Category Archives: Mining

India: The State of Independence

India celebrates its independence from Britain on 15 August. However, the system of British colonial dominance has been replaced by a new hegemony based on the systemic rule of transnational capital, enforced by global institutions like the World Bank and WTO. At the same time, global agribusiness corporations are stepping into the boots of the former East India Company.

The long-term goal of US capitalism has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade underpinned by export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the global market and debtThe result has been food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the displacement of traditional, indigenous agriculture by a corporatized model centred on transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and world food security. The global food regime is in effect increasingly beholden to unregulated global markets, financial speculators and global monopolies.

India, of course, has not been immune to this. It is on course to be subjugated by US state-corporate interests  and is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many might think. As I outlined in this previous piece, the IMF and World Bank wants India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture and has been directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of western agricapital. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

One of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial agriculture, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work (India is heading for ‘jobless growth’). Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly degrading to become a mere repository for a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and those farmers that are left will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Some like to call this adopting a market-based approach: a system in the ‘market-driven’ US that receives a taxpayer farm bill subsidy of around $100 million annually.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms. The result is that 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 cash crops and economic liberalisation.

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.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising their income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers’ already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma, subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

In the book The Invention of Capitalism, Michael Perelmen lays bare the iron fist which whipped the English peasantry into a workforce willing to accept factory wage labour. A series of laws and measures served to force peasants off the land and deprive them of their productive means. In India, we are currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) capital and turn farmers into a reserve army of cheap industrial/service sector labour. By moving people into cities, it seems India wants to emulate China: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, migrants – stripped of their livelihoods in the countryside – are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs.

Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as it is not creating anything like the number of jobs required and the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

India’s high GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of debt, environmental degradation, cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population, including public sector workers, has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head than it did 40 years ago.

Amartya Sen and former World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu have argued that the bulk of India’s aggregate growth occurred through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder. Furthermore, Global Finance Integrity has shown that the outflow of illicit funds into foreign bank accounts has accelerated since opening up the economy to neoliberalism in the early nineties. ‘High net worth individuals’ (i.e. the very rich) are the biggest culprits here.

While corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans, they have failed to spur job creation; yet any proposed financial injections (or loan waivers) for agriculture (which would pale into insignificance compared to corporate subsidies/written off loans) are depicted as a drain on the economy.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds with farmers working to supply transnational corporations’ global supply chains. Rather than working towards food security based on food sovereignty and eradicating corruption, building storage facilities and dealing with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

Foreign direct investment is said to be good for jobs and good for business. But just how many get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place to import seeds or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so that Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world (as in Punjab) farmers still face massive financial distress. Clearly, productivity is not the problem: even with bumper harvests, the agrarian crisis persists.

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food, retail and agriculture sectors. What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers’ livelihoods.

The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies’ taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. They rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

Various high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies. There is also a need to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals. However, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto, Cargill, Bayer and other transnational players.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. Some 60% of the population live in rural areas and are involved in agriculture but less than 2% of the annual budget goes to agriculture. Sharma says that when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

It is worth considering that the loans provided to just five large corporations in India are equal to the entire farm debt. Where have those loans gone? Have they increased ‘value’ in the economy. No, loans to corporate houses left the banks without liquidity.

‘Demonetisation’ was in part 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 was based on a debt-inflated economy. 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 ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

Corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it. The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neoliberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property being enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs are trying to eradicate traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’ (soil, water, land, food, forests, diets and health) but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities, which have spiralled since India adopted neoliberal policies), US capitalism regards ‘development’ as a geopolitical tool.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. A trade deal now being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food.

RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. If RCEP is adopted, it could intensify the great land grab that has been taking place in India. It could also lead to further corporate control over seeds.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated. This model brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems, many of which are rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Unfortunately, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seek to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s paper on path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of maintaining and creating jobs, managing water resources, regenerating soils and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are now making a concerted effort to roll out and scale up zero budget agroecological agriculture.

Solutions to India’s agrarian crisis (and indeed the world’s) are available, not least the scaling up of agroecological approaches which could be the lynchpin of rural development. However, successive administrations have bowed to and continue to acquiesce to the grip of global capitalism and have demonstrated their allegiance to corporate power. The danger is that without changing the capitalist relations of production, agroecology would simply be co-opted by corporations and incorporated into their global production and distribution chains.

In the meantime, India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices has placed enormous strain on water resources. From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

— Jason Hickel

While politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this economic model and all it entails for agriculture, it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’. Surrendering the nation’s food sovereignty and the incorporation of India into US financial and geopolitical structures is the current state of independence.

Final thoughts

Neoliberalism and the drive for urbanisation in India have been underpinned by unconstitutional land takeovers and the trampling of democratic rights. For supporters of cronyism and manipulated markets, which to all extents and purposes is what economic ‘neoliberalism’ across the world has entailed (see thisthis and this), there have been untold opportunities for well-placed individuals to make an under-the-table fast buck from various infrastructure projects and privatisation sell-offs.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, the doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, struggles (violent and non-violent) are taking place in India. The Naxalites/Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left-wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor’s exploitation and too often lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its redistributive responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and largely unaccountable corporations.

Powerful (mining) corporations are shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India and have signed secretive Memorandums of Understanding with the government. The full backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to hand it over to mineral-hungry industries to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development. Around the world, this oil-dependent, urban-centric, high-energy model of endless consumption is stripping the environment bare and negatively impacting the climate and ecology.

In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.

Farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem’: a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth creators of a nation, only became a problem when western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image.

This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.

Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’. How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism.

The corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.

Before you realise it, culture, politics and the economy have become colonised by powerful private interests and the world is cast in their image. The prevailing economic system soon becomes cloaked with an aura of matter of factuality, an air of naturalness, which is never to be viewed for the controlling hegemonic culture or power play that it really is.

Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands and the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP.

If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians.

Consider that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed.

We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.

Levels of consumption were unsustainable long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits.

This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, from Libya and Syria to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources.

The type of ‘progress and development’ and consumerism being sold makes beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived of their lands and livelihoods. In Congo, rich corporations profit from war and conflict. And in India, tens of thousands of militias (including in 2005, Salwa Judum) were put into tribal areas to forcibly displace 300,000 people and place 50,000 in camps. In the process, rapes and human rights abuses have been common.

If what is set out above tells us anything, it is that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal haemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without:

There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.

— Noam Chomsky.

Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva calls a view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror and owner of the Earth. This has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.

And therein lies the true enemy of genuine development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

If we look at the various western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to for inspiration, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialist intent. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared? The same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda hidden behind terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’.

Is India willing to see Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations deciding on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed. A corporate takeover spearheaded by companies whose character is clear for all to see:

The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, WalMart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of ‘Agent Orange’ unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains.

— Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric that is driving the overhaul of Indian agriculture is a brand of corporate imperialism which is turning out to be no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was in England for its peasantry. The East India company might have gone, but today the bidding of elite interests (private capital) is being carried out by compliant politicians, the World Bank, the WTO and lop-sided, egregious back-room trade deals.

Rescues, Caves and Celebrity Salvation

It all risks becoming pornographic, looped and re-run with an obsessive eye for updates and detail about despair and hope.  The twenty-four hour news cycle tends to encourage this sort of thing, ever desperate for snippets, obsessively chasing the update.  With a soccer team of twelve youths and their coach trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave some one kilometre below the surface, the curious, the gormless, and those with an unhealthy interest in the morbid have assumed couch position.

First came the discovery of the team by British divers after the group had gone missing for nine days.  They were found on a ledge inside the Northern Thai cave system.  Divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were feted as being among the best in the world, the former having been awarded an MBE for, of all things, services in cave diving.

There was much hooting and tooting in celebration, something prompted by the fact that any hope of finding them alive, according to the governor of Chiang Rai province, was nigh impossible.  But the mechanics of extricating the team from the cave started to mount in complexity and desperation, bursting the initial balloon of celebration.

With 2.5 miles of flooded cave between the team and the entrance, a sense of imperilment has grown.  This is compounded by a dreaded risk that adds a televisual ghastliness to the tale: the prospect of more heavy rain on the weekend, something that will foil current efforts to drain the excess water.

A village of international rescue experts including military personnel has grown around the enterprise, not to mention a vast hive of media representatives.  Four questions seem to be doing the rounds: to leave the team in the cave till there is a receding of the water level (dangerous given the monsoon season); pumping out the water to an extent to enable the trapped team to wade out; teaching the youths how to scuba dive, something which would be no mean feat given the length of time it would take for them to journey out of the cave (some five hours) and their status as virginal divers; and finally, drilling into the cave system.

Thai Navy Seals have been deployed, and much help is at hand, but the goriness has not been entirely dissipated.  The Navy Seal Chief Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yoo-kongkaew has been feeding the story to journalists keen to strike the optimistic note.

The Rear Admiral did not disappoint.  “Now we have given food to the boys, starting with food that is easy to digest and provides high energy.” He stressed that care has been given to the youths “following the doctor’s recommendation.  So do not worry, we will take care of them with our best.  We will bring all of them with safety.  We are now planning how to do so.”  Such confidence was given a dint with the subsequent death of one of his crew, Samarn Poonan, who perished due to lack of oxygen during a dive.

One similar incident stands out to what is currently unfolding in Thailand: the initial loss, the recovery and sanctifying of the “Los 33”, the Chilean miners who became celebrities of salvation in 2010.  They spent 69 days in the collapsed San Jose mine near Copiapó.  Over time, a process of mythologising began to take place.

It was fame imposed on the ordinary, confected by the mere fact, as important as that fact was, that they had survived.  Like Church miracle artefacts, they were vested with allure, attraction, and sheer pulling power.  They were also there to be exploited, used, and interpreted.  Otherwise, they were uncomplicated creatures of animal and mineral, many of whom believed that God had been the thirty-fourth miner keeping them resolute.

As the rescue effort unfolded, the minor celebrity bandwagon grew.  US radio personality Ryan Seacrest sent prayers and well wishes hoping, rather insipidly, “to see everyone on the surface soon.” The clownish Irish song duo of Jedward sent their own message of tinny idiocy: “All the miners remember it’s not about mining it’s about finding dinosaurs and dragons.” The late English presenter Keith Chegwin expressed some mock shame that “Dig Brother” had ended.  “Wonder what Chile 4 will put on now.”

The miners would subsequently add a touch of mysticism to the rescue, essentially sacralising it.  Jorge Galleguillos spoke of seeing “a white species… a butterfly” falling “like a paper” into the mine.  “Faith is nourishment… Faith is life.”  Stories abounded of how medical ailments were healed by prayer.  The drill used to tunnel to the miners was guided, according to miner Ariel Ticona, “by the hand of God”.

The miners became the heralds of a modern success story.  They were invited as guests of honour to Manchester United.  They did the US chat show circuit.  As a statement of pure fantasy, they went to that composite of fantasy, Disneyland. Then, for another sort of miracle dream work, they ventured to the Holy Land.  Expenses were footed.

Amidst the celebratory orgy typical of myth came a few sceptical qualifiers.  The degree of medical danger posed to them, for instance, had been given undue embellishment.  Dr. James Polk, deputy chief medical officer and chief of space medicine at NASA put this down to “not having all the facts, and things that people did not know about the situation”.

The workers were, for instance, trapped at sea level and could hardly have suffered from decompression sickness.  The miners were less confined as was portrayed, able to continue their labours underground.  Nor were they at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. “Chilean authorities,” according to Polk, “anticipated this, and they gave them a large dose of Vitamin D3 as part of their nutritional supplementation.”

Many of the rescued miners subsequently faced the ruination of imposed fame.  Mario Sepúlveda spoke of “fame but not money. It is the worst possible thing.”  The camera that had given him and his colleagues celebrity had also consumed them.  His world remains one of anti-depressants and a return to mining, where the darkness comforts.

The “Los 33” effect is very much at play regarding this young football team even as the rescue crews are busying themselves on tactics.  The big and the moneyed are seeking their place in the sun, offering advice.  Some are constructive; others are simply sentimental.  Elon Musk, according to a spokesman, has revealed that negotiations are underway on supplying location technology using Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or Boring Co. technology for digging purposes, or providing Tesla Inc. Powerwall battery packs.  But to every little bit of brain storming comes the deadly qualifier: engaging such services as that of Boring Co., with its colossal drills, might simply be too dangerous.

Even now, the young team has drawn on the heartstrings of the football community, encouraging a measure of faith.  Liverpool Football manager Jürgen Klopp, in an official video intended for the youngsters and their coach, spoke of “hoping every second that you see the daylight again.  You’ll never walk alone.” Such language, heartfelt yet tinged with a sense of funereal doom.

Multi-Millionaire Mass Murderer for Senate

Donald Leon “Don” Blankenship isn’t just another typical rich, white, tall, 68-year-old Republican multi-millionaire ideologue serving out the last probationary year of his federal criminal sentence in Las Vegas while running for the US Senate in West Virginia.  He’s also an endlessly, self-righteously self-justifying mass murderer.

Don Blankenship isn’t your typical extermination-camp-type mass murderer. He’s a lifelong coal executive. Mostly his activities kill people slowly, in their natural habitat, or what used to be a natural habitat before coal mining started destroying mountains, rivers, aquifers, and other life-sustaining ecosystems.

None of this is much of an issue in the Republican primary race for the West Virginia Senate nomination. The primary is scheduled for May 8. As of April 5, Blankenship was rising in the polls, now standing second with 27% in a six-way race, nine points higher than a month ago. The leader has 29%, down four points over the past month (down 13 since February). In 2016 Donald Trump won 68% of the vote in West Virginia. In 2014 the Republican Senate candidate won 62%. Blankenship is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly already spent millions. Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas framed the situation carefully:

While we don’t have much confidence in other people’s polls, it is not surprising that more and more West Virginians would be supporting Don Blankenship. Don’s message of being a proven job creator and a conservative leader in West Virginia who will fight against the D.C. establishment is being received well everywhere we go….

The more people know about Don, the more they like him. We are doing everything we can to make sure people hear our positive message.

Reality is a variable, especially in politics. Even in West Virginia, running as a former CEO convicted of conspiring to cut safety measures, directly leading to 29 dead miners, probably is not the best image to project, even though it’s precisely true. But that was back in 2010, back before the Trump era blossomed upon us, back when the US government actually tried to prosecute people who killed their employees, back when Rolling Stone described Blankenship with refreshing venom:

You might not know that he grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia, received an accounting degree from a local college, and, through a combination of luck, hard work and coldblooded ruthlessness, transformed himself into the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the business and politics of energy in America today — a man who pursues naked self-interest and calls it patriotism, who buys judges like cheap hookers, treats workers like dogs, blasts mountains to get at a few inches of coal and uses his money and influence to ensure that America remains enslaved to the 19th-century idea that burning coal equals progress. And for this, he earns $18 million a year — making him the highest-paid CEO in the coal industry — and flies off to vacations on the French Riviera.

In 2010, Blankenship was in his tenth year as CEO and chairman of the Massey Energy Company, the largest coal company in Central Appalachia and one of the largest in the US (sold in 2011 to Alpha Natural Resources). Under Blankenship’s leadership, Massey was notorious for valuing productivity over safety. In October 2000, a Massey subsidiary unleashed some 300 million gallons of slurry laced with mercury and arsenic, killing all aquatic life nearby and polluting hundreds of miles of downstream waterways; the Bush administration cut short the investigation and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell’s wife) assessed a $5,600 fine on Massey (which also spent about $50 million on cleanup and local fines).

In January 2006, safety violations led to a mine fire that killed two, and Massey’s culpability led to a settlement (over the objections of the widows) in which Massey paid $4.2 million in criminal and civil penalties, then the largest settlement in the coal industry’s history (but no one was prosecuted). In February 2006, a bulldozer fire killed the operator, leading Massey to plead guilty to 10 criminal charges in a plea deal that cost Massey $2.5 million, but again prosecuted no one. In 2008, Massey paid $20 million to settle thousands of clean water violations with potential total fines of $2.4 billion, which is a pretty good incentive for the company to go on polluting. In 2009, the US cited Massey for 495 violations at the company’s Upper Big Branch coal mine and proposed fines totaling $911,802.

On April 5, 2010, Massey safety failures led directly to an explosion that killed 29 miners (out of 31), the worst US mine catastrophe since 1970, which became known as the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. The US assessed $10.8 million in penalties for 369 citations issued to Massey (which was cited more than 1,100 times for the same mine over the previous three years). On December 3, 2010, Blankenship resigned from Massey, three days before the mine safety report was issued. A year after the explosion, a state investigation fixed the blame on Massey leadership, up to and including Blankenship. On November 13, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Blankenship on several felony charges of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, lying, and security fraud. In December 2015, a federal jury acquitted Blankenship of the felony charges, but convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate safety standards. A federal judge ordered the maximum sentence for the conviction, one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. Blankenship appealed and lost, entered prison, appealed again and lost. His final appeal to the US Supreme Court was still pending when he was released on May 10, 2017, after serving his year. On October 10, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear Blankenship’s appeal. Blankenship responded to the court’s decision with a prepared statement that blamed the court system with a classic Republican trope of irrelevance and arrogance:

Our court system is so tangled up trying to decide whether illegal is illegal and whether males can use female public restrooms that they have no time to concern themselves with whether American citizens have received a fair trial. The judicial system is broken top to bottom and it’s not fixable.

Currently, still playing the victim, Blankenship is claiming his trial was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and that “the actions of the prosecution are being reviewed by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility.” The Justice Department has neither confirmed nor denied Blankenship’s claim. Blankenship contends that the fatal mine explosion was the fault of federal prosecutors and that his prosecution was part of an Obama administration conspiracy to demonize the coal industry. Blankenship also denies climate change.

Mass murderers are not known for their repentance or humility or integrity or sense of accountability, but that won’t make him stand out in the Senate, if he gets there. He probably wouldn’t even be the first actual mass murderer in the Senate, but he might be the most blatant and successful, at least by the numbers.

When you stop, rational and detached, to think about the Senate, you realize that there’s not one senator who’s not complicit in mass murder more widespread than Blankenship perhaps even dreamed of. There is not a single US senator who’s not a war criminal, and there’s also probably not a single senator who will be charged for war crimes, much less tried for and convicted of war crimes. Punishing a US senator for culpability in any of the American war crimes of recent decades is all but unimaginable.

Of all the members of the House and Senate since 2001, only Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland has any right to a presumption of innocence. And she may even be actually innocent of even the most tangential participation in our government’s daily execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But that innocence, that pure innocence, is hard to imagine. Barbara Lee sits in Congress, and she votes for bills that may seem beneficial or benign. And how many are truly beneficial or benign? The war economy is woven into the national fabric so pervasively that almost every act directly or indirectly facilitates our killing and our preparations to kill. The fine print in a bill to feed children in America (unlikely as that has become of late) also makes it possible to kill other children in distant places where they die anonymously and alone for the sake of our national security. Somehow.

Blankenship’s rise is reportedly raising concern among Republican incumbents, who profess to be shocked – shocked – to find Republican values so vividly personified. If he gets the nomination, Blankenship will be running against Democrat Joe Manchin, who said after the mine killings that Blankenship had blood on his hands. That hardly makes him unqualified to sit in “the world’s greatest deliberative body” (self-styled) which remains all too content not to talk about its bloody hands all over Iraq and Yemen, while giving less than lip service to its hands-off approach to the deadly suffering of Americans in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

Swiss Mining Corporations in Flagrant Violation of Human Rights: Swiss Government Complicit

Peru, Espinar (Cusco Province), 4 April 2018 – Violent attacks have been carried out by the copper mining giant Glencore’s security forces and Glencore-contracted national police on defenseless women and even children, on the poorest of the poor segment of Peru’s population. Glencore is a Swiss registered Anglo-Swiss mining corporation, exploiting mineral resources in developing countries around the globe, where they pay almost no taxes, as their profit center is in Switzerland, in Baar, Canton Zug, one of the Cantons, that has the lowest tax rates in Switzerland.

In addition, none of the socio-environmental standards to protect the environment and the local communities are generally applied in developing countries. In the specific case of Peru, local laws are totally ignored. In fact, never mind Peruvian laws; they are like non-existent for the corporate world. They are simply bought. Never mind Glencore’s own “Due Diligence” rules. They are not respected in a country so corrupt, where laws, judges, lawyers, police, politicians – and even medical facilities are bought.

Above Espinar, on about 4,000 to 4,200 m elevation, Glencore operates open pit copper mining complexes, Tintaya and Antapaccay (“Antapaccay” was a Peruvian mining company bought by Glencore in 2013). The mine is also yielding gold (copper and gold usually go together), at the tune of some 221,000 tons of copper and 115,000 Troy ounces of gold per year (Troy ounce = 31.1 grams). Both figures are for 2016. To do so, Glencore moves some 80,000 to 100,000 tons of earth and rock per day.

An adjacent new mining area, Coroccohuayco, is being explored for continuous exploitation as the current mine is approaching its end. The capacity of this mining complex is estimated at 20 to 30 years, about two and a half generations of rural dwellers will be exposed to this horrendous Glencore atrocities and injustice if nobody takes actions in their defense. Plus, after the mine is fully exploited, the miners usually pack up and leave – leaving an environmental disaster of poisoned soil and water – what’s left of it – behind. Restauration of such huge areas of mining ruins can take hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Glencore, with a total production of 1.23 million tons (2016) is the world’s third largest copper producer, employing some 55,000 people in 30 countries. According to MarketWatch, Glencore’s profit for 2017 registered a massive increase to $5.78 billion, from $1.38 billion in 2016 (compared to the Swiss food Giant, Nestlé, with CHF 8.3 billion, or US$ 8.6 billion, equivalent – 2017).

Glencore would have no shortfall of money to respect socioenvironmental laws, which includes compensating local communities for confiscated land and water, for avoiding deadly contamination of water and soil, spreading into human and animal bodies, causing countless deaths. They have plenty of means to take such protective measures. But it’s obviously cheaper and less cumbersome to corrupt Peruvian authorities, so that nobody dares opening their mouth and speaking up in front of such abuse. Local authorities are all afraid or bought, or both.

Anti-mining riots in 2012, when the new pits “Antapaccay” opened, caused 3 deaths and more than 100 injured. The mayor, who supported the protesting campesinos was temporarily jailed. Peruvian central government authorities have taken full position in favor of the mining corporations; and this throughout the country, where similar disasters are repeated — no respect for local communities, force-expropriating them, poisoning their waters and soil with toxic heavy metals — mercury, cyanite, cadmium, arsenic and others — causing slow countless deaths and destroying the landscape, water and soil.

Arriving in Espinar in the early morning hours of 4 April, we were hit by the news of violent physical aggressions having been perpetuated by Glencore’s security forces and hired national police, on destitute defenseless, unarmed women around noon the day before, 3 April. This happened when the men were out working either at the mine or in the fields, eking out a modest living for their families.

The mine is surrounded by some 6 mountain communities of an average of 1,200 people. None of them have running water or electricity. They are extremely poor and would fall way below the World Bank standard of extreme poverty (less than US$ 1/day). The community that was attacked has a well and a close-by small river which the mine wants for refining purposes and for diversion to other mining communities where water had already been stolen. There was not even an attempt of negotiating compensations. A local leader, advised about the violence, reached the community towards the end of the assault and took video testimonies of the beaten women.

In an exercise of intimidation, the assault was executed by some 30 to 50 Glencore security forces and hired police. The police were equipped with government provided riot gear. They were beating down on the totally vulnerable women with their typical police batons. In one case, four men grabbing a 65-year-old woman, beating her almost to death. A bulldozer was ready to destroy their modest stone shacks. While one house was already destroyed about two weeks ago, thanks to the protesting women and the village men that eventually came to their rescue, it didn’t happen this time.

We met with activists, including the former mayor of Espinar. They all confirmed the Glencore assault. Then we went to the mining area, surrounded by small impoverished farmer communities. We met with the women who told us in tears what happened, showing their bruises all over their bodies – crying. The elderly 65-year-old woman was so badly beaten, she almost died. She was laying in her rickety stone hut that was earlier demolished and shakily rebuilt, moaning from pain, possibly with several broken ribs, no medication and no medical attention. Her situation is highly precarious. In addition to her state of health, her stone hut could collapse at any moment from the tremors of the daily mining explosions.

This bullying campaign is by no means new. It’s a common practice, as was confirmed by former mine workers and farm laborers of the area. Glencore wants to expropriate the peasants without compensation, because they want their water. Mining needs a huge amount of water to the detriment of the population, and Glencore doesn’t pay a penny for the water they consume and pollute with toxic heavy metals. Glencore doesn’t even offer the peasants alternative housing and living areas. The women attempted to file complaints with the local police, but the police refused to even hear them. Of course, they are paid and fully under Glencore’s control.

Other leaders and activists told us about their health situation. How people die like flies from cancer around them and living in the vicinity of the mine even if they are not directly working for the mine. Water, earth and vapor contamination of the air they breathe is so toxic, affecting every living being in the surrounding area, eventually dying a slow death.

Corruption is almost unimaginable. Glencore buys literally not only all police, lawyers, judges, politicians, but also medical doctors, clinics, laboratories in the vicinity. Two community inhabitants told us how already three months ago they were giving blood and urine samples to be tested for heavy metals. The analysis results have not been returned yet and will probably never be handed out to the victims, as they would reveal the heavy intoxication. One of them said under tears that he had lost one of his sons (31) to mine-induced cancer.

According to them, a similar fate afflicts a number of other inhabitants living in the zone. Some 1,200 victims suffer from various heavy-metal related diseases, mostly in their lungs and joints, extreme tiredness, memory loss and lack of concentration. Heavy metals accumulate in the body and are known to affect the nervous system. Several of the people interviewed said they and many of their neighbors and friends were resigned to simply die without any help.

Not only does Glencore not provide for medical assistance, but mine workers are hired from other regions of Peru. When they get sick, protest or die they are immediately ‘repatriated’ to their home region, so as not to cause havoc in the Espinar vicinity. Hence, it follows Glencore’s unethical logic: They pay doctors, clinics and labs not to reveal the level of toxins they discover in the victims’ bodies.

According to testimonies from several inhabitants of the region, including the ex-mayor of Espinar, mental retardation of children and other birth defects are increasing exponentially since Glencore first started operating in 2006 under Xstrata which later merged with Glencore.

The Swiss Government is fully aware of and consequently complicit with these corporate crimes. They know what is going on outside the Swiss borders — inside of which the same corporations would have to adhere to strict rules and follow the rule of law. About four years ago, a Swiss parliamentary delegation visited the Glencore site in Espinar. The visit was announced much in advance, so that Glencore had plenty of time to “clean up”, getting rid of potentially protesting voices. The delegation met with the then mayor, who worked in defense of the people and who gave the Swiss parliamentarians a dose of reality. Nevertheless, the delegation was wined and dined during two days by Glencore. The report back to Parliament was accordingly benign.

When recently approached on another case of flagrant mining abuse, including child work, prostitution and drug trafficking – in this case goldmining related to Metalor in Rinconada, near Puno, Peru – representatives of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Ethics Office simply said they had nothing to do with this case. Each one of these companies observed their “Due Diligence” and the government trusts them to adhere to their own standards. In case they wouldn’t, it was up to the host government where they work; i.e., Peru, to hold them responsible. Period.

That’s the noble stand of the Swiss authorities, who know very well that in Peru, like in many other countries where these Swiss-registered corporations operate, corruption is so rampant that they buy themselves out of every crime, including homicide caused by intoxication of heavy metals from their mining operations. After all, Switzerland, like other countries, has diplomatic representations in almost all countries, reporting back home on the state of their host country.

It is not widespread knowledge among the Swiss people that the highest echelons of the Swiss Government meet regularly with CEOs of key corporations to discuss Switzerland’s future finance and economic policies. This may be common practice also in Germany, France and other EU countries — typical for neoliberal economies, that big business decide on the economic fate of the people.

Switzerland is the only OECD country where parliamentarians are allowed to sit in as many Boards of Directors of the business and finance sectors as they please. It is a virtually built-in lobby. This accepted inherent conflict of interest is diagonally opposed to the democratic principles of which Switzerland boasts itself as being a model.

Switzerland has long ceased being the Switzerland where I was born. I feel deep pain for the peasant women living in the area of the Glencore exploited mine, the victims of Glencore’s abject and shameless human rights abuses, and for other sufferers of unethical corporate misconduct.

Pakistan: 11 Coal Miners killed in Spate of Deadly Accidents

A series of deadly accidents has claimed the lives of 11 coal miners in Pakistan since late March. The tragic deaths of the miners once again demonstrates the dismal state of worker safety in the country. The accidents also highlight the deeply exploitative character of the mining industry, which after years of privatization is now dominated by private corporations.

The most recent accident occurred on the night of April 4, when 6 workers were suffocated by poisonous gas at a coal mine in the Sikandarabad area of Kalat in Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province. According to reports, the miners were digging deep inside the mine where a lethal amount of methane gas had accumulated, causing them to lose consciousness. Workers outside the mine tried desperately to rescue their friends and colleagues, but to no avail. They had all perished by the time rescue teams arrived. The mine was operating illegally, without the requisite government license, according to the Mines and Minerals Development Department of Balochistan’s provincial government.

A few days earlier, on April 1, 4 coal miners were killed at Ali Mines in the Jhelum district of Punjab. They were among 6 workers trapped under debris when an explosion caused a roof to collapse. Those killed included, Rehmatullah, Sabir Rehman and pair of brothers, Naseebzadah and Naseebullah, all of whom hailed from the Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, another coal miner, Faiz Ullah, was killed in an accident at the Sharigh Coal Mine in Balochistan on March 27.

Poverty-stricken Pakistan has a long history of industrial accidents, which have claimed the lives of countless workers across various industries. According to sources familiar with Pakistan’s coal industry, at least 275 coal miners have been killed in accidents since January 2010. While mining is a dangerous job anywhere, it is especially perilous in Pakistan, where working conditions are deplorable and miners are made to follow outdated procedures. In addition to the threat of lethal accidents, miners are also exposed to toxic chemicals and dust that take a toll on their health. They are forced to endure these conditions while earning a pittance.

The country’s coal mining industry is unregulated. It is also plagued by the illegal ownership and operation of mines, lack of implementation of existing safety and health laws and a severely overburdened mining inspectorate. Mine owners routinely flout the existing regulations, fully cognizant of the fact they won’t suffer any consequences.

Pakistan’s coal miners are also insufficiently organized, with many lacking union representation. The existing unions, meanwhile, tend to limit their activities to appeals directed at the country’s crooked politicians and various domestic and international NGOs.

Last month, IndustriALL Global Union, an international federation of unions, launched a campaign to improve worker safety in Pakistan’s mines. The campaign was launched in partnership with its 10 Pakistani affiliates. IndustriALL has called on the government of Pakistan to immediately ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. First adopted in 1995, ILO Convention 176 establishes a framework for countries to create safer mining conditions and provides miners with increased rights. Most significantly, it recognizes the right of workers to participate in workplace safety through independent representation and acknowledges the right of workers to refuse to perform dangerous tasks. While the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 176 would significantly improve worker safety in mines, only 32 countries have ratified it over the past 23 years.

If history is any guide, the call by IndustriALL to ratify ILO Convention 176 will fall on deaf ears. Successive governments in Pakistan have proven that the country’s elite is utterly impervious to the plight of the working class. Indeed, the response of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the opposition parties to the recent accidents has been one and the same—silence.

The exploitative mine and factory owners will continue to take advantage of this state of affairs until workers unite across industries to fight for safe and humane working conditions.

Ecuador Endangered

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants. Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories. These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance. However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption. However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

Ecuador Cloud Forest

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history. This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests. This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID. Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros! We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned. For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers,  mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies. Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

Ecuador Rainforest

Long-tailed Slyph

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.  Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration. On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work. Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

Ecuador Rainforest Stream

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS.

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining. Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports. These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner. Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check. And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification. A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Civil society needs an open conversation with the state. Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s. Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape. For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador.’

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul. Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet. The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

  • The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.
  • The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.
  • The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects. They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company. Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018. We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis. There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates. Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers. To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here.

• Photos by Murray Cooper

• See maps here and here

Southeast Asia Getting Killed by Logging and Mining

When an airplane is approaching Singapore Changi Airport, it makes the final approach either from the direction of Peninsular Malaysia, or from the Indonesian island of Batam.

Either way, the scope for natural disaster under the wings is of monumental proportions.

All the primary forest of the Malaysian state bordering Singapore – Johor – is now gone and the tremendous sprawl of scarred land, mostly covered by palm oil plantations, is expanding far towards the horizon. The predictable plantation grid pattern is only interrupted by motorways, contained human settlements, and by few, mostly palm oil-related industrial structures.

On the Indonesian side, the Island of Batam resembles a horror apocalyptic movie: there is always some thick smoke rising towards the sky, and there are clearly visible, badly planned and terribly constructed towns and villages. Water around the island is of a dubious, frightening color. The environmental destruction is absolute. Batam was supposed to be the Indonesian answer to Singapore. Indonesia was dreaming about a modern mega city with a super airport and port, dotted with factories, research centers and shopping facilities. But the turbo-capitalist country hoped that all this would be created by the private sector. That was,  of course, unrealistic. What followed was an absolute disaster.

As it is now, Batam is nothing more than a series of ‘Potemkin Villages’, complete with several potholed four-lane roads that lead nowhere. As for the research: there is hardly any science even in Jakarta or Bandung, let alone here. After several attempts to ‘save face’ and to cover up this massive failure, the island has been allowed to ‘sink’ back to where it had already been for several decades: a huge whorehouse for predominantly Singaporean and Malaysian sex tourists; a cheap shopping district selling mainly counterfeit goods, a place notorious for lacking even the most basic public services.

No heads were made to roll for this monumental and thoroughly stupid set of failures. The obedient business-owned media is hardly ever critical of the Indonesian regime and its business ‘elites’. But the impact of the ‘Batam experiment’ is enormous – there is no intact nature left on the entire island.

*****

What goes on in the Southern Part of Southeast Asia?

Is nature of absolutely no concern to the Malaysian and especially Indonesian governments, business conglomerates and society?

The problem here is that everything above and below the ground has been, for years and decades, viewed as a source of potential profit. It is only valued if it can be exploited, if there can be a price tag attached to it. No sentimentality, no thoughts about beauty! Here, greed has already reached insane proportions.

Unbridled logging on Mahakam River, Kalimantan

Like in the West, big companies in several Southeast Asian countries are now running and selecting the governments. They are also controlling the mass media, infiltrating social networks. To criticize great logging and palm oil companies in Malaysia is lethal, literally suicidal, and almost no one dares to do it. In the past, some did, and died. The same can be said about ‘illegal’ gold mining, logging and other extraction ventures in Indonesia, where much of the unsavory mining and logging enterprises are in the hands of the police, military or of government officials (the interests of all three branches are also often intertwined).

*****

Places like Borneo and Sumatra are finished; almost all of their legendary wildlife habitats are devastated. Hundreds of species are gone or almost extinct. The once mighty, primary forests are squeezed into a few national parks, and even those are often being used for commercial farming, and also for palm oil plantations.

It is not just an issue of ‘disappearing beauty’ and biodiversity. Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) used to be on par with Amazonia, functioning as the lungs of the Earth. It is the third largest island on our planet (and the largest one in Asia), and it is fully and some would now say irreversibly plundered. In Indonesia, deadly chemicals used on the palm oil plantations are killing tens of thousands of people with cancer, although you’d have to work deep in the villages to figure out the truth, as no reliable statistics exist and the issue is highly ‘sensitive’, as is everything that is horrible and sinister in this part of the world. Many rivers, including Kapuas, contain ridiculously high levels of mercury, the result of illegal but openly practiced gold mining.

Monstrous coal mine near Samarinda, Kalimantan

To see some parts of Borneo from the air is like observing an enormous, nightmarish and rotting wreck of a ship: black scars, brown scars, and dark zigzagging open veins of what used to be, a long time ago, tremendous and proud, as well as pristine, waterways.

What has been done to Indonesian-controlled Papua by Indonesian companies and by Western multi-national mining conglomerates is indescribable. Apart from committing genocide against the local population, the entire half of this tremendous island, which used to be inhabited by hundreds of local tribes, is now being ‘exposed’, forced open, and literally raped. Of course, as an anti-Communist warrior and obedient pro-business client state, Indonesia is almost never criticized by the West. The genocides it has been committing since 1965 are either sponsored or at least supported from Washington, London and Canberra.

Malaysian and Indonesian logging and mining companies do not stop at committing crimes at home – they go far, to other Asian countries, but also deep into Oceania, places like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I witnessed on several occasions the full destruction of both nature and human cultures; a nightmare which I described in detail in my book Oceania.

*****

I am relentlessly documenting what is happening to Southeast Asia in the books that I am writing (alone and with local authors), as well as in my upcoming films. I’m in the middle of producing a film about the fate of Borneo island, a place which is becoming dearer and dearer to me, the more devastated it gets.

The more I witness and the more I document, the more hopeless I often feel. It is because there seems to be almost no place which is capable of resisting the onslaught.

I am writing this essay on board Malaysian Airlines flights. The first one took me from the city of Miri (a state of Sarawak in Borneo, Malaysia) to Kuala Lumpur, the second from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

Serawak Malaysia, as it used to be

After filming on several occasions in the totally violated Indonesian Kalimantan, I hoped to see something optimistic in Malaysian Sarawak; something that could be used as an inspiration for the future of the incomparably poorer and much more corrupt Indonesian part of the island. This time I drove all around the city of Miri, and then I crossed the border and drove further into Brunei. I flew inside tiny propeller planes over the jungle, or what is still left of it. I took a narrow motorized makeshift canoe.

Yes, I saw few beautiful national parks and traditional longhouses. And I was surprised to find out that the filthy rich but politically and religiously oppressive sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, with its brutal and extreme implementation of Sharia Law, unbridled consumerism and worshipped oil industry, is actually doing incomparably better job than Indonesia and even Malaysia, at least environmentally. It is at least protecting its nature, including the rainforest. Brunei’s untouched, pristine native forest begins just a few miles from the coast, from its oil wells and refineries.

Pristine Brunei prime forest … a small propeller plane

But when I rented a narrow shabby longboat, deep in the interior of Sarawak, I encountered total misery and devastation. The road was great, most likely constructed precisely for moving quickly and efficiently, both timber and palm oil fruit. Several schools and medical facilities looked modern. But most of the locals do not live near the roads – they dwell, traditionally, along the rivers. And there, the situation is totally different: people residing in poor, primitive shacks, children and adults swimming in desperately polluted waterways, while stumps of trees ‘decorating’ stinking, muddy shores.

*****

Some would say that Southeast Asia is not alone. In many ways, the West already ‘rearranged’ its nature decades and centuries ago. In densely populated countries like Italy or Netherlands, very little of the original nature is left today. In the United States, the original meadows and pristine grasslands gave way to commercial fields; to agricultural mass production.

What shocks in Southeast Asia is not the fact that people want to make a living out of their land. It is the brutality of the systematic destruction of majestic mountains and hills, of mighty rivers, lakes, shores as well as the irreversibility of the changes that come with cutting down almost all native rainforest, replacing it with chemically-boosted palm oil and rubber plantations.

Most of those who would be allowed to see those monstrous coal mines dotting Indonesian Borneo would be terrified. Endless sprawls of palm oil (and literally imprisoned villages, squeezed by it as in a straight jacket) could perhaps outrage even the most hardened pro-market fundamentalists, who would bother to visit from other parts of the world.

Or maybe not… The multi-national ‘mining horrors’ that are being described to me by my friends and colleagues, who are presently working in Peru, are somehow comparable. What I saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows the same spite that many Western companies and governments have for the local people.

What I find truly ‘unique’ in Southeast Asia, is the totality of destruction. The number of animal and bird species that are already gone, or are disappearing or have been simply hunted down, or the number of hopelessly polluted rivers; the forests and jungles that are stolen from the native inhabitants.

The speed is yet another shocking factor. It is all happening extremely fast. No wonder that Green Peace put Indonesia on the list of the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest destroyer of the tropical forests on Earth.

What is left of the Indonesian forests is being either logged out or is systematically burning. Thick smog travels, periodically, from Sumatra to Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, creating a health hazard, shutting down schools and tormenting people suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems.

But Indonesia is big, the fourth most populous country on Earth. It does what it wants, and it appears that it cannot be stopped. Or more precisely, its rulers and business elites are doing what they want. And, as long as it fits into the agenda of their Western handlers (and it usually does), the country is enjoying almost total impunity.

Of course, those who are suffering the most are the local people themselves, as well as countless defenseless species, be they animals, birds, fish, trees, or plants.

Soon, nothing original will be left here. Billions of dollars will be made by those very few rich, and the poor majority will be stuck with the coolie’s jobs. The plundering of the environment is creating dependency syndrome and very little advancement for the society. The money flows, but not where it is supposed to flow.

Like in the Gulf, almost nothing or very little is being invested into science, technology, the arts and creative sectors.

Ruined islands and peninsulas will keep producing ‘blood fruits’. Land owners, corrupt politicians, middlemen and traders will keep getting outrageously rich. But the great majority of people will have to get used to living with a polluted and totally unnatural environment. They’d be stuck, in fact, most of them are already stuck, in some sort of depressing concentration camps surrounded by unnatural, hostile crops, and by the chemically-contaminated land.

Those beloved oilwells of Brunei

All this will continue until who knows what terrifying and bitter end, unless, of course, the people of Southeast Asia will finally wake up, and instead of accepting this present turbo-capitalist model, begin to think and dream about the “Ecological Civilization” and other marvelous cutting-edge philosophies that are flowing out from China and other non-conformist parts of the world.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook

Creative Juices in a Time of Commodification, Watered Down Drivel, Nothingness of American Fiction

The autumn of the patriarch, man, thinking hard about Marquez’s book, thinking back in lamentation bursts, going back in time when I met him at the University of Texas at Austin, and how he spoke to me as a young person, hopeful that I would be something as unique as he was, using what I told him was my West Texas/Chihuahua “magic realism,” founded on what I learned from his One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Those were the days, man — Kurt Vonnegut and Denis Levertov, Annie Dillard and Tim O’Brien, Robert Bly and Leslie Marmon Silko.  So much more in the verdant garden of my youth.

…as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth…

…the day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole

Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch

El Paso, Gateway to the Jornada del Muerto

It was a lie, really, belief — young, in my twenties, teaching English, working my ass off in graduate school, odd jobs in Juarez, lots of poetry readings, art shows, radical border rights militancy. In and out of dream, really, living in El Paso, in an old apartment complex that used to be a bordello Pancho Villa reportedly frequented, then turned into a TB sanitarium. I thought I would have been set up like some great American novelist, or ensconced in tenure playing the MFA game, or just a vagabond with a one hit, the one-hit wonder of it all. By thirty.

Long in the tooth, 61 coming barreling down next month. So many connected and fragmented thoughts, and a few dozen novels inside, despair, natural revulsion of Oprah or clique NYC publishing world, and fear of the Hollywoodization of every thought sputtering out of the masses. Here’s a weird scene: I vividly remember the peas and mashed potatoes Cormac McCarthy pushed around on his plate at a cafeteria in El Paso. Man, he was beginning to take words and his spare punctuation big, from the hollers of Tennessee, the muse of Faulkner’s Mississippi hardscrabble set in motion; now in Paseo del Norte, hiding out (sort of) looking for beat-up West Texas seclusion and novel inspiration. It was a brief hello, and on the surface he looked like insurance salesman or appliance store owner. I asked him if he’d come on board by showing show up to one of the undergraduate classes I was teaching at the university (UT-El Paso).

In a nutshell (mesquite bean) McCarthy basically said he didn’t do those things, things like throwing in for students, guiding aspiring writers, messing with his own art with others.

I saw Cormac (The Road, All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian) on a fat lazy chair on the Oprah Show talking to her in her giddiness about his punctuation – or lack thereof. Literary genius?

A Country Not for Old Men — Re-Birth Inside Transitions

How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Unfolding dementia at a young age? The shit I did and saw and believed, no Hollywood or any-Wood writer or director could dream of, script in, or even hang with me living it. This is not some blowhard release, or a “wow look at my experience now that I am turning 61 on February 6, the same day just another nemesis of mine, Ronald Reagan, was born” admonition. This is the reality of a Marxist living and working in “their house,” putting on those scrubs of their trades – English faculty, environmentalist, budding-aspiring novelist, photographer, newspaper journalist. No big laments, for sure, as my luck of the spin on the globe where I was borne probably has given so many incalculable advantages. Guaranteed, most consumers of story – book readers – are looking for simplicity in language, stories set in the love and hate, death and fear that encapsulates American writers, including McCarthy.

Anyone looking at my life seems like an antithetical process of literary creativity, and I am anything but what the average consumer of books wants as an author, but the kernel of what ends up on the page comes from the weight of tides and blurry sunsets and all the storms and heatwaves in between. Sweating through visions, and the hard ache of failure after failure, and the unbearable, sometimes, of witnessing the perversions of the world. We have to take stock in all of that messy emotional landscape. Being out of work this time around – sacked October 26 – and hunting for the crumbs of the capitalists is a process of bleary thinking, emotions lost in an oil slick of the leaky boat listing on the ocean of our discontent.

My birth: San Pedro, California, for my first six months in air, and then, the Azores, thanks to enlisted Air Force father. A real epigenetic reckoning, my first four years on the Portuguese islands, all that sea, those ocean chasms, earthquakes, the white-washed Catholic puritanism, the old fishers and young kids, the poverty and the USA using strips of land for Air Force machinations. I had a local woman – Maria Gloria de la Sauza — taking care of me and my sister, and we went to her family’s place on religious occasions, those memories hard-wired forever. Trapped in some dreams even half a century lived.

The festival of the bread each Saturday, the masses, the fishermen bringing in their hauls. Barracuda caught with piano wire. The weeping candles in black moldy chapels. The priests and the military men. Poverty, bellies protruding, rust, cobblestone roads, potato fields, hacking tuberculosis, heavy hips, skinny men, children like hermit crabs scampering about, the unbelievable heaven in that blue sky and the black ink of the Pacific. Nine hundred miles from Lisbon.

Exactly the spring of my existence – aunties and uncles in Germany and Scotland and England. I remember those trips over the sea, prop planes, the absolutely magical motion of Douglas DC-7’s flying the friendly skies of Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. Imagine, four years old, and one of the four prop engines catching on fire as we were coming back to the Azores. Imagine a time, 1961, when the spring of a child lasted with the touch of fingers on the pages of books, in the hard breathing of hikes, walking, outside until dusk, rain without umbrellas, seas and beaches beckoning youth without the paranoia of the 21st century.

Early Light, Early Seedling Growth

I am treading water here, in the night off the coast of Scotland, maybe, I can only imagine the reader says. It’s night, near Dundee, in a cove near Abroath. Around 1963. Real people expecting a five-year-old to swim, not panic, and see the world from the tide in and out.

Spring for the child as I headed to Maryland, and then, Paris, France, as my Air Force father went US Army, a warrant officer pip on his shoulders, and, a family of four in Saint Germain en-Laye, living with other families from other countries as part of that SHAPE — Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Vietnam War, the French and Yanks, the old WW II tunnels, chateaus as movie theaters, the Algerians living in the sub-basement, languages, competitive teens, and I flittered through those times young, visiting the old ones. Always around adults.

Fast forwarding to 2018, from, oh, say 1986 El Paso, then to Merida, Yucatan, and then hitchhiking to Panama, or, say, to 1992 when I decided to go to Vietnam to push the pulse of the American lie out of my system. At any point in the sinew strength of my late teens, through to 2001, the lies were compounding quickly, as I was given to confidence and pushed-up hope as part of the barrier reef or those malpais lava flows near Warm Springs, New Mexico keeping me from succeeding as I had imagined.

I had a New York agent, man, Jack Ryan (what a name, uh?) and he was old school, as the drafts of those books I wrote – five – came back to me stinking of Pall Malls and filled up with chicken scratch edits and comments. He was a tireless worker, and for me, he was more than just a fan. He had a deep regard for my writing. He too was up against the vagaries of Vassar and Brown University publishing house readers and the market of books, tied to the little swath of being New York hip to the incantations of literary fiction.

What a long row to hoe, and, alas, one book, a collection of short stories, thematically tied together by the Vietnam War tangentially, well, he had a big bite, finally, from Picador Press an imprint of MacMillan. I almost got the book sold – Eyes Wide Open: Vietnam Memories. The deal was a committee of five, Ryan said, had the voting role in a thumbs up or down vote on the book. The publisher of Picador Press said he wanted the book, but he was voted down, three to two, not in favor of going with the project.

The reader has to understand that the publisher accepted the manuscript, essentially saying he was all for publishing it. We lived on that arc of that humanity for a few weeks, but then Jack Ryan got the news that the book project went south.

New York Literary World Gone Sour

I know, I know, again, in the scheme of things globally this is not big deal. Rejection from literary circles. A dime a dozen. We’ve been told as writers that it’s luck, being in the right manuscript pile, or knowing a friend of a friend of a friendly editor; or to just pull yourself up by your boot straps and DIY and self-publish and manage a web site and e-commerce account. Compared to the daily struggle of the Pacific Nation Kiribati, for example, which is disappearing quickly as sea level rises, I get it about “counting my lucky stars.” I always come at the world from that foundation – woe is me can’t cut it in a world of absolutely insane suffering and perverted wholesale abuse on a massive scale. But from the bowels of an artist already way outside the mainstream looking to get a book (or several) schlepped by editors at New York publishers, put into their ubiquitous mainstream fiction or literary fiction categories, well, every disappointment is magnified.

Get this, though – I’m going on age 61, and the last time I attempted hawking a novel was 2001, when I ended up moving from El Paso to Spokane. Odd feeling indeed, in 2001, giving up the quest. I still wrote/write, still published/publish, but not books.

It (book in hand) came pretty darn close, and if you put me into an internet search, “Paul Haeder and Reimagining Sanity,” you’ll get a project that “almost” turned into a book. Well, it’s a book, in pdf form, but not on Amazon’s top 1 million list. We have to Fast Forward from 2001 in Spokane to 2015 on the outskirts of Vancouver. I was contacted by a publisher to write a book based on my musings and comments tied to my work at Dissident Voice, this political on-line magazine going on 18 years.

Heady stuff, the book jack recommendations:

Paul brings out a certain raw, emotional side to his subjects and issues. You never can predict what he is going to ask, and his ability to cut right to the point makes his writing an unpredictable thrill ride to the heart and the truth.
―Bart Mihailovich, environmental writer and advocate

Try reading him … with no allegiances to the elites and powerful. If you need a house call for quick intellectual triage, pick up a book of Haeder’s and dive deep into its layers. At the other end of the journey, you will be baptized in a new wonder of showing no fear, fearing no one.
― Charles Orloski is a working class poet living in Taylor, Pennsylvania, who writes regularly for the Hollywood Progressive and other venues

Haeder’s topic is always the world, and Haeder is the filter through which the world has to pass: rhythmic outburst, lyric language, howling at the moon. When other authors have forgotten to be outraged by the outrageous, Haeder has been a North Star who says, “You gotta look at this! You won’t believe…” and fill in here the absurd and unimaginable bullshit of the universe.
― Michael Strelow, author of Henry, A Novel of Beer and Love in the West; and The Greening of Ben Brown. Kesey is his non-fiction book. Upcoming novel is The Moby-Dick Blues.

Paul Haeder does not have a politically correct bone in his body nor is he willing to rent any! A book by Paul will bring reaction from readers, pro and con, but you can bet that it will be a book people will read with interest.
― Angie Tibbs, Dissident Voice, Senior Editor

It’s a hell of a publishing house that went belly up after just three years, but a dozen or more years the dream of the publisher, Kermit Heartsong:

Tayenlane Publishing
Reimagining Sanity: Voices Outside the Echo Chamber

The belly was exposed by the publisher’s distributor – you have to get these books put into book shows, wholesale book distribution points. The distributors (more and more middlemen) can cut a jugular on a small publishing house, and that’s what happened to Tayen Lane Press. But before the plug was pulled, Kermit the publisher solicited me back in 2015, and I was at/in/on a really bad place: going through a divorce, out of the Vancouver house we had just purchased, away from foster twin boys, and my dog left with my soon-to-be ex. I ended up in a doublewide trailer (no complaints about mobile homes) with a bipolar out-of-work heavy equipment operator, who was flipping out half the time, from euphoria to suicidal tendencies. I was working as a substitute PK12 teacher in several rural school districts, and this fellow I will call Rylee, was drinking all day, sleeping around with two or three women, and the place was heated with a wood-burning stove.

Another roommate was brought on, and a stinky bulldog with flatulence (don’t they all have this problem?) and leaky orifices (ditto) was also part of the mix, and the roommate’s always-present girlfriend.

Man, bonfires out on his five acres until 2 a.m. Beer and tequila and all-night pyres and yelling and moaning about life, as Rylee and the other roommate moved around all this slash from a tree clearing project with the younger roommate’s fully appointed excavator. Drunk, loud, 24/7 cigarette smoking, and I was pounding away at this manuscript, teaching kids and wondering where the hell I’d be in five months.

After two months, I had to sneak out on a Sunday, filling my van with my shit and just skipping out so a confrontation between me and between Rylee didn’t take place. I wanted to kick his ass, but that sort of pile-driver attitude would have gotten me, I believe, handcuffed and charged with assault, a job killer in the fields of education and then a new job as social worker for vulnerable populations.

Reimagining Insanity or Sanity – More Voices

Okay, so I have this anti-memoir going over at LA Progressive, titled, Terminal Velocity: Man Lost of Tribe. That’s thirty-eight up in that series – pieces all over the place, most tied to commentary on the state of the world, the state of my sanity, of my self in a world of pain. Make that 39, since this one now goes up as such. Plenty of railing against the machine, and plenty of angst and polemics.

I have this conversation all the time – some people say they’d cut a finger off to read my stuff, to see my name up on some marquee, my books turned into movies. Some want to see me elevated, and then, most people I run into could care less about lives lived and still being lived, that is, lives unaccomplished or partially gelled. Most people are not interested in struggle, struggling people and the ones who either never got the brass ring or flubbed it on the last merry-go-round. This is a time of celebrity infatuation, and no matter which side of the thin political line they stand, young and old care more and more about what’s in Twitter-land or on Facebook.

We are all navel gazers, now that Amazon Fascism Publishing has everyone set up as a budding multi-book best seller.

Shit, everyone’s a writer, isn’t it so, and everyone is a movie maker, star, and prognosticator and hero or heroine in his or her own mind. Plus, the sheer number of books published, remaindered, cut up and used for insulation, it’s way beyond what the mind can fathom.

Whether a life half resolved is interesting or not, or whether anyone cares about the hustle of living and beating out books and trying to hawk them, those are questions that run through many of our minds.

Lee Marvin and A New Dirty Dozen 

I have this screenplay, Just a Coupla’ Chancers. Set in Arizona,1980s. I wrote it while being a reporter in Southern Arizona for a small conglomerate of newspapers. My byline was in the Bisbee Daily Review among other publications.

Simple stuff, a redneck cowboy along the border dealing with more and more incursions – crossers – into his state and country and on his property. Well, he is hard-bitten, but he finds a heart in the story. Salvadorans dead in the desert, their coyotes or smugglers long gone.

The main character has to make a decision: three children, 8, 12, 15, make it to his property. They are the only survivors, and, well, to make a screenplay short, the coyotes are looking for them, and the rancher has to hide them and then smuggle them away. He’s got the border patrol, local authorities, the crime bosses involved in smuggling, his family and the three siblings’ uncle looking for them and going after him.

This was based on some reporting I did around real people who perished in the desert, right where I was set as a beat reporter. I ended up having a few drinks with Lee Marvin in Tucson, and, after some time, I got his address up in the foothills of the Catalinas. Man, we played tennis, I had lemonade, and I met his wife, and, Lee took the screenplay.

I’ve written about that story, meeting and drinking with the Dirty Dozen’s Colonel, before pitching the story. He ended up dying early, and suddenly, and I ended up going to his widow wondering how I might help, and inquiring about the screenplay, of course. She told me Lee was interested in the main part, as I thought he would. She told me he respected the script, from a young guy, resonated with him — seemed pretty set in reality. Poignant, too.

I’ve written a short story, fiction, about that moment in time, fictionalizing some of the stuff.

Desperados and I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Lo and behold, here I am, desperate, held to a standard at 61, going to interview after interview trying to muscle out another four or five years working hard in the land of usury and death capital. I just pulled out three dusty manuscripts, three novels, one of which was my graduate thesis I defended.

I’m scrambling now working to get some energy back and rework one of them. This is a story again based on someone real, a woman who had been looking for both silver and treasure in the Caballo Mountains near Hot Springs, now Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I spent hours with her in her small apartment in downtown El Paso, and she was in her 80s then, in 1987. She was obsessed with silver and that cache of stolen gold and other treasures from the Spanish. I even took her up the mountain, on crazy dirt roads, looking for something, reading her map, but never finding the remnants of the mine she had been working on for more than 50 years, on her own.

I have a discredited reporter ending up in the story. Someone who answered an advertisement in the El Paso Times from a woman looking for a ghost writer to get her story in print. The real woman was even hip to the possibility of her story spanning 80 decades turned into a movie.

Her life was amazing, having grown up in Mexico City in a middle-class family, her father a mid-level bureaucrat and politician. When she was 14, she met a 29-year-old millionaire from San Francisco. He had documents and map and some bibles. He was a frozen food magnate, and he was looking for someone to translate the Latin and the Spanish.

He met my protagonist, and the young woman – turning 15 – heard the stories of silver and gold, heard this millionaire’s gold lust.

Rebecca was 16 when she married him, and they ended up back in San Francisco, and then her new husband took her out into the middle of nothingness in New Mexico, overlooking Elephant Butte, and there she learned how to be a miner’s wife, living with hardened men, learning how her new husband had been bitten by the silver-gold-treasure bug.

Six years into it, they had hit a few lines of silver. Seven years into their mining, a wall collapsed in the mine and took down Rebecca’s husband. He lingered in a hospital bed for eight weeks. His final wish was for her to continue looking for the famed treasure and silver.

For fifty years, Rebecca looked for the cache. She ended up teaching Spanish to high schoolers, and every summer she got the supplies and the few men she trusted to head on up to the mountains.

That’s how she spent her summers, for fifty years, until she hit 75. I met her when she was 82.

Now my book, Woman of the Mountain, has my reporter, a former college football star teaching community college journalism classes. I have a sheriff who has been hiding his homosexuality all his life. I have an old Mexican miner whose father once was on Rebecca’s mining team.

I take the reader back to Mexico City, into the mountains, into Rebecca’s life, and the short time with my African American journalist. The mountain speaks, and the story revolves around her disappearance, and the search for her. My journalist was the last one to see her. The miner ends up missing.

It’s literary fiction, and, well, the story is certainly compelling for today’s reader, and it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to imagine the book turned into a screenplay/movie. Selma Hayek, Tommy Lee Jones, Denzel Washington.

In one sense, non-fiction is stranger than fiction, and those months I spent with Rebecca, hearing her stories, and that time in the mountains with her (she was hacking and coughing, and I thought she was going to die), and subsequent times in the mountains on my own with a decent pistol and Winchester lever action, well, I wrote the book, draft after draft, and sent it out to Jack Ryan, the East Coast agent.

It’s funny the parallel of looking for caches of Spanish gems and artwork and gold, and my own quest to make something of myself in the world of fiction. Shit, my master’s thesis adviser, James Crumley (The Last Good Kiss & Dancing Bear) had a lot of faith in me. I was the go-to guy, newspaper journalist, dive master, a guy in his thirties who went to Mexico and Central America. A guy who did some shady things with my Mexican counterparts. Something wild in me, Crumley could tell. He ended up back in Missoula, Montana, fired from the University of Texas for things unbecoming a writing teacher (or that’s what they said . . . you know, drinking, some lines of coke, partying with students).

So, here’s this book. Staring at me as I finish this article. Big fat old 430-page manuscript. I touch the pages and it’s as if 30 years melt away, the light brighter above me here in Estacada, Oregon, than anytime thus far, more than 1,600 miles away from the center of my writing life, in West Texas,  El Paso, Merida, Yucatan . . . Chihuahua.

Yet that old rush is like morphine inside the spleen, and the imagination, mine, races like the old days of Mexico, West Texas, stories, tequila and coke and all-night sessions talking about story, and sometimes craft.

Crumley’s dead . . . some of my friends, dead . . . Jack Ryan, dead, and the artist friends, many are dead . . . Rebecca dead, wave after wave of memory like the aura borealis in my head, pulsating in dream, and now, as I take this manuscript and look at the pages, I am ready for one more push, one more bite of a dream to get something going, just another chancer, me, believing in some magic, like Ornette Coleman and Charlie Hayden playing away into the night.

Her story, Rebecca’s, will be the same this time around, but the plot and action and sequence will be different. What do 31 years do to a creative world, a novel, one based on some real hard things I heard and saw, but morphed into the dream of a storyteller giving paint and hue to the black and white memory of people?

I know I’ll open up with the jail cell, and the lines from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, Dobbs, Curtain and Howard in the Treasure of Sierra Madre. I know I will shift points of view, and go back and forth in time and place. I know this story — mine, Rebecca’s, the mountain’s —  has never been told, never been written, and I push ahead now, treading water, standing on the line of creativity and marketing, looking for an agent, and in between despair and fear.

When you have something to say and a way of saying it, there is so much to lose. Like a welterweight picking up gloves after 20 years out of the ring.

In a scene later made famous by the movie version of Treasure of Sierra Madre, the prospectors run into a group of shady-looking, heavily-armed Mexicans, who they suspect are bandits.

Indeed, the Mexicans are bandits and the meeting ends up in a gunfight. But just before the shooting starts, the leader of the bandits tells the prospectors that they are federales — the local “mounted police.”

Dobbs says skeptically of that claim: “If you are the police, where are your badges?”

In B. Traven’s book, the bandit leader replies angrily (and colorfully):

“Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabron and ching’ tu madre!”

Email me, Paul K. Haeder, @  haederpaul (at) gmail (dot) com if you have an agent or director in mind, don’t you know! Really!

“Colombia is safe for business, but not for people”

Paramilitaries on the Columbia Venezuela border

Murders of trade unionists and social leaders, paramilitary activity, coca production… If we only paid attention to the mainstream media we would not get the idea that these problems are actually growing in Colombia, one year after the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC came into place. To get a better picture and understand how all these elements connect to US policy and corporate interests, we interviewed Daniel Kovalik, a lawyer and human rights activist who has long been involved in the struggle for peace and justice in Colombia.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: The peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government was brought into place about a year ago. And yet, as you stress in a recent article you wrote, trade unionists, social leaders, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, are actually being murdered at a higher rate than before. How do you explain this?

Daniel Kovalik: Yes, that’s true. And, in fact, they are being killed at a higher rate even though the overall violence level in Colombia has gone down in recent times. I think it’s very easy to explain. The paramilitaries are still very much a factor and a force in Colombia. They are now starting to take over territory that the FARC once held, and frankly they are also feeling emboldened by the peace process.

This was a fear that a lot of folks had. You probably recall that in the 1980s the FARC also signed on to a peace agreement and put down their arms to run as a political party, the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, UP). And 3000-5000 of their members were killed by the paramilitaries. That’s what led the FARC back into the jungle. So there was always this fear that this could happen again, and I think we are seeing this happening again. Only this time the Colombian government and the US government don’t even admit that there are paramilitaries. But they are very much there.

RV: Recently there was this indefinite national strike (paro nacional indefinido) in Colombia. What were the reasons behind it?

DK: Well, again I think some of it had to do with this violence against social leaders, and the strike was to put pressure on the government to protect the social leaders. But there are also grave economic injustices in Colombia. It is one of the most unequal societies in the world. There are very few workers under union contracts, and the protests were also in support of labour rights.

Displaced population in urban areas of Columbia  (photo from UNHCR)

RV: As you’ve said, there are many people fearful that the peace agreement is not being upheld by the Colombian government. The FARC even submitted a complaint to the United Nations last week. What exactly are they accusing the government of not doing?

DK: Part of the peace deal was that the government would go after these paramilitary groups, which again the government doesn’t admit exist.  They claim they are these criminal groups, the bacrim (bandas criminales). And the government is not doing that. Again, I think the view of the social movements, the view of the FARC, is that the government is, at best, turning a blind eye to these groups because they want to see the social movements eradicated.

The fear, of course, is that, now that the FARC have laid down their arms, giving them to the United Nations, the government feels like they don’t have to make any concessions to the FARC or even follow the agreement. Because what leverage does the FARC have now? None… It’s a very cynical position to take, but I think that is the position that the Colombian government is taking.

RV: Back in 2003, then president Álvaro Uribe announced that the paramilitary groups were being dissolved but it seems they are alive and well. What are the (economic) interests for them to move into these territories where the FARC used to be?

DK: Well, as you say, there was this fake demobilisation of the paramilitaries. Most human rights groups, Human Rights Watch for example, acknowledge that it was not a real demobilisation. And the paramilitaries have a number of interests in the land in Colombia. For example, Francisco Ramírez, who is an attorney and trade unionist there, wrote a book that shows that, as mining interests move in to various zones, the paramilitaries tend to go in before them to subjugate the area. So the paramilitaries make money, both from their own engagement in illegal mining, but also they see their interests aligned with corporations, both domestic and international. They are basically the vanguard of these mining and agricultural interests.

Buenaventura is probably the most enigmatic instance of this economic reality. This is a city on the Pacific coast whose ports were built up in anticipation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. There the paramilitaries have really taken over the city, engaging in a real social cleansing operation, forcibly disappearing hundreds of people. They chopped them up alive in these “chophouses”, it’s a very grisly situation. But again, the paramilitaries are very much aligned with mainstream corporate interests, both Colombian and foreign. These may be from from South Africa, like Anglogold Ashanti, for example, or from the UK, but they are primarily from North America, from the US and Canada.

RV: There was a story a few years ago of paramilitaries going after trade unionists in the Coca-Cola bottling plants. There was also a story about Chiquita paying paramilitaries to wipe out resistance. Therefore these groups are not a kind of isolated, lawless, southern phenomenon. They work very much hand in glove with transnational corporate interests, wouldn’t you say?

DK: Yes, very much. By the way, I was involved in that Coca-Cola case, in the lawsuit and all.1 But Chiquita is probably the best example, because Chiquita has admitted to what they did. They pled guilty to paying the paramilitary groups 1.7 million dollars over a 7 year period, between 1997 and 2004, and giving them 3000 kalashnikov rifles. And while they claimed they were essentially being extorted by the paramilitaries, Uribe’s own attorney general, Mario Iguarán, disagreed with this. He said that they were not paying for security, they were paying for blood. Those are his words. They were paying for the subjugation of the banana region of Urabá. And they paid in blood, thousands of people were killed by the paramilitaries that Chiquita paid.

Not only that, paramilitarism was really able to take hold throughout all of Colombia because of what Chiquita did, and Chiquita never had to pay a real price for this. They pled guilty to this crime because they had been giving this aid to the AUC paramilitaries, who were designated terrorists by the US. But the plea agreement did not require anyone to go to jail, it only fined Chiquita 25 million dollars, which they were allowed to pay over a five year period, and the 8 Chiquita officials involved in the payment scheme had their names — were actually kept secret from the Colombian government, so that Colombia could not extradite them. By the way, one of the Chiquita lawyers who helped negotiate the plea agreement was Eric Holder, who would become attorney-general under Obama.

Chiquita pled guilty to paying paramilitary groups including the AUC

RV: And what does this say about the role of the US government?

DK: I think this is very revealing. By the way, Salvatore Mancuso, one of the top paramilitary leaders, said it wasn’t just Chiquita paying them, but also Dole and Del Monte. So we not only see the corporate links but we see the US government’s true feelings about the paramilitaries, right? If Chiquita had been paying a group like al-Qaida, or ISIS, or even the FARC, let’s face it, some of their people would have gone to jail. But they were paying the US’ guys. The paramilitaries are the “good terrorists” in Colombia, according to the US government.

A few years ago there was a Washington Post story about how the CIA was crucial in helping the Colombian government weaken the FARC. The CIA helped the Colombian government track various FARC leaders, and also provided the smart bombs that were used to kill them. Meanwhile there is a little note in the Washington Post story. It says that at the same time the CIA for the most part left the paramilitaries alone. So both the AUC and the FARC were designated terrorist groups, but the AUC was left alone, because in the end they are doing the bidding of US interests.

RV: You get the idea that they are there to do the dirty work…

DK: Exactly. And we’ve known this, this has been true for decades! It was US General William Yarborough, who had the idea to create the paramilitaries in the first place, in 1962. This is even before the FARC was formed. That only happened in 1964.

Another interesting story appeared in the New York Times more recently. It is about how the CIA helped fly at least 40 paramilitary leaders out of Bogotá to the United States, so that they would not be held accountable for human rights crimes in Colombia. Because the fear was that they would start naming names, including Álvaro Uribe and his associates. So they were brought to the US, tried only on drug charges, given very light sentences, even though they are believed to be responsible for massive human rights abuses. Salvatore Mancuso, for example, is believed to have killed himself alone over 1000 people. And they are giving amnesty, or asylum, to some of those people as well, in the United States.

RV: If I remember correctly, some of them are about to go free very soon, right? They are having their sentences commuted and being released early…

DK:  That’s right. These are real terrorists, people who have raped, killed with impunity. One guy, highlighted in the New York Times article, was known as “The Drill”, because in addition to killing people he was known to have a penchant for raping girls as young as 9 years-old. And this guy could be coming to a neighbourhood near you. So it’s pretty incredible, and once more this is all pretty revealing of the US’ true feelings about the paramilitaries.

A U.S. Army Green Beret, center foreground, instructs members of the Colombian Compañía Jungla (photo from the US DOD)

RV: Let’s switch to the drug trade for a second, because the “War on Drugs”, at least officially, is the justification for the huge US military presence in Colombia. Very often you would hear the description that the guerrilla problem and the drug problem were the same. However, after the FARC have demobilised, you saw one of the highest coca yields in years. So what’s the real story there?

DK: That’s very important to point out. Namely, that the FARC was being entirely blamed for the drugs and the human rights abuses, and yet the FARC is gone as an armed group. And as we’ve discussed, more social leaders are being killed than in years prior, and 2016 saw a bumper coca crop. And I know this, I was at the US embassy in Bogotá in March of this year, and folks in the embassy were saying that the CIA, the DEA were down here and they were panicking! Because they had to announce that 2016 saw the biggest coca crop ever in Colombia.

The FARC had been engaged in the ceasefire at that time. they were largely not a factor, so we see who the real drug traffickers are, and that’s the paramilitaries and, honestly, the Colombian military. I mean, the US, as we see time and time again, is not really worried about drug trafficking, per se. They just want to make sure their buddies are the ones to profit from it and how the “war on drugs” can be used to serve US interests. We saw this during the Vietnam conflict, we saw this of course with the Contra-cocaine connection, that Gary Webb from the San Jose Mercury News exposed.2 When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had pretty much eradicated the poppy crops. Now, post-invasion, and with all these US soldiers, the CIA and the DEA running around, Afghanistan is providing 85% of the world’s heroin.

RV: There are beautiful photographs of military bases right next to huge poppy fields…

DK: Yes, you also see pictures of soldiers running through the pink poppy fields. It’s a joke! There is no war on drugs. There is a war against poor people, under the pretext of the war on drugs. There was a war against the FARC, which was covered under the war on drugs. There’s a war against social leaders in all of Latin America, again under the pretext of the war on drugs. It’s a lie! It’s always been a lie.

RV: Perhaps this absurdity has no example more striking than saying that you are going to fight drugs and that your biggest ally is going to be Álvaro Uribe…

DK: You might remember that there was a document leaked a few years ago, in which Álvaro Uribe was listed by the US DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) as the 82nd most important drug trafficker in Colombia, and as having close ties to Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel. We know he’s a drug trafficker! And yet he got the presidential medal of freedom from George W. Bush. He was welcomed into the White House by Barack Obama. It’s a joke! It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic…

Uribe received the medal of freedom from George W. Bush

RV: In a slightly different perspective, Colombia is always painted in a very positive light, and not just political leaders but also business people always describe Colombia as being “great for business”. They might say that it’s great for business despite all these atrocities we’ve been discussing, but I would actually say that it’s great for business because of these atrocities. Would you agree?

DK: That’s absolutely true. And again, I’ll give you an example of this. Years ago, we sued Occidental Petroleum for its very intimate involvement with the bombing of Santo Domingo,3 you can read about this in a great exposé in the LA Times. So we sued Occidental Petroleum and the US State Department sent a letter to the court saying that they wanted the case dismissed because it was going to hurt US foreign policy interests. And if you read the letter, the implication was that if companies were to be held accountable for murdering poor peasants, it would be bad for business.

So I agree with you.  I do believe that it is good for business, because these murders and atrocities have done a great job of wiping out the union movement there, a great job of wiping out the social movements, all to make it safe for business. It’s not safe for human beings! You know, Colombia has the hemisphere record for forcibly disappeared people, at 92.000. Argentina is usually taken to be the capital of the forced disappearances, but the total there was around 30.000.

RV: It also has a very large number of internally displaced people, more than Syria I believe…

DK: It’s almost 8 million now, out of a population of around 50 million. Can you imagine that? And yet, the only thing we hear on the news are bad things happening in Venezuela. But nothing on this scale is happening in Venezuela. There are no mass assaults on social and human rights leaders in Venezuela. There isn’t this huge internally displaced population. In fact, what a lot of people don’t know is that Venezuela has taken in 6 million Colombian refugees. You often hear on the news that there’s a wave of Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia, but the estimates are of about half a million Venezuelans in Colombia, compared to those 6 million Colombians in Venezuela.

Displaced people in Columbia

RV:  Yes, it’s way beyond a “double standard”… So let me ask you about the role of the media in all of this. Why do you think there is, not only this double standard, but this kind of “kid-glove” treatment when it comes to Colombia?

DK: Well, I think it goes back to what the late Edward Herman explained. A lot of people don’t know his name, he was Noam Chomsky’s co-writer in the book Manufacturing Consent. In fact, Chomsky gave him the primary billing for the book. His name came first even though alphabetically it would be the other way around.

Herman was the person who came up with the idea that there are “worthy victims” and “unworthy victims” in the world. The worthy victims are those who are killed and oppressed by the US’ enemies and adversaries. So, if somebody’s oppressed in China, or Russia, we know about it. But if someone is (wrongly) killed by the United States, or by its allies like Colombia, which is the US’ number one ally in Latin America, then we don’t hear about it, because they are unworthy victims.

Those that we kill are unworthy, even though, if you look at the numbers, these greatly outnumber the so-called worthy ones. In fact, according to Chomsky, after 1960 it’s very clear that the repression by the West was much greater than the repression by the East Bloc and the Soviet Union. But again, you never knew that because the press would always remain silent about those being killed by the West. Colombia is certainly a great example, but another one is Yemen, where literally millions of people, at least 7M, maybe 12M, will die because of the Saudi war and blockade on Yemen, which the US is aiding and abetting in a very real way.

RV: There’s also a cholera epidemic which is unprecedented in modern history…

DK: That’s absolutely right. And yet, you don’t hear about it that much in the news, and when you do, you don’t hear that the US is very much a part of that war. So it goes back to Herman’s argument about worthy/unworthy victims. I’d urge people to go back to Manufacturing Consent.

RV: Continuing along these lines of manufacturing consent, do you also get the idea that if there was a brighter spotlight on Colombia, then all this military involvement, all this war on drugs would receive greater scrutiny, which in the long run would be bad for business?

DK: Absolutely. In that way the media is complicit in all of this. I’ll give you an example. I actually listen to National Public Radio (NPR) every day. I don’t know why because I can’t stand it! And I interact a lot on twitter, for example, with people from NPR, like Scott Simon or Steve Inskeep, and they respond to me sometimes. I have asked them time and again “why aren’t you covering Colombia?”. They have no answer for it. Even when I present them with facts, it never makes it into their stories.

They have an angle, it’s the same angle all the media have. That’s to perpetuate this crazy religious notion of American exceptionalism, that somehow America is this unique force for good in the world, that we support democracy, we support freedom, when, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We live in an Orwellian world, where we support dictatorships and support repression in the name of freedom. And people need to wake up to that reality.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. Coca-Cola has been accused of being directly involved in the murder of several union leaders in its bottling plants in Colombia. Daniel Kovalik led the efforts to get justice for the families of the murdered workers. For more information see here. There was also a documentary made on the issue.
  2. The original articles published by Webb are available at this link. For more on Gary Webb and the persecution he faced from the media establishment, see here.
  3. On December 13, 1998, a US-supplied cluster bomb was dropped by a Colombian army helicopter, killing 17 civilians. Occidental Petroleum (OXY) was involved in providing the coordinates for the attack, as it enjoyed direct links with the Colombian military and provided military aid. For more on the lawsuit against OXY, in which Daniel Kovalik represented the plaintiffs, see here.

Borneo: Island Devastated, People Oblivious

She was just standing there, in the middle of burning land, surrounded by stumps of trees, fire everywhere, smoke rising towards a hopelessly gray sky. The expression on her face was mischievous, almost girlish. I had no idea how old she was: she could have been 28, just as she could easily have been 55.

This island, this village, this charred land: it all looked like hell to me, but obviously not to her: it actually made her laugh, burst with pride.

After all, it was her island, not mine; it was her land, her trees, and it was all getting royally fucked. She was personally participating in this carnage of nature – she, as well as her husband, her entire family, her neighbors.

Bu Elvi

Her name was Bu Elvi. ‘Bu’ means mom, or mam or Misses, in Bahasa Indonesia. Her scorched land spans near the village of Dusun Terusan, and Dusan Terusan is near Sintang, in the heart of Borneo, on the largest island in Asia, which is also the second largest island in the world, on what we habitually call ‘our Planet Earth’; although frankly, this moonscape of Indonesian Borneo/Kalimantan has very little to do with what used to be the ‘blue planet’.

“I follow stock exchange regularly”, Bu Elvi brags, boastfully.  “I know that prices of rubber went down at least three times, lately. Now we will burn all this down, since the government refuses to give us any substantial compensation… and then, we will plant some vegetables, at least for a while.”

“And then?” we ask. “What if the prices of rubber go up again?”

“Then, well…” she hesitates, but for just a few moments. Regaining her bearings, she declares, defiantly: “If that happens, we will burn the vegetables and reintroduce the rubber plantation.”

Now it is all black around her. It is desperate and depressing. But she doesn’t look suicidal, miserable, or even guilty. She does precisely what she was told to do under General Suharto’s military dictatorship, which was sponsored by the United States and the rest of the West. She does what she was taught to do right after the dictatorship collapsed (at least on paper) – in the present era of savage capitalism and unbridled thieving, which has also been clearly supported from abroad. She is making money. She is simply producing dough. She does not rely on anybody, she is well aware of the bottom line: nobody will give her anything. Even if she were starving to death, she would get nothing. And so she opts to be ‘independent’, as well as strong, aggressive, arrogant and, observed from some distance, mildly insane.

She is, of course, religious, as everyone in this country is forced to be from his or her childhood. Most likely, she doesn’t give a damn about this life, as there is, she believes, something much better, ‘somewhere else and big’, right after this suffering on Earth.

She is a tough woman, a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of person, in short a ‘new Indonesian’.

Can one blame her? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. She has to live, to survive in this inhuman, savage system, designed and injected from somewhere, from far away.

Still, the land is burning. Here and all around Sintang, all around Borneo, and in all corners of this entire Indonesian archipelago.

Would she opt for the independence of her island, if such an option were to be available?

She doesn’t need to think; she is suddenly absolutely certain. She clenches her right fist, grinning at us: “Merdeka! Independence!”

I am wondering whether it matters, whether it matters at all, who is ruling over this island. Fascism, savage capitalism, as well as the collaboration with foreign powers and institutions, has created a monoculture in this once great archipelago whose motto stated proudly: ‘Unity in Diversity’.

If there is merdeka, and if Bu Elvi rules, would the land stop burning?

*****

I spoke to a woman near the city of Samarinda, in Eastern Kalimantan. She was selling some fruits and crackers in a small store, predominantly serving workers from the immense plantations located literally behind her back. No primary forest was left anywhere in the vicinity. Everything in the area was black, or green, but if green it covered by sawit, the Indonesian word for palm oil.

Palm oil processing factory near Singkawang

Her business was so-so, she said, nothing spectacular. Frankly, she was hardly making ends meet, and she had no health insurance, no housing subsidies, and no financial support from the government. Despite all this, she appeared to be content. Or at least she said that she was:

We don’t have any fires around here, anymore. Before, when there was still some tropical forest left, there were constant fires. Now it is all quiet.

“Isn’t it because the palm oil companies and mining multi-nationals finally got what they always wanted?” I wondered. “Now they do what they desire. They cut down everything. Why would anyone burn things now? Forest is gone… Island is totally ruined. Palm oil, open mines and rubber plantations are covering almost entire surface of it…”

Poisoned land after gold mining in Borneo

She stares at me, blankly. She does not understand what am I talking about, what am I hinting at. She is confused. No one speaks like this, here. No one thinks this way. No one thinks, anymore, full stop…

*****

“I used to come here every weekend,” whispers Ms Mira Lubis, a professor at Tanjungpura University in Pontianak city:

“It used to be so serene, so beautiful. This beach… My beach… My father was a doctor. He worked very hard. When he got tired, he took us all here, an entire family. I used to play in the pristine sand, with my brothers… I used to swim here. Now just look around…”

She shows me her childhood photos. I can see ‘her beach’, as it used to be, decades ago. I can see it now. She has tears in her eyes.

I look around. And it is all ruined: someone poured concrete over the sand: terrible job, thoroughly amateurish. Ugly stalls are everywhere, like sores. The sand area was reduced to just a couple of meters. Some huts and ugly, crumbling structures double as a ‘seaside hotel’.

The beach appears to be totally abandoned and forgotten. The only thing that is never forgotten in Indonesia is an entrance fee; charging random visitors for entering anything, even this devastated place. In this country, nothing is public, nothing is free, and nothing is for the people. Even destruction is promoted as an attraction, as a ‘tourist destination’. You stop your car near the emergency room of a hospital: you have to pay… You enter a disaster area, a place ruined by a mining company somewhere in East Java: you are forced to pay. Scarred nature, ruined land quickly becomes a sightseeing attraction! You essentially pay for everything in Indonesia, especially if you are dirt poor.

Mira is walking slowly along ‘her beach’. She is deep in thoughts; she looks devastated. Her calm childhood memories are now confronted by reality, which appears to be simply monstrous. Her green island inhabited by ancient cultures and thousands of species of animals, birds and plants, now resembles a computer-generated image from a second-rate horror film.

She specializes in water communities, but the water is poisoned, mighty waterways polluted.

Far away, there is a brilliant, purple-red sunset covering the entire horizon. The sun is setting down behind a cluster of offshore islands. It is a brilliant, stunning sight. Borneo used to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But now, only contours are left; contours, memories and bitterness.

*****

Again, I work; we work – filming, photographing and talking to local people. I don’t need any data. There is no need for theories. This is all clear, raw, absolutely indisputable.

Everything can be ‘explained’ and ‘neutralized’ by complex and ‘scientific’ theories, by going round in circles, by blurring the reality. Indonesian ‘science’ and academia, after 1965, has produced nothing useful for the country and for humanity, but they do one thing well: ‘muddying the water’, confusing and complicating things, making sure that what is obvious from the first sight, is squarely disputed, denied. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of PhD’s are made this way and for this very purpose, annually.

Gold mining in Borneo

And the island is burning. Filthy chemical streams are everywhere. There is “illegal” gold mining on the land and in the middle of the mighty but horrendously polluted rivers of Borneo; mining is visible from the air and surface, but controlled by ‘influential individuals’, even by armed forces, and therefore untouchable.

Borneo is now synonymous with mining and logging, as well as with terrible plantations that have already cannibalized most of the land. Nothing is being produced, but everything has been extracted.

Borneo after mining

People are losing their land. They are losing health, even lives. The world is losing its ‘lungs’ – the tropical forests – or more precisely, it has already lost them all around this unfortunate archipelago.

Savage capitalism, moral and financial corruption, multi-national companies on the loose; this is a sad, even horrifying reality of the country, which totally lost its bearing.

Soon all will be gone

Borneo, it appears, is nearing the end. The entire Indonesia is nearing the endgame, but it is considered ‘politically incorrect’ to mention it in the West, particularly in the mainstream media. Indonesia is, after all, ruining itself, so the West can prosper. It was like that during colonialism, and it has been like that, again, ever since the US-sponsored military coup of 1965.

I work feverishly in Borneo: I film, I write and photograph. Others are standing by me, trying to help. Are we going to achieve anything? I hope we will; we have to, otherwise, soon, here and elsewhere, everything will be finished, privatized, commercialized and eventually destroyed.

I also work in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and in several fully ruined countries of Africa. Everything here, in Borneo, appears to be extremely familiar. Is it really peace that is reigning here? I’m highly doubtful. To me it looks like a war, like an extremely brutal war. It looks like the war of people against their own people, the war of people against nature, against all living beings and species; a war against the forests and river, and even against life itself.

It looks like a neo-colonialist nightmare. It once used to be the most beautiful place in Asia, now it is scarred, charred and in terrible pain. But it is still breathing; it is alive. And what is alive is always worth fighting for.

• Originally published by NEO (New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek