Category Archives: Honduras

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

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

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

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

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: “Lived.”

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

Neoliberalism’s Children Rise Up to Demand Justice in Chile and the World

Uprisings against the corrupt, generation-long dominance of neoliberal “center-right” and “center-left” governments that benefit the wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of working people are sweeping country after country all over the world.

In this Autumn of Discontent, people from Chile, Haiti and Honduras to Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon are rising up against neoliberalism, which has in many cases been imposed on them by U.S. invasions, coups and other brutal uses of force. The repression against activists has been savage, with more than 250 protesters killed in Iraq in October alone, but the protests have continued and grown. Some movements, such as in Algeria and Sudan, have already forced the downfall of long-entrenched, corrupt governments.

A country that is emblematic of the uprisings against neoliberalism is Chile. On October 25, 2019, a million Chileans — out of a population of about 18 million — took to the streets across the country, unbowed by government repression that has killed at least 20 of them and injured hundreds more. Two days later, Chile’s billionaire president Sebastian Piñera fired his entire cabinet and declared, “We are in a new reality. Chile is different from what it was a week ago.”

The people of Chile appear to have validated Erica Chenoweth’s research on non-violent protest movements, in which she found that once over 3.5% of a population rise up to non-violently demand political and economic change, no government can resist their demands. It remains to be seen whether Piñera’s response will be enough to save his own job, or whether he will be the next casualty of the 3.5% rule.

It is entirely fitting that Chile should be in the vanguard of the protests sweeping the world in this Autumn of Discontent, since Chile served as the laboratory for the neoliberal transformation of economics and politics that has swept the world since the 1970s.

When Chile’s socialist leader Salvador Allende was elected in 1970, after a 6-year-long covert CIA operation to prevent his election, President Nixon ordered U.S. sanctions to “make the economy scream.”

In his first year in office, Allende’s progressive economic policies led to a 22% increase in real wages, as work began on 120,000 new housing units and he started to nationalize copper mines and other major industries. But growth slowed in 1972 and 1973 under the pressure of brutal U.S. sanctions, as in Venezuela and Iran today.

U.S. sabotage of the new government intensified, and on September 11th, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. The new leader, General Augusto Pinochet, executed or disappeared at least 3,200 people, held 80,000 political prisoners in his jails and ruled Chile as a brutal dictator until 1990, with the full support of the U.S. and other Western governments.

Under Pinochet, Chile’s economy was submitted to radical “free market” restructuring by the “Chicago Boys,” a team of Chilean economics students trained at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Milton Friedman for the express purpose of conducting this brutal experiment on their country. U.S. sanctions were lifted and Pinochet sold off Chile’s public assets to U.S. corporations and wealthy investors. Their program of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, together with privatization and cuts in pensions, healthcare, education and other public services, has since been duplicated across the world.

The Chicago Boys pointed to rising economic growth rates in Chile as evidence of the success of their neoliberal program, but by 1988, 48% of Chileans were living below the poverty line. Chile was and still is the wealthiest country in Latin America, but it is also the country with the largest gulf between rich and poor.

The governments elected after Pinochet stepped down in 1990 have followed the neoliberal model of alternating pro-corporate “center-right” and “center-left” governments, as in the U.S. and other developed countries. Neither respond to the needs of the poor or working class, who pay higher taxes than their tax-evading bosses, on top of ever-rising living costs, stagnant wages and limited access to voucherized education and a stratified public-private healthcare system. Indigenous communities are at the very bottom of this corrupt social and economic order. Voter turnout has predictably declined from 95% in 1989 to 47% in the most recent presidential election in 2017.

If Chenoweth is right and the million Chileans in the street have breached the tipping point for successful non-violent popular democracy, Chile may be leading the way to a global political and economic revolution.

Pink Tide Against US Domination Rising Again In Latin America

(Photo from Dissent Magazine)

Once again, the left is rising in Latin America as people revolt against authoritarian regimes, many of whom were put in place by US-supported coups. These regimes have taken International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and are under the thumb of international finance, which is against the interests of people.After the embattled President of Ecuador claimed that President Nicolas Maduro was the cause of the massive protests against him, Maduro made clear what was occurring in Latin America, saying:

We have two models: the IMF model which privatizes everything and takes away the people’s rights to health, education and work; and the humanist-progressive model which is emerging in Latin America and has the Bolivarian Revolution at the forefront.

Maduro’s clear understanding of the conflict is why it has been so important for the US to remove him. His success in defeating ongoing US coup attempts is a model guiding Latin America to a future independent of US domination.

Ecuadorians celebrate the repeal of Decree 883 (From Twitter)

Ecuador in Rebellion Against IMF and the US Puppet Moreno

On October 4, Moreno proclaimed the end of a 40-year policy of fuel and petrol subsidies, which had traditionally benefited his country’s working-class population. He also announced a 20 percent decrease in the salary of public employees and initiated plans to privatize pensions. He removed workplace and job security safeguards. Decree 883, known as ‘The Package’, was a series of neoliberal policies demanded by the IMF in return for a $4.2 billion dollar loan. It was preceded by policies for the wealthy including reducing their taxes.

The IMF loan was part of Moreno serving as a puppet and bowing to multiple US demands. Ecuador promised to settle a long dispute with Chevron whose oil drilling and pipelines have polluted the country. Tens of billions of dollars in restitution from Chevron are at stake but Moreno said he is willing to give them up. In fact, the IMF loan is strange in that it was dependent on Ecuador paying external debt obligations; i.e., it was not new funds for Ecuador but new debt to subsidize paying back Wall Street.

In making the announcement, Moreno called the people “Zánganos,” or Drone Bees leading to the uprising of the Drone Bees. The mass protests were called by the Popular Front, a group of unions, and the Unified Workers Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Students and social movements joined protests throughout the nation in Loja, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Ambato, and Riobamba, among other cites as well as Quito, the capital. Moreno claimed without any evidence that the uprising was financed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Correa.

Protests in Ecuador were relentless with no end in sight. They grew when 20,000 indigenous people marched into Quito. Police responded with violence, tear gas, and mass arrests. An October 4 video circulated on social media showed nonviolent protesters killed in the street by the police as well as other police violence. On October 5, Moreno declared a 60-day state of Emergency. Sometimes police had to retreat in the face of mass protests. On October 7, Moreno fled the capital to hide in the Navy base 260 miles away in the conservative stronghold of Guayaquil.

As we wrote this newsletter, unrest in Ecuador was escalating. On Saturday, the nation was put on military lockdown. Law enforcement attacked protesters with pellets and tear gas in the immediate vicinity of the  National Assembly. By Sunday, Moreno decreed a 3:00 pm curfew, which people defied. Then, facing an emergency session in the National Assembly, Moreno backed down. Protesters celebrated when Moreno’s government announced that Decree 883 had been repealed after eleven days of popular mobilizations.

Peter Koenig describes a root cause of the problems:

Since January 2000, Ecuador’s economy is 100% dollarized, compliments of the IMF (entirely controlled by the US Treasury, by force of an absolute veto). The other two fully dollarized Latin American countries are El Salvador and Panama.

The US and IMF used the economic crises of the 1990s to dollarize Ecuador’s economy and gain full control over the nation’s riches as Ecuador is the second-largest oil economy in South America. This led to unaffordable goods for Ecuadorians, social unrest and a series of unstable governments until President Correa, who served from 2007 to 17, was elected.

A Center for Economic and Policy Research 2017 report found under Correa Ecuador did well with an average annual GDP growth of 1.5%  compared to 0.6% average for the previous 26 years; a decline of 38% in poverty with extreme poverty reduced by 47%; and a decline in inequality with the Gini coefficient falling substantially. Correa doubled social spending from 4.3% in 2006 to 8.6% in 2016; tripling education spending from 0.7% to 2.1%; and, increasing public investments from 4% of GDP in 2006 to 10% in 2016.

Correa served two terms. A third term would have required a constitutional amendment. Rather than running, Correa endorsed Lenin Moreno who had served as his vice president from 2007-13. He was expected to continue Correa’s policies but instead reversed them.

Moreno was unpopular before announcing ‘The Package’ due to structural poverty increasing from 23.1 percent in June 2017 to 25.5 percent in June 2019 with projections of 30 percent by the end of the year. Injustices like the imprisonment of the popular former Vice President Jorge Glas on dubious charges and his continuous political witch hunt against Rafael Correa and other leaders of the Citizens’ Revolution Party added to his unpopularity. In addition, he has been engulfed in a personal corruption crisis involving an offshore Shell corporation INA, which cast Moreno’s presidency in doubt.

Moreno’s forcible and illegal ejection of Julian Assange from the London embassy in return for payoffs from the US and UK resulted in a national strike in Ecuador in July. This, along with the arrest of Ola Bini, who is being prosecuted falsely as a conspirator with Wikileaks, was unpopular with Ecuadorians.

Will repeal of ‘The Package’ end the protests and the threat to Moreno’s presidency? As we write, the answer to these questions are unclear. The people won a major victory, but the Moreno/IMF infection remains.

Rally in Argentina (By Enfoque Rojo)

Latin Americans Rising Against the Right and US Domination

Latin American countries are rejecting neoliberalism and US domination using multiple strategies to achieve change.

This month the deepening anti-capitalist movement in Bolivia is set to strengthen with the probable re-election of Evo Morales on October 20. Argentina is expected to remove right-wing President Mauricio Macri on October 27 and replace him with Alberto Fernandez. And, Mexico put in place its first progressive, left-of-center government with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on July 1, 2018. Elections are also upcoming in Uruguay on October 27 and in Peru in January. Venezuela may have National Assembly elections in January as well.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has a 13-point lead in polls as his governing party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) looks to re-election for a third Morales term that will last until 2025. Morales has 38.8 percent, just 1.2 percent short of the 40 percent required for a first-round victory in the upcoming elections. The survey also indicated majority support for the nationalization of gas and strategic industries, 51 percent say that public ownership is positive for the economy. On social programs, 61.7 percent say they are essential for providing dignity to those of low incomes.

Morales has launched a large reforestation plan and put in place a model healthcare program. He is under attack from the United States and segments of Bolivia. Morales leads an independent, sovereign Bolivia that has rejected US dominance, decolonized and displaced neoliberalism. A recent color revolution attempt by the wealthy, with the support of the US and western powers, failed.

Argentina’s first round of voting on August 11 resulted in Fernandez, running with former president Cristina Kirchner, finishing 15 percent ahead of Macri. The surprising landslide brought into question Macri’s ability to govern between now and the election. As a result, the IMF put a $5.4 billion dollar loan on hold part of the $56.3 billion stand-by agreement signed in mid-2018. Fernandez opposed the loan, which required sharp budget cuts affecting public services at a time of increasing poverty.

Under Macri, the economy has gone into crisis with poverty increasing to a record 36.4 percent, a recession accompanied by a 47 percent inflation rate in 2018 and an inflation rate of 25.1 percent during the first seven months of this year. Argentina’s unemployment is at the highest level in 14 years. Poverty was at 19.7 percent when Kirchner left office in 2015. Fernandez has put forward an anti-hunger plan, not dependent on the IMF. Three weeks before the election, thousands of people rallied in Buenos Aires as the Workers Left Front sent a message of opposition to neoliberalism and austerity to the two major political parties.

In Mexico, AMLO won a landslide 53 percent of the vote on July 31 ending decades of right-wing rule. People were fed up with the corruption, impunity, and violence — decades of loss of rights, pillaging and destruction of the nation’s wealth and public enterprises. At his inauguration, AMLO decried 36 years of neoliberalism and public and private corruption, promised a “peaceful and radical” transition with “indigenous people as its priority,” in a government “for the good of all, first the poor.” His fight against neoliberalism is challenged by NAFTA II (or the USMCA), as AMLO is careful not to confront Trump on this. On border policy, AMLO offered migrants home in Mexico and urged investment in Central America.

The Zapatistas have conflicted with AMLO over the exploitation of resources and the use of the military in policing, demanding its autonomy based on indigenous principles but he has sought diplomacy with them. AMLO has also faced massive strikes of tens of thousands of autoworkers, workers at US companies in Mexico and wildcat strikes at the border. AMLO has been a counterweight to US aggression in Latin America standing with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Peru is in the midst of a crisis. President Martin Vizcarra who came into office after a corruption scandal removed his predecessor, dissolved the Congress, a move supported by the left, because it is controlled by far-right politician Keiko Fujimori and was preventing Vizcarra’s anti-corruption campaign. Congress ignored the president’s order and voted to remove him from office instead. The vice president resigned rather than take over and Vizcarra remains in office with the support of the military. He has now called for new congressional elections to be held on January 26. Vizcarra is a conservative battling the oligarchic right. The left, which has been divided, is coalescing around the Popular National Assembly and allying with social movements. The movements want an end to neoliberal policies, a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution and to break with Washington’s domination.

In Central America, Honduras has been in revolt against the coup government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), which for ten years has put in place neoliberalism, repression, and violence. Protests have been ongoing since his coup and fraudulent re-election. This summer, protests intensified with a national strike over austerity and privatization measures required by an IMF loan, leading to a 66-day uprising.  The US has trained Honduran police to use repressive measures in an attempt to stop the protests, but their actions feed more protests.

Many have fled Honduras in caravans to escape the corruption and violence. Now, a coalition of civil groups is urging the president’s departure over a scandal ignited by accusations of large-scale drug trafficking to the United States being litigated against the president’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez. In the trial, several witnesses have declared JOH’s campaign was financed with drug money, and that he took millions in bribes from various Mexican drug lords, including the infamous Joaquin “El-Chapo” Guzman. The Liberal Party joined in calling for his resignation and protests have intensified. The trial may be the end of this cocaine-fueled presidency.

Brazil’s election of Bolsonaro has been marred by scandal now that the corruption of Operation Car Wash has been exposed. Private conversations between the prosecutors and then-judge Sergio Moro, now Super Minister of Justice, show that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was the “victim of a conspiracy” to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro.  In the secret exchanges, Moro admitted that the corruption case was designed to frame him. Lula has said the US is behind the conspiracy.

Calls to free Lula are increasing and the Supreme Court will be reviewing the case. Lula is demanding his record be cleared and refused a panicked offer from prosecutors that he be freed from jail and put under house arrest. Bolsonaro is also under attack for the Amazon fires, for an increase in police killings, for genocide against the Indigenous and for attacks on public education. Former President Michel Temer acknowledged that the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, the Worker’s Party leader, was a coup d’etat.

Nicaragua survived a 2018 US coup attempt and the revolution continues to thrive after 40 years of independence from US domination after US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza fled. People were very confused about what happened in the 2018 coup attempt as media misinformation was prevalent. A group of us joined and produced a reader to help people understand the reality of Nicaragua. Peace is coming back to Nicaragua, even though continued pressure from the US is expected in the form of new illegal sanctions.

Venezuela, which we have reported on intensively for years, has also survived ongoing coup attempts that continue to escalate in the post-John Bolton era of the Trump administration most recently with a threat of war through the Organization of American States (OAS). They are prepared for a military attack and have created new alliances to overcome the US economic war. This week, Russia announced it was investing $16.5 billion in Venezuela by the end of 2019.

Russia has provided anti-missile defense systems, is keeping Navy ships in Venezuela to deter a US blockade and has helped gather intelligence on US actions. With their help, Venezuela has uncovered terrorist plots coming from Colombia and involving US-puppet Juan Guiado’s team. Guaido has faltered and failed time and again, and now is being investigated for ties to Colombian drug traffickers and corruption.

The non-aligned movement of 120 nations met in Caracas this summer and expressed support for Venezuelan sovereignty.  Venezuela has been a lynchpin for left movements in Latin America. When oil prices were high, it shared its wealth not only with poorest Venezuelans but with other countries seeking to challenge US and oligarch domination. Even in the midst of an escalating economic war with the United States, they continue to provide housing, food, and essentials to their people.

Protesters in Haiti (Twitter)

Caribbean Resistance

In the Caribbean, Cuba is challenged by the US economic war but continues its revolution. Mass protests in Haiti threaten the survival of the government and Puerto Rico’s revolt removed a governor.

Cuba, despite the increasing US economic war, continues to be a bulwark against US imperialism, standing with governments like Venezuela and Nicaragua when they are under attack. Cuba completed a successful transition to a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and voted on a new constitution developed using a participatory process involving 9 million people through 133,000 citizen meetings. The constitution includes “universal and free health, education, sports and recreation, culture and respect for human dignity.” Cuba is currently facing major economic challenges as the US is blocking their access to oil. Russia and Venezuela are helping Cuba overcome this oil blockade.

Haiti has been in protest since April calling for an end to neoliberal US domination and the resignation of Jovenel Moise. The president has not spoken in public since the beginning of this latest round of protests and this week he named a commission of seven politicians to lead discussions for a solution to end the crisis.

In Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States, massive protests led to Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló resigning on July 22, 2019. People also want the corrupt legislature cleaned out, the Fiscal Control Board, created by Obama, ended and the debt to be audited. Former political prisoner, Luis Rosa, said three things are needed: “decolonization, an end to our colonial status through a constitutional assembly; health care, free for all Puerto Rican citizens; and free public education up through the university level.”

Stephen Sefton wrote a country-by-country review of Latin America and the Caribbean in June describing the decline of the United States in the region and how changes were coming to many nations. He predicted that we are seeing “the last throw of the dice for the US to retain its accustomed power and influence against the relentless fundamental drive for emancipation by the region’s impoverished majority.”

Rafael Correa said: “Neoliberalism is what failed, not socialism of the 21st century, on the contrary, socialism of the 21st century is what has us firmly on our feet, withstanding all of these difficulties.” This hemisphere is a key battleground in the conflict between neoliberalism v Socialism and US dominance v. independence. People are demanding democracy from the bottom up and a fair economy that meets their needs.

The Deep State Goes Shallow: “Reality-TV Coup d’etat in Prime Time”

This article was first published on February 21, 2017, one month after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, more than two-and-a half years ago. What was true then is even truer now, and so I am reprinting it with this brief introduction since I think it describes what is happening in plain sight today. 

Now that years of Russia-gate accusations have finally fallen apart, those forces intent on driving Trump from office have had to find another pretext.  Now it is Ukraine-gate, an issue similar in many ways to Russia-gate in that both were set into motion by the same forces aligned with the Democratic Party and the CIA-led Obama administration. 

It was the Obama administration who engineered the 2014 right-wing, Neo-Nazi coup in Ukraine as part of its agenda to undermine Russia. A neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda. This is, or should be, common knowledge. Obama put it in his typically slick way in a 2015 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakiria, saying that the United States “had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine.” 

This is Orwellian language at its finest, from a warmonger who received the Nobel Prize for Peace while declaring he was in support of war. That the forces that have initiated a new and highly dangerous Cold War, a nuclear confrontation with Russia, demonized Vladimir Putin, and have overthrown the elected leader of a country allied with Russia on its western border, dares from the day he was elected in 2016 to remove its own president in the most obvious ways imaginable seems like bad fiction. 

But it is fact, and the fact that so many Americans approve of it is even more fantastic. Over the past few years the public has heard even more about the so-called “deep state,” only to see its methods of propaganda become even more perversely cynical in their shallowness.  No one needs to support the vile Trump to understand that the United States is undergoing a fundamental shift wherein tens of millions of Americans who say they believe in democracy support the activities of gangsters who operate out in the open with their efforts to oust an elected president.

We have crossed the Rubicon and there will be no going back.

*****

In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed; he affirms to deny and denies to affirm; he creates a positive object but it has no being other than its nothingness.

— Jean-Paul Sartre, Existential Psychoanalysis, p. 154.

It is well known that the United States is infamous for engineering coups against democratically elected governments worldwide.  Voters’ preferences are considered beside the point. Iran and Mosaddegh in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Indonesia and Sukarno in 1965-7, Allende in Chile in 1973, to name a few from the relatively distant past.  Recently the Obama administration worked their handiwork in Honduras and Ukraine.  It would not be hyperbolic to say that overthrowing democratic governments is as American as apple pie. It’s our “democratic” tradition — like waging war.

What is less well known is that elements within the U.S. ruling power elites have also overthrown democratically elected governments in the United States.  One U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated because he had turned toward peace and opposed the forces of war within his own government. He is the lone example of a president who therefore was opposed by all the forces of imperial conquest within the ruling elites.

Others, despite their backing for the elite deep state’s imperial wars, were taken out for various reasons by competing factions within the shadow government.  Nixon waged the war against Vietnam for so long on behalf of the military-industrial complex, but he was still taken down by the CIA, contrary to popular mythology about Watergate.  Jimmy Carter was front man for the Tri-Lateral Commission’s deep-state faction, but was removed by the group represented by George H. Bush, William Casey, and Reagan through their traitorous actions involving the Iran hostages.  The emcee for the neo-liberal agenda, Bill Clinton, was rendered politically impotent via the Lewinsky affair, a matter never fully investigated by any media.

Obama, CIA groomed, was smoothly moved into power by the faction that felt Bush needed to be succeeded by a slick smiling assassin who symbolized “diversity,” could speak well, and played hoops. Hit them with the right hand; hit them with the left. Same coin: Take your pick — heads or tails.  Hillary Clinton was expected to complete the trinity.

But surprises happen, and now we have Trump, who is suffering the same fate – albeit at an exponentially faster rate – as his predecessors that failed to follow the complete script. The day after his surprise election, the interlocking circles of power that run the show in sun and shadows – what C. Wright Mills long ago termed the Power Elite – met to overthrow him, or at least to render him more controllable.  These efforts, run out of interconnected power centers, including the liberal corporate legal boardrooms that were the backers of Obama and Hillary Clinton, had no compunction in planning the overthrow of a legally elected president.  Soon they were joined by their conservative conspirators in doing the necessary work of “democracy” – making certain that only one of their hand-picked and anointed henchmen was at the helm of state.  Of course, the intelligence agencies coordinated their efforts and their media scribes wrote the cover stories.  The pink Pussyhats took to the streets.  The deep state was working overtime.

Trump, probably never having expected to win and as shocked as most people when he did, made some crucial mistakes before the election and before taking office.  Some of those mistakes have continued since his inauguration.  Not his derogatory remarks about minorities, immigrants, or women.  Not his promise to cut corporate taxes, support energy companies, oppose strict environmental standards.  Not his slogan to “make America great again.”  Not his promise to build a “wall” along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Not his vow to deport immigrants.  Not his anti-Muslim pledges. Not his insistence that NATO countries contribute more to NATO’s “defense” of their own countries.  Not even his crude rantings and Tweets and his hypersensitive defensiveness.  Not his reality-TV celebrity status, his eponymous golden tower and palatial hotels and sundry real estate holdings.  Not his orange hair and often comical and disturbing demeanor, accentuated by his off the cuff speaking style.  Surely not his massive wealth.

While much of this was viewed with dismay, it was generally acceptable to the power elites who transcend party lines and run the country.  Offensive to hysterical liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans, all this about Trump could be tolerated, if only he would cooperate on the key issue.

Trump’s fatal mistake was saying that he wanted to get along with Russia, that Putin was a good leader, and that he wanted to end the war against Syria and pull the U.S. back from foreign wars.  This was verboten.  And when he said nuclear war was absurd and would only result in nuclear conflagration, he had crossed the Rubicon.  That sealed his fate.  Misogyny, racism, support for Republican conservative positions on a host of issues – all fine.  Opposing foreign wars, especially with Russia – not fine.

Now we have a reality-TV president and a reality-TV coup d’etat in prime time.  Hidden in plain sight, the deep-state has gone shallow.  What was once covert is now overt. Once it was necessary to blame a coup on a secretive “crazy lone assassin,” Lee Harvey Oswald.  But in this “post-modern” society of the spectacle, the manifest is latent; the obvious, non-obvious; what you see you don’t see.  Everyone knows those reality-TV shows aren’t real, right?  It may seem like it is a coup against Trump in plain sight, but these shows are tricky, aren’t they?  He’s the TV guy.  He runs the show.  He’s the sorcerer’s apprentice.   He wants you to believe in the illusion of the obvious. He’s the master media manipulator. You see it but don’t believe it because you are so astute, while he is so blatant. He’s brought it upon himself.  He’s bringing himself down. Everyone who knows, knows that.

I am reminded of being in a movie theatre in 1998, watching The Truman Show, about a guy who slowly “discovers” that he has been living in the bubble of a television show his whole life.  At the end of the film he makes his “escape” through a door in the constructed dome that is the studio set.  The liberal audience in a very liberal town stood up and applauded Truman’s dash to freedom.  I was startled since I had never before heard an audience applaud in a movie theatre – and a standing ovation at that.  I wondered what they were applauding.  I quickly realized they were applauding themselves, their knowingness, their insider astuteness that Truman had finally caught on to what they already thought they knew.  Now he would be free like they were. They couldn’t be taken in; now he couldn’t. Except, of course, they were applauding an illusion, a film about being trapped in a reality-TV world, a world in which they stood in that theatre – their world, their frame. Frames within frames. Truman escapes from one fake frame into another – the movie. The joke was on them. The film had done its magic as its obvious content concealed its deeper truth: the spectator and the spectacle were wed. McLuhan was here right: the medium was the message.

This is what George Trow in 1980 called “the context of no context.”  Candor as concealment, truth as lies, knowingness as stupidity.  Making reality unreal in the service of an agenda that is so obvious it isn’t, even as the cognoscenti applaud themselves for being so smart and in the know.

The more we hear about “the deep state” and begin to grasp its definition, the more we will have descended down the rabbit hole.  Soon this “deep state” will be offering courses on what it is, how it operates, and why it must stay hidden while it “exposes” itself.

Right-wing pundit Bill Krystal tweets: “Obviously [I] prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics.  But if it comes to it, [I] prefer the deep state to Trump state.”

Liberal CIA critic and JFK assassination researcher, Jefferson Morley, after defining the deep state, writes, “With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most – perhaps the only – credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”

These are men who ostensibly share different ideologies, yet agree, and state it publicly, that the “deep state” should take out Trump.  Both believe, without evidence, that the Russians intervened to try to get Trump elected. Therefore, both no doubt feel justified in openly espousing a coup d’etat. They match Trump’s blatancy with their own.  Nothing deep about this.

Liberals and conservatives are now publicly allied in demonizing Putin and Russia, and supporting a very dangerous military confrontation initiated by Obama and championed by the defeated Hillary Clinton.  In the past these opposed political factions accepted that they would rotate their titular leaders into and out of the White House, and whenever the need arose to depose one or the other, that business would be left to deep state forces to effect in secret and everyone would play dumb.

Now the game has changed.  It’s all “obvious.”  The deep state has seemingly gone shallow. Its supporters say so.  All the smart people can see what’s happening.  Even when what’s happening isn’t really happening.

“Only the shallow know themselves,” said Oscar Wilde.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published at Hard Crackers

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

Rising Resistance And Solidarity In The Americas

“If there isn’t justice for the people, there won’t be peace for the governor.” Protesters in Old San Juan on Tuesday call for the resignation of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who has vowed to remain in office (Thais Llorca/EFE/Zuma Press)

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Sandanista Revolution in Nicaragua. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated in the streets of Managua Friday night. This past week, mass protests erupted in Puerto Rico over long term corruption and subversion of democracy. A general strike is planned for Monday.

This week is the 25th Sao Paulo Forum, a meeting of left political parties and social movements, in Caracas, Venezuela. We participated in a Sao Paulo Forum of Washington, DC in preparation for the upcoming meeting. A delegation of Venezuelan Embassy Protectors is traveling to Caracas to participate in it.

Latin America has a long history of resistance to US domination and solidarity with social movements in the United States. This resistance and solidarity is critical to our success in the United States if we are to stop the machine and create a new world.

40th anniversary of Sandanista Revolution in Nicaragua (By Ben Norton, Twitter)

Resisting US Coup Attempts and Building the Good Life

Forty years ago, the Sandanista Front for National Liberation, named after Augusto Sandino, a revolutionary in the 1920s and 30s, ousted the US-backed dictator, Anastasia Somoza, from the country. This day, now called the National Day of Happiness, is celebrated every year. Check out The Grayzone Project’s Twitter feed for videos of the celebrations.

Under the leadership of the Junta of National Reconstruction, which included the future leader and president Daniel Ortega, Nicaraguans took action to provide healthcare, education, eradicate illiteracy, build roads and energy infrastructure, provide land and develop food sovereignty. They greatly reduced both economic and gender inequality.

Nicaraguans enjoyed a stable life until an attempted coup to remove President Ortega, backed by the United States, in mid-2018. Similar to pro-coup protests in Venezuela, there were blockades built by violent coup-supporters who attacked and brutally killed 198 police officers, Sandanistas and bystanders. That coup attempt was stopped despite the media lies designed to confuse the public. A year later, the truth continues to emerge but peace prevails once again. An excellent book, Live From Nicaragua: Uprising or a Coup, A Reader, breaks through the false narratives of the attempted coup and gives information helpful to understanding the situation in Nicaragua.

A delegation from Veterans for Peace is visiting Nicaragua for the anniversary. We look forward to their reports. We attended a celebration at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, DC hosted by Ambassador Francisco Campbell. He described current efforts in Nicaragua to bring truth and reconciliation to reunite a country divided by US interference and the coup attempt.

Nicaragua is a member of the United States’ “Troika of Tyranny,” which includes Cuba and Venezuela. These are three Latin American countries that have broken from US domination and continue to be punished for expressing their self-determination.

Cuba has been experiencing a blockade since 1958, which has driven the country to develop a resistance economy without reliance on foreign goods. Although the blockades have hurt their economy and restricted access to necessities, such as medications, Cubans have better health outcomes than people in the United States due to their well-designed universal healthcare system.

Venezuela continues to resist the current US-led coup attempt, even though the United States is taking it to new extremes. This past week, USAID, a regime change institution, announced the Trump administration is going to use almost $42 million designated for aid to Central America to pay for salaries and supplies for the right-wing opposition led by the self-declared president, Juan Guaido. The corruption of Guaido’s people continues to be exposed. Two more members of Guaido’s team were arrested for trying to sell stolen weapons.

Will Mexico be next? Arturo Sanchez Jimenez outlines what he sees as the early stages of a right-wing coup targeting the new president, AMLO.

Join the People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet this September in New York City. Learn more here.

Protest in Puerto Rico calling for Governor to resign (by Juan Carlos Dávila)

Resistance is Growing in Latin America

Ecuador was making great strides in meeting its population’s needs under President Rafael Correa, but that is being reversed by the current president, Lenin Moreno. Moreno is known worldwide for ending Julian Assange’s asylum and allowing police into the London Embassy to arrest him, but his actions against the Ecuadorian peoples has been similarly harsh. Moreno campaigned on continuing Correa’s programs but has done the opposite. In this interview, Andres Arauz, a member of Correa’s economic team, explains Ecuador’s neoliberal turn under Moreno.

Ecuadorians launched a five-day general strike last Monday to protest “handing over Ecuador to US imperialism.” Among their complaints were Ecuador imposing austerity after receiving a loan from the International Monetary Fund, a US military base proposed in the Galapagos Islands and the imprisonment of Julian Assange.

Mass protests have also erupted in Puerto Rico. Hundreds of thousands of people, many who have never protested before, are taking the streets in San Juan and throughout Puerto Rico. They are facing police repression with tear gas and pepper spray. On Monday, they are holding a general strike.

The protests began when hundreds of pages of chat logs between Governor Ricardo Rosello and other officials were released. They contained derogatory statements and disrespect for the thousands who died after Hurricane Maria. Protesters are calling for the Governor to resign. Other government officials included in the chats have already resigned.

Although the chats were the proverbial “last straw,” according to Miguel Diaz-Cruz, a Puerto Rican doctoral student, the protests are the result of “five centuries of uninterrupted imperialism, free-market disaster capitalism, an imposed dictatorial fiscal control board controlled by the very same people that bankrupted the island, and a storm of the century which was fueled by climate change.”

We spoke with Puerto Rican lawyer, Natasha Bannan, who has participated in the protests, on Clearing the FOG. The episode will be published on Monday. She goes into depth on the problems Puerto Ricans are facing, describes what it will take to start the process of resolving them and explains how activists can be supportive.

The 40th anniversary of the Sandanista Revolution is celebrated in Washington, DC with Americans from many countries at the Nicaraguan Embassy (Popular Resistance)

Why Resistance and Solidarity Matter to Activists in the United States

People in the United States often refer to themselves as “Americans.” Sadly, this is not done in the spirit that all people in the Americas, South, and North, are Americans. Instead, we in the US are taught to see the other Americans as different from us. This is part of US hegemony and the Monroe Doctrine that views Latin America as “our backyard.” It’s why people in the US, USians, accept unilateral coercive economic measures, exploitative trade deals and violent coups that harm other Americans.

All Americans are victims of US actions that destabilize and exploit American territories. We probably don’t think about it that way very much, but what hurts our neighbors hurts us. Blockades mean that USians can’t benefit from medical breakthroughs in Cuba or inexpensive oil programs from Venezuela. Exploitative trade deals mean US jobs are moved South of the border to Mexico, Honduras, Haiti and other countries where wages are lower and there are fewer worker protections.

In the United States, we are also victims of the US Empire. The Empire Economy consumes over 60% of federal discretionary spending on the military. This means less money for necessary programs to provide healthcare, education, housing, and food. The massive US weapons and military industry mean new “customers” must always be found for the products they make, which fuels wars abroad that add to global insecurity and destruction and militarization of our communities at home where the “others” are black and brown people, the poor and homeless. The US military is the largest institutional user of fossil fuels and a major polluter, driving the climate crisis and environmental contamination.

If we are to overcome the US Empire, it will take all of us together. This is one reason why solidarity between all Americans is essential. We in the United States have much to learn from our American brothers and sisters who have been targets of imperialism for centuries. We also have much to learn about the ways countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are working to reduce inequality, meet basic needs and provide a better quality of life for their peoples.

Events like the Sao Paulo Forum are opportunities to come together, get to know and learn from each other. A delegation from the Embassy Protective Collective will attend the Sao Paulo Forum this week in Venezuela. We cannot attend because of our ongoing prosecution by the Trump administration for staying in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, but we are sending Vanessa Beck, a representative from Popular Resistance who will bring a message of solidarity. Vanessa is also a leader of Black Alliance for Peace.

We also attended the Sao Paulo Forum in Washington, DC where we agreed to ten resolutions of solidarity that will be brought to the Forum in Venezuela. At the DC Forum, the Embassy Protection Collective was presented with a powerful painting by the indigenous Salvadoran artist, William Berry. Dan Kovalik donated copies of his new book, The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela, which were sold at the forum to raise funds for the Embassy Protectors Defense Committee.

Learn more about the Embassy Protectors Defense Committee at DefendEmbassyProtectors.org and how you can participate to support the collective’s defense against malicious US prosecution.

Resistance is rising. We can join together in that resistance with acts of solidarity to stop the US war machine and create a new world.

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Position on Honduras reveals Hypocrisy about Venezuela

The hypocrisy is head spinning. As Justin Trudeau lectures audiences on the need to uphold Venezuela’s constitution the Liberals have recognized a completely illegitimate president in Honduras. What’s more, they’ve formally allied with that government in demanding Venezuela’s president follow their (incorrect) reading of that country’s constitution.

In November 2017 Ottawa’s anti-Venezuela “Lima Group” ally Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) defied the Honduran constitution to run for a second term. At Hernandez’ request the four Supreme Court members appointed by his National Party overruled an article in the constitution explicitly prohibiting re-election.

JOH then ‘won’ a highly questionable  poll. With 60 per cent of votes counted opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead by five-points. The electoral council then went silent for 36 hours and when reporting resumed JOH had a small lead.

In the three weeks between the election and JOH’s official proclamation as president, government forces killed at least 30 pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central American country of nine million. More than a thousand were detained under a post-election state of emergency. Many of those jailed for protesting the electoral fraud, including prominent activist Edwin Espinal, who is married to Canadian human rights campaigner Karen Spring, remain in jail.

Ottawa immediately endorsed the electoral farce in Honduras. Following Washington, Global Affairs tweeted that Canada “acknowledges confirmation of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of Honduras.” Tyler Shipley, author of Ottawa and Empire: Canada and the Military Coup in Honduras, responded:

Wow, Canada sinks to new lows with this. The entire world knows that the Honduran dictatorship has stolen an election, even the OAS (an organization which skews right) has demanded that new elections be held because of the level of sketchiness here. And — as it has for over eight years — Canada is at the forefront of protecting and legitimizing this regime built on fraud and violence. Even after all my years of research on this, I’m stunned that [foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland would go this far; I expected Canada to stay quiet until JOH had fully consolidated his power. Instead Canada is doing the heavy lifting of that consolidation.

In 2009 Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya, which was justified on the grounds he was seeking to defy the constitution by running for a second term. (In fact, Zelaya simply put forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.) After the coup Ottawa failed to suspend aid to the military government or exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Programme.

A number of major Canadian corporations, notably Gildan and Goldcorp, were unhappy with some modest social democratic reforms implemented by Zelaya. Additionally, a year before the coup Honduras joined the Hugo Chavez led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the region.

JOH’s National Party won the presidency and he took charge of the national assembly in the post-coup elections, which were boycotted by the UN, Organization of American States and most Hondurans.

Since JOH stole an election that he shouldn’t have been able to participate in the Trudeau government has continued to work with his government. I found no indication that Canadian aid has been reduced and Canadian diplomats in central America have repeatedly met Honduran representatives. JOH’s Foreign Minister, Maria Dolores Aguero, attended a Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Canada organized in Montreal four months ago. Recently Canadian diplomats have lauded the “bonds of friendship between the governments of Canada and Honduras” and “excellent relations that exist between both countries.” Canada’s ambassador James K. Hill retweeted a US Embassy statement noting, “we congratulate  the President Juan Orlando Hernandez for taking the initiative to reaffirm the commitment of his administration to fight against corruption and impunity” through an OAS initiative.

While they praise JOH’s fight against impunity, Canadian officials have refused repeated requests by Canadian activists and relatives to help secure Edwin Espinal’s release from prison. In response to their indifference to Espinal’s plight, Rights Action director Grahame Russell recently wrote:

Have the Canadian and U.S. governments simply agreed not to criticize the Honduran regime’s appalling human rights record … in exchange for Honduras agreeing to be a ‘democratic ally’ in the U.S. and Canadian-led efforts at forced government change in Venezuela?

Honduras is a member of the “Lima Group” of countries pushing to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Last month Trudeau was photographed with the Honduran foreign minister at the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa.

To justify recognizing the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, as president the “Lima Group” and Trudeau personally have cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution.” The Prime Minister even responded to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing  the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he (incorrectly) claims grants Guaidó the presidency.

Why the great concern for Venezuela’s constitution and indifference to Honduras’? Why didn’t Trudeau recognize Salvador Nasralla as president of Honduras? Nasralla’s claim to his country’s presidency is far more legitimate than Guaidó’s.

The hypocrisy in Trudeau allying with the illegitimate president of Honduras to demand Venezuela succumb to their interpretation of that country’s constitution would be absurdly funny if it didn’t put so many lives at risk.

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.