Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the Occasion of Saddam Hussein's Execution

Juan Cole writes about the "Top Ten Ways the US Enabled Saddam Hussein". An excerpt:

Saddam Hussain was one of the 20th century's most notorious tyrants, though the death toll he racked up is probably exaggerated by his critics. The reality was bad enough.

The tendency to treat Saddam and Iraq in a historical vacuum, and in isolation from the superpowers, however, has hidden from Americans their own culpability in the horror show that has been Iraq for the past few decades. Initially, the US used the Baath Party as a nationalist foil to the Communists. Then Washington used it against Iran. The welfare of Iraqis themselves appears to have been on no one's mind, either in Washington or in Baghdad.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Immigration War: Attacking the Poor, Supporting Their Exploiters

Bill Conroy at Narco News has a good analysis of the recent raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the former INS) division of the Department of Homeland Security in the Swift company meat packing plants.

The owners of Swift are very connected to the Bush administration and are not being charged with any violations of labor law or immigration law. Meanwhile, many of the undocumented immigrants arrested were merely taken across state lines and released. It seems to have been mostly a PR stunt.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mexican Federal Troops Operating in Calderón's Home State of Michoacán

In international news, while Mexican Federal Police are still bogged down in the rebelious state of Oaxaca, (where residents are fighting for the resignation of the repudiated governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz), new president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (himself suffering from challenges to his presidency and its legitimacy) has sent thousands of federal troops to the Pacific state of Michoacan to take over areas reportedly under the control of violent drug trafficking gangs. It was in Michoacan that a gang called "la familia" entered a crowded bar and threw five severed heads on the dance floor along with a poorly written letter that stated that "the family does not kill women nor innocents. The family only kill those that need to be killed." La Familia is also said to be responsible for a recent prison uprising.

The operation is said to have resulted in 56 detained, compared to the 160 detained after a recent nonviolent protest in Oaxaca.

After the operation in Michoacan, Calderon's home state, officials are saying the army will be sent to Guerrero (where Acapulco is located), Nuevo Leon (Monterrey), Tamaulipas, and Sinaloa.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Revolutionary Childcare

RJ, the Zapagringo, writes about Revolutionary Childcare with the New York organization Regeneración. I have been working on a similar project that is kind of stalled with United Workers Association.

The Rich Ejecting the Poor: Gentrification in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun is currently running a three-part series about "Baltimore's arcane system of ground rents ... a vestige of colonial[ism]" in Maryland. Parts 1 and 2 of On Shaky Ground have already been published, and detail how rising property values in Baltimore have lead a handful of wealthy investors, lawyers and real estate agents to seize houses from their owners for debts as little as $84. Since the arcane laws allow ground rent holders to add $1,500 in legal fees (there was no cap on the fees before 2003) when they sue home owners in "ejectment" proceedings, homeowners can be faced in court with an unpayable fine twenty times more then they originally owed in unpaid ground rent payments. If the homeowner does not pay the additional fees and unpaid ground rent, they can lose their homes in the legal proceedings. Over 500 homeowners have lost their properties in Baltimore in recent years from such lawsuits.

The Sun pieces recognize that these proceedings are part of a "gentrifying" process in Baltimore, and mention that many of these same ground-rent-holding entities also buy up tax liens and sue property owners for their properties over unpaid taxes. A previous set of articles on homeless teenagers in Baltimore City public schools included the case of a young Gary Sells who was made homeless when his house was confiscated over hundreds of dollars in unpaid taxes that he was not aware of. He found out when uniformed officials came to the door of the house his family had owned for over 30 years to tell the residents that they were now trespassing on what had been their family's home.

While legal, these procedures by which wealthy professionals take the homes out from under poor or working families by way of legalistic con games and anachronistic laws is clearly immoral. The lawyers and real estate developers interviewed by the Sun who exploit the ground rents for a living argued that they were just making an honest living. One said "you can make a lot of money doing this, but you have to be ruthless." Another explained that the process was justified, and the only reform needed was a raise in the amount of fees that could be tacked on to unpaid ground rent at ejectment proceedings.

The problem is that the people seizing poor peoples' homes over small sums of unpaid archaic ground rent are right. What they are doing is perfectly ethical within the logic of capitalism "in a business where somebody else has to lose in order for you to gain."

Indeed, this is the most nefarious side of that double-edged sword called gentrification. While I have long argued that the process should be easier for people looking for housing to seize properties from negligent landlords who allow their properties to crumble without paying any upkeep or taxes, it is evil to use that logic to make families homeless. Indeed, this process of kicking out marginalized people, which in this town that usually means poor or working-class black people, in neighborhoods like Patterson Park that have become desirable to wealthier (and whiter) people is the inverse of the Blockbusting phenomenon of the 1950's and 1960's. In those days, the spectre of invading black families was used to scare white families into selling their houses below market value to exploitative real estate firms. Due to the dual housing market at the time, those real estate firms could sell the homes to black families at prices above the previous market value that white families had paid for the homes.

The fact that this process works just as well in reverse shows that the problem neither is nor was the white families or the black families moving from one area to another. Rather, speculative capitalists exploit the real estate market in any way possible to make what one of the ground rent owners in the Sun story calls "windfall profits." Like the brothers said on that Grand Master Flash song "The Message" , "Its all about the money, ain't a damn thing funny." The legal and cultural establishment of the United States values greed and views community solidarity with suspicion if not outright contempt.

The third installment of the Sun piece is supposed to suggests reforms to the ground rent system to prevent its abuse. But there are other methods in addition to legislative changes that people could use to defend themselves. First of all, if homeowners had legal resources (like pro-bono laywers) they could successfully challenge much of the home seizure attempts with legal arguments that the ground rent owner never honestly tried to collect the rent before going to court. More importantnly, the community could organize to defend the homes of families who face eviction.

During the great depression whole communities would confront sheriffs executing an eviction proceeding, either refusing to let him pass or taking the personal items of the evicted from the street in front of the house back inside through a back door. Unfortunately the high rates of addiction and incarceration in the community, the persistent intra-community violence and the distrust that this violence sows among neighbors make me think that the legislative route may be easier. Though without the organizational capacity to follow-up on the effects of any reforms, such changes may be only temporarily effective.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What Happens When Castro Dies?

Much was made of Fidel Castro's 80th birthday this past week, which Fidel was too ill to attend. Recent pictures of Fidel from the hospital show a gaunt, weak man who appears to be fatally afflicted by the still unidentified intestinal condition.

The question of what happens in Cuba after Fidel's death has long been a question. While Fidel's brother Raul has been acting Commander in Chief (supposedly on a temporary basis) since Fidel fell ill, it seems likely that he will be made dictator for life. Roig has already commented on this scenario years ago in a piece titled "Democracy For Cuba."

Of course, the great question Americans have about Cuba is “what is going to happen to Cuba when Castro dies.” While there is still hope that Castro’s government will offer a clear plan of transition, this has not yet happened. Most Cubans seem to think that a military regime will then be headed by Fidel’s brother Raul Castro, currently the Minister of the Interior. This position is in some ways equivalent to the U.S. position of Director of Intelligence that is held by John Negroponte as it oversees the Cuban equivalents of the CIA and FBI. Raul does not command respect or admiration as Fidel does, and I got the sense that Cubans saw him much as they see George W. Bush (a slow, inarticulate individual with a “alcoholic personality” from a politically connected family).

At the same time the United States will step up the intensity of its war of attrition against Cuba has happened from 1992-1996 after the fall of the Soviet Union. During this “special period” Cubans came close to dying in the streets of hunger for the first time since 1960 and, as life became more desperate and uncertain, the levels of violence and crime escalated across the island.

I hope that the destruction of Iraqi society has made clear that true democracy cannot be brought by warfare. We can only free others from injustice if we support them in their own struggles, learning from their lead.

If anyone really wants to bring democracy to Cuba, I encourage him/her to go to the island, learn Spanish, make friends, ask critical questions, and offer concrete support (in private Cubans will often go on talking about such things as much as you let them). Furthermore, it is important for Americans to realize that Cuban democracy will not be a product of Washington or Miami politics. It must spring from the will and direction of the Cuban people. In any case, while the U.S. government attempts to scare Americans away, there are still legal opportunities to travel to the island that can be found in a search of the internet. Others decide to go without permission, which can still be done safely if done carefully. Instead of sending smart bombs, we can send smart students, and figure out a better future than the perpetual warfare now being offered.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

APPO Forced into Hiding, Flavio Sosa Arrested in Mexico City

Flavio Sosa, outspoken leader of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) has been arrested in Mexico City after a news conference. There had long been a warrent for his arrest (though the warrent is the generalized pre-emptive type the Mexican government uses to mass arrest organizers of protest movements). I met Sosa in Mexico City a day before rounds of negotiations were to begin with the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación), where Sosa let it be known that a temporary leave of absence by the repudiated Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz would probably be enough to bring the barricades in Oaxaca down.

At that time, the high-profile negotiations with the federal government and the de facto control of Oaxaca by APPO affiliated protesters made an arrest of Sosa too risky. Now that Calderón is in office, the iron fist appears to be falling on APPO and the Oaxacan protesters.

According to Juan Trujillo of Narconews (whose article I have translated into English for Narconews), Sosa is being transferred to a high security facility in the state of Mexico (Altiplano, also known as La Palma) where Atenco prisoners are still held.

Meanwhile, Florentino Lopez, APPO spokesperson, announced from hiding that a national and international series of protests will be launched this week from Mexico City to demand the release of APPO members detained this past week.

This past week also saw an statement announcing continued resistance from the protesters by State Council of the Popular Peoples' Assembly of Oaxaca, a broader organization started by the APPO to geographically and inclusively organize the protest movement to form a new state consitutional convention.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Radio Universidad Falls Silent, Brad Will's Killer's go Free, and Calderón Inaugurates His Presidency

Today, December 1, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, of the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, or PAN for its Spanish initials) takes power as President of the United States of Mexico after an election victory that many see as fraudulent.  

The San Lazaro legislative Palace, the home of the Mexican national congress, had become a strange sort of battle ground as legislators of the PAN and of the center-left Party of Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) physically fought to control the podium.  Expecting a coordinated action designed to prevent the inauguration of Calderon in San Lazaro, as the PRD had done to prevent President Fox from giving his state of the union address (informe) in September, the PAN delegation pre-emptively seized the stage November 28th.  Fighting off PRD delegates, the PAN legislators even sleeped on the floor of congress in order to hold the stage and allow Calderon to be sworn in.

Calderon was indeed sworn in today.  A private ceremony was held, without prior announcement at midnight in the Presidential Palace.  This unprecendented secretive nighttime inauguration was followed this morning at 9:48 in San Lazaro, as reported by La Jornada.  In both cases, President Vicente Fox turned over power to Felipe Calderon, but not before new physical altercations between PAN and PRD legislators, as well as catcalls and chants desinged to interrupt the ceremony.  In any case, Felipe Calderon is now the official president of Mexico.

Radio Universidad Falls Silent

All of this noise in Mexico City drowned out the important news coming out of Oaxaca.  In addition to the "toma de protesta" (inauguration) of Calderon and the return of The Other Campaign to Mexico City, December 1 was supposed to be a key moment in the popular uprising in the southern state of Oaxaca.

For months a common rallying cry of the Oaxacan people was "si Ulises no se va, Calderón caerá," (If Gov. Ulises doesn't go, Calderon will fall") connecting the demand that the repudiated Oaxacan governor resigned with a threat to nationalize the state's uprising against the (perhaps fraudulently) elected president.

Nevertheless, this past week has seen a de-escalation of the Oaxacan peoples' movement.  Last weekend, state and federal police (as well as vigilantes) attacked a protest of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca as they surrounded a Federal Preventative Police (PFP) encampment in the Oaxacan city center for a "48 hour nonviolent seige" of the PFP.  The attack triggered a five hour battle and city-wide riot.  Some 160 people were arrested, many of them randomly from the site of the police attack.  Others were "disappeared," though initial reports of dead protesters have not been confirmed.  For days after the attack, protesters remained hidden in homes and offices, afraid to walk through the streets to return to their own homes and families.  Fourteen such people were hiding out in the office of Nueva Izquierda when it was shot up and burned to the ground.  Thirteen managed to escape, and one is considered "disappeared."  I wrote about this several days ago, detailing as much as possible.  Since then many other important stories have come out.

John Gibler writes about a human rights observer from Mexico City who was arrested randomly, and has had ample opportunity to observe human rights abuses in police custody.  Luis Hernandez Navarro suggested that this attack marked "the end of tolerance" for the protest, and connected the violent repression with the inauguration of Calderon.

Furthermore, this attack at the rank and file of the protest, instead of against its leadership, seems to have severely weakened the APPO.  The attack of a peaceful march, the arrest of so many people, their transfer to far away states where family cannot see them, and the torture employed by the captors seems to have been the first serious blow to the movement's motivation.

On October 29, Radio Universidad fell silent. The administrators of the radio broadcasting station turned it over to the university where it is located. The decision was made after the barricade of Cinco Señores, at the doorstep of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca, was left unguarded.  Federal and state police were able to simply drive up and dismantle the same barricade where, at the beginning of November, an attempt to do the same caused an epic six hour battle in which two armored police trucks were torched, and the PFP eventually retreated.

After the fall of the last barricade around the university, the the administrator's of the radio station, also called Radio Planton and Radio APPO, decided to turn it over to university officials so that federal police would not invade the campus as they had been threatening to do.  The defense of this station had been the primary goal of the Oaxacan resistance ever since the PFP entered Oaxaca on October 27th.  International listerners can still hear Radio APPO's silence over the internet.

Flavio Sosa, member of Nueva Izquierda and a leader of the APPO, says that the government is trying to crush the movment with a "dirty war."  Sosa's brother is currently being held by the PFP.  It remains to be seen if this is a strategic retreat on the side of the Oaxacan protesters, but it makes them look week.  Radio Universidad made calls for reinforcements over the air, when people did not show up ready to defend the station, as they had previously, they decided to avoid a fight they could not win.  Felipe Calderon is promising to dialogue with any one who is interested in dialogue (which APPO have repeatedly called for since the uprising began this summer).   With foreign media largely ignoring it, the left wing of the Mexican media relegating it from the front page, and Radio Universidad falling silent- will any body ear Calderón's iron fist fall on Oaxaca?

Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, as always, has information on Calderon's inauguration and the situation in Oaxaca.  John Gibler: the unprecendented private inauguration ceremony "a sign of the weakness of this presidency."

Government Murders Bradley Will with Impunity

While some 160 Oaxacan protesters were arrested without warrents or even charges, news comes that the two murderers of New York Indymedia videographer who had been arrested have been released.  The killers, cheif of security for Santa Lucía del Camino ("regidor" also called a city council member by some media), Abel Santiago Zárate, and Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello, an official under his command with the Municipal police, were caught on film and publicly identified by newspapers such as El Milenio and El Universal.  They were not sought by authorities for a week, until pressure from news reports made their arrests unavoidable.  The same authorities responsible for murder and torture of protesters in support of Gov. Ulises Ruiz seem to be allowing two of their own to kill with impunity.  WIll anyone notice?


Simon Fitzgerald recently returned from Mexico where he reported on The Other Campaign and translated Spanish-language articles into English for Narconews. He also runs the web log La Luchita.