by Pragash Pio and Denise Cordova
On March 13, 2014, the Committee in solidarity with those affected by Chevron in Ecuador organized a forum “Exposing the Dirty Hand of Chevron,” as a part of a wider awareness campaign.
For the past 20 years Ecuadorian indigenous and peasant communities have been fighting a legal battle against the oil giant Chevron for what is the largest environmental oil-related crime of our time that has been left behind in the Ecuadorian rainforest. In 2012 Chevron was sentenced to pay damages of US$ 9.5 billion. However, the corporation no longer has any assets in Ecuador to be seized.
Therefore, in order to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment to indemnify and compensate the victims and survivors of the contamination left in Ecuador by Chevron, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in December 2013 that Ecuadorian indigenous communities have the right to pursue all of Chevron’s assets in Canada.
Justice James MacPherson of the Court of Appeal for Ontario said that: “Chevron’s wish is granted. After all these years, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment heard on the merits in the appropriate jurisdiction. At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction.”
Given that the legal battle against Chevron now continues here in Canada, several organizations and collectives in Toronto saw the need to create a Solidarity Network with the affected communities in Ecuador by Chevron.
During their initial meeting, held on January 16, 2014, they gathered to denounce the pollution that Chevron left in Ecuador and the serious impact this has had on the health of the indigenous and peasants living in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Participants also expressed their support in the struggle of the Ecuadorian government of President Rafael Correa to win a measure of justice in the courts and media against the powerful U.S. Corporation.
“How can it be possible that Chevron, colluding with a private arbitration centre, wants to make the Ecuadorian government responsible for paying the judgment of US$9.5 billion to the affected communities?” asked Janis Mills, a Canadian academic and activist.
In an effort to create awareness in Canada around this issue, the committee has organized various screenings, events and information series.
Nicole Oliver, who participated at one of these events, noted that “The battle against oil corporations is also happening here in Canada. For example, theUnist’ot’en are currently battling against Chevron and other companies in resistance to the Pacific Trails’ Pipeline in northern B.C. over unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.” Oliver also stressed that “we think that peoples from Canada and Ecuador have similar problems, in many cases, facing the same threats, such as corporations and Canadian companies, that put profit first over the common good. In this context we think that affected communities can learn and support each other beyond borders.”
On March 13th, 2014 a forum was held at the University of Toronto with Brendan Morrison, Canadian lawyer representing the victims of Chevron in Canada, and Santiago Escobar, a human rights activist who has exposed and denounced the crimes of Chevron in the courts of both Ecuador and North America.
The forum began with the screening of a documentary on the crimes of Chevron, describing the hard evidence being used to legally challenge and sue the U.S. corporation for its chemical pollution. The screening described how Chevron’s pollution was the source of the rising epidemic of cancer and other health-related issues appearing for the first time throughout the Ecuadorian rain forest.
Brendan Morrison gave an overview of the legal battle during which he quoted Chevron’s spokesman’s declaration that the oil corporation “will fight [any legal challenge] until hell freezes over” and then “fight it out on the ice”.
“Chevron keeps refusing to accept responsibility for the environmental damage caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which as a result has generated high levels of cancer, abortions and various health problems among people living in areas contaminated by Chevron. It is time for this corporation to take responsibility,” said Toronto activist, Megan Kinch.
Santiago Escobar showed further fraud with proof of payments made by Chevron to Borja Diego Sanchez (known as “Chevron’s dirty tricks guy”) describing the collusion between the two. According to documents from Chevron, which emerged during Borja’s deposition in the U.S., Borja received over two million dollars in support to create propaganda for Chevron; ranging from use and payment of Chevron’s attorneys; a salary of ten thousand dollars; funding for his travels, among other various expenses.
“Chevron’s dirty tricks guy” first became known in September 2009, when Chevron used some videos he produced in which among other things, he created the impression that the judge proceeding the legal case of the affected communities against Chevron was being bribed. Chevron used these videos to accuse the government of Ecuador of inventing a false legal case for political reasons.
The forum came to an end with a photo exhibition documenting environmental damage caused by Chevron. All the participants created hand prints with black paint on canvas as a symbolic protest against Chevrons’ poisoning of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
On March 18th, at the University of Toronto, the Youth Communist League organized a Forum on Ecuador vs. Chevron, and Report-back from the World Festival of Youth and Students that was held last December 2013 in Quito, Ecuador.
Currently, several organizations and alliances in Canada are backing the Indigenous plaintiffs in Ecuador, including the Canadian and Quebec sections of the International League of People’s Struggles; the Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front; La Red de Amigos de la Revolución Ciudadana; Hispanic Centre of York and Barrio Nuevo.
The Committee in Solidarity with those Affected by Chevron in Ecuador is comprised of people committed to social and environmental justice. If you want to join the cause, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on : www.facebook.com/chevronsdirtyhand – https://twitter.com/chevronsdirty
by Steve da Silva
One of Toronto’s inner suburbs has become a focal point in the ongoing struggle in Venezuela between the Bolivarian transition to socialism and the fascist resistance that has been developing over the last month.
With its face to the bustling city moving past it on Dufferin, just a little south of Lawrence, the quaint little church of San Lorenzo appears as a modest sight to unwitting passersby. But the small church, and its Latin American Community Centre to the rear, are more than simple sites of worship.
Since its establishment in 1997, the San Lorenzo parish has become a beacon for many in the Latin American community who have fled fascist dictatorships and military juntas over the decades from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But its message and ministry amount to more than a salve for the restless migrant soul, more than a home away from home. In the words of the Church’s patron saint, San Lorenzo: “The poor are the treasures of the church.”
That this church actually treasures the poor (as opposed to seeing the poor as a source of its treasures) can be seen in the day-to-day activities that drive the vibrant community organization that has built up around San Lorenzo. Its community centre is home to Radio Voces Latinas 1660 AM, Canada’s only 24-hour Latin American radio station and a key alternative to commercial news, views, and music that dominate the spectrum.
San Lorenzo is also the organizer of the annual “Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun,” which draws thousands into Christie Pits under the summer sun to to mark the celebration of the summer solstice in the tradition of the Andean region’s Indigenous peoples. The festival routinely raises thousands of dollars for the church’s solidarity missions and charity drives.
Among those programs include fundraising drives for disaster relief in Haiti, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela; as well as the community centre’s “Caravan of Hope,” which drives decommissioned ambulances and wheel-trans buses to El Salvador annually.
However, over the years, San Lorenzo and its priest Hernan Astudillo, have courted more controversy than one may think such acts of humanitarianism would invite. When charity becomes solidarity — when one proceeds from charitable handouts to morally and materially supporting struggles to emancipate people from their class oppression — some hearts simply stop bleeding for the poor.
As the old proverb has it, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if this man is violently dispossessed of his fishing rod? His family chased away from his lake-side community and into the urban slums? What if the rivers are being poisoned by large corporations?
It is the understanding that such social inequalities are the basis for poverty and suffering that drives San Lorenzo’s and Hernan Astudillo’s theology, which is part of the liberation theology tradition in Latin America that has prioritized the poor and their emancipation and which is seen as reflecting historical Jesus’s lived practice.
This past March 9th, San Lorenzo held a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — a tradition in keeping with past ceremonies held by the church for Latin America’s champions of the poor, with masses marking the deaths of various fighters for freedom, from the assassinated Che Guevera to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was the Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 in wave of terror that targeted thousands of leftists, including many clerical elements. Romero is also a key figure in Latin America’s liberation theology tradition.
“I did the mass in honour of Hugo Chavez, who I consider with all humility, a very holy man,” priest Hernan Astudillo told BASICS. The result was predictable and sadly not unfamiliar to Astudillo and the church.
“I received a fax saying they would ‘eliminate’ me personally… basically, a death threat, they will kill me. We have received death threats over the phone. We have received two messages: One sent by email from an anti-communist organization insulting our people who work on the radio station, saying that they are going to take out our [radio] antenna.”
On March 6, the church received a letter from an organization calling itself “Contracomunistas” in which the Radio Voces Latinas was cited as a target. On March 12, the fax threatening Father Hernan’s life came in.
But the threats are nothing new for Father Hernan: “This reminds me how when 14 years ago I performed a mass for Monsignor Oscar Romero in this same church, I had also received death threat letters because I was holding a mass for a ‘communist bishop’.”
If only this was all just some verbal aggressiveness from the Latin American community’s right wing, the threats could perhaps be dismissed as posturing from disgruntled elements anxious about their oligarchic families and classes losing their grips on power back home. But a history of these threats actually materializing on the Church gives great cause for concern.
In 2006, the antenna of Radio Voces Latinas was discovered to have been shot after having experienced some unknown technical problems for a period of time.
BASICS asked Father Hernan if the threats have ever translated into bodily harm: “I’ve received death threats more than ten times and on two occasions, a group has stolen money from us during our summer festival at Christie Pits park. In September 2008, they even came to my office, hit me, and dislocated my right shoulder. They were trying to instigate me to react violently, but I refused to.”
Father Hernan drew out the irony and hypocrisy of the attacks on his church’s concern with the poor and their social struggles: “I’ve been meditating over how during this time of Lent [the season of penance and prayer leading into Easter], I might receive even more letters like this [death threats] as I prepare mass for Jesus Christ, because he was really far stronger than Monsignor Oscar Romero and many other martyrs and prophets in the world. His actions, his life, his decisions were always with the poor people.”
BASICS asked Father Hernan if he’s seen any of this opposition or resistance to the church’s pro-poor messaging and its socialist sympathies from within his own parish: “This is from outside. This parish knows what kind of theology we have. We don’t practice the theology of the conquerors. We follow the theology of the historical Jesus Christ, a man who gave his life for equal rights, a man who was fighting the Roman Empire.
“Jesus Christ was not a person who was faking his spirituality in his life. He was a wonderful human being with a pure and transparent identity, to rehumanize the world he was living in at the time in Nazareth and Galilee.”
BASICS correspondent and San Lorenzo parishioner Pablo Vivanco was also in attendance at the March 9 mass for Chávez, which brought out a single anti-Chávez protestor.
“One individual brought out a placard in the mass that stated something to the effect of honoring the ‘student martyrs’ in Venezuela,” Vivanco commented.
“Of course, the names he had on there (some of them incorrectly spelled) were of Chavistas and others killed by the violent opposition in Venezuela. One of the names this individual was hailing as a ‘martyr’ was Juan Montoya [killed in mid February], who was actually a prominent member the Tupamaros.”
The Tupamaros is a decades-old leftist guerrilla organization with a strong base in some of Caracas’ poor neighbourhoods that has been supportive but independent of the Venezuelan government.
“So it’s entirely disingenuous to claim Montoya’s death for the opposition cause, and equally dishonest to not acknowledge that the vast majority of people who have been killed in the last month are the result of the opposition and their actions,” a fact of the reality in Venezuela that is being assiduously documented by independent researchers.
“But the right wing sectors in the community unfortunately do not have this sort of tolerance,” Vivanco elaborated. “This isn’t the first time that threats have been issued against Father Hernan for his principled stances. What’s more concerning is that the violent right wing opposition in Venezuela is killing people and has also attacked media and journalists, so who knows if those allied with the opposition in Venezuela will try something like that here.”
In 2010, Father Hernan Astudillo visited Venezuela to learn about the vast expansion of popular media projects in the country and to deliver the community-generated funds to victims of landslides.
From his own experiences in the country, Father Hernan shared with BASICS his view that: “The opposition in Venezuela is fighting not because they want to help the poor people, but because they want Venezuela’s oil wealth to themselves. They are not fighting because they want to help the poor people, like President Hugo Chavez did. That finally poor people have hope is beautiful.“
The evidence of the threats against San Lorenzo and Hernan Astudillo are now in the hands of Toronto Police Services. BASICS contacted 13 Division’s Criminal Investigations Bureau on the morning of March 19, but the assigned detectives were not available at the time of publication for comment.
With the legitimacy that the Canadian government has given to the violent opposition and the blame for violence that is has misattributed to the Venezuelan government, we shall see if the threats against San Lorenzo will be treated with the same severity that such threats would be met with if they threatened a corporate leader or a Canadian politician. Updates on this investigation will be made here.
Toronto-based activist and journalist Ali Mustafa was killed on Sunday, March 9, by the Assad regime’s bombs in the opposition-held city of Aleppo, Syria.
Ali was a friend to many of us in BASICS and someone who touched a lot of people inside and outside of Toronto. As the corporate media laments the death of a Canadian photojournalist in Syria, we know that Ali was much more than that. If he was killed in the line of duty, it was as a revolutionary and a people’s journalist in concrete solidarity with the people of Syria, not as a careerist with the backing and resources of a CNN or CBC correspondent. To many of us, Ali was far more than just another photojournalist — we know him as a caring and sweet soul, and a tenacious fighter for social, political and economic justice.
Below is a collection of stories and tributes to Ali from many of us who knew and loved him, in no particular order. As we continue to mourn our loss and remember Ali, we will continue accepting your contributions. Please send all subsequent tributes to email@example.com.
Please also consider making a financial contribution to support Ali’s family in this difficult time.
—BASICS Editors Read more…
by Pablo Vivanco
1. The students marches are from the right-wing of the student movement
Unlike in places like Chile, there is no single or united student movement in Venezuela. Not only are students groups highly decentralized, but they are also divided along political lines.
Another unique feature of the student groups identifying with the opposition is that they do not organize around accessible or free education (since education has been made accessible to the sector of society that was previously excluded, resulting in an increase of 1,809,432 post-secondary students from 1999 to 2014).
The most recent opposition student demonstrations began in the western city of Tachira near the Colombian border. On the third day of student demonstrations about insecurity on the campus, the State Governor’s house was attacked and four people were subsequently arrested (two of whom weren’t students). These arrests led to student demonstrations in other cities – all of these demonstrations were not shut down by police – which led to the February 12th demonstration, where three people died.
On February 12, however, its important to know that there were thousands of Bolivarian students and youth marching for ‘El Dia de la Juventud’ (Youth Day), on the other side of Caracas. When speaking about the ‘student movement’ the logical question that has to follow is ‘which one’?
by Pragash Pio and Hassan Reyes
Several hundred people gathered at Toronto’s Dundas Square on February 22 in response to violence in Venezuela which started at the beginning of the month.
Two sharply divided groups formed and faced off across Yonge Street. On one side, a group of 100 activists responding to the call from the Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front rallied in support of the Bolivarian revolutionary and socialist process, the Maduro government and Venezuelan sovereignty. While denouncing the violence that has claimed 10 lives thus far, they agreed with the calls from Venezuelan popular movements that the violence and rioting is being organized by right-wing extremists. This pro-Maduro pro-’Bolivarian’ group held signs saying #WeAreMaduro and #HandsOffVenezuela.
On the other side, a larger group of 500-600 people rallied against the popularly elected Maduro government, denouncing the supposed “human rights violations” taking place there. The group, mostly comprised of Venezuelans who have left Venezuela since the Bolivarian Revolution and students in Canada to study English, not only held signs saying #SOSVenezuala and #PrayForVenezuela but also held signs denouncing socialism and the influence of “Cubans.”
Initially the conflicting slogans and the abundance of Venezuelan flags may have been confusing, with even veteran activists walking into the wrong group, but the underlying message were as different as day and night. It was a standoff between those who wished to defend and preserve the popular gains in Venezuela under Chavez, and those who were calling for American intervention in Venezuela.
Mistaking riots for popular democracy
The declared grievances of anti-Maduor ‘anti-Bolivarian’ protesters could be broken down into two parts: first, that President Maduro is a dictator, repressing peaceful opposition students and media; and secondly that problems of social and economic insecurity are a result of the administration’s “corruption” and “mismanagement.” Incidentally, these arguments mirror the language of the anti-Chavista Western media as well as Venezuela’s extreme right-wing.
These claims may emotionally resonate for some recent Venezuelan emigrès, who often came from the wealthy elite who immigrated to Canada to keep their economic privileges from being redistributed in Venezuela, but the facts on the ground are completely reversed.
Following the attempted coup d’etat against Chavez in 2002, in which corporate media played an active role in organizing, the government and grassroots movements have placed significant emphasis on the democratization of media. This has included the creation of hundreds of community radio and TV stations. Nonetheless, the private corporate media still controls over 70% of the all media. Not surprisingly, the private media outlets are often openly against the government. Still, the only restrictions placed on media, similar to those placed on media in Canada by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), relate to not falsifying information, calling for violence, displaying nudity at certain times, etc.
More importantly Maduro, and Chavez before him, have both had resounding popular electoral mandates that have been repeatedly tested through free elections. Out of 19 elections in the last 15 years, 18 have been resounding victories for the ‘Chavistas’, including two elections in the last year. Former US President Jimmy Carter even classified the election process in Venezuela as “the best in the world” following the 2012 re-election of Chavez.
On the other hand leaders of the opposition, such as Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma and Maria Corina Machado cynically claim to be in favour of democracy and human rights, while glossing over their history of involvement in the 2002 coup as well as human rights abuses and corruption before the Bolivarian process began. Today they also reject the democratically-elected administration and structures, calling their supporters to engage violence instead to topple a legitimate government.
Pro-Maduro activists noted that Venezuela is one of the few countries to actually have an electoral recall mechanism by which citizens can remove the president. Note that Canada doesn’t even have such a democratic tool, even for likes of Rob Ford. This was an option that the opposition actually tried to use against Chavez in 2004, but failed as the majority (58%) voted to not recall Chavez. 10 years later, the very same opposition has abandoned all democratic options and turned to violence because it knows it cannot win against Maduro’s popular mandate.
Several pro-Maduro activists declared is the reasons for this record of electoral success is that the administrations of Chavez-Maduro have empowered and drastically improved the living conditions of the majority of Venezuelans. Under Chavez, and now Maduro, Venezuela has made incredible economic and social progress: halving unemployment and poverty; more than doubling GDP per Capita; creating free public universal healthcare system; and doubling access to higher education through free tuition, according to the Guardian’s “Data Blog.”
While access to goods and insecurity remain a problem in Venezuela, the Maduro administration has also begun to tackle these problems with new controls against hoarding and withholding of goods (as many store owners were caught doing) as well as price controls and initiatives against price gouging of the public. These have also begun to show positive results, according to scholar George Ciccariello-Maher.
The vast majority of Venezuelans, especially the poor, have continually shown that they approve of the Bolivarian process. At the same time, most observers and even opposition politicians acknowledge that the majority of Venezuelans have very little in common with and connection to the wealthy, pro-American right-wing opposition. As concerned Venezuelano Nico put it, “If the pro-democracy opposition is actually pro-democracy and popular, then they should go and win an election instead of rioting after losing every election.”
Rejecting the riots in favour of popular democracy
Pro-Maduro/pro-Bolivarian activists also pointed out that the riots had all the markings of another American sponsored attack on Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. The Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front’s statement, supported by a number of different anti-imperialist and progressive groups in Canada, condemned “the violence perpetrated by a small sector of the fascist right-wing in different cities across Venezuela in the last days, in an attempt to destabilize the country in a similar fashion as it was done with President Hugo Chávez, on April 2002.”
Of the 10 people killed in violence thus far, nearly all have been victims of the violence being organized by sectors of the extreme right. In addition, protesters have attacked public property including primary schools and food supply trucks. With strong evidence of continued U.S. State Department involvement since the first 2002 coup against Chavez (Wikileaks release), there is also growing evidence [here & here] that opposition activists are exaggerating claims of “repression,” to support further American intervention in Venezuela.
Police informed BASICS videographer Camila R. that the anti-Maduro group had secured a permit for Yonge and Dundas Square beforehand and that no other political groups could use the space. Activists raised questions about the amount of funds and behind-the-scenes direction that would have been needed to accomplish this.
As activists with Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front chanted, “Viva Chávez! Viva Maduro!”, it was clear who they stood with, and why. Their only question is where all the other pro-socialist, pro-revolutionary, and pro-democracy Canadian groups stood: With the popularly elected administration of Venezuela, or the emissaries of American intervention?
by BASICS Team Kitchener-Waterloo
This past September, Kitchener’s Anti Colonialist Working Group – a grassroots organization supporting political prisoners and prisoners of war against colonialism around the world – toured the independent Irish Republican, Brendan Casey, around parts of Canada to speak of today’s struggles of Irish prisoners of war (POWs) incarcerated by the British.
The purpose of the tour — which lasted a week and touched down in Guelph, Kitchener, Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, and several other cities — was to raise awareness of the reality of the occupation, as well build ties with others fighting colonialism and imperialism.
In the words of one participant, Jason Lamka, “The tour was very powerful and Brendan is a great speaker. We never hear anything in the media about the stops and searches, the internment of prisoners like Martin Corey and Colin Duffy, or loyalist violence.”
Jason added, “From what I understand the purpose of this tour is to break the media silence around what is happening under the British occupation, and for me his presentation did just that. I’m glad I went.”
Brendan Casey himself was also pleased with the tour. “We have met with all sorts of people from Mapuche resistors, to members of the Cuban Federation of Women, to people from Six Nations. People across this whole country seem very political and active and I look forward to coming back.”
Despite the positive reception at the events, the tour was mired by threats of violence in Kitchener from ‘Loyalists’ who support Britain’s occupation of Ireland, in addition to police harassment. Tour organizer Julian Ichim said, “We got some threats of violence from Loyalists; and the police warned the venue that we were hosting a speaker from “the bad IRA” that didn’t disarm and they tried to intimidate the venue into cancelling but that didn’t happen.” Ichim added, “These so called loyalists are idiots and I’m a bit sorry they didn’t show up as we would have made short work of them. Still the slander of the police demonstrates that anyone who stands up against occupation can and will be smeared and criminalized.”
In spite of some of the intimidation and harassment, the tour succeeded in raising awareness of the brutality of the British occupation against those who continue to uphold Irish republicanism, especially for Prisoners of War in Ireland.
By: Ashley M.
In a landmark 2009 ruling, the Delhi High Court concluded that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and other legal prohibitions against private, adult, consensual and non-commercial same-sex conduct, were a violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. On December 11, 2013, however, the Indian Supreme Courts revoked this ruling and reinstated the colonial-era Section 377, thereby re-criminalizing consensual gay sex and making it punishable, even by life imprisonment.
In the days following the Supreme Court ruling, a global response for December 15, 2013 was called under the banner of a “Global Day of Rage.” Around the world and in India, rallies, protests and petitions showed the tremendous support for India’s LGBTQ Community and for striking down Section 377.
“The Delhi High Court judgment was the result of at least three decades of mobilization with and beyond the law,” said Ponni Arasu, an activist and speaker at the Global Day of Rage event, held in the heart of Toronto on December 15, 2013. “A set of visionary judges decided not only to uphold the basic tenets of the constitution that they trust so deeply but also to fulfill what they saw as their duty as ethical, honest upholders of the law.
“We not only got decriminalized, but our constitutional rights as citizens to freedom of life, liberty, dignity and privacy were affirmed…. I hope all of you in Canada and elsewhere can derive strength from this movement in India while we all get through this sad moment together. And rest assured they will not get away with it.”
On December 20, 2013, India’s Central Government filed a review petition that rejects the Supreme Court’s ruling and proposes an open court hearing on gay rights. “The Govt has filed the review petition on #377 in the Supreme Court today. Let’s hope the right to personal choices is preserved,” Law Minister Kapil Sibal tweeted.
The Indian Government’s petition is certainly a response to the uproar and inspirational mobilization from people in India and around the world. However a tug-of-war has developed between the government and the courts, with the judiciary questioning the parliament’s inaction prior to the High Court’s ruling. The Indian Constitution came into effect in 1950, and hence there was plenty of time for the government to amend the law.
The Supreme Court ruling says that the 2009 High Court ruling did not make Section 377 invalid, as the matter of removing Section 377 should be through the parliament and not judiciary. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was quoted by several news outlets as saying, “The legislation will take time since there is no consensus” among lawmakers.
Although the government’s apparent support for striking down Section 377 is good news, it is important to keep in mind where the government’s interests really lie. The Central Government should have started the process of changing the law after the High Court’s ruling in 2009. Their petition to the Supreme Court is merely a reaction to the large mobilization of people against the restrictive law.
As of January 28, 2013, the Supreme Court has denied the petition filed by eight parties including the Union of India, parents of LGBTQ persons, Voices Against 377, teachers, mental health professionals, Shyam Benegal and the Naz Foundation. NDTV news reports “The union government has two options: it can either file a curative petition in the Supreme Court, or it can try to amend the law in Parliament. A curative petition, the final appeal in the legal process, is heard by the Supreme Court’s senior-most judges including the Chief Justice of the country.”
Organizations, in fact, continue to organize forums and panels to strategize next steps. A protest was organized by the Queer community via facebook, January 28, to demonstrate that these refusals are temporary and the community will continue to fight. This, in fact, has given them more initiative and faith. NO GOING BACK. Stay tuned for updates facebook and Orinam.
As we approach the 10 year anniversary of Canada’s invasion of Haiti, Ajamu Nangwaya of the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity & Toronto Haiti Action Network explores humanity’s debt to, and imperialism’s crimes against, the Haitian people.
by Ajamu Nangwaya
February 28th/March 1st will mark the 10th anniversary of the coup in Haiti that was orchestrated by the French, American, and Canadian governments, resulting in the kidnapping and downfall of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to journalist and writer Yves Engler:
“On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.”
Just over a year after this pivotal meeting of the three Western states in Canada, the democratic government in Haiti was overthrown, President Aristide had been kidnapped and exiled to the Central Afrikan Republic, hundreds of Fanmi Lavalas’s (FL) supporters were killed, immediate occupation of Haiti by 2,000 Western troops (latter replaced by the United Nations’ military intervention), repression against grassroots organizations, filling of the jails with political prisoners and abandonment of the FL government’s investment in education, job creation, healthcare, public services and preoccupation with increasing the minimum wage.
People of good conscience across the world, especially those in the Americas, should take the upcoming anniversary of the coup to not only learn about what has transpired in Haiti these past ten years, but more importantly, develop and strengthen our ties of solidarity with the popular organizations within and serving Haiti’s working-class and peasantry.
People-to-people solidarity based on mutual respect and principled collaboration will assist the Haitian people in their long struggle to rid themselves of the United Nations’ (MINUSTAH’s) occupation force that has been implicated in gross human rights abuses over the past decade, including the UN borne 2010 cholera outbreak that killed 8,300 deaths and infected close to 650,000 Haitians.
Our solidarity could support the demand put forward by kidnapped and deposed president Aristide that France repay Haiti the 90 million gold francs (over $23 billion today) ransom that was extracted from the latter as the price for diplomatic recognition and freedom from the threat of re-enslavement.
Our awareness can help end the cycle of Western military interventions, coups and/or propping up of anti-democratic, anti-people regimes that has plagued Haiti throughout the entire 20th century up to the present; and help Haitians put an end to the local elite’s and foreign capital’s exploitation of the people. Based on Haiti’s contribution to humanity, it should hold a special place in the internationalist programmes of progressive forces across the world.
In the annals of history, the enslaved Afrikans in Haiti were the only people to have successfully overthrown a system of slavery. They defeated the strongest military forces of the day, that of France, Britain and Spain, in order to free themselves from the servile labour regime and boldly assert their freedom and humanity.
This historic feat, the Haitian Revolution, was significant beyond the victory that the enslaved Africans registered in using armed struggle to effect emancipation-from below. These Black Jacobins etched the fear of revolution in the hearts and minds of the enslavers or agricultural capitalists in the other slave-holding territories in the Americas.
Haiti’s role in Simon Bolivar’s wars of independence in Latin America is not widely known. In the spirit of principled international solidarity, Haiti provided a place of refugee to Bolivar and his comrade Francisco de Miranda in 1815 and gave them material aid in the form of schooners, printing presses, fighters and as well as guns for several thousand troops.
Haiti’s only condition for its contribution was Bolivar’s commitment to abolishing slavery, which he didn’t vigorously and speedily implement. Haiti was still living up to the ideal of universal freedom from slavery and colonial domination and it was there during a crucial movement in the Latin American struggle for self-determination. It is rather instructive and ironic today to see Latin American military forces serving in Haiti in occupation army under the United Nations’ banner (a force that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay).
Haiti’s legacy of defying and exposing the farcical nature of the racist characterization of Africans as sub-humans by defeating the best European armies of the period, taking its freedom in its own hands, contributing to the liberation of Latin America and threatening the continued viability of slavery has probably earned the country the unenviable economic and political status it currently holds in the region.
I believe the poet William Wordsworth’s was right in declaring to the fallen and deceived Toussaint L’Ouverture (and by extension Haiti), “Thou hast great allies / Thy friends are exultations, agonies, / And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.”
Our anti-imperialist obligation to Haiti and its people for their contribution to universal freedom entail the provision of political, moral and material support in fighting our common enemies of social emancipation and justice.
As the 10th anniversary of the coup d’etat and occupation of Haiti approaches, the least you can do is inform yourself about the situation in Haiti by attending Toronto Haiti Action Committee’s February 24 public education event with Haitian human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph and Dr. Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto.
The abolitionist, former enslaved Afrikan, feminist and statesman Frederick Douglass had this to say about Haiti’s role in promoting “universal human liberty” and a reminder of our debt of gratitude and obligation to its people:
“In just vindication of Haiti, I can go one step further. I can speak of her, not only words of admiration, but words of gratitude as well. She has grandly served the cause of universal human liberty. We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day; that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies; the freedom that has come to the colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons [and daughters], of Haiti ninety years ago. When they struck for freedom, they builded better than they knew. Their swords were not drawn and could not be drawn simply for themselves alone. They were linked and interlinked with their race, and striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man [and woman] in the world.”
by Jordy Cummings
In May 1970, National Guardsmen in the U.S. were called in to respond to a highly militant anti-war protests taking place at Kent State University in Ohio. The protests were an immediate, emergency response to then President Richard Nixon “spreading the war” from Vietnam itself into Cambodia. On May 4, these armed instruments of state power used the same weapons used against the Vietnamese revolution, and opened fire, killing four protesters.
Within a few weeks, Neil Young, with his on again/off again bandmates, Crosby, Stills and Nash, were in the recording studio recording a response which was on the radio within four days. The song explicitly situated itself as coming from “the movement” at a time when millions of Americans believed they were on the cusp of revolution at home. The governor of Ohio felt the same way, calling the protesters violent revolutionaries, and proclaiming that “these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes.”
“Ohio”, the sparse and angry song recorded that day wasn’t your typical protest anthem. It was neither a preachy message song or a simple pacifist chant that reduced the movement to giving “peace a chance”. Instead, it seethed about “tin soldiers” who had caused the four dead. Instead of giving peace a chance, it made the unambiguous plea “gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down..should have been done long ago”. What should have been done, it seems, was revolution. Moving from the general to particular, it then addresses its listener, “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground, how can you run when you know”?
Just as Neil Young did the right thing about the anti-war movement, he has the opportunity to do so on an issue at least as important. With that in mind, I’d like to turn the questions that Mr. Young raised in “Ohio” back onto Mr. Young. Mr. Young , think of the Palestinian people killed by Israeli weapons or the quiet weapon of starvation and open-air prisons. What if you knew them? How can you run when you know? Let us not forget the treatment of Africans by the Israeli state, migrant workers who have been as of late agitating for their rights. Israel’s racist attitudes, far right hate groups and mounting detentions against Africans is not dissimilar to that of the “Southern Man” that Mr. Young inveighed against not too long after recording “Ohio”. Would Neil be “Rocking in the Free World” by playing Israel? Is this in the interests of the dispossessed “patch of ground people”, or the interests of “Vampires” that “Sell you twenty barrels worth”.
Even very recently, Young has proven himself to be on the correct side of the question of the day’s most pressing issues. Young has been a lifelong supporter of indigenous struggles, not merely in the form of his songs, like Pocahontas, but in his actions, most recently in his “Respect the Treaties” tour and publicity event. For this sin against Canadian interests, Neil Young was attacked in the corporate media and even by the Prime Minister’s office. This was perhaps one of the most effective political interventions made by a cultural icon in Canada in recent years, and at least so far as I remember. The Two Row Times praised Young’s integrity, calling him “a deeply spiritual man with the heart of a prophet, who has pointed the way to the future for nearly three generations of young people.” Neil Young seemed to be the Anti-Bono. As opposed to palling around with George W. Bush and Bill Gates, ostensibly in the service of helping “poor Africans”, Young has taken the lead in what is one of the most important and pressing issues within Canada’s borders.
It is for this reason, more than any, that progressives must demand that Mr. Young cancel his concerts in Apartheid Israel this summer . How can Neil maintain this deeply felt and deserved reputation, as a craftsman, a guitar visionary, a wise man, if he were to betray every principle that culminated in his recent interventions?
It is not unlikely that Mr. Young is aware of the calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. From Gil Scott Heron to Elvis Costello, progressive musicians – and even those not necessarily known for their politics (the Pixies, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack) – have responded to the call by cancelling and/or not booking shows in Israel. Perhaps Neil Young has been informed – even by the people with whom he just concluded a tour – that there were those calling for him to show his principles, and perhaps his attitude is that it would be hypocritical for him to play Toronto and then not play Tel Aviv. Yet there has not been a call from indigenous communities in Canada for a cultural boycott of Toronto. There is, however, a standing call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
Neil Young has sang that he is “proud to be a union man”, a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He should realize, then, that the Palestinian labour movement has explicitly called for a cultural boycott. Mr. Young – I know that it may be annoying that you are being addressed after the fashion of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s denunciation of you, but if the shoe fits… But please, “how can you run when you know?”
We all hope you do the right thing, Mr. Young.
by Pablo Vivanco
On January 1st, the governments of Canada, US and Mexico marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, the day was being commemorated for very different but connected reasons.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas, was celebrating 20 years since the start of their armed uprising. With the words “Today we say ‘enough is enough’”, the EZLN declared war on the Mexican government on January 1, 1994.
Among the Zapatista’s three basic principles were the defense of collective and individual rights historically denied to Mexico’s Indigenous peoples. NAFTA attacked the rights of working people in all three countries, but especially attacked the traditional communal land rights of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.
The Zapatistas’ social base is the mostly rural Indigenous people in Chiapas. Roughly 957,000 out of 3.5 million people in Chiapas speak one of 56 different Indigenous languages. One third of these people do not speak Spanish at all. Out of 111 municipalities, twenty two have Indigenous populations over 90 percent, and 36 municipalities have native populations exceeding 50 percent.
Chiapas has about 13.5% of all of Mexico’s Indigenous population. Most of Chiapas’ Indigenous groups, including the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Zoque, Tojolabal, and Lacandon, are descended from the Mayans.
This past January 1st, the EZLN accused the federal government of maintaining a war strategy against them and wanting to take the land recovered by the Zapatista’s during their uprising, leading to a renewed call to rebellion.
In front of several thousand guests and hundreds of grassroots members, Comandanta Hortencia, a Tzotzil woman and spokesperson for the EZLN, read a statement that emphasized the struggle to maintain autonomy and self-government. “We are learning to govern ourselves according to our ways of thinking and living. We are trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen together, men, women, youth, children and the elderly. About 20 years ago, we said enough is enough.”
“We are sharing our experience with the new generation of children and youth. We are preparing our people to resist and to govern. In our Zapatista areas we no longer have bad government, nor do parties rule and manipulate.”
In fog and constant drizzle, the EZLN celebration lasted all day and well into the night, as it was attended by thousands of young people from almost every state in the country as well as students from other countries attending the two courses at the Zapatista school.
To these visitors, Comandanta Hortencia spoke of the possibility of the Zapatista experience of autonomy and self-governance applying elsewhere.
With notes from proceso.mx.com