Category Archives: News

Military occupation of Brazilian favelas under guise of drug war

Military special forces in Rio de Janeiro have now taken over at least 38 favelas, mostly those near the venues for the 2014 World Cup scheduled to begin in June. This favela, Complexo da Mare, was slated for “pacification”–that is, military occupation–as far back as 2011 but it is a primary target now since it’s located near Rio’s international airport where hundreds of thousands of tourists will be pouring in for the games.

The ostensible reason for the occupation is to rout drug trafficking but many traffickers on the run claim half their monthly proceeds go to buying off the police. If drug trafficking in the rest of the world is any indication, the police are not just accepting bribes to look the other way but helping to organize the trade. There were so many corruption accusations made during “pacification” of other favelas that officials banned cops carrying backpacks & began teaching ethics courses in the police academy. The officials most likely have special six-wheelers carting in the drugs & carting out their cut of the dough.

This photo in Complexo da Mare lets us judge for ourselves whether the military invasion is a “pacification” or an occupation.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Image)

The unspeakable barbarisms of European Union immigration policies

Melilla is a Spanish territory on the Mediterranean coast of Africa surrounded by Morocco. It has long been disputed territory between Spain & Morocco, along with the enclave of Ceuta & several nearby Mediterranean islands. Spain has claimed it since the 15th century & it remains a vestige of European colonialism. Ironic that, since now it serves Spain as a military outpost against African immigrants fleeing the ravages of neoliberal plunder in their own countries.

Reportedly, the Spanish government estimates there are 40,000 African immigrants in Morocco trying to get into Melilla or the enclave of Ceuta which is closer to the Strait of Gibraltar. They estimate another 40,000 moving from Mauritania to Morocco to make entry into Spain & the rest of Europe to find work.

The border between Morocco & Melilla is secured by a six-meter (nearly 20 feet) high chain-link fence with detection wires, tear gas dispensers, radar, day/night vision cameras, & lots of armed border patrol agents. That hasn’t deterred immigrants from repeatedly attempting to cross into the enclave where there is an overcrowded migrant center.

The barbarisms Spain uses to thwart immigrants have created a furor, especially since last February when fifteen immigrants drowned trying to swim from Morocco past a retaining wall into Ceuta. Spanish police fired rubber bullets at them although they claim they were not directly aimed at the immigrants. You don’t find a more paltry defense of barbarism than that. Who were they shooting at then? Fish?

In late March, under early morning cover of dense fog, about 800 young men reportedly mostly from Mali & Cameroon, rushed a weak section of the chain-link fence at Melilla; 500 made it in. It was the single largest crossing since October 2005 when 350 successfully crossed. The young immigrants ran toward the holding center shouting “bosa, bosa” (“victory, victory”) & we join that rally cry with them. Spanish officials claim most were turned back by phalanxes of border patrol from both Morocco & Spain.

European Union immigration policy is barbaric & racist & must be opposed. Immigration is a human right! Open the damn borders!

(Photo of immigrants trying to get into Melilla by Jose Colon/AFP)

Protests continue in Egypt against military repression

There are protests all over the world in opposition to neoliberal barbarisms but this guy in Cairo is certainly among the toughest & most intransigent in the world. He is identified in the media as a “supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood,” but media now identifies all Egyptian protestors with that designation. Perhaps the designation is to discredit protestors & associate them with the disastrous policies of the Mohammed Morsi regime which colluded with the Egyptian military, US Pentagon, & Israel.

But in a savvy program to thwart the Egyptian uprising, the military turned on the MB to blame that conservative organization for the crimes of the military. This treacherous program included the massacre of thousands of members of the MB last year; classifying the group as a terrorist organization; arrest & incarceration of thousands of members; & last week, an Egyptian kangaroo court sentencing 529 MB “supporters” to death. Fortunately, according to reports, only 123 of the defendants were present at the sentencing; the rest were either released, out on bail, or on the run. The mass death sentence came down the same day a group of journalists went on trial for allegedly being associated with the MB. Trusting the military as allies was a fatal mistake for the MB; you never trust a rattle snake not to bite.

The sole motive for the military going after the MB was to legitimize & gain popular support for repression. So whether we dislike what the MB stands for or disagree with their conduct during the Morsi regime, it is the duty of democracy activists around the world to stand with them against persecution by the military. Because you can be damn sure the regime is not just targeting MB members but also thousands of MB “supporters” who understand “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The Egyptian uprising is proving that slogan not to be just an empty slogan but the iron law of social revolution.

As in every mass social movement, the Egyptian uprising has ruptures & clashes in political perspective & ideology & divergent class interests. Because it was so massive & so monumental, we are learning what a complicated task social transformation really is. There’s no historic forgiveness for naiveté like trusting the military & no substitutions for forging unity with disparate political forces.

Our fullest solidarity & deepest respect for all those in Egypt defying tyranny.

(Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

Yet another slum fire in district slated for gentrification

This is the human toll of urban gentrification/urban development mandated by IMF programs: a man & his child are headed to a basketball court turned into an evacuation center in the Tondo district of Manila, Philippines. In the fourth slum fire just in the past five weeks, thousands more were left homeless in an area targeted for development into swanky venues for the rich.

The Philippine government is authorized to clear out tens of thousands of slum residents all over Manila by December 2015 so the land can be privatized to suit IMF mandates & used for gentrification schemes. With no place else to go, residents are understandably resistant to being evicted, so it appears the Aquino regime is using the same method used in dozens of other cities & other countries: simply burning the shanties to the ground.

Fire forensics are seldom reported but fire officials theorized this latest fire on March 24th was caused by an unattended electrical appliance which torched hundreds of homes made of makeshift, flammable materials. We only wish that were persuasive but it isn’t–at least not to residents. Arson motivated by greed is the more likely cause & the least likely to be investigated.

The more important issue is why governments aren’t addressing the massive, global housing crisis which their policies, in league with IMF plunder programs, create for now over a billion impoverished people.

Housing is a human right!

(Photo by Noel Celis/AFP)

Vatican puts the screws on Obama against reproductive rights

It’s swell Obama & the pope found something to chuckle about for the cameras but this is not just a photo op to prop up Obama’s waning popularity. Media sources can’t figure out what the hell they talked about in their 50 minute meeting or what Obama discussed in a separate hour-long meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, because the Vatican & Obama issued distinctly differing reports on the content. The media’s usual facility with passing off baloney as hard news served them well here & most repeated Obama’s claim that the two discussed a common commitment to world peace, eliminating poverty, & immigration reform.

The Vatican issued a statement veiled in poetics saying they raised concerns about “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life & conscientious objection” in the US. This is an intentionally vague reference to the Catholic Church’s active opposition to the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare which requires employers to cover the cost of contraception in insurance plans. It’s good the Catholic hierarchy has it’s priorities straight since Obamacare also denies medical coverage to millions of undocumented immigrants & that was not in contention. Doesn’t that exclusion fall under the ‘exercise of the rights to life’?

Obama denies that Obamacare came up in discussions with the pope but admits it was covered in his talk with Cardinal Parolin. They wanted talks with the pope to be a photogenic moment so left it to the cardinal to put the screws on Obama.

The Francis-Obama meeting took place just two days after the US Supreme Court heard two cases challenging the “contraception mandate” in Obamacare & whether corporations have a right to opt out of it if it offends their religious convictions. Two cases by Hobby Lobby, Inc. & Conestoga Wood Specialties claim contraception violates their First Amendment rights & the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed amicus curiae briefs in support of both corporate challenges.

Abortion is not at issue in either suit because, along with many state & insurance company restrictions, federal law (the Hyde Amendment) bans federal funds from being used for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the woman is in danger. While not agreeing, one can understand opposition to abortion & why it violates some religious commitments. But contraception!? The Catholic hierarchy claims contraception drugs & devices may cause abortions. So could denying medical care to undocumented immigrants but that does not concern the Vatican. Denying medical care to immigrants will also cause deaths. So where’s the Catholic hierarchy on that issue?

Reproductive rights for women are under serious attack in the US. It will take far more than legislative filibusters or electing women politicians to fend these massive assaults off. Proof of that is that the voices of women politicians are quiet as a mouse, if not altogether mute, in opposing these attacks or organizing women against them.

(Photo from Reuters)

Texas leads assault on abortion rights

In July 2013, Texas governor Rick Perry, signed into law one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the US. As of 2011, Texas women already must undergo a mandatory ultrasound (where the physician is required to play the sound of the heartbeat & describe the development of the fetus) & a 24-hour waiting period before getting an abortion. Under the mandates of the new law, abortions are banned after 20 weeks of gestation; the use of medicines like RU-486 to induce abortion are restricted; physicians performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges within 30-miles of the abortion facility; & as of September 2014, all abortion procedures must be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

As a result of all these restrictions most clinics providing abortion services have been forced to close down. By September 2014, only six abortion clinics will remain in the immense state of Texas.  And of course it goes without saying that poor working women will be the primary victims of this restrictive legislation.

Planned Parenthood & several other defendants sued to overturn two of the new provisions. Their legal strategy was to challenge only the admitting privileges requirement & that concerning the use of drugs like RU-486. The state of Texas was allowed to implement all of the law while it was wending its way through the legal challenge.

Yesterday (Mar 27th), a 3-judge appellate court ruled the Texas law was constitutional. The decision was something of a foregone conclusion. Judge Edith Jones, the conservative judge issuing the verdict for the court, has renowned herself for racism, opposition to abortion rights, enthusiastic advocacy of the death penalty. She once claimed Blacks & Latinos are “predisposed to crime” & “prone to commit acts of violence.” She has long been actively & outspokenly opposed to Roe v. Wade & has attempted to juridically challenge & overturn it. She also upheld the Texas sonogram law when it was challenged in 2012. Jones used all sorts of legalese blah blah blah to explain the court decision, but in legal proceedings seeking injunction against the new law, she’s the bozo who argued that if you drive fast a 300-mile trip to get an abortion is no big deal. They don’t come more stupid or more vicious.

Planned Parenthood has indicated they plan no massive protests against the appellate court decision. This is an election period where Wendy Davis (the state politician who filibustered the Texas legislature to obstruct passage of the anti-abortion law) is running for governor. Elections always impact mass protest in powerful & negative ways while people look to a savior to bring them their rights. There could not be a more bankrupt political perspective because it has nothing to show for it in over 100 years of experience.

What is needed is mass mobilizations of women from all over Texas converging on the state capitol in Austin to demand reproductive rights. A filibuster is a parliamentary gimmick but what is needed is an uprising. The forces opposed to abortion have been relentless since Roe v. Wade was passed in January 1973. They have taken a primarily legislative approach because they cannot win popular support for their views; the majority in the US support a woman’s right to choose if & when she will bear children.

In response, & regrettably, the abortion rights movement has taken an electoral approach to abortion rights & in those 41 years has only mobilized massively in Washington, DC on two occasions. Those two protests drew well over half a million people each. That is exactly what is needed in Texas & across the US since these state legislative initiatives have long existed & are now emboldened by the victory over abortion rights in Texas.

Mass mobilizations are not counterposed to electoralism & lobbying. Showing up to lobby in Austin or Washington, DC with half a million people trumps a handful of women beseeching politicians like beggars.

Abortion rights are human rights! Stand with the women of Texas! Don’t mess with our rights!

(Photo of women at Texas legislature in Austin protesting new law in 2013 from ThinkProgress.org)

Antiwar protests in Manila, Philippines

These are intrepid antiwar activists in Manila, Philippines (yesterday), protesting the upcoming visit of Obama & ongoing negotiations between the Philippines & US to establish a framework for long-term presence of US troops in the country & the “unlimited & unqualified use of Philippine bases & facilities by US forces.” Filipinos have a belly-full of that arrangement since WWII, particularly in the Vietnam War when their country played a vital role for the US military.

If you want to get the measure of Obama, you ignore his affable meeting with the pope & the media nonsense about how they share a concern for the poor. These activists, defying his mission on behalf of the Pentagon, take his full measure: that of war-monger in chief.

Hats off to our Filipino brothers & sisters! No military presence in the Philippines!

(Photo by AP)

Brutal military occupation of favelas in Brazil labeled a “pacification” program

This image of civilians caught in crossfire is iconic of occupation–from Northern Ireland to Iraq, Afghanistan, & here the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazil notoriously has one of the highest numbers of homeless children & slum residents in the world due to ruthless neoliberal plunder of its land & resources. In a process we’ve seen played out on every continent, rural workers are dispossessed & forced to migrate abroad for work or to city slums. But now those slums conflict with IMF programs mandating privatization of public lands & gentrification/urban development schemes so the slum residents must be evicted again.

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro are not just located on desirable urban real estate; many are within a stones throw of stadia where the 2014 World Cup & 2016 Olympic games will be played. So the Brazilian government created an inflammatory view of favelas as havens for criminal drug mafias & under the guise of fighting the drug war marched special forces military units trained in urban warfare into the favelas (starting in 2008) armed with assault weapons & armored vehicles.

You can’t believe the baloney Brazilian politicians & world media use to justify this brutal occupation as a pacifying program meant to bring social harmony. They claim, without an ounce of sarcasm, that soldiers & riot cops will no longer just summarily execute suspected traffickers but will play a role in social development; they will organize youth sports clubs, schools, skill development workshops, teach ballet classes, & other “peaceful forms of socialization”–as if favela residents were feral animals.

The occupying army hasn’t gotten around to the social service programs in the past five years since they’re up to their eyeballs ransacking homes, forcibly evicting people & making them homeless by the thousands, under the guise of routing out the drug traffickers. Residents have made quite clear they want education, health services, & less provocation & violence from the cops. There isn’t a single public service they do not need, including electricity, waste management, health clinics (dealing with every medical need from prenatal care to drug addiction to treatment for tuberculosis), schools, housing, sanitation, roads, sports programs, & most of all, jobs. What they’ve gotten is lectures on trash clean-up.

The rhetoric used to justify this brutal police occupation is not at all coincidentally a clone of what is used against Black youth in the US to justify often martial law conditions in many Black communities & the suspension of civil liberties–in particular “stop & frisk” laws & the summary execution of hundreds of Black youth minding their own business on city streets. When people believed the lies against Black youth & allowed suspension of the Bill of Rights in the Black community without protest, it was only a matter of time before the government trashed the Bill of Rights for immigrants. And now it’s under siege for all of us. That’s why “an injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a romantic, feel-good ditty we chant like a mantra. It’s an iron law of justice for working people.

We don’t know the scope or the statistics, but drug addiction among the poor of Rio de Janeiro is likely quite high–and favelas may well be a center for drug peddling. But the drug mafias orchestrating global trafficking don’t live in favelas; they live in mansions. Going after favela residents is nothing but a fancy switch & bait device to deflect attention from the real criminals.

Military raids in the favelas of Rio have increased in the past several months since the 2014 World Cup games are scheduled to begin in June when hundreds of thousands of well-heeled tourists will be pouring into the city. The Dilma Rousseff regime sent special forces units & more riot cops into the favelas to quell an alleged wave of violence in the “pacified” slums. If there is unrest, it’s more likely opposition to the brutal occupation. As we can see from this photo, the security of favela residents is not a concern.

(Photo by Felipe Dana/AP)

Immigration is a human right! Open up the damn borders!

One of the main TV stations here conducts its investigations on immigration like it was an adjunct to the Border Patrol. I have had many poison pen exchanges with their reporters on this score, insisting they just report the damn news & stop trying to nail immigrants. Recently, they’re reporting frequently on the detention of women, mostly from Central America, crossing the border with very young children. Tonight the ever-burgeoning Border Patrol arrested a group of women & small children when they disembarked from rafting across the Rio Grande just a few miles from here.

The station made quite an issue of the charge that Border Patrol agents arrest immigrants, process them, & release them for a later hearing. Many hearings, they report, are scheduled in faraway states so somehow undocumented immigrants have to get past immigration check points on the highways going north to get to their hearings. And then they never show up at the hearings. Of course not. If you can get past immigration, you look for your family & for work; you don’t go to a hearing where you might get deported. And immigration authorities damn well know that. Do you see the insanities of racist immigration policies!?

But you know, that story may make sense to investigative reporters cum immigration patrol but it sure does not make sense to me. According to our intrepid reporters, immigrants are not allowed to work or to move without notifying immigration. And since getting past those check points is the toughest obstacle to finding work in the northern US, why do they schedule deportation hearings in New Jersey or Minnesota when they know most will make a run for it to avoid deportation? If the number of Border Patrol agents is dramatically increasing, why are they employing what the TV station regrettably terms a “catch & release” policy (like they were fish & not humans)? It’s not like they have a humane deportation program. They just dump people on the other side of the border whether they have means to survive or not. And this is when the Obama regime, according to all reliable sources, is deporting more people than at any other time in US history. Can someone explain these mysteries to me?

Immigration is a human right! Open up the damn borders!

(Photo of Mexican children orphaned by the US drug war from hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)

Jimmy Carter opposes Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions against Israeli apartheid

Former US president Jimmy Carter (who many naifs consider a saint) announced yesterday that he opposes BDS. He was speaking for The Elders, a group of senior political figures formed in 2007 by Nelson Mandela. Its membership includes Desmond Tutu & Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland & UN official. Tutu, who has long supported BDS, has not spoken out to distinguish himself from the group position. One hopes such a disavowal is forthcoming.

Carter’s opposition to BDs may surprise those who thought his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” an indictment of Israeli apartheid because of the immense furor it evoked in Zionist circles. Alan Dershowitz was among those who flew into orbit, challenging Carter to a debate. The book, in fact, was entirely equivocal in designating Zionist policies as apartheid but was damning in depicting the barbaric realities of those policies in the West Bank. A brief tip of the hat to Carter for standing the guff he took for writing the book.

But Carter is no champion of Palestinian justice. He isn’t just an outspoken promoter of the two-state, bantustate solution for Palestinians; he has blood on his hands from brokering the Camp David Accords in 1978 when he was president. Those accords, signed between Anwar Sadat of Egypt & Menachem Begin of Israel, were so flawed they were even rejected by the UN. Jordan & Syria refused to participate (at least openly) & Palestinian representatives were excluded. The Accords had nothing to do with Palestinian justice but with neutralizing Egypt & making it a partner with the US & Israel in isolating Palestinians. The Accord provisions established the framework for the arrant betrayal of Palestinian justice negotiated by Yasser Arafat in the Oslo Accords in 1993.

In return for massive trade concessions to Israel (including ending the boycott by Egypt & opening the Suez Canal to Israel), the US committed to billions of dollars in military aid to Egypt & established it as a military bulwark for US hegemony against Palestinians & in the entire region. Sadat was assassinated for his betrayal but the military arsenal created in Egypt under Mubarak, created by the Camp David Accords, made it possible to defeat the initial tsunami of the Egyptian uprising in 2013. That is the legacy of Jimmy Carter.

Many equivocate or outright oppose BDS saying the comparison with apartheid in South Africa is inexact; it’s only an approximation or is outright invalid. This isn’t just pedantic or sophistic thinking; it’s missing the forest for the trees. South Africa gave us the term “apartheid” but they didn’t invent the ignominious policies. It existed in the US South & throughout the Americas for hundreds of years before it was initiated in South Africa in the 20th century. The US Civil War ended slavery but in an attempt to reverse Black Reconstruction in the late 19th century, extreme racist segregation was reinstalled using paramilitary violence. US apartheid, called “Jim Crow,” was every bit as oppressive & violent as apartheid in South Africa.

Equivocators will point out differences between South African apartheid & US Jim Crow; there are plenty–as there are between South African & Israeli apartheid. It isn’t the differences that make them all apartheid but the common features: segregation in housing; economic, educational, & social disadvantages; denial of basic human, democratic, & civil rights; violence; repression; murder; incarceration. Need we list more!?

The BDS movement against Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing is separating the wheat from the chaff in international politics. The BDS movement is not just a potent economic lever against apartheid; it is playing a key role in countering the “Exodus” mythology about Israel & in delegitimizing the repugnant Zionist dystopia of an only-Jewish state–a ghetto writ large. The term ghetto was originally used to describe the city areas where Jews were restricted & segregated. Is a ghetto the Zionist vision of freedom!?

The economic impact of BDS in some ways has less importance than the political exposé of Zionism & its dystopic vision–a vision which not merely concedes ground to racism but joins the reactionary forces & pretends their methods of tyranny & supremacism are the road to freedom.

Oppose Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing by supporting BDS; supporting the cultural boycott of Israel; & demanding No military aid to Israel!

(Photo of Carter by Lydia Smith)