Archive for the ‘The Americas’ Category

Water is life! Water is humanity!

“Water is life. Water is humanity. How could it be part of the private business?” asks Bolivian President Evo Morales, stressing the social and economic consequences of the growing trend of private ownership over water supply and delivery systems in many parts of the world.

Morales, the first-ever indigenous president of Bolivia and an outspoken advocate of the rights of “Mother Earth”, also criticised capitalist countries of the North for failing to adopt a rights-based approach towards the problems of global warming and the rapid loss of plant and animal species.

“If we don’t respect the rights of Mother Earth, we cannot respect human rights,” he told a news conference at U.N. headquarters before heading to the U.N. General Assembly where he addressed a meeting on water and sanitation.

More than two billion people across the world have no access to sanitation facilities and clean water. Numerous U.N. studies have shown a strong link between deadly diseases and the lack of access to clean water in many countries of the South.

Research shows that inadequate access to clean and safe drinking water remains a major obstacle for the success of international initiatives on sustainable economic and social development in financially impoverished regions of the world.

The international community has pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, a target that is unlikely to be met on time.

“Progress is on track,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, but warned diplomats at the General Assembly gathering that the world “will miss the water and sanitation target”.

“It is not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers pay five or even 10 times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same areas of the same cities,” he said. However, in the same breath, Ban added: “Let us be clear: a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free.”

Morales’s stance on this issue reflected a completely different worldview.

“Without water, there can be no food, no life,” Morales said, challenging the notion that water management by private corporations will accelerate the process of development. “Competition of any sort cannot resolve the issue of poverty.”

The first-ever indigenous president of Bolivia, who is well-known for his outspokenness and socialist views, said his government had already expelled some multinational companies that were seeking privatisation of water in his country.

“Water is a basic public need that must not be managed by private interests, and that it should be available to all the people,” he said, a view endorsed by a number of diplomats from the developing countries who spoke at the General Assembly meeting.

According to Food and water Watch, a non-governmental organisation- based in Washington, many women and children in rural areas in developing countries spend hours each day walking kilometres to collect water from unprotected sources such as open wells, muddy dugouts or streams.

In urban areas, they collect it from polluted waterways or pay high prices to buy it from vendors who obtain it from dubious sources. The water is often dirty and unsafe, but they have no alternative.

Carrying the heavy water containers back home is an exhausting task, which takes up valuable time and energy, according to the group. It often prevents women from doing vital domestic or income-generating work and stops children from going to school.

“Water is a human right. We believe that corporations cannot provide better service to consumers,” said Kate Fried of the Water and Food Watch in support of Morales’s views. “Water service can be provided more effectively by public-public partnership.”

Water Aid, another non-profit organization, says the total global investments in water and sanitation would need to double for the Millennium Development Goals’ target of halving the proportion of people living without water and sanitation by 2015 to be met.
Haider Rizvi

Jul 27, 2011



Madams of the West: Renegade History of the United States

In the nineteenth century, a woman who owned property, made high wages, had sex outside of marriage, performed or received oral sex, used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, or walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes – and was not ashamed – was probably a whore.

In fact, prostitutes won virtually all the freedoms that were denied to women but are now taken for granted. Prostitutes were especially successful in the wild, lawless, thoroughly renegade boomtowns of the West. When women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, madams in the West owned large tracts of land and prized real estate. Prostitutes made, by far, the highest wages of all American women. Several madams were so wealthy that they funded irrigation and road-building projects that laid the foundation for the New West.

Decades before American employers offered health insurance to their workers, madams across the West provided their employees with free health care. While women were told that they could not and should not protect themselves from violence, and wives had no legal recourse against being raped by their husbands, police officers were employed by madams to protect the women who worked for them, and many madams owned and knew how to use guns.

While feminists were seeking to free women from the “slavery” of patriarchal marriage, prostitutes married later in life and divorced more frequently than other American women. At a time when birth control was effectively banned, prostitutes provided a market for contraceptives that made possible their production and distribution. While women were taught that they belonged in the “private sphere,” prostitutes travelled extensively, often by themselves, and were brazenly “public women.”

Long before social dancing in public was considered acceptable for women, prostitutes invented many of the steps that would become all the rage during the dance craze of the 1910s and 1920s. When gambling and public drinking were forbidden for most women, prostitutes were fixtures in western saloons, and they became some of the most successful gamblers in the nation. Most ironically, the makeup, clothing, and hairstyles of prostitutes, which were maligned for their overt sexuality (lipstick was “the scarlet shame of streetwalkers”), became widely fashionable among American women and are now so respectable that even First Ladies wear them.

Women who wished to escape the restrictions of Victorian America had no better place to go than the so-called frontier, where a particular combination of economic and demographic forces gave renegade women many unusual advantages.


Between 1870 and 1900, the number of farms in the United States doubled, and more land was brought under cultivation than in the previous two and half centuries. Most of this newly cultivated land was in the Great Plains and the Southwest. In addition to all of this farming, other industries developed rapidly in the West during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The largest of these were metal and coal mining in California, the Rockies, and parts of the Southwest; cattle ranching on the Plains; lumber in the Pacific Northwest; large-scale fruit and vegetable agriculture in the inland valleys of California; and oil in Texas, Oklahoma, and Southern California. Connecting these industries to one another and to eastern U.S. and European markets were railroads, which crisscrossed the West by the end of the nineteenth century. The federal government contributed to this explosive growth with massive expenditures for the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, which ran from the Pacific Ocean to the Missouri River, but also to the building of roads, dams, and vast irrigation systems without which the West as we know it could never have been created.

Excerpt from Thaddeus Russell, “A Renegade History of the United States” (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010).


Constitutions won’t bring social justice to Latin America

Capitalism’s minefield of ambition and greed leaves little chance for constitutions promising a better world…

Colombia’s 1991 constitution is seen by many as the threshold of an intense political process that has arrived at a set of revolutions in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and now, maybe, Peru. Furthermore, in the midst of a horrible conflict, Mexico is looking to a Colombian-style constitutional assembly to overcome the bloodshed its people have suffered. I believe such attitudes are misguided, and that it is in the interest of orthodox neocolonial powers to enforce the constitutional fable.

In the United States, society, state and constitution were born in a singular and indivisible event and as such, they’re stuck to each other like flesh to the bone; the history of the US is the history of its constitution. Discourses on emancipation or recognition, such as the various civil rights movements, are produced as legal discourses that are settled by the “justices” of a supreme court. It is this exported model that has insured a tight post-colonial wedlock on the Latin-American legal tradition.

The question is thus: can a constitution immersed in the process of capitalist globalisation transform a political society? Can it become the basis for resistance and emancipation? The question is directed to a generation that has placed all its trust in the law as the key tool to accomplish social justice and democracy, and as a matter of fact hold in their hands impressive achievements to continue to trust the law as a means towards political transformation.

Can a constitution alter the gigantic balances of world power and the interests that determine them? What is the relationship between this casino form of capitalism – globalised, unregulated and predatory – with the local struggles to obtain social justice? Can a constitution reconfigure a legal system of planetary dimensions, such as the one determined by the World Health Organisation or the security council of the UN?

We are dealing with diverging discourses. On one side, there is a massive and sincere effort to pin down the principles of equality and social justice, using a combination of legal strategies and street activism. But this effort clashes against a world that is a minefield of individualist ambition and greed, where these struggles already have been stowed below the “good book” by dense and ruthless enterprises, destroyed by an incommensurable financial system that defines the legal quarters as its own appendix.

The aforementioned divide the world into three layers. At the top, a hedonist and superficial coat: the “mega-alphas” entrenched in sealed off paradises, immune and indifferent, the true owners of the world. Then, adhered to it, a mortgage-paying middle class galvanised with desire, which believes in the promised land of capitalism. And at the bottom, the thickest layer: the modern-day slave and refugee, deprived of anything and everything, locked up in an immense sweatshop blocked by walls and fences. They are the nomads of eternity, existing in utter silence and violence, on whose misery rests the final proof of the triumph of capitalism and liberalism.

What chances does a classically liberal constitution, built with scraps of promises of a better world, stand in such a universe? Can residual and singular applications of social rights be an antidote to a hegemony, where everything can be bought and sold? A world where, for example, the Chinese government (the biggest corporation in the world) can buy almost all of Madagascar – another nation state – in order to exploit its biological resources?

At the end, how many writs, class actions, legal procedures or injunctions are required to put a halt to capitalism? Undoubtedly, the struggle for social justice must continue; the question, however, is whether national constitutions have the ability to achieve it.

Ricardo Sanin Restrepo

The Guardian

July 9, 2011

Remembering Uruguay: May tyrants tremble!

The military junta that ruled Uruguay from 1973 was intolerant in the extreme. Hundreds of thousands fled into exile. Political opponents were jailed. Torture was the order of the day.

On occasion, even concerts of classical music were seen as subversive threats. A performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for Left Hand was cancelled because the title sounded leftishly dangerous. Meanwhile, however, a remarkable small protest took place at soccer games throughout the twelve long years of military rule.

Whenever the band struck up the national anthem before major games, thousands of Uruguayans in the stadium joined in unenthusiastically. This stubborn failure to sing loudly was rebellion enough. But, from the generals’ point of view, there was worse to come. At one point, the anthem declares, Tiranos temblad! —“May tyrants tremble!” Those words served as the cue for the crowds in the stadium suddenly to bellow in unison: “Tiranos temblad!” as they waved their flags. After that brief, excited roar, they continued to mumble their way through to the end of the long anthem.

The authorities could not arrest everyone in the stadium. Nor could they cancel games or drop the singing of the national anthem. The junta toyed with the idea of removing the tiranos temblad! line from public performances of the anthem, but that proved too embarrassing. Why, after all, would the generals remove words from a beloved nineteenth-century hymn, unless they believed that they might be the tyrants in question?

Today, the national anthem can be sung at Uruguayan soccer games in full and without fear. Leaders of the junta have been jailed for the crimes committed during their years in power. The former tyrants tremble.

Thanks to Steve Crawsaw and John Jackson for ‘ Small Acts of Resistance’ (2010).

Eugene V. Debs: Yes, I am my brother’s keeper

Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life.

We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle, the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked: ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

Eugene V. Debs (1908)


Eugene V. Debs is one of the founding members of the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States. Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labour movements, Debs eventually becomes one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs is instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), the nation’s first industrial union. When the ARU strikes the Pullman Palace Car Company over pay cuts, President Grover Cleveland employs the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs is later imprisoned for failing to obey an injunction against the strike.

Debs educates himself about socialism in prison and emerges to launch his career as the nation’s most prominent socialist in the first decades of the 20th century. He runs as the Socialist Party’s candidate for the presidency in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920, the last time from his prison cell.

Noted for his oratory, it is a speech denouncing American participation in World War I that leads to his second arrest in 1918. He is convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commutes his sentence in December 1921. Eugene V. Debs leaves us in 1926.


Allende: “This is a Socialist Government Damn it, We are Not Handing Over a Single Comrade”

In 1972, when, having already taken the decision to overthrow the government, North American pressure against the Chilean Popular Unity administration began to intensify – president Allende was faced with the decision to hand over a group of Argentinean guerrillas.

Before analysing the situation with his collaborators, the president made the decision; getting to his feet and slamming his fist on the table he said clearly and determinedly, “Here is how things are going to be, this is a socialist government damn it, we are not handing over a single comrade…tonight they’re leaving for Cuba”.

Below, Chilean comrade Roberto Ávila relates the details, in light of the recent series of events faced by President Chavez’s government:

In the midst of a sea of conspiracies – which ended up causing the death of General René Schneider, Head of the Chilean army – Salvador Allende took office in Chile on the 4th of November 1970. North America had set out to achieve his overthrow as a state mission. One of the possibilities to attack Chile was to use Argentina, at that time a military dictatorship. Unresolved border disagreements were many, and we all know that Argentina is bigger than Chile.

President Allende met with General Agustin Lanusse and they came to the agreement that the U.S. would wear down this bilateral relationship as a destabilisation campaign against the Chilean government.

On the 15th of August 1972 the 114 political prisoners of the Almirante Zar naval base in Patagonia, Argentina – almost all of them guerrillas – staged a prison break. Due to miscommunications, only some managed to reach Trelew airport, where they got hold of a passenger flight and set off towards Puerto Montt, in Chilean territory.

Amongst the fugitives on the plane: Roberto Santucho, leader of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), Fernando Vaca Narvaja and Roberto Quieto from the National Leadership of Guerillas; Marcos Osatinsky from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Victor Fernandez Palmeiro, a legendry Argentinean guerrilla, Enrique Gorriarán Merlo and others of the same political importance.

From Puerto Montt they arrived in Santiago; the legal reality was that they had unlawfully entered the country – they arrived armed and on a stolen plane. That was their formal legal situation; their real one was that of combatants fighting for the freedom of their country.

They laid down their arms and went as prisoners to the central barracks of the Chilean Civil Police, luckily for the imposed guests. The request for their extradition was announced immediately by the Argentinean government, a request that a revolution like ours, with so many enemies and fighting alone, could not ignore. Argentina had even given us a loan to buy wheat.

The Chilean rightwing immediately sounded the bells of scandal: “Chile! Sanctuary for Latin American Extremists”, “Relationship with Argentina Damaged”, “Rule of Law Violated”.

A huge popular demonstration took place on the hillside in Cerro Santa Lucia, in manifestion of Chilean revolutionary solidarity with their Argentinean brothers.

On the 22nd of August, 16 of the political prisoners that were unable to escape were gunned down in Trelew, a despicable execution.

President Allende met with the lawyers of the young Argentineans in the La Moneda Palace and sought the opinion of his Minister of Foreign Relations. What the minister said was devastating: the whole rightwing was in opposition, national and international.

Only Eduardo Novoa Monreal, president of the State Defence Board, argued against handing the guerrillas over. Each new advisor put forward a series of legal and political arguments in favour of extradition.

The fugitive’s lawyers were seeing the worst case scenario come true. Out of the blue the president of the Republic of Chile stood up and, slamming his fist on the table, said clearly and determinedly, “Here is how things are going to be, this is a socialist government damn it, we are not handing over a single comrade…tonight they’re leaving for Cuba”.

That night a Cuban aircraft left for Havana with its libertarian cargo. We were alone in the world, with only the loyal friendship of the descendents of Martí, even the USSR had denied us help, surrounded by a thousand dangers, but the verb ‘to betray’ was never conjugated.

Venezuelan revolutionaries, that was Salvador Allende. That was the conduct of the Chilean revolution. Mistakes are part of life, but they have to be corrected.

Tribuna Popular

Jun 20th 2011

Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for


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Eugene V. Debs: Speech of Sedition

On June 16, 1918, Eugene V. Debs makes a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He is arrested on June 30 and charged with 10 counts of sedition. His trial defence called no witnesses, asking instead that Debs be allowed to address the court in his defence. That unusual request is granted, and Debs speaks for 2 hours.

He is found guilty on September 12. At his sentencing hearing on September 14, he again addresses the court, and his speech has become a classic. Heywood Broun, a liberal, said it was “one of the most beautiful and moving passage in the English language. He was for that one afternoon touched with inspiration. If anyone told me that tongues of fire danced upon his shoulders as he spoke, I would believe it.”

Here the final words of the speech: Get into the Socialist Party!

Get into the Socialist Party and take your place in its ranks; help to inspire the weak and strengthen the faltering, and do your share to speed the coming of the brighter and better day for us all.

When we unite and act together on the industrial field and when we vote together on election day we shall develop the supreme power of the one class that can and will bring permanent peace to the world. We shall then have the intelligence, the courage and the power for our great task. In due time industry will be organized on a cooperative basis. We shall conquer the public power. We shall then transfer the title deeds of the railroads, the telegraph lines, the mines, mills and great industries to the people in their collective capacity; we shall take possession of all these social utilities in the name of the people. We shall then have industrial democracy. We shall be a free nation whose government is of and by and for the people.

And now for all of us to do our duty! The clarion call is ringing in our ears and we cannot falter without being convicted of treason to ourselves and to our great cause.

Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.

Yes, in good time we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world. We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions.

The world is daily changing before our eyes. The sun of capitalism is setting; the sun of socialism is rising. It is our duty to build the new nation and the free republic. We need industrial and social builders. We Socialists are the builders of the beautiful world that is to be. We are all pledged to do our part. We are inviting—aye challenging you this afternoon in the name of your own manhood and womanhood to join us and do your part.

In due time the hour will strike and this great cause triumphant—the greatest in history—will proclaim the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind.