Category Archives: Guatemala

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

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

Andean Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Southern Cone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Caribbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central America and Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Year’s message

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

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

On State Contravention of the Genocide Convention

I’d like to note two articles by Professor Michel Chossudovsky published this November in Global Research: they help explain the current denigration of the Convention on Genocide. When we grow accustomed to our system’s atrocities we lessen our humanity.

In an article of November 13th, 20191 Chossudovsky outlines the history of George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, supplying the Axis with oil through Standard Oil Company during WWII. This was allowed by the U.S. government. It is “news” in 2019 because this mechanism of cooperating with the enemy was hidden from the U.S. people. About 25 years ago Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin2 wrote of Prescott Bush’s service to and partnership with the Harrimans’ Union Banking Corporation which in turn served Fritz Thyssen, a financer of Adolph Hitler. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act this Bush-Harriman Nazi front was impounded by the U.S. government in 1942. What is remarkable about Prof. Chossudovsky’s article isn’t so much the financial involvement of the Bush family with Nazi interests, but the logic of motivation and why the U.S. would allow oil resources under its control to be shipped to the enemy during a war. Answer: it was hoped Nazi Germany would stop the Soviet state; ie., ‘to stop Communism.’ Over twenty million Russians died. Prescott Bush went on to become a wealthy Republican Senator from Connecticut. With the Third Reich’s defeat the war against communism became the Cold War.

This should interest genocide scholars because it reveals a genocidal intent in U.S. policy. Article II of the U.N. Convention on Genocide includes in its definition of genocide, … acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such…. The Soviet Union was a national group. It committed no aggression against the United States.

In the article of November 13th and a subsequent article of November 22nd3 Prof. Chossudovsky relies on declassified material which reveals that the U.S. was prepared to bomb the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons wiping out 66 major cities, both during the war itself and following Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima. The U.S.S.R. didn’t have nuclear weapons until 1948 so the plans were predicated on a nuclear first strike. The absolute destruction of a national group whose people had chosen to live under Communism (nuclear production gradually grew to include cities of other Communist national groups) would have constituted genocide. The military policy under consideration was in direct opposition to human decency, the Geneva Conventions, the U.S.-British-U.S.S.R. military alliance of WWII, the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-6, and the Convention on Genocide signed by the U.S. in 1948 which became effective in 1951. While the early plans to bomb 66 Soviet cities weren’t put into action the manufacture of nuclear weapons increased to fulfill the goal of enough bombs to obliterate all of the Soviet Union’s cities.

It may be for this reason that genocide prevention organizations of the U.S. and Canada, if not throughout NATO, were and are strongly controlled if not regulated, and are often directly funded by the government. Despite the Convention, the basis of U.S. and NATO policy was genocide and the total eradication of the Soviet Union by nuclear weapons would be a crime with no statute of limitations. The military edge of anti-Communism came to mean the possible obliteration of entire peoples. A military mindset allowing national obliteration helps explain U.S. lack of restraint in conventional bombing of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during the First Gulf War.

By 2019 the plans to obliterate Russia, no longer a Communist state, have possibly been transferred or expanded to include the People’s Republic of China. In either case extermination of a national group, an entire country, an entire people, is a violation of the Genocide Convention and would require presentation of the bombing as an act of self defense, while the ethic of the Convention would have to be ignored or bent by the West’s media so that rulers permitting a genocide could continue to rule. I think it’s for this reason that the Convention on Genocide was out of print at the United Nations in 1989 when our kitchen table press published it.4 Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi officer under Germany’s Third Reich was Secretary General at the U.N.; the U.S. had with relative silence ratified the Convention on Genocide after a forty year hiatus in 1988, yet the Convention was out of print at the U.N. and not easily available to the public. Was there something the people weren’t supposed to know? The U.S. had added at its ratification of the Convention treaty, qualifications, caveats which would allow it not be bound by the Convention while giving the appearance of commitment. Also, the United States and NATO forces Coalition were about to bomb Iraq “into the stone age,” invade and take over its resources. I included in the edition5 the U.S. “Reservations and Declarations” added at the U.S. 1988 ratification of the Convention. We sent free copies (publication expenses came out of our food budget) to the U.S. Congress. In my “Foreword” to the Canadian edition in 1996, I could point out that the U.S. qualifications of its commitment to genocide prevention were telegraphing an intention to apply the tactic of genocide in instances it considered necessary, directly contravening the Convention. The U.S. alone of all nations, claims the right to judge for itself whether or not it has committed an act of genocide. This awareness isn’t shared by North America’s corporate, academic, highly funded and government-allied organizations intended to prevent genocides.

Accountability for the crime of genocide remains within the domain of the powerful. Apparently the powerful are concerned that if the ongoing mechanisms of genocide are overturned in one region they may be overturned in another and the entire fabric of profit and controls will unravel. Signatory major powers have not brought Israel before International Court on charges of Israel’s alleged genocide of Palestinians. The U.S. and Coalition destruction of Iraq was not permitted testing as the crime of genocide at any court with the power to apply the law, domestically or internationally.6. The tragedy of genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya should have been addressed in 2012. The genocide trials of Guatemala should have been supported by the nations who signed the Genocide Convention. There are examples in every country subservient to foreign powers of a blindness to what the takeover of a peoples and their cultures mean. Current policies against native peoples by Canada, the U.S. or fascist governments in the Americas, remain unaddressed. The effect of this is that genocide becomes a non-issue. This encourages impunity. France, Italy, Hungary, in particular, openly commenced an ethnic cleansing of Roma people domestically, and throughout the European Union the Roma continue to be persecuted as if they are not intended to survive as a racial or ethnic group.

Accustomed to the crime of genocide the first world bathes in comparative luxury while its rulers inch closer and closer to the first strikes or threat of first strike, to rid the world of opposing ideologies and the people who support them. Poor people will either be drawn to ideologies which oppose their oppressors, or enslaved. Publishers and news media do not represent markets for liberation. It becomes difficult to write about the crime of genocide, or note warnings except those warnings comfortable with government policy. From inception the crimes are perception-managed so that the victims may be aware but the general populations of the aggressor countries are not. These crimes and their lack of prosecution enforce a mind control that moves the crime of genocide toward being awful but… acceptable. It is not acceptable. We are living amid monstrous crimes which we know are crimes, yet our governments and media are accepting these as normal. This “normal” will not let humanity survive.

• First published in Nightslantern

  1. “Sleeping With The Third Reich: America’s Unspoken “Alliance” with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union,” Prof. Michel Chossudovsky, November 13, 2019, Global Research.
  2. Webster Griffin Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin. George Bush: the Unauthorized Biography, Executive Intelligence Review, 1992.
  3. “Wipe the Soviet Union Off the Map”, 204 Atomic Bombs against 66 Major Cities, US Nuclear Attack against USSR Planned During World War II,” Prof. Michel Chossudovsky, November 22, 2019, Global Research.
  4. The Crime of Genocide & Bill of Human Rights, U.N. Texts, Moody Maine: J.B.Gerald & J. Maas, 1989.
  5. “Foreword,” Common Rights & Expectations: United Nations Texts of Primary Treaties Concerning Rights of People, ed. J.B.Gerald, Ottawa: Gerald & Maas, 1996.
  6. The legal case presented for consideration by the Spanish National Court: “Narration of Facts by the Ad Hoc Committee for Justice for Iraq,” Ad Hoc Committee for Justice for Iraq, October 6, 2009, http://usgenocide.org/the-legal-case/; and At Night’s Lantern

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

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

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc00059.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5843.jpg

Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_6216-1.jpg

Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fern-169.jpg

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

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

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

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

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_6918.jpg

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

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: “Lived.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-15-the-free-horse_0409.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

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

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

*****

But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

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

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

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

As reported by the Daily Star:

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

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

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

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

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Dwight Eisenhower, Republican President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

See the source image

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

By Paul. K Haeder, April 7, 2006

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

That was in the 1980s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.

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

 

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

Photo: John Zangas, DC Media Group.

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

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

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

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

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

Correcting the Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Timeline of the US Coup in Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plight of Children in a Neoliberal World

The New York Times wrote Christmas Day that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy died in US Border Control custody. The circumstances are not clear, or are simply not reported. A month earlier, a 7-year old girl, also from Guatemala, died also in US Border Control custody. Here too, the circumstances are not revealed. How many more children, not mentioned by any media, or any statistics have already perished, trying to make their way to a better future?  A better future, because their real and beloved future in their own countries has been miserably destroyed by the US empire’s imposed corporate abuse and fascist-like dictatorships. But who cares? They are just children of illegal immigrants; children separated from their parents to dissuade parents to migrate to the US of A.  Welcome to paradise of hell!

Currently a large portion of the US Government is shut down, due to a budget dispute between President Trump and the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party breathing down his neck and the Democrats. At stake are US$5 billion for a Border Wall Trump requests as part of the general budget, and the Democrats refuse to sign-off on it. The Border Wall would have countless nefarious and more serious killer effects. More kids in border custody, some dehydrated, some simply exhausted from the long journey, some sick, all separated from their parents, maybe for good, and neglected by US Authorities, and most of them just simply left to their plight which, in many cases, may be death.

Welcome to the Land of the Free, the land of exemplary democracy!

Are Trump and his handlers murderers? Yes, they are. There is absolutely no doubt. Not just for the abject, inhuman abuse of migrants and migrant children, but for killing children and adults in the ever-increasing number of wars and conflicts around the globe, waged and initiated by the US, NATO, and the European puppets’ armies. He,Trump, could stop them at once. He may risk his life, but somebody who aspires to such high office must take risks. Besides, his life may be at stake for many more reasons. Enemies abound. A life is just a life, highly precious, though, to be saved by all means, but killing wantonly millions of children – the future of civilization – what is that if not a crime of the very, very highest degree, a crime of unfathomable dimensions, a crime that should be punishable by – well, let’s just call it by a war crimes court à la Nuremberg.

If someone would tell Trump that he is a murderer, would he grasp it? Would his conscience kick in and make him realize what he
is doing, he the all-powerful, who could stop it all? Or would he simply call his secret service to arrest you and put you behind bars for insulting him, albeit, telling him the truth?  We may never know. I have asked a similar question about Obama. How can they sleep at night? Do they take a pill that eradicates their conscience, their human brain power?  I truly wonder. It’s been known forever that power intoxicates. But to that extent? No repenting, not even after the four- or eight-year’s tour of duty?  No. Rather collect astronomical talking fees, cash-in on the power of indiscriminate killing.

Trump’s predecessors for hundred-plus years back belong to the same clan of criminals. Their crimes have become the new normal. The west watches over their killings on TV with media reports that banalize war and war death as normal, because war is war where it belongs to. And it’s so profitable. It’s the industry of killing – killing babies and their mothers, adolescents, starving them to death, destroying their systems of minimal hygiene – Yemen – a case in point; Syria is in the same league, Afghanistan, Iraq — the list is endless. Hundreds of thousands of children were killed and are still being killed in the world’s longest war, seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan. Nobody seems to care. Afghanistan, one of the resource richest countries on earth, has no future; not as long as it is dominated by greedy, murderous western powers, ahead of all – the corporate and military US of A.

Killing is the name of the game. And mind you, this killing spree is driven by a blood-thirsty elite of bankers, pharma-kings, weapon industrialists, GMO-agri-businesses, hydrocarbon kingpins – a dark deep-state elite that feeds on the idea that the world is over-populated and must be reduced by factors of thousands, so that this small elite may survive much longer on the ever-diminishing resources of Mother Earth.

This is no joke. Infamous top war criminal, Henry Kissinger, propagated this idea already in the 1960s as a prominent member of the Rockefeller clan, called “Bilderberg Society”. The Bilderbergers’ objective Numero Uno is just that – reducing the world population by any means. War is one of them. And who to target best?  Children, of course. They are the gene-bearers of future generations. If gone, there are no off-springs, nobody to lead the world into a better future, a future of peace – yes, a future of peace, because these children have known war and would most likely opt for a different set of life values.

And imagine the suffering of these children until they eventually succumb to death?  Many without parents, without shelter, food, health care, let alone minimal education, being exposed to the abuses of humanity – unpaid hard labor, rape, diseases. The west not just watches on, but helps their plight along by supplying weapons, bullets, bombs to those who do the killing.

The western public takes it as, well, the new normal. We can’t imagine a world without war, a world in peace. That’s the extent to which we have been indoctrinated. And as we live in comfort what is easier to believe than what we are told by the presstitute? No worries, our leaders (sic) do the right thing; we are safe. And just in case there is any doubt, the governments concerned ‘launch’ a ‘false flag’ terror attack, justifying more severe crack-downs on the population to, indeed, keep them safe by militarization of society, all the while continuing killing children with their mothers and relatives, children alone, children on the move as refugees, children as slaves, children uncounted by any statistics.

Trump, yes, he is a murderer. And the Border Wall is a murder weapon. Assassins are also Trump’s predecessors, not least Obama, who knowingly killed thousands of children through his extra-judiciary drone attacks – and let’s stress this – of which he boasted to personally approve each and every one of these drone killings. Clinton killed Haitians by the thousands, many of them children, through his forced “free” trade agreements, giving US corporations access to child labor, miserably paid child labor, which was and is nothing more than legalized enslavement, often leading to impoverishment, famine, disease and death.

When will justice be done? Or, are we talking about justice ‘after death’? Are we talking about a collective Karma that will eventually pull our entire civilization down the drain into an inescapable abyss, giving room to a new beginning?

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convenient Demonologies: Stopping Migrant Caravans

President Donald J. Trump has been engaged with berating human caravans, a spectacle that might have been odd in another era.  At first instance, it all seems fundamentally anachronistic, a sort of history in reverse.  It was, after all, the caravan packed with invasive pioneers that gave the United States its distinct frontier identity, moving with relentless, exterminating purpose in ultimately closing it.

On October 19, some 7,000 Central American migrants, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, made an attempt to cross the bridge between Guatemala and Mexico. “Una necesidad nos obliga,” came the justification of a 20-year old man to the Washington Post.  The ultimate destination for most: the United States.

Such a necessity does not merely apply to states in social and political decay.  Honduras has historically been an eviscerated client state, its politics those of a marionette of Washington’s interests.  In similar fashion, Guatemala continues to bleed before the preying involvement of Washington in its history.  The US-owned United Fruit Company craved gangsters for capitalism, and the Central Intelligence Agency obliged in protecting its assets, assisting the overthrow of the Arbenz administration in 1954.

The Mexican authorities made various attempts to repel the human stream with violent though modest success.  With the November mid-term elections looming, this small group became electoral dynamite for Trump.  It gave him a chance to militarise matters, announcing the deployment of 5,200 troops to the US-Mexico border.  (Some 5,600 have currently taken their positions.)

The language of General Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, in describing the proposed plan, resembled a description of an armed operation against an elevated enemy. “Our concept of operations is to flow in our military assets with a priority to build up southern Texas, and then Arizona, and then California.”

In the words of the previous US president, Barack Obama, “They’re telling us the single most grave threat to America is a bunch of poor, impoverished, broke, hungry refugees a thousand miles away.”  Film director Spike Lee, presenting his latest effort, BlacKkKlansman, at the Los Cabos International Film Festival in Mexico, was even more unvarnished.  “Agent Orange was on the campaign trail for his fellow gangsters and stirring his base by saying the migrant caravan was his invasion.”

If there is something that tickles and engages the populist sentiment, Trump is up for it.  His “base”, as it were, is up for rocking, chilling and entertaining.  Obama might accuse Trump of being a fan of the “political stunt”, but that is the essence of this administration, a sequence of aggravated rehearsals that have distracted when needed and enraged when required.

Some of these ploys have gone beyond the category of temporary fancy.  Senior policy advisor Stephen Miller had demonstrated that policies of indignation can have purchase at chance moments.  While Trump is always bound to claim copyright over such ideas, it was Miller who proved influential in sketching the selective Muslim ban and the head-scratching policy of separating children from parents at the border.  Immigration is being larded with further, stifling regulations with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming that a mere 30,000 refugees for resettlement will be accepted by the US in 2019.

Such cruel exercises are the stuff of modern reactionary politics, notably from governments wishing to remove the clammy hand of international law upon them.  Refugees, the outsiders, the marginalised, are ideal fodder to mince and grind.  It is the language of Australian Prime Minister John Howard who, in the federal elections of 2001, insisted that the island continent would become an impregnable fortress against the undesirables coming by sea.  He illustrated this fact by deploying, much in the Trump manner, soldiers against refugees stranded at sea in August 2001.  “We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination.”  Given Australia’s lethal natural barriers, the remarks were as incongruous as they were fictional.

It was a policy twinned with the feather brained notion, ruthlessly exploited, that terrorist operatives might sneak their way to Australia on leaky vessels, avoiding more salubrious options.  As Australia’s defence minister Peter Reith brazenly asserted at that time, such boat arrivals “can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities”.  Howard himself added taste to the fear: “you don’t know whether they have terrorist links or not,” he suggested rather casually to Brisbane’s Courier Mail.

Trump would have approved of such laxity, having himself claimed, with an approach immune to evidence, that there might well be “unknown Middle Easterners” heading to the US in these migrant caravans.  When probed on the matter by CNN’s now bedevilled Jim Acosta, Trump twisted slightly. “There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be.”

Trump’s language of the demonised caravan is also the language of a host of European leaders who have decided to dust off chauvinistic sentiments long held in the archive and ignore any central, humanitarian approach to refugees.  At work here is a species of depraved transatlantic consensus on cruelty propelled by strongman bullying.  Hungary’s Viktor Orbán fantasises about Muslim hordes in an Ottoman invasion redux, a positioning that elevates himself as defender of the West against Islam and the dark forces of the barbaric East. “We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees,” he snorted in an interview with Bild in January this year.  “We see them as Muslim invaders.”

Other states contemplate a further entrenched, barbed wire approach, finding much value in shirking or adjusting the refugee resettlement quota.  Poland can add itself to Hungary in that regard, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stating his position plainly to Radio Poland in January that “we will not be allowing migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to enter Poland.”  Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are not far behind.

Like his Australian and several European counterparts, Trump has deployed the instruments of violence and demonization against refugees with a degree of commitment and, it must not be forgotten, success.  It also supplies a fitful reminder how criticising him for doing so remains a more difficult exercise, given the number of states which have gotten a cold regarding refugees.  A certain villainy against humanity has taken hold.

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

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

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

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

This man’s a hero!

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

*****

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

But that’s only the small-fry stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a lot happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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