mercoledì 31 ottobre 2007

United Fruit and the CIA in GUATEMALA

by Manu Saxena

Our ever so-timely corporate press has at last seen fit to give us some of the facts about what happened in Guatemala--this time after only a short 30-40 year time lag. Both the New York Times and NPR ran stories in the last couple of weeks describing the truth commission report which found the Guatemalan military guilty of "acts of genocide" against the indigenous Mayan people. Out of 200,000 people killed, the report found the military responsible for 93 percent of the killings. The NYT report included the interesting tidbits that the CIA aided the Guatemalan military forces, and that American "counterinsurgency" training was a key factor in causing the human rights violations that occurred. These human rights violations included the use of, among other things, forced disappearances, the systematic rape and murder of women, and the extermination of the civilian populations of entire villages as weapons of war.

NYT deserves some credit for reporting on this subject (and on the front page, no less!), as does NPR. Even the Clinton administration deserves some praise (shocking, but true) for declassifying and making available several documents to the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission (the U. S. was, in fact, the only country to do so). Unfortunately, none of these reports reveal the full picture of U.S. involvement in Guatemala, a picture that's been available for the past 30 years. Contrary to the whitewashing by Donald Planty, the U.S. ambassador, who said, "...these were abuses committed by Guatemalans against other Guatemalans--the result of an internal conflict" (NYT), the U.S. national security state supported, equipped, and actually created the post-war Guatemalan military state. Corporate involvement and encouragement was there from the start.

A democratically elected President, Jacobo Arbenz, took office in 1951 with a program of land reform. Before his program was put into effect, 2.2% of the Guatemalan landowners owned 70% of the arable land, and the average annual per capita income of farm workers was about $87. Under the Arbenz program, uncultivated land was given away to around 100,000 landless peasants; in addition, he instituted a program of support for union rights and other social reforms. So of course he had to go.

One of the principal architects of his downfall was the United Fruit Company. Both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations were lobbied aggressively by executives of the United Fruit Company, which had friendly ties with many Congressmen and State Department officials. In addition, Eisenhower's personal secretary was the wife of United Fruit's public relations director, and Under Secretary of State Walter Smith was looking for a job with United Fruit while he was still in the administration. United Fruit monopolized Guatemala's banana exports and owned much of the country's communications system; its control over the economy was threatened by Arbenz's programs. But what must have especially raised United Fruit's ire was the land reform program: United Fruit wanted $16 million for the portion of its land the government was expropriating--land which United Fruit itself valued at only $525,000--exactly what the Guatemalan government was offering for it.

The first CIA plan to overthrow Arbenz was formulated in 1952, but wasn't implemented until after Eisenhower became president in 1953. The CIA approached right-wing malcontents in the military and supplied them with weapons, with a generous $64,000 donation by United Fruit. The resulting uprising was defeated, and the role of United Fruit came out in the trial of the rebels.

The role of the CIA was revealed in 1954, when plans of yet another coup were discovered and published in Guatemala's newspapers. The State Department and U.S. newspapers such as the NYT pooh-poohed the charges, naming them communist propaganda. There were, of course, some communists in the Arbenz government, but not very many. Out of the 51 seats that made up the Arbenz coalition, a total of 4 were held by communists, and Arbenz himself wasn't a communist--not that that would have excused the attempt by the U.S. to overthrow a popularly elected government.

The CIA, of course, implemented its plans and proceeded to launch a massive propaganda campaign against the Guatemalan people. One example: United Fruit company representatives circulated pictures of mutilated bodies claiming they were victims of atrocities committed by the Arbenz regime, all the while knowing this was untrue. On June 18 the CIA dropped leaflets demanding Arbenz resign, and then proceeded to attack that afternoon, its planes strafing the National Palace and dropping bombs. An insidious propaganda campaign led the people and armed forces to believe they were being invaded by an overwhelming force, and finally Arbenz was forced to resign in favor of the military.

The results of the military takeover were to be expected. Thousands of people were arrested on suspicion of being communist, many of whom were tortured and killed. Labor organizers for United Fruit were murdered, the banana unions and other labor organizations were banned, and the land reform program was reversed. Political parties and peasant organizations were also banned, newspapers were closed, and politically unacceptable books were burned.

This was the beginning of the CIA's role as protector of the rich against the poor in Guatemala. Those who in later years rebelled against the military rule were the poorest of the poor, typically the indigenous Mayan people. Indeed, because of their poverty, the Mayans were profiled as being natural supporters of the guerrilla movement, which is why the military (aided and abetted by the CIA) conducted their campaign of genocide to wipe them out, in 36 years of the most brutal war in Central American history. (One of the most fascinating accounts of the civil war can be found in Jennifer Harbury's book, "Bridge of Courage.") It's an amazing tribute to the power of the human spirit that the military didn't succeed, and that, as of 1996, the guerrillas now have their own political parties.

Nevertheless, human rights violations in Guatemala continue despite the current cease-fire; Bishop Gerardi was murdered just last year for bringing some of these violations to light.

martedì 30 ottobre 2007

Burma: Children Bought and Sold by Army Recruiters

UN Security Council Group to Consider Violations Against Children in Burma

Facing a military staffing crisis, the Burmese government is forcibly recruiting many children, some as young as age 10, into its armed forces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Burmese military recruiters target children in order to meet unrelenting demands for new recruits due to continued army expansion, high desertion rates and a lack of willing volunteers. Non-state armed groups, including ethnic-based insurgent groups, also recruit and use child soldiers, though in far smaller numbers.
The brutality of Burma's military government goes beyond its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors, said Jo Becker, children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. Military recruiters are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the Burmese armed forces.
Based on an investigation in Burma, Thailand and China, the 135-page report, "Sold to be soldiers: the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Burma", found that military recruiters and civilian brokers receive cash payments and other incentives for each new recruit, even if the recruit clearly violates minimum age or health standards.
One boy told Human Rights Watch that he was forcibly recruited at age 11, despite being only 1.3 meters tall and weighing less than 31 kilograms (70 pounds). Officers at recruitment centers routinely falsify enlistment records to list children as 18, the minimum legal age for recruitment. Recruiters target children at train and bus stations, markets and other public places, and often threaten them with arrest if they refuse to join the army. Some children are beaten until they agree to volunteer.
The government's senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and fail to punish perpetrators, said Becker. In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will.
Child soldiers typically receive 18 weeks of military training. Some are sent into combat situations within days of their deployment to battalions. Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labor. Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited or imprisoned.
All of the former soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported the presence of children in their training units. Thousands of children are present in the army's ranks, although their prevalence varies considerably by battalion. Particularly in some newly formed battalions, children reportedly constitute a large percentage of privates.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the military's recent crackdown on monks and civilian demonstrators may make children even more vulnerable to recruitment.
Even before the recent crackdown, many young adults rejected military service because of grueling conditions, low pay and mistreatment by superior officers, said Becker. After deploying its soldiers against Buddhist monks and other peaceful demonstrators, the government may find it even harder to find willing volunteers.
In 2004, the military government, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), created a high-level committee to prevent the recruitment of children into the military. However, Human Rights Watch found that in practice the committee has failed to effectively address the issue and devoted most of its efforts to denouncing outside reports of child recruitment. As recently as September, the state-run media announced that the government was working to reveal that accusations of child soldier use were totally untrue.
The government's committee to address child recruitment is a shame, said Becker. Instead of denouncing credible reports of child recruitment, the government must address the issue head-on. It needs to demobilize all of the children in its forces, and end all recruitment of children.
The majority of Burma's 30 or more non-state armed groups reportedly also recruit and use child soldiers, though in far smaller numbers. Human Rights Watch examined the policies and practices of 12 armed groups and found that some, like the Karenni Army and Karen National Liberation Army, have taken measures to reduce the numbers of children in their forces. But others, including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, United Wa State Army and Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front, continue to recruit and use children, sometimes by imposing recruitment quotas on local villages. Child soldiers in the armed forces of these groups may be as young as 11 or 12. While some armed groups restrict child soldiers to duties in their camps, others deploy child soldiers into combat situations.
In the coming weeks, the United Nations Security Councils working group on children and armed conflict will consider violations against children in Burma, including the use and recruitment of child soldiers. The UN secretary-general has already identified Burma's national armed forces in four consecutive reports to the Security Council for violating international laws prohibiting the use of child soldiers. The secretary-general has also listed several armed opposition groups as violators.
The Security Council has stated repeatedly that it will consider targeted sanctions, including embargoes of arms and other military assistance, against parties on the secretary-general's list that refuse to end their use of children as soldiers. So far, it has taken no action in the case of Burma.
Human Rights Watch recommended that the Security Council consider imposing measures including bans on the supply of arms and military assistance, travel restrictions on SPDC leaders, and restrictions on the flow of financial resources to the SPDC. The Security Council should fulfill its pledge to hold violators to account for recruiting and using child soldiers, said Becker. Given Burma's abysmal record on child soldiers, sanctions against the Burmese military government are clearly warranted.

domenica 14 ottobre 2007

45 giorni dal "lado del charco" europeo

Nicaragua Nicaraguita e la sua meravigliosa gente riempie i miei pensieri appena tornato al bel paese. Il delirium transitionis riempie, ovviamente, le mie giornate nutrendo dubbi sul fatto di lasciare questo paese speciale. Per riprendere fiato scendo a Santa Maria di Leuca, base per dieci giorni rilassanti e ingrassanti, utili a comprendere alcune dinamiche e a prendere decisioni mature. Ho conosciuto Lecce, Taranto e tanti paesini pieni di persone con voglia di divertirsi, tra notti della taranta e serate della proloco, reggae e pizzica con gli E’Zezi. Ho preso tutto il sole che non sono riuscito a prendere a Managua rinchiuso in ufficio, lo iodio deve aver fatto effetto. Così sono ripartito per il NordEst, insieme a Chiara, per farle conoscere Venezia, le sue parole, i suoi bacari, alcuni suoi angoli unici, la Biennale d`arte. Venezia e i pescatori, i ponti, il moto ondoso, i bengali e gli africani. Ma i veneziani? Sempre meno.
E poi ho passato del santo tempo con la mia famiglia, mia sorella.
E proprio in questo contesto è nata l’annunciazione. Si, Nicola e Chiara si sposano. Semplicemente, felicemente.
Il 31 Maggio dell’anno prossimo, vicino Torino, a Rossana, si..come le caramelle.
E così, è iniziata la babilonicissima follia dei preparativi. Anche perchè, nel frattempo, ACRA mi ha offerto l’opportunità per continuare la collaborazione con loro, questa volta in Bolivia, occupandomi di uno studio socio-economico sull’utilizzo dell’acqua in dieci comunità, fissandomi la partenza per il 15 Ottobre. Quindi, in un paio di settimane, abbiamo cercato di preparare quello che, normalmente, richiede molto più tempo ed energie. E’ stata una occasione per trascorrere una settimana a Torino, tra incartamenti, certificati, musica e serate bellissime. Conoscere la cittá dei Savoia, biciclettare, cenare in chiese sconsacrate ed in asili occupati, tra un film rumeno e l’ennesima denuncia sulla precarietà del lavoro di Ken Loach.
Parte delle cose era avvisare i miei testimoni, che saranno Gio e Lisy. Se dirlo a Gio è stato semplice, comunicarlo a Lisy di persona ha reso necessario prendere un aereo destinazione Bruxelles, aproffittando anche per invitare diversi amici che vivono li. Lisy è sempre bellissima, e ogni giorno di più ringrazio il destino che me l`ha fatta incontrare. Siamo stati nello squat che condivide con qualche amico a Gent, tra cene di verdure, crepés mangiate su ruote di legno, cioccolato scaduto e buonissimo, bagni improbabili, manifestazioni contro i neo-nazi delle fiandre a suon di samba e gran giri in biciclette altissime, tra drum’n’bass e autostop, tra vecchini con la faccia da santoni, e marocchini gentili. Al nord sono alti. Sono veramente alti. Lisy ha proprio una vibra magica, di un altro mondo, bello. I bimbi le cadono ai piedi incantati.A Bruxelles abbiamo rivisto Koen e Ines, compagni d’avventura in India che in comune con noi hanno il fatto di stare insieme da allora. Ho conosciuto Aline, con la quale siamo stati ad un concerto di musica popolare ad un’ora da Bruxelles, vicino le mura di una basilica che dev’essere stata imperiosa. Abbiamo pranzato con una spagnola che alla mia età prende tremila euro al mese per fare la traduttrice, e che ci ha portato in un posto supercaro e, per fortuna, ha ben pensato di offrire lei. S’è cenato con Eduardito, cubano amico di Chiara, uno spasso di persona, che vive in una casa con un congolese, tutta colorata, mangiando italiano grazie ad un amico siciliano che da Caltanissetta a Bruxelles ci mette venti ore in M3.
Bruxelles, tra tutte le sue incomprensioni, presenta delle peculiarità che la rendono speciale. E’ veramente multietnica, a differenza di Madrid, Parigi e Berlino, raccoglie immigrati provenienti da tutti i continenti. Con pochi legami coloniali, molti rifugiati politici, moltissimi europei, molti abiti e cerimonie tradizionali, mercati e balli che si sviluppano trasversalmente, ognuno con la sua identità, che non è però esclusiva ma cerca, quanto possibile, di essere inclusiva.
E così tra catering da chiamare e tendoni da scegliere, tra abbracci indelebili e parole sussurrate, è arrivato il giorno della partenza per la Bolivia, attraverso un altra volta in charco, questa volta destinazione Sud.