Most of the reporting I did on the recent trip I took to Colombia will be appearing in my forthcoming book, Drug War Capitalism, but here’s a second, short piece from Arauca Department, near the border with Venezuela.
Published in Upside Down World.
FORTUL, COLOMBIA–Holding down an occupation for five months isn’t easy. Doing so in Colombia, even less so. But members of the community of Héctor Alirio Martínez in the municipality of Fortul, near the border with Venezuela, have raised the stakes even higher: they’re occupying land owned by the Ministry of Defense. The 100 hectare terrain now spotted with wood and plastic homes was slated to become a large military base.
Locals say the land originally was purchased by Occidental Petroleum in order to build a large new base to coordinate protection of a new oil pipeline which passes less than a few hundred meters from the lot.
“This land belongs to the Ministry of Defense, it was purchased and sponsored by Oxy, so we as good people from Arauca said that the most viable thing is to take over this plan, and see if the Minister of Defense will give it to us over time, many people needed this land,” said Jhon Carlos Ariza Aguilar, the Vice-President of the community of over 2,000 families. They began the occupation on November 26, 2013.
I met with Jhon and other members of the community on a hot February afternoon, weeks after the community was supposed to have been removed by force. On January 20, the army entered the shack settlement with a tank, and an eviction was scheduled for February 4, but that date came and went with community members in an uneasy calm about what would take place next. (more…)
Hello friends. For the record, my thoughts on events in Venezuela. Published by The Tyee.
In Venezuela, Street Protests Harper Can Get Behind
As the political situation continues to simmer in Venezuela, Canada has been making quiet gestures of support towards the country’s opposition movement.
Since February, the Venezuelan right has taken to the streets, attempting to undermine the democratically elected socialist government.
The street demonstrations came while an initiative of economic sabotage against the government was underway, including the hoarding and smuggling of basic foodstuffs and a smear campaign in local media.
Voices of reason warn that the media is failing to report the truth about the recent eruption of protests in Venezuela. But Ottawa has actively pointed a finger at the government of Nicolás Maduro, expressing alarm at state violence and defending the right to legitimate protest.
Such declarations are eyebrow-raising, considering how Canada treats left-wing opposition movements that employ similar (though far tamer) street tactics than the Venezuelan right. Think back to the mass arrests at the Toronto G-20, or ongoing sweeps of demonstrators under the P-6 law in Montréal.
The swell of support for protests in Ottawa would not be taking place if the Harper government wasn’t interested in regime change in Venezuela. (more…)
A short piece for The Dominion on Canada’s uptick in arms sales to Mexico.
MEXICO CITY—The beginning of 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, but instead of focusing on the ongoing revolutionary work of Indigenous people and their allies in the south of the country, the eyes of Canadians and people around the world were on the state of Michoacán.
In mid-January, thousands of federal troops and police entered the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán and stormed smaller villages, in an attempt to disarm self-defence groups. Local and global media carried striking images of federal forces confronting local people who displayed a variety of weapons, dressed in mismatched shirts, their faces covered with kerchiefs or swatches of fabric.
“These are citizens who have had people from their communities murdered, who have been extorted and who have come out to defend themselves,” said Javier Sicilia, one of Mexico’s leading peace activists, in an interview with The Dominion. “This is a case of civilian defence facing a state that cannot give it that which a state must give its citizens: peace and security.”
The self-defence groups have sprung up across the state of Michoacán in an uprising of organizations composed mostly of farmers and ranchers fed up with unfettered kidnappings, extortions and murders carried out by crime groups in collusion with the state. (more…)
On Sunday, March 9, I learned of the death of Ali Mustafa, a friend and colleague. He was killed in Syria by a bomb dropped by the Assad regime, along with at least seven others.
I met Ali at the G-20 in Toronto in 2010, and we kept in touch now and then as he tried to make his way in the difficult world of freelance journalism. Before he was killed he sold photos to some major outlets, taking huge risks in order to make some coin and get a foothold. But he was also in Syria because the suffering there was something he felt he needed to expose. Please take the time to have a look at Ali’s work at his blog, From Beyond the Margins.
There aren’t that many Canadian freelancers out there in the world who consistently file for independent media. I consider myself one of them, and Ali was another. His death has rocked our small, under resourced, and sometimes fragmented community. I hope that it will lead us to further organize so that we can continue to produce critical journalism from places where being a writer or a photographer is a risky affair. We really do need to take better care of each other.
RIP Ali. You will be remembered always, and you will be deeply missed.
This is the first of a couple short pieces from my recent visit to Arauca, Colombia. I was mostly gathering material for the book but wanted to get a few articles out meantime. This piece was originally posted on Upside Down World and re-posted by Truth Out.
FORTUL, COLOMBIA — On Saturday, November 23rd, Giovanny Yamid Aldana left his humble family home in a rural area in the municipality of Fortul, to take his pregnant wife and son to the clinic. There, she took an ultrasound test, and the young family stayed over night in the city of Saravena, in the department of Arauca, near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.
The next morning, Aldana got a call from a local authority, informing him that his house had been bombed by the Colombian Air Force. One of Aldana’s farmhands was reported dead, and the other injured.
Aldana didn’t dare return to his home until there was a delegation going that would ensure his safety. “On Tuesday we went with a municipal government official and two people from the Red Cross,” said Aldana during an interview in Fortul’s municipal government offices. “What we found there was everything in debris, and even pieces of people, inside and outside of the house, which was totally destroyed.”
Aldana took a single, letter sized piece of paper out of his bag, which had four grainy photos printed on it, showing the charred remains of the house he had lived in for the past year, growing bananas, yuca and other vegetables in order to support his family.
The army reported that nine members of the guerrilla were reported dead in the bombing, and two others were captured. “The Army stated that it was a guerrilla camp, but the owner of the house, Giovanni, who was dedicated to farming, and that’s where they bombed. Yes there were combatants, but there was also civilians there,” said Aide Cristancho, a human rights official with the local government who provides assistance to victims of the armed conflict in the municipality of Fortul.
While media and government focus on the killings of guerrillas in the bombings, civilians who live in the area are sidelined and stigmatized as guerrilla supporters, regardless of the truth of the assertions. (more…)
War on the Poor in Honduras: Social Control, Gangs and the US’s Role in Remilitarizing Central America
Here’s a piece I reported from Honduras for my friends at Toward Freedom.
TEGUCIGALPA—Election day in Tegucigalpa kicked off on November 24th last year with the feel of a carnival, a rare sensation in a city where the vast majority of residents are faced with grinding poverty, regular gang extortion and a murder rate that is among the world’s highest. In front of each voting station, tents from the various political parties provided shade, blaring music at each other from huge speakers as groups of youth and volunteers hung around. Police, army and masked military police oversaw the crowds. Cars honked and people waved Honduran and political party flags as their vehicles crawled through the fray.
But for Marta de Jesus Raudales Varela, who lives in a small house on a steep unpaved street, it was a heart-wrenching day. In January, her son Ángel Francisco Durón Raudales, an activist with the leftwing LIBRE Party was murdered along with five others around the corner from the family home in the Las Ayestas neighborhood.
“[The killers] told them to lie face down, so they lay face down, and they emptied their pockets so that they could pretend it was a robbery. [The killers] had their faces covered, but everyone could see what happened,” said Raudales. The killers shot all six in the back and in the head as they lay with their faces to the sidewalk.
Two days after the massacre, street gangs posted signs and handed out pamphlets warning residents they were imposing a 7pm curfew. Almost a year after the massacre, no one dares to mention gang involvement in the killings for fear of reprisals. A tough-as-nails grandmother, Raudales Varela was robbed at gunpoint four times in a single year while she walked home from selling lottery tickets a few blocks from her house. She cried quietly during our interview, wiping her eyes with her apron.
Durón Raudales was a construction worker who organized a local base committee and made flags in support of the LIBRE Party. His mother thinks he may have been targeted because of his political activity. “I’m going to go vote this evening, but I really didn’t feel like going,” she said. “I feel bad today.”
Violence in Honduras is sometimes presented as random and wanton, or as somehow involving drugs. During his inauguration speech on January 27th, Honduras’ new President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that approximately 70 per cent of homicides in the country are linked to drug trafficking. Dead bodies are routinely publicly attributed to gang members, regardless of the evidence and circumstances; and residents of the country’s biggest cities are under the firm grip of social control enforced by terror and threats meted out by street gangs. But according to a recent report put out by human rights organizations, only one per cent of crimes in Honduras are followed up by a police investigation. What Juan Orlando doesn’t want to admit is that an important number of killings in Honduras are politically motivated attacks on peasants, poor people, political activists, journalists, and queer and trans people. (more…)
Aquí la traducción de un articulo que escribi por Occupied London el año pasado. Para ver más fotos, visita la página de SubVersiones. Por Dawn Paley. Traducción: Nicolás Olucha Sánchez. Fotografías: Heriberto Paredes.
En 2010 y en 2011 varias granadas de mano explotaron en los ayuntamientos de Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo y Ciudad Victoria, cuatro localidades fronterizas mexicanas en el estado de Tamaulipas.
Se señaló al crimen organizado como autor de las explosiones, concretamente a miembros de los Zetas o del Cártel del Golfo. Visité la zona a comienzos de 2011, intentando averiguar qué podría estar conduciendo a grupos de delincuentes a enfrentarse a los gobiernos locales que, a efectos, están bajo su control.
Las piezas no comenzaron a encajar hasta que conocí a Francisco Chavira Martínez en 2011. La primera vez que quedamos propuso que fuéramos a comer a un restaurante de Reynosa conocido por sus huéspedes de altos vuelos. Camareros con esmoquin a lo pingüino iban y venían con bandejas mientras las demás mesas estaban, en su mayoría, ocupadas por hombres mayores. Chavira hablaba en voz alta y sin miedo. Entrevisté al menos a doce personas más, pero Chavira fue el único de todos los entrevistados que permitió que su nombre real fuera utilizado.
Los gobiernos locales “utilizan lo que es los roba-carros para todo aquel que esta en contra de ellos, les mandan a robar su carro, los ladrones de casa, los ladrones domiciliarios que le llaman, entran a robar tu casa para espantarte, los narcotraficantes, que los utilizan ellos como una forma de que la gente tenga miedo, para que no participes, para que no alces la voz, para que no estés en contra del gobierno, incluso se mandan ellos mismos a tirar granadas a las presidencias municipales”, relató Chavira.
Quizá vio mi incredulidad reflejada en el rostro. Todavía no había captado la mecánica del terror y los intereses a los que sirve. “¿Por qué?” Se preguntó a sí mismo, para hacer una pausa acto seguido. “Para que la gente se asuste y no vaya a exigir a la presidencia, ni exijas transparencia de las cuentas publicas, en qué se gastan el dinero, por que si no, si lo hago, me van a matar, me van a meter una granada.” Meses después de nuestra entrevista, Chavira, candidato del Partido Revolucionario Democrático (RPD), presuntamente de carácter izquierdista, fue arrestado bajo falsas acusaciones y encarcelado hasta que pasaron las elecciones, un episodio que él describió como un “secuestro legalizado” por parte del Estado.
La segunda vez que me reuní con Chavira fue dos años después, en 2013. Nos encontramos casualmente frente a la puerta de la embajada estadounidense en México D. F. en una manifestación organizada por familiares y amigos de migrantes que trabajan en los Estados Unidos sin papeles. Nos dirigimos a una cafetería cercana y le hice una pequeña entrevista. Mientras íbamos de camino se maravillaba de poder caminar tranquilamente por la calle sin miedo, algo impensable en su ciudad de origen.
Las palabras que Chavira me brindó en aquel encuentro requieren una pequeña introducción. La versión oficial de la guerra del narco o guerra contra las drogas, la cual, los gobiernos y los medios de comunicación no paran de repetir una y otra vez, es que la guerra que hay en México es entre los malos (los traficantes de drogas) y los buenos (la policía y el ejército, que cuentan con el apoyo de Estados Unidos, Canadá y países de la Unión Europea). Según esta versión de los hechos, los “malos” siguen la siguiente estructura jerárquica: en lo alto de la pirámide están los capos o señores de la droga, luego vienen los generales o jefes de seguridad, los cuales protegen al jefe y sus zonas; después vienen los jefes de plaza, jefes locales que se encargan de una zona fronteriza en particular o de una zona de distribución concreta.
Esta versión (que es la principal) es lo que yo llamo el discurso sobre la guerra entre cárteles. Este discurso posee unos rasgos reseñables: confianza casi exclusiva en las fuentes de información gubernamentales y/o estatales, creencia en que todos son culpables hasta que se demuestre lo contrario y que hay víctimas que se ven envueltas en tráfico de drogas y una amplia percepción de que los policías implicados en actividades delictivas son la excepción y no la norma, y que más presencia policial aumenta la seguridad.
Hace algo más de dos años que comencé a informar e investigar sobre las diferentes facetas de la transformación que vive México, que en mi opinión es una especie de contrarrevolución y una prolongación del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte que se lleva a cabo mediante un intenso proceso de militarización. Una vez que uno analiza las consecuencias sociales y económicas de la “guerra del narco”, las versiones oficiales de lo que sucede dejan de tener sentido casi por completo. Dichas versiones tratan de oscurecer la dinámica real en lugar de arrojar luz. Lo que aprendo de gente como Chavira es lo que me permite conocer lo que realmente sucede en este México en guerra. (more…)
Here’s a review I did for Upside Down World to kick off the new year.
Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia, introduction by Andrea Smith. AK Press, 2013.
Anyone who has been involved in activism in any of Canada’s largest cities has probably worked with Harsha Walia at some point along the way. An organizing powerhouse who is active across issues and with a lengthy list of groups, Walia is also a writer and regular public speaker. Somehow, amidst a flurry of events and other work, she found the time to grace us with her first book, Undoing Border Imperialism, which came out with Oakland’s AK Press in the fall. In more ways than one, the book is a true manifestation of theory meeting practice, taking strength from Walia’s varied and extensive readings, from her personal life experiences, and from over a decade of movement organizing in Canada.
“Undoing border imperialism would mean a freer society for everyone since borders are the nexus of most systems of oppression,” writes Walia. “Rather than conceiving of immigration as a domestic policy issue to be managed by the state, the lens of border imperialism focuses the conversation on the systemic structuring of global displacement and migration through and in collusion with capitalism, colonial empire, state building, and hierarchies of oppression.”Walia carefully outlines her theory of border imperialism, but she doesn’t stop there the way an academic or journalist might. Instead, she dedicates the bulk of the text to reflection and to proposals around what makes for meaningful activism in this context. Undoing Border Imperialism lays out a compelling definition of the concept of border imperialism, and then takes readers through concrete experiences of how it can be challenged and dismantled.
“Border imperialism is a useful analytic framework for organizing migrant justice movements in North America. It takes us away from an analysis that blames and punishes migrants, or one that forces migrants to assimilate and establish their individual worth,” she writes. Vancouver-based Walia plays an ambitious role as both author and curator of Undoing Border Imperialism. She contributes the tight and sometimes dense analysis that builds the concept of border imperialism and grassroots organizing theory. These sections are interspersed by poetry and short stories from primarily women of color writers and activists based in Canada and the United States. Undoing Border Imperialism concludes with a written round table discussion that Walia calls the heart of the book.
Walia describes border imperialism as emerging from a confluence of four central practices spearheaded by nation states and accompanied by ongoing processes of capitalist accumulation. The first is capitalism and empire, which underpin the entire system, followed by the criminalization of migrants, the production of racialized, sexist and imperialist national identities, and the denial of legal permanent residency and citizenship to migrants. (more…)
Here’s a piece I reported from Honduras for The Nation.
December 10, 2013
On November 25, the afternoon after Election Day in Honduras, several hundred red-flag-waving protesters marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa in support of Xiomara Castro, the woman they claimed is the rightful president of the country. The next day, hundreds of students took up the cause, staving off police and teargas. And the following morning, even more students poured into the streets, adding their voices to the crescendo of outrage that has roiled the country amid allegations of vote-buying by the winning party, election fraud and ongoing murders of opposition supporters.
Honduras’s November 24 election was supposed to have been a signal moment, the first time since the United States–backed military coup that citizens had a meaningful opportunity to express their political will. But with the defeat of Castro, who ran as the candidate of the left-leaning LIBRE party, and the victory of the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández, there are real questions over whether the people’s will has been heard. Castro has called for a recount and vowed to challenge the results, but even so, the likely outcome for Honduras is four more years of hardline neoliberal leadership—from the presidential palace if not from congress.
Honduras was in crisis well before the coup, but the removal of the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 pushed the country into free fall. Violent deaths climbed to nearly twenty a day. The country’s second city, San Pedro Sula, surpassed Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez as the murder capital of the world in 2011. Inequality surged. And as social spending dropped, debt rose steadily. “From 2010-2012, the poverty rate increased by 13.2 percent while the extreme poverty rate increased by 26.3 percent,” reads a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The report continues, “Honduras now has the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.” (more…)
Here’s a piece I co-wrote this summer with my dear friend and super talented researcher and journalist Sandra Cuffe. It is in the November/December issue of Canadian Dimension magazine. Image by James Rodríguez.
People began lining up even before the sun rose over the mountain ridge, quietly waiting their turn at a makeshift desk outside a home of wood and earth. One by one, relatives of the dead come forward.
Brother. Uncle. Father. Nephew. Grandfather. Cousin. Son. Do you know where their bodies are? Estrella Polar. North Star. All the men were rounded up in the church, executed, and dumped in a mass grave in the plantation.
Ten years ago, representatives from the National Coordination of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) visited the Communities of Population in Resistance (CPR) of the Sierra, gathering information from family members of Indigenous civilians killed by military and paramilitary forces in the 1980s. It’s seven hours of bus and pick-up rides from Guatemala City to the end of the road in the municipality of San Gaspar Chajul, department of El Quiché, and an even longer hike to CPR communities further up into the Cuchumatanes, leaving the shrill hum of insects behind.
Three years after CONAVIGUA collected testimonies in the community, the remains of 86 people were exhumed from a mass grave in the Estrella Polar plantation. The massacre took place on March 24, 1982, one day after the coup d’état that began Efraín Ríos Montt’s brutal regime in Guatemala.
Two hundred thousand people were murdered in Guatemala during a 36-year war that ended in 1996. For the first time in the Americas, this spring the domestic court system and national legislation were used to try former state officials for war crimes. But Guatemala is far from the only place in the Americas where Indigenous people have endured and survived genocide. In Canada, too, Indigenous people continue to battle state policies which strip them of their land, decimate their traditional leadership and attempt to destroy their languages and identities. This article offers a preliminary look at a question the Canadian media has carefully ignored: could Guatemala’s trial open new possibilities for Indigenous peoples to seek justice in Canada? (more…)