Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kerry's Flap Should Prompt Reflection

If the vast majority of Americans are still in denial that Israel is an apartheid state (which it has been for 47 years), how long will it take them to realize the U.S. is - and has been since its founding - an apartheid state due to its constitutional endorsement of slavery, segregation, and for the last 115 years until this day, "Separate and Unequal" treatment of 4 million residents of the U.S.'s colonies?

The firestorm over Israeli apartheid started when reports surfaced that Secretary of State John Kerry said in a private meeting that Israel risks becoming "becoming an apartheid state" if it continues on it's current course. 

The Israeli political lobby quickly set their attack dogs in motion to deny, deny, deny. "Any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous," wrote "progressive" Senator Barbara Boxer on Twitter. The Anti-Defamation League was "startled and disappointed" over "such an inaccurate and incendiary term."

Facing hysterical outrage from apologists of the Middle East's only state to have never joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Kerry quickly cowered and walked back his statement, saying he chose the "wrong wording". His retraction echoed Obama's own statements on the issue, when he came out against "injecting a term like apartheid" that is "historically inaccurate." 

Of course, Israel has been an apartheid state since 1967. How else to describe a socioeconomic system in the occupied territories under Israeli sovereignty where residents of one ethnicity are subject to military law while residents of another to civilian law? Where there is complete separation of land and roads, which a principal architect of the settler colonies in the occupied territories (and admirer of South Africa's racist segregation) modeled after the Bantustans he saw in that country?

Inside the Green Line, Israel can make the dubious claim that laws like the Prevention of Infiltration Law, Citizenship and Entry Law and Acceptance to Communities Law, as well as institutions such as the Jewish National Fund, do not actually constitute the crime of apartheid, but merely legalized discrimination and racial supremacy.

Lost in this discussion (if you can call it that) is the system of apartheid ongoing in the United States itself.

At it's inception, the U.S. Constitution - which deprived average citizens of the right to elect the President and Senators, who held the true policy making power - applied only to landowning white males. Since the beginning, the United States has been an apartheid state.

You could argue that after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments (while women were still unable to vote) the U.S. was able to shed its apartheid status. But in reality slavery continued virtually unabated in the South for another century through a system of involuntary labor and convict leasing in many ways as bad or worse than antebellum slavery, as described by Douglas Blackmon in his thoroughly documented book Slavery by Another Name.

The nation's discriminatory racial system was certified by the Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson. This would persist into the Post-War period until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. At this point, most people would believe the U.S.'s apartheid system had finally been abolished.

In reality, since the U.S.'s colonial adventures began in 1898 an apartheid state persists which, unlike the system inside the continental U.S., doesn't even disingenuously claim to be "Separate But Equal". It is the "Separate and Unequal" status granted to residents of U.S. colonies. The vast majority reside in Puerto Rico but also include residents of Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Insular Cases, which determined Puerto Rico and other territories belong to but are not part of the United States, represent the Supreme Court demonstrating "an unabashed reflection of contemporaneous politics, rather than the pursuit of legal doctrine," writes federal judge Juan R. Torruella, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. "As in the instance of the legal framework established by Plessy, the Insular Cases have had lasting and deleterious effects on a substantial minority of citizens. The 'redeeming' difference is that Plessy is no longer the law of the land, while the Supreme Court remains aloof about the repercussions of its actions in deciding the Insular Cases as it did, including the fact that these cases are responsible for the establishment of a regime of de facto political apartheid, which continues in full vigor."

Since the early days of the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico, American corporations happily exploited the island's population and resources to make vast fortunes from privatized sugar and coffee plantations, which they promptly shipped off the island and into their bank accounts on the mainland. Later, the U.S. directed a revolutionary transformation of Puerto Rico's agricultural economy into a large-scale industrial economy that further lined the pockets of large corporations without delivering lasting benefits to the island's residents. To this day, U.S. colonialism continues to suppress Puerto Rico's self-sufficiency by preventing it from developing its own industries and creating sustainable food sources.

All of this for the last 115 years without the consent of the governed.

Puerto Ricans spoke decisively against their political status in a referendum in 2012, with 54% of voters rejecting the political status they have been subjected to for 115 years. What they heard in response were crickets.

Kerry's comments should be forcing Americans to look not just abroad at apartheid in Palestine, funded by their tax dollars, but also in the mirror to recognize apartheid at home. So far any reflection on American complicity in crimes against humanity is nonexistent.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ZunZuneo and the U.S. Policy of Destabiliziation in Latin America

News from the AP about the U.S. government's secret project to create a Cuban Twitter or "ZunZuneo," to be used for disseminating propaganda and fomenting unrest in Cuba, spurring young people in that country to overthrow their government, comes as no surprise to anyone with even the most cursory understanding of U.S. policy in Cuba and Latin America in general. It is but a tiny part of a 55-year-old, completely unprovoked, genocidal policy against a nation whose only offense is failing to subordinate itself to the will of the U.S. government. 

ZunZuneo was initiated and run by the ostensibly "humanitarian" U.S. Agency for International Development through a series of shell corporations which were not supposed to be traced back to the government agency. The project is typical subversive interference the U.S. government has always felt entitled to carry out, in spite of the rights of sovereignty and self-determination fundamental to international law. 

Due to Cuba's successful revolution in 1959 and their ongoing ability to withstand U.S. sabotage of their socioeconomic system, U.S. actions against the tiny nation in the Carribean have been more harsh than any other victim who fails to recognize the U.S. as its rightful master. Early criminal aggression included a vicious campaign of terrorism against Cuba, part of a massive CIA effort that later evolved into a policy of providing safe haven to terrorist exile groups and looking the other way as they violate the U.S. Neutrality Act and international law. 

The largest act of aggression is, of course, the U.S. blockade against Cuba, euphemistically known in the U.S. as an "embargo." The blockade has now lasted more than a half century as punishment for Cuba's achievement of self-determination. The blockade is an act of warfare, based on the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA), which is only applicable during times of war. It has been expanded and strengthened over the years with various violations of international law such as the Helms-Burton Act and the Torricelli Act. The policy has been found to be an illegal violation of international law for 22 straight years by 99% of the world's nations, who have demanded its end. 

U.S. government destabilization of a country's political system is not unique to Cuba, nor is it unique to USAID. Other U.S. government agencies, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), have long carried out similar criminal covert actions that are supposed to be in hidden in the domain of the CIA. Such organizations purport to be apolitical groups for "democracy" promotion but are in reality nothing more than political action committees (PACs). Due to the concealment of their purpose, they are more like slush funds used to advanced the perceived interests of the United States. 

Of course, agencies such as USAID are not used to promote American "values" or "humanitarian" principles with abstract names like "freedom", but the interests of the corporate sector eager to seek new investment opportunities outside their own country and control over the resources that they refuse to recognize as the property of local populations. 

For example, over the last 15 years in Venezuela the U.S. agencies spent $90 million funding opposition groups, including $5 million in the current federal budget. During this time, since Hugo Chavez first assumed office, his revolutionary party has won 18 elections and lost only 1. The margins of victory during Chavez's tenure reached higher than 20%. After his death, his hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro won by a margin of 1.6% in 2012. This is a very narrow margin, to be sure, but as Dan Kovalik points out it is a margin of victory larger than JFK's victory over Richard Nixon and certainly larger than George Bush's "victory" over Al Gore in which Bush actually lost the vote. 

Despite the success of the Chavista party, the opposition, aided and abetted by the U.S. government, has tried to portray the elections as "questionable" or "illegitimate". Secretary of State John Kerry led the way by calling for a recount, encouraging the opposition to challenge the election results and creating an atmosphere of distrust and defiance conducive to a violent anti-democratic challenge.

"Washington's efforts to de-legitimise the election mark a significant escalation of US efforts at regime change in Venezuela," wrote Mark Weisbrot. "Not since its involvement in the 2002 military coup has the US government done this much to promote open conflict in Venezuela... It amounted to telling the government of Venezuela what was necessary to make their elections legitimate."

In fact, international organizations monitoring the Venezuelan Presidential vote attested to the "fair and transparent" election process and former President Jimmy Carter called the country's electoral system "the best in the world."

The U.S. government has also refused to recognize the vast advances social progress made under the current government. Under Chavez, the country drastically reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, with the latter falling from 23.4% in 1999 to 8.5% in 2011. As the government has put its massive revenues from oil sales to use to provide universal education and health care for all Venezuela's citizens, people traditionally shut out of the country's economic gains have benefited tremendously. Venezuela has gone from one of the highest rates of income inequality in Latin America to the lowest, a truly Herculean accomplishment.

Yet this does not even factor into the U.S.'s policy toward Venezuela. A cable published by Wikileaks from 2006 demonstrates the U.S. policy of destabilization and regime change against Hugo Chavez during the height of his national popularity. Now, with the perceived weakness of Maduro and the propaganda success of portraying violent street protests as a "peaceful student movement" in the international media, it seems that Kerry is like a shark who smells blood in the water when he slanderously proclaims a "terror campaign" and foments further unrest. 

U.S. government officials must feel genuinely embittered at their inability to impose subservience on the government of Venezuela, who represent a majority of voters of that country. After all, it has proven much easier in countries such as Honduras to oust a democratically elected President.

"[President Manuel] Zelaya was initiating such dangerous measures as a rise in minimum wage in a country where 60 percent live in poverty. He had to go," wrote Noam Chomsky, who goes on to note that the U.S. virtually alone in the world in recognizing the "elections" later held under military rule of Pepe Lobo. "The endorsement also preserved the use of Honduras' Palmerola air base, increasingly valuable as the U.S. military is being driven out of most of Latin America."

Unsurprisingly, four years after the coup a Center for Economic and Policy Research report finds that "much of the economic and social progress experienced from 2006 - 2009 has been reversed in the years since," with "economic inequality in Honduras" rising "dramatically." 

The next success of the Obama administration in Latin America was the coup in Paraguay, in which the right-wing, elite opposition was able to drive democratically-elected Fernando Lugo from the Presidency and thus stop his program of promoting land rights for a long-oppressed peasant population.

"The United States promotes the interests of the wealthy of these mostly-poor countries, and in turn, these elite-run countries are obedient to the pro-corporate foreign policy of the United States," writes Shamus Cooke.

Last year a coup was carried out against the progressive mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Gustavo Petro. His supposed abuse of power was de-privatizing garbage collection in the capital city, which allegedly harmed the "freedom of free enterprise." The anti-democratic actions in Colombia, a beneficiary of an enormous amount of U.S. aid, have not negatively affected the U.S. policy toward the nation. Kovalik notes that the actions taken against Petro are part of a much larger pattern.

"While the press, as well as the U.S. government, will not acknowledge it, the elimination of progressive political leaders by coup d' état is taking place in Latin America with increasing frequency," Kovalik writes

Of course this is part of long-standing U.S. policy that has destroyed democracies in countries such as Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and many other nations since the end of WWII alone. The anti-democratic measures enabled, supported and usually funded by the U.S., have taken decades to recover from.

Media reporting of the ZunZuneo story has tended to downplay or apologize for the Cuban Twitter program by stressing U.S. government denials that it was meant to overthrow the government, or giving credence to claims that it was beneficial in allowing Cubans to communicate with each other.

Not surprisingly, Cubans themselves do not see it this way. They understandably do not appreciate an underhanded attempt to collect their personal data or to use them as pawns in a political game against their government. 

This should be a reasonable position for any American to understand. Would you support China or Russia setting up a social network meant to overthrow your government, so they could bring in one more to their liking? Certainly not. The plot in the fictitious House of Cards of infiltration of the U.S. political process by foreign money probably seems shocking to the average American. In this country, it is a crime for foreign agents or nationals to influence the domestic political process through campaign contributions. 

In reality, this is exactly what the U.S. government has done hundreds of times over in foreign countries for decades. ZunZuneo is demonstrable proof they continue to do so to this day. ZunZuneo is not just a case of USAID and the U.S. government getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar. It is part of an ongoing assault against the sovereignty and self-determination of any country who opposes U.S. foreign policy. People of other countries are just as smart, capable, and deserving of a government independent of outside interference as U.S. citizens are. 

The U.S. government has no business sticking its nose in other countries' political affairs.  By demanding that their government stop doing so, Americans could do more to advance democracy and the ideals their country claims to represent than the U.S. government has ever done.