Open Letter to G20 Witnesses and Canadian Residents

By admin, June 29, 2010 8:43 am
Open Letter to G20 Witnesses and Canadian Residents: PLEASE REPOST AND FORWARD

Today at 2:16am
I am writing as a Canadian citizen who has lived in this country for nearly 40 years and has been told that we live in a democratic, peaceful and participatory society where the freedom of our expression is protected, our constitutional rights still operative and right to particpate in debate, dissent and peaceful protest sets us apart from many dictatorships and war zones in the world.

This weekend I witnessed the massive hypocracy of these truths which i was schooled to believe were the unalienable rights of canadian citizens.

As a trained legal scholar, a political scientist, a community activist, a poet, an arts administrator, a women’s shelter worker, i have witnessed the erosion of the canadian welfare state, the social safety net for the poor and disabled, the prohibitive cost of post-secondary education and even public schools which pass on costs to parents, as public resources dwindle. I have witnessed first hand how starving public health care jeopardizes lives and the health of people i haved loved and lost and those i love.
I have seen government cuts to arts and culture cut only to be replaced by corporate sponsorships and deals which force artists to compromise their artistic and musical integrity and innovation just to get a paying gig or a recording deal.

I have helped beaten women and kids look desperately for safe housing, mentally ill people released into a community that is cold, uncaring and terrified of mental and physical disabilities.
I have been belittled for the colour of my skin, my unpronounceable name, my intellect, my sexuality and for being disAbled.

Every day i watch the news about Europe and see the impact of bank and credit insitution protections as ordinary folks like you and me are on the reciving end of austerity measures designed to make the mass of european citizens pay for the lifestyles and profits of a mere handful of the very rich. The Third Worldization of Europe, in fact. I see lives, communities and ecosystems irretrieveably destroyed by deepsea oil drilling.

Nonetheless, I have seen this weekend events that rival and surpass the 2001 Quebec City FTAA meetings where thousands of Canandians were harmed by excessive police brutality and toxic chemicals, simply for trying to speak with world leaders. But what I saw this past 4 days in Toronto, a city where i have lived much of my life, shocked, angered and depressed me.

It did so, because unchecked provincial police powers were secretely enacted to protect a handful of world leaders, who benefit from corruption, destruction of the environment and callous contempt for the majority of the world’s peoples.

It depressed me as I question the absence of coherent and organized responses of the labour and union movements in this country and the lack of solidarity from international labour brothers and sisters with regard to police and armed forces attacking peaceful and unarmed protestors, mainly youth, women, immigrants, people of colour, queers, and people with disabilities.

I ask myself if labour’s slogan was “put people first” so we can hide behind them?

I am outraged that the basic rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (for which I am in debt for having the privilege to study), such as equality before the law, the right to know what you are being charged with, the right to a lawyer, the need for a warrant before having your person or property searched, the need for a warrant to arrest persons accused of commiting a crime and the like, were all abandoned for the benefit of a few white anglo-Canadian politicians who strive to join other capitalist and chinese elites in arms-running, war-mongering, drug-running, mysogyny, vioelent homophobia, and the starvation and oppression of their own peoples.

I have watched our nation go through the war measures act, the oka standoff, crisis after crisis with First Nations people whose land we occupy, with the poor and their advocates. I have seen such narrow interpretations of Charter rights so that starving underhoused people don’t even get a chance as economic security and affordable housing are not constitutionally protected.

I have watched police and army in seattle, quebec city , pittsburgh, greece, france, argentina, chile, peru, colombia, and now Toronto, to name a few places.

When citizens permit their leaders to let police and armed forces run amok, when leaders and military strategists test out tactics and killing toys on peaceful people, who for the most part could be their kids, nephews, nieces, grandkids and the like I am appalled and ashamed to call myself Canadian.

When I see impunity for armed forces, the criminalization of progressive political dissent, the harassment of citizens who are passing by and still caught up under police sweeps i ask myself, “what’s going on?”.

When I see cop cars and businesses torched at will by some testorone laden agents of either the state or seriouslyy unconstructive political motives, while police who spent over a billion dollars to prepare for such an eventuality are conspicuosly absent, I ask “what’s going on?”
When i see students, social service and low-wage workers being singled out for unlawful detainment under conditions that have even provoked Amnesty Internation to demand an Inquiry, I ask “what’s going on?”
When I am illegally searched for joining friends in a park or to enter my public transport system, when I see t”Transit City” donated for the deployment of armed forces against my fellow torontonians I ask “is this why i pay $3 a ride?” A
nd finally I want to ask you, politicians of the NDP, the Liberal Party, Canadian intellectuals and artists and musicians so quick to aid the downtrodden as far away from here as possible, “what’s going on?”

Where are the statements of outrage on behalf of your children and fellow residents of Canada. Where are the artists who sing so articulately and soulfully about the shit that goes down all over the world?
Where are the writers who make up PEN, the Canadian League of Poets, The Writers’ Union of Canada? Where are the voices of civil servants, transit workers, educators, who should be speaking out for their coworkers and the people they serve? Where are the voices of parents who see their children illegally and brutally detained?
Toronto has undergone an infamy, a shock and awe campaign against its own human beings, visible on facebook, twitter, youtube, independent and even corporate media. Why the deafening Silence?

I ask that there be an Independent civilian investigation and inquiry into the G20 security response in our City. I ask that all people of conscience, regardless of your political affiliations, call your councillors, write to youir mpps and most of all tell McGuinty and his chum Harper to account for the mayhem and trauma they have caused to our population.
I ask if a day and half of eating, drinking, belching and farting together of 20 VIPs and their Spouses is in any way worth both the human cost and the financial cost which we as taxpayers must shoulder? and finally i ask those of you who have talent, integrity and commitment to living in an operative constitutional society to come forward and donate your talents to the legal costs for those unjustly detained and, humiliated and violated human beings whom you will be hearing from in the next while. And I ask you to ask yourselves, “what’s going on?” and seek some real answers based on concrete evidence and due process.

Kaushalya Bannerji, B.A (Hons), M.A., LLB. LLM., PhD Candidate

“There Is Almost Total Impunity for Rape in Congo”

By admin, June 28, 2010 12:06 pm

“There Is Almost Total Impunity for Rape in Congo”
Jennie Lorentsson interviews MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28, 2010 (IPS) – Sexual violence against women has become part of modern warfare around the world. In some countries, women cannot even go out to draw water without fear of being attacked and raped.

On Apr. 1, Margot Wallström became the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Her job is to investigate abuses and make recommendations to the Security Council.

The appointment of Wallström, currently a vice president of the European Commission, comes amidst continued reports of gender violence, including rape and sexual abuse both locally and by humanitarian aid workers and U.N. peacekeepers, mostly in war zones and in post-conflict societies.

The incidents of sexual attacks, both on women and children, have come from several countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Burundi, Guinea and Liberia.

One of Wallström’s first assignments was a trip to the DRC, a nation she calls “the rape capital” of the world. Excerpts from the interview with Wallström follow.

Q: Tell us about your trip.

A: Congo has attracted attention in the media [as a place that is suffering] systematic rape in war. One statistic quoted is 200,000 rapes since the beginning of the war 14 years ago, and it is certainly an underestimate.

When in Congo, I met government representatives and particularly women who had been raped and violated. It was interesting but also disappointing – nothing is getting better and more and more civilians are committing rapes.

But I should be fair and say that there has been progress, the government has introduced laws against rape, it has a national plan and there is political will. There is a lot to do to implement the legislation, but now there is an ambitious legal ground to stand on to be implemented by the police, judiciary and health care.

Q: What are the roots of the problem?

A: The sexual violence in Congo is the result of the war between the many armed groups. To put women in the front line has become a part of modern warfare.

Men often feel threatened in times of conflict and stay inside, but the women have to go out and get water and firewood and go to the fields to find food. In many cases they’ll be the first to be attacked. Especially if there is no paid national army that can protect civilians, rape is a part of the looting and crimes against the innocent. In addition, there is almost total impunity for rape in the Congo.

Q: The U.N. has its own force, MONUC, in Congo to protect civilians. What is being done to help women?

A: MONUC has had to adjust their operations after the conditions in the country. For example, MONUC has special patrols which escort women to health care clinics and markets.

Q: The U.N. and the Congolese government are discussing when the U.N. should leave the country. What would happen if the U.N. left the Congo now?

A: We have reason to be worried if the United Nations would leave the Congo. It is still unsettled in some parts of the country and the U.N. provides logistics for many of the NGOs operating in the country, and they rely in the U.N.

What is happening right now is that [the government] wants to show that it can protect the country itself – it’s a part of the debate on independence.

Q: How do feel when you hear about U.N. peacekeepers committing atrocities?

A: Just one example is too much. It destroys our confidence in the U.N.’s ability to do great things.

Q: There is criticism that the U.N. is a bureaucratic and inflexible organisation. Do you agree?

A: In every large organisation there is critisism like this. After 10 years in the European Commission, I can recognise such trends here, there is always. But basically, there are high hopes and great confidence in the U.N. and the energy and passion that exists for the U.N. is very useful.

Q: The Security Council has promised to focus even more on the issue of violence against women. Which countries should be focused on?

A: Congo is a given, also Darfur and a number of other countries in Africa. We will also focus on Liberia, where it is more a post-conflict society which has been brutalised and where rape is the most common offence. We cannot be in all countries with conflicts, we will comply with the Security Council agenda. This is a problem that not only exists in Africa.

Q: What can your staff do on site?

A: Our team of legal experts can help a country to establish a modern legislation. Impunity is the foundation of the problem, the women have to go with guilt and the men go free. We must try to understand how such a culture is created and how it can be a method of warfare. Then we can stop it.



By admin, June 26, 2010 10:12 pm

by Kim Ives

* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *June 23 – 29, 2010,  Vol. 3, No. 49Raoul Peck’s “Moloch Tropical” is a vitriolic cinematic diatribe against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, filled with heavy-handed smears of the exiled ex-president and those around him. The film has been and will continue to be acclaimed by supporters of the 2004 coup d’état against Aristide, which was orchestrated over the course of three years by the U.S., France and Canada in concert with Haiti’s bourgeoisie and former Haitian military and death-squad leaders.

So it was ironic that this fictional justification for the most bloody and illegal overthrow of a popular elected government in recent Latin American history was the “centerpiece” of this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York. Rather than analyzing and condemning Washington’s relentless destabilization of Haiti’s nascent and imperfect democracy, a campaign minutely dissected in Peter Hallward’s “Damming the Flood” (Verso, 2007), “Peck delivers a searing critique of a government corrupted by power and an individual driven mad by it,” trumpets Human Rights Watch.

The film, a variation on Aleksandr Sokurov’s film “Moloch” about Adolph Hitler, portrays the final day of unraveling of the regime and sanity of President Jean de Dieu (played by French actor Zinedine Soualem), a former priest from the slums known as “Ti Jean,” who sprinkles foreign languages in his speeches and is married to a Haitian-American lawyer (played by former French beauty-queen Sonia Rolland). Anyone even vaguely familiar with Haiti’s recent history sees that these characters represent Aristide, also known as “Titid,” and his wife Mildred Trouillot Aristide.

But Peck tries to obscure this parallel, doing what a Haitian proverb calls “voye roch kache men” (throw a rock then hide your hand). In interviews, he claims that Jean de Dieu is a composite of foreign and Haitian leaders and that the film a meditation on the corrupting influence of power in general.

At the New York showing, as at other festivals, Peck cited Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Richard Nixon, George Bush, Jean-Claude Duvalier and René Préval as his references. Hogwash. The film is 99% about Aristide and Peck’s problems with him.

And what are those problems? Peck feels “betrayed” by Aristide, he said in remarks after the New York showing, whom he, like almost every other progressive Haitian intellectual, supported in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the priest emerged as the leader of the post-Duvalier democracy movement. Between the first Washington-backed coup d’état against him on Sep. 30, 1991 and the second on Feb. 29, 2004, Aristide made a number of political concessions, compromises, maneuvers, head feints, and what he called “jwet entelijans” (games of intelligence) in an effort to outwit and wrestle with Washington’s “laboratory,” as Aristide calls the CIA-Pentagon nexus that undid him twice. Over the years, these compromises alienated many of Aristide’s former allies, who almost always speak of “betrayal.” Often, they are angry because Aristide did not name them to a government post or return their phone calls.

But for most Haitian leftists, Aristide’s cardinal sin was his agreement with President Bill Clinton to return to Haiti in 1994 on the shoulders of 20,000 U.S. troops, thereby facilitating the second foreign military occupation of Haiti in the 20th century after that of 1915 to 1934. (The “deal” quickly soured when Aristide reneged on plans to privatize Haiti’s state enterprises and slash state payrolls, which led the Clinton White House to push him out of office in February 1996 rather than allow him to recoup the three years he had spent in exile, as large segments of the Haitian people demanded.)

One might have thought that this violation of national sovereignty was the “betrayal” that Peck opposed on principle, but no. Peck agreed to become President Préval’s Culture Minister in 1997 under the continuing military occupation (then administered by the UN), which suggests his anti-occupation convictions were not all that strong.

Even more incoherent is Peck’s premise, stated after the film, that “Washington and Paris supported Aristide and pushed the opposition to make a deal with him up until three days before he left.” (By the way, Peck does not accept Aristide’s assertion that he was kidnapped by US soldiers.) Throughout the film, Jean de Dieu’s wife warns him “Washington is going to drop you,” as if U.S. officials had been backing him until then. Reality is just the opposite. Washington did everything it could to thwart Aristide’s re-election in 2000 and began a diplomatic, economic, political and paramilitary “contra” campaign to unseat him even before he was sworn in on Feb. 7, 2001.

So, it is again ironic that the director exhumes every element of the
1991-94 and 2004-06 coup propaganda campaigns hatched in Washington and the Haitian bourgeoisie’s salons. Peck delights in garishly recreating all the discredited caricatures: “Aristide the demagogue,” “Aristide the mentally unbalanced,” “Aristide the mob mobilizer,” “Aristide the necklacer,”

“Aristide the womanizer,” “Aristide the megalomaniac” etc. ad nauseam.

One of Peck’s first and frequently revisited targets in this ponderous film is Aristide’s 2003 demand that France repay Haiti some $21 billion for the “independence debt” of 90 million gold francs that Paris extorted from its former colony from 1824 to 1947. Perhaps Peck’s dogged ridiculing of this perfectly reasonable, legally sound and widely hailed official call for reparations (the first by any former colony) has something to do with his recent appointment to head the French government’s prestigious film school, La Fémis?

We see Mother Theresa, a thinly-veiled version of Lavalas activist Annette “So An” Auguste, muster and give a pep talk to a crowd of lumpen thugs called chimeres (chimera) to cries of “Koupe tet, boule kay” (Cut of heads, burn houses!) before they go to bust up an opposition demonstration. These scenes imply that Aristide rallied artificial mobs to counter legitimate street protest. The opposite is true. Haiti’s poor, just as in Venezuela two years earlier, usually spontaneously organized to counter the coup d’état’s spearhead, the National Endowment for Democracy-spawned “civil society”

front called the “Group of 184″, which was financed, coached and protected by the French and U.S. embassies.

We see a preening, oblivious African-American actor arrive and play the role of Toussaint L’Ouverture in a Palace play to honor Haiti’s independence anniversary, an obvious dig at Hollywood actor and Aristide defender Danny Glover, who performed in Haiti for the 2004 bicentennial.

The U.S. and France-led boycott of those bicentennial celebrations was one of the saddest chapters of recent Haitian history. The only head of state to attend was South African President Thabo Mbeki. Peck makes fun of the difficulties Aristide faced as the noose tightened around him. A tough Jean de Dieu aide at one point barks at her assistant: “Get me whites! I need whites!” She is often seen complaining by cell phone to various U.S.

officials about their diplomatic snub.

Jean de Dieu’s oppressed, captive, and unhappy wife just wants to escape to the US with their daughter. The president treats her very badly, brushing aside advice and even an attempted caress. But here, as at other points, the film is inconsistent because it starts with a scene of the president longingly stroking the naked back of his sleeping wife, who is startled awake only to rebuff him.

The Aristide analogue is also a lascivious jerk who forces a reluctant maid to perform sexual favors for him. In fact, the president’s unbridled sexual appetite – he makes lewd remarks to the ersatz Glover’s female co-star on her arrival at the Palace – is one of the film’s main themes, lending it a moralizing air.

Later Jean de Dieu forgets to take his medication and begins to act aberrantly. In front of his wife and a room of dignitaries at a public state dinner, he starts to fondle and dance with the maid, prompting her boyfriend, a saxophone player, to leap off the stage where he is performing, only to be shot dead.

Then our Aristide stand-in runs around naked under the moon in the bush surrounding the Citadel, the mountain-top fortress built by Henri Christophe to repel a French invasion, where the parody is entirely set.

(CIA analyst Brian Latell, in concert with conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, started the later disproved rumor in October 1993 that Aristide was on psychiatric medication and had been treated for mental illness in a Canadian hospital as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at scuttling Aristide’s first projected return to Haiti on Oct. 30, 1993. It is shocking to see Peck resuscitate such calumnies.)

One hapless journalist (Jimmy Jean-Louis), a former friend of the president who wrote an unflattering editorial, is horribly tortured, then gussied up by a makeup artist to be brought to a private candlelight dinner with the president. But the tortured journalist refuses to budge from his principles and denounces the president to his face.

“You are not a monster,” the barely conscious journalist, his face scarred and swollen from torture, tells Jean de Dieu, as Peck would speak to Aristide. “A monster has some majesty. You gave the people hope. You soiled their dream. You wanted to be a prophet. You weren’t even a consistent monster. I would pity you but I don’t know how.”

The president has his henchmen take the journalist outside and burn him alive with a tire around his neck, From atop the Citadel, Jean de Dieu looks down on the scene, lamenting: “My friend! My brother!”

This gives an idea of the director’s light touch in this interminable work of cinematic slander and vengeance.

Peck produced the film himself for about $600,000 so “I could say what I wanted and wouldn’t have to answer to anybody,” he said after the showing.

However, it might have been a good idea if someone had helped him apply some brakes to his antipathy towards Aristide.

“I wanted to re-examine, with Shakespearian irony, the tragic and foolish nonsense of the past 40 years,” Peck said after the New York showing. I would argue that the past 40 years has not been “nonsense” at all. On the contrary, the Haitian people have waged a fierce and difficult struggle to uproot one of the hemisphere’s most ruthless dictatorships and hoisted to international prominence a parish priest who, for the first time, in communion with the Haitian people, foiled U.S. election engineering.

Granted, Aristide made plenty of mistakes, everybody agrees on that, even his fiercest partisans. But he certainly does not merit the outrageous portrayal he receives in this film which ultimately blames the two-time victim of US “regime change.”

In the end, the turgid “Moloch Tropical” sadly demeans the overall body of Peck’s work, which includes great films like “Lumumba” (2000) and “Man by the Shore” (1993). The director is now working on a film about the young Karl Marx. One certainly hopes that the result would not induce from Marx, were he alive, the famous exasperated remark Engels reports he made about some of his admirers: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist!”

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One-year After June 28, 2009 Coup d’État in Honduras National Popular Resistance Continues Undiminished

By admin, June 25, 2010 5:48 pm


One-year After June 28, 2009 Coup d’État in Honduras

National Popular Resistance Continues Undiminished

A year ago, on June 28th 2009, a U.S. backed military-oligarchic coup was perpetrated against Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected President of Honduras.  This coup established a reign of state-sponsored terrorism and persecution and it played a key role in the regional plan being promoted by the U.S., Canada and business elites, of attempting to halt the advances of Latin American countries in their legitimate aspiration for sovereignty, participatory democracy and addressing social inequities.

President Zelaya became a target after trying to modestly improve the conditions of Honduras’ impoverished majority (60% of 8 million who live below the poverty line), by increasing the country’s minimum wage by 60% from US $175 (until then, the lowest in the region) to $275 monthly, despite strong opposition from the country’s business elites and multinational companies.

Zelaya was also punished for strengthening south-south regional ties by integrating Honduras in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) in 2008 and in the Petrocaribe energy alliance in 2007, both championed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. He also supported the drafting of a new mining law that would have prevented new gold mines that use cyanide, from carrying out operations in Honduras and he was working on replacing the notorious Palmerola air base—which was used by the U.S. in the 1980’s as a launching pad to wage proxy wars on Central America— with a commercial airport.

Since the June 2009 coup, all progressive measures implemented by Zelaya have been reversed, the Palmerola air base has been reinstated for military purposes and a new military base has been established on the Honduran northern coast within reach of Nicaragua.

On November 29, 2009, while deposed president Zelaya was being held captive in the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, Porfirio Lobo Sosa was brought to the presidency by sham general elections held by the coup regime, which were viewed widely as illegitimate throughout the international community and by a majority of Latin American countries due to the fact that they were carried out in an environment of deep militarization and heavy repression against the national resistance movement that opposed the coup.

The Lobo government was inaugurated on January 27, 2010 and it remains unrecognized by the Organization of American States (OAS) and by the United Nations.  However, both Canada and the U.S. are actively promoting Honduras’ reintegration into the OAS and its full recognition by the international community. To date, unfortunately, all Central American countries (with the exception of Nicaragua) have recognized the Lobo regime and Colombia and Peru have done the same in South America, while the influential governments of Brazil and Argentina are still refusing to do so.

The day after Lobo’s inauguration, Canada’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Kent, announced: “As Hondurans begin this new chapter in their history, Canada stands ready to assist with the challenges that lie ahead. As we have throughout the impasse, Canada will continue to do all it can to help Honduras quickly return to full democratic and constitutional order. Once that has been achieved, we will also support President Lobo’s efforts as he moves to fully reintegrate Honduras into the international and hemispheric community, including in the Organization of American States.” On February 24, 2010, shortly after Minister Kent’s last visit to Honduras and only a day after the release of his press communiqué exalting the successes of the Lobo regime, Claudia Brizuela Rodriguez, the daughter of a prominent radio journalist and anti-coup activist was shot in the face in front of her children after opening the front door to her home.

There is no doubt that Canada’s priority in Honduras—as elsewhere in the region—is not to uphold human rights or democratic rule, but to promote corporate investment and business interests. In Honduras, Canadian investors have injected more than $400 million, mostly in mining and maquila (assembly plant) textile industries.

The violence unleashed in Honduras since June 2009 and under the Lobo regime has been widespread, targeting mainly activists advocating for deep social reforms:

►  708 human rights violations, including 54 murders, between June and December 20091.

►  Honduras was the third worst place (after Colombia and Guatemala) in terms of trade union rights violations with 12 unionists murdered.2

►  Thus far in 2010, seven journalists have been murdered making Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.3

►  A total of 160 cases of human rights violations that appear to be politically motivated—including illegal detentions, sexual assaults, politically-motivated murders, torture, kidnappings, internal displacement due to threats, among other violations.4

►  48 documented assassinations of anti-coup Resistance members since the coup, with 15 having occurred since the inauguration of much-disputed President Lobo.5

►  A death threat on May 20th, 2010, received by Carlos H. Reyes, a former candidate for Honduran presidency, member of the Coordinating Committee of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) and president of the Labour Union of the Soft Drink Industry.

A year into the historic struggle against the military-oligarchic coup in Honduras:

►  The Latin American Solidarity Network-LASN (Toronto) condemns the Harper Canadian government’s proactive role in attempting to legitimize the Honduran coup— not only by ignoring the mounting evidence of human rights violations— but by advocating at the OAS and internationally, for the full recognition of the illegitimate Lobo regime which was the coup’s successor.

►  LASN expresses its solidarity with the broad-based National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) —comprised of teachers, students, environmental organizations, labour unions, feminists, Indigenous and Garifuna groups— in its unwavering struggle against Lobo’s illegitimate government and for genuine democratic and social reforms.

►  LASN also expresses its support for the FNRP’s nation-wide petition and mobilization campaign that will culminate on June 28, 2010 (exactly one-year after the coup), demanding a national referendum to establish a Constituent Assembly.

Latin American Solidarity Network-LASN (Toronto) Coordinating Committee

Toronto, Canada—June 25, 2010.

1Source:  Committee of Family Members of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).

2Source:  International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) 2010 survey of trade union rights violations around the world.

3Source:  Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

4Source:  Report titled, “First Thirty Days of the Porfirio Lobo Government” published on February 28, 2010 by COFADEH.

5Source:  Human rights groups in Honduras.


By admin, June 22, 2010 11:23 pm

June 22, 2010

For Immediate Release:


The recent arrests of two London activists for “promoting disturbance” represent yet another dramatic escalation in the Canadian state’s ongoing attempts to criminalize dissent.

We denounce these arrests as the shameful police intimidation tactics they are, and declare our solidarity with the two individuals arrested – including our organization’s youngest member, Andrew Cadotte.

It is clear that politicians and police officers in this country are more than willing to bend the rules to try and intimidate those seeking to challenge the continued domination of the poor by the rich.

By referring to postering as “property destruction”, the police are attempting to build a psychological connection between lawful dissent and violence where no such connection exists.

The police cited the “negative message” of the posters as grounds for holding these individuals overnight in jail. But the true “negative messages” plastered around the city are in the sexist advertisements that promote women as emotionless commodities, and on the countless billboards that sell apathetic consumerism as a way of life.

Public space should belong to the community, not to corporations, and should be a space where we can freely express our ideas as part of the democratic process. This freedom must be regularly exercised and vigorously defended, or else it will be trampled on by the repressive nature of the state.

This is why several of our members joined with the direct action on Thursday, June 17th that covered our city’s downtown core with the very posters our comrades were arrested for putting up two nights earlier.

As anarchists and social justice activists, we have every intention to continue “promoting disturbance” of the capitalist status quo, guided by our undying commitment to international class struggle and, ultimately, revolution.

Common Cause – London

Common Cause is an anarchist organization with branches in London, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa.

Common Cause
P.O. Box 347, Station E
772 Dovercourt Rd.
Toronto, ON, Canada,
M6H 4E3

Online Forum:

Haitian Farmers Leery of Monsanto’s Largesse

By admin, June 21, 2010 3:34 pm

By Peter Costantini*

PÉTIONVILLE, Jun 21, 2010 (IPS) – Haitian farmers are worried that giant transnational corporations like Monsanto are attempting to gain a larger foothold in the local economy under the guise of earthquake relief and rebuilding.

“Seeds represent a kind of right to life,” peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste told IPS. “That’s why we have a problem today with Monsanto and all the multinationals who sell seeds. Seeds and water are the common patrimony of humanity.”

Earlier this month, in the central square of Hinche, an agricultural town in Haiti’s Plateau Central region, a mass of small farmers wearing red shirts and straw hats burned a symbolic quantity of hybrid corn seed donated to Haiti by the U.S. agricultural-technology giant.

They called on farmers to burn any Monsanto seeds already distributed, and demanded that the government reject further shipments.

The actions in Hinche (pronounced “ansh”) were spearheaded by the Mouvman Peyizan Papay, a regional peasant movement that claims 50,000 members, and the national coalition of some 200,000 members to which it belongs. Despite divisions among Haitian peasant organisations, several of the most important groups joined together to participate.

Sowing hybrid seeds, reaping a controversySome Haitian agricultural leaders and experts question the economic and social appropriateness of the industrial-agriculture model, including imported hybrid seeds, for Haitian small farmers.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with three- quarters of its population surviving on US$ 2 a day or less and 58 percent malnourished. Its economy remains heavily agricultural, with about two- thirds of Haitians dependent on agriculture for their living. But only 28 percent of the gross domestic product is generated by farming.

According to Volny Paultre, chief agronomist in Haiti for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, most of the million-odd farms in Haiti are tiny. “Most farming here is done with hardly any money or access to credit,” Paultre told IPS in a recent interview, and most small farmers function with very low levels of technology.

Among the country’s greatest needs are reform of land tenure and agrarian finance, he said, along with better infrastructure to support agricultural development.

Hybrid seeds are not widely used today in Haiti, Monsanto recognised in a blog post. But company spokesman Darren Wallis said in an e-mail to IPS that the hybrid seeds produced a higher yield per plant, and had been used for decades in the neighbouring Dominican Republic as well as in the past in Haiti.

Haitian agronomist Bazelais Jean-Baptiste sees the issue differently: “The foundation for Haiti’s food sovereignty is the ability of peasants to save seeds from one growing season to the next. The hybrid crops that Monsanto is introducing do not produce seeds that can be saved for the next season, therefore peasants who use them would be forced to somehow buy more seeds each season.”

Some of the seeds are also treated with chemical pesticides and fungicides that are considered highly toxic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Given the lack of experience with agricultural chemicals and low level of literacy, critics say, these seeds could pose risks for the farm families who use them.

Jean-Baptiste has led the MPP since 1973 and plays a major role in the international peasant movement.

“Our primary goal is to defend peasant agriculture,” he said, “an organic agriculture that respects the environment and fights against its degradation. We defend native seeds and the rights of peasants on their land.”

The international peasant movement advocates for “food sovereignty”, Jean-Baptiste emphasised, the right of each country to define its agricultural policy, of communities to decide what to produce, and of consumers to know that the products they consume are healthy.

“We work with indigenous groups as well, and with them we believe that the earth has rights that we must respect, just as people have rights,” he said.

The actions against Monsanto also were targeted “against the policies of the government that don’t help peasants, but rather accept products that poison the environment, kill biodiversity and destroy family, peasant agriculture,” he contended.

According to Monsanto, 130 tonnes of hybrid corn and vegetable seed out of a promised 475 tonnes have been sent so far, with the first shipment arriving in Haiti during the first week of May. The remaining 345 tonnes, which will be hybrid corn seed, are to be delivered over the coming 12 months.

The company stressed in a news release that the seeds are not genetically modified, as some early reports stated, but acknowledged that some seeds are coated with fungicides and pesticides.

Monsanto consulted with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture on what seeds would be acceptable to Haitian farmers and well-suited for Haitian conditions, Darren Wallis, a spokesman for the firm, told IPS in an e-mail.

A programme of the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development, the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources, and the non-profit Earth Institute will distribute the seeds along with inputs such as fertilisers and provide technical support, Monsanto said.

WINNER describes itself as “a 127-million-dollar project … which aims to improve the living conditions of the rural populations in Haïti”.

But speakers at the Jun. 4 rally saw the project in a different light, accusing President René Préval of “collusion with imperialism” and “selling off the national patrimony”.

Although Jean-Baptiste was a key architect of the election of Préval to his first term in 1995, the peasant leader now says bitterly of the politician: “He has simply betrayed the ideas that we stood for.”

Jean-Baptiste sees the seed donation by Monsanto as a beachhead in a battle between Haitian popular organisations and the U.S. and European transnational corporations who, he says, dominate the Haitian government and the reconstruction effort.

“The government is selling off the country or giving it away as a gift. Not only is Monsanto trying to get in, but they’re talking about Coca Cola coming in to plant mangoes. The Haitian people are fighting to make sure that all the generous international aid will be channeled into genuine programmes of sustainable development.”

Mistrust of the intentions of transnational corporations and the United States government is strong among many Haitians and based on a long history. The square in Hinche where the demonstration took place is named after Charlemagne Péralte, the leader of a peasant uprising against the occupation of Haiti by the U.S. Marines, which lasted from 1915 until 1934.

The history of damage to Haitian farmers by foreign aid is also long and painful.

In the 1980s, Creole pigs were almost completely eradicated under heavy pressure from the Ronald Reagan administration. The animals were once known as “the savings bank of the Haitian peasant”, and were bred over centuries to thrive in the Haitian environment.

An epidemic of African Swine Flu that began in the neighbouring Dominican Republic was killing pigs, and U.S. authorities feared that it could spread to North America. Although some Haitian organisations proposed alternatives for controlling the disease, the Duvalier dictatorship violently imposed the will of the U.S. in the face of resistance by many Haitian farmers.

The variety of pig sent from the U.S. as a replacement was much less hardy and required expensive inputs and facilities. Virtually none survived. Many Haitian families were never compensated and suffered a crippling blow to their livelihood, in some cases having to pull their children out of school, according to Grassroots International, a U.S. non-governmental organisation.

The group has been working with Haitian peasant groups since 1997 to repopulate Creole pigs across Haiti.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate in March, former President Bill Clinton offered a notable apology for the policies of his administration towards Haitian agriculture. He lamented that forcing Haiti to lower tariffs on subsidised U.S. rice may have helped rice farmers in his home state of Arkansas, but destroyed the capacity of Haitian rice farmers to feed their country.

Calling his policy a “devil’s bargain,” he said: “We should have continued to work to help them [Haitian rice farmers] be self-sufficient in agriculture.”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste traveled to the U.S. and the United Nations from Jun. 11 to 14 for meetings to discuss the Monsanto donation and alternatives for Haitian agriculture proposed by Haitian peasants.

*Peter Costantini blogs at He spent the month of May in Haiti.


My cancer is arbitrary. Congo’s atrocities are very deliberate

By admin, June 14, 2010 5:42 pm

My cancer is arbitrary. Congo’s atrocities are very deliberate

Illness and treatment only reinforced my determination to shake global indifference to the terrible violence in Congo

Some people may think that being diagnosed with uterine cancer, followed by an extensive surgery that led to a month of debilitating infections, rounded off by months of chemotherapy, might get a girl down. But, in truth, this has not been my poison. This has not been what pulses through me late at night and keeps me pacing and awake. This has not been what throws me into moments of unbearable darkness and depression.

Cancer is scary, of course, and painful. It tends to interrupt one’s entire life, throw everything into question and push one up against that ultimate dimension and possibility of dying. One can rail at the gods and goddesses: “Why? Why now? Why me?” But, in the end, we know those questions ring absurd and empty. Cancer is an epidemic. It has been here for ever. It isn’t personal. Its choice of the vulnerable host is often arbitrary. It’s life.

For months, doctors and nurses have cut me, stitched me, jabbed me, drained me, cat-scanned me, X-rayed me, IV-ed me, flushed me and hydrated me, trying to identify the source of my anxiety and alleviate my pain. While they have been able to remove the cancer from my body, treat an abscess here, a fever there, they have not been able to even come close to the core of my malady.

Three years ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo seized my being. V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women and girls, was invited to see firsthand the experience of women survivors of sexual violence there. After three weeks at Panzi hospital in Bukavu, where there were more than 200 women patients, many of whom shared their stories of being gang-raped and tortured with me, I was shattered. They told me about the resulting loss of their reproductive organs and the fistulae they got – the hole between their vagina and anus or vagina and bladder that no longer allowed them to hold their urine or faeces. I heard about nine-month-old babies, eight-year-old girls, 80-year-old women who had been humiliated and publicly raped.

In response, taking the lead from women on the ground, we created a massive campaign, – Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls of DRC – which has broken taboos, organised speak-outs and marches, educated and trained activists and religious leaders, and spurred performances of The Vagina Monologues across the country, culminating this month with a performance in the Congolese parliament. V-Day activists have spread the campaign across the planet, raising money and consciousness. In several months, with the women of Congo, we will be opening the City of Joy, a community for survivors where women will be healed in order to turn their pain to power. We have also sat and pleaded our case at Downing Street, the White House, and the office of the UN secretary general. We have shouted (loudly) at the Canadian parliament, the US Senate, and the UN security council. Tears were shed; promises were made with great enthusiasm.

As I have lain in my hospital bed or attempted to rest at home over these months, it is the phone calls and the reports that come in daily from the DRC that make me ill. The stories of continued rapes, machete killings, grotesque mutilations, outright murdering of human rights activists – these images and events create nausea and weakness much worse than chemo or antibiotics or pain meds ever could. But even harder to deal with, in the weakened state that I have been in, is knowing that despite the ongoing horrific atrocities that have taken the lives of more than 6 million people and left more than 500,000 women and girls raped and tortured, the international power elite appear to be doing nothing. They have essentially written off the DRC and its people, even after continued visits and promises.

The day is late. It is almost 13 years into this war. The Obama administration, as in most situations these days, refuses to take a real stand. Several months ago I visited the White House to meet a high official to engage the first lady in our efforts to end sexual violence in Congo, believing that her solidarity would galvanise attention and action. I was told, essentially, that femicide was not her “brand”. Mrs Obama, I was told, was focusing on childhood obesity.

It surprised me that a woman with her capabilities lacked ambidextrous skills (or was it simply interest and will that was absent?). Then we have Secretary Clinton, who at least after much pressure visited the DRC almost a year ago, and made promises that actually meant a huge deal to the people. They were excited that the US government might finally prioritise building the political will in the Great Lakes region to end the war there. But, of course, they are still waiting. And then there is the UN. The anaemic and glacial pace and the death-like bureaucracy continue to allow and, in the case of Monuc and the security council, even help facilitate a deathly regional war.

Two weeks ago, in Kinshasa, one of Congo’s great human rights activists, Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, was brutally murdered. In the same week, at Panzi hospital the family of a staff member were executed. A 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl were gunned down in their car on their way home. Murdering and raping of the women in the villages continues. The war rages on. Who is demanding the protection of the people of Congo? Who is protecting the activists who are speaking truth to power? At a memorial service last week in Bukavu, a pastor cried out: “They are killing our mammas. Now they are killing our children. What have we done to deserve this? Where is the world?”

The atrocities committed against the people of Congo are not arbitrary, like my cancer. They are systematic, strategic and intentional. At the root is a madly greedy world economy, desperate for more minerals robbed from the indigenous Congolese. Sourcing this insatiable hunger are multinational corporations who benefit from these minerals and are willing to turn their backs on the players committing femicide and genocide, as long as their financial needs are met.

I am lucky. I have been blessed with a positive prognosis that has made me hyper-aware of what keeps a person alive. How does one survive cancer? Of course – good doctors, good insurance, good luck. But the real healing comes from not being forgotten. From attention, from care, from love, from being surrounded by a community of those who demand information on your behalf, who advocate and stand up for you when you are in a weakened state, who sleep by your side, who refuse to let you give up, who bring you meals, who see you not as a patient or victim but as a precious human being, who create metaphors where you can imagine your survival. This is my medicine, and nothing less will suffice for the people, for the women, for the children of Congo.

Building Socialism from Below: The Role of the Communes in Venezuela

By admin, June 13, 2010 1:35 pm
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 368
June 13, 2010

Building Socialism from Below:

The Role of the Communes in Venezuela

An interview with Antenea Jimenez

We met with Antenea Jimenez, a former militant with the student movement who is now working with a national network of activists who are trying to build and strengthen the comunas. The comunas are community organizations promoted since 2006 by the Chávez government as a way to consolidate a new form of state based upon production at the local level. She told us about the important advances in the process, as well as the significant challenges that remain in the struggle to build a new form of popular power from below.

Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber

Can you tell us about the barrio where you live and the comuna?

I live in a barrio in the north part of Caracas and work in a national network that is building comunas. Currently we operate in seven states; the majority of the comunas are situated outside Caracas.

Antenea  JimenezAntenea Jimenez.

We are working with the comunas to construct a political space in participatory way. It is a new experience in Venezuela. Above all, the comuna is a political space, not like the State or a parish; it is created by the people for the people.

Currently there are many comunas in construction in the rural areas, where they are the strongest. Every comuna has its own reality depending on political culture and the form of production in the specific locale. For example, on the coastal zone the community is dedicated to fishing, while in a rural zone the production is based on the land.

We are working to discover which elements and principles unite these different experiences, which elements are the same despite the fact that the methods of production and cultures may be different. We organize national meetings where the comunas from north, south, east and west can share their experiences and learn from each other – the errors as well as the successes.

What is the main aim of the comunas?

The aims of the comunas are diverse, and take different forms. Before the comuna existed there were all kinds of community organizations where people would participate looking for solutions to their problems, their neighborhood association, the municipal government, etc. The goal of the comunas is to build on these processes and consolidate them by organizing on the basis of territory where people live.

For us the comuna is a territorial space, but also a political space where the aim is to build socialism on a permanent basis, where the people take charge of their own education and political formation. We teach about “convivencia” (living together well) and elaborate a plan for a particular territory. What is new about the process is that the people are also elaborating their own plan of formation.

The people are very creative; the most advanced work with the other neighbors in this process to create a permanent space of formation. Civil servants, working for the state, who went to these spaces, quickly learned that the people were elaborating their own plan by and for themselves.

Obviously some comunas are more advanced than other ones. It is much more difficult to build a comuna in urban areas, for example, because they have no experience with [different forms] of production; for example, they have no experience with [non-capitalist] social relations with the land. There is a dynamic in the city that is very capitalist. But in the rural areas they have conserved many elements of what is “ours,” from our ancestors, the indigenous communities, the Afro-Venezuelan communities. These values are still there. For this reason it is easier in the rural areas than in the urban areas. While there are fewer people in the countryside, the quality of the compañeros is very high. Sometimes there is not one person who did not vote for Chávez; this is less common in the urban areas.

Can you describe your personal political formation? How did you get involved in the comunas?

I was a student activist in University. I was active in political movements before Chávez, but there was no relationship between the social movements and political parties. In 1992, when Chávez was released from prison, things began to change. We have always been involved in the grassroots of the popular movement; there were few political spaces to participate in before [Chávez’s release] so you would get involved instead in your neighborhood, in your popular organization, in your cultural group.

But since Chávez was released [and began to build a political movement for the 1998 elections] things changed. I got involved; it was our responsibility to help build the process and the movement in Caracas. I was involved in the Popular Coordinator of Caracas, and afterwards the initiative to create the comunas. Now we are a group that works on the comunas.

There are a lot of different ideas about the comunas, for example, between our network of activists and what Chávez has suggested. There are various ideas. We are building it from the people, not the government. We have had extraordinary advances; but the strongest advances have come when the people have been convinced that this is the path, when they have become active in their own neighborhood.

How do the comunas work?

Historically there were diverse organizations that came together to resolve the problems of the neighborhoods. Our idea was to bring these organizations together to start to participate with concrete issues. We organize workshops. Let’s say that a community does not have water. We will organize a meeting about water. The people say, “Ah see! We can solve our own problems.”

We look for a socialist solution to the problem. Not just to hire a private company to fix something, but to work with the government and the people to fix the problem. Working first from the basic needs of the people will inspire them to participate. We also work with them to think more about the future, how we can improve things over the long term.

Step by step we work together toward solving simple things, like living together. Things that just require norms, a little bit of effort that helps us live together better. The community might decide that “We can’t drink in the streets,” for example. Other people see these small changes and then join the struggle when they see the results. They see that collective organization is possible.

There is a network of promoters of the comunas that coordinates, but the participation of the people is fundamental. There are people of all kinds that participate in the comuna: people from the left, people from the right, people that don’t care about anything. The people get involved with a problem that touches their family, the school for example because it involves their children.

Not everyone is socialist. Actually, a minority of participants in the comunas are socialists. We have to attend to the issues that matter to them. This can only be done through practice, and this is the way people get involved.

What are some of the main problems that you face trying to build socialism from the neighborhoods up to higher levels?

There is one factor that impedes our work which is the electoral dynamic, which is very exhausting. Constantly being in campaigns does not permit us to consolidate the organic process at the neighborhood level. It is difficult to deal with the problems in the community when we have to focus on issues like the constituent assembly, then the referendum, general elections, then presidential elections, then elections for governor, etc. Currently we are in elections for municipal councilors. This constant electoral dynamic weakens the organic process at the local level because it distracts us from confronting the daily issues that people confront in their neighborhoods.

What are the main demands in the north zone of Caracas where you live?

The main problem in this area is unplanned urbanization. Most of the land is in the hands of a very small bourgeoisie and so the common people have had to build their houses on the hillsides near the canyon, areas that were originally left vacant [because of the precarious conditions]. There are 29 rivers in the area of Caracas, and every time it rains heavily the people who live in these areas are at great risk. Their houses get washed away. Many people die. For example in 1999 there was a disaster in which many people were killed. People want a resolution of this problem.

The other theme is physical security or insecurity. It is difficult to find a place to meet because people are afraid. It is a real problem. But the right-wing opposition and the media has exaggerated the issue, and made it the problem in the barrios. I think that there are more serious problems. Security is the issue of the opposition, the press covers it, so there is debate about this problem.

How has the quality of people’s lives changed since the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution?

One of the main changes is in the area of education with the missions, Mission Sucre, for example. Now anyone who wants to go to university can go. Before only 7% of the students in the UCV were poor people like me. And perhaps only 2% of the students in Simón Bolívar were poor. Now everybody is studying at night. In fact, sometimes it is difficult to find a time to meet because everybody is studying! We can only hold meetings during the weekends.

Another fundamental thing that has changed is that before 1998, there was no political debate in the barrios. I was part of a small vanguard that was resisting this, trying to raise political debate in the university. In the 1980s, it was only the students who would mobilize, come out on the streets. But now people are talking about politics everywhere, on the bus and in the bars. It is rare that two people having beers are not talking about politics.

Another important success is that people talk about socialism. Maybe they do not talk about socialism in a “scientific” way, like about what Marx or Lenin said. But they talk about socialism with familiarity. There is still some fear, but way less than before. For example, once we showed a film about socialism in a barrio in the 1980s or 1990s. People just repeated what they heard from the press, that the socialists will torture you and that all socialists are dictators. Now people associate socialism with democracy. Indeed, the very concept of democracy has changed. If Chávez was assassinated, which is a real possibility because there have been many plans to assassinate him, there would be a civil war.

But no matter what happens, the advance of participatory democracy is irreversible. We cannot go back to representative democracy. There could be another kind of left, but now the people always have to participate; participatory democracy is a fundamental part of this revolution. The people understand the importance of it, demand it, and want to do it.

And they notice the difference in how politics works. Before the political reality was centered on what happened in “Miraflores” (the presidential palace). Now there is a lot of political activity, there are important social movements. There is possibility, there is hope. Now people do more than just wait every five years to participate in elections. We have seven million people who are militants in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). There are millions of people participating in the communal councils.

This does not mean that everybody has a developed political consciousness or political experience; it is still a process in transition. There can be no revolutionary party without revolutionary militants. And the commitment to forming revolutionaries remains underdeveloped.

There are still problems in the Bolivarian process. There have been important economic improvements, for example, less unemployment, higher minimum salary, better pensions, but there is still a low level of political consciousness. People have to be able to handle political and economic theories if we are to advance further, like in Cuba, where the average person on the street has an analysis of what is going on in the country, in the world. In Cuba there is a high level of political consciousness. This level of [revolutionary] consciousness is still lacking in Venezuela. It is dangerous for the revolution. We have come a long way but we can still do more.

What does participatory democracy mean in the comunas?

There is a saying here that suggests that participatory democracy is not about what we are doing but about how we are going to do it. It means that we all build together that which we want to do, we decide what we want to contribute, our projects for improving our lives.

Participation has to be for everyone whether they are with the government, against the government, from the left, from the right. The only one who has authority is the assembly of citizens. It is the assembly, not an elected group… no, it is the assembly that decides on the development plan in each comuna.

When there are debates we try to reach a consensus, and if we don’t, we keep debating. When there is no agreement we break the issue down bit by bit to reach agreement on smaller parts. Participation for us is in the formulation of politics; we also participate in the execution of the project. For example, a community wants an aqueduct. The state says, “Ok. Here is the money. Now build it, execute the funds.”

But we do not participate in the formulation of national policy, not directly. The policy of the ministers is not decided by a participatory process. We have said, “But we should participate!” We participate at the local level, but socialism is not something that happens only at the local level. We need to weave together a web that brings together the local spaces, the territories, and the comunas, because the national and international levels have an impact on what’s happening at the local level. We can’t just be a socialist comuna, a little island in a sea of capitalism. After all, who are we going to exchange with?

There is a Ministry of Popular Power for the Comunas and Social Protection but there are no participatory mechanisms to set its policy. Right now this is happening with the indigenous communities. There is a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and the communities are participating, they decide. They have a national council that makes policy. We have put forward a proposal to have more control over the Ministry for the Comunas, but it has not yet been approved. There is a lot of resistance.

You have to understand one thing. The comunas are a space of power. There are comunas that have executed more resources than some municipal governments. So, the comunas are constituted spaces of power; a majority of the comunas are formally part of the PSUV, but often Chavista officials at the local levels do not really want to share power. Instead, there is a confrontation between the comunas and the Chavista mayors and governors. Although we all stand with our arms together in the photo with Chávez, in practice there is a real confrontation. The governors do not understand this dynamic because the governors do not want to lose power.

The governors and mayors think that they are going to build socialism from their municipality, from their leadership. But we say, if a communal state is not born, socialism will not be possible. At the moment there is no perfect socialist comuna, where everything is debated, where there is an alternative, socialist, economic plan, where the teachers are also from the comuna, giving classes to the youth. This might be possible one day, but not now when there is another level of government that is deciding the overall budget. The project is to connect all these comunas at the national level; at the moment this is not viable because in most places we do not even participate in deciding the budget of the municipality. We participate in small projects, and the local government continues independently as if we were not in a socialist transition.

I only know of two isolated cases where this [participatory budgeting with the involvement of the comuna] takes place in reality: in the city of Torres in the state of Lara, and in Bolívar city in the state of Falcón. This is the case because in these municipalities the comrades [the mayors] are really from the left. The majority of the governors are not from the left. In most cases, the state is a bourgeois state and taking apart this state is the focus of continual conflict. This is taking a lot of political energy. The president is aware of these contradictions but I don’t think that he has found a way to overcome the problem. It is not simple. On the one hand you have people who are organized and making proposals and on the other hand people from the same party who are consolidating the bourgeois state.

What is the role of women in the comunas?

The majority of the people who participate in the comunas are women. I think that when we are talking about the advances of the process, this is a very important one. Right now there is a lot of participation by women and the grassroots level. But it ends there. When it is time to hold elections for positions with more responsibility, then it is men who are the candidates.

The president has put forward a number of initiatives to counter this tendency, and there have been many advances. In the party, for example, 50% of the candidates must be women. And when you go to the communities, the majority of those who are participating are women, and the majority of people who are studying in the missions are women. Historically in Venezuela and in Latin America, the societies have been very sexist and it has often been difficult for women to even leave the house. Before Chávez came to office, women’s participation was really rare. Women from the Left – from the vanguard – have always participated in social and political life. But now it is more widespread. I think that in the higher levels of the process, there are a number of valuable women doing incredible things.

There are some things that still need to change. Like the laws. For example, if I get pregnant I have six months of rest but my husband does not even get a day. One of the things that we have asked for is equality on this issue. I think that we will win on this issue.

Another limitation is that women are responsible for the children in Venezuela. It is difficult for women to participate, in the communal council, for example, because they have to leave their kids somewhere. This influences women’s decisions not to take political positions with more responsibility, especially if the position involves travel. This is a real barrier, although the level of participation in the communities is really high.

What is the long term vision for promoting participatory democracy from below through the comunas?

Here I have a different vision from the government. The vision of the government is that I show up in a community, starting from zero, and within half a week give workshops on politics. As I mentioned above, the level of political consciousness in Venezuela is still weak.

The process of building political consciousness, formation, can not be instantaneous. It is not like you can go to a school for a week and get a certificate. It has to be permanent. If you have a team constituted by the same people from the communal council raising the consciousness of people in their community, this is the way to create facilitators. It is a long process to learn about all of the different categories: anarchism, socialism and its various currents. It takes at least fifteen years. It is not just theory; it is also learned in practice. You learn in practice, but also through reading and reflecting. It takes a long time to figure out that certain social and political practices belong to socialism, while other ones are capitalist.

Some communal councils have higher levels of political formation than others. These organizations understand that the communal council is not just a space to receive resources. They understand that the council is a new “civil association.” It is a political space and a political exercise. Honestly, the majority of the councils do not understand it this way. We are still working with the councils to work on the idea that “hey, we can solve this problem in a capitalist way or a socialist way.” We want to solve the problems, but do so in a new way. But it is difficult when the companies that provide the services, for example, produce the materials for a house, are still capitalist. Housing is a good example because the problem of housing continues to be serious. Maybe we are making the blocks, but we have to buy the cement from a capitalist company. And then hiring the person to lay the blocks… It is not just solving the problem, but how we solve the problem… to build socialism rather than strengthen capitalism. We have 500 years of colonialism and exploitation, so this is a big challenge, to rebuild all of the socio-economic system. Building a new state is a big challenge.

For example, in some cases we have increased agricultural production. But the rice has been sent to a company that processes and packages the rice and sells it back at ten times the price. It makes me laugh, it doesn’t make sense. We have to take over the plants, take over the companies. But it is not easy to do. And the communal councils are not necessarily ready to take on all these tasks.

We find ourselves in a bit of a vicious circle. The only way to overcome this is to create relations between the communal councils, public institutions and the state. The councils are in the process of becoming stronger but it will take a lot to move to the next step.

What is the idea over the long term? Will the comunas continue to exist alongside the bourgeois state, or will they eventually replace it with new forms of self-governance?

This question makes me think because the revolutionary process has taken place through many kinds of organizations that got stuck on the path. The president mentioned once that the nucleus of endogenous development did not function well. The people often ask, “What kind of organization do we need, which is the adequate tool to help bring us what we want… a comuna, a cooperative?” And I explain what a cooperative is, a company of social property. The comuna is something else. We are doing everything to try to make sure that the comuna becomes the main instrument of social change because we are Marxists… it is the only way to build socialism, from below. In addition, in Venezuela there are historical experiences with comunas. This is our original form of organization. It is not strange for us. Of course, because of colonialism all of this changed. But the original form in “Our America” was this one. This is the political form through which people collectively governed their lives.

We have also seen other forms of socialism that were constructed by the state, like the Soviet Union. When that state collapsed, everything was destroyed. So, something happened there. Did the people really feel like they were a part of this process? There were some successes but people did not really feel part of it. The experience of all the revolutions of the past, in Russia, in Cuba, in the other countries of the South, show that if the people do not really participate, the bourgeois state simply continues. Such a conception of socialism is not viable, because the bourgeois state is not of the people. We are working now to build alternative systems, of solidarity exchange and barter. The idea is that the comuna also starts to run the community radio stations, the TV stations.

We are discussing how the comunas will be structured. What will be the relations of forces, which powers will the comunas be in charge of – judicial, executive, etc. All that exists now is the assembly for debate. But authentically socialist comuna does not yet exist; we are still constructing the comunas. We are in comuna when we govern ourselves, when we do not need a judge to tell us, “This house is not yours.” Or let’s say you live in a neighborhood and you need a letter that proves your place of residence. You have to go to an institution that says this. The comuna could do this. Your neighbor can verify where you live.

Capitalism created a layer of people who are the owners of peoples’ lives. If you do not have a residence card, there are many things that you can’t do. Why do we need resident cards? The bourgeois state has created this class of administrators that we do not need, who pretend they know things. The popular layers of community at the bottom have to wait until they solve the problems. But the comuna can do all of these things, decide all of these things. Before the Spanish came, this is how we lived. But it is a long process to raise the consciousness of the people so that they can take charge of their lives. It is also not an “anarchist thing” where anyone can do whatever they want. There are norms of living together that one has to respect. There are norms that regulate working life that also have to be respected. People have to respect these laws out of consciousness rather than because there is a law that represses them.

Ultimately, whether President Chávez is here or not, the process depends on the people. At the moment, the process as a whole is too dependent on the president. He is seen as the guarantee that this process will go forward, and for this reason the reactionaries want to get rid of him.

If another government replaces Chávez it may no longer be possible to meet politically in the streets. With the right-wing governments of the past, you only had to have a single book by Marx, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro, to be persecuted. •

Susan Spronk teaches in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is a research associate with Municipal Services Project and has published several articles on class formation and water politics in Bolivia.

Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics at the University of Regina. He is the author of Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (Brill, 2010), and Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation and the Politics of Evo Morales (Haymarket, 2011).

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Political action: Join CUPE at the G8/G20 People’s Summit

By admin, June 10, 2010 8:13 am

Join CUPE at the G8/G20 People’s Summit

Make this image your profile photo on Twitter and Facebook during G8/G20 Summit.

Jun 9, 2010 05:20 PM
G8/G20 Actions, June 18 – 27

The Group of Eight world leaders and the Group of Twenty world leaders are meeting in Toronto, Ontario from June 25-27, 2010. We need to get organized and send a message that privatization, trade liberalization and this economic system of greed is not working. This meeting provides a unique opportunity for the community and labour to come together to educate, empower and ignite positive change to achieve a kind of world that we want and desperately need.


Here are a few of many events that CUPE members can attend during the G8/G20 Summit. Additional information about these events is available on the People’s Summit 2010 website.

June 18 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
2010 People’s Summit Launch Event!
Hosted by Mary Walsh with musical performances by Sara Marlowe and Eternia.
Location: The Carlu, 444 Younge Street
Tickets: pay what you can

June 18 – 20
2010 People’s Summit Workshops
Location: Ryerson University and area in Toronto
Workshops offered by over 100 civil society groups from around Canada and the world, as well as skill-shares, panels, plenaries, strategy sessions, art and performance.

June 19 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Canadian Labour Congress – G8 & G20 Open Forum
Location:  University of Toronto, 1 King’s College Circle, Medical Sciences Building, Room 2158
Free of charge
Morning Panel: The Economic Crisis – How we got there? Who Pays?
Afternoon Panel: Labour’s Response – Decent Work and the ILO Jobs Pact

June 20 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (registration at 8:30 a.m.)
Workshop: Building Solidarity with the Democratic Labour Movement in Mexico
Location: Chestnut Residence Hotel, 89 Chestnut Road, Toronto
Free of charge

June 25 7 p.m.
Shout Out for Global Justice!
Location: Massey Hall, Toronto
Tickets: $14 for Council of Canadians members and $20 for non-members. Tickets available at Massey Hall, the Council of Canadians website or by calling 1-800-387-7177 ext. 239

June 26
People First! We deserve better: Public Rally and March
Starting at 1 p.m. in Queen’s Park, Toronto
For more information visit the Canadian Labour Congress website.

Share our messages

Follow CUPE on Twitter @cupenat to receive updates everyday leading up to and during the summit!

With our labour partners, we’ll be tweeting live from events and re-tweeting messages all weekend. Help us share G8/G20 Summit news by re-tweeting messages to your own followers on Twitter. Please use the hashtags #G8 and #G20.

Other Twitter accounts you should follow include:

  • The Canadian Labour Council: @CanadianLabour
  • CUPE Ontario: @CUPEOnt
  • The Council of Canadians: @ CouncilofCDNs
  • Canada International, the Government of Canada official source of information for the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit and the Toronto G20 Summit: @ CanadaIntl
  • The Government of Canada G8-G20 Integrated Security Unit @ G8G20ISUca
  • The Toronto Community Mobilization Network: @g20mobilize

Canada’s New Dissenting Academy

By admin, June 6, 2010 8:33 pm
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 359
May 25, 2010

Canada’s New Dissenting Academy

Matthew Brett

As the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences prepares for its annual Congress this May in Montreal, now is the time to create a new dissenting academy. A radical, anti-capitalist reorientation of academia – created for the explicit purpose of addressing urgent issues that stand before us – is necessary.

Theodore Roszak wrote in a collection of essays titled The Dissenting Academy (1967) that the university is rarely “anything better than the handmaiden of official society: the social club of ruling elites, the training school of whatever functionaries the status quo required.”

In the same collection of essays, Marshall Windmiller wrote a remarkable piece on political scientists in the U.S. and their direct involvement in the CIA and the war in Vietnam. Noam Chomsky’s infamous The Responsibility of Intellectuals closed the essay collection.

All authors agreed that the line between universities, the corporate world and government has blurred to irrelevancy. Social scientists were likewise active in planning some of the worst atrocities in recent history, and dissent within the academic community was shunned. The parallels with today are compelling.

Corporatization and the University

Concordia University will be hosting the 2010 Humanities and Social Science Congress this May, so parallels with the 1960s can be drawn with Concordia. However, most universities in Canada share similar characteristics, and this critique should be applied in equal measure to all post-secondary institutions.

Concordia President Judith Woodsworth recently returned from a mission to India with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and a number of business leaders. There can be no doubt that some of the 130 trade delegation members that joined the trade mission are part of Canada’s massive mining and finance sectors that trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange and are busy exploiting India’s natural resources while gross human rights violations take place. This is representative of the intertwining of universities and Canadian imperialism.

Woodsworth is a strong university president, and a breath of fresh air after the untimely and costly departure of the unpopular Claude Lajeunesse, but it is a shame that the president can praise India’s “flourishing economy, [and] rise of the middle class” without documenting the mass state violence and suppression of the rural poor taking place at this very moment in the name of “development.”

India’s “flourishing economy” also comes with a state military apparatus that is busy “burning villages, raping women, [and] burning food crops,” according to Arhundati Roy, whose recently-published Field Notes on Democracy is a must read.

Just this Tuesday, May 18, Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty was in India stating that trade between the two countries has increased 70 per cent since 2007.

It is in this vein that all Canadian university trade missions to developing economies, such as China, should be regarded. It would not be at all surprising to see Canadian institutions go on a mission to Colombia once the Canadian free trade agreement is ratified this year in Ottawa!

Research interests also align very closely with prevailing government policy. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade recently offered 10 fellowships of $5,000 each to graduate researchers who submit a paper on “Canada’s Role in the Circumpolar World.”

Research must focus on “the Arctic Council as a mechanism to advance Canada’s foreign policy objectives.” Just one month prior to this call for submissions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was taking part in Operation Nanook, a military exercise demonstrating Canada’s “unyielding resolve” to protect the north from those nasty Norwegians. State leaders never stop for a moment to reflect on the madness of militarizing/colonizing the indigenous north precisely to exploit the very resources – namely fossil fuels – that helped cause the melting of these ice sheets in the first place.

Universities for the Status-Quo

University’s communications, journalism, business, engineering, geography and urban planning departments all sustain the status-quo with remarkable efficiency. Students can take advanced courses in derivatives, a primary driver of the financial crisis, but the business school pats itself on the back for adding a course or two on business ethics or “sustainable development.” Lecture halls are named after banks, breweries and investors. Moreover, political science graduate programs across Canada are most often designed explicitly to train the new mandarins of Ottawa, with the largest growth in studies related to the security and international apparatuses of the state, rather than educating students as citizens for democracy and the building of social movements.

Yet there are urgent issues that require critical attention. The World Bank predicts an increase of 200,000 to 400,000 infant deaths as a result of the financial crisis, and bloody wars continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (thanks Obama) and Israel-Palestine, with women and children as the primary victims. Iran finds itself at a critical juncture. Global chronic malnutrition has reached historic levels, affecting one sixth of all humanity, according to a recent UN report.

The deteriorating environment is also a grave concern for the world’s leading scientists and humanity at large, and the global economy needs a radical rethink. There will be another financial crisis unless we make deep and fundamental changes to governance and finance. This must necessarily be a political and revolutionary project.

Yet intellectual responses to these crises have yet to coalesce around a broad national and international dissident movement, so the question begs itself: along what lines will this new dissenting academy be drawn? Geographer David Harvey offered a compelling framework during his 2010 World Social Forum speech, “Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition.”

“The current knowledge structure,” Harvey said, “is clearly dysfunctional and equally clearly illegitimate. The only hope is that a new generation of perceptive students (in the broad sense of all those who seek to know the world) will clearly see it so and insist upon changing it.”

The time seems more than right to insist upon changing not only the illegitimate structure of our education system but also the illegitimate cultural, economic and governmental structures that perpetuate this perilous trajectory.

Seeds of Dissent

There are seeds of dissent at Concordia as at other university campuses, but not nearly enough for a sustained movement. This winter’s well attended Study in Action Conference should serve as a springboard for a broader dissident movement, and there are clear signs of organizing within the Association pour une Solidarité Syndical Étudiante and Free Education Montreal.

A Concordia graduate union meeting last week drew over 130 students, and there is clearly a swelling of dissent within the academy following notice of tuition hikes, 30 per cent pay cuts to teaching assistants and a condensing of payment schemes that will adversely affect low income students.

Fortunately, hundreds of Concordia students have developed a highly-functional network of dissent. But like at other campuses, Canada’s student movement needs some unifying purpose, a galvanizing point, increased organizational coherence, and connection to the wider struggles against the deepening of neoliberalism from the financial crisis.

At Concordia, to use as an illustrative example of what could be paralleled at other campuses, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia (QPIRG Concordia), the Red School, the Community University Research Exchange (CURE), Free Education Montreal – are all key student organizations that are slowly coming together.

That said, the main representative organizations of students – the Concordia Student Union and the Arts and Science Federation of Association and most student organizations – have been painfully silent on the upcoming tuition hikes.

In Quebec, a movement toward a student strike should also be on the table, and this can only be achieved by deepening the organizational linkages of student activists and connecting to wider political struggles.

An anti-capitalist student movement must also necessarily be international in scope. Canadian internationalists must develop strong links not only between provinces but between states and continents. Campus occupations in Puerto Rico and California must receive direct material and social support from a Canada-wide student movement.

More broadly, teach-ins like the “Anti-capitalist Teach-in Against the G8/G20” being held in Montreal must become regular affairs. New educational systems must flourish, along with educational cooperatives and a well organized communications strategy to facilitate this process. Student-run organizations must come together to form a unified movement with pan-Canadian and international links. This is merely a sketch of what must emerge in the face of local and global injustice and the evident way that the financial crisis is now playing out in public sector austerity and further attacks on public institutions. As the Congress of academic associations meets this month, such discussions must be put on the agenda of faculty as much as students. As Canadian programs spending promises to reach lows not seen since World War II, these anti-capitalist and indeed revolutionary ideas do have a window of opportunity to take material form. •

Matthew Brett is a master’s student in political science at Concordia University and a regular columnist with The Link, Concordia’s student newspaper. He also coordinates a reading group of Marx’s Capital based on David Harvey’s online lectures. Those wishing to contact members of Montreal’s student movement are encouraged to contact Matthew. E-mail him at

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