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While outgoing Peruvian President Alan García’s government negotiated major concessions to Aymara and Quechua protesters who led a 50-day regional strike against polluting mines, he didn’t back down in his rhetoric attacking the value they place on the land. Here’s an English translation of a widely circulating video of García accusing mining opponents of being absurd, uneducated, and backward:
And thirdly, to defeat the absurd pantheist ideologies that believe that the walls are gods and the air is a god. In the end, to return to such primitive forms of religiosity where one is told, “don’t touch this hill because it is an Apu and is filled with millennia-old spirit,” and who knows what else. Well, if we reach that point, we wouldn’t do anything, much less mining. Don’t touch those fish because they are creatures of god and expressions of the god Poseidon. We would return to this, let’s say, primitive animism. Right? I think that we need more education [of these people], but that is long-term work that just can’t be fixed right away.
You can go to whatever place where the population in good faith and in accordance with their education says “No! Don’t touch this here which is our sanctuary,” and one asks of what is this sanctuary, right? If it’s a sanctuary for the environment, fine and good! If it’s a sanctuary because here are the souls of the ancesters, watch out! The souls of the ancestors are surely in paradise; they’re not here! And let them allow you who are alive toady to feed yourself and have work through the investment in those hills.
Since August, one issue has generated more headlines here in Bolivia than any other: The Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which was debated and passed by the Plurinational Legislative Assembly (aka, the parliament) in late September.
The remarkably short Law 045 is the Bolivian equivalent of more than a generation of civil rights law in the United States. It bans discrimination by public officials and private businessmen, criminalizes verbal and physical aggressions, charters educational efforts on discrimination, creates a national commission on issues of discrimination, and imposes sanctions on the media for circulating “racist ideas.” The scope of the law is broad, including discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language, age, sexual orientation, disability, and pregnancy, among other statuses. A such, it is parallel to American laws from the 1948 integration of the Armed Forces to the 1965 Civil Rights Act to the yet-to-be-passed Employment Non-Discrimination.
So, it would not be shocking if wide range of controversies had emerged over the manifold implications of the law. But this has not occurred. One single controversy, however, has risen to national prominence.
Two articles of the proposed legislation, Articles 16 and 23, have been roundly criticized by the mainstream, privately-owned press. Article 16 makes publications subject to economic fines and even closure for circulating racist ideas. And Article 23 removes any special immunity for members of the press from prosecution under the law. The mainstream press has characterized the articles as the rebirth of a 1980s proposal for prior press censorship, known as the Ley de Mordaza (the Jaws Law, for its ability to crush the press). They led marches across the country as the law was being considered, and coordinated a nationwide protest by in which newspaper covers all read only: “Without freedom of expression, there is no democracy.”
As an (US) American, of course, these provisions are shocking. Our Voltaire (“I detest what you have to say but will defend to the death your right to say it”)-to-American Civil Liberties Union tradition of free speech is, however, a globally extremely tolerant position. (I’ve written before about how our notion of the freedom of the press is, on the other hand, a highly restricted vision of public access to the media, essentially limited by press ownership.) Following the nightmares of World War II, the global human rights regime initiated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drew the line on free expression at racism and incitement to war, which it said should be prohibited. International conventions follow these lines by banning “racist incitement.” Germany bans Nazi parties, advocacy of and apology for genocide, and rallies by the racist right. Several other Latin American countries have restrictions on racist media which include prison terms, unlike the Bolivian law. Both the OAS president and the UN human rights representative who have visited in recent weeks have emphasized that the law is appropriate, although the line between racist incitement and free expression must be scrupulously drawn. They’ve also urged the private press to end their boycott of the rule-making process on the legislation.
Strangely, however, the American standard is irrelevant to the debate here. In three months, I have not heard or read a single defense of free *speech* as opposed to free *press* on these issues. No one is suggesting that criminalizing calling someone an “Indio de mierda” (“shitty Indian”) to their face is inappropriate. (Doing so in the United States would of course ignite a national firestorm over “thought police” and be overturned in short order by any competent Federal Court.) There has been a great deal of concern about whether the a TV station filming and disseminating that act would be liable to prosecution (the government regulations proposed on the issue now make it clear that such reporting of others’ speech will not be subject to sanction).
Aside from marches, the press and many media workers’ unions have used a one-day strike, hunger strikes in Santa Cruz, and an immense petition campaign to oppose the law, which sailed through the MAS-controlled parliament. On November 26, they submitted a sample selection of signatures to Vice President Álvaro García Linera. The press claims to have gathered one million signatures, although they are still being sent to a single place to be verified, and the eight books they handed over only come to some 32 thousand. Which brings us to the current impasse: while the new Constitution permits citizen initiatives as part Bolivian democracy, there is no enabling legislation yet to regulate the process. The press is depending on the moral weight of its gathered signatures (one million is a substantial portion of Bolivia’s 10.6 million inhabitants) to kickstart the initiative process. So far, the government seems resistant. And so, a policy controversy seems about to cross over to a crisis of democracy.
Meanwhile, the mainstream press is not the only voice on this issue. During the debate, a book was published on racism by the press over the last century in Bolivia. This racism runs up through the media’s overt collaboration with (really, rallying for) attacks on indigenous protesters in Cochabamba in January 2007 and Sucre in 2006, 2007, and 2008. The cocalero movement has declared itself on alert in defense of the law, and marched here in Cochabamba. And a stream of “alternative media” which includes indigenous radio producers, radical working-class publications, and (strangely given the name) workers in the government-owned media, has taken a distinct position calling for professional standards and arguing that racism and free expression are fundamentally different. They’ve also used the anti-racism law as an opportunity to argue for systematic coverage of indigenous issues and use of indigenous languages in the media.
For me, this storyline is a fascinating instance of public debate in the process of rights-making, an opportunity to see the shape of the Bolivian legislating process (very little of which takes place inside the walls of the Legislative Assembly), and another turn in the kaleidoscope of political alliances here in Bolivia. It’s also forcing me to reconsider (although not yet change) my ideas of what free expression is. I’ve conducted some interesting brief interviews with the alternative press on this, and hope to delve more as the story develops.
The Bolivian government will be seeking to hold the political leadership of Sucre’s Inter-Institutional Committee responsible for the their role in coordinating the horrifying events of May 24, 2008. On Saturday, the Prosecutor’s Office issued its long anticipated indictments on the day of racist violence, street clashes, and public humiliation. Its conclusions were backed up by reports from the Defensoría del Pueblo and the Legislature’s Human Rights Commission. The allegations, which will serve as the basis for prosecutions of many members of Sucre’s right-wing political elite, ratify the assessment of responsibility put forward by Cesar Brie’s June 2008 documentary Humiliados y Ofendidos. [Background on this blog about that day and its aftermath: 1 | 2 | 3 ].
The accused include:
- Savina Cuéllar, Prefect of Chuquisaca from June 2008 to May 2010
- Jaime Barrón Poveda, former rector of the Universidad San Francisco Xavier, and Mayor Elect of Sucre
- Aydée Nava, former Mayor of Sucre.
- Fidel Herrera, former council member of Sucre.
- John Cava, expresident of the Comité Cívico and recent unsuccessful candidate for governor of Chuquisaca.
- Epifania Terrazas, member of the the Constituent Assembly
The formal accusation will suspend Barrón from taking office as Mayor.
The MAS/State newspaper Cambio editorialized about the case on Monday under the headline “Racism out of time“:
The indignation of people who have arrived in the 21st century with the mentality of this new century will not accept racist acts like those that took place in the capital of the Plurinational State. … We are sure that the Prosecutor’s Office will fulfill its duty to put Bolivia back in tune with the times.
Cambio also noted the prominence of indigenous individuals among the actors on May 24:
Racism has been and is one of the practices upon which colonialism bases its power. Many times, like in Sucre in 2008, violent actions taken against the racil condition of its victims are carried out by those who share the victim’s blood, an old practice well known among the sepoys of English colonialism in India, the caporales, blacks who managed black slaves, and the so-called kapos, Jews who managed the Jews who would be killed in Hitler’s death camps. [...]
What leads these people to act against their own origins? Perhaps, like the sepoys, caporales and kapos, to enjoy a rise in social and economic status, to be Mayor or Prefect, must imply a new social relationship with the representatives of the old regime that still has so much power in colonial cities like Sucre.
The enormously long lapse of time between the events and the beginning of prosecution is not atypical of the Bolivian justice system, especially in political cases. The trial of Leopoldo Fernández, former Prefect of Beni, for the Pando Massacre has yet to begin, and he is jailed awaiting trial (none of the Sucre defendants are currently jailed). Women jailed at Cochabamba’s San Sebastián began a hunger strike picket against judicial delays on Saturday, according to a report in Tuesday’s La Prensa.
Full story available in Spanish from Los Tiempos.
Writing in the SF Chronicle (“The changing face of America poses risks”), Californians for Population Stabilization cites recent Census projections on US racial demographics to expose his, the group’s and allegedly white America’s fears about losing control of the country.
the increasingly rapid erosion of the white population in America raises the stakes considerably no matter who wins the White House. The question transcends what the occupant of the Oval Office looks like and becomes whether whites are ready for the accelerating changes that will result in an America that no longer looks like them, sounds like them or necessarily embraces their cultural tastes.
The author, Mark Cromer is a “senior writing fellow” for CPS, a group spun off from Zero Population Growth, and descended from the efforts to use the Sierra Club to oppose immigration to the United States on ecological grounds. Perhaps the Earth isn’t exactly their top priority. With current projections showing the U.S. will no longer have a non-Hispanic white majority in my generation’s lifetime, Cromer is focused on so-called stability of racial divides:
In just over 300 of [3100 U.S. counties], ethnic minorities are now the majority population. The effect has often been the real-world elimination of hard-won racial balances, with traditional working and middle-class black and white communities effectively disappearing. In many places throughout Southern California, the white flight that marked the efforts at integration in the 1960s and early 1970s struck again in the 1990s, turning into a middle-class Anglo exodus from the state in the face of massive immigration from Mexico, helping create the first minority-majority state in the union.
In essence, he’s saying those whites who agreed to “tolerate” a certain level of black faces are not okay with black and brown people together outnumbering. The result he predicts is this…
This demographic upheaval has spawned another phenomena among the white middle class that has become iconic: the gated community.
Knowing the white folks in my own family who fled for the far suburbs when their neighborhood became “too ethnic,” I’m hesitant to dismiss this explanation. Such frankness on the anti-brown-immigrant, pro-white-flight side is very rare. But when it comes to policymaking, Cromer is calling for a racial compromise that means racial planning of immigration policy:
to begin any new round of negotiation on immigration reform with an understanding that any effort to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants will be matched with a commensurate reduction in legal immigration into the United States, spread out over years. This would go far in ameliorating the pervasive sense among whites that America is being overrun.
Read that again. More legalization of brown people must be offset less legal immigration of brown people. The presence of people of color feels like “America” is “being overrun.” Of course not all people have this racist perspective, but important thing is to compromise between other values and racism:
Failure to seize the opportunity to build a real national consensus – one that can only be obtained through what surely will be a hard-fought compromise – is to risk further alienating a white majority that will ultimately insist on having its voice heard on these issues, one way or the other.
The question is: do racist fears deserve a seat at the table in planning our cities and policing our borders, or should we act beyond racism and let our neighbors be whoever moves into the houses and apartments next door? Fortunately the answers will come with the free decisions and political lives of my generation. I want to ask my white peers whether this represents you, your friends, or your cousins. I’m really curious, and will strive not to be judgmental:
it’s not the end result that most white Americans probably find troubling today, but rather the factors that are fueling those projections [of a white non-majority], namely unrestrained immigration and the increasingly bitter sense that they’ve had little to no say about this matter.
Oh, and if this doesn’t represent you, consider dropping a line to the writer at Mrcromer@aol.com.
- Nick Buxton, Colonial backlash: reflections on recent racist violence in Bolivia, May 28, Bolivia Rising
- Alex Contreras, In educated Sucre: “On your knees, shitty Indians”; Racist Fascism, ALAI, Latin America in Movement
- Bolivia: Referendums of Reaction, PolEconAnalysis, June 2
A book on women in Bolivian social movements co-written by Alison Spedding, that I’ve been carrying with me for the last week or so incisively observed (in its opening literature review) that texts on the 2000 to 2003 period written by women tend to describe the specific impact of events on people involved, while those by men tended to assimilate events to their political argument. Unlike Cesar Brie’s documentary, these articles seem to follow the latter trend. Still, I wanted readers to have something other than my description to go by.
Monday night, I went to the well known scholars group Comuna on their biweekly meeting/event in La Paz. Instead of the usual talk though, they were hosting a video screening of a new documentary (by Cesar Brie–his poorly translated take on the events) rushed to production on the events of late May in Sucre…
To take a step back, the rapid advance of a largely indigenous grassroots left in Bolivia has been met by a polarizing of the politics here. Region (the highland west/center vs. the lowland east “the Media Luna”), race (native vs. mestizo-white), and divisions that capture both (Kolla vs. Camba) have been key dividing lines that are suddenly more visible. This is in part a reaction to the biggest line crossing of all, the presence of an indigenous peasant union leader, Evo Morales, in the presidency, but it goes beyond that.
In the east, particularly Santa Cruz, the white opposition has cottoned on to a long-running aspiration to autonomy for the department (think state in the US or province in Canada; provinces here are smaller divisions). This separatism has a youth wing, whose focus goes beyond separation to attacking and intimidating indigenous leaders and offices of the MAS party in national government. This wing, often with broader collaboration from the white opposition parties, have been threatening and carrying violence to disrupt what might otherwise be run-of-the-mill state functions involving Morales. This has reached the point where the President has been avoiding certain cities because regional governments are not guaranteeing his security.
So, back to the video. On May 24 in Sucre, Evo was set to preside over the awarding of ambulances to each province across the department of Chuquisaca, whose capital is Sucre. Right-wing youth and the anti-Morales mayor’s Inter-insitutional Committee urged Evo not to come, and threatened a confrontation. With local leaders from the countryside already on their way in, Evo backed down from attending. The rightists turned on the indigenous leaders, attacking with sticks and rocks. Several dozen fled to a house on the outskirts of town, only to be surrounded there.
They were escorted forcibly from there to Sucre’s main square, where a spectacle of public humiliation unfolded over the afternoon. Stripped to their underwear, forced to kneel, they had to endure insults, punches, and watch as their banners and the indigenous flag (or wiphala) was burned. The spectacle, captured by the mainstream media, continued for quite a long time.
In the judgment of the documentarian, the withdrawal of national police on the day happened because of a strategic decision to face and reveal what the rightists would do, rather than to confront them with force. If so, the price involved was paid by the indigenous leaders, whose pained after-the-fact interviews formed a key part of the documentary.
It was a hard film to watch, and left me in a pretty pensive mood Monday night. I had known that one in a series of racist outrages had happened in Sucre in May, and that the Women’s Summit would feature a public act dis-agression (desagravio) to repudiate it. But this was the first I had seen what was actually involved.
The whole situation strongly evokes what I’ve heard of the (US) Southern response to the Civil Rights Movement. How on front lawns, in jails, and with gunshots, the ugliest parts of a history of racism were revived to terrorize people organizing for equality.
As it happened, today’s desagravio was a complete success. Leaving from the ministadium where the summit is happening, a march of over 1,000 people traversed all over Sucre, including the plaza where local leaders were humiliated. As women filed through Sucre’s streets, wiphala and Bolivian flags in hand, shouting slogans for unity and against racism, scores of people came out in the streets: a few hostile but calmed by our numbers, and many visibly relieved and excited to have the march there–applauding as the march went past.
The act was a defiance of fear. For me, a little, and for the movement a great deal. It’s hoped that it can change the dynamic in the streets and in this department. The section I marched with had a frequent chant: “Viva la esperanza. Basta de racismo. [Long live hope. Enough of racism.]” For now, I just want to convey that it happened, and happened in peace and providing some inspiration.
So, my father has been spending a lot of the last five years remembering and retelling the story of his past, especially during World War II. The main result is a self-published memoir, Capers of a Medic, courtesy of some herculean typing and editing work by my mom. It’s been a real pleasure and an amazing gift to have access to this portion of his life. A couple weeks ago, he told his story in person to reporter who came by my parent’s house. The result appeared today in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer:
Many who fought and survived, in so many different ways, during World War II are gone now.
Some took their stories with them.
But not this one.
For every World War II GI who pulled a trigger, dropped a bomb or fired a shell, there were thousands of people making sure they could.
They were the support and supply troops who, as famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle noted, toiled “from day to day in a world full of insecurity, discomfort, homesickness and a dulled sense of danger.”
Among them were many of the 1 million black Americans who served during the war, including Frank James, 83, of Shaker Heights.
read more on Cleveland.com
Something you learn fast when you start to listen to black soldiers of this era, is the immensely two-sided nature of the war, the way they were forced to fight on two fronts at times, and to choke back their well-grounded outrage to racism at home at other times. There’s also a generational experience of being respected, through their ranks, through being seen as liberators, through encountering people not schooled in racism American-style, that a million black men, my father included, brought home. It stiffened his, and their, spine for the hard work ahead.
The book is available from me (for those who know me), or online at CapersofaMedic.com.
The morning of November 19, 2005, one Marine and 24 Iraqis were killed in the town of Haditha, in occupied Iraq. Within hours, the Marines had claimed that the improvised explosive device that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had also killed 15 civilians, while eight “insurgents” were killed in self-defense. This description was a lie. None of the Iraqis, 19 of whom died in their homes, were killed by the roadside bomb. Among the men, four were killed in a house, while five – three students, a friend and their taxi driver – were either ordered or dragged from their car before being shot on the street. A balanced investigation of the morning by the German magazine Der Spiegel is online, as is the collaborative Wikipedia article on the Haditha killings.
Largely because the bedrooms of the 15 women and children who were killed that morning were recorded on video, and because that video made it into the American press, the marines involved are now on trial. One of them has turned state’s evidence, testifying that that not only did he shoot civilians of the orders of a superior officer, but he then proceeded to desecrate their freshly killed bodies. Meanwhile, apartheid rules of evidence are governing both the trial and the American press coverage. Iraqi eyewitness testimony and the conclusions of the medical examiner are being essentially discounted as either pleas for compensation money, or subject to nationalist bias. The Marines are being held to a standard based on rules of engagement, rather than morality or law. Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who “responded instinctively, assaulting into the room and emptying his pistol” into the house where four men were killed, was recommended for exoneration by the Marines on the grounds that, “Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement.”
You can expect that the assumption that any Military Aged Male in Iraq is an insurgent (see Juan Cole on the Rules of Engagement) will be upheld, or at least that any marine testifies that he thought such a person was armed will be backed up. this is especially chilling given the story of the men in the taxi (quoting Der Spiegel):
They were driving eastward into the morning sun, and the driver was probably momentarily blinded by the glare. By the time they had registered the scene unfolding in front of them, it was too late. What they saw signaled imminent danger: a wrecked Humvee, clouds of smoke, soldiers with drawn weapons. Normally they would have turned around immediately. But the soldiers motioned for them to stop. Anyone who attempted to continue driving at that point would come under fire. Those are the rules in Injun Country.
The Iraqis stopped. The Marines approached, signaling to the driver to turn off the engine. The Iraqis got out of the car. Up until this point, the various pieces of testimony coincide. The men and the vehicle had to be searched for weapons and explosives. When no weapons were found, it was clear that the five men posed no immediate danger. They were told to sit down with their hands behind their heads.
At some point the five men were shot.
The “Rules of Engagement” permit any Marine to kill without warning in the event of danger. This is especially applicable when it comes to so-called MAMs, or Military Age Males. Who were these five men? Were they scouts who had been sent to investigate how successful the attack had been?
The Marines must have known how unlikely this was. Only one man, not five, would have been needed to survey the scene. He would have hidden first or would have come from the River Road, on a motorcycle.
Did the five men try to run away? That was the way the accused Marines described it. Possible, but also unlikely. Most of all, it is unlikely that all five Iraqis would have pursued the same suicidal impulse. Besides, the Marines could have shot the Iraqis in the legs to prevent them from running away. However one paints the scenario, the key issue is that the men were unarmed.
Can these men get justice? A recent Editor & Publisher apology to Sharatt makes MAM status into a full explanation:
Unlike Sharratt, who was accused of killing three men who were between the ages of 24 and 41, Tatum is accused of killing women and children as young as 4 years old and as elderly as 76 years old.
For his part, Tatum is arguing “women and children can hurt you, too.” To make the entire situation more bleak, the man with the final decision on prosecution is none other than Lt. Gen. James Mattis, infamous for the following quote:
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”
Mattis has just pronounced Sharatt “innocent” and exonerated Capt. Randy Stone for failures in reporting the incident (more on those here). On Stone, Mattis stated yesterday, “his attentiveness to training the Marines in the law of war and rules of engagement and willingness to share their hardship to better appreciate the challenges facing them are notable. By patrolling alongside the infantrymen in his Battalion, he helped them embrace the imperative of ethical behavior in combat.”