Category Archives: Puerto Rico

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

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

Andean Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Southern Cone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Caribbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central America and Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Year’s message

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

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

Pink Tide Against US Domination Rising Again In Latin America

(Photo from Dissent Magazine)

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

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

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

Ecuadorians celebrate the repeal of Decree 883 (From Twitter)

Ecuador in Rebellion Against IMF and the US Puppet Moreno

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Koenig describes a root cause of the problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rally in Argentina (By Enfoque Rojo)

Latin Americans Rising Against the Right and US Domination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protesters in Haiti (Twitter)

Caribbean Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

People’s Mobilization Unites For People And Planet

The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet is two weeks away. The “People’s Mobe” will be held from September 20 to 23 in New York City during the United Nations General Assembly.

Members of the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective started organizing the People’s Mobe in May. Organizers sought to bring the issue of US violations of international law, such as when the State Department violated the Vienna Convention by raiding the Venezuelan Embassy on May 16, to the UN General Assembly and began to plan around September 21, the International Day of Peace. Organizers wrote:

At a time when all of the world leaders gather, we will say we’ve had enough of the US War Machine.

We demand the US be held accountable for its destructive acts. It’s time for the US government to obey the United Nations Charter by stopping regime change operations, ending the use of unilateral coercive measures (aka sanctions) and ceasing military attacks.

We demand the US sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty, rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate treaty, disband NATO and close bases and outposts around the world.

We demand an immediate transition to a peace economy that uses our resources to meet human needs and protect the planet.

The People’s Mobe begins with the Climate Strike on Friday, September 20, an international day of action on the climate crisis, and ends with a solidarity evening uniting countries and popular movements around opposition to US intervention and respect for international laws that uphold sovereignty, human rights and protection of the planet.

The weekend will also focus on decolonization joining a protest for the liberation of Puerto Rico and black resistance to racism and militarism in the “Americas.”

Schedule of Events for the People’s Mobilization Against the US War Machine

Friday, September 20 – People’s Climate Strike. Starts at Foley Square at noon, then a march to Battery Park for a rally at 3:00 pm. We’ll bring messages connecting militarism and the climate crisis.

Saturday, September 21 – Puerto Rico Independence Rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the UN. It’s time to decolonize Puerto Rico! Time TBA.

Saturday, September 21 – Race, Militarism and Black Resistance in the “Americas” from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at the Green Worker Cooperative, 1231 Lafayette Ave in the Bronx.

Sunday, September 22 – People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet Rally and March, Herald Square near 34th St. and 6th Ave., 2:00 pm. Featuring Cornel West, Roger Waters, members of the Embassy Protection Collective, Chairman Omali Yeshitela, music by Ben Grosscup plus many solidarity, climate crisis, and resistance groups. More special guests to be announced.

Monday, September 23 – Solidarity evening with UN representatives from countries targeted by US sanctions and intervention. “A Path to International Peace: Realizing the Vision of the United Nations Charter.” Location: Community Church of New York 40 East 35th St., New York City, 10016. Hear from UN representatives and social movements. The Peace Memorial Prize will be awarded and David Rovics will perform. Time:  6:30 pm (doors open at 6:00 pm). You must register in advance. Register at http://bit.ly/RSVPapathtopeace. The event is free but we will accept donations to help cover the costs.

People’s Mobilization Shows Interconnections At Historical Moment

The People’s Mobe is connecting the issues of militarism, climate crisis, racism, and decolonization. We cannot achieve economic, racial and environmental justice or peace without forming a united people’s force that demands international law be obeyed by the greatest violator of laws, the United States.

We face multiple crisis issues that are reaching their breaking points. We are in a climate emergency as fires, hurricanes, flooding, and drought are becoming common experiences, destroying communities and causing hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. Even if the US government ignores climate science, people understand it and realize these conditions are worsening. As a result, the Global Climate Strike from September 20-27 was called. Popular Resistance will participate in the Strike in NYC; other peace activists are joining the Shut-Down DC Climate Strike.  We urge peace activists throughout the country to support the Climate Strike and demonstrate the connection between militarism and climate.

The role of the US military in climate change is massive as oil is essential for the war machine. There is no such thing as a Green War. We cannot confront climate change without confronting US militarism.

Even though the US military produces more climate pollution than 140 countries combined, the US-made sure the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change from 1997, the first international accord to limit global warming emissions, excluded fossil fuel emissions by the military. Even the Paris Agreement, which Trump withdrew from, still enabled the US to avoid reporting Pentagon emissions.

As a result, the greatest fossil fuel polluter on the planet is excluded despite the fact that the US military accounts for 25% of the total US consumption of oil, which is itself 25% of the total world consumption. US military fossil fuel pollution is equivalent to 25 million additional cars on US roads. The US Air Force is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world.

The US and allies learned in World War II that controlling the oil supply and cutting off Germany’s access to oil was essential to defeating Hitler. Since then, domination of oil reserves has been a central goal of US policy to ensure its role as the global superpower. Even with the rapid increase in US fossil fuel production, denying China access to oil from Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and other sources is critical to remaining the world’s dominant power. The US and its war machine drive the rise in greenhouse gases.

The ties between war and racism have been evident throughout US history since the “Indian Wars” of Manifest Destiny and the theft of one-fifth of Mexico during the US war with Mexico, which gave the US control of much of North America. As the US expanded its empire beyond the continent, the US fought wars against people of color all over the world and today is rapidly militarizing Africa.

As happens with empires, the empire turns against its own people to take as much as it can from its poor and working classes for the wealthiest. Not only has this resulted in an immense wealth divide and widespread poverty, homelessness and inadequate education for many people in the US, but it has also led to militarized police forces that use weapons and techniques of war against the people in the United States. The prime targets of domestic militarized police are communities of color, which have been left destitute from neglect and the funneling of wealth upwards in a racially-biased manner.

Part of being the largest empire in world history not only includes an empire of bases and dollar domination of trade and the global economy, but also the US remains a colonizer nation. While decolonization created scores of independent nations from 1945-1960, the United States did not decolonize. As a result states like Hawaii, which was an independent nation throughout most of its history, did not become independent and territories like Puerto Rico, which had broken from Spanish colonization only to be captured as a US colony, remain.

Uniting To End Empire and Militarization, and put People and Planet First

The Peoples Mobilization comes at a time when all of these fronts of struggle are coming together. Climate activists realize that ending wars for oil, closing bases and making serious cuts to military funding are essential for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and financing a global Green New Deal. Anti-war activists recognize that keeping fossil fuels in the ground is essential for stopping endless wars.

It is time to stop the US war machine and for the US government to stop its global gangsterism. The US must obey international law and be held accountable for illegal and destructive acts. The Non-Aligned Movement countries made a commitment to do what they can this past July. Now, we need a global popular movement that pushes to make peace, justice, and a livable future a reality.

If you agree, sign onto the Global Appeal for Peace. We plan to deliver it to the United Nations while they are in session. Beyond that, we will continue to build a global solidarity movement to Stop The US War Machine and Save the Planet.

XXV Sao Paulo Forum Demonstrates that Venezuela is not Alone!

Photo by Alicia Jrapko

From July 25-28 the XXV Sao Paulo Forum took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with the participation of 190 organizations, political parties, social movements, workers’ movements, parliamentarians and intellectuals from Latin America, the Caribbean and several continents.

The date chosen for this historic meeting had a symbolic character to it. During those four days a number of coinciding historical events were celebrated such as the birth of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, the assault on the Moncada Barracks that marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution and the 65th anniversary of the birth of Commander Hugo Chávez.

The Forum of Sao Paulo is the oldest continuing event of progressive unity in Latin America.  The first Forum was held in the city of Sao Paulo Brazil in 1990 as an initiative of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz and the then leader of the Workers’ Party of Brazil (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The two put out a call to political parties and organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss alternatives to neoliberal policies. Since then the Forum adopted the name of the city where it was born. Twenty-six countries from Latin America and the Caribbean make up the member countries of the Forum.

Today, the scenario of all Latin America is very different from previous forums. Of the two leaders who brought the idea of the Sao Paulo Forum to life, one is no longer physically present and the other one is serving an unjust sentence in a Brazilian prison for having had the audacity to lift 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. The triumph of the Bolivarian revolution in 1998, with the popular election of Hugo Chavez, opened the door to a new continental stage where progressive projects sprouted up in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador.  The current situation is very different than it was then.  The integration of Latin America is now in jeopardy, and a number of countries in the region are led by puppet governments subordinate to the designs of the U.S. government. Venezuela has held on but it is in the cross hairs of the empire to bring about regime change at all costs. This reality made the Forum to be held in Venezuela all that more important.  Never before in the 29 years since its inception, has the host country been more besieged and blockaded than Venezuela today and it is here where the destiny of the Great Homeland lays in the balance.

Despite the difficult situation in this South American nation, whose only crime in the eyes of US imperialism has been to divert their vast natural resources for the betterment of those who had been poor and dispossessed, approximately 700 people merged with hundreds of Venezuelans in this critical 4 day meeting to discuss the burning questions of Latin America and also to reinvigorate the same spirit of regional integration sown by those who founded the Forum. Overall those in attendance came to show the world that Venezuela is not alone.

For those delegates coming from the United States they had to go through a series of added hurdles just to get there. After the suspension of diplomatic relations in January 2019 traveling to Venezuela has become more difficult with no direct flights from the US and no consulates to grant visas.  Nevertheless, activists were creative and found the way to be present including representatives of the Collective for the Protection of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC who occupied and protected the embassy for 37 days.

During the opening ceremony of the Forum, the First Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, set the tone when he told the enthusiastic audience:

No one will be able to do it alone, it is the unity of the people that is necessary. The more they insist, the more we are going to solve our problems; here in Venezuela the right wing will not be able to govern. The right likes elections when they win, when the people win they don’t like it, the right doesn’t respect the process. They can’t, their nature doesn’t allow them. The right-wing is the same everywhere, we feel the support of the people but those people also need our support. We resisted and marched with the conviction that we are going to win. The people here don’t get depressed because with Chavez they learned to have a voice. We have even been threatened with everything including a military invasion, but we are willing to defend the Bolivarian revolution, which is a revolution for the peoples, not just for Venezuela. No one can do it alone.

Other speakers included Monica Valente, of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, and the Executive Secretary of the Sao Paulo Forum and the Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Cuba, Adan Chávez. Also Julio Muriente Pérez, member of the National Hostosian Independence Movement of Puerto Rico. Muriente talked about the popular victory that just took place in Puerto Rico. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans raised the flag of dignity forcing the corrupt governor Ricardo Rosello to resign.” he said, as the audience stood up cheering, “It wasn’t that he resigned, the people took him out.”

It is important to note that this was not just a talking conference but a meeting of activists who on Saturday went out to the street along with thousands of Venezuelans to call for the US hands off Venezuela and all of Latin America. In all meetings inside and the rally outside, participants expressed their support to the only president of Venezuela elected by popular will — Nicolas Maduro Moros.

During the last day of the Sao Paulo Forum, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro reiterated his gratitude to the members of the Protection Collective of Venezuela’s Embassy in Washington. “Their performance reflects high morals for the defense of the dignity and sovereignty of the Venezuelan people,” the president said. He presented the activists with a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword.

The closing ceremony took place after a walk to the Cuartel de la Montaña, in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, where the remains of Hugo Chávez rest. Present at the closing were Presidents Nicolas Maduro, President of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel, Diosdado Cabello, and Mónica Valente.

A Final Declaration of support for Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other progressive governments under attack by US imperialism, and a demand for the freedom of Lula and other left-wing leaders imprisoned for political reasons was issued.

What the XXV Sao Paulo Forum demonstrated most was the essential and immeasurable examples, inherited from Fidel, to guide the revolutionaries of Latin America and the Caribbean; that is the unity of the left progressive forces and the practice of internationalism.

Rising Resistance And Solidarity In The Americas

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting US Coup Attempts and Building the Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance is Growing in Latin America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Resistance and Solidarity Matter to Activists in the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems

Sometime in the near future it is highly probable that the Arctic will no longer have sea ice, meaning zero ice for the first time in eons, aka: the Blue Ocean Event.

Surely, the world is not prepared for the consequences of such a historic event, which likely turns the world topsy-turvy, negatively impacting agriculture with gonzo weather patterns, thus forcing people to either starve or fight. But, the problem may be even bigger than shortages of food, as shall be discussed.

Still and all, it’s somewhat consoling to know that the Blue Ocean Event is quite controversial within the scientific community. There are climate scientists that believe Arctic ice will be there beyond this century. One can only hope they are right because an ice-free Arctic will indubitably create havoc for life on the planet.

However, disturbingly, the prospects for enduring sea ice don’t look good.

Here’s why: Dr. Peter Wadhams (professor emeritus, University of Cambridge) who’s the leading authority on Arctic sea ice (A Farewell to Ice, Oxford University Press) was recently interviewed re the current status of Arctic sea ice, as of 2019, and recorded on TUC radio (live broadcasts on KALW/San Francisco and independent internet radio).

Here are snippets from that interview: Over the past 40 years the loss of Arctic sea ice has rapidly progressed; e.g., from 1976-87 Arctic sea ice thickness decreased by 15%… during the 1990s, thickness decreased by 43% … and today 75% of the sea ice is gone… resulting in an impairment of sea ice albedo, which reflects solar radiation back into outer space by 80-90% with sea ice, but conversely, without sea ice, it absorbs 80-90% of solar radiation into the dark background of iceless water where crucial untold dangers lurk.

Accordingly, the Arctic has experienced “the biggest transition of albedo on the planet.”1 The consequences are unimaginably challenging, kinda like trying to calculate, beforehand, what happens when fallen into an ontological rabbit hole, or in other words, expect the unexpected!

Not only that but the Arctic is already a hothouse in the hemisphere. For example, permafrost samples in the Yukon near Dempster Highway registered temps, as of April 2019, nearly 2°C higher than at any point in time over the past 10,000 years.2

As far as that goes, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) suggests an upper limit, or guardrail, of 2°C post-industrial temperature. If exceeded, primary ecosystems that support life are at risk of breaking down.

In fact, aside from the Arctic, pivotal ecosystems are already starting to break down around the world, especially in the rainforests of Puerto Rico and Mexico (experiencing high temperature variations of 2C) where, shockingly, arthropods are disappearing, nearly en masse; as well as documentation of over 100 separate locations of Flying Insect Armageddon in Europe (likely caused by toxic chemicals) registering mass losses of 75% over a few decades, which characterizes an extinction event!

As for the Arctic sea ice scenario, one critical question is not discussed in public: What happens next?

What happens when all of the sea ice is gone?

According to the tenacious climate scientist Paul Beckwith, the “refrigerator effect” is lost in the Blue Ocean Event, meaning the “water temperature is not pegged close to the freezing point when there is no ice left to melt.”3

Thereafter, by default, the only major source of ice remaining in the Northern Hemisphere will be Greenland. Thenceforth, the “Center of Cold” in the Northern Hemisphere will shift to Greenland, no longer the Arctic, likely shifting from the North Pole to approximately 73° North Latitude or the center of Greenland4 … Then what?

Unfortunately, that creates a whole new category of risks as weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere depend upon jet streams (20K to 39K feet above sea level) that rely upon the “Center of Cold” over the North Pole interceding with warm air currents from the tropics to generate jet stream gusto. If the “Center of Cold” shifts, who knows for sure what’ll happen to the crucial jet streams?

The short answer may be the jet streams will go bonkers more so than ever before.  Of course, to a lesser degree, this is already happening right now and causing extreme weather events like massive flooding in the Midwest: Hello, Kansas.

As of 2019, all-time record-setting heavy weather hit the U.S. with humongous amounts of snow throughout the northern Midwest as a result of slow-moving wobbly jet streams that loop and bring Arctic weather directly south. Believe it or not, the resultant massive flooding (also record-setting) may be a minor event in the context of a newly released chilling study about the impact of Arctic sea ice loss, as follows:

The study of ancient ice cores by a team from the British Antarctic Survey, University of Cambridge and University of Birmingham found “major reductions in sea ice in the Arctic” cranked up (temperature amplification as a result of no Arctic sea ice) Greenland regional temperatures “by 16° C in less than a decade.”5

According to the study:

This work confirms the significance of sea ice for past abrupt warming events…  This is important because changes in sea ice have profound consequences on both global and local scales, including impacts on global climate and local ecosystems.6

Significantly, if the “Impact of Abrupt Sea Ice Loss on Greenland” scenario were to recur, it would create havoc, and panic within a decade. Could it happen? Well, it happened in the past without the assistance of human-influenced GHG emissions. Therefore, the answer seems to be: Yes, it could happen again. End of Story!

But, on second thought: The 16° C increase in temps in less than a decade is difficult to fathom, even though the paleoclimate record shows it did happen. After rereading the British Antarctic Study again, and again, it goes without saying that a temperature increase of “16° C within a decade” would destroy most life. One can only hope that the British Antarctic Survey team made a big fat mistake, or there are extenuating circumstances of some kind or other.

But, make no mistake about this: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions today are rip snorting faster than almost any paleoclimate time scale, likely setting a new 62-year record for CO2 emissions in 2019. Precariously, that feeds directly into increased planetary heat and loss of more Arctic sea ice. The end results cannot be good, an understatement.

According to NASA, Global Climate Change – Vita Signs of the Planet:

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient or paleoclimate evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten (10) times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

Meanwhile, according to the aforementioned interview with Dr. Peter Wadhams: Currently, the Arctic is heating up about 4xs faster than the rest of the planet… the temp difference between the Arctic and the tropics is dropping precipitously … thus, driving the jet streams less… creating meandering jet streams… in turn, producing extreme weather events throughout the Northern Hemisphere, especially in mid latitudes where most of the world’s food is grown.

Not only is future food production seriously at risk, but as well, massive quantities of buried seabed methane (much more powerful in its initial years at influencing global warming than CO2) in the Arctic could release suddenly because of loss of albedo, no longer reflecting solar radiation out into space, rather absorbing it down to massive quantities of CH4 (methane) under seabed permafrost, which is:

The greatest single threat we face… It would be a catastrophe because the temperature would suddenly rise… It wouldn’t rise smoothly.1

But, really, honestly, come on now, something’s gotta (hopefully) be wrong with the aforementioned British Antarctic Survey’s scientific data. Could it be a misplaced decimal point?

Astonishingly, it is factual data. In the simplest of terms, Greenland’s 16° C temperature increase in less than a decade is mind-blowing, especially in consideration of the survey team’s statement that it: “Confirms the significance of sea ice for past abrupt warming events.”

Hmm! Déjà vu, the Arctic sea ice scenario today seems curiously similar to the British Antarctic Study. Prospectively, that’s really horrible news!

  1. Dr. Peter Wadhams.
  2. CBC News, “Arctic is Warmest It’s Been in 10,000 Years, Study Suggests,” April 12, 2019.
  3. Paul Beckwith, climate system scientist, University of Ottawa.
  4. Paul Beckwith.
  5. Louise C. Sime, et al, “Impact of Abrupt Sea Ice Loss on Greenland Water Isotopes During the Last Glacial Period”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 5, 2019.
  6. Ibid.

International Conference Against US/NATO Bases Addresses Militarism

For the first time in the history of humanity, the technical means are at hand to eliminate poverty if resources were not diverted to making war. World hunger could be abolished with only a small diversion from military budgets. The only luxuries that so-called middle-class Americans would have to forego would be the Blue Angels air show and drone-bombing wedding parties in the Middle East. Yet, military spending is expanding, and with it global poverty.

On November 16-18, some 300 peace activists representing over 35 countries gathered in Dublin, Ireland for the first International Conference Against US/NATO Military Bases to address this tragic paradox of the technical ability to serve humanity and the political proclivity by the ruling circles in the West to do the opposite. Roger Cole of the Irish peace organization PANA identified the twin threats to humankind of global warming and global war, both driven by accelerating militarization.

Ajamu Baraka of the US-based Black Alliance for Peace highlighted the reactionary role of the US and its allies, which have by far the largest military expenditures in the world. The material basis for the absence of peace and the accelerating proliferation of military bases, in his words, is US imperialism.

Guantánamo was the first of the world network of US foreign military bases, according to keynote speaker Dr. Aleida Guevara from Cuba, daughter of Che. Cuba opposes this violation of national sovereignty. Today the US possesses some 1000 foreign military bases with troops stationed in over 170 countries.

Australian Annette Brownlie of IPAN warned of a new Cold War. The recent US National Security Strategy document, focusing on “great power confrontation,” signals open preparations for direct military confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

David Webb of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK explained that the US is the only nation with nuclear weapons based outside its soil. US policy is to develop “usable” nuclear weapons in an enhanced first-strike capacity. Missile defense, he reproved, is the shield for the sword of nuclear weapons. The purpose of missile defense is to protect the aggressor against the inevitable retaliation after a first nuclear strike.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance reported that the recent US midterm elections brought in more Congressional representatives with military or security state backgrounds. The duopoly of the two US “war parties” is united in supporting an accelerated arms race. Well over half of the US government’s discretionary budget now goes to the military.

Unlike so much liberal and progressive political discourse in the US, which is obsessed with the personality of President Trump, the international perspective of this conference penetrated that distracting fog and concentrated on the continuity of US militarism regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

The session on the environmental and health impacts featured testimony on the toxic effects of military bases in Okinawa, Czech Republic, and Turkey. The US Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter.

National Coordinator of the Irish Trade Union Federation and Secretary of the People’s Movement, Frank Keoghan, described the transformation of the European Union (EU) into a war project with the recent rush to create a single EU army. Ilda Figueiredo from the Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation and another activist from France warned that the drive for an EU army would transform all national military bases into NATO bases and would in effect allow “nuclear bomb sharing.”

Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report chaired the Africa session. South African Chris Matlhako and Kenyan Ann Atambo discussed the dependency of African states on foreign aid, which is used as a tool to facilitate the occupation of Africa by foreign militaries.

Paul Pumphrey of Friends of the Congo described the development of US strategy in Africa, which has used African proxies to allow domination and extraction of valuable resources such as coltan from the Congo. Now the strategy also includes direct occupation by the US military. George W. Bush established AFRICOM in 2008 with just a single acknowledged US military base on the continent, followed by an explosion to some 50 bases and a military presence in practically every African nation under Obama.

The session on Latin America and the Caribbean outlined the immediate threat of military intervention in Venezuela, caught in the crosshairs of US imperialism. Veteran Cuban peace activist Silvio Platero of MOVPAZ condemned the continuing US blockade of Cuba and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Speakers from Colombia (now a NATO partner), Argentina, and Brazil reported that their right-wing governments are cooperating militarily with the US.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire from Ireland made an impassioned plea for all-out support of WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, “our hero of truth,” lest he die in a US prison.

The conference concluded on a high note of unity among the international peace forces. Conference coordinator Bahman Azad of the World Peace Council closed with a call to first educate and then mobilize.

Actions are being planned in Washington, D.C., around the 70th anniversary of NATO on April 4th. Coincidentally that is the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King and of his famous speech a year before when he presciently admonished, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”

The True Stories That Fake News Tells: The Forced Sterilization of Women

I am constantly amazed in this day and age where Americans have a President who touts anything he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” that is the moment that people grow cynical of the term.   Despite Donald Trump’s ability to shun astute critique of his politics, the term does carry currency in terms of how true or false news stories are.  But it is not just American media that is stuck within this paradigm of readers never knowing what is or is not true, the British who have a nationally subsidized media whereby residents in the UK must pay a TV license are subjected to another sort of “fake news,” namely, the endless stream of trivia regarding the Royal Family.

What is “news” today can range from the entirely vapid stories of an impending Royal Wedding to the recent story of a pedophile found in his cell with his penis chopped off.  The former is entirely not newsworthy and stokes the fire of many British who resist paying television taxes because of this sort of abuse of public funds to cover “fluff” and the latter is largely untrue. Yet, both stories are widespread because who doesn’t want to read about a pedophile who has come to his just-deserved end or the happy royal marriage between a Hollywood actor and a prince?

And this is why fake news has become so prevalent: the market forces of advertisement rewards social media shares. Conterminous to this reality of capitalism and social media there is a recent study published in Science last week, untrue stories are shared at far higher rates than factual new items:

About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.

And this paradigm of news “out there” ranging from the entirely fantastical to the well-researched and objectively true means that readers are either constantly suspicious about what they read or just more gullible about the intake of news given the paucity of time to research every media byte.

For instance, last fall when the cryptocurrency market began to rise ever so speedily, many people wrote me to ask me about bitcoin and if the stories were true about its reputed rise.  The quality of fake news is so wide-ranging today in subject matter and analysis that it is hard for people to recognize the difference between actual true news, fake news, and as I found out yesterday when posting a satirical piece about a man who abandoned his family to live out his dream of living life as a squirrel. Indeed, at times it is difficult to recognize fake news from real news simply because reality is also troublingly “unreal” and indistinguishable from fable.

So yesterday, I came upon a story which I shared on Facebook where my stream there is largely a bookmarking of stories I hope to read in the not-too-distant future.  The story I posted is entitled “Big Pharma Co. Has License Suspended As Vaccine Sterilizes 500,000 Girls” and immediately upon posting the thread was flooded with skeptical comments asking if this is true, one wondering why the British media hadn’t reported this, and even one posting to a fact-checking website which rates news stories on the conspiracy range from “none” to “tin foil hat.”

This article received a “mixed” review.  And on Snopes, this related to a story from 2014 which was labelled as “false” despite the origins of the story being factually correct:  a press statement released on 7 October, 2015 by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya – Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) who state their concerns that the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine (TT) might be laced with Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-HCG). This press release expressed concern for the role played by sponsoring development partners since such programs had “previously been used by the same partners in Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico to vaccinate women against future pregnancy.”  A component of experimental birth control vaccines, b-HCG caused alarm to these bishops as it is common knowledge that development aid has historically and negatively affected the bodies of women—especially those of women of color.

Anyone who has lived in countries outside the west becomes acutely aware as to how “humanitarian aid” is peddled, offered up as the panacea to all social and medical ills, when, in fact, such aid usually debilitates local economies, medical practices, and educational institutions.  And view the video of the man at the center of this debate, former Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga (1992-2013), who has spoken at length on his concerns. Watching this video, it is clear that Odinga is no biologist and that his statement does not account for presence of b-HCG. Similarly, the Washington Post report on this subject makes clear that the results are inconclusive either way due to how the sample of this vaccine was analyzed.  Still many remain cautious about dismissing the accusations, such as Keith Donovan of Georgetown’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, stating:

[T]here are aspects of this that need to be raising red flags because of history and because of the way it was all being done. But raising red flags doesn’t mean that there’s something that actually has occurred.

What Donovan is getting at here is the importance of understanding how women’s bodies have been historically controlled by colonizing forces, especially with regards to their reproductive capacity.  The accusations which target this long-running vaccination program sponsored by the WHO and UNICEF, inoculates women of reproductive age against tetanus in a country where tetanus is a deadly health problem.  Yet the phrase “women of reproductive age” mentioned in the same sentence as any UN organization or NGO will set off alarms for many who have seen the horrors of mass sterilization programs which, oddly enough, British media has rarely covered.

One of the most infamous mass sterilization projects in recent history was that carried out by the Peace Corps in Bolivia in the 1960s and early 1970s. This resulted in the Peace Corps being thrown out of the country in 1971, in large part because of the production of one of Bolivia’s most important films on the topic, Blood of the Condor (Yawar Mallku), by Jorge Sanjínes (1969), which informed the people as to what this US agency was doing to women.  This project involved Peace Corps volunteers distributing contraception, even inserting IUDs into indigenous Quechua women, without their informed consent.  This set off a series of accusations which in turn fueled rumors about widespread US-funded sterilization programs.  Through the 1980s there was a distrust of all US programs, food products, and birth control products.  Meanwhile in this same period, between 1965 and 1971, an estimated 1 million women in Brazil had been sterilized. And in Mexico in 1974 there was a massive sterilization program which gave an anti-fertility vaccine to 1,204 females under the guise of “family planning.”

In Colombia, between 1963 and 1965 more than 400,000 women were sterilized in a program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. And in the Philippines, where similar concerns of the tetanus vaccine was blamed for sterilizing women just last year, USAID has sponsored family planning programs there to the tune of $40m, with poor women being offered money to go through the sterilization procedure in rural villages.  The Philippines has a long history of sterilization projects dating back to the 1970s which has resulted in a healthy skepticism about any “vaccines” that Filipina women will logically view with great suspicion.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports from the Gauteng province of South Africa of women who are HIV+ people told that sterilization is the “best form of contraception” and others who have been sterilized without any consent whatsoever. Similar reports have been emerging from Uganda, Namibia, and Slovakia as well. In Israel, the government has been sterilizing Ethiopian immigrants to the country with a notable decline in their birthrate in the country. And both Kenya and Chile have various important court cases which specifically address the illegality of forced sterilization in well-documented cases. It is no surprise that the former Prime Minister of Kenya is suspicious of a vaccine that has been called into question by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya.

Still, let us not forget where such eugenicist notions of sterilization originated.  From the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement in the UK was born which led to the formation of the Eugenics Education Society in 1907. This organization campaigned for the forced sterilization of mentally disabled women, a program supported by mostly Labour MPs such that by 1931 there was a draft bill proposed in Parliament to this end. On the other side of the Atlantic, sterilization laws were enacted in 32 of the US states between 1907 and 1937 only to be repealed from the 1970s onward. Although the sterilization was to affect the bodies of both males and females in the United States, the focus of sterilization would come to bear its weight on the bodies of women.

For instance, in California, even when the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, other legislation paved the way for operations in state prisons to sterilize female inmates. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons who received tubal ligations with at least three dozen of these procedures directly violating the state’s own informed consent process. Not surprisingly, the majority of those who were sterilized were not only first-time offenders, but largely African-American and Latina. The logic as explained by the physician responsible for these surgeries, Dr. James Heinrich: that the state would save money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.” In 2013, a journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting published on this story which eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

And sterilization campaigns have been more than common outside of prisons in the United States and its territories such as the case of Puerto Rico where from the 1930s to late 1960s mass sterilization was underway such that by 1965, a survey revealed that one-third of Puerto Rican women were sterile.  Similar to the surgeries undertaken in prisons was the rationale rooted in the desire to save the government’s money from women who were perceived as reproducing at high rates, especially when Puerto Rican immigrants were coming to the US in the 1970s. Also, there was the fear that Latinos might edge out “white America” which is why so many Latina women in Puerto Rico, New York City, and California were specifically targeted by the government for sterilization throughout the 20th century.

African American women have also been the targets of population control throughout the country’s history and have been disproportionately affected by sterilization abuse. In North Carolina, the state which has one of the worse records for sterilization abuse, 65 percent of its sterilization procedures were performed on black women despite the population of black women in that state hovering at 25 percent.  The case Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978) was ground-breaking in that, even if the judge ruled in favor of the doctors who abusively coerced Latina women into sterilization, this case set the precedent of informed consent, underscoring the obligation to provide forms in multiple languages for non-native English speakers.

So while some are outraged by the claims of UNICEF and the WHO being accused of sterilizing women in countries like Kenya and the Philippines, others view the historical veracity of what similar agencies have done historically and more recently (eg. USAID’s support of Peru’s sterilization of indigenous women from 1997 through 2002 where “USAID provided $18 million to CARE for training doctors to perform sterilization and supplying sterilization equipment used in the coercive campaigns.”1

What is important to take away from these reports is that the suspicion exercised over the control of women’s bodies by foreign agencies and/or by these agencies exercising their monetary power through local politics needs to be regarded with great scrutiny.  Has the Kenya Accreditation Service (Kenas) truly suspended Agriq-Quest Ltd’s license as a testing laboratory? I called their corporate number this morning and received no answer and went onto their Facebook page only to find it removed.  I went onto the Kenas’ website to see that Agriq-Quest Ltd is delisted.

The whole story has not been told and we have only a few blips of information here and there that can easily seem like fake news, or a story that western media doesn’t really care to tell. The larger question is why more western media isn’t concerned about the medicalization of the bodies of teenage girls and young women to the extent that the WHO and the UN are given carte blanche to create policy and to avoid answering any and all questions put to them about these policies.

What consoles me about seeing Odinga’s statement to the press is not that the reports about sterilization are necessarily inaccurate, but they reveal a healthy dose of cynicism towards foreign agencies that have never had these peoples’ best interest at heart.  We need to applaud the reports that may be inaccurate since they at least stick their neck out for the lives and rights of women to have a say in their corporeal autonomy, reproductive health, and lives.

  1. Peru’s Ministry of Health, “Final Report Concerning Voluntary Surgical Contraception Activities,” July, 2002.

Helping in Puerto Rico

From January 28 to February 7th my wife and I were in Vieques, Puerto Rico, helping as best we could with recovery from Hurricane Maria, which hit on September 20th, almost five months ago.  Help is very much still needed. I don’t think I realized how much that is true until I got home to New Jersey and experienced all of the things I didn’t experience during those 10 days:

  • the lights and everything electrical turning on or being on all day and night whenever I need it;
  • a hot, not cold, water shower;
  • not worrying about hitting something or falling when I had to get up and go to the bathroom or move around at night;
  • not hearing (or smelling) loud gas generators behind the house where I was staying and several other places in the neighborhood as day turned into night;
  • not having to do extra-special filtering of the tap water because of concerns about its quality;
  • reliably accessing my cell phone apps, telephone and the internet whenever I want to.

These were the main differences.

I was staying at Casa de Kathy in Esperanza, the second largest town in Vieques. The only street in Esperanza that fully had electrical power when we were there was the Malecon, the downtown street next to the water where bars, restaurants and hotels are, and they didn’t get that power until the fifth day we were there. What electrical power there was elsewhere in town came from gas-powered generators bought by residents who could afford them.

There was concern about the tap water. Neither the EPA nor anyone else had done tests to determine how safe it is to drink.

There were still piles of debris and branches that had been blown down by the storm, as well as collections of stoves and refrigerators disabled by it.

Despite all of these serious problems, the sense I had was that people in general were pulling together, some more than others, to climb out of the hole the hurricane put them in. They were doing so even though there was a lot of criticism of FEMA for its slowness and for it denying aid to a number of people whose homes had been damaged.

I was glad to learn that the use of solar energy, in different forms, is growing, from small solar lights, which are popular, to solar panels on roofs to provide an alternative to an unreliable electric grid.

One of the big takeaways for me was the reinforcement of something I have known intellectually for years, that extreme weather events, like the climate changing which makes them worse and more frequent, hurts low-income people the most. Middle- and upper-class people who have access to financial and other resources had found ways to lessen their suffering or discomfort, like through personal generators. But those without those resources were in a different situation. I heard of at least one family that was sleeping in a tent in their living room because there had been serious damage to their roof that they had not yet been able to afford getting fixed.

The pro-statehood Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, announced just before we got there that he wanted to privatize that electrical system, currently publicly owned, which would certainly lead to higher electrical rates for many struggling Puerto Rican consumers as the corporate buyer looks to make its profits.

Then there is the relatively large Puerto Rican debt (though hugely smaller than the US debt) of $73 billion. There have been calls for that debt to be forgiven, for obvious reasons. Lin-Manual Miranda, for example, creator and star of the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” called for that in a December opinion piece in the Washington Post. He wrote:

Puerto Rico’s creditors should do the right thing and walk away. It is the only way forward. Anything short of full debt forgiveness would be a brutal form of economic punishment to a people already suffering.

But to add insult to injury, the Republican tax bill passed at the end of 2017, unless challenged and changed, will make things even worse.

A December 20th Washington Post story reported that the Puerto Rican Governor “is calling on lawmakers to rewrite a key part of the tax bill that he says might cause the island’s hefty manufacturing sector to contract, jeopardizing hundreds of thousands of jobs. [It] includes a new 12.5 percent tax on profits derived from intellectual property held by foreign companies — a move designed to compel those companies to move back to the United States. The new tax ‘is a big hit, and Puerto Rico both fiscally and economically is downtrodden, and this is the last thing they need,’ said Federico de Jesus, a former Puerto Rico government official who has been tracking congressional relief efforts for the island.”

US citizens have a special responsibility to help Puerto Rico, which has been a colony of the United States since 1898. It is our humanitarian and moral responsibility, and it is our duty as citizens of the nation which has the power to help Puerto Rico either move forward or backwards after Maria. We must do what we can as far as practical hurricane recovery support but also support groups calling for a cancellation of the debt, changes to the Republican tax bill and reform of the electric power system, not its privatization.

Will Hurricane Maria Wash Away all Illusions about the U.S. in Puerto Rico?

Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward identified and emphasized an important factor in understanding the larger political and economic forces that create the conditions in which people defy the rules of the established order and take part in popular protest.1 These moments of popular protect was during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when unemployment was at about one-third for the working population in the U.S., and during the 1950s and 1960 when unemployment reached depression levels for Blacks, living in segregated ghettos. For Piven and Cloward, it was the removal of employment and the disintegration of community that resulted in uprooting people from a sense of stability that comes from the routine of work. It is in these moments of catastrophic suffering that individuals find it difficult to blame themselves or God for the plight they found themselves in.2

In the case of Puerto Rico, will Hurricane Maria have a similar effect? Will the removal of stability (which was always precarious) among the many poor and displaced in Puerto Rico force Puerto Ricans to confront the illusion that the conditions on the island are not their individual or collective faults, but the results of the U.S. colonial relationship? Hurricane Maria appears to be a part of the storm that has ravaged Puerto Rico since 1898.

Even before Hurricane Maria reached Puerto Rico, it had depression-like economic conditions with high unemployment and a poverty rate estimated to be at 43.5% in 2016.3 Recent figures had the “official” unemployment rate at around 10.1% in August 2017 (17% in 2010 was the highest since 2007).4 According to a Pew Research Center report, more Puerto Ricans have left the island for the U.S. this decade than during the largest recorded numbers during the Great Migration after World War II, citing job-related reasons above all others.5 Immigration to the U.S. has historically been seen as a safety-valve, reducing the social pressure and conflict associated with high unemployment.

A very important statistic is the percentage of Puerto Ricans in the labor force. According to the U.S. Census 2011-2015, only 43% of Puerto Ricans aged 16 and older are in the labor force (compared to the U.S., which is 63.3%). It is difficult to arrive at actual figures of the plight of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico when one considers all the discouraged workers who exist below the official radars of U.S. quantitative statistical methods. Many appear to either manage to scrape by, participate in the underground economy, or move to the United States. For example, the number of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. reached a record 4.9 million in 2012, and since, at least 2006, has exceeded the 3.5 Puerto Ricans on the island.

On his visit to Puerto Rico, Trump said, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.” While this may have been an attempt at humor, it actually reveals the U.S. government’s official policy on Puerto Rico, regardless if a Republican or a Democrat is at the head of the executive office. The idea that economic conditions are self-inflicted is not only consistent with “blaming the victim,” but is also part of the “myth of underdevelopment.”6 The myth of underdevelopment illustrates how imperialist nations enrich themselves through the extraction of resources, enslavement, exploitation of labor, the development of captive markets, and debt domination as a result of ownership and control of industry and trade and then turn around and treat a colony or neo-colony’s actions as the source of its impoverishment.

Puerto Rico has experienced one of the worst hurricanes in its history. Most of the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans remain without electricity, drinking water, food, fuel, vital medicines, and a devastated infrastructure. The Trump administration’s response has been slow and ineffective, leaving Puerto Rico in a dire life and death situation. However, the history of Puerto Rico has been a history of economic crisis that long preceded the hurricane or the well-publicized 72 billion dollar debt owed to Wall Street. We are told that Puerto Rico has mismanaged “its” economy and that it is a “welfare basket case,” leeching off of U.S. tax payers’ money. But what is missing in this “official” U.S. narrative is that Puerto Rico has been the location of wealth development. This wealth development has certainly not been equal. U.S. corporations have received the lion’s share of it along with a Puerto Rican elite that has seen fit to ensure that Puerto Rico’s resources remain in the control of the U.S. and that it remains a captive market for U.S. goods.

The Puerto Rico as a captive market of the U.S. was established by the U.S. Foraker Act of 1900. The Foraker act placed all trade between Puerto Rico and other countries under U.S. taxation and protective tariffs, which protect U.S. products from foreign competition.  As a result, Puerto Ricans are forced to buy all of its imported goods from the U.S., thus becoming a captive market. In addition, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 stipulates that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. flag ships to Puerto Rico.7 As a result, Puerto Ricans pay up to 20% more for goods sold on the island, increasing the profit margins for U.S. produced goods and shipped items.

As long as Puerto Rico (and not just the selected elite) is not in a position to negotiate the terms of its development, trade, and have the capacity to regulate and tax foreign investment (includes the U.S.), Puerto Rico will remain in the clutches of U.S. dependency.  For example, in 1947, Operation Bootstrap, a U.S. driven economic development project meant to industrialize and combat poverty in Puerto Rico by attracting U.S. owned manufacturing companies, with tax exemptions, subsidies to factories, and loan assistance was a godsend to U.S. corporations because of the unlimited pools of low-paid labor and all the profits amassed without the benefit of paying taxes to the island or investing in its development. In order to address the poverty that this program accelerated, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), encouraged Puerto Rican immigration to the U.S. by subsidizing airfare. In addition, other forms of population control was used to combat poverty such as a governmental sponsored sterilization program. Yet, in that period, U.S. corporations continued to take huge profits off the island, while billions in federal welfare and transfer payments come to the Puerto Rican yearly to alleviate poverty.8

In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed Section 936, in the U.S. Tax Code, with the goal of encouraging business investment in Puerto Rico.  While several corporations, primarily pharmaceutical corporations, took advantage of the federal tax exemptions and made millions, Section 936 did not deliver on its promise of jobs or increases of wages because capital-intensive labor requires less employees. Nevertheless, the continued problem was that U.S. corporations did not invest the profits in Puerto Rico; instead most of them accumulated their profits until the end of the tax exemption period (10 years) and then liquidated their profits into other subsidiary companies outside of Puerto Rico.9 In fact, because of the loss of billions of dollars in taxes to the U.S. federal government, Section 936 was phased out of existence in 2006.  Some have pointed to the removal of Section 936 as causal to the current economic crisis, but a careful review of this law reads more like the legal corruption that pervades Washington and corporate interests, and not a viable and sustainable economic policy with Puerto Rican interests in mind.

For many Puerto Ricans, the promise of America did not pan out. Nelson Denis observed:

After one hundred years of citizenship [the Jones Act], the per capita income of Puerto Ricans is roughly $15,200—half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the union. Yet in the last five years alone, the government raised the retirement age, increased worker contributions, and lowered public pensions and benefits. It also hiked the water rates by 60 percent, raised the gasoline and sales taxes (the latter to 11.5 percent), and allowed electricity rates to skyrocket. In 2013–14 alone, 105 different taxes were raised in Puerto Rico.10

The nefarious circumstances that surround the Jones Act of 1917 are clear and illustrate the motives of the United States. According to Johnson, “Congressional hearings in 1916 had indicated that many Puerto Ricans preferred to be Puerto Rican citizens” as opposed to U.S. citizens.11 In the period of World War I, Lewis wrote: “…America felt obliged to prove her liberalism as against imperial Germany…”12 In addition, Cripps argued that with the outbreak of World War I, the U.S. wanted to secure Puerto Ricans more firmly to the U.S. as well as curb the growing discontent toward the United States.13 Lastly, Denis argues that U.S. citizenship wasn’t exactly a gift, because one month later the U.S. declared war on Germany and needed more able bodies for the war effort in World War I.10

Puerto Rico’s elite and political process grew out of colonial context. The political process has historically operated within the sphere of external control and it is within these constraints that Puerto Rico’s political parties operate. The political process provides the island’s elite and their political parties an arena in which to exercise their limited power within the perimeters of U.S. power. For example, Luis Munoz Marin and the PPD came to power in the 1930s during political and economic strife. Munoz Marin was the Roosevelt New Deal administration’s man in Puerto Rico and he and the PPD would serve as an intermediary force between the U.S. and the Puerto Rican people, delivering the “goods,” short circuiting the tension on the island, while elevating their own political and economic interests in keeping the colony afloat.14

The creation of the “commonwealth” in 1952 or what is referred to as the Estado Libre Asociado in Puerto Rico was designed to shield against international criticism of its continued colonial status. This in turn provided the opportunity to manufacture the necessary consent to “legitimize” the political arrangement by providing the appearance of the expressed political will of Puerto Ricans. The creation of commonwealth status was used as a ploy to convince the U.N. that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony. As a result, in 1953, Puerto Rico was removed from the U.N.’s list of non-self-governing territories that required decolonization. This maneuver made the U.S. exempt from submitting annual reports on the country’s social and economic conditions to the U.N. Secretary General. Since 1953, the U.S. has refused any inquiry into Puerto Rico’s political status stating that all Puerto Rican matters are within the purview of the U.S. and it is considered an internal matter. As we will see below, the U.S. colonial relationship with the U.N. is at the core of this matter and cannot be resolved as an internal matter, but requires international attention and intervention in the form of establishing a process for decolonization.

The management of a colony by the use of a U.S. state strategy of elite promotion of the PPD and its employment distribution and social aid provisions failed miserably by the 1960s and the 1970s as the U.S. was hit with an economic crisis and moved more in the direction of neoliberalism amid growing competition from Japan and Western Europe. The period that preceded the crisis was characterized by what Morales Carrion called the “political consensus,” because it involved the PPD’s ability to deliver employment and improvements to the standard of living.15 This crisis also provided opportunity for the New Progressive Party (PNP), a new pro-statehood political party, to emerge.  They won their first governor’s election during political and economic uncertainty in 1968. They attempted to appeal to the poor with such slogans as “Statehood is for the Poor” as they attacked the PPD for being responsible for Puerto Rico’s state of dependency. The PNP program is that as a state, Puerto Ricans would have access to the services, rights, and protections that other U.S. states have. Critics have stated that statehood would bring about the death of a Puerto Rican nation; its unique culture, identity, and whatever autonomy it claims and aspires to possess.

The pro-statehood party has received little to no support in the U.S. Congress and if and when this is to happen it would more than likely occur when Puerto Rico has been depopulated of almost all Puerto Ricans, especially the poor, which is occurring now (as noted above). On the other hand, the PPD’s model as an intermediary force embedded in the New Deal politics of managing marginality has ran its course, because of  the U.S.’s declining global economic position and its increasing reliance on neoliberal policies. It is clear that the U.S. and Puerto Rico do not have mutual interests. It is also clear that the U.S. continues to maintain sovereignty over Puerto Rico and as long as it can maintain a captive market, rent free military bases, an endless pool of labor rendered superfluous due to globalization and its race to the bottom, and bodies to fill the rank-and-file of the war machine, it has no desire to change this fortuitous situation, only the desire to keep a lid on a potential explosive situation.

Puerto Ricans now must confront a grim reality that the U.S. government does not care about them and has not since 1898. This reality is not the result of the Trump administration. After all, the establishment of PROMESA, came under the Obama administration, which announced loudly and forcefully that Puerto Ricans do not have any national sovereignty or rights, because this board, which comprises of Wall Street interests has dictatorial powers, having control over Puerto Rico’s budget, laws, financial plans (allocation), and regulations, and is not accountable to Puerto Ricans.16 It is very important to point out that the U.S. government, no matter the political party at the head of the executive office, has never prioritized a resolution of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. It is also important to understand that political parties in Puerto Rico are not mere puppets of the U.S. or its party duopoly, but are active participants in sustaining their own positions of power by cooperating closely with the U.S.’ Democratic or Republican Parties.

Will Hurricane Maria wash away all illusions about the U.S. in Puerto Rico? The hurricane winds of Maria appear to be blowing the roof right off of the many years of concealment and containment of the fact that Puerto Rico is but a colony of the U.S., with second rate citizenship and as Trump stated, “on an island in the middle of the ocean.”

The last two times in which large segments of the Puerto Rican population became aware that their collective suffering was the byproduct of larger structures and processes and not the result of either individual attributes or some deficiency in their ability to self-govern was in the 1930s, when the Nationalist Party and organized labor mobilized and in the 1960s and 1970s when Puerto Rico was hit with an economic crisis, which propelled mobilizations of labor, students, and the reemergence of the pro-independence movement. In these two historic moments, the U.S. state and the elites on the island had the use of the carrot (a system of rewards in return for compliancy) and the stick (a huge repressive and surveillance apparatus on the island). However, today, there appears to be less and less carrot (the New Deal strategy), but plenty of stick.

The stick can be summed up by examining the repressive and surveillance apparatus on the island. The U.S. military presence on the island has varied according to the U.S. geopolitical strategy at any given time. At its peak, there were 50 military bases with the largest being the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. In the 1980s, these military bases had approximately 10,243 full-time active military and civilian personnel stationed on them.17

The U.S. National Guard, currently maintains 48 armories and are in 30 communities. The Guard in Puerto Rico is estimated at being about 8,000 to 10,000 strong. In addition to the Guard and the unknown military strength of other branches on the island, there are FBI, DEA, CIA, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and private contractors who are not only involved in drug interdiction and counterinsurgency operations in the Caribbean and Latin American, but are active in Puerto Rico.18

This military presence on the island has historically served as a constant reminder and deterrent to resistance: a show of U.S. military strength as compared to Puerto Rican’s military weakness. These forces have been active in putting down rebellion and engaging in counterinsurgency types of operations in the 1930s and 1950s that targeted the Nationalist Party, a pro-independence organization. Also in the 1960-1980 period, the FBI’s COINTELPRO was active in a campaign to disrupt the pro-independence organizational efforts that included labor leaders and students on the island and in the United States. For example, in 1985, 200 FBI agents raided Puerto Rican activists’ houses and businesses throughout the island in an attempt to intimidate supporters of independence while they arrested people alleged to be connected to the Los Macheteros.19

It was discovered in 1987 that the FBI and the local police had “subversive” dossiers on about 75,000 Puerto Ricans deemed to be threats. These dossiers go back to the early days of the U.S. occupation and not only on included members of pro-independence supporters, but also included large sections of the Puerto Rican population.20 These brief examples point to how a movement for national independence has been historically repressed and criminalized; they also reveal the lunacy in the reasoning that Puerto Ricans have somehow expressed their free will under such oppressive conditions.

Will the disasters, natural or otherwise, create the conditions for a people to look beyond the U.S.’ set parameters of thought and alternatives and look at larger political and economic conditions that Puerto Rico finds itself? This is not a case of restructuring or forgiving the debt or allocating more provisions to Puerto Rico, but the case of colonialism.  A cursory study of Puerto Rico’s history illustrates that remedies to the “economic problem” in Puerto Rico have consistently overwhelming benefited the U.S. at the cost of Puerto Ricans.

The Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria on the island and its disparaging views of Puerto Rico may end up being a watershed moment for Puerto Ricans because it reveals the real commitment and position of the U.S. on Puerto Rico.  The effects of Hurricane Maria and the austerity measures (e.g., closed schools and hospitals, and cuts to government employment) may, in fact, begin a major drift towards decolonization as the current reality on the island becomes more and more evident to the common Puerto Rican.

  1. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. 1979 [1977]. Poor People’s Movement. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  2. Ibid., 11-12.
  3. QuickFacts: Puerto Rico. U.S Census Bureau. 2016. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  4. Economy at a Glance: Puerto Rico. Bureau of Labor Statistic, United States Department of Labor, October 13, 2017. Received: October 13, 2017.
  5. See Cohn, D’Vera, Patten, Eileen, and Lopez, Mark Hugo. 2014. “Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland.” Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  6. See Michael Parenti. 1995. Against Empire. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
  7. See Nelson Denis. 2017. “After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It.” The Nation, March 2, 2017.  Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  8. See Juan Gonzalez. 2000. Harvest of Empire. New York, NY: Penguin Books, p. 251.
  9. James L Dietz. 1986. Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist and Capitalist Development. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 301.
  10. Nelson Denis. 2017. “After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It.” The Nation, March 2, 2017. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  11. Roberta Ann, Johnson. 1980. Puerto Rico: Commonwealth or Colony? New York, NY: Praeger, p. 17.
  12. Gordon K. Lewis. 1963. Puerto Rico: Freedom and Power in the Caribbean. New York, NY: Haper Torchbooks, p. 3.
  13. L. L. Cripps. 1982. Human Rights in a United States Colony. Cambridge, MA.: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc., p. 23.
  14. Vince Montes. 2003. Cycles of Protest: Contentious Puerto Rican Collective Action, 1960s-1980s. Unpublished dissertation, New School for Social Research.
  15. Arturo Morales Carrion. 1983. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 143.
  16. Patricia Guadalupe. 2016. “Here’s How PROMESA Aims to Tackle Puerto Rico’s Debt.” ABC News, June 30. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  17. Humberto Garcia Munoz. 1993. “U.S. Military Installations in Puerto Rico: Controlling the Caribbean.” Pp. 53-66 in Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Puerto Rico, edited by Edwin Melendez, and Edgardo Melendez. Boston, Mass.: South End Press, p. 57.
  18. Vince Montes. 2009. “The Web Approach to the State Strategy in Puerto Rico.” Pp. 99-118 in Bureaucratic Culture and Escalating Problems: Advancing the Sociological Imagination, edited by D. Knottnerus and B. Phillips. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
  19. Ronald Fernandez. 1996. The Disenchanted Island: Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century. Westpoint, CT: Praeger Publishers, p. 246-247.
  20. Ramon Bosque-Perez. 2005. “Political Persecution against Puerto Rican Anti-Colonial Activities in the 20th Century.” Pp. 13-48 in Puerto Rico under Colonial Rule, edited by Ramon Bosque-Perez and Jose Javier Colon-Morera. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, p. 24.