2008 Americas Social Forum

Just got news of the 3rd annual Social Forum of the Americas to be held at the University of San Carlos, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, from October 7 to 12, 2008. Previously held in Quito, Ecuador in 2006, and Atlanta, GA in 2007, the Americas Social Forum is an outgrowth of the World Social Forum. From the website:

The 3rd ASF will take place on a continent which is facing a two-pronged challenge today: to broaden and consolidate the move toward change that has opened up in the last few years, and to resist the ongoing forms of domination that are striving to persist and to extend their reach, while seeking to recover lost ground so as to impede this transformative stream.

The 3rd Forum will allow peoples from across the continent to come together in this region, which has lived through heroic struggles throughout its past and recent history, so as to demonstrate solidarity, and to better understand the alternatives that have arisen here in the face of war, destruction, fear, and the perverse legacy of forms of violence displaying the most ferocious examples of militarized neoliberalism, including femicide.

The 3rd ASF will embrace the range of struggles, proposals, and experiences that have been strengthened, renewed or emerging over this rich period of common searching that has been taking place across the continent. It will stimulate stronger interconnections and aim to create more effective spaces for self-guided construction of shared platforms for emancipation.

The 3rd ASF will take place in Guatemala with the collaboration of social movements, indigenous peoples, academic groups and a range of committed sectors from this country and from across Mesoamerica. At the same time the presence of groups from across the continent will further stimulate and enrich these alliances. Overcoming geopolitical divides, peoples of the continent are moving toward an ever more shared identity between South and North, and between the different regions of the Americas. The struggles are growing closer and stronger in solidarity, as peoples who are confronting capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy.

For this edition of the Forum, six main themes have been defined that seek to reflect the specific nature of the hemispheric agenda and that will also help to group together the topics that will be dealt with by the different initiatives that come together in the ASF:

1. Scope and Challenges of the Changes in the Hemisphere: Post-Neoliberalism, Socialism(s), Civilizational Changes

2. Peoples in Resistance to Neoliberalism and Imperial Domination.

3. Defending quality of life in the face of predatory capitalism

4. Diversities and Equality: challenges for achieving them

5. The ideological dispute: communication, culture, knowledge and education.

6. Original, Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples and Nationalities: “Good living” and its keys for the future

"Lost" Tribe Actually a Re-discovery

The claimed discovery of a "lost" tribe deep in the Brazilian Amazon has been revealed as simply a re-discovery by officials in Brazil who made the claims in late May, 2008. (Recycled Minds shared this news back when it happened) Pictures that came with the announcement in May captured the imagination of people around the world, and brought indigenous issues to the masses in a way few other news events have. The mainstream media is calling the announcement a hoax, but this, not surprisingly, is not really accurate. Apparently the tribe's existence has been 'noted' since around 1910, however they have amazingly remained uncontacted. Officials knew there were tribes in the area, and spent days searching until they came across this particular group. An article in the guardian reports on an interview with Carlos Meirelles, an expert on indigenous tribes who works for the Brazilian agency charged with protecting indigenous rights, FUNAI. Meirelles was the official who originally made the claims of discovering the tribe. The article notes:

What he was looking for was not only proof of life, but firm evidence that the tribes in this area were flourishing – proof in his view that the policy of no contact and protection was working. On the last day, with only a couple hours of flight time remaining, Meirelles spotted a large community.

'When I saw them painted red, I was satisfied, I was happy,' he said. 'Because painted red means they are ready for war, which to me says they are happy and healthy defending their territory.'

Survival International, the organisation that released the pictures along with Funai, conceded yesterday that Funai had known about this nomadic tribe for around two decades. It defended the disturbance of the tribe saying that, since the images had been released, it had forced neighbouring Peru to re-examine its logging policy in the border area where the tribe lives, as a result of the international media attention. Activist and former Funai president Sydney Possuelo agreed that – amid threats to their environment and doubt over the existence of such tribes – it was necessary to publish them.

So in short, the tribe was isolated, and apparently previously uncontacted. What was misleading about the original claims was that the existence of the tribe had been documented previously, and officials had an idea of the area in which they lived. That doesn't really sound like a hoax to me - just a slight manipulation to bring attention to an issue that affects the lives of indigenous people not only in Brazil, but around the world.

What the F***?!?!?!?!

So, apparently the U.S. government is covering up the sale of illegal arms by China to Afghanistan. Sort of. But not really. The arms were purchased for Afghan security forces - the "side" that is backed by the U.S. government. What's the deal here? The United States "brought democracy" to Afghanistan, brought down the Taliban, and instituted a new government, but could not supply arms to the defense forces? Did the U.S. create an Afghan army that they could not supply? Well... apparently a Miami-based company was awarded a $298 million contract to supply arms to the new Afghan security forces. They supplied them alright - by purchasing them illegally from China - likely at a discounted rate, as you may be able to deem from the quotes below. In the end, the story turns into yet another example of how U.S. firms are bilking the U.S. government (of tax-payer monies) through the privatization of the "War on Terror."

What is there really left to say here????

Here are some excerpts from the NYtimes article by Dan Bilefsky:
An American ambassador helped cover up the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition that a Pentagon contractor bought to supply Afghan security forces, according to testimony gathered by Congressional investigators. A military attaché has told the investigators that the United States ambassador to Albania endorsed a plan by the Albanian defense minister to hide several boxes of Chinese ammunition from a visiting reporter. The ammunition was being repackaged to disguise its origins and shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by a Miami Beach arms-dealing company.

On March 27, The New York Times published an article that said Albanian documents showed that the Miami company [AEY Inc.] had bought more than 100 million Chinese cartridges that were stored for decades in former cold war stockpiles. Mr. Diveroli arranged to have them repacked in cardboard boxes, many of which split or decomposed after shipment to the war zones, according to the article. Different lots or types of ammunition were mixed. In some cases the ammunition was dirty, corroded or covered with a film.

In January 2007, the Army awarded the company a contract, potentially worth $298 million, that made it the main munitions supplier for Afghan security forces in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Dumbing Down of America

With budget cuts in education on national and state levels occurring across the U.S., one has to wonder what might be behind these cuts. It could be argued that an uneducated population - or at least one that does not think critically - would be extremely useful to those in power. It could also be argued that the acceptance of the country's endeavors in the Middle East and Afghanistan are a direct result of this type of thinking. It has to be considered highly problematic that funding cuts to education are a result of enormous spending on the elite's war games and power ploys.

Check out the website of Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt (interviewed in the video below), former Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement during the Reagan Administration: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.

Profit off the Poor?

With increasing food and gas prices, rising unemployment, and debt problems beginning to affect the spending power of the middle class in the U.S. and elsewhere, major international corporations are beginning to seek new markets to keep their profits up. Apparently the profiting off of the poor does not pose any ethical problems for many, as they are beginning to turn to the large population of Latin Americans living below the poverty line. An article in the guardian.uk notes:

"Around seven in 10 Latin Americans live on less than $9 (£4.61) a day. It may not sound like much, but aggregated together and you have yourself an estimated $510bn market."

Some of these efforts are detailed in the article, and some appear to be aimed at profiting from endevors that also are beneficial to the poor communities in which they are targeted - medical clinics for instance. However, a quote in the article may be more instructive of the true nature of these efforts - to profit by any means possible.

"Rafael Danieluc, marketing director of Nestlé Peru, confirms enthusiastically "The real opportunity for growth for our company is in the lowest social economic group.""

Read the rest of the article here.

photo credit: human trafficking project

Book Burning

At the recent Book Expo America, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos enthusiastically proclaimed it the year of the Kindle. The electronic book went on the market seven months ago, and now, according to Bezos, its time has come, even gaining endorsements from such literary giants as Toni Morrison.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wondered if the Kindle will be the iPod of e-books, if this is the "decline and fall of the paper book." (Read the full article here.) Acknowledging the notion of paper book as comfort food, Bezos promised the Kindle is just as cozy: "the book disappears in your hands," he stated. "You aren't thinking about the glue and paper and ink. All those things go away and what remains is the author's world." You can download one of the 125,000 books in stock in less than 60 seconds, you can save your margin notes on their server, you can have newspapers and blogs delivered, among other perks.

In many ways, the Kindle sounds suspiciously like a small laptop with a wireless connection and a subscription to a book club.

Nevertheless, bibliophiles are, most likely, pretending such blasphemy doesn't exist. And others aren't so sure about it either. The Inquirer reports that a Random House/Zogby poll found 82% of readers prefer the cloth to the clone. Is there too much intangible stuff wrapped up in the binding of a book, then, to make the electronic book the new coffee table centerpiece?

Then again, this isn't necessarily an either/or situation. But maybe if Amazon.com had picked a less ominous-sounding name, it would feel less so.

Image credit: www.hds.harvard.edu

Questioning "The Empire's Hypocritical Politics": Castro on Obama

Consuming all news this week is Senator Obama's Democratic nomination. His foot soldiers are in place, and chants of "Yes We Can" filter through the rhetoric-weary air.
But let's turn to some reflections of Fidel Castro, who penned his thoughts after hearing Obama speak in Miami.
Castro described Obama's stance as follows: "Presidential candidate Obama’s speech may be formulated as follows: hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable hand-outs and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life behind it."
Castro posed 10 questions, graciously expecting no answers:
  1. Is it right for the president of the United States to order the assassination of any one person in the world, whatever the pretext may be?
  2. Is it ethical for the president of the United States to order the torture of other human beings?
  3. Should state terrorism be used by a country as powerful as the United States as an instrument to bring about peace on the planet?
  4. Is an Adjustment Act, applied as punishment on only one country, Cuba, in order to destabilize it, good and honorable, even when it costs innocent children and mothers their lives? If it is good, why is this right not automatically granted to Haitians, Dominicans, and other peoples of the Caribbean, and why isn’t the same Act applied to Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who die like flies against the Mexican border wall or in the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific?
  5. Can the United States do without immigrants, who grow vegetables, fruits, almonds and other delicacies for U.S. citizens? Who would sweep their streets, work as servants in their homes or do the worst and lowest-paid jobs?
  6. Are crackdowns on illegal residents fair, even as they affect children born in the United States?
  7. Are the brain-drain and the continuous theft of the best scientific and intellectual minds in poor countries moral and justifiable?
  8. You state, as I pointed out at the beginning of this reflection, that your country had long ago warned European powers that it would not tolerate any intervention in the hemisphere, reiterating that this right be respected while demanding the right to intervene anywhere in the world with the aid of hundreds of military bases and naval, aerial and spatial forces distributed across the planet. I ask: is that the way in which the United States expresses its respect for freedom, democracy and human rights?
  9. Is it fair to stage pre-emptive attacks on sixty or more dark corners of the world, as Bush calls them, whatever the pretext may be?
  10. Is it honorable and sound to invest millions and millions of dollars in the military industrial complex, to produce weapons that can destroy life on earth several times over

If only these questions would be answered.
Read "The Empire's Hypocritical Politics" at www.cuba.cu.

Photo: losestadoslatinos.com

Insubordinate Gardens

Often, seemingly unrelated issues constellate in compelling ways. Taking hold of the public’s imagination lately were photographs of a previously un-contacted tribe in South America. Lined up with the food crisis, environmental quandaries, international politics gone awry, and so on, it's the details of these narratives that often cause us to realize the significance of the local.

In that context, the “guerrilla gardening” or “pirate farming” movement has never seemed more valuable. A recent Los Angeles Times article, "Guerrilla gardener movement takes root in L.A. area," describes the movement on the west coast as “part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet,” perhaps leading to “approved brigades of citizen gardeners helping cities turn wasted space into food and flowers.”

Indeed, that’s just what Greensgrow, an urban farm in the infamous Kensington section of Philadelphia, did. The New York Times article, "Where Industry Once Hummed, Urban Garden Finds Success," recently reported on the farm, explaining that Greensgrow “distinguishes itself by being a bridge between rural producers and urban consumers, and by having revitalized a derelict industrial site.” Their gardening is not “guerrilla,” but in the current atmosphere of market consolidation, GMOs, and the like, not to mention the economic climate, it certainly seems like it.

Visit Greensgrow at greensgrow.org. Guerrilla Gardening websites are plentiful. Here’s two: greenguerillas.org and guerrillagardening.org. And check out a past NPR piece, "Defiant Gardening," about gardening as defiance in time of war throughout history.

Photo: B&H Organics