Category Archives: Land ownership

BRICS: A Future in Limbo?

The BRICS are not what they intended to be, never really were.

Today it’s clear that fascist-turned Brazil is out – so we are at RICS. There is not much to argue about. The world’s fifth largest economy, Brazil, has failed and betrayed the concept of the BRICS and the world at large. Whether you consider South Africa as a valid member of the BRICS is also questionable. Much of SA’s social injustice has actually become worse since the end of apartheid. Ending apartheid was a mere political and legal exercise.

Distribution of power and money in SA have not really changed. To the contrary, it worsened. 80% of all land is still in the hands of white farmers. This is what President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to change drastically, by confiscating white farmers’ land without compensation and re-distribute it to black farmers, who have no formation of how to run these farms. This is not only utterly unjust and will create internal conflicts, the last thing SA needs, but it is also very inefficient, as farming and agricultural production will decline most likely drastically and SA, a potential exporter of farm and agricultural goods, will become a net importer, a serious hit on South African’s economy.

The principle of redistributing land to the black African society is a solid one. But not by force and not by confiscation without compensation, nor without an elaborate training program for African farmers – to lead to a peaceful transfer – all of which does takes time and cannot happen over-night. There are too many example of hush-hush land reforms that failed miserably and actually plunged entire societies into poverty and famine. Land reforms – YES, but planned and well organized and strategized. Land reforms are long-term propositions. To be successful, they don’t happen over night.

On a recent trip to SA, I spoke to several black people, including especially women from townships; i.e., SOWETO, who said they were better off under apartheid.

It is not a scientific statistic, but the fact that some black people dare say that the system that atrociously discriminated, exploited and raped them, was better than today’s non-apartheid system, is significant. It is a sad testimony to a generation of SA’s democracy.

So, now we could say, the BRICS are down to RIC – Russia, India and China.

Does India deserve to belong to a club that has as a goal equality and solidarity?

The caste system, about which very little is written, is a horrible, horrible mechanism of discrimination. And there are no efforts under way to abolish it. To the contrary. The Indian elite likes it – it provides cheap labor. It’s actually legalized slavehood, totally submissive to the upper class, the higher castes. It’s cultural, they say. Is such injustice excusable under principles of tradition? Hardly. Especially as this “cultural tradition” serves only a small upper class, is devoid of any compassion and has absolutely no ambition to transform itself to an equal and level playing field. That alone is unworthy of the BRICS’ principles.

The other point, which I believe is important in considering India’s “BRICS viability”, is the fact that PM Narendra Modi is like a straw in the wind, constantly wavering between pleasing the US and leaning toward the east, Russia and China. This is certainly not an indication of stability for a country to become a member in good standing and solidarity with a group of eastern countries, that intend to follow some rather noble human and social justice standards, like Russia and China. But that’s precisely what happened. India has weaseled her way into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

However, on 6 September 2018, The US and India signed a breakthrough security agreement, as reported by the Financial Times. According to the FT, this new compact was “cementing relations between the pair [US and India] and unlocking sales of high-tech American weaponry worth billions of dollars to the world’s top arms importer (meaning India [not considering Saudi Arabia]). Washington sees India as the linchpin of its new Indo-Pacific strategy to counter the rise of China, but has spent months pushing for closer co-operation. It wants Delhi to participate in more joint military exercises, boost its role in regional maritime security and increase arms purchases.”

“We fully support India’s rise,” said Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, during a visit to New Delhi. The FT continues, “later on Thursday the two countries signed Comcasa, a security agreement tailored to India that Jim Mattis, US Defense Secretary, said meant the pair could now share “sensitive technology”. All of this does not bode well for the BRICS, nor for the SCO, of which India has recently become a member.

The BRICS also have a so-called development bank, the “New Development Bank” (NDB) which so far has been and remains largely non-functional, mostly because of internal conflicts.

Then, there is the Crime of the Century committed by Indian PM Norendra Modi, who on 8 November 2016 decided to follow USAID’s advice and demonetize India’s mostly rural society – a society of almost sixty percent without access to banks, thereby committing “Financial Genocide”, in the name of Washington. Modi brutally declared all 500 (US$ 7) and 1,000 rupee-notes – about 85% of all money in circulation – invalid, unless exchanged or deposited in a bank or post office account until 31 December 2016. After this date, all unexchanged ‘old’ money is invalid. More than 98% of all monetary transactions in India take place in cash.

Thousands of Indians, mostly in rural areas, died of famine or suicide. Nobody knows the exact figures. Many rural Indians could not bear the moral burden of being unable to sustain their families, not having access to a bank and to exchange their old money for new money. This is a US-driven effort towards global demonetization. India – with 1.3 billion people – is a test case for poor countries, while demonetization, or rather digitization of money in rich western countries is already moving ahead in giant steps; i.e., in Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. Modi clearly betrayed his people, following orders of the US, transmitted through the infamous USAID.

Under close scrutiny, the BRICS don’t stand the test they subscribed to in their first summit in 2009, in Yekaterinburg, Russia on June 16, 2009, and under which they were legalized and officiated in December 2010, when South Africa joined the club of four, to make it the BRICS.

At this point we are down to Russia and China – R and C are left as viable partners of the BRICS. They are also the founders of the SCO.

Washington was once again successful in dividing – according to the historic, age-old axiom, ‘divide and conquer’. The concept of the BRICS was a real threat to the western Anglo-Saxon led world order.  No more. If anything, the concept and structure of the BRICS has to be rethought, re-invented and re-drafted. Will it happen?

How much longer and how many more times the BRICS can meet in lush summits and publicly declare their solid alliance as a new horizon against western world hegemony, when in reality, they are utterly divided and full of internal ideological strife – adhering to none of the noble goals of solidarity they once committed to?

• First published by the New Eastern Outlook – NEO

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

Public Spaces Private Control

Some time ago I found myself in Paddington Central, a development of office and residential buildings near Paddington train station in London. I’d accidentally walked into the glass and metal concave and what appeared to be a public space, albeit one surrounded by the usual corporate outlets; green grass, a sort of amphitheater, people sitting around eating and drinking and a busker packing up. It appeared pleasant, but there was something artificial and menacing here. Upon investigation I discovered that it was not really a public space at all, but a privately owned square subject to undisclosed laws and regulations laid down by the corporation that owns it.

The commercialization of public spaces in British cities and elsewhere in the industrialized world is going on apace. It is a key element in the movement to lay claim to our cities and neighborhoods, and whilst the curse of gentrification is hard to miss, privatization of public spaces goes largely unnoticed by a weary populous beaten down by the relentless pressures of modern living, unaware of the devious ways of big business and the corporate state that supports it.

Peaceful Protest Denied

Unsurprisingly, the privatization of public spaces (POPS) in Britain began during the Thatcher years (1980’s), and, over the past few decades, The Guardian reports, “almost every major redevelopment in London has resulted in the privatization of public space, including areas around the Olympic Stadium, King’s Cross and Nine Elms.” One of the most notable areas of privately owned public space in the capital is ‘More London’ on the South Bank of the River Thames where City Hall sits surrounded by what looks like open public space. The 13-acre site is, in fact, owned by St. Martins, a Kuwait property company, who bought it in 2013 for £1.7bn. As described by the More London agent, the “development is a modern 13-acre business destination, situated on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Designed by Foster and Partners, the development comprises City Hall, a diverse mix of grade A office space, shops, restaurants, bars, a Hilton hotel, a theatre, a unique open-air music and entertainment amphitheater.” Further down their repugnant sales speak they make clear that the public space and what takes place there is, in fact, under corporate control, stating that, “the local community, up and coming arts organizations and charities are encouraged to use the space for free.”

Within these suffocating corporate spaces behavior and access is controlled and landowners are empowered to deny the public the right to peacefully protest. This was evidenced in 2011 when the Occupy Movement set up camp in Paternoster Square (renamed Tahrir Square by protestors) outside the London Stock Exchange, only to be forcibly moved on by police who secured a high court injunction against public access. To the shock and confusion of many of us, it transpired that the Mitsubishi Estate Company, a massive Japanese property developer actually owned the ‘public’ square.

The sterile environment of POPS promotes a false image of contemporary living that marginalizes the disadvantaged and ignores the reality of poverty and social injustice, while being a fundamental part of a system that perpetuates both. In such sanitized spaces certain ‘types’ of people, buskers, skateboarders, cyclists – the undesirable – are unwelcome; homeless people are shunned, their existence denied, and ‘hostile architecture’ – benches with arms making lying down impossible, studded doorways, sloped window sills and anti-homeless spikes – aggressively reinforce the message of exclusion.

POPS is part of a major change in the nature of our cities as governments justify the sale of public land and buildings as economic prudence, and industrial sites are developed and converted into residential properties or refashioned as commercial units, studio spaces, ‘Class A’ offices, etc. This disturbing undemocratic “wave of urban change is characterized by certain key trends,” says Anna Minton, author of The Privatisation of Public Space’, “relating this time to the private ownership and management of the public realm.” Minton cites an enormous regeneration scheme in Liverpool allowing Grosvenor Estates (headed by the Duke of Westminster, estimated to be worth around £9 billion) to “redevelop 35 streets in the heart of the city, replacing traditional rights of way with ‘public realm arrangements’, policed by US-style ‘quartermasters’ or ‘Sheriffs’.” Begging, skateboarding and rollerblading will be banned and “any form of demonstration will require police permission.” Systems of control more akin to fascism than democracy, but then corporate institutions are not at all interested in democratic principles, they are totalitarian institutions that have been granted extraordinary powers by indolent governments.

Landowners are free to draft the regulations for these pseudo public spaces, which are not subject to local authority bylaws. Like shopping centers and gated communities POPS are policed by unaccountable private security firms, the relevant rules do not have to be publicly posted and can be used indiscriminately to deny public access; free speech is certainly not part of the corporate model of public ownership, which suits the government very well.

In keeping with the homogenized high streets up and down the country all POPS look and feel alike, creating a disturbing sense of uniformity. Streets and squares without character, all color and diversity eradicated, ‘corporatized’; individuality crushed, social conformity demanded. Captured under the umbrella of consumerism people are reduced to mere customers, divided into bands of affluence or need, towns, cities and countries spoken of as market places, the world seen as one giant shopping center in which the values of the market – greed and exploitation, division and selfishness – are promoted in day and night.

The creation of quasi-public spaces, and the selling off of previously authentic public spaces, is one more insidious step in the commercialization of all aspects of contemporary life, and the erosion of democracy; democracy that is already completely inadequate. The massive sale of common space that is taking place in British cities has, the Guardian states, “been strategically engineered to seem necessary, benign and even inconsequential.” It is happening within the broader construct of urban re-generation schemes, which take place without any democratic participation; land is sold off in secret, and the voices of local residents, small businesses, social and cultural centers go unheard.

Public spaces serve a range of purposes. They provide a platform for free assembly and collective action and, within cities, where most people live, they are an ever-precious resource. The world of Neoliberalism attempts to reduce everything to a commodity, but public spaces are not simply a financial asset to be sold off to the highest bidder: like libraries, playing fields and community centers they are an essential social democratic resource that must be fiercely defended and re-claimed as ours.

An Invitation from the Nevada Desert Experience

Come to Nevada: Walk for Peace, Resist Nuclear Weapons, Stand for Indigenous People’s Rights and Fill the Jails! April 13-19, 2019.

On Indigenous People’s Day, formerly known as Columbus Day, October 8, 2018, Nye County, Nevada, prosecutors and Sheriff’s deputies ended a three decades old policy concerning arrests of protesters at the Nevada National Security Site, NNSS, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, 60 miles from Las Vegas.

From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 anti-nuclear peace demonstrations were held at the site. Many thousands participated and according to government records, 15,740 arrests were made, but starting in 1987, the Sheriff’s Department, motivated in part by the expense of so many prosecutions on a rural county, stopped charging protestors who entered the site with criminal trespass. Activists who crossed the cattleguard at the fence-line three miles from the secured zone, now represented by an arbitrary white line closer to US Highway 95, were detained briefly in an open air corral and issued a misdemeanor “Notice to Appear” citation with no appearance date filled in. They were informed that no charge would be filed. Detainees who had no identification, who refused to identify themselves or even offered frivolous names were also released, as were those who presented permits to enter Western Shoshone land issued by their National Council.

In August, 2018, a representative of the Sheriff’s Department informed the Nevada Desert Experience, NDE, of the change in policy. From now on, protesters who enter the site and can present government issued ID will be given a warning ticket the first time and issued real citations if they repeat. Those who are apprehended without ID will be arrested, transported to jail in Pahrump and charged as trespassers. Permits issued by the National Council of the Western Shoshone will no longer be honored. This crackdown is due, according to the deputy who spoke to NDE members, to pressure from the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Department of Energy that operates the site.

With diminished numbers but with faithful regularity, NDE has continued its vigils, prayers and protests at the Test Site several times each year, usually with some of us detained by the deputies and released after presenting permits from the Western Shoshone. Our annual fall event, “Justice for Our Desert”, includes a prayerful procession into the site and this time, three members of the NDE governing council were taken into custody. Two of us, Mark Kelso of Las Vegas and me, from Maloy, Iowa, were released with warnings after we presented our driver’s licenses. Marcus Page-Collonge of Calaveras County, California, was taken to jail in Pahrump and was bailed out that evening.

A few days later, on October 11, the Nye County District Attorney filed a complaint against Marcus in Beatty Township Justice Court that charges that “The Defendant did willfully and unlawfully go on to the property of Nevada National Security Site after being warned no to do so” and trial for his alleged crime is set for December 3.

At trial, the State of Nevada will need to prove that the property Marcus went on to is that “of Nevada National Security Site,” an allegation that will not be verified easily. In 1950, Test Site was established on land legally recognized by the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863 as belonging to the Western Shoshone indigenous nation. This agreement allows the US government the “right to traverse the area, maintain existing telegraph and stage lines, construct one railroad and engage in specified economic activities. The agreement allows the US president to designate reservations, but does not tie this to land cessions.” The NNSS posts billboard-sized “NO TRESPASSING” signs claiming the land as theirs, but the Western Shoshone have never ceded their sacred land to the government. By any measure, the land is theirs and it is the NNSS who is the trespasser, not Marcus nor any of the thousands of activists arrested there in the past.

The NNSS is not only occupying land that is not theirs, it is operating a criminal enterprise there. Nye County authorities could use their time more productively addressing these crimes against humanity than harassing law abiding protesters. This site is the place on the planet that has suffered more atomic blasts than any other and so will be poisoned for countless centuries, even if Yucca Mountain (at the western edge of the NNSS) does not finally become the repository for all nuclear reactor waste. While there have been no actual detonations there since 1992, there are still “subcritical” tests done and there is still testing done to determine the viability of the United States’ aging nuclear arsenal. Plans also still exist to resume testing at Area 5 of the NNSS, should any US President order such. The NNSS is operated not only in violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley but against the United Nations Charter and other international agreements that according to the US Constitution are supreme law of the land. The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons adopted by the United Nations last year makes it a crime to “develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”

If on December 3, Judge Gus Sullivan of the Beatty Township Justice Court rules according the law he is sworn to uphold, Marcus will be found not guilty of trespassing and the District Attorney will be admonished never to file such obviously frivolous charges in that court again. Justice, however, is rarely seen in our courts and this reasonable outcome is not expected, at least not the first time such a case is heard there in more than 30 years. But, what if in the coming months, dozens, hundreds, even thousands show up at the Test Site as in the past, packing the Beatty Township Justice Court, and the Nye County Jail while we are at it? As Marcus tells us, “All humans in Nevada and Shoshone territory who care about the future of life on earth are responsible to reverse the momentum of nuclear weapons, waste, mining and milling, to end the nuclear violence represented here at the NNSS!”

A modest proposal: We invite all friends and fellow travelers to join all or part of NDE’s annual Sacred Peace Walk, April 13-19, this coming year, walking 60 miles from Las Vegas, past the killer drone center at Creech Air Force base to the historic Peace Camp, ending on Good Friday at the gates of the Nevada National Security Site. Then, with the largest number of resisters we can raise and with the permission of the Western Shoshone National Council, we enter their sacred land together!

While this “arrest” will no longer be the ritual without consequences that it has been, even in the new regime each one should be able to calculate the risk each is ready and able to take. First, anyone can participate in a meaningful way without crossing the line, each person adding to the strength of the whole action with no risk of arrest. Second, anyone entering the site with a Western Shoshone permit AND a photo ID such as a driver’s license, who has not already been issued a warning (that’s only me and Mark Kelso so far) will likely be processed quickly and released with a warning. Third, anyone entering with the Western Shoshone permit as their only ID should expect a ride to Pahrump and booked into the jail there. Marcus was held on $500 bond, but who knows what they will do if there is a crowd of us? Going bail or not may be another option for each to consider. If we are held over, it is likely that a judge will let us out on Monday, either with time served or with a trial in the near future.

“Filling the Jails” is a time honored American tradition that has been an integral part of every successful movement for social progress and the stakes have never been higher. Thirty years ago, overwhelming numbers helped end prosecutions of protesters at the Test Site and contributed to implementing the global ban on full-scale testing of nuclear weapons. What we demand now is so much more than this. There are no promises of outcome beyond educated guesses in this proposal. It would be a step in faith, but one that these dangerous times demand of at least some of us and the more who show up, the more fun it will be!

Long time protester and prophet Phil Berrigan could have been speaking to our present dilemma when he offered that, “In this morally polluted atmosphere, we believe that imprisonment could hardly be more to the point. We shudder under the blows of a society permanently mobilized against peace. Duplicity, propaganda, media indifference, institutional betrayal mark our plight. Our people are confused and hopeless. Let us not give up. Let us continue to nourish each other by consistent and prayerful presence at military installations, in courts and lock ups. Indeed, we need to be free enough to go to jail. We need to fill up the jails. Nonviolent revolution will come out of the wilderness, as it always has. And be assured, dear friends, one formidable wilderness today is the American prison.”

Nevada Desert Experience is a faith-based movement and the Sacred Peace Walk embraces the witness and worship of many traditions and of those who identify themselves with none. Walk and camp with us through the desert for the week or join us on Good Friday morning for a communal act of nonviolent resistance. For those who can, come prepared for a joyous weekend together in jail and a strong rebuke to oppressive power in court, if that’s how it goes. Contact us at gro.ecneirepxetresedadavennull@ofni, or phone (702) 646-4814, the same number you might need to call from inside the Nye County Jail, where only collect calls are allowed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Mexico suffered for centuries, and it is suffering now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything here is full of contradictions.

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

On February 7, 2016, Telesur reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French intervention in Mexico

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

*****

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

This used to be a great proud hacienda of Yucatan

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

Now it is gone, thoroughly ruined.

Elites partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic imperialism!

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

Comes Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

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

People spoke, people voted.

For them, Mexico has to change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day in Mexico City 2018 — new beginning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva Mexico! Viva Patria Grande!

• Read Part One here:

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

 

India’s Farmers Plan Mass March to the Nation’s Parliament as Agrarian Crisis Reaches “Civilization Proportions”

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet. And yet it is also one of the most neglected in terms of both investment and media coverage. Veteran journalist and founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India P. Sainath argues that the majority of Indians do not count to the nation’s media, which renders up to 75 percent of the population ‘extinct’.

According to the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, the five-year average of agriculture reporting in an Indian national daily newspaper equals 0.61 percent of news coverage, while village-level stories account for 0.17 percent. For much of the media, whether print or TV, celebrity, IT, movements on the stock exchange and the daily concerns of elite and urban middle class dwellers are what count.

Unlike the corporate media, the digital journalism platform the People’s Archive of Rural India has not only documented the complexity and beauty of rural India but also its hardships and the all too often heartbreaking personal stories that describe the impacts of government policies which have devastated lives, livelihoods and communities.

Rural India is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture. Those involved in farming and related activities are being driven to migrate to cities to become cycle rickshaw drivers, domestic servants, daily wage labourers and suchlike.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. According to this report,  the number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

The core problems affecting agriculture centre upon the running down of the sector for decades, the impact of deregulated markets and profiteering corporations (Monsanto and its Bt cotton seeds being just one case in point), increasing debt and lack of proper credit facilities, the withdrawal of government support, spiralling input costs and the effects of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

The root causes of India’s agrarian crisis have been well documented, not least by policy analyst Devinder Sharma, who says:

“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control. Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in an overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.”

From the geopolitical lending strategies of institutions like the World Bank to the opening up of food and agriculture to foreign corporations via WTO rules and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, there is an ongoing strategy to displace the existing system of smallholder cultivation and village-based food production with one suited to the interests of global seed, pesticide, food processing and retail corporations like Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and Walmart.

In outlining the nature of the agrarian crisis, P. Sainath encapsulates the drive towards corporate farming in five words: “Predatory commercialization of the countryside.” He uses another five words for the outcome (referring to the mass migration from rural India): “The biggest displacement in history.”

By deliberately making agriculture economically non-viable for smallholder farmers (who form the backbone of food production in the country) the aim is to lay the groundwork to fully incorporate India into a fundamentally flawed and wholly exploitative global food regime that is undermining the country’s food security and food sovereignty as well as its health, soils, water supply and rural communities.

Rural India is in crisis. And with hundreds of millions destined to be forced to migrate to cities if current policies persist, the suffering will continue because the urban centres are not generating anything near the required levels of employment to soak up those whose livelihoods are being eradicated in the countryside. Jobless ‘growth’ haunts India, which is not helped by a global trend towards increasing automation and the impacts of artificial intelligence.

There are growing calls for liberating farmers from debt and guaranteeing prices/levels of profit above the costs of production. And it is not as though these actions are not possible. It is a question of priorities: the total farm debt is equal to the loans provided to just five large corporations in India.

Where have those loans gone? A good case has been put forward for arguing that the 2016 ‘demonetisation’ policy was in effect a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth has been based on a debt-inflated economy (the backbone of neoliberalism across the world). While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little or no ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

The trigger point of the Mandasur farmer’s uprising in Central India in 2016, in which six farmers were shot dead was the demonetisation action. It meant that farmers faced a severe crash-crunch on top of all the other misery they faced. This was the last straw. That incident epitomised the fact that agriculture has been starved of investment while corporations have secured handouts. Farmers have been sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal dogma: food has been kept cheap, thereby boosting the disposable income and consumer spending of the urban middle classes, helping to provide the illusion of GDP ‘growth’ (corporate profit).

But both urban and rural Indians are increasingly coming together to help place farmers’ demands on the national political (and media) agenda. For instance, a volunteer group called Nation for Farmers, comprising people from all walks of life, is in the process of helping to mobilise citizens in support of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee’s (AIKSCC) march to parliament that is planned for the end of November.

The AIKSCC is an umbrella group of over 200 farmers’ organisations, which is calling for a march to Delhi by farmers, agricultural labourers and other distressed rural Indians from all over the country. The aim is to mobilise up to one million people. A similar march took place early in 2018 from Nashik to Mumbai. This time, however, the aim is to place the issues on the agenda of the nation’s parliament.

On behalf of the AIKSCC, two bills – The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill (2018) and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill (2018) – have already been placed before parliament and are awaiting discussion. While the AIKSCC has focused on ensuring proper minimum support prices for farmers, there is now also the demand for a special 21-day joint session of parliament where the AIKSCC’s concerns can be heard.

To this end, the organisers of the march have written to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. In their letter, they say that the agrarian crisis has now reached “civilizational proportions”.

They argue:

… successive governments have witnessed the destruction of the countryside and the unchecked destitution of farmers and yet little has been done to alleviate their misery. They have witnessed the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years.

The letter makes clear to the president that the AIKSCC is fighting to save the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural Indians and has organised a ‘Kisan Mukti March’ to Delhi for three days from 28 to 30 November. The president is urged to pay heed to the demand for a special, 21-day joint session of parliament, dedicated entirely to discussing the agrarian crisis and related issues.

The letter states:

We request your intervention as the President of the Republic of India and the Constitutional head to ensure that a crisis of this scale that renders 70 percent of Indian citizens vulnerable is addressed by a joint session of the Parliament of this country… Surely the precariousness of the lives of millions of citizens merits the undivided attention of Parliament and thereby its commitment to find enduring solutions.

A special parliamentary session is called for because – after numerous protests, petitions, pleadings by distressed farmers, labourers, forest communities, fisher folk and the foot soldiers of India’s literacy and health care programmes – have failed to garner the attention of successive governments to the agrarian crisis.

The aim is that any special session on the crisis will be rooted in the testimonies of its victims, who need to be heard from both outside and inside the parliament. The session would enable them to address their fellow citizens and representatives from the floor of the parliament and explain the impact of devastating farming policies, the lack of rural credit and fair prices, and the unbearable violence of privatising water, healthcare and education.

We can only hope that the media and its well-paid journalists might be galvanised into action too!

Visit the website where you can read the letter to the president in full, sign the petition, publicise the issues and get involved. 

India’s Farmers Plan Mass March to the Nation’s Parliament as Agrarian Crisis Reaches “Civilization Proportions”

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet. And yet it is also one of the most neglected in terms of both investment and media coverage. Veteran journalist and founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India P. Sainath argues that the majority of Indians do not count to the nation’s media, which renders up to 75 percent of the population ‘extinct’.

According to the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, the five-year average of agriculture reporting in an Indian national daily newspaper equals 0.61 percent of news coverage, while village-level stories account for 0.17 percent. For much of the media, whether print or TV, celebrity, IT, movements on the stock exchange and the daily concerns of elite and urban middle class dwellers are what count.

Unlike the corporate media, the digital journalism platform the People’s Archive of Rural India has not only documented the complexity and beauty of rural India but also its hardships and the all too often heartbreaking personal stories that describe the impacts of government policies which have devastated lives, livelihoods and communities.

Rural India is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture. Those involved in farming and related activities are being driven to migrate to cities to become cycle rickshaw drivers, domestic servants, daily wage labourers and suchlike.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. According to this report,  the number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

The core problems affecting agriculture centre upon the running down of the sector for decades, the impact of deregulated markets and profiteering corporations (Monsanto and its Bt cotton seeds being just one case in point), increasing debt and lack of proper credit facilities, the withdrawal of government support, spiralling input costs and the effects of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

The root causes of India’s agrarian crisis have been well documented, not least by policy analyst Devinder Sharma, who says:

“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control. Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in an overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.”

From the geopolitical lending strategies of institutions like the World Bank to the opening up of food and agriculture to foreign corporations via WTO rules and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, there is an ongoing strategy to displace the existing system of smallholder cultivation and village-based food production with one suited to the interests of global seed, pesticide, food processing and retail corporations like Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and Walmart.

In outlining the nature of the agrarian crisis, P. Sainath encapsulates the drive towards corporate farming in five words: “Predatory commercialization of the countryside.” He uses another five words for the outcome (referring to the mass migration from rural India): “The biggest displacement in history.”

By deliberately making agriculture economically non-viable for smallholder farmers (who form the backbone of food production in the country) the aim is to lay the groundwork to fully incorporate India into a fundamentally flawed and wholly exploitative global food regime that is undermining the country’s food security and food sovereignty as well as its health, soils, water supply and rural communities.

Rural India is in crisis. And with hundreds of millions destined to be forced to migrate to cities if current policies persist, the suffering will continue because the urban centres are not generating anything near the required levels of employment to soak up those whose livelihoods are being eradicated in the countryside. Jobless ‘growth’ haunts India, which is not helped by a global trend towards increasing automation and the impacts of artificial intelligence.

There are growing calls for liberating farmers from debt and guaranteeing prices/levels of profit above the costs of production. And it is not as though these actions are not possible. It is a question of priorities: the total farm debt is equal to the loans provided to just five large corporations in India.

Where have those loans gone? A good case has been put forward for arguing that the 2016 ‘demonetisation’ policy was in effect a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth has been based on a debt-inflated economy (the backbone of neoliberalism across the world). While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little or no ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

The trigger point of the Mandasur farmer’s uprising in Central India in 2016, in which six farmers were shot dead was the demonetisation action. It meant that farmers faced a severe crash-crunch on top of all the other misery they faced. This was the last straw. That incident epitomised the fact that agriculture has been starved of investment while corporations have secured handouts. Farmers have been sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal dogma: food has been kept cheap, thereby boosting the disposable income and consumer spending of the urban middle classes, helping to provide the illusion of GDP ‘growth’ (corporate profit).

But both urban and rural Indians are increasingly coming together to help place farmers’ demands on the national political (and media) agenda. For instance, a volunteer group called Nation for Farmers, comprising people from all walks of life, is in the process of helping to mobilise citizens in support of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee’s (AIKSCC) march to parliament that is planned for the end of November.

The AIKSCC is an umbrella group of over 200 farmers’ organisations, which is calling for a march to Delhi by farmers, agricultural labourers and other distressed rural Indians from all over the country. The aim is to mobilise up to one million people. A similar march took place early in 2018 from Nashik to Mumbai. This time, however, the aim is to place the issues on the agenda of the nation’s parliament.

On behalf of the AIKSCC, two bills – The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill (2018) and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill (2018) – have already been placed before parliament and are awaiting discussion. While the AIKSCC has focused on ensuring proper minimum support prices for farmers, there is now also the demand for a special 21-day joint session of parliament where the AIKSCC’s concerns can be heard.

To this end, the organisers of the march have written to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. In their letter, they say that the agrarian crisis has now reached “civilizational proportions”.

They argue:

… successive governments have witnessed the destruction of the countryside and the unchecked destitution of farmers and yet little has been done to alleviate their misery. They have witnessed the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years.

The letter makes clear to the president that the AIKSCC is fighting to save the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural Indians and has organised a ‘Kisan Mukti March’ to Delhi for three days from 28 to 30 November. The president is urged to pay heed to the demand for a special, 21-day joint session of parliament, dedicated entirely to discussing the agrarian crisis and related issues.

The letter states:

We request your intervention as the President of the Republic of India and the Constitutional head to ensure that a crisis of this scale that renders 70 percent of Indian citizens vulnerable is addressed by a joint session of the Parliament of this country… Surely the precariousness of the lives of millions of citizens merits the undivided attention of Parliament and thereby its commitment to find enduring solutions.

A special parliamentary session is called for because – after numerous protests, petitions, pleadings by distressed farmers, labourers, forest communities, fisher folk and the foot soldiers of India’s literacy and health care programmes – have failed to garner the attention of successive governments to the agrarian crisis.

The aim is that any special session on the crisis will be rooted in the testimonies of its victims, who need to be heard from both outside and inside the parliament. The session would enable them to address their fellow citizens and representatives from the floor of the parliament and explain the impact of devastating farming policies, the lack of rural credit and fair prices, and the unbearable violence of privatising water, healthcare and education.

We can only hope that the media and its well-paid journalists might be galvanised into action too!

Visit the website where you can read the letter to the president in full, sign the petition, publicise the issues and get involved. 

500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

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

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

The Congo

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

Slavery

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

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

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

Colonization

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence then Dictatorship

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

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

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

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

Invasion

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

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

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

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

Corporate and State Exploitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today

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

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

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

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

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

So what is happening now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social and Environmental Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting the Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Cruel Choice”: Why Israel Targets Palestinian Schools

Several Palestinian students, along with teachers and officials, were wounded in the Israeli army attack on a school south of Nablus in the West Bank on October 15. The students of Al- Sawiya Al-Lebban Mixed School were challenging an Israeli military order to shut down their school based on the ever-versatile accusation of the school being a “site of popular terror and rioting.”

“Popular terror,” is an Israeli army code for protests. The students, of course, have every right to protest, not just the Israeli military Occupation but also the encroaching colonization of the settlements of Alie and Ma’ale Levona. These two illegal Jewish settlements have unlawfully confiscated thousands of dunams of land belonging to the villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lebban.

“The Israeli citizens”, that the Occupation army is set to protect by shutting down the school, are, in fact, the very armed Jewish settlers who have been terrorizing this West Bank region for years.

According to a 2016 study commissioned by the United Nations, at least 2,500 Palestinian students from 35 West Bank communities must cross through Israeli military checkpoints to reach their schools every day. About half of these students have reported army harassment and violence for merely attempting to get to their classes or back home.

However, this is only half of the story, as violent Jewish settlers are always on the lookout for Palestinian kids. These settlers, who “also set up their own checkpoints”, engage in regular violence as well, by “throwing stones” at children, or “physically pushing (Palestinian children) around.”

“UNICEF’s protective presence teams have reported that their volunteers have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrest and detention, and death threats,” according to the same UN report.

In other words, even the ‘protectors’ themselves often fall victim to the army and Jewish settler terror tactics.

Add to this that Area C – a major part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control – represents the pinnacle of Palestinian suffering. An estimated 50,000 children face numerous hurdles, including the lack of facilities, access, violence, closure and unjustified demolition orders.

The school of Al Sawiya Al Lebban located in Area C is, therefore, under the total mercy of the Israeli military, which has no tolerance for any form of resistance, including non-violent popular protests by school children.

What is truly uplifting, however, is that, despite the Israeli military Occupation and ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom, the Palestinian population remains one of the most educated in the Middle East.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the literacy rate in Palestine (estimated at 96.3%) is one of the highest in the Middle East and the illiteracy rate (3.7% among individuals over the age of 15) is one of the lowest in the world.

If these statistics are not heartening enough, bearing in mind the ongoing Israeli war on Palestinian school and curricula, consider this: the besieged and war-stricken Gaza Strip has an even higher literacy rate than the West Bank, as they both stand at 96.6% and 96% respectively.

In truth, this should not come as a total surprise. The first wave of Palestinian refugees that were ethnically-cleansed from historic Palestine were so keen on ensuring their children strive to continue their education, they established school tents, operated by volunteer teachers as early as 1948.

Palestinians understand well that education is their greatest weapon to obtain their long-denied freedom. Israel, too, is aware of this dichotomy, knowing that an empowered Palestinian population is far more capable of challenging Israeli dominance than a subdued one, thus the relentless and systematic targeting of the Palestinian educational system.

Israel’s strategy in destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian schooling system is centered on the allegation of ‘terror’: that is, Palestinians teach ‘terror’ in their schools; Palestinian school books celebrate ‘terrorists’; schools are sites for ‘popular terror’ and various other accusations that, per Israeli logic, compels the army to seal off schools, demolish facilities, arrest and shoot students.

Take, for example, the recent comments made by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is now leading a government campaign aimed at shutting down operations by the UN organization that caters for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“It is time to remove UNRWA from Jerusalem,” Barkat announced early October.

Without any evidence whatsoever, Barkat claimed that “UNRWA is strengthening terror,” and that “the children of Jerusalem are taught under their auspices, terror, and this must be stopped.”

Of course, Barkat is being dishonest. The jibe at UNRWA in Jerusalem is part of a larger Israeli-US campaign aimed at shutting down an organization that proved central to the status and welfare of Palestinian refugees.

According to this skewed thinking, without UNRWA, Palestinian refugees would have no legal platform, thus closing down UNRWA is closing down the chapter of Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return altogether.

The link between the shutting down of Al Sawiya Al Lebban, the targeting of UNRWA by Israel and the US, the numerous checkpoints separating students from their schools in the West Bank and more, have more in common than Israel’s false allegation of ‘terror.’

Israeli writer, Orly Noy, summed up the Israeli logic in one sentence. “By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures,” she wrote earlier this year.

It is this brutal logic that has guided the Israeli government strategy regarding Palestinian education for 70 years. It is a war that cannot be discussed or understood outside the larger war on Palestinian identity, freedom, and, in fact, the very existence of the Palestinian people.

The students’ fight for their right to education in Al Sawiya Al Lebban Mixed School is by no means an isolated skirmish involving Palestinian school kids and trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. Rather, it is at the heart of the Palestinian people’s fight for their freedom.

Food, Justice, Violence and Capitalism

In 2015, India’s internal intelligence agency wrote a report that depicted various campaigners and groups as working against the national interest. The report singled out environmental activists and NGOs that had been protesting against state-corporate policies. Those largely undemocratic and unconstitutional policies were endangering rivers, forests and local ecologies, destroying and oppressing marginalised communities, entrenching the corporatisation of agriculture and usurping land rights.

These issues are not unique to India. Resistance against similar practices and injustices is happening across the world. And for their efforts, campaigners are being abused, incarcerated and murdered. Whether people are campaigning for the land rights of tribal communities in India or for the rights of peasant farmers in Latin America or are campaigning against the fracking industry in the UK or against pipelines in the US, there is a common thread: non-violent protest to help bring about a more just and environmentally sustainable world.

What is ultimately fueling the push towards the relentless plunder of land, peoples and the environment is a strident globalised capitalism, euphemistically termed ‘globalisation’, which is underpinned by increasing state surveillance, paramilitary-type law enforcement and a US-backed push towards militarism.

The deregulation of international capital movement (financial liberalisation) effectively turned the world into a free-for-all for global capital. The ramping up of this militarism comes at the back end of a deregulating/pro-privatising neoliberal agenda that has sacked public budgets, depressed wages, expanded credit to consumers and to governments (to sustain spending and consumption) and unbridled financial speculation. In effect, spending on war is in part a desperate attempt to boost a stagnant US economy.

We may read the writings of the likes of John Perkins (economic hitmen), Michel Chossudovsky (the globalisation of poverty), Michael Hudson (treasury bond super-imperialism) or Paul Craig Roberts (the US’s descent into militarism and mass surveillance) to understand the machinations of billionaire capitalists and the economic system and massive levels of exploitation and suffering they preside over.

Food activists are very much part of the global push-back and the struggle for peace, equality and justice and in one form or another are campaigning against violence, corruption and cronyism. There is a determination to question and to hold to account those with wealth and power, namely, transnational agribusiness corporations and their cronies who hold political office.

There is sufficient evidence for us to know that these companies lie and cover up truth. And we also know that their bought politicians, academics, journalists and right-wing neoliberal backers and front groups smear critics and attempt to marginalise alternative visions of food and agriculture.

They are first to man the barricades when their interests are threatened. Those interests are tied to corporate power, neoliberal capitalism and the roll out of food for profit. These companies and their cheerleaders would be the last to speak up about the human rights abuses faced by environmentalists in various places across the world. They have little to say about the injustices of a global food regime that creates and perpetuates food surpluses in rich countries and food deficits elsewhere, resulting in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. Instead all they have to offer are clichés about the need for more corporate freedom and deregulation if we are to ‘feed the world’.

And they attempt to gloss over or just plain ignore the land grabs and the marginalisation of peasant farmers across the world, the agrarian crisis in India or the harm done by agrochemicals because it is all tied to the neoliberal globalisation agenda which fuels corporate profit, lavish salaries or research grants.

It is the type of globalisation that has in the UK led to deindustrialisation, massive inequalities, the erosion of the welfare state and an increasing reliance on food banks. In South America, there has been the colonisation of lands and farmers to feed richer countries’ unsustainable, environment-destroying appetite for meat. In effect what Helena Paul once described in The Ecologist as genocide and ecocide.  From India to Argentina, we have witnessed (are witnessing) the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’.

And from various bilateral trade agreements and WTO policies to IMF and World Bank directives, we have seen the influence of transnational agricapital shaping and benefiting from ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘structural adjustment’ type strategies.

We also see the globalisation of bad food and illness and the deleterious impacts of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture on health, rivers, soils and oceans. The global food regime thrives on the degradation of health, environment, labour and communities and the narrowing of the range of crops grown resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets.

Whether it includes any or all of the above or the hollowing out of regulatory agencies and the range of human rights abuses we saw documented during The Monsanto Tribunal, what we see is the tacit acceptance of neoliberal policies and the perpetuation of structural (economic, social and political) violence by mainstream politicians and agricapital and its cheerleaders.

At the same time, however, what we are also witnessing is a loosely defined food movement becoming increasingly aware of the connection between these issues.

Of course, to insinuate that those campaigning for the labelling of GM food, the right to healthy food or access to farmers markets in the West and peasant movements involved with wider issues pertaining to food sovereignty, corporate imperialism and development in the Global South form part of a unified ‘movement’ in terms of material conditions or ideological outlook would be stretching a point.

After all, if you campaign for, say, healthy organic food in your supermarket, while overlooking the fact that the food in question derives from a cash crop which displaced traditional cropping systems and its introduction effectively destroyed largely food self-sufficient communities and turned them into food importing basket cases three thousand miles away, where is the unity?

However, despite the provisos, among an increasing number of food activists the struggle for healthy food in the West, wider issues related to the impact of geopolitical IMF-World Bank lending strategies and WTO policies and the securing of local community ownership of ‘the commons’ (land, water, seeds, research, technology, etc) are understood as being interconnected.

There is an emerging unity of purpose within the food movement and the embracing of a vision for a better, more just food system that can only deliver genuine solutions by challenging and replacing capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption.