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Bolivia’s TIPNIS Dispute: Example of How Liberal-Left Alternative Media Becomes a Conveyor Belt for US Regime Change Propaganda

Counterpunch

December 4, 2017

By Stansfield Smith

 

Pro-road CONISUR march

As has become a standard operating procedure, an array of Western environmental NGOs, advocates of indigenous rights and liberal-left alternative media cover up the US role in attempts to overturn the anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal governments of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

This NACLA article is a recent excellent example of many. Bolivia’s TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure) dispute arose over the Evo Morales government’s project to complete a road through the park, opposed by some indigenous and environmental groups.

As is NACLA modus operandi, the article says not one word about US and rightwing funding and coordination with the indigenous and environmental groups behind the TIPNIS anti-highway protests. (This does not delegitimize the protests, but it does deliberately mislead people about the issues involved).

In doing so, these kinds of articles cover up US interventionist regime change plans, be that their intention or not.

NACLA is not alone in what is in fact apologetics for US interventionism. Include the Guardian, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, so-called “Marxist” Jeffery Webber (and here), Jacobin, ROAR,  Intercontinentalcry,  Avaaz, In These Times, in a short list of examples. We can add to this simply by picking up any articles about the protests in Bolivia’s TIPNIS (or oil drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuni during Rafael Correa’s presidency) and see what they say about US funding of protests, if they even mention it.

This is not simply an oversight, it is a cover-up.

What this Liberal Left Media Covers Up

On the issue of the TIPNIS highway, we find on numerous liberal-left alternative media and environmental websites claiming to defend the indigenous concealing that:

The leading indigenous group of the TIPNIS 2011-2012 protests was being funded by USAID. The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB) had no qualms about working with USAID — it boasted on its website that it received training programs from USAID. CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez, thanked the “information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID”.

 

The 2011 TIPNIS march was coordinated with the US Embassy, specifically Eliseo Abelo. His phone conversations with the march leaders – some even made right before the march set out — were intercepted by the Bolivian counter-espionage agency and made public.

 

“The TIPNIS marchers were openly supported by right wing Santa Cruz agrobusiness interests and their main political representatives, the Santa Cruz governorship and Santa Cruz Civic Committee.” In June 2011 indigenous deputies and right wing parties in the Santa Cruz departmental council formed an alliance against the MAS (Movement for Socialism, Evo Morales’s party). CIDOB then received a $3.5 million grant by the governorship for development projects in its communities.

 

Over a year after the TIPNIS protests, one of the protest leaders announced he was joining a rightwing anti-Evo Morales political party.

 

The protest leaders of the TIPNIS march supported REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The Avaaz petition (below) criticizing Evo Morales for his claimed anti-environmental actions also covered this up. As far back as 2009 “CIDOB leaders were participating there in a USAID-promoted workshop to talk up the imperialist-sponsored REDD project they were pursuing together with USAID-funded NGOs.”

REDD was a Western “environmental” program seeking to privatize forests by converting them into “carbon offsets” that allow Western corporations to continue polluting. That REDD would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring forests in their areas.

These liberal-left alternative media and environmental NGOs falsely presented the TIPNIS conflict as one between indigenous/environmentalist groups against the Evo Morales government. (e.g. the TIPNIS highway was “a project universally[!] condemned by local indigenous tribes and urban populations alike”) Fred Fuentes pointed out that more than 350 Bolivian organizations, including indigenous organizations and communities, even within TIPNIS, supported the proposed highway.

CONISUR (Consejo de Indígenas del Sur), consisting of a number of indigenous and peasant communities within TIPNIS, backed by Bolivia’s three largest national indigenous campesino organizations, organized a march to support of the road. They argued that the highway is essential to integrating Bolivia’s Amazonia with the rest of the country, as well as providing local communities with access to basic services and markets.

The overwhelming majority of people in the West who know about the TIPNIS protests, or the Yasuni protests in Ecuador, where a similar division between indigenous groups took place, never learned either from the liberal-left media or the corporate media, that indigenous groups marched in support of the highway or in support of oil drilling.

Therefore, this liberal-left media is not actually defending “the indigenous.” They are choosing sides within indigenous ranks, choosing the side that is funded and influenced by the US government.

The TIPNIS conflict is falsely presented as Evo Morales wanting to build a highway through the TIPNIS wilderness (“cutting it in half” as they dramatically claim). There are in fact two roads that exist there now, which will be paved and connected to each other. Nor was it wilderness: 20,000 settlers lived there by 2010.[1]

 

Anti- highway march leaders actually defended industrial-scale logging within TIPNIS. Two logging companies operated 70,000 hectares within the national park and have signed 20-year contracts with local communities.

 

They often fail to note that the TIPNIS marchers, when they reached La Paz, sought to instigate violence, demanding Evo Morales removal. Their plot was blocked by mobilization of local indigenous supporters of Evo’s government.

If we do not read Fred Fuentes in Green Left Weekly, we don’t find most of this information. Now, it is true that some of the media articles did mention that there were also TIPNIS protests and marches demanding the highway be built. Some do mention USAID, but phrase it as “Evo Morales claimed that those protesting his highway received USAID funding.”

Avaaz Petition Attacking Evo Morales over TIPNIS

The TIPNIS campaign, which became a tool in the US regime change strategy, was taken up in a petition by Avaaz. It included 61 signing groups. Only two from Bolivia! US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.  Whether they knew it, whether they wanted to know it, they signed on to a false account of the TIPNIS conflict, placed the blame on the Bolivian government, target of US regime change, and hid the role of the US.

US collaborators in Bolivia and Ecuador are painted as defenders of free expression, defenders of nature, defenders of the indigenous. The US government’s “talking points” against the progressive ALBA bloc countries have worked their way into liberal-left alternative media, which echo the attacks on these governments by organizations there receiving US funds.  That does not mean Amazon Watch, Upside Down World or NACLA are themselves funded by the US government – if it somehow exculpates them that they do this work for free. Even worse, much of this propaganda against Evo and Correa appears only in the liberal-left alternative press, what we consider our press.

The USAID budget for Latin America is said to be $750 million, but estimates show that the funding may total twice that. Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador’s National Assembly, said in 2015 the US Congress allocated $2 billion to destabilize targeted Latin American countries.

This information, how much money it is, what organizations in the different countries receive it, how it is spent, ought to be a central focus of any liberal-left alternative media purporting to stand up for the oppressed peoples of the Americas.

Yet, as Fuentes points out:  “Overwhelmingly, solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many argued that only social movements — not governments — can guarantee the success of [Bolivia’s] process of change…. with most articles written by solidarity activists, they] downplay the role of United States imperialism…. Others went further, denying any connection between the protesters and US imperialism.”

Why do they let themselves become conveyer belts for US regime change propaganda?

Why did this liberal-left media and NGOs let themselves become conveyer belts for US propaganda for regime change, legitimizing this US campaign to smear the Evo Morales government?

Some of it lies in the liberalish refusal to admit that all international issues can only be understood in the context of the role and the actions of the US Empire. As if conflicts related to countries the US deems hostile to its interests can be understood without taking the US role into account. Some liberal-left writers and groups do understand this, just as they do understand they may risk their positions and funding by looking to closely into it.

It seems easier to not see the role the Empire plays and simply present a liberal-left “critique” of the pluses and minuses of some progressive government targeted by the US. That is how these alternative media sources end up actually advocating for indigenous groups and environmental NGOs which are US and corporate funded. They even criticize countries for defending national sovereignty by shutting down these non-governmental organizations, what Bolivian Vice-President Linera exposes as “foreign government financed organizations” operating in their countries.

Some of it lies in the widely held anti-authoritarian feeling in the US that social movements “from below” are inherently good and that the government/the state is inherently bad. The reporting can be informative on social movements in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia where the people struggle against state repression. But when these social movements in Ecuador or Bolivia were able to win elections and gain hold of some real state power, reporting soon becomes hostile and misleading. “Support social movements when they struggle against governmental power; oppose them once they win government power,” they seem to say. Their reporting slides into disinformation, undermining our solidarity with other struggles, and covering up US regime change efforts. UpsideDownWorld is an excellent example of this.

Some of it lies in what many who call themselves “left” still have not come to terms with: their own arrogant white attitude they share with Western colonizers and present day ruling elites: we know better than you what is good for you, we are the best interpreters and defenders of your socialism, your democracy, your human rights. They repeatedly critique real or imagined failures of progressive Third World governments – targets of the US.

Genuine solidarity with the peoples of the Third World means basing yourself in opposition to the Empire’s interference and exposing how it attempts to undermine movements seeking to break free from the Western domination.

Some of it lies in deep-rooted white racist paternalism in their romanticizing the indigenous as some “noble savage” living at one with nature in some Garden of Eden. Providing these people with schools, health clinics, modern conveniences we have, is somehow felt not to be in their best interests.

A serious analysis of a Third World country must begin with the role the West has played.  To not point out imperialism’s historic and continuing exploitive role is simply dishonest, it is apologetics, it shows a basic lack of human feeling for the peoples of the Third World.

A function of corporate media is to conceal Western pillaging of Third World countries, to cheerlead efforts to restore neocolonial-neoliberal governments to power. However, for liberal-left media and organizations to do likewise, even if halfway, is nothing other than supporting imperialist interference.

Notes.

[1] Linda C.  Farthing, Benjamin H. Kohl Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change (2014: 52)

 

[Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee, recently returned from a SOA Watch, Task Force on the Americas delegation to Venezuela.]

How the Mainstream Media Whitewashed Al-Qaeda & the White Helmets in Syria

How the Mainstream Media Whitewashed Al-Qaeda & the White Helmets in Syria

In Gaza

January 6, 2018

By Eva Bartlett

 

neil clark tweet

*Neil Clark’s tweet

 

On December 18, 2017, the Guardian issued a shoddily-penned hatchet piece against British journalist Vanessa Beeley, Patrick Henningsen and his independent website 21st Century Wire, Australian professor and writer Tim Anderson, and myself.

Many insightful writers have since deconstructed the lies and omissions of the article, which I will link to at the bottom of my own.

Judging by the scathing comments on the Guardian’s Facebook post, the general public didn’t buy it either. The Guardian, like Channel 4 News and Snopes, whitewashes terrorism in Syria, employs non-sequitur arguments, promotes war propaganda, and simply gets the facts wrong.

+++

As the purported theme of the The Guardian‘s story was the issue of rescuers in Syria, I’ll begin by talking about actual rescuers I know and worked with, in hellish circumstances in Gaza.

In 2008/9, I volunteered with Palestinian medics under 22 days of relentless, indiscriminate, Israeli war plane and Apache helicopter bombings, shelling from the sea and tanks, and drone strikes. The loss of life and casualties were immense, with over 1,400 Palestinians murdered, and thousands more maimed, the vast majority civilians. Using run-down, bare-bones equipment (as actual rescuers in Syria do), Palestinian medics worked tirelessly day and night to rescue civilians.

There was not a single occasion in which I ever heard the medics (in Sunni Gaza) shout takbeer or Allahu Akbar upon rescuing civilians, much less intentionally stood on dead bodies, posed in staged videos, or any of the other revolting acts that the White Helmets have been filmed doing in Syria. They were too damn busy rescuing or evacuating the areas before another Israeli strike, and usually maintained a focused silence as they worked, communicating only the necessities. The only occasion I recall of screaming while with the medics, were the screams of civilians we collected and in particular the anguished shrieks of a husband helping to put the body parts of his dismembered wife onto a stretcher to be taken to the morgue. The medics I knew in Gaza were true heroes. The White Helmets, not a chance. They are gross caricatures of rescuers.

oli 5

A White Helmets member. “Unnarmed and neutral”?

Reply to The Guardian 

In October, a San Francisco-based tech (and sometimes fashion) writer named Olivia Solon (visibly with no understanding of Middle East geopolitics) emailed myself and Beeley with nearly identical questions filled with implicit assumptions for a “story” we were to be imminently featured in. My own correspondence with Solon is as follows:

In brief, I’ll address Solon’s emails, including some of her most loaded questions:

-Who is the “we”, Solon mentions? Her mention of “we” indicates this story isn’t her own bright idea, nor independently researched and penned. Parts of the article—including the title and elements I’ll outline later in my article—seem to be lifted from others’ previous articles, but that’s copy-paste journalism for you.

-It isn’t just that I believe the mainstream media narrative about the White Helmets is wrong; this narrative has been redundantly-exposed over the years. In September 2014, Canadian independent journalist Cory Morningstar investigated hidden hands behind flashy PR around the White Helmets. In April 2015, American independent journalist Rick Sterling revealed that the White Helmets had been founded by Western powers and managed by a British ex-soldier, and noted the “rescuers” role in calling for Western intervention—a No Fly Zone on Syria. (more on these articles below). This was months before Russian media began to write about the White Helmets.

Since then, Vanessa Beeley has done the vast amount of research in greater detail, doing on-the-ground investigations in Syria, including: taking the testimonies of Syrian civilians who had (often brutal) experiences with the White Helmets; establishing that the Syrian Civil Defense exists and has existed since 1953, but are not the White Helmets—which has misappropriated this name; establishing that the international body, the International Civil Defence organisation in Geneva, does not recognize the White Helmets as the Syrian Civil Defence; establishing that men now White Helmets members looted vehicles and equipment from the Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo—and belongings from civilians; and establishing that White Helmets shared a building in Bab Al Nairab, eastern Aleppo with al-Qaeda and were present as al-Qaeda tortured civilians, among other points.

It is hard to believe that in the span of the two months between her contacting Beeley and myself that Solon, in her certainly deep investigations, has not seen this video, clearly showing uniformed White Helmets members with supporters of Saudi terrorist, Abdullah Muhaysini. Not quite “neutral” rescuers. But then, perhaps she did. She was willing to write off the presence of White Helmets members at execution scenes, standing on dead Syrian soldiers, and holding weapons, as a few bad apples sort of thing.

-As to Solon’s interest in my “relationship” to the Syrian government: No, I have not received payment, gifts or other from any government. To the contrary, I’ve poured my own money into going to Syria (and have fund-raised, and also routinely received Paypal donations or support on Patreon by individuals who appreciate my work). See my article on this matter.

As to how my visits to Syria and North Korea came about, this is another transparent attempt to imply that I am on the payroll of/receive other benefits from one or more of the governments in question.

-One of The Guardian’s questions was regarding my following: “That you attract a large online audience, amplified by high-profile right-wing personalities and appearances on Russian state TV.”

What following I do have began exactly one year ago, after I requested to speak in a panel at the United Nations, as the US Peace Council had done in August 2016. It is as a result of a short interaction between myself and a Norwegian journalist, which went viral, that my online audience grew. In fact, I deeply regret that what went viral was not the important content of the three other panelists and my own over twenty minutes report on conditions in Aleppo which was then still under daily bombardments and snipings by what the West deems “moderates”.

However, given that so many people responded positively regarding the interaction—which dealt with lies of the corporate media and lack of sources—it seems that the public already had a sense that something was not right with corporate media’s renditions on Syria.

The first person to cut and share the video clip in question (on December 10, one day following the panel) was Twitter profile @Walid970721. As I have since met him personally, I can attest he is neither Russian nor funded by the Kremlin, nor any government, and that he shared that clip out of his own belief that it was of interest. Otherwise, on December 10, before any major Russian media had, HispanTV also shared my words. Further, India-based internet media Scoop Whoop’s December 15 share garnered the most views (nearly 10.5 million by now). That Russian media later shared the clip and reported on the incident is neither my doing nor a bad thing: thank you Russian media for doing what Western corporate media always fail to do.

-Regarding The Guardian Solon’s question: “That you think that Assad is being demonized by the US as a means to drive regime change.” Of course I do, as do most analysts and writers not blinded by or obliged to the NATO narrative. As Rick Sterling wrote in September 2016:

“This disinformation and propaganda on Syria takes three distinct forms. The first is the demonization of the Syrian leadership. The second is the romanticization of the opposition. The third form involves attacking anyone questioning the preceding characterizations.”

Boston Globe contributor, award-winning foreign correspondent and author, Stephen Kinzer wrote in February 2016:

“Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.”

Countering corporate media’s demonization campaigns, I’ve written on many occasions—notably including the words of Syrians within Syria—about the vast amount of support the Syrian president enjoys inside of Syria and outside.

In my March 7, 2016 article, I cited meeting with internal, unarmed, opposition members, including Kurdish representative, Berwine Brahim, who stated,

We want you to convey that conspiracy, terrorism and interference from Western countries has united supporters of the government and the opposition, to support President Bashar al-Assad.”

In that same article, I wrote:

“Wherever I’ve gone in Syria (as well as many months in various parts of Lebanon, where I’ve met Syrians from all over Syria) I’ve seen wide evidence of broad support for President al-Assad. The pride I’ve seen in a majority of Syrians in their President surfaces in the posters in homes and shops, in patriotic songs and Syrian flags at celebrations and in discussions with average Syrians of all faiths. Most Syrians request that I tell exactly what I have seen and to transmit the message that it is for Syrians to decide their future, that they support their president and army and that the only way to stop the bloodshed is for Western and Gulf nations to stop sending terrorists to Syria, for Turkey to stop warring on Syria, for the West to stop their nonsense talk about ‘freedom‘ and ‘democracy’ and leave Syrians to decide their own future.”

In my May 2014 article from Lebanon, having independently observed the first of two days of Syrians streaming to their embassy to vote in presidential elections, I cited some of the many Syrians there with whom I spoke (in Arabic):

“’We love him. I’m Sunni, not Alawi,’ Walid, from Raqqa, noted. ‘They’re afraid our voices will be heard,’ he said….’I’m from Deir Ezzor,’ said a voter. ‘ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is in our area. We want Bashar al-Assad. The guy walks straight,’ he said, with a gesture of his hand.”

No one escorted me in a Syrian government vehicle to that embassy, by the way. I took a bus, and then walked the remaining many kilometres (the road was so clogged with vehicles going to the embassy) with Syrians en route to vote.

In June 2014, a week after the elections within Syria, I traveled by public bus to Homs (once dubbed the “capital of the revolution”), where I saw Syrians celebrating the results of the election, one week after the fact, and spoke with Syrians beginning to clean up and patch up homes damaged from the terrorist occupation of their district.

When I returned to Homs in December 2015, shops and restaurants had re-opened where a year and a half prior they were destroyed. People were preparing to celebrate Christmas as they could not do when terrorists ruled. In Damascus, attending a choral concert I overheard people asking one another excitedly whether “he” was here. The day prior, President Assad and the First Lady had dropped in on the pracitising choir, to their surprise and delight. And although the church was within hitting distance of mortars fired by the west’s “moderates” (and indeed that area had been repeatedly hit by mortars), the people faced that prospect in hopes of a re-visit by the President.

These are just some of many examples of the support Syria’s president sees and the attempts to vilify he and other Syrian leadership. Even Fox News acknowledged his support, referring to the 2014 elections:

…it underscored the considerable support that President Bashar Assad still enjoys from the population, including many in the majority Sunni Muslim community. …Without Sunni support, however, Assad’s rule would have collapsed long ago.”

Regarding war crimes, Syria is fighting a war against terrorism, but corporate media continues fabricating claims, and repeating those fabricated, not-investigated, accusations. For example, the repeated claim of the Syrian government starving civilians. In my on the ground investigations, I’ve revealed the truth behind starvation (and hospitals destroyed, and “last doctors”) in Aleppo, in Madaya, in al-Waer, in Old Homs (2014). In all instances, starvation and lack of medical care was solely due to terrorists—including al-Qaeda—hoarding food (and medical supplies). Vanessa Beeley has in greater depth exposed those corporate media lies regarding eastern Aleppo.

Even Reuters later reported on finding stockpiles of food in a “rebel” held building, citing civilians saying specifically that the Army of Islam “rebels”,  “kept all these items, here and there. They did not allow us to eat even a piece of bread. We died out of hunger.”

Regarding chemical weapons accusations, those have long been negated by the investigations of Seymour Hersh (on Ghouta 2013; on Khan Sheikhoun 2017) and the UN’s own Carla Del Ponte who said:

“…there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.”

Regarding convoys allegedly bombed, see my own article on one such claim, as well as award-winning investigative journalist, Gareth Porter’s article.

Regarding whether the White Helmets have done any good work rescuing civilians: they are working solely in areas occupied by al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists, so no one can prove whether they have actual done any rescue work of civilians. However, we have numerous on the ground witness testimonies to the contrary, that the White Helmets denied medical care to civilians not affiliated with terrorist groups.

In September 2017, Murad Gazdiev (instrumental in his honest reporting from Aleppo during much of 2016) documented how the White Helmets headquarters in Bustan al-Qasr, Aleppo, was filled with Hell Canons (used to fire gas canister bombs on Aleppo’s civilians and infrastructure) and remnants of a bomb-making factory. The headquarters was in a school.

Gazdiev’s reporting on the headquarters was preceded by French citizen Pierre Le Corf, living in Aleppo for over the past year, who visited the White Helmets headquarters in March 2017 (and again in April), documenting the al-Qaeda and ISIS linked flags, logos, and paraphernalia found inside the White Helmets headquarters, and that the White Helmets’ headquarters was next to a central al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) headquarters. Le Corf also wrote about his encounters with civilians from Aleppo’s east, and their take on the White Helmets:

“…the last two families I met told me that they helped the injured terrorists first and sometimes left the civilians in the rubble. When the camera was spinning everyone was agitated, as soon as the camera extinguished, the lives of the people under rubble took less importance…. all the videos you’ve seen in the media come from one or the other. Civilians couldn’t afford cameras or 3G internet package when it was already difficult to buy bread, only armed and partisan groups.”

Vanessa Beeley took testimonies she took from civilians from eastern, al-Qaeda-occupied Aleppo, in December 2016 when the city was liberated. Beeley later wrote:

“When I asked them if they knew of the “civil defence”, they all nodded furiously and said, “yes, yes – Nusra Front civil defence”. Most of them elaborated and told me that the Nusra Front civil defence never helped civilians, they only worked for the armed groups.”

Beeley also wrote of the White Helmets’ complicity in the massacre of civilians (including 116 children) from Foua and Kafraya in April 2017.

Credentials, Please: What Is Journalism?

Regarding Solon’s question on my competency as a journalist, I note the following:

I began reporting from on the ground in Palestine in 2007, first blogging and later publishing in various online media.

In 2007, I spent 8 months in the occupied West Bank in occupied Palestine, in some of the most dangerous areas where Palestinians are routinely abused, attacked, abducted and killed by both the Israeli army and the illegal Jewish colonists. There, I began blogging, documenting the crimes in print with witness testimonies, first person interviews, my own eye-witness experiences, photos and videos.

After being deported from Palestine by Israeli authorities in December 2007, in 2008 I  sailed to Gaza from Cyprus and documented not only the daily Israeli assaults on unarmed male, female, elderly and child farmers and fishers, but also the effects of the brutal Israeli full siege on Gaza, Israel’s sporadic bombings and land invasions, and of course two major massacres (Dec 2008/ Jan 2009 and Nov 2012).

In the 2008/2009 war against Palestinian civilians, I was on the ground in northern Gaza with rescuers—actual rescuers, no acting, no staging—under the bombings, and under heavy sniper fire. I was also on an upper floor of a media building in Gaza City that was bombed while I was in it. And otherwise, I remained in Gaza after the slaughter had ended, taking horrific testimonies, documenting Israel’s war crimes, including Israel’s: assassinations of children, widespread use of White Phosphorous on civilians; holding civilians as human shields; and targeting (and killing) of medics.

See this link for a more detailed description of this documentation, with many examples, and my further documentation during the November 2012 Israeli massacre of Palestinians, as well as detailed accounts of my reporting from seven trips, on the ground, around Syria.

While questioning my credentials as an investigative reporter in the Middle East, The Guardian casually assigned the story to a San Fransisco based writer specializing in fluff piecesfashion and Russophobic analysis, who visibly has little to no understanding of what is happening on the ground in Syria.

Addressing “the propaganda that is so often disguised as journalism,”award-winning journalist and film maker, John Pilger, said (emphasis added):

Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote about an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. He was referring to journalism, the media. That was almost 80 years ago, not long after corporate journalism was invented. It’s a history few journalists talk about or know about, and it began with the arrival of corporate advertising.

 

As the new corporations began taking over the press, something called ‘professional journalism’ was invented. To attract big advertisers, the new corporate press had to appear respectable, pillars of the establishment, objective, impartial, balanced. The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalists. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media.

 

The whole thing was entirely bogus. For what the public didn’t know, was that in order to be professional, journalists had to ensure that news and opinion were dominated by official sources. And that hasn’t changed. Go through the New York Times on any day, and check the sources of the main political stories, domestic and foreign, and you’ll find that they’re dominated by governments and other establishment interests. That’s the essence of professional journalism.

On a publicly-shared Facebook post, journalist Stephen Kinzer wrote:

“I happen to agree with Eva’s take on Syria, but from a journalist’s perspective, the true importance of what she does goes beyond reporting from any single country. She challenges the accepted narrative–and that is the essence of journalism. Everything else is stenography. Budding foreign correspondents take note!!”

In The Guardian’s smear piece, it is interesting that Solon employed a tactic used to denigrate the credibility of a writer by dubbing he/she merely a “blogger”. In her story, Solon used “blogger” four times, three times in reference to Vanessa Beeley (who contributes in depth articles to a variety of online media).

In the latter case, she quoted executive director of the Purpose Inc-operated “Syria Campaign” PR project, James Sadri saying:

“A blogger for a 9/11 truther website who only visited Syria for the first time last year should not be taken seriously as an impartial expert on the conflict.”

Remind me when either Sadri or Solon was last there? Seems to be 2008 for Sadri, and never for Solon. But they are “credible” and someone like Beeley who has since her first 2016 visit to Syria has returned numerous occasions, in the country at pivotal times—like during the liberation of Aleppo, speaking with Syrian civilians from eastern areas formerly occupied by al-Qaeda and co-extremists—is not?

As for bloggers, there are many insightful writers and researchers self-publishing on blogs (for example,  this blog). However, that aside, it is amusing to note that Solon on her LinkedIn profile list her first skill as blogging. Is she a mere blogger?

oli blogging

Regarding Solon’s use of the “truthers” theme, did she recycle this from an article on Wired peddled eight months ago? Her use of “truthers” is clearly to paint anyone who investigates the White Helmets as Alex Jones-esque. Is she capable of originality?

castello

Nov 4, 2016: Less than 100 metres away, the second of two mortars fired by terrorist factions less than 1 km from Castello Road on Nov. 4. The road and humanitarian corridor were targeted at least seven times that day by terrorist factions. Many of those in corporate media had retired to the bus, and donned helmets and flak jackets. I was on the road without such luxuries. Read about it here.

Guardian Uses CIA “Conspiracy Theory” Tactic

In addition to using denigrating terms, The Guardian threw in the loaded CIA term “conspiracy theorists”.

As Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Studies and author, noted in a June 2017 panel (emphasis added):

“Conspiracy theory was not much used by journalist for the decades prior to 1967, when suddenly it’s used all the time, and increasingly ever since.

And the reason for this is that the CIA at that time sent a memo to its station chiefs world wide, urging them to use their propaganda assets and friends in the media, to discredit the work of Mark Lane… books attacking the Warren Commission Report. Mark Lane’s was a best seller, so the CIA’s response was to send out this memo urging a counter-attack, so that hacks responsive to the agency would write reviews attacking these authors as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and using one or more of five specific arguments listed in the memo.”

Guess Solon got the memo.

Professor James Tracy elaborated:

“Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.”

Researcher and writer Kevin Ryan noted (emphasis added):

“In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

 

“…Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which ‘conspiracy theorists’ were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events. President George W. Bush and his colleagues often used the phrase conspiracy theory in attempts to deter questioning about their activities.”

In her piece for the Guardian, Solon threw in the Russia is behind everything clause.

Scott Lucas (who Solon quotes in her own article) in August 2017 wrote (emphasis added):

“Russian State outlets have pursued a campaign — especially since Moscow’s military intervention in September 2015.”

Solon’s article? (emphasis added):

“The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015…”

But I’m sure this is a mere coincidence.

Initial Investigations Into The White Helmets Precede Russia’s

As mentioned earlier in this article, in 2014 and early 2015, long before any Russian media took notice, Cory Morningstar and Rick Sterling were already countering the official story of the White Helmets.

Morningstar on September 17, 2014, wrote:

“The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices [3], The Syria Campaign [4] and March Campaign #withSyria. …The message is clear. Purpose wants the green light for military intervention in Syria, well-cloaked under the guise of humanitarianism – an oxymoron if there ever was one.”

This is where the White Helmets step in.

Rick Sterling’s April 9, 2015, article looked at the White Helmets as a PR project for western intervention in Syria. He wrote (emphasis added):

“White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria. Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

Since her initial scrutiny into the White Helmets in September 2015, by October revealing their ties to executioners in Syria, Vanessa Beeley has relentlessly pursued the organization, and the lies and propaganda around it, their funding of at least over $150 million, far more than needed for medical supplies and high-tech camera equipment.

As 21st Century Wire pointed out (emphasis added):

“Note that The Guardian and Olivia Solon also claim that the White Helmets are only “volunteers” – a foundational misrepresentation designed to generate sympathy for their employees. One could call this a gross lie when you consider the fact the White Helmets are paid a regular salary (which the Guardian deceptively call a ‘stipend’) which is in fact much higher than the national average salary in Syria – a fact conveniently left out in the Guardian’s apparent foreign office-led propaganda piece:

 

Guardian informationists like Solon would never dare mention that the White Helmet’s ‘monthly stipend’ is far in excess of the standard salary for a Syrian Army soldier who is lucky to take home $60 -$70 per month.”

The Guardian Whitewashes the White Helmets

What are some things The Guardian could have investigated, had Solon’s story not been predetermined and had she approached with an honest intent to investigate the White Helmets?

  • Solon very misguidedly chose to highlight the White Helmets’ “mannequin challenge” video, writing that the video was “stripped of its context”. What was the context? That the White Helmets, supposedly frantically, full-time rescuing civilians under the bombs, took time to make a video simulating a heroic rescue scene? The video reveals the patently obvious point that the White Helmets can clearly stage a very convincing “rescue” video. But Solon ignores this point, it doesn’t fit her factless, Russophobic story. Further, I cannot imagine any of the Palestinian rescuers I worked with wasting a moment of precious time for such an absurd video.
  • That in spite of the White Helmets’ professed motto, “To save a life is to save all of humanity” they willingly participated in executions of civilians. But Solon wrote those extremist-affiliated White Helmets who hold weapons or stand on dead bodies or chant with al-Qaeda off as “isolated” and “rogue” actors, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Best part? It wasn’t Russia which photographed them, it was from their own social media accounts, where they proudly displayed their allegiance to terrorists.

 

In her attempt to defend the “rogue” assertion, Solon brings in White Helmets leader, Raed Saleh, who she doesn’t mention was denied entry to the US in April 2016, and deemed by the State Department’s Mark Toner to have ties to extremists.

Here’s one poignant example of a rogue actor who was dealt with by White Helmets’ leadership:

“Muawiya Hassan Agha was present at Rashideen, and he later became infamous for his involvement in the execution of two prisoners of war in Aleppo. For this rogue bad appleness he was supposedly fired from the White Helmets, although he was later photographed still with them. He has also been photographed celebrating ‘victory’ with Nusra Front in Idlib.”

  • The soldiers which Solon calls “pro-Assad fighters” are actually members of Syria’s national army. Lexicon is important, and by denigrating members of the national army, Solon is playing a very old, and once again lacking in originality, lexicon card worthy of some UN member states who violate UN protocol and in the UN call the Syrian government a “regime” (as Solon also does…) instead of government. In the UN, governments must be called by their official names. The Syrian Arab Republic, or the government of Syria.
  • That it is not the entire UNSC which believes that Syria has committed the crimes Solon repeats, it is some members with an admitted vested interest in toppling the Syrian government.

 

The Chemical Card

In her attempt to validate the White Helmets, and delegitimize those who question them, The Guardian article presented as fact claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, that the White Helmets provided valuable documentation to the fact, and stated that Beeley and myself were some of the “most vocal sceptics” of the official narrative.

But so was the British and US media:

“The following Mail Online article was published and subsequently removed.

Note the contradictory discourse: “Obama issued warning to Syrian president Bashar al Assad”, “White House gave green light to chemical weapons attack”.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-06-at-21.01.09-768x725

From the horse’s mouth: CNN

Screen-Shot-2017-04-06-at-19.12.35-768x144

Sources: U.S. helping underwrite Syrian rebel training on securing chemical weapons

Amusingly, according to the article (by the Qatari-owned channel, Al Jazeera) which The Guardian provided to back up their assertion of the Syrian government’s culpability (instead of providing the September 2017 UN report, itself questionable, and a much longer read for Solon), (emphasis added):

“All evidence available leads the Commission to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe Syrian forces dropped an aerial bomb dispersing sarin in Khan Sheikhoun.”

Reasonable grounds to believe is not exactly a confirmation of evidence, it’s just a belief.

The same article noted the investigators had not been to Syria and “based their findings on photographs of bomb remnants, satellite imagery and witness testimony.”

Witness testimony from an al-Qaeda-dominated area? Very credible. The White Helmet leader in Khan Sheikhoun, Mustafa al-Haj Yussef, is an extremist showing allegiance to the actions of al-Qaeda. As Vanessa Beeley wrote:

“Yussef has called for the shelling of civilians, the execution of anyone not fasting during Ramadan, the murder of anyone considered a Shabiha, the killing of the SAA and the looting of their property. …He clearly supports both Nusra Front, an internationally recognised terrorist group, and Ahrar Al Sham…Yussef is far from being neutral, impartial or humanitarian.

The initial analysis (of an April 2017 White House statement on Khan Sheikhoun) by Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, found (emphasis added):

“I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.

Postol’s analysis concludes that the alleged evidence

“points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4,” and notes that “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft.”

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh also looked at the official accusations, noting that claims made by MSF contradicted the official accusation of the Syrian government bombing the area with sarin. Hersh wrote (emphasis added):

“A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, treating victims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clinic 60 miles to the north, reported that ‘eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.’ MSF also visited other hospitals that had received victims and found that patients there ‘smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.’ In other words, evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

The second article to which Solon linked was a NY Times article which called the report a “politically independent investigation”. This should make readers pause to guffaw, as the investigating mechanism includes the questionably-funded OPCW, and among those which the investigators interviewed were al-Qaeda’s rescuers.

Regarding the report, Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli (founder and chairman of Swedish Professors and Doctors for Human Rights) in November 2017, refuted it as “inaccurate” and “politically biased”. Points he made included (emphasis added):

  • “The same JIM authors acknowledge that rebels in Khan Shaykhun have however destroyed evidence by filling the purported impact “crater” with concrete. Why the “rebels” have done that – and what consequences that sabotage would have for the investigation of facts is not even considered by the panel.”
  • “By acknowledging that Khan Shaykhun was then under control of al-Nusra, the JIM report exhibits yet another methodological contradiction: That would mean that al-Nusra and its jihadists allies, by having control of the area, they were also in control of the ‘official’ information delivered from Khan Shaykhun on the alleged incident. This would imperatively call for a questioning of the reliability/credibility (bias) of main sources that the panel used for its allegations.”

 

Twitter user @Syricide picked up on one of the JIM’s most alarming professed irregularity, tweeting:

Syricide

Even the Nation in April 2017 ran a piece stressing the need for actual investigation into the chemical weapons claims, citing the research of Postol, as well noting the following (emphasis added):

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA case officer and Army intelligence officer, told radio host Scott Horton on April 6 that he was “hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available, who are saying the essential narrative we are hearing about the Syrians and Russians using chemical weapons is a sham.”

Giraldi also noted that ‘people in the both the agency [CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented’ what had taken place in Khan Sheikhun. Giraldi reports that his sources in the military and the intelligence community “are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the US media.”

The same article included the words of the former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who noted:

“It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no military advantage.” Ford said he believes the accusations against Syria are “simply not plausible.”

So, in fact, no, some of the most vocal and informed sceptics were neither Beeley nor myself, but MIT Professor Emeritus Theodore Postol, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, former UK ambassador Peter Ford, and former CIA and Army intelligence officer Philip Giraldi, not exactly “fringe” voices.

Investigative journalist Robert Parry in April 2017 wrote of a NY Times deflection tactic (one which Solon employed), emphasis added:

“Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.

 

To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.”

That sounds familiar. Solon wrote:

“Beeley frequently criticises the White Helmets in her role as editor of the website 21st Century Wire, set up by Patrick Henningsen, who is also an editor at Infowars.com.”

Infowars is Alex Jones’ site, and Henningsen is for many years no longer affiliated.

Solon followed this with another non sequitur argument about Beeley and the US Peace Council meeting with the Syrian president in 2016, a point irrelevant either to the issue of the White Helmets or the alleged chemical attacks. But irrelevance is what corporate media do best these days.

The Guardian story-writer has done literally zero investigative research into the fallacies she presents as fact in her article. She’s just employed the same, predictable, tired, old CIA defamation tactics.

Integrity-Devoid Sources Solon Cited

In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, it is interesting to note some of the other sources Solon quoted to fluff her story:

  • Scott Lucas, whose allegiance to Imperialists is evident from his twitter feed, a textbook Russophobe, Iranophobe. Lucas relied on the words of terrorist-supporter, Mustafa al-Haj Youssef, for his August article on the White Helmets (the one Solon seemingly plagiarized from). Solon relied on Lucas’ smears to dismiss the work and detract from the integrity of those Solon attacked. That, and being a token professor to include in attempt at legitimacy, was Lucas’ sole function in the Guardian story.

 

  • Amnesty International, the so-called human rights group which as Tony Cartalucci outlined in August 2012, is “US State Department Propaganda”, and does indeed receive money from governments and corporate-financier interests, including “convicted financial criminal” George Soros’ Open Society.

 

It’s not just “conspiracy theorists” like Cartalucci who have written on Amnesty’s dark side. Ann Wright, a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserve Colonel and a 16-year U.S. Diplomat serving in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, who “resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war,” and “returned to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2010 on fact-finding missions,” has as well. Her co-author was Coleen Rowley, “a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003, and a whistleblower “on some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures.” Together, in June 2012, they wrote about “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars”.

Professor of international law, Francis Boyle, who himself was a member of the US board of Amnesty, wrote of the group’s role in shilling for war. In October 2012, he wrote of Amnesty’s war mongering regarding Iraq—endorsing the dead incubator babies story told by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter—and his own attempts to inform Amnesty “that this report should not be published because it was inaccurate.” He noted:

“That genocidal war waged by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, inter alia, during the months of January and February 1991, killed at a minimum 200,000 Iraqis, half of whom were civilians. Amnesty International shall always have the blood of the Iraqi People on its hands!”

Boyle’s parting words included:

“…based upon my over sixteen years of experience having dealt with AI/London and AIUSA at the highest levels, it is clear to me that both organizations manifest a consistent pattern and practice of following the lines of the foreign policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel. …Effectively, Amnesty International and AIUSA function as tools for the imperialist, colonial and genocidal policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel.”

  • Eliot Higgins, of whom Gareth Porter wrote:

“Eliot Higgins is a non-resident fellow of the militantly anti-Russian, State Department-funded Atlantic Council, and has no technical expertise on munitions.

British journalist Graham Phillips wrote in February 2016 on Eliot Higgins. Answering his question on who is Eliot Higgins, Phillips wrote:

“He never finished college, dropping out of the Southampton Institute of Higher Education. When asked…what he studied at university, his answer was, Media…I think.’ Higgins has always been completely open about his lack of expertise.”

The Guardian’s Russia Obsession

By now it should be clear that the intent of Solon’s December 18th story was not to address the manifold questions (facts) about the White Helmets’ ties to (inclusion of) terrorists in Syria, nor to question the heroic volunteers’ obscene amount of funding from Western sources very keen to see Syria destabilized and its government replaced.

Rather, the intent was to whitewash this rescue group, and to demonize those of us highlighted, and especially to insert more Russophobia (although Russia’s military intervention in Syria is legal, unlike that of the US-led coalition, of which Solon’s UK is a part).

Since our last early October communication until the long-awaited publishing of her slander-filled piece, Solon produced (or co-produced) 24 stories for the Guardian, nine of which were blame-Russia! sort of stories, including such lexicon as “Russian operatives”, “Russian interference”, “Russian trolls”, “Russian propagandists”, and “Russian bots”.

Is Baroness Cox, of the UK House of Lords, who recently spoke in support of Russia’s (invited) intervention in Syria, a “conspiracy theorist”, a Russian operative” or Kremlin-funded? She said (emphasis added):

“And the fourth point that I would like to make particularly to you is the very real appreciation that is expressed by everyone in Syria of the support by Russia to help get rid of ISIS [Daesh] and get rid of all the other Islamist religious groups.”

Cox, who went to Syria, is probably not a Kremlin or Assad agent. She probably just listened to the voices of Syrians in Syria, like the rest of us Russian propagandists who have bothered to go (repeatedly) to Syria and speak with Syrian civilians.

This is the first part of a longer article. Part II is forthcoming.

(*Some small additions are marked in red.)

DRau5UBX4AIcSem.jpg large

 

[Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist with extensive experience in the Gaza Strip and Syria. Her writings can be found on her blog, In Gaza.]

Accomplishments of Eleven Years of the “Process of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia

Chicago Alba Solidarity

January 4, 2018

by Stansfield Smith

 

Evo Morales will soon have been the president of Bolivia for 12 years, heralding the ascent of the indigenous social movements to governmental power. This ended the apartheid system against the indigenous that existed for 500 years in Bolivia. Evo won in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, followed by re-elections in 2009 with 64.2% and 2014 with 61.3%.

The country has made great strides in economic development, national sovereignty, women’s and Original Peoples’ rights, respect for Mother Earth, raising the people’s standard of living, level of education, and health care.

His presidency, which has brought an era of relative social peace and economic growth, has been the longest in Bolivia’s history. Since 1825 Bolivia has had 83 presidents with 37, almost half, by means of coup d’etats. Previous presidents typically lacked social legitimacy, representing a political system that excluded participation of the indigenous peoples, plagued by social and economic inequality, subjugated to foreign interests, and complicit with the looting of natural resources. By 2002, after years of neoliberal regimes serving foreign, mostly US corporations, the proportion of the rural population living in extreme poverty had risen to 75%.

The election of Evo, a campesino movement leader and head of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), began what his government describes as the “Process of Change” that shifted power away from Bolivia’s traditional elite, the mostly white owners of industry and agriculture, and towards the majority, the mostly indigenous workers and campesinos.

Reflecting on the historic significance of the changes underway in Bolivia, Morales declared: “We are the indigenous blood of Mother Earth. Until now Bolivia has been ruled by a few families that have all the political and economic power. They despise, humiliate, marginalize and hate the majority of the indigenous population.” “After 525 years of colonization, we indigenous peoples are part of the construction of a new Plurinational State and we have full particpation in international political organizations and forums.” 

Why Has Economic Development Been so Successful During the Process of Change

The MAS government undertook an anti-neoliberal  program, which has enabled the economy to grow an average 5% per year since 2006, compared to 2.8% during the years 1951-2005. As a result, the Gross Domestic Product has grown four-fold from $9 billion in 2005 to  $36 billion today.  Bolivia has become the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

Economic strategy focused on regaining national sovereignty over the country’s natural resources and using this wealth not to enrich foreign multinationals but to raise the standard of living of the neglected people of Bolivia. In 2006 Evo Morales asserted public ownership over the country’s gas and oil resources, making foreign companies turn over extractive industry resources to the state. The state now fully controls  sales, transport and distribution as well as key decisions regarding the extraction and refining of raw materials. The nationalization decree also forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate contracts with the new administration. Today, foreign corporations still extract most of Bolivia’s natural gas, but do so as contractors hired by the state, on the state’s terms.

Prior to the nationalizations (not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity, and a number of mines), foreign corporations pocketed about 85% of the profits generated by natural gas production. Morales increased the country’s profit share from gas from about 15% before his presidency to between 80-90%.[i] In 2005, before nationalization, government gas revenues totaled $0.6 billion; in 2015 it was over four times as much, $2.6 billion – in fact down from $4.5 billion in 2014.

In 2015 all gas and oil revenues yielded $4 billion, making up nearly half of Bolivia’s export earnings.

Over ten years, Evo’s Bolivia has gained $31.5 billion from the nationalizations, compared to a mere $2.5 billion earned during the previous ten years of neoliberal policies. This vastly increased revenue, largely used to benefit the people, starkly exemplifies the extent the people have been robbed to serve foreign corporate interests.

By the end of 2013 the state-owned portion of the economy reached 35%, double that of previous neoliberal governments. The state has become the main generator of wealth, and public investment amounted to over $5 billion in 2016, compared to a mere $629 million in 2006.  Much of this new revenue funds the country’s impressive development, infrastructure, community projects, such as schools, gyms, clinics, roads, and subsidies for agricultural production. It is spent on the people’s health and education, on price controls for staple foods, on wage increases, and social security benefits.

This humane redistribution of national wealth away from corporate interests to serving the poor majority has allowed one in five Bolivians, two million people, to escape a life of poverty. Even the World Bank has recognized the country as world champion in income growth for the poorest 40% of its population.

In the US, the government is taking the opposite course, turning its back on the poor. Here the poverty has grown over the same period, from 12.3% to 12.7%.[ii] Vacant homes number 18,600,000  – enough for each homeless person to have 6. The government cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in 2014,  cut 500,000 poor from the program in 2016, with plans to slash $19.3 billion per year for ten years. Yet Washington increases the military budget this year by $80 billion, an amount that could make public college free.

For Bolivia to industrialize and diversify the economy, to move away from dependence on natural resource exports, is a difficult long-term task. The country did create 485,000 jobs in the productive sector between 2006-2010, and developed industries to process natural resources.[iii] It advanced significantly its agricultural production, now providing 95% of the country’s food.  Yet raw materials still account for  90% of Bolivia’s exports.

Big investments are underway in infrastructure construction, hydrocarbon exploration, industrialization of natural gas (for fertilizers and plastics), more lithium production, and electric power for export. “Here we have the presence of China, with cooperation without pre-conditions, with credit without conditions,” Evo Morales said, contrasting Chinese aid to Western aid.

New Social Programs to Eliminate Poverty

In Bolivia under Evo, poverty has declined from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 38.6% in 2016. Extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) fell from 38% to 16.8%. The real minimum wage has risen from 440 bolivars a month to 2,000 a month, (from $57 to $287) Unemployment stands at under 4%, the lowest in Latin America, down from 8.5% in 2005.

Here are some of the measures to combat poverty:

  1. Electricity has been brought to 66% of rural homes by 2015, up from 25% in 2001.
  2. Over 127,000 homes have been created for low income Bolivians who lack housing. Another 23,000 homes will be built in 2018.
  3. The Juancito Pinto program aims to increase school attendance and reduce child labor. It presently reaches 2 million children, who each receive $28 annually upon finishing their school year.
  4. The Juana Azurduy program combats maternal and infant mortality, as well as malnutrition in children under two years old. Mothers can receive up to $266 from the program. UNICEF has pointed out the effectiveness of these social programs. Chronic undernourishment in children under wo has sharply fallen from 27%, when the program started in 2009 to 16% now, and infant mortality has been cut in half just since 2008.
  5. The Renta de la Dignidad is a payment to the 900,000 Bolivians over 60 years old, who would otherwise receive no pension. Incapacitated and disabled people now receive 250 bolivianos ($36) monthly and guaranteed job placement in public and private institutions.

More than 4.8 million Bolivians – in a country of just over 10 million – today benefit from these  programs, progams which not just combat poverty, but  improve public health and education.

Meanwhile in the US the bottom 90% of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

Bolivia has cut income inequality by two-thirds, with the share of income of the top 10% vis-à-vis the poorest 10% has dropped from 128 to 1 in 2005 to 37 to 1 in 2016.

In the US, after years of neoliberal programs, we have the shocking fact that the three richest US citizens have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population.

Gains for Rights of Original Peoples

The country, after a national discussion initiated by Bolivia’s five main indigenous campesino organizations, adopted a new constitution. The new document recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational State, with equal status and autonomy for Original Peoples, and also reclaimed control over natural resources. The new government has even established a Ministry of Decolonization (with a Depatriarchalization Unit) to further the uprooting of the previous apartheid system. By 2011, 90 of the 166 elected representatives of the national assembly came directly from the ranks of the progressive social movements. [iv]

Gains in Education and Health Care

Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13% when Evo Morales became president. After a mass literacy campaign that used Cuba’s YES I CAN program, 850,000 were educated and by 2008 Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy.  The country is second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education. There are now 16,000 educational establishments in the country, 4,500 of them were built since 2006 with the funds from the nationalized gas industry.

Life expectancy of Bolivians during Evo’s presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years. This is partly the result of the almost 700 members of the Cuban medical brigade working in the country. Cuba’s Operation Miracle has also enabled 676,000 Bolivians to have had their vision restored. Moreover, around 5,000 Bolivians have obtained their medical degrees in Cuba, going back to their country to provide their services. The country now has 47 new hospitals and over 3,000 health centers being built.

Land Distribution and Food Self-Sufficiency

Before Evo became president, 5% of property owners owned 70% of the arable land.[v] From 2006-2010 over 35 million hectares of land (1/3rd of Bolivia), was handed over to Original Peoples’ peasant communities to be run communally. This included government lands, large estates, and forest. Another 21 million hectares previously occupied illegally by large landowners were declared public lands, mostly protected forests.[vi] The land reform law expropriated underutilized lands, and permitted seizure of property from landowners employing forced labor or debt peonage. In all, approximately 800,000 low-income peasants have benefited. Of those who received titles to their land, 46% have been women. For the first time since the European conquest, smallholders control 55% of all land. The government ensures that these small producers receive preferential access to equipment, supplies, loans, and state subsidized markets, key factors in enabling the country to become self-sufficient in food.

US Interference and Regime Change Attempts

As John Perkins points out in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, any government pursuing anti-neoliberal economic policies or its own foreign policy independent of the US, as the case with Rafael Correa’s Ecuador and Evo’s Bolivia, becomes a US target for overthrow.

Evo Morales has become one of Washington’s most disfavored leaders in the Americas.  Washington continues to be concerned about Evo revolutionizing the indigenous movements in the region, and  tries to tarnish his reputation as an indigenous movement leader.

Wikileaks documents show that the US tried to undermine the presidencies of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa even before they were elected. Right after Evo’s inauguration, the US ambassador made it clear to him that funding by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and IMF depended on his “good behavior,” [vii] that is: back off nationalizing Bolivia’s petroleum resources. When Morales rejected these “orders,” including naming government ministers and military leaders without seeking prior US embassy consent, Washington began financing Bolivian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the indigenous government.

Washington  used USAID, NED [National Endowment for Democracy], IDB, World Bank, and IMF, to take punitive measures such as vetoing multilateral loans, postponing talks on alleviating Bolivia’s foreign debts, and discouraging international loans and grants. US Ambassador Greenlee wrote in a cable, in January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” He noted “many USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”

US embassy cables showed Washington sought to create divisions in the social and indigenous movements that make up the support base of the country’s first indigenous-led government. Despite recognizing these were “traditionally confrontational organizations” vis-a-vis the US, Greenlee believed that “working more closely with these social sector representatives” who expressed dissent towards Morales “seems to be most beneficial to [US government] interests”.

USAID poured at least $85 million into Bolivia. Initially, the US hoped to destabilize the government by training the separatists in the richer Santa Cruz area in the eastern lowlands. USAID money flowed to groups in these opposition-based areas, as part of “USAID’s larger effort to strengthen regional governments as a counter-balance to the central government.” [viii]

Soon these eastern regions, the Media Luna, were in open rebellion, demanding a referendum on autonomy. Resulting protests led to the killing of at least 20 MAS supporters who had mobilized to crush the rebellion. The separatists’ goal was to divide Bolivia into two separate republics: a poor one governed by an indigenous majority and a much wealthier one run by European descendants in the areas home to the gas transnationals and large agribusiness.

The US never denounced opposition violence, not even after the massacre of the MAS supporters. Moreover, the US Embassy knew in advance of the opposition plans to blow up gas lines, but did not report it, nor even attempt to dissuade the opposition from doing so.[ix]

Evo was soon to expel US Ambassador Goldberg for his interference. Nevertheless, USAID  “still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.”  USAID was eventually expelled in 2013.

Once the Media Luna separatist plan collapsed,[x] USAID switched to courting indigenous communities by using environmental NGOs. The Aymaras – Evo is one — and Quechuas, Bolivia’s two largest indigenous peoples, live mostly in the highlands and central regions. The east is home to the remaining 34 indigenous peoples. In 2011 new anti-government protests in the east again arose, this time around a planned TIPNIS highway.

Protests against the Government around the TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory)

The Bolivian government planned to build a highway — actually to widen, pave and connect two roads with a 20-40 mile new connector — going through the TIPNIS. Western funded NGOs along with some local indigenous groups organized an international campaign against the MAS government, claiming Evo was repressing the indigenous and destroying untouched nature. This campaign was partly funded by USAID  and received sympathetic reporting in NACLA, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, and other liberal-left alternative media, which either omitted or discounted the US role. Avaaz [xi] and allied NGOs in solidarity with the protest groups organized international petition of protest. This foreign interference served to exacerbate a resolvable internal Bolivian dispute.

Fred Fuentes and Cory Morningstar wrote several exposés of this Western campaign against Evo, the covering up of the facts surrounding the TIPNIS road and the protests, including the USAID funding.[xii]  Evo Morales even revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials, including calls right before the march set out.

That the TIPNIS protest leaders supported the REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring TIPNIS forests, was also not mentioned by liberal-left alternative media. REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting.

Many Western solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many of their articles about the issue downplayed and made no mention of connections between the protest leaders and Washington and the Santa Cruz right wing.

Eventually the issue was resolved through a consultation process, and 55 of the 69 TIPNIS indigenous communities agreed to the road.[xiii]

US Manipulation Helped Cause Evo’s Loss in the 2016 Constitutional Referendum

The US again intervened to influence the February 21, 2016 referendum to change the constitution to allow Evo Morales to run again for the presidency. A smear campaign against him took place, including false stories of his corruption, nepotism, and fathering a child with a lover, which led to him losing the vote. The day is now recognized as the “Day of the Lie.” On the 2017 anniversary, mobilizations around the country backed the Process of Change and rejected the previous year’s vote. Washington is already at work to block his renomination in 2019.

USAID and NED Funding of Oppositional Forces

According to Bolivia’s Cabinet Chief Juan Ramon Quintana, from 2006-2015 NED funded around 40 institutions in Bolivia including economic and social centers, foundations and non-governmental organizations, for a total of over $10 million. For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia totaled over $60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador.

The Issue of  “Extractivism” in Bolivia

Linda Farthing notes that in world colonial and neocolonial history,  “the exploitation of [Bolivia’s] considerable natural resources has also been nearly unparalleled.”  It included Spain’s richest gold and silver mine, one the richest tin mines, two of today’s  largest silver and iron ore mines, half of the world’s lithium,  and South America’s second largest gas reserves.  She adds, “It comes as no surprise that Bolivia’s history and environment have been dominated by relentless extraction.”

A central challenge facing Latin American governments is overcoming this dependency on raw material exports to a world market controlled by Western powers. This issue, who some present as “extractivism,” has become one of the main points of liberal-left and environmental NGO criticism of the positive changes in both Evo’s Bolivia and Correa’s Ecuador.

 “Extractivism” is a deliberately politically neutral and ahistorical term that conceals the brutal history that created the present First World-Third World system. “Extractivism” glosses over what has been 500 years of mass murder of Original Peoples, their slavery and semi-slavery for the purpose of plundering their gold, silver and other natural resources.

The Third World remains dependent on raw material exports, with their economies fragmented into specialized extractive industries geared towards a world market controlled by the First World, alongside backward, low-tech domestic industries and a bloated informal sector.

Bolivia cannot compete in industrial production with countries with more modern institutions, citizens with a higher educational level, developed infrastructure, and with access to the sea. To break free from being a low-cost provider of raw materials, whether mineral or agricultural, will be a long process.

As Fred Fuentes notes,  the question of “extractivism” centers on how a Third World country like Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism to provide its people with basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian, but  the Western governments and their corporations. Defenders of the indigenous and Bolivia  must demand the West pay its ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia. “Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people. Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.”

Environmental Achievements

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Linera points out that Bolivia contributes 0.1% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its trees clean 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide, resupplying that as oxygen. He attacks the Western “colonial, elitist environmental NGOs” for imposing their environmental demands on the Third World, saying they are blind to the Third World’s right to development.

Fuentes called out Western so-called defenders of Bolivia’s environment who attack Evo Morales over extractivism, for not devoting a single article on how the government has drastically cut deforestation 64% between 2010-2013. He asked, “why have media outlets, seemingly so concerned about Bolivia’s environment, failed to investigate what might be the steepest reduction in greenhouse gas emission per capita of any country in the world?”

They also do not mention that in South America, Bolivia has the greatest number of trees per inhabitant. Peru has 1,500, Brazil 1,400, Argentina 1,200, Colombia 1000, Ecuador, 600, Paraguay 2, 500. Bolivia has 5,400. And this year they will plant another 5 million.

Misrepresenting the Morales government’s environmental record often aims to delegitimize Morales’ position not only as a leading spokesperson for the indigenous but  in the global fight against climate change. Evo has rejected the carbon offset REDD schemes many Western environmental NGOs supported and clearly blames global warming on the  First World’s capitalist operations. “I’m convinced that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and the environment, enemy of the entire planet.”  He has demanded the Western rich countries repay their climate debt by transfer of technology and funds to the Third World.

Bolivia as a center of anti-imperialist social movements

The Bolivian government has sought to build political alliances with other governments and social movements in order to help strengthen the global forces for fundamental change. Liberal-left critics of Evo Morales, who attack him around TIPNIS, “extractivism,” even for being a neoliberal, so often willing to offer  a checklist of measures for how Bolivian socialism should be built, so often willing to portray Evo Morales as backtracking after he took office,  tend to go mum on his anti-imperialist measures, conferences, and statements.

Evo Morales has become an outspoken world leader against US hegemony and has pushed hard to make Bolivia a center of anti-imperialist social movements. Bolivia organized a number of international conferences: People’s Summit on Climate Change (2010), Anti-imperialist and Anticolonial Summit of the Peoples of Latin America and the World (2013), Anti-Imperialist International Trade Union Conference (2014),  the G77 Summit of 133 Third World nations (2014), the key promotor of the United Nations’ World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life  (2015), World Conference of the Peoples For a World Without Borders towards Universal Citizenship (2017).

He has called for rich countries to pay climate reparation to those poorer ones suffering the effects of climate change. Warning of a coming “climate holocaust” that will destroy parts of Africa and many island nations, he called for an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes.

In 2016 he inaugurated a military “Anti-Imperialist Commando School,” saying “We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies.”

Besides expelling the US ambassador and USAID for their roles in coup plotting, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was expelled in 2009 for its actions against social organizations and for interfering with the actual struggle against narcotrafficking.

Evo Morales’ anti-cocaine program has resulted in land used for coca production being reduced by one-fifth since 2005. [xiv] The OAS considers Bolivia’s program “a best practice…[worthy of] replication”; it is also praised by the UN Office of Drug Control. The DEA’s military base was transformed into the Cochabamba airport and renamed Soberania [Sovereignty].

“I am pleased to have expelled the U.S. ambassador, the Drug Enforcement Administration and to have closed the U.S. military base in Bolivia. Now, without a U.S. ambassador, there is less conspiracy, and more political stability and social stability.” And in reference to the IMF and World Bank, which had served to force Bolivia to divert funds away from social welfare programs, he added “Without the International Monetary Fund, we are better off economically.”

Speaking of the US’ $700 billion military budget, Evo said “”If that money was used for cooperation or to fight poverty, we could solve so many [of the world’s social and environmental] problems.” Instead, “The US creates and perpetuates international conflicts for profit….The capitalist system that [it] represents is not a policy that embodies the people of the United States but a policy of the transnational corporations, especially those that commercialize weapons and push for an arms race…they use any pretext against the anti-imperialist countries to subdue and dominate them politically and rob them economically. They’re after our natural resources.”

Challenges Facing The Process of Change

Evo has said that “the retreat of the left in Latin America is due to the incapacity of progressive governments to face a media war and the lack of political training of the youth”. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera also pointed out that progressive governments have failed to promote a kind of cultural revolution alongside the political revolution; social programs have successfully lifted many out of poverty, creating a new middle class with new consumerist attitudes, without promoting a corresponding new value system; progressive governments must do more to tackle the entrenched corruption of the neoliberal years; the question of the continuity of leadership remains a challenge; and Latin American economic integration remains a weakness despite considerable advances in political regional integration.

Three factors may cause Bolivia’s Process of Change to stagnate and be partially reversed. It has not moved beyond anti-neoliberalism policies, that have brought great benefits to the people, in a more anti-capitalist direction.  While the MAS government has democratized the traditional Bolivian state, it has modified this bourgeois state but not replaced it with a new one that would be a superior tool for the indigenous campesino and working people to advance their struggle. It has not built an organization of activists committed to leading this struggle with the people.

Now coming on 12 years of the Process of Change, Bolivia is a new country under the leadership of Evo Morales and Garcia Linera. Each passing year is one more of social, political and economic transformation, of opening up national decision-making to the indigenous communities, peasant and worker social movements. Not only have the faces of those who govern radically changed, but the country itself. From one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has become the leader in sustained economic growth. From a country founded on social exclusion to the point of apartheid, it has become a country of inclusion for all, where more than half the Congress consists of women, where illiteracy is eliminated, where the people have free health care and education, and  have gained much greater control over the wealth of their natural resources.

 

[Stansfield Smith maintains ChicagoALBASolidarity.wordpress.com, produces the AFGJ Venezuela and ALBA Weekly, and is active in the movement against US interference in Latin America. He co-founded the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5 in 2002 and was active in that campaign through their freedom in 2014. He administers the Facebook groups ‘Friends of Evo’s Bolivia/ Amigos de la Bolivia de Evo,” “Stand with Venezuela,””Friends of Ecuador- North America,” among others. His Masters thesis at the University of Chicago was ‘The Development of the Labor Theory of Value in Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx.”]

[i]  Linda Farthing gives different figures: “the total government take shot up to about 70 percent of production, making gas its primary income source with annual revenues jumping from $332 million before nationalization to more than $2 billion today.”

[ii] These figures understate the actual figure as they exclude the 12 million undocumented, who are disproportionately poor.

[iii] Federico Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” vs “Good Social Movements”? in Steve Ellner (ed.) Latin America’s Radical Left, Maryland:Rowman & Littlefield (2014) p. 110

[iv]  Federico Fuentes « Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism », Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnepeg:Fernwood Publishing; London, NewYork: Zed Books (2013) p. 86

[v] Dangl, Ben, “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” California: AK Press (2007) p.95

[vi] Federico Fuentes,  Federico Fuentes « Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism », Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnepeg:Fernwood Publishing; London, NewYork: Zed Books (2013) p. 85

[vii] The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, London, New York: Verso (2015) p. 504

[viii] Ibid., p. 507; quote is from a US government cable. See also https://sputniknews.com/latam/201602191035028066-bolivia-wikileaks-us-funding-separatists/

and El informe de 2007 de la USAID

[ix]  The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, (2015: 508).  “The US had full knowledge of opposition groups’ terrorist plans, and yet did not denounce them,” Eirik Vold [author of Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa] told Prensa Latina, adding that the US had prior knowledge of a planned attack on a natural gas pipeline, which resulted in a ten percent decrease in Bolivia’s in gas exports to Brazil.”

[x] The Media Luna attempted coup broke under the pressure of several Latin American anti-neoliberal governments (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador y Nicaragua) issued a declaration in support of Bolivia’s constitutional government. Nevertheless the US continued to maintain constant communication with the leaders of the separatist movement.

[xi] It included 61 signers, only two from Bolivia. US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.

[xii] Fred Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” versus “Good Left Social Movements”? in Latin America’s Radical Left  (2014) pp. 120-121

[xiii] Linda C.  Farthing, Benjamin H. Kohl Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change, Austin, University of Texas Press (2014) pp. 52-54

[xiv] Drug seizures have almost tripled under Evo,  Informe Presidencial, 22 de enero 2017 http://www.embolivia.org.br/UserFiles/File/PDFs/emb_inf2017.pdf p. 12

 

Environmentalism and Democracy in the Age of Nationalism & Corporate Capitalism

December 14, 2017

by Clive Spash

 

 

Recently my masters’ students and I watched the film Carbon Rush. This reveals how numerous carbon offset projects – under the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions trading related Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – are devastating the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, and simultaneously destroying the environment on which they depend for their survival. CDM projects (such as dams, waste incinerators, wind farms, commercial forestry and oil palm plantations) suffer from dubious or no additionality and may as easily increase as reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the international climate community commonly regards offsetting as central to climate change policy. Such schemes have proliferated due to the desire for making money out of environmental crises and a total disregard for exploitation of the poor and weak, the very groups that ‘development’ (clean or dirty) was supposed to help. In the neoliberal era the rule of the banking and finance sector and multi-national corporations means prioritising making profits by shifting costs onto others; something that has long been recognised as the modus operandi of the business enterprise (Kapp, 1978).

Environmental commodification, trading and offsetting are business as usual approaches to  environmental policy. Whether converting wetlands into bankable assets as in the USA or greenhouse gases into tradable permits as in Europe, the justification is that the preservation of the capital accumulating growth economy requires mechanisms that institutionalise the ‘right’ to undertake environmental degradation. There is also consensus across political divides about the need for economic growth. In the UK, neither Corbyn (Labour) nor May (Conservative) had any meaningful environmental agenda, and both their parties remain totally committed to a growth economy. Diverse nation states are similarly united in promotion of environmental crises as growth opportunities. For example, the European Union and China are pushing the rhetoric of ‘Green Growth’. This combines increasing domestic greenhouse gas emissions through the extension of market based mechanisms and offsets with the promise of new future technologies as the ultimate ‘solution’ to address those same emissions. Faith in markets and technology remains core to international climate policy and unaffected by whether the USA is in or out of the Paris Agreement. Similarly, faith in markets and technology as environmental saviour would have remained the same regardless of having Trump or Clinton in the White House.

In actual fact, the USA has never been a leader in greenhouse gas emissions reduction or climate policy, and both Democrat and Republican administrations have contributed to weakening international treaties. The Paris Agreement was watered down at the behest of the Obama administration compared to a more rigorous treaty, with common base year and targets, recommended by the European Commission (Spash, 2016a). Obama made clear his commitment to protect American jobs over the environment and specifically over any need to address human induced climate change. In this logic, environmental policy is justified if it creates jobs and growth, which always come first despite the inevitable contradictions. Obama’s administration massively expanded domestic oil and gas exploration to make the USA the worlds largest oil exporter (Spash, 2016a: 70). Non-conventional oil has been part of this strategy, despite the world already having over 6 times the reserves it could possibly burn and still have a ‘likely chance’ of the 2°C target (Spash, 2016b). Obama boasted that under his administration enough oil and gas pipelines had been built to ‘encircle the Earth and then some’ (see full quotation in Spash, 2016a). He ignored the associated ecological and social harm, not least that to indigenous communities. In 2016, Native American protestors at Standing Rock opposing construction work on the Dakota Pipeline that, now operational, transports fracked oil, were brutally suppressed by the combined efforts of the construction corporation’s security forces, riot police and the national guard. All that was before the election of a climate denialist with personal investments in fossil fuels.

The USA is one amongst many nations putting their own interests before the common good, and with a record of saying one thing and doing another. Modern development is allied to a military-industrial complex that ensures nation states work to secure, maintain and expand their fossil fuel resource supplies at all costs. Current fossil fuel and infrastructure polices totally contradict the supposed  commitment of nations to the Paris Agreement, and its already exceeded, scientifically unhinged, target for a potentially catastrophic 2°C average global temperature increase (Spash, 2016a). Meanwhile, the
United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and similar international bodies have continuously pushed market approaches that fail to address  biophysical reality, permitting exploration for and exploitation of fossil fuels leading to emissions that should never have been allowed. Thus, there is no surprise that recent moves by the airline industry to justify its plans for 700% expansion by 2050 rely on carbon offsetting, while numerous governments (e.g. Austrian, British, French, Turkish) support airport expansion as an economic necessity to create domestic jobs and growth.

Sadly, over the last two decades, in the midst of our ongoing ecological and associated geo-political crises, a range of environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), rather than opposing such schemes, have formed alliances with some of the worst corporate polluters and resource extractors in the world and now actually promote them (Spash, 2015a). Greenwashing has become a major occupation for ENGOs. Many have become apologists for corporate self-regulation, market mechanisms, carbon pricing/trading and biodiversity offsetting/banking, while themselves commercialising species ‘protection’ as eco-tourism. Foremost amongst the neoliberal ENGOs is The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Its President and CEO is Mark Tercek, previously a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Its Vice President until recently was Peter Kareiva, a key player in the Stanford University flagship ‘natural capital’ project with its mission to convert ecosystems into environmental services that can be traded off. Together Tercek and Kareiva have promoted capitalism as natural and berated conservation biologists for not allying with corporations. In a revival of social Darwinism, Kareiva has even claimed that corporations are a keystone species!

ENGOs have been deliberately targeted by corporate strategists and in several cases they have been captured at management level. For example, Holmes (2011) reports on some of the boards of American ENGOs that include large numbers of current or former directors of major transnational corporations:

TNC 15 out of 26; Conservation International 26 out of 36; WWF-USA 13 out of 21. In addition, ‘these NGOs each have a business council, made exclusively from corporate directors, to advise the board of directors’ (Holmes, 2011: 9). Besides TNC, Conservation International and WWF, Hari (2010) cites the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council as all suffering from corporate capture and conformity to the basic tenets of neoliberalism. This is the spread of what I have referred to as new environmental pragmatism (Spash, 2009). The inroads into conservation by corporate interests are deep. Recently, Adams (2017) has analysed the pragmatic reasons behind this alliance, terming it ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and a ‘Faustian bargain’, that is sold as promoting the mythical Green and growing economy. There is, then, much to concern environmentalists about the role of environmentalism today and whether it can help or will hinder the achievement of a more just, ethical and equitable future.

In this issue of Environmental Values the state and direction of the environmental movement are at the fore. The extent to which conformity to current institutions and their values is regarded as pragmatic is the topic addressed by D’Amato et al. They contrast such pragmatism with the need for revolutionary change and consider which will achieve social ecological transformation. That ‘business as usual’ might no longer be an option leaves open what that implies for the existing political economy (from high-tech competitive corporate growth to low-tech cooperative community degrowth). However, as mentioned above, the hegemonic approach is techno-market optimism with the promise of preserving and  protecting the current capital accumulating economic system.

Productivist rhetoric is dominant in government circles and provides an imaginary that can fit with liberal, neoliberal, social democratic welfarist, socialist and centrally planned political systems. While some things must change the utopian vision of a ‘sustainable growth economy’ will not be surrendered.

The sustainable development agenda, from Norwegian premier Gro Bruntland onwards, has seen no conflict between achieving social and ecological goals and maintaining the growth economy. The United Nations has spent decades pushing various brands of ‘sustainable development’ as economic growth, with the Green Economy its latest incarnation (Spash, 2012). The basic aim is to make capital accumulation resilient, whether in the West or East, under democracy or despotism, whether state or corporate owned and run. How then should the environmentally concerned address this hegemony?

D’Amato et al. provide a new classification of the debate based upon qualitative interviews and a focus group with twenty young researchers working in the area of social ecological transformation. They  contrast perceptions of the role of research as extending from promoting a simple form of pragmatism through to radical change based on strong value commitments. The mode of social change regarded as necessary is described as extending from a gradual evolution to a radical revolution. The concept of the Green Economy was classified by respondents as falling within the pragmatic and evolutionary. The  majority (60%) of respondents themselves held the pragmatic revolutionary position, followed by those classified as radical revolutionary (25%) and pragmatic evolutionary (15%). Thus, while 85% of these young researchers felt revolutionary social change was necessary, 75% believed research should be  pragmatic. While qualified by this being a small convenience sample, the findings do indicate the   potential prevalence of new environmental pragmatism and supports previous work indicating that this  is a wider phenomenon amongst researchers (Spash and Ryan, 2012). More generally, D’Amato et al.’s work raises some serious questions over the general direction of environmental research and how far researchers are prepared to make their work conform to hegemonic values, norms and practices, including those they in principle oppose.

Yet, those who stick to their principles are often described as fundamentalists or uncompromising radicals who deny democratic process. Amongst environmentalists, animal activists have typically been painted as such extremists with their claims based on contentious rights based arguments. In some (supposed) democracies they are even regarded and treated as terrorists. Parry raises the issue of how animal activists should operate within an idealised deliberative democracy and what they could then legitimately justify doing to further their cause. The arguments for and against the use of different campaigning tactics are raised with specific attention given to the example of using video footage showing animal suffering. Such tactics are described in terms of creating a moral shock. Can this be legitimate in a democracy?

Parry makes the case that deliberative democracy offers a justification for representing animals in decision making, but that this does not require appeals to claims about moral worth. Instead existing democratic political principles and institutions are invoked. Three principles are then given, namely that deliberative democracy should be inclusive, authentic and consequential. Parry’s article evaluates animal activism on these grounds.

Inclusion refers to the right of representation in a decision on the basis of having interests that are subject to being affected by that decision. Political theorists have criticised animal rights activists for using undemocractic/deliberative approaches, which they claim are unjustified because these activists are just another group of humans seeking to promote their own interests. Such theorists believe animal activism should be undertaken through ‘normal’ democratic processes. However, as Parry points out, this is a conversion of human to non-human relations into a human to human relationship. Central to the politics of non-human Nature is the representation of silent voices (O’Neill, 2001). How the non-human get a voice in the human world is the central question here.

One aspect of the problem is the tension between attribution of value on the basis of possessing human-like qualities and possessing value despite clearly being non-human like (see for example Coyne, 2017; Vetlesen, 2015). The value basis of interests is then a core concern. Contra Parry, the application of deliberative democratic principles does not then seem to avoid the need for adopting a value basis, nor the need for moral reasoning. Notions of value are employed both in arguments for moral standing and rights of political representation.

A common approach in determining such attributions is to appeal to sentience and the ability for non- humans to suffer pain like humans. One reason is the search for generalisable and common interests, which are regarded as constituting authentic deliberation. Here there is an implicit appeal to Kantian moral criteria for establishing a valid moral argument, so once again contention over moral positions appear unavoidable.

Parry’s second concept, authentic deliberation, aims to encapsulate the desired qualities of democratic deliberation, namely: truthfulness, mutual respect, non-coercive persuasion, constructively seeking acceptable outcomes, reflexivity and prioritisation of generalisable interests. Parry then explores how far different tactics of animal activists match such qualities, and the same is undertaken for the third concept, that requires deliberative democratic criteria be consequential. The latter entails identification of discernible impacts of tactics on decisions, where the consequences are evaluated at a systemic level (i.e. taking into account various aspects of repercussions). Put more crudely this is an assessment of ends justifying means.

The question Parry debates is the extent to which the tactics of animal activists are non-democratic and yet still might be justified. Two tactics classified as non-democratic are imposing costs on others and the rhetorical exaggeration of moral disagreement. The former covers the making of an action (unwanted by activists) financially more costly for the actor, but is also extended by Parry to include imposing psychological costs on such actors. The latter concerns highlighting moral differences to emphasise what is deemed unethical. Such tactics are problematic for deliberative democrats – being termed exaggeration’ and ‘rhetoric’ – because of their commitment to political process as a consensus-seeking compromise. As Parry notes, in passing, there are those arguing that the worth of democracy lies in allowing for contestation over values, and that would involve the recognition of differences held as moral principles rather than seeking compromise and reasons to justify why everyone make trade-offs. A possibly related issue (not addressed) is the apparent contradiction involved in evaluating a social movement that emphasises deontology, community responsibility and duties on the basis of consequences and individual action.

Parry concludes that some of the non-democratic tactics of animal activists may have a role, but should be employed with reflection and moderation. In reaching this conclusion some aspects are only briefly mentioned, but seem central to any justification for radical action within the social reality in which we live today. Perhaps most important are the inequity in power relationships in society and the undemocratic state of the institutions empowered by the idea of a neoliberal economy. Such things as corporate power, greed and the capital accumulating economy lie behind the prevalence of threats to the nonhuman world. The associated institutions perpetuate and legitimise a range of practices against the interests of both non-human and human animals. In the struggles of indigenous communities, who are on the frontline of the extractivist economy and its accumulation by dispossession and land grabbing, there are few signs of legitimate democracy let alone the deliberative democratic ideal. How to live up to the ideals of deliberative democracy, in seeking to right some wrongs, seems of lesser relevance than asking how and by what means can the transformation of such an undemocratic system be achieved? Related to this is the question: what are the legitimate grounds for the institutionally powerless to fight institutionalised power?

Quist and Rinne are concerned with the challenges that disenfranchised groups face in building shared agendas and expressing themselves in their struggles to protect the environment and their ways of life. Their particular context is the conflict between different forms of resource exploitation and specifically fisheries versus oil extraction. They present a case study from Mexico that investigates media (two regional newspapers) representation of the conflict over access to the sea after Pemex, the eleventh largest oil corporation in the world, was empowered by the Mexican State to create marine exclusion zones. They reveal how the media operates with implicit rules of newsworthiness that play to the dominant moral discourses promoted by political and economic elites. In addition, they expose how this has played up divisions within the fisher community (e.g., between licence holders and other fishers working for them or independently).

The central concept in their case study is ‘patrimony’, or regarding natural resources as an intergenerational heritage that creates a community understanding and sense of common purpose. Under patrimony the community is typically the nation state, with patrimony operating as national heritage, but the study identifies how the concept is also applied at the fisher community level by its leaders. However, rather than being empowered, the fishers appear to be captured by the discourse of patrimony, while their own discourse, expressing ecological values that include their way of life, is excluded. Fisher leaders are shown to adopt the patrimony discourse against the interests of the wider fisher community, even to the extent that the prospect of fishers becoming oil workers is considered. Oil is judged superior in patrimonial value and for the national collective compared to the value of fishing for the local community. In this discourse, there is no questioning of the oil industries right to exploit the resource. There is a clear underlying productivist logic that excludes environmental concerns and narrowly frames the social as national.

How natural resource extraction issues are framed by the media is also the concern of Davies et al. Their particular case study is Greenland, where the population of 57,000 live in the twelfth largest country by land area. That 90 per cent of the people claim Inuit ethnicity adds to the distinct character of the society, as does having 80 per cent of the country under ice. In this last respect, climate change has been presented by some as an opportunity for opening-up territory for resource extraction. Indeed, this forms one of the major discourses revealed by Davies et al. in their analysis of 1000 English language media articles about Greenland. The potential for extracting oil, gas and rare Earth metals to supply the fossil fuel economy and its high-tech industries means climate change is not denied but accepted as an actual phenomenon by corporate fossil fuel and resource extracting interests. Rather than being a problem, climate change is seen as an opportunity. The media being reported here seems clearly focused on serving the speculations of corporations, bankers and financiers over where to make money. Such media coverage regards risk purely in financial terms of returns on investment (not strong uncertainty over climate change), and on the same basis the potential for oil spills due to new extraction is addressed as a risk to corporate investors’ returns, not the environment.

Other aspects of the media coverage over extracting Greenland’s resources relate to the geo-politics of a small Inuit led country facing the likes of China and the European Union, and multi-national corporations. The vulnerability of Inuit culture is also raised, including the potential impact on the relatively small existing national population being swamped by incoming labour. Yet, somewhat paralleling the case of Mexico, coverage also regards investment in resource extraction as a necessity for ‘development’ that promises jobs and the eradication of social problems through material wealth.

The idea of wilderness, so antithetical to advocates of the anthropocene (Baskin, 2015), appears in the media in both its positive form as pristine and untouched, as well as its negative form of waste land. The absence of human use is bemoaned by the latter as resources going to waste, while for the former this is where the environmental value lies. However, what is interesting in the reported media coverage presented by Davies et al. is how human–nature interactions are so easily turned into, and exclusively discussed as, human to human value relationships (e.g. human induced climate change having consequences for humans). Nature then has no voice in this media coverage.

Therein lies the failure of the environmental movement in its pragmatic neoliberalism. That the mainstream media is obsessed by framing its reportage in terms of financial and economic consequences is hardly a secret (see Chalmers, 2012). What is less readily admitted is the extent to which ENGOs have done likewise and so lost their connection to the non-human world that environmentalism aimed to represent in the first place. In the appeasement of presumed state and corporate economic interests, the language of environmental values is commonly reformulated to actually deny the existence of value in nature, non-human to non-human value and even the importance of human to non-human relationships. There is only the human-to-human relationship and associated values, and clearly some humans are more equal than others.

Issues of power, inclusion and representation in the environmental movement also concern the paper by Fenney, but from a different perspective. The argument is made that the disabled are subject to both oppression (disablism) and also the assumption of a non-disabled norm as valid and desirable (ableism). Evidence from interviews with disabled people in the UK is presented to illustrate the issues. In particular, Fenney highlights discourses on cycling and self-sufficiency as problematic. The former is criticised as specifically focussed on the able bodied, while the latter is seen as promoting a form of independence that is unavailable to many disabled people. Both are then loosely associated by Fenney with a neoliberal agenda in environmentalism.

The broader concern raised by Fenney is where in the environmental movement’s vision of the future will the disabled find themselves, how will their voice achieve inclusion and their concerns over social justice be met? Implicitly, alternative systems and their conceptualisations of freedom underlie this discussion. The modern (neo)liberal model of ‘freedom’ might be characterised as the individual holding others at a distance with dependency on high technology, machines, biotech and chemicals. The environmental movement has traditionally rejected this in preference for a low technology world based on community and explicitly recognising interdependence, where labour substitutes for capital. There are clearly many questions left unanswered by the environmental movement concerning diverging visions of the future, including the absence of implications for the disabled. However, environmentalism, especially eco-feminism, has strongly advocated a caring society in which issues of dependency and interdependency are made explicit, rather than hidden by production chains, technology and patriarchy.

In addition, the case made by Fenny does not establish any necessary link between environmentalism and abelism/disablism. For example, why does cycling need to be regarded as so exclusionary? Whether two, three, four or more wheeled there are many forms of locomotion that can be powered by humans singly or in numbers and be inclusive of different (dis)abilities as well as passengers. Perhaps the UK remains unfamiliar with the variety of machines available, but the idea that recommending cycling need necessarily be problematic and discriminatory appears to be in part based upon a limited conception of the options. The structural limits in the current infrastructure that favour cars also affects the imagination of what is possible and creates dependencies. That cars are part of our environmental problems is indisputable.

I take Fenny’s point as being that too little thought is given to the implications of getting rid of cars in terms of the implications for disabled people who have lives currently dependent upon cars. Their concerns need to be voiced and addressed when cars are targeted or bikes promoted, but such polices should alsonot simply be equated with discrimination per se.

Fenny notes that there is a growing (physically and mentally) disabled population and states that it is already approximately one-fifth of the UK population. Clearly the able do become the disabled as population ages, and there is an element of denial of this basic fact in Western society with its emphasis on health and beauty as youth. While Fenny presents the case for why transformation to environmental futures is inadequately addressing the issue, there is also a more general problem for the environmental movement here.

Social ecological transformation is discussed as requiring major systemic change, and for many that means changing away from modernist utopias (Spash, 2015b). The scale of change required in removing fossil fuels from the economy is far-reaching and involves major distributive impacts. All those with dependencies on the structures of modernity, its technologies, energy and material intensive devices are vulnerable. The environmental movement needs to seriously consider and address the implications rather than pretending everything can be substituted and energy transition will be straightforward. Environmental policy is no more a win-win than any other policy; different polices change winners and losers. For the environmental movement, some specific groups, practices and ways of life are deliberately the target of change because they are deemed exploitative, unjust and unethical. Societal change is an inherently value laden and political issue.

Currently major societal change occurs through undemocratic imposition of technology and infrastructure at the behest of minority interests, while the majority are just along for the ride, whether they like it or not. The rise of nationalism accompanied by militarisation and securitisation justifies exploitation of others who must be outcompeted in the fight for resources to maintain national and corporate economic growth. The depoliticising pragmatism of the environmental movement means loss of both direction and voice. The central issue, which was the reason for an environmental movement in the first place, is: how can different people live together and find meaning in their lives without engaging in the environmental degradation and mistreatment of others, both human and non-human, that is central to the currently dominant economic system?

Download the paper:

2017 Spash Env_Nationalism_Corporate_Capitalism EV_24_4

References

Adams, B. 2017. ‘Sleeping with the enemy? Biodiversity conservation, corporations
and the green economy. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 243–257.

Baskin, J. 2015. ‘Paradigm dressed as epoch: The ideology of the anthropocene’.
Environmental Values 24(1): 9–29. Crossref

Chalmers, P. 2012. Fraudcast News: How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus
Democracies. Milton Keynes: Lightning Source Ltd.

Coyne, L. 2017. ‘Phenomenology and teleology: Hans Jonas’s philosophy of life’.
Environmental Values 26(3): 297–315. Crossref

D’Amato, D., N. Droste, S. Chan and A. Hofer. 2017. ‘The green economy: Pragmatism
or revolution? Perceptions of young researchers on social ecological transformation’.

Environmental Values 24(4): 413–435.

Davies, W., S. Wright and J. Van Alstine. 2017. ‘Framing a “climate
change frontier”: International news media coverage surrounding
natural resource development in Greenland’. Environmental Values 24(4): 481–502.

Fenney, D. 2017. ‘Ableism and disablism in the UK environmental movement’.
Environmental Values 24(4): 503–522.

Hari, J. 2010. ‘The wrong kind of Green’. The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/
article/wrong-kind-green-2/.

Holmes, G. 2011. ‘Conservation’s friends in high places: Neoliberalism, networks, and
the transnational conservation elite’. Global Environmental Politics 11(4): 1–21.

Crossref
Kapp, K.W. 1978. ‘The Social Costs of Business Enterprise. Nottingham: Spokesman.
O’Neill, J.F. 2001. ‘Representing people, representing nature, representing the world’.
Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy 9(4): 483–500. Crossref
Parry, L.J. 2017. ‘Don’t put all your speech-acts in one basket: Situating animal activism
in the deliberative system’. Environmental Values 24(4): 437–455.
Quist, L.-M. and P. Rinne. 2017. ‘The politics of justification: Newspaper representations
of environmental conflict between fishers and the oil industry in Mexico’.
Environmental Values 24(4): 457–479.
Spash, C.L. 2009. ‘The new environmental pragmatists, pluralism and sustainability’.
Environmental Values 18(3): 253–256. Crossref
Spash, C.L. 2012. ‘Green economy, red herring’. Environmental Values 21(2): 95–99.
Crossref
Spash, C.L. 2015a. ‘The dying planet index: Life, death and man’s domination of
Nature’. Environmental Values 24(1): 1–7. Crossref
Spash, C.L. 2015b. ‘Tackling climate change, breaking the frame of modernity’.
Environmental Values 24(4): 437–444. Crossref
Spash, C.L. 2016a. ‘The political economy of the Paris Agreement on human induced
climate change: A brief guide’. Real World Economics Review 75(June): 67–75.
Spash, C.L. 2016b. ‘This changes nothing: The Paris Agreement to ignore reality’.
Globalizations 13(6): 928–933. Crossref
Spash, C.L. and Ryan, A. 2012. ‘Economic schools of thought on the environment:
Investigating unity and division’. Cambridge Journal of Economics 36(5): 1091–
1121. Crossref
Vetlesen, A.J. 2015. The Denial of Nature: Environmental Philosophy in the Era of
Capitalism. Abindgdon and New York: Routledge.

LISTEN: A Mexican Crossing Lines – Fake Progressive Agendas – Part 4

LISTEN: A Mexican Crossing Lines – Fake Progressive Agendas – Part 4

KPPP-LP FM             

Recorded live September 8, 2017

 

Part 4 of a 6 Part Series

[The 6-part series can be found here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 | Read the addendum here.]

A Mexican Crossing Lines discusses the Fake progressives that are linked to the Kathleen Bennett case, as well as the connections to Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits.

Also discussed on A Mexican Crossing Lines:

:: Burning Man Update

:: Fake Progressive Agendas Part 4

Listen To an Audio Podcast of the Show Here: (Note, Audio Podcasts are edited recordings of FB Live videos and are not necessarily what is broadcasted on the air on the radio station):

A Mexican Crossing Lines – Fake Progressive Agenda Part 4

Link to Standing Rock article discussed in this podcast:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2016/12/11/standing-rock-profusion-collusion-big-money-profits-part-4/

FaceBook Live Video of this Show Before Broadcasting (Note, FB Live videos are pre-recorded and then edited properly for radio Broadcasts on the air):

 

[Cindy Gomez-Schempp is station manager of KPPP-LP FM radio, Board President of The Peoples Press Project and editor-in-chief at Mexi-Can]

Reclaim Conservation: Activists & Communities Vs. Mainstream Conservation Myths

Reclaim Conservation

December 9, 2017

There are myriad definitions of the term “environmental conservation” and hundreds of ideologies and methods being utilised worldwide in an attempt to conserve habitats and biodiversity. At present, what is clear is that conservation efforts as a whole are failing. While there is increasing, large-scale financial investment in conservation efforts worldwide, positive results from this investment remains to be seen. Indeed, the species extinction crisis, destruction of habitat and climate change continue unabated and pose increasingly severe threats to the natural world.

Mainstream conservation institutions are increasingly modelling themselves on, and indeed directly reliant upon, commercial businesses. Being part of the dominant economic establishment positions these NGOs as conflicted in their ability (and desire) to take effective action against the root cause of environmental degradation which unarguably stems from uncontrolled capitalist exploitation, accompanied by corruption, broken nation states and a burgeoning world leadership crisis. These large NGOs cannot challenge these overarching systems of oppression because they have become part of them. By ignoring the “bigger picture” and the real cause of the problems that they claim to be concerned with tackling and offering superficial, insincere solutions, the big NGOs cause severe damage to our world in that they control the vast majority of resources and funding to ostensibly support conservation efforts, but fail to use it where it is most needed and thus fail to create any meaningful change or positive results.

In order to justify their failure, they have developed discourses blaming local people for being either greedy destroyers of nature or ignorant savages who lack the intelligence or motivation to work to preserve their own environment. Nature is being ascribed economic value and local people are being offered financial “compensation” in order to ensure they do not interfere with the work of the powerful NGOs. Grassroots activism and new, radical approaches to conservation are demonised and accused of “getting in the way” of the “real conservationists” (the large NGOs) in order to distract people from seeing activists’ real potential as capable of creating a new reality. Funds are being blocked from reaching either community conservationists or activists, ensuring that the powerful retain control and those uniquely positioned to dismantle the ineffective and damaging status quo are prevented from accessing the resources and opportunities that are required to make real change.

This situation must change, Reclaim Conservation, through activist work with communities, whistle-blowers and law enforcement, through academia, mass and social medias, will prove and inform the public that:

Conservation is activism

Conservation is against corruption

Conservation is against all kinds of discriminations

Conservation is against right wing, capitalist exploitation

Conservation is compassion

If not, conservation will just not work!

 

www.reclaimconservation.org

Celebrity ‘Charity’: A Gift for a Vicious System

Celebrity ‘Charity’: A Gift for a Vicious System

Al Jazeera

December 3, 2017

By Belen Fernandez

Irish rock star Bono talks to pupils at a school near Lesotho’s capital Maseru on May 17, 2006 [Mike Hutching/Reuters]

When movie star George Clooney married human rights lawyer and fashion icon Amal Alamuddin in Venice back in 2014, the Entertainment Tonight website declared that “it was charity that came out as the real winner” of the multimillion-dollar nuptial festivities.

The reason for the alleged win was that proceeds from certain wedding photos were said to be destined for – you guessed it – “charity”, that favourite celebrity pastime that so often translates into massive PR points and saviour-hero credit, not to mention tax breaks.

We non-celebrities have been so conditioned to perceive charity as something unconditionally positive – rather than a commodification and exploitation of faux altruism – that we don’t seem to notice reality’s conspicuous absence from the feel-good world of celeb-philanthropy.

Case in point: reports that rock star Bono’s anti-poverty foundation ONE managed in 2008 to channel a mere 1.2 percent of the funds it raised to the people it purported to be assisting have done nothing to interfere with the man’s portrayal as some sort of messiah for Africa.

In the case of the Clooneys, who now preside over their very own Clooney Foundation for Justice, celebrity worship and Amal-mania have also precluded sound judgement. Objectively speaking, it would seem that “justice” is not really an option in a world in which human rights lawyer-philanthropists by the name of Amal Clooney wear outfits costing $7,803.

The obscenity of inequality

Currently targeted for charitable assistance by the Clooneys’ organisation is the Syrian refugee population of Lebanon, where, the foundation’s website stresses, “refugee children are sent out to work for as little as 2 dollars per day”. Roughly calculating, it would thus take a Syrian refugee child approximately eleven years to accumulate enough funds for the aforementioned outfit (less if accessories are left out).

Fantastically expensive galas, celebrity photo ops with black and brown children in international charity hotspots, and other mainstays of the celebro-philanthropist repertoire do little, in the end, to alleviate poverty, hunger, oppression, and the rest of the global ills that are repeatedly invoked to tug at heartstrings and thereby provoke admiration and/or financial contributions to the cause being peddled.

This is not to suggest, of course, that one must always calculate and justify one’s expenses in terms of Syrian refugee income, but rather to point out that any sort of actual justice in the world would require dismantling the prevailing neoliberal panorama of obscene economic inequality.

In a forthcoming book titled Against Charity, authors Julie Wark and Daniel Raventos offer a meticulous and scathing indictment of the institution of charity as a key component of the neoliberal order – and of the role of celebrity philanthropists in keeping the have-nots in place and the powerful in power.

Celebrities, write Wark and Raventos, “draw attention to social distress but immediately cover it up by giving the impression that something is being done” by the wealthy of the world, who have the money to do things.

But fantastically expensive galas, celebrity photo ops with black and brown children in international charity hotspots, and other mainstays of the celebro-philanthropist repertoire do little, in the end, to alleviate poverty, hunger, oppression, and the rest of the global ills that are repeatedly invoked to tug at heartstrings and thereby provoke admiration and/or financial contributions to the cause being peddled.

Again, were global oppression to somehow magically cease, the “philanthropic” rich and famous would be up a creek – since no arrangement governed by literal justice would allow the obsequiously-celebrated “poverty fighter” Bill Gates to own a house with 24 bathrooms or for the ever-so-charitable David and Victoria Beckham to trademark their children’s names.

Disappearing context

Regarding the function of celebrities within “a system that sees famous people as brands and thus consumer products”, Wark and Raventos note that celebrity “excess” helps sustain the consumerist model by providing glorified examples of over-the-top materialism – while celebrity “beneficence” helps whitewash the brutality of institutionalised socioeconomic disparity.

Meanwhile, the “awareness” that celebrities purport to raise for their respective causes is frequently devoid of the political context necessary to comprehend contemporary causes of human suffering.

Take, for example, actress and philanthropic superstar Angelina Jolie, whose work as Special Envoy for the United Nations refugee agency elicits continuous media prostration before her charitable “radiance“.

Descending upon war-torn nations and refugee camps in characteristic superhuman perfection, Jolie decries earthly injustice – while regularly excising crucial pieces of the puzzle from her lament.

This was the case in a March 2017 speech in Geneva, when Jolie referenced “the conflict in Iraq – the source of so much Iraqi suffering to this day”, and yet proceeded to self-identify as “a proud American” and a believer in the notion that “a strong nation, like a strong person, helps others to rise up and be independent”.

Never mind that the US – a strong nation indeed – happens to have effectively destroyed Iraq, inflicting unquantifiable death and misery upon the Iraqi people.

In Iraq and beyond, in fact, the military and economic policies of the country of which our heroine is so “proud” have contributed to a range of humanitarian crises now abstractly seized upon by Jolie & Co – not least the Saudi-led starvation of Yemen, aided and abetted by none other than the US.

It’s showtime

A recent Vanity Fair cover story on Jolie touches on numerous aspects of the actress’ life, from her new Los Angeles mansion – “listed for around $25 million” – to her cofounding, with British former foreign secretary William Hague, of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012. According to its website, the initiative “aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence … in situations of armed conflict and rally global action to end it”.

This is the same Hague who, in addition to fervently championing the war on Iraq, argued in 2015 that just because Iraq had turned out poorly didn’t mean the west shouldn’t intervene in Syria.

In other words, so much for the prevention of violence.

Wark and Raventos observe that “the demigods of celebrity culture are a symptom of a general moral and ethical malaise in which, as capitalism is foundering in its own morass, mythmaking is essential for keeping the show going”.

If only the curtain would fall – not only on the sideshow of celebrity philanthropy, but on the myth itself.

 

[Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.]

 

AFGHANISTAN: DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS RECOGNIZED AS THE TOP BRAND IN THE MISERY INDUSTRY

Exhibit Abstract

“‘Great Harm Has Been Done to US,’ declared George Bush in a speech thunderously applauded by the U.S. Congress on 20 September 2001. With this disingenuous slogan the United States directed its unaccountable permanent warfare machine at the people of Afghanistan, a place that few U.S. citizens know much about. Our ‘allies’ jumped aboard, unleashing high-tech weaponry and shock-and-awe destruction on a simple people that have been subject to the nasty prerogatives of Empire since ~ 1838.

Civilians bear the brunt of this ugly war: over the past 4 years far more than 33,000 Afghan civilians were injured or killed. The cowardice of our war includes drone strikes, targeted assassinations, ‘dirty tricks’ black operations, snatch-and-snuff kidnappings, torture—all as policy.  The War of Terror has caused millions of direct / indirect deaths since 2001, and millions more displaced persons, and the U.S. has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Dilawar of Yakubi was a young taxi driver tortured/killed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

+++

“Decades of war means destruction of homes and villages, destruction of crops, croplands mined, failed crops, and rising displacement. Starvation and malnutrition were named in a major New York Times ‘news’ article that appears to be more a plug for the UNICEF brand and the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières brand than any serious reportage on the hunger crisis. The disingenuous title of the January 2014 article was: ‘Afghanistan’s Worsening, and Baffling, Hunger Crisis.’ What is baffling? This is a way to diminish responsibility and deflect attention from the obvious causes of starvation, crop failures, starvation, malnutrition, high infant mortality, and other obvious effects of the illegal U.S. war in Afghanistan. Further, the article notes that ‘despite years of Western involvement and billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, children’s health is not only still a problem, but also worsening’ but nowhere does the New York Times probe the massive corruption and outright (advertising & branding) lies of the for-profit humanitarian sector that, obviously, benefits from our permanent warfare economy.”

“Hunger in Afghanistan is a very real problem. These children play at sunset amidst piles of grain being processed—separating the wheat from the chaff using straw brooms on a dirt ground—by their fathers and uncles. To grasp the gross inequity between the level of suffering for children in Afghanistan (the target population that the AID industry preys upon), consider that combined salaries of the top seven Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières executives total $1,169,715 (* 2016 IRS form 990) and they receive $256479 in ‘other’ compensation. Of course, information about Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres corporate sponsors is not easily discoverable from either their web site or their published reports available therein.”

“This father and his son suffer alike after the child was wounded and rests in critical condition in a hospital bed in Kabul.”

“The landscapes in Afghanistan are vast, and the real reasons for the war are for access to the land and its natural resources. In the calculated equations of predatory western capitalism and the profit motives of unconscious demagogues and warmongers the people of Afghanistan are considered in the way: they are expendable, and the depopulation of Afghanistan is underway.”

“Afghan herders often trip unexploded ordnance and land mines while herding domestic donkeys, sheep and goats. Landmines and other battlefield unexploded ordnance (UXOs) contaminate at least 724 million square meters of land in Afghanistan, more than any other country in the world. Only two of Afghanistan’s twenty-nine provinces are believed to be free of landmines. The Northern Alliance and United Front forces have laid mines, while many Russian-era mines remain. According to Human Rights Watch in 2001, the Taliban had stopped using landmines in 1998, declaring it un-Islamic and punishable by death; after 1998 the Taliban were often falsely blamed for using them. Mine clearance teams in Afghanistan still find UXOs from the former Soviet Union but also from Belgium, Italy, the United States and Britain. The United States dropped about 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 bomblets between October 2001 and March 2002 alone; these weapons destroyed the homes and lives of countless civilians.”

“Afghan men discuss war and politics outside a mosque in northern Afghanistan. The people are angry at the U.S. occupation, the corruption of their leaders working with the occupation, and they admit that every U.S. attack redoubles the popular resistance to the U.S. and its goals.”

“Afghan farmers see the profit and value in planting their fields in poppies. The Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military have their fingers in the Afghan opium/heroin trade: heroin processed in Afghanistan by ‘Taliban’ and ‘Isis’ and other factions backed by the U.S. does not leave Afghanistan on the backs of donkeys. Warlords run the heroin business. The heroin is allegedly shipped by air to Bondsteel Air Base in Kosovo, where it is then allegedly distributed to Western Europe by the Albanian mafia.”

“As Dr. Alfred McCoy pointed out: On 16 November 2017 the United Nations released its opium report for 2017: total crop area up from 200,000 hectares in 2016 to 328,000 hectares in 2017; the opium harvest nearly doubled since 2016 from 4,600 to 9,000 tons, well above the 2007 peak of 8,200 tons.”

“A boy of ten years old—another obvious civilian casualty in the U.S.-led war “to win hearts and minds”—rests awake and immobile and terrified, his wounds still fresh and bloody, in the intensive care section of a hospital in Kabul.”

“The LOVE THY ENEMY sign I posted on my family’s farmland in Williamsburg Massachusetts on September 13, 2001, defaced over night by local people directly connected to the war machine. The people responsible for the war in suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Central Africa are the people of the western nations whose soldiers are fighting and killing there, the populations whose complacency and acceptance make these wars in ‘far off places’ possible. There is little discussion of these wars in popular quarters in the United States, Canada or Europe, as they are hidden and downplayed and obfuscated by the western media propaganda system. The U.S. population is deeply divided between those who favor war and killing and ‘putting America first’ at all costs, and those who see the pointlessness of war, and the profits being made to sustain it, at the expense of all people everywhere, and at the expense of nature, and all of planet earth.”

Photographer’s Statement

View Keith Harmon Snow’s stunning exhibition, in it’s entirety:

http://socialdocumentary.net/exhibit/keith_harmon_snow

[Keith Harmon Snow has worked as a journalist, war correspondent, genocide investigator and/or photographer in 46 countries — often traveling by simple means (mountain bike, raft, horse, foot) to enable a deeper engagement with the land and people.  He is the 2009 Regent’s Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work documenting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.  He is also a certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, and author of the non-fiction book: The Worst Interests of the Child: The Trafficking of Children & Families Through U.S. Family Courts.  In July 2016 his SDN exhibit Inside the Company, Down on the Farm (plantations in the DR Congo) won an Honorable Mention in the SDN Call for Entries on The Fine Art of Documentary.  He is available for assignment. You can also visit his website All Things Pass.]

 

PRESS CONFERENCE: “They Don’t Care About us”: White Helmets True Agenda

Geneva Press Club

November 28, 2017

 

The “White Helmets” organization acting in Syria is hailed as heroes in some countries, and the West provides millions of dollars to these so-called saviors. However, residents of Aleppo (Syria) claim that “White Helmets” care only about money and saving rebels, but not civilians. People from Fua and Kafraya confirm allegiance of “White Helmets” to world recognized terrorist organizations like Jabhat an-Nusra or Al-Qiada and testimony “White Helmets” participation in public executions. The videos that this organization produces are astounding Internet-users all over the world.

The briefing, according to the speakers, is designed to give “a clear view on what is the real agenda of these Hollywood so called “first responders” who received an Oscar for their performance”.

Press conference (both French and English speakers):

(Note: The English text of third talk by De Noli can be found here:  http://theindicter.com/should-un-consider-white-helmets-a-politically-neutral-organization-and-its-allegations-as-credible-sources-by-un-investigative-panels-on-syria/)

 

 

Watch the full video showed during the press conference:

 

 

 

The Most Valuable Players of the Natural Capital League: Part 2

Wrong Kind of Green

October 19, 2017

 

 

The Natural Capital League (NCL) has gained it’s power and influence steadily over time and through it’s extensive networks.

After 35 years of the development of ecological economics two senior foundational figures have emerged who are utterly worthy of the title MVP.

One of these senior figures is a revered economist and the other is a lawyer, networker, manager, author, and academic.

Herman Daly

Herman Daly is not only a most valuable player, he has defined the game itself while developing the other talented players who’ve pushed the league forward. His great conceptual achievement is the idea of the ‘steady state’ (1977). He has been a very active proponent of the ‘polluter pays principle’. In 1991, while he was at the World Bank to work on sustainable development policy, he argued for the idea of ‘rights to pollute’. In 1992 he co-wrote a paper containing one of the earliest usages of the term ‘natural capital’ titled ‘Natural Capital and Sustainable Development’. In this paper a definition of the term ‘natural capital’ was provided based on a ‘functional definition’ of capital – “a stock that yields a flow of valuable goods and services into the future”.

Herman Daly was the 1996 winner of the Right Livelihood Award, the 2008 Adbusters ‘Man of the Year’ and the 2014 Blue Planet Prize winner. He co-founded the journal Ecological Economics, was closely involved in the founding of the International Society of Ecological Economics and is currently on staff at the Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economics (CASSE). In 2012 he was a featured interviewee in the documentary ‘Four Horsemen’ directed by Ross Ashcroft who is also known as the Renegade Economist.

“Instead of maximizing returns to and investing in man-made capital (as was appropriate in an empty world), we must now maximize returns to and invest in natural capital (as is appropriate in a full world).”

Herman E. Daly (1994) in: AnnMari Jansson. Investing in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach To Sustainability. 1994. p. 24

***
‘Rights to Pollute’

Allocation, distribution, and scale: towards an economics that is efficient, just, and sustainable. Ecological Economics

http://www.uvm.edu/~jfarley/EEseminar/readings/sus%20jus%20eff.pdf

***

CASSE – Meet our staff

http://www.steadystate.org/meet/our-staff/

***

Natural Capital and Sustainable Development

http://www.life.illinois.edu/ib/451/Costanza%20(1992).pdf

“The SSE will also require a “demographic transition” in populations of products towards longer-lived, more durable goods, maintained by lower rates of throughput.”

http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/data/files/publications/Herman_Daly_thinkpiece.pdf

***

Gus Speth

James Gustave Speth is all about networking and was once dubbed the “ultimate insider”. He’s an MVP because his whole contribution is much greater than the some of the parts he has played, and he has played so very many parts. His list of fellowships and board appointments stretches to every corner of the sustainable development project. He is the highest ever American office holder at the united nations. He was the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, and he went on to become the Special Coordinator for Economic and Social Affairs under UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and chair of the United Nations Development Group. He cofounded the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and founded the World Resources Institute (WRI). Crucially he knows how to reposition his career to the advantage of sustainable development.

Gus Speth got arrested with climate justice movement leader Bill McKibben in an anti-KXL pipeline protest for the first time in 2011 shortly after moving on from the NRDC and WRI. He responded to the threat of climate change by joining the US advisory board of climate justice organization 350.org and followed up on his vision for the future laid out in his book ‘America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy’ through his various networks and positions held in the new economy movement. He is a senior fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, associate fellow at the Tellus Institute, co-chair of the NextSystem Project, board member of New Economy Coalition, former dean Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Professor at Vermont Law School and was chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration). He has a string of other fellowships and advisory roles all relating to sustainable development and new economy issues.

It’s Gus Speth’s role as consultant to the Capital Institute that ties all his networks to the Natural Capital League. The Capital Institute could be called the home of ‘regenerative capitalism’ which connects natural capital flows to the restoration of nature to improve the value of ‘ecosystem services’. Several natural capital economists from organisations such as the Gund Institute with which he shares a close relationship are involved in the Next System Project which he chairs. The Next System Project is focussed very much on social enterprise, support for communities and democratic process. We can expect that Gus Speth will continue to refine his networks and position himself to see sustainable development and the Natural Capital League flourish.

“CHILDREN CENTERED, NOT GROWTH CENTERED. Overall economic growth will not be seen as a priority, and GDP will be seen as a misleading measure of well-being and progress. Instead, indicators of community wealth creation — including measures of social and natural capital — will be closely watched, and special attention will be given to children and young people — their education and their right to loving care, shelter, good nutrition, health care, a toxic-free environment, and freedom from violence.”

America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II

https://orionmagazine.org/article/america-the-possible-a-manifesto-part-ii/

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Measuring What Matters: GDP, Ecosystems and the Environment

http://www.wri.org/blog/2010/04/measuring-what-matters-gdp-ecosystems-and-environment

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Review of America the Possible by John Fullerton

https://capitalinstitute.org/blog/crb_book_review/gus-speths-america-possible/

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Gus Speth Returns to WRI, Inspires

http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/gus-speth-returns-wri-inspires

 

Further reading:

 

The Most Valuable Players of the Natural Capital League: Part 1