Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fawwaz Traboulsi:

Breaking with the 'National Consensus: Towards Lebanese-Palestinian Reconciliation

[MFL: As always Fawwaz Traboulsi shocks me with his vision and how accurate he always is]

Published on ZMag on October 15, 2007

[Translator's Introduction: The article below by Fawwaz Traboulsi first appeared in Arabic in the Beirut daily as-Safir of September 13, 2007.

For several decades, there was an official dogma regarding Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. According to this dogma, proclaimed by both Palestinian and non-Palestinian leaders, all that the Palestinian refugees wanted was to return to their homeland. True, that yearning was real enough, but understated or willfully ignored was the elementary fact that, before returning to Palestine or to whatever part of it that would be restored, Palestinians wanted their human and civil rights to be acknowledged and respected. Invoking this dogma thus became a way to prevent the implantation of Palestinian refugees and to justify various forms of discrimination they endured in their host countries. Officially, Palestinians were welcomed as fellow Arabs and their rights recognized by the governments of Arab countries where they sought refuge; notwithstanding official recognition, however, Palestinian rights were routinely trampled in practice. In the name of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, invoking this dogma was thus used to serve the interests of local elites totally unrelated to Palestinian welfare.

This official dogma regarding Palestinian refugees continues to this day, though with diminished force, overshadowed by the many conflicts other than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have engulfed the Middle East in recent years. But the discrimination against Palestinians remains, now justified and enforced by other class and state interests.

In the case of Lebanon in particular, this official dogma has been combined with an elaborate fiction since the 1975-1990 civil war, and sometimes the fiction has become more important than the dogma and eclipsed it altogether. This Lebanese fiction has been to make the Palestinians into an alien presence that is supposedly threatening the very well-being of Lebanon and its citizens -- a fiction cooked up for fraudulent reasons, as Traboulsi carefully explains. What's more, in so doing, Traboulsi places himself squarely at odds with both of the two main camps in the current Lebanese standoff. Both government and opposition politicians routinely talk about the Palestinian presence as a burden Lebanon cannot shoulder or shoulder alone. If there is something on which the two camps agree, it is a refusal to a permanent settling of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Thus, in an otherwise inane speech to the UN General Assembly on September 28 and without fear of antagonizing either of the two camps back in Beirut, President Lahoud of Lebanon could declare with total confidence that a permanent settling of Palestinian refugees "will dangerously alter the delicate balance of Lebanon's existence as a nation based on diversity and coexistence among a large number of its sects" -- a statement thoroughly debunked by Traboulsi's article.

In years past, Palestinian refugees were ostracized in the name of that dogma that said all they want is to return to Palestine; today, they are further victimized under the pretense that they endanger "Lebanon's existence as a nation."

In the article below, Traboulsi is addressing Lebanese and Arab audiences familiar with events of recent decades, often evoked in passing without further elaboration. A few points to identify these events and place them in their historical context:

(1) Traboulsi refers to the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 not as a single war, but as a period of "many wars," which in fact it was. It involved Lebanese parties, armed organizations of the PLO, the Syrian army, and the Israeli army, with frequent infusions of weapons and money from parties further afield. Erstwhile allies often turned on each other during that period, and with increased frequency after the Israeli invasion of 1982.

(2) Traboulsi mentions several individuals and groups that were involved in the 1975-1990 wars; these or their successors all continue to play prominent roles in one of the two contending camps of the current Lebanese standoff. The Lebanese Front is a precursor of the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing organization now headed by Samir Geagea; Geagea is one of the three main leaders of the current pro-government coalition, along with Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt. Traboulsi mentions another chieftain of the Lebanese Forces, Elias Hobeika, who led the Lebanese militias involved in the 1982 massacre of Sabra-Shatila, before dissociating himself from the Israeli army and then throwing his lot with the Syrian regime; Hobeika was assassinated in 2002, a few days before testifying in a Brussels court against his former ally Ariel Sharon in a lawsuit brought against the latter by survivors of the massacre. Traboulsi also mentions the "war of the mountain," the "war of liberation," and the "war to unite all guns," commonly referring to different episodes of the 1975-1990 period.

(3) The Taif Accord was an agreement between Lebanese factions of the 1975-1990 wars, convened in the city of Taif, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the League of Arab States. The agreement was negotiated in October-November 1989, based on which a cease-fire was enforced by Syrian troops and gradually took effect in the course of 1990. Once the cease-fire was in place, Syrian troops were to withdraw after a cooling-off period, but they did not do so, in violation of the agreement. That Syria was given a free hand in Lebanon throughout most of the 1990's, despite Israel's objections, was in exchange for Syrian participation in Desert Storm, the 1991 US-led campaign to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

(4) The "battle of Nahr al-Barid" is the devastating three-month battle of this past summer, which pitted the Lebanese army against the jihadi group Fateh al-Islam which had ensconced itself in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid in northern Lebanon. It resulted in the total destruction of the camp and the forced displacement of its 30,000 to 40,000 refugee inhabitants.

-- Assaf Kfoury]

After the battle of Nahr al-Barid, much has been said and repeated about a Lebanese "national consensus" regarding the Palestinians in Lebanon, a presumed rejection by all Lebanese of a final settling of Palestinians on Lebanese soil. Many commentators continue to voice their alarm about the "conspiracy" to permanently settle the Palestinians.

The writer of this article, a Lebanese citizen, wishes to openly declare that he will have no part of such a consensus -- and more, that it is time to expose it for the fraud that it is.

This presumed danger of a final settling of Palestinians is another tale in the politics of lies and self-deception that has prevailed since the Taif Accord. In a complex and diverse country such as Lebanon, this accord sought to develop a consensus based on a deception. It sought to achieve national unity by inventing a presumed enemy of all Lebanese, short of finding a real common enemy, or by fabricating a phony scare that would frighten everyone.

There is a history to this tale and the purpose it has served. At the time of the Taif conference, a party had to be found to bear the blame for the disastrous consequences of the many wars fought during the 1975-1990 period. These wars came to an end of sorts, but without an honest reckoning and accounting of the responsibilities that had led to them. And worse, they came to an end by elevating to the seats of power the very warlords that had fought each other mercilessly. The only party left out of this equation were the Palestinians. The other parties at the Taif conference had thus found the perfect scapegoat that would unite them all -- the Palestinian side -- which they thus turned into all of the following: the cause and object of that murky "conspiracy" that had to be feared, the reason that there had been internal wars, and the constant danger to fend off against, then and in the future.

The parties of the Lebanese Front have used the specter of a final settling of Palestinians to justify their blood-soaked history during the 1975-1990 period. They have never tired of declaring that they were fighting "against foreigners". In their account of that period, their history was one of resistance against the "conspiracy" of permanently settling Palestinians on Lebanese soil, conveniently ignoring who instigated the internal wars and who profited from them. Thus, not only have these parties concealed their responsibility for putting the country to the torch, they have also managed to confound the beginnings and ends of the 1975-1990 wars and everything that happened in between.

Twenty-five years ago, in September 1982, was the massacre of Sabra-Shatila. On this occasion, let us not forget that the massacre was planned with the intent to eliminate the "superfluous people" for which there is no room in a settlement of the Middle East crisis. That slaughter of Palestinian civilians took place in a drive to frighten them to leave Lebanon, after the eviction of the PLO and its armed factions in the summer months of 1982. The refusal of a final settling of Palestinians was a euphemism, pure and simple, for their forced migration out of Lebanon under the threat of death.

On the pretense that the many mini-wars in the years 1975-1990 were against the "conspiracy" aiming at a final settling of Palestinians, the conspiracy mongers have wanted us to forget that most of these wars, even after the withdrawal of the PLO and its organizations in 1982, were between Lebanese parties. What was the relationship between this "conspiracy" and what was then called the "war of the mountain" in 1983, which resulted in driving out most of the Christian inhabitants in the Shuf region? Further back, what was the relationship between the refusal of a final settling and the forcible migration of the Muslims out of the Nabaa district in 1976? And what was the connection between this "conspiracy" and General Aoun's decision to ignite the so-called "war of liberation" and the "war to unite all guns"? And what was its connection with the internecine war between the Geagea and Hobeika factions of the Lebanese Forces, or between the Amal movement and Hizbullah?

During the years of Syrian hegemony, from the early 1990's and until 2005, the bogey of a permanent implantation of Palestinians played an important role in rallying a number of politicians, particularly Christians among them, to the side of the Syrian regime. The declared reason was that only the latter would be able to keep the Palestinians in check and disarm their organizations. Thus, incitement against the implantation of Palestinians became another means to justify the presence of Syrian troops on Lebanese territory, although it was in clear violation of the Taif Accord.

What's more, all this talk about the refusal of a permanent settling of Palestinians is a perfect example of the kind of vile repudiation which Palestinians have had to endure, in this case the crass refusal to acknowledge their many and varied contributions to Lebanese life -- from the construction worker to the successful banker, and the many others in all professions from teaching to contracting. If this is what the refusal of a permanent settling means, it is a dark stain on Lebanon's much-trumpeted hospitality, which allows rich Saudi citizens to buy plots of land of one million square meters at the heart of the Lebanese mountains while denying a Palestinian refugee the right to own a dwelling not exceeding a few dozens of square meters!

Let's not overlook that the refusal of a permanent settling also presumes that Palestinians have to be taught lessons in patriotism and how to remain loyal to the idea of an eventual return to Palestine, which in turn presumes that Lebanese can be more concerned than Palestinians in defending the latter's right to return. On this phony presumption, it has been necessary for example to prevent construction material from entering Palestinian refugee camps, so as not to let camp dwellers be seduced by the idea of a permanent stay and aspire to remain in Lebanon! Everyone knows that foreign visitors, who have countries to return to, all aspire and are allowed to remain in Lebanon, so why shouldn't we allow those without a country to aspire to the same? Under repeated policies of encirclement and neglect over the years, the Palestinian camps have become infested with shadowy armed groups, which Lebanese and Syrian security agencies have, by turns, promoted and used to do their dirty work, and then incited to fight each other. And here is Lebanon belatedly awakening to the reality that these groups have the military means to take hostage an entire camp (Nahr al Barid) on the very watch of the proponents of the refusal of a final settling.

Last but not least, the tale of the refusal of a final settling of Palestinians comes in the wake of another issue that is rarely discussed honestly. The proponents of this tale maintain that Lebanon, because of its confessional makeup, cannot sustain the integration of Palestinian refugees who are Muslim in their majority. Because of Lebanon's confessional makeup, they claim, this will create an imbalance between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. The first flaw in this kind of logic is to equate the right of legal residency in Lebanon with the granting of Lebanese citizenship. Palestinians can be legal residents, with the same rights and duties of all non-citizen residents in Lebanon, without precluding their right to return to whatever part of their homeland that will come under the control of a Palestinian authority according to UN resolutions. But let's pursue this idea to the end: In a country where the confessional power-sharing formula is not based on percentages of the different religious sects in the first place, even if we were to equate the permanent settling of the refugees with the granting of Lebanese citizenship -- which is certainly not maintained by anyone -- what will be the effect of adding another 250,000 Palestinians to the number of Muslims in a country of 4 million where Christians represent no more than one-third of its inhabitants?

Treated with fraudulent remedies, the wounds in Lebanese-Palestinian relations have never ceased to fester and bleed. And here is another new wound caused by the events of Nahr al-Barid, once again treated with fraudulent remedies, as government officials have rushed to promise the rebuilding of the destroyed camp without drawing the necessary lessons for rebuilding relations between the two peoples.

Towards rebuilding harmony between the two peoples, we need to understand that Lebanon can no longer be a base for Palestinian armed organizations. Armed resistance from Lebanon is no longer an option for Palestinians, nor can the country provide the means to sustain such a resistance and serve its purpose. We also need to realize that the issue of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon is the result of fear -- fear caused by a history of massacres, further compounded by the growing racism peddled by politicians -- not to discount the fact that parties and governments have also used it, and continue to use this issue to serve external agendas unrelated to Palestinian interests.

If we want to avoid a repeat of the Nahr al Barid episode, with another terrorist organization abducting an entire Palestinian camp, we need an agreement that will stipulate the removal of all military weapons from Palestinian camps in exchange for the recognition and safeguarding of the Palestinians' civil and political rights. No need to spell out the details of such an agreement here, but the time has come to undertake the necessary steps towards its realization. And the first step on the long road to Lebanese-Palestinian reconciliation is to free ourselves of the fraud called the "conspiracy" to permanently settle the Palestinian refugees!

Fawwaz Traboulsi has taught at the Lebanese American University, Beirut-Lebanon. He has written on history, Arab politics, social movements and popular culture and translated works by Karl Marx, John Reed, Antonio Gramsci, Isaac Deutscher, John Berger, Etel Adnan, Sa`di Yusuf and Edward Said. His most recent book in English is A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007). The translator, Assaf Kfoury, is Professor of Computer Science at Boston University.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Doomed Colonialism

[Che Guevara delivered a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 11, 1964. Its official English translation follows. An audio video portion may be heard and viewed at this link.

It might appear to the short sighted today that Guevara's thoughts and actions of the times were marks of an impetuous looser. The material is presented here so those with broader outlook may consider events of today as fruiting of a seed once planted.]

by Che Guevara

The Cuban delegation to this assembly has pleasure, first of all, in fulfilling the pleasant duty of welcoming three new nations to the large number of nations whose representatives are discussing the problems of the world. We therefore greet through their Presidents and Prime Ministers the people of Zambia, Malawi, and Malta, and express the hope that from the outset these countries will be added to the group of non-aligned countries which struggle against imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism.

We also wish to convey our congratulations to the President of this assembly whose elevation to so high a post is of special significance since it reflects this new historic stage of resounding triumphs for the peoples of Africa, until recently subject to the colonial system of imperialism, and who, today, for the great part in the legitimate exercise of self-determination, have become citizens of sovereign states. The last hour of colonialism has struck, and millions of inhabitants of Africa, Asia, and Latin American rise to meet a new life, and assert their unrestricted right to self-determination and to the independent development of their nations.

We wish you, Mr President, the greatest success in the tasks entrusted to you by member states.

Cuba comes here to state its position on the most important controversial issues and will do so with the full sense of responsibility which the use of this rostrum implies, while at the same time responding to the unavoidable duty of speaking out, clearly and frankly.

We should like to see this assembly shake itself out of complacency and move forward. We should like to see the committees begin their work and not stop at the first confrontation. Imperialism wishes to convert this meeting into an aimless oratorical tournament, instead of using it to solve the grave problems of the world. We must prevent their doing so. This assembly should not be remembered in the future only by the number nineteen which identifies it. We feel that we have the right and the obligation to try to make this meeting effective because our country is a constant point of friction; one of the places where the principles supporting the rights of small nations to sovereignty are tested day by day, minute by minute; and at the same time our country is one of the barricades of freedom in the world, situated a few steps away from United States imperialism, to show with its actions, its daily example, that peoples can liberate themselves, can keep themselves free, in the existing conditions of the world.

Of course, there is now a socialist camp which becomes stronger day by day and has more powerful weapons of struggle. But additional conditions are required for survival: the maintenance of internal cohesion, faith in one's destiny, and the irreversible decision to fight to the death for the defense of one's country and revolution. These conditions exist in Cuba.

Of all the burning problems to be dealt with by this assembly, one which has special significance for us and whose solution we feel must be sought first, so as to leave no doubt in the minds of anyone, is that of peaceful coexistence among states with different economic and social Systems. Much progress has been made in the world in this field. But imperialism, particularly United States imperialism, has tried to make the world believe that peaceful coexistence is the exclusive right of the great powers on earth. We repeat what our President said in Cairo, and which later took shape in the Declaration of the Second Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries: that there cannot be peaceful coexistence only among the powerful if we are to ensure world peace. Peaceful coexistence must be practiced by all states, independent of size, of the previous historic relations that linked them, and of the problems that may arise among some of them at a given moment."

At present the type of peaceful coexistence to which we aspire does not exist in many cases. The kingdom of Cambodia, merely because it maintained a neutral attitude and did not submit to the machinations of United States imperialism, has been subjected to all kinds of treacherous and brutal attacks from the Yankee bases in South Vietnam.

Laos, a divided country, has also been the object of imperialist aggression of every kind. The conventions concluded at Geneva have been violated, its peoples have been massacred from the air, and part of its territory is in constant danger from cowardly attacks by imperialist forces.

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which knows of the histories of aggressions as few people on earth, once again bas seen its frontier violated, its installations attacked by enemy bomber and fighter planes, its naval posts attacked by the United States warships violating territorial waters.

At this moment, there hangs over the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the threat that the United States warmongers may openly extend to its territory the war that, for many years, they have been waging against the people of South Vietnam.

The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China have given serious warning to the United States. Not only the peace of the world is in danger in this situation, but also the lives of millions of human beings in this part of Asia are being constantly threatened and subjected to the whim of the United States invader.

Peaceful coexistence has also been put to the test in a brutal manner in Cyprus, due to pressures from the Turkish Government and NATO, compelling the people and the government of Cyprus to make a firm and heroic stand in defense of their sovereignty.

In all these parts of the world imperialism attempts to impose its version of what coexistence should be. It is the oppressed peoples in alliance with the socialist camp which must show them the meaning of true coexistence, and it is the obligation of the United Nations to support them.

We must also say that it is not only in relations between sovereign states that the concept of peaceful coexistence must be clearly defined. As Marxists we have maintained that peaceful coexistence among nations does not encompass coexistence between the exploiters and the exploited, the oppressor and the oppressed.

Furthermore, a principle proclaimed by this Organization is that of the right to full independence of all forms of colonial oppression. That is why we express our solidarity with the colonial peoples of so-called Portuguese Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique, who have been massacred for the crime of demanding their freedom, and we are prepared to help them to the extent of our ability in accordance with the Cairo Declaration.

We express our solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and its great leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, who has been set free in another act of hypocrisy, at the age of seventy-two, after spending a lifetime in jail, now paralytic and almost without the ability to speak. Albizu Campos is a symbol of the still unredeemed but indomitable America. Years and years of prison, almost unbearable pressures in jail, mental torture, solitude, total isolation from his people and his family, the insolence of the conqueror and lackeys in the land of his birth -- nothing at all broke his will. The delegation of Cuba, on behalf of its people, pays a tribute of admiration and gratitude to a patriot who bestows honor upon America.

The North Americans, for many years, have tried to convert Puerto Rico into a reflection of hybrid culture -- the Spanish language with an English inflection, the Spanish language with hinges on its backbone, the better to bend before the United States soldier. Puerto Rican soldiers have been used as cannon-fodder in imperialist wars, as in Korea, and even been made to fire at their own brothers, as in the massacre perpetrated by the United States Army a few months ago against the helpless people of Panamane of the most recent diabolical acts carried out by Yankee imperialism. Yet despite that terrible attack against its will and its historic destiny, the people of Puerto Rico have preserved their culture, their Latin character, their national feelings, which in themselves give proof of the implacable will for independence that exists among the masses on the Latin American island.

We must also point out that the principle of peaceful coexistence does not imply a mockery of the will of the peoples, as is happening in the case of so-called British Guiana, where the government of Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan has been the victim of every kind of pressure and maneuver, while the achievement of independence has been delayed by the search for methods that would allow for the flouting of the will of the people while ensuring the docility of a Government different from the present one, put in by underhanded tactics, and then to grant an important "freedom" to this piece of American soil. Whatever roads Guiana may be compelled to follow to obtain independence, the moral and militant support of Cuba goes to its people.

Furthermore, we must point out that the islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique have been fighting for a long time for their autonomy without obtaining it. This state of affairs must not continue.

Once again we raise our voice to put the world on guard against what is happening in South Africa. The brutal policy of apartheid is being carried out before the eyes of the whole world. The peoples of Africa are being compelled to tolerate in that continent the concept, still official, of the superiority of one race over another and in the name of that racial superiority the murder of people with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to prevent this? I should like specifically to refer to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The prodigious wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist nations wish to maintain under their control, is the direct reason for this. In his speech on his first visit to the United Nations, our comrade Fidel Castro said that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples was reduced to the undue appropriation of another's wealth. He said, "When this philosophy of despoilment disappears, the philosophy of war will have disappeared."

The philosophy of despoilment not only has not ceased, but rather it is stronger than ever, and that is why those who used the name of the United Nations to commit the murder of Lumumba, today, in the name of the defense of the white race, are assassinating thousands of Congolese. How can one forget how the hope that Patrice Lumumba placed in the United Nations was betrayed? How can one forget the machinations and maneuvers which followed in the wake of the occupation of that country by United Nations troops under whose auspices the assassins of this great African patriot acted with impunity? How can we forget that he who flouted the authority of the United Nations in the Congo, and not exactly for patriotic reasons, but rather by virtue of conflicts between imperialists, was Moise Tshombe, who initiated the secession in Katanga with Belgian support? And how can one justify, how can one explain, that at the end of all the United Nations activities there, Tshombe, dislodged from Katanga, returned as lord and master of the Congo? Who can deny the abject role that the imperialists compelled the United Nations to play?

To sum up, dramatic mobilizations were made to avoid the secession of Katanga, but today that same Katanga is in power! The wealth of the Congo is in imperialist hands and the expenses must be paid by honest nations. The merchants of war certainly do good business. That is why the government of Cuba supports the just attitude of the Soviet Union in refusing to pay the expenses of this crime.

And as if this were not enough, we now have flung in our faces recent events which have filled the world with horror and indignation. Who are the perpetrators? Belgian paratroopers transported by United States planes, who took off from British bases. We remember as if it were yesterday that we saw a small country in Europe, a civilized and industrious country, the kingdom of Belgium, invaded by the hordes of Hitler. We learned with bitterness that these people were being massacred by the German imperialists, and our sympathy and affection went out to them. But the other side of the imperialist coin many did not then perceive. Perhaps the sons of Belgian patriots who died defending their country are now assassinating thousands of Congolese in the name of the white race, just as they suffered under the German heel because their blood was not purely Aryan. But the scales have fallen from our eyes and they now open upon new horizons, and we can see what yesterday, in our conditions of colonial servitude, we could not observe - that "Western civilization" disguises under its showy front a scene of hyenas and jackals. That is the only name that can be applied to those who have gone to fulfill "humanitarian" tasks in the Congo. Bloodthirsty butchers who feed on helpless people! That is what imperialism does to men; that is what marks the "white" imperialists.

The free men of the world must be prepared to avenge the crime committed in the Congo. It is possible that many of those soldiers who were converted into "supermen" by imperialist machinery, believe in good faith that they are defending the rights of a superior race, but in this assembly those peoples whose skins are darkened by a different sun, colored by different pigments, constitute the majority, and they fully and clearly understand that the difference between men does not lie in the color of their skins, but in the ownership of the means of production and in the relationship of production.

The Cuban delegation extends greetings to the peoples of Southern Rhodesia and Southwest Africa, oppressed by white colonialist minorities, to the peoples of Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, French Somaliland, the Arabs of Palestine, Aden, and the Protectorates, Oman, and to all peoples in conflict with imperialism and colonialism; and we reaffirm our support.

I express also the hope that there will be a just solution to the conflict facing our sister republic of Indonesia in its relations with Malaysia.

One of the essential items before this conference is general and complete disarmament. We express our support of general and complete disarmament. Furthermore, we advocate the complete destruction of thermonuclear devices and the holding of a conference of all the nations of the world toward the fulfillment of this aspiration of all people. In his statement before this assembly, our Prime Minister said that arms races have always led to war. There are new atomic powers in the world, and the possibilities of a confrontation are grave.

We feel that a conference is necessary to obtain the total destruction of thermonuclear weapons and as a first step, the total prohibition of tests. At the same time there must be clearly established the obligation of all states to respect the present frontiers of other states and to refrain from indulging in any aggression even with conventional weapons.

In adding our voice to that of all peoples of the world who plead for general and complete disarmament, the destruction of all atomic arsenals, the complete cessation of thermonuclear devices and atomic tests of any kinds, we feel it necessary to stress, furthermore, that the territorial integrity of nations must be respected and the armed hand of imperialism, no less dangerous with conventional weapons, must be held back. Those who murdered thousands of defenseless citizens in the Congo did not use the atomic weapons. They used conventional weapons, and it was these conventional weapons, used by imperialists, which caused so many deaths.

Even if the measures advocated here were to become effective, thus making it unnecessary to say the following, we must still point out that we cannot adhere to any regional pact for denuclearization so long as the United States maintains aggressive bases on our territory, in Puerto Rico and in Panama, and in other American states where it feels it has the right to station them without any restrictions on conventional or nuclear weapons.

However, we feel we must be able to provide for our own defense in the light of the recent resolution of the Organization of American States against Cuba, which on the basis of the Treaty of Rio might permit aggression.

If such a conference to which we have just referred should achieve all these objectives -- which unfortunately, would be rather difficult to do -- it would be one of the most important developments in the history of mankind. To ensure this, the People's Republic of China must be represented, and that is why such a conference must be held. But it would be much simpler for the peoples of the world to recognize the undeniable truth that the People's Republic of China exists, that its rulers are the only representatives of the Chinese people, and to give it the place it deserves, which is, at present, usurped by a clique who control the province of Taiwan with United States aid.

The problem of the representation of China in the United Nations cannot, in any way, be considered as a case of a new admission to the organization, but rather as the restitution of their legitimate rights to the people of the People's Republic of China.

We repudiate strongly the concept of "two Chinas." The Chiang Kai-shek clique of Taiwan cannot remain in the United Nations. It must be expelled and the legitimate representative of the Chinese people put in.

We warn, also, against the insistence of the United States Government on presenting the problem of the legitimate representation of China in the United Nations as an "important question" so as to require a two-thirds majority of members present and voting.

The admission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations is, in fact, an important question for the entire world, but not for the mechanics of the United Nations where it must constitute a mere question of procedure.

Thus will justice be done, but almost as important as attaining justice would be the fact that it would be demonstrated, once and for all, that this august Assembly uses its eyes to see with, its ears to hear with, and its tongue to speak with; and has definite standards in making its decisions.

The proliferation of atomic weapons among the member States of NATO, and especially the possession of these devices of mass destruction by the Federal Republic of Germany, would make the possibility of an agreement on disarmament even more remote, and linked to such an agreement is the problem of the peaceful reunification of Germany. So long as there is no clear understanding, the existence of two Germanies must be recognized: that of the Democratic Republic of Germany and the Federal Republic. The German problem can only be solved with the direct participation of the Democratic Republic of Germany with full rights in negotiations.

We shall touch lightly on the questions of economic development and international trade which take up a good part of the agenda. In this year, 1964, the Conference of Geneva was held, where a multitude of matters related to these aspects of international relations was dealt with. The warnings and forecasts of our delegation were clearly confirmed to the misfortune of the economically dependent countries.

We wish only to point out that insofar as Cuba is concerned, the United States of America has not implemented the explicit recommendations of that conference, and recently the United States Government also prohibited the sale of medicine to Cuba, thus divesting itself once and for all, of the mask of humanitarianism with which it attempted to disguise the aggressive nature of its blockade against the people of Cuba.

Furthermore, we once more state that these colonial machinations, which impede the development of the peoples, are not only expressed in political relations. The so-called deterioration of the terms of trade is nothing less than the result of the unequal exchange between countries producing raw materials and industrial countries which dominate markets and impose a false justice on an inequitable exchange of values.

So long as the economically dependent peoples do not free themselves from the capitalist markets, and as a bloc with the socialist countries, impose new terms of trade between the exploited and the exploiters, there will be no sound economic development, and in certain cases there will be retrogression, in which the weak countries will fall under the political domination of imperialists and colonialists.

Finally, it must be made clear that in the area of the Caribbean, maneuvers and preparations for aggression against Cuba are taking place; off the coast of Nicaragua above all, in Costa Rica, in the Panama Canal Zone, in the Vieques Islands of Puerto Rico, in Florida, and possibly in other parts of the territory of the United States, and also, perhaps, in Honduras, Cuban mercenaries are training, as well as mercenaries of other nationalities, with a purpose that cannot be peaceful.

After an open scandal, the government of Costa Rica, it is said, has ordered the elimination of all training fields for Cuban exiles in that country. No one knows whether this attitude is sincere, or whether it it simply a maneuver, because the mercenaries training there were about to commit some offense. We hope that full cognizance will be taken of the actual existence of those bases for aggression, which we denounced long ago, and that the world will think about the international responsibility of the government of a country which authorizes and facilitates the training of mercenaries to attack Cuba.

We must point out that news of the training of mercenaries at different places in the Caribbean and the participation of the United States Government in such acts is news that appears openly in United States newspapers. We know of no Latin American voice that has been lifted officially in protest against this. This shows the cynicism with which the United States moves its pawns.

The shrewd foreign ministers of the OAS had eyes to "see" Cuban emblems and find "irrefutable proof" in the Yankee weapons in Venezuela, but do not see the preparations for aggression in the United States, just as they did not hear the voice of President Kennedy, who explicitly declared himself to be the aggressor against Cuba at Playa Giron. In some cases it is a blindness provoked by the hatred of the ruling classes of the Latin American people against our revolution; in others, and these are even more deplorable, it is the result of the blinding light of Mammon.

As everyone knows, after the terrible upheaval called the "Caribbean crisis," the United States undertook certain given commitments with the Soviet Union which culminated in the withdrawal of certain types of weapons that the continued aggressions of that country -- such as the mercenary attack against Playa Giron and threats of invasion against our country -- had compelled us to install in Cuba as a legitimate act of defense.

The Americans claimed, furthermore, that the United Nations should inspect our territory, which we refused and refuse emphatically since Cuba does not recognize the right of the United States, or of anyone else in the world, to determine what type of weapons Cuba may maintain within its borders.

In this connection, we would only abide by multilateral agreements, with equal obligations for all the parties concerned. Fidel Castro declared that "so long as the concept of sovereignty exists as the prerogative of nations and of independent peoples, and as a right of all peoples, we shall not accept the exclusion of our people from that right; so long as the world is governed by these principles, so long as the world is governed by those concepts which have universal validity because they are universally accepted by peoples, we shall not accept the attempt to deprive us of any of those rights and we shall renounce none of those rights."

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, understood our reasons. Nevertheless, the United States presumed to establish a new prerogative, an arbitrary and illegal one; that of violating the air space of any small country. Thus, we see flying over our country U-2 aircraft and other types of espionage apparatus which fly over our airspace with impunity. We have issued all the necessary warnings for the cessation of the violation of our airspace as well as the provocations of the American navy against our sentry posts in the zone of Guantanamo, the "buzzing" by aircraft over our ships or ships of other nationalities in international waters, the piratical attacks against ships sailing under different flags, and the infiltration of spies, saboteurs and weapons in our island.

We want to build socialism; we have declared ourselves partisans of those who strive for peace; we have declared ourselves as falling within the group of non-aligned countries, although we are Marxist-Leninists, because the non-aligned countries, like ourselves, fight imperialism. We want peace; we want to build a better life for our people, and that is why we avoid answering, so far as possible, the planned provocations of the Yankee. But we know the mentality of United States rulers; they want to make us pay a very high price for that peace. We reply that price cannot go beyond the bounds of dignity.

And Cuba reaffirms once again the right to maintain on its territory the weapons it wishes and its refusal to recognize the right of any power on earth -- no matter how powerful -- to violate our soil, our territorial waters, or our airspace.

If, in any assembly, Cuba assumes obligations of a collecfive nature, it will fulfill them to the letter. So long as this does not happen, Cuba maintains all its rights, just as any other nation.

In the face of the demands of imperialism our Prime Minister posed the five necessary points for the existence of a sound peace in the Caribbean. They are as follows:

Cessation of the economic blockade and all economic and trade pressure by the United States in all parts of the world against our country.

Cessation of all subversive activities, launching and landing of weapons, and explosives by air and sea, organization of mercenary invasions, infiltration of spies and saboteurs, all of which acts are carried out from the territory of the United States and some accomplice countries.

Cessation of piratical attacks carried out from existing bases in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Cessation of all the violations of our airspace and our territorial waters by aircraft and warships of the United States.

Withdrawal from the Guantanamo naval base and restitution of the Cuban territory occupied by the United States.
None of these fundamental demands has been met, and our forces are still being provoked from the naval base at Guantanamo. That base has become a nest of thieves and the point from which they are introduced into our territory.

We would bore this assembly were we to give a detailed account of the large number of provocations of all kinds. Suffice it to say that including the first day of December, the number amounts to 1,323 in 1964 alone. The list covers minor provocations such as violation of the dividing line, launching of objects from the territory controlled by the North Americans, tbe commission of acts of sexual exhibitionism by North Americans of both sexes, verbal insults, others which are graver such as shooting off small-caliber weapons, the manipulation of weapons directed against our territory and offenses against our national emblem. The more serious provocations are those of crossing the dividing line and starting fires in installations on the Cuban side, seventy-eight rifle shots this year and the death of Ramon Lopez Pena, a soldier, from two shots fired from the United States post three and a half kilometers from the coast on the northern boundary.

This grave provocation took place at 19:07 hours on July 19, 1964, and our Prime Minister publicly stated on July 26 that if the event were to recur, he would give orders for our troops to repel the aggression. At the same time orders were given for the withdrawal of the advance line of Cuban forces to positions farther away from the dividing line and construction of the necessary housing.

One thousand three hundred and twenty-three provocations in 340 days amount to approximately four per day. Only a perfectly disciplined army with a morale such as ours could resist so many hostile acts without losing its self-control.

Forty-seven countries which met at the Second Conference of Heads of State or Government of the nonaligned countries at Cairo unanimously agreed that:

Noting with concern that foreign military bases are, in practice, a means of bringing pressure on nations and retarding their emancipation and development, based on their own ideological, political, economic and cultural ideas...declares its full support to the countries which are seeking to secure the evacuation of foreign bases on their territory and calls upon all States maintaining troops and bases in other countries to remove them forthwith.

The Conference considers that the maintenance at Guantanamo (Cuba) of a military base of the United States of America, in defiance of the will of the Government and people of Cuba and in defiance of the provisions embodied in the Declaration of the Belgrade Conference, constitutes a violation of Cuba's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Noting that the Cuban Government expresses its readiness to settle its dispute over the base at Guantanamo with the United States on an equal footing, the Conference urges the United States Government to negotiate the evacuation of their base with the Cuban Government.

The government of the United States has not responded to the above request of the Cairo Conference and presumes to maintain indefinitely its occupation by force of a piece of our territory from which it carries out acts of aggression such as those we mentioned earlier.

The Organization of American States -- also called by some people the United States Ministry of Colonies - condemned us vigorously, although it had excluded us from its midst, and ordered its members to break off diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. The OAS authorized aggression against our country at any time and under any pretext and violated the most fundamental international laws, completely disregarding the United Nations. Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico opposed that measure, and the government of the United States of Mexico refused to comply with the sanctions that had been approved. Since then we have no relations with any Latin American countries other than Mexico; thus the imperialists have carried out one of the stages preliminary to a plan of direct aggression.

We want to point out once again that our concern over Latin America is based on the ties that link us; the language we speak, our culture, and the common master we shared. But we have no other reason for desiring the liberation of Latin America from the colonial yoke of the United States. If any of the Latin American countries here decides to [resume relations it must be on the] basis of equality and not with the assumption that it is a gift to our government that we be recognized as a free country in the world, because we won the recognition of our freedom with our blood in the days of our struggles for liberation. We acquired it with our blood in the defense of our shores against Yankee invasion.

Although we reject any attempt to attribute to us interference in the internal affairs of other countries, we cannot deny that we sympathize with those people who strive for their freedom, and we must fulfill the obligation of our government and people to state clearly and categorically to the world that we morally support and feel as one with people everywhere who struggle to make a reality of the rights of full sovereignty proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

It is the United States of America which intervenes. It has done so throughout the history of America. Since the end of the last century Cuba has known very well the truth of the matter; but it is known, too, by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Central America in general, Mexico, Haiti, and Santo Domingo. In recent years, besides our peoples, Panama has also known direct aggression, when the marines of the Canal opened fire against the defenseless people; Santo Domingo, whose coast was violated by the Yankee fleet to avoid an outbreak of the righteous fury of the people after the death of Trujillo; and Colombia, whose capital was taken by assault as a result of a rebellion provoked by the assassination of Gaitan.

There are masked interventions through military missions which participate in internal repression, organizing forces designed for that purpose in many countries, and also in coups d'etat which have been so frequently repeated on the American continent during the past few years. Specifically, United States forces took part in the repression of the peoples of Venezuela, Colombia, and Guatemala, who carry on an arined struggle for their freedom. In Venezuela not only do the Americans advise the army and the police, but they also direct acts of genocide from the air against the peasant population in vast rebel-held areas, and the United States companies established there exert pressures of every kind to increase direct interference.

The imperialists are preparing to repress the peoples of America and are setting up an "international" [network] of crime. The United States interfered in America while invoking the "defense of free institutions". The time will come when this assembly will acquire greater maturity and demand guarantees from the United States Government for the lives of the Negro and Latin American population who reside in that country, most of whom are native-born or naturalized United States citizens.

How can they presume to be the "guardians of liberty" when they kill their own children and discriminate daily against people because of the color of their skin; when they not only free the murderers of colored people, but even protect them, while punishing the colored population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men? We understand that today the assembly is not in a position to ask for explanations of these acts, but it must be clearly established that the government of the United States is not the champion of freedom, but rather the perpetrator of exploitation and oppression of the peoples of the world, and of a large part of its own population.

To the equivocating language with which some delegates have painted the case of Cuba and the Organization of American States, we reply with blunt words, that the governments pay for their treason.

Cuba, a free and sovereign state, with no chains binding it to anyone, with no foreign investments on its territory, with no proconsuls orienting its policy, can speak proudly in this assembly, proving the justice of the phrase by which we will always be known, "Free Territory of America".

Our example will bear fruit in our continent, as it is already doing to a certain extent already in Guatemala, Colombia, and Venezuela. The imperialists no longer have to deal with a small enemy, a contemptible force, since the people are no longer isolated.

As laid down in the Second Declaration of Havana:

No people of Latin America is weak, because it is part of a family of 200 million brothers beset by the same miseries, who harbor the same feelings, have the same enemy, while they all dream of the same better destiny and have the support of all honest men and women in the world.

Future history will be written by the hungry masses of Indians, of landless peasants, of exploited workers; it will be written by the progressive masses, by the honest and brilliant intellectuals who abound in our unfortunate lands of Latin America, by the struggle of the masses and of ideas; an epic that will be carried forward by our peoples who have been ill-treated and despised by imperialism, our peoples who have until now gone unrecognized but who are awakening. We were considered an impotent and submissive flock; but now they are afraid of that flock, a gigantic flock of 200 million Latin Americans, which is sounding a warning note to the Yankee monopolist capitalists.

The hour of vindication, the hour it chose for itself, is now striking from one end to the other of the continent. That anonymous mass, that colored America, sombre, adamant, which sings throughout the continent the same sad, mournful song; now that mass is beginning definitely to enter into its own history, it is beginning to write it with its blood, to suffer and to die for it. Because now, in the fields, and in the mountains of America, in its plains and in its forests, in the solitude, and in the bustle of cities, on the shores of the great oceans and rivers, it is beginning to shape a world full of quickening hearts, who are ready to die for what is theirs, to conquer their rights which have been flouted for almost 500 years. History will have to tell the story of the poor of America, of the exploited of Latin America, who have decided to begin to write for themselves, forever, their own odyssey. We see them already walking along those roads, on foot, day after day, in long and endless marches, hundreds of kilometers, until they reach the ruling "Olympus" and wrest back their rights. We see them armed with stones, with sticks, with machetes, here, there, everywhere, daily occupying their lands, and taking root in the land that is theirs and defending it with their lives; we see them carrying banners, their banners running in the wind in the mountains and on the plains. And that wave of heightening fury, of just demands, of rights that have been flouted, is rising throughout Latin America, and no one can stem that tide; it will grow day by day because it is made up of the great multitude in every respect, those who with their work create the riches of the earth, and turn the wheel of history, those who are now awakening from their long, stupefying sleep.

For this great humanity has said "enough" and has started to move forward. And their march, the march of giants, cannot stop, will not stop until they have conquered their true independence, for which many have already died, and not uselessly. In any event, those who die will die like those in Cuba, at Playa Giron; they will die for their never-to-be-renounced, their only true independence."

This new will of a whole continent, America, shows itself in the cry proclaimed daily by our masses as the irrefutable expression of their decision to fight, to grasp and deter the armed hand of the invader. It is a cry that has the understanding and support of all the peoples of the world and especially of the socialist camp, headed by the Soviet Union.

That cry is: "Our country or death."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Something Pleasant

La Virgen Chicana de Guadalupe
Christmas is such a varied time. So many countries and peoples all over the world. And for some, it is wonderful, and for some, it is terrible. So, Merry Christmas to those who do, and a merry day, if possible, to those who do not.

Christmas in Mexico, for me, is very special. A family holiday celebrated with presents for the children, and food for all. Here in my fishing village the fire works started a few days ago and kept excalating till last night at midnight, when the presents are opened. Loud fireworks, shaking the house and the sky. And the full moon and mars putting on a show too, all on a warm winter night. Ranchero music blasting from all directions, making all seem even happier. Voices and laughter and song coming from every house and yard until the night was thick with it. Christmas lights and outdoor fires for cooking the traditional tamales in huge pots. Beef, pork, rasin and pineapple types here, wrapped in corn husks. I couldnt sleep last night until well after midnight, too much excitement to not be caught by it.

One can easily see the ugly side of christmas, the Americanization of it, making it more a celebration to excess then anything else, but it is good to remember and realize, for many it is a special time thats fits in with a simple life and brings pleasure. There is beauty to life, even in times like we are in now. I just wish that all were in a position to feel it.

Here are several fun videos, just to add to a day that needs all the positive it can get

The Dog and the Wolf


The Vegtable Orchestra

Fawwaz Traboulsi

- On An Arab-Kurdish Federation In Iraq

taken from here

[Translator's Introduction: The article below by Fawwaz Traboulsi first appeared in Arabic in the Beirut weekly Mulhaq al-Nahar al-Thaqafi (the Literary Supplement of the daily al-Nahar) of November 6, 2005. The article has not previously been translated into English, and it is offered here for its continuing relevance to Iraqi political developments.

The article was originally written as, part of a series of pieces by different commentators on "the consequences of Iraqi federalism on the Arab world," just a few weeks after the October 15 referendum approving a new Iraqi constitution -- or, more precisely, an incomplete version of it.

The struggle for Iraq's constitution is still very much ongoing, as I explain in a separate article , and Traboulsi's article is no less germane today than it was at the time of the October 2005 referendum. If anything, positions of the different Iraqi parties have become more polarized and entrenched over the last two years. Two of the most contentious issues yet to be decided in the constitutional document are the nature of Iraq's federalism and the disposition of the country's natural resources. Traboulsi addresses both issues.

One of Traboulsi's warning calls to Iraqis is about the sectarian character of the draft constitution. Traboulsi's criticism draws additional force as he writes from the vantage point of a historian of the modern Middle East, who has also been a direct witness to the ravages repeatedly brought about by a sectarian-based system of government (so-called confessionalism) for nearly a century in nearby Lebanon.

-- Assaf Kfoury]

Before we discuss the potential effects of establishing an Iraqi federation on the rest of the Arab world, we ought to give an examination of federalism in Iraq, in and of itself, its due. We ought to do this even though a detailed assessment of the proposed draft for an Iraqi constitution cannot be guaranteed as final yet, especially since the draft remains a working document that has been repeatedly adjusted and modified. If we are to examine the idea of federalism in Iraq and potential problems in putting it into practice, a good place to start from is the draft itself where a specific form of an Iraqi federation is proposed to the Iraqi people.

Any discussion of federalism in Iraq must take note of two important characteristics of the current situation. The first characteristic is that the American occupation accomplished more than just regime change. Not only did the occupation put an end to the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein, it completely demolished the Iraqi state, eliminating the former state infrastructure and somehow aiming to rebuild it entirely from scratch: the legislative and judicial institutions, the army, the ministries, the civil service and all public administrations. And not only did it demolish the former state and its institutions which it directly targeted, it inevitably had a profound dislocating effect on the whole of Iraqi society. What concerns us here most are the changes and reversals which Iraq's three main communities have experienced in their mutual relations as a result. At the moment, Iraqis are facing a crucial turning point in their collective history: On the one hand, a majority of Iraqis reject a return to a centralized authoritarian government, whose remnants are no longer in a position to unite Iraqi society in any case, coercively or not. On the other hand, we are now witnessing an intense movement among the constituent parts of Iraqi society, whose outcome is yet to be determined -- in the form of new elements of domination or control or balance or leadership. The most salient features of this ongoing movement are:

· The two communities that suffered most from discrimination and deprivation under the Baath regime, namely the Shiites and the Kurds, are now exercising a new assertiveness, but in different ways that are often at cross-purposes. As most often reflected in pronouncements by Shiite leaders, the Shiite community is striving to impose the principle of majority rule on a political system still-in-the-making. By contrast, as indicated by its leaders' stated positions, the Kurdish community is trying to maximize the benefits of its self-autonomy and simultaneously preserve its position in the central government, against the background of a Kurdish public opinion strongly favoring secession -- an issue I shall return to shortly.

· The Sunni community is struggling to find a new place in the emerging order. It is doing so after long years during which Saddam Hussein monopolized power in its name and at the expense of its own majority. This search for a new place manifests itself in different ways. Some Sunni groups that espouse various nationalist ideologies are engaged in an armed insurgency with the declared aim of re-establishing a centralized Iraqi state, of one form or another, in which they will regain their privileges. Other Sunni groups, which have shunned the violence of the armed insurgency but also used it as a bargaining chip, are vying for a better position within the emerging political system. And lest we forget -- and how can we forget!! -- this armed insurgency has intermittently tolerated or abetted the kind of violence embraced by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia that indiscriminately targets civilians and openly proclaims that Shiites are apostates deserving death.

· Last but not least, the various social movements and forces, including the labor movement and the women's movement, are all struggling to find a position and a role to play in the political system still-in-the-making. They are doing so in the face of a political system that is increasingly giving precedence to communal rights over individual rights, and increasingly sacrificing socio-economic interests to appease religious-regional demands.

In making the preceding points, we cannot stress enough the importance of the current juncture in Iraq's history -- this is a time when Iraq's state institutions are being rebuilt, its entire society remodeled, and the very basis of its existence as a single entity reconsidered.

So, how is it that we hope for Iraq to change from a centralized state to a federation? There is no point in saying that states in their historical development tend to go from loose federations or confederations to centralized states. In the case of Iraq, it may well be that the reverse will take place, and that this reverse may turn out to be the best way to re-unite its society by rebuilding its state and public institutions differently. Re-uniting Iraqi society is not the same thing as re-establishing a unitary centralized state; rather, if Iraqi society is to re-unite voluntarily, it will likely be the product of a form of government that devolves authority, permits all components of society to exercise their rights for self-rule, and distributes equitably national resources and public services.

The second important characteristic of the current situation in Iraq, insofar as the issue of federalism is concerned, is the growing current among Kurds for an outright secession, something I already alluded to before. An overwhelming majority of the Kurds once more expressed this sentiment in a poll conducted on the margin of the most recent parliamentary elections. Did the secessionist sentiment among Kurds predate the American invasion? And were the Kurds able to express this sentiment openly only after this invasion? Or was this secessionist sentiment the product of specific events and history? A number of factors have in fact contributed to this Kurdish shift, over many years, from a demand for self-rule in Kurdistan within a democratic Iraq to a call for outright secession.

Most of the available evidence indicates that the Kurdish population's shift towards secession started during the latter period of the Baath regime, and most significantly, since the so-called Anfal campaign of 1988-89. During that campaign, the Kurdish regions were subjected to wholesale massacres, ethnic cleansing, destruction of hundreds of villages, forced Arabization, and forced migration of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of their inhabitants. In other words, the movement favoring Kurdish secession grew in reaction to the extreme national-chauvinist and tyrannical policies pursued by the central government in dealing with the Kurdish question.

It is worth adding that the Kurdish movement towards secession was further nurtured during the years of self-rule in the 1990's and later, when the Kurdish regions in northern Iraq were outside Baghdad's control and largely isolated from the southern Arab-majority regions that remained under Baath rule.

Of course, the existence of a dominant separatist current among Kurds today does not mean, a priori, that it may not recede as a result of future circumstances, nor does it mean that Kurdish secession is bound to happen regardless of circumstances. Several internal and external factors militate against an outright secession. In particular, most of the Kurdish leaders and parties continue to search for a solution within the boundaries of a single Iraqi entity, while outright secession under current conditions would undermine the Kurdish regions' economic interests and external relations.

As I am talking about secession, I should point out that I fully support the Kurdish people's right to national self-determination, including its right to secede completely and form a separate state. But my support of this right is not neutral, and I find no contradiction in being partial to another alternative: As an Arab citizen, I am also in favor of Iraq's Kurds ultimately choosing to remain within the Arab world, as an affirmation that this Arab world can be open to ethnic, regional and religious communities -- in all their diversities and multiplicities -- in a context of coexistence and cooperation that are enriching to all.

Based on the preceding, I understand the proposal for a federal Iraq to be for a system of government that will grant the Kurdish minority all its legitimate rights: to exercise self-rule, use its own language, preserve and develop its cultural heritage, and receive its fair share of the national wealth and budget -- in the context of a united Iraq, as an alternative to the option of an outright secession.

That said, this vision of an Arab-Kurdish federation in Iraq is problematic and fraught with difficulties. While it provides an answer to part of the problem, it raises other problems. Any federal system, whether in Iraq or anywhere else, is erected on the presumed existence of two or more autonomous or semi-autonomous regions. In Iraq's present situation, there exists only one autonomous region in the Kurdish north, consisting of three provinces, where self-rule is already exercised through the creation of a regional government, a regional parliament, a regional administration and regional armed forces. In the face of this one autonomous region are: (1) a central government reflecting a twisted power-sharing formula* between a (Kurdish) ethnic community and (Arab) religious communities, and (2) a collection of 15 provinces in the rest of the country with an overwhelming Arab majority.

The question is: This proposed Iraqi federation is to be realized between whom and whom? An answer of sorts is in the draft constitution, which stipulates that any province (or group of provinces) can move to become a separate federal region, i.e. one of the units of the projected federation, provided the move to separate is approved by a majority of that region's eligible voters in a plebiscite. In the envisioned federal system according to the draft constitution, power and representation will be divided between four different levels: (1) the capital Baghdad and surrounding metropolitan area, with its own special executive and administrative organization; (2) the regions, each consisting of one or more provinces that elect to form a self-ruling federal unit; (3) the provinces, jointly administered by the federal and provincial authorities; and (4) what the draft calls "the local administrations," responsible for the affairs of religious minorities (Christians, Yazedis, Mandi Sabeans) and small ethnic minorities (Turkmen, Armenians). It does not take much imagination to foresee a situation of confusion and conflict when this projected system will be put to the test of practice, notably because the population of Baghdad and the surrounding area, representing more than one-fifth of Iraq's total, is a mix of all ethnic and religious communities.

The only plausible explanation for the adoption of this problematic system is that the commission responsible for the draft constitution refused to consider a single defining criterion for a federation, namely, an ethnic division between Arabs and Kurds. This is unfortunate, because the only meaningful and effective federation, one capable of embracing all the religious and sectarian diversities of Iraqi society, is an Arab-Kurdish federation consisting of two autonomous regions: one including all the provinces with a Kurdish majority, and one including all the provinces with an Arab majority. In this way, power and representation would be divided between two rather than four levels -- with the first of these two levels already mentioned in the draft constitution: (1) a national assembly of all the delegates elected by the entire Iraqi population, with one delegate for every 100,000 voters, and this assembly in turn elects a head of state and a council of ministers; (2) the regional institutions in each of the two autonomous regions. (To my knowledge, during the discussions on the draft constitution, there was a similar proposal that was not followed up, of a federation between two regions, one called Kurdistan and one called Mesopotamia.)

Such a federal solution leads us directly to the question of Iraq's identity. Is it an Arab country? Is it part of the Arab world?

There is no question that the American view of Iraq has been to divide Iraqi society into one ethnic community (the Kurds) and two Islamic sects (Sunnis and Shiites). The effect has been to diminish the role of Iraq's Arab population as its single ethnic majority. This has been the view underlying US policy since the 1990-91 Gulf War: the determination of the no-fly zones after 1991, the parceling out and distribution of food supplies during the UN food-for-oil program, the representation of the Iraqi regime as a Sunni regime, etc. This has been the view from our opponent's side -- the side of the imperial power and the interests it serves.

But from our side -- the side of those who support Iraq's liberation -- the crucial question is: What do we want? Do we adopt our opponent's view or do we confront it with an alternative view? An alternative view that expresses the Iraqi people's free will?

My sense is that much of the debate about Iraq's Arab identity is taking place in a context of symbols and images that ignore the facts. Some have criticized one of the clauses in the draft constitution that states that Iraq's "Arab citizens are a part of the Arab nation;" without any mention that Iraq is an Arab country or part of the Arab world, they read the draft as stripping Iraq the country of its Arab identity. There is some validity in this criticism, but there is a far more important omission in the draft constitution: It does not deal with Iraq's Arab inhabitants as one ethnicity and only identifies them according to their sectarian identities. Indeed, what is the gain in trying to amend the draft constitution to include some sort of clause proclaiming that Iraq is part of the Arab world -- just to please the Secretary General of the Arab League -- if the draft does not also recognize Iraq's Arabs as a single ethnic community and strips them of any constitutional role as such in the Iraqi political system?

One final remark is in order regarding the distribution of revenues from the oil and gas sector. This is a particularly sensitive issue in an Iraqi federal system, which must be considered against the current and past record inasmuch as it has all too often been an element of discord and division. First, we should give the draft constitution its due for explicitly stating that oil and gas resources are a common property of the entire Iraqi people, and that their revenues will be distributed proportionally to population size in every region. The draft constitution also allocates a special share to parts of the country that were deprived of the revenues under the former Baath regime. So far, this is in relation to ownership and distribution of revenues only. As for the administration of oil and gas production, the draft calls for it to be joint between federal and regional authorities, but limited to currently exploited fields. The draft leaves unspecified the administration of fields that are discovered in the future, allowing the possibility that these will be placed under sole control of the regional authorities. This is an unfortunate ambiguity, a portent of potentially divisive conflicts, especially since Iraq's oil reserves are estimated to far exceed its current production level.

An example of these potentially divisive problems is the current struggle over the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The Kurdish claim to Kirkuk, the conflict regarding its ethnic makeup, and the debate on whether or not it should be part of the Kurdish autonomous region, become all the more critical precisely because of the city's importance in the oil industry. Unilateral insistence by any side on controlling Kirkuk undermines Iraqi federalism and, moreover, will embolden those who want to establish a separate region in southern Iraq to demand similar ownership rights on the southern oil fields. Regardless of the final status and geographical location of Kirkuk, inside or outside the autonomous Kurdish region, it is important that its oil wealth remains under federal control and administration, representing its joint ownership by the entire Iraqi people.


* Translator's note: The power-sharing formula is "skewed" in that it is not a partnership between only ethnic communities, or between only religious communities, but between one ethnic community and two religious communities, with the latter two limited to Arabs. Kurds are religiously diverse, just like the Arabs. There are significant numbers of both Sunnis and Shiites (and other religious denominations) not only among Arabs, but also among Kurds and other smaller ethnic communities of Iraq (notably, Turkmen).

Fawwaz Traboulsi has taught at the Lebanese American University, Beirut-Lebanon. He has written on history, Arab politics, social movements and popular culture and translated works by Karl Marx, John Reed, Antonio Gramsci, Isaac Deutscher, John Berger, Etel Adnan, Sa`di Yusuf and Edward Said. His most recent book in English is A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007). The translator, Assaf Kfoury, is Professor of Computer Science at Boston University.

Gunmen of Kabul

taken from Corpwatch

In September, on a tree-lined street in the most expensive neighborhood in Kabul, dozens of men rolled out of armored vehicles in front of a little-known U.S. security company. Backed up by Blackwater guards, Afghan authorities and Americans from the FBI and the U.S. State Department quickly headed for the offices of United States Protection and Investigations (USPI). Once inside, they arrested four of the Texas-based company’s management team and confiscated 15 computers. The two Americans arrested were later released, while the Afghan managers remain in custody.

The September raid was one of the first attempts by President Karzai’s government to crack down on private security contractors in Afghanistan. Afghan police say they plan to shut down about 14 contractors, and so far, have closed 10 Afghan and foreign firms.

What made the USPI raid unusual was the U.S. government’s role. The State Department and FBI spearheaded the operation and accused the company of defrauding the United States, according to USPI guards in Kabul and Afghan officials who did not want to be named because the investigation is classified.

Ironically, the United States used private security guards from Blackwater -- the same company under scrutiny for the September death of 17 Iraqi civilians -- to carry out the USPI raid. It was Blackwater’s actions and virtual impunity that had spurred the Afghan and Iraqi governments to rein in Western security contractors in the first place.

That impunity is of particular concern to Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of criminal investigations with the Kabul police. A crusader against private security companies, he charges that many contractors are corrupt and are operating without an Afghan government license. Some, he said, are using their guns and power to commit murder and other crimes including drug dealing and bank robbery, and to extort money on a daily basis, he said.

“We’re going to make sure these companies clean up because they’re doing more harm than good in our country right now,” Paktiawal said from his busy Kabul office.

One foreign private security contractor, who would only speak off the record, counters that the police crackdown is really a witch-hunt to extort money from Western companies. An Afghan journalist who is researching the issue and cannot publicly comment, points to the fact that many of the companies, such as Afghan-owned Khawar, are back in business. If the right people in the government are bribed, he said, the contractors have no problems re-opening.

According to a high-level contractor who worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the crackdown may be targeting legitimate companies along with rogue and unlicensed operations. Some businesses may have been shut down after high-powered government officials issued false charges arising out of vendettas.

Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert and head of New York University’s Center for International Cooperation, said experienced international officials working in Kabul told him that the latest crackdown on security companies is an effort by one criminal group to eliminate its competitors. Apparently, he said, foreign contracts are being offered to “favored Afghan families.”

The foreign contractors say they want to be regulated without being gouged. Doug Brooks, founder and president of the U.S.-based International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a trade group that represents private security contractors, confirms that stance. These companies are happy to register their weapons and obtain licenses from the Afghan government, he says, because it raises their standards and builds efficiency.

“They can handle high [license] fees as long as there’s fairness and transparency. But they can’t pay bribes because it’s against U.S. laws,” Brooks said.

Who are the security companies?

In the last six years, public security in Afghanistan has been on a downward spiral. According to the Afghan government and NATO figures, suicide bombings and other violence have killed hundreds of civilians in 2007, with many more injured or driven into internal exile. Western diplomats, NGOs and investors argue that the Afghan military is not ready to protect those involved in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. Without private security contractors, the insurgency -- including the Taliban, al Qaeda and other opposition groups -- would win the war for control of the country.

The private forces filling this security gap are funded by some of the nearly $20 billion in U.S. aid money that was allocated for Afghan “reconstruction.” To date, there is little security or reconstruction to show for the money spent. An undisclosed amount of the funds for projects assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donor nations appears to have simply gone to security contractors, according to aid project contracts that detail security costs. For almost every project, security is the highest expense.

There has also been little progress in efforts to control the expense of or to monitor the private security industry. Two years ago, the Afghan government hired a Canadian consulting company to help formulate legislation to regulate the companies, but the effort has not generated effective laws. This December the U.S. Congress passed a bi-partisan bill requiring contractors to provide more information on how they are spending aid money. The legislation creates the post of a special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) to monitor American assistance to Afghanistan. President Bush has yet to sign it.

Legislation or no, dependence on private security is a basic fact of life in Afghanistan. There are about 10,000 private security guards -- Afghan and foreign -- in Kabul alone right now, according to figures provided by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Afghan officials say only 59 companies are registered and licensed, but perhaps 25 more operate illegally. These numbers are estimates, since part of the problem is that no system is in place that accurately counts the companies or publicly verifies their legal status.

Many of the private security companies, including USPI, have hired Afghan guards who fought in previous wars and were supposed to be disarmed. According to the joint United Nations and Afghan disarmament group, there are still 2,000 private militias in the country employing some 120,000 men, many of whom work for private security contractors. The largest companies are either U.S. or British, and include DynCorp, USPI, Armour Group, Saladin and Global Risk Strategy.

USPI in Afghanistan

USPI has risen quickly into the top ranks of Afghanistan’s private security contractors. It was founded in 1987 by a husband and wife team: Barbara Spier was a restaurant inspector and her husband Del was a private investigator specializing in insurance fraud in Dallas, Texas. They started with small contracts around the world, but when the Taliban were ousted and the new Western-backed government seized power in 2002, USPI planted itself in Afghanistan and collaborated with former Mujahideen commander Din Mohammed Jorat.

Jorat, a notorious warlord accused of killing the aviation minister in 2002, was head of security in the Ministry of Interior and headed a militia that became part of the Afghan police. His officers were paid a low salary, $70 a month, but offered the opportunity to boost it by working as guards for USPI. They remained Afghan government employees and received a $3 to $5 per diem for USPI’s on-the-job training. By claiming to train, rather than actually employing the moonlighting police, the U.S. contractor was able to provide the cheapest security option for its clients in Afghanistan. The scheme effectively turned a large sector of the Afghan police into a private quasi-militia.

In a matter of months, USPI became USAID’s second biggest security contractor in Afghanistan (after Virginia-based Dyncorp). USAID awarded the company $36 million for four and a half years to protect infrastructure projects, such as a road-building project awarded to Louis Berger, a New Jersey engineering company. USPI also made money from contracts with other foreign companies and NGOs to protect their offices and staff in Kabul and the provinces. At its peak, the company employed some 4,000 Afghans.

By September 2007, according to one USPI Afghan guard in Kabul, the company’s guards no longer worked for the government, and had become direct employees of USPI, which pays their salaries. Jorat, who is no longer head of security at the interior ministry, had opened his own security company, Khawar, and no longer collaborates with USPI, according to the guard.

Meanwhile opposition to the government is growing and the insurgency is targeting foreigners inside the country as well as Afghans who work for the government or foreign military and aid projects.

As both the opposition and USPI operations grew, the company began to assume a lower public profile. Until two years ago, when security in Afghanistan plummeted, USPI signs were omnipresent at booths staffed by their Afghan employees who guarded big Kabul houses filled with expatriate staff. Now the signs are gone but the guards remain.

By mid-December the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated so drastically that the Taliban were able to kill 15 USPI Afghan guards on the highway in western Afghanistan where they were protecting Louis Berger engineers.

The rising number of attacks has raised questions about the training, dedication and competence of private security operatives. A high-level security contractor who worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul said that members of the small team of foreign advisers are paid up to $200,000 a year to work with the Afghan employees, but that most of the local officers received little training and were infamous for collaborating with local warlords and participating in the extortion and harassment of Afghans.

“[They] made deals with the devil and their guys could do anything they want: shakedowns, drug dealing. [They were] thugs who liked mafia-type operation,” said the U.S. embassy security contractor. He said USAID was not happy with USPI, but it had spent too much money mobilizing the company to let it go.

“People got killed because of the incompetence of their guys,” he added. “Taliban would attack road crews and USPI guys would run and throw away their weapons, and it happened on numerous occasions.” The consequence was that civilian construction workers ended up dead and kidnapped, and engineering contractors stopped construction simply because USPI could not protect them.

September Raid

By the time of the September raid on USPI offices, the company’s operations were raising red flags. USPI has a notorious history in Afghanistan of operating with a cowboy mentality and collaborating with shady local strongmen. In 2005, a U.S. supervisor for USPI allegedly shot dead his Afghan interpreter and was flown out of the country the next day, according to Afghan officials.

Despite these issues, USPI continued to get contracts because it underbid its competitors for projects and remained the cheapest option, the American contractor said.

Paktiawal, the policeman in charge of criminal investigations in Kabul, was present during the USPI raid and told CorpWatch that the FBI and USAID are both investigating the company. Until the investigation is complete, he said he could not release more details about the charges.

USPI could not be reached for comment, but in October, the Associated Press reported:

“USPI faces accusations of overcharging USAID by billing for employees and vehicles that did not exist, said a U.S. security official with close ties to the company who wasn’t authorized to release the information. The overbilling could run into the millions of dollars … Blackwater held U.S. and Canadian citizens at gunpoint during the raid, said the U.S. official. Blackwater ... helps provide security for the U.S. Embassy.”

After the raid, one of USPI’s uniformed guards, armed with a knife and an AK-47, patrolled in front of foreign offices in a quiet neighborhood in Kabul. He did not want to be named, but confirmed that there were issues of fraud involved at USPI and that none of the lower-ranking guards were aware of management’s dealings.

“We were discouraged from asking anything and so we keep our mouths shut and heads down,” he said.

The guard said he supports a big family with the $150 a month that he receives, and was afraid that if the firm were shut down, he would lose his job.

More Crackdowns

Paktiawal says that the Afghan police are only after the corrupt companies and that the recent law enforcement efforts will impose accountability and control over contractors. He cited USPI as an example of one corrupt foreign company that the crackdown is restraining.

But USPI is hardly alone. A senior security contractor working in Kabul told CorpWatch that the Pentagon is investigating criminal misconduct in regard to $6 billion worth of equipment and service contracts to many companies in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that 72 FBI investigators are probing mostly Pentagon and State Department security contracts in Afghanistan, but the details are highly classified.

Other companies the government has raided include: the British firm Olympic Security Group for operating without a license; the joint Afghan-British contractor, Witan Risk Management; and Afghan companies Watan and Caps, Khawar and Mellat International Security. It is not clear whether these companies remain closed or have re-opened for business.

Meanwhile, the Afghan people face a variety of men with guns on their streets and blame most of the violence on the private security contractors.

Susanne Schmeidl, co-author of a recent report on private security companies in Angola and Afghanistan for Swisspeace, writes that the expatriate guards are often confused with foreign troops by the local populations. “While there is a positive argument to be made that private security company employment keeps former strongmen and their militia off the streets,” she told a news conference in Kabul, “the dilemma as to what will happen to these militia when the contract ends needs to be addressed.”

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lakota Indians

Lakota Sioux Indians Declare Sovereign Nation Status
Threaten Land Liens, Contested Real Estate Over Five State Area in U.S.West Dakota Territory Reverts back to Lakota Control According to U.S., International Law

WASHINGTON, DC - December 20 - Lakota Sioux Indian representatives declared sovereign nation status today in Washington D.C. following Monday's withdrawal from all previously signed treaties with the United States Government. The withdrawal, hand delivered to Daniel Turner, Deputy Director of Public Liaison at the State Department, immediately and irrevocably ends all agreements between the Lakota Sioux Nation of Indians and the United States Government outlined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties at Fort Laramie Wyoming.

"This is an historic day for our Lakota people," declared Russell Means, Itacan of Lakota. "United States colonial rule is at its end!"

"Today is a historic day and our forefathers speak through us. Our Forefathers made the treaties in good faith with the sacred Canupa and with the knowledge of the Great Spirit," shared Garry Rowland from Wounded Knee. "They never honored the treaties, that's the reason we are here today."

The four member Lakota delegation traveled to Washington D.C. culminating years of internal discussion among treaty representatives of the various Lakota communities. Delegation members included well known activist and actor Russell Means, Women of All Red Nations (WARN) founder Phyllis Young, Oglala Lakota Strong Heart Society leader Duane Martin Sr., and Garry Rowland, Leader Chief Big Foot Riders. Means, Rowland, Martin Sr. were all members of the 1973 Wounded Knee takeover.

"In order to stop the continuous taking of our resources – people, land, water and children- we have no choice but to claim our own destiny," said Phyllis Young, a former Indigenous representative to the United Nations and representative from Standing Rock.

Property ownership in the five state area of Lakota now takes center stage. Parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana have been illegally homesteaded for years despite knowledge of Lakota as predecessor sovereign [historic owner]. Lakota representatives say if the United States does not enter into immediate diplomatic negotiations, liens will be filed on real estate transactions in the five state region, clouding title over literally thousands of square miles of land and property.

Young added, "The actions of Lakota are not intended to embarrass the United States but to simply save the lives of our people".

Following Monday's withdrawal at the State Department, the four Lakota Itacan representatives have been meeting with foreign embassy officials in order to hasten their official return to the Family of Nations.

Lakota's efforts are gaining traction as Bolivia, home to Indigenous President Evo Morales, shared they are "very, very interested in the Lakota case" while Venezuela received the Lakota delegation with "respect and solidarity."

"Our meetings have been fruitful and we hope to work with these countries for better relations," explained Garry Rowland. "As a nation, we have equal status within the national community."

Education, energy and justice now take top priority in emerging Lakota. "Cultural immersion education is crucial as a next step to protect our language, culture and sovereignty," said Means. "Energy independence using solar, wind, geothermal, and sugar beets enables Lakota to protect our freedom and provide electricity and heating to our people."

The Lakota reservations are among the most impoverished areas in North America, a shameful legacy of broken treaties and apartheid policies. Lakota has the highest death rate in the United States and Lakota men have the lowest life expectancy of any nation on earth, excluding AIDS, at approximately 44 years. Lakota infant mortality rate is five times the United States average and teen suicide rates 150% more than national average. 97% of Lakota people live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers near 85%.

"After 150 years of colonial enforcement, when you back people into a corner there is only one alternative," emphasized Duane Martin Sr. "The only alternative is to bring freedom into its existence by taking it back to the love of freedom, to our lifeway."

We are the freedom loving Lakota from the Sioux Indian reservations of Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana who have traveled to Washington DC to withdraw from the constitutionally mandated treaties to become a free and independent country. We are alerting the Family of Nations we have now reassumed our freedom and independence with the backing of Natural, International, and United States law. For more information, please visit our new website at

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