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3/3/2017

Unreported War Crimes: Yemen Famine

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The lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance – compounded by a shortage of funding – means that millions of people are in Yemen are on the brink of famine.

Almost 18.8 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 7 million people that are food insecure; that is one in five of the country’s population. The rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world.

The nutrition situation continues to deteriorate – and an estimated 3 million women and children need nutrition support. According to WFP market analysis, prices of food items spiked in September 2016 as a result of the escalation of the conflict. The national average price of wheat flour was found to be 55 percent higher compared to the pre-crisis period.

Humanitarian organizations need to be able to move freely and safely in order to reach all those in urgent need before they fall deeper into crisis.

WFP requires nearly US$950 million in 2017 to provide much-needed food assistance and carry out nutrition interventions in Yemen. It takes four months from the time WFP receives funds until food reaches the country and into the hands of families in need.

For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.

A recent UN report on the humanitarian crisis and near-famine conditions in Yemen (that encompassed South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia as well) has led to a rare instance of Western media taking notice of the war and its catastrophic effect. But missing from most of these reports is the role of the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia—whose two-year-long siege and bombing have left the country in ruins.

UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has warned that the conflict-driven food crisis in Yemen could become a full-blown famine this year.

O’Brien told the UN Security Council that two million people need emergency food aid to survive and child malnutrition has risen 63 per cent in a year. He said a child under five dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes. Severe poverty, war damage, and a naval embargo by the Saudi-led coalition have all hit food security. Yemen has been devastated by nearly two years of war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

This man made famine in Yemen is directly caused by a cruel embargo, which is stopping food from entering the west side of the country where most of the 25 million Yemenis live. The loading cranes at the port of Hodeida are unusable as they were bombed by hostile forces in 2015, and road and bridges that allow distribution of food have also been destroyed. Thousands of farms, warehouses including one run by Oxfam, grain silos, food factories, markets, water pumps, have been destroyed in a systematic manner over the last year. Also many lorries attempting to distribute food have also been bombed. Last week there was a 3 day truce in order to deliver humanitarian supplies – on the day before the truce began, the airports of Sanaa and Hodeida were yet again bombed, so that no aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies could land. Fishermen have been repeated bombed off the coast, making it far too dangerous for them to attempt to go to sea. Over 3.5 million people are displaced and living in makeshift tents caused by the aerial bombardment of their homes, aggravating problems caused by the lack of food and clean water.

This has caused a famine, particularly severe in the area of the Tihama, which borders the Red Sea, but a large part of the western area of Yemen is suffering badly. This has been worsened by the decision to move Yemen Central Bank out from Sanaa, the capital, a strategic decision made by Hadi, whom the world describes erroneously as a democratically elected president of Yemen – in fact he was elected in an uncontested election in February 2012 for a fixed two year term as interim president, and it was the ending of his term that started a major power struggle inside Yemen that precipitated a civil war, the Yemen army sided moved against the deeply unpopular Hadi who called in his neighbours to help him gain control of Yemen. Hadi was warned that moving the bank – that had been heroically paying salaries to all ‘sides’ in the conflict that was in itself delaying catastrophe in Yemen – would precipitate starvation of Yemeni people. Nonetheless Hadi moved the bank and salaries to those in the west of Yemen have now stopped. Bank notes that remain in circulation are tattered and becoming unusable.

Horrific pictures of starving men, women and children are now circulating on the Internet. Almost certainly tens of thousands of small children, maybe hundreds of thousands, have already died. These deaths are not included in war statistics and indeed are not being collected. Cholera is now sweeping Yemen as the water supply is drying up and deteriorating, causing further deaths. All of this with little attention from the world’s media, although there have been programmes late in the evenings on BBC and ITV in the last few weeks, and occasional stories in the British press. Despite the desperate situation amazing and inexplicably there has been no official charity appeal in UK. The man made starvation of Yemen is being done silently but steadily, and is now reaching crisis proportions, apparently with the cooperation of world governments.

It is made worse by the deterioration of the health services in Yemen caused by aerial bombardment and embargo. So many hospitals in Yemen have been destroyed (including four MSF hospitals) that many hospital staff are too frightened to go to work, and patients to terrified to attend. Over 58% of Yemenis now have no access to health care. Additionally, around 200 nutritional centres are not functioning due to the war. Many hospitals that are still admitting starving children can only do so if the patients can pay for care because of their desperate economic plight. When treated patients are discharged, they return to starvation conditions in their homes or temporary accommodation. It is hard to describe the terror of experiencing that chilling sound but not knowing where the bomb will land. The people of Yemen live with that horror and uncertainty every day.

The bald statistics state that 14 million people are hungry while nearly 19 million (70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. It broke my heart to see so many undernourished children. Their skin worn thin and barely covering their bones, they could only make their distress known with thin, reedy cries. They were so weak they could barely stand. For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.

2/3/2017

Largest DP Camps in the World

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The legacies of today’s conflicts can be seen in the enormous populations of the world’s largest displaced persons’ camps. For most these camps are far from a temporary home. With scarce local resources, the majority of the camps depend on external aid for survival.

10. Tamil Nadu State, India
An estimated 66,700 Sri Lankans currently reside in this refugee camp. Another 34,000 live outside of the camp.

9. Nyarugusu, Tanzania
This camp is home to an estimated 68,197 refugees. Nearly two-thirds are children between the ages 10-24. Almost all of them were born in the camp or became a refugee at a very young age. The majority of the refugees are Burundians and Congolese.

8. Nakivale, Uganda
As one of Africa’s oldest and largest refugee camps, Nakivale currently houses 68,996 people. Many of the residents fled the violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is unlikely the refugees will be able to return home in the near future.

7. Yida, South Sudan
This refugee camp is home to 70,736 registered individuals. After a sharp increase in registrations in February, the number of new registrations is slowly decreasing.

6. Mbera, Mauritania
UNHCR is predicting there to be 75,261 residents in this camp by December 2014. The majority of the refugees are from Mali, but many come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cote d’Ivoire, as well. It is expected the influx of Malian refugees will slowly stabilize. The situation in Mali still remains delicate and will not allow for large-scale returns.

5. Al Zaatari, Jordan
UNHCR reports there are 101,402 refugees currently in the camp and that number has been decreasing since February 2014. The majority of the refugees are Syrians fleeing the violence in their country. The camp has faced several violent protests since it opened two years ago, mainly due to poor living conditions.

4. Jabalia, Gaza Strip
The largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps, Jabalia is home to 110,000 registered refugees who fled from southern Palestine. The camp faces extreme unemployment, as well as a contaminated water supply and electricity cuts.

3. Kakuma, Kenya
This refugee camp has been home to South Sudan refugees since 1992. The ongoing violence in South Sudan has prompted 20,000 people to flee to Kenya as of February 2014. Today, 124,814 refugees from 15 nationalities live in Kakuma. The camp is significantly over capacity and suffers from lack of resources.

2. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia
This camp holds 201,123 registered Somali refugees. The population of this refugee camp has been steadily increasing since March 2013 due to drought and famine in Somalia.

1. Dadaab, Kenya
UNHCR estimates that in December 2014 there will be 496,130 refugees in the camp from Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and various other places. They also estimate there to be 83, 660 people seeking asylum from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and South Sudan

1/1/2017

Filed under: architecture,capitalism,corruption,executions,police,rampage — admin @ 7:04 am

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12/18/2016

larsen

11/6/2016

MAY THE EARTH TREMBLE AT ITS CORE

To the people of the world:

To the free media:

To the National and International Sixth:

Convened for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the National Indigenous Congress and the living resistance of the originary peoples, nations, and tribes of this country called Mexico, of the languages of Amuzgo, Binni-zaá, Chinanteco, Chol, Chontal de Oaxaca, Coca, Náyeri, Cuicateco, Kumiai, Lacandón, Matlazinca, Maya, Mayo, Mazahua, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Nahua, Ñahñu, Ñathô, Popoluca, Purépecha, Rarámuri, Tlapaneco, Tojolabal, Totonaco, Triqui, Tzeltal, Tsotsil, Wixárika, Yaqui, Zoque, Chontal de Tabasco, as well as our Aymara, Catalán, Mam, Nasa, Quiché and Tacaná brothers and sisters, we firmly pronounce that our struggle is below and to the left, that we are anticapitalist and that the time of the people has come—the time to make this country pulse with the ancestral heartbeat of our mother earth.

It is in this spirit that we met to celebrate life in the Fifth National Indigenous Congress, which took place on October 9-14, 2016, in CIDECI-UNITIERRA, Chiapas. There we once again recognized the intensification of the dispossession and repression that have not stopped in the 524 years since the powerful began a war aimed at exterminating those who are of the earth; as their children we have not allowed for their destruction and death, meant to serve capitalist ambition which knows no end other than destruction itself. That resistance, the struggle to continue constructing life, today takes the form of words, learning, and agreements. On a daily basis we build ourselves and our communities in resistance in order to stave off the storm and the capitalist attack which never lets up. It becomes more aggressive everyday such that today it has become a civilizational threat, not only for indigenous peoples and campesinos but also for the people of the cities who themselves must create dignified and rebellious forms of resistance in order to avoid murder, dispossession, contamination, sickness, slavery, kidnapping or disappearance. Within our community assemblies we have decided, exercised, and constructed our destiny since time immemorial. Our forms of organization and the defense of our collective life is only possible through rebellion against the bad government, their businesses, and their organized crime.

We denounce the following:

1. In Pueblo Coca, Jalisco, the businessman Guillermo Moreno Ibarra invaded 12 hectares of forest in the area known as El Pandillo, working in cahoots with the agrarian institutions there to criminalize those who struggle, resulting in 10 community members being subjected to trials that went on for four years. The bad government is invading the island of Mexcala, which is sacred communal land, and at the same time refusing to recognize the Coca people in state indigenous legislation, in an effort to erase them from history.
2. The Otomí Ñhañu, Ñathö, Hui hú, and Matlatzinca peoples from México State and Michoacán are being attacked via the imposition of a megaproject to build the private Toluca-Naucalpan Highway and an inter-city train. The project is destroying homes and sacred sites, buying people off and manipulating communal assemblies through police presence. This is in addition to fraudulent community censuses that supplant the voice of an entire people, as well as the privatization and the dispossession of water and territory around the Xinantécatl volcano, known as the Nevado de Toluca. There the bad governments are doing away with the protections that they themselves granted, all in order to hand the area over to the tourism industry. We know that all of these projects are driven by interest in appropriating the water and life of the entire region. In the Michoacán zone they deny the identity of the Otomí people, and a group of police patrols have come to the region to monitor the hills, prohibiting indigenous people there from going to the hills to cut wood.
3. The originary peoples who live in Mexico City are being dispossessed of the territories that they have won in order to be able to work for a living; in the process they are robbed of their goods and subjected to police violence. They are scorned and repressed for using their traditional clothing and language, and criminalized through accusations of selling drugs.
4. The territory of the Chontal Peoples of Oaxaca is being invaded by mining concessions that are dismantling communal land organization, affecting the people and natural resources of five communities.
5. The Mayan Peninsular People of Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo are suffering land disposession as a result of the planting of genetically modified soy and African palm, the contamination of their aquifers by agrochemicals, the construction of wind farms and solar farms, the development of ecotourism, and the activities of real estate developers. Their resistance against high electricity costs has been met with harassment and arrest warrants. In Calakmul, Campeche, five communities are being displaced by the imposition of ‘environmental protection areas,’ environmental service costs, and carbon capture plans. In Candelaria, Campeche, the struggle continues for secure land tenure. In all three states there is aggressive criminalization against those who defend territory and natural resources.
6. The Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol and Lacandón Maya People of Chiapas continue to be displaced from their territories due to the privatization of natural resources. This has resulted in the imprisonment and murder of those who defend their right to remain in their territory, as they are constantly discriminated against and repressed whenever they defend themselves and organize to continue building their autonomy, leading to increasing rates of human rights violations by police forces. There are campaigns to fragment and divide their organizations, as well as the murders of compañeros who have defended their territory and natural resources in San Sebastián Bachajon. The bad governments continue trying to destroy the organization of the communities that are EZLN bases of support in order to cast a shadow on the hope and light that they provide to the entire world.
7. The Mazateco people of Oaxaca have been invaded by private property claims which exploit the territory and culture for tourism purposes. This includes naming Huautla de Jimenéz as a “Pueblo Mágico” in order to legalize displacement and commercialize ancestral knowledge. This is in addition to mining concessions and foreign spelunking explorations in existing caves, all enforced by increased harassment by narcotraffickers and militarization of the territory. The bad governments are complicit in the increasing rates of femicide and rape in the region.
8. The Nahua and Totonaca peoples of Veracruz and Puebla are confronting aerial fumigation, which creates illnesses in the communities. Mining and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation are carried out through fracking, and 8 watersheds are endangered by new projects that are contaminating the rivers.
9. The Nahua and Popoluca peoples from the south of Veracruz are under siege by organized crime and also risk territorial destruction and their disappearance as a people because of the threats brought by mining, wind farms, and above all, hydrocarbon exploitation through fracking.
10. The Nahua people, who live in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico State, Jalisco, Guerrero, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, and Mexico City, are in a constant struggle to stop the advance of the so-called Proyecto Integral Morelos, consisting of pipelines, aqueducts, and thermoelectric projects. The bad governments, seeking to stop the resistance and communication among the communities are trying to destroy the community radio of Amiltzingo, Morelos. Similarly, the construction of the new airport in Mexico City and the surrounding building projects threaten the territories around Texcoco lake and the Valle de México basin, namely Atenco, Texcoco, and Chimalhuacán. In Michocan, the Nahua people face the plunder of their natural resources and minerals by sicarios [hitmen] who are accompanied by police or the army, and also the militarization and paramilitarizaiton of their territories. The cost of trying to halt this war has been murder, persecution, imprisonment, and harassment of community leaders.
11. The Zoque People of Oaxaca and Chiapas face invasion by mining concessions and alleged private property claims on communal lands in the Chimalapas region, as well as three hydroelectric dams and hydrocarbon extraction through fracking. The implementation of cattle corridors is leading to excessive logging in the forests in order to create pastureland, and genetically modified seeds are also being cultivated there. At the same time, Zoque migrants to different states across the country are re-constituting their collective organization.
12. The Amuzgo people of Guerrero are facing the theft of water from the San Pedro River to supply residential areas in the city of Ometepec. Their community radio has also been subject to constant persecution and harassment.
13. The Rarámuri people of Chihuahua are losing their farmland to highway construction, to the Creel airport, and to the gas pipeline that runs from the United States to Chihuahua. They are also threatened by Japanese mining companies, dam projects, and tourism.
14. The Wixárika people of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango are facing the destruction and privatization of the sacred places they depend on to maintain their familial, social, and political fabric, and also the dispossession of their communal land in favor of large landowners who take advantage of the blurry boundaries between states of the Republic and campaigns orchestrated by the bad government to divide people.
15. The Kumiai People of Baja California continue struggling for the reconstitution of their ancestral territories, against invasion by private interests, the privatization of their sacred sites, and the invasion of their territories by gas pipelines and highways.
16. The Purépecha people of Michoacán are experiencing deforestation, which occurs through complicity between the bad government and the narcoparamilitary groups who plunder the forests and woods. Community organization from below poses an obstacle to that theft.
17. For the Triqui people of Oaxaca, the presence of the political parties, the mining industry, paramilitaries, and the bad government foment the disintegration of the community fabric in the interest of plundering natural resources.
18. The Chinanteco people of Oaxaca are suffering the destruction of their forms of community organization through land reforms, the imposition of environmental services costs, carbon capture plans, and ecotourism. There are plans for a four-lane highway to cross and divide their territory. In the Cajono and Usila Rivers the bad governments are planning to build three dams that will affect the Chinanteco and Zapoteca people, and there are also mining concessions and oil well explorations.
19. The Náyeri People of Nayarit face the invasion and destruction of their sacred territories by the Las Cruces hydroelectric project in the site called Muxa Tena on the San Pedro River.
20. The Yaqui people of Sonora continue their sacred struggle against the gas pipeline that would cross their territory, and in defense of the water of the Yaqui River, which the bad governments want to use to supply the city of Hermosillo, Sonora. This goes against judicial orders and international appeals which have made clear the Yaqui peoples’ legal and legitimate rights. The bad government has criminalized and harassed the authorities and spokespeople of the Yaqui tribe.
21. The Binizzá and Ikoot people organize to stop the advance of the mining, wind, hydroelectric, dam, and gas pipeline projects. This includes in particular the Special Economic Zone on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the infrastructure that threatens the territory and the autonomy of the people on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec who are classified as the “environmental Taliban” and the “indigenous rights Taliban,” the precise words used by the Mexican Association of Energy to refer to the Popular Assembly of the Juchiteco People.
22. The Mixteco people of Oaxaca suffer the plunder of their agrarian territory, which also affects their traditional practices given the threats, deaths, and imprisonment that seek to quiet the dissident voices, with the bad government supporting armed paramilitary groups as in the case of San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.
23. The Mixteco, Tlapaneco, and Nahua peoples from the mountains and coast of Guerrero face the imposition of mining megaprojects supported by narcotraffickers, their paramilitaries, and the bad governments, who fight over the territories of the originary peoples.
24. The Mexican bad government continues to lie, trying hide its decomposition and total responsibility for the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.
25. The state continues to hold hostage: compañeros Pedro Sánchez Berriozábal, Rómulo Arias Míreles, Teófilo Pérez González, Dominga González Martínez, Lorenzo Sánchez Berriozábal, and Marco Antonio Pérez González from the Nahua community of San Pedro Tlanixco in Mexico State; Zapotec compañero Álvaro Sebastián from the Loxicha region; compañeros Emilio Jiménez Gómez and Esteban Gómez Jiménez, prisoners from the community of Bachajón, Chiapas; compañeros Pablo López Álvarez and the exiled Raul Gatica García and Juan Nicolás López from the Indigenous and Popular Council of Oaxaca Ricardo Flores Magón. Recently a judge handed down a 33-year prison sentence to compañero Luis Fernando Sotelo for demanding that the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa be returned alive, and to the compañeros Samuel Ramírez Gálvez, Gonzalo Molina González and Arturo Campos Herrera from the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities – PC. They also hold hundreds of indigenous and non-indigenous people across the country prisoner for defending their territories and demanding justice.
26. The Mayo people’s ancestral territory is threatened by highway projects meant to connect Topolobampo with the state of Texas in the United States. Ambitious tourism projects are also being created in Barranca del Cobre.
27. The Dakota Nation’s sacred territory is being invaded and destroyed by gas and oil pipelines, which is why they are maintaining a permanent occupation to protect what is theirs.

For all of these reasons, we reiterate that it our obligation to protect life and dignity, that is, resistance and rebellion, from below and to the left, a task that can only be carried out collectively. We build rebellion from our small local assemblies that combine to form large communal assemblies, ejidal assemblies, Juntas de Buen Gobierno [Good Government Councils], and coalesce as agreements as peoples that unite us under one identity. In the process of sharing, learning, and constructing ourselves as the National Indigenous Congress, we see and feel our collective pain, discontent, and ancestral roots. In order to defend what we are, our path and learning process have been consolidated by strengthening our collective decision-making spaces, employing national and international juridical law as well as peaceful and civil resistance, and casting aside the political parties that have only brought death, corruption, and the buying off of dignity. We have made alliances with various sectors of civil society, creating our own resources in communication, community police and self-defense forces, assemblies and popular councils, and cooperatives; in the exercise and defense of traditional medicine; in the exercise and defense of traditional and ecological agriculture; in our own rituals and ceremonies to pay respect to mother earth and continue walking with and upon her, in the cultivation and defense of native seeds, and in political-cultural activities, forums, and information campaigns.

This is the power from below that has kept us alive. This is why commemorating resistance and rebellion also means ratifying our decision to continue to live, constructing hope for a future that is only possible upon the ruins of capitalism.

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Given that the offensive against the people will not cease, but rather grow until it finishes off every last one of us who make up the peoples of the countryside and the city, who carry profound discontent that emerges in new, diverse, and creative forms of resistance and rebellion, this Fifth National Indigenous Congress has decided to launch a consultation in each of our communities to dismantle from below the power that is imposed on us from above and offers us nothing but death, violence, dispossession, and destruction. Given all of the above, we declare ourselves in permanent assembly as we carry out this consultation, in each of our geographies, territories, and paths, on the accord of the Fifth CNI to name an Indigenous Governing Council whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country under the name of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in the electoral process of 2018. We confirm that our struggle is not for power, which we do not seek. Rather, we call on all of the originary peoples and civil society to organize to put a stop to this destruction and strengthen our resistances and rebellions, that is, the defense of the life of every person, family, collective, community, or barrio. We make a call to construct peace and justice by reweaving ourselves from below, from where we are what we are.

This is the time of dignified rebellion, the time to construct a new nation by and for everyone, to strengthen power below and to the anticapitalist left, to make those who are responsible for all of the pain of the peoples of this multi-colored Mexico pay.

Finally, we announce the creation of the official webpage of the CNI: www.congresonacionalindigena.org

From CIDECI-UNITIERRA,

Chiapas, October 2016

For the Full Reconstitution of Our Peoples

Never Again a Mexico Without Us

National Indigenous Congress

Zapatista Army for National Liberation

10/20/2016

More Murdered: Jose Angel Flores and Silmer Dionicio George both members of the Unified Peasant Movement (MUCA)

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En Honduras, dos líderes campesinos han sido asesinados: José Ángel Flores era el presidente del Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA) y Silmer Dionosio George era uno de los principales organizadores del grupo. Ambos fueron asesinados por hombres armados el martes por la noche al salir de la oficina del MUCA en la comunidad de La Confianza, en el norte de Honduras, Valle del Aguán. Flores había denunciado las amenazas de muerte que recibió varias veces como consecuencia de su trabajo en defensa de la tierra, y la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos le había ordenado al gobierno de Honduras que les brindaran protección a él y a Silmer. Los miembros del MUCA tienen propiedades cooperativas de tierra, y el grupo está bajo presión para vender sus tierras para que empresas privadas puedan construir grandes plantaciones de aceite de palma. Los asesinatos del martes sucedieron en una región de Honduras en la que una zona especial de desarrollo, también conocida como ciudad modelo, se está desarrollando actualmente, lo que crearía una zona de libre comercio especial que opere fuera de la ley del gobierno de Honduras. Muchas de las empresas que presionan para crear zonas especiales de desarrollo en Honduras son apoyadas por el Banco Mundial.

TAKE ACTION: STOP US FUNDING OF VIOLENCE IN HONDURAS!

Demand that your US Congressional Representatives support the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act – HR5474. Since the 2009 coup, solidarity and human rights organizations in the US and in Honduras have worked to stop US funding violence in Honduras. On June 14, 2016, US Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced HR5474. This Act would cut off US funding and support for the repressive Honduran military and national police and end US support for funding of mega-projects against the wishes of the local population. As of September 25, 2016, 41 representatives have signed on in support. Please contact your congressional representatives and find out if they are supporting HR 5474.

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8/31/2016

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances; 3 Campesino Activists Executed

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As Colombia Cease-Fire Begins, 3 Campesino Activists Executed

While the beginning of the cease-fire marked a historical step toward peace in Colombia, rural leaders are still assassinated for defending their lands.

While the beginning of the cease-fire marked a historic step toward peace in Colombia, rural leaders are still being assassinated for defending their land and natural resources, an important reminder of the difficulties the country faces in ending the violence and impunity that have been such a permanent fixture of the five decades-long civil war.

728 Human Rights Activists Killed in Colombia Since 1994

A few hours after the cease-fire between Colombia’s army and the rebels formally started Monday night, three campesino leaders were murdered in the southwestern province of Cauca.

At about 8 a.m. local time, men “dressed as military officers, with balaclavas and large weapons” stopped vehicles traveling to the weekly market in the town of Almaguer, local campesino organization Cima said in a statement.

The assailants then asked the passengers to turn off their phones and forced the three campesinos to come with them, including one of Cima’s historical founders, Joel Meneses, before driving the campesinos a few miles to a spot called Dark Mount, where they were found shot dead.

Meneses, as well as campesinos Ariel Sotelo and another Meneses, whose first name was Mereo, were leading the defense of the territory including the protection of water resources against illegal mining. The group took part in the national agrarian strike in June while Joel Meneses had received a series of death threats over the past year, emphasized the communique.

After a series of murders of campesinos in Cauca last fall, sometimes involving military personnel, Cima denounced “the continuing attacks that campesinos and Indigenous social movements in Almaguer are victims of, affecting its organizational and electoral processes”—as some of their members won in local elections last year.

The country’s ombudsman Fabian Laverde said back then that the issue of violence against campesions was the roots of a number of causes.

“First, the national government refuses to recognize the existence of paramilitarism. Second, the complaints from the social movements made about situations of threats or concrete actions against residents of these territories have been completely ignored,” he said.

At least 300 campesinos leaders have been killed in Colombia in 2015.

Land distribution in Colombia is extremely unequal. Less than 1 percent of the population owns roughly half of the land, and 70 percent of the population owns only 5 percent of the land. Campesinos who fight for their land are often at risk of losing their lives

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

August 30 is a day for commemorating those disappeared by repressive regimes, a day originally brought forward by families and human rights bodies struggling to find out the truth about their loved ones.

The Killing of Innocents: False Positives in Colombia

Six years ago on Wednesday, scores of young men from the poor neighborhood of Soacha near Bogota, Colombia, were offered work but ended up dead, and labeled left-wing guerillas. A recruiter later testified that he had received US$500 from the Colombian military for each man he recruited and delivered to them.

The Legacy of Disappearances in El Salvador

As El Salvador, Latin America, and the world celebrates the Vatican’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, one of the causes most dear to the slain priest remains an open wound for the country: los desaparecidos, or the disappeared. During the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992), an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 civilians were disappeared, the vast majority victims of the military regime’s “dirty war” against Salvadoran civil society.

Canada’s Disappeared Indigenous Women

According to the most recent report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force, there were at least 1,181 cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada over a 30-year period from 1980 to 2012. This report doubled the original estimate from the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who under the Sisters in Spirit campaign in 2010 met with Indigenous families and found no less than 600 murdered and missing. Even these two reports must be taken in the context of previous reports which have long highlighted Canada’s disappeared as a growing crisis.

Mexico’s Crisis of Enforced Disappearances Hits Women Hard

A gender crisis that sees four women forcibly disappeared every month in the western Mexican state of Jalisco has prompted authorities to launch a new initiative to immediately begin searching for missing women and girls in the state, local media reported Monday.

The families of victims and activists marched in Mexico City once again on Monday to urgently demand legislation to hold those responsible accountable. Our correspondent Clayton Conn has more.

Hundreds of mothers protested and demanded justice for their disappeared sons and daughters.

A London-based journalism advocacy group presented a report saying that 23 journalists have disappeared in Mexico since 2003, making it 2 every year, the highest number in the world. Most of the disappeared were covering corruption and organized crime.

Honduras After the Coup

“To defend life is the most beautiful thing that a human being can do.” Meet Bertha Oliva, whose husband was forcibly disappeared in Honduras and is now a leading human rights defender speaking up for those who can’t speak anymore.

From Reagan to Obama: Forced Disappearances in Honduras

Forced disappearance refers to the practice of secretly abducting and murdering victims, making them disappear from society without a trace. Bodies of the disappeared are often carefully hidden, or rendered unrecognizable, to instill fear without the identity of the victim or the perpetrator becoming known.

Operation Condor Remembered

For five decades, each week, these mothers and grandmothers have been meeting at Plaza De Mayo in Argentina seeking justice for their loved ones, the children who were disappeared during the era of state terrorism between 1976-1983.

The U.S. gave the green light for the tortures, murders, and disappearances that took place during the Argentine dictatorship.

Operation Condor: Cross-Border Disappearance and Death

Operation Condor was a covert, multinational “black operations” program organized by six Latin American states (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, later joined by Ecuador and Peru), with logistical, financial, and intelligence support from Washington.

Operation Condor was the culmination of a U.S.-orchestrated campaign that entailed the ruthless silencing, murder, torture, and disappearance of tens of thousands of left-wing opponents of U.S. imperialism and the fascistic military dictatorships backed by the CIA and supported by infamous Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

8/26/2016

Made in the U.S.A.

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Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, opening up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields. Anybody within the strike area of the cluster munition, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. The horror, the shame.

The fuze of each submunition is generally activated as it falls so that it will explode above or on the ground. But often large numbers of the submunitions fail to work as designed, and instead land on the ground without exploding, where they remain as very dangerous duds.

A cobalt bomb is a theoretical type of “salted bomb”: a nuclear weapon designed to produce enhanced amounts of radioactive fallout, intended to contaminate a large area with radioactive material. The concept of a cobalt bomb was originally described in a radio program by physicist Leó Szilárd on February 26, 1950. His intent was not to propose that such a weapon be built, but to show that nuclear weapon technology would soon reach the point where it could end human life on Earth, a doomsday device.

139 financial institutions worldwide are investing over US$24 billion in companies producing cluster munitions: investment in the producers of this deadly weapon by banks, pension funds and other financial institutions around the world. Cluster munitions have recently been used against civilians in Syria. These weapons have killed and injured thousands of people for decades, which is why the majority of the world’s nations have banned them. Syria has not joined the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Syria’s use of cluster munitions should be a wake-up call for governments and financial institutions of the severe and real consequences of this indiscriminate weapon. Financial institutions have invested in cluster munition producers since June 2010. The majority of these investments come from financial institutions in states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The ‘Hall of Shame’ includes 22 financial institutions from 6 countries that are part of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

8/17/2016

Dakota Access Pipeline Standoff: Mni Wiconi, Water is Life

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The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project is back in the news. Over the weekend, tribal activists faced off against lines of police in Hunkpapa Territory near Cannon Ball as construction crews prepared to break ground for the new pipeline, while Standing Rock Sioux governmental officials resolved to broaden their legal battle to stop the project.

On July 26, 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was stunned to learn that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had given its approval for the pipeline to run within a half-mile of the reservation without proper consultation or consent. Also, the new 1,172 mile Dakota Access Pipeline will cross Lake Oahe (formed by Oahe Dam on the Missouri) and the Missouri River as well, and disturb burial grounds and sacred sites on the tribe’s ancestral Treaty lands, according to SRST officials.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners will build, own and operate the proposed $3.78 billion Dakota Access Pipeline and plans to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil fracked from the Bakken oil fields across four states to a market hub in Illinois. The pipeline—already facing widespread opposition by a coalition of farmers, ranchers and environmental groups—will cross 209 rivers, creeks and tributaries, according to Dakota Access, LLC.

Standing Rock Sioux leaders say the pipeline will threaten the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of drinking and irrigation water, and forever destroy burial grounds and sacred sites.

“We don’t want this black snake within our Treaty boundaries,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. “We need to stop this pipeline that threatens our water. We have said repeatedly we don’t want it here. We want the Army Corps to honor the same rights and protections that were afforded to others, rights we were never afforded when it comes to our territories. We demand the pipeline be stopped and kept off our Treaty boundaries.”

On July 27, SRST filed litigation in federal court in the District of Columbia to challenge the actions of the Corps regarding the Dakota Access pipeline. The suit seeks to enforce the tribal nation’s federally protected rights and interests. The nation is seeking a preliminary injunction to undo the Corps’ approval of the pipeline at a hearing on August 24. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and several other native nations have asked to join the lawsuit.

On August 8, Dakota Access called the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to give 48-hour notice that construction would begin on August 10 for an access corridor and staging area where pipes and other equipment will be stored for construction.

As news of the planned construction spread via social media among tribal citizens and activists, a grass-roots gathering assembled at what is now being referred to as the Sacred Stone Camp where people are holding the line to stop construction. After Dakota Access workers began clearing an area for preliminary pipeline work, several hundred protestors gradually assembled at the site, prompting law enforcement to intervene and arrest more than a dozen people. Among those were Chairman Archambault and SRST Councilman Dana Yellow Fat, who quickly posted bond and were released.

“We have a voice, and we are here using it collectively in a respectful and peaceful manner,” Archambault said. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing everything it can legally, through advocacy and by speaking directly to the powers that be who could have helped us before construction began. This has happened over and over, and we will not continue to be completely ignored and let the Army Corps of Engineers ride roughshod over our rights.”

Archambault said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires free, prior and informed consent for development impacting Indian land, territories and waters.

“We have a serious obligation, a core responsibility to our people and to our children, to protect our source of water,” he said. “Our people will receive no benefits from this pipeline, yet we are paying the ultimate price for it with our water. We will not stop asking the federal government and Army Corps to end their attacks on our water and our people.”

The proposed construction route is within a half-mile of the tribe’s reservation border, sparking concerns for protection of cultural resources that remain with the land. Hunkpapa religious and cultural sites are situated along the route of the pipeline, including burial sites of ancestors.

“The land between the Cannonball River and the Heart River is sacred,” said Jon Eagle Sr., STST’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. “It’s a historic place of commerce where enemy tribes camped peacefully within sight of each other because of the reverence they had for this place. In the area are sacred stones where our ancestors went to pray for good direction, strength and protection for the coming year. Those stones are still there, and our people still go there today.”

Eagle worries that the pipeline will harm many tribal nations along the Missouri.

“Wherever the buffalo roamed our ancestors left evidence of their existence and connection to everything in creation,” he said. “The aboriginal lands of the Oceti Sakonwin extend as far west as Wyoming and Montana, as far north as Canada, as far east as the Great Lakes, and as far south as Kansas. Construction along this corridor will disturb burial places and cultural sites.”

According to the recently filed “motion for preliminary injunction” by the SRST, Dakota Access initially considered two possible routes: a northern route near Bismarck, and a southern route taking the pipeline to the border of the Standing Rock reservation. Federal law requires the Army Corps to review and deny or grant the company’s permit applications to construct the pipeline. The southern route takes the pipeline across the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, implicating lands and water under federal jurisdiction.

In the initial environmental assessment, the maps utilized by Dakota Access and the Army Corps did not indicate that SRST’s lands were close to the proposed Lake Oahe crossing. The company selected this route because the northern route “would be near and could jeopardize the drinking water of the residents in the city of Bismarck.” The Army Corps of Engineers has not issued a public response to the newly filed litigation or protest. In a statement that appeared in a May 4 story in the DesMoines Register, Col. John Henderson, commander of the Corps’ Omaha District said, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not an opponent or a proponent of the project. Our job is to consider impacts to the public and the environment as well as all applicable laws, regulations and policies associated yet with this permission and permit review process.”

An Energy Transfer spokesperson said, “It is important to note that Dakota Access does not cross any reservation land and is compliant with all regulations regarding tribal coordination and cultural resources. We have communicated with the various tribes that have an interest in the DAPL project as we recognize the traditional range of the Native Americans and their sensitivity to historic ranges for cultural properties. We are confident the USACE has adequately addressed the portion of the project subject to their review and where a NEPA analysis is required. They are the experts in this area, and we believe they have done an excellent job addressing any comments received to date.”

Tribal leaders and environmental activists say the company’s draft environmental assessment of December 9, 2015 did not mention that the route they chose brings the pipeline near the drinking water of tribal citizens. In fact, it omitted the existence of the tribe on all maps and analysis, in violation of environmental justice policies.

Great Sioux Nation Defends Its Waters From Dakota Access Pipeline

While federal law requires meaningful consultation with affected Indian nations, SRST governmental officials allege that didn’t happen despite numerous requests by the nation. Since they first heard of the proposed project in 2014, SRST leaders have voiced strong opposition to company, state and federal officials, and to Congress.

They met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to discuss the harm imposed by the pipeline. All three agencies subsequently wrote letters to the Army Corps expressing environmental and cultural resource concerns related to the pipeline.

Archambault said they’ve been working on many levels for more than seven months to stop construction. But the tribe and the three federal agencies were apparently ignored by the Army Corps, which moved ahead with permits for the pipeline.

In addition, Standing Rock youth ages 6–25 from the reservation vowed to run to Washington, D.C. to deliver a petition with 160,000 signatures on change.org opposing the pipeline to the President of the United States. After running for 2,200 miles, they were able to meet with Army Corps officials and hold rallies along the way; they returned home on August 10.

Standing Rock leadership has also put out the call to Indian country to stand in support of protecting their water, land and people. Dozens of Indian nations have already written letters and resolutions to support the Lakota people.

As for the growing number of people at the grassroots rally, Archambault publicly asked that everyone be peaceful and respectful of one another in the coming days.

“We want peaceful demonstrations and I need everyone to understand that what we are doing, in the manner we are doing it, is working,” he said. “By being peaceful and avoiding violence we are getting the attention needed to stop the pipeline.

The emphasis was on peace as a Lakota man smudged police officers at the scene of an ongoing protest at the construction site of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.

“We’re getting the message out that all the wrongdoing that’s been done to Indian people will no longer be tolerated,” he said. “But we’re going about it in a peaceful and respectful manner. If we turn to violence, all that will be for nothing. I’m hoping and praying that through prayer and peace, for once the government will listen to us.”

Archambault also honored the Lakota youth who want to make a better future in his message.

“Our youth carry powerful messages when they speak, and we respect our youth and listen to them,” he said. “We honor and support the youth, runners, elders, campers, and supporters, and we are thankful for all the important efforts they’re making to protect our water.”

In the midst of an ongoing effort by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other entities to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the company Dakota Access LLC has begun construction of the 1,150-mile project, which will carry crude oil from western North Dakota to Illinois.

Construction has begun in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois, but not yet in Iowa, where regulators have declined to allow construction just yet. In consideration of the environmental impact of the project and other safety concerns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not yet issued permits for the project to cross the Missouri River—Standing Rock’s main water source—or the Mississippi.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault insists that the fight to stop the pipeline has not come to an end and that the tribe and its allies will continue to exercise their rights to ensure that consideration of the health and well-being of the citizens of the Great Sioux Nation will be taken into consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers and other influential entities.

“The start of construction by Dakota Access will not deter us,” Archambault said in a statement. “To the contrary, the Tribe will continue to press forward, to demonstrate that the Corps has not adequately consulted with the Tribe regarding cultural resource issues, and has not adequately addressed the risk of an oil spill that would harm the Tribe’s waters. The Tribe is dedicated to the protection of our Treaty rights, our Reservation lands, and our people—and we will ensure that the federal government upholds its trust responsibility when it makes its decision regarding the Dakota Access pipeline.”

8/12/2016

Argentina’s Mothers of the Disappeared March for 2,000th Time

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The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo led the organization

The Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been fighting for justice for the disappeared and respect for historical memory since 1977.

Argentina’s internationally-renowned Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took to the streets Thursday with thousands of supporters for a historic event: the organization’s 2,000th march in memory of and for justice for the country’s 30,000 victims of forced disappearance during the U.S.-backed Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s.

The Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have held weekly marches in Buenos Aires’ central square in front of the Presidential Palace, the Plaza de Mayo, every Thursday since founding the organization in 1977 to search for children and grandchildren who were kidnapped and disappeared during the dictatorship.

“It is history that marches on without stopping, our worn out feet that do not tire,” wrote president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini, in a statement announcing the 2000th march. “It is our 30,000 children that sew love for the nation with blood and make grow with this same love for the country millions of youth, who we all are.”

Former left-wing President Cristina Fernandez met with the Mothers hours ahead of the march and joined demonstrators in the square for the afternoon’s events.

The march comes after President Mauricio Macri made highly controversial comments in an interview, saying that he didn’t know how many people were disappeared in Argentina, whether “9,000 or 30,000.” The same day, he also called Bonafini, head of the Mothers, “deranged” and accused her of spewing “inappropriate nonsense.”

Both statements sparked widespread outrage. Estela Carlotto, renowned human rights activist and founder and President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, responded with criticism. “He has the obligation to know that it is an estimated 30,000 people disappeared,” said Carlotto, adding that if he didn’t know, “so learn,” La Nacion reported. Carlotto searched for her missing grandson, born to Carlotto’s pregnant daughter after she was disappeared in 1977, for 36 years before being reunited.

Nora Cortiñas, co-founder of the Mothers of the Plaza of Mayo, accused Macri of undermining the tireless struggle for justice. “It is unfortunate, this is a president who lived in Argentina at that time,” she said, according to Politica Argentina. “With his opinions, he is devaluing our entire struggle of these last 40 years.” Cortiñas lost her son to forced disappearance in 1977, but does not have a known missing grandchild to search for.

The march also comes after the Mothers made international headlines last week when a judge issued an arrest warrant against Bonafini, who has fought for justice for years for her two disappeared sons and daughter-in-law and other victims of the dictatorship-era state terror. The warrant was later dropped in light of the backlash.

A batch of over 1,000 pages of newly-declassified documents released this week shed further light on the U.S. role in forced disappearances, political killings, and torture under the reign of state terrorism during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The Dirty War in Argentina has been called a “genocide” against political dissidents.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have identified and reunited with their families 120 missing grandchildren disappeared during the last dictatorship.

In Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo held their their 2,000th march in Buenos Aires on Thursday demanding justice for their children who went missing during the country’s military dictatorship. The Mothers have been staging regular protests in the Plaza de Mayo since 1977.

Hebe de Bonafini: “Dear children, all the 30,000 missing, 15,000 who were shot in the streets, the 8,900 political prisoners and more than 2 million in exile who have all become our children, this is no small thing. It’s the heavy burden of so many children, but it is so beautiful, so amazing, so unique. I think that there are no women like us in the world with the strength in our bellies, in our hearts, in our bodies, with so much responsibility for our children whom we love, whom we love and whom we continue to defend.”

Thursday’s march in Argentina came just days after the United States declassified documents showing that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger thwarted the State Department’s efforts to stop the mass killings by instead praising Argentina’s military leaders in 1978.

7/8/2016

Lesbia Janeth Urquía murdered

Lesbia Janeth Urquía

Authorities in Honduras have confirmed the murder of yet another indigenous activist, four months after the assassination of award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres prompted international outrage over the targeting of campaigners who oppose mega-projects and resource extraction in the Central American country.

Judicial officials said in a statement on Thursday that they had opened investigation into the murder of Lesbia Janeth Urquía, 49, whose body was found abandoned in a rubbish dump in the municipality of Marcala, about 160 kilometres west of the capital Tegucigalpa.

The statement said Urquía had suffered a severe head injury and that a possible motive for her murder was “the supposed robbery of her professional bicycle”, which she was planning to ride when last seen on Tuesday afternoon.

Urquía, a mother of three children, was a member of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh) – the organization founded by Cáceres – and had been working to stop a hydro-electric projects in Honduras’s western La Paz department.

“The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with courage and the bravery to defend their rights,” Copinh wrote on its website. “We hold the Honduras government directly responsible for this murder.”

6/21/2016

Global forced displacement hits record high

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UNHCR Global Trends report finds 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015.

Wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR records began, according to a new report released today by the UN Refugee Agency.

The report, entitled Global Trends, noted that on average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.

The detailed study, which tracks forced displacement worldwide based on data from governments, partner agencies and UNHCR’s own reporting, found a total 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year. On land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders.”

It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.”

Grandi said that politics was also standing in the way of those seeking asylum in some countries.

“The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs to prevail,” he declared.

The report found that, measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee – putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.

The tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined.

To put it in perspective, the tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. It is made up of 3.2 million people in industrialized countries who, at the end of 2015, were awaiting decisions on asylum – the largest total UNHCR has ever recorded.

Also in the tally are a record 40.8 million people who had been forced to flee their homes but were within the confines of their own countries, another record for the UN Refugee Agency. And there are 21.3 million refugees.

Forced displacement has been on the rise since at least the mid-1990s in most regions, but over the past five years the rate has increased.

The reasons are threefold:

* conflicts that cause large refugee outflows, like Somalia and Afghanistan – now in their third and fourth decade respectively – are lasting longer; * dramatic new or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity are occurring more frequently. While today’s largest is Syria, wars have broken out in the past five years in South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine and Central African Republic, while thousands more people have fled raging gang and other violence in Central America; * the rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War, leaving a growing number in limbo.

“We’re stuck here. We can’t go on and we can’t go back,” said Hikmat, a Syrian farmer driven from his land by war, now living in tent outside a shopping centre in Lebanon with his wife and young children. “My children need to go to school, they need a future,” he added.

The study found that three countries produce half the world’s refugees. Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.

While the spotlight last year was on Europe’s challenge to manage more than 1 million refugees and migrants who arrived via the Mediterranean, the report shows that the vast majority of the world’s refugees were in developing countries in the global south.

In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosted more refugees compared to its population than any other country.

Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, according to the data UNHCR was able to gather (complete demographic data was not available to the report authors). Many were separated from their parents or travelling alone.

4/9/2016

Panama Papers

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The Panama Papers reportedly cover more than 40 years of Mossack Fonseca’s operations on behalf of a who’s-who list of the global elite, including numerous important politicians and current or former heads of state, international criminals and star athletes, along with any number of less charismatic but equally wealthy corporations and individuals. Close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin appear in the Mossack documents (although Putin himself is not named), as do the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, members of the Saudi royal family, the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Pakistan. The Icelandic prime minister, named as a Mossack client with offshore holdings, was forced to resign on Tuesday, before apparently reversing himself on Wednesday. It’s safe to say the ripple effects of these revelations will be felt for years, if not decades. Mossack evidently created some 214,000 anonymous offshore companies for its moneyed clientele–“shell firms” with sham directors and phony boards of directors, reports the SZ, designed such that their “true purpose and ownership structure is indecipherable from the outside.” In most of these cases, “concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim,” and the documents suggest that Mossack routinely engages in business practices that “potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.” They’re just the tip of a really big iceberg. That’s true in several senses. First of all, although Mossack Fonseca is a major player in the lucrative international industry of helping the rich get richer, it’s only one company among the network of bankers and lawyers and honey-tongued advisers competing to grovel before the world’s elite caste and make safe their massive wealth. Perhaps the rich still believe they deserve to be rich, and too many of the non-rich believe it too. But their desperate attempts to hide their wealth beneath armies of lawyers and nests of imaginary companies and mailing addresses on distant islands suggest otherwise. They’re afraid that the illusion may be crumbling. They’re afraid that one of these days we’ll figure out how they got that money and decide to take it back.

3/18/2016

Indigenous activist Nelson Garcia has been shot dead in Honduras

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Another indigenous activist has been murdered in Honduras amid an escalating wave of repression against the relatives and colleagues of renowned campaigner Berta Cáceres, who was murdered less than two weeks ago.

Nelson García, 38, an active member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) was killed on Tuesday after a violent eviction carried out by Honduran security forces in a nearby Lenca indigenous community.

García was shot dead in the face by unidentified gunmen as he returned to his family home in Río Lindo, north-west Honduras – about 100 miles south of La Esperanza where Cáceres was murdered at home on 3 March.

3/5/2016

Berta Cáceres Assassinated

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Honduran Indigenous Leader Berta Cáceres Assassinated, Won Goldman Environmental Prize

Honduran indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Cáceres has been assassinated in her home. She was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras.

In 1993 she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). For years the group faced a series of threats and repression.

According to Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners were killed in the country.

In 2015 Berta Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. In awarding the prize, the Goldman Prize committee said, “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

Statement from SOA Watch:

HONDURAS–At approximately 11:45pm last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.

Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.

Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.

Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Since the 2009 military coup, that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces and impunity is the norm–most murders go unpunished. The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.

10/30/2015

Comunalidad as the Axis of Oaxacan Thought in Mexico

Filed under: capitalism,colonialism,corruption,culture,ideology,mexico — admin @ 6:37 am

Comunalidad as the Axis of Oaxacan Thought in Mexico (p4 of 17)

The following article by Jaime Martinez Luna originally appeared in
the anthology “New World of Indigenous Resistance: Noam Chomsky and
Voices from North, South, and Central America,” edited by Lois Meyer
and BenjamÌn Maldonado and published by City Lights. The book is a
collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky and articles written in
response to those interviews by indigenous activists and scholars. For
more information on the Academia de Comunalidad or on the First
International Congress on Comunalidad- Communal Struggles and
Strategies: Horizons Beyond Capitalism visit
http://www.congresocomunalidad2015.org

The Fourth Principle

The history of Oaxaca has been interwoven with principles and values
that display its deeply rooted comunalidad. For the Oaxacan people
across many centuries, this has meant integrating a process of
cultural, economic, and political resistance of great importance.
Since the Spanish conquest individualist and mercantilist as it was
Oaxaca has responded with a form and reason for being communal that
has permitted it to survive even in the face of an asphyxiating
globalizing process.

This historic and latent resistance is the basis for the achievement
today of having the concept of comunalidad written into the State
Education Act of 1995, as the fourth guiding principle of education.
For its transcendence, this principle requires that it be integrally
implemented so that in future generations, it becomes the foundational
knowledge and the basis for constructing all other knowledge. This
will guarantee its security and immediate identity within the current
intercultural education process.

We have not the slightest doubt that comunalidad is the
epistemological notion that sustains an ancestral, yet still new and
unique, civilizing process, one which holds back the decrepit
individualization of knowledge, power, and culture.

Based in the above, many of us as professionals who serve the
interests of the form of education that Oaxacan communities demand
consider it appropriate to lay out the set of criteria that undergird
an integrated treatment of the concept of comunalidad, seen as the
central concept in Oaxacan life.

A BRIEF HISTORY

The existence of a polytheism which sacralizes the natural world, the
absence of private property, an economy oriented toward immediate
satisfaction, and a political system supported by knowledge and work,
led the original peoples to create a cosmovision originating from the
us, from the self-determining and action-oriented collective, and,
along with this, to construct a communalist attitude which has been
continually consolidating itself despite cultural and economic
pressures from outside.

Meanwhile, the colonizers, who were educated in autocratic regimens
with a monotheistic and individualizing religion, a market-oriented
economy, and a concentrated, privatizing concept of nature, have
forced original peoples to develop strategies of resistance based in
the collective, in shared labor, and in respect for their community
elders or wise men (or seÒores naturales, natural gentlemen, as they
were called in colonial law).

With independence and the creation of the nation-state, the encounter
of these two visions did not erase their differences. The heirs of the
colonial system, criollos1 and mestizos,[2] set themselves up as the
central power of the nascent republic, undergirded by Western values,
such as liberty, equality, and fraternity, that were constructed in
the glow of the French Revolution. The Constitution of 1857 reflects
European and North American influences; it supports private property
and declares that ecclesiastical property, and perhaps communal
property, as well, though this is unclear, are no longer held in
perpetuity. Resistance to these actions varied across the Republic.
States with lands of interest to the market felt the effects of these
laws the most; not so much Oaxaca, where flat lands appropriate for
mercantilist agriculture are scarce, and the greatest capitalist use
of plains and plateaus included livestock in the areas where private
property today is prevalent, such as the coastal region and Tuxtepec.
The same occurred in the political sphere. The majority of Oaxacan
communities and municipalities retained their self-determination,
inherited from their cacicazcos, or prehispanic forms of governance.
These managed to maintain their authority with the strategic support
of both the colonizers and the independents.

With the Mexican Revolution, there was not much change. The
contradictions played out with greater intensity in the indigenous
regions. Oaxaca stands out in its resistance, thanks to its
topography. At present, it is the state with the greatest communal
land ownership, the greatest number of municipalities, the most
peoples with distinct languages and cultures, but at the same time,
the least important state in the nation, according to government
statistics, despite its illustrious native sons Benito Ju·rez, Flores
MagÛn,[3] and Porfirio DÌaz, in order of importance.

Presently, thanks to the ways of thinking and being of its people,
Oaxaca boasts the best preserved natural regions. It stands out in
terms of energy potential, which has made it an expansive region
coveted by private interests as lucrative terrain for development.
Globalization and privatization find in Oaxaca unlimited potential for
profit-making. It follows, then, that Oaxaca has also provided many
opportunities for resistance and a depth of knowledge to more clearly
define this process. This is demonstrated in the comunalidad which
displays itself in every dimension of life.

COMUNALIDAD AXIS OF
OAXACAN THOUGHT

The world is awakening from the illusion of a universal culture shaped
by one hegemonic form of reasoning. Today it confronts the reality of
diversity, multiculturalism, and the recognition of a daily
intercultural process strengthened by increasing migration across the
planet. The individualism which was imposed on the colonies, today
nation-states, is reaching its limits in regard to the development of
equality and democracy, as it confronts the truly vibrant
epistemological proposal of comunalidad.

Comunalidad does not originate from a discourse devised in a cubicle,
a classroom, or a laboratory. It emerges as a tacit display of social
movements, which in the 1980s achieved their goal of controlling their
own development by conceptualizing their actions.

The organizing mechanisms that sustain comunalidad are not visible
outside of the social process; it is in this same social process that
they become visible. In other words, comunalidad carries on
independently of whether we conceive of it as such, or not. The
actions are a demonstration of principles and values emanating from a
historical reality, one that transcends the centuries and is being
consolidated in a concrete struggle for the liberation of peoples, as
well as their cultural reaffirmation.

Comunalidad is confronted by the individualism imposed as part of the
logic of colonialism, privatization, and mercantilism, which are
developed according to a philosophy centered in the individual as the
axis of the universe. Neither Marxism nor nineteenth-century
liberalism strays from this base. Comunalidad integrates diversity and
reproduces it within collaborative forms of work and joint
construction. In other words, we could say that predatory and now
globalized individualism is confronted by an ancient communalism
(which in the opinion of Marx, was surpassed by later modes of
production). But in reality, comunalidad is an historical experience
and a vibrant, present day set of behaviors, which is constantly
renovated in the face of the social and economic contradictions
generated by capitalist individualism.

In Oaxaca, the vitality of comunalidad as it presents itself witnesses
to the integration of four basic elements: territory, governance,
labor, and enjoyment (fiesta). The principles and values that
articulate these elements are respect and reciprocity. Comunalidad and
individualism overlap in Oaxacan thought. We are the unique result of
our own culture, but we are also colonized. Everyone displays
knowledge according to the context surrounding them; hence,
contradictions are a daily occurrence, not only of individuals, but
also of communities. This is why, due to the social processes that
Oaxaca experiences, the study and reproduction of comunalidad in all
dimensions of life is vitally necessary if we wish to transcend our
prevalent socioeconomic contradictions.

COMUNALIDAD IN EDUCATION

In the 1980s, thanks to indigenous, peasant, and social movements in
general, comunalidad was proposed as the explanatory concept of the
organizational modalities of Oaxacan society. The teachers insurgence,
as well as the commitments of various Oaxacan and Mexican
intellectuals, found in this concept a logical articulation of their
mobilizations and their teaching. The outcome was that Oaxacan
teachers managed to insert the concept of comunalidad as the fourth
guiding principle together with democracy, nationalism and humanism in
the State Education Act of 1995. That law was, of course, also a
response to fears generated in government officials by the Zapatista
uprising of 1994.

The communal vision of life transcends the labyrinth that presently
entraps indigenous education. Community-controlled education starkly
marks the boundaries that separate school-based, cloistered education
from that which the community in its entirety provides. Understanding
the presence of comunalidad in education means understanding very
specifically how to plant the seed of a civilizing process, one that
investigates and proposes a concrete pedagogy that guarantees not only
that the concept (and now guiding principle) of Oaxacan education is
understood, but also that continuous mobilizations are undertaken for
the liberation of knowledge. Now that comunalidad is established as a
principle in the State Education Act, spaces and opportunities must be
opened up which are dedicated to developing the necessary knowledge
and designing needed tools to make it a reality. This means
incorporating this knowledge and these tools into the centrally
planned state education which contradicts our realities and serves as
an obstacle to our being able to express our own experiences. By
expressing our experiences, we will be able to reproduce the
principles and values that support the reaffirmation of our cultural
diversity.

This line of reasoning can and must result in the achievement of our
expectations. This leads us to the following conclusions: -It is
necessary to integrate specific, local, and regional content in the
education that is imparted throughout the territory of Oaxaca. -It is
important to strengthen our ancestral knowledge using pedagogical
agencies and tools appropriate to the task, in order to resist the
ruinous individualization of knowledge. -It is imperative that we
ground an epistemology in the everyday labor of society in order to
shape a new conception of the universe. Thinking must not be the
preserve or property of the academy. It must be the practice of all
the worlds inhabitants.

A NEW PEDAGOGY

What needs to be taught is nothing more than sharing the sharing of
anger, enchantment, routine, misfortune, pain, tenderness, joy. For
teachers, all of these words are a familiar lingo. Paulo Freire called
this the pedagogy of the oppressed, Makarenko referred to the identity
of others, Summerhill saw it as constant hilarity; thus, everyone sees
what they want to see. Everyone depends on his or her concept, context
and text. In this sense, one cannot speak of one pedagogy, but rather
an intellectual diversity that captures the world, that is not
time-bound, but if given space, that defines character and emotion.

All pedagogical technologies depend on interests of all kinds: social
interests, because they respond to the stimuli of relationships;
acquired, and in many cases, imposed values; political interests,
because they respond to governments set up by those who want to manage
the lives of the inhabitants; and economic interests, because they
respond to needs inserted from the outside, not only to those that are
internal.

All of which leads us to understand that no one can teach anyone else,
or all of us must teach each other, and with that we reproduce
intentions and resolve needs. This is what we learn from comunalidad.

Noam Chomsky affirms that our peoples face challenges, in most cases
historical challenges. Neoliberalism is neither liberal nor new, but
it is a concentration of enormous power, and it also is collapsing.
Edgar Morin shares the same view, believing that the communal is a
very significant proposal, but it must be understood, valued and
supported. The Mexican philosopher Luis Villoro is very enamored of
this perspective and agrees with the communitarian view, though he
will not be separated from his republican passion. The European
philosopher Panikkar also agrees with communitarianism; however, his
Western orientation keeps him from developing more detailed responses
to this matter. Gonz·lez Casanova continues to be obsessed with
democracy, a topic in need of debate in light of current realities.[4]

In education, that which is communitarian is a paradigmatic vision. A
fundamental principle is to liberate the exercise of knowledge. It
must be acknowledged to be the result of everyones labor: the
so-called university-educated, bricklayers, teachers, peasants, in the
end, all of us who inhabit the natural world. I am not bothered by the
idea of knocking down schools and suppressing teachers because,
essentially, we are all teachers. Teachers are not the ones, despite
their intelligence, who should determine what we must know. They must
understand that it is each and every one of us who has to open the
door to knowledge. The collective task does not come from the outside;
it has always been within us, and also the need. Nature has obligated
us to work together, and not for the politicized notion of mass labor
embodied in the Industrial Revolution, if that is what you want to
call it, but rather for the need to survive.

AN EXAMPLE TO HELP CLARIFY

As an 8-year-old boy, my mother enrolled me in a boarding school
founded due to the initiative of L·zaro C·rdenas.[5] The students came
from many communities, basically indigenous, a concept imposed on us
thanks to Manuel Gamio[6] and his collection of anthropologist and
bureaucrat followers. The tale is long but its importance centers on
the the educational organization of the experience.

There was an assembly made up of all the students. Through a committee
the students organized homework and chores; even the meting out of
justice was decided in this representative way. The teachers were
simply consultants; the students determined what was to be done.

There were workshops for agriculture, textile and shoe production,
bread and food production, carpentry, ceramics, and music. The
educational process was not centered on the teaching staff but rather
in liberation and work. This is a long story, but we can understand
and summarize it in the following manner: a. An education founded in
work. b. An education based not in organization from above, but in the
participation of all. c. An educational method founded in respect for
everyone¥s knowledge, and fundamentally, respect for that which is our
own.

CONCEPTUAL CONTEXT OF THE IDEA

In 1856, Karl Marx wrote in his Outlines of the Critique of Political
Economy or Grundisse, about the existence of communalism, basing
himself on the experiences of the Aztecs, the Iroquois, and the
Asians, both Hindu and Chinese. He discovered in these sources
distinct values and modes of organization. Yet his reflections were in
a certain respect pessimistic. He thought that these were cultures
destined to disappear. For him, industrial development made the worker
into the subject responsible for social and economic transformation.
However, in his reflections he provides elements that are consistent
with an understanding of the communal within the relationship of human
beings with territory.

This is the first reflection that I want to share with you. Communal
beings, as BenjamÌn Maldonado affirms, make sense of themselves in
terms of their relationship with the land. An indigenous person
understands himself in relationship with the land. I want to clarify
that I am not referring to the Zapatista or Magonista maxim of Land
and Liberty, but rather to a relationship with the land that is not
mercantile, a relationship of sharing and caring. That is, humans are
linked to the land not only for organic sustenance, but also for
spiritual and symbolic sustenance. In other words, the land does not
belong to those who work it, in my way of reasoning; rather, those who
care for it, share it, and when necessary work it belong to the land,
and not the other way around.

Obviously in a world ruled by the logic of the market, it is easier to
appropriate everything from nature for ourselves rather than to grasp
an entirely reverse conception of ourselves. The need to survive
causes us to view everything from a materialistic perspective; on this
subject Marx made an abundance of reflections of great importance. But
here is where the difference from indigenous thinking springs forth.
Comunalidad is a way of understanding life as being permeated with
spirituality, symbolism, and a greater integration with nature. It is
one way of understanding that human beings are not the center, but
simply a part of this great natural world. It is here that we can
distinguish the enormous difference between Western and indigenous
thought. Who is at the center only one, or all? The individual, or
everyone? The market makes everything into a product, a thing, and
with that nature is also commodified.

My second reflection is on organization. Marx respects the community
as the nucleus that integrates families, that which makes of territory
a space for social relationships appropriate for the exercise of a
necessary social organization. This necessary organization is
obligatory, not only for peaceful coexistence, but also for the
defense of territorial, spiritual, symbolic, artistic, and
intellectual values. The community is like a virtual gigantic family.
Its organization stems initially and always from respect.

Everything is done together, a practice obviously reinforced by the
policy of the Spanish colonizers of concentrating populations. Still,
it is a natural reaction, naturally linked up with the use of a common
language.

The creation and functioning of the communal assembly perhaps was not
necessary before the arrival of the Spaniards, but for the sake of
defense it had to be developed. Once the population was concentrated,
religious societies to attend the saints (cofradÌas), and community
organizations to plan fiestas (mayordomÌas) developed, which were
cells of social organization that strengthened the ethics of the
assembly. Out of this, the communally appointed leadership roles
(cargos) originated. Someone had to represent the group, but all this
implied the need for greater consolidation for decision-making. The
Spanish governors designed the details of the colonial organizational
structure, but in one way or another over time all the new colonial
roles simply were absorbed into already-established traditional roles
and responsibilities. Centuries had to pass before the colonial cargos
that were used to control the native population were diluted and
leveled enough so that the macehuales (community members, now
comuneros) could ascend the social pyramid, and the community could
become a space of truly horizontal participation.

Today, as before, one does not receive a community cargo by empty
talk, but rather because of ones labor, attitude, and respect for the
responsibilities entrusted. Everyone knows this, having learned it
even before the age of eighteen, perhaps at ten or fourteen years of
age, when assigned the first cargo, that of community policeman
(topilillo). This gives the cargo a profound moral value that has
nothing to do with categories such as economic value, efficiency,
profitability, or punctuality, but rather with respect for the
responsibilities involved. This has created a truly complicated
political spectrum in Oaxaca. We have 570 municipalities and more than
10,000 communities. Eighty percent of these continue to govern
themselves by communal assemblies. Their representatives are named in
the assembly. For this reason, the widespread civic uprising that
occurred in 2006 in Oaxaca must be analyzed under more meticulous
parameters, a topic that will not be addressed here.

The third reflection refers to communal work. Weber, as well as Keynes
and Marx, analyzed productivity in terms of the individual. They found
in individual labor a process of value production that they explained
according to their theoretical frameworks. However, communal labor is
a different matter. To begin with, communal labor does not respond to
the drive for personal satisfaction, that is to say, it does not obey
the logic of individual survival, but rather that of satisfying common
needs, such as preparing a plot of land, repairing or building a road,
constructing a community service hall, hospital, school, etc. This
labor is voluntary, which implies that individual wages are not
received. In the urban world, everything is money-driven; you pay your
taxes and away you go. Curiously, it is said of Oaxaca that it is the
subsidized state par excellence, while what is not taken into account
is the value of communal work, which if calculated, would surpass all
the fiscal supports that we are aware of. The value of this work can
also be translated to the context of political representation. Ask
yourself how many political representatives in the city would
contribute their time if they were not paid for it!

Fifty percent of the cost involved in constructing any community
service is the cost of labor, apart from the purchase of necessary
materials. This wealth of local participation goes unnoticed by the
state and federal governments. We could say that Oaxaca lives by its
own resources without outside support, and this provides a wide degree
of self-determination. It is not a coincidence that 418 municipalities
are politically self-governed. I am referring here to what is called
usos y costumbres,[7] a concept that for me is pejorative, yet there
is no other state in the Republic of Mexico that enjoys this self
determination. If we add to this all the communal labor, then the
situation becomes even clearer.

It is important to point out a few details. Oaxaca is the state with
the greatest number of municipalities (almost a quarter of the
country’s total). Almost 70 percent of its territory is in the
category of collective ownership, and there are seventeen indigenous
languages with thirty-seven variants of these.[8] It is the state with
the two most biologically diverse areas in all of Mexico: the
Chimalapas and the Sierra Norte. And something almost imperceptible
but which marks the nature of Oaxaca it is the geographical
convergence of the two mountain ranges of Mexico: the Sierra Madre
Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental. This makes Oaxaca a wrinkled
landscape, or, as Father Gay[9] used to say, like a crumpled sheet of
paper. It does not have plains to guarantee an elevated level of
productivity, which also explains its motley pattern of communal
organization. It was easier to produce the dye-generating cochineal
insect than corn, first, because of the geography, and also partly
because of the ease with which all of the inhabitants could
participate, both adults and children. Another reflection concerns the
fiesta. In a neoliberal context, it is the market that establishes the
rules, and it demands greater production of merchandise. In the
community there is production, but it is for the fiesta. All year long
every nuclear community cultivates its products: corn, beans, squash,
fruit, chickens, pigs, turkeys, even cattle. For what? For the fiesta.
Any urban dweller would say, what fools! They could sell them instead.
But that is not how it works. Here is the root of the difference. The
community member (comunero, or comunario as a Bolivian friend says),
does not work to sell, but for the joy derived. The little money that
she or he manages to gather is used to buy some skirts, trousers,
fireworks. Many interpret this as ignorance; I call it a connection to
the land, or spirituality. I would like to share some brief
conclusions with you.

1. The year 1994 the year of the Zapatista uprising awakened new
dreams, but in reality what it achieved was to pull away the blanket
under which we were hidden. Now here we are, reclaiming our
comunalidad.

2. The isms are aberrations that convert themselves into authorities
that impose themselves and are not naturally born. I fear communalism
because it sounds doctrinaire. And I believe that is what we least
want for our own free self-determination.

3. Marx included in his writings a fountain of knowledge by which to
understand our social longevity, but this was covered up by his focus
on industry and the protagonist role of the worker. And we all know
how that turned out.

4. We must find in the experience of our peoples the lessons necessary
to create new conceptual frameworks. And we must not be afraid to
construct new epistemological notions that will lead us to transcend
even ourselves.

Jaime MartÌnez Luna is a Zapotec anthropologist, early theorist of
Oaxacan comunalidad, community member of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca,
and veteran community activist whose work has focused on the defense
of communal forests and other natural resources, and more recently on
traditional and activist music and the development and promotion of
community radio.

NOTES 1. Persons born in Latin America of Spanish descent. 2. Persons
of mixed European and Indian descent; half-breeds. 3. Ricardo Flores
MagÛn (1873-1922) was a Oaxacan anarchist who began a revolution
against the Mexican state under the banner of Land and Liberty. Exiled
to the United States in 1904, he organized three armed uprisings
(1906, 1908, 1911). He was the only revolutionary who was inspired by
indigenous peoples, believing that their historic experience of
communal life would be the foundation for reconstructing Mexican
society after the revolutions triuph. 4. Edgar Morin is a French
essayist who has influenced education through his proposals of
transdisciplinarity and complex thought. See Los siete saberes
necesarios para la educaciÛn del futuro, available on internet at .
Luis Villoro is one of Mexicos major contemporary social philosophers
with significant contributions in the areas of epistemology and
ethical reflections on the relationship of the nation-state with
indigenous peoples. See Saber, creer, conocer (MÈxico: Siglo XXI Eds.,
2008) and Estado plural, pluralidad de culturas (MÈxico: Ed, PaidÛs,
2002). RaimÛn Panikkar is a Hindu-Catalan philosopher who reflects on
the vast distance between Western and other cultures. See: øEs
occidental el concepto de los derechos humanos? (Mexico, DiÛgenes 120,
Winter 1982) and ReligiÛn, filosofÌa y cultura (2000) on the Internet
at:
http://www.raimonpanikkar.com/articles/religion_filosofia_y_cultura.
htm. Pablo Gonzalez Casanova is a Mexican sociologist, affiliated
closely with Zapatismo, who in the 1970s proposed the idea of internal
colonization to explain the relationship of the Mexican state with
indigenous peoples. See La democracia en MÈxico (MÈxico: Ed. Era,
Serie Popular, 1978); also El colonialismo interno, (2006) on the
internet at:
http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/ar/libros/secret/gonzalez/
colonia.pdf. 5. L·zaro C·rdenas, the Marxist-oriented president of
Mexico from 1934-1940, promoted socialist education policies and layed
the foundation for indigenous assimilation (indigenismo) as public
policy. 6. Manuel Gamio is considered to be the father of Mexican
anthropology. He carried out important interdisciplinary studies and
was a functionary in postrevolutionary governments. 7. A term used to
refer to the traditional form of governance through a communal
assembly that selects its community leaders in the form of cargos. 8.
The number of languages and their variants spoken in Oaxaca is
disputed. It is commonly reported that there are between fourteen and
seventeen languages with between thirty to fifty variants, though some
say the number of variants may be as many as ninety. A language such
as Zapotec may more accurately be considered a language family, for
its variants, such as Zapotec of the Tehuantepec Isthmus and Zapotec
of the Sierra, are as different one from another as Spanish and
Italian and Portuguese. 9. Fray Antonio Gay was an early Oaxacan
historian whose work has served as the foundation of Oaxacan history.
In reality, he pirated information from other sources and made
unsubstantiated claims, such as that the Chatino people descended from
Vikings.

“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to
turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” -Eduardo Galeano Support
UDW

8/1/2014

RH has become the government of PNG

I have just arrived back from Pomio, where the clear felling of the bush and subsequent oil palm planting are in full swing despite the fact that the vast majority of villagers oppose both. Villagers are powerless to stop these activities which continue even though SABLs have recently supposedly been revoked. This looks likely to have the same status as the police commissioners public order (Dec 2011) that police be pulled out of logging camp sites. The police never were removed, and it is only their continued presence, violence and intimidation that prevents villagers from setting up road blocks to protect their land, gardens and environment.

What is clear to me is that for most local villagers in Pomio the state has shifted away from them and is largely in the pockets of large Malaysian logging companies.

These companies control important governments departments and officials in crucial departments such as Lands, Forestry and the police force. The same applies to other officials in District administration, Local Level Government, Provincial Administration and national government departments. Nearly all sectors of the state have been co-opted into coercive pro-development policies that seek to privatise land and resources without villagers consent.

These logging companies were supported and gave support to the local national member for Pomio who is now in jail for corruption charges. The large funds of money these foreign companies provide at election time has transformed voting into a patron client relationship that supports local, provincial and national government politicians who support the Lease-Lease back schemes (SABLs).

Police and company directors often tell complaining villagers that the land is no longer theirs but belongs to the state which has leased it from them so as to lease it again to the Malaysian companies. The state has become the crucial intermediary in the forced process through which villagers lose control of their resources and especially their land. Much of this depends upon the production of dubious reports by the Lands Department that collects and produces lists of signatures that are highly selective in that they are not the signatures of major clan leaders and of those who represent the majority of villagers.

Through the SABLs and the Private, Public Partnerships, the Somare government created two interlocking policies that have institutionalised corruption in PNG to a point where villagers find it almost impossible to achieve forms of justice concerning the fraudulent nature of state processes that have been effectively dispossessed them of huge areas of land.

Officials in departments like forestry write reports that are not just wrong but are intentionally designed to conceal and legitimise the forced appropriation of land. For example one letter by the local forestry official concerns the late night visit of the armed riot squad to the village of Mu in 2012 where villagers were forced by police to sign English documents that they could not read. This was said to be not at all violent intimidation, but was simply the police correcting an administrative oversight. The riot squad had just gone to collect the names of villagers who had attended a recent meeting over logging, where record keeping had been poorly implemented. None of this explains the swearing and violent demeanour of the armed police and that the signatures were collected forcibly and from many who never went to the meeting. The state is not just incompetent buthas become the crucial instrument for foreign large scale capital, it is state officials who seek to manage and placate opposition to the loss of vast areas of customary local land. They produce the dodgy reports that seek to sanitise and obscure what is actually happening on the ground.

Recently RH has shifted tactics and there has been a movement away from using the violence of the riot squad to intimidate opponents. Instead there is a greater use of courts and restraining orders to prevent the organisation of protests. The cost of legal action has become another form of intimidation that is meant to penalise protesters and their leaders. The judiciary has now become co-opted into this realising a coercive development agenda that has little respect for people’s customary property rights.

6/27/2014

Water

Water is to the twenty-first century what oil was to the twentieth century: the commodity that determines the wealth and stability of nations.

People who think that the West’s interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria are only about oil are mistaken. Broadly speaking, Western interest in the Middle East is becoming increasingly about a commodity more precious than oil, namely water.

According to the U.S.-based Center for Public Integrity, Western nations stand to make up to a US$1 trillion from privatizing, purifying and distributing water in a region where water often sells for far more than oil. Although over two thirds of our planet is water, we face an acute shortage. This scarcity flies in the face of our natural assumptions. The problem is that 97 percent is salt water. Great for fish, not so good for humans. Of the world’s fresh water, only one percent is available for drinking, with the remaining two percent trapped in glaciers and ice.

Put differently: if all the water on earth was represented by an 11-litre jug, the freshwater would fill a single cup, and we can only access the last drop.

Nature has decreed that the supply of water is fixed; all the while, demand is rising as the world’s population increases and enriches itself. By 2030, climate change, population growth, pollution and urbanization will compound, such that the demand for water globally is estimated to outstrip supply by forty percent.

Increasingly, for water to be useful, it needs to be mined, processed, packaged, and transported, just like gold, coal, gas or oil. Unlike oil, there are no substitutes, alternatives or stopgaps for water.

World Cup

In Sao Paulo’s poor north zone, in the neighborhood of Tucuruvi, teams of city workers knock on doors, warning people to take pets and small children out of the area.

Quickly after, men in hazmat suits with metal cylinders strapped to their backs start spraying the street, and some of the interiors of the homes, with powerful pesticides. This is the front line of the war on dengue fever in Brazil’s largest city.

“This year, dengue transmission has been much more significant in Sao Paulo than in other years,” says Nancy Marcal Bastos de Souza, a biologist who works with the city authorities. “We spray neighborhoods where we have a confirmed case of someone contracting dengue so we know there are dengue-carrying mosquitoes there,” she says.

Only two weeks shy of the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, which begins June 12, there’s concern that international visitors could get infected and then bring the disease back to their home nations.

Already, it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong. There have been protests and strikes, and now government officials, like those in Paraguay, are warning their citizens about the dengue epidemic sweeping Brazil.

Dengue fever has long been a problem in Brazil. The country has more recorded cases than any other in the world‚ some 1 million on average each year.

The infection is carried by female mosquitoes, who bite during the day and who pass on the dengue virus to their female offspring. Symptoms include fever, aching joints and headaches. There is no treatment or vaccine, and a rarer form of the disease ‚ dengue hemorrhagic fever ‚ can be fatal. The disease is caused by four different types of the dengue virus, all of which are active in Brazil. But the one that has everyone most worried is called Type 4, which has only recently arrived in the region. So why does Brazil have such a big problem with dengue?

Biologists say one of the reasons is poor water infrastructure.

“People have to put water in a space close to their homes, and there, the mosquitoes come and breed,” says Celso Granato, head of infectious diseases at the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

Mosquito eggs can survive up to a year as well, so he says the key to combating dengue is persistence. That means using a combination of controls, such as spraying even when there aren’t that many cases, as the infection comes in waves.

But the local governments in Brazil don’t do that, says Granato. “What does the public administrator here think?” he asks. “This year we didn’t have dengue so don’t worry about next year.” Politicians, he adds, are usually short-sighted.

A new project in the Brazilian state of Bahia with genetically modified mosquitoes has shown early promise but is still in the test phase.

So there’s been little to stop the sudden spike in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city with a population of 20 million. With more than 6,000 cases so far in the city alone ‚ and almost 60,000 in the surrounding state ‚ hospitals are overrun.

Granato says once dengue arrives somewhere, it’s there to stay.

Antonio Rios Sobrinho, a lawyer in his 70s, says he began to feel sick on a Friday. He went home early from work and quickly got worse. He was rushed to the hospital where, after a lengthy period, he was diagnosed with dengue hemorrhagic fever.

Sobrinho says he’s been living in his neighborhood for 60 years and there had never been a single case of dengue. In fact, dengue was generally rare in Sao Paulo. But this year, just on his street, 15 people came down with the infection.

He says he was lucky to survive. This year was bad, but he fears next year will be worse.

Seyschelles: offshore

Filed under: capitalism,corporate-greed,seychelles — admin @ 3:14 pm

Key Findings

* Government officials and their families and associates in China, Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia and other countries have embraced the use of covert companies and bank accounts. * The mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people. * Many of the world’s top’s banks – including UBS, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways. * A well-paid industry of accountants, middlemen and other operatives has helped offshore patrons shroud their identities and business interests, providing shelter in many cases to money laundering or other misconduct. * Ponzi schemers and other large-scale fraudsters routinely use offshore havens to pull off their shell games and move their ill-gotten gains.

Seychelles, a thousand miles from anywhere, is an offshore magnet for money launderers and tax dodgers. A look at this corruption-haunted archipelago shows how the offshore secrecy system has grown — and where it’s going.

In the fall of 2012, two strangers from Africa showed up in Seychelles, an emerald-green archipelago in the Indian Ocean nearly a thousand miles east of Somalia. Unlike Prince William and Kate Middleton and other A-list celebrities who favor Seychelles as a getaway, these visitors didn’t come to enjoy the islands’ natural beauty and luxury accommodations. They were there, they said, to conduct business in Seychelles’ bustling offshore financial center.

Eventually they made their way to the offices of Zen Offshore, one of dozens of firms on the islands that set up hard-to-trace “shell companies” for clients around the world. They explained that they represented an individual who served as a “liaison officer between the Zimbabwean government and the rich diamond mines.”

For anyone who understands the nexus of corruption and money laundering in resource-rich, economically poor countries, this statement should have raised suspicions. But before they could go further, a Zen Offshore representative cut them off.

“Yep, we don’t want to know that,” he said, chuckling. “If we have knowledge of that, we have to put it forwards. So I haven’t heard a word you said in the last couple of minutes.”

The operative went on to explain how the pair could set up a company in Seychelles and hide the identity of who was really behind it by creating a labyrinthine ownership structure, putting “a company inside a company inside a company.”

The Seychellois company would be controlled by a company in Dominica, which would be controlled by a company in Belize, and so on. Anyone trying to discover the real owner would never be able to follow the paper trail around the world.

“It’s just impossible,” the Zen Offshore man said. “No one is going to try and chase that sort of information.”

The conversation can be quoted in exact detail because the would-be customers weren’t actually emissaries for a corrupt middleman in Africa. They were undercover journalists running a hidden-camera sting for an Al Jazeera television program. Their documentary, which aired soon after their visit, produced a ripple of scandal in one of the world’s most remote offshore havens, a place that’s gained a reputation as a magnet for Arab princes, Chinese investors, pirates, fugitives, mercenaries, mobsters — and outlanders who want to hide their money or disguise their business activities.

Rise of the small havens

Thanks to its offshore industry, Seychelles, an island nation with a population smaller than Davenport, Iowa, maintains a Zelig-like presence in the annals of international corruption and money laundering. Where there’s an odor of financial scandal, there’s often a good chance Seychelles is involved.

Zoom out to see some of Seychelles’ more controversial offshore links:

IFRAME: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/embed?mid=zaCRf9kRMBQI.k34A4Ip29DWY

In 2010, for instance, the government of Kazakhstan issued an arrest warrant for Mukhtar Ablyazov, a banking tycoon who has been accused of using Seychellois companies as part of a scheme that plundered billions of dollars from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank.

In 2011, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia admitted it had channeled millions of dollars in bribes intended for Nigerian officials through a Seychellois shell company linked to a convicted white-collar criminal.

And in 2012, two entrepreneurs based in Israel pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to operating an illegal Internet pharmacy that laundered much of its profits through Seychelles.

The history of the rise of Seychelles’ offshore industry offers a case study in the rise of tiny, out-of-the-way tax havens. At a time when tax havens have become an flashpoint of debate around the world — even becoming an issue in 2012 U.S. presidential race, thanks to Republican Mitt Romney’s Cayman Islands holdings — understanding how small havens emerged and how they have prospered is important to understanding how the offshore financial system has flourished.

Like most small tax havens, Seychelles has an outsized impact that belies its modest market share. As Al Jazeera’s undercover muckrakers discovered, offshore patrons and the accountants, bankers and other operatives who help them usually don’t settle for a single offshore company or bank account. They create elaborate webs that use multiple jurisdictions, multiple front men and multiple layers of ownership. Smaller havens such as Seychelles are crucial links in these chains of secrecy and in the wider offshore system.

They support a system that, critics charge, caters to drug traffickers, fraudsters, money launderers and high-net-worth tax dodgers, fueling onshore corruption and poverty. By one estimate, as much as $32 trillion in private financial wealth is hidden is offshore havens — roughly equivalent to the annual output of the U.S., Chinese and Japanese economies combined. Remote, sparsely populated financial refuges have survived despite two decades of promises by rich nations and international organizations to shut them down. Far from pulling back, Seychelles and other smaller hideaways are now becoming even bigger players in the offshore world as the U.S., the U.K. and other world powers have passed new laws and launched new multinational initiatives aimed at cracking down on cross-border tax dodging and money laundering. Over the past year, international groups such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, better known as the OECD, have stepped up their pressure on Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands and other European-flavored financial havens.

For Russian and Eastern European mafia and money launderers around the world, the OECD’s push has only increased the appeal of what Euan Grant, a former U.K. customs official who now works as a consultant on money laundering issues, calls the “new havens” — independent states operating outside the Western political orbit.

“We’re talking of Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and, increasingly, Mauritius and the Seychelles,” Grant says.

The OECD says Seychelles has mostly resisted the organization’s efforts to prod it to be more forthcoming about who uses its offshore center. In one of the latest reports by the OECD’s global forum on tax information exchange, Seychelles was one of four jurisdictions that received “non-compliant” ratings. There was no assurance, the forum said, that Seychellois corporate service providers were documenting the real owners behind offshore companies set up on the islands.

Seychellois officials objected to the negative rating, saying the country has cooperated with the OECD. In 2012, Steve Fanny, then the chief executive of the agency that oversees Seychelles’ offshore industry, told a business publication that his country had “always adhered to the international norms and principles of good practices. We do not want money launderers or criminals,” he said.

Fanny added, though, that Seychelles is happy to help offshore clients embrace the flexibility of the international tax system: “Paying less tax as long as it is within the parameter of the law is legal. It is not even your patriotic duty to pay a cent more.”

To the Seychellois government, the benefits of the offshore industry are evident in the wealth of the islands’ 89,000 inhabitants: Judged strictly on a per capita basis, Seychelles, where the average income tops $25,000, is the richest country in Africa.

James Alix Michel. “We are a nation of opportunities,” Seychelles President James Alix Michel trumpeted last year in an interview with the United Nations magazine Africa Renewal.

Secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists indicate, though, that Michel may be seeking opportunities for himself in other lands. The records, published in ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks database, lists a James Alix Michel as the sole shareholder in Soleil Overseas Holding Ltd., an offshore entity set up in the British Virgin Islands in 2007. The address on the Soleil documents match the location of the presidential residence. A government spokesperson — press space for next page — declined to say whether President Michel has had offshore holdings.

Soleil Overseas Holdings was controlled by a Mauritius entity called Pines Limited that, in turn, oversaw eight more offshore companies. Documents indicate that three of them are owned in whole or part by Marie Anne Claudine Lilette Savy — the wife of Glenny Savy, a member of President Michel’s inner circle and the chief of the Islands Development Company, which oversees tourism and construction efforts on Seychelles’ so-called Outer Islands.

President Michel and Glenny Savy did not respond to requests for an interview and a series of emailed questions.

Opposition media and politicians see the documentation of Michel’s offshore holdings as evidence of backroom intrigues that benefit the powers that be. They note that a 2008 U.S. State Department cable, published by Wikileaks, indicated that American officials believe “corruption is the critical reason why a country as wealthy as Seychelles … has suffered so many persistent economic problems,” necessitating a $2.1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in 2008.

Jean-Francois Ferrari, a journalist and former member of Seychelles’ National Assembly, fears that, in a nation where the president’s party controls 31 of 32 seats in the legislature, Michel’s silence on questions about his offshore assets will close the door on any discussion of the issue.

“A president and his cronies stashing their money in an offshore account, in order to keep it away from their own tax authorities — in any other part of the world, these people would be on their knees, begging for forgiveness,” says Ferrari. “Here, guess what? It’s just business as usual.”

`Distinctly unusual’

Until the late 18th century, Seychelles remained largely uninhabited by humans. The first settlers were hardy French merchants, who established a small colony on the western flank of MahÈ, the chain’s largest island. By the early 19th century, Seychelles had passed bloodlessly into the hands of the British empire. As of 1810, the population was 3,467: 3,015 slaves, 135 free blacks, and a ruling class of 317 whites, or Grand Blancs. Seychelles slumbered — a kaleidoscopically lush and iniquitous backwater written off by the admiralty as little more than a resupply point for eastbound slavers.

Then, in 1971, an airport opened on the northeastern coast of MahÈ. Tourist infrastructure soon followed: hotels, souvenir shops, ferries, casinos, helicopter tours.

France Albert Rene Five years later, in 1976, England gave the islands independence. But the micro-state got off to a rough start: Just a few months after James Mancham took office as the nation’s first president, he was overthrown in a coup organized by Seychelles’ socialist prime minister, France-Albert RenÈ.

In time, RenÈ’s foes obtained the services of a famed Irish-South African mercenary, “Mad Mike” Hoare, who served as a model for a Richard Burton’s character in the Hollywood soldier-of-fortune drama, The Wild Geese. In November 1981, Hoare and a band of aging guns-for-hire chartered a plane — press space for next page — from South Africa to Seychelles, packing AK-47s in their luggage and posing as members of a rugby-and-drinking club.

The would-be counter-coup went bad when they landed at the airport near Victoria, the islands’ capital. After a brief fire fight that left one customs inspector dead, Hoare and most of his men escaped by hijacking an Air India jet. The South African government paid a $3 million ransom, news reports at the time claimed, to ensure the release of five mercenaries and a South African intelligence officer who’d been left behind.

RenÈ hung onto power with support from James Michel, who was his finance minister and then vice president. He also relied on an Italian named Giovanni Mario Ricci, another in a long chain of outsiders who come to Seychelles to make new lives.

Ricci became RenÈ’s friend, advisor, financial backer, and fixer.

RenÈ’s government teamed with Ricci in 1978 to create Seychelles’ offshore financial center. Seychelles Trust Company was a joint venture between Ricci and the Seychellois government and held exclusive rights to incorporate offshore companies in the islands.

RenÈ and Ricci created what was, in essence, the world’s first socialist tax haven.

By 1981, the year of Mad Mike’s failed coup, Ricci had taken sole ownership of Seychelles Trust Company. From his base in Seychelles, Ricci established business interests in as many as two dozen countries around the globe, associating himself with what historian Stephen Ellis calls “some distinctly unusual companies.” One was a firm called International Monetary Funding, or IMF, which seemed be named in an effort to mimic the International Monetary Fund.

Ricci was also accredited to Seychelles as a diplomat representing the Sovereign Order of the Coptic Catholic Knights of Malta. It turned out that the order had nothing to the do with the Vatican’s venerable Knights of Malta order of chivalry. Instead it was a commercial company based in New York City. Via this maneuver, Ricci snared a diplomatic passport and use of a diplomatic pouch, which allowed him to move documents around the world undetected.

Years later it would emerge that Ricci, like many foreigners who come to Seychelles, wasn’t exactly what he passed himself off to be.

The father of Seychelles’ offshore industry had, in fact, been a financial criminal before he found a home in the islands — and may have been connected to the Italian Mafia, one U.S. ambassador to Seychelles believed. Ricci had been convicted of fraud in Italy in 1958 and, later, of possessing counterfeit cash in Switzerland, and had come to Seychelles after being expelled from Somalia under mysterious circumstances.

RenÈ later claimed that he had asked Italian officials whether Ricci had a criminal record, but “they told us that they had nothing on him. Offshore Capital

Victoria, Seychelles. In many ways, Victoria is a typical African capital — low-slung, dusty, and loud. From the clock tower at the center of town, one road spins off towards the sea and another towards the crest of Trois FrËres, the granite cliffs that shield the city from the elements.

In the afternoons, those same cliffs turn Victoria into a convection oven — the heat roars in and, absorbed by the asphalt, does not roll out again until long after the sun has dropped over the horizon.

The offshore action in Seychelles centers on the main square, in a series of unlovely multi-story office complexes. Accountants and corporate operatives work in mostly interchangeable, white-walled offices, on desks cluttered with manila folders. They take their lunches at one of the Victoria members-only clubs, and spend the afternoons receiving a steady stream of foreign clients, or chatting on the phone with the European and American lawyers who help steer new business their way.

After the Al Jazeera undercover sting, there was a flurry of handwringing in opposition media about the offshore center.

Paul Chow, a former member of the Seychellois parliament and a long-time player in the local offshore business, was quoted as saying that “we should not be surprised by what we saw and heard on Al Jazeera,” adding that “all kinds of unethical conduct goes unpunished or simply brushed under the carpet — treated as business as usual. It is this swamp that everyone operates under.”

In a recent interview, Chow continued to express worries about corruption on the islands, but said that he and most other offshore operatives on the islands operate in an honest manner. He said the two offshore services firms targeted by the Al Jazeera story were outliers that had been allowed, in the absence of much governmental oversight, to do as they pleased. The government stripped both firms of their licenses after the story aired.

Chow is short, with graying hair, olive skin, thin lips, and old family roots in Seychelles. In the early 1920s, his father, a teacher from Guangdong, headed for Madagascar, found himself instead stranded in Victoria, without a boat ticket back to China. He married a Seychellois woman and had six children. Paul — now 62 — was the youngest.

A Mancham loyalist, Chow fled to England after RenÈ seized power in 1977. During his exile, Chow and several confederates worked to overthrow, from afar, RenÈ’s government. Ricci, the offshore industry chief and RenÈ advisor, was a player in this cat-and-mouse game, hiring private detectives to spy on the president’s enemies.

In 1985, Chow’s closest ally in London, Seychellois activist GÈrard Hoareau, was gunned down outside his flat. The murder was never solved, but Chow and many other critics of the Seychellois government believe it was a political assassination. Chow moved back to Seychelles after international pressure helped force RenÈ to hold multi-party elections. He spent five years in parliament; later, he stepped down to open an offshore services firm — a popular choice for former politicians with connections and cash.

Paul Chow. His business model, Chow said, is straight forward: A lawyer or accountant in the U.S., Europe, or Israel contacts him on behalf of a wealthy client; Chow establishes a company in Seychelles, with the client as shareholder. He takes a fee for each company he establishes and for producing the paperwork that clients need to open a bank account. He said his firm, FIFCO Offshore, made him $300,000 last year, a small fortune in Africa.

Chow walked out of the Premiere Building, and into the afternoon heat. School kids crowded the sidewalks, laughing, singing — girls in pink shirts and dresses, boys in white shirts and crisp blue slacks. Chow plowed past them, talking a mile a minute.

“The British Virgin Islands,” he said, “registers 30,000 companies a year. We are at about 11,000. We are catching up.” He said Seychelles has gained ground because, unlike Mauritius and many other offshore centers, it has stood up to pressure from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international powers.

“Mauritius made the mistake of following the rules,” he said. “Whatever the OECD said, they followed, so that actually killed their offshore corporations.” Chow believes Seychelles doesn’t have to do anything the OECD says, because the “OECD has no power — it’s just a think tank.”

He stopped at the Seychelles Yacht Club, a ramshackle affair established in 1964, when the island was still under British rule. Inside, middle-aged white men washed down plates of fried fish with bottles of SeyBrew, the local lager. Chow mentioned he might run for president in 2016, when James Michel will be up for re-election.

Chow doesn’t think the revolving door between Seychelles’ politics and Seychelles’ offshore industry is a problem. He deflected a question about this phenomenon by bringing up U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

“Where the vice president comes from, what’s it called?”

“Delaware.”

Delaware, like Seychelles, harbors anonymous shell companies that have helped the U.S. state gain a reputation as a haven for fraudsters and arms smugglers. Chow noted a recent study that concluded that the U.S. was one of the easiest places in the world to start an anonymous shell company. In the U.S., he argued, “they don’t ask you for anything.”

Efforts by the U.S. and other Western powers to rein in offshore sanctuaries such as Seychelles have been undermined by questions about big nations’ own role in enabling — and profiting from — the offshore system. Like other offshore operators in Seychelles, Chow thinks it’s unfair to pick on his country when rich and powerful nations are just as culpable in the flow of untraced money — in essence, he argues, the rest of the world does it, so why can’t we?

`They’re going to kill you’

By the time of Hoareau’s murder in 1985, Seychelles’ notoriety as a place of dark intrigues was well established.

Ricci, the master of the country’s offshore industry, likely used the islands as base for helping South Africa get around apartheid-era economic sanctions, according to Ellis, a historian at Leiden University in the Netherlands and an expert on corruption in Africa. One of Ricci’s business partners was a South African intelligence officer who helped lead South Africa’s efforts to circumvent international embargoes.

“That was the kind of crazy place it was … Most of it was just out of some second-rate spy novel.”

David J. Fischer, the U.S. ambassador to Seychelles from 1982 to 1985, said he and other American officials picked up evidence of widespread illicit activities on the islands during this period, including money laundering by New York’s Gambino crime family, dirty cash being moved in and out of the country by French and American banks, even a case involving heroin shipped into the U.S. disguised as canned fish, with the proceeds laundered through Seychelles.

“That was the kind of crazy place it was,” Fischer, now a resident scholar at San Francisco State University, said in an oral history interview with the U.S.-based Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. “Most of it was just out of some second-rate spy novel.”

As American officials dug into these kinds of cases, many of the connections seemed to trace back to Ricci. Some, Fischer said, also traced to President RenÈ. In one instance, Fischer said, RenÈ’s personal telephone number was discovered in an address book taken off the body of a gangster murdered in a drug-related hit in New Jersey.

Fischer said he went to RenÈ to let him know about his connection to the U.S. murder case, telling him: “You’re over your head with this Mafia business. You’re in with Ricci. … You know that when they’re finished with you, they’re going to kill you.”

This conversation, Fischer said, was the only time he ever saw RenÈ — a “very cool negotiator” — flinch. RenÈ did not reply to phone messages and emails seeking comment for this story.

Questions about Ricci’s role in bugging opposition leaders may have helped prompt Ricci to decamp from Seychelles, leaving a vacuum in the islands’ offshore industry. (Ricci died a few years later.) In 1988, the country passed extensive offshore legislation, looking to expand its market share.

The local offshore industry got a boost in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union. Seychelles, which is on roughly the same time zone as much of Eastern Europe, was a popular choice among those who wanted to quietly move money out of the region, according to Jason Sharman, a political scientist at Australia’s Griffith University. “There’s no doubt that a lot of this was shady business,” Sharman said. In 1995, a man claiming to be the representative for a group of wealthy Russians based in London met with the deputy speaker of the Seychellois legislature and with a counselor to James Michel, who at the time was RenÈ’s finance minister. The man explained that his bosses wanted to invest $115 million through Seychelles. “Strict confidentiality will be maintained as to the source of funds,” the legislator promised. “We will not investigate this. It’s not our concern.”

In what seems to be a not-so-unusual scenario in the islands, the stranger turned out to be an undercover journalist. In a 1996 exposÈ headlined “Crooks Paradise,” The Sunday Times of London reported that the island officials helped him set up a shell company and promised diplomatic status to his supposed Russian bosses, noting that diplomatic luggage would never searched by customs officers. After the initial meeting, the newspaper said, the legislator reported back that he had met with Michel and gotten approval for the arrangement: “He has been fully briefed about your deal and wants it to go ahead. Everything is very positive here.”

Haves and have-nots

In 2004, France-Albert RenÈ stepped down as president, and handed the reins of the country to his protÈgÈ and vice president, James Michel.

Now 69, Michel, who won elections in 2006 and 2011, is always careful to tout his commitment to democracy and his success in maintaining a social safety net for all Seychellois. Every citizen is guaranteed free schooling and health care, he is fond of pointing out, which is not the case in most of Africa.

Still, the gap between rich and poor in Seychelles is one of the largest in the world, according to the Gini index, a measure of income distribution.

Victoria, Seychelles. To spend time in Seychelles is to see this disparity everywhere: the immaculate luxury villa side-by-side with the long-slung concrete shack; the unlovely sprawl of Victoria versus the cloistered paradise of Eden Island, a gated community protected by high walls and roving squads of uniformed security guards.

In the mornings, flatbed pick-up trucks roar back and forth between under-construction luxury resorts and the honeycomb of pre-fab villas and military-style barracks that houses a large population of South Asian workers. Funding for the projects often comes from Chinese and Arab investors, who hire other foreigners to carry out the actual building — leaving native Seychellois out of the loop in the process.

“The people at the top have enriched themselves immensely over the past few years by controlling everything,” said Ferrari, the former opposition politician. “These guys have been involved in any possible business you can think of: construction, transport, trading, instruments. You name it, they’re involved on a level.”

The islands’ political and financial power brokers include members of the Savy family, which, like a long-limbed octopus, touches seemingly everything in Seychelles, from a lucrative insurance company to an array of other business, investment, and real estate concerns.

The Savy name first appeared in Seychellois history in 1785, when a French naval officer named Francois-Blaise Savy landed in Seychelles along with his son and one slave. Over time the Savy clan gobbled up expanses of prime real estate. FrÈgate Island, for instance — the site of what The Times of London has dubbed the most beautiful beach in the universe — was for years owned by the Savy family; local lore has it that a Savy patriach named Harry lost it in a poker game. (Among other high-profile parcels, the Savys still own Bird Island, a popular destination for eco-tourists.)

The Savys are also politically connected. Glenny Savy and his brothers are children of ex-President RenÈ’s former wife. Glenny is also close to the current president, serving on Michel’s National Economic Council as well as leading the government’s Islands Development Company.

Glenny Savy also appears to be linked to Michel through three offshore companies owned wholly or partially by Savy’s wife. These companies are part of a network of British Virgin Islands entities that include a company that lists Michel as shareholder, according to confidential records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The director of these firms is a Mauritius company, Pines Ltd., and they were set up at the request of another Mauritius company, DTOS Ltd., which is owned by GML Group, a Mauritius-based conglomerate that owns a minority share of the Savy family insurance business and has been involved in resorts on the Seychellois Outer Islands overseen by Glenny Savy.

High-end developments are a touchy issue in Seychelles. In 2012, Scottish environmentalist Alex Foulkes, who worked on a conservation project in Seychelles, self-published a book, Fear and Loathing in Paradise, that accused Glenny Savy of treating the Outer Islands as a “personal fiefdom,” opening up economically fragile areas for resorts and other luxury projects.

Neither the Islands Development Company nor representatives for Glenny Savy responded to repeated requests for comment for this story.

`Prisoner in paradise’

In 1995, the Republic of Seychelles enacted the Economic Development Act, a law that offered broad immunity from prosecution and extradition to any foreign national who invested at least $10 million in the local economy.

U.S. officials described it as the equivalent of a “Welcome, Criminals” banner. Britain’s Serious Fraud Office called it “the perfect present for drug barons, fraudsters and money launderers.” Under international pressure, the government backed down, at least on paper. The law was taken off the books.

Still, the spirit of the law lives on. In 2005, reputed Czech mob boss Radovan KrejcÌr arrived in Seychelles seeking asylum, after jumping out a bathroom window back in Prague to escape police who were investigating him on murder and money laundering charges.

Seychelles coast. KrejcÌr now claims he provided financial support to leading Seychellois politicians and, in return, “they offered me and my family a new identity.” He stayed on the islands for two years, but decided to leave as the Czechs pressed Seychelles to extradite him. “It was so boring there, like being a prisoner in paradise,” he said. He headed to South Africa on a Seychellois passport under the name “Egbert Jules Savy.”

KrejcÌr is currently behind bars in South Africa as authorities decide whether to send him back to the Czech Republic to stand trial or to try him in South Africa on kidnapping and assault charges in connection with a botched $2 million crystal meth deal. “I am no angel,” he’s said in his defense. “But I’m not the devil.”

The stories of two other fugitives have gripped the country over the past 18 months. Marek Trajter, a Slovakian who gained Seychellois citizenship in early 2013 after cultivating friendship with one of President Michel’s closest advisors and making charitable donations to government organizations, was deported after Interpol revealed that he was wanted in the murder of a businessman associated with the Slovakian mafia. Also in the news has been Saker el-Materi, son-in-law of deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Seychelles after a Tunisian court sentenced him to 16 years in jail on corruption charges.

Seychellois authorities have refused Tunisian pleas to deport him, saying they fear that el-Materi would not get a “free and fair” trial in his native land.

These cases and others like them have created the perception that Seychelles is up for sale to the highest bidder — that if you have enough cash and enough connections, you can stay on the islands for months or years.

Five years ago, in an effort to address concerns about corruption and about the money flowing through the islands’ offshore industry, the Seychellois government established the Financial Intelligence Unit.

The unit’s director, Declan Barber, a retired military intelligence man from Ireland, said the amount of illegal money coming through the country had been drastically reduced. But it has been by no means eliminated, he acknowledges. Somali pirates, long active in Seychellois waters, continue to throng to the area, as do local and international drug traffickers.

“If Seychelles is allowed to become a haven for criminal money,” Barber said, “what happened in Cyprus will happen here. The criminals will move in and they’ll start to establish networks here. They’ll corrupt the political process through money. They’ll corrupt it through violence and threats of violence. The social fabric will break down. That’s the threat scenario.”

International investigators who track money laundering say that Seychelles has already become a haven — or a least a way station — for dirty money.

Attorneys investigating Russia’s Magnitsky affair, for example, have alleged that mobsters and Russia government insiders stole $230 million out of that country’s treasury, using four Seychellois shell companies as part of the shadowy network that moved the money through Switzerland, Dubai and other locales. In November, the deputy speaker of Bulgaria’s parliament resigned as prosecutors announced they were investigating him and his stepson for tax crimes and money laundering after finding they had wired large sums through accounts in Europe and offshore companies in Seychelles.

`People are afraid’

Philippe BoullÈ If the offshore industry in Seychelles has an Èminence grise, it is Philippe BoullÈ, who runs the profitable offshore services firm, Intershore Consult Group (motto: “Offshore in the palm of your hand”). Along with chairing the offshore industry’s trade association, BoullÈ sits on the board of the Seychelles International Business Authority, a government body that licenses and oversees offshore operators like himself.

A lawyer by trade, BoullÈ believes the authority does a fine job watchdogging offshore activities. “Nobody should be against regulation, you see,” he said.

Offshore banking, BoullÈ argues, should no longer be viewed as suspect. He pointed out that Barclays, which maintains a branch in Seychelles — BoullÈ was once the local chairman — is involved in the offshore world, as are legions of other banks. The offshore world is no longer epitomized by “the old suitcase affair — you know, the Frenchman took a suitcase and went to Honduras, the Italians went to Monaco,” he said. “It’s funny. Somebody wants to do business now, they need a bank account.”

For critics of tax havens, the argument that banks are integral to the offshore world isn’t a defense; it’s evidence of how deep offshore abuses are rooted in the global financial system. Many of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — have been sanctioned for failing to follow anti-money laundering rules. Barclays itself paid $298 million to settle U.S. criminal charges that it shifted hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of banks and individuals in Cuba, Iran, Libya and other rogue nations.

BoullÈ’s firm keeps offices in several tax havens around the world, from the British Virgin Islands to Anguilla, Panama and Belize. He says would-be clients who approach him must pass a battery of tests and background checks before he will take them on.

This is a claim echoed by most offshore operators in Seychelles: These days, we play by the rules, and we have nothing to fear. They note that the Al Jazeera undercover correspondents approached 10 offshore providers before they emerged with the evidence featured in the network’s 2012 report.

Cleaning up the offshore center’s image is important for the Seychellois government, which counts the offshore sector as one of the pillars of the country’s economy, along with fishing and tourism. Offshore banking is “something that we cannot afford to trade for any price,” Peter Sinon, the minister of investment, natural resources and industry, has said.

Some critics of Michel’s government say the price of offshore profits may be too high — as least given the freewheeling style in which the islands’ offshore industry now operates. Jean-Paul Isaac, a firebrand opposition blogger who lives in poverty on MahÈ island, advocates for a “strong healthy offshore services sector that attracts legit investment. As opposed to, you know, a jurisdiction that is prepared to sell out … and become an international pariah in the financial services world.”

Isaac, who is in his thirties, lives in a cement-walled shack in the working-class town of Mont Fleuri. In the front yard, chickens jostle for space with a pair of haggard dogs and a moribund Jeep Cherokee. Isaac does most of his blogging in his living room, on a battered desktop computer.

It’s hard to imagine a starker contrast to the nearby resorts, with their teak furniture and palm-frond-shaded courtyards. But as Isaac is quick to point out, how he lives is how most Seychellois live.

“People in Seychelles are afraid,” he said, knotting his fingers behind his head. “People are miserable here. They don’t have money. They don’t have anything. They can’t do nothing.”

Around the world, offshore financial centers are often touted as economic engines that help small, resource-starved places improve themselves. But it is often a few well-connected locals — along with expatriate lawyers and accountants from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and other rich nations — who enjoy most of the profits.

Isaac’s diapered son walked into the living room, followed by Isaac’s girlfriend. As chickens clucked outside, Isaac leaned back into his chair and launched into an extended riff on the toll exacted on the country by offshore intrigues. The middlemen on Seychelles and other havens that service offshore clients, he believes, have made it possible for President Michel and his friends to stow their money half a world away — and for tainted cash to flow in and out of the islands that Isaac calls home.

“These guys, that’s their business, that’s their livelihood, that’s how they’ve made their money,” he sighed. “But essentially [they’re] selling the jurisdiction’s reputation for personal profit.”

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