Monday, December 03, 2007
In the mean time, TCHC is failing to carry out everyday repairs to its units. And while the City continues to try to TAKE from the community, like when they tried to shut down the community centre on Mondays, now TCHC wants to increase parking rates across the community.
But the people are organizing and fighting back!
TCHC is being sued for almost $500,000,000 on behalf of TCHC residents across Toronto; people protested against the community centre closedowns back in September; TCHC residents have protested loudly against any increase in the parking charges; and people are beginning to organize against “revitalization”.
Come to the following event to hear the people and organizations fighting back against TCHC:
-N. Zahra, Basics Community Newspaper
-John Clarke, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)
-Sarah Shartel, the lawyer handling the case against TCHC
...and speakers from Regent Park and Lawrence Heights to speak on their own experiences
Sunday, December 9, 6 - 8 pm
Lawrence Heights Community Centre
On Thursday October 25th, 2007 TCHC held a ‘consultation’ to discuss plans to charge tenants with detached homes with driveways monthly parking fees. Also on the table was the plan to charge overnight visitors $5 per night for parking. This so-called ‘consulation’ ended up being a sham with TCHC already decided on how they could steal yet more money from working people.
Residents came ready with legitimate questions and concerns about an initiative that they rightly saw as harmful and unfair. Among the major issues raised was the fact that the driveways of TCHC detached houses aremaintained by the tenants and not by TCHC. Concerned residents asked why they should have to pay for a space that they work so hard to maintain with no help from their slumlord. Also at issue was the increase in unfair ticketing of visitors. Many residents who have been ticketed unfairly multiple times were dismissed by the TCHC manager who claimed that they were lying. Along similar lines, some of the longest-standing residents complained about having to pay the new parking fees despite having parking included in their leases when they signed them over twenty years ago.
All of these concerns and more were repeatedly dismissed by the TCHC manager. Also in attendance was city councillor Howard Moscoe who was also dismissive of residents’ concerns. The atitudes of the TCHC manager and Moscoe were shameful in the face of such valid concerns. The residents recognized that the ‘consultation’ was indeed a sham very quickly and saw through both of them, knowing full well that neither had the community’s best interests in mind.
Through their persistent questioning of the TCHC parking policy, the residents successfully managed to get TCHC to back down from immediate implementation of the policy. The manager agreed to suspend parking enforcement until December 31st, 2007 while a committee of 7 people came up with a revised proposal. Realizing that this was only done to appease the residents and that 7 people chosen by TCHC could not possibly represent the interests of the community, a number of residents decided to come together to organize against city-backed TCHC attempts to destroy Lawrence Heights by making peoples’ lives harder. They rightly identified this latest TCHC scheme as part of the larger project of the destruction of the working-class community of Lawrence Heights through the so-called ‘revitaliztion.’
Since this first meeting, TCHC held another ‘consultation’ that took place on Wedensday November 21, 2008. There was no sign of the 7 member committee that they promised to convene. Instead, because of community pressure, they unitlaterally decided to not charge tenants with detached homes with driveways but insisted that visitors had to pay for overnight parking. This unilateral decision is still seen as unnacceptable to the community.
Residents have since come together to draft a petition refusing to accept TCHC’s proposed parking plan, instead suggesting that parking fees be lowered to $30 for everyone and that residents have unlimited visitor parking passes. In addition the petition calls for 0% displacement through ‘revitalization’ and that TCHC stop breaking the law and carry out all outstanding repairs.
Join these courageous residents in their refusal to see the community of Lawrence Heights destroyed!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
The film begins with the main character Barry B. Benson graduating from his bee hive college and facing the big question of what he’s going to do with his life. Within minutes of his graduation, Barry is swept into the industrial rhythm of honey production in his society ,where he learns that he has nothing to look forward to in life but taking up a position in the honey production of his hive. But Barry, who is presented as a youthful idealist, believes that he was meant to do far bigger things in life. So Barry decides to venture out into the human world.
After exploring New York City for some time and making a human friend, Barry shockingly discovers that honey is sold in human stores. Knowing well that only bees can make honey, the naïve Barry searches out the source of all the honey. What he discovers are industrial honey farms where bees are enslaved and the product of their labour is stolen by humans and sold for profit by big corporations.
The film quickly turns into a court-room legal battle between Barry and the big honey corporations, with Barry (representing the bees of the world) suing the big corporations to return all the honey they have stolen. Representing the corporations is a buffoon-like fat lawyer whose initial trial strategy is to try to win over the jury by demonizing the bees as violent creatures who will never change their stinging ways. When vilifying the bees doesn’t work, the corporate lawyer warns the jury in his closing statement that returning the honey to the bees would be overturning the perfect “order of things”.
Against all odds, justice prevails in the human courts, and the bees of the world win back all the honey stocks of the world. But the rest of the movie's message is that there is no freedom but slavery and misery.
With the bees getting all their honey back, they become lazy and refuse to work. Because the bees stop pollinating, all the flowers of the world begin to die. It is here that the once revolutionary Barry transforms himself into the greatest champion of restoring slavery to the bees. The bees, led by Barry, undertake a great campaign to repollinate the world and restore the “order of things”. The film could not be more obvious in its celebration of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism.
This silly story of bees working in industrial-like settings their whole lives for the benefit of humans is quite clearly the story of 80% of the world's peoples who are dominated by the imperialism of countries like America and Canada.
Barry is supposed to represent the naïve youngster who thinks he can change the world, who is labelled a conspiracy-theorist by his fellow bees at one point in the movie, but but who ends up fitting very comfortably into the system by the end of it. Unfortunately in capitalism, 90% of the world's people will never be able to make the choice to fit in comfortably with the system.
At first, we are not meant to take seriously the stupid, fat lawyer who demonizes the bees (just like the American media demonizes Muslims and non-white peoples) and who warns about disrupting the “order of things”. But by the end of the movie what seemed like fascist (religion, demonization of the bees) excuses prove to be correct when all the flowers of the world begin to die (flowers, of course, being a metaphor for all things good).
That Barry - who sells out his fellow bees to save the human “order of things” - is praised as a hero in the movie is a message for all oppressed peoples that they should only aspire to succeed within the status quo, like becoming a capitalist “hero” such as a wealthy professional, superstar, politician or sports athlete.
The repatriation of honey to the bees is an obvious reference to the struggles of colonized peoples struggling for reparations, peasants demanding land, or socialist movements organizing workers to take control of factories. The message sent to young children is that any change to capitalism would be disastrous for the world. What this hideous capitalist and imperialist propaganda attempts to do is strike out all the marvelous advances made by the great revolutions of recent history: as if the Haitian slave revolution of 1804 did not defeat the French Empire, with the former Haitian slaves going on to help liberate Latin America from the Spanish. As if the workers and peasants of Russia in 1917 did not wage their revolutionary struggle and bring about the end of the First World War to go on to make great advances for their own society, including their historic defeat of fascism in the early 1940s. And as if the persistence of the Cuban revolution to this day does not show us a living example of the power of workers and peasants to build a better world.
The messages of slavery and colonialism in the “Bee Movie” come at a time when Iraqi, Haitian, Afghani, Somali, Palestinians, and Kurdish peoples continue to wage their armed struggles for national liberation from foreign occupations and when the revolutionary struggles today in places like Venezuela, Nepal, or the Philippines have already won great advances for their own peoples.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
July 28, New York City
The biggest hip-hop event of the summer was undoubtedly “Rock the Bells”, headlined by Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine. In addition to the stellar performances of these two giants of hip hop, the Saturday NYC show on Randall’s Island showcased Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, the Roots and Cypress Hill. Some of the highlights included the air-tight performance of the Roots who played a seamless set of vintage classics and new tracks from “Game Theory”, the ridiculous on stage antics of Flava Flav (who insisted on introducing the entire audience to his children), and the crowd-rocking beats of Cypress Hill against the backdrop of their twenty-five foot inflatable gold Buddha with a ganja-leaf on his belly. The entire Wu-Tang Clan was there (with the exception of Old Dirty Bastard, of course), and gave a great show.
Rage’s reunion left nothing to be desired, and was topped off by Zack De La Rocha’s comparison of George W. Bush to notorious Italian fascist Benito Mussolini through a call for Mr. Bush’s trial and public hanging. De La Rocha found a lot of support in the crowd and throughout the concert the World Can’t Wait Coalition, an organization that calls for and end to the imperialist war against our brothers and sisters n Iraq and the impeachment of President Bush, sold paraphernalia and engaged with individual concert-goers.
It seemed that a good time was had by all though it was obvious from the demographics of the crowd – particularly the lack of Black and Latino fans in the crowd - that the ticket price prevented many fans from low-income and racialized communities from attending. Also, as a hip-hop fan it pained me to see absence of female hip-hop artists on every stage during the Saturday NYC “Rock the Bells” show. Hip hop needs to recognizes and supports the talents female hip hop performers, and by failing to include any women (except for Erykah Badhu during the Sunday concert) that is exactly what the groups and producers involved in “Rock the Bells” did not do.
There are apparently 300 ways to try and convince the people that waging war on the Middle East is a good idea. One of them is to take a historical account of an attack on a Greek city, add some amazing visual effects, insert post 9/11 terminology and imagery and package it as a movie (now out on DVD)
300 is a film adaptation of the graphic novel by Frank Miller (author of Sin City). It is a heavily fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae of 480BC, when King Leonidis of Sparta organized 300 men to resist the invading Persian Empire, a world super power bent on conquest. Though drastically outnumbered by the attacking Persians (modern estimates are upwards of 200 to 1), the Spartans used their superior training, discipline, and knowledge of local terrain to inflict heavy casualties on the Persians, allowing the Greek army enough time to assemble. Though they were eventually overwhelmed and killed to the last man, the 300 Spartans’ heroic sacrifice in the cause of national independence rallied the Greeks and led to the later defeat of the invading imperial forces.
300 chronicles this epic battle, but the story twisted into a pro-imperialist exercise in war porn in an obvious attempt to equate King Leonidis with George W. Bush. Sparta is upheld as a beacon of freedom and democracy that can only be protected by unilateral military adventure. The Spartans opposing the war are depicted as corrupt and cowardly, using bureaucratic methods to stop this noble mission. The Persians on the other hand are portrayed as a jumbled collection of Middle Eastern and African stereotypes - amoral, decadent, dark skinned primitives - which underscores the racist under-currents of the flick.
There is no doubt that the movie is entertaining from a visual perspective, but even impressive camera work and editing do not make for the fact that the movie appears to be little more than a well produced commercial for the American and European war machines as they gear up to launch an attack on Iran.
M-1, aka Mutulu Olugabala, is an African rapper best known for his work with stic.man in the critically acclaimed underground conscious hip-hop duo Dead Prez. Based out of New York, M1 stopped by to perform and meet community members at the Black Action Defence Committee BBQ in Lawrence Heights before heading out to rock The Docks as part of the Jazz By Genre festival.
Basics: “We’re here with M-1 from Dead Prez…I see your reading the book Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution… During those times, there was some elements of Brown/Black solidarity. What do you see as the prospects for the coalescing of Latino organizations and black peoples organizations resisting capitalism?”
M-1: “There always has been. We have a historical relationship – the same relationship that ‘Cha-Cha’ Jimenez [Founder of the Puerto Rican-American revolutionary organization Young Lords Party -ed.] had with Fred Hampton [Founder of Chicago chapter of Black Panther Party -ed.]. We learned from each other’s struggles in creating the Young Lord Party and the Black Panther Party. For example, I recently connected with the Brown Berets out in Utah… So, these things are happening. Only, we must recognize the kind of propaganda that hinders those relationships between Black and Brown; such as the propaganda of Blacks versus Browns in Los Angeles, which has each other shooting one another down just because we speak another language. So that’s what we don’t want to happen. But we have always had that history of Black and Brown organizations that have worked side by side in very principled relationships.”
Basics: “Yesterday, you and Umi [of P.O.W./Peoples Army/RBG Fam - ed.] went to Lawrence Heights to perform for the community. As you may have heard from some of the people you have spoken to up there, Jungle is now undergoing a process of gentrification. As with all social housing, the Municipal government of Toronto is trying to push out a lot of the people who are there, and sell off a large portion of the area because it’s the largest housing project in Canada, and they’re trying to sell it to private developers. We’ve got Umi’s comments on what’s going on in the U.S. in terms of gentrification. What are some of your thoughts on gentrification?”
M-1: “Well, what happened with ‘white flight’ in the 1970s is that white people thought it would be safer out in the suburbs with black people being grouped up in the cities. But for black people it was convenient, we were so close to the work place. But now, for a number of different factors, there is a movement of white people back towards the inner city, causing gentrification. Communities which have been demonized and criminalized – left into shells of what they were and havens of zombied-out crack youth and other drug activity – and now they’re trying to raise the property value of these areas by pushing out the black people. Our bills are barely being paid now. So when the property values of the area goes up, it does a lot to be able to outstretch our means to live, driving us away from our communities.”
Basics: “You mentioned white people moving out to the suburbs because they thought it would be safer. And now, the argument that the Municipal government and other people are trying to use to justify gentrification is that the only way these communities are going to be safe is if they bring in “mixed-income housing”. What would be your response to that?”
M-1: “This is economic racism, because what it does is change the qualifications for people to be able to live in the community – it just says, no blacks allowed, basically.”
Part Two, Next Issue: Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers
Basics: Can tell us some of the history of the land claims and the quarry?
Brant: It came from frustration in dealing with the Government of Canada and its agreements that it has made in the past. We felt strongly that this particular claim stood as an example of all the claims that were going on across the country. We shut down a company that was mining on the very lands that we knew to be ours and that the government had admitted was ours and yet it allowed for mining to continue. So we saw it as a basic, simple indignity that people in the broader public could understand. Don’t truck away the land while we are sitting at the table talking about it. What we found was that we had to physically put our people there in order to prevent this from happening. We wanted the process to continue in a way that was fair and dignified at a table that was balanced with justice and people working towards a resolution but that didn’t happen. That indignity of having to sit on our land and prevent it from being strip mined grew and grew and we started a growing campaign of economic destruction and we got into a lot of situations that have culminated recently. This claim went back 170 years and it is typical of every other one. There were agreements; there were broken promises, lies, it was about theft and even the government itself admits it cannot justify theft under these circumstances. Having that admission, though, didn’t mean the issue was resolved.
Basics: Its funny that you mentioned negotiating land while trucking it away. In Chile, that is something the Pinochet government did to Bolivia back in the 80s. Pinochet, with his fascist government said okay we will give you the land while he was trucking away the minerals under it.
Brant: It is something on going for 100s of years and when you see something as simple as this can’t be resolved, it is understood by people that nothing can resolved with the state in terms of land claim recognition. It instills and entrenches in our minds the indignities we face on a constant basis. The land is yours, the government admits it is yours, but that doesn’t mean you are going to get it. When its yours and you know that you are fundamentally obligated to take responsibility and to take whatever action for reclamation. You are there you defend your home like someone was coming to hurt your kids and you take steps to get it recognized internationally to make sure it never happens again.
Basics: This wasn’t the first time the OPP, RCMP, or Armed Forces has engaged in activities over you has it?
Brant: It is not our first contact with them. We are a fighting community. We have engaged the Canadian Military and the OPP in the past. We have had Mohawk nations come out and defend lands where their ancestors were buried from having condominiums placed upon them. When we talk about a gravel quarry, the state has clearly demonstrated it is willing to develop where our ancestors are buried and we have had to come out with arms to defend that. I find people always appeal to compassion and sensibilities. People need to be aware that a different approach has to be taken when the government operates in that way. They are turning over the soil where our ancestors are buried. We are constantly placed in a situation of confrontation and we can’t back down. Gas lines and pipelines are continually being put up in our backyards because non-natives did not want them and our land is cheap. There are 400 native nations across this country where CN touches their land and major highways too. It’s frightening that natives have faced indignities for hundreds of years. If you want to take $1 dollar from us we will cost you $1000 dollars. We have shut the CN mainline down 3 times, we have shut the 401 down and the detour routes, we have closed towns and businesses too. We have shut it all down.
Basics: What has been the estimated cost of it?
Brant: I estimate about half a billion dollars. That’s over the simple matter of the quarry license. That has brought us to the forefront of land claims. Land claims turn nasty when the situation in the communities gives rise to militancy. Maybe you can’t understand that you live in poverty, that you drink polluted water, that your kids kill themselves. But when someone encroaches and tries to put up a development we can see that and we can stop it. Maybe we can’t stop the social issues but we can physically stop that development. That’s why we fight.
Basics: With the increased militancy when the state tries to steal land there has been some news media who denounce what you are doing.
Brant: When we closed the rail line in April, they saw how dirty and messy that is, people saw how far the state is willing to go to further the free flowing economy. My brother who is a lawyer got a call in the middle of the night by someone to talk me out of June 29th or he would be charged with collusion and they will get my body from the morgue. They sent people out to tell us if we don’t leave the highway we will be dead. It isn’t the line of the government or the police to threaten everyone with death but that is how it is in First Nations communities. When Paul Fontaine or the band chiefs stepped down, they did it under duress that they will spend a long time in jail. This shouldn’t diminish their courage. These are simple aspects of life necessary for survival. We want the basics for our kids. It is a struggle for survival.
Basics: In Lawrence Heights, we have been organizing people around the important issue of displacement and the selling of their land to developers. Do you see any parallels in terms of displacement?
Brant: People are aware of Kasheshewan - a modern crisis in Ontario. There was an attempt to displace that community and move them into North Bay. Not because they wanted to fix their water, but because they discovered resource deposits in the shores of James Bay. You are only in a spot until resources are found and then you are moved. The government and systems of capital are designed in order to maintain a degree of suffering and poverty in a segment of society. If can’t make it then you sleep on the streets. If you can’t feed your child on the $100 dollars a month then your child will go to someone who will get $1000 dollars to raise that same child. These are fundamental indignities that go across racial barriers. We are lucky to live in a community that can organize and has strength to do those things. People have to realize that outside of reservations, Lawrence Heights, Regent Park and elsewhere there needs to be strong resistance and mobilization against encroachment on communities. There has to be more than passive resistance and appealing to feelings. I got released on bail a couple days ago after being held because of the “threat of re-offending”. My offense was trying to bring attention to social issues that affect First Nations people on a daily basis, like drinking water and hunger. If that is my threat to re-offend then who is offending who? The government needs to be held responsible for its actions. A community like this is one that can do that.
Basics: How long were you in for?
Brant: A couple months
Basics: Basically as a political prisoner - and you weren’t the only one in jail.
Brant: There are people still in under different circumstances. There are people on the run from outstanding charges in Caledonia. I have never considered the term political or otherwise. When you are in the institution, you are just a prisoner. We were in there because we couldn’t let things keep going the way they are going. We have an obligation as Mohawk men to seek every peaceful solution before we become more aggressive. We have done that up to this point. If nothing happens then there is an obligation to continue. These are survival issues. People are not going to stop.
Basics: Anything you’d like to say to the Lawrence Heights community?
Brant: The message that needs to go to all communities is that they need to stand up to the injustices that are perpetrated by government. Native issues need to be translated to a more common front to bring about a better government. We are concerned about housing issues, and people sleeping on the street or finding enough food. Society at large need to start working together and go beyond the classifications of communities and when things like this emerge they will all stand and bring real justice to everyone. There could have been a large response on June 29th if people were attuned to the political advantages that existed for them at that time. They have to accept that Mohawks are going to stand and fight. We will take the government down until it has real respect and honour for the people it supposedly represents.
Basics: Thank you Shawn Brant.
Charges gross negligence, Crimes Against Humanity.
When governments deliver nothing but injustice, people sometimes take justice into their own hands. From August 29 to September 2, 2007, two years on from Hurricane Katrina, a team of lawyers, professors, and legal experts from around the world came together with activists, residents and victims of New Orleans to convene the International Tribunal on Katrina and Rita. Although the Tribunal was not ‘official’, (as the U.S. government would never sanction a legal process that might find itself guilty at so many levels), the organizations convening the Tribunal stated that it “is a critical step in the ongoing struggle for the right of return and a self-determining reconstruction process”, with it has the intent to “expose the human rights abuses committed against the peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by the US government and its agents”.
The Tribunal covered a wide range of crimes and abuses committed by the U.S. government. First, there was the racist and anti-poor discrimination of the government for not keeping up the maintenance of the levee in the poorer and black neighbourhood of the Lower Ninth Ward. Despite being a poor neighbourhood, the Lower Ninth Ward was home to one of America’s oldest settlements African-Americans. The area was also home to one of America’s highest black homeownership rates in the country. But many of these homes today, the public and the private, have disappeared – not simply because of the hurricane, but by the bulldozers of ‘redevelopers’ preparing New Orleans for a richer and whiter population. Gentrification and housing rights were major issues dealt with at the Tribunal. One of the major goals that the Tribunal is struggling for is the recognition of the ‘Katrina Diaspora’ as an ‘Internally-Displaced Peoples’ who have the right to return to New Orleans. The following map of the United States shows how far and wide Katrina victims have had to resettle.
The Tribunal also pointed out that while billions of dollars have been poured into New Orleans over the last two years, the money has mostly benefited the tourist industry. So while the annual Mardi Gras party has continued for middle-class tourists from around American, the displaced peoples of New Orleans have been actively kept out.
Roderick Dean testified on prisoners’ rights abuses, and how Katrina prisoners had to wade in their own feces for weeks on end and were denied medications. Other prisoners recounted stories of abuse and torture. Dean was eventually released from jail almost half a year later with no charges laid against him.
The African-American dentist Romell Madison testified that his brother Ronald was shot in the back five times by white police officers while he was stranded on a bridge. Political activist and head of Common Ground Collective Malik Rahim testified on the militarization of New Orleans after Katrina, which included the occupation forces of the National Guard (which had just returned from Iraq), local and state police, private mercenary companies, such as Blackwater, and armed white vigilantes and militias. Sobukwe Shukura of the National Network on Cuba recalled how the U.S. turned away massive amounts of medical aid offered by Cuba and Venezuela to the victims of hurricane Katrina.
The final verdict of the Tribunal will be presented on 10 December 2007, marking the anniversary of the Right of Return March two years ago in December 2005 when over two thousand survivors and their supporters rallied in New Orleans to demand their right to return home.
Monday, November 05, 2007
In July, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved what is expected to be the largest Peace-keeping Mission in the world. The 26,000-strong United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID force will be deployed to the western region of Sudan next year, the region infamous for violence between government and rebel forces which has killed and displaced thousands since 2003. Cheering on the resolution are the US and Canadian governments, the mainstream media and the vocal Save Darfur movement - a massive and well-funded campaign with such notable celebrity public faces as George Clooney and Kanye West. The Save Darfur movement goes even further and calls for the direct military intervention into the Sudan - up to and including invasion and occupation by American, Canadian and European troops.
However, the analysis of the Save Darfur campaign contains a number of gaping holes because it refuses to acknowledge a number of hugely important questions. Does the “official version” of the Sudan story relect reality? Are we witnessing a desire to stop “genocide” in Darfur or, as other African and Arab countries have put it, yet another attempted invasion of a Muslim country? And, with the UN’s history throughout the world, and on the African continent in particular, is Peacekeeping the solution to the conlict in Sudan?
Sudan is Africa’s largest country, with a population of around 40 million, 70% of whom are Muslim. The current Islamic government of Sudan, under President Omar Al-Bashir has been in power since 1989 and has been on the US ‘hit list’ for overthrow since the Clinton presidency. The Americans bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant in 1998 - destroying the country’s major source of desperately needed medicine. The US has also been pumping money into countries bordering Sudan since the 1980s in order to destabilize the government.
The US also financed and armed rebels fighting against the government in the second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005). The Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the main faction in the conlict, was headed by John Garang who was trained for many years in a US military base at Fort Benning Georgia. The Save Darfur movement makes little attempt to remind us of these important historical facts.
Currently, the two main rebel factions fighting the government in Darfur are the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA). US-allies in the region, particularly Uganda and Chad, are providing these and other rebels with weapons, equipment, money and bases - some rebel factions are actually better armed than the Sudanese army.
Any look at a natural resource map of Africa should immediately give the answer to why the US is interested in the Sudan: the region is swimming in oil and other resources that American, Canadian and British companies cannot currently access. The contracts are held mainly by Chinese and European companies. Sudan and Darfur also contain a number of other resources, including uranium (reserves coveted by Israel, another loud voice for intervention in Darfur).
Save Darfur claims that what is happening in Darfur is a “genocide” in which over 400,000 innocent men, women and children have been killed. To date however, only the Bush regime has made the same charge of “genocide” and the figure of 400,000 deaths has been exposed as being a deliberate exaggeration. The igure the US General Accountability Office has found to be most un-biased is 120,000 dead and includes those who died of illness and starvation as well as fighters from all sides killed in combat.
It is important to recall the history of peacekeeping in other parts of Africa to judge what kind of role such a force would play in Darfur. Somali Canadians remember the “peacekeeping” mission
to Somalia (1993-95), during which Canadian soldiers murdered at least 6 innocent Somalis and whose participation prolonged and aggravated the conlict. Currently, the UN General Assembly has given its full support to the hated warlord government in Somalia that was installed by the US and Ethiopia after the overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union. Meanwhile, in the Congo, just south of Sudan, the UN force has allowed and sometimes assisted American proxy forces in the killing of an estimated 10 million people!
Clearly, foreign troops cannot be trusted to put the interests of local people irst. The civil wars in Africa will end when Western governments stop using Africa as their plaything. People in Canada must call on their government to respect the sovereignty of poor countries and stop interfering in Africa!
Their most immediate impression was how little had changed for common Afghanis since the fall of the Taliban. “People had held out hope for some progressive change and now that hope has dissipated over the past 6 years because the changes have not occurred... Karazai’s government has given some power to the non-Pashtun ethnic peoples of Afghanistan and has opened up power-sharing to diferent parties. But it still rules on behalf of the traditional rulers of Afghanistan, it still rules under sharia law, which causes many problems for Afghani women, it is in many ways worse then the Taliban because it is that much more corrupt. This government is supported by the Americans and Canadians, but run by Afghani warlords - a grouping which includes Karazai himself - and by bureaucrats and by drug lords.”
Meanwhile, the much-hyed development component of the mission had done little to meet the needs of the local population. “…the military and development agencies actually work hand in hand in the same base going out and working together.” This means that development projects were only built on the considerations of the military mission overseeing the project. An interviewee had showed Skinner a high school for girls in Bamiyam, built by a New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction team. This school was built outside of the town, close to the base and is a 16 km walking round trip for the girls to get to and from school. Bamiyam is a town with severe winters and these girls will be stuck with this long miserable hike all winter. The decision was arbitrarily made by the military command of the region and neither the girls nor the town gain any beneit as they were not consulted nor considered.
Canadian International Development Agencies (CIDA)’s projects are no better. “In the aid development industry we’re spending a lot of money and no one is following where that money is going. In fact, [a report was just released] saying that CIDA funds were not making their way to Afghanistan. It’s quite a controversial matter.” Skinner continued to say that he saw one CIDA project which was obviously not in use as it was closed and windows were shattered.
There are concerns about how Afghanistan’s resources are going to be used by various transnational corporations that are now involved, “Afghanistan…has some very rich mining resources that are partly unexplored and unexploited. I’m sure that Canadian mining companies would love to get in there and get their hands on it... This is one of those side beneits that while we’re there [we can] make some money by developing those mines.”
The major worry that both Skinner and Ragstar have is in the numbers of civilian casualties in this war. Skinner told us that “on a daily, or almost daily basis, there were news reports of civilian deaths and by far the greater number of those casualties were caused by Western forces in a number of diferent ways, [including] blindly iring into a crowd or the many cases of air attacks that don’t hit the right target.” As Ragstar put it “in the context of Afghanistan, the biggest warlords are the coalition forces... who are killing the people with much more sophisticated modern weapons then the Afghani warlords have access to.”
In addition to those killed directly by NATO troops are the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the military operations of the occupation forces. “The Canadian military is involved in search and destroy missions, as part of a counter-insurgency war. The military will go to a village and tell people to evacuate their village within 24 hours or be killed. After the people have led, the forces come in, searching for weapons and explosives, but since it is unsafe to go into any building, they simply destroy the homes, farm buildings and wells. The populace is left homeless and jobless, becoming refugees- this is the humanitarianism of the Canadian military?”
So what can be done? The first thing to do is to recognize that “as long as our military is in place we’re creating the environment to encourage more recruits for the Taliban, we are angering so many people that we are making recruits.” We must to ask questions, investigate Canada’s role in the world, the actions that this war. We must pull the troops out now!
As the three leaders and corporate heads met on the grounds of the “Chateau Montebello” in Quebec to plot their agenda, more than 2000 people from across Canada and North America were also present on the streets outside the fortress- to demonstrate their absolute opposition to the Security and Prosperity Summit.
Hundreds of silent, armored, armed and gas-masked soldiers, riot police and RCMP officers prevented the demonstrators (ranging from bus loads of Torontonians to Mexican Trade Union leaders) from coming anywhere near the summit or even from delivering an anti-SPP petition signed by 10,000 Canadians to the politicians claiming to represent them.
As has been exposed by video and photo evidence and covered even in the mainstream press, the “security” forces in Montebello attempted to provoke violence within the demonstration from its very beginning. Within two hours into the protest, three masked, rock-carrying men wearing boots identical to those of the Quebec Provincial Police Force (SQ) appeared in the peaceful section of the protest. Almost immediately identified as agents- and confronted by angry protestors- the provocateurs easily slipped into Police ranks and were then “arrested” by their fellow officers. In an embarrassing confession after days of adamant denials (and only after they were caught red-handed, or yellow booted), the SQ has admitted these men were indeed disguised cops, but outrageously claimed that they were not trying to incite violence!
Unfortunately, the fact that its agents were exposed did not stop the SQ from attacking the demo. After most media left to file their reports by 6pm, police indiscriminately fired over 72 cans of tear gas along with rubber bullets. Several protestors were wounded - some severely enough to need medical care.
For working people, the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership’ (SPP) is a disaster in many ways. Most mainstream media has paid attention to how the plan will give American companies undue control over Canadian oil and water resources. More critical commentators have suggested that the SPP negotiations will deepen the devastating economic ‘free-trade’ deals of the North American Free Trade Agreement, along with the policestate measures of America’s Homeland Security. The Canadian ruling-class is trying to convince us that the SPP is necessary to combat terrorism while maintaining open borders in North America for the movement of goods and services. In fact, when we break down the points of the SPP, we see that its interests are not terrorism, but big business, just as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are less about fighting terrorism than they are about stealing and controlling the resources of those countries. The SPP is a declaration of war on the working peoples of America, Canada, and Mexico. And the key to understanding the SPP is to see how our local and immediate struggles are related to one big capitalist process led by the biggest corporations of the North American ruling class.
The SPP negotiations are now in their third year, with the most recent summit being held in Montebello, Quebec from August 20-21, hosting the three political leaders of Canada, U.S., and Mexico, Stephen Harper, George W. Bush, and Felipe Calderon. Until now, the process has been carried out behind closed doors. Yet, while the SPP process is not an official treaty, nor has the process been debated in parliament or in the public eye, its implementation will determine the future of North America. The main body of the SPP is the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), which is a body of thirty C.E.O. corporate leaders – 10 from Mexico, 10 from U.S., 10 from Canada. Together with North America’s three political leaders, these thirty big capitalists are determining the future of the North America all by themselves. The fact that there has been no parliamentary oversight to the process, and little challenge posed by the mainstream political parties, shows just how irrelevant elections are to changing our society.
And we should not be fooled that the SPP has no relevance to our day-to-day lives. The SPP is more than anything else a declaration of economic warfare by North America’s business elite on North America’s working peoples. Here are a few of the ways we will feel the efects of the SPP agreements:
•The SPP will lead to the further militarization of our borders, giving police and border services more power and posing more restrictions and surveillance on migrants and refugees. The racist immigration laws of Canada and America will come closer together,with ‘no-ly lists’ being shared and more people from ‘high-risk’ countries being targeted. ‘High-risk’ countries are essentially those countries and regions where America and Canada are militarily attacking or threatening to attack in the future, such as Haiti and or most of the Middle-East and Eastern Africa.
•The largest corporations of North America will more easily be able to seize and exploit the natural resources of the continent, which will lead to more environmental destruction and more violence and dispossession of indigenous peoples in Canada, America, and Mexico.
•The Canada-U.S. Integration of miliary command structures means that the foreign policies of the three counries are becoming identical. Canada and U.S. especially have mutual interests in the wars and/or occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, and Somalia, and in the possible future attacks on Sudan and Iran. The competition between Russia and Canada over Arctic sovereignty is really about U.S. and Canada gaining control over the massive oil reserves in the North pole and the future trade routes that will open up as global warming melts the polar ice caps.
•The harmonization of labour and environmental regulations will mean keeping wages low and maintaining the lowest-possible environmental regulations for the sake of maximizing profit. Unions will come under harsher attacks by employers, so that workers will be less able to resist their exploitation. Also, the SPP will lower Canada’s pesticide regulations to American levels, which means that we will all soon be consuming more poisons on a day-to-day basis.
At the same time, the SPP is nothing drastically new. The past two decades has seen massive tax cuts to the rich and increased consumer taxes for the poor. And while less money has been available for our social services, schools, community centres, and hospitals, for money is being dumped into the military and ‘security’. The gentriication project planned for Lawrence Heights in the coming years is a way that Toronto City Hall is planning to raise some money from the loss of all these tax revenues over the years. Therefore, the economic and political forces behind the planned dispossession of Lawrence Heights residents are the same as the economic and political forces behind the dispossession of indigenous peoples of their land, or the dispossession of Iraqis of their oil.
The SPP is the next chapter in the economic war against the working people of North America. The SPP will only bring ‘prosperity’ to the very richest people of North America and more ‘security’ for those waging their endless series of wars in the world today. The racist media in the U.S. loves to blame Mexican migrants for the miseries of the American working class and in Canada ‘coloured’ people face the same sorts of denigration, particularly Muslims, blacks, and Natives. But while the media and the elites scapegoat these groups for the problems they have made for us, they never give any good explanations for why working people today are underpaid, under-employed, or why they deal with racist harassment and police brutality.
But a brief look at the SPP deal shows that the economic and political problems in our country today have everything to do with the back-room dealings of the North America’s ruling elites. And with parliament posing no challenge to these designs, the only option that remains is for oppressed peoples is to unite their local communities and take democracy into their own hands.
New system on its own no fix to limited political choice.
On October 10, the Ontario government will be holding a referendum on the future of the provincial electoral system. Some groups are heavily promoting a new alternative system (Mixed-Member Proportional Representation or MMP) as the solution to popular indiference to elections and the failure of government to respond to the needs of working people.
Under the current voting system (“First Past the Post”), the province is divided geographically into ridings. Whichever candidate gets the most votes in the riding wins the seat. The party with the most seats forms the government.
The problem? If you didn’t vote for the winning candidate, you might as well have stayed home, since your vote will have no inluence over the composition of the parliament. This is why
parties that have won a minority of votes routinely form majority governments.
Under the proposed new system, people would vote twice, once for whom they wanted to represent their riding, and a second time for the party they wanted to form the government. The Legislature would have extra seats added so that each parties’ share of seats would be same as their share of the overall popular vote.
While this would be an improvement over the system we have now, MMP is hardly a cure-all.First, while the allocation of seats may be “fairer” under MMP, it doesn’t change the fact that none of the existing parliamentary parties puts the interest of working people irst. In Toronto we have an NDP Mayor, a Liberal Premier, and a Conservative Prime Minister and at every level of government, the politicians have shown that when the interests of working people and the rich clash, it’s the interests of the rich that win out. Despite their other disagreements, this is something that every politician is united around and no re-arrangement of seats in the
Legislature will change that. Second, while MMP will supposedly provide “greater choice”, a 3% cutof has been built into the new system - speciically to block the rise of new political parties that the corporate media labels “fringe”. Without millions of dollars in campaign funding, 3% is actually a huge barrier for any genuine workers party to get beyond.
However, this doesn’t mean that working people can’t change things - it just means that we can’t expect procedural changes to ix the problem. Having the kind of government that the people deserve takes popular struggle. Whether people vote yes, no, or choose to boycott the Oct. 9 referendum, that struggle must continue!
On October 10th, about half of eligible voters will go to elect a new provincial government and possibly a new way of electing people. While it is still unclear what the likely outcome will be, there are some conclusions that we can draw already: 1) almost half of the people in the province do not have enough conidence on the political system to take time out to go vote and 2) given that recent history shows little difference between the Conservatives (who governed in the late 1990’s), the Liberals (the current government) and the NDP (who governed in the early 1990’s) this a reasonable choice to make.
Nonetheless, BASICS wants to encourage working people to grill anyone who comes to their door with questions about what their party will do for our communities, why they didn’t do these before when they were in government, and why should we trust them now?
The Harris government made their contempt for poor people very clear with deep cuts to desperately needed social programs. Social housing funded and run by the provincial government was then passed down to the City’s and without any funds to run them. This is how Toronto Community Housing was formed. The result – a severe decline in the maintenance and upkeep of units and a reduction of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units available, relative to those who need it.
Once again, the Liberals ran on a platform of reversing all of this. However, they have not taken responsibility for funding social housing and hence, in Toronto alone there are some $500 million needed in order to bring units up to decent standards.
Wages and Jobs:
This spring the issue of wages momentarily gathered some attention as some unions initiated a campaign to have the minimum wage raised to $10/ per hour from $8/ per hour. The Liberals and Conservatives both oppose increasing the minimum wage right now, largely because they are ‘concerned about the impact on business’ – which means they are speaking on behalf of the sector which funds their campaigns and lines their pockets. The NDP for their part moved a Bill that would have seen the minimum wage increase to $10 / hour, a very good step but far from something that would give a living wage to the more than 1 million workers in Ontario earning a minimum wage.
Class sizes and resources for schools have been a major issue since in Ontario schools the days of the NDP Rae government. These problems were exacerbated by the Mike Harris Conservative government who instituted massive cuts leading to strikes, large class sizes and a tangible reduction in the quality of education provided to children of working class families. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals promised to reversed these cuts but have left schools without the money they need. McGuinty and crew have also increased tuition fees for University and College education, just as Harris and Rae did.
During Mike Harris’s time as Premier, social assistance was slashed by 22%, using the rationale that poor people are lazy and need to be forced to work. Under his leadership the Conservatives also introduced a workfare program called Ontario Works, entrapping those who require social assistance into working in menial jobs that provide little to no skills or training. Parents in the workfare program are forced out of their homes and are left no afordable options to access child care for their children.
Despite their promises during the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have done little to improve upon the wreckage to social assistance programs left behind by the Conservatives. McGuinty said he would make sure that welfare rates would rise at the same rate as inlation, but this promise was broken. Social assistance has only been increased by 2%. This still leaves families in need of support with 20% less funding than 12 years ago. Add
to this the Liberal’s elimination of the Special Diet program, the addition of the Ontario Health Premium, and the stagnation of minimum wage rates, and the poor have seen a massive 40%
loss in real income under the last two provincial governments.
The NDP’s platform for this election remains silent on the issue of social assistance, focusing once again on pleasing richer members of the working class and showing a lack of willingness to take the concerns of the majority of working people seriously.
Lawmakers in several U.S. cities are implementing laws that would see youth with baggy pants fined or even thrown in jail. Toronto school oficials have publicly considered similiar bans in school dress codes.
Punishments for wearing saggy pants in several US cities ranges from fines, community service, to six months in jail. In Trenton, New Jersey getting caught with your pants low may soon result in not only a fine, but also with an assessment from a city worker of ‘where your life is headed’. Atlanta Councilman C.T. Martin defends the law by saying baggy pants “has the potential to catch on with elementary school kids”. Adrian Harris, 43, a founding member of rap group Cold Crush Brothers sees it as “a form of rebellion and identity” and not a source of negativity or violence.
What is clear in all of this is that politicians like to ind scapegoats for violence and poverty. In this case, its once again hip-hop culture. If these politicians were sincere about providing opportunity and hope for youth, they would focus on how to provide jobs, afordable education and recreational activities instead of criminalizing how kids dress.
Dutch attack on political refugee shows danger of “terror lists”.
Progressive Filipinos and their allies are celebrating the severe blow dealt to the Dutch government’s campaign of harassment against Jose Maria Sison. On September 11, the court in The Hague ordered the release of Sison, who had been held for two weeks on trumped-up charges of having ordered the killing of two counter-insurgency agents in the Philippines.
A poet, scholar, and respected political commentator, Sison has spent most of his life struggling for the national liberation of the Philippines. As founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army, Sison led the underground movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos until his capture by the military. Following his released after the fall of the dictatorship, Sison traveled the world on a speaking tour. The government of the Philippines cancelled his passport and with the threat of assassination should he return to his homeland, Sison was stuck in The Netherlands as a political refugee for the next 20 years.
Currently, Sison is the chairperson of the International League of Peoples Struggles and Chief Political Consultant to the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front currently in peace talks with the government of the Philippines to seek a just and lasting peace to the civil war that has been raging between the two parties for the past 30 years.
Rather than provide a safe haven from violent repression, the Dutch government has gone out of its way to attack Sison. It has prevented his earning any livelihood or access to personal bank accounts and denied him refugee status, even after the highest administrative court in the land ruled that he was a legitimate political refugee. During his recent arrest he was held in the National Penitentiary in Scheveningen - the same prison used by the Nazis to torture Dutch resistance ighters during WWII - without access to any media, warm clothing, or prescription medication.
Canadian activists immediately condemned the arrest and launched a Free Jose Maria Sison campaign that included petitions and rallies outside the Dutch embassies in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Similar actions occurred worldwide, with rallies held in Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Manila, and other major cities.
Every charge brought against Sison has proven to be nothing more than empty propaganda and dismissed by courts both in the Netherlands and the Philippines. Yet Sison has been labeled a “terrorist” and blacklisted by the US and EU. When Sison’s inclusion in the EU terror list was overturned by EU courts, the Dutch government launched its attempt to criminalise Sison and the entire National Democratic movement in the Philippines and those that support it abroad.
The arrest of Sison - as well as the raiding of the NDF oices and homes of Filipino refugees in the Netherlands - is part of the Arroyo government’s campaign to demonize the patriotic national democratic movement and to cover up its own heinous human rights abuses, including the murder of over 1,000 unarmed civilians (men, women and children), the creation of over 1 million internal refugees, two stolen elections, ruining the economy by selling out national interests to foreign corporations, massive corruption and theft of state assets, and the arrest and prolonged detainment of political opponents on false charges. Instead of condemning these abuses, the Dutch government has gone along with this campaign because of its economic interests - Shell Oil (a Dutch company) is currently negotiating with the government of the Philippines for lucrative oil extraction contracts.
These crimes have been aided and abetted by the governments of the other G7 nations, including Canada. Canadian aid, rather than being used to beneit the Filipinos, has gone to death squads and supported Canadian mining irms that have caused environmental catastrophes. The Canadian government refuses to put human rights before trade in the Philippines, and continues to use it’s anti-democratic “terror lists” against any forces waging just struggles for social change. Sison’s case shows that you don’t have to actually commit any crime to get on these lists - they are arbitrary tools of repression and could be used against anyone who speaks out against the government. The Canadian people should defend Sison, not just to protect his rights, but to protect their own!
TCHC is Canada’s largest landlord, with $5 billion worth of assets consisting of about 60,000 residential units, home to about 165,000 tenants. And with TCHC failing to maintain many of its units in accordance with standard building codes and municipal by-laws, then TCHC is Canada’s largest slumlord. This is the premise of the multimillion dollar class-action lawsuit that TCHC has just been slapped with. As the lawyer Sarah Shartal who is handling the case has asked, “Why are the courts allowing the public sector landlords to be slumlords?…All we’re saying is building codes and municipal bylaws apply to TCHC.”
The law firm Roach, Schwartz, & Associates is launching the lawsuit on behalf of several thousand TCHC tenants whose units are in ill-shape and are receiving little help from TCHC. The suit will seek a payment of $1000 to every tenant who has had to wait for more than two weeks for basic repairs, and an order for all units be brought up to code within six months.
TCHC is currently facing a $300 million repairs backlog. With the City of Toronto strapped for cash (see “Big Cuts…” article in this issue) and the Province hoarding its $2.3 billion budget surplus, it is no wonder that the TCHC is trying ‘revitalize’ by selling of prime real estate like Lawrence Heights to condo developers in order to raise some funds.
Poor maintenance, the gutting of social services (like the recent cuts to Toronto libraries and community centres), and the ‘revitalization’ – these have all been ways for the City of Toronto to ‘balance its budget’ in a time of a serious budget crisis. To be fair though, it is the Province that is mostly to blame. In the 1990s, Ontario Premier Mike Harris downloaded the responsibility for about $500 million in services to the City, but never handed over the extra money to cover those new expenses. And while it was a Conservative government who put these measures into efect, the current Liberal government has done nothing to compensate Toronto. So, at the end of it all, working-class Torontonians are paying more and getting less. But people are standing-up and ighting back. With TCHC residents already expressing opposition to the planned demolition of Lawrence Heights (what TCHC has been calling ‘revitalization’), and with people all across Toronto rallying against the closure of their community centres and libraries, the lawsuit against TCHC opens up a new front in TCHC residents’ fight against their Toronto slumlord and the ongoing indiference of the Provincial government.
Following the deferral of a motion that would have introduced a tax on any sale of land within the City of Toronto, Mayor David Miller announced a wide range of cuts to City programs and services in order to ‘balance the budget’ for 2008.
The Land Transfer Tax would have applied a tax ranging between 0.5% and 1.5% on the sale of any land including homes within the City boundaries. Together with a Vehicle Registration Tax (already applied by the Government of Ontario), this would have brought over $350 Million into the City cofers. The City was arguing that it needed this money to keep services at their current level given that it is still funding some $500 Million worth of Provincial programs that were downloaded during the Conservative government of Mike Harris in the 1990’s.
In the last Provincial Election, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty ran on a platform that included ‘uploading’ (taking back the responsibility of funding these programs). His government however has reversed only a fraction of what Harris did, while at the same time giving his friends tens of millions of dollars in grants, and himself and his colleagues a 25% pay increase.
The TTC for its part stated that it will increase fares by 15% from $2.10 to $2.25, while Metropasses will increase from $99.75 to $109. That amounts to an $111 annual increase for daily public transit users!
Cuts to community services will include the closing of library services on Sundays and the closing of all of the City’s 130 community centres on Mondays. These cuts not only mean loss of income for many part-time workers in community centres but they also mean that communities will lose out on programming and places to congregate with neighbours. The cuts represent roughly 15% of programming at Community Centres and Public Libraries, who had already received cuts in the 2007 Budget.
By contrast, the Toronto Police Services stated that they will reduce their $800 million budget by $3 Million, representing 0.3% of Police operating dollars. The Toronto Police Services take
up roughly 25% of the City’s total operating costs and have had an increase of $150 Million to their operating budget since 2003 despite the election promises of Mayor David Miller to not hire any more police oicers.
Miller is now stating that more funds are needed in order ‘have the standard of living that Torontonians are used to’. With poverty increasing in this City the fruits and beneits alluded to
by Miller have evaded most working class families. And the cuts that were announced will disproportionately afect low-income communities that use these public services. The real estate agents and other wealthier sectors that organized against Miller’s tax will likely be afected little by these cuts.
The City blames the provincial and federal government for not giving Toronto enough money. The province and feds say that the City needs to ‘get its house in order’. Once again, the diferent levels of government and the politicians in charge point the finger at each other when it comes to answering the questions of why the services that working people depend on become more expensive and less accessible everyday. They will promise reviews, consultations and reports but never solutions to the needs of our communities.
We cannot depend on those rightwing Councillors who for pure political opportunism are calling for the cuts to be reversed. Councillors like Case Ootes who targets the homeless and Michael Thompson who argued for racial proiling of black males by Toronto Police, don’t care about working people or our communities. The want to embarrass Miller and that’s it. But this division among the diferent levels of government and among the ruling classes also represents an opportunity for working people to confront them and win. If the wealthy real estate agents can hold of a tax with a few emails, then working people can get our community centres back with our voices!
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The para-political scandal is the current outrage engulfing Colombian politics. In February, the foreign minister was forced to resign after the arrest of her brother, a senator in Colombia's congress, due to their ties to one of the heads of a paramilitary group. In April, Senator Gustavo Petro, of Polo Democrático Alternativo, the new alternative political party in Colombia, exposed the web of relationships between the death squads and members of the President's party as well senators from different parties, including liberal members of congress.
In the early 1980's, the bigger land-owners of Colombia formed the "United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia" (AUC), a paramilitary organization, in response to the local farmers who had been organizing and protecting themselves from the excessive exploitation and greed of those very huge land-owners. Using the AUC, the big landowners have seized more than 26,000 square miles from local farmers, killing tens of thousands in the process and displacing thousands more. These paramilitary thugs of the AUC have murdered community and union organizers as well as any villagers who have resisted. This has meant that after the Sudan, Colombia has the second highest number of internal refugees.
The scandal is the first fully visible example of the complex but ‘legitimized’ relations between the Colombian state- its institutions as well as its political parties- and the right wing paramilitary death squads that have been internally attacking the population. The AUC and its sister organizations have received the benediction and protection of important politicos in Colombia. For example, Senator Petro revealed that President Uribe, as governor of the Antioquia State, held meetings with top-ranking paramilitary leaders on a nightly basis in his gubernatorial compound, handing over lists of suspected organizers. The para-politico scandal has also shown how relentless multi-national corporations are in acquiring their profits. For example, Del Monte and Chiquita have been caught buying paramilitary ‘protection’, hiring death squads to brutally suppress its workers. Furthermore, last year in 2006, the year of Uribe’s reelection, 77 union organizers have been ‘disappeared’ and all are presumed to be assassinated.
Why does Canada do nothing while Colombian blood drenches Colombian soil? Is it perhaps because Canadian companies are profiting from this blood? Imperial Oil through its multi-national parent company, ExxonMobil, sells gas to Canada and Colombia, as well as owning gas interests in both countries. Various Canadian banks do business in Colombia. As well, mining companies such as Cerejon, exports coal from Colombia for use in Eastern Canadian power plants. Canadian food importing businesses bring in cheap in-demand, out-of-season or tropical fruits, vegetables and other staples, such as bananas, papayas and coffee. All these Canadian multi-nationals use Colombian natural resources and labour-power for their benefit.
Additionally, although US Democrats had pushed for a free trade deal with Colombia and helped the Colombian state acquire funding for the paramilitaries, it now looks like the Democrats are withdrawing their support for this corrupt regime, as they may now block the passage of the free trade accord between the US and Colombia. For the workers of Colombia, the failure of the free trade accord means that they will not face more cuts to whatever current meager social programs are in existence.
However, on June 7, it was announced that Canada is seeking to firm up a free trade agreement with Colombia because of the impending loss of the US and Colombian free trade accord. Also with Prime Minister Harper’s jaunt to the US’ closest allies of the South America --Colombia, Peru and Brazil (with a possible stop-over in Haiti, a country that is still a horrible skeleton in the Canadian closet), our concern is that President Uribe’s corruption is going to be re-enforced with Canadian resources: money, trade and military. Therefore, we need to decide if we will allow Canada to further profit off of the pain of Colombian workers. A free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia will not improve Colombian lives; it will only increase Colombia’s painful exploitation and weaken Canadian labour.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Since the winter months, Basics activists conducted door-to-door surveys with residents that outlined the unacceptable living conditions and issues brought on by the negligence of the landlord – Toronto Community Housing Corporation.
• 94% of those surveyed said that building conditions in TCHC housing units in Lawrence Heights are average to poor
• 79% said that TCHC responses to requests for maintenance or repairs is average to poor, including delays and long wait times before problems are fixed (if they ever are)
• Over 50% stated that TCHC and security officials do NOT treat people with respect
• 75% said that they have little say in what goes on in the community
The delayed and unmet repairs, disempowerment and disrespect faced by tenants is also at the heart of the issue on the so called “revitalization”. Several residents present at the meeting reported that TCHC representatives told them that no repairs would be done in Lawrence Heights units there is no value in making repairs to an area that will be demolished in the near future through the “revitalization.”
The meeting also addressed the results of the Regent Park “revitalization” which resulted in displacement of the community, a reduction of 400 subsidized units and possible health hazards (construction debris) for the remaining community. For TCHC to continue to try to tell residents that ‘there is no plan’ and that ‘they will be listened to’ in the face of this sort of information shows that they are simply continuing their record of ignoring tenants and putting tenant needs behind the company agenda.
Community members at the meeting heard about examples of successful tenants and residents associations in addressing the issues of the community. Community members agreed to move to organize self directed, independent Residents’ Association that is not affiliated with TCHC.
Only with an independent and united body will TCHC residents be able to make improvements to housing conditions, reduce wait times for repairs, demand accountability to residents during the City’s “revitalization” and address issues that the community faces.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Across North America, immigrant workers, workers of colour, and their supporters came out in record numbers for this year’s May Day.
May Day started in 1886 as a commemoration for workers killed by Chicago police during a demonstration demanding an 8 hr work day and the later execution of several worker organizers on fraudulent charges. International workers day is celebrated as a holiday everywhere in the World and is a day when workers go to the streets to demand peace, equality and justice.
In Los Angeles, over 100 000 workers - largely comprised of Latinos - assembled in MacArthur Park during marches calling for the recognition of the rights of undocumented workers. The immigrant workers movement has been organizing to fight the Bush administration’s offensive against Mexican and Latino undocumented workers in the Southern US. Their work has included a massive show of working peoples power in 2006 with a day-long strike and demonstration that had the participation of millions across the United States.
This year’s L.A. demonstrations were met with force from the notoriously racist and brutal Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D). Hundreds of riot police attempted to break up the peaceful demonstrations with batons, shields and rubber coated bullets.
According to eyewitness accounts, hundreds of people “were shot, beaten by night sticks and run out of the park.” Calls from Latino and progressive organizations to fire Police Chief Bratton have been largely ignored by the Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.
Sizeable demonstrations were held in Canadian cities as well, including a rally in Montreal that attracted 2000 workers. Hundreds of radical demonstrators staged a breakaway from the more conservative trade union led rally and marched to a nearby military base where they denounced the war in Afghanistan.
In Toronto, May Day organizing took place on the weekend beginning with a demonstration of workers, students and activists calling for the recognition of undocumented workers in Canada. Over 2500 people filled Christie Pitts Park calling for the end to the deportation of undocumented workers and their families that began under the Liberal governments and has continued under Harper’s Conservatives.
Also on the weekend, progressive Latino group Pa’delante organized a workshop at San Lorenzo Church on organizing in the Latino community around workers rights and livable wages. After addressing the mass of 150 workers and family members, organizers spoke with members of the community urging an organized response within the Latino community aimed at getting people to mobilize for a livable wage.
The increasing level of activity on and around May Day from workers in North America shows the rising level of consciousness and organization among working people. The government knows this, and they think that they can ‘discourage’ this by using measures like police brutality against the people. The people must show the police, the government and the bosses that they will not be deterred and that the struggle will continue.
The Federal government passed a Budget which accelerated the implementation of the $5.3 Billion Canada First defence plan so that the Canadian Forces will receive $175 million in 2007–08, in addition to over $100 Million for bonuses and services to veterans of this current war. In addition, they passed over $80 Million more for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (the Canadian CIA), $102 million in additional funds for Correctional Service of Canada and $10 million for the Canadian Police Research Centre. All of these hundreds of millions thrown around for war and policing, and no money for a National child care program to help working families find affordable child care.
Still saddled with the funding provincial social programs that the province refuses to pay the bill for, the City produced a budget that proposed a 3.8% increases in the property taxes (paid by tenants in rent and homeowners through direct taxation) and a decrease in social services.
In fact, the initial Budget recommendations had slated the closure of 7 outdoor pools and 11 indoor pools in Toronto schools where Parks currently runs its programming. These recommendations came just a week before the salary disclosures of public employees was released showing that 2010 City employees made over $100 000 including 708 police. Compared to 2005, only 1193 City employees made over $100 000 of which 279 were police.
The huge increase of almost 300% in police making over $100 000 does not even include officers being directly for time paid directly by individuals and businesses for private events and functions.
Right-wing Councillors and the media point to increased expenses but don’t mention that Police have been given more than $800 million in operating dollars and have also spent $21.1 Million in overtime. So when you see Police at demonstrations or public events, know that constables are making $58/ hour while detectives get paid $66/ hr.
Toronto is one of the safest cities in one of the safest countries, but we are also seeing that people are getting poorer. Safety in working class communities is best addressed through addressing the increasing levels of poverty, particularly amongst our youth whose unemployment rates are consistently double that of older workers. Some of those dollars spent topping up Police officer salaries should be spent in the community employing youth for good jobs, as well providing increased services to people.
After last year’s media panic surrounding a rash of gun crimes in Toronto and the recent tragic shooting death of a 15-year old boy, many people are concerned: about the safety of their communities. The police have been heavily promoting the installation of security cameras as a solution to crime in Toronto and are moving forward with plans to install security cameras in several areas in the GTA. Locations for the new surveillance technology include the downtown club district and several poor (and predominantly black) areas in North York and Scarborough. But do security cameras really make for safe communities? The experience of Britain shows otherwise.
The scale of government surveillance in Britain is difficult to truly comprehend. With over four million security cameras, Britain is the must watched society on earth. Cameras are everywhere: in the streets, subway and bus stations, airports, taxi cabs, shops, restaurants, bars, and public housing areas. The average Londoner will be on camera more than 300 times in a single day. Wherever you go, you are under the eyes of the state.
Many cameras do more than just watch. Increasing numbers of cameras are linked to software programs designed to record car license plates that cross reference the plate number with lists of “suspicious persons” or check for outstanding parking fines or other infractions. Efforts are currently underway to create large-scale facial recognition programs that would make an anonymous walk in public a thing of the past. Other programs analyze body language to detect “abnormal behavior” and alert monitors. For example, if you happened to be waiting for a friend while standing near a bank machine, you would quickly draw the attention of the authorities because your motions don’t match those of someone using a bank machine.
The surveillance program is also incredibly expensive. The British government spends between 150 to 300 million pounds (340 to 680 million dollars Canadian) of taxpayers money on the surveillance industry, pleasing the corporations that supply this technology to no end. In Toronto, police plan to spend $2 million. While not a major expenditure, these funds will only cover a six month pilot project of 15 cameras. Any large scale permanent project would quickly run into the tens of millions or more.
Surveillance is intrusive and expensive, but is it at least effective? While early studies commissioned by the police were wildly enthusiastic about the potential of surveillance technology, more rigorous independent studies have shown the results to be far less impressive. In a review of 22 different studies, the British Home Office found that security cameras are good for protecting cars, but not for protecting people. When cameras were placed in parking lots, vehicle crimes (mainly thefts) were significantly reduced. But when it came to preventing violent crime or crime in city centers or public housing areas the cameras had little to no impact.
Some areas even reported negative results from security cameras going up. When security cameras were installed in high-rent commercial districts crime in the area dropped, but only because crime was displaced to nearby poor residential neighbourhoods. In short, the amount of crime didn’t decrease, it just moved next door. As long as the root causes for crime were ignored, the best security cameras could do is displace crime.
When one looks at the British experience, it becomes clear that Toronto police want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to stop the types of crime in the types of places were security cameras will have the least impact. This raises the issue, what else could this money by spent on? Criminologist have found that proper street lighting and keeping areas in decent repair have a far greater impact on crime than security cameras. Yet Toronto Community Housing is notorious for taking forever to repair burned out lighting, repair vandalism, or fix broken locks. The government also continues to do little about the lack of decent jobs in our communities, driving some people into criminal activity just to survive.
We need to demand that all levels of government deal with the root causes of crime in our communities and not waste our money on ineffective, intrusive, and expensive surveillance cameras! We need jobs, decent housing, and healthy communities!
Amal: I used to live in Regent Park, so when you talk about revitalization…Regent Park’s the first thing I think about. That’s why I ended up living at Lawrence Heights, so when I think about Revitalization, I think about moving.
I think Lawrence Heights is an excellent location, if this was going to be revitalized and made into houses that you can buy and own it would be excellent—and be in the millions. If you look at the location where we’re at, houses are up to $500,000. So in terms of revitalization I just think they’re kicking the poor out…to communities that don’t have that much services; in terms of TTC, that accessible.
[The “revitalization] is a bad thing, in the sense that not a lot of people will come back to the community. I think a lot of people are going to be kicked out to other communities that are really far and not accessible to services. Whereas in Lawrence Heights we have that privilege: we have two subway stations; we have two big malls; we have a library. So I think we’re getting kicked out and for me personally, living at Regent Park, coming to Lawrence Heights and now hearing revitalization, I think it’s the further and further I move out. I can say for my family that we don’t have a choice. Where is home for us? Home is a place where you have decisions and you can always come back, but that’s not happening. We constantly have to be moving because of revitalization.
And not only that, living at Regent Park you come to find out that only half the houses that are going to be revitalized are going into subsidized units—half! If not half then less than half.
[Current TCHC estimates are that only one third of units will be rent geared to income! - editor.]
BASICS: How will this affect the Somali community? With revitalization will people be split up?
AMAL: I think with anybody that would happen, not only Somali. People who’ve been raised here knowing their families and what not, have to leave…I have to emphasize: we have no choice in the matter. The only thing you have a choice in is the next place that you choose to live in. So that disturbs me. I think that’s the one thing people don’t look at.
BASICS: If it was your choice what would you make happen?
AMAL: Well one thing I would have is—upgrade these houses. These houses haven’t been upgraded from God knows when. We live in an environment that is infested with cockroaches, with rats. And for the parents of Lawrence Heights I would want to change that so that it would have more of a “home” feeling. More of a status that you feel comfortable living in subsidized housing.
BASICS: Did any one really consult you about the redevelopment?
AMAL: No. I just know that it’s going to happen. Nobody got to vote on it. It’s not a choice and that’s what disturbs me. Being a person that is marginalized already and TCHC with their approach as “community-based” and “tenants have rights” when in fact we don’t, and can’t even express the fact that we don’t want to move.
TANISHA is a 20 year-old 1st-year student at York University who grew up in Lawrence Heights.
TANISHA: Revitalization is a hot topic right now because people are starting to hear about it. However, I know that this is a project that has been planned for years now. So it’s weird to me that the actual residents who have been living here for years are just hearing about it. I don’t feel that we are given enough opportunities to get involved and have our voices heard when it comes to the revitalization project and what’s gonna be happening to our houses. These are houses we’ve been living in for years. These are houses that we’ve raised our children in. And knowing that they will be teared down soon, and knowing that we might have to move elsewhere, there’s just too many questions that are not being answered. And too many loopholes within the planning process, according to the residents here. Because no one is really talking to us and giving us straight forward answers about what is happening.
BASICS: Do you think a resident’s association could be formed out of this problem?
TANISHA: I can definitely see something like that, maybe a resident organization. But more specifically a youth forum or organization. Because, believe it or not, the youth here take a significant role among the population of Lawrence Heights and we have very strong opinions that need to be heard. So it would be nice to have a youth forum in particular, that creates an outlet for youth to have a say in revitalization.
The number one fear personally, is our sense of family that we have developed over such a long period of time now, is going to be broken. That security and knowing we all know each other and take care of each other here in Lawrence Heights, is going to be broken up. Because we will be sent to different areas of Toronto and our community won’t be as tight-knit as it is now and has been. Regardless of the Somali, Caribbean, Eritrean, or Indian youths, we are all one community and everyone takes care of each other.
Here in Lawrence Heights because many of the members have known each other for such a long time, we know our neighbours, we know our neighbours children, we have a common set of values where we all kind of think alike or we experience the same issues as other members of our community. And I just feel with the revitalization, having an influx of so many different people coming in from different areas; from different socio-economic backgrounds, there’s gonna be too many people with too many different sets of values. And the issues that we might be facing, the new people might not have faced those issues and vice versa.
Gentrification is all I have to say. Everyone should look that word up. With revitalization, there is a lot of economic profit that will be made for the city and for other organizations as part of the development and planning process. And I hope that the message gets out that this community is about so much more than just poverty, money or economics. There’s a lot of talent in this community, there’s a lot of artists in this community, there’s a strong sense of family.
Congressman. The image evokes fancy offices with big leather chairs, powerful and wealthy members of the elite in expensive suits making deals. For Satur Ocampo, a congressman in the Philippines, his position has led in a very different direction: to a prison cell and the danger of assassination. Ocampo’s pro-people politics and leadership of the Bayan Muna (People First) party-list has earned him the ire of the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and placed his freedom and life in grave danger.
Ocampo, the son of landless peasants, has a long history as a political activist fighting for social justice. As a student during the late 1960’s he was a founding member of Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth) and the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism. When the Marcos military dictatorship took over the Philippines in 1972, Ocampo went underground and was instrumental in the foundation of the National Democratic Front, uniting the forces fighting to overthrow the dictatorship.
In 1976, Ocampo was captured by the fascist government and for the next nine years held in various prison camps where he was regularly and brutally tortured. Even in the camps he continued to organize, leading protest actions by thousands of political prisoners. Despite his long imprisonment and cruel treatment, the military courts set up by the dictatorship could not convict him of any crime. After nine long years of captivity, Ocampo escaped from prison and rejoined the underground movement.
With the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, Ocampo resurfaced as the lead negotiator for the NDF with the new civilian government of Corazon Aquino. Hopes were high for a peaceful settlement to the civil war in the countryside. These hopes were dashed when Aquino ordered the military to open fire on peasant demonstrators during a rally against Aquino’s policy of fake land reform. 18 farmers were killed and scores more injured. The peace talks collapsed and Ocampo returned to the underground until he was captured again in 1989. Again the courts could not convict him and after three years in prison he was released.
Popular pressure by the common people of the Philippines forced the government to allow the social movements to form party-lists to run in elections. Ocampo was a founding member and leader of Bayan Muna party-list and was elected to Congress in 2001 and again in 2004. The Filipino people saw tangible results in the form of the Overseas Voting Act and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, legislation introduced by Bayan Muna and enacted into law. Ocampo spearheaded the Legislators Against War alliance to oppose the American war in Iraq and elsewhere as well as the Legislators-Businessmen-People’s Forum to protect Philippine businesses and agriculture from the destructive effects of globalization.
The Arroyo government, more concerned with protecting American business interests and the power of local elites, has responded to Bayan Muna’s success with repression and violence. They attempted to silence Ocampo with trumped-up multiple murder charges allegedly committed in 1984 – while Ocampo was still in prison! The weakness of the state’s case was proved in April when the Supreme Court criticized the state’s case as “defective” and ordered Ocampo released on bail, even though the charges were non-bailable. Despite this victory, Bayan Muna members and supporters are still being arrested, beaten, kidnapped, or murdered by security forces.
Bayan Muna is not the only group facing repression. Rep. Crispin Beltran, a 75 year-old labour leader and member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party-list has been held for 16 months in a military prison hospital, also under trumped-up charges of rebellion against the Marcos dictatorship 25 years ago. There has also been an escalation in the number assassinations, particularly against members and supporters of progressive party-lists, trade unions, peasant, womens, and indigenous peoples associations, human rights monitors, and even members of the clergy.
The method of killing is repeated over and over again: two young men on motorcycle shoot their victims in broad daylight in close proximity to a military or police camp. Witnesses to assassinations are themselves killed in “mop up” operations. While all evidence points towards state security forces as the perpetrators investigations are done only for show, arrests are incredibly rare and convictions rarer still. After 840 killings and 200 disappearances since Arroyo’s taking office, only three low-ranking soldiers have ever been charged.
On a business trip to China last year, Prime Minister Harper promised the Canadian people that he would not “sell out important Canadian values - our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights” for the sake of trade and investment. Yet with $1.5 billion in trade between the Philippines and Canada every year, the Canadian government has failed to use its influence to pressure the Arroyo regime to stop harassing and killing their political opponents. People in this country must demand that their government stop supporting the Arroyo regime!