Bernie Sanders repeated them.

1. Truth: President Nicolás Maduro is the legitimate president.

President Maduro was re-elected on May 20, 2018, in response to the opposition demanding an early election. The legitimacy of the election of Maduro is so evident that it must be assumed those who say he is illegitimate are either intentionally false or ignorant. The election was scheduled consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution and in consultation with opposition parties. When it became evident that the opposition could not win the election, they decided, under pressure from the United States, to boycott the election in order to undermine its legitimacy. The facts are 9,389,056 people voted, 46% of eligible voters. Sixteen parties participated in the election with six candidates competing for the presidency.

The electoral process was observed by more than 150 election observers. This included 14 electoral commissions from eight countries among them the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America; two technical electoral missions; and 18 journalists from different parts of the world, among others. According to the international observers, “the elections were very transparent and complied with international parameters and national legislation.”

Venezuela has one of the best electoral systems in the world. Voter fraud is not possible as identification and fingerprints are required for each voter. Voting machines are audited before and immediately after the election. Venezuela does something no other country in the world does — a public, citizen’s audit of a random sample of 53% of voting machines that is televised. All 18 parties signed the audits.

Maduro won by a wide margin, obtaining 6,248,864 votes, 67.84%; followed by Henri Falcón with 1,927,958, 20.93%; Javier Bertucci with 1,015,895, 10.82%; and Reinaldo Quijada, who obtained 36,246 votes, 0.39% of the total.

This same voting system has been used in elections that Maduro’s party has lost in governor’s and legislative elections. Venezuela is a real democracy with transparent elections. The United States could learn a good deal about real democracy from Venezuela.

2. Truth: The economic crisis is caused by outside intervention, internal sabotage and the decline in oil prices.

There is no doubt the economic situation in Venezuela is dire. The cause is the economic war conducted by the United States, the major decline in oil prices and economic sabotage by the opposition. In essence, the United States and opposition created problems in the Venezuelan economy and now say Maduro must be replaced because of problems they created.

Oil was discovered in Venezuela in the early part of the 20th Century and has dominated the economy since then. The Dutch Disease, the negative impact of an economy based on one natural resource, causes a sharp inflow of foreign currency, which raises the value of the country’s currency, making the country’s other products less price competitive. It is cheaper to import products rather than create them. This makes it more difficult for segments of the economy like agriculture and manufacturing to develop.

Chavez/Maduro sought to diversify the economy. They put in place thousands of communes and hundreds of thousands of people working in cooperatives to build agriculture and manufacturing. When the global price of oil was cut by more than half, it collapsed Venezuela’s public finances undermining these efforts. The economic war by the US made it difficult for Venezuela to borrow and trade with some countries.

Economic sanctions against Venezuela began under President Obama, and the Trump administration escalated them with financial sanctions. United States sanctions cost Venezuela some $6 billion since August, according to an October analysis. Measures against the nation’s oil industry have prohibited the Venezuelan majority-owned company, CITGO, from sending profits back to Venezuela, a $1 billion loss to the government yearly. Now, the Bank of England is refusing to return $1.2 billion in gold reserves after US officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, lobbied them to cut Venezuela off from its overseas assets.

The US economic war and sabotage of the economy by business interests has been exposed as part of the effort to remove Maduro by creating social unrest and lack of confidence in the government.  This has included hoarding of goods, storing essentials in warehouses and selling Venezuelan goods in Colombia.

In September 2018, Venezuela pointed to a false media campaign exaggerating migration from Venezuela. They highlighted   statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to affirm that Venezuela has the fewest volunteer migrants in the continent. They pointed out 5.6 million Colombians have fled violence in their country and live in Venezuela. Venezuela has programs that have helped thousands of Venezuelans return home.

Socialism strengthens economies, as demonstrated in Portugal. Indeed, one criticism of Venezuela is that the Bolivarian Process is moving too slowly to put in place a socialist economy. There is a need for more sectors to be nationalized and put under democratic control of the people.

3. Truth: The opposition is violent, not the Maduro government.

Opposition protesters have been extremely violent. One tactic of the opposition was to be violent and then film the government’s response to make the government look violent. When Abby Martin was confronted by opposition protesters, they told her, “Do not film anything that we do. Just film what the government does to us.” She reported on the violence saying, “the vast majority has been caused by either indirect or direct violence by the opposition.”

Martin reports the opposition attacked hospitals, burned down the Housing Ministry, assassinated Chavistas and attacked citizen communes such as an art commune that gave free dance and music lessons to local children. Afro-Venezuelans were burned alive. Protesters pulled drivers out of buses and torched the buses. When photos and videos of opposition violence were put on social media, Martin and her colleague, Mike Prysner, became the target of a false media campaign on social media. The opposition did all they could to prevent them from reporting the truth using hundreds of death threats and threats they would be lynched.

In 2017, Venezuela Analysis reported that violent opposition protests included an attack on a maternity hospital endangering the lives of more than 50 newborn babies. Another report described the opposition using snipers to shoot government officials and civilians. Opposition newspapers urged that blunt objects be used to “neutralize” pro-government protesters, resulting in serious injuries and death.

Steve Ellner also reported that violence was coming from the opposition. He pointed to attacks at grocery stores, banks, buses, and government buildings.  Other commentators described specific incidents of violence by the opposition including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted how to use wire to decapitate people on motorcycles, which happened, and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails.

Documents show that violence was the opposition’s strategy. They sought to “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries.”

The tales of government violence are rooted in lies. The government’s response was Maduro calling for a peace conference describing it as “a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups.”

4. Truth: The National Assembly acted in violation of the law and is in contempt of court.

The National Assembly is not the only democratic body in Venezuela. Indeed, its actions since the opposition won a majority have violated the law and protected the violence of the opposition with an embarrassing amnesty bill.

On December 6, 2015, the opposition won a parliamentary majority in the Assembly. There were allegations of vote buying in Amazonas state that were investigated by the National Electoral Council, another branch of the government. The Supreme Court barred four legislators from Amazonas taking office, two from the opposition, one allied with the opposition and one from the ruling party. The National Assembly allowed three candidates to take office. The Assembly has been held in contempt of court since July 2016 and their decisions were nullified.

Before the court ruling, the Assembly passed an amazing amnesty law, which granted amnesty for crimes the opposition has committed since 1999 (Chavez’ election). The law is an admission of guilt and provides a well-organized catalog of crimes including felonies, crimes committed at public rallies, terrorist acts involving explosives and firearms and undermining the economy. They essentially admitted exactly what Chavez/Maduro have claimed — crimes to overthrow the government for 17 years. Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. Inaccurately, the Trump administration calls the Assembly Venezuela’s only remaining democratic institution.

This January, a subsidiary of the state oil company asked the Assembly to intervene claiming the president cannot make reforms to mixed public-private oil businesses without the prior approval of the National Assembly. On January 16, the court ruled that the Assembly was still in contempt of court and could not act. This is also when the Assembly elected Juan Guaidó as their president, who would later appoint himself President of Venezuela, as part of the US-led coup. Guaidó’s election to head the legislature was illegal and nullified by the court.

The Assembly still exists but remains in a state of contempt of the judiciary. It can rectify the situation by removing the lawmakers accused of electoral fraud. The Assembly refuses to do so because their goal is to remove Maduro from office and they need a super-majority to do so.

Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK disrupts Mike Pompeo at the OAS. Press TV.

A Timeline of the US Coup in Venezuela

In “Anti-Maduro Coalition Grew from Secret Talks,” the Associated Press explains the coup was “only possible because of strong support from the Trump administration, which led a chorus of mostly conservative Latin American governments that immediately recognized Guaidó.”

Since August 2017, Donald Trump has been saying that military intervention against Venezuela was a distinct possibility. AP describes this as a “watershed moment” in the coup planning. They report Trump pressuring aides and Latin American countries to invade Venezuela. In September, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had been meeting with coup plotters since mid-2017.

The Wall Street Journal reports Trump has long viewed Venezuela as one of his top-three foreign policy priorities, with Iran and North Korea. Trump requested a briefing on Venezuela on his second day in office, talking of the immense potential of Venezuela to become a rich nation through its oil reserves. AP reports that Trump “personally sparked” this as he brought up regime change in Venezuela in every meeting with Latin American leaders.

After Maduro was re-elected, administration plans began taking shape, driven in part by key members in the National Security Council and anti-Maduro advocates in Congress like extreme interventionist Senator Marco Rubio.

On November 1, John Bolton zeroed in on Latin America, calling Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela a “troika of tyranny.” On January 2, Bolton met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts to collaborate to “return Venezuela to its democratic heritage.”

On January 10, Maduro was sworn in for his second term, Pompeo spoke with opposition leader Guaidó, pledging support. Canada also played a key role, AP reports that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaidó the night before Maduro’s inauguration offering Canada’s support. This was 13 days before Guaidó announced he was president of Venezuela.

On January 12, the State Department backed Guaidó’s move to invoke his authority as president of the assembly, saying, “It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government.” On January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro as illegitimate. The Trump administration worked to get allies lined up to support Guaidó’. By January 18, the Venezuela Foreign Minister was describing a US coup in progress.

The night before Guaidó’s announcement on January 23, Vice President Mike Pence put out a video message encouraging Venezuelans to overthrow their government, saying, “We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you.” Guaidó also received a phone call from Pence the night before he appointed himself president where he pledged that the U.S. would back Guaidó.

Guaidó declared that Maduro’s government was illegitimate and he was assuming the presidency. In a well-coordinated charade, almost instantly, Trump recognized Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader. To further demonstrate the preconceived, tightly coordinated and efficiently carried out coup, US allies, among them Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru, quickly recognized the coup president.

The Trump administration is claiming Guaidó represents the lawful government and is entitled to all Venezuelan revenues. The State Department notified the Federal Reserve that Guaidó is the agent for access to Venezuelan assets in US banks.

Nearly as quickly, Maduro drew statements of support from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, and others. The Venezuelan Supreme Court called for an investigation into the National Assembly and Guaidó, regarding the illegal usurpation of Executive power. The Venezuelan military announced it supported Maduro and Russia warned the US not to intervene militarily.

On January 25, the Organization of American States, which is traditionally a US tool, rejected a resolution to recognize Guaidó. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK interrupted Pompeo at the OAS holding a sign that said: “a coup is not a democratic transition!” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza thanked Benjamin, saying, “With her protest, she revealed the macabre coup plan against Venezuela, we will always prevail, thank you!” Eighteen countries defeated the proposal.

At the UN Security Council meeting on January 26, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of attempting “to engineer a coup d’etat.” He demanded to know whether the Trump administration “is ready to use military force” against Venezuela. European countries gave Venezuela eight days to hold an election, a suggestion Venezuela rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Venezuela an “illegitimate mafia state.” He accused Russia and China of trying “to prop up Maduro.”

Both China and Russia have told the US not to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs. In December, Russia sent two nuclear-capable strategic Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela along with an An-124 heavy military transport plane and an II-62 long-haul plane. As of December, Russia has one brigade in Venezuela and was discussing sending a second military brigade to Venezuela even before the coup due to the continued threat of intervention from the United States.

China has lent over $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade and has become a partner in the Venezuelan oil industry. In December, seven months since signing a financial business venture with China, Venezuela’s oil production has doubled to 130,000 barrels per day. The take-over of Venezuela’s oil would also be an attack on China. China and Venezuela signed 28 bilateral strategic cooperation agreements on September 14 in the areas of oil, mining, security, technology, finance, and health.

Demonstrating the nature of the coup president, the first acts that Guaidó took were to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which would put Venezuela in debt to western bankers and under their control, and to privatize the Venezuelan oil industry, which would rob Venezuela of the funds being used to lift up the poor and working class.

The appointment by Mike Pompeo of Elliott Abrams as the person in charge of overseeing operations “to restore democracy in Venezuela” is an ominous sign. It is scandalous and demonstrates the most extreme elements of the US establishment are leading the charge. Abrams was convicted during the Iran-Contra scandal, supported US-backed death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, played a key role in the Reagan administration support for the murderous Contras in Nicaragua and was the person who gave approval for the US-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002.

Analyst Vijay Prashad writes the coup violated the charters of the United Nations and of the Organisation of American States and describes efforts to call on the military to rise up against the government have failed. The Trump administration is now  threatening a total oil embargo on Venezuela and is leaving the “military option” open.

The concerted campaign by the US and Canada to install Juan Guaidó as the new ‘self-declared’ interim President of Venezuela has been met with initial failure. Unfortunately, the illegal and undemocratic attempts to destabilize the country and overthrow the democratically-elected President will continue with harmful consequences. The people of Venezuela are rising once again to defend their country against hostile foreign intervention. It is essential that we support them in this fight. Many groups are holding solidarity rallies and issuing statements of support. Find rallies and protests here and here.

While Sanders got all the facts wrong about Venezuela, he did reach the right conclusion: “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries. We must not go down that road again.” People in the United States have an important role to play in supporting Venezuela and defeating the coup.

The Obsession with and Lies about Nicaragua

The intense focus on the “ills” of Nicaragua completely misses the deep issues of continued US intervention – imperial neocolonialism – into the sovereign lives of other countries, as here with Nicaragua. Whether you love or hate Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, their personalities and personal lives are not the issue, whatsoever.

For US Americans to be so closely scrutinizing clearly the most progressive government in Central America, ignoring the new US friendly but unpopular president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada; the systematic violence in the streets of El Salvador which is directly related to the US funded death squad governments of the 1980s; the repressive and illegal President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez; and the repressive and corrupt government of Guatemala under President Jimmy Morales, is very interesting, and disturbing.

The elaborate, well-planned conspiracy behind the April-July 2018 US-orchestrated coup attempt against Nicaragua, included most of the church hierarchy, many wealthy ex-Somocistas, many NGOs including the European-funded CENIDH, the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and USAID, and a couple thousand young Nicaraguans trained over 4 years in the use of social media to blitzkrieg an agenda-loaded propaganda campaign when the right opportunity arose. It had been in the works since at least 2011 when Nicaraguan Felix Maradiaga teamed up with Colombian narco-trafficker Julio Cesar Paz Varela to develop a drug distribution network in Nicaragua, many of the proceeds of which were to be devoted to overthrow the Sandinista government.

The facts are that the few NGOs (of over 4,000 NGOs in the country) who have recently been curtailed by the Nicaraguan government, is because of their support of various criminal activities designed to overthrow the government. Their accountability to the law was long overdue. The same goes for several TV stations (funded largely by NED), the internet news outlet Confidencial (funded by the NED), and La Prensa (funded by NED) which have openly supported opposition “terrorist” activities (yes, that is correct), something that would never be tolerated in the US or in virtually any country. Many of the hundreds participating in dozens of murders, arsons, destruction of buildings, tortures, and destruction of equipment (including over 50 ambulances), etc., committed by Opposition members, are fortunately now on trial or in jail. Over 200 fugitives remain in Costa Rica.

It is also ironical, that those people in the US who are so condemnatory of the Nicaraguan government, remain comfortably removed from the terror campaign, April-July, which was awful as I can attest as a resident, while I was forced to read and view, with rage and anger, the spew of scripted lies days after day on social media, and major media outlets, not based on any actual investigative reporting. Ironic, because the US is one of the most oligarchic, non-democratic countries on the planet, and its citizens possess no legal or moral authority to judge others. The US possesses the largest prison per capita population in the world, with 80,000 of prisoners in solitary confinement; it produces the most waste and pollution; it has military troops in 150 countries, and war planes and ships everywhere; it is the wholesale terrorist force on the Planet; it has on average 3 citizens a day murdered by US police; it has a president who has been accused by over 15 women of sexual misconduct/assault, a president who lies multiple times each day; it is a country where student debt keeps graduates in a kind of servitude for life to the banks; it has thousands of homeless living in tents and abandoned cars in virtually every city; it is a country without accessible health care for millions of its citizens; etc. It has a political election process unreliable due to systematic voter suppression, gerrymandered Congressional districts every ten years, privatization of the voter counting process, while the process itself is literally owned by the millions and billions of dollars of the rich and mighty, headed by the military industrial complex that makes obscene profits on intervening everywhere.

So, Nicaragua is an easy center of focus. If any one of us, or any other Central American government, was subjected to the intense efforts to destroy us, or any country, then one can predict the likely consequences. Neighboring Honduras has not yet recovered from the 2009 US sanctioned coup of President Zelaya. The fear and the repression there is horrendous, but it seems that with those in the US, including in the government, nobody gives a shit. The NICA Act should be the HICA Act for Honduras instead of Nicaragua. But Honduras is a safe Cry Uncle government, despite the fact that the people live in constant fear.

And the idea of name calling people as usual is not helpful in the discussion. Catherine Cusic, who has called Camilo Mejia a liar, has called me several times as an idiot – then, in the past, and now.  Not too constructive for healthy debate.

When will the issue of US imperialism be taken seriously, and a recognition that the US political economy is so destructive it is on a path to destroy the planet? And, yet, the most progressive country in Central America (where there really is NOT repression) – Nicaragua –  with no friends in the Senate or House of Representatives, very little support in the solidarity community, and only supported by the ALBA countries of Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, is targeted for destruction. Lies, lies, more lies. Disgusting beyond disgusting. The truth as I have documented is virtually the exact opposite of what most social media and major media organs spew as if reading from a script. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, is famous for saying that a lie told enough times becomes the truth. Goebbels principle has come once again to haunt Nicaragua. And the US government has spent millions of dollars through NED, US AID, NGOs, etc., at least since 2014, getting ready for the overthrow of a progressive government, primarily because it IS progressive compared to the other Central American governments. It is not a Cry Uncle government. And despite the lies, the Sandinista government remains popular with a majority of the people, similar to Assad in Syria despite intense western media propaganda against him.

So, Libya, The Ivory Coast, the Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia, and on and on, are touted as enemies, subject to the “exceptional” US to seek their overthrow to “correct” matters,  if they haven’t already succeeded. It is interesting that Trump’s fanatical security adviser, John Bolton, has identified the Troika of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (and soon Bolivia) to be targets as threats to the national security of the US. So preposterous yet it is official US policy.

Astonishing, absurd, and criminal. So continue, folks, focusing on the issues you have with Ortega-Murillo, while the US continues on an uncontrolled imperial savagery. Meanwhile, feel smug with your support of “humanitarian intervention” by the most dangerous country on Earth.