domingo, 30 de agosto de 2009

Movilización de mujeres en Honduras

Catalyzing a New Movement
The Coup and Honduran Women


On the morning of June 28, women's organizations throughout Honduras were preparing to promote a yes vote on the national survey to hold a Constitutional Assembly. Then the phone lines started buzzing.

In this poor Central American nation, feminists have been organizing for years in defense of women's rights, equality, and against violence. When the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly exiled by the armed forces, women from all over the country spontaneously organized to protect themselves and their families and demand a return to democracy. They called the new umbrella organization "Feminists in Resistance."

On August 18, Feminists in Resistance sat down with women from the international delegation for Women's Human Rights Week, which they organized to monitor and analyze human rights violations and challenges for the organization. One after another they told their stories in a long session that combined group therapy and political analysis—a natural mix at this critical point in Honduran history and the history of their movement.

Miriam Suazo relates the events of the day of the coup. "On the 28th, women began calling each other, saying 'what's happening?'" At first no-one really understood the full extent of the coup, she says, but networks mobilized quickly and women began to gather to share information and plan actions. Independent feminists and feminists from different organizations immediately identified with each other and with the rising resistance to the coup. They began going out to rescue those who had been beaten and to trace individuals arrested by security forces.

For some, the shock of waking up to a coup d'etat wasn't new.

"This is my third coup," relates Marielena. "I was a girl when the coup in 1963 happened. Then I lived through the coup in 1972. We lived in front of a school and I saw how my mother faced the bullets, we thought they were going to kill her … Later in the university in the 80s I lived through the repression with many of the women here … So this has revived the story of my life."

There is a saying in Honduras about the Central American dirty war that "While the United States had its eye on Nicaragua and its hands in El Salvador, it had its boot on Honduras." For the older women who remember the terror of that time when over 200 people were disappeared and hundreds tortured and assassinated, the current coup stirs up deep fears. Gilda Rivera, director of the Center for Women's Rights in Tegucigalpa, says, "I've had a messed-up life. I knew the victims of Billy Joya in the 80s … Now I've been to the border twice, I've lived with a curfew over my head. I wake up alone, terrified."

The older women agree that they have grown and their movement has grown since the 80s.

Marielena notes, "Today's not the same as the 80s because there's a popular movement that the coup leaders never imagined … What Zelaya has done is symbolize the popular discontent accumulated over the years." She recounts the August 5 battle for the university where she works and the surprising participation of students. Her story is echoed in variations by many of the women present.

Although they battle nightmares and long-buried trauma, these women also see a new hope for the resistance this time around and for their own fight for women's rights. The repression and fear has strengthened their resolve. "Sure, I'm afraid of dying but I'm not losing hope," Gilda says. "I see hope in the faces of the people at the marches. And the solidarity from women, from all of you, keeps me going."

For Jessica, events this year brought to mind the contra war of the 80s. "I never imagined that my daughters would have to be in a situation like this," she says. As a mother who has lived through the period before Honduras began its incomplete transition to democracy, and the period when democracy was merely a word that belied a much cruder reality in the country, she worries. "I told my daughter not to go to the march. She said, 'Mom, what about my autonomy?'"

"My little girl—she's 18 now, but she's still my little girl—ended up going with me to the march. It was really gratifying for me that we went together." These women know in their bodies and their hearts the costs of resistance. They also know that the costs of not resisting are far greater.

For the new generation of feminists, the catalyst came with the confrontation in front of the National Institute of Women on July 15. The day the coup-appointed head of the Institute was installed, Feminists in Resistance gathered to protest the takeover of "their" institution. Lesly says, "The police used their billy clubs, they grabbed me by the neck. I was filled with so much rage—I was drowning in it." Many women in the organization experienced a turning point in their lives that day. Adelai explains, "(The Institute) was my turf, something that belonged to me, and they attacked us there. That was a direct assault on our condition as women … What they did there really affected me personally."

Despite a lot of suffering, the women in the Feminists in Resistance meeting agree that the exhausting dynamic of constant mobilizations and repression has deepened their commitment. Their movement has also come together and developed closer ties to the general movement. When word got out that the feminists were being attacked at the Women's Institute, demonstrators from the entire demonstration of the National Front against the Coup immediately marched to the Institute to defend the women and show their solidarity.

Although the Front leadership continues to be mostly male, men in the movement have publicly recognized the contributions of the feminist organizations and women in the resistance. From recovering the wounded, to marching day after day, to developing analysis and strategy papers, women's organizations have played a critical role in opposing the coup.

At a meeting between leaders of the Front and Feminists in Resistance earlier in the day, Salvador Zuniga, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organzations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Front, recognized that women have been among the most active and courageous in the resistance movement. He pointed out that the feminist movement is at the center of the rightwing reaction that led to the coup.

"One of the things that provoked the coup d'etat was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups," he explained.

The unprecedented role of women in the nation's fight for democracy opens them up as a target for repression. Zuniga concluded in no uncertain terms, "What I can say is that the feminist compañeras are in greater danger than any other organization. This has to be made public."

Besides being at the receiving end of the billy clubs and pistols along with the rest of the movement, women suffer specific forms of repression and violence; their bodies have become part of the battleground. Human rights groups including the Women's Human Rights Week international delegation have documented rapes, beatings, sexual harassment, and discriminatory insults. Army and police units routinely shout out "whores!" and "Go find a husband!" at the more and more frequent confrontations between the women and the coup security forces.

It's precisely that step out of the private sphere that makes these dangerous times so exciting and energizes the women of the organization. Many report being driven by the adrenaline of knowing that this time they are the ones defining their history. They ride a roller coaster of emotions, often pitching from euphoria to despair in a single day. But one constant is the satisfaction of binding in a political project with other women who understand the full scope of what they demand and share the contradictory feelings storming inside.

The budding movement has come together in the heat of the coup as Feminists in Resistance faces some major challenges, the first to defeat the coup that now enters Day 54 on the resistance calendar. As the rightwing consolidates power and its own perverse brand of institutionalism, they feel like they're looking down the barrel of a gun as far as their rights and safety are concerned. Rumors circulate that the coup will dismantle the Institute for Women. Congress is about to initiate obligatory military service, meaning that mothers throughout the country will be compelled to protect their children from forced induction. Their freedom of expression, freedom of transit, freedom of assembly have all been curtailed under the coup, along with everyone else who opposes the regime, except for them the physical enforcement of reduced liberties is accompanied by acts of sexual violence and threats.

Big questions are on the table at the meeting of Honduran and international feminists. How to fight for a necessary return to institutional order at a time when the vulnerability and insufficient nature of those institutions has been exposed? How to avoid relegating women's demands to a lower plane in a period of acute political crisis? How to break through a media black-out that's even more impenetrable if you're against the coup and a woman? And how to simply hold your work and family together while spending hours a day in the streets and in meetings.

Bertha Cáceres is a leader of COPINH, a leader of the Front, and mother of four. In her political work she has integrated her specific demands as a woman and believes that organized women must be front-and-center in the resistance against the coup.

"First, because (our struggle as women) means confronting a dictatorship based on different forms of domination. We've said that it's not just destructive capitalism, not just the racism that has also been strengthened by this dictatorship, but also patriarchy. So we think our resistance as women means going a step further, toward a more strategic vision, a more long-term vision in fighting for our country."

She points to a national constitutional assembly as a fundamental goal for women. "For the first time we would be able to establish a precedent for the emancipation of women, to begin to break these forms of domination. The current constitution never mentions women, not once, so to establish our human rights, our reproductive, sexual, political, social, and economic rights as women would be to really confront this system of domination."

The women of Feminists in Resistance have no illusions that this will be an easy task. In addition to the challenges above, the movement is in transition to a new stage of nationwide local organization and long-term strategizing, at the same time as it faces increasing repression and human rights violations. The question of the elections slated for November has created another deadline for definitions of September 1, when candidates must be registered and President Zelaya has sworn to return to the country. Feminists in Resistance has a clear position to boycott any coup-sponsored elections, but some other parts of the movement and the international diplomatic community have been more ambiguous.

What's certain amid these rapidly changing national scenarios is that Honduran women have built a movement that, despite little media attention and the barriers of a male-dominated society, has garnered international support from women around the world and respect from the general resistance movement. Their organization will continue to play a central role in what happens next in Honduras—a key determinant of the course of democracy throughout the Hemisphere.

Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City. She is currently in Tegucigalpa as a member of the international delegation of Women's Human Rights Week in Honduras. She can be reached at: (lcarlsen(a)

Sobre la urgencia de reformar (dotar de dientes) a la Auditoría Superior de la Federación

La Auditoría Superior de la Federación
Arnaldo Córdova

Tradicionalmente, en el derecho público la palabra auditar y derivados como audiencia y auditor tienen una larga historia. En España, desde hace siglos, tienen que ver con la impartición de justicia. Se trata de la actividad de los tribunales que escuchan quejas y resuelven conforme a derecho. Provienen del latín audire (audit), escuchar. En el derecho económico anglosajón y sus ramas significa el examen de la actividad contable de un ente público o privado y en señalamientos que indican si se cumplió con las reglas de operación o con la ley. En esta segunda acepción nosotros las hemos adoptado.

La cuenta pública es el registro que se hace de los gastos que efectúan las entidades públicas, federales o locales, de acuerdo con y siguiendo los lineamientos de los presupuestos de egresos que se aprueban en los poderes legislativos federal y locales. La auditoría, en estos casos, es un control que se lleva a cabo por un ente autorizado para ello por la Constitución y cuya misión, hasta ahora, es sólo la de comprobar si dichos lineamientos se han seguido o no. Si no se han seguido y, encima, se ha hecho mal uso de los dineros públicos, tal y como están las cosas hoy, no pasa nada porque las observaciones de ese ente no son coercitivas.

Ese ente se llama en la letra de la Constitución (artículos 74, fracciones II y VI, y 79), desde hace 10 años: Entidad de Fiscalización Superior de la Federación y en la ley reglamentaria de Fiscalización y Rendición de Cuentas de la Federación se denomina simplemente Auditoría Superior de la Federación. En el artículo 2 de la Ley de Fiscalización y Rendición de Cuentas de la Federación, en las 19 fracciones que lo integran, se da el sentido de varios conceptos y, en la primera de esas fracciones, se define a la Auditoría Superior de la Federación como "la entidad de fiscalización superior de la Federación a que hacen referencia los artículos 74, fracciones II y VI, y 79 de la Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos". No es mucho, pero es lo que dice.

El hecho es que ese órgano no tiene otra misión que la de dar a conocer el examen que realiza sobre la cuenta pública de todos los órganos integrantes de la administración pública federal, local y municipal. De su examen no se deriva ninguna responsabilidad para los órganos infractores de las normas del gasto público y sus señalamientos no obligan a nadie, no son vinculantes, como se dice en la jerga legal. El gobierno de Zedillo consideró que ya era hora de que, según los reclamos de la ciudadanía, existiera un ente que se encargara de informar del modo en el que desde el gobierno se hace uso de los dineros del pueblo. Pero se guardó muy bien de que ese examen diera lugar a sanciones o correcciones de ningún tipo.

Estábamos en las postrimerías del régimen priísta, por lo que nunca pudimos saber nada de lo que sus funcionarios hicieron en el pasado. Luego supimos, por lo menos, lo que los nuevos gobernantes panistas estuvieron haciendo. A cada informe de la ASF nos escandalizábamos más y más por las tropelías que acumulaban y, junto con ellos, los remanentes priístas y algunos otros en los estados de la República. Durante estos 10 años se ha señalado de todas partes el hecho de que ya no nos basta con conocer las irregularidades en el ejercicio del gasto.

La ASF es un anómalo órgano dependiente de una de las comisiones de la Cámara de Diputados, la de Vigilancia, y carece de autonomía administrativa. Hace unos días se llevó a cabo un seminario en el Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la UNAM, en el cual surgió muy claro el clamor de que un órgano que adquiría rango constitucional (ahora se le dedica todo un artículo de la Carta Magna, el 79, antes dedicado todo a la Comisión Permanente del Congreso, y dos fracciones del 74) no tenga en los hechos esa alcurnia, sino que sea una simple oficina de revisión de cuentas sin efectos legales de ninguna especie.

Aparte de que ahora podemos saber cómo se gasta el dinero público, eso que en la política actual se ha planteado como una característica definitoria de un gobierno democrático y que es la rendición de cuentas de todas las instituciones estatales, ahora es un concepto constitucional, pero, paradójicamente, sin efecto alguno institucional. Podemos saber que los funcionarios públicos y los políticos se roban el dinero del pueblo, pero no tenemos a la mano ningún medio que llame a responsabilidades y sean castigados los ladrones. El auditor superior de la Federación, Arturo González de Aragón, ha hecho un magnífico trabajo y, también, denuncias puntuales del mal gasto que nos horrorizan, pero no podemos hacer nada.

César Nava, ese pequeño merolico y fajador como su antecesor en la presidencia del PAN, igual que su pequeño jefe, se lanzó contra él alegando que no garantizaba honorabilidad ni confianza. El auditor lo desenmascaró y lo puso en su lugar. Sólo respira por la herida, pues, en su turno, le hizo notar sus tropelías cuando fue funcionario de la Secretaría de Energía, con Calderón, y sabemos más de lo que hizo en otros órganos públicos en los que ha calentado la silla. Los panistas en el gobierno no quieren que González de Aragón repita en su importante cargo y harán todo lo posible para que eso no suceda.

Aquí el punto, sin embargo, no es el destino de González de Aragón, sino el de la misma Auditoría Superior de la Federación. Esta debe ser un órgano autónomo en toda la extensión de la palabra. Debe ser nombrada por la Cámara de Diputados, que es el órgano encargado de controlar la política económica del gobierno, pero debe ser autónoma. Debe contar con un estatuto propio, con los medios suficientes (presupuesto) para desarrollar sus funciones. Debe tener la máxima autoridad para obtener información de todos los órganos del Estado a todos los niveles, aun sobre las alcahueterías del IFAI (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información).Y, ante todo, sus observaciones deben ser vinculatorias, vale decir, que deben dar lugar a sanciones.

El auditor superior de la Federación nos está informando continuamente de copiosas irregularidades sobre las que, al parecer, no es posible poner remedio. Los últimos dos botones de muestra: uno, en el último año de gobierno de Fox y el primero de Calderón desaparecieron 37 mil millones de pesos provenientes de préstamos del extranjero y otros recursos disponibles; otro, en el ejercicio fiscal de 2007 se desviaron como dádivas a los sindicatos, mediante un fideicomiso que está en vías de desaparecer, 30 mil 879 millones de pesos. Y no pasa nada.

lunes, 24 de agosto de 2009

Nuevo paradigma económico: Islandia y la reestructuración de la deuda de acuerdo a la capacidad de pago de cada país

The Specter of Debt Revolt Is Haunting Europe
Why Iceland and Latvia Won't (and Can't) Pay for the Kleptocrats' Ripoffs


In the wake of the world crash populations are asking not only whether debts should be paid, but whether they can be paid! If they can’t be, then trying to pay will only shrink economics further, preventing them from becoming viable. This is what has led past structural adjustment programs to fail.

For the past decade Iceland has been a kind of controlled experiment, an extreme test case of neoliberal free-market ideology. What has been tested has been whether there is a limit to how far a population can be pushed into debt-dependency. Is there a limit, a point at which government will draw a line against by taking on public responsibility for private debts beyond any reasonable capacity to pay without drastically slashing public spending on education, health care and other basic services?

The problem for the post-Soviet economies such as Latvia is that independence in 1991 did not bring the hoped-for Western living standards. Like Iceland, these countries remain dependent on imports for their consumer goods and capital equipment. Their trade deficits have been financed by the global property bubble – borrowing in foreign currency against property that was free of debt at the time of independence. Now these assets are fully “loaned up,” the bubble has burst and payback time has arrived. No more credit is flowing to the Baltics from Swedish banks, to Hungary from Austrian banks, or to Iceland from Britain and the Netherlands. Unemployment is rising and governments are slashing healthcare and education budgets. The resulting economic shrinkage is leaving large swaths of real estate with negative equity.

Can Iceland and Latvia pay the foreign debts run up by a fairly narrow layer of their population? The European Union and International Monetary Fund have told them to replace private debts with public obligations, and to pay by raising taxes, slashing public spending and obliging citizens to deplete their savings. Resentment is growing not only toward those who ran up these debts – Iceland’s bankrupt Kaupthing and Landsbanki with its Icesave accounts, and heavily debt-leveraged property owners and privatizers in the Baltics and Central Europe – but also toward the neoliberal foreign advisors and creditors who pressured these governments to sell off the banks and public infrastructure to insiders. Support in Iceland for joining the EU has fallen to just over a third of the population, while Latvia’s Harmony Center party, the first since independence to include a large segment of the Russian-speaking population, has gained a majority in Riga and is becoming the most popular national party. Popular protests in both countries have triggered rising political pressure to limit the debt burden to a reasonable ability to pay.

This political pressure came to a head over the weekend in Reykjavik’s Parliament. The Althing agreed a deal, expected to be formalized today, which would severely restrict payments to the UK and Netherlands in compensation for their cost in bailing out their domestic Icesave depositors.

This agreement is, so far as I am aware, the first since the 1920s to subordinate foreign debt to the country’s ability to pay. Iceland’s payments will be limited to 6 per cent of growth in gross domestic product as of 2008. If creditors take actions that stifle the Icelandic economy with austerity and if emigration continues at current rates to escape from the debt-ridden economy, there will be no growth and they will not get paid.

A similar problem was debated eighty years ago over Germany’s World War I reparations. But policy makers are still confused over the distinction between squeezing out a domestic fiscal surplus and the ability to pay foreign debts. No matter how much a government may tax its economy, there is a problem of turning the money into foreign currency. As John Maynard Keynes explained, unless debtor countries can export more, they must pay either by borrowing (German states and municipalities borrowed dollars in New York and cashed them in for domestic currency with the Reichsbank, which paid the dollars to the Allies) or by selling off domestic assets. Iceland has rejected these self-destructive policies.

There is a limit to how much foreign payment an economy can make. Higher domestic taxes do not mean that a government can turn this revenue into foreign exchange. This reality is reflected in Iceland’s insistence that payments on its Icesave debts, and related obligations stemming from the failed privatization of its banking system, be limited to some percentage (say, 3 percent) of growth in gross domestic product (GDP). There is assumption that part of this growth can be reflected in exports, but if that is not the case, Iceland is insisting on “conditionalities” of its own to take its actual balance-of-payments position into account.

The foreign debt issue goes far beyond Iceland itself. Throughout Europe, political parties advocating EU membership face a problem that the Maastricht convergence criterion for membership limits public debt to 60 percent of GDP. But Iceland’s external public-sector debt – excluding domestic debt – would jump to an estimated 240 percent of GDP if it agrees to UK and Dutch demands to reimburse their governments for the Icesave bailouts. Meanwhile, EU and IMF lending to the Baltics to support their foreign currency – so that mortgages can be kept current rather than defaulting – likewise threaten to derail the membership process that seemed on track just a short time ago.

Austerity programs were common in Third World countries from the 1970s to the 1990s, but European democracies have less tolerance for so destructive an acquiescence to foreign creditors for loans that were irresponsible at best, outright predatory at worst. Families are losing their homes and emigration is accelerating. This is not what neoliberals promised.

Populations are asking not only whether debts should be paid, but whether they can be paid! If they can’t be, then trying to pay will only shrink economics further, preventing them from becoming viable. This is what has led past structural adjustment programs to fail.

Will Britain and the Netherlands accept this new reality? Or will they cling to neoliberal – that is, pro-creditor – ideology and keep on stubbornly insisting that “a debt is a debt” and that is that. Trying to squeeze out more debt service than a country could pay requires an oppressive and extractive fiscal and financial regime, Keynes warned, which in turn would inspire a nationalistic political reaction to break free of creditor-nation demands. This is what happened in the 1920s when Germany’s economy was wrecked by imposing the rigid ideology of the sanctity of debt.

A similar dynamic is occurring from Iceland to the Baltics. The EU is telling Iceland that in order to join, it must pay Britain and Holland for last autumn’s Icesave debts. And in Latvia, the EU and IMF have told the government to borrow foreign currency to stabilize the exchange rate to help real estate debtors pay the foreign-currency mortgages taken out from Swedish and other banks to fuel its property bubble, raise taxes, and sharply cut back public spending on education, health care and other basic needs to “absorb” income. Higher taxes are to lower import demand and also domestic prices, as if this automatically will make output more competitive in export markets.

But neither Iceland nor Latvia produce much to export. The Baltic States have not put in place much production capacity since gaining independence in 1991. Iceland has fish, but many of its quota licenses have been pledged for loans bearing interest that absorbs much of the foreign exchange from the sale of code. Interest charges also absorb most of the revenue from its aluminum exports, geothermal and hydroelectric resources.

In such conditions a pragmatic economic principle is at work: Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. What remains an open question is just how they won’t be paid. Will many be written off? Or will Iceland, Latvia and other debtors be plunged into austerity in an attempt to squeeze out an economic surplus to avoid default?

Failure to recognize the limited ability to pay runs the danger of driving over-indebted countries out of the Western orbit. Iceland’s population is upset at the EU’s backing of the bullying tactics of Britain and Holland trying to extract reimbursement for bailing out their Icesave depositors – €2.6 billion to Britain and €1.3 billion to Holland. Social Democrats won April’s Althing election on a platform of joining the EU, but burdening the country with these Icesave debts would prevent it from meeting the Maastricht criteria for joining the EU. This makes it appear as if Europe is more concerned with debt collection than with getting new members.

Of most serious concern are the long-term consequences of replacing defaults by debt pyramiders and outright kleptocrats with a new public debt to international government agencies – debt that is much less easy to write off. Eva Joly, the French prosecutor brought into sort out Iceland’s banking kleptocracy, warned earlier this month that if Iceland succumbs to current EU demands, “Just a few tens of thousands of retired fishermen will be left in Iceland, along with its natural resources and a key geostrategic position at the mercy of the highest bidder – Russia, for example, might well find it attractive.” The post-Soviet countries already are seeing voters shift away from Europe in reaction to the destructive policies the EU has been supporting.

Neither Britain nor Holland, neither the EU nor IMF have provided a scenario for just how Iceland is supposed to pay the debts that are being claimed. How much will personal income and living standards have to fall? What government programs must be cut back? How many defaults on domestic mortgages and personal debts will result, and how much unemployment? How much emigration will occur? The models being employed treat these dimensions of the economic problem as “externalities,” but they are central to how the economic system works in practice.

The question is whether neoliberal ideology will give way to economic reality, or whether economic policy will retain the blinders that typically characterize short-term creditor-oriented policies? What is blocking a more reasonable pro-growth policy, Ms. Joly observed, is that “the Swedish presidency of the EU does not seem to be in a hurry to improve regulation of the financial sectors, and the committees with an economic focus in the Parliament are, more than ever, dominated by liberals, particularly British liberals.” So Europe continues to impose a shortsighted economic ideology. Therefore, she concluded: “Mr. Brown is wrong when he says that he and his government have no responsibility in the matter. Firstly, Mr. Brown has a moral responsibility, having been one of the main proponents of this model which we can now see has gone up the spout. … Could anyone realistically think that a handful of people in Reykjavik could effectively control the activities of a bank in the heart of the City? … the European directives concerning financial conglomerates seem to suggest that EU member states that allow such establishments into their territories from third countries must ensure that they are subject to the same level of control by the authorities of the country of origin as that provided for by European legislation. … a failure on the part of the British authorities on this point … would not be particularly surprising considering the ‘performance’ of other English banks … during the financial crisis? If so, Mr. Brown’s activism in relation to this small country might be motivated by a wish to appear powerful in the eyes of his electorate and taxpayers …”

Some inconvenient financial truths and ideological blind spots

Most deposit insurance settlements for insolvent institutions are merely technical in scope: how much are depositors insured for, and how soon will they get paid? But the Icesave problem is so large in magnitude that it raises more legally convoluted economy-wide questions. The Althing’s stance on Iceland’s foreign debt – and the abuses of its kleptocratic domestic bank privatizers – represents a quantum leap, a phase change in global debtor/creditor relations.

No doubt this is why creditors and neoliberals will fight Iceland’s brave show so vehemently, angrily, unfairly and extra-legally. For starters, Gordon Brown did not follow the proper agreed-upon legal procedures last October 6 when he closed down Landsbanki’s Icesave branches and the Kaupthing affiliates. Under normal conditions Iceland would have availed itself of the right under European law to pay out depositors in an orderly manner. But Mr. Brown prevented this by directing Britain’s deposit-insurance agency to pay Icesave depositors as if they were covered by UK insurance. It was a rash decision that could turn out to be one of the biggest blunders of his career. The Icesave branches were legally extensions of Landsbanki in Iceland, covered by Iceland’s deposit insurance scheme, not that of Britain.

Iceland’s Depositors’ and Investors’ Guarantee Fund (TIF) is privately funded by domestic banks, not public like America’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) or Britain’s Financial Services Agency (FSA). Reflecting Iceland’s neoliberal philosophy at the time the banks were privatized, the TIF lacked the capital to cover the losses that ensued. It was like America’s A.I.G. insurance conglomerate, whose premiums were set far too low to reflect the actual risk involved. The problem is typical of the neoliberal “rational market” idea that debts cannot create a problem, but merely reflect asset prices that in turn reflect prospective income.

In an environment that saw Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland fail, Iceland’s Commerce Ministry wrote to Clive Maxwell at Britain’s Treasury on October 5 to assure him that the government would stand behind the TIF in reimbursing Icesave depositors in accordance with EU directives. Yet three days later, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling claimed that Iceland was refusing to pay. On this pretense Mr. Brown used emergency anti-terrorist laws enacted in 2001 to freeze Icelandic funds in Britain. He did so despite Iceland’s promise to abide by the EU rules. Icelandic authorities were given no voice in how to resolve the matter. Britain and the Netherlands (as they acknowledge in the proposed agreement with which they confronted Icelandic negotiators on June 5, 2009) merely “informed” Icelandic authorities, without following the rules and consulting with them to get permission for their quick bailout of depositors.

This affectsthe question of who is legally responsible for British and Dutch reimbursement of Icesave and Kaupthing depositors. The relevant EU law gives the responsible authorities a breathing space of three months to proceed with settlement – with a further six-month period where necessary. This would have enabled Iceland to collect from British bank clients such as the retail entrepreneur (and major Kaupthing stockholder) Kevin Stanford, who borrowed billions of euros, far in excess of what was proper under banking rules. It is now known that Icelandic banks in Britain were emptying out their deposits by making improper loans to British residents. But rather than helping Iceland move in a timely manner to recover deposits that Landsbanki and Kaupthing had lent out, Britain’s precipitous action plunged it into financial anarchy. The Serious Fraud team has started to help with the investigation and recovery process only in the past few weeks – now that the funds are long gone!

On November 4, ECOFIN, the EU’s financial oversight agency, held an informal ministerial meeting and “agreed, under very unusual circumstances,” to examine the financial crisis into which the Icebank and Kaupthing insolvencies had plunged the country. The EU proposed that the problem be resolved by five financial officials. But Iceland worried that such individuals tend to take a hard-line creditor-oriented position. Seeing how Britain and the Netherlands had acted on their own without regard for how their actions were hurting Iceland, Finance Minister Arni Mathiesen wisely wrote on November 7 to Christine Lagarde, President of the ECOFIN Council, that Iceland’s government would not participate in the review of Iceland’s obligations under Directive 94/19/EC.

The EU directive dealt only with the collapse of individual banks, assuming this problem to be merely marginal in scope and hence readily affordable by signatory governments. But “the amount involved could be up to 60 per cent of Iceland’s GDP,” Mr. Mathiesen explained. The directive left Iceland in legal limbo regarding “the exact scope of a State’s obligations … in a situation where there is a complete meltdown of the financial system.” The directive simply did not envision systemic collapse of a developed Western European economy. Such is the state of today’s mainstream equilibrium theory – an ideological argument that economies automatically stabilize and hence no government policy is needed, no public oversight or regulation.

It is a set of assumptions and junk economics that kleptocrats, crooks and neoliberals love, as it has enabled them to get very, very wealthy and then run to government claiming that a Katrina-like accident has occurred that requires them to be fully bailed out or the economy will collapse without their self-serving wealth-seeking services. This “rational market” mysticism is what now passes for economic science. And it is in the name of this junk science that EU financial officials and indeed, central bankers throughout the world are indoctrinated with blinders that do indeed enable them to find every collapse of their theories “unanticipated.”

The question that needed to be confronted head-on was how to take account of Iceland’s “very unusual circumstances” stemming from its unwarranted faith in neoliberal theory that assumed finance and the debt overhead would never pose a structural problem, but would only serve to facilitate economic growth. At issue was the “sanctity of debt” ideology that took no account of the broad economic context and growth prospects. “Iceland has to make sure that its deposit-guarantee scheme has adequate means and is in a position to indemnify depositors,” the Finance Minister wrote. The problem was macroeconomic in character, but the bank insurance scheme was only for 1 per cent of deposits – under conditions where the country’s main three banks all were driven under by the combination of bad or outright kleptocratic management and Britain’s freezing of Icelandic funds in the aftermath of the Icesave collapse. On November 25 an IMF team calculated that “A further depreciation of the exchange rate of 30 per cent would cause a further precipitous rise in the debt ratio (to 240 percent of GDP in 2009) and would clearly be unsustainable.”

Gordon Brown has spent much of 2009 trying to pressure the IMF to collect for Kaupthing’s insolvency as well as that of Landesbanki’s Icesave accounts. In Parliament on May 6 he announced his intention to ask the IMF to pressure Iceland to reimburse depositors in Kaupthing affiliates. He was reminded that unlike the Icesave branches, these were incorporated as British entities, making their accounts the responsibility of British regulation and deposit insurance. What was improper was his crass treatment of the IMF as a debt collector for the creditor nations, using it as a supra-legal lever to pressure Iceland to pay money that its negotiators felt they did not owe under EU rules. This was the position even of the neoliberal former Prime Minister and Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Oddson himself.

Why bring such pressure to bear if the obligation is clearly specified in the contract? It looked like Mr. Brown wanted to avoid blame by paying British bank depositors and assuring them that foreigners would pay. He proved to be incorrigible, pressuring the EU to tell Iceland that it could not negotiate to join until it settled “its” Icesave debt to Britain. And the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen was equally explicit on July 21. In an official statement he warned his Icelandic counterpart that it was “absolutely necessary” for Iceland to approve the compensation deal agreed for people who lost savings when internet bank Icesave went bankrupt. deal. “A solution to the problems round Icesave could lead to the speedy handling of Iceland’s request to join the European Union,” the minister hinted. “It could show that Iceland takes EU guidelines seriously.” What it showed, of course, was that the EU was letting Britain and the Dutch use extortionate threats to veto membership if they did not get what they wanted: the nearly €4 billion in bailout reimbursement plus interest at 5.5%.

It would be hard to imagine what could have been more effective in deterring Icelandic desire for membership in the EU. On July 23 the Law Faculty at the University of Iceland discussed the details and criticized the confidential agreement – without even having access to it. Britain and the Netherlands insisted that the terms and details of the agreement not be published, on pain of the leakers facing prosecution. But apparently through a secretarial error it appeared on the Internet on July 27! The result was an explosion of anger, not only at Britain and the Dutch but at its own financial negotiators for not simply walking out when the authoritarian terms were dictated at political and financial gunpoint.

The flames were fanned further on July 31 when Wikileaks published a Kaupthing report from September 25, 2008, detailing the loans to insiders that had helped drive the bank into insolvency. Major stockholders had borrowed against their bank stock to bid it up in price and give the appearance of prosperity and solvency. (Evidently deciding that the time had come to take the money and run, the bank owners emptied out the coffers by making loans to themselves. This signaled the death knell for any further fantasies about “efficient markets” in today’s neoliberalized jungle of financial deregulation.

Despite the fact that Kaupthing had been nationalized by Iceland’s government, it sued to block Iceland’s national TV network from broadcasting the details. This backfired, being the equivalent of getting a book banned in Boston – every publisher’s publicity dream! The imbroglio got the entire nation fascinated, prompting so many Icelanders to go on-line to read the document that the gag order was lifted on August 4. The response was a shocked fury at the crooked behavior whose backwash threatened to engulf the nation in a bad foreign debt deal.

On August 1, Eva Joly, who had been hired as a federal prosecutor a half-year earlier, published her article in Le Monde that appeared in many other countries, criticizing Britain’s behavior. But most disturbing of all was publication of the hard-line draft agreement that British and Dutch negotiators had handed to Iceland’s finance minister on June 5, 2009. It failed utterly to reflect the caveats that Icelandic negotiators had insist on the previous November. Bolstered by Gordon Brown’s shrill rhetoric and Britain’s insistence that the terms be kept secret, the EU’s harsh take-it-or-leave-it stance created an atmosphere in which the Althing had little choice but to draw a line and insist that any Icesave settlement had to reflect Iceland’s reasonable ability to pay. Icesave was caricatured as “Iceslave” signifying the debt peonage with which Iceland was threatened. The finance minister (a former Communist leader) seemed out of his depth in having knuckled under in the face of pressure to capitulate to unyielding British negotiators.

Why Iceland's move is so important for international financial restructuring

Iceland has decided that it was wrong to turn over its banking to a few domestic oligarchs without any real oversight or regulation, on the by-now discredited assumption that their self-dealing somehow will benefit the economy.

The amount of debt that can be paid is limited by the size of the economic surplus – corporate profits and personal income for the private sector, and the net fiscal revenue paid to the tax collector for the public sector. But for the past generation neither financial theory nor global practice has recognized any capacity-to-pay constraint. So debt service has been permitted to eat into capital formation and reduce living standards.

As an alternative is to such financial lawlessness, the Althing asserts the principle of sovereign debt at the outset in responding to British and Dutch demands for Iceland’s government to guarantee payment of the Icesave bailout:

The preconditions for the extension of government guarantee according to this Act are:

1. That … account shall be taken of the difficult and unprecedented circumstances with which Iceland is faced with and the necessity of deciding on measures which enable it to reconstruct its financial and economic system. This implies among other things that the contracting parties will agree to a reasoned and objective request by Iceland for a review of the agreements in accordance with their provisions.

2. That Iceland’s position as a sovereign state precludes legal process against its assets which are necessary for it to discharge in an acceptable manner its functions as a sovereign state.

Instead of imposing the kind of austerity programs that devastated Third World countries from the 1970s to the 1990s and led them to avoid the IMF like a plague, the Althing is changing the rules of the financial system. It is subordinating Iceland’s reimbursement of Britain and Holland to the ability of Iceland’s economy to pay.

This weekend’s pushback is a quantum leap that promises (or to creditors, threatens) to change the world’s financial environment. For the first time since the 1920s the capacity-to-pay principle is being made the explicit legal basis for international debt service. The amount to be paid is to be limited to a specific proportion of the growth in Iceland’s GDP (on the assumption that this can indeed be converted into export earnings). After Iceland recovers, the payment that the Treasury guarantees for Britain for the period 2017-2023 will be limited to no more than 4 per cent of the growth of GDP since 2008, plus another 2 per cent for the Dutch. If there is no growth in GDP, there will be no debt service. This means that if creditors take punitive actions whose effect is to strangle Iceland’s economy, they won’t get paid.

Iceland promises to be merely the first sovereign nation to lead the pendulum swing away from an ostensibly “real economy” ideology of free markets to an awareness that in practice, this rhetoric turns out to be a junk economics favorable to banks and global creditors.

As far as I am aware, this agreement is the first since the Young Plan for Germany’s reparations debt to subordinate international debt obligations to the capacity-to-pay principle.

No doubt the post-Soviet countries are watching, along with Latin American, African and other sovereign debtors whose growth has been stunted by the predatory austerity programs that IMF, World Bank and EU neoliberals imposed in recent decades. The post-Bretton Woods era is over. We should all celebrate.

Michael Hudson is Distinguished Prof. of Economics at UMKC. In 2006 he was Prof. of Economics and Director of Economic Research at the Riga Graduate School of Law in Latvia. His website is

Por una mirada integral en el análisis de la historia del Medio Oriente (y el mundo)

Whose Acre?

The ancient port of Acre is now the object of a fierce battle. The Arab inhabitants of the town want the port to bear the name of an Arab hero, Issa al Awam, a general under Saladin, the Muslim leader who defeated the Crusaders. The municipality of Acre, which of course is dominated by the Jewish inhabitants, has decided to give the port the name of an Israeli functionary.

The Arab citizens set up a monument for their hero. The municipality declared it to be an “illegal structure” and decided to destroy it. This could have been a small local conflict, one of many in this mixed and quarrelsome town, if it did not have such profound ideological and political implications.

I love old Acre. For me, it is the most beautiful and interesting town in the country, after East Jerusalem. It is one of the most ancient towns in the country, perhaps in the whole world. It is mentioned in the Bible In the first chapter of Judges (which, by the way, completely contradicts the genocidal Book of Joshua.) The chapter enumerates the Canaanite towns which were not conquered by the Children of Israel. It remained a Phoenician town, one of the port towns from which intrepid Hebrew-speaking sailors went forth and colonized the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, from Tyre to Carthage.

The fortunes of Acre reached their zenith during the times of the Crusaders. It was then the only port in the country that could be used during all the seasons of the year. The Crusaders succeeded in taking it after a stubborn defense. A hundred years later, when the great Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) put an end to the Crusaders’ rule in Jerusalem, he drove them out of Acre, too. The Knights of the Cross recaptured it, and for another hundred years it served as the capital of the reduced Crusader state. In 1291, when the remnants of the Crusader kingdom were wiped out, Acre was the last Crusader town to fall to the Muslims. The image of the last Crusaders and their women jumping from the quays of Acre has been engraved in the memory of the age and has given birth to the expression still current: “to throw into the sea”.

Later, too, the town had a checkered history. A Bedouin chieftain, Daher al-Omar, took it over and created a kind of independent semi-state of Galilee. Even Napoleon, one of the Great Captains of history, came from Egypt in 1799 and laid siege to it, but was roundly defeated by the Arabs, with the help of British sailors. When the British became the lords of the land in 1917, they turned the imposing Crusader fortress of Acre into a prison, in which the leaders of the Hebrew underground organizations, among others, were incarcerated. In one of its most daring exploits, the Irgun broke into the fortress and freed its prisoners. In 1947, the Israeli army conquered the town, which was until then entirely Arab. The ancient part of the town, with its beautiful minarets and Crusader fortifications, continued to be Arab. So did the port, which now serves fishermen.

But around this quarter, Jewish neighborhoods have sprung up, faceless like many hundreds of such neighborhoods throughout Israel, and their inhabitants now constitute the majority. They do not like their Arab neighbors very much. From time to time, quarrels break out between the two populations. The Arab inhabitants believe that Acre has been their town since ancient times and consider the Jews intruders. The Jews are convinced that the town belongs to them and that the Arabs are, at best, a tolerated minority that should shut up. The current dispute can well turn violent.

In every conflict between Jews and Arabs in this country, the rather childish question arises: Who was here first? The Arabs conquered the country, which they then called Jund Filistin (military district Palestine) in 635 AD, and since then it has been under Muslim rule (apart from the Crusader period) until the arrival of the British. They claim “We were first”. The Zionist version is different. In Biblical times, most of the country belonged to the kingdoms of Judea and Israel, even though the coast belonged to the Phoenicians in the North and the Philistines in the South. (In spite of all the frantic efforts of a hundred years, no archaeological evidence has been found that there ever was an exodus from Egypt, a conquest of Canaan by the Children of Israel or a kingdom of David and Solomon.) Since the kingdom of Ahab, around 870 BC, Israel has been on the well-attested historical map. After the Babylonian exile, the Jews dominated parts of the country, with constantly changing borders, until Roman times. Ergo: “We were first”.

If the Israelites were here before the Muslims, who was here before the Israelites? The Canaanites, of course. “They were first”. But who represents them? I once wrote a satirical piece about the “First Canaanite Congress” which takes place somewhere in the world. The participants declare that they are the descendents of the original inhabitants of the country and claim it for themselves. That is not entirely a joke. In the first years of the last century Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who was to become the second president of Israel, tried to harness the Canaanites to Zionism. He researched and found that the population of this country has not really changed from the earliest times. The Canaanites mixed with the Israelites, became Jews and Hellenists, and when the Byzantine empire, which then ruled this country, adopted Christianity, they too became Christians. After the Muslim conquest, they gradually became Arabs. In other words, the same village was Canaanite, became Israelite, passed through all the stages and in the end, became Arab. Nowadays it is Palestinian, unless it was wiped out in 1948 and replaced by an Israeli settlement. Throughout, the population did not really change. Many of the place names did not change either. Every new conqueror brought with him a new set of beliefs and a new elite, but the population itself did not change much. No conqueror was interested in driving out the inhabitants, who provided him with food and revenue.

In the opinion of Ben-Zvi, the Palestinian Arabs are really the descendents of the ancient Israelites. But when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gathered momentum, this theory was forgotten. Recently, some Palestinians adopted a rather similar theory. By the same historical logic, they claim that the Palestinian Arabs are the descendents of the ancient Canaanites, and therefore “they were first”, even before the Children of Israel of Biblical times. It was only the Zionist conquest that, for the first time in history, radically changed the composition of the population. The Canaanites and the ancient Israelites spoke different dialects of the same Semitic language, which is nowadays called Hebrew. Later on, Aramaic became the language of the country, and later on Arabic.

Last week, new research was published, showing that the vernacular Syrian-Palestinian Arabic dialect includes many words that have their origin in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, and which do not appear in the dialect of other Arab countries. Clearly, they were absorbed by the native Arab dialect many centuries ago. They are mainly day-to-day agricultural words, and it is logical to assume that they entered the Arabic language from the Aramaic that it replaced.

Why is that important? How does it affect the Acre dispute? Many years ago I read a book by the late American-Arab scholar, Philip Hitti, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, entitled History of Syria. According to the Arab historical view, Syria (a-Sham in classical Arabic) includes today’s Syria as well as well as present-day Lebanon. Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The book made a lasting impression on me. It recounts the history of this country from prehistoric times to the present, with all its stages, as one continuous story, which includes Canaanites and Israelites, Phoenicians and Philistines, Aramaeans and Arabs, Crusaders and Mamluks, Turks and Britons, Muslims, Christians and Jews. They all belong to the history of the country, all of them contributed to its culture, language and architecture, palaces and fortresses, synagogues and churches, mosques and cemeteries. Anyone thinking about peace and reconciliation should absorb this picture.

What kind of history is taught now in the schools of the two peoples? Both have a mobile history which is wandering about the landscape. Jewish history starts with “Abraham Our Father” in present-day Iraq and the exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai in present-day Egypt, the Conquest of Canaan, King David and the other legends of the Bible, which are taught as actual history. It continues in the country until the destruction of the Temple by Titus and the Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans, when it goes into “exile”, concentrating on the chain of expulsions and persecutions, only returning to the country with the early Zionist settlers. This history ignores not only all that happened in the country before the Israelite era, but also everything that happened during the 1747 years between the Bar Kokhba uprising in 135 AD and the start of the pre-Zionist settlement in 1882. An alumnus of the Israeli education system knows next to nothing about the country during these eras.

On the Arab side, things are no better. The Palestinian-Arab historical picture starts in the Arab peninsula with the advent of the Prophet Mohammad, mentioning the era of Jahiliyah (“ignorance”) before that, and comes to Palestine with the Muslim conquerors. What happened here before 635 AD does not interest it. The pupils of these two education systems – the Jewish-Israeli and the Palestinian-Arab – grow up with two entirely different historical narratives.

I dream of the day when in every school in this country, in Israel and in Palestine, Jews and Arabs will learn not only these two histories, but also the complete history of the country which includes all the periods and cultures. They will learn, for example, that when the crusaders invaded the country, Muslims and Jews stood together against the cruel invader and were massacred together. They will learn that in Haifa, the local Jews led the defense and were admired for their heroism, until they were slaughtered side by side with the Muslims. Such identification with the history of the country can serve as a solid basis for a reconciliation between the peoples.

A dozen years ago, inspired by the unforgettable Feisal al-Husseini, I drew up a Manifesto on Jerusalem for Gush Shalom. One of its paragraphs reads: “Our Jerusalem is a mosaic of all the cultures, all the religions and all the periods that enriched the city, from earliest antiquity to this very day – Canaanites and Jebusites and Israelites, Jews and Hellenes, Romans and Byzantines, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Mamluks, Ottomans and Britons, Palestinians and Israelis. They and all the others who made their contribution to the city have a place in the spiritual and physical landscape of Jerusalem.” In this list, the Crusaders are missing, and not by mistake. They were in our original text. But when I asked the renowned Arab-Israeli writer Emil Habibi to be the first to sign, he exclaimed: “I shall not sign any document that mentions these abominable murderers!” Almost everything that can be said about Jerusalem is true for Acre, too. Its history is also continuous from prehistoric times until today, and the Arab general Issa al Awam belongs to it as much as the English Crusader Richard the Lionheart and the Etzel fighters who broke the prison walls.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch's book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Ebulá, pueblo maya destruido en Campeche

Ebulá, pueblo maya destruido en Campeche
Hermann Bellinghausen

Del sureste llegan preguntas de hoy que parecen de hace un siglo. Son las que despierta la destrucción total de Ebulá por órdenes del empresario Eduardo Escalante, suegro del malogrado presidenciable panista Juan Camilo Mouriño. Así como suena: un grupo de 100 hombres suyos, caracterizados por las víctimas como parapolicías” o “sicarios”, se encargó del trabajito del señor patrón.

“¿Por qué no está en la cárcel Eduardo Escalante, que por su propia cuenta efectuó, no sólo un desalojo ilegal, sino la completa destrucción de viviendas, animales, árboles y todo el patrimonio de los habitantes de San Antonio Ebulá, además de agredir a los habitantes y expulsarlos de su propio pueblo el pasado 13 de agosto de 2009?”

La policía que llegó al lugar ese día, en vez de proteger a los pobladores y su patrimonio, protegió a los parapolicías contratados para destruir el pueblo “¿Por qué no detuvo a quienes, ante sus ojos y en plena flagrancia, agredieron a los habitantes de Ebulá y destruyeron un pueblo que su fundó hace más de 40 años?”

El Grupo Indignación, importante organismo defensor de los derechos humanos en la península de Yucatán, interroga al gobierno y al congreso campechano, al presidente Felipe Calderón, a las comisiones gubernamentales de derechos humanos e indígenas, y hasta a la procuraduría federal ambiental.

“¿Por qué el gobierno de Campeche no usa la fuerza pública para garantizar el retorno de los pobladores a sus tierras?” Las preguntas queman. ¿Cuánto silencio más puede soportar nuestro México? Así de irracional y primitivo como suena, esto sucede ahora mismo, bajo el panismo neoporfirista que nos trajo la “transcisión democrática” para seguir sientiéndonos neoliberalmente modernos sin que jamás se haya ido el PRI.

“¿Por qué el gobierno de Campeche dice que no puede hacer nada y argumenta que se trata de un problema entre particulares? ¿Por qué el subsecretario de Gobierno ofrece ‘apoyos’ a los desplazados en vez de sancionar a los responsables, garantizar el retorno de la gente a su pueblo y la restitución y reparación de los daños? ¿Por qué el gobierno de Campeche continúa protegiendo al empresario Escalante? ¿Por qué el pueblo de San Antonio Ebulá nunca ha sido consultado sobre las obras que se pretenden construir en su territorio?”

Ebulá es reconocido como población por el Instituto Federal Electoral, el Ejecutivo federal, la Secretaría de Educación Pública, el Congreso y los gobiernos estatal y municipal. Agredido por un patrón cualquiera (asociado con la familia Mouriño, boyante como se sabe en gasolineras, carreteras, “contratos”, especulación inmobiliaria, privatización del suelo, poder político y otros prósperos negocios), a Ebulá su propio gobierno le niega su carácter de pueblo.
El Grupo Indignación cuestiona que permanezcan impunes el intento de desalojo de 2007, en el que se destruyeron más de 20 casas, la escuela del Conafe y el templo católico, y luego un “violento y por supuesto ilegal intento de desalojo” del pasado 26 de mayo. Se “destruyeron seis casas, se agredió a los pobladores y se les fabricaron delitos”.

La comisión estatal de derechos humanos no acudió el 13 de agosto, cuando a las 8:30 horas se le informó del desalojo en la comunidad, ni ha escuchado ningún testimonio de los indígenas no obstante que los tiene muy a la mano, pues permanecen en un plantón frente al palacio de gobierno de Campeche, protestando. “¿Por qué la comisión no ha dictado medidas cautelares que garanticen a las y los habitantes de San Antonio Ebulá medidas de seguridad para el retorno a su pueblo y la restitución de sus bienes?”

Las preguntas caen en cascada: “¿Por qué el Congreso de Campeche no ha conminado a las autoridades a proteger y hacer efectivos los derechos de los pobladores de Ebulá?” Y yéndose un poco atrás: “¿Por qué el pueblo de Ebulá no ha podido obtener certeza legal sobre sus tierras en los más de 20 años que lleva interponiendo todos los recursos necesarios? ¿Por qué Escalante se arroga la posesión de esas tierras?”

Entrampado en una sucesión incómoda, el gobierno de Campeche tiene dos importantes papas calientes para su decaída legitimidad social: seis presos políticos de Candelaria por resistir las altas tarifas eléctricas, y ahora una comunidad destruida impunemente por un cacique poderoso. Qué tiempos aquellos señor don Porfirio. Los campesinos mayas de Ebulá fueron golpeados y expulsados de su comunidad, privados de sus medios de subsistencia, sus viviendas destruidas, sus pertenencias robadas y sus animales asesinados. ¿Que los protege la legislación internacional? Vamos, ni la Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente fue capaz de intervenir tras la destrucción de los recursos forestales que tenía el suelo de Ebulá.

Vivimos un tiempo de preguntas. Muchas. Demasiadas. Una lleva a otra y a otra, y el gobierno no se molesta nunca en contestarlas. Pero sus hechos hablan.

Los asesinos de Acteal

Los asesinos de Acteal
Carlos Fazio

La matanza de Acteal fue una operación de guerra. Y como tal, un crimen de Estado. El asesinato de 49 indígenas tzotziles por paramilitares provistos con armas de alto calibre y balas expansivas dio inicio a una nueva fase de la guerra de baja intensidad del régimen de Ernesto Zedillo contra el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), sus bases de apoyo comunitarias y aliados civiles.

La acción genocida se inscribió en el contexto de una guerra irregular diseñada por la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena) tras el levantamiento zapatista. La primera versión de la estrategia contrainsurgente está contenida en el Plan de Campaña Chiapas 94, atribuido al general Miguel Ángel Godínez, comandante de la séptima región militar (1990-95). El objetivo estratégico operacional de dicho plan era destruir la voluntad de combatir del EZLN, aislándolo de la población civil. Como objetivos tácticos figuraban la destrucción, desorganización o neutralización de la estructura política y militar de la insurgencia, para lo cual, junto con operaciones de inteligencia, sicológicas y de control de población, se instruía la organización y asesoramiento de “fuerzas de autodefensa”.

De manera textual se ordenaba “organizar secretamente a ciertos sectores de la población civil, entre otros, a ganaderos, pequeños propietarios e individuos caracterizados con un alto sentido patriótico, quienes serán empleados a órdenes en apoyo de nuestras operaciones”. Según el plan, las operaciones militares incluían el “adiestramiento, asesoramiento y apoyo de las fuerzas de autodefensa y otras organizaciones paramilitares”, tareas que quedaban a cargo de instructores del Ejército. Los paramilitares debían participar en “los programas de seguridad y desarrollo” de la Sedena. Entre otras tareas, debían suministrar información que alimentara las distintas ramas de la inteligencia militar (contrainformación, inteligencia de combate, inteligencia para el apoyo de operaciones sicológicas, inteligencia de la situación interna). Además, en coordinación con el gobierno de Chiapas y otras autoridades, la séptima región militar debía “aplicar la censura” a los medios de difusión masiva.

La Sedena estimaba entonces que entre tropa de elite y milicianos el EZLN contaba con 4 mil 800 efectivos, en tanto que su mar territorial (organizaciones de masas) abarcaba 200 mil personas. Los grupos paramilitares comenzaron a actuar en Chiapas casi a la par de la ofensiva militar del 9 de febrero de 1995. Dicha acción, conocida como “la traición de Zedillo”, falló en su intento por capturar al subcomandante Marcos y descabezar a la comandancia indígena, pero dio inicio a la fase de guerra sucia y paramilitarización del conflicto.

La campaña militar fue ejecutada por el comandante de la séptima región militar, general Mario Renán Castillo (1995-1997), egresado del Centro de Entrenamiento en Guerra Sicológica, Operaciones Especiales y Fuerzas Especiales de Fort Bragg, Estados Unidos. Él creó la Fuerza de Tarea Arcoiris y grupos de fuerzas aerotransportadas del Ejército. Siguiendo el ejemplo de los boinas verdes del Pentágono en Vietnam, dentro de la estrategia de guerra irregular también creó en Chiapas una docena de grupos paramilitares. Tal estrategia contrainsurgente, perfeccionada por los kaibiles en Guatemala en los años 80, consistía en reclutar, armar y entrenar indios para intentar matar, desde adentro, la semilla de la autonomía zapatista. Para los mandos castrenses, los ayuntamientos rebeldes representaban la decisión de un nuevo sujeto político independiente y autoafirmado al que había que destruir.
El crimen de lesa humanidad de Acteal fue una acción bélica orquestada con frialdad. Respondió a una lógica profunda: la intensificación del conflicto. El general Castillo aplicó en Acteal los lineamientos del Manual de guerra irregular, operaciones de contraguerrilla y restauración del orden, editado por la Sedena y cuya autoría se le atribuye. En él se enseña cómo combatir a la insurgencia. Citando a Mao Tse-Tung, se afirma que “el pueblo es a la guerrilla como el agua al pez”. Pero al pez, agrega, se le puede hacer imposible la vida en el agua, agitándola, introduciendo elementos perjudiciales a su subsistencia, o peces más bravos que lo ataquen, lo persigan y lo obliguen a desaparecer. Según el manual, para hacer de la “vida del pez una pesadilla” es preciso mantener acciones interrelacionadas entre las operaciones para controlar a la población civil y las acciones tácticas de contraguerrilla. En ese sentido, el involucramiento de civiles en operaciones militares estuvo coordinado con acciones sicológicas, la acción cívica y la implementación de una amplia red de información. Tal estrategia estuvo dirigida a tender un cerco sanitario en torno al EZLN, para fijarlo en un terreno previamente cuadriculado y, una vez aislado de su base social, intentar destruirlo y aniquilarlo.

En los hechos de Acteal la política y la justicia quedaron subordinadas a la lógica de la guerra de baja intensidad. La liberación de 20 paramilitares ahora, debido a que no se siguieron los procedimientos del debido proceso, deja abierto el problema de la verdad. Un informe recientemente desclasificado, elaborado por la Agencia de Inteligencia de la Defensa de Estados Unidos, confirma el vínculo directo entre el Ejército y los paramilitares en Chiapas y contradice la historia oficial y a los escribas revisionistas de Nexos y el CIDE.

Siguiendo hacia arriba la cadena de mando, la autoría intelectual de la matanza alcanza a los dos comandantes de la séptima región militar de la época; al secretario de Defensa, general Enrique Cervantes, y al comandante supremo de la Fuerzas Armadas, el entonces presidente Ernesto Zedillo.

sábado, 15 de agosto de 2009

Nigeria: al borde de la ingobernabilidad

August 12, 2009
Slipping Into Darkness

Nigeria on the Brink


When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her entourage touch down this week in Abuja, the bright new capital of the Nigerian federation, their hosts will try to put the best face on what is the gravest political crisis the country has faced since the civil war ended almost four decades ago. The uninspired government of President Musa Yar’ ‘Adua, who took office in 2007 on the back of elections massively fraudulent even by Nigeria’s appallingly low standards, is confronting a dual political crisis of considerable gravity. In the oil-producing Niger delta a long simmering military insurgency has crippled the oil and gas industry which accounts for over three-quarters of government revenues and virtually all of Nigeria’s exports. A counter-insurgency by federal forces launched in May 2009 produced a ferocious response by the insurgents including in July an audacious attack on key oil installations in Lagos, the economic capital of the country. Oil production has collapsed, spectacularly, to barely 1 million barrels per day (at least a million barrels a day are shut-in). Shell, the largest single operator, has closed its Western operations entirely, and its Eastern operations are barely functional. 12,000 oil workers have been made redundant, having fled the rigs, platforms and other facilities due to security problems.

In the north of Nigeria, the Muslim heartland and the base of the powerful ruling northern oligarchy, a Taliban-styled Islamist group – Boko Haram – was brutally repressed by government security forces in early August. Massive bombardment of the movement’s compound resulted in large numbers of casualties, and culminated in the extra-judicial killing of the movement’s leader Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri at the hands of the police. In short, two of the most strategic economic and political regions of the Nigerian federation are in effect under lockdown.

President Yar ‘Adua, a bland and unimpressive former teacher from Katsina, has been disastrously ineffective and indecisive since assuming power – failings compounded by his own ill-health. After two years of drift and serial ineptitude, Nigeria now stands at a tipping point. The international community seems largely uninterested in the deteriorating conditions or at the very least unprepared to consider any constructive role in Nigeria. Murdered activist Ken Saro-Wiwa’s dark premonition - his 1990 prediction of a “coming war” unless the needs of the oil producing communities were met - hangs like a pall over contemporary Nigeria.

Nigeria is an oil-rich petro-state but its developmental record in one of catastrophic failure. ?According to IMF, the $700 billion in oil revenues since 1960 have added almost nothing to the standard of living of the average Nigerian. Eighty-five per cent percent of oil revenues accrue to one percent of the population and a huge proportion of the country’s wealth – perhaps 40% or more, has been stolen. Over the last decade GDP per capita and life expectancy have, according to World Banks, both fallen. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), ranks Nigeria in terms of human development - a composite measure of life expectancy, income, and educational attainment – on par with Haiti and Congo.

Nigeria has become a vast shadow economy and shadow state in which the lines between public and the private, state and market, government and organized crime are blurred and porous. The coastal waters of the delta are, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a pirate-haven, comparable to the lawless seas surrounding Somalia and the Maluccas. A new study, Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, estimates that 55 million barrels of oil are stolen each year from the Niger delta, a shadow economy on which high ranking military and politicians are deeply involved. Amnesty International’s report Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta released in June 2009 grimly inventories the massive environmental despoliation caused by 1.5 million tons of spilled oil, describing the record of the slick alliance of the international oil companies and the Nigerian state as a “human rights tragedy”.

The raw and undiluted realities of contemporary Nigeria are on full display in the Niger delta crisis: a wholly unaccountable oil revenue allocation system, structural corruption especially at the state and local government levels, a history of massive electoral fraud and political thuggery, and a state-sanctioned lawless oil frontier in which politics has come to mean nothing more than a vicious struggle, waged by any means necessary, to capture oil rents. Vast quantities of oil are stolen organized by a syndicate of ‘bunkerers’ linking low-level youth operatives and thugs in the creeks to the highest levels of the Nigerian military and political classes and to the oil companies themselves. A former Managing Director of Chevron Nigeria once observed that he had “run companies that have had less production than is being bunkered in [Nigeria]”. The stolen oil, siphoned from the manifolds and flowstations, shipped onto barges and transported to tankers off shore, is a multi-billion business run through the state. The cess-pool of what passes as government is presided over by powerful and typically corrupt state governors and influential political godfathers. As former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu put it, before he was fired and hounded out of the country on Yar’ Adua’s watch, the state is “not even corruption it is organized crime”.

The turn from peaceful non-violence of the sort advocated by Ken Saro-Wiwa to armed struggle, culminated in the dramatic appearance in late 2005 of a new group – the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta - who launched a frontal attack on oil installation in the name of ‘resource control’ and a ‘new federalism’. In three years they have in effect brought the oil industry to a standstill. Hostage taking – not only of oil workers, but also politicians, even children – has become a major growth industry. Many international oil and oil service companies have simply withdrawn personnel and shut-up shop.

The federal government has failed conspicuously to grasp the gravity of political sentiments across the multi-ethnic oilfields. A large survey of Niger delta oil communities by the World Bank in 2007 discovered that an astonishing 36.23% of youth interviewed revealed a “willingness or propensity to take up arms against the state”. Government sees the problem almost wholly in term of criminality. But history teaches us that any insurgency is a complex mix of greed and grievance - and one person’s criminal or terrorist is another’s liberation fighter. The recent survey poll released in 2009 report shows clearly that local communities have no faith whatsoever in the state and local government but government acts as if they do . The incontestable fact, as Ledum Mittee the Ogoni human rights campaigner has noted, is that there is overwhelming popular sympathy across the Delta for what the militants are doing and saying. This is no less the case with Haram Boko, a movement anti-Western sentiments speak powerfully to a generation of Muslim for whom modern development and education has brought poverty, unemployment and a souring of the very idea of secular national development.

President Yar’ Adua announced an amnesty plan for the Niger delta militants on June 25th and released Henry Okay, an important leader MEND leader, on July 13th 2009. Good news in principle. But there are two things to be said here. First, an amnesty may well draw the criminals and political thugs out of the creeks (people who were put there in effect by their political Godfathers in the 2003 and 2007 elections). But this assumes that the problem is largely or wholly criminal - which it is not. Those with a political project will not be so easily convinced. And second, why should they? The history of state promises has been one of duplicity, violence and repression. Trust in government are words rarely heard in the creeks. An amnesty is hardly a solution. As Okah himself said upon his release: “no one is fighting for an amnesty”. The amnesty is simply an opportunity for “frank talks” and discussions of “root problems”. But there is precious little of this in the offing right now.

Second, many of the militants began their lives as thugs deployed for the purpose of electoral intimidation. With the same political godfathers readying themselves for the elections in two years, the promise of an amnesty offers no assurance against a grotesque replay of politically-sponsored violence in the next electoral cycle.

Radical change - and enormous political courage - will be required if there is to be lasting peace. Large-scale training programs and mass employment schemes, major infrastructure projects, and environmental rehabilitation, will take many years, perhaps even generations. For the present the temperature within the Delta must be reduced and a meaningful peace process established. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the future of Nigeria rests on how government responds to this window of opportunity. Another failure of will, at this juncture, could prove to be catastrophic.

The government amnesty covers the period August 4th to October 4th: the MEND ceasefire, in principle, ends on September 15th. Something bold has to happen soon. Any comprehensive approach to resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta can only be built on the ruins of two decades and more of broken promises, suspicion, and violence. Serious dialogue and the central involvement by a credible third-party mediator – perhaps Senator Feingold or the Elders – will be indispensable to any forward moevment. It will not be easy but it is imperative. Secretary Clinton should convey this message in the strongest terms but also highlight two important opportunities. First, the Nigerian senate is in the middle of debating a new petroleum bill capable of addressing some of the core concerns of Niger delta activists. Already there are signs that the new bill will ignore the voices of the oil communities. Second, the government commissioned a forty-three person Technical Committee to provide a strategy for the future of the Niger delta. The report has languished since its release in November 2008 in spite of the fact that it contains a clear blueprint for moving forward. Here at least is a place to start.

Michael Watts is Director of Institute for International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include: Reworking Modernity, Rutgers University Press, 1992; Silent Violence. University of California Press, 1993; and Liberation Ecologies, Edited with Richard Peet, Routledge, 1995.