Benjamin Dangl

Why Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 Is a Win for Big Oil - But a Huge Loss for Workers and the Environment

After the U.S., Canada, and Mexico agreed to a new trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) late Sunday night, Trump heralded the new deal as “truly historic news for our nation and the world.”

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The Renegade President Brings His War to the United Nations

When President Trump began his speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday, he started out in true fashion by touting his own record, saying, “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

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It's Boom Times for Billionaires

Forida is a 22-year-old sewing machine operator in a clothing factory in Dahka, Bangladesh. She often works 12-hour days producing clothing for brands such as H&M and Target. Sometimes, during busy production cycles, the hours are even longer.

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Trump Wants to Plunder Afghanistan for Its Vast Mineral Wealth

October 7th marked sixteen years since the start of the US War in Afghanistan – America’s longest war. In an effort to justify the continued and expanded presence of US troops in the country, President Trump is seeking a plan to have US companies extract minerals from resource-rich Afghanistan.

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Trump’s Budget Expands Global War on the Backs of the American Poor

It is fitting that while President Trump is traveling the world, sealing a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, he would drop his own kind of bomb on the American people: his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, titled, of course, “The New Foundation for American Greatness."

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It Took 40 Years and Millions of Lives Destroyed for Elites to Admit That Neoliberalism Has Failed

Last week a research wing of the International Monetary Fund came out with a report admitting that neoliberalism has been a failure. The report, titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” is hopefully a sign of the ideology's death. They were only about 40 years late. As Naomi Klein tweeted, "So all the billionaires it created are going to give back their money, right?"

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Inside Bolivia’s Contested Process of Change: Views From a Regional Election

A fist fight broke out in a local campesino union office in La Paz one afternoon last April while I was waiting to interview the union’s leaders. The fight was over how funds for government-supported projects were spent. Last week, at a campaign rally for an El Alto mayoral candidate losing in the polls, speeches were largely about the struggle over the political capital and legacy of a series of anti-neoliberal rebellions in the early 2000s. And this past Sunday, the party of President Evo Morales, the victor in general elections last October, lost key races in regional elections across the country. Such events point to the contested nature of Bolivian politics within and without the so-called “process of change” under Morales.

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Why Evo Morales Is Likely to Win Again in Bolivia's Elections

Buses charged through downtown La Paz, Bolivia, honking horns and belching exhaust, as street vendors hawked ice cream and cell phones. I walked past corner stores selling mining equipment, and climbed the steps to the central offices of the Bartolina Sisa indigenous and women farmers’ organization, a close ally of President Evo Morales, who is expected to be re-elected to a third term on October 12th.

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Big Beer Corporations Are Snapping Up Small Breweries, Watering Down Competition

The variety of the craft-brewing wave sweeping the US makes drinking beer more fun than ever. Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery brews a beer from local oysters, and the Delaware-based Dogfish Head uses an ancient beer recipe they dug up from 2,700-year-old drinking vessels in the tomb of King Midas.

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How Capitalism’s Bullets Are Tearing Apart Latin America

The notorious US private militia group Academi – previously known as Blackwater – trained Brazilian security forces in North Carolina in preparation for the current World Cup in Brazil, as reported by sportswriter Dave Zirin. Zirin pointed to the 2009 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, which revealed that Washington viewed the expected World Cup-related crises as opportunities for US involvement. Zirin wrote that for Washington, “Brazil’s misery created room for opportunism.”

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Help For War On Terror's Forgotten Victims? Uruguay Offers to Welcome Guantanamo Detainees

Under the Presidency of José “Pepe” Mujica, Uruguay has made a number of international headlines in recent years for progressive moves such as legalizing same sex marriage, abortion and marijuana cultivation and trade, as well as withdrawing its troops from Haiti. This week, Mujica offered to welcome detainees from the US’s detention center at its base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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Marching Out Of a Dictator's Nightmare: Student Movement Paves Way For Chilean President

“I want to pay special homage to my father and to all those who gave their lives in the fight to recover democracy,” an emotional Isabel Allende said upon taking office as the Senate President this Tuesday. Allende is the daughter of Salvador Allende, the former socialist president of Chile who died during a US-backed military coup in 1973. “I know he’d be proud to see his daughter in this role.”

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Backyard Resistance: How Latin America is Battling the U.S. Empire's Surveillance State

US imperialism spreads across Latin America through military bases and trade deals, corporate exploitation and debt. It also relies on a vast communications surveillance network, the recent uncovering of which laid bare Washington’s reach into the region’s streets and halls of power. Yet more than McDonald’s and bullets, an empire depends on fear, and fear of the empire is lacking these days in Latin America.

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What Hugo Chavez Left Behind: A Renewed Continent And A Revolution of Everyday Life

The bus slid along the Bolivian jungle road, with evangelical music blasting out of the speakers. Rain dripped steadily through the holes in the roof as the vehicle surged ahead in fits and starts, past the lights of small villages and the vast blackness of the Chapare, a tropical region in the center of the country. Eventually the rain gave way to dawn, and a hot sun baked the damp bus as we rolled into the city of Santa Cruz, where the 2003 Ibero-American Presidential summit was taking place. On the outskirts of the city, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez later spoke to a stadium packed with Bolivian coca farmers carrying bags of the green leaf and miners with mini Bolivian flags waving from their helmets.

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In the Shadow of Paraguay's Coup, Social Movements Mobilize for Democracy

Rain or shine, every Thursday in Asunción, Paraguay, activists gather to protest the right-wing government of Federico Franco which came to power in a June 22 parliamentary coup against left-leaning president Fernando Lugo. These weekly protests represent a new spirit and strategy of protest in post-coup Paraguay. 

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Paraguay’s Bitter Harvest: Multinational Corporations Reap Benefits from Coup Government

In a July 22nd speech marking the one month anniversary of the parliamentary coup that overthrew left-leaning Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, the former leader said that a motivating interest among the coup-plotters was a sought-after deal between Paraguay and the Montreal-based mining company, Rio Tinto Alcan.

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Former Boss of Occupied Chicago Factory Jailed

Richard Gillman, the former CEO of Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory where over 200 workers organized a victorious sit-in last year, has been sent to jail on eight charges including felony, theft, fraud, and money laundering. After the judge announced the $10 million bail, the shocked and dazed Gillman, dressed in a pin-striped suit, was hauled away to the county jail.

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What We Can Learn from Social Struggle in South America

People in the U.S. seeking ways to confront the economic crisis could follow the lead of South American social movements. From Argentina to Venezuela, many movements have won victories against the same systems of corporate greed and political corruption that produce economic strife across the hemisphere. These movements also have experience holding politicians' feet to the flames once they are elected, a tactic that will be essential once Barack Obama takes office.

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Activists Confront the Military Industrial Complex

On November 1st, in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, one hundred activists gathered to protest against General Dynamics, a weapons manufacturer operating in the state. The diverse group of activists rallied in support of building a peace economy and movement beyond election day. Speaking to the crowd in front of the statehouse, VT-based filmmaker and writer Eugene Jarecki talked about the presidential election and activism. "There's a moment of real crossroads here," he said. "But it's a crossroad for all of us not to be happy and go to bed but for all of us to be absolutely unrelenting and dissatisfied until real change happens."

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Peace Activists Occupy General Dynamics Weapons Plant

To your right is a video of the May 1st action at General Dynamics filmed and edited by Sam Mayfield.

On May 1st, International Workers' Day, ten peace activists in Burlington, Vermont entered General Dynamics and locked themselves together in the main lobby of the building in protest against the company's weapons manufacturing and war profiteering. University of Vermont student Benjamin Dube, one of the dozens of other activists present at the event, leaned out a window of the lobby, and pointed to the GD building, explaining, "This is the gas tank of the war machine, and we are the sugar."

The demonstrators entered the lobby at around 3 pm, and proceeded to lock their arms together with PVC piping, duct tape and other materials. According to a press release put out by the group, the activists were demanding that "General Dynamics stop giving campaign contributions to the politicians responsible for regulating it, stop making Gatling guns, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and give back the $3.6 million dollars in Vermont tax breaks General Dynamics received in 2007."

While activists at GD chanted slogans such as, "Hey GD, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today" and "GD out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace," banners against GD and the Iraq War were set up on three major streets and highways in the area. This anti-war action in Burlington took place at the same time thousands of dockworkers at 29 major ports across on the west coast refused to go to work in protest against the Iraq War. In March, Vermonters in Brattleboro and Marlboro passed a measure in town meetings to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against the constitution if they ever arrived in either town.

Rachel Ruggles was one of the activists locked down in the GD lobby. Wearing a green bandana and glasses, this 19 year old from Vergennes, VT, and student at the University of Vermont, said "we are participating in this non-violent direct action to get attention and make a statement against the Iraq War, to say we don't support GD's war profiteering... GD is not contributing to the peace economy. The money from their tax breaks should go back to the Vermont community."

General Dynamics is a national company whose branch in Burlington produces, among other things, Hydra-70 rockets and missile launchers. Mike Ives, a journalist with VT based Seven Days, wrote in March of this year that, according to General Dynamics company spokesperson Tim Haddock, GD employees in Burlington "manufacture the "Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System." The "Goalkeeper" is a 14,000-pound gun that's mounted to ships and can fire up to 4200 shots per minute of "missile-piercing" ammunition."

According to Time Magazine, St. Louis-based General Dynamics is the top defense contractor in the US. The Bush administration's "War on Terror" has been good for GD business. In 2007, GD's revenues were $7.8 billion, with $382 million in profits, an increase of 33% since 1983. GD also has a particularly close relationship with the Pentagon; 94% of its contracts come from the US government.

During 2007-2008, Vermont Democratic House Representative Peter Welch received $3,500 in donations from General Dynamics. An online petition in protest of this campaign contribution to Welch is available to sign here.

While holding a bag of bread and fruit for those inside the lobby, bearded, 20 year old activist, Dube said "it's becoming clear that after five years people are against the war. And throughout New England there are weapons manufacturers making it possible for the US to subjugate the Iraqis." He participated in the protest at GD in part because in spite of all the economic needs in the US, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in on the wars abroad. "Our government is not dealing with the problems in our economy and global warming, and at the same time we're giving tax breaks to weapons manufacturers like GD." Regarding the importance of the group's tactics, Dube said, "We are trying to renew the focus of anti-war activism more on the complicity of our communities in war."

Peace activist Jonathan Leavitt was quoted in the press release as saying, "While our state struggles with [Governor] Jim Douglas' budget cuts and layoffs, gas prices, affordable housing and lack of health coverage, war profiteers like General Dynamics steal tax breaks from working families. We're here today as Vermonters to say no more handouts for war profiteers."

Dozens of activists remained in and around the GD lobby for over six hours, chanting slogans, waving signs and sharing food. The protesters in the lobby said they would not leave the building until their demands were met. However, officials from GD refused to speak with the activists. Burlington Lt. Emmet Helrich said "Nobody from General Dynamics is going to talk to you, that's a fact." The activists in the lobby were arrested at 8:45 pm when the police went in to cut them loose.

Meanwhile, GD continues to reap enormous profits on the Bush administration's wars. On May 2, the national company was awarded a $51 million dollar Abrams Tank contract.

Rapping in Aymara

At 13,000 feet, the hip hop movement in El Alto, Bolivia is probably the highest in the world. The music blends ancient Andean folk styles and new hip hop beats with lyrics about revolution and social change. As the sun set over the nearby snow capped mountains, I sat down with Abraham Bojorquez, a well known El Alto hip hop artist. We opened up a bag of coca leaves and began to talk about what he calls a new "instrument of struggle."

We were at Wayna Tambo, a radio station, cultural center and unofficial base of the city's hip hop scene. Bojorquez pulled a leaf out of the bag to chew and said, "We want to preserve our culture through our music. With hip hop, we're always looking back to our indigenous ancestors, the Aymaras, Quechuas, Guarani." He works with other hip hop artists in El Alto to show "the reality of what is happening in our country. Through our lyrics we criticize the bad politicians that take advantage of us. With this style of hip hop, we're an instrument of struggle, an instrument of the people."

Bojorquez belongs to a group of rappers in El Alto, a sprawling city above La Paz which is home to around 800,000 people. His group and music is called Wayna Rap (Wayna means young in Aymara). Under the umbrella of Wayna Rap are smaller bands like Insane Race, Uka Mau y Ke, Clandestine Race and others. They often get together in freestyle events, where different singers take turns at the mike, rapping.

Some of their songs are completely in Aymara, an indigenous language. Others include a mixture of Spanish, English, Quechua and Portuguese. This fusion of languages is an integral part of the group's philosophy, and adds to their appeal in El Alto, where a large section of the population speaks Aymara. "The door is open to everyone...This is our proposal for how to change society," Bojorquez said. Though they collaborate with a wide variety of people, "we don't just sing things like 'I'm feeling bad, my girlfriend just left me and now I am going to get drunk.' It's more about trying to solve problems in society." The social and political themes in the music come from the city's reality. The death and conflicts in the 2003 Gas War made a huge impact on El Alto, and many of these songs reflect that.

One song which Abraham made in his own group Uka Mau y Ke deals with the October 2003 mobilizations in El Alto against the gas exportation plan and president Sanchez de Lozada. In the song, "we speak about how bullets are being shot at the people and how we can't put up with this because the people are reclaiming their rights." This song starts out with the president saying he won't resign. His voice is ominous, gruff and peppered with an unmistakable US English accent: "Yo no voy a renunciar. Yo no voy a renunciar." The sounds of street clashes in the song become louder. The roar of machine guns and helicopters come and go until the beat and lyrics begin. "We are mobilized, arming street barricades. We are mobilized without noticing that we are killing between brothers." Another singer comes in, rapping about the "corrupt governments...with closed eyes that don't look at the reality in the society. Many people are ending up in poverty and delinquency, which is why they demand justice..." The song goes on to call Sanchez de Lozada a traitor and assassin. They demand his head, along with that of Carlos Mesa, the vice president. The music fuses with a testimony from a woman whose family member was shot by soldiers. The lyrics kick back in, "We hear over there that there are dead: 80 citizens, 5 police, and mass of people gravely injured. We're in a situation worse than war, killing each other, without a solution."

In many of Bojorquez's songs, Andean flutes and drums mesh with the beat. This aspect, along with the indigenous language, sets the music apart from standard hip hop. The topics covered are also distinct. In one song, they grapple with street violence and homelessness in El Alto. It deals with "children living in the street, orphans of mothers and fathers and the violence that grows every day. The lack of work, all of these things," Bojorquez explained. "We try to show the true reality of what is happening in the country, not hide it."

One of the most moving experiences Bojorquez said he's had within his musical career came when he was invited to perform at the office of the Neighborhood Organizations (Fejuve) of El Alto. He was nervous at first because the place was full of older people. His music is directed more toward a younger audience. After the first song, people clapped weakly. "Then we sang in Aymara and people became very emotional, crying. This was a very happy event for us. It made us think that what we are doing isn't in vain, that it can make an impact on people."

The title of his next CD is "Instrument of Struggle", referring to his musical philosophy. "More than anything our music is a form of protest, but with proposals. We unite, we organize. We look for unity, not division. We want to open the eyes of people with closed eyes...The music is a part of life."

When Bojorquez and I met months later, it was clear that El Alto's hip hop movement was growing. More people were calling Bojorquez for pointers on their music or for help with CD recordings. Others were starting their own groups and showing up at Wayna Tambo for concerts. "Today this music is arriving to many young people who identify with the songs and lyrics," Bojorquez said. "In El Alto there is a lot of poverty and in the lyrics we talk about this. People identify with it."

He had recently helped initiate hip hop classes in a large prison in La Paz which focuses on prisoners that are between 16-18 years old. The idea started when Bojorquez and others did a concert there. The reception was so enthusiastic that they worked to organize a hip hop class in June 2006. Through the classes, Bojorquez said they are trying to "show the jail's reality from the inside." He said the jail was a whole other city within La Paz, a "dead city" without hope. "This is where the hip hop comes in, so that people don't feel like all is lost." At the end of the program, the group will put on a performance and record a disk. Based on the success of the class, Bojorquez expects the program to continue into the future. "They are telling a history that reaches people and can prevent other youth from making the same mistakes," he said. "A lot of them regret what they did and they talk about it in their songs." He offered lyrics by Cesar as an example:

"Yo soy preso en San Pedro/I am a prisoner in San Pedro Estoy esperando la puta paciencia de mi abogado/I am waiting on the fucking patience of my lawyer Lo que el me ha dicho ya me olvidado/What he has told me I already forgot Por tomar el camino mas corto/ By taking the short cut Yo mismo me fregado/I messed myself up"

Back at Wayna Tambo, I ran into some of Bojorquez's fellow rappers, Grover Canaviri Huallpa and Dennis Quispe Issa. Both worked jobs and studied at the same time, leaving little room for writing lyrics and listening to music. We were waiting for a bus to a hip hop concert. It was cold and the bus was late, so we went inside and talked. Like others going to the concert, they were dressed like people I knew in New York City. The camouflage and baseball caps, the baggy pants, it was all very familiar. But it wasn't just the clothing style that these two felt a connection with. "I identify a lot with the hip hop groups in the US that speak of violence and discrimination," Huallpa said. "My mother only studied to 5th grade. She has suffered discrimination. We used to all be out in the streets."

Huallpa started listening to rap in the mid 1990s, and started writing his own lyrics a few years later. "Before Wayna Tambo there were pirated radios, secret places where we gathered because our parents didn't accept it." Both admitted their parents didn't understand their lifestyle as rappers. "They think we are just copying the US," Issa said. "People on the street discriminate us for the way we talk, walk and dress." They both agreed that this kind of hip hop was growing in El Alto in part because of the experience of the Gas War. "October 2003 was a huge change for us musically," Issa explained, referring to the mobilizations. "It had a big impact on El Alto."

Below El Alto, in La Paz, another hip hop movement was thriving. Sdenka Suxo Cadena, a 27 year old hip hop artist and marketing major in college, has been a part of the scene for over ten years. When I met her at the home of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating), an anarchist, feminist group, Cuban salsa was playing on the radio. Her hair was in pigtails and she smiled and laughed a lot while talking about her work. She started rapping in 1996, when she was in high school. "I started doing it because I didn't like society's system - the classism, materialism, the elite. This didn't make people happy." After hanging out with different hip hop groups in La Paz and El Alto, she decided to start a women's hip hop group in 2000. "I didn't like to be controlled by a boy, or be someone else's lady. Other women didn't either. So we started our own group called the Nueva Flavah and had our own meetings and events."

Each Thursday they organized a gathering of men and women from different areas of the city to perform hip-hop, break dance and exchange styles. "We wanted to share hip hop without caring about the differences between us." They did have some rules, however. "We didn't let people in that just talked about gangs, violence, drugs and guns." Her music deals with such topics as Latin American unification, chauvinism, AIDS, race, women's issues and nationalism. She knew politics were important, "but for real change to happen, people have to change themselves."

When I met her, Cadena was about to open a place for hip hop activities and recording music. "Some kids need help editing music, recording. We help them get their message out." One of the events their doing now is a CD exchange where other artists can bring in their own disks and trade or buy one for less than a dollar.

She believed hip hop was becoming more popular in Bolivia because anyone can produce the music, regardless of whether or not they know how to play an instrument. "It's popular in poor neighborhoods where people might not have a guitar. All you need is a pen and paper. You don't need money. You can do it anywhere. People largely identify with it in marginalized neighborhoods, where people don't have access to music lessons or instruments." She also said it is growing along with the current political changes all around Latin America. "It's part of this regional protest movement."

I had an opportunity to see this movement in action at a hip hop concert one cold June night in a neighborhood outside La Paz. We zipped up into the hills like a roller coaster, weaving up steep streets past angry dogs, lit up corner stores, a woman shaking laundry out the window and soccer games under street lamps. The road wound up the hill like a drunken snake at impossible angles. The route was a cavernous labyrinth that never seemed to end. We almost crashed twice and had to ask for directions three times. Eventually the city spread out below in a vast collection of blue, white, yellow and orange lights, oozing and bubbling with life. Beyond the lights were the Andes Mountains in complete darkness. The stars were barely visible, belittled by the constellation of the city.

The concert took place at a large room in a school building. A banner hung outside the door, where young people dressed like New York City rappers were hanging out and smoking. Tilted baseball caps, baggy pants and shirts with US sports logos were the norm. It cost about 12 cents for a ticket. I handed over the money while my friend and I were frisked for alcohol: it was a dry event. Inside, the room was packed with people standing up, bopping to the music, or sitting in chairs. On a balcony above the crowd the performers swung microphones, shook their fists in the air and rapped tirelessly. It looked like a cross between a high school dance and a poetry reading. It had the same angst and self consciousness. The sound quality of the speakers was poor, but the enthusiasm was high. The audience clapped and cheered at every opportunity that merited it. Most songs were a mixture of Spanish and Aymara, with three words making regular appearances: coca, revolution and Mother Earth.

Many of the young people were sipping on clandestine bottles of booze, making out and slicking back their hair. The room was a convergence of cultures. Some rappers spoke of blunts and guns in one breath and their president Evo Morales the next. Bojorquez wore a red baseball cap from a US team, but his coat had indigenous designs on it with the name of his band in Aymara written across the front. I recognized some of the beats from US music, but the flutes, drums and rhythms were all Bolivian. The concert mixed Andean phrases and symbols thousands of years old with themes and rhymes fresh out of MTV music videos. Nations, music, histories and dance moves fused in a new Bolivian hip hop.

The finale was a performance by a young kid who couldn't have been more than ten years old. He proceeded to swing his cap, move his feet and dance exactly like Michael Jackson. The crowd went wild.

A Tightly Closed Door

Leonida Zurita Vargas, a Bolivian coca farmer organizer and alternate Senator, was planning to be in the US right now as part of a three week speaking tour on Bolivian social movements and human rights. This tour would take her to Vermont, Harvard, Stanford and Washington DC. However, upon checking in at the airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on February 20th to fly to the US, she was informed her ten year visa had been revoked because of alleged links to terrorist activity.

"I said if I was a terrorist then I should be in jail," Zurita told reporters. She obtained this visa in 1998 and had used it to travel to the US on four previous speaking tours.

A letter from the US Embassy in Bolivia explained her visa was revoked in May, 2004 due to a section of the USA-PATRIOT Act which bars anyone from entering the US that poses a security threat or has participated in or incited terrorist activity.

Her background, however, tells the story of someone who has fought for human rights and peace in her country for years. This mother of two young sons is one of the leading women politicians in Bolivia. She came into the political realm, like President Evo Morales, through her work in coca farmer unions in the Chapare, a coca producing region in Bolivia where the US sponsored war on drugs has resulted in forced eradication of crops sold for traditional use and violence against poor farmers. Though coca leaves are used to produce cocaine, for centuries the leaves have been utilized as a mild stimulant and medicine to combat altitude sickness and fatigue. A large market in Bolivia makes coca farming a legal, viable occupation.

According to the University of Vermont, "In 1997, The Coordinating Committee of the Six Women Peasant Federations of the Tropics was formed under Leonida's leadership and she continues to be democratically re-elected every two years...Leonida has traveled extensively abroad...and on four US tours sponsored by Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, The Kensington Welfare Rights Union Poor People's March, People's Global Action, and most recently Harvard University's Kennedy School. Last year, Leonida was a candidate for the RF Kennedy Human Rights Award."

Zurita is a long time colleague and friend of President Evo Morales, who was elected in a landslide victory on December 18th, 2005. Morales spoke of her visa rejection at a recent press conference in the presidential palace. "I want to tell the U.S. government not to confuse us with some parties implicated in drug-trafficking," he said. "We are not terrorists or drug traffickers but rather humans who want to democratically change our history in Bolivia."

So why was her visa canceled?

According to Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, "In 2003 [Zurita] was accused of "terrorism" by the government of ousted-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, served a brief time in jail in Cochabamba, and was released for lack of evidence."

The Center for International Policy (CIP), and think tank in Washington DC which invited Zurita to speak on this tour, reported that she has been accused of crimes in Bolivia but found innocent in each case.

"In Bolivia...the word "terrorism" is too often used to brand one's political opponents...If the terrorism label does not stick - and we strongly believe it does not - the reason for the visa decision must be politics," explains an article on the CIP's website.

In Burlington, Vermont, Zurita was invited to be the keynote speaker at the "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference which will take place on Sunday, March 5th. Robin Lloyd, an organizer of the conference, said she met Zurita in 1996 during one her first tours of the US. "At that point I saw her very strong commitment to her community, the farmers in the Chapare and I heard about the oppression they were facing from then Bolivian President Banzer, a drug war zealot. He was following the dictates from Washington down the line, supporting a plan for zero coca in a country where this is impossible because coca is a leaf that many people chew as part of traditional ceremonies and daily work," Lloyd said. "Leonida Zurita is an important figure in Bolivian politics and we invited her here to exchange ideas and articulate the change that needs to happen in the war on drugs."

The case for Zurita's visa cancellation is not an isolated one. Dr. Waskar Ari is an Aymara Indian from Bolivia who received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University. He was recently offered a teaching position at the University of Nebraska, but his visa was denied because his name was "placed on a list of individuals under 'conspicuous revision'--that is, he is being subjected to extensive background checks due to alleged security concerns," reported the American Historical Association.

Barbara S. Weinstein, the President of the American Historical Association told the Chronicle for Higher Education that Dr. Ari "has certainly never been a member of any movement that would be of a security concern to the U.S. government."

"We invited Leonida here to increase the dialogue between US citizens and Bolivians at a time of historic change in Latin America. Yet the US government is clamping down exchanges such as this in the name of the war on terror," Robin Lloyd said. "The US government is taking a hard line against countries like Venezuela and Bolivia; they are trying to stifle the winds of change that are sweeping through Latin America."

Lloyd and other organizers of the "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference are working to bring Zurita to speak in spite of the visa rejection. They have contacted the US embassy in La Paz, the offices of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Bernie Sanders to obtain a new visa for Zurita in time for Sunday's conference. If she cannot arrive in person, she will give a speech via phone to the conference crowd.

The "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference will take place on Sunday, March 5th from 3-9 PM at the Unitarian Church at the head of Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. In addition to the presentation by Zurita, George Ann Potter, Zurita's political advisor in Bolivia, will also to speak at the event. There will be discussions led by Vermonters who recently returned from Caracas, Venezuela for the World Social Forum, a gathering of social movements, NGOs and activists from around the globe. Representatives from the Vermont Worker's Center will be discussing social movements in Vermont.

For those interested in calling the US Embassy in La Paz to voice their concerns, and support Leonida Zurita Vargas' right to travel to the US, the number is 011-591-2216-8000. For more information on the "Winds of Change in the Americas Conference," call 1-802-862-2024.

Unwelcoming the G8

When the leaders of the world's eight most powerful countries arrive in Sea Island, Georgia for the Group of Eight (G8) Summit from June 8-10, activists from around the globe will be there to unwelcome them. With the Democratic and Republican National Conventions right around the corner, many protesters are converging at the G8 Summit to kick off what will be a summer of dissent.

The G8 Summits began in 1975 and currently include leaders from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia and this year's president of the European Union (a rotating position currently assigned to the Prime Minister of Ireland). Leaders from each country meet at the Summits annually to coordinate efforts around such issues as international trade, the war on drugs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This year's meeting will be dominated by talks regarding the conflicts in the Middle East, global economic growth and the war on terror.

To protest the centralization of power that the G8 represent, and to create an alternative gathering of the minds, activist groups in Georgia have planned parallel events, forums and film screenings on topics ranging from biodiesel to human rights. The scheduled marches will focus on environmental issues, ending the occupation of Iraq and dropping IMF/World Bank debt for impoverished countries. In addition to daily demonstrations, a Fair World Fair and People's Summit are scheduled to take place in Brunswick, a city near Sea Island.

Isabelle Myles, a pastor and long-time resident of Brunswick, Ga. said one of the major topics among speakers at the People's Summit will be the environment. Toxic waste from the Hercules and the Georgia Pacific plants, which manufacture wood pulp and products extracted from pine stumps, have been contaminating the area for years. As a result, Brunswick has one of the highest cancer rates in the country.

Myles said the People's Summit will be a forum for citizens to congregate and voice their concerns about issues they feel will be under represented at the G8 Summit. "I am not against the G8 meetings," Myles explained, "but behind closed doors, President Bush needs to think of the implications before he signs on the dotted line. People work each day without benefits and don't earn enough to pay rent. The job market is kaput and minimum wage is about 5-6 dollars an hour. That's ludicrous. The president couldn't live on that paycheck, but he expects us to."

Naomi Archer, an organizer with the Save Our Civil Liberties Campaign, said activists will converge in Georgia for a variety of reasons, but that "what is an affront to almost everyone is the fact that eight white men will be meeting in private on a lavish island behind army lines, while the rest of the six billion have to "await" their decisions about world policies."

Though the G8 is in many ways an elite club, Bush has invited leaders from Middle Eastern and African countries to the Summit. In a press conference, Condoleezza Rice said the presence of Arab leaders at the meeting will offer an "opportunity for the G8 to discuss how it can support freedom and political, economic and social progress in the Middle East, and to hear from these leaders about their efforts to pursue democracy and reform in their countries..."

Lisa Fithian, the National Co-Chair of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 750 local and national groups, said "the Arab leaders aren't going to have any influence; they can choose to participate by not coming, and they'll be given only two hours to cover nine major issues. That says it all." When asked about the possible effects anti-Iraq War leaders from Russia, France and Germany could have on conversations at the summit, Fithian said, "My hope is that they convince Bush and others to withdraw troops. There is no way to have sovereignty when you have a foreign country occupying your land."

Pepper Spray and Rubber Bullets

Fithian expects police strategies at the G8 to be similar to those used at the November 2003 FTAA protests in Miami, Fla. where excessive use of force by police resulted in 283 arrests. Pepper spray and rubber bullets were commonly used by police in Miami and in one case, an officer shot pepper spray into a building used as a clinic for injured activists.

Brunswick is already beginning to look like an occupied city. Chito Lapena, a member of Savannah for Peace and an organizer for the Fair World Fair, said, "I was born in the Philippines at times when Marcos instituted martial law. The biggest difference right now between Brunswick and a country under martial law is that thankfully, these guys are not holding their rifles in the open." Lapena spoke of tanks blocking the causeway to Sea Island, convoys of state patrol cars shuttling all over town, buses filled with law enforcement and humvees flown in on a fleet of cargo planes. "Locals," he said, "Don't know what to think."

Tensions between protesters and police at G8 Summits are nothing new. At the 2001 Summit in Genoa, Italy one protester was killed by a policeman and at the meetings in Canada in 2002 there were countless incidents of police brutality. Many activists planning to attend this year's events in Georgia fear that excessive use of force by the police will be the rule rather than the exception.

The State of Georgia has received $25 million in federal funding for G8 security efforts and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has declared a State of Emergency for areas near the Summit. Perdue cited "potential danger...for unlawful assemblages, threats of violence" as reasons for the declaration, which allows over 25,000 police to institute an extensive crackdown on the right to dissent.

Aside from the expected conflicts between police and protesters, the gathering of world leaders at the G8 Summit could produce some positive results. Those from countries against the Iraq War could help convince the Bush administration to establish better policies in Iraq, or pull troops out entirely. Leaders from African and Arab nations attending the meeting could work with the G8 to alleviate poverty and unrest in their countries.

"Miracles can happen," said Chito Lapena. "But some G8 Summits have proven to be no more than expensive photo ops." However, the activist events and forums will bring people together to exchange ideas and promote alternatives to G8 policies. "It is an excellent opportunity to educate the people ... about globalization and how their actions or inaction impact the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Bush's only policy is -- Me cowboy, you lose. And the American people need to learn that America and democracy should be above that."

Just Say No?

peace rallyOn March 20, 2004 the streets of New York City were flooded with brass bands, protesters handing out socialist pamphlets, activists in turtle costumes and disturbingly realistic George W. Bush masks. In addition to �The World Still Says No To War,� signs, the protest included messages such as "Mozambique Out of Burundi," �Legalize Marijuana� and "Belize is for Peace." Activists in attendance also grappled with questions regarding what the best course of action in Iraq should be. It was easy to say no to war before the war began, but now that it is �over� what should the peace movement demand?

The message proposed by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, the main coordinators of the March 20th peace rally in New York City, was to �Bring the Troops Home Now.�

This demand, however, raised serious concerns among more than a few activists. To many of the anti-war protesters who were out in full force last year -- and who continue to show their support today -- demanding the withdrawal of all troops immediately seems too simplistic. They argue that a multilateral solution, where the United Nations takes on a stronger peacekeeping role, is the best course of action until an interim Iraqi government is established.

Though the majority of activists that I spoke with at the rally supported the demand to pull all troops out of Iraq immediately, there were many who thought otherwise. Kate, from New Paltz, New York explained, �Coalition forces have completely demolished any form of government and infrastructure in Iraq. We can�t just pull out now after what we�ve done, it will just be a breeding ground for terrorism.�

Tyler, from Monroe, New York agreed, �Immediate evacuation of troops would not help the area at all. We shouldn�t have been there in the first place but now that we are there, we definitely need to give the Iraqi people their power.�

With frequent attacks on coalition forces, U.S. troops are far from enjoying a warm welcome from the Iraqi people. Many activists in the U.S. argue that greater United Nations involvement could result in a smoother transfer of power to the Iraqi people. Whereas the U.S. is a deeply mistrusted force, the UN represents a more democratic coalition of nations. Yet as the organization that implemented the devastating trade embargo against Iraq for so long, the UN would hardly be a welcomed group either. With the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government planned to take place this June 30th and general elections for a transitional assembly scheduled for January 2005, it is possible that the situation in Iraq may improve. However, with bombings and shootings continuing daily, it does not look likely.

peace rallyDespite the concern of many anti-war protestors about the simplistic message proposed by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, the March 20th rally still managed to attract an estimated 100,000 people. Making my way through the lively crowd, I was able to speak with various people about their reasons for demanding the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

One teacher from New York told me that the Iraqi resistance would not give up until the U.S. leaves and that so far, �multinational war profiteers are making the most of the Iraqi freedom.�

Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, elaborated on this idea, �The way you start a military occupation is to send troops in and the way you end an occupation is to bring the troops out. It is virtually impossible to build anything approaching a new democratic set of institutions when your nation is being occupied by a foreign army.�

Cagan responded to criticisms of the "Bring the Troops Home Now" demand by saying that it is important to put out an extreme version of a demand so that you don�t end up settling for less than what you had to. �If somebody isn�t saying �end this occupation and end it now,� then the conversation moves further and further to the middle.�

Emily, a journalist from Long Island, justified her opinion that troops should immediately leave Iraq. �The US is only working with the most cooperative Iraqi political groups, and these groups don�t necessarily represent the needs of the people. By supporting one group over another, the U.S. is creating more division among Iraqis. We need to let the Iraqi people decide how their country is run.�

But what do the Iraqi people have to say? The BBC recently conducted a poll in which of the 2,652 Iraqis surveyed, 39% supported the presence of coalition forces in Iraq, 36% said they should stay in Iraq until an Iraqi government was in place, and 15% said troops should leave immediately. 17% considered attacks on coalition forces acceptable. This poll suggests that, once again, nothing is ever as black and white as many would like it to be. (For more information on this Iraqi opinion poll and others see

So where does this leave the peace movement? Can it responsibly demand the withdrawal of all troops immediately, or should it push for a multilateral approach to transferring power to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible?

It is hard not to be suspicious of the U.S. government's efforts to push for an interim Iraqi government, especially after they lied to us by saying that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to U.S. security. It is difficult to believe that any government that the U.S. sets up in Iraq will, as Emily said, represent the needs of the Iraqi people.

Yet who knows, next year the activist slogan might be, �Peacekeeping Troops Back to Iraq! You Made the Mess, Now Stay and Clean It Up!�

Benjamin Dangl is an activist, freelance journalist and editor of The Upside Down World news at
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