Category Archives: Genocide

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

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

President Soekarno landed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Soekarno inaugurating future capital city

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

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

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

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

*****

Then, suddenly, full stop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Pararapak Village, South Barito District, Central Kalimantan Province.

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

Mr. Lanenson (Photo:  Andre Vltchek)

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

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

Soviets building new capital in middle of jungle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can stay overnight,” he suggested.

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With weak but determined voice, he explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Collapsed electric tower in Kelampangan (Andre Vltchek photo)

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Misery is everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other woman began explaining about the genocide:

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

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

The city is cool!

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Most definitely!

Palangkaraya today

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

Huge mosques are being constructed everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We ended up in the garden of our hotel.

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

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

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

She changed the subject.

We didn’t.

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

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

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

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Canadian Legal System’s Complicity in Genocide

[T]he US government no less than the government of Canada is required to obtain the consent of the Indian nations’ before assuming jurisdiction to invade, occupy and govern the yet unceded Indian national territories.

– Bruce Clark, Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights (2018), p 25-26

I have only been physically inside a courtroom once, and that was to support a falsely accused colleague. It struck me that a typical western courtroom is set up not to exude justice but to intimidate, not just the accused but all people present, with the power of the State. The judge is invariably seated centrally on a dais, able to observe all that transpires below in the courtroom. When the judge enters, all present are required to stand, and none may be seated until permission is granted by his “honor.” When the proceedings are displeasing to her honor, she may strike a gavel on the dais to summon order in the courtroom.

Witness the power of the State: the power to mete out punishment for persons found guilty of something the State has determined to be illegal. It is a power that may be, and has been, wielded in what would be construed to be a thoroughly criminal manner in a moral universe. After all, gift giving and dancing were once deemed illegal by the Canadian State, and thus the tradition of First Nation Potlatches were banned until a sense of sanity and seeming propriety prevailed.

Such legal chicanery is not surprising to those who subscribe to Emery Dahlberg’s admonition that power corrupts.1 When law is unjust or when the punishment for wrongdoing is unjust, then the State has abused its power. The State’s power to prescribe justice can, moreover, be argued to represent State violence – in that the threat of punishment is used by the State to coerce behavioral compliance with the societal norms as dictated by the State.

To any informed person, Canada is undeniably a nation state erected on pre-existing nation states. The founding of Canada was unquestionably rooted in the genocide of the Original Peoples of the territory.2 Genocide is a heinous act often rooted in racism and supremacism. One group of humans considers itself privileged and accords itself rights, god-given or not, to the land and resources regardless of whichever people inhabit such territory or how long the territory has been the domain of its inhabitants.

That the law is not a moral construct is adduced by the fact that it has served as a vehicle for carrying out great crimes. The so-called New World was gifted by the Papal Bull Inter Caetera (1493) for division among the Spanish and Portuguese. Non-Christian savages had no rights according to the papacy. Albeit this was later superseded by the Papal Bull Sublimis Deus (1537). Nonetheless, the entirety of the western hemisphere remains controlled by elitist European settler-colonialists.3 Hence, Original Peoples find themselves stripped of sovereignty, ethnically cleansed from gargantuan swaths of unceded territory (reality check: who knowingly agrees to ceding a people’s territory anyway?), marginalized from decision-making regarding their lands, with many people having been forcibly assimilated into the dominating culture.

How to achieve actual justice for the dispossessed?

Bruce Clark is a man who made his living in the courtroom as a lawyer. He is an expert in law as applied to Indigenous peoples, having achieved a doctorate in comparative jurisprudence. Clark believes in the notion of applying law to achieve justice. Justice is a concept that is higher than the self, thus Clark took on the establishment to seek justice for his Indigenous clients. In the end he was punished for his zeal for justice.

I first became aware of Bruce Clark when he was providing counsel to the Sundancers at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake). To protect the claimed rights of an American rancher to property on unceded Secwepemc territory, the provincial government resorted to para-military measures to evict the Sundancers; it was astoundingly reprehensible to me. Natural law was stood on its head by the provincial authorities. It is a matter that all “British Columbians” and “Canadians” should make themselves deeply informed about and act thereupon according to their consciences.

Bruce Clark is speaking and writing words extremely discomfiting to many non-Indigenous people. He is the author of Justice in Paradise and Native Liberty, Crown Sovereignty: The Existing Aboriginal Right of Self-Government in Canada. Just published is a collection of Clark’s subsequent writings, Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights. In Ongoing Genocide Clark presents the legal case for Indigenous sovereignty such that the layperson can readily grasp the arguments.

Clark examines the constitutional law, international law, and case studies based on the law of the invaders. When interpreted without bias, the compelling arguments of Clark strongly refute any credence to the newcomers’ doctrine of discovery, especially over lands previously inhabited for millennia. That invader courts should have any authority in the territory invaded is, on its face, risible.

While constitutional and international law should be preeminent, in Canada writes Clark, “The modus operandi of the legal establishment and its collaborating Indian accomplices is the suppression of the constitutional and international law that the establishment intentionally is breaking.” (p 15)

The corruption in the system is political, economic, and legal. Clark finds that the legal profession and the judiciary are complicit in misprision of treason, fraud, and genocide. (p 31) The legal system has politicized law through artifices such as “the rule of judicial discretion” substituted for “the rule of law.” (p 40) Clark criticizes, “The lie, recently invented by the Supreme Court of Canada in willful blindness, is that the aboriginal right is no more than ‘the right to be consulted’…” (p 142)

The legal system has shielded itself from scrutiny in its complicity with crimes committed. Writes Clark,

Immunity anywhere signifies the non-existence of the rule of law everywhere. But again that will not happen, because like Canada the legal establishment of the United States practices the same willful blindness to the unconstitutional genocide at the historical heart of its legal system. (p 50)

A number of court decisions are mistakes, per incuriam, and are not a binding precedent, writes Clark.

Clark cites legal documents and precedents, in particular, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which sets aside the Hunting Grounds to Indian nations in which the Indians are to be unmolested.

Clark has tried to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s usurpation of Indigenous territory. A Catch 22 has been designed to block this. Clark relates how the Supreme Court demands a lower court ruling on the matter while the lower courts insist it is a Supreme Court matter. (p 127) It is clear to Clark that an independent, third party adjudication is required, this having already been established in the 1703 case of the Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut for Indian land claims throughout British North America.

Pressing to have his legal arguments heard and a decision rendered in court ultimately cost Clark his career as a lawyer. But this was not the end of Clark or the quest for justice.

Clark remains dangerous to the system that upholds the dispossession. A Vancouver Sun diatribe against Clark revealed this. Clark is described as “too radical for B.C. courtrooms, and too rambunctious for the Ontario bar,” and “a colourful but fatally misguided militant zealot.” Yet the critic acknowledges, “… Clark’s well-articulated ideas are definitely threatening to the status quo.”

Clark touches upon many topics in Ongoing Genocide among them the effects of Indian Residential Schools, the Indian Act, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“… an expensive fraud upon the public but a cruel imposition upon the victims, who are encouraged to air their innermost suffering in the mistaken belief that it will lead to closure.” [p 20]), the so-called 60’s scoop of Indigenous children, and more.

The book concludes by pointing out an error in the Supreme Court Case Tsilhqot’in v. British Columbia, 2014 that is at odds with precedents such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and section 109 of the Constitution Act, 1867. In recent years the BC provincial government and federal government have apologized for the wrongful hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs.4 Despite this, the BC government and Taseko Mines have continued to undermine Indigenous sovereignty, with repeated attempts to set up and operate a platinum mine in the Tsilhqot’in nation.

Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights puts forward the case over which Canadian law courts dare not deliberate. That should not preclude people of conscience becoming informed. Is Canada a just society? Read the book and judge for yourself. Then do something about it. Humanity requires many more brave warriors like Bruce Clark.

  1. I hold that Dahlberg’s aphorism should not be considered too simplistically – that it has many layers. E,g, there is probably something already present in the nature of many humans that leads them to covet power.
  2. See Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Read review.
  3. A noteworthy exception is Warisata (Bolivia) which has been governed by an Indigenous president, Evo Morales, since 2006.
  4. Emilee Gilpin, “Minister Carolyn Bennett says exoneration of Tsilhqot’in chiefs opens door to reconciliation,” National Observer, 27 March 2018; Tom Swanky, “Exoneration of the Chilcotin Chiefs,” 10 September 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Mexico suffered for centuries, and it is suffering now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything here is full of contradictions.

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

On February 7, 2016, Telesur reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French intervention in Mexico

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

*****

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

This used to be a great proud hacienda of Yucatan

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

Now it is gone, thoroughly ruined.

Elites partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic imperialism!

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

Comes Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

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

People spoke, people voted.

For them, Mexico has to change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day in Mexico City 2018 — new beginning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva Mexico! Viva Patria Grande!

• Read Part One here:

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Daily reported:

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Beautiful but sentimental touristy Luang Prabang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Lao-China Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

US bombs in Laos

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

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

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

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

Conclusions of Jeremy Kuzmarov are chilling but precise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Railway project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Railway project

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

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

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

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

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

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

US cluster bombs in Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My driver and comrade

• Text first published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek unless otherwise indicated

500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.

As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.

The Congo

Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.

Slavery

However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.

Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.

But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.

Colonization

One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.

If you want to spend a few moments in touch with the horror of what some human beings do to other human beings, then I invite you to look at the sample photos of what Leopold did in ‘his’ colony in the Congo. See A Nightmare In Heaven – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo.

Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.

The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.

Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.

It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Independence then Dictatorship

By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.

But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people.

So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel) Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970 nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed.

Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west  – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals.  Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.

Invasion

Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.

Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War‘ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people – most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo.

During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’

Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current dictator Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’

Corporate and State Exploitation

While countries such as Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines.

But many companies are benefitting. For example,a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal.

For some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.

Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?

A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed.

In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-bindingGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights‘.

And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis!

However, following the election of Donald Trump as US President, in April 2017 ‘the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission suspended key provisions of its “conflict minerals” rule’. Trump is also seeking to undo the Obama-era financial regulations, once again opening the door to the unimpeded trade in blood minerals by US corporations.

Today

Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hi-tech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.

Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.

In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.

But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?

Well, according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.

So what is happening now?

In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.

Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.

In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa.

In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.

Of course, as you no doubt expect, some of the world’s largest corporate miners are in the Congo. These include Glencore (Switzerland) and Freeport-McMoRan (USA). But there are another 20 or more mining corporations in the Congo too, including Mawson West Limited (Australia), Forrest Group International (Belgium),  Anvil Mining (Canada), Randgold Resources (UK) and AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa).

Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’

Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’  program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The Forrest Group has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’

Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.

Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’  and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well.

Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?

Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and face masks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.

Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work.

In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hi-tech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too.

Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long.

Having noted the above, however, there is plenty of evidence of corrupt Chinese business practice in the extraction and sale of strategic minerals in the Congo, including that documented in the above-mentioned Global Witness report.

Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:

Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.

Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.

As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hi-tech products.

Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years. They are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

Social and Environmental Costs

Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.

Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too.

And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.

In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.

As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rain forests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil. For a taste of the reading on all this, see ‘Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush‘, ‘The struggle to save the “Congolese unicorn“‘, ‘Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks‘ and ‘The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park‘.

If you would like to watch a video about some of what is happening in the Congo, either of these videos will give you an unpleasant taste: ‘Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth‘ and ‘Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo‘.

Resisting the Violence

So what is happening to resist this violence and exploitation? Despite the horror, as always, some incredible people are working to end it.

Some Congolese activists resist the military dictatorship of Joseph Kabila, despite the enormous risks of doing so.

Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.

The Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo, headed by Leon Simweragi, is a youth peace group that works to rehabilitate child soldiers as well as offer meaningful opportunities for the sustainable involvement of young people in matters that affect their lives and those of their community.

And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.

There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.

If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?‘ and the website ‘Feelings First‘ instructive.

Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.

If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ which references the Congo among many other examples of violence around the world.

And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives.

If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.

For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.

This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!

As Dictator Kagame Unmasked, it is Time to Reveal Canadian Connection

Canada’s paper of record pulled another layer off the rotting onion of propaganda obscuring the Rwandan tragedy. But, the Globe and Mail has so far remained unwilling to challenge prominent Canadians who’ve crafted the fairy tale serving Africa’s most ruthless dictator.

Two weeks ago a front-page Globe article added to an abundance of evidence suggesting Paul Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994. “New information supports claims Kagame forces were involved in assassination that sparked Rwandan genocide”, noted the headline. The Globe all but confirmed that the surface-to-air missiles used to assassinate the Rwandan and Burundian Hutu presidents came from Uganda, which backed the RPF’s bid to conquer its smaller neighbour. (A few thousand exiled Tutsi Ugandan troops, including the deputy minister of defence, “deserted” to invade Rwanda in 1990.) The new revelations strengthen those who argue that responsibility for the mass killings in spring 1994 largely rests with the Ugandan/RPF aggressors and their US/British/Canadian backers.

Despite publishing multiple stories over the past two years questioning the dominant narrative, the Globe has largely ignored the Canadians that shaped this Kagame-friendly storyline. I’ve written a number of articles detailing Roméo Dallaire’s important role in this sordid affair, but another widely regarded Canadian has offered significant ideological support to Kagame’s crimes in Rwanda and the Congo.

As Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF in the late 1990s Stephen Lewis was appointed to a Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events. Reportedly instigated by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and partly funded by Canada, the Organization of African Unity’s 2000 report, “The Preventable Genocide”, was largely written by Lewis recruit Gerald Caplan, who was dubbed Lewis’ “close friend and alter ego of nearly 50 years.”

While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, that spurred the “Rwandan Genocide”, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming logic and evidence pointing to the RPF as the culprit in shooting down the plane carrying President Habyarimana and much of the army high command, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994.

The report also rationalizes Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. That led to millions of deaths during an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003.

In a Democracy Now interview concerning the 2000 Eminent Personalities report Lewis mentioned “evidence of major human rights violations on the part of the present [Kagame] government of Rwanda, particularly post-genocide in the Kivus and in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But, he immediately justified the slaughter, which surpassed Rwanda’s 1994 casualty toll. “Now, let me say that the [Eminent Personalities] panel understands that until Rwanda’s borders are secure, there will always be these depredations. And another terrible failure of the international community was the failure to disarm the refugee camps in the then-Zaire, because it was an invitation to the génocidaires to continue to attack Rwanda from the base within the now- Congo. So we know that has to be resolved. That’s still what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region.”

An alternative explanation of “what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region” is US/UK/Canada backed Ugandan/RPF belligerence, which began with their invasion of Rwanda in 1990 and continued with their 1996, 1998 and subsequent invasions of the Congo. “An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights”, reported a 2010 Guardian story, found Rwanda responsible for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” in the Congo.

Fifteen years after the mass killing in Rwanda in 1994 Lewis was still repeating Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo. In 2009 he told a Washington D.C. audience that “just yesterday morning up to two thousand Rwandan troops crossed into the Eastern Region of the Congo to hunt down, it is said, the Hutu génocidaires.”

A year earlier Lewis blamed Rwandan Hutu militias for the violence in Eastern Congo. “What’s happening in eastern Congo is the continuation of the genocide in Rwanda … The Hutu militias that sought refuge in Congo in 1994, attracted by its wealth, are perpetrating rape, mutilation, cannibalism with impunity from world opinion.”

In 2009 the Rwanda News Agency described Lewis as “a very close friend to President Paul Kagame.” And for good reason. Lewis’ has sought to muzzle any questioning of the “RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line” on the tragedy of 1994. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. The 1,266 word public letter refers to the BBC’s “genocide denial”, “genocide deniers” or “deniers” at least 13 times. Notwithstanding Lewis and his co-signers’ smears, which gave Kagame cover to ban the BBC’s Kinyarwanda station, Rwanda the Untold Story includes interviews with a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda and a number of former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates of Kagame. In “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on Rwanda”, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson write:

[Lewis, Gerald Caplan, Romeo Dallaire et al.’s] cry of the immorality of ‘genocide denial’ provides a dishonest cover for Paul Kagame’s crimes in 1994 and for his even larger crimes in Zaire-DRC [Congo]. … [The letter signees are] apologists for Kagame Power, who now and in years past have served as intellectual enforcers of an RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line.

Recipient of 37 honorary degrees from Canadian universities, Lewis has been dubbed a “spokesperson for Africa” and “one of the greatest Canadians ever”. On Africa no Canadian is more revered than Lewis. While he’s widely viewed as a champion of the continent, Lewis has backed Africa’s most bloodstained ruler.

It is now time for the Globe and Mail to peel back another layer of the rotting onion of propaganda and investigate Canadian connections to crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Congo and the wider Great Lakes region of Africa.

That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah

As the frail body of 12-year-old Nassir Al-Mosabeh fell to the ground on Friday, September 28, history was repeating itself in a most tragic way.

Little Nassir was not just another number, a ‘martyr’ to be exalted by equally poor refugees in Gaza, or vilified by Israel and its tireless hasbara machine. He was much more than that.

The stream of blood that poured out from his head wound on that terrible afternoon drew a line in time that travelled back 18 years.

Almost 18-years to the day separates Nassir’s recent murder and the Israeli army killing of Mohammed Al-Durrah, also 12, on September 30, 2000. Between these dates, hundreds of Palestinian children have perished in similar ways.

Reports by the rights’ group, B’tselem, are rife with statistics: 954 Palestinian children were killed between the Second Intifada in 2000 and Israel’s war on Gaza, the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In the latter war alone, 345 child were reportedly killed, in addition to another 367 child fatalities reported in Israel’s latest war, ‘Protective Edge’ of 2014.

But Mohammed and Nassir – and thousands like them – are not mere numbers; they have more in common than simply being the ill-fated victims of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.

In that single line of blood that links Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah, there is a narrative so compelling, yet often neglected. The two 12-year-old boys looked so much alike – small, handsome, dark skinned refugees, whose families were driven from villages that were destroyed in 1948 to make room for today’s Israel.

Young as they were, both were victims of that reality. Mohammed, died while crouching by the side of his father, Jamal, as he beseeched the Israelis to stop shooting. 18 years later, Nassir walked with thousands of his peers to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, stared at the face of the snipers and chanted for a free Palestine.

Between the two boys, the entire history of Palestine can be written, not only that of victimization and violence, but also of steadfastness and honor, passed from one generation to the next.

“Who will carry on with the dream,” were the words Nassir’s mother repeated, as she held a photograph of her son and wept. In the photo, Nassir is seen carrying his school bag, and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol near the fence separating Gaza and Israel.

“The dream” is a reference to the fact that Nassir wanted to be a doctor, thus his enthusiasm to help his two sisters, Dua’a and Islam, two medical volunteers at the fence.

His job was to carry the alcohol bottle and, sometimes, oxygen masks, as his sisters would rush to help the wounded, many of them Nassir’s age or even younger.

In a recent video message, the young boy – who had just celebrated the achievement of memorizing the entire Holy Quran – demonstrated in impeccable classical Arabic why a smile can be considered an act of charity.

Protesting the Israeli siege and the injustice of life in Gaza was a family affair, and Nassir played his role. His innovation of taping raw onions to his own face to counter the tears induced by the Israeli army tear gas garnered him much recognition among the protesters, who have been rallying against the siege since March 30.

So far, nearly 200 unarmed protesters have been killed while demanding an end to the 11-year long blockade and also to call for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees.

Nassir was the 34th child to be killed in cold-blood since the protests commenced, and will unlikely be the last to die.

When Mohammed al-Durrah was killed 18 years ago, the images of his father trying to shield his son’s body from Israeli bullets with his bare hands, left millions around the world speechless. The video, which was aired by France 2, left many with a sense of helplessness but, perhaps, the hope that the publicity that Mohammed’s televised murder had received could possibly shame Israel into ending its policy of targeting children.

Alas, that was never the case. After initially taking responsibility for killing Mohammed, a bogus Israeli army investigation concluded that the killing of Mohammed was a hoax, that Palestinians were to blame, that the France 2 journalist who shot the video was part of a conspiracy to ‘delegitimize Israel’.

Many were shocked by the degree of Israeli hubris, and the brazenness of their mouth-pieces around the western world who repeated such falsehood without any regard for morality or, even common sense. But the Israeli discourse itself has been part of an ongoing war on Palestinian children.

Israeli and Zionist propagandists have long claimed that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.

The likes of Elliott Abrahms raged against Palestinian textbooks for “teaching children to value terrorism”. “That is not the way to prepare children for peace”, he wrote last year.

In July the Israeli army claimed that Palestinian children deliberately “lure IDF troops”, by staging fake riots, thus forcing them into violent confrontations.

The US-Israeli propaganda has not just targeted Palestinian fighters or factions, but has done its utmost to dehumanize, thus justify, the murder of Palestinian children as well.

“Children as young as 8 turned into bombers, shooters, stabbers,” reported one Adam Kredo in the Washington Free Beacon, citing a “new report on child terrorists and their enablers.”

This is not simply bad journalism, but part of a calculated Israeli campaign aimed at preemptively justifying the killing of children such as Nassir and Mohammed, and thousands like them.

It is that same ominous discourse that resulted in the call for genocide made by none other than Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, where she also called on the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

The killing of Nassir and Mohammed should not then be viewed in the context of military operations gone awry, but in the inhuman official and media discourses that do not differentiate between a resistance fighter carrying a gun or a child carrying an onion and an oxygen mask.

Nor should we forget that Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah are chapters in the same book, with an overlapping narrative that makes their story, although 18 years apart, one and the same.

Tesla and Apple Fuel Deadliest Conflict since Holocaust

Anya Parampil highlights the Democratic Republic of Congo after Congolese Dr. Denis Mukwege was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week. She explains how the country’s brutal history of colonization by Belgium created the deadliest conflict since World War II, with up to 6.9 million people dying since 1998 in a battle for the Congo’s natural resources and minerals. Kambale Musavuli, National Spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, joins In Question to describe how he thinks the Congolese people can finally win control of their own destiny.

We Tried: Kind Of

I read an article a while ago somewhere on the web entitled something like “What Happened to My Country?” (referring to the US, but the same question could be asked by pretty much anyone anywhere the US has managed to colonise in one way or another) and while I agreed that there might be more than a few others asking themselves that same question, I had to admit that any reasonable appraisal of what our country might have been has been answered by any number of researchers and historical figures who have pointed out that the United States, in spite of its rhetoric, has never been a place of which one could be proud.

For most of its history, from the moment the first Europeans stepped ashore on what is now known as North America, it has represented the absolute worst tendencies of the human race. There is nothing revolutionary about genocide. Every empire, since time immemorial, has used this barbaric means of theft. You can give it any label you want, discuss the various “-isms” that may or may not have justified outright murder and theft, but it comes down to, in my opinion, something very simple: The Few against The Rest. And that isn’t very profound, nor should it be news to anyone.

The situation in the US, and ever more so in The West (or its vassal states, wherever they may be) in general, has become so toxic (in every sense of the word), and dangerous to The Few, that they no longer even attempt to hide their disdain for the rabble. Major crimes of all sorts go unpunished. They simply do what they want to. Right out in the open, as if to say, “Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?”

They’ve managed to divide what could be an international coalition of peace-loving people into distinct socio-political straight- jackets, fighting amongst themselves for the right to lead what’s left of The Left or The Right (there’s little difference these days), an exclusionary and divisive tactic that has largely succeeded.

A lot of people (most people, probably) think that the internet, and social media in general, have been a boon to society. I tend to disagree for a number of reasons.

(1) Speed kills. Whether you drive too fast or indulge in the chemical known under that name, there’s a good chance you’ll end up dead or physically or mentally handicapped.

With optic fibre and constant increases in the speed of wireless communications, we are inundated (overloaded?) with information. And I would reckon that most of it is pretty much useless. How many updates do we need, for example, on the lives of celebrities, on Trump’s latest mood, or even the suffering of the Palestinians or Yemenis?

In the first case, who cares what celebrities are up to? They don’t care what you think.

In the second case, it’s just The Donald being The Donald, even though now he’s President.

In the third case, we’ve known about the plight of the Palestinians since 1948 and no one seems to care. At least not enough people to inculpate/stop the Israeli slow genocide.

So what good has all this instantaneousness provided? I’d say not much. Since the inception of the internet, aside from an initial buzz in the public sphere, its monetisation has pretty much destroyed any hopes the same public had for the Net, and has gone the way of most “technological miracles”. Into the hands of a tiny elite, and their acolytes, their “good little Eichmanns”, whose only goal is to become rich.

If you think about “speed” in the mechanical sense, it’s the result of the compression of molecules which creates heat which creates “work”. It’s a desireable outcome if it eliminates arduous tasks. Or so they say. But at what price? Or cost, if you prefer. Economists refer to these costs as “externalities”. I refer to them as “collateral damage”. Neither the bankers nor the bombers give a rat’s ass about these externalities, the peripheral damage done by their choices. See Nick Davies about the bombers, Michael Hudson (or Paul Craig Roberts, the Galbraiths, Bill Black, or any other not bought, honest economist) about the bankers.

If you consider the idea of the compression of molecules relative to the number of people on the planet, you might get the idea that too many people in a finite place might cause the same kind of combustion that occurs when molecules are compressed in the cylinder of an automobile motor. It’s called an explosion. I don’t particularly want to be part of something like that. At least in the physical sense. Which leads to a second point.

(2) Continual or constant growth. The idea behind Ponzi schemes and a core tenet of capitalism.

Ponzi schemes are pretty simple. Promise investors above average returns, and as long as you attract a continued increase in investors, you can pay the previous investors the promised returns with the money coming from the new investors. Until the number of new investors declines or, in the vernacular, until the shit hits the fan. Ask Bernie Madoff.

Capitalism is a big subject, to say the least. The Canadian film, The Corporation, gives a pretty good idea of the psychopathic nature of capitalism, its total disregard for anything resembling a humane way of looking at, and participating in, the world. And it, too, is based on continual/constant growth: the very characteristics of a cancer.

*****

One of the reasons I’m writing this is that I’m finally coming to realise that I really no longer believe that all this speed, all this “stuff”, all this screen gazing is going anywhere good. I have the privilege, being retired and able to spend rather quite a bit of time in this hamlet, without TV, of having to face myself and the small things that affect my daily life.

For example, there are days when I don’t speak with anyone, except for an occasional word with the lizards who inhabit the cracks and crannies of the stone walls of this two hundred year old house and become less and less timorous as the season progresses. Or several kinds of birds who frequent the place, flying in and out of the open windows (mostly swallows), or the plants in the vegetable garden. Of course, there are no replies, except in the form of a strange complicity, or so I imagine. The lizards quickly gather at the stone sink on the terrace when I fill the slight depression with water. The birds nest and sing. The garden grows, the flowers bloom, the bees provide a humming background to it all.

The other day, as I sat in the shade of the open shed roof after lunch, I came across a passage in the book I was reading, Ma Provence d’heureuse rencontre, by Pierre Magnan, that struck me as being pretty appropriate in these times. I’ll cite the original, in French, then attempt a translation.

Venez respirer Forcalquier quand la nuit tombe. Vous y gagnerez à ses terrasses la vacuité de l’âme qui convient au repos et je crois qu’à partir d’ici vous serez à même de comprendre pourquoi ce pays me convient et pourquoi, y étant admis, je peux en toute quiétude être atteint d’incuriosité totale pour le reste du monde.

Come breathe Forcalquier at nightfall. Its terraces offer a sense of existential peace and quiet and I believe that from here you might be able to understand why this place appeals to me and why, once accepted, I can easily become infected by a total lack of curiosity for the rest of the world.
— Pierre Magnan, Ma Provence d’heureuse rencontre, Denoël, 2005

Now, if I could just convince Odette to lend me a couple of sheep to trim the grass.

*****

13 September 2018

That was three months ago, and Odette never agreed to lend me the sheep. Our veering out of control, make believe world had left me pretty much speechless until I came across the Beattie piece cited below, along with other stuff by Paul Haeder, John Steppling, Robert Hunziker, and Ed Curtin.

So as a post-scriptum, I added the following.

10 September 2018

Jeux

Missy Beattie had a piece this weekend about the frustration involved in writing just about anything having to do with the US these days, using the refrain “words get in the way”. And while I’m just another old guy with a need to scribble, I think I get what she means.

The opportunity for changing things has come and gone. Raised in a world divorced from reality, it took us way too long to realise that we’d been had, that too many of us were too comfortable to go beyond our feeble, non-threatening protests and demonstrations, or to join those who did put their lives on the line for a chance at change.

In other words, we blew it. Thus our frustration and anguish at what could have been had we been more courageous.

We can still send a message, however late it might be. We can create a huge BDS movement against the media and retail giants who are taking control of pretty much everything simply to let them know that we’re on to their game. But I sincerely wonder how many screen-gazers are inclined to go into detox. On the other hand, if Robert Hunziker isn’t crazy, we probably don’t have enough time remaining to do much of anything since our Planet is just about ready to get rid of us.

Thus our frustration and anguish at our own stupidity and cowardice. And yet here I sit in this fifty person hamlet, tapping away at this ecocidal device, trying to make sense of it all. It would probably be better to simply find a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and put a message in a bottle: “We tried. Kind of.”

Canada vs. the Rule of Law

I’m aware that Canada, unlike its southern neighbor in which I live, has just recently, ever so slightly, stood up to certain of the horrors of the Saudi government. I’m aware of the role Canada has played, albeit imperfectly, as refuge for people fleeing U.S. slavery and U.S. wars and general U.S. backwardness. I’m aware of how many times through history the United States has attacked Canada. I’m aware that just several yards in front of me as I sit in my outdoor office (the downtown mall of Charlottesville) a small army is gleefully creating a police state on the anniversary of a Nazi rally at which similar numbers of soldiers, similarly armed, stood by and watched fascist violence last year. I agree with Robin Williams’ characterization of Canada as a nice apartment over a meth lab.

But here’s the thing. I’m a world citizen not owned by the Pentagon. When we hold World BEYOND War’s annual global conference in Toronto next month, Canadians will, if they are like most people on earth, be eager to discuss Canada’s shortcomings, not its highpoints. I’ve been reading about some of those shortcomings, and they are not insignificant. Canada is a standout player when it comes to environmental destruction, and in the colonial brutality that still feeds that destruction.

The theme of our upcoming conference is the rule of law, its uses, its abuses, and its potential as a local and global tool. I’ve just read Tamara Starblanket’s Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations, and the Canadian State. This is a lawyer’s view of the Canadian history and present practice of forcibly removing children from families. While the U.S. removal of immigrant children from their families has been in the news of late, it’s not been newly invented. Both settler-colonist Canada and Nazi Germany learned from the U.S. practice of removing Indigenous children from their families in order to “educate” them into another culture.

A major focus for Starblanket is the legal and linguistic case for applying the term “genocide” and the crime of genocide to the forcible removal of Indigenous children in Canada and their placement in so-called residential schools. It ought to be no mystery that kidnapping is evil and criminal, just as it ought to be no mystery that murder is evil and criminal. But “genocide” is something different from those crimes — different not in quantity or grandeur, but in type. Genocide is an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Such an act can involve murder or kidnapping or both or neither. Such an act can “physically” harm no one. It can be any one, or more than one, of these five things:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The actions in item “e” can transfer children to a materially better condition where they are educated in a culture that views itself as dramatically superior, and yet genocide have been clearly committed. That is a clear matter of international law. It is not a claim that all acts of genocide are equally evil, that all victims are equally tragic, that all types of genocide can best be prevented in the same way, or any other such unstated claim.

But the idea of removing children to a materially better condition is a theoretical one irrelevant to the Canadian context, at least when viewed as a whole. The Indigenous children removed from their families in Canada were forced into “schools” where over 40% and likely over 50% of them quickly died, from disease, starvation, torture, rape, suicide, and physical and mental abuse. Of those forced into Dachau by the Nazis, 36% died, Buchenwald 19%, Mauthausen 58%. The Canadian “schools” employed a list of torture techniques that could make a CIA agent drool with envy.

A survivor, Emily Rice, is quoted by Starblanket:

” I clung to Rose until Father Jackson wrenched her out of my arms. I searched all over the boat for Rose. Finally I climbed up to the wheel house and opened the door and there was Father Jackson, on top of my sister. My sister’s dress was pulled up and his pants were down. I was too little to know about sex; but I now know he was raping her. He cursed and came after me, picked up his big black Bible and slapped me across the face and on top of the head. I started crying hysterically and he threw me out onto the deck. When we got to Kuper Island, my sister and I were separated. They wouldn’t let me comfort her. Even today, all my sisters are strangers to me.”

Numerous top Canadian officials over the years stated clearly that the intention of the child-removal program was to eliminated Indigenous cultures. Placing their words and Heinrich Himmler’s words about a similar Nazi program side-by-side finds them virtually interchangeable. In the words of various Canadians, the intent was to utterly remove “the Indian problem.” I suspect, though Starblanket doesn’t discuss it, that part of why U.S. as well as Canadian genocidists perceived an “Indian problem” was that it was impossible to persuade Indigenous adults to adopt the settler-colonist culture, while numerous settlers happily adopted the Indigenous culture and refused to give it up. In other words, fierce methods were needed to destroy cultures precisely because of their desirability — making the acts crimes against humanity, and not-incidentally against the rest of the natural environment.

Proving the crime of genocide does not require the statement of intent, but in this case, as in Nazi Germany, as in today’s Palestine, and as in most if not all cases, there is no shortage of expressions of genocidal intent.

There is also no shortage of genocidal results. Indigenous cultures of Canada were devastated — in no small part because the children subjected to the “schooling” who survived it lacked parenting skills, as well as cultural and linguistic knowledge — in addition to being traumatized, dehumanized, and demonized in their own eyes.

When the treaty to ban genocide was being drafted in 1947, at the same time that Nazis were still being put on trial, and while U.S. government scientists were experimenting on Guatemalans with syphilis, Canadian government “educators” were performing “nutritional experiments” on Indigenous children — that is to say: starving them to death. The original draft of the new law included the crime of cultural genocide. While this was stripped out at the urging of Canada and the United States, it remained in the form of item “e” above. Canada ratified the treaty nonetheless, and despite having threatened to add reservations to its ratification, it did no such thing. But Canada enacted into its domestic law only items “a” and “c” — simply omitting “b,” “d,” and “e” in the list above, despite the legal obligation to include them. Even the United States has included what Canada omited.

Thus, when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 apologized for Canada’s crimes, he didn’t indicate any awareness that they were crimes, much less that they were the crime widely understood to be the greatest of all: “genocide.” (At Nuremberg, of course, the chief prosecutor characterized something else as the greatest international crime: war.) In fact, while Harper’s apology certainly looks like a positive step in the right direction, it also reads a little like a Ken Burns Vietnam documentary where “mistakes” flow from “good intentions.” Harper says that children were tortured and killed “partly in order to meet [Canada’s] obligation to educate Aboriginal children.”

Starblanket notes that Indigenous children today are frequently forcibly removed to provincial child “welfare” systems, and that as recently as 2014 (six years after the apology) St. Anne’s School in Ontario was torturing children with electric chairs.

Of course, in the United States, Canada, and other countries, non-Indigenous children are sometimes removed from families believed to be abusive, and sometimes these families are abusive indeed. But one wonders whether the tendency to remove children rather than to aid families in caringly keeping them originated in practices directed against Indigenous peoples, just as every “security” technique I’m now watching in downtown Charlottesville was first justified for use against foreign “enemies.”

Much of the Canadian crime of genocide predates the Genocide Convention, although consisting of numerous other recognized crimes then extant. Current continuations of Canadian genocide may not in all instances any longer constitute, in isolation, genocide. But that genocide is a major element in the story of Canada, as in the story of the United States, as in the culture of Europe and most of its offshoots, there should be no doubt. Bringing ourselves to say the word is not the most important thing we can do about it. But our reluctance to say the word is indicative of the primary problem at the root of it.

I would offer Starblanket the friendly amendment of dropping her proposed use of the term “brainwashing” because of its origins in the CIA-driven propaganda used to claim that U.S. pilots engaged in biological warfare in Korea were telling lies magically implanted in their minds. And I would urge the merging of honest Indigenous understandings of genocide with honest anti-imperialist understandings of war, with the combination opposed to the academic view of genocide as something non-Westerners do, and of war as something noble Westerners use to combat genocide. The fact is that war and genocide are Siamese twins. The slaughters that coated North America with blood were both genocides and wars, and the application of either term to them meets similar resistance. The slaughter of Iraqis by Westerners in recent years has been both war and genocide, and recognizing and understanding both is part of the solution. It is helpful to the antiwar cause when Indigenous North Americans apply their understanding to global peace.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, which first clearly banned war globally in 1928, as documented in The Internationalists, largely put an end to the acceptability of new wars of conquest. The rule of global law that may be needed for human survival will draw on the wisdom of Indigenous, not colonial, precedents, and will respect local rights in Canada as in Nicaragua, in Crimea as in Kosovo. The changes in law and culture that are most needed are those that will address root causes of suffering and prevent violence and force. But the “forward looking” lawlessness advocated by Barack Obama and even Andrés Manuel López Obrador must be replaced with non-vengeful accountability equally applied to all.

That means law for the powerful as for the weak. That means kidnapping is kidnapping even when in line with colonial views. Murder is murder even when committed by drone or when part of a war. Torture and land-theft are torture and land-theft even when committed on large scales. Prison camps are prison camps when on actual U.S. military bases as when in Hollywood movies set in Nazi Germany. Canadian horrors are horrific even when the Prime Minister is a handsome liberal bowing and scraping to the same oil companies and NATO warmongers.

Canada should seek out the best in its history. There are rich veins there too. Canada should lead by example, add restitution to apology, and make peace at home rather than exporting violence in the name of its supposed “responsibility to protect.” Protect us from such protectors!