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Forum Post: Capitalism's Bullets in Latin America: Invisible Empires, State Power and 21st Century Colonialism

Posted 3 years ago on June 21, 2014, 8:47 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Capitalism's Bullets in Latin America: Invisible Empires, State Power and 21st Century Colonialism

Saturday, 21 June 2014 11:38
By Benjamin Dangl, Upside Down World | News Analysis


Updated 6/17/14

"Soccer, metaphor for war, at times turns into real war," wrote Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. For many people in Brazil, a war has indeed broken out surrounding the current World Cup. Poor communities have been displaced by stadiums and related infrastructure for the event, the high level of security has increased police violence, and the enormous economic costs of the World Cup are seen by many as a blow against the rights of the country's most impoverished people. As a result of these controversies, the international sports event has been met with wide-spread protests.

Cracking down on some of these protests are Brazilian security forces trained by the US private military and security company Academic, previously known as Blackwater. This training was brought to light by the Brazilian press and US sportswriter David Zirin, who, in an article on the topic, pointed to a 2009 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, which showed that Washington anticipated the World Cup-related crises in Brazil would provide opportunities for various types of US involvement. Zirin wrote that for Washington, "Brazil's misery created room for opportunism."

Capitalism's bullets follow the World Cup just as they do Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) signed with the US. Five years ago this month, protests were raging in northern Peru where thousands of indigenous Awajun and Wambis men, women and children were blockading roads against oil, logging and gas exploitation on Amazonian land. The Peruvian government, having just signed an FTA with the US, was unsure how to deal with the protests – partly because the controversial concessions in the Amazon were granted to meet the FTA requirements. According to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, on June 1st, 2009 the US State Department sent a message to the US Embassy in Lima: "Should Congress and [Peruvian] President Garcia give in to the [protesters'] pressure, there would be implications for the recently implemented Peru-US Free Trade Agreement." Four days later, the Peruvian government responded to the protest with deadly violence, leading to a conflict which left 34 dead, including 24 police officers and 10 civilians. The US-supported escalation of the conflict worked; the FTA moved forward as planned.

The US is infamous for its imperial history in the region. But Washington isn't the only empire in its backyard. Global and local forces of capitalism, imperialism and modern-day colonialism are at work across Latin America, from soccer stadiums to copper mines.

China has outpaced the US as the primary trading partner with the region's richest countries; most of its business is in the area of natural resource extraction. And for many nations in the southern cone, Brazil – now a world superpower outpacing Britain as the 6th largest economy – is an imperial force, utilizing much of the region's natural wealth, land and hydroelectric power to fuel its booming industries and population.

Capitalism has many faces and allies, and they're not just based in the global north or within these economic giants. As sociologist William Robinson writes "The new face of global capitalism in Latin America is driven as much by local capitalist classes that have sought integration into the ranks of the transnational capitalist class as by transnational corporate and financial capital." From Mexico to Argentina, this local capitalist class has created some 70 globally-competitive transnational conglomerates.

Friends of empire and capital are found at the heights of power among Latin America's political leaders. While the US has spied on Latin America for years, as recently made clear by Edward Snowden's leaks, Chile's Michelle Bachelet administration asked for the US government's help in spying on Mapuche indigenous leaders defending land rights during her first term in office. While the US supported the coup against Fernando Lugo of Paraguay in 2012, before he was pushed out of office, Lugo himself called for a state of emergency in the countryside to expand repression of campesino activists fighting soy company incursions on their land.

For many indigenous communities in Latin America, the state, often in alliance with transnational corporations, maintains a colonialist worldview into the 21st century, particularly in the area of natural resource extraction in mining, oil and gas industries. As Professor Manuela Picq of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador writes, "The unilateral expropriation of land for mining today is a continuation of the Doctrine of Discovery. It conceptualized the New World as terra nullis, authorizing colonial powers to conquer and exploit land in the Americas. [...] Today, the idea of 'empty' lands survives in extractivist practices."

Indeed, mining concessions have been granted on 80% of Colombia's legally-recognized indigenous territories, and 407,000 square kilometers of Amazon-based mining areas are on indigenous land. As a part of this region-wide extractivist land grab, Picq explains that 200 activists were killed in Peru between 2006 and 2011, 200 people were criminalized in Ecuador for protesting the privatization of natural resources, and 11 anti-extractivist activists have been murdered in Argentina since 2010.

The mining industry is also typically devastating for the environment, whether it's run by the state or the private sector. Picq points out that Guatemala's Marlin mine, owned by the Canadian company Goldcorp, utilizes in just one hour the same amount of water a local family uses over the span of 22 years, and the mining industry in Chile – where the state owns the largest copper producing company in the world – utilizes 37% of the nation's electricity.

Capitalism, empire and 21st century colonialism come from afar and descend on their victims in Latin America. But these forces are also in the tear gas canisters that Brazil's security forces use at the World Cup, in the state that extracts natural resources on indigenous territory, and in the free trade deals signed in blood.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Chilean Australians Clamor for the Extradition to Chile of Former DINA Agent Adriana Rivas

Saturday, 21 June 2014 09:31
By Ramona Wadi, Truthout | News Analysis


Groups of Chilean activists living in Australia are mounting a campaign for the extradition of an alleged torturer: former Dirección de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA) agent Adriana Rivas. Rivas is wanted by the Chilean courts in connection with the disappearance of Partido Comunista and Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) militants. The former agent has been living in Sydney for 36 years, despite knowledge of her participation in the crimes committed at the Chilean torture and extermination center known as Cuartel Simon Bolivar - the place where no one got out alive.

Lucho Riquelme, a Chilean activist who had to escape Chile due to persecution by the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) in the mid-1980s, now lives in Melbourne. Riquelme, who is the coordinator of the Latin American Solidarity Network, describes the intensity of the Extradite Adriana Rivas campaign as part of a wider struggle for justice against oblivion.

In a television interview in 1995, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet stated, "The only way to solve problems is olvido (oblivion). If day after day we are always returning to the same point, we will continue fighting. Forget it, do not talk more about the issue, then you will forget and I will forget." Emphasizing the attribute of "forgetting" became a widespread phenomenon that allowed the right wing in Chile to retain the memory of the dictatorship as "salvation" from alleged Marxist ruin. However, opponents of the dictatorship countered oblivion by reinforcing remembrance of torture, murder and disappearances as a vital component in the struggle for justice.

The history of Cuartel Simon Bolivar remained a heavily guarded dictatorship secret until recent years, when Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, a former errand boy and servant who was later included in DINA, provided testimony about the torture and extermination center, describing it as"the only place where no one got out alive." Favored methods of torture and extermination included excessive beatings, electric shocks to sensitive body parts, sexual torture, asphyxiation, the use of sarin gas, and cyanide injection.In addition to providing detailed descriptions of torture and disappearance (such as the burning of bodies in drums to annihilate possibilities of recognition), Vergara's testimony has been instrumental in identifying DINA agents who participated in the torture and extermination. This testimony led, ultimately, to the indictment of Adriana Rivas - former secretary - and later, a DINA agent - of Manuel Contreras, then head of DINA.

Despite Rivas's insistence that her role entailed secretarial duties only, Vergara's testimony has placed Rivas as an interrogator and torturer. In an interview conducted by ABC News, Vergara claims Rivas participated in the interrogation of Fernando Ortiz. "Generally, when Adriana Rivas participated in the torture of detainees, she beat them with sticks; she kicked them, punched them and also applied an electric current to the political prisoners."

Rivas, who has been living in Australia since 1978, is wanted by the Chilean courts in relation to the kidnapping and disappearance of seven militants: Fernando Ortiz, Victor Diaz, Fernando Navarro, Lincoyan Berrios, Horacio Cepeda, Hector Veliz and Reinalda Pereira, all victims of a clandestine operation known as Calle Conferencia. The indictment for the crimes occurred in 2006 when Rivas briefly visited Chile. She subsequently absconded from Chile while on bail and returned to Australia via Argentina.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

The Extradite Adriana Rivas campaign started in late 2013, when Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) aired an interview with the former DINA agent. "The documentary had a great impact," Riquelme told Truthout. "We did not understand how she managed to live in Australia [from] 1978 to 1979, considering she was a member of the repressive front of the Pinochet dictatorship."

The campaign's first protest was organized in response to Rivas's appearance on ABC News in May, and according to Riquelme, the group is calling for May 24 to be observed as "a national day of action denouncing and asking for the extradition of Adriana Rivas." They're circulating an online petition to this effect.

The SBS interview revealed a callous personality thriving upon delusions of grandeur and prestige, as well as adulation for Contreras, whom Rivas describes as "an excellent person" who has come under unjust condemnation. During the course of the interview, Rivas also defended the use of torture. "Everyone knew they had to do that to the people in order to break them because communists would not talk," she said. "It was necessary. The same as the Nazis did, you understand? . . . This is the only way to break people." Furthermore, Rivas recalled her stint in DINA as a memorable experience that provided an avenue into another, coveted world. "Do you believe I would have had the opportunity to go to embassies in Chile, or ride in a limo, to and fro . . . visit the best hotels in Chile?"

Riquelme explains that fragmentation of memory may hinder the possibility of a united front on the Rivas case, which has a far deeper impact than the immediate aim of extradition:

The campaign first attracted the attention of people who were knowledgeable about the subject; gradually local people started involving themselves. We must understand that the majority of Chileans in Australia are not here for political reasons; those who know about the dictatorship or were involved in 'Solidarity in Chile' in the past are a minority, divided into small groups and some of them are not doing anything at all. The Extradite Adriana Rivas campaign is alerting lots of people and reviving the old political divisions. We are also supporting the Mapuche indigenous people and popular organizations that are building movements for change. We are not involved in all the political left parties, some of whom are involved in the Bachelet neoliberal government.

The divergent views of those affiliated with the Chilean left have led to various campaigns igniting and diverting attention from the main focus of the campaign which started in December 2013. Riquelme states that people linked to the Concertación government, have urged activists not to mobilize for alleged fear of damaging the extradition process. The Concertación government, a coalition of center-left parties instrumental in the downfall of Pinochet in the plebiscite of 1988 which initiated the democratic transition, embarked upon creating the frameworks to investigate human rights violations pertaining to the dictatorship era. However, criticism has been leveled at the government, including that of current president Michelle Bachelet, for adhering to dictatorship laws pertaining to areas such as education and the Mapuche indigenous resistance. "This froze people's participation in the beginning," Riquelme said. "When the campaign started gaining momentum and generating impact within the community, these people, affiliated with the Concertación government, created a new group defined as a national campaign for Chile and are now also calling for the extradition."

While the campaign can always use more people calling for extradition, Riquelme worries that the political rifts will hinder the ultimate goal. He is also concerned that members of the new group want to exploit the extradition campaign for political gains. Riquelme insists it is important for the original campaign to stay independent. "Adriana Rivas and DINA repressed the entire Chilean population involved in the struggle against dictatorship," he said. "We identify ourselves with the slogan 'Arriba L@s Que Luchan,' supporting grassroots groups in the struggle against injustices committed in Chile - organizations that are fighting against neoliberalism."

Meanwhile, the movement is not lost on Australian lawmakers. Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, who participated in the Sydney rallies clamoring for Rivas's extradition, succinctly summarized the impunity exhibited by Rivas, and the importance of investigating extradition processes, in a statement granted exclusively for this article:

My support for social democracy, knowledge of the US-sponsored violent overthrow of the Allende government and my continuing contact with Chilean Australians has led me to take a particular interest in the continued residence here of alleged torturer Adriana Rivas. I am unclear as to which migration category facilitated her entry. If it was refugee/humanitarian, she would have had to mislead our authorities, and the allegations are accurate. Additionally, her media performances where she defended torture because the "Nazis" and "everybody" did it and "you have to break people," plus her assurance that all was well because she drove around in limousines and went to the best hotels are deeply disturbing. Obviously, extradition is a serious matter and the Government must give it studied consideration, but one would think she is a very suitable candidate for extradition.

Forthcoming plans for the campaign include further demands that the Australian government reveal the process through which Rivas was granted safe haven in Australia. "We met federal officials on June 4 in Canberrra, as part of our plan to have the petition presented to the Australian government. A number of us were present in the House of Representatives and the Senate campaigning to extradite Adriana Rivas to Chile."

In addition to attention from lawmakers like Ferguson, the Extradite Adriana Rivas campaign has garnered the attention of a number of political figures, as well as leaders of trade unions and socialist groups. The Honorable Mark Dreyfus, shadow attorney general and shadow minister for the arts, presented the petition to the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament on June 4, 2014. In his speech, Dreyfus, who has close ties to Chile, noted that the presence of former torturers in Australia stands in contradiction with the Hawke's government's signing and ratifying of the international convention against torture in 1985 and 1989, as well as the Labor government's signing of the optional protocol to the convention against torture in 2009.

On the same day the petition was presented, members of the movement protested in front of the Chilean embassy because the Bachelet government had appointed James Sinclair, a former CNI agent, as the new Chilean ambassador in Australia. The appointment reinforces this strange governmental compromise that accommodates both memory and the dictatorship strategy of oblivion - a contradiction enhanced by the fact that Bachelet, herself a victim of dictatorship violence, has collaborated to grant further impunity.

"We hope many people will join us," Riquelme said, in closing. "This is an outrage; we cannot allow this kind of situation to proceed. We have our memory; we don't forget and we don't forgive."

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Raising Hope Across the Borders: Transnational Social Movements and Power

Saturday, 21 June 2014 12:31
By Beverly Bell, Other Worlds | Interview


Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

Q: Why is it important to build transnational social movements?

Of course, there are specific issues and power structures in each country, but it's important to overcome borders and make a transnational movement because the root causes of injustices, of exclusion, of the violence and discrimination we face are the same. They are systemic issues. They are global issues.

As social organizations and movements, we need to move forward beyond merely the national level and see the big picture. And to understand how the specific reality we live in is related to the reality of other countries and other communities. Inasmuch as we're able to realize that, we'll also be able to raise peoples' hopes, to strengthen the struggles of each other and bring about transformation, on a much bigger scale than anything we could do at a merely national level.

It would do no good or very little good to bring about some great transformation in just one country if things remain exactly the same in other countries. Because that would just mean that exclusion, injustices and exploitation would keep taking place as usual in all those other places. And that would be a continuous threat to any progress that's been made in one specific country. So we need to move beyond the local and national level. The sort of transformation we need can only be achieved if we unite our efforts and join forces together.

Q: So talk to us a little bit about Grito, please, and what it works on.

Grito de los Excluidos has this vision of connecting forces, connecting agendas, creating spaces for unity amidst the diversity of movements and peoples' organizations across the continent. The organization was established in 1995 in Brazil, and we have several different focus areas. We're working on everything related to the defense of the common good and of nature, on militarization, and on the criminalization of protest. We do a lot of political education. We also do a lot of work on the rights of migrants. For instance, we established the World Social Forum for Migration, along with other organizations, in 2004. This has been a very enriching experience for us; it's allowed us to work with organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Q: For folks in the US who know nothing about this, what does it mean to have a continental social movement?

When we say "continental," we're primarily talking about Latin America and the Caribbean. But we're aware that there is social, economic, and cultural exclusion in the US, even though there isn't a group of people who are part of Grito de los Excluidos there.

Q: Gerardo, when you said "raise peoples' hopes," what did you mean by that?

I meant to really believe that transformation is possible. We are in a very tight spot - we're screwed, you could say. There's a great deal of poverty, a lot of exclusion, a lot of violence, a lot of injustice in our countries. Working people and our natural resources are being terribly exploited. We're up against a huge monster, an economic, political machine of monstrous proportions. It would be very easy for us to lose hope, to lose heart, to just give up the struggle entirely and say "To hell with it. There's no way we can overcome these massive forces, so let's just go about our lives and forget about it."

But we know that if we're here today, it's because our grandparents, our ancestors, didn't give up the fight. They raised our hopes.

And we know that, sooner or later, things will start to change. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole. This system that we all live in may continue to dominate us for a couple more centuries - who knows how long - but we believe in the transformative power that humans possess. Things weren't always how they are today and things won't always be this way in the future. Things change, they transform. Empires are born and they eventually die. Political and economic systems eventually fade away.

For now, we're the ones in the thick of it. But then it will be up to our children, including those who aren't born yet, to continue in the struggle. And if we don't raise their hopes, give them hope, then what will happen in the future? Are we all just going to give up this struggle? No, we have to keep fighting, even if we aren't the ones who are able to see the dawn break through the darkness. Economic systems take a lot longer to be transformed [than our lifespans]. It might be our children's children who see it come about - who knows? But it will happen. We have to keep struggling and wait.

Q: But the powers that be, like the United States, are enormous. Why do you believe that people with no money, without institutionalized power of any sort, can change all of this?

First, like any other empire, the US is going to disappear because that's just how history works. Sooner or later, all of the contradictions that exist in this economic-political system will cause it to fall. In the past, there were enormous empires that looked like they would last for all eternity. And all of them - all of them, with no exceptions - were transformed. Their economic and political foundations were transformed, their demographics were transformed. It's just a matter of time.

A sector of people in the US are dyed-in-the-wool imperialists and capitalists, yes. But there is also a huge group of people there who are humanitarians, who are generous, good people, and full of love. You, for instance: you are from the US, and you are a person who has a different way of living, of thinking and feeling. The system wasn't strong enough to overtake you. I'm sure there are many others in the US who are critical thinkers, who understand that there's something wrong with the state of things in our world.

People in the US are victims of that same system that's oppressing us here. It's just that the way it oppresses us is different. I feel even more compassion for the people living in the US, because they're even worse off than we are. They don't have a lot of things that we have here, like our sense of community and our ancestral culture. We have a lot of things that they've already forgotten.

And it hurts me to see all those people working ridiculous hours to pay their grocery bills, to pay their rent. They don't have access to good education, and they don't have health insurance, if they get sick they don't have access to health care, or they have to sell their house and lose all their savings and lose their dignity. And they want to tell me that this is the best possible system on earth?

So-called powerless people have the ability to make our bodies visible, so others will see what we stand for. I say so-called because all of us have power. If we decide to take over a highway in protest, for instance, we have the power of our speech.

We have achieved a lot. Working from the bottom up, the poor of this earth have brought about great change. And they didn't have money, they didn't have machinery or property or finances, and so on.

The powerless of the world have always been the ones to change it. The powerful of the world don't change a single thing.

The [economic] system we're living in right now has only been around for 300 or 400 years, whereas our species has been around for longer than 300,000 years. So we shouldn't believe that this tiny 300-year stint we're living in right now represents what humanity is really all about, that it represents our future. That's a way of thinking that lacks historical perspective. We have to look behind us and ahead of us to not lose hope, to not lose perspective. And that's the perspective we're creating our movement from.

Translation by David Schmidt.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.