Category Archives: Capitalism

Two important online books

Chance recently landed me on the crimethinc.com anarchist website, where I found two important books (click on “Books”), available for free online in PDF format. The first, No Wall They Can Build: A Guide to Borders and Migration Across North America, scrutinizes the borders that control movement on the continent. “Drawing on nearly a decade of solidarity work in the desert between Mexico and Arizona, the authors uncover the real goals and costs of US border policy, who benefits from it, and what it will take to change it.” The second, From Democracy to Freedom: The Difference Between Government and Self-Determination, makes the case for anarchy (voluntarism and mutual aid) against any form of direct democracy, which will only reproduce the oppressive state. I highly recommend both, lengthy and dense, but key books for your attention.

Here’s a quote I just found in From Democracy to Freedom that I especially liked: “It’s no coincidence that today’s revolutionary movements lack visions of other worlds, or that a great part of capitalist production supplants imagination among its consumers, offering imaginaries that become more elaborate every day – more visually stimulating and more interactive, so that people no longer have to imagine anything for themselves because a thousand worlds and fantasies already come prepackaged. All the old fantasies that used to set us dreaming have now been fixed in Hollywood productions, with convincing actors, fully depicted terrains, and emotive soundtracks. Nothing is left for us to recreate, only to consume. In the current marketplace of ideas, it seems that the only imaginaries that describe our future are apocalypses or the science fiction colonization of outer space. The latter is the final frontier for capitalist expansion now that this planet is getting used up, and the former is the only alternative capitalism is willing to concede outside its dominion. The revolutionaries of a hundred years ago continuously dreamed and schemed of a world without the State and without capitalism. Some of them made the mistake of turning their dreams into blueprints, dogmatic guidelines that in practice functioned as yardsticks by which to measure deviance. But today we face a much greater problem: the absence of revolutionary imaginaries and the near total atrophy of the imagination in ourselves and in the rest of society. The imagination is the most revolutionary organ in our collective social body, because it’s the only one capable of creating new worlds, of traveling outside capitalism and state authority, of enabling us to surpass the limits of insurrection that have lately become so evident.

I know very few people who can imagine what anarchy might look like, and uncertainty isn’t the problem. Uncertainty is one of the fundamentals of chaotic organization, and only the authoritarian neurosis of states obliges us to impose certainty on an ever-shifting reality. The problem, rather, is that our lack of imagination has disconnected us from the world. A vital part of ourselves is no longer there, as it used to be, on the cusp of the horizon, on the threshold between dark and light, discerning, modulating, and greeting each new element coming into our lives. Our prospects, however, aren’t irremediably bleak. Imagination can always be renewed and reinvigorated, though we must emphasize the radical importance of this work if people are once more to create, share, and discuss new possible worlds or profound transformations of this one.”

They expect us to forget

The major news media and the government propaganda machine (perhaps one entity) expect us to forget what’s gone before, as evidenced by what I just heard on NPR about the Gulf War. Giving yet more commentary about President George H.W. Bush, whose costly, taxpayer-funded state funeral is today, they said the Gulf War showed Saddam Hussein that he “couldn’t just simply invade his neighbor state, Kuwait.” And who’s teaching Saddam this lesson? George Bush, who 11 years before invaded his neighbor state of Panama to topple the regime of Manuel Noriega. We forget these things, because most of us never understand them in the first place. We just listen to the daily news – a series of unanalyzed factoids, unrelated to what’s gone before.

State funerals, which we taxpayers pay for, are also part of propaganda. Here’s what Shihoko Goto, senior business analyst for UPI, said about Ronald Reagan’s funeral in June 2004: “Since Abraham Lincoln, no president has gone without the nation mourning at length…Even disgraced president Richard Nixon was remembered fondly when Bill Clinton closed the government in his honor in 1994. It’s not too high a price to pay, as the presidency is the closest thing the United States has to royalty and the pageantry that goes with it…Perhaps the cost of Reagan’s funeral was a small price to pay to bring the nation together.” Brought together in ignorance, by lies.

At least I was able to find one news outlet, Democracy Now!, that reported accurately and extensively on Bush’s invasion of Panama yesterday. Here’s my edited version – still long, but worth reading through for the way it ties the whole ball of wax together.

AMY GOODMAN: The death of George H.W. Bush has dominated the U.S. news for days, but little attention has been paid to the defining event of Bush’s first year in office: the invasion of Panama. On December 19, 1989, Bush Sr. sent tens of thousands of troops into Panama, ostensibly to execute an arrest warrant against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. General Noriega was once a close ally to Washington, on the CIA payroll, but in a nationally televised address, Bush claimed the invasion was needed to defend democracy in Panama. During the attack, the U.S. unleashed a force of 24,000 troops equipped with highly sophisticated weaponry and aircraft against a country with an army smaller than the New York City Police Department. An estimated 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack.

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations to Panama over what was widely seen as an illegal invasion. For more on the lasting impact of the invasion, we’re joined by Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University. His latest piece for The Nationis “George H.W. Bush: Icon of the WASP Establishment and of Brutal US Repression in the Third World.” Professor Grandin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Tell us about the Panama invasion.

GREG GRANDIN: It was consequential in that it was the first major deployment of U.S. troops since Vietnam War and it was done in a spectacular fashion. Calculated to overturn what Bush called the Vietnam syndrome, it set the stage for all the wars to come – the legal doctrine, the shock and awe, and the containment of the media.

JG: There was a big uproar among the press because initially the government wasn’t allowing any coverage. Finally, on the second day they agreed to send one plane of reporters. I participated in that flight, reporting for the Daily News. We were held by the military on one of the military bases, then sent out in a military bus under military escort. A few of us broke free and went out on our own, but most of the press treated this illegal invasion as a liberation effort.

GG: Yes. Part of overcoming the Vietnam syndrome was figuring out how to control the press. There was an analysis that the press had gone off reservation in Vietnam, that they’d developed independent sources, that they weren’t listening to the Pentagon, and that they were critically analyzing the war. The press had to be re-established as a pillar of the national security state, whether as cheerleaders or asuncritical commentators.

Noriega had been our man in Panama. He was a key asset in Iran-Contra, and the broad policy of cultivating anti-communist allies within the region, whether they be drug runners or dictators. In 1986, however, Sy Hersh published a story in the New York Timesthat detailed Noriega’s involvement in narcotrafficking. There were also movements for more democracy in Panama that had been repressed, and domestic politics within the United States was pressing the White House to do something. So, the democracy promotion justification overtook anti-drug trafficking, and Bush appeared on TV saying that’s the reason we’re invading Panama.

JG: I’d like to play a clip from the 1992 award-winning documentary “The Panama Deception,” in which community leader Rafael Olivardia and investigative journalist Robert Knight talk about U.S. military atrocities in Panama.

RAFAEL OLIVARDIA: [translated] There were many Panamanian troops at the Balboa concentration camp. They were sitting on the grass with their hands and feet tied with plastic bands. I, along with many other people from El Chorrillo, witnessed their execution. Eight of the soldiers at the entrance were executed by U.S. troops.

ROBERT KNIGHT: A Spanish news photographer, who in the early moments was able to get a picture of their bodies lined up in the morgue, was also shot by an American soldier. What happened in Panama is a hidden horror. Many of the bodies were bulldozed into piles and immolated in the slums where they were collected. Other bodies were left in garbage chutes in poor projects in which they died from artillery fire. Others were said to have been pushed into the ocean.

AG: Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations to Panama over what was widely seen as an illegal invasion. We’re joined now by international human rights attorney José Luis Morín, who’s been working since 1990 to secure reparations for Panama. He’s a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and chairperson of the Latin American and the [Latina/o] Studies Department there.

JG: It’s taken almost 30 years for a judgment on what happened in Panama to come out from an international body. Can you talk about that, why it took so long to be able to get this?

JLM: Well, when you’re going against the most powerful country in the world, there’s going to be pushback. And the United States, at every stage of this case, attempted to claim that the Inter-American Commission didn’t have the competency, and that we hadn’t exhausted all remedies, as required under international law and the procedures of the commission. At every stage, the United States has continued to deny its responsibility.

AG: Talk about the community, the neighborhood, that was hit the hardest. We’re talking a bomb every few minutes, massive bombing of Chorrillo.

JLM: El Chorrillo is a poor neighborhood in Panama City. And it’s also the site of the Comandancía, the headquarters of the military. The United States claimed it was doing a surgical strike, but a whole neighborhood was put up in flames and destroyed – civilians targeted indiscriminately. That’s what the commission found. The United States wasn’t taking the precautions; it was acting in a reckless and arbitrary way in trying to meet its military objectives. And under international law, that’s prohibited.

JG: Panama also became the place where the United States tested some of its newest weaponry. Wasn’t the B-1, the stealth bomber, first used in combat there?

JLM: That’s correct. It was also the first time the Humvee was used, as a replacement for the military jeep. There was all sorts of ways in which the population was being intimidated as part of this process. And because so many of these neighborhoods were the poorest, were the places where, you know, black and brown Panamanians lived, they could be ignored, and marginalized.

AG: Let’s go back to “The Panama Deception.”

NARRATOR: The Pentagon used Panama as a testing ground for newly developed high-tech weapons, such as the stealth fighter, the Apache attack helicopter and laser-guided missiles. There are also reports, that can’t be explained, indicating the use of experimental and unknown weaponry.

CECILIO SIMON: [translated] We have testimony about combatants who died literally melted with their guns as a result of a laser. We know of automobiles that were cut in half by these lasers, of atrocities committed by weapons that fire poison darts which produce massive bleeding.

AG: José Luis Morín, tell us who José Isabel Salas Galindo is, the named person in the suit.

JLM: Salas’s case was compelling, because not only did he suffer injuries, but his wife, Dionisia, who was at home at the time in a 15-story building that was struck by artillery fire. Her body was destroyed in ways that were just indescribable. Her remains, scattered in the kitchen, had to be shoveled into a body bag.

GG: Bush had a long history of violence in the Third World, starting back from his days in west Texas with the Zapata Oil Company. In 1976, he presided over the height of Operation Condor, which organized and coordinated national death squads in Latin America. The single largest run of bombings and executions carried out by Condor happened while Bush was the head of the CIA.

AG: What about his role in Iran-Contra? And explain what that was for younger people.

GG: Iran-Contra was a hydra-headed scandal that involved selling high-tech weaponry to Iran, and diverting the profits to support the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua, both in violation of U.S. law. It supported the worst kind of death squads, assassins, and fascists in Central America throughout the 1980s. Bush was deeply involved in that as vice president and coming out of his work with the CIA, so my point with regard the bleeding of Panama is that Bush had a long history of violence in the Third World, which obviously continued with the first Gulf War.

JG: And a key part of Iran-Contra is  that as he left the presidency, Bush pardoned all the people involved with it.

GG: Yes. That completed the cover-up of Iran-Contra, creating a precedent for current politics in terms of the limitlessness of presidential power to sweep scandals that they’re involved in under the rug.

AG: President Bush defended his decision to issue the pardons by saying, “First, the common denominator for their motivation – whether their actions were right or wrong – was patriotism. Second, they didn’t profit or seek to profit from their conduct. Third, each has a record of long and distinguished service to this country.”

GG: And the scandal went down the memory hole. Iran-Contra was consequential in that it brought together a lot of the different coalitions that made up the Reagan administration – the evangelical right, the neoconservatives, the militarists, and anti-communists. They gave them Central America to run wild with, funding the anti-communist insurgencies seeking to overthrow the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.

AG: Michael Isikoff wrote in 1991, “The Medellin cartel, once branded by U.S. officials as the world’s most violent and powerful drug-trafficking organization, made a $10 million contribution to the U.S.-backed contra guerrillas fighting during the 1980s to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, a former cartel leader testified today.”

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah. I think they routed that through Manuel Noriega. So it brought together all of the worst elements. But the larger point is that it was all part of overcoming the Vietnam syndrome, about the executive branch figuring out how to reassert and project military power, free from democratic oversight.

AG: And the main operation was run through Vice President George H.W. Bush’s office?

GG: And Oliver North.

JG: Even though Bush was only the director of the CIA for a year, he’d had a long-running relationship with it?

GG: His father, Prescott Bush, before he was a senator, was in the OSS, the CIA precursor, during World War II.  He went to Yale and was a member of its secret Skull and Bones society, like every major player in the Bay of Pigs operation. The CIA was Skull and Bones writ large, with a multi-million-dollar budget. It wasn’t a conspiracy – just a close relationship between the kind of WASP East Coast establishment that the Bush family represented and the intelligence community. George H.W. Bush represented its radicalization after the Cuban revolution, in Texas, and then Iran-Contra. So, there’s a through line through Bush’s life, which is being completely ignored in all of the obituaries and remembrances of him. And that through line is the easy resort to violence in the Third World.

JG: And you note in your piece for The Nation that it wasn’t just Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, who was a senator, but even his grandparents.

GG: Yes. He came from a family that occupied the highest echelons of Episcopalian capitalism in its most expansive period, when finance, industry and energy extraction and militarism were interlocking and fusing together. His move from New England to West Texas represents the broader shift of American capitalism from the East Coast to this new center of gravity, more ideological and hostile, which becomes the basis of the new right, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and even a lot of the forces that back Trump.

AG: George H.W. Bush was the only president in U.S. history to serve as CIA director, a role that would come to define his career and politics. He once described the intelligence agency as “part of my heartbeat.” He was at the helm of the CIA from January 1976 to January 1977. We speak now with Ariel Dorfman, best-selling author and activist, who served as an adviser to Chilean President Salvador Allende’s in 1973. He went into exile soon after the U.S.-backed coup in Chile that killed Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power. His new piece for The Guardianis “George HW Bush thought the world belonged to his family. How wrong he was.” Ariel, as you watch the reporting on George H.W. Bush, can you talk about the corporate media’s assessment of him, and your experience of him?

AD: I have no doubt that he was decent and civil to many people. Certainly he was much better than what we’ve got now. But there was that sense of “The world is mine. I do with it what I want. I’ll squeeze Panama like I squeeze this. I’ll squeeze Chile like I’ll squeeze this.” The irony of it all is that his son went on to destroy the world with the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, and then with the destruction of the U.S. economy. And that ended up softening my image of the elder Bush, because I said to myself, “Well, at least he’s not his son.” And then, when Trump came along, we said, “At least he’s not Trump.” And, of course, Bush did some things that were worthy of praise. He did the Americans with Disabilities Act, and he lowered the threat of nuclear war. But basically, we should remember the terrible pain he wrought. He’s not really dead. He’s alive in the sense that so many of his victims are alive, including myself and many other people.

GG: The rot that Bush represented delivered us to Trump. There’s a tendency to kind of posit these two people as opposites, but in some ways, they’re mirror images of each other. You go back to the Bush family, the two grandfathers embedded in Brown Brothers Harriman. Their economic deals with foreign countries, including Russia and Nazi Germany, were just as sketchy and unaccountable and corrupting as what Trump is accused of. There might have been a moment of reform that makes Trump seem less acceptable, but basically there’s a continuation. And certainly, the catastrophe that Iraq war that his son delivered onto us, has laid the groundwork for the complete debasement of American politics that Trump represents. So it’s not a question of this or that, you know, comparing these two things as if they’re separate, but understanding how this led to that, how Bush led to Trump.

 

 

 

Which of the dead should we respect?

Uncritically praising and fondly remembering a famous person when they die, as is being done now in all the mainstream media after the death of former president George H.W. Bush and was done recently when Senator John McCain died, is an insidious form of national propaganda. I’m sure it’s done in the name of “respect for the dead,” but isn’t respecting the nameless folks whose deaths were caused by these powerful men more important? It is to me, though I realize that as an anti-war far-leftist, I probably represent a small minority. Still, I think we all could stand to be more thoughtful about our history.

Bush was undoubtedly a “good person” as an individual, but in public life he was a privileged millionaire Republican, who represented the interests of other members of the corporate elite and continued and initiated destructive US foreign policies, which try to control the world for that elite’s benefit. During his year as CIA director under President Ford (1976-77), for example, he actively supported the murderous and repressive Operation Condor operations of right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America.

Operation Condor, as noted in Wikipedia, was “a US–backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and the assassination of opponents, officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. The program, nominally intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas, was created to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments’ neoliberal economic policies, which sought to reverse the economic policies of the previous era. Officially, the targets were armed revolutionary groups, but the governments broadened their attacks against all kinds of political opponents and their families. The Argentine ‘Dirty War,’ part of this phenomenon, resulted in approximately 30,000 being kidnapped, tortured, and killed. All in all, the dictatorships and their intelligence services were responsible for tens of thousands of killed and missing people in the period between 1975 and 1985. Victims included dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, and intellectuals.”

Bush, Sr. didn’t initiate US cooperation with and aid to Operation Condor – that was the arch-war-criminal Henry Kissinger – but he continued it with no apparent qualms. Wikipedia says “the United States provided key organizational, financial and technical assistance to the operation into the 1980s, sponsoring and collaborating with intelligence organizations in Condor countries. Evidence shows that it was aware of the relevant coups and planning of human rights violations before they occurred and did not step in to prevent them.”

As president, Bush was responsible for the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991). Both of these military actions, in the American backyard of Central America and the oil-rich Middle East – key areas of US control – were initiated to remove former US puppets becoming too independent/no longer serving their purpose: Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein. Noriega ended up in prison and the US was able to install a new puppet in Panama, but Saddam Hussein wasn’t ousted until Bush’s son, George W., launched a new and much more costly military action, the 2003-2011 Iraq War.

What was the cost of the Panama invasion? Wikipediasays that “the US reported 23 servicemen killed and 324 wounded, with Panamanian casualties estimated around 450. Described as a surgical maneuver, the action led to estimates of civilian death from 200 to 4,000 during the two weeks of armed activities. The United Nations put the Panamanian civilian death toll at 500, the United States gave a figure of 202 civilians killed, and former US attorney general Ramsey Clark estimated 4,000 deaths. The number of US civilians (and their dependents) working for the Panama Canal Commission and the US military, who were killed by Panamanian Defense Forces, has never been fully disclosed.

On December 29th, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a ‘flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of’ Panama. A similar resolution in the Security Council was vetoed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

The urban population, many living below the poverty level, was greatly affected by the 1989 intervention. As pointed out in 1995 by a UN Technical Assistance Mission to Panama, the bombardments during the invasion displaced 20,000 people. The economic damage caused by the intervention has been estimated between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars.”

How about the Gulf War (Desert Shield and Desert Storm)? According to Wikipedia, “the increased importance of air attacks from both coalition warplanes and cruise missiles led to controversy over the number of civilian deaths caused during Desert Storm’s initial stages. Within Desert Storm’s first 24 hours, more than 1,000 sorties were flown, many against targets in Baghdad. The city was the target of heavy bombing, as it was the seat of power for Saddam and the Iraqi forces’ command and control. This ultimately led to civilian casualties. In one noted incident, two USAF stealth planes bombed a bunker in Amiriyah, causing the deaths of 408 Iraqi civilians who were in the shelter.

The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign. According to a Project on Defense Alternatives study, 3,664 Iraqi civilians were killed in the conflict. A Harvard University study predicted tens of thousands of additional Iraqi civilians deaths by the end of 1991 due to the ‘public health catastrophe’ caused by the destruction of the country’s electrical generating capacity. ‘Without electricity, hospitals cannot function, perishable medicines spoil, water cannot be purified, and raw sewage cannot be processed,” the report said. The US government refused to release its own study of the effects of the Iraqi public health crisis.

An investigation by Beth Osborne Daponte estimated total civilian fatalities at about 3,500 from bombing, and some 100,000 from the war’s other effects. Daponte later raised her estimate of the number of Iraqi deaths caused directly and indirectly by the Gulf War to just over 200,000.

A United Nations report in March 1991 described the effect on Iraq of the US-led bombing campaign as ‘near apocalyptic,’ bringing Iraq back to the ‘pre-industrial age.’

The exact number of Iraqi combat casualties is unknown, but is believed to have been heavy. Some estimate that Iraq sustained between 20,000 and 35,000 fatalities. A report commissioned by the US Air Force estimated 10,000–12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign, and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war.

The US Department of Defense reports that US forces suffered 148 battle-related deaths (35 from friendly fire). A further 145 Americans died in non-combat accidents. The UK suffered 47 deaths (nine from friendly fire, all by US forces), France nine, and the other countries, not including Kuwait, suffered 37 deaths (18 Saudis, one Egyptian, six UAE, and three Qataris).

Many returning coalition soldiers reported illnesses following their action in the war, a phenomenon known as Gulf War syndrome. Common symptoms were reported chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and gastrointestinal disorder. Infants born to male veterans also had higher rates of heart valve and kidney defects. Many have cited the use of depleted uranium in armaments as a contributing factor to a number of major health issues in veterans and surrounding civilian populations, including birth defects and child cancer. In 2004, Iraq had the highest mortality rate due to leukemia of any country.”

 

Why Honduran migrants are fleeing their country

Most of this post is an edited version of yesterday’s interview by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Juan González with Professor Dana Frank, who’s just published a book calledThe Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup. But before I get to the interview, I want to give you a few facts about Honduras from Wikipedia: “Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate and high levels of sexual violence…

In the late 19th century, it granted land and substantial exemptions to several U.S.-based fruit companies, which built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. [Repression in aid of corporate interests?] In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term ‘banana republic’ to describe Honduras. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, ‘his phrase refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.’

During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support the Contra guerrillas fighting the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua [can’t let any government devoted to meeting the needs of the people survive in “our” backyard]. Though spared the bloody civil wars wracking its neighbors, the Honduran army quietly waged campaigns against Marxist–Leninist militias such as the Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, and against many non-militants as well. The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units [“death squads”].

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed 70% of the country’s crops and 70–80% of the transportation infrastructure, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads. Across Honduras 33,000 houses were destroyed, and an additional 50,000 damaged. Some 5,000 people killed, and 12,000 more injured. Total losses were estimated at $3 billion.

In 2007, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and George W. Bush began talks on U.S. assistance to Honduras to tackle the latter’s growing drug cartels, using U.S. Special Forces. This marked the beginning of a new foothold for the U.S. military’s continued presence in Central America.

In 2008, Honduras suffered severe floods, which damaged or destroyed around half of the roads.

In 2009, a constitutional crisis resulted when the head of the Honduran Congress took power from Zelaya, the democratically elected president. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras because it didn’t feel its government was legitimate, but the U.S. supported the coup, condemned as such by countries around the world and the United Nations.

The U.S. maintains a small military presence at one Honduran base. The two countries conduct [rather unsuccessful] counter-narcotics and other exercises.

The United States is Honduras’ chief trading partner, with coffee and bananas as the main imports.

The nation’s per capita income sits at around $600, making it one of the lowest in the Americas. In 2010, 50% of the population were living below the poverty line, and this had increased to 66% by 2016.  Estimates put unemployment at about 27.9%, which is more than 1.2 million Hondurans. Following the 2009 coup, trends of decreasing poverty and extreme poverty were reversed. The nation saw a poverty increase of 13.2% and an extreme poverty increase of 26.3% in just 3 years. Unemployment also increased dramatically. Levels of income inequality in Honduras are higher than in any other Latin American country. Unlike other Latin American countries, inequality steadily increased in Honduras between 1991 and 2005. Poverty is concentrated in southern, eastern, and western regions where rural and indigenous peoples live.

Sexual violence against women has caused many to migrate to the U.S. Femicide is widespread in Honduras. In 2014, 40% of unaccompanied refugee minors were female. Gangs are largely responsible for sexual violence against women as they often use sexual violence. Between 2005 and 2013 according to the UN Special Repporteur on Violence Against Women, violent deaths increased 263.4%. Impunity for sexual violence and femicide crimes was 95% in 2014. Additionally, many girls are forced into human trafficking and prostitution.

Official statistics from the Honduran Observatory on National Violence show that Honduras’ homicide rate was 60 per 100,000 in 2015, with the majority of homicide cases unprosecuted. Highway assaults and carjackings at roadblocks or checkpoints set up by criminals with police uniforms and equipment [police moonlighting?] occur frequently. Although reports of kidnappings of foreigners are not common, families of kidnapping victims often pay ransoms without reporting the crime to police out of fear of retribution, so kidnapping figures may be underreported.”

 

Dana Frank on how a U.S.-backed Coup in Honduras fueled the migrant crisis, Democracy Now!, 11-29-18

AMY GOODMAN: As the United States continues to face criticism for tear-gassing asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border, we look at the crisis in Honduras and why so many Hondurans are fleeing their homeland. Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world because of its devastating drug war and a political crisis that stems in part from a U.S.-backed coup in 2009. We speak with Dana Frank, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her new book is The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could talk about the night of terror that’s descended on Honduras, especially following the 2009 coup against President Zelaya?

DANA FRANK: When you read the interviews or the mainstream news reports about why the migrants in the caravan are fleeing, they say they’re “fleeing gangs and violence and poverty.” True, but what’s missing from that narrative is where the gangs, violence, and poverty come from. It’s not a natural disaster, but the result of the deliberate policies of the governments that came to power in the aftermath of the coup, most recently the illegal government of Juan Orlando Hernández.

The violence and the gang terror come from the almost complete destruction of the rule of law. The coup, itself a criminal act, opened the door for every kind of conceivable criminal activity. Gangs and drug trafficking proliferated, infiltrating throughout the police and military. The government itself is implicated in the gangs and that people are fleeing. So it’s not just random violence – it’s a U.S.-backed regime that’s in cahoots with it. A lot of people are fleeing gangs because their small businesses are being destroyed by gang taxes. And the police cooperate with the gangs in extracting these taxes.

The second factor here is poverty, because people are very much fleeing poverty, but their poverty again is the direct result of post-coup policies. First of all, the state itself has been destroyed by the neoliberal policies of multilateral development banks like the International Monetary Fund. State services have also been destroyed because the elites that run the government are robbing it blind. For example, the president and his party stole as many as $90 million from the health service in 2013 to pay for their campaigns, and now the national health service doesn’t function. The sectors of the economy that are supposed to be the growth sectors are also destroying livelihoods. For example, palm oil production is being imposed at the point of a gun, with campesinos trying to defend other forms of agriculture being killed. Extractive mining projects and hydroelectric dams are forcing indigenous peoples off their land, and that’s why Berta Cáceres, the environmental activist leader, was killed in 2016. Tourism is forcing the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people off their land at the point of a gun. The only other functional sectors are agriculture and the maquiladora sector, which is apparel and electronics factories for the export market. And those are very, very destructive of people’s bodies under really repressive working conditions. So, when we hear about economic development in Honduras, it’s actually accelerating this destruction, along with the gang activity that’s destroying small businesses.

Those who are trying to have an alternative economic future for Honduras through Libre, the opposition party, through social movements at the base, are the people getting tear-gassed just like at the U.S. border. These are the people that are getting assassinated. The journalists that report on this alternative vision and the people who would like some kind of democratic alternative are being repressed.

JG: I wanted to ask you about the repression in the countryside, because I thought that was some of the most graphic material that you have in your book about the escalation of the repression in 2011 after Manuel Zelaya came back as a result of a brokered agreement. In places like the Aguán Valley, the campesinos were subjected to mass repression.

DF: Some of that is because the campesinos, who had these collectives that had been in place for a long time and were being forced off their land, started re-occupying land that they’d been forced off of by neoliberal policies pushed by members of the elite, especially Miguel Facussé and his Dinant corporation. They were killed off one by one, two by two, in what we could call a slow-moving massacre. As many as 150 campesinoshave been assassinated in the Aguán Valley since 2010.

AG: I want to go back to 2009 when there was a coup in Honduras and the democratically elected leader, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, spoke on Democracy Now! about what happened to him.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They attacked my house at 5:30 in the morning. A group of at least 200 to 250 armed soldiers with hoods and bulletproof vests and rifles aimed their guns at me, fired shots, used machine guns, kicked down the doors. And just as I was, in pajamas, they put me on a plane and flew me to Costa Rica. This all happened in less than 45 minutes.

AG: That was Manuel Zelaya. Democracy Now! followed him back to Honduras after the brokered agreement – we flew on the plane with him from Nicaragua to Honduras. But then a new regime was put in place, the coup regime of Porfirio Lobo, whose son has now been sentenced to well over 20 years in prison for drug trafficking. Juan, when you interviewed Hillary Clinton when she was running for president, you asked her about her support, U.S. support for the coup when she was Secretary of State. Dana, can you talk about the extent of this support and why you see it linked to what we’re seeing with the migrants today? As you say, these are refugees from U.S. policy.

DF: Well, we don’t have a smoking gun that shows the U.S. backed the coup from before it happened, but all of the evidence is very clear that it wanted the coup to stabilize after it took place, that it recognized the bogus election of November 2009 that brought Porfirio Lobo to power, and that it’s continued to recognize the leaders of the ongoing coup regime, especially Juan Orlando Hernández, even though he has probably stole an election in 2013. He also ran for president last year in violation of the Honduran constitution, which bans reelection, and stole it from the united opposition which very clearly won. So it’s not just a question of the U.S. supporting the 2009 coup itself. It could have recognized Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife, when she won the election in 2013. It could have protested when Juan Orlando Hernández overthrew the Supreme Court in 2012 when he was president of Congress. It could have protested when he ran for reelection. And of course, it could have called for a new election last winter, or recognized the real winner. The U.S. has given this post-coup regime green light after green light after green light. It’s an ongoing policy.

AG: Now we have a situation where thousands of Hondurans are fleeing to the U.S. border. Your response to the tear-gassing of the migrants? And also Mexico’s incoming foreign minister, not the government of Peña Nieto but the government of AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying that they’ll allow the migrants to wait on Mexican soil, but that in return, the U.S. government should pay at least $20 billion for Marshall Plan-style programming to develop the economies of Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

DF: Obviously the use of the tear gas fired into a foreign country against people exercising their legal rights is terrifying, as is the presence of the U.S. military at the border in violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. This militarized response to the refugees is morally disturbing, to say the least. Since 2014, the U.S.-funded and trained Honduran military has also actively stopped people from leaving their country. And the same tear gas, which is often manufactured in the United States, has been used against peaceful protesters and bystanders in Honduras for years. It was used last week against protests on the anniversary of the stolen election.

As far as the $20 billion Marshall Plan goes, people might remember that after the so-called crisis on unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. in 2014, the Obama administration’s response was something called the Biden Plan, promoted by Vice President Joe Biden, that wanted to give $1 billion to the governments of the so-called Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in order to stop migration and address root causes. And if you look at that, $750 million of which was eventually funded by Congress, it’s pouring precisely into the same security forces and sectors of the economy that are causing the very repression, the very destruction of the economy that people are fleeing.

Of course we’re all watching to see what López Obrador is going to do in Mexico, and of course the Honduran economy needs to be rebuilt, but not according to a model run by the current U.S. government and the repressive regime of Juan Orlando Hernández and the Honduran elites. That’s what’s so terrifying here –  pouring money into the same model, when you’re just handing money over to the elites to steal and use it to terrorize their people over and over again at higher and higher levels. [That’s what it’s all about: elite control, preferably white and male, everywhere.]

JG: Dana, one of the most interesting parts of your book is your portrayal of the enormous and widespread popular movement that developed after the coup against Zelaya. You say that back in the 1980s, Honduras was a relatively quiet place, while El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were all embroiled in major civil conflicts – uprisings and government repression. But I remember being in Honduras in 1990, and it was then a terrorized state – there were military all over the place – but there wasn’t the kind of popular movement that somehow developed after the coup against Zelaya. Could you talk about that?

DF: There was an active left in Honduras in the ’80’s, but on a much smaller scale than in the other countries, and tremendously repressed by some of the figures that are popping up again since the coup. The Honduran resistance was and still is a tremendously beautiful thing that was a great surprise, though in retrospect, you could see the social movements that were building at the grassroots in the women’s movement, the campesino movement, the indigenous movement, the Afro-Indigenous movement, and human rights defenders.

When the coup happened, people poured into the streets and formed this tremendous coalition called the National Front of Popular Resistance, known as the Frente or the Resistencia, which was an amazing coalition, not just of the folks I just named but of the labor movement, the LGBT movement, and people committed to the constitutional rule of law. It wasn’t about so-called Zelaya supporters as it was often framed, but people who were committed to a positive transformation of Honduras. That resistance was a beautiful thing, and in the first chapter of my book, I wanted the reader to feel the joy of it — the terror and the joy, the creativity, the music, the humor, the bravery, the graffiti, and the way it changed Honduran culture and made people proud of their resistance and helped them discover ties across different social movements in a massive coalition of the kind that we fantasize about in the United States today. Unfortunately, that resistance has been repressed over and over again, and a lot of its key figures are now in exile. People have been killed, and journalists that covered it have been killed or are in exile. It’s been terrifying to watch that repression, but Hondurans have it in their hearts that they know what they can do and they can feel a beautiful sense of solidarity.

 

 

Capitalism, the root of all evil

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many times more in whatever future is left to me: Capitalism is the root of all, or most, evils, including climate change, political corruption, etc. I expressed this belief most recently two days ago during a far-ranging political and philosophical conversation with two of my young-adult grandchildren, both very concerned about the environmental and moral state of the world (as are, movingly, many of their contemporaries).

I was reminded of it again this morning, rereading my notes on Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014) by Sven Beckert. Beckert concludes his book by saying, “Slavery, colonialism, and forced labor, among other forms of violence [including the genocidal seizure of indigenous lands], have been at the very core of the history of capitalism. Civilization and barbarity are linked at the hip, both in the evolution of the world’s first global industry [cotton] and in the many other industries that have modeled themselves after it.” All of this, including the devastation of the environment, the oppression of workers and indigenous peoples (Standing Rock), and the manipulation of supposedly democratic political systems for, ultimately, corporate ends, continues today.

I don’t have a quick solution, other than to say that the creation of solutions begins with identifying the problem. As my grandchildren and I agreed, it will take time, because it depends on respectful one-on-one communication, and it will involve group effort/the creation of democratic communities.