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June 24, 2009

Latin America, World's Moral Political Leader

By: Bernard Chazelle

For several years now, the most socially and politically inspiring place on earth has been Latin America. The US establishment loves to hate Venezuela and ignore everyone else. What a blessing it's been. While the US has been busy transforming the Middle East from hell to absolute hell, all over Latin America a quiet revolution has been taking place. In a few months, for example, Colombia will be the only country south of the border left with a US military presence. Eat your heart out, Europe, Asia, and Africa! Latin America might be the only place on earth where social progress has been visible lately. Latest from Peru, via Johann Hari:

In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.

Responding to intense pressure from the US,

Peru's right-wing President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 per cent of his country's swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon's trees: "There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle."

Only flaw in Garcia's brilliant plan, the indigenous people of the Amazon.

They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn't bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?

What the bunch did is use their own bodies and wooden weapons to blockade rivers and roads. They captured two valves of Peru's only pipeline.

Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a "state of emergency" in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. More than a dozen were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: "The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don't fight together, what will our future be?"

And then something amazing!

The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologise for his "serious errors and exaggerations". The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.

Read the whole thing.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at June 24, 2009 07:20 PM

Hey, no fair! I was going to use this situation in my upcoming Cagematch With Hilzoy.

Please stop stealing the thoughts out of my brain.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 24, 2009 08:26 PM

See, this is what the internet should be for: allowing news of a victory in one remote location to be communicated quickly around the world, to show the rest of us that resistance - and victory - is possible. Thank you.

Posted by: SteveB at June 24, 2009 08:46 PM

Jon: Your fault! If your brain didn't hold all the good thoughts, perhaps, just perhaps the rest of us wouldn't have to steal them. (Did you think of that, huh?)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 24, 2009 09:35 PM

The following link was sent to me by a friend on the 6th of June for urgent action. Twenty to thirty Peruvian indigenous people were shot dead from helicopters by Peruvian government forces.

The next day, I saw the story on Reuters UK
and the situation had worsened with 60 people dead.

This led to the Peruvian congreess voting 82-12 to repeal the controversial laws.

It is satisfying to know that people fought for their land and died but it was not in vain.
"AIDESEP Statement: A Historic Day for Indigenous Peoples"

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 24, 2009 09:47 PM

Very nice piece.

Posted by: Doc at June 24, 2009 09:47 PM

Very nice piece.

Posted by: Doc at June 24, 2009 09:48 PM

made the hairs stand up on my neck, just to know that people are fighting this battle and winning. respect.

Posted by: boomstix at June 24, 2009 10:01 PM

Prof Chazelle, I posted a comment but it has gone to the moderator.
I apologise as I have duplicated some material you have posted in my comment. I read your post in a rush and overlooked it. Again my apologies for repeating your material.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 24, 2009 10:21 PM

hello from your far-flung correspondent in south america. while your basic point is right, johann hari is a wanker who doesn't know what he's talking about. the indigenous protestors by all eyewitness accounts did have and use guns. (how else did they shoot down that police helicopter?) this doesn't justify the horrors perpetrated by the peruvian military, but there's no sense or need to romanticize.

hari is even worse when it comes to chavez. but this is a peru chat. and the peruvian indians did the right thing and won, at the cost of a good 60 disappeared. sad and remarkable.

Posted by: hedgey at June 24, 2009 11:40 PM

Herein lies the only wholly positive post I have made on this blog.

This victory is an excellent thing.

Hope you didn't expect a novel.

P.S. I especially liked the part where violence worked for the good guys.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 25, 2009 12:26 AM

Herein lies the only wholly positive post I have made on this blog.

This victory is an excellent thing.

Hope you didn't expect a novel.

P.S. I especially liked the part where violence worked for the good guys.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 25, 2009 12:26 AM

Regarding cage matches, here's some more ammo (I think my metaphor is a little mixed, unless MMA contests allow gunfire)--


Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 25, 2009 01:02 AM

ANOTHER case of high technology used against goat herders, rice farmers, and simple fishermen.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 25, 2009 04:36 AM

Very informative article, i have said many times on this blog before the events taken place in Latin America over the past decade or so are truly inspiring...and this is one more example...if the people there can demonstrate this kind of commitment and action to social justice there is no reason we cant...once again we can learn a great deal from others far less fortunate than we are. As the great Patti Smith said, "People have the Power."-Tony

Posted by: tony at June 25, 2009 08:31 AM

Twenty to thirty Peruvian indigenous people were shot dead from helicopters by Peruvian government forces.

I was starting to wonder where Sarah Palin had got to these days.

Seriously, though, this is a sad but inspiring story. I have little hope for how well it will got next time -- probably a lot quieter, if the oil companies are more clever (which won't be hard). Still, rage against the dying of the light and all that. Good on the protesters.

Posted by: Picador at June 25, 2009 10:05 AM

Here are some video clips of solidarity with the Peruvian Indigenous People and protests by them ( PIP).

Not identical but similar situation threatens our local Indigenous Populations. Wonder, who is fighting for them! They need justice too. Apparently, our govt has ignored their legitimate complaints and they are fighting their case at the United Nations!
"Destroying Indigenous Populations"

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 25, 2009 11:16 AM

i notice that self-described far-flung south american correspondent/commentator hedgey finds the basic point of the article accurate but has not much good to say about accused wanker and author of the article johann hari. in particular, hedgey reports that the indigenous heroes apparently had guns (which may explain their success).

Time magazine on june 10 reported clashes between police in the peruvian amazon and indigenous protestors that killed 23 police officers, but only nine protestors. (those are the official numbers reported by Time; i do not vouch for them. after all, they are in time magazine. I haven't even looked closely at the time article.),8599,1903707,00.html

This makes me think hedgey is right and maybe wooden spears aren't the only weapon the indigenous people have, so maybe they have a chance. I hope they make it.

Even with guns, the indigenous people face long odds. If all they have are wooden spears and the well wishes of far-away sympathizers who value the rain forest and tribal peoples, they are in for trouble soon, because even those who care of necessity have other priorities, on top of a severe shortage of power, and the oil companies have lots of power and an attitude that closely resembles that of The Terminator.

My question is, what's up with Johann Hari and the Guardian removing the guns from the story? Is it only ok to sympathize with the indigenous protestors if they were completely defenseless and engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience? Is being right and engaged in justifiable self defense not a good enough story? In the eyes of Hari and/or the Guardian, do the protestors have to be perfect and practice martyrdom to be supportable/supported? That's the conclusion i'm headed for, because i haven't thought of another explanation. (Maybe a reporter really could be such a wanker that he could be unaware that the protestors had some guns, but i'm skeptical).

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 25, 2009 01:42 PM

Joe Kane has written at length about the parallel struggle of the Huaorani in Ecuador: in his book Savages and in his long "Letter From The Amazon" piece, "With Spears From All Sides" in The New Yorker for September 27, 1993, p. 54

Posted by: joel hanes at June 25, 2009 02:03 PM

My guess is that between the CIA, DEA AND Drug Dealers they got ALL the AK-47's and RPG's they will EVER need and IF they're smart they'll invest in some SAM sites.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 25, 2009 03:11 PM

Not Exactly: Sorry to hear that your bullshit radar is not operational at the high altitudes of ATR. But when cops tell you that 23 of them have died but only 9 protesters did, that means they've cranked up their BS meter to 11. Did Ahmadinejad come up with these numbers or are they the most unbelievably incompetent cops on the planet?

Hari's early support for the Iraq war was hard to take... but a wanker?? Btw, it's the Independent, not the guardian. But if you want to know what the Guardian thinks, here it is:

On one side have been the police armed with automatic weapons, teargas, helicopter gunships and armoured cars. On the other are several thousand Awajun and Wambis Indians, many of them in war paint and armed with bows and arrows and spears.

Wankers them all!

Spears or guns? Spears. French papers report that the indians captured guns from the cops (whom they then killed). So yes now they have plenty of guns. But French journalists are such wankers!

Thank God for hedgey's concern:

there is no sense or need to romanticize.

So true! What a horrible blunder that would be! Well, thanks for the warning.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 25, 2009 08:14 PM

South America will show the world how human society must be.

Capitalism is dead. It may walk zombie-like for a decade or two more, but it's dead. Why? It requires constant growth, and we have finite resources. Thus it cannot be maintained.

Only fools and ideologues deny this fact.

So, is Obama a fool? Or an ideologue?

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 26, 2009 12:44 AM

so now Rambo has to go free some oil pipelines(and 'american soldiers' of course) from indigenous amazonian people? FUCK!! they use bows and arrows better than he can. methinks Rambo:2010 is going to be a tragedy. maybe he can team up with the Governator and do the Tropic Thunder thing?

Posted by: almostinfamous at June 26, 2009 12:47 AM

Man, these are some pretty high altitudes! But is it really such a big insult to be a "wanker"? Personally, I see some merit in Woody Allen's view!

i certainly don't vouch for the numbers in Time--i said that. And I don't read the French press, because my french is like Steve Martin's, only worse. (To those who have seen the movie, I say "Ombourghar!") So maybe the protestors did just have spears, in which case maybe i am the wanker (though I myself never called anyone that except in the greasey orin hatch "my fellow commenter hedgey says mr. hari is a wanker, but I would never say that" sort of way). Maybe thousands of indigenous people with spears is as effective as some guns.

But if the writer or editor at whatever British paper i slandered just thought the story was better without guns, which is the impression i had got from what south-american correspondent hedgey said and the quick look i did via google, i don't like that, because i agree with hedgey that it creates a romanticized view of the situation. And i actually don't think that romanticized view is harmless. I say that because i think a romanticized view ends up obligating the "indigenous people" to meet an unreasonably high standard of conduct for the situation they're facing. Eventually the public's view of the indigenous people becomes un-romanticized, and the public loses sympathy for them. That's the issue that troubles me. I'm glad it was a win for the protesters. I hope it lasts, but the Terminator will return to drill some wells. And they'll have to fight or they'll get terminated. And when they fight, they may well fight dirty, under provocation, and even do some ugly things, because that does tend to happen.

The background i had in mind was the Indian wars of the 19th century, in particular on the plains, where I hail from, and which I know a bit about. (Not that I have only that in mind; though i know next to nothing about what's going on in the Amazon now, i have actually been to an oil camp in a remote part of the Colombian Amazon once upon a time.) Unlike you, I wouldn't assume that cops or soldiers can't get the worst of a shoot-out, especially if there are guns on both sides, or if the numbers are wildly unbalanced. That's not common because of the superior weapons and training the soldiers and cops have, but one stupid decision by an officer or even just some bad luck can get a lot of soldiers/cops killed pretty fast, especially if there are thousands of those indigenous people. See Custer, George Armstrong, Last Stand Of. And actually, more than a few arrogant young officers who went out to fight "Injuns" back in the 19th century thought they could never lose (after all, they would have to be "unbelievably incompetent"), and they promptly proceeded to get their command slaughtered by some indigenous people {called back then redskins, red devils, injuns, savages etc) who had nothing but bows and arrows or spears or very crappy guns. General Custer wasn't the only one to get a whole bunch of enlisted men killed, though his was the biggest and bloodiest of the blunders.

I mention this also because back then the Eastern Press in the U.S. (very much unlike the Western press) was quite enamored of the idea of a Noble Savage. That was the equivalent of the modern-day, spear-carrying rain forest indigenous resident with a natural, primitive eco-friendly, carbon-footprint-minimizing lifestyle. But back in the 19th century, whenever some of those "indigenous people" slaughtered some of those "unbelievably incompetent" cavalry officers who tried to kill them and their familes, public support for the Noble Savages in the East (of the U.S.) tended to drop off. Those Noble Savages weren't supposed to kill so many soldiers, never mind that the soldiers had a habit of storming into their villages at first light to kill them and their children! And murdering them and removing their scalps to collect a bounty paid by more than a few territorial governments too.

When Chief Red Cloud went to New York and put on a top hat and coat and gave a speech at Cooper Union (which he did), the Eastern public loved him. He was adorable! But when soldiers kept getting killed, and alas their corpses quite horribly mutilated, the love didn't last, never mind that the soldiers often did much the same thing. Red Cloud and the Lakota and the other plains tribes were expected to be something that they had never even claimed to be. The press and intellectuals had put that on them. (Alas, your countryman Rousseau led the way.)

So yeah, i actually don't like the romanticizing. It creates sympathy that won't last, and i say that because this has happened before and the sympathies caused by romanticized views didn't last. And as a logical matter, I really don't think they're ever likely to last or amount to much in the way of real support. Unless those indigenous, spear-carrying people really are amazingly disciplined and amazingly lucky, they're going to end up at some point doing something, or even just appearing to do something, that makes them look a lot less sympathetic to the folks who have come to think so highly of their cause without really knowing anything about them. And even if they don't do anything that could appear to look bad, the press/media can take care of that too. It happens almost literally all the time.

I think the public disillusionment is less likely to happen if the emphasis original understanding is realistic, and everybody realizes that they're just people despite the many cultural differences who are at bottom like you and me--some good ones, some bad ones, some hotheads, some fools, some brilliant, some stupid, the whole range of things that people are. They shouldn't lose support, assuming they deserve support, just because somebody loses his cool and blows something up. Or seems to have done that. Or everybody says he did anyway.

Those are the thoughts that were in the back of my mind. So maybe my bullshit radar works better than you thought, even at these lofty altitudes! :)

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 26, 2009 01:53 AM

While I found the general message of this article encouraging, I was surprised to read that "Colombia will be the only country south of the border left with a US military presence." Has Mr. Chazelle forgotten Guantanamo Bay? The US refuses to return that territory to Cuba, despite the longstanding demands of the Cuban government. It is rare that I see Cuban sovereignty even acknowledged in American sources, right or left. But isn't that why it was used as a torture chamber, because it was not US territory and, in the hopes of the Bush regime, not subject to American law? How can the Obama administration talk about human rights in Cuba when the most egregious violations are at the hands of the CIA in Gitmo?

Posted by: Les MacDonald at June 26, 2009 12:45 PM

of course colombia isn't the only place "south of the border" where the U.S. has any military presence of some kind. I mean, we have an entire "Southern Command," so they would be pretty bored if that were true. I'm sure the professor just wasn't focused on that point and meant a sizable military presence, the kind big enough to attack venezuela, for example. The kind that makes those wingnuts proud.

We are certainly in Guantanamo, and I think we're still involved at the Panama Canal somehow or other. And the Pentagon's 2007 base structure report also shows U.S. bases in Ecuador, Peru, Antigua, and Aruba to some extent. The map linked below comees from David Vine's book, based on the base structure report and some other stuff that he identified-- --

It shows additional bases in el salvador, honduras, puerto rico, the bahamas, paraguay, bolivia, and haiti.

heck if i know where all the bases are, and maybe some folks tossed us out on our ear since the DOD report and the maps based on it were made, but those lists don't even include the secret bases, something we've grown fond of.

we also have mililtary and intel connections beyond bases. I'm SURE we're screwing around in venezuela, ecuador, and bolivia, certainly by proxy and probably directly too. There is not a snowball's chance in hell that we aren't doing some of that, for the reason set forth in the tale of the scorpion and the frog. You just take your vitamins and exercise and you might live long enough to see the proof! But it will eventually make it's way to GW's National Security Archive if the law doesn't deteriorate further.

Here's what the arms trade resource center of the world policy institute says about recent US base locations in the americas:

And here's what they say about recent US military aid and arms sales:

So all in all, those latin americans are relatively lucky, compared to say the residents of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or even Saudi Arabia, but they probably don't quite feel ignored. At least they shouldn't, and they should definitely keep their eyes open, at least those of them that are getting on the wrong side of what oil companies and the US military want.

I really wouldn't focus on bases anyway. We didn't really use that many bases to help half the young leftists in the hemisphere get disappeared a couple decades ago. Plenty of bad things can happen without a U.S. base in the neighborhood. Hell, the US toppled the brazilian government in 1964 without using a base as far as i know, and i don't know that we used any base there to do it, or even had one. I'm not sure we even had a base in chile when we arranged for allende's demise (though we might have). Nor am i sure we had bases in Argentina when the generals started dropping troublemaking lefties in the ocean, or in other places where Operation Condor was put in action with our collaboration if not outright sponsorship. see Loads of bases just haven't been necessary.

Now if some Colonel has some oil fields we might want sometime in the area, that's another story. Then maybe the Southern Command feels like it needs bases. But just because they're quiet don't think they're gone. Or that they aren't up to no good.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 26, 2009 03:02 PM

Les MacDonald: Its damn near impossible to break a lease and get rid of the trashy renters with THEIR dirty laundry these days.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 26, 2009 03:22 PM

Not Exactly has a gift for obfuscation of the Ivy League Pointyhead sort. Like Paul Tsongas or Mike Dukakis, NE gives us palabric Sominex, verbal Halcyon, lingual Librium. With such a nice gauzy haze over our heads and outlooks, who cares if things really suck? We're tranquil, we're sleepy, and all we want is to rest peacefully without interruption -- especially by reality!

NE, when you have a spare half-day, can you remind me how your two posts immediately above relate in any way to the primary essay by Chazelle?

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 27, 2009 02:39 PM

Hey, you know where else we don't have any bases? Iraq.

Posted by: SteveB at June 27, 2009 07:32 PM

WE don't have military bases on the Moon, which I find to be a terrible oversight on the part of Empire.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 27, 2009 10:08 PM

Any thoughts on what just happened in Honduras?

Posted by: SteveB at June 28, 2009 10:55 AM

He JUST wanted to be president one more time. One last chance to serve the simple people of his village(s). Send lawyers, guns, and money, the shit has hit the fan, as Hank Jr. would say. (which I'm guessing is what WE will do, Ollie North will be proud)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2009 12:12 PM

Another account of events in Honduras....

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 28, 2009 12:15 PM

Well, I'm sure the right of the Honduran people to keep their duly-elected President will soon be the burning passion of bloggers across the political spectrum (color your blog Honduran-coffee brown!)

Because it's all about the freedom, doncha know.

Posted by: SteveB at June 28, 2009 12:29 PM

This is the breaking news from LATimes.....

Coup in Honduras: President tells of his 'brutal kidnapping',0,2480224.story

Would it surprise anyone if one of our agencies was covertly involved?

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 28, 2009 12:46 PM

Coup in Honduras! The Generals are coming back baby. Just you wait and see.

I await America's Caesar to rise. Most probably Petraeus.

Posted by: rapier at June 28, 2009 12:48 PM

Coup in Honduras! The Generals are coming back baby. Just you wait and see.

I await America's Caesar to rise. Most probably Petraeus.

Posted by: rapier at June 28, 2009 12:49 PM

Something strange going on here! Before the coup, the president gave an interview and thanked Pres Obama for preventing a coup. Why it happened anyway, who knows!

English tanslation

The link to the interview is in this English translation article. Below is a question and an answer from the interview. Very interesting!

Q. What role has the U.S. played in the attempted coup?
R. Well, let's be fair. Here I was all ready to give a blow if the U.S. Embassy would have approved, had given the coup. But the U.S. Embassy did not approve of the coup. And look what I'm going to say now whether I'm sitting here at the Presidential House, talking to you, it is thanks to United States.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 28, 2009 02:07 PM