Headlines: Britain Ends “Combat Operations” in Iraq; Group: Don’t Scapegoat Mexicans in Swine Flu Coverage

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Justice Souter to Retire from Supreme Court

Justice David Souter is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June. Souter’s departure would grant President Obama his first opportunity to appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court bench. Souter was appointed by President George H.W. Bush but ended up regularly voting with the court’s liberal members.

3 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, three U.S. troops have been killed in clashes near Baghdad. At least eighteen U.S. soldiers died in April, making it the deadliest month for the U.S. military this year.

Britain Ends Combat Operations in Iraq

In other Iraq news, British troops have formally ended combat operations after a more than six-year occupation. On Thursday, British forces handed control of Basra province to the U.S. military. Britain says it will withdraw most of its 3,700 troops by July, leaving about 400 behind to train Iraqi forces.

Marri Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge

The only so-called “enemy combatant” jailed in the U.S. has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaeda. Ali al-Marri has been held in isolation without trial at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. The Obama administration charged him in February to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. On Thursday, al-Marri pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge carrying a maximum fifteen-year sentence. He could serve half that if he’s given credit for his seven and a half year imprisonment. As part of the agreement, al-Marri admitted to attending militant training camps and traveling to the U.S. under the direction of Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Gates Hints at Continued Indefinite Jailing of Gitmo Prisoners

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated up to 100 foreign prisoners could end up jailed without trial in the U.S. once the Guantanamo Bay prison is closed. Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates: “What do we do with the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?” Gates said he’s requested some $50 million in supplemental funding in case the Obama administration decides to quickly build a new jail.

61 Arrested Protesting Torture Outside White House

Gates’ comments came as sixty-one protesters were arrested outside the White House Thursday to call for the closure of Guantanamo and the prosecution of Bush administration officials who authorized torture there. The arrests followed a march of more than 150 people. Dozens wore black hoods and orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by Guantanamo prisoners. The protest was organized by Witness Against Torture and Amnesty International.

Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy Protection

The auto giant Chrysler has filed for federal bankruptcy protection under a government-brokered deal. Chrysler hopes to form a new company that would be owned by the US government, the Italian auto giant Fiat, and the company’s workers. On Thursday, President Obama said the bankruptcy filing would ensure Chrysler’s continued operation.

President Obama: “No one should be confused about what a bankruptcy process means. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather one more step on a clearly charted path to Chrysler’s revival. Because of the fact that the UAW and many of the banks, the biggest stakeholders in this whole process have already aligned, have already agreed, this process will be quick.”

Obama also criticized the role of some hedge funds who he said pushed Chrysler into bankruptcy.

Senate Defeats Measure to Aid Homeowners

On Capital Hill, the Senate has defeated a proposal that would have rescued hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure. A dozen Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure, which would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners. President Obama had publicly supported the proposal but refused to actively lobby for its approval.

House Backs Credit Card Regulation

Meanwhile the House has approved a measure that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry. The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights would limit practices including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and charging interest on paid-off debt.

House Broadens Hate Crime Laws

The House has also passed a measure expanding the scope of federal hate crime laws. The bill would broaden the definition of a hate crime to include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity and mental or physical disability. It now goes to the Senate.

Maine, New Hampshire Senates Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

In Maine, the state Senate has voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now goes to the Maine House, where it’s expected to pass next week. Democratic Governor John Baldacci formerly opposed gay marriage but isn’t expected to issue a veto. Meanwhile New Hampshire’s state Senate has also voted to legalize gay marriage. The measure now returns to the House, which has already approved a slightly different bill. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, has opposed same-sex marriage but hasn’t indicated whether he’ll veto the measure.

U.S. Rules Out Closing Border With Mexico in Flu Crisis

Mexican health officials have raised their count of confirmed swine flu cases but say the number appears to be stabilizing. Three-hundred people have contracted swine flu in Mexico while another twelve people have died. The Obama administration is meanwhile rejecting calls to close the U.S. border with Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed the issue Thursday in Washington.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “Closing the entire borders would have no benefit at this point because the virus is already present in the United States. The comparison is clear- it’s like closing the barn door well after the horse has left.”

There are more than 100 confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S., with one death so far. The White House has also announced a federal agent who recently traveled with President Obama contracted swine flu last month. The agent has since recovered and is back at work. The White House says he did not come within sufficient range of President Obama to expose him to possible infection.

Group: Don’t Scapegoat Mexicans in Swine Flu Coverage

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists meanwhile is urging media outlets not to scapegoat Mexican immigrants in coverage of the swine flu crisis. In a statement, the group said: “The temptation… will be to link Mexican immigrants with the spread of the disease to the United States. The consequence… will be even more anger – and perhaps even more violence – against a community no more responsible for the spread of this ailment than U.S. tourists returning from vacations.”

Iraq War Resister Jailed for 1 Year

A U.S. army soldier has been sentenced to a year in prison for fleeing to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq. Cliff Cornell spent four years living on a British Columbia island before the Canadian government denied his asylum request. He was jailed after re-entering the U.S. in February despite announcing plans to voluntarily return to his unit.

Informant: FBI Spied on Muslim Gym Members

In California, a former informant has revealed FBI agents routinely monitored local Orange County gyms to gather intelligence on members of local mosques. Craig Monteilh said he posed as a Muslim convert to lure mosque members to work out with him at the gyms. FBI agents would then press him to obtain information on his workout partners in the hopes of one day pressuring them to become informants. The disclosure is the latest in a series of exposed government surveillance efforts on California’s Muslim communities.

UN: International Pledges Yet to Reach Gaza

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a top UN relief official says the Gaza Strip has yet to receive any of the $4.5 billion dollars in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors. John Ging, the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, says Israeli restrictions on goods and the U.S.-led boycott of Hamas have prevented basic goods from reaching Gaza. Ging said: “Today the money is out there in pledges and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel.”

Report Finds Scores of Abuses by Mexican Military

In Mexico, the Mexican military is being accused of enjoying virtual impunity to commit human rights abuses in the fight against the country’s drug cartels. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the Mexican armed forces have committed rape, murder, torture, and other abuses against indigenous women, environmentalists, and other victims with no link to the drug war. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the crimes have routinely gone unpunished.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth: “The legal door is open, it is now import for the politicians to walk trough and to end impunity that has been so disastrous for efforts to prevent the military from committing abuse. And the rise in abuses, the rise in complaints of abuse, that we’ve seen over last two years is in part a function of military involvement in law enforcement.”

May Day Protests Held Worldwide

And today is May Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights. Rallies are being held across the United States and around the world. As in years past, dozens of U.S. demonstrations will also focus on immigration rights. At least seven marches have been organized in Los Angeles, while thousands are expected to converge on New York’s Union Square.

Film, Discussion Looks at Zapatista Uprising in Mexico

A Film and Discussion at The DAAC in Downtown Grand Rapids Looked at the Zapatista Uprising

Tuesday night, The Bloom Collective held a showing of Zapatista at the DAAC in downtown Grand Rapids. Zapatista is a 1999 documentary film about the first 4 years of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, from 1994 to 1998. The film features interviews with Subcomandante Marcos, Noam Chomsky, and many others. It has been much heralded over the past decade for its accurate and moving portrayal of the post-NAFTA struggle in Mexico and the work of the Zapatistas during that time.


Following the film was a discussion led by a college graduate who studied in Mexico through the Mexico Solidarity Network (MSN). To begin, a brief update on the last ten years in Mexico was given: The Zapatistas decided they did not need the government’s permission to be autonomous and began their own municipalities throughout Mexico. Since the filming of the movie, efforts have shifted to focus on schools and health clinics. In 2005 the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) released the Sixth Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle to initiate a new step in their struggle, to united with “workers, farmers, students, teachers, and employees… the workers of the city and the countryside.” During the 2006 presidential election, the Zapatistas ran “The Other Campaign, ” in which they dismissed the candidates from the two major parties (Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD] and the National Action Party [PAN]) and began their own tour of the nation, talking to people and listening to their needs.

Women and the Zapatistas

Groups such as MSN have become an opportunity for those living in Zapatista communities to sell their artisanry directly to the consumer, thus avoiding the “middle man” and ensuring a fair price. This has been particularly empowering to women, who are then able to work out of the home and avoid being harassed or degraded in public.

Government Harassment and Targeting

The film mentioned that the Zapatistas do not hold bank accounts – this has changed in recent years, and these bank accounts have become a way for the government to target the Zapatistas. When Zapatistas Fair Trade Coffee co-ops were formed, government owned coffee co-ops would spring up nearby, selling the coffee at a cheaper price and thus undercutting the Zapatista’s coffee sales. Government agents have been known to appear at the Zapatista communities, supposedly searching for marijuana plants – a completely unfounded claim, as the Zapatistas do not allow drugs or alcohol in their municipalities.


Following the update, questions were asked by various filmgoers. Although a good turnout of about thirty people attended the film showing, only a small handful stayed for the discussion. One person asked if any humanitarian laws applied/were enforced in Mexico. Although United Nations measures have passed over the years, they are not effective as there is no system in place to enforce these (and the United States is a powerful member of the UN). Human rights observers have gone to Mexico and documented the situation, which has resulted in enough pressure to shut down government bases.

Discussion turned to NAFTA’s effect on corn production. As of 2008, there are no tariffs on corn coming in to Mexico, making corn from the U.S. and other countries cheaper to buy in Mexico than Mexican corn (which is a huge industry in the country). Because farmers can no longer sell their corn at the price of production, many have moved to cities to find the legendary NAFTA jobs, that don’t really exist.

The narco industry was brought up next, termed “insane” by the discussion facilitator – “narcos run the state now,” as drug lords have infiltrated PAN. U.S. aid has been given to fund the Mexican army, which helps bring drugs to the U.S. Narcos also buy their weapons from the U.S., due to lax gun laws in Arizona and Texas (the facilitator noted that border patrol does not care what goes in to Mexico.) The contradiction of “fighting the drug war by looking for pot plants in Zapataista communities” while this narco situation continues was noted.

The film gave the historical context, and the discussion was useful to gain an understanding of current events in Chiapas, Oaxaca and other regions of Mexico.

Journalist talks about the unsolved murders of women in Juarez, Mexico

On Monday, September 17, Teresa Rodriguez, a reporter with the Spanish language cable channel Univision spoke at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) on the murders of women and girls in Juarez, Mexico.

On Monday, September 17, Teresa Rodriguez, a reporter with the Spanish language cable channel Univision spoke at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for the kickoff of their Hispanic Heritage Month. Rodriguez is the author of the book The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border, which is based on several years of investigation into the murders of women and girls in the and near the city of Juarez, Mexico. She began doing research in 1998 for the show she hosts on the Spanish cable channel Aqui, Ahora.

Rodriguez said that most of the victims had come to the city to look for work and that this was right after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had come into effect. Many new factories, known as maquiladoras, were constructed after 1994 by foreign companies in Juarez and this attracted thousands of Mexicans desperate for work. The city’s infrastructure could not handle all the new migrants so factory workers often constructed shantytowns outside the city, most with no running water or electricity. Women workers walked long distances to get to buses in order to get to the factories and it is believed that the perpetrators were aware of these travel patterns.

The speaker stated that the victims were raped, tortured, mutilated, and then killed. In many cases the victims’ breasts were mutilated. When families would go to the authorities a common response that was provided was “she was probably leading a double life.” The police seemed even uninterested in the murders. The author said that border towns are notorious for violence and Juarez was home to a large naro-trafficking cartel that may have been involved in the murders.

Corruption and lack of police contributed to a lack of investigation. As the government continued to not investigate the murders, community groups and women’s groups began to organize and demonstrate. One woman that she referenced was Ester Chavez, with Casa Amiga, a community-based group that provides a safe house for women and family members.

As of 2006, 400 bodies had been recovered, according to Amnesty International. Nationally, it is important to put the issue of violence against women into perspective, since according to the speaker an average of 4 women and girls are killed daily in Mexico, 75% at the hands of their husbands. One obstacle in bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice is that Mexico has a 14-year statute of limitations for murder. Today a handful of investigators are trying to get new information on long standing cases.

As of 2007, an Argentine forensics team is bringing new evidence to the cases of murdered women in Juarez and teams from Chile and Colombia are also doing investigations with soon to be released findings. Some of the preliminary findings are that investigators found that some of the bodies were boiled by the authorities, which made it difficult to full determine how the women were killed; parts of some bodies were tossed into mass graves, and there were other instances of structural corruption.

This issue has received significant attention around the world and has recently been the reason why numerous US Representatives have traveled to Mexico to press for changes in the law, particularly a change in the statute of limitations. President Calderon has not responded to their inquiries. In terms of what actions people could take, the speaker told the audience that people could write to the President of Mexico to investigate these crimes. Some who have tried to investigate and push for justice have been fired from jobs in Mexico and others forced to leave for fear of safety.

During the question and answer time many of the questions were directed at the speaker’s personal decision to pursue the investigations. The only question that dealt with the murders that wasn’t addressed in her talk was “how have the factory owners in Juarez responded to these murders?” She said that they have responded by saying that it is not their responsibility to insure safety of employees outside of facility. Some factories have hired private bus drivers to bring the workers from their neighborhoods straight to the factories, but most companies would not even talk with the author when she requested interviews.

There are several activist groups in Mexico and the US who have been organizing around the murders of these women and girls. For some of the best up to date information you can go to Women of Juarez or Libertad Latina.

The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly

From June 14 to November 25, 2006, Oaxaca City in the Mexican state of Oaxaca was in rebellion, with the government essentially in exile while the citizens occupied space and championed an alternative form of government based on autonomy and genuine democracy. The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly chronicles the five-month uprising in Oaxaca with a particular focus on the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Reporter Nancy Davies with Narco News details how the Popular Assembly grew out of a teacher’s strike and subsequent government repression to become a movement with widespread popular support and incorporated the dreams and desires of wide sections of the population.

Davies reports on many of the conflicts in the rebellion, but spends considerable time examining APPO and its methods. By reporting on APPO, Nancy Davies shares information that is missing from much of the reporting on the rebellion. She forgoes the usual “score card” that accompanies reporting–even on the Left–of popular movements; she is less interested in tallying the numbers of arrests, the numbers of injuries, or the numbers of buildings occupied than she is in drawing out the more lasting components of the rebellion. Street battles come and go and live on in movements’ popular consciences, but it is often the experiments in radical structures that have lasting impacts on their participants.

Davies explores at length how APPO functioned, sharing with readers how the movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people for “megamarches” while at the same time trying to incorporate similar numbers of people into the movement’s decision-making structures. The first Popular Assembly took place on June 17–three days after open confrontation with the state–involved 170 people representing 85 organizations. Invitations went out to “union members, social and political organizations, NGOs, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca” according to Davies and a second assembly took place six days later. The Assembly functioned as a way of making demands and dealing with the state, in this case declaring that Oaxaca’s governor must go and rejecting a settlement position offered by the state. APPO built off a tradition of “open citizen assemblies” that like APPO, rejected the participation of political parties and frequently addressed problems ignored by the state. Throughout the rebellion, Davies chronicled the decrees of APPO and gave updates on how it was functioning, offering an important contribution on a subject that was ignored elsewhere. APPO consistently grew and was able to incorporate more people into its decision-making structure and shows that despite the myths of “inefficiency,” forms of direct decision-making can flourish.

Another interesting aspect of the struggle is that the popular movement took over corporate media outlets and put them in the service of the movement. Rather than be content with coverage that sought to defame, ridicule, and minimize the movement, those involved in the movement took over radio and television stations and kept them on the air broadcasting information about the movement. It was not uncommon to hear ordinary people calling into radio shows talking about solidarity, their experiences with state repression, and the difficulties of everyday life in one of Mexico’s poorest states. At the same time, occupied television stations broadcast footage from the movement as well as documentaries about other struggles around the world. The state did eventually recognize the importance of these occupied media outlets and eventually took them back, but it is a compelling strategy for movements everywhere that experience the limits of the corporate media’s distortions.

While social conditions are considerably different in Oaxaca verses the United States, The People Decide offers inspiration to those doing organizing work in the US. It offers a glimpse of what we can (and should) build towards–a truly innovative form of self-government that makes the state obsolete while at the same time empowering people. In the rebellion, citizens were not afraid to fight back and they valiantly resisted state repression and took their struggle in new directions, including building APPO as a decision-making organization with the popular basis to replace the government. The prospects of such a rebellion occurring in the United States at the present are of course quite slim, but with organizing that emphasizes autonomy, democracy, people power, and perhaps most importantly, a willingness to imagine new tactics and strategies, those living outside of Oaxaca can learn from the rebellion and incorporate some of its lessons in our own work. To that end, Davies book is an essential reminder of the fact that capitalism has not won and that it continues to be contested around the world.

Nancy Davies, The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly, (Narco News Books, 2007).

Book Reviews: Zapatistas, Waves of Opposition, and Vive la Revolution

Media Mouse has posted three new book reviews in the book reviews section of the site. The reviews include John Ross’ Zapatistas: Making Another World Possible, Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006, Elizabeth Fones-Wolf’s Waves of Opposition: Labor and the Struggle for Democratic Radio, and Mark Steel’s Vive La Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution. While all books cover completely different topics, they all make important contributions to the literature covering social movements around the world.

Zapatistas: Making Another World Possible, Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006

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John Ross’ Zapatistas: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006, provides an important and valuable history of the Zapatistas’ actions since 2000. The book essentially functions as an extension of Ross’ previous book, The War Against Oblivion: The Zapatista Chronicles, expanding on his previous coverage of the Zapatistas and bringing it into the current era. Ross, who has followed and reported the Zapatistas since they rose up on January 1, 1994, provides a detailed and highly readable eyewitness account of the movement. Even to those who are not familiar with the Zapatistas’ history and actions over the past twelve years, it is easy to jump right into Ross’ account of the most recent period of the rebellion and understand immediately why the Zapatistas took up arms and how the Zapatistas have become a major influence on movements from the left around the world, especially in movements aimed at building alternatives to corporate globalization. Much of this influence–aside from the glamour that radicals in the west like to assign to brown-skinned radicals with guns–has come from the simple fact that while lots of us talk about autonomy, solidarity, and organizing “from below,” the Zapatistas are actually doing it. They are defending their land, establishing alternative governing models, and attempting to organize the people who are forgotten in Mexico.

The period covered by Zapatistas, 2000 to 2006, was a period that marked a significant shift in the approach by the Zapatistas. While the period began with the prospect of the passage of an Indian rights law supported by Zapatistas, the Zapatistas and other indigenous peoples received yet another reminder that the government does not work for them. Despite massive mobilizations out of Chiapas to Mexico City as part of the “March of the People the Color of the Earth” and some support in Congress for the law, the government passed a bill that the Zapatistas refused to recognize or support, instead terming it “Indian wrongs.” Following this experience, the Zapatistas engaged in considerable internal reflection and refocused their efforts on building autonomy, establishing new governing structures that aimed to be both responsive to the people and to make the Mexican government obsolete. As part of this work, the Zapatistas launched The Other Campaign in 2006, organizing an extensive tour of Mexico to communicate with all of the people “down below” about the prospect of building an anti-capitalist movement that could overthrow the government. Ross covers these events, relying on both his own direct experiences as well as consulting the statements of the Zapatistas and other relevant sources. All told, Ross assembles a comprehensive chronicle of the period.

The book ends with the period immediately after Mexico’s July 2006 elections, when massive numbers of people took to the streets to protest the fraud that seemed likely to hand the presidency to Felipe Calderon. Reading the book now, it is clear that this is indeed what happened, but Ross’ comments as the event were unfolding offer interpretations that seem consistent with how the Calderon presidency has functioned thus far. In the midst of confusion over the election, Ross wonders where the millions left out of the political system in Mexico will find their place–will they join the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign or will they establish a new movement. Either way, Ross concludes by writing that “the metabolism of revolution in Mexico is precisely timed. It seems to burst from the subterranean chambers every hundred years or so–1810; 1910; 2010?” As actions continue in Mexico, from the massive social uprising in Oaxaca to continued organizing by the Zapatistas, such a prediction seems plausible. For those of in the North, the central question raised by reading Ross’ book is how can we act in solidarity with the Zapatistas and how can we build similar movements “from below” in the North? While the book gives no easy answer to these questions–and indeed could not–it is clear that learning from the Zapatistas, we must listen–listen to them, listen to those “down below,” and listen to our hearts–and to always remember that another world is possible.

John Ross, Zapatistas: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006, (Nation Books, 2006).

Lecture series focuses on Mexico

On Monday, three panelists, including the Mexican Consul from Detroit, discussed the first one-hundred days of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration. The panelists primarily supported the Calderon administration and offered little in the way of either criticisms or specifics about what Calderon has done thus far.

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan hosted the fourth in a series of lectures this winter at Aquinas College on Monday. The February 26th forum was entitled “Mexico: Calderon’s First 100 Days,” which featured three panelists – Vicente Sanchez-Ventura (Consul of Mexico in Detroit), Khedeja Gadhoum, a GVSU professor and Manuel Chavez who teaches at MSU. The introduction was given by State Rep. John Jellema who did acknowledged that there was a substantial debate about the validity of last year’s Presidential Elections, but that polling shows that Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has about a 60% approval rating.

Mr. Sanchez-Ventura spoke first and identified what he thought were the five main priorities of Calderon – 1) The Rule of Law – which meant dealing with drug trafficking, street violence and politically unstable areas like Oaxaca; 2) The Economy – which translated as reducing public debt and unemployment, stressing the importance of small businesses, and legal reforms important for these things to happen; 3) Equal opportunities – where the government is attempting to offer equal opportunities to the poor in health, education, and culture; 4) Systems Level Development, which he didn’t specify, and: 5) Democracy – which meant to include all parties in national legislative agenda and foster better relationship with United States. He also mentioned immigration as an important issue but did not state what the Calderon administration will do to address that issue.

The other panelists addressed these issues as well, especially the “rule of law.” Calderon has begun to crack down on drug trafficking by sending thousands of Mexican soldiers to several north states, but as independent journalist John Ross points out the focus is on street level dealers, not the big drug cartels. This translates into arresting and incarcerating the poor. The other aspect of the rule of law that the panelists addresses was with civil unrest in places like Oaxaca and Chiapas. Mr. Sanchez-Ventura said of Oaxaca “it’s an important situation for national security.” He also acknowledged “there have been some human rights violations” and that the movement in Oaxaca is “dangerous to Mexico.” Professor Gadhoum said “It started with a peaceful protest of teachers and became a social movement. Now many are concerned about Calderon’s use of the federal police and military.” Professor Chavez said that there is a “75% approval of military and federal actions in Oaxaca according to polls,” citing the mainstream media in Mexico. This seems to contradict much of what the independent media in Mexico and sources like Narco News are saying about Oaxaca.

Another major theme from the panelists was the economy. The panel members mentioned the need for increased trade and for more foreign investment, while arguing that stability and security would help the economy and that Calderon had a “clear economic plan.” There was also some mention of Mexico’s relationship with the Big 3 US car companies and Professor Chavez asked the question “Is there a possibility of Mexico and Michigan establishing an agreement since Mexico is 2nd largest trading partner of Michigan?” NAFTA was also mentioned by the panelists with Prof. Gadhoum wondering if Calderon will revisit NAFTA in light of the prevelance of maquiladoras (sweatshops). In response to her question, Mr. Sanchez-Ventura said that while he thinks NAFTA should be revisited “the Results of NAFTA have been positive for both the US and Mexico.” It was unfortunate that more time was not spent talking about the negative consequences of NAFTA which are widely known. Also omitted from the discussion on the economy was the decision by Calderon to raise the price of Mexican staples like tortillas. These price increases have resulted in major demonstrations in Mexico City and in other parts of the country. Additionally, there was no mention of Calderon’s actions at the recent World Economic Forum. According to Laura Carlsen with the Inter-Hemispheric Resource Center, Calderon went out of his way to distance himself from most of the other Latin American nations who have been challenging the US hegemony in the region.

New Book on Central America and Oaxaca Benefit

Media Mouse has posted a new book titled Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time by contributor Jeff Smith. The book is being published online in advance of a December 14th benefit for the struggle in Oaxaca.

Media Mouse has posted a new book online by longtime Media Mouse contributor Jeff Smith. The book is titled Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time and it is a product of Smith’s travels to Guatemala and Chiapas and his work with the Guatemalan community in Grand Rapids over the past 19 years. Along with the book, Smith is completing a documentary titled Reversing the Missionary Position: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time using video footage from his trips to Central America and Mexico. The documentary will premiere in Grand Rapids on December 14 at the Wealthy Theatre. The December 14th screening is a benefit for the struggle in Oaxaca and will feature both a showing of the film as well as a concert by the local band Cabildo (flyer).

From the Introduction to Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time

“Fray Diego de Landa throws into the flames, one after the other, the books of the Mayas. The Inquisitor curses Satan, and the fire crackles and devours. Around the incinerator, heretics howl with their heads down. Hung by the feet, flayed with whips, Indians are doused with boiling wax as the fire flares up and the books snap, as if complaining. Tonight, eight centuries of Mayan literature turn to ashes.
Memory of Fire: Volume 1 – Genesis, Eduardo Galeano

In January of 1992, just days before the cease-fire in El Salvador, I was sitting in the Central Plaza watching the crowds of people with my traveling partners. We noticed a large crowd in the center listening to a man speaking in English who was accompanied by a translator. I decided to walk over to investigate what was going on when I realized that the man speaking was a preacher from the US. No sooner did I realize this that I turned around and rejoined my friends shaking my head in disgust.

When the crowd finally dispersed I noticed that the street preacher was headed in our direction. Right away he began to speak to us in English and inquired about our being in El Salvador. We told him we were tourists because one never knows when there are people listening in (orejas) on your conversations. Before we could say any more this guy began asking us if we had “come to know the Lord.” We all said no, much to his disappointment, but we were curious enough to know what he was doing here. He said “to spread the Gospel and to win souls for Christ.” We asked him if he was doing anything for these people in the way of food, housing, jobs, ect. He told us no and that those things were not relevant as long as people saved their souls. At that point I remember telling him that he was no different than the long line of Christians who had come here to impose their will on these people. I said if you wanted to preach religion, maybe he might want to follow the model of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero.(1) Looking at me with a confused expression, our missionary friend simply said, “Who was he?”

This encounter reflects for me a fundamental tenet of the relationship that Euro-Americans have had and continue to have with people throughout Latin America. Over the past 500 years Mayans and many other people have had various forms of intervention in their communities by people claiming to know what is best for them. Whether they have been missionaries, statesmen, Peace Corp workers, anthropologists, relief agencies or even solidarity organizations – all of them, in some form or another, have gone to these countries with the position that they were going to “help these people”, “show them how it is done”, make their lives better or simply to “save” them from themselves. The corporate owned media in this country has contributed to this view since it rarely puts into context why there is rampant poverty, street children sniffing glue, political violence, government corruption and ecological devastation. The cumulative effect of watching news stories about Latin America that is mostly disaster related can leave viewers with the sense that “these” people can not take care of themselves. Whether it is on the nightly news or a CARE ad showing malnourished children, the North American public is fed images of dependency and backwardness. From my studies of the local TV news coverage of Latin America it is rare that we are given the opinions and perspectives of Latin Americans on what is happening there and a virtually nonexistent view from Latin Americans who hold no positions of power. (www.grcmc.org/griid/reports)

More and more people are beginning to question this notion of superiority and imperial mentality that permeates all social institutions in this country. Beginning with the observations that took place surrounding the 500 years of resistance by Indigenous peoples throughout the Western hemisphere, some people in the US are confronting their own relationships with the First Nations of North, Central and South America. This is due in part to an increase in solidarity groups sending people to various countries by way of invitation to stand with people in their struggles for justice. Attitudes are also changing because people are becoming more familiar with the rich literary and cultural traditions that give a radically different view of the past 500 years. This transition has not been without resistance, some of it which wants to aggressively cling to the history of the victors, while others are scrambling to find “examples” of well intentioned people that they can hold up so as to not feel completely guilty about being in positions of privilege. One such example, which is even being elevated by the religious left and some solidarity groups, is Bartalome de las Casas. Las Casas, a Dominican priest/bishop who once enslaved Indians himself has been canonized as the “Defender of the Indians.” It is true that Las Casas denounced the enslavement of Indians, argued that they had souls, and left us with a detailed account of the consequences of the genocidal policies directed towards Indians in the Caribbean, Meso-American and South American regions. These are contributions that should not be quickly dismissed when critiquing his involvement in the early years of the European invasion, but they are not adequate reasons for blindly embracing him as the great “Defender.”

What must be challenged are Las Casas’s motives for speaking out on behalf of indigenous peoples. In a collection of propositions that he wrote entitled Rules of Confession, the Bishop of Chiapas said “…once the native rulers have voluntarily and freely accepted the faith and been baptized as Christians, they become bound by another title than before to acknowledge the Spanish sovereignty.” (Las Casas, by MacNutt, pg. 282) Las Casas’s intention was to convert these people to the “true” faith, which in my mind is a blatant display of imperialist thinking. Several scholars have also pointed out that Las Casas advocated for the enslavement of Blacks and Moors instead of Indians to work for the Spaniards. (Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, Katz & Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples, Forbes)

Las Casas was also guilty of participating and in some ways developing an economic and social system that devastated Indigenous groups throughout the hemisphere. Osage/Cherokee scholar George Tinker says “We must never forget that Las Casas, the hero of the 1992 Quincentenary, was just as committed to the conquest of Native Americans as were Cortes and Pizarro. He only hoped to do it less violently. He accomplished much of his goal by creating the reduccion missionary system (2), used so effectively – and destructively – by later generations of European Jesuits, Franciscans, and even Protestants in both the northern and southern hemispheres.” (Missionary Conquest, pg. 19)

Las Casas is an example of what I would call a liberal conquistador, one that seeks to dominate others in a fashion less brutal than a mercenary, but just as devastating when one considers the long term effects. I chose Las Casas, not because I wanted to single out a religious figure, but because he incarnates the best and the worst of European and Euro-Americans that have come to the Americas with the best of intentions. He can act as an interior mirror for all of us who honestly want to be a part of the liberation of the Americas, by challenging our motivations for what we do and who it ultimately benefits. For me this is fundamental to the work of solidarity.

What I have sought to do in this book is to reflect on the fact that it has been I who have been “saved” because of the people I have worked with in Guatemala/Chipas and those in Grand Rapids who are from Guatemala. In many ways it is I have who been transformed by these people and the experiences I had with them. I do not want to give the impression that I have some romanticized notion of who Guatemalans/Chiapans are, rather I am saying that it is I who really gained from these encounters. It is sort of a reversal of the missionary position, where instead of going to change others I became changed. Who I am today and what I do is in large part because of my encounters with the people of Guatemala and Chiapas.

What I hope to communicate in these pages is that solidarity was not just something I participated in on my journeys to Guatemala and Chiapas, it was something I learned and am learning because of the struggles they have allowed me to participate in. They have taught me profound lessons on community, organizing, and the importance of having a vision. I learned that for them to obtain real freedom I had to learn to listen to what it was that they wanted. I was taught solidarity by not wanting to impose my will, my desires on them. In religious terms, it is as if I was being proselytized by them and sent back to the US to make converts here. I could not simply come back from my trips and claim that I had done “my time.” No, this is not solidarity. Solidarity requires an ongoing relationship and doing whatever it takes to improve, to build upon that relationship. The kind of solidarity that the Guatemalans/Chiapans have taught me is learned solidarity. This type of solidarity requires that after standing with the people in Guatemala/Chiapas that I work here in the US to change the policies that make it nearly impossible to achieve lasting change in their countries. The main difference between dogmatic religion or political ideologies and learned solidarity for me is that learned solidarity is based on real principles of democracy, equality and mutual respect, not just paying lip service to it. Learned solidarity is the desire and the experience of standing with people, of having a presence with them regardless of differences or world-views.

One experience I had of learned solidarity came during my first stint in Guatemala while working with Peace Brigades International. I was working with a newly formed group of Guatemalan widows called CONAVIGUA. They were meeting in a church courtyard in Chichicastenago one afternoon when a group of soldiers entered and made threats. The women defiantly stood their ground and the soldiers left. That night one of the women said to me that they were grateful for our presence that day, but then she went on to tell me something that I can never forget nor ignore. She said, “It is important that you are here, but more important that you return to your country to tell the people what is going on here. The way you live determines how we live.”

This book is the product of learned solidarity. It is divided into three sections, each reflecting on the various ways that this learned solidarity has impacted me. Part I of the book is entitled Q’anjobal Mayans Invade Amway Territory. I share thoughts on being bit by the Central America bug, part of the Sanctuary movement in the 80’s and how I negotiated cultural solidarity in an area permeated with Christian conservatism.

Part II is called Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos – We Plant, in order to Eat, in order to Plant. This is a saying I learned from a Mayan farmer that reflects the simplicity and consistency in the lives of the Mayans I met in Guatemala and Chiapas. Here I gleaned sections from my journal entries from various trips between 1988 to 2001, where I have had numerous opportunities to accompany and observe the relentless persistence of the Guatemalan popular movements and the participatory democracy of the Zapatista communities.

Part III, The Way You Live, Determines How We Live, is a collection of articles that I have written over the years on various aspects of how US policy impacts Guatemala and Chiapas and what we might do to change those policies. As Noam Chomsky has always pointed out, the responsibility of the citizens of countries that dictate global policies are key in determining the outcome of many liberation struggles around the world.

I am forever indebted to the people I have met and learned from in these pages. My encounters with them have transformed my life forever. It is because of them that I am the person I am today. It is for them that I dedicate this book.

(1) Romero devoted the last years of his life to the poor of El Salvador, but also spoke out vehemently against the injustice committed by the government and the army. He also criticized the US support of both these institutions, a criticism that probably led to his assassination on March 24, 1980.

(2) The reduccion system was implemented by the Dominicans in 1543 as a way to bring the Indians into centralized areas after the displacement caused by the violence from the initial years of the conquest. The Dominicans argued that this was a way to protect the Indians from further harm. The result, however, was that the concentration of Indians made it possible for the church to “christianize” them and for the Spaniards to further confiscate their lands. ( Handy, Gift of the Devil, pages. 21-24 and Tinker, Missionary Conquest, pages. 18-20.)

Read the rest of the book

Indymedia Journalist Brad Will Murdered in Oaxaca

Over the weekend, a journalist with the global Indymedia network and a 15-year old were killed by paramilitaries in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Over the weekend, Brad Will, a journalist with the Indymedia network was shot and killed by paramilitaries while reporting on the social struggle in Oaxaca, Mexico. Will and a 15-year old protestor (Jorge Adolfo López) were killed in an assault on barricades erected by the Oaxaca People’s Popular Assembly (APPO). For the past four months APPO has controlled the city and has provided a bold vision of participatory democracy. In addition to the deaths of our fellow independent media journalist Brad Will and Jorge Adolfo López, Media Mouse would like to remember all of the victims of state and reactionary violence as part of the global justice movement from Carlo Guiliani to the countless indigenous people who have died resisting colonization. Further, we remember those who have been taken from our movement not by death, but by incarceration, from the prisoners involved in the liberation movements of the 1960s to those held as part of the animal and earth liberation movements. It is imperative that we honor their struggles by reflecting and continuing their work.


October 29, 2006
New York City

Brad Will was killed on October 27, 2006, in Oaxaca, Mexico, while working as a journalist for the global Indymedia network. He was shot in the torso while documenting an armed, paramilitary assault on the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, a fusion of striking local teachers and other community organizations demanding democracy in Mexico.

The members of the New York City Independent Media Center mourn the loss of this inspiring colleague and friend. We want to thank everyone who has sent condolences to our office and posted remembrances to http://www.nyc.indymedia.org. We share our grief with the people of our city and beyond who lived, worked, and struggled with Brad over the course of his dynamic but short life. We can only imagine the pain of the people of Oaxaca who have lost seven of their neighbors to this fight, including Emilio Alonso Fabian, a teacher, and who now face an invasion by federal troops.

All we want in compensation for his death is the only thing Brad ever wanted to see in this world: justice.

  • We, along with all of Brad’s friends, reject the use of further state-sponsored violence in Oaxaca.
  • The New York City Independent Media Center supports the demand of Reporters Without Borders for a full and complete investigation by Mexican authorities into Oaxaca State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’s continued use of plain-clothed municipal police as a political paramilitary force. The arrest of his assailants is not enough.
  • The NYC IMC also supports the call of Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos “to compañeros and compañeras in other countries to unite and to demand justice for this dead compañero.” Marcos issued this call “especially to all of the alternative media, and free media here in Mexico and in all the world.”

Indymedia was born from the Zapatista vision of a global network of alternative communication against neoliberalism and for humanity. To believe in Indymedia is to believe that journalism is either in the service of justice or it is a cause of injustice. We speak and listen, resist and struggle. In that spirit, Brad Will was both a journalist and a human rights activist.

He was a part of this movement of independent journalists who go where the corporate media do not or stay long after they are gone. Perhaps Brad’s death would have been prevented if Mexican, international, and US media corporations had told the story of the Oaxacan people. Then those of us who live in comfort would not only be learning now about this 5 month old strike, or about this 500 year old struggle.

And then Brad might not have felt the need to face down those assassins in Oaxaca holding merely the ineffective shields of his US passport and prensa extranjera badge. Then Brad would not have joined the fast-growing list of journalists killed in action, or the much longer list of those killed in recent years by troops defending entrenched, unjust power in Latin America.

Still, those of us who knew Brad know that his work would never have been completed. From the community gardens of the Lower East Side to the Movimento Sem Terra encampments of Brazil, he would have continued to travel to where the people who make this world a beautiful place are resisting those who would cause it further death and destruction. Now, in his memory, we will all travel those roads. We are the network, all of us who speak and listen, all of us who resist.

The New York City Independent Media Center
4 W. 43rd St., Suite 311
New York, N.Y. 10036

Presentation Explores Immigration and NAFTA

On Friday, a presentation at Grand Valley State University explored the myths and realities of immigration from Mexico to the United States. The presentation focused on NAFTA and the effects that it has had on Mexico as a root cause of immigration to the United States.

On Friday, a presentation at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) by Noemí Peregrino González of Borderlinks and Celeste Escobar of the Mexico Solidarity Network explored the myths and realities of immigration from Mexico. The presentation was conducted by Noemi Peregrino Gonzalez, a resident of the United States-Mexico border region, and was translated by Celeste Escobar. Around twenty-five students listened to Gonzalez speak about her experiences living and working on the border and the larger context in which immigration from Mexico to the United States takes place.

Gonzalez began by explaining that migration is a part of human history and is so important that it was made a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She conducted an activity with audience members to show that, with the exception of indigenous people, the United States is a nation of immigrants and that at some point in history families made the decision to migrate to the United States. She made a distinction between natural migration when one chooses to move and is able to move freely without papers and violent or forced immigration when one either has to move because they have no choice or in which people displace others in the process. Gonzalez also reminded the audience that the United States has a history of forced migration with slavery and the genocide of the indigenous population on the land claimed by the United States. Forced migration is what the United States is experiencing from Mexico, with Mexicans crossing in dangerous deserts and scaling border fences because they have no options due to economic policies imposed on their country at the behest of multinational corporations and the fact that there are no legal channels for migration into the United States.

Gonzalez explained that while there has always been migration from Mexico to the United States, it has increased since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. NAFTA was made by two advanced, industrialized countries (the United States and Canada) and Mexico, a “third world” and poor nation, and as such favors the United States and the interests of multinational corporations. Despite these inequities, Mexico went along with the agreement out of a combination of corruption and the willingness of the country’s president at the time to “sell out” Mexico in addition to promises of improvements in Mexico’s economic situation. The agreement promised Mexico improved living standards, economic sustainability, a guarantee that Mexican wealth and resources would stay in Mexico, and an end to migration from Mexico to the United States. After twelve years, none of these promises have been accomplished and migration has tripled due to the displacement of farmers after the Mexican government agreed to modify its constitution to rewrite land ownership rules. Farmers were further hurt when protective tariffs to guard against the dumping of United States corn onto the Mexican market were abolished immediately rather than gradually as promised. These policies have forced farmers to the boarder region where they have to find work in low paying, dangerous, and environmentally destructive factories known as maquilladoras that produce for export. In the town where Gonzalez lives, she explained that out of 83 maquiladoras, only five pay $75 per week and the rest pay below that amount, resulting in widespread poverty. Moreover, workers are prevented from unionizing by a combination of multinational corporations who threaten to move jobs to China if border region workers “start acting like Zapatistas” and by company unions that represent the interests of the factories’ owners.

While there are difficulties in organizing in Mexico, Gonzalez and Escobar explained that there are many people in Mexico resisting the impact of NAFTA and neoliberal globalization. They cited the Zapatista movement, the popular movement in Oaxaca, and the organizing by students and peasants as examples, but stressed the importance of similar organizing taking place on the United States’ side of the border. Gonzalez likened immigration to a tree, arguing that it does not work to trim it and ignore the roots if you want to stop it from growing, just as United States immigration policy will not be effective if it ignores the root causes of immigration. The enforcement only solutions advocated by bills such as HR 4437 and the construction of more fences will only result in continued immigration and more deaths along the border according to Gonzalez. Escobar stressed that Republican politicians are using anti-immigration propaganda as a means of scape-goating and winning elections even as immigrants make a variety of contributions to the United States, including paying taxes and social security. She explained that people should vote for politicians that do not advocate for punitive immigration policies, although the suggestion will be difficult for those in Grand Rapids and Michigan given that Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow has voted for the further militarization of the border (her Republican challenger is also anti-immigrant), area Representatives Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra supported HR 4437 and recent measures militarizing the border, and Democratic candidate for governor Jennifer Granholm (along with Dick DeVos) has supported the militarization of the border. In light of these votes, a better strategy would be to take Escobar’s advice to get involved in local organizations such as GVSU’s Students Against Sweatshops or those listed in the Progressive Directory of Western Michigan and work on issues of immigration and neoliberalism from outside the political system.