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December in Review

January 16, 2008

December in Review

Halted deportations, Lakota secession, and social tension in Latin America

by Philip Neatby

The borders of the Lakota nation, once withdrawn from treaties, would be demarcated by the Missouri River on the northeast, the North Platte River to the south, and the Yellowstone River to the west.

In Vancouver, 1500 demonstrators effectively paralysed the Vancouver International Airport and halted the planned deportation of 48-year old paralysed Punjabi refugee Laibar Singh on December 10-- international Human Rights Day. The vast majority of the supporters were members of Vancouver’s Sikh community, who had been mobilizing and campaigning against Singh’s impending deportation to India for months, while he lived in sanctuary within a Sikh temple. On January 9, a second attempt by the Canadian Border Services Agency to deport Singh was thwarted after officials showed up at the Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey at 4AM to find 300 of Singh’s supporters blocking the entrance to the temple. Singh’s supporters have argued that he should remain in Canada on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds due to his medical needs.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement-- legislation that has cut refugees' eligibility to remain in Canada-- was illegal. The STCA, enacted by the Martin government, prohibits political refugees from remaining in Canada if they have landed first in the US. The ruling declared that the United States could not be deemed a “safe” country for refugees due to its violations of the UN Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention.

The Lakota Sioux nation made steps to legally secede from the United States on December 20 in Washington after Lakota representatives withdrew from all treaties signed with the US. Following years of discussions amongst treaty representatives within the various Lakota communities throughout Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, the notice of withdrawal from the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties was hand-delivered by a four-member Lakota delegation to Daniel Turner, Deputy Director of Public Liaison at the US State Department. According to delegation members, the legal basis for this withdrawa stands with the continuous violation of the 1851 and 1868 treaties by the United States, as well as the conditions of extreme poverty that exist within the Lakota communities.

Environmentalists have perhaps won a partial victory after the United States and Canada both backed down from their obstructionist positions at the UN Climate Change Summit in Bali. After the summit was extended an extra day, Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, who had been dogged by a delegation of Canadian youth activists throughout the week, reversed his original position against a binding target of 25 to 40 per cent reductions of carbon emissions from wealthy countries by the year 2020. The United States also agreed in the end to endorse the “Bali roadmap,” although only after the section requiring binding targets for all nations to collectively reduce carbon emissions was removed. Some environmentalists have argued that the summit’s key failing was the “single-minded focus on getting Washington on board,” to the detriment of actually achieving firm carbon-reduction targets.

Laibar Singh, surrounded by supporters after an attempt to deport him was turned away. Photo: NOII

In Haiti, grassroots leader Rene Civil was released after spending 20 months in prison. Civil was a member of the Lavalas party of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and was also a leader of the Popular Power Youth (JPP), a grassroots organization of youth from poor communities. Civil was arrested in August 2006, shortly after organizing a demonstration calling for the release of political prisoners and the return to the country of Aristide. However, another grassroots activist, Wilson Mesilien, acting director of the September 30th foundation, a human rights organization, was recently forced into hiding after receiving death threats. Mesilien’s predecessor, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, remains at large after he was kidnapped by unknown figures last August. The US and Canadian governments took part in the military overthrow of Aristide in 2004, and Canadian RCMP officials currently head the UN training program for the Haitian National Police, which is accused by Haitians and international observers of human rights abuses including mass murder, sex trafficking and rape.

In Pakistan, in the midst of political turmoil in the week following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the United States government announced it would approve the nearly five-hundred million dollar sale of eighteen Lockheed Martin fighter jets to the regime of Pervez Musharraf. Although no definitive investigation has been carried out of Bhutto’s murder (the Pakistani President has refused to allow a UN investigation of the killing), many of Bhutto’s supporters, as well as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, have expressed belief that elements of Pakistan’s military may have been behind the assassination, and have criticized the continued sale of arms to the regime.

A new report issued by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has found that Canadian arms sales reached $700 million, the highest levels ever recorded, in 2003. This figure did not include sales made to the US which, if counted, would have brought the total sales of Canadian arms to over $2 billion. According to Ken Epps, an arms control researcher with Project Ploughshares, many of these sales were made to countries with dubious human rights records, such as Colombia, China, and Saudi Arabia. Epps also noted that the Pakistani military purchased $250 million worth of helicopters from Canada between 2004 and 2005.

The Bush administration’s case for war with Iran was dealt a severe blow after sixteen different US intelligence agencies concluded that the country had ended its nuclear weapons more than four years ago. Despite this, George W. Bush, claimed publicly that he still believed Iran to be a threat to the United States. The completion of the report by the National Intelligence Agency had reportedly been held up and postponed by vice-President Dick Cheney for two months.

In Toronto, a new report by the provincial government has found that, despite crackdowns, 31,000 people currently receive a "special diet" supplement designed for welfare recipients with medical dietary needs. The supplement, valued at $250 extra dollars for food per month, is an obscure and often overlooked government program. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has publicly set up special diet clinics throughout the city and province in recent years, arguing that individuals on welfare live in conditions of state-sponsored poverty, which limits their dietary health. Over the last two years, this campaign effectively redirected over $30 million of provincial revenue into the hands of the province's poorest residents.

Recent reports from human rights organizations in Chiapas, Mexico indicate that the Mexican government is ramping up its military presence in regions under heavy influence of the indigenous Zapatista Liberation Army. According to the Centre for Political Analysis and Social and Economic Research, a human rights NGO based in Chiapas, there has been a marked increase in the presence of military and paramilitary deployments within this Southern Mexican state which, coupled with an increase in expropriations of land occupied by indigenous Mayan sympathizers of the Zapatistas, has prompted IPS News to dub this escalation “the worst onslaught by state forces in the last 10 years.” Since the 1994 uprising by the Zapatistas, indigenous self-rule has been quietly built within the region, as the Zapatistas have established their own health, education and development programmes, while forming their own governing “caracoles,” or good-government councils.

In Bolivia, clashes continued between middle- to upper-class supporters of the the Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS) political party and the social movements and indigenous communities united under the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) of current president Evo Morales. Partisans of the right-leaning PODEMOS, which include the governors of four eastern departments, have been staging blockades, strikes, and demonstrations for months against the proposed constitutional changes championed by Morales and the social forces united under the MAS, largely movements of the country’s majority poor and indigenous peoples. The constitution would grant the central government greater control over the country’s rich natural resources, but would also guarantee expanded autonomy for departmental governments and indigenous communities. The opposition disagrees with the limitations on land ownership established in the document, as well as the redirection of departmental gas revenues to a new National Pension Fund for all citizens of the country over the age of sixty. Late last month, the opposition has declared autonomy from the central government for the city of Santa Cruz, establishing a new police force, television station and special ID cards.

The Ontario government finally announced that the province will be returning the Ipperwash Provincial Park lands to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nations. This announcement follows the conclusion of the Ipperwash inquiry into the 1995 Ontario Provincial Police killing of Dudley George last May. The land was originally expropriated from the Stony Point band in 1942 to allow the federal government to build a military base.

First Nations survivors of the Canadian residential school system received their first cheques as part of a $2 billion compensation settlement for the collective experience of mass sexual and physical abuse suffered by indigenous children at Catholic-run schools between the 1950s and 1980s. Eighty thousands First Nations people are eligible for this compensation, which is paid in lump sums, and which amount to an average of $28,000. This amount, however, only accounts for the federal government’s portion of the settlement; The Catholic church is also responsible for paying 30% of the settlement. Although viewed by residential school survivors as an important milestone in the process of achieving justice, the size of the settlement pales when compared to a similar settlement given to Australian aboriginals of the “Stolen Generation,” whose treatment at the hands of their government throughout the twentieth century bears many striking similarities to that of the Canadian aboriginal experience.

In New Orleans, police attacked, tazered and pepper-sprayed public housing residents who had arrived at city hall to take part in a “public hearing” about the proposed demolition of 5000 public housing units in the city. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there remains a homeless population of 12,000 within New Orleans. City Hall and private developers have nonetheless intensified efforts to demolish public housing in order to make way for commercial property and high-priced condominiums. Police had initially erected a metal gate around city hall, prohibiting public housing residents from entering the building. Fifteen were arrested in total as the council passed the motion in favour of the demolitions. Residents have pledged to continue fighting, and have called for supporters to travel to the region and take part in a campaign of direct actions against these home demolitions.

Officials in India have conceded that the construction of the World Bank-backed Narmada Dam is illegal. Shri Afroz Ahmad of the Narmada Control Authority admitted that the construction of the dam to the height of 121.9 metres has led to the illegal submergence of houses and farms, particularly those of the Bhil tribal people, many of whom have been struggling against the construction of this mega-dam for more than twenty years. Critics of the dam have demanded that its size be reduced in order to avoid flooding still further indigenous communities, and continue to fight for land for those who have been displaced by the dam’s construction.

Hundreds of trade union demonstrators gathered in Toronto to protest the proposed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, while approximately 30-40 activists with the Canadian Union of Public Employees picketed the office of former Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Critics from trade unions, human rights organizations, and ecumenical organizations in Canada have argued that this trade deal has been negotiated in complete secrecy, after a dramatically similar trade deal between the US and Colombia met with overwhelming opposition within Congress due to human rights concerns. Colombia currently has the worst human rights record of any country in the Western Hemisphere, and more trade unionists are killed in the region than in the rest of the world combined. Little has been made public about this trade agreement, nor of the timeline for its implementation, but public officials have speculated that the trade pact could be completed within the next few weeks. Many Colombian activists have argued that this trade agreement encourages para-military political violence against indigenous peoples, trade unionists, afro-Colombian communities, and poor people within resource-rich territories, and also provides the framework to “legalize and legitimize” this economic and political terrorism. Meanwhile, reports of increased military and para-military attacks upon indigenous protests against land expropriation have emerged from the Southwest Cauca in recent weeks.

African political leaders have rejected a neo-liberal trade agreement with the European Union, which would have forced punitive duties upon imported goods from the continent, such as sugar, meat and bananas, which would have competed with European producers. The “Economic Partnership Agreements” have been the subject of protests by trade unions and social movements throughout the continent, and were voted down during an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon. The increased amount of investment from China in Africa has likely provided the subcontinent with a greater amount of breathing room in negotiating such trade deals in recent years.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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