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LISTEN: Trade Union Leader Exposes What the Media Won’t About the Latest US-backed Coup Attempt in Latin America

The Canary

August 10, 2018

 

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Ahigh-level trade union leader has spoken out exclusively to The Canary, saying what the mainstream media won’t about the latest US-backed coup attempt in Latin America.

Fighting back against media bias over the “coup attempt” in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has been in the news recently because of what the country’s president has described as a “coup attempt” backed by Washington. But most international coverage of events has consistently failed to tell the whole story, showing heavy bias against the current Nicaraguan government. A number of academics, journalists and activists recently accused the Guardian, for example, of “wildly inaccurate coverage”.

International organisations with strong links to Washington, meanwhile, have even boasted of “laying the groundwork for insurrection” against Nicaragua’s left-of-centre government. And they stand accused of manipulating the country’s recent death toll to justify a push for regime change and sanctions. The aim has apparently been to create a misleading image of an authoritarian government mowing down peaceful protesters. The truth is much more complex – with similar casualties reported among both pro-government and anti-government ranks, and the latter being egged on by the US hard right.

In this context, The Canary reached out to José Antonio Zepeda – the leader of the main teachers’ union in Nicaragua (CGTEN-ANDEN) and vice-coordinator of Nicaragua’s union federation (FNT). And he gave us a perspective that people in the English-speaking world are unlikely to get from mainstream media outlets. In particular, he slammed international organisations, media outlets, and politicians for taking sides in Nicaragua’s recent conflict, and insisted:

We’ve lived through foreign intervention in the past. That’s not the solution. The solution is for us to understand each other, communicate, and make peace – a lasting peace based on development and justice.

You can read the full interview below.

Why do trade unions back the current government?

As well as being a union leader, Zepeda is a member of Nicaragua’s national assembly for the governing Sandinista Front (FSLN). And he explained:

The most important thing for us is that the government gives a space to different sectors. And that’s why you find teachers, agricultural workers, health workers, and self-employed people in the national assembly. Unions, women, farmers, and cooperatives have all assumed the responsibility of working for their country’s economic, social, and political development.

 

For us, this is our government. We defend it because we believe in free, public, quality education and healthcare for all. There’s also a policy of rural development – financing and support, like with education and healthcare, to help produce more food. As workers and sectors, we have determined that the government’s policies have one key purpose – to end poverty.

 

In the government, we have representation. We see the politics we’ve been advocating for a long time. We have seen the opportunities that consensus, dialogue, and alliances provide. And we believe fundamentally that the government has shown its willingness to listen. That’s very important – so that the different sectors can all raise our voices and have them heard. Full union freedom is another important element.

 

We will continue to support the government and the revolution in order to keep building alternatives to escape the poverty that previous neoliberal policies forced upon us and in which workers had no alternatives. Today, we have options – we have alternatives – and we have the space to build them.

Media coverage of violence in Nicaragua

Regarding biased coverage from the international media of the recent violence, Zepeda spoke of a “media war” against Nicaragua. And he said:

Social media and national establishment media have been preparing conditions for a coup for a long time. The opposition created virtual realities, which didn’t exist on the ground. And the national and international media – with their vested interests – reproduced these images. They created the image of an ungovernable country.

 

And it’s not the first time. It’s not just Nicaragua. Remember when the media reported that Iraq had WMDs and it had to be invaded, but no WMDs turned up? Then Israel murders Palestinian kids, and nothing happens. And they try to justify it.

One independent study in Nicaragua accuses partisan local groups of conflating all deaths since April (including accidents and the murder of government supporters) with killings by pro-government forces. And international media and political elites have been quick to take advantage of this misleading impression. In reality, the independent report claims, 60 pro-government citizens and 59 anti-government citizens died between 19 April and 25 June.

Whose human rights?

International human rights groups – from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International – have been critical of the Nicaraguan government’s actions in recent months. But it appears that there’s been little mention of casualties among pro-government ranks. And this is a topic Zepeda spoke about passionately:

Human rights are important. But the problem comes when people manipulate the term to cover up perverse actions against governments that are trying to bring progress.

 

When we talk about rights, we should ask: ‘which rights?’ In Nicaragua, the product of this coup is that private businesses have fired more than 50,000 workers. So I ask you – are workers’ rights not human rights? Who criticises businesses for threatening to fire over 250,000 workers if the government doesn’t do what they want?

 

And what about the coup plotters who have been using a strategy of terror, kidnapping, and murder against Sandinistas, police officers, and ordinary citizens who don’t think the same way as them? The opposition killed three of our teachers. Who defends the families, the children, of those teachers – murdered by people who are supposedly ‘peaceful’? They also kidnapped 14 other teachers. Who defends the right to education, the right of peace for children, respect for life?

 

There’s been a media campaign to say that all the deaths here have been at the hands of the government – including the ones the opposition murdered, burned, and humiliated. I think this is the hypocrisy of all these organisations committed only to private interests or those of the imperialist master.

Resolving Nicaragua’s conflict

Zepeda clarified:

I’m not trying to say ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. What I’m trying to say is that these organisations talking about human rights are speaking in a biased way. They’re clearly not trying to deepen and promote respect. Instead, they take sides, they decide, they judge, they accuse, and they pass down sentences. That’s why we find it difficult to see objectivity in their approach.

 

We have insisted on respect for institutions, laws, procedures, dialogue, consensus – they’re the mechanism for resolving the conflict. There are always differences and problems in societies. We need to know how to understand each other to solve them. And we can only do that through dialogue and communication.

 

There’s a sector of the business community and political community which is allied with and financed by sinister forces and politicians in the US, who have a view of us as their backyard. But we’ve lived through foreign intervention in the past. That’s not the solution. The solution is for us to understand each other, communicate, and make peace – a lasting peace based on development and justice.

 

Reconciliation isn’t tolerance. It’s about understanding that we’re in the same country, that we can have different points of view, but that in the end we all have the common strategic aim of making Nicaragua grow. The people who still have resentment in their hearts will have to open up. They’ll have to understand that Sandinistas and non-Sandinistas share this country, live together, and have to build our homeland up together. People are free to go elsewhere if they don’t like it here, but that’s not the answer. The fundamental thing is to understand that everyone plays an important role in this society.

Solidarity and respect

Zepeda also insisted on the importance of international solidarity and respect:

We aspire to and dream of peace. We’re going to make it possible for Nicaragua to get back on track. And we hope the international community learns to respect us. We may not be a big, developed country with a large economy or a powerful army, but there’s no reason to humiliate us. We’re the same as you – the small countries and the big countries. We have the right to be treated with respect – as equals. The international community should not be driven by powerful vested interests.

 

The important thing is solidarity. When you most need support is when the presence of friendship is most important. This can also make you reflect and question where you can improve – but in a supportive fashion. Because solidarity isn’t about interfering in the affairs of a sovereign nation. It’s about expressing support in both good and bad moments. And in recent weeks and months, friends have been asking for information, explanations and clarifications. That’s very important. International solidarity has played a key role in fighting back against the disinformation and the media war against us.

Question everything you hear. Because there’s always an agenda.

Pro-government and anti-government forces both inside and outside of Nicaragua have very different takes on recent events. But you won’t see Zepeda’s words in the international media any time soon – because the press establishment has clearly sided with Nicaragua’s opposition. And this has made life a lot easier for powerful forces in the US and elsewhere that are looking to get rid of governments (like Nicaragua’s) which assert their independence and take a stand against neoliberalism.

Across Latin America, and the world, there are serious human rights issues. In Colombia and Mexico, for example, there are long-running humanitarian crises in which hundreds of thousands of people have died. But because the governments of these countries have not asserted economic and political independence from the US, there have been no high-profile international campaigns to overthrow their governments. Whenever governments have challenged the economic and political status quo, however, governments have been overthrown – almost always with US support. Washington has long used covert CIA operations to exert its influence abroad, supporting numerous coups and brutal right-wing dictatorships. And in recent years, this agenda has played out in ParaguayHondurasBrazil, and (so far unsuccessfully) Venezuela.

No government is perfect. And no country is perfect. But by failing to give objective coverage of crises in countries targeted for intervention by the US, the international media is (intentionally or not) playing into this regime-change agenda. By doing so, they don’t only do their readers a disservice – they also fail to serve the innocent civilians who get caught in the middle every time imperialism rears its ugly head.

To fight back, we must always ask for both sides of the story. And we must always question the agenda of the people providing us with information.

We deserve better. So we must demand better.

 

 

[Ed Sykes (pseudonym) is Global Editor and Sub-Editor at The Canary.]

Canada in the Congo

Counterpunch

Canadian officials have long done as they pleased in Africa, loudly proclaimed this country’s altruism and only faced push back from hard rightists who bemoan sending troops to the  “Dark Continent” or “dens of hell”.

With many Canadians normally opposed to war supporting anything called “peacekeeping”, unless troops deployed with an African UN mission are caught using the N-word and torturing a teenager to death (the 1993 Somalia mission) they will be portrayed as an expression of this country’s benevolence. So, what should those of us who want Canada to be a force for good in the world think about the Trudeau government’s plan to join a UN stabilization mission in Mali, Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic or South Sudan?

First, we have good reason to be cynical.

On his recent five country African “reconnaissance” tour defence minister Harjit Sajjan included an individual whose standing is intimately tied to a military leader who has destabilized large swaths of the continent. Accompanying Sajjan was General Romeo Dallaire, who backed Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1993/94 and continues to publicly support the “Butcher of the Great Lakes”.

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda, claims Dallaire ignored RPF violence, turned a blind eye to the weapons they received from Uganda and possibility shared UN intelligence with the Ugandan sponsored rebels. Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for Kagame. In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed unprecedented terror in the Congo, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.” Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

Included on the trip because he symbolizes Canadian benevolence, Dallaire hasn’t moved away from his aggressive backing for Kagame despite the Globe and Mail reporting on Kagame’s internal repression, global assassination program and proxies occupying the mineral rich Eastern Congo. The recently retired Senator has aligned his depiction of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy to fit the RPF’s simplistic, self-serving, portrayal and Dallaire even lent his name to a public attack against the 2014 BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. In February the former senator met with the Rwandan dictator in Toronto.

Three weeks ago the ruling party in Burundi released a statement criticizing the Canadian general’s role in Rwanda and his inclusion on Sajjan’s trip. Still, I’ve yet to see any mention of Dallaire’s backing of Kagame or the fact his ally in Kigali has significant interest in the UN mission in Eastern Congo.

Another piece of history that should be part of any debate about a UN deployment to the continent is Canada’s link to the UN force in the Congo, which is an outgrowth of the mid-1990s foreign invasion. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Since then Rwanda and its proxies have repeatedly invaded the Eastern Congo.

Kigali justified its 1996 intervention into the Congo as an effort to protect the Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) living in Eastern Congo from the Hutus who fled the country when the RPF took power. As many as two million, mostly Hutu, refugees fled the summer 1994 RPF takeover of Rwanda.

The US military increased its assistance to Rwanda in the months leading up to its fall 1996 invasion of Zaire. In The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 Filip Reyntjens explains: “The United States was aware of the intentions of Kagame to attack the refugee camps and probably assisted him in doing so. In addition, they deliberately lied about the number and fate of the refugees remaining in Zaire, in order to avoid the deployment of an international humanitarian force, which could have saved tens of thousands of human lives, but which was resented by Kigali and AFDL [L’Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo, a Rwandan backed rebel force led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila].”

Ottawa played an important part in this sordid affair. In late 1996, Canada led a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire, meant to bring food and protection to Hutu refugees. The official story is that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien organized a humanitarian mission into eastern Zaire after his wife saw images of exiled Rwandan refugees on CNN. In fact, Washington proposed that Ottawa, with many French speakers at its disposal, lead the UN mission. The US didn’t want pro- Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko France to gain control of the UN force.

On November 9, 1996, the UN Security Council backed a French resolution to establish a multinational force in Eastern Congo. Four days later, French Defence Minister Charles Millon, urged Washington to stop stalling on the force. ‘‘Intervention is urgent and procrastination by some countries is intolerable,’’ Millon said in a radio interview. ‘‘The United States must not drag its feet any longer.’’

Canada’s mission to the Congo was designed to dissipate French pressure and ensure it didn’t take command of a force that could impede Rwanda’s invasion of the Eastern Congo. “The United States and Canada did not really intend to support an international force,” writes Belgian academic Filip Reyntjens. “Operation Restore Silence” was how Oxfam’s emergencies director Nick Stockton sarcastically described the mission. He says the Anglosphere countries “managed the magical disappearance” of half a million refugees in eastern Zaire. In a bid to justify the non-deployment of the UN force, Canadian Defence Minister Doug Young claimed over 700,000 refugees had returned to Rwanda. A December 8 article in Québec City’s Le Soleil pointed out that this was “the highest estimated number of returnees since the October insurrection in Zaire.”

The RPF dismantled infrastructure and massacred thousands of civilians in the Hutu refugee camps, prompting some 300,000 to flee westward on foot from refugee camp to refugee camp. Dying to Live by Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga describes a harrowing personal ordeal of being chased across the Congo by the RPF and its allies.

Ultimately, most of the Canadian-led UN force was not deployed since peacekeepers would have slowed down or prevented Rwanda, Uganda and its allies from triumphing. But, the initial batch of Canadian soldiers deployed to the staging ground in Uganda left much of the equipment they brought along. In Le Canada dans les guerres en Afrique centrale: génocides et pillages des ressources minières du Congo par le Rwanda interposé (Canada in the wars in Central Africa: genocide and looting of the mineral resources of the Congo by Rwanda interposed) Patrick Mbeko suggests the Ugandan Army put the equipment to use in the Congo.

Prior to deploying the Canadian-led multinational force, Commander General Maurice Baril met with officials in Kigali as well as the Director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Hinting at who was in the driver’s seat, the New York Times reported that Baril “cancelled a meeting with United Nations officials and flew instead to Washington for talks.” In deference to the Rwandan-backed forces, Baril said he would only deploy UN troops with the rebels’ permission. ‘‘Anything that I do I will coordinate with the one who is tactically holding the ground,’’ Baril noted.

Much to Joseph Mobutu’s dismay, Baril met rebel leader Laurent Kabila who was at that time shunned by most of the international community. The meeting took place in a ransacked mansion that had belonged to Zaire’s president and as part of the visit Kabila took Baril on a tour of the area surrounding Goma city. Baril justified the meeting, asserting: “I had to reassure the government of Canada that the situation had changed and we could go home.”

The book Nous étions invincibles, the personal account of Canadian special forces commando Denis Morrisset, provides a harrowing account of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) operation to bring Baril to meet Kabila. The convoy came under attack and was only bailed out when US Apache and Blackhawk helicopters retaliated. Some thirty Congolese were killed by a combination of helicopter and JTF2 fire.

Despite the bizarre, unsavory, history outlined above, Canada’s short-lived 1996 UN force to the Congo is little known. The same can largely be said about Dallaire (and Ottawa’s) support for the RPF during the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda or Canada’s role in the UN force that helped kill Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

Widespread ignorance of Canada’s chequered UN history in Africa reflects a political culture that gives politicians immense latitude to pursue self-serving policies, present them as altruistic and face few questions. Unless progressives upend this culture the loud expressions of Canadian benevolence are unlikely to align with reality.

[Yves Engler’s latest book is ?Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.]

WATCH: SOFT POWER | The Partnering of Western NGOS and the US Military

WATCH: SOFT POWER | The Partnering of Western NGOS and the US Military

Image: 3P Human Security’ is working to develop guidance documents to deconflict between local and international NGOs and other civil society groups to the challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq, top US military and political under a new Department of Defense Directive that puts stabilization on par with war-fighting. | 3P organized a March 2010 roundtable hosted by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars between global peacebuilding civil society organizations and US government and military personnel. This report details an agenda for future discussions. | 3P organized a March 2010 roundtable hosted by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars between global peacebuilding civil society organizations and US government and military personnel. | 3P worked with the University of Notre Dame to plan a three day discussion between global practitioners and NGOs in peacebuilding and development to discuss their relationship with military personnel in their countries, hosted by the Kroc Center for International Peace Studies at University of Notre Dame.

March 5, 2013

by Forrest Palmer & Cory Morningstar – WKOG

 

It seems to me that somewhere along the line that people don’t have a clear understanding of the role and the unique nature of NGOs. And not surprisingly so considering what’s going on in Iraq at the moment. On one side we have US Military personnel parading in certain times in civilian clothes, driving white 4×4’s and even driving civilian vehicles. We have civilian “aid workers” wearing Department of Defense ID’s surrounded by armed security guards. The media meanwhile refer to soldiers and armed security personnel killed in action as humanitarians, and NGOs themselves in some cases request and accept military escorts or contracts from the Department of Defense. – Denis Dragovic, International Rescue Committee, 2004

 

In response to the challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq, top US military and political leaders call for strengthened civilian capacities and more effective civil-military cooperation. US military personnel increasingly conduct humanitarian, development and peacebuilding activities to achieve stabilization effects under a new Department of Defense Directive that puts stabilization on par with war-fighting. Military leaders list “building civil society” and “local ownership” in their strategies and seek NGOs as “implementing partners.” – Civil Society – Military Dialogue, 3P Human Security

FLASHBACK | The Velvet Slipper And The Military-Peace Nonprofit Complex

The following excerpts are from the article The Velvet Slipper And The Military-Peace Nonprofit Complex written by Michael Barker. The article in its entirety can be read at Swans Commentary where it was published February 18, 2011.

The political clout of the military-peace nonprofit complex is growing apace, and too many people at home and abroad are in danger of being lulled and then crushed by an oligarchy capable of wearing both the velvet slipper and the iron heel. Such anti-democratic developments hold no surprises to opponents of the oligarchy, but apologists for the velvet slipper who seek to teach anti-democratic intelligence agencies about the power of nonviolent activism must be identified and excluded from further involvement with progressive social movements. A good example that springs to mind is Lester Kurtz, who — in addition to residing on the advisory board of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict — recently responded to an article that challenged the fact that he had given a lecture to the CIA, by “arguing”: “I spoke as an independent academic and in no way as a representative of the ICNC when my government asked me to dialogue with members of its intelligence community. I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to educate others…” and “was glad to give my modest input…” (17)

In his timeless novel The Iron Heel (1907), Jack London was all too aware of John D. Rockefeller and his plutocratic ilk’s desire to crush humanity “under the iron heel of a despotism as relentless and terrible as any despotism that has blackened the pages of the history of man.” Yet London recognized the other dangers that capital posed to an increasingly powerful revolutionary movement, as he warned how the oligarchy complemented their violence against organized labor by providing selective subsidies to conservative unions much as the Rockefeller Foundation went on to do in the wake of the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. (1) But in 1907, when London first published his book, the art of capitalist philanthropy was not fine-tuned, and so if he were writing today, London might well have authored a second book titled The Velvet Slipper.

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