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Palawan: Stop Blaming Indigenous Peoples’ Farming Practices (Kaingin) for Deforestation

Look Instead to Boom Crops, Oil Palm Plantations and Mining

Intercontinental Cry

April 28, 2015

by Coalition against Land Grabbing and United Tribes of Palawan

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Batak ancestral land, sustainably managed through traditional kaingin practices

Recent years have seen an exponential increase in land deals across the Philippines with the conversion of large expanses of land with crops mainly intended for export. Meanwhile, traditional upland farming practices implemented through swidden (‘slash-and-burn’) technology–known locally as kaingin or more appropriately uma–are demonized and antagonized through restrictive legislation. This is despite the fact that the latter fosters local self-sufficiency and plays a fundamental role in the livelihoods and worldviews of Indigenous societies.

Palawan, known as the “Philippine last Frontier”, in spite of its unique recognition as a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, has not been spared from massive investments in extractive resources and industrial agriculture, especially oil palm and rubber. And yet, Indigenous Peoples and upland dwellers continue to be blamed for causing massive deforestation and ecological disaster.

Not surprisingly, the recent front cover of a well known Philippine Newspaper (The Daily Inquirer, May 9 issue) holds a headline accompanied by a powerful image that easily conflates all upland peoples as criminal agriculturalists.

“Images are powerful and can be damaging,” says Wolfram Dressler, a Research Fellow from the University of Melbourne (Australia), who has carried out extensive anthropological research in Palawan. “They can direct blame without nuance and context. The masses (and government) absorb such images to reinforce centuries-old narratives demonizing kaingin—a term that many farmers avoid because of its pejorative nature,” Dressler adds.

The Inquirer‘s article was triggered by an aerial survey carried out by the Center for Sustainability (CS), a nonprofit organization that supposedly works for sustainable development in Palawan. The group spotted key locations from the air, previously covered by forest, which have now been cleared as a result of external forces such as mining, oil palm plantation development and shifting agriculture. According to the group, in addition to clearing by ‘poor farmers’, forest burning in the south has been linked to the proliferation of palm oil and rubber plantations, and the main target of ‘slash-and-burn’ activities is the clearing of primary forests for development.

Ironically, for carrying out its photo survey, CS conservationists borrowed the private plane of multimillionaire Jose Alvarez, the present Governor of Palawan, who is a well-known supporter of large-scale agro-industry development (especially rubber which accelerates deforestation and deprives more traditional indigenous communities of their resource-base). He is a member of the same family that logged Northern Palawan’s forest in the eighties. He also chairs the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). In principle, this government body is mandated to ensure the sustainable development of the whole province through the implementation of a Strategic Environmental Plan or SEP (R.A. Republic Act 7611). Under the SEP, no development project should take place in Palawan unless the proponents secure a so-called SEP clearance. In reality, massive oil palm expansion and related forest clearing takes place without the requisite SEP clearance.

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Massive forest clearing for oil palm plantations in Sandoval, Municipality of Bataraza

Marivic Bero, Secretary General of the Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG), comments,

“Here in Palawan, we have the best laws in place to protect both the environment and the rights of our Indigenous Peoples. However, the limits of law lie within the implementation process, wherein rules and regulations are conditioned by the inability of concerned government agencies and their officials to stand by their own mandates”.

She further argues that the government prohibition to ban kaingin represents a blatant violation of the major tenets of the ‘Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997’ (Republic Act no. 8371) which recognizes, protects and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communalities. “This is a very powerful law… and should not be undermined by ‘minor’ laws and municipal ordinances banning shifting cultivation”, says Bero.

While Palawan’s environment is being ravaged–by agribusiness (mainly oil palm and rubber), mining enterprises and various forms of land grabbing–state agencies such as PCSD (as well as some Palawan NGOs) still view Indigenous kaingin as ‘illegitimate agriculture’ and as the primary cause of deforestation. “Turning a blind eye to the plunder of forests by industrial logging, mining activities, agribusiness, and livestock production, state agencies continue to label and classify kaingin farmers as primitive, backward and unproductive who waste valuable forest resources, particularly timber”, Dressler points out. “In this way, government agencies have unleashed anti-kaingin campaigns that justified the resettling of kaingineros and adoption of permanent forms of agriculture that are not suited for the uplands. In turn, kaingin is coercively regulated with fines or jail time, while indigenous upland farmers are frequently harassed by forest guards.”

In 1994, a ban against shifting cultivation (bawal sa kaingin) was enforced by former Mayor Edward Hagedorn through the so-called ‘bantay gubat’: an implementing arm composed of poorly trained forest guards. Sadly, when this happened, no murmur of dissent was raised by Palawan NGOs, in spite of the severe hardship experienced by hundreds of Indigenous communities because of the ban. The latter, however, was strongly opposed by Survival International (SI). An international campaign by SI resulted in a partial lifting of the ban. In the end, the former Mayor decided to allow Batak as well as Tagbanua tribes continue their traditional kaingin practices with a ‘controlled burning’ in place of the previous ‘zero burning’ policy. However, as the years passed by, the ban on kaingin was renewed with gusto. It is now being implemented under the current administration.

“Ever since the ban on shifting cultivation was implemented in PPC Municipality, Survival has been lobbying for the government to exempt Indigenous communities, such as the Batak, from the ban”, explains Sophie Grig, Senior Campaigner at Survival International.

“We are disappointed that in spite of international pressure, the local government still continues to implement a law which is creating food-shortage and malnutrition amongst the previously self-sufficient tribes of Northern Palawan”. In spite of its failure, the ‘ban on kaingin’ initially implemented in Puerto Princesa Municipality, is now being emulated by others. Recently, the Government of Brooke’s Point has proposed the implementation of similar restrictions in its own municipality and, if the ban will push through, hundreds of upland Pala’wan communities will be threatened with food insecurity and malnourishment.

The CS aerial survey added more fuel to the fire, through the production of dramatic photos that are presented without due context. These images prompted Governor Jose Chaves Alvarez to declare war on kaingin by proposing the creation of a “forest conservation task force that will undertake a 10-year plan to arrest the problem of slash-and-burn farming”.

“We are extremely worried about these new developments,” says John Mart Salunday, an Indigenous Tagbanua who is presiding NATRIPAL, the largest Indigenous federation in Palawan.

“There are several indigenous communities’ conserved areas (ICCAs) in our province where traditional kaingin has been sustainably practiced from [generation to generation]. Unfortunately, the ‘anti-kaingin policy’ and the ‘bantay gubat’ implementing it, make no distinction between unsustainable ‘kaingin’ done by Filipino migrants and the traditional ‘kaingin’ still practiced by many Indigenous Peoples.”

“Upland rice is such a strong part of our identify and our people have selected more than 80 varieties of rice over hundreds of years, not to mention the diversity of other crops: cassava, ubi, sweet potato, banana and many others. If all this is taken away from us, our tribes will have no future.”

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A group of indigenous Pala’wan planting upland rice in the Municipality of Brooke’s Point.
The richness and complexity of indigenous upland farming systems in Palawan has not gone unnoticed to both local and foreign researchers such as Roy Cadelina, James Eder, Melanie McDermott, Nicole Revel, Charles Macdonald, Wolfram Dressler and Dario Novellino who have carried out in-depth studies on indigenous farming practices and their relevance in local cosmologies, worldviews, identities and ethnobiological knowledge.

“If one compares the wisdom of Indigenous upland farmers to the ignorance of most foresters, politicians and conservation biologists in the same field of knowledge, the gap is striking,” observes Dario Novellino, an anthropologist from the Centre for Biocultural Diversity at the University of Kent (UK), who has lived in Palawan for almost 30 years. Novellino maintains that the government ban on kaingin in Puerto Princesa, rather than protecting the environment, has placed insurmountable pressure on the forest and altered the sustainability of the indigenous farming system.

“I have seen forest guards (bantay gubat) advising Indigenous farmers to cut only very small trees for their ‘uma’ (upland fields) and to cultivate the same plots of land continuously… These indications are based on a very poor understanding of forest ecology. If you clear areas where only small trees are found, it means that you are going to plant land that has not yet regenerated its soil nutrients. When you cultivate these fragile soils, over and over, you cause them to become infertile. Ultimately, only cogun (Imperata cylindrica) will thrive in these areas… the forest will never grow back.”

Well-known scholars have argued that traditionally practiced kaingin (or integral kaingin) involves the intermittent clearing of small patches of forest for subsistence food crop production, followed by longer periods of fallow in which forest re-growth restores productivity to the land.

Dressler explains,

“Kaingin can yield complex assemblages of forest and other vegetation in unique mosaics comprised of open canopy tree associations to mature closed-canopy forest systems best understood at the landscape scale. As a complex system of agriculture and forestry, integrating production from cultivated fields and diverse secondary forests, kaingin farming may yield a wide range of ecosystem services and resources integral to livelihoods and forest environments in the mountains of Palawan.”

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IPs victim of the ban against ‘kaingin’. This child is forced to eat small quantities of purchased rice since his tribe can no longer plant it.

However, when such a complex system is altered–for instance, through the implementation of punitive policies–the repercussions on forest ecology and people’s sustenance becomes dramatic. According to Novellino, when Indigenous upland communities are not allowed to procure carbohydrates (rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, etc.) necessary for physical survival, through their farming practices, they are forced to increase pressure on commercially valuable NTFPs (non-timber forest products) such as rattan, almaciga and honey which they must in turn sell to purchase rice. This can result in the swift depletion of non-timber forest resources and place even more pressure on the forest itself. Indeed, this is exactly what happened because of the implementation of the ‘zero burning policy’ by former Mayor Edward Hagedorn.

One can only speculate why the Government of Palawan is so quick to raise its voice against kaingin while remaining silent about the huge expanses of forest and fertile land that the agro-industry receives. We know the official explanation: oil palms are only planted on ‘idle’ and ‘abandoned’ land to enhance the province’s economy while increasing job opportunities and transforming unused areas into productive plantations. But are such lands truly ‘idle’ and ‘abandoned’? A recent study by ALDAW (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) indicates that the answer is ‘No’. According to the study, most of the so-called ‘idle’ and ‘unproductive’ lands include areas that have been used since time immemorial by Indigenous societies.

“The removal of natural vegetation and of previous agricultural improvements by oil palm plantations is leading to the total collapse of traditional livelihoods, thus fostering communities’ impoverishment and increasing malnutrition”, says Novellino. He sustains the Government has failed to consider that most of the so-called ‘idle’ and ‘underdeveloped’ lands include areas that are being utilized by rural and Indigenous populations for different purposes (gathering of NTFPs and medicinal plants, kaingin, etc.). He believes that a direct relationship exists between oil palm/cash crop expansion, the impoverishment of people’s diets, the progressive deterioration of traditional livelihoods and the interruption of cultural transmissions related to particular aspects of local knowledge.

Dressler argues,

“In contrast to commercially oriented monocultures, mixed swidden systems benefit Palawan’s Indigenous Peoples by offering a variety of timber and non-timber harvests for subsistence and commercial sales to diversify production and spread risks, thus avoiding the ecological and economic shocks associated with relying on one product too heavily.”

Apparently, this is not perceived by the Government as a strong enough reason to switch its development agenda towards more sustainable forms of agriculture. Instead, local food security continues to be sacrificed in the name of oil palm and rubber development while anti-kaingin policies are strongly implemented with no distinction between traditional Indigenous farming practices and migrants’ unsustainable slash-and-burning.

Welly Mande, a Tagbanua of CALG, comments,

“If the government is serious about ensuring the welfare of its constituents it should enhance the capability of upland farmers to produce enough food, rather than fostering cash crop[s] such as [oil palm] and rubber that are not for local consumption but for export.

What we would need instead are lower risk models of agricultural development that give a greater share of benefits to the poor while improving and fostering the production of endemic crops such as coconuts and rice.”

For the sake of fairness, we should now ask ourselves whether Indigenous shifting cultivation practices throughout Palawan are sustainable (based on long fallow periods). At present, they are not sustainable; nevertheless, the blame for forest destruction should not be placed on upland dwellers. One need only look at the historical process that led to unsustainable kaingin practices such as the dramatic reduction of Indigenous ancestral domains due to massive migration of landless farmers, encroachment by mining and plantation companies, insurgency and militarization just to mention few.

It is a rather nice irony that official propaganda against kaingin–coupled by NGOs’ market-based conservation approaches–continues to provide additional incentives for international institutions to finance more of the same (e.g. reforestation of indigenous fallow fields which are wrongly classified as ‘degraded areas’). Often, such reforestation programs deprive local communities of areas that are necessary for field rotation, thus jeopardizing the sustainability of their farming system.

It will require detailed and multidisciplinary studies to determine where, and to what extent, the conditions for optimal long fallows in Palawan are still present and how many Indigenous communities are still practicing long rotation cycles. In turn, the law should move away from coercion and demonization of kaingin towards more culturally-sensitive approaches that provide incentives to Indigenous cultivators for increasing and fostering production of local genetic varieties of rice and other traditional cultivars. In places where swidden practices have become irreversibly unsustainable, specific strategies should be developed in close coordination with local communities, rather than imposing top-down technical solutions and enforcing legal persecution.

In other words, upland farming strategies should be evaluated through an integrated and interactive long-term process of research and development in close partnership with local upland farmers. This process should identify Indigenous best farming practices, taking care to understand them and the contexts in which they are used. Meanwhile, in the short term, it would wise if journalists and their ‘zealous’ conservationist allies refrain from publishing images that uncritically depict upland dwellers as ‘environmental criminals’, putting the blame of deforestation on those who suffers from it most.

Philippines: The NED, the NGOs and the CIA

Manila Standard Today

April 12 (Part 1) , April 26 (Part 2)

By Rod Kapunan

 

ned

 

Part One

William Blum, the author of the book, “Rogue State,”  said that while the object of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the post Cold War era has  been relegated to history, many  are not inclined to believe that subversion has lost its relevance.  Rather, it has only been redirected at overthrowing governments that refuse to tow the line gleaned from the  NED’s slogan of “Supporting Freedom Around the World.”

Here in the Philippines, the so-called restoration  of freedom saw the popping out like mushrooms of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the newly-created CIA front called “NED” leading in guiding the government it  installed to power.   The CIA too had to shed off some of its  covert activities by making itself “transparent.”   Through the NED, local NGOs openly collaborated with the government it held by the noose, with each having a specialized task to “motivate” people in the various sectors of civil society.

As Blum observed:  “In a multitude of ways, NED meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries by supplying funds, technical know-how, training, educational materials, computers, fax machines, copiers, automobiles and so on, to selected political groups, civic organizations, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, etc. NED programs generally impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy and opposition to socialism in any shape or form. A free market economy is equated with democracy, reform and growth, and the merits of foreign investment are emphasized.”

Philippines Typhoon Disaster: The Right Place to Send Your Urgently Needed Donation

WKOG Admin: We stand by the work of Filipino Tin Alvarez. Alvarez is fully informed about the NGO-industrial-complex machinations. She will not advocate, nor work for, any org that’s not about grassroots and direct assistance for the people in The Philippines.

“I am disappointed and hurt. This is the climate crisis we have been talking/posting about. It is day 7 today. The Philippines is all over the news. Children here and abroad are turning over their piggy banks to government agencies and to the big NGOs we rightfully criticize for the big compensation their executives receive, for their lack of transparency, for their way of doing things, etc. So please, Do something.” – November 14, 2013, Activist Tin Alvarez, The Philippines

 

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November 13, 2013

A message from the coordinator of the relief efforts on the ground:

“I am coordinating with anarchists in Bacolod (central Philippines) who are already on the ground, doing relief work. Project Bulig is the name of the relief drive. The guys I’m in touch with are friends of friends, and we’ve already talked about working together.

Right now, I am anticipating in-kind/cash donations from my activist/ advocate friends in the US, Canada, and Europe. In-kind donations can be sent to my address, which I can give you in private. A comrade has been able to secure a warehouse for storage and repacking, but right now, your best bet would be my address, as I am not sure my contacts in Bacolod have room to spare for these goods.

Part of the cash donations will go to local animal welfare groups which are working with animal casualties. As expected, the Philippine government, the Philippine Red Cross, and all mainstream aid agencies, charities, and foundations have ignored non-human casualties. As a feminist and an advocate of social justice, I believe that non-human lives are not expendable, so it is only appropriate that their needs also be met”.

contact info Tin Alvarez: https://www.facebook.com/mgaibongmandaragit

As we stated in our previous post, Occupy Philippines is now accepting and would humbly ask for donations to help the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda. We ask for medicines, food, bottled water, blankets, towels, and animal food. In addition, we would also like to ask for used tarpaulins to make use for a makeshift shelter.

If you would like to donate, please course the donations through JOSYN PALMA, one of our admins. Shipping address:

470 Legaspi St cor Eusebio St,
Manggahan, Pasig City
Metro Manila
Philippines
1611

For international monetary donations, please PM TIN ALVAREZ for details. We cannot post the bank account details as this will be going to a bank account under her name set up for this cause. Occupy Philippines unfortunately does not qualify for a separate bank account as it is neither a set non-profit organization, charity, or company. We hope for your kind understanding.

Please inform us if you will be sending donations so we can better coordinate, and so we know who to thank and what to expect.

There will be no expiration date for donations. We will take part in the relief effort to help our brothers and sisters in West and Central Visayas– Leyte, Antique, Samar, Eastern Samar, Cebu, Palawan, Negros Occidental, Capiz, Aklan– but we intend to be there for the recovery. Due to this, we ask for your help and your support. Thank you so much, friends.

There is no excuse not to help: Pre-schooler Donates Piggybank Savings For Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ Victims

Further Reading: The Truth About the Red Cross: http://wrongkindofgreen.org/2012/11/29/the-truth-about-the-red-cross/

Phillipines

Open Eyes

Editorial

By Jay Taber

Jul 24, 2012

Intercontinental Cry

Seducing as photo ops with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at summer camps funded by convicted inside trader George Soros might be, the idea of young missionaries sowing seeds of democracy along side CIA operatives might seem a little bit silly. Yet, missionaries worldwide — desperate for a chance to do something important and worthwhile with their lives — enroll in programs choreographed to provide cover for covert ops conducted by the NSA and CIA aimed at overthrowing governments and undercutting democratic movements that don’t heel to Wall Street and the Pentagon.

While U.S. agencies with names like USAID, United States Institute of Peace, and National Endowment for Democracy woo the innocent with t-shirts, flags and exotic trips abroad, the fact is they are about as likely to foment democratic revolutions as other American teenagers in helicopter gunships mowing down civilians in the streets of Baghdad. At least the Peace Corps didn’t act like toy Che brigades.

I only saw one CIA-sponsored NGO live, and that was at the 2003 anti-war demonstration in San Francisco’s UN Plaza. With tens of thousands filling the streets converging on the plaza to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq, the small contingent on the edge of the plaza holding expensive pro-war signs, and using amplified noisemakers in order to disrupt peace presenters on stage, was clearly not a genuine grassroots group.

In the Wrong Kind of Green article on fake revolutions in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, we learn how Wall Street think tanks merge seamlessly with US Government front groups to create the spectacular illusions of rainbow revolutions and Arab Spring. With funding from the CIA, NED, Soros’ Open Society Institute, and the Ford Foundation, the toy Che brigades have become instrumental in whitewashing Wall Street’s dirty deeds around the globe.

This reality may be hard for American liberals to swallow, but better this bitter pill than raising the specter of another blowback like 9/11. What goes around comes around.

For Americans who want to exercise their responsibilities as citizens or as human beings, there really are very few opportunities to do so effectively without taking enormous risks way out of proportion to what they are capable of handling. You see them repeatedly attempting to assuage their frustrations with this state of affairs by donating money to philanthropies, but the sad truth is that these are merely another form of chaneling dissent controlled by the individuals and institutions that cause all the problems in the first place.

Giving to MoveOn or becoming a Soros baby is an act of acquiescing to this brutal system; trying to actually change that system makes one an outsider–marginalized to the land of no resources.

Until a sufficient number recognize the charade for what it is, and begin helping and funding resistance rather than reform, nothing substantive will change. There are those willing to take large risks, but they cannot endure without backing from those who lack the courage.

Fortunately, it isn’t all that difficult to find them once one realizes that mainstream philanthropy is a farce. The real fighters are the ones demonized by the market and the media daily; I could probably pick up any local newspaper and tell you where your money would be well-spent and where it would just go down the drain.

In the old days of the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), official US Government organizations were more candid about overthrowing governments that did not succumb to domination by US corporate or military misadventures. Then Wikileaks happened upon US State Department cables and our view of international diplomacy changed forever.

Today, CIA-sponsored rainbow revolutions — financed by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — use puppet NGOs to destabilize non-compliant foreign regimes. Thanks to whistle-blowers and Wikileaks, we now know how US embassy diplomatic pouches are used to smuggle currency to these Trojan horses.

In an ironic twist of fate, we also get a glimpse of how the US State Department strategically undermines the world indigenous peoples’ movement and human rights in general. To put it mildly, it isn’t a pretty picture.

Reading the December 2010 IPS report on COP 16, I was reminded of earlier conferences, where the European forces of globalization divided up other peoples’ lands by international agreement. Not having transcripts from those 16th-19th century proceedings, I can only imagine the invocation of church, state and market interests that combined in setting forth those self-congratulatory plans.

Watching the privileged and powerful at the climate change talks in Cancun, religious bigotry took a back seat to state and market propaganda, but the contempt for indigenous peoples and their sense of the sacred was front and center. With only the state of Bolivia dissenting from the state and market narrative, the concept of saving the planet or extending human rights through this international forum was trampled by hoards of self-congratulatory bureaucrats and career activists whose funding depends on maintaining this progressive hoax.

While expecting such behavior from craven opportunists like BINGO delegates, I was surprised to see progressive media falling so quickly into line. Perhaps they were simply playing up to their social milieu; maybe they were hoping to get a NED grant for covering the back of US Secretary of State Clinton. Whatever the reason, it was a sorry display of lackey journalism; my only response is that if they’re not with us, then they’re against us.

Even the Mother Jones article on Cancun read like a press release from the US State Department. After successfully undermining Kyoto and setting the stage for the REDD Ponzi scheme, the only task left in the climate charade was to marginalize the indigenous nations whose lands are to be recolonized. With all the current notoriety from Cablegate, I’m sure that Secretary Clinton appreciated the progressive media support.

Back in 2006, an article in En Camino observed,

Though democracy is often conceived of as a political form based on popular sovereignty and participation, its most commonly understood meaning is a thoroughly streamlined version–a system in which a small elite rules by confining mass participation to leadership choice in controlled elections.

Polyarchies —  a form of restricted democracy that accommodates capitalist principles in otherwise threatening contexts — permitted the US to make a relatively smooth transition from supporting dictatorships in the Philippines and Nicaragua, for example, to supporting democratization movements in those same countries. As it turns out, limited “democracy” often serves US interests more effectively than authoritarianism.

In the Philippines and Nicaragua, the US began financing ostensibly pro-democracy groups, facilitating their rise to positions of power out of proportion to their numbers or the strength of their ideas, within broader democratization movements. Selected Philippine and Nicaraguan NGOs and political parties received financing (direct and indirect) from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and sister organizations that allowed them to create a much higher profile than their left-wing competitors.

When the dictatorships ended, these pro-US elite groups were well-placed to take power, as the examples of Corazon Aquino (Philippines) and Violeta Chamorro (Nicaragua) illustrate. The replacement of dictatorships in Latin America with polyarchies brought with it the widespread implementation of neoliberal economic reforms.

Americans, as we see time and time again, are incredibly naive about world politics. By and large, they accept government propaganda, no matter how absurd. They bought the Cold War script, the drug war script, and the War on Terror script, mostly without a second thought. They even bought the Hope and Change script, electing a Wall Street toady to fight as their champion against the powers that be.

Apparently, American gullibility knows no bounds. As evidenced by the popularity of the color-coded revolutions myth, they enthusiastically embrace the notion that a few thousand people armed with nothing but iphones can topple dictators, replacing them with authentic democracies due solely to their sincerity and good wishes.

Of course, power vacuums are filled by those who are prepared, not to mention connected. And when you’re talking about reorganizing a society of tens or hundreds of millions of people, those connections — be they economic, religious, or military — count. How many times have we seen righteous indignation betrayed by notorious factions in cahoots with the IMF, World Bank, or CIA?

Whatever one might think about Egypt’s Mubarak or other dictators who’ve fallen out of favor with the US and the EU, popular uprisings have political backgrounds, social context, and often unintended consequences. And when you’re talking about regime change within totalitarian states, there is always a back story of international intrigue, as well as conspiracies to seize power.

In other words, things are never what they seem, especially if one’s sources of information are the governments of intervening world powers, or the corporate media that does their bidding.

To state it bluntly, when the U.S. government and the former colonial powers of Western Europe decide to abandon dictators and proxy governments, they have to fabricate a narrative that conceals their sordid past, as well as reveals disingenuous outlines of their desired future. Both require distortion of the present. In the case of Egypt, that distortion is aided by not asking key questions.

Writing at Cyrano’s Journal a year ago, Jared Israel examined the media narrative of the insurrection in Egypt, what it does and doesn’t tell us, and how it is even contrived to fit a preconceived pattern. Patterns exist, but in order to see them, one has to open one’s eyes.

[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, a correspondent to Fourth World Eye, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]