War Without End: The Iraq War in Context

Michael Schwartz’s War Without End is an important book for understanding the motivations of the Iraq War. Unlike the many books that simply blame Bush, Schwartz looks at the underlying role of neoliberalism in driving the war.

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While the US occupation of Iraq became a marginal issue in the months leading up to the US elections, it is still an important issue that Americans need to address. Now that Barack Obama has been elected to the White House it might be even more important for those who have opposed the US War in Iraq to rethink their understanding of the motives for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Michael Schwartz’s new book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, provides some very timely analysis of the ongoing US occupation of Iraq. Unlike many other books that have focused on the deceptive tactics used by the Bush administration that led to war with Iraq, Schwartz’s book sifts through the policy in order to draw some conclusions about the real motives behind the near six year war.

In some ways, War Without End is a detailed investigation of US policy in Iraq that builds on the analysis of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. Like Klein, Schwartz argues that the real motivation for the US occupation of Iraq is that it fits into a larger neo-liberal agenda of political and economic control of the region. The author argues that the US military occupation is primarily about: 1) restructuring of Iraq’s economy so that Iraqi resources, particularly oil, are privatized and that foreign investment can flourish, and 2) creating an Iraqi government that would be favorable to this economic restructuring.

Schwartz devotes several chapters to what was accomplished during the two years that US envoy Paul L. Bremer was in charge of the neo-liberal project in Iraq. Bremer was able to get the Iraqi Constitution rewritten to make it more adaptable to foreign investment and to subject Iraq to World Bank development loans and IMF structural adjustment policies. These policies would primarily include the privatization of services that were previously funded publicly, such as health care, education and some utilities.

An early manifestation of this economic restructuring was the so-called “reconstruction projects” that were done by companies like Halliburton. Much of the analysis of this reconstruction process has tended to focus on the cronyism between corporations benefiting from these projects and the Bush administration. Schwartz, on the other hand, challenges readers to see the reconstruction projects as a first step in the neo-liberal project. For the author, the reconstruction not only gave money to US-based companies–it often used foreign laborers as a way of breaking Iraqi unions, and it promoted projects that would create economic dependency for Iraq. One example would be the “health centers” that were built by the multinational Parsons Corporation. These “health centers” were built throughout the country in order to undermine the Iraqi public hospital system and were equipped with high tech medical equipment. This is part of an effort to move Iraq into a for profit-health care model.

In addition to Schwartz’s investigation into the economic restructuring of Iraq’s economy, the book also takes a close look at the US plan to create a political climate that will be favorable to long-term US interests. The author argues that Iraqi sovereignty has been undermined by the US Occupation. Schwartz looks at how the US has tried to employ a variety of tactics that have been applied differently in response to the ethnic regions of the country. The Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities have all been confronted by attempts to win them over and get them to support long-term US interests.

However, there has been significant opposition and resistance to the US neo-liberal plan. Here again, Schwartz points out that it is not just the brutality of the US military occupation that has led people to join the Iraqi resistance movements, it is the growing opposition to the economic restructuring of the country. Iraqi engineers are joining the resistance because the reconstruction contracts are given to US companies who don’t hire Iraqi’s who are well equipped to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. This is an important point that the author makes since it challenges readers to view the Iraqi resistance as more than a group of people who are motivated exclusively by religious or political ideology.

War Without End is an important book for those in the US who are now faced with the challenge of getting people who previously opposed the US war in Iraq to continue this opposition, despite the election of Barack Obama. Michael Schwartz’s book not only is a great resource to motivate ongoing opposition to the war, but provide us with an important analysis that can inform our actions.

Michael Schwartz, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, (Haymarket Books, 2008).

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).

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.

Conversations with Tariq Ali: Speaking of Empire and Resistance

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Since the 1960s when he was exiled from Pakistan for his activism against the country’s military dictatorship, Tariq Ali has been one of the most outspoken critics of imperialism and religious fundamentalism for the past thirty years. In Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, Ali is given a chance to expand on the aforementioned topics and provide important insight into the United States imperialism.

In his interviews, Ali makes the case that the United States is an imperial power and that the “war on terror” is an imperialist war. Ali notes that while some may argue that the United States was once an imperial power (destroying the Native American population, taking parts of Mexico, controlling Central America) and that it no longer is, such arguments are worthless now that the United States has entered into the “war on terror” and boldly declared its imperialist intentions. Citing President George W. Bush’s 2002 national security doctrine, Ali describes how the United States has declared that it will go to war to protect free trade and access to resources, a hallmark of the classical empires. Moreover, while the United States frequently attempts to hide its imperial role behind client dictators and indirect control, it has abandoned this effort with the invasion of Iraq and continued posturing towards Iran and Syria. Of course, the United States government did not undertake this imperial policy on its own—Ali argues that there are a network of “enablers” that help the United States including Great Britain, the corporate media, Pakistan, and academia. Ali sees hope in the movements against United States imperialism and draws connections between the Iraqi resistance, the antiwar movement in the United States and England, and those resisting the occupation of Palestine, all of which are part of a global struggle against US imperialism.

Unfortunately, readers already familiar with Ali and the larger antiwar movement will find few “new” ideas in this book. For readers that already have a good understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the war on Iraq, the “war on terror,” the most intriguing parts of the book likely will be the interview on Pakistan. The unpublished interview from November 2003 provides valuable insights into Pakistan’s internal politics, its religious fundamentalism, and its role as one of the United States’ allies in the “war on terror.” Beyond his comments on Pakistan, his interpretation of the economic collapse of Argentina in 2001 is also interesting; with Ali arguing that the popular movements in Argentina failed because they could move the country towards “socialism.” Ali argues that while once a country held up as the model of the success that can be gained when adopting International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other neoliberal programs and policies, the left in Argentina was unable to effectively gain from the country’s collapse because it did not have an alternative model of non-capitalist economy. In Argentina, Ali sees not just the failure of capitalism but also the failure of alternatives to gain mass appeal. While Ali praises the popular assemblies that organically grew out of Argentina’s collapse, he argues that they were largely symbolic since there was no larger political alternative and no plan to gain state power. The seizure of state power, while defined in the sense of “socialism” rather than the “Socialism” of the Soviet Union, is essential if people want to change the world, and according to Ali, it is naïve to talk of changing the world without taking state power.

Overall, Ali’s book offers some unique insights, but for the most part, it will reaffirm what its readers like already know. The fact that it is grounded in anti-imperialism makes it a great introductory text to understanding the “war on terror” and the need to develop a movement against it, as an understanding of the “war on terror” (and the war on Iraq) is inadequate if it does not incorporate an anti-imperialist analysis. Moreover, as Ali argues throughout his book, an anti-imperialist analysis in the antiwar movement will help focus activists on the need to stop the war rather than electing candidates from the Democratic Party who will just give imperialism a more benign façade but will continue to pursue the same imperial policies.

Tariq Ali and David Barsamin, Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, (New Press, 2005)

Whose Trade Organization?

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For many people, the protests at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the first time they heard of the WTO and its agenda. However, activist and public interest groups such as Public Citizen had been monitoring the General Agreement on (GATT) for years and, consequently, have since followed the actions of the WTO. Following the Seattle WTO protests there has been a wealth of information published about the WTO, although much of it has been published in a variety of different sources and mediums, sometimes making it difficult to easily find information on all the different aspects of the WTO and the implications of its policies and rulings. Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition remedies this problem, putting together a wealth of information on all the various components of the WTO–environmental policy, intellectual property provisions, agricultural rules, the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), and numerous other WTO sections–in an easy-to-read and well indexed volume.

Whose Trade Organization systematically goes through the major and minor provisions of the WTO, grouping them into chapters focusing on the environment, food safety, labor, human rights, agriculture, and other such topics. Throughout these broadly focused chapters, the authors present detailed analyses of the various components of the WTO. The authors examine the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rules, the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS), the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, and other components of the WTO, conclusively demonstrating that the WTO is both an oppositional and unaccountable agent in the lives of people around the world, both in the “developed” and “underdeveloped” world.

In addition to the breadth of its content, Whose Trade Organization’s other major strength is the quality of its information and research. Whereas much of the information circulating in activist circles regarding the WTO is presented in very vague ways, Whose Trade Organization discusses the specific sections of the WTO and how they will negatively affect people and the environment, often citing the text of relevant WTO documents. For example, when discussing the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS), the authors explain how the agreement’s function is to set criteria that WTO member nations must follow regarding their domestic policies affecting trade and protection of life and health in food and sets parameters on domestic policies regarding livestock and fisheries. The authors then go on to explain how the primary goal of the SPS is to increase and facilitate trade by eliminating differences in food, animal, and plant regulations among WTO member counties–a goal that undermines countries capacity to craft protective policies by making domestic regulations and their enforcement the subject of WTO review. Additionally, each chapter contains case studies that show the WTO policies in action and describe how they work to undermine democratic government.

Whose Trade Organization is an indispensable resource for anyone involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement, as well as a great introduction to anyone curious about why there has been so much attention focused on the WTO in recent years.

Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodall, Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition, (The New Press, 2004).

The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia

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For those of you who want to know what the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will look like, particularly for countries in Latin America, you might want to read The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia. Written by the president of a miners union in Colombia, this book looks at how multinational corporations have used the political process, the courts and military repression to siphon off some of Colombia’s natural resources. Equipped with maps, photos, analysis, and a first hand experience the author provides an excellent case study for anyone who wants a better understanding of what trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA and the FTAA mean for the majority of those living in the Americas.

First Cuellar looks at what role international agreements have played in rewriting the mining laws of Colombia. The IMF and the World Bank both played a major role in changing the mining laws in the late 1990’s. These international financial institutions were acting on behalf of governments (primarily the US) and corporations like Occidental Petroleum, by offering the Colombian government certain incentives if the law was changed. The ultimate result was what the US/Colombia governments now call Plan Colombia, which despite the claim that it is an anti-terrorism plan, it is primarily a policy to benefit US-based multinationals. It is perhaps best summed up by Bill Richardson, Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration from 1998-2000, “The United States and its allies will invest millions of dollars in two areas of the Colombian economy, in the areas of mining and energy, and to secure these investments we are tripling military aid to Colombia.”

One of the major changes in the mining law was to extend mining concessions to corporations from the original 25 years to 90 years and granting foreign mining companies exclusive mining titles. The author then goes on to explain how miners organized to fight these changes. The result was massive military repression from both the Colombian army, but mostly through the paramilitary forces, which are fundamentally an extension of the government army, what Human Rights Watch calls the “Sixth Division.” Cuellar provides several specific examples of military repression in communities either resisting economic exploitation, or in some cases, communities that happen to be in close proximity to mineral extraction locations. In almost every instance the author claims that the military or paramilitary forces justify their actions by claiming that the villagers were guerillas or collaborating with the guerillas. In addition to outright massacres and assassinations, thousands of people have been displaced from mineral rich areas of the country.

The last part of the book talks about a specific campaign organized by the miner’s union (Sintramienergetica), a campaign that included a lawsuit against one US mining company Drummond. This Alabama-based company was “sued for conspiring with paramilitary groups to exterminate the union.” The campaign is very similar to the Stop Killer Coke Campaign, in that they seek to educate people about what Drummond is doing in Colombia and to gain support to hold Drummond accountable for its actions. The Profits of Extermination is a great resource for those who care about economic justice and want to participate in solidarity work in the Americas.

Aviva Chomsky and Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia, (Common Courage Press, 2005).

Cochabamba: Water War in Bolivia

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Too often it seems these days that those who spend time trying to challenge the power of corporations and the financial institutions that stump for them rarely draw attention to the insurgent efforts around the global that have achieved small victories. In reading Cochabamba, not only did I enjoy reading the story of how Bolivian citizens kicked out a corporate demon like Bechtel, I discovered that there was a years in the making popular movement.

In this book, Bolivian activist Oscar Olivera tells the story of how after years of top down neo-liberal economic policies had devastated the economy people began to organize new forms of civil society. In many ways the massive demonstrations that sent Bechtel packing from were just the most visible manifestation of how many Bolivians have organized their brand of resistance. Long before the State granted Bechtel the rights to privatize water, Bolivians were responding to the oppressive consequences of neo-liberal economics.

The result of grassroots organizing has led to what are known as the Constituent Assemblies (CA). The CA is a forum of governance that is more democratic than many of the previous popular movement institutions throughout Bolivia. In some ways the CA is similar to what were called the Aguas Calientes in Chiapas by the Zapatistas, and are now known as the Carracoles. The similarity resides in the fact that they do not seek to take over the government, rather to “create space where people can decide their own future.” The CA has come about in part, due to the lack of authentic representation or democracy in other political organizations, particularly political parties. We would do well in the US to heed these words “The Constituent Assembly is a form of recovering and exercising political sovereignty, that is, of gaining the capacity to make and to execute public policy. This capacity is currently mortgaged to the system of political parties.”

Those involved in developing the CA have commented that the neo-liberal policies have actually had a great deal to do with creating this alternative system of organizing and resistance. This according to Olivera is crucial, since in the end popular resistance can not last if it is just reacting to narrow campaigns like that which responded to Bechtel.

More importantly, this resistance must lead to other forms of social organizing. This book not only is a powerful anti-corporate globalization testimony, it is a lesson for where the rest of us might invest our energy in future organizing.

Oscar Olivera in Collaboration with Tom Lewis, ¡Cochabamba!: Water War in Bolivia, (South End Press, 2004).

Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-US Immigration in the Global Age

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Quite often we hear it said that people migrate to the US looking for a better life. This sentiment not only de-politicizes the issue of immigration, it takes it out of context. Wars and counter-insurgency campaigns in Latin America have certainly forced millions of people north, but since most of the region, minus Colombia, is not engaged in any serious armed conflict why are Latin Americans coming north?

In Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-U.S. Immigration in the Global Age, Kari Lydersen provides readers with one of the dominant factors for northern migration in recent decades…globalization. For Lydersen, the IMF imposed structural adjustment policies and the neoliberal economic programs, which have swept across most of Latin America, are the major cause of migration. Over the past several years the author traveled throughout the Americas reporting n the impact of these economic policies, with the hopes of putting a human face on those most affected. The book is divided into three main sections; Latin America, the Border, and the US.

In the first section Lydersen gives examples of current conflicts created by economic policies that have been imposed on communities throughout Latin America. She looks at the dollarization of Ecuador, Coke workers in Colombia, the Bolivian popular movement, fishing communities in Oaxaca, and indigenous communities in the Lacandon forest of Chiapas, Mexico. In each case people have been displaced by economic policies that involved very specific corporations. Whether it is Bechtel in Bolivia, Pemex in Oaxaca or Coca Cola in Colombia, each example highlights the over-riding messages of the book…corporate globalization negatively impacts most people and is at the root of contemporary migration from Latin America.

One example has to do with the indigenous communities in the Lacandon forest in Mexico. For years US-based environmental groups like Conservation International have been denouncing the influx of people into the Chiapas rain forests. They claim that the indigenous communities are the main source of deforestation in that state. The author contests that what the Mexican government has been doing is using groups like Conservation International as an attempt to remove indigenous groups, particularly those tied to the Zapatistas, in order to develop the region for eco-tourism. To underscore this point Lydersen tells readers about what the Isuzu corporation did in 2002. In order for Isuzu to gain access to the rain forest for its annual auto race (the Isuzu Challenge), the company gave cell phones and “satellite systems to aid forest rangers and local authorities in searching, locating and preventing tree theft.” Here Isuzu was employing an increasingly common tactic known as Greenwashing. Companies can cause all the environmental damage they want but if they promote themselves as environmentally friendly they can win over public opinion. As I write this review, the indigenous communities of Montes Azules in the Lacandon forest are being displaced due to economic interests.

The second section of the book moves to the US/Mexican border. Here the author looks at the impact of the maquiladora industry on the Mexican side and anti-immigration realities on the US side of the border. Many of the people displaced in Central America and southern Mexico have ended up in the industrial zones of Mexico’s northern border. Lydersen provides griping testimony from people who work in sweatshops, where labor and environmental conditions have taken it´s toll. She also addresses in one chapter the sobering story about hundreds of Mexican women who have been murdered in recent years in border cities like Juarez.

The third section of the book looks at the growing population of Latin Americans in cities across the US, from the Immokalee workers in Florida to meatpackers in Nebraska, and mushroom pickers in Illinois. These are mostly undocumented workers , men and women who in most cases do the work that most of us in the US won´t do. Many of us have heard of the Immokalee workers in Florida, because of their high profile campaign against Taco Bell, but fewer have heard about the mushroom pickers in Illinois. In the same way that Taco Bell is one of the largest users of Florida picked tomatoes, Dominos Pizza is the primary recipient of mushrooms picked by migrant workers in Illinois. Ironically, as Out of the Sea and Into the Fire demonstrates, the wealth that is generated by these migrant workers, often ends up in the hands of the same transnational corporations that lobby for the so-called “free trade agreements,” the very agreements that force Latin American to leave their communities to come to the US “seeking a better life.”

Lydersen closes the book with 3 personal profiles of Latin American now residing in the US. The following comments from Alexy Lanza, a Honduran immigrant, underscores why I think this is an important book to read, especially for those involved in campaigns against corporate


“When immigrants come to this country, we have two choices. We can lose our identity or we can make it stronger. You lose it when you see all the wealth here and you think I want to have a big car, a nice house, this and that. You start forgetting little by little where you came from. But you have to remember that all of these riches are made from the poverty of our countries, from what was taken from us. When you realize that, then your roots become strong. My roots were strong already. But they truly became strong here.”

Kari Lydersen, Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-U.S. Immigration in the Global Age, (Common Courage Press, 2005).