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January 13, 2009 Weblog:

Canada vs. Gaza, Peter Kent leads the charge

Canada's junior minister of foreign affairs has made a point of pointing fingers lately. For that matter, so has Canada, which was the only country on the United Nations' Human Rights Council that voted against a motion condemning Israel for its recent attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The vote before the Geneva-based body shows the Stephen Harper government has abandoned a more even-handed approach to the Middle East in favour of unalloyed support of Israel, reads an article in today's Toronto Star.

Peter Kent, a former anchor with CBC Newsworld and foreign correspondent for NBC, seems to be settling right into his role as Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's sidekick in an increasingly reactionary Ottawa. His outspoken condemnation of Hamas has rippled through the news as Israel continues its attacks on the Gaza Strip.

"The government of Canada has been very clear since the beginning of this crisis that it believes that the Hamas rocketing was responsible for the initial development of this crisis and for the continuing deepening humanitarian tragedy," Kent told the CBC little more than a week after Israel began Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

» continue reading "Canada vs. Gaza, Peter Kent leads the charge"

January 13, 2009 Weblog:

New York Times & Canwest Almost Bankrupt

It seems the New York Times could no longer be in circulation as soon as May. According to The Atlantic:

Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400 million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good.

Things are not much better for Canwest, which Jen & Fitz report has a:

High debt load of $3.6 billion, falling ad revenues for Canadian newspapers and broadcasters, and precipitously falling value of Australian TV stations it might try to sell to raise cash.

Could be ripe timing for some other kind of alternative media giant to emerge...

January 9, 2009 Weblog:

Youth protest against the tar sands in Fort Chipewyan


Youth from Fort Chipewyan marched through the streets to protest against the tar sands in -32 degree temperatures this afternoon.

The march was organized by 10 year old Robyn Courtoreille, who got other youth involved in the protest.

"Syncrude and Suncor have been poisioning our water, air, so we protested to let them know we want a future not cancer," said Dailen Powder, 12, after the protest.

"I was protesting because I dont want anymore deformed two jawed fish in our lake," said Cherish Kaskamin, 11.

There is another protest in Fort Chipewyan planned for January 12th.

January 9, 2009 Weblog:

Juan Manuel Santos on Plan Colombia


The LA Times published an excellent interview with Colombia's defense minister Juan Manuel Santos today.

The interview focuses on Plan Colombia, which has failed in terms of coca crop eradication, but which has, as Santos states, allowed the Colombian military to "retake control of our territory."

Many simply call that military occupation.

Santos continues to explain that he's not worried about the fact that Obama has never been to Colombia, because "Vice President-elect Joseph Biden was one of the fathers of Plan Colombia and he promoted it a lot."

Another gem from Santos: "I have no doubt that the Colombian army is receiving more human rights training than any army on Earth."

Now that's a scary thought.

A Colombian military parade in Medellín. Photo by Michael von Bergen.

January 6, 2009 Weblog:

Haitians Celebrated, not without pain, Day of Independence


By: Wadner Pierre - HaitiAnalysis.com

The dream of the heroic liberators is still - in many ways - far from becoming a reality - the dream that every Haitian without distinction should live comfortably and without any fear; a dream in which the father of the country, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared that no foreign soldier violate the soil of Haiti.

After defeating the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, on November 18, 1803 in Cap-Haitien, Haiti became the first Independent Republic of black people and the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence. However, the powerful countries branded Haiti an outlaw nation and France extorted a payment of 90 million francs in "compensation" for its lost "property" which included 600,000 slaves.

Haitian artist and political activist Farah Juste ("La Reine Soleil") organized a concert in the Haitian community in Miami to honour those who fought to liberate the Haitians of slavery. This year (2009) marks the twentieth year of the great traditional concert.

"My brothers and sisters you represent the second largest ethnic community in Florida, you represent a force both socially and politically. We must unite" said Farah Juste. This year's concert was dedicated to the famous Haitian singer Martha Jean-Claude. Martha Jean-Claude fled from Haiti to Cuba in 1952. She incurred the wrath of Haitian president Paul Eugene Magloire for publishing a journal entitled "Avrinette".

» continue reading "Haitians Celebrated, not without pain, Day of Independence "

January 1, 2009 Weblog:

The Globe's War of Words

I don't normally post letters to the editor, even those with little chance of being published, but I feel that the more that editorials like this are met with flack, the harder it will eventually become to continue reporting the middle east with the same "Paletinians attack, Israel just tries to protect itself" garbage.

Here's hoping you try it out yourself in '09.

To: letters@globeandmail.com

Israeli politicians kill, editorialists provide apologetics. Although your editorial on December 30th ("Responding to Provocation," Dec 30, 2008) may have seemed to your staff to appear "dovish" in its call for pressure from the US, the EU, and the Arab League (although not Canada) for a ceasefire, it is nonetheless a justification of Israel's assault on civilian infrastructure in Gaza. Once again, the assumption has been made that only Israel has the "right" to "make its point" by denying humanitarian aid, turning Gaza into an open-air prison, and then killing 350 people while Hamas, elected by the Palestinian people, has no right to anything other than that of a conquered existence.

In the middle east war, the war of words matters far more than the military battles. Israel is allowed to kill hundreds and injure thousands only because this is considered something that's kind of okay by editorialists around the world. If your editorial staff truly cared about contributing to a peace in the middle east, they would stop providing incomprehensible defenses for Israel's "right to make a point" and start questioning its choice to commit collective punishment, a crime under international law.

December 31, 2008 Weblog:

The Long Emergency

James Howard Kunstler: "The environmental movement, especially at the elite levels found in places like Aspen, is full of Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power. I quarrel with these people incessantly. It seems especially tragic to me that some of the brightest people I meet are bent on mounting the tragic campaign to sustain the unsustainable in one way or another. But I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won't care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization."

Kunstler makes some pretty significant predictions for 2009. Much of his analysis and suppositions seem off, but I wonder by how much.

December 30, 2008 Weblog:

Past Gaza Coverage

Jon Elmer: "Israeli pilots carried out a series of air and artillery strikes throughout the Gaza Strip, targeting civilian infrastructure, assassinating militants and striking fear into the population with deafening noise as low-flying F-16 fighter jets shatter the sound barrier overhead day and night." (OCT 2005)

Jon Elmer: "Living in conditions of crushing poverty, less than 15 percent of Al-Mawasi residents were connected to the electricity grid; the rest relied on two generators that operated only in the evenings. With tight army checkpoints, residents had sporadic and unpredictable access to fuel, dictated by the apparent whims of Israeli authorities." (OCT 2005)

Ramzy Baroud: "On Tuesday, January 22, they descended on the Gaza-Egypt border and what followed was a moment of pride and shame: pride for those ever-dignified people refusing to surrender, and shame that the so-called international community allowed the humiliation of an entire people to the extent that forced hungry mothers to brave batons, tear gas and military police in order to perform such basic acts as buying food, medicine and milk." (FEB 2008)

Eva Bartlett: "The youth was struck from behind by an Israeli sniper bullet that dug into his spine, destroying three of his vertebrae and leaving him paralyzed and bleeding on the roof, where he lay for 15 minutes before his younger brother found him. The 13-year-old dragged Abed to the stairs and down into the family's home, dodging further sniper fire as he went." (JUL 2008)

December 30, 2008 Weblog:

Gaza, take I

Eva Bartlett: "One hour later, Jihad Samour (approx. 55 years old), arrived with his 6 sons and one other youth, 15 year old Wassim Eid, HUto drop off scrap metal, the proceeds of which he was to use to buy food. A missile from a drone overhead hit the group, tearing them to pieces and exploding into an even larger blast than usual due to the oxygen tanks at the shop. One of the men, not immediately killed, ran around crying 'help me, I’m burning,' engulfed in flames from the explosion. Only one son, 23 year old Mohammed Samour, escaped the massacre, without an arm and a leg, and in critical condition."

Yoel Marcus: "This doesn't mean the situation is possible to live with, but it appears the hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period."

Ali Abunimah: "Already I have received notices of demonstrations and solidarity actions being planned in cities all over the world. That is important. But what will happen after the demonstrations disperse and the anger dies down? Will we continue to let Palestinians in Gaza die in silence?"

Ha'aretz: "But Hamas officials and analysts said Monday that the organization would actually like Israel to launch a ground operation; it hopes this would let it inflict such heavy losses on Israeli tanks and infantry that Israel would flee with its tail between its legs."

» continue reading "Gaza, take I"

December 28, 2008 Weblog:

If things were the way they should be: Army, Police replaced by Indigenous Guard in Colombia


Semana, a popular magazine in Colombia, ran a spoof article today titled Army and Police to be replaced by Indigenous Guard. The article describes the capacities of the Indigenous Guard, like their recent rescue of seven hostages in Jambaló. The article states that the Indigenous Guard would relieve police and army of their functions throughout the national territory.

The photo above is a photomontage done by the magazine, in which President Uribe and other members of his government traveled to Jambaló in a chiva with the Indigenous Guard to make the announcement.

Oh, if only it were true!

December 26, 2008 Weblog:

On the sugar cane cutters in Colombia

The first article I wrote about sugar cane cutters in Colombia was published today. It's called Working today with the hope of a brighter future.

There is also a photo gallery here.


December 23, 2008 Weblog:

Breaking the Propaganda Model: Colombia, Venezuela and Canada


A couple of new pieces up recently by the North American Congress on Latin America shine a necessary light on political happenings in Colombia and Venezuela.

Colombia and Venezuela: Testing the Propaganda Model looks at the two countries vis-a-vis coverage in the NY Times and Washington Post, and effectively advances the hypothesis put forth by Chomsky and Herman in their classic Manufacturing Consent.

In Free Trade, the Good Cop, and Other Myths, Pablo Vivanco examines the Canada - Colombia Free Trade Agreement through a critical lens.

Finally, NACLA has published the full text of an excellent open letter to Human Rights Watch criticizing HRW's recent report on Venezuela. "By publishing such a grossly flawed report, and acknowledging a political motivation in doing so, [Jose Miguel Vivanco, the lead author of the report] has undermined the credibility of an important human rights organization," reads the letter.

Image: "Parodia de propaganda militar en la novela de ficción 1984" by Jaume d'Urgell.

December 21, 2008 Weblog:

Wark on Iggy

Bruce Wark: "And that's the trouble with our PM-in-waiting. He's usually on the side of the powerful. Ignatieff fervently supported Bush's invasion of Iraq, then when Bush's illegal war turned to shit and tens of thousands were dying, he claimed he'd been blinded by his humanitarian concern for the plight of Iraqi people. He had mistakenly believed, he said, that Bush was carrying on the grand American tradition of sowing the seeds of democracy and peace. On the use of torture, he was equivocal, finally pronouncing that while it was morally wrong, it could yield valuable information, save innocent lives and besides, he had to admit that most people were in favour of it. So much for supporting the UN convention that outlaws torture under any circumstances."

December 20, 2008 Weblog:

Whether the Poor Burn or Freeze, There is No Excuse for Soft-Ball Questions

It is telling that the violent death of Tracey, a homeless woman in Vancouver, who burned to death after attempting to keep warm after constructing a small fire in a downtown street corner, has resulted in national headlines while the freezing death of another unidentified homeless man in Montreal the very next night has resulted in only a passing mention in Montreal newspapers. It is beyond cynical to point out that when a homeless person burns to death, it is a national tragedy, whereas when a homeless person freezes to death, it is scarcely even news. But this case demonstrates that when Canadian media isolate one homeless death as opposed to reporting upon the increasing pattern of homeless deaths over the last two decades, it paradoxically allows politicians more of a free hand to sweep the poor out of the public's view.

» continue reading "Whether the Poor Burn or Freeze, There is No Excuse for Soft-Ball Questions"

December 19, 2008 Weblog:

More details on the killing of Edwin Legarda in Cauca, Colombia

Constanza Vieira, IPS's Colombia correspondent, has written a couple of excellent pieces that explain the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Edwin Legarda last Tuesday.

The first, "There Was No Checkpoint" Where Army Shooting Took Place, explains in detail how the vehicle Legarda was traveling in was ambushed by the army.

The second, Q&A: Killing of Native Leader’s Husband "Was a Planned Operation" gives voice to the feelings of many people in this region regarding the killing.

December 18, 2008 Weblog:

LAST RESORT: Natives Stand Up

Canadian government plays divide and conquer with Algonquin indigenous peoples over logging

Video Description: The indigenous Algonquin community of Barriere Lake has been fighting with the provincial government of Quebec and the federal government of Canada for nearly twenty years over their land. Blockades they have set up in the late 1980s stopped illegal logging on their land and led them to sign a Trilateral Agreement with the two governments. Today, the community claims the agreement and all others that followed have not been honored, while logging companies plan to resume operations. In an effort to exert pressure on the government and the logging industry, the community has set up several blockades in protest. In response, the community's spokespeople and leaders have been arrested. Benjamin Nottoway, Barriere Lake's customary chief has been arrested at the last blockade and sentenced to two months in jail.

December 17, 2008 Weblog:

The Big 3



December 17, 2008 Weblog:

A targeted killing in Cauca, Colombia

Picture 1.jpg

Yesterday at four in the morning, Edwin Legarda Vázquez was killed by the Colombian Army. He was driving a vehicle that belongs to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), in which his partner, Aida Quilcué often traveled in.

Aida Quilcué is the maximum leader of the CRIC, and gained national and international notoriety for her powerful words and actions during the Indigenous and popular movement, part of the Minga, which mobilized thousands of people throughout Colombia this fall.

The Minister of Defense has admitted that soldiers killed Legarda. They shot 17 bullets into the car. There is no doubt among Indigenous organizations here that the killing was politically motivated.

Senator Alexander Lopez denounced the killing as a state crime.

Mario Murillo has done an excellent job documenting yesterday's events, as well as putting them in historical context, since December 16th is also the anniversary of the massacre at El Nilo.

December 16, 2008 Weblog:

Protesters Stage Sit-In at York University

A sit-in at York University began Monday where CUPE 3903, the York University union local representing teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate students has been on strike for 5 weeks.

With the union making a variety of strong demands and the University refusing to bargain further the strike has dragged on for 5 weeks and tensions have grown.

For-profit media has largely written anti-union pieces unilaterally in favour of the University. Many editors in the corporate sphere have suggested the government enact back to work legislation of a questionably legal nature.

In the meantime, 80 students in support of striking workers are occupying the University Presidents Office demanding to question the University President. Classes for the rest of 2008 are scheduled to be canceled today.

December 12, 2008 Weblog:

From Palmira, Colombia: Sugar cane country

I'm currently in Palmira, Colombia, interviewing and spending time with sugar cane cutters and their families. Yesterday, I attended a meeting with cutters who are members of the co-operatives which cut the cane. Co-operative is definitely not a positive word here, as their formation facilitates sub-contracting and relieves employers of any responsibility for their workers.

During yesterday's meeting, the participants discussed the resistance movement that they have been mounting over the last three years, which culminated in a 58 day strike that ended in November.

While the meeting was going on, two cane cutters were killed by lightning bolts nearby.

December 10, 2008 Weblog:

Visit to the Nasa Project


I spent yesterday visiting the Nasa project, and have uploaded some photos online.

December 7, 2008 Weblog:

Fighting and paramilitary threats in Cauca

An urgent communique just went out from the ACIN because of fighting between FARC and the Colombian army, which is taking place in the town of Miranda, Cauca. The communique notes that "The criminal combat is taking place among and inside the houses of Indigenous people."

Also this morning in Miranda, the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) had leaflets passed around that read:

Las Águilas Negras Presente.
Limpieza Social para el bien de todos

The Black Eagles are Here.
Social cleansing for the benefit of all

More information will follow as it becomes available.

December 6, 2008 Weblog:

Commemorating 80 years after the Banana Massacre in Colombia


Today is the 80th anniversary of the Banana Massacre in Ciénaga, Colombia. The workers began a strike against the company on November 12, 1928.

According to Eduardo Mahecha, who survived the massacre: "The deadly pistol and machine gun fire lasted 15 minutes, resulting in the death of 207 workers and 32 injured."

The banana operations at the time were controlled by the infamous United Fruit Company. Those responsible for the massacre were never brought to justice. The workers reorganized themselves and struck again in 1934, this time winning the concessions they sought.

Fans of Garcia Márquez may remember his portrayal of the massacre in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

What has changed in the last 80 years?

Armies and paramilitaries the world over are still in the service of transnational corporations (disturbingly, one of the most high profile cases-in-point is that of United Fruit's progeny Chiquita Brands' payments of paramilitaries in Colombia).

Workers movements are still portrayed as being linked with "dark forces," as was the recent strike by sugar cane workers in Colombia.

» continue reading "Commemorating 80 years after the Banana Massacre in Colombia"

December 5, 2008 Weblog:

Photos from Colombia


Check my flickr page for photos from Colombia.

December 3, 2008 Weblog:

From Colombia: Pyramid Schemes and the President


The word Pyrámide (Pyramid) is on the lips of people throughout Colombia after the collapse of over 250 unregulated pyramid schemes defrauded thousands of people their savings, and may also cost President Alvaro Uribe his chance at a third consecutive term in office.

While I was in Colombia in July, it was common to see people lining up for long stretches first thing in the morning to buy into the pyramids, which promised 150% interest to investors. The schemes were operating openly until their collapse in mid-November.

"It didn't occur to any juridical or 'intelligence' organization to infiltrate the line-ups, hand over the money, receive the dividend, and serve as proof of the scheme. The DAS (Department of Security Administration) and the Casa de Nari (Presidential Palace) are much too busy spying on politicians and journalists to waste their time investigating narco-trafficking money launderers and other scammers," reads a stinging column published in El Tiempo in March.

According to the Polo Democratico Alternativo, an opposition party, the pyramids have affected every aspect of the economy in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo. The total amount of money lost in the schemes is believed to be upwards of $250,000,000. Many Colombians took out loans in order to buy-in.

» continue reading "From Colombia: Pyramid Schemes and the President"

December 2, 2008 Weblog:

Notes from Bogotá: Update on the Canada - Colombia FTA

It's a cool day in Bogotá, but the rains that have plagued the country over the last month have abated, at least momentarily.

I met with Mario Valencia from RECALCA (Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade) this morning. Top of mind for him was the possibility that Harper's Conservatives are dethroned on December 8, which would likely mean that the FTA is shelved, at least for the time being.

Though I'm personally skeptical about the possibility of a coalition actually succeeding in taking power from the Conservatives, in my experience it's rare that something happening in Canadian politics actually interests folks outside the country.

Mario passed along this statement from Senator Jorge Robledo, which reads, in part (unofficial translation):

The consequences [of a Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement] are evident: 80% of what Colombia sells to Canada consists of coffee, coal, flowers and sugar, which is to say goods that do not require an agreement to get to the market. On the other hand, 23% of what [Colombia] buys from Canada are agricultural products, principally cereals and meat products, which will worsen the situation of national producers.

The FTA [between Colombia and] Canada seems to have been written by a mining company. Canada is known as a paradise for these types of corporation, like Colombia Goldfields Ltd, Coalcorp Mining Inc, and Frontier Pacific Mining Corporation, whose environmental impact is already well known.

» continue reading "Notes from Bogotá: Update on the Canada - Colombia FTA"

December 2, 2008 Weblog:

Harper's Plan: Starve the Beast

"Starving the Beast" is an economic-political strategy to use budget deficits via tax cuts to force future reductions in the size of the (beast) government.

Tom Flanagan is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary. He's a member of the Calgary school, the Fraser Institute and is a former chief of staff to Steven Harper.

With Harper, Flanagan drafted the infamous "Firewall" letter to Alberta in 2001 urging Alberta to control Federal Health Care and opt out of the RCMP and the Canada Pension Plan. He is a close confidant of Harper and has been referred to by Western Standard founder Ezra Levant as "the master strategist, the godfather – even of Harper."

Flanagan recently had this to say on Harper's economic strategy in the near future:

"I'm hopeful there will be some ideologically-driven, neo-conservative cuts to government," political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper, said in an interview.

Such cuts, he added, would be consistent with Harper's long-term goal of reducing the size and scope of government.

"I think that's always been sort of the long-term plan, the way that Stephen was going about it of first depriving the government of surpluses through cutting taxes . . . You get rid of the surpluses and then it makes it easier to make some expenditure reductions."

December 1, 2008 Weblog:

Conservatives in a "Message Box"

For those, not up to speed in politico-speak, a "message box" is a carefully crafted set of talking points which political parties and others use to get a specific message out in the media.

While the Canadian press found out in March "that the Conservatives Party was scripting call-in responses for supporters to read out on the air," the Globe and Mail has learned through a leaked e-mail that Conservatives are doing it again.

November 26, 2008 Weblog:

Real News Network: Resistance to the 2010 Games

The Real News Network has a new piece up about resistance to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

November 19, 2008 Weblog:

Finer than Vancouver's finest?

The "Downtown Ambassadors" are a public/private security force funded by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the City of Vancouver. In this video, a red-jacketed "ambassador" is caught in action in Gastown.

Vancouver's new Mayor Gregor Robertson has promised to scrap city funding for the program.

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