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Zimbabwe and the Steep Road to Vindication

By Netfa Freeman | Black Agenda Report | December 14, 2010

When Zimbabwe initiated fast track land redistribution in 2000 it was big news for corporate media to echo several patented denunciations, characterizing the process as rife with corruption, violence, and inefficiency and doomed to fail. More than eager to join the fray was the liberal left whose pseudo analysis reiterated the same line accompanied by an aversion to anything that seemed even remotely favorable to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party.

Given all that media fanfare, it would be easy to assume an independent study examining results from the last ten years of land reform would get the same attention. Not likely. In fact we can be sure more attention will be given to the dispatches from the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe publicized by WikiLeaks. One cable by former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell reveals nothing unexpected or compelling except Dell’s aptitude for writing subjective diatribes that are able to pass for concrete information to the politically uncritical eye. Ambassador Dell’s publicized cable exposes the lack of confidence he has for many of the leaders in their neo-colonial pawn party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that he and the U.S. brazenly support along with the rest of the Western powers. A friend of mine had this to say about the cable “I think it’s funny that they’ve been predicting his [Mugabe’s] imminent demise for so long. I’ve always said that the biggest Achilles’ heel of the imperialists is that they actually believe their own horse****, especially since the aforementioned [the Dell cable] self-delusional horse**** is oftentimes the basis for their actions.”

Dell dispatched the cable in 2007 and at this point most if not all of the assertions in it have been disproved over time, bringing us to the real meat of this article – meat that will be overshadowed in Western press by the recent WikiLeaks release. Not that they would endeavor to report this at all even in the absence of WikiLeaks.

You see, the major study of 10 years of land reform in Zimbabwe actually exists and was released in mid November. As we said, if one assumed it would get big media coverage they would assume wrongly since such a study doesn’t conform with the acceptable and imposed imperial narrative. It appears the study, released by Institute for Development Studies fellow Ian Scoones at Britain’s University of Sussex and detailed in the book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Myths & Realities, was able to lure the usual Mugabe and ZANU PF detractors into resuming their typical propaganda pot-shots, indicating that something unfavorable to them is afoot. An article by staunch Mugabe critic Patrick Bond in the online magazine Counterpunch, “A New Tyranny: Will Zimbabwe Regress Again?” was published just as the new study evaluating the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe was released. It almost seemed that Bond’s article was meant to serve as damage control from the revelations of the study.

Before assuming the land study is the topic of Bond’s article, revealingly not one mention of the study was in the article. While this was interesting it was not surprising, given that the study contradicts a collection of major narrative myths Bond has been complicit in popularizing. The study “challenges five myths through the examination of the field data from Masvingo province:

“Myth 1 Zimbabwean land reform has been a total failure

“Myth 2 The beneficiaries of Zimbabwean land reform have been largely political ‘cronies’ (specifically, cronies of Robert Mugabe)

“Myth 3 There is no investment in the new resettlements

“Myth 4 Agriculture is in complete ruins creating chronic food insecurity

“Myth 5 The rural economy has collapsed

“By challenging these myths, and suggesting alternative policy narratives, this book presents the story as it has been observed on the ground: warts and all.”

Over the past year or so things had been relatively quiet on the ZANU PF-Mugabe vilifying front, leaving one to wonder about the timing between the land redistribution study and any new ZANU PF-Mugabe vilification resurrecting its ugly head. Even more deafening is the silence over the study by Western media and the Western beholden civil society organizations, right wing or “progressive.” While Bond does deal quite a bit in his article with land redistribution it is mostly to continue the notion that it was a disingenuous exercise that was largely a failure. Just like Ambassador Dell’s cable to the US State Department, Bond backs none of this up with the type of information that can be either proven or disproved.

And even with the wholly inadequate coverage the land study has gotten, like that of the BBC, coverage tries to divert attention to a “process which these farms were seized off white farmers, often very, very violently,” as remarked by the host of BBC News Worldwide while interviewing Ian Scoones. Lacking the sensitivities that come from identifying with the indigenous African’s from which the land was brutally stolen in the first place using methods exponentially more violent than any used to reclaim it by the African descendants who have the only rightful claim to it, Scoones could not articulate the more fitting come-back for such Euro-centrically biased questioning.

The imperialists, along with their pseudo-progressive civil society organizations, must believe that if they just keep repeating the same lies and misrepresentations over and over they will transform them into truths. Like the facts of the 2008 elections whose depiction is another obstacle in Zimbabwe’s road to vindication. In his article Bond repeats the refutable claim that “Since paramilitary violence forced Tsvangirai to pull out of the mid-2008 run-off presidential election (after winning the first round – but, claimed Mugabe’s vote-counters, with less than 50%),…” When one’s purpose is only to generate unsubstantiated assertions it’s easy to pack a lot of misinformation into a single sentence.

The devil, or shall we say the real truth is in the details. While Bond’s assertion follows the standard imperialist propaganda line, facts reveal that the results of that election were not under the control of “Mugabe’s vote-counters” but instead a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) that included representatives, ballot counters, and poll watchers from all the political parties of the country who each had to sign off on the results during each stage of tallying. Bond also claims his imperialist-backed MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai was the winner even though the country’s constitution dictates that there is only a winner when a candidate receives over 50% of the vote. Instead of a claim by “Mugabe’s vote-counters” as Bond put it, it was even according to the figures peddled by the MDC at the time a run off was warranted. Unlike Bond, an April 4, 2008 article in the Zimbabwe Guardian clarified this fairly recent history with more concrete and verifiable information, saying:

“Morgan Tsvangirai might aspire to be president of Zimbabwe, but he has difficulty with simple mathematics. Yesterday, he claimed to have won 50.3 per cent of the vote in Zimbabwe’s election. This figure is vital because it puts him just above the crucial 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid a second round against Robert Mugabe.

“But anyone with a calculator can work out that someone got their sums wrong. According to the MDC, Tsvangirai took 1,169,860 votes against Mugabe’s 1,043,451 and Simba Makoni’s 169,636.

“These figures appear in an official statement carried on the MDC’s website today, along with the claim that “President Tsvangirai has 50.3 percent of the total Presidential vote and he has won the election with no need for a run-off.”

Get out your calculator and check the percentages. In fact, the MDC’s voting figures show Tsvangirai with 49.1 per cent, Mugabe with 43.8 per cent and Makoni winning 7.1 per cent.”

So on the MDC’s own figures, a second round is needed.

These weren’t the only shenanigans the MDC attempted during the first round of voting and conveniently overlooked by Bond. Some may recall the long time it took for the results of the first round of voting to be released, emboldening the opposition and Western forces to claim ZANU PF was stalling in order to put in the fix. And the pitiful Christopher Dell cable released by WikiLeaks actually adds to misleading the public about the real context of that time. For example, that some ZEC officials were “arrested on allegations of tampering with election results and prejudicing ZANU-PF presidential candidate President Mugabe of 4,993 votes cast in four constituencies in the just-ended harmonized elections” as reported in an April 8th 2008 article in Zimbabwe’s The Herald. The article went on to detail that investigations around the same improprieties where taking place in “two other constituencies in Manicaland where the Zanu-PF presidential candidate was also allegedly prejudiced of 1,392 votes.

“In Mashonaland Central, it is alleged, the same candidate was prejudiced of 773 votes while investigations also revealed that the same candidate lost 1,000 votes in two Matabeleland North constituencies and 1,828 votes in Masvingo…

“…The anomalies were detected following a close scrutiny of V11 and V23 forms.

“A V11 form is an original document carrying results at polling stations and is signed by all agents of contesting parties.

After the signing of the V11 form, information is then recorded on the V23 forms that collate polling station results within a ward.

“These forms also show the results of the council elections.

“The Sunday Mail reported at the weekend that at Rimbi Primary School in Manicaland Province, the V11 form showed that President Mugabe got 612 votes but the V23 form that was forwarded to the National Command Centre shows that the President received 187 votes.

“This anomaly was detected in a number of constituencies.”

Instead of believing the false, typical and unsubstantiated claim that paramilitary violence forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the 2008 run-off that followed the first round of voting, a real and more plausible explanation is detailed here.

So while it is easy to foster confusion with grandiose, albeit brief, assertions barren of concretely verifiable information, it often takes pages of critically assembled information to unravel it. To properly digest the WikiLeaks released cable of Dell we can learn from CISPES, Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. In looking at the WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, CISPES has made some very astute observations. It would be wise for us to consider that much may be similar regarding Zimbabwe and El Salvador: “While Wikileaks’ release of leaked diplomatic cables provides an unprecedented opportunity to reveal the workings and motives of U.S. foreign policy, the process grants large international news agencies the decision-making power as to which cables to release and the opportunity to craft the first analysis that the public will hear.”

CISPES continues: “Considering more than 1,000 cables about El Salvador were reportedly leaked, we must ask what criteria were used to select these particular cables for first publication; cables that right-wing Salvadoran news sources are now using in a continued attempt to undermine new government.” … “Overall, the cables reveal an Embassy that is out of touch with the leading role played by the FMLN in El Salvador’s current political reality.”

The IDS land study in Zimbabwe does provide what could be considered an unbiased account of land reform in Zimbabwe. However, much of what it reveals had already been documented by anti-imperialist author Gregory Elich and in many ways more comprehensively. IDS fellow Ian Scoones insists that his study focused only on the results of land reform over time, occasionally seeming to accept the Western narrative on the means by which the redistribution took place. Zimbabwe’s land issue is consistently characterized by unprecedentedly and indiscriminately violent takeovers from white landowners deliberately instigated by Mugabe and ZANU PF. Elich refutes this in his meticulously researched and referenced book Strange Liberators; Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit, showing that farm “invasions” involved “temporary visits of a few days and sporadic repeat visits. They [did] not entail the extended stays” and that the farms targeted tended to be those of landowners who “had mistreated workers, paid excessively low wages or exhibited overt racism.” Regarding the use of violence Elich also showed that “…compared to rural and urban violence in South Africa, Ireland or Brazil, the level in Zimbabwe has been quite low.” Incidents perpetrated by those who were legitimately dissatisfied with what had been inadequate land delivery were curtailed by the ZANU PF fast track land redistribution program.

The IDS study merely validates Elich’s job of disproving the myth that beneficiaries of the land reform had been political “cronies” of Mugabe and that the process was largely corrupt. Elich also pointed out that land confiscated by the Zimbabwe government for redistribution was “unused land, underutilized land, land owned by absentee owners, land owned by a person possessing multiple farms, land exceeding size limits (which varied by region), and land contiguous with communal lands.” Rather than Mugabe being in cahoots with what in reality was a minuscule 0.3 percent of cases where the process was abused (5% according to the IDS study), Elich demonstrates something different. The investigation that uncovered such abuse and corruption in the process by government and party officials was actually initiated by the President’s Land Resettlement Committee. (Elich, p. 343-344)

While Patrick Bond’s writings and WikiLeaks documents might seem a compelling source of truth, such truth is unfortunately harder to come by. One “wiki-leaked” cable indicates that because “many MDC-T local councilors and parliamentarians elected in 2008 had no independent income…they were now turning to graft.” Such disclosures don’t tell the relevant complicity of the World Bank in secretly bankrolling MDC-T officials. While the IDS study on the land reform pushes Zimbabwe further down the road to vindication an anti-imperialist and revolutionary perspective of Zimbabwe’s struggles will continue to require a very scrutinizing and critical approach.

Netfa Freeman is the Director of IPS’ Social Action & Leadership School for Activists and an activist in the internationalist and Pan-African liberation movements. He can be reached at

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 1 Comment

Been to Israel/Palestine lately? The FBI may come knocking on your door.

By Cecilie Surasky | MuzzleWatch | December 15 2010

By the time she was in high school, Sarah Smith had already been named one of the 100 most influential women in Chicago by Chicago’s business magazine, Crain’s. Now Smith, who happens to be Jewish, has been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury on January 25 to explain her trip to Israel-Palestine with two Palestinian women friends. (As terrifying as this whole episode is for everyone involved, it says something about Palestinian safety that only Smith has come forward publicly.) All three young Chicago residents have been subpoenaed, joining ranks with 14 other peace activists from the Midwest who have been similarly targeted in recent months.

Here is Sarah Smith’s full statement from a December 6 press conference:

Friday morning, December 3, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions.

I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage.

Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip. The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street?

I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for standing up for me and my friends. You can learn about case at, and please make a donation there. Or you can make a donation for our legal expenses: to NLG Foundation, memo line: FBI raids and mail it to Sarah Smith, 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, IL 60608

Smith’s father, Stan Smith,  added “I think Patrick Fitzgerald, the US District Attorney, Robert Parker of the FBI need to see my daughter and her friends and apologize to them. And I think President Obama, who was elected in 2008 because he said he would stop this sort of thing, should make a point on his next trip to Chicago to personally apologize to my daughter and her friends for how his government is intimidating them.”

Meanwhile, there are actions across the country to protest this crackdown on peace activists (sign the petition here). Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola has this report:

The hunting down of activists began on September 24th when the FBI raided homes and offices of activists from Minneapolis and Chicago. Computers, phones, documents and other personal items were seized and the FBI officially subpoenaed 14 activists to appear before a Grand Jury. The FBI began to contact members of the “peace community” and ask them what they knew about the subpoenaed activists’ “material support for terrorism.”

The attorneys representing the activists have noted “the current definition of “material support’ can cover just about anything, like providing humanitarian aid that ends up in the hands of a group tagged as ‘terrorist’ by the US government, or posting a link to an informational website. The implications of this law, as it is being used, are troubling to anyone who does community organizing, or anyone who does journalistic reporting or academic research on wars, conflicts or controversial movements.”

Months later, the activists in Minneapolis and Chicago have not been charged with a crime, but they continue to face possible jail time if they refuse to go before a Grand Jury and participate in this “witch hunt.” They have yet to have their belongings, which were seized by the FBI, returned.

Democracy anyone?

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | 2 Comments

Preliminary results for the CERN CLOUD cosmic ray experiment | December 15, 2010

An experiment designed to investigate the link between solar activity and the climate has its first results in the bag. At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco today, Joachim Curtius presented data from the first runs of the CLOUD (‘cosmics leaving outdoor droplets’) experiment at CERN – the European particle physics lab outside of Geneva.

The experiment has a long and bumpy history. The idea is to test the theory that cosmic rays spur the formation of particles in the air that nucleate clouds, in turn making skies cloudier and the planet cooler. Researchers have noted a dearth of sunspots (which is linked to more cosmic rays) during the ‘little ice age’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and a peak in sunspots (linked to a drop in cosmic rays) during the late 1980s, when global cloudiness dropped by about 3% (see Nature‘s feature on the project). No one knows how big this effect might be, and the idea that it might account for a big chunk of the warming over the last century is highly controversial.

CLOUD uses a particle beam from CERN as a stand-in for cosmic rays, and fires them through an ultra-clean steel chamber filled with select atmospheric gases, to see if and how particles that could nucleate clouds are formed. Project head Jasper Kirkby proposed the experiment back in 1998. But it had a hard time getting off the ground – perhaps in part because Kirkby received bad press for emphasizing the importance of cosmic rays to climate change (see this story from the National Post). CLOUD finally got going in 2006, and they started work with the full kit in November 2009 (here’s a CERN video update about that).

The results haven’t yet been published, so Curtius declined to discuss the details. But the important thing is that the project is working – they have seen sulphuric acid and water combine to make particles when blasted by the CERN beam, for example, in a way that matches predictions of the most recent models. The data should help the team to quantify how much of an impact the Sun is having on climate within 2-3 years, Curtius says – though there are a lot more pieces of the puzzle to fill in.

December 16, 2010  Anthony Watts adds:

Dr. Roy Spencer has mentioned that it doesn’t take much in the way of cloud cover changes to add up to the “global warming signal” that has been observed. He writes in The Great Global Warming Blunder:

The most obvious way for warming to be caused naturally is for small, natural fluctuations in the circulation patterns of the atmosphere and ocean to result in a 1% or 2% decrease in global cloud cover. Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade, and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.

See also: Cosmic rays linked to rapid mid-latitude cloud changes

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | 5 Comments

Yugoslavia: How Holbrooke Lied His Way into a War

By Sam Husseini | Global Research | December 9, 2008

This article was originally published while Richard Holbrooke was being considered for the position he held in the Obama administration.

Shortly before the bombing of Yugoslavia began in late March 1999, Richard Holbrooke met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. By his own account, Holbrooke delivered the final ultimatum to Milosevic — that if Yugoslavia didn’t agree to the Rambouillet text, NATO would begin bombing.

The Rambouillet text called for a de facto occupation of Yugoslavia. On major U.S. media, after the bombing of Yugoslavia began, Holbrooke claimed that what was called for in the Rambouillet text, despite Serbian protests, “isn’t an occupation”. Several weeks later, when confronted by a journalist familiar with the Rambouillet text, Holbrooke claimed: “I never said that”. This was a lie, it was also a tacit admission that the Rambouillet text did call for an occupation (why else would Holbrooke deny saying it when he had?) So the U.S. demanded that Yugoslavia submit to occupation or be bombed — and Holbrooke lied about this crucial fact when questioned about the cause of the war.

Here are the specifics:The Rambouillet text of Feb. 23, 1999, a month before NATO began bombing, contained provisions that provided for NATO to basically occupy the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), not just Kosovo. Excerpts from Appendix (B) (I attempted to draw attention to this at the time when I became aware of it.):

7. NATO personnel shall be immune from any form of arrest, investigation, or detention by the authorities in the FRY.

8. NATO personnel shall enjoy… free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters.

11. NATO is granted the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment…

15. [NATO shall have] the right to use all of the electromagnetic spectrum…

On April 6, 1999, about two weeks after the bombing began, Holbrooke appeared on the Charlie Rose show and was asked about what started the war. (Video is here, approximate times in the interview are provided):

[3:45] “The 81 pages of the Rambouillet agreement, which the Serbs rejected, contain all the elements of a really solid interim solution. … Although Rambouillet itself was rejected, the principles embodied in the Rambouillet agreement make a hell of a lot of sense. …”

[13:00] “The [Yugoslavian government] decision was to trigger the bombing of their own country instead of accepting this very reasonable political offer.” …

[14:00] Asked how to explain the actions of the Serbs, Holbrooke claims the Serbs said: “The choice you’ve given us is to have our sacred soil violated by an invading force. I said this isn’t an invasion, it isn’t an occupation, it’s an international peacekeeping force that will save the Serb minority in Kosovo. …”

[15:00] “We walked the last mile for peace.”

[17:00] “The bombing must continue and must intensify until the Yugoslav leadership realizes they have to change their positions.”

On April 23, 1999, journalist Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now questioned Richard Holbrooke as he was leaving the Overseas Press Club’s 60th anniversary dinner:

Holbrooke: “One question.”

Jeremy Scahill: “You’ve said, since you gave the ultimatum to President Milosevic, that the Rambouillet accords do not call for the occupation of Yugoslavia. In –”

Holbrooke: “I never said that. That’s the end of that. You got the wrong person and the wrong quote. That’s your question.”

Scahill: “Do the Rambouillet accords … Are the the Rambouillet accords a call for the occupation of Yugoslavia — how do you reconcile that with Appendix B?”

Holbrooke: “I was not at Rambouillet. You’ll have to address it to the people –”

Scahill: “You delivered the ultimatum, you’re familiar with with the text –”

Holbrooke: “I did not discuss that detail with him. That’s your question.”

Scahill: “You haven’t answered the question though.”

Holbrooke: “I have answered the question. Good night.” (See the April 23, 1999 Democracy Now, especially beginning at 29:00.)

It’s tempting for many to think that the current Bush administration and the 2003 invasion of Iraq are totally unique. They’re not, the methods of the U.S. government lying its way into a war are long standing and many of the culprits are still very much part of the political structure.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | Comments Off on Yugoslavia: How Holbrooke Lied His Way into a War