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The Zapatistas Are Building The World We Ask For


By: Ann Deslandes

Zapatista women arrive at an information session.

  • Zapatista women arrive at an information session. | Photo: Ann Deslandes

The Zapatista experiment in resisting without bullets and instead building the world we ask for – an experiment conducted under erasure, in conditions no university laboratory would authorize.

“If we had spent those 23 years exchanging gunshots,” says Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in an evening address to the many gathered for “The Zapatistas and ConSciences for Humanity” encounter currently taking place in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, “would we have been able to build this?”

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The Subcomandante was referring to the flourishing infrastructures of self-organized Zapatista life, lived by thousands of rebel Indigenous people in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatista movement today celebrates the 23rd anniversary of its uprising in San Cristóbal on Jan. 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. In the 23 years that have followed the Zapatistas are organized by small communities known as caracoles and have built autonomous hospitals, schools, health clinics, security, transport, and communications operations.

The Zapatista “command” of which Subcomandante Moisés is a member had, as the Subcomandante was recounting in his address, begun shortly after the uprising to consider “another way of fighting” the system of neoliberal economics and bad government that currently has humanity in its grip, with Indigenous peoples of the world being squeezed the hardest. That is, they began to explore a resistance to this death grip that did not rely on weapons and violence and in which only guerrillas played a role. The leaders of the movement began to speak with the “compañer@s*” of the Indigenous communities that comprise it about alternatives to fighting the war against them. The alternative, they discovered, was to include all the rebel Indigenous who struggle — the women, the children, the older people — all together building the just and rational world being fought for “from below” while continuing to face the threat of extermination by the state and capital. As such, the Zapatistas decided they would stop using their weapons against their aggressors and develop a system of self-government, completely autonomous from the state and capital.

The answer to Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés’ question is no, of course, and in fidelity to Zapatista methodology, it is met by another question: “and would we have met each other?” Here, he is talking to the nearly 100 scientists (from the fields of mathematics, engineering, volcanology, epigenetics, cosmology, biotechnology, to name but a few) who accepted the Zapatistas’ invitation to travel to San Cristóbal for this “encuentro” to present their work and respond to questions from the 100 Zapatista women selected by their communities to bring the knowledge of professional scientists to the task of building a good and just world, against neoliberalism and for humanity. This task is described for the purposes of this encuentro as “building a big house where many worlds fit.”

On this evening, Subcomandante Moisés is telling us about the journey of the Zapatistas with the arts and sciences, with an emphasis on the sciences, as this is what we are gathered to discuss. Before the uprising and the fruits of self-government, he tells us, the rebel Indigenous did not have a lot of space to make art or to contemplate the teachings of science. Ancestral and customary teachings were the primary way of knowing the world. Since autonomy has been consolidated over the past eight to nine years, new windows on the world are sought. This is marked by the questions of Defensa Zapatista, a girl of maybe 8 or 9 years old, and other young Zapatistas as they grow in their education and begin to ask questions of their elders – like, “why is that flower the color … , why does it have that shape, why does it smell? … I do not want to be told that Mother Earth with her wisdom made the flower or that God did, or whatever. I want to know what the scientific answer is.”

As such, this encuentro, “The Zapatistas and ConSciences for Humanity,” is attended by compañer@s from Zapatista communities who will be taking this knowledge back to tens of thousands of Indigenous people in many languages. It is also attended by the practitioners of professional science they have invited; by eschucas (listeners/ears) from all over Mexico and the world; and by the independent press of Latin America.

While we gather, the National Indigenous Congress is also in session, working on political strategy for Indigenous advancement in Mexico. For example, the Congress has been consulting on whether their people will name an Indigenous Governing Council to govern our country of Mexico.

In describing the movement of scientific knowledge through Zapatista communities, Subcomandante Moisés illustrates one of the many alternative worlds that Zapatista life shows us: one where, to paraphrase Subcomandante Galeano, science does not arrive with a sword as it did and continues to do under colonialism. Neither does it arrive as the “pseudoscience” of “good vibes” — New Age therapies and the like, which consigns ancestral and customary knowledge to an inferior past. Instead, knowledge is built together, as time and space makes it possible, and on the terms of the originary peoples of the earth.

In the sessions to date, Zapatista compañer@s have been addressed on the subjects of the frustrations and falsity of academia and of state-sponsored funding for scientific practice; the question of who scientific practice serves and can serve; the practice of science with social movements, such as in agroecology; the utility of science and scientists for building the world where many worlds fit; the relationship between knowledges labelled customary and scientific; the potential and applications of artificial intelligence; which is not to mention the presentations on biohacking, astronomy, the workings of the human heart, the manifestations and prevention of coffee rust, the workings of mathematics, geometry, epigenetics and cosmology, and myriad others not mentioned here. Compañer@s have also participated in workshops on robotics, on the practice of science as a profession, and on fossils and the earth’s past. The questions that Zapatista compañer@s brought to the encuentro were outlined in the beginning by Subcomandante Galeano and are 120 in number. They include:

– Do GMO foods damage the earth and humans? What about processed foods, microwaves, pesticides?

– When a baby is born and only its heart beats – it lives but the body is green, dead, and not moving, we put the baby in a container of hot water with the placenta, and without cutting the umbilical cord the baby starts to recover while the placenta distintegrates. What is the scientific explanation for this?What relation does the moon have to the movement of the earth; what is the scientific explanation?

– What produces pre-eclampsia and eclampsia? How can we prevent a pregnant woman from getting it?

– What is the best way to teach science to children?

– What do you think about how women are exploited, manipulated, marginalized, tortured, discriminated against by colour, and used as objects?

– What is the scientific explanation for why insurgents start to fall asleep when political talk takes place?

RELATED: Zapatistas Demand Indigenous Unity to Fight Capitalist Slavery

As Subcomandante Moisés reports, in the 23 years since the uprising, in the following years of building autonomy under “an offensive cease-fire” instead of “exchanging gunshots,” children are going to school and asking questions. All decisions are made collectively under the sign of “everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves,” and the will of the collectives is carried out by the Zapatista government, where “the people give the orders and the government obeys,” not the other way around. Hospital care is provided to communities throughout the Lacandon jungle, to Zapatista and non-Zapatista alike. “And,” Subcomandante Moisés observes, since then “we do not have so many shot dead, wounded, tortured, or disappeared.” Now, the Zapatistas want “science for life” — a science that flourishes against the sword, the bullet, and the “good vibes” of the bourgeoisie.

The Zapatista experiment in resisting without bullets and instead building the world we ask for – an experiment conducted under erasure, in conditions no university laboratory would authorise, is working, and invites the curiosity, wonder and knowledge-making of all who struggle for justice in a dark world.



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Record Number of Priests Face Violence, Murder in Mexico

  • A photo of Reverend Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, who was killed in 2014
    A photo of Reverend Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, who was killed in 2014 | Photo: AFP
More than 80 percent of priest murders reportedly go unsolved.

While Mexico is one of the most devout Catholic countries in the world, for eight consecutive years it has been the world’s most dangerous country for priests, who are being killed and attacked at record rates, according to a report from the Catholic Media Centre.

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In 2016, three Mexican priests were killed and four other Catholic teachers were also killed, according to the report from the Catholic Media Centre, which said that 2016 has been the deadliest year for priests since they started keeping records.

Between 1990 and 2016, the rate of murdered priests increased by a staggering 375 percent, where 38 priests have either been killed or gone missing. According to reports, more than 80 percent of priest murders have gone unsolved.

The report comes amid increased attacks against religious figures including violent threats and extortion, where Mexico has been labeled the most dangerous country in the world for religious officials for eight years running.

Between 1990 and 2016, 61 attacks were reported against Catholic Church members in the country. In 2016, extortions, at least those that were reported, rose by 70 percent.

The Catholic Media Centre said that while the majority of violence against the church was due to a spilling over of violence from organized crime groups, Mexican security forces were also involved in some incidents.

RELATED: Mexico’s Notorious Fugitive Ex-Governor Duarte Left the Country​

Since former President Felipe Calderon launched a militarized war on drug cartels a decade ago, rates of violence and murder have shot up in Mexico and so too, attacks on members of the church.

The report warned that amid widespread violence in Mexico under Enrique Peña Nieto’s current presidency, who has continued Calderon’s drug war, violence against Catholic leaders will increase by 100 percent.

The group heavily criticized the government’s poor response to the increased attacks, where there were 25 recorded attacks against church leaders in since Nieto took power in 2012.

In September, Mexico was shocked after three priests were kidnapped and killed within a week of each other, including Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen who was kidnapped from his small parish in the state of Michoacan. His body was later found with five bullet wounds.

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Another Mexican Journalist Was Just Assassinated

  • Pedro Tamayo was reportedly shot 11 times.
    Pedro Tamayo was reportedly shot 11 times. | Photo: Twitter

Tamayo was murdered outside his home by unidentified assailants.

Mexican journalist Pedro Rosas Tamayo, who specialized in police reporting, was killed outside his home Wednesday night in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz.

UNESCO Calls for Probe of Murder of Latino Journalist in Texas

According to local Mexican media, Tamayo was hit with at least 11 gunshots at around 11 p.m. after two armed people fired on the reporter at his home, where he lived with his relatives. Tamayo was rushed to hospital but reportedly died in the ambulance.

His wife said that a black Volkswagen appeared at the house, with one of the men getting out and shooting Tamayo.

In January, Tamayo went missing before reappearing again in Oaxaca. He had allegedly sought refuge in the state following the arrest of the suspected leader of the “New Generation Jalisco Cartel,” in Tierra Blanca, Francisco Navarrete.

Navarrete was arrested and linked to the disappearance and murder of five young people in Tierra Blanca. Following the arrest, a number of sources said that Tamayo feared for his life.

Paramilitaries Target Mexico Teachers with Police Permission

Tamayo was reportedly under police guard for around a month.

So far this year, 43 journalists in Mexico have received threats and have been placed under the protection of the Ministry of State Security.

Many journalists in Latin America have recently been subjected to killings, many in relation to their work. A recent report detailed that the Americas is one of the most dangerous regions for journalists in the world.

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Free Trade Agreements Have Exacerbated a Humanitarian Crisis in Central America

By Manuel Perez-Rocha 

U.S. trade negotiators continue to claim that free trade agreements help to support security, but in reality, they exacerbate the root causes of instability in the Mesoamerican region, IPS’s Manuel Perez-Rocha said in a speech at the AFL-CIO conference on U.S. trade policy.

“Real security encompasses economic, human, financial, and political security,” he said.

Today the Northern triangle of Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world. In Mexico alone, there are more than 27,000 people reported missing on top of the 100,000 killed in the so-called war on drugs, Perez-Rocha said.

He explained that the origins of this crisis are rooted in structural adjustment policies that the IMF and the World Bank imposed on Central America to pave the way for free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Instead of bringing prosperity, [NAFTA] took away domestic protections from Mexico’s food production, leading to greater food insecurity and the widespread loss of our agricultural livelihoods,” he said.

Perez-Rocha said the abandonment of national production of food to favor imports, brought on by NAFTA, has meant the fall of production, employment, and income and the increase of inequality, poverty, and migration. He said this abandonment of the countryside by the government propelled the vacuum that has become occupied by organized crime.

“NAFTA is responsible,” he said. “for the increase of violence and public insecurity in the countryside and in all of Mexico.”

Ten years later, CAFTA was imposed in Central America, ushering in what Perez-Rocha called “the deterioration of economic conditions for working people and major new threats to the environment.”

Perez-Rocha offered one of the most egregious examples in the case of the Pacific Rim mining company which is demanding millions of dollars from El Salvador for protecting its environment.

“This is a deep humanitarian crisis that should be recognized as such,” he said. He quoted U.S. Vice President Biden as saying ‘confronting these challenges requires nothing less than systematic change, which we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about.’

However, the proposal in the Alliance for Prosperity Plan does not address the roots of the crisis, Perez-Rocha said.

“The goal of the alliance, as we see it,” Perez-Rocha said, “is to attract foreign direct investment for the exploitation of natural resources.”

The alliance and agreements like the TPP, on top of the destruction already brought on by NAFTA and CAFTA, will only mean an acceleration of the race to the bottom for the region’s working families, further dislocation and displacement, and regional insecurity, he said.

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“No Touching”: Peering Through the Iron Bars of the US-Mexico Border, Families Struggle to Connect


By David Bacon

In Playas de Tijuana, on the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the US, Catelina Cespedes and Carlos Alcaide greet Florita Galvez, who is on the US side. The family came from Santa Monica Cohetzala in Puebla to meet at the wall. (Photo: David Bacon)In Playas de Tijuana, on the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the US, Catelina Cespedes and Carlos Alcaide greet Florita Galvez, who is on the US side. The family came from Santa Monica Cohetzala in Puebla to meet at the wall. (Photo: David Bacon)

It took two days on the bus for Catalina Cespedes and her husband Teodolo Torres to get from their hometown in Puebla — Santa Monica Cohetzala — to Tijuana. On a bright Sunday in May they went to the beach at Playas de Tijuana. There the wall separating Mexico from the United States plunges down a steep hillside and levels off at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, before crossing the sand and heading out into the Pacific surf.

Sunday is the day for families to meet through the border wall. The couple had come to see their daughter, Florita Galvez.

Florita had arrived that day in San Ysidro, the border town a half-hour south of San Diego. Then she went out to the Border Field State Park, by the ocean, two miles west of town. From the parking lot at the park entrance it was a 20-minute walk down a dirt road to the section of the wall next to the Parque de Amistad.

At 11 that morning, Catalina and Florita finally met, separated by the metal border. They looked at each other through the metal screen that covers the wall’s bars, in the small area where people on the US side can actually get next to it. And they touched. Catalina pushed a finger through one of the screen’s half-inch square holes. On the other side, Florita touched it with her own finger.

On the Mexican side of the border wall Catelina Cespedes sticks her finger through a hole in the mesh so that she can touch the finger of her daughter, Florita Galvez, on the other side. (Photo: David Bacon)On the Mexican side of the border wall Catelina Cespedes sticks her finger through a hole in the mesh so that she can touch the finger of her daughter, Florita Galvez, on the other side. (Photo: David Bacon)

Another family shared the space with Catalina and Teodolo. Adriana Arzola had brought her baby Nazeli Santana, now several months old, to meet her family living on the US side for the first time. Adriana had family with her also — her grandmother and grandfather, two older children, and a brother and sister.

The rules imposed by the Border Patrol say that where there’s no screen, the family members on that side have to stay back several feet.

It was very frustrating, though, to try to see people on the other side through the half-inch holes. So they moved along the wall to a place where the screen ended. There the vertical 18-foot iron bars of the wall — what the wall is made of in most places — are separated by spaces about four-inches wide. Family members in the US could see the baby as Adriana held her up.

But only from a distance. The rules imposed by the US Border Patrol in Border Field State Park say that where there’s no screen, the family members on that side have to stay back several feet from the wall. So — no touching.

A boy walks past the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the US. (Photo: David Bacon)A boy walks past the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the US. (Photo: David Bacon)

I could see the sweep of emotions playing across everyone’s faces and in their body language. One minute the grandmother was laughing, and the next there were tears in her eyes. The grandfather just smiled and smiled. Adriana talked to her relatives, and tried to wake the baby up. Her brother leaned on the bars with his arms folded against his eyes, and her sister turned away, overcome by sadness. On the US side, a man in a wheelchair and two women with him looked happy just to have a chance to see their family again.

Some volunteers, most from the US side, called “Friends of Friendship Park,” have tried to make the Mexican side more pleasant and accommodating for families. The older children with Adriana sat at concrete picnic tables. While family members talked through the wall, they used colored markers, provided by the Friends, to make faces and write messages on smooth rocks. Around them were the beginnings of a vegetable garden. Later in the afternoon one of the volunteers harvested some greens for a salad.

Such carefully controlled and brief encounters are the ultimate conclusion of a process that, at its beginning, had no controls at all. Before 1848 there was no border.

Members of the Friends group include Pedro Rios from the US/Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee, and Jill Holslin, a photographer and border activist. On the US side, another of the participating groups — Angeles de la Frontera, or Border Angels, helped the families that came to the park. “We’re here seven or eight times a month,” said Enrique Morones, the group’s director. “People get in touch with us because we’re visible, or they know someone else we helped before.” Border Angels helps set up the logistics so that families can arrive on both sides at the same time, often coming from far away.

Florita Galvez is on the US side of the border wall between Mexico and the US, and her family on the Mexican side can only see her through holes in the metal mesh. (Photo: David Bacon)Florita Galvez is on the US side of the border wall between Mexico and the US, and her family on the Mexican side can only see her through holes in the metal mesh. (Photo: David Bacon)

Weekend visiting hours, from 10 am to 2 pm, are the only time the Border Patrol allows families to get close to the wall for the reunions. Once a year they open a doorway in the wall. Watched closely by Border Patrol agents, family members are allowed to approach the open door one by one, and then to hug a mother or father, a son or daughter or another family member from the other side. To do that, people have to fill in a form and show the agents they have legal status in the US. During the rest of the year, the Border Patrol doesn’t ask about legal status, although they could at any moment. For that reason, Border Angels tells families not to go on their own.

Such carefully controlled and brief encounters are the ultimate conclusion of a process that, at its beginning, had no controls at all. Before 1848 there was no border here whatsoever. That year, at the conclusion of what the US calls “the Mexican War,” the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico was forced to give up 529,000 square-miles of its territory. The US paid, in theory, $15,000,000 for the land, but then simply deducted it from the debt it claimed Mexico owed it. US troops occupied Mexico City to force the government there to sign the treaty.

The so-called “Mexican Cession” accounts for 14.9 percent of the total land area of the United States, including the entire states of California, Nevada and Utah, almost all of Arizona, half of New Mexico, a quarter of Colorado and a piece of Wyoming. Some Congress members even called for annexing all of Mexico.

On the Mexican side of the border wall, Adriana Arzola brings her new baby, Nayeli Santana, to meet her family living in the US for the first time. Meeting families through the wall takes place every Sunday at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, in Playas de Tijuana, the neighborhood of Tijuana where the wall runs into the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: David Bacon)On the Mexican side of the border wall, Adriana Arzola brings her new baby, Nayeli Santana, to meet her family living in the US for the first time. Meeting families through the wall takes place every Sunday at the Parque de Amistad, or “Friendship Park,” in Playas de Tijuana, the neighborhood of Tijuana where the wall runs into the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: David Bacon)

The Border Patrol was organized in 1924. Before that, there was no conception that passage back-and-forth between Mexico and the US on Monument Mesa had to be restricted.

At the time, the city of San Diego was a tiny unincorporated settlement of a few hundred people. It was considered a suburb of Los Angeles, then still a small town. San Ysidro didn’t exist, nor did Tijuana. To mark the new border, in 1849 a US/Mexico boundary commission put a marble monument in the shape of a skinny pyramid where they thought the line should go. A replica of that original pyramid today sits next to the wall in the Parque de Amistad. On the US side, the road leading from San Ysidro to Boundary Field State Park is named Monument Road, and the area is called Monument Mesa.

Early tourists chipped so many pieces from the marble pyramid that it had to be replaced in 1894. The first fence was erected, not along the borderline, but around the new monument to keep people from defacing it. The line itself was still unmarked, 50 years after it had been created.

The Border Patrol was organized in 1924. Before that, there was no conception that passage back-and-forth between Mexico and the US on Monument Mesa had to be restricted. The federal government only assumed control over immigration in 1890, when construction began on the first immigration station at Ellis Island in New York harbor. Racial exclusions existed in US law from the late 1800s, but the requirement that people have a visa to cross the border was only established by the Immigration Act of 1924. The law also established a racist national quota system for handing visas out.

Adriana Arzola, her sister and her baby, Nayeli Santana, talk with her family living in the US through the bars of the wall. On the US side, her family has to stay several feet away from the wall, so they can't touch each other through the bars. (Photo: David Bacon)Adriana Arzola, her sister and her baby, Nayeli Santana, talk with her family living in the US through the bars of the wall. On the US side, her family has to stay several feet away from the wall, so they can’t touch each other through the bars. (Photo: David Bacon)

In the 1930s, the Border Patrol terrorized barrios across the US, putting thousands of Mexicans into railroad cars and dumping them across the border. Even US citizens of Mexican descent, or people who just looked Mexican, were swept up and deported.  Trains carried deportees to the border stations in San Ysidro and Calexico, but on Monument Mesa there was still no formal line to keep people from returning.

That changed for the first time after World War II, when barbed wire was stretched from San Ysidro to the ocean. Mexicans called it the “alambre,” or “the wire.” Those who crossed it became “alambristas.” Yet enforcement was still not very strict. During the 1950s and early 1960s, thousands of Mexican workers were imported to the US as braceros, while many migrants also came without papers. In the Imperial Valley, on weekends during the harvest, those workers would walk into Mexicali, on the Mexican side, to hear a hot band or go dancing and then hitch a ride back to sleep in their labor camps in Brawley or Holtville.

In 1971, Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon, inaugurated Border Field State Park. The day she visited, she asked the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire so she could greet the Mexicans who’d come to see her.  She told them, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too much longer.”

At the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, in Playas de Tijuana, children and families write on stones the names of other family members they're separated from because of the border. (Photo: David Bacon)At the Parque de Amistad, or “Friendship Park,” in Playas de Tijuana, children and families write on stones the names of other family members they’re separated from because of the border. (Photo: David Bacon)

The wall itself at the Parque de Amistad has become a changing artwork. As the bars rust, they’ve been painted with graffiti that protests the brutal division.

Instead, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986. Although many people remember the law for its amnesty for undocumented immigrants, IRCA also began the process of dumping huge resources into border enforcement. A real fence was built in the early 1990s, made of metal sheets taken from decommissioned aircraft carrier landing platforms. The sheets had holes, so someone could peek through. But for the first time, people coming from each side could no longer physically mix together or hug each other.

That old wall still exists on the Mexican side in Tijuana and elsewhere on the border. But Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton administration border enforcement program, sought to push border crossers out of urban areas like San Ysidro, into remote desert regions where crossing was much more difficult and dangerous. To do that, the government had contractors build a series of walls that were harder to cross.

On Monument Mesa, the aircraft landing strips were replaced in 2007 by the 18-foot wall of vertical metal columns. Two years later, a second wall was built on the US side behind the first. The area between them became a security zone where the Border Patrol restricts access to the wall itself to just four hours on Saturday and Sunday. The metal columns were extended into the Pacific surf.

A man looks through the bars of the border wall into the US. (Photo: David Bacon)A man looks through the bars of the border wall into the US. (Photo: David Bacon)

In Playas, though, the wall is just a sight to see for the hundreds of people who come out to the beach on the weekend. The seafood restaurants are jammed, and sunbathers set up their umbrellas on the sand. Occasionally, a curious visitor will walk up and look through the bars into the US, or have a boyfriend or girlfriend take a picture next to the wall, uploading it to Facebook or Instagram for their friends.

The wall itself at the Parque de Amistad has become a changing artwork. As the bars rust, they’ve been painted with graffiti that protests the brutal division.

One section has the names of US military veterans who’ve been deported to Mexico, with the dates of their service and death. A deported veterans group comes down on occasional Sundays, with some in uniform. In angry voices, they ask why fighting the US’ wars didn’t keep them from being pushed onto the Mexican side of the wall.

On the Mexican side of the border wall, veterans of US military service who have been deported gather to protest and to remember those who died. Their names are written on the bars. (Photo: David Bacon)On the Mexican side of the border wall, veterans of US military service who have been deported gather to protest and to remember those who died. Their names are written on the bars. (Photo: David Bacon)


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Mexican Government Employing Torture in US-Backed Anti-Immigrant Drive

Obama Signs Law to Militarize US-Mexico Border

With the support of the Obama administration, the Mexican government is operating a systematic operation to torture, beat, extort, kidnap, and kill migrants traveling through Mexico en route to find work in northern Mexico and the United States.

An April 4 report in the Guardian tells of several indigenous youngsters who were captured by officials with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM), held in captivity, beaten, and deported to Guatemala. The young people, aged 15 to 24, had never been to Guatemala. They were residents of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas and speakers of the Mayan language Tzeltal.

One 18-year-old was beaten by four Mexican agents who told him that he must sign documents admitting he was Guatemalan or be killed. “One pushed me, another was kicking my leg, and a third who was very fat gave me an electric shock here, on the back of my right hand,” the boy said. “I really thought I was going to die, so I signed lots of sheets of paper—but I can’t read or write so I didn’t know what I was signing.”

Mexican human rights groups accuse the Mexican government of rounding up Mexicans for deportation in order to fulfill quotas aimed at securing further weapons funding from the US government.

The Mexican government’s crackdown against migrants in Mexico is part of the “Southern Border Program” of President Enrique Peña Nieto. The program was announced in July 2014 and was praised by US President Barack Obama, who said in a January 2015 meeting with Peña Nieto:

“I very much appreciate Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children who we saw spiking during the summer. In part because of strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border, we’ve seen those numbers reduced back to much more manageable levels.”

Washington is directly implicated in the crimes carried out against migrants before they reach the United States. Between 2009 and 2013, the Obama administration provided $112 million in weapons and equipment through the Merida Initiative, a plan based on militarizing Mexican police and the INM. A February 2016 Congressional Research Service report showed that the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement also pledged over $86 million to Mexico for “mobile non-intrusive inspection equipment and related equipment and training for Mexico’s southern border strategy.”

Under the Obama administration, the US has given the Mexican government $3 billion to arm and militarize its security forces. In return, the Mexican police, military, and INM have assumed the role of US imperialism’s advance shock troops, terrorizing and deporting migrants in an effort to prevent their ultimate arrival in the US.

Children in particular have borne the brunt of the US-Mexican collusion against immigrants. As a result, a Georgetown Law report on Mexico’s migrant policy notes that “the United States has invested significant political and fiscal resources in the fortification of Mexico’s southern border” and that “the immigration system currently in place in Mexico operates more like a child-deportation machine.”

Since 2010 alone, the United States and Mexico have deported over 40,000 children back to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. With its Southern Border Program in full effect, Mexico, for the first time in 2015, has overtaken the United States in terms of the number of Central American child deportations. On top of those deported from the “Northern Triangle” countries listed above, the Obama administration has also deported tens of thousands of Mexican children and well over 2 million migrants in total.

Those that arrive in the United States are forced to live a life of fear and poverty. In January, the Obama administration launched a new round of raids aimed specifically at rounding up immigrant parents and their children. Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that renewed family deportation raids “should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.”

In 2014, the Obama administration announced that it would reinstate mass detention of migrant families and began housing tens of thousands of migrants, including tens of thousands of orphan children, in cells for fast-tracked deportation. In August 2015, the Obama administration once again defended its family detention program in US District Court for the Central District of California.

The widespread government persecution migrant workers face once they arrive in the US has not deterred tens of thousands from seeking to escape the poverty and violence of Central America: from 2008 to 2014, the number of asylum applicants in the US has increased by 1,185 percent.

The poverty and violence that have devastated Central American society are not caused by unexplainable historical accidents. Rather, they are the product of the explicit policies of US imperialism, working in collusion with the corrupt national bourgeoisies to rob the working class and peasantry. The US has imposed the will of American banks and corporations on the masses of Latin America through dictatorship, death squads, and invasion.

Today, US imperialism can also count the bourgeois nationalist and Stalinist-inspired ex-guerrilla movements as its staunch supporters. These groups, once held-up as representatives of “socialism,” have fully integrated themselves into the bourgeois political establishment and are now primary conspirators in the ongoing attacks against the living standards of Latin American workers and peasants.

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Indigenous Central Americans Seek Apology From Pope Francis for Genocide

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Ahead of a February 12 visit by Pope Francis to Mexico, around 30 indigenous communities in Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding that he apologize for killings of some 24 million aboriginal inhabitants, committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church during the colonization of the Americas.

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being involved in mass genocide, which started with the Spaniards’ arrival to the Central American region in the 16th century.

The statement noted that, by the beginning of the 17th century, there were less than 700,000 native inhabitants left alive, from an original population of about 25.2 million, which makes the Spanish intervention and invasion of the Americas one of the largest acts of genocide in history.

“For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted,” the statement reads. “Within this framework, the Catholic Church has historically been complicit and allies of those who invaded our land.”

The communities also emphasized that colonizers’ abuses included the forcing of European culture, language and Catholicism on the native peoples of Central America, and using the Bible as an “ideological weapon.”

“The arrival of the Europeans meant the interruption and destruction of various original civilizations, which had their unique ideas and concepts of the world, our own government, writings, languages, education, religion and philosophy,” they said.

Various Purepechas communities from Michoacan demanded that the Pope officially apologize for the church’s role in the genocide of some 95 percent of the indigenous population of Central America within about a century following the beginning of the “European invasion.”

During his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis will issue a decree authorizing the use of indigenous languages in mass celebrations. The controversial move is aimed at protecting the rights of native people in the country.

In 2015, the Pope apologized for “grave sins” committed against the native people of the Americas during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and in the presence of Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.

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Ignoring Canada’s real history in Uganda very poor scholarship

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By Yves Engler 

A recent Globe and Mail article (reprinted on by Gerald Caplan detailing Canadian relations with Uganda made me mad.


It was not so much for what’s in the article, but rather what it ignores, which is reality. Any progressive author writing about Canada’s foreign affairs betrays his readers if he ignores the bad this country has done and feeds the benevolent Canadian foreign-policy myth.

Canadians have had ties to Uganda for many decades”, writes Caplan, a self-described “Africa scholar” citing the establishment of diplomatic relations soon after independence. He also mentions many Canadians who “found their way to the country” amidst instability and the federal government taking in Asians expelled by Idi Amin. The former NDP strategist points to some private Canadian aid initiatives in the country and details a Canadian lawyer’s contribution to a suit over the Ugandan government’s failure to provide basic maternal health services, which may violate the Constitution.

But, Caplan completely ignores the unsavory – and much more consequential – role Canada has played in the East African country.

For example, he could have at least mentioned this country’s role during the “scramble for Africa” when Canadians actively participated in subjugating various peoples and stealing their land. This is necessary to acknowledge if we are ever to build a decent foreign policy.

In the late 1800s a number of Canadian military men helped survey possible rail routes from the East African Coast to Lake Victoria Nyanza on the border between modern Uganda and Kenya. The objective was to strengthen Britain’s grip over recalcitrant indigenous groups and to better integrate the area into the Empire’s North East Africa-India corridor.

Beginning in 1913 dozens of Canadian missionaries helped the colonial authority penetrate Ugandan societies and undermine indigenous customs. The preeminent figure was John Forbes who was a bishop and coadjutor vicar apostolic, making him second in charge of over 30 mission posts in Uganda. A 1929 biography describes his “good relations” with British colonial authorities and the “important services Forbes rendered the authorities of the Protectorate.”

In 1918 Forbes participated in a major conference in the colony, organized by Governor Robert Coryndon in the hopes of spurring indigenous wage work. The Vaudreuil, Québec, native wrote home that “it’s a big question. The European planters in our area, who cultivate coffee, cotton and rubber need workers for their exploitation. But the workforce is rare. Our Negroes are happy to eat bananas and with a few bits of cotton or bark for clothes, are not excited to put themselves at the service of the planters and work all day for a meager salary.”

British officials subsidized the White Fathers schools as part of a bid to expand the indigenous workforce.

Canadians were also part of the British colonial authority. Royal Military College of Canada graduate Godfrey Rhodes became chief engineer and general manager of Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours in 1928. The Victoria, BC, native was in Uganda for over a decade and was followed by Walter Bazley, a colonial administrator in Bunyoro from 1950 to 1963 (after Ugandan independence, Bazley joined the Canadian public service).

Throughout British rule Ottawa recognized London’s authority over Uganda. After fighting in the 1898 – 1902 Boer War Henry Rivington Poussette was appointed Canada’s first trade commissioner in Africa with “jurisdiction extending from the Cape to the Zambesi, including Uganda.”

Poussette and future trade representatives helped Canadian companies profit from European rule in Africa. By independence Toronto-based Bata shoes controlled most of the footwear market in Uganda while a decade before the end of British rule Falconbridge acquired a 70% stake in the Kilembe copper-cobalt mine in western Uganda. In a joint partnership with the London controlled Colonial Development Corporation, the Toronto company’s highly profitable mine produced more than $250 million ($1 billion today) worth of copper yet paid no income tax until its capital was fully recovered in 1965. In 1968, post-independence leader Milton Obote increased the country’s copper export tax and then moved to gain majority control of the mine. Falconbridge quickly stripped out $6 million in special dividend payments and threatened to withdraw its management from the country.

Falconbridge: Portrait of a Canadian Mining Multinational explains:

Although Kilembe Copper was both profitable and socially important in the Ugandan economy, this did not prevent the Falconbridge group from withdrawing capital as rapidly as possible just before president Obote forced it to sell Uganda a controlling interest in 1970. The implication was that its management team would be withdrawn entirely if the government did not restore Falconbridge’s majority ownership. Dislocation in the lives of Ugandan people was a price the company seemed willing to pay in this tug-of-war over the profits from Uganda’s resources.

The Kilembe mine also contaminated Elizabeth National Park and tailings seeped into Lake George, near Uganda’s western border with the Congo.

Upon taking office, General Idi Amin returned control of the Kilembe mine to Falconbridge. (This was maintained for several years, after which Amin returned the mine to his government.) He had managed to overthrow Obote’s government in January 1971 with the aid of Britain, Israel and the US. A British Foreign Office memo noted that Obote’s nationalizations, which also included Bata, had “serious implications for British business in Uganda and Africa generally… other countries will be tempted to try and get away with similar measures with more damaging consequences for British investment and trade.”

While this country’s “Africa scholars” have largely ignored Canada’s position towards Amin’s rise to power, the available documentation suggests Ottawa passively supported the putsch. On three occasions during the early days of the coup (between January 26 and February 3, 1971) the Pierre Trudeau government responded to inquiries from opposition MPs about developments in Uganda and whether Canada would grant diplomatic recognition to the new regime. Within a week of Obote’s ouster, both External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp and Prime Minister Trudeau passed up these opportunities to denounce Amin’s usurpation of power. They remained silent as Amin suspended various provisions of the Ugandan Constitution and declared himself President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Army Chief of Staff and Chief of Air Staff. They failed to condemn a leader, now infamous, for plunging the nation into a torrent of violence.

In African Pearls and Poisons: Idi Amin’s Uganda; Kenya; Zaire’s Pygmies, Alberta bureaucrat Leo Louis Jacques describes a conversation he had with the CIDA liaison officer in Uganda who facilitated his 1971-73 appointment to the Uganda College of Commerce. Asked whether the change in government would affect his CIDA-funded position, the aid agency’s liaison officer in Uganda, Catrina Porter, answered Jacques thusly: “‘Yes, there was a coup on January 25th, 1971 and it was a move that promises to be an improvement. The new administration favours Democracy and Western Civilization’s Democracy, while the former one favoured the Communists.’ I [Jacques] said, ‘I understand the present government is being run by the Ugandan army under the control of a General named Idi Amin Dada. What is he like?’ Porter said ‘General Amin’s gone on record as saying he loves Canada and the Commonwealth. He also vowed that his country of Uganda would have democratic elections soon. The British and Americans have recognized him as the Ugandan government and so do we.’”

Two years after the coup the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi visited to ask Amin to reverse his plan to nationalize Bata shoes. After the meeting, the High Commissioner cabled Ottawa that he was largely successful with Bata and also mentioned that “KILEMBE MINES (70 PERCENT FALCONBRIDGE OWNED) IS DOING WELL.”

But, just in case you think it’s just our unsavoury history that Caplan ignores, there’s more. He also also ignores more recent developments such as SNC Lavalin’s alleged bribery in the country, Montréal-based Canarail’s contribution to a disastrous World Bank sponsored privatization of the Kenya and Uganda railway systems or Ottawa’s “logistical support and some funding for the Uganda led [military] force” dispatched to Somalia to do Washington’s dirty work.

Why did this article make me so mad? Because it’s part of a pattern of the social democratic Left ignoring how Canadian corporations and governments impoverish the Global South. Too often social democrat intellectuals dim, rather than enlighten, progressives’ understanding of Canada’s role in the world.

To preserve his position at the Globe and Mail and CBC Caplan may feel he needs to feed the benevolent Canadian foreign-policy myth. But, he should at least show some decency and spare from this nonsense.

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How the US Funds Dissent against Latin American Governments

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“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

NED founding father, Allen Weinstein

The U.S. government and military have a long history of interfering in the affairs of numerous countries in Latin American and the Caribbean.

By the end of the 19th century, there had been at least 10 U.S. military interventions across the hemisphere including Argentina (1890), Chile (1891), Haiti (1891), Panama (1895), Cuba (1898), Puerto Rico (1898) and Nicaragua (1894, 1896, 1898 and 1899).

From this time onward, successive U.S. administrations applied different strategies and tactics for involvement in the region as a means to secure and protect its geopolitical and economic interests. However, only recently has there been wider acknowledgement about the role that U.S. funding to nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, particularly from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), plays in furthering U.S. foreign policy. For example, in 2012 governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) collectively signed a resolution to expel USAID from each of the signing countries. Those countries included Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

Created by the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the NED operates as a foundation that provides grants for “democracy promotion.” The foundation is structured as an umbrella with an almost corporatist flavor, housing four other organizations reflecting U.S. sectoral and party interest: the U.S. labor affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) and Chamber of Commerce linked Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), both of which reflect Democrat and Republican affiliations, respectively.

In many ways the NED resembles previous CIA efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to provide mostly public money for secret operations aimed to bolster pro-U.S. governments and movements abroad. In South America for example, between 1975 and 1978 the U.S. helped with the creation and implementation of Operation Condor. The U.S. provided right-wing dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador with technical and military support for the goal of hunting down and killing political opponents. Some estimate that Operation Condor killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people.

In 1986, then president of the NED Carl Gershman explained to the New York Times, “We should not have to do this kind of work covertly … It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”

U.S. citizens unknowingly fund the NED with public money. The U.S. government allocates part the budget of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the U.S. State Department to the NED – which is most of the NED’s funding source. Although it receives practically all of its funding from the U.S. government, the NED is itself an NGO headed by a Board of Directors. The current board includes:

  • Political economist, author and free market universalist Francis Fukuyama,
  • Elliott Abrams, former deputy assistant and deputy national security adviser on Middle East policy in the administration of President George W. Bush,
  • Moises Naim, Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry during the turbulent early 1990s and former Executive Director of the World Bank, and
  • Former Deputy Secretary of State under George W. Bush (2005 – 2006) and Vice Chairmanship at Goldman Sachs Group, Robert B. Zoellick.

The scope of activity of the NED is truly impressive. According to the NED website, it supports more than 1,000 NGO projects in more than 90 countries.

At its inception in the early 1980s, its funding allocation was set at US$18 million and reached its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Allocations for 2014 and 2015 have been approved for US$103.5 million, while over US$7 million was directed primarily to opposition organizations in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba in 2013.

Within the U.S. State Department Justification of Request documents which outline the reasons for funding requests, it is clear that funding priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean reflect the NED’s modern strategy of overtly carrying out old covert objectives.

Michel Chossudovsky, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa in Canada, sees this funding as an element in “manufacturing dissent” against governments that the U.S. government dislikes. However, these funders do not work alone. “The NED (and USAID) are entities linked with the U.S. state department, but they operate in tandem with a whole of other organizations,” said Chossudovsky.

In May 2010 the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue released their report Assessing Democracy Assistance in Venezuela which revealed that in addition to NED and USAID funding, a broad range of private and European based foundations funded opposition-aligned NGOs in the country with between US$40-50 million annually.

According to Dan Beeton, International Communications Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., NED funds in Latin American have been directed at “a lot of what are kind of the old guard political entities that are now kind of discredited,” such as the Trade Union Confederation of Venezuela (CTV), which was instrumental in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, as well as older political parties that are now marginal forces in their country’s political landscapes in spite of their considerable outside funding.

The United States Agency for International Development

Created in 1961 as a foreign assistance program under President John F. Kennedy, USAID commands a much larger budget and broader scope than NED. While U.S. diplomats continue to stress that USAID funding does not have a political basis, USAID documents nonetheless acknowledge its role in “furthering America’s interests” while carrying out “U.S. foreign policy by promoting broad-scale human progress at the same time it expands stable, free societies, creates markets and trade partners for the United States.” But critics are skeptical of USAID’s missionary work, noting how their strategy has changed over time.

“(USAID’s) mandate is to provide development aid and historically it has provided development aid, tied into debt negotiations and so on. Subsequently with the evolution of the development aid program it has redirected its endeavours on funding NGOs,” said Chossudovsky.

While the range of activities undertaken by NGOs can be broad and some of these programs may not have political intentions, Beeton nonetheless argues that this funding “ultimately can and often does serve a political end when the U.S. wants these grantees to help it fulfill its goals in these countries.”

The extent of U.S. political ambitions recently came into the international spotlight with the revelation that USAID had secretly spent US$1.6 million to fund a social messaging network in Cuba called ZunZuneo, with the stated purpose of “renegotiat(ing) the balance of power between the state and society.” The project was headed up by Joe McSpedon of the USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI).

Other USAID officials accused of active political meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries include regional head Mark Feierstein. According to Venezuelan investigative journalist Eva Golinger, in 2013 Feierstein met Venezuelan opposition figures including right-wing politicians Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges and Ramon Guillermo Avelado as well as political strategist Juan Jose Rendon to devise a plan to undermine the Venezuelan government.

At the State Department budgetary hearing, Feierstein also confirmed “a long-standing program in place to support those who are advocating and fighting on behalf of democracy and human rights in Venezuela … and we are prepared to continue those under any scenario.”

State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks also brought to light previous activities by USAID/OTI in Venezuela, including the development of a five point, anti-government strategy for U.S. embassy activities, as well as the confirmation that grantees had been active in promoting street demonstrations in 2009.

Machado, a former anti-Chavista National Assembly member, was among the signatories of the Carmona decree following the Venezuelan coup in 2002, which abolished the legislative and judiciary powers, as well as the constitution. She was also among the most prominent promoters of last year’s opposition violence that claimed the lives of 43 people.

In Bolivia, local rural workers’ groups and the government expelled the U.S.-based Chemonics International Inc. after their US$2.7 million USAID-funded “Strengthening Democracy” program was accused of financing destabilization attempts against the government. Chemonics operates in approximately 150 countries, offering various technical services and “consulting.”

The Bolivian government publicly outlined what they argued was proof of USAID-funded programs to mobilize the indigenous population against the government, in particular an indigenous march protesting the construction of a highway. USAID funded programs were active in these areas, and had funded some of the leading organizations such as the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB).

“USAID refused to reveal who it was funding and the Bolivian government had strong reasons to believe that it had ties and coordination with opposition groups in the country which at the time was involved in violence and destructive activities aimed at toppling the Morales government,” said Beeton. “Now we know through WikiLeaks that that’s what really was going on.”

President Evo Morales also revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials. The U.S. embassy confirmed the calls, but explained that they were merely trying to familiarize themselves with the country’s political and social situation.

Officials also denounced the lack of accountability to the Bolivian government or to the recipient constituencies of USAID funds.

The head of the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB), Lazaro Taco, confirmed that they had received “external support for our workshops,” but would not identify the source.

These and other USAID activities led Bolivian President Evo Morales to claim that the agency was conspiring against his government. The government expelled USAID from the country in May 2013, while USAID denied any wrongdoing.

In June of 2012, an Ecuadorian daily revealed that 4 NGOs based in Ecuador were recipients of over US$1.8 million for a project called Active Citizens, whose political bend was critical of the Correa government.

Shortly afterwards, the Technical Secretariat for International Cooperation (Seteci) of Ecuador announced it would also investigate the “Costas y Bosques” (Coasts and Forests) conservation project, which received US$13.3 million in funding from USAID. The project, based in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabí, was also being undertaken by the Chemonics International Inc, the same organization expelled from Bolivia.

Mireya Cardenas, National Secretary of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation, said that “there is every reason to consider USAID a factor of disturbance that threatens the sovereignty and political stability (of Ecuador)”. While the U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm tried to reassert that USAID did not fund political parties, he did confirm that certain opposition groups such as Fundamedios was funded “indirectly.”

In November 2013 the Ecuadorean government sent a letter to the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital Quito, ordering that “USAID must not execute any new activity” in Ecuador. USAID canceled its aid shortly after.

For Beeton, “lack of transparency is probably the biggest problem (with USAID) in that it really prevents the governments in the host countries from finding something objectionable, or even coordinating better”. This was in large part the principle concern from the Ecuadorian Seteci, who questioned the extent of expenditures on certain project and the lack of coordination.

In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, CEPR conducted an extensive evaluation of USAID funding to Haiti, including the history of funding, and found transparency and coordination with local government to be a significant problem, especially when the local government experienced tensions with U.S. foreign policy.

“The U.S. government has been perfectly happy to not coordinate with governments, and that has a lot to do with politics… it was under [former Haitian President] Aristide really saw a lot of assistance bypass the Haitian government and go to NGO, including violent opposition groups and so called democratic opposition groups much like what you are seeing recently in Venezuela and Bolivia,” said Beeton.

For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia alone totaled over US$60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador. For the government and progressive social movements of these countries, there is a growing concern that these funds could be used to undertake what Chossudovsky qualified as a “consistent process of destabilizing government as part of non-conventional warfare, meaning you don’t send in the troops but you destabilize the government through so called colored revolutions or infiltrations.”

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Gunmen Kill Mexican Activist Searching for the Disappeared

Medical examiners search for the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students in Cocula, Guerrero.

Medical examiners search for the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students in Cocula, Guerrero. | Photo: Attorney General of Mexico

The activist was trying to locate and identify disappeared relatives in mass graves located around Iguala.

A Mexican woman belonging to a group of activists searching their disappeared relatives in mass graves was murdered Friday in Iguala, state of Guerrero.

Two men on a motorbike shot activist Norma Bruno in the head in front of her three children, reported authorities. The murderers immmediately disappeared.

Bruno’s body was handed over to her family, who then blamed the federal authorities for their lack of control over the violence in Iguala.

Bruno belonged to the citizen committee Relatives of the Other Disappeared, created after the discovery of mass graves and corpses in the neighboring areas of Iguala, shortly after the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa teachers training college students.

Since Nov. 23, the committee, with the help of medical experts from the attorney general’s office, were able to locate and exhume 48 bodies in the hills of Iguala, including three bodies that were successfully identified and handed over to their families.

About 1,600 people have gone missing in the country during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, according to a recent report from a victims’ commission.

Several mass graves have been discovered in Guerrero since authorities and activists stepped up their search for the remaining 42 students who are still missing after being attacked by police and unidentified masked criminals in September 2014. Only one of the 43 Ayotzinapa students has been identified.

Demonstrations have been held across the country since September, with protesters demanding an end to government corruption after it was discovered that a local mayor and his wife were involved in the disappearance of the students.

The situation of the 43 disappeared students has become a symbol of the larger problems of government corruption and impunity in the country. Protesters have accused all levels of government—municpal, state and federal—of being responsible for the mass killings and disappearances of thousands of people across the country.

See more: Mexican Social Activist Found Dead in ‘Political Crime’





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