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Striking Back from Below and to the Left*: U.S. Spying Angers All of Latin America

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Latin@ Politics, The Revolution on July 24, 2013 at 8:30 AM
CIA interventions_latin america_since world war II

CIA and military interventions in Latin America since World War II. Countries highlighted in red were targeted by the u.s. military; explosion symbols indicate where u.s. bombings occurred; and black tics reference where the us government executed assassination plots. See additional graphics below.

 

*”Below and to the left” refers to a quote from Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. For more on its meaning, click here.

This past month we have seen a number of showdowns between the united states and Latin America with respect to the issue of the former’s covert global surveillance. Interestingly, while mainstream u.s. media outlets have focused largely on the messenger (Snowden) as opposed to the actual message, countries like Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia have demonstrated a merciless anger towards the united states, including harsh words relayed at a Mercosur summit over a week ago. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa not only rejected a u.s. offer for monetary aid,  but he made a counter-offer to pay for the country’s much-needed human rights training.

Although we have gotten snippets of a Big Data state developing in the u.s. before (and certainly, many justifiable suspicions given the legacy of the FBI’s COINTEL program and secretive CIA operations), the leaked documents reveal an unprecedented surveillance that crosses national borders and infringes on the sovereignty of other nations–most particularly those of our South and Central American neighbors. As Greenwald put it, whereas the privacy of amerikkkan communications has been severely impugned, the rights of non-u.s. citizens are simply completely ignored. And as many people have pointed out, we are eerily headed in the direction of a transcontinental super-state with jaw-dropping technologies of manipulation and surveillance a la  Orwell’s 1984.

With respect to Latin America, three nations (Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia) have essentially, if not officially, been blacklisted by the amerikkkan government for accepting asylum requests from Edward Snowden. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader to become president in Latin America, had good reason to be furious at the united states and western europe for their blatantly patronizing behavior. Venezuelans are still stoked about a possible u.s.-directed plot that led to Hugo Chavez’s strange death. And from what we know about the NSA’s surveillance of countries outside the u.s., everyone is more or less pissed, including  the citizens and leaders of Brazil [the original O Globo article co-written by Glenn Greenwald] and the European Union. They may be more pissed, in fact, than many of amerikkka’s own citizens. (A Pew Research Center poll from last month indicated that 58% of American respondents were against spying on ‘ordinary citizens’–a majority, but a rather small one.)

Unfortunately, Latin Americans are not new to amerikkkan interventions. Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when the u.s. asserted a patronizing governorship over the Americas, all sorts of diplomacies and tactics have been used to develop an empire. CIA-directed coups toppled socialist and communist governments and fomented  mass violence and genocide in some states. (This obfuscation of history in amerikkka is intriguing, given how much u.s. imperialism and unilateral economic policies have essentially forced many Latin Americans to migrate north.)

Writing about the NSA scandal in Latin America, Benjami Dangl from Toward Freedom describes the extent of the aggressive spying:

“The [leaked NSA] articles pointed out that data collection bases were located in Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Panama City, with an additional station in Brasilia which was used to spy on foreign satellite communications. The NSA gathered military and security data in certain countries, and acquired information on the oil industry in Venezuela and energy sector in Mexico, both of which are largely under state control, beyond the reach of US corporations and investors.”

Given the complacency towards surveillance among Anglo- North Americans, the liberation of our diasporic peoples–angry still over the injustice of the Zimmerman acquittal–may just require the guidance of an indignant Latin America. As always, I’ll be looking South for revolutionary inspiration.

Galeano_quien es este asesino

Galeano, one of Latin America’s most preeminent historians and critic of U.S. imperialism, writes: “But who is this serial killer, who kills everything he touches? It occurs to me that we’ll need to put him in jail. But it turns out we can’t incarcerate him because he is a SYSTEM, a universal system of power that has turned the world into an asylum and slaughterhouse. We are governed by an invisible dictatorship.” [English translation my own]

U.S. Interventions in Latin America Since 1945

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Bring Them Home: Plight of Undocumented Youth

In Decolonization, Educational Justice, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 23, 2013 at 11:06 PM
educationnotdeportation

The various links between the school-to-prison pipeline and immigration policy are astounding. Rather than investing in our underfunded public schools, jurisdictions throughout the country have been putting money into building new prisons and expanding law enforcement agencies.

A group of undocumented Mexican-Americans decided to showcase the need for a humane immigration policy by making a trip to Mexico–and then trying to cross back into the united states.

The eight activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA)–dubbed the “Dream 8”–were almost sure to get arrested despite the applications they brought to re-enter the u.s. on humanitarian grounds. Yesterday, as they attempted to cross through a Border Patrol station by Nogales, Mexico, they were detained and sent to Arizona’s Florence Detention Center.

Although the youth from NIYA did not explicitly target the DREAM Act, I’m sure their courageous efforts resonate with many undocumented youth looking for an opportunity to “naturalize,” go to college, no longer live in fear. (The DREAM Act, first introduced to the Senate in 2001, would provide permanent residency to undocumented youth who grew up in the united states for an extended period and complete two years of college or military.)

Currently, after twelve years of activists and politicians fighting for approval of the DREAM Act, it seems as if some important congressional ground has been traversed. The DREAM Act was embedded in the  S. 744 Border (in)Security Act passed by the Senate last month (read more about S. 744 from my previous post). And after several debates within the House of Representatives, with strong pro-immigrant leadership from Chicago’s Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), Reps are now wrangling over whether undocumented immigrants who are not covered under the DREAM Act should receive amnesty.

For some activists, this has been an exciting as well as nerve-wracking period as immigrant amnesty seems, for the first time in a long while, possible. Others are cautious, wary of of the attached provisions and stipulations, or completely furious about the potential hazards immigration reform (as it exists right now) can unleash. I definitely fall in the latter group, fed up as I am with congressional-statist politics as well as the lethal implications of border militarization that congressional Republicans are demanding.

Lulu Martinez, an undocumented youth activist, discusses her decision to travel to Mexico:

Having worked around a number of immigrants’ rights campaigns in New York and Rhode Island, not to mention my steady passion May Day immigrant-labor solidarity, I usually have much to say about the politics of immigration to the united states. As the son of Latin American immigrants, having grown up in a large immigrant neighborhood in a multiracial metropolis, working for immigrant justice was intuitively appealing. And as a college student at Brown, I became involved with a group that worked on policy and legislation. I’ve since come to disdain electoral and statist politics, having been inspired by anarcho-communist activism, but I very much understand the impact of laws on peoples’ livelihoods.

Investigating immigration history and reading about these latest DREAMers, I’m also reminded of the fascinating politics that surround this bill.  Acknowledging this bill as dreadfully reformist,  a growing number of leftists are voicing an opposition to it for creating a stratification  of merit and arbitrating who has good “moral character.” By giving youth the option of becoming naturalized through military service, it essentially incentivizes matriculation into the country’s large war machine, particularly for youth with limited success in academics. And by selectively  deeming which undocumented youth are “worthy” of naturalization (i.e. those with good grades, with no criminal record, etc.), it also promotes a meritocratic myth that is simply harmful for youth trying to overcome life obstacles. Personally, I would be glad if the DREAM Act passed (it’s just common sense), but I would temper that optimism with an acknowledgment of those immigrant youth who are not eligible under the  arbitrary legislative measures. 

Once again, I am left sighing about the unfortunate state of immigration policy. It is one of the most conspicuous examples of how the state adjudicates who a belonging member “citizen,” who is in and who is out. Focusing the public’s attention on distracting issues, such as the question of who has a right to reside in this country, mainstream politics succeeds in diverting us from thinking about the more fundamental questions. Why, for instance, do we have borders? Why do we have countries, and why are millions of people immigrating to the u.s.? And why is it that we give special privileges to citizens, as opposed to acknowledging the humanity of every global civilian?

racist_xenophobic_patriotic_ad

Patriotic, nationalist fervor typically goes hand in hand with xenophobia. This flyer is truly fascinating, if misleading: whites were the original colonizers, the first “aliens” to steal land on Turtle Island.

Articles on the Dream 8:

Washington Post

Buzzfeed

Lizbeth Mateo:

no-nations-no-borders-and-no-gods-no-masters

My sentiments, exactly.

Survivors of Solitary Confinement

In Class Politics, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 13, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Survivors of Solitary Confinement

The above graphic, from Mother Jones, conveys how widely such torture is executed in our nation’s prisons. But to understand the harshness of solitary, one need only listen to the stories of survivors (from the National Radio Project):

[audio http://www.radioproject.org/sound/2013/MakingCon_130710_Ax.mp3]

To learn more about the prison strike that’s making national news:
Strike the Prisons
Prison Strike
Critical Resistance
Solitary Watch

The Trayvon Trial and the Need for Righteous Rage

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin
 (March 21st, 2012)

Hard to believe it was over a year ago. I’m proud of the fact that I was present here, although shamefully sans hoodie.

As the jury deliberates its verdict for George Zimmerman, the man charged with the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I feel some uncomfortable fusion of listless resignation and indescribable fury. White supremacy has never left us, and Jim Crow has only morphed into stealthier, more subversive villain. The long list of issues makes it clear how badly racial justice has regressed in this country, for in the last few weeks we have seen:

  •          A curtailment of voting rights in the South
  •          The evisceration of affirmative action
  •          The proposed militarization of the country’s borders
  •          Several state-by-state threats to a woman’s right to abortion
    (affecting particularly women of color)
  •           Direct assaults on indigenous sovereignty
  •           An ongoing criminalization of young men of color that targets “cultural”
    behaviors over economic disenfranchisement (e.g. the school-to-prison
    pipeline, or (quite unbelievably) the various “saggy pants” legislation
    throughout the country

And yes, surprising as it may be to some, this has all happened under a black president, a Democrat, and a man who was supposed to represent “hope” in the aftermath of global financial disaster and eight difficult years under President Bush.

As far as the Trayvon Martin case is concerned, I am feeling quite cynical of the possibility of true “justice” being served. Although I hope some modicum of justice transpires, such that Zimmerman is found guilty of unreasonable and bigoted manslaughter, I am completely aware that sending one man to prison isn’t enough. (This, even as last year’s cathartic chants of “Prosecute Zimmerman” and “Execute Zimmerman” still ring clearly in my ears.)

And I agree with the recently published statement by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, where the group states:

We have no plans to celebrate any conviction, since all possible “legal” outcomes point squarely toward a re-imagined Jim Crow justice….

Zimmerman may be acquitted, and while this would be a slap in the face, the entire trial has been a slap in the face, the media campaign to demonize this young man is a slap in the face, and the entire system of racial profiling, mass incarceration, capitalist exploitation, and police terror is a slap in the face and a punch in the gut.”

And this demonization of Trayvon Martin, an innocent 17-year-old who was targeted for wearing a gray hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, is not novel. Not in the least.

Trayvon_Martin_Justice

The Trayvon murder ignited a national conversation about something that is all too common. Yes, we’ve chanted, we’ve rallied, we’ve marched. But when do we know we’ve found justice?


Decolonizing Jim Crow

As a person of color, as a still-young man who has worked with various youth populations, I understand how the white mainstream can—and will—vilify us to exonerate their culpability in heinous inequalities. It is evident in the spatial injustice that constitutes marginalized ghetto communities and poorly funded neighborhood resources. It is evident in the scarce funding for public schools, and the inversely proportional funding for our expanding prisons. And it is evident in the fact that more than half of young black men without a high school diploma are unemployed (much more than comparable demographics).

Indeed, I have experienced just how injustice is propagated even in the most “liberal” of amerikkkan cities—New York. I have experienced, and witnessed, “proper” white adults from more affluent neighborhoods patronizing us for the ways we dress or speak (not daring to investigate the roots of resistive language against oppressive white hegemony). I have experienced, and witnessed, white people showing authentic surprise when we showcase “mature” or “intelligent” qualities (read: able to adapt to and integrate white cultural norms). Even worse: I have experienced, and witnessed, the very nuanced and subtle ways in which white supremacy infects us to the point of creating an epidemic of internalized bigotries, becoming a source of rage that rips apart families.

None of this is meant to so much as scratch the surface of a long history of white supremacist violence against men of color. It also does not touch the equally, if not more devastating, topic of violence against trans* people of color and women of color. But seeing the highlights of a trial that has showcased the worst stereotypes of racism in the neoliberal age of colorblindness, I am reminded of the perverse and irrational abuses that murder innocent young men like Trayvon, Ramarley Graham, and Bo Morrison. While we may be indoctrinated to view these cases as isolated incidents of “bad cops,” people fighting for true justice must resist this ideological wrench.  We must make it clear to the public that an amerikkkanist culture of white supremacy—a “re-imagined Jim Crow”—still persists in everyday life.

subway racism

In New York City, the subway facilitates a convergence of different types of people. As such, racism proliferates in subtle ways (sitting or moving elsewhere) and not-so-subtle ways (the relatively rare screaming or pushing).

Despite my deeply-entrenched indignation, I still bear optimism for the possibility of change. But as corresponds with my skepticism of reformist politics in challenging state-orchestrated violence, I imagine that a substantive overthrow of this new Jim Crow will require an extirpation of imperial legacies more than 500 years old. A true uprooting of racism—to the extent that such an ahistorical process would ever be possible—would necessitate a potent counter-resistance that can match the powers that link liberalized capital and the modern colonial-settler state. In other words, it would require a decolonization of the mind, body, and soul of a people conditioned into an acceptance of racial hierarchy and violence.

Indeed, from my vantage point, our country’s regrettable actions against youth of color—as seen in the ways we deprive them of opportunities given unquestionably to whites, as well as in the ways we criminalize and vilify them in the mainstream media—are simply demanding civil unrest. Whether this manifests as a veritable uprising that takes cue from the militancy of ‘60s Black Power, or from the cyber-fluidity of contemporary, regime-changing revolutions, remains to be seen. But given the direction of racial politics in this most imperialist of nations, more civil unrest is a virtual guarantee.

And as with every such unrest, it’s hard to forecast where the fire will finally ignite.

trayvonmartincase

Zimmerman’s defense attorney apparently acquired a graphic design person to manufacture this indelible image: it is an animation “proving” how Trayvon attacked his murderer.

 

“I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN”

A young white woman acknowledges that, if anything else, whites should really be saying “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” I find her points potentially instructive for a mainstream white audience in the united states.

A People’s Revolt or a Military Coup?

In Creative Writing, The Revolution on July 4, 2013 at 8:41 PM

On the ontological necessity of hope, revolution, and dreams of a not-so-destructive-and-shitty apocalyptic future

ImageEgyptians’ successful overthrow of their neoliberal oppressor, Mohamed Morsi—the same man the mainstream press claimed was “elected” in a fair, informed democracy—has me feeling ambivalent. As far as can be seen from hours of Reuters videos of Tahrir Square, there is a palpable air of festiveness that radiates even thousands of miles away. It seems to have the carnivalesque feel of a true people’s revolt. But is it?

The toppling of Morsi (and of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood) brings up a renewed sense of hope that the revolution, far from being coopted by U.S.-led global capitalism, will continue the struggle against corruption and greed that were at the heart of the first upheaval against Mubarak. Following the onset of revolts in Brazil and Turkey—also central nodes in the worldwide regime of the New Economy—I can’t help but feel a palpable sense that the revolutionary momentum that was prematurely and violently suppressed in 2011-2 is surely (if not more cautiously) re-igniting.

Despite their ostensible differences, the three revolutions were all suffused with the righteous indignation of an exploited majority against a self-annihilating elite. Whether communcating in Turkish, Portuguese, Arabic, or English, the people usurped the technologies of dubious amerikkan “cyber-libertarian” origins (i.e. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter) and used them for an unprecedented subversion of the state. And despite the aggravating management of dissent that occurred at the hands of global elites in the first wave of revolutions, this new current seems to carry the lessons of hard-fought rebellions.

That these struggle continue is a testament to the ontology of hope. It is a hope that the hideous inequalities that capitalism has bred is not destiny. Perhaps this is all testament to how the contradictions of capitalism are finally causing it to fall under its own weight—the long-sought culmination of an untenable Marxist dialectic between the relations and forces of production. Perhaps this is the TINA (“there is no alternative”) principle of neoliberalism being irrevocably shaken, in a manner hardly seen outside the quasi-leftist democracies of Latin America.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps this is yet another military-led upheaval that will succumb to the same fate as the last overthrow. When, after all, has a military coup led to the liberation of its people? How can something like a military—itself the production of a world we no longer want—lead to the formation of a free society?

Given how this has played itself out over and over again, I wonder what conversations are fueling the people of Egypt right now. I wonder what sharing of vision and reprimands of caution will take place in cafés and public squares tomorrow.

And then I’ve come to realize that dreaming is not a bad thing. Not at all. It is an essential part of the revolution. Of course, right now it’s confusion that reigns: it’s unclear whether this is indeed revolution, upheaval, or regime change. But there’s something beautiful about the confusion of a moment that has an uncertain future. In a time when we have good reason to believe we are on the verge of spiritual-existential disintegration, if not downright collapse within an irremediable climate apocalypse, uncertainty at least brings with it an air of possibility. And what I hope for, trying to maintain respectful distance from a movement that is not mine to determine, is that the people at least have a vote. An actual vote not tampered by a conditioned notion of “elections.”

I confess that I harbor a hope that the currents of life-affirming anarchism within this latest installment of “revolution” in Egypt actually produce something the rest of the world can aspire to: a complete demolition of gods and masters.

After all, rather than forecast the rise of an Orwellian state commanded by Predator drones and cyberattacks, biometic surveillance systems and genetically engineered cyborgs, why not dabble in a dream that actually sustains the human species?

Image

Will a Marxist proletarian revolution be the telos of civilization? Or will the revolutions of the future traverse new cartographies unimaginable?

And rather than be witness to a chess match of competing dictators, war heroes and vulture capitalists, why not entertain the hope of a leaderless revolution?

Or hope that the people will begin that inevitable, if utterly anticlimactic, Sisyphean feat of dismantling walls and money-clad cages?

Or hope that the people dissolve the chains of interpersonal and internalized oppressions that undermine growth, love, and community?

Or hope that the people tap into the neurophysical possibilities of a boundless creativity and imagination, thus helping us all steer futures that actually make sense?

Or hope that the people seek liberation, not to overcome the constraints of history and geography, but to attain nirvana in the elusive, overlooked present?

Or…

Perhaps revolution is really just a dream. And in a world of grim realities, that would be a good thing.

Image

Tahrir Square on July 2nd, 2013.

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