Aletho News


The massacre at El Calabozo

Tim’s El Salvador Blog | August 20, 2012

On Wednesday August 22,  people will gather at the church in Amatitán Abajo, in San Vicente Department, to commemorate, remember and demand justice for a massacre which happened thirty years ago.   It is the anniversary of the El Calabozo massacre, when troops of the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion murdered more than 200 civiliam victims taking refuge along a river’s banks.

The massacre was documented in the UN Truth Commission Report following the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords:

On 22 August 1982, in the place known as El Calabozo situated beside the Amatitán river in the north of the Department of San Vicente, troops of the Atlacatl Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion (BIRI) killed over 200 men, women and children whom they were holding prisoner.

The victims had converged on El Calabozo from various directions, fleeing a vast antiguerrilla military operation which had begun three days earlier in the area of Los Cerros de San Pedro and which involved, in addition to the Atlacatl BIRI, other infantry, artillery and aerial support units.

There was a major guerrilla presence, supported by the local population, in the area of the operation. Government forces had penetrated the area on earlier occasions, but the guerrillas had avoided combat. This time the operation, which bore the name “Teniente Coronel Mario Azenón Palma”, involved some 6,000 troops and was designed to clear the area of guerrillas. As the troops advanced, the civilian population fled, fearing the shelling and the soldiers’ violence. One of the places where a large number of fugitives congregated was El Calabozo.

According to witnesses, the fugitives were surprised by the Atlacatl Battalion unit. Some of them managed to escape; the rest were rounded up and machine-gunned.  The military operation continued for several more days. The Government informed the public that it had been a success: many guerrillas had been killed, camps had been destroyed and weapons and other supplies had been seized.

On 8 September, two weeks after the incident, the massacre was reported in The Washington Post. The Minister of Defence, General José Guillermo García, said that an investigation had been made and that no massacre had occurred. He repeated this assertion in an interview with the Commission….

There is sufficient evidence that on 22 August 1982, troops of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately killed over 200 civilians – men, women and children – who had been taken prisoner without offering any resistance. The incident occurred at the place known as El Calabozo, near the canton of Amatitán Abajo, Department of San Vicente.

Although the massacre was reported publicly, the Salvadorian authorities denied it. Despite their claim to have made an investigation, there is absolutely no evidence that such an investigation took place.

Families of the victims of the massacre have worked to keep the memory of these events alive and to demand justice.   Laura Hershberger wrote on the SHARE Foundation blog about a youth event in 2009 commemorating the slaughter:

None of the youth had lived through the Calabozo massacre that happened by river of Amititan in a place called the Calabazo in 1982, but they had grown up hearing the story from their family. How the army had advanced from the San Pedro hills and how the inhabitants of the region fled their homes in what was known as the “guindas.” How the people had been walking for seven days without food and took refuge by the river to sleep when they were attacked by the Atlacatl and the Ramon Belloso Batallian, it was then that they were massacred in cold blood, over two hundred men, women and children. When the youth group from the Community of El Rincon acted out a play that had written about the massacre, they made sure to include the part where the mothers plea for the soldiers to take their own lives but to spare the lives of their small children.

Those pleas for mercy fell on the deaf ears of the soldier of the Atlacatl Battalion who 9 months earlier had slaughtered 1000 civilians in El Mozote.   The forensic anthropologists from Argentina who have conducted the investigations at El Mozote have also exhumed bodies of victims of the El Calabozo massacre.   Earlier this year, the online periodical ContraPunto described their recovery of the body of a grandmother and her two granddaughters, ages 5 and 9, from the massacre site.   This investigation had been led by  Asociación Pro Búsqueda, the NGO which continues the search for children missing from the years of the civil war.   As ContraPunto notes, twenty years after the signing of the Peace Accords, many families still face the uncertainty of not knowing where the bodies of their loved ones can be found, or whether they could have survived.

The families of the victims continue to demand justice in the face of the 1993 Amnesty Law which the government interprets to prevent prosecution of such war crimes.   There is still no political will in the National Assembly or the president’s office to repeal the law.  You can watch this video of a 2009 press conference given by human rights lawyer David Morales and families of victims regarding their petition that the case against those responsible for the the El Calabozo massacre be pursued.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fukushima fish carrying 258 times the ‘safe’ level of radiation

RT | August 21, 2012

A pair of fish captured near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have shown to be carrying record levels of radiation. The pair of greenlings are contaminated with 258 times the level government deems safe for consumption.

­The fish, which were captured just 12 miles from the nuclear plant, registered 25,800 becquerels of caesium per kilo, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

TEPCO says the high levels may be due to the fish feeding in radioactive hotspots. The company plans on capturing and testing more of the fish, as well as their feed, and the seabed soil to determine the exact cause of the high radiation.

The findings were surprising for officials, who had previously seen much lower levels of radiation in contaminated fish.

Fishermen been allowed to cast their reels in the nearby waters on an experimental basis since June – but only in areas more than 31 miles from the plant.

Previously, the highest recorded radiation seen in the captured wildlife was 18,700 becquerels per kilo in cherry salmons, according to the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

The radiation was caused by a meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima power plant after it was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The disaster was so intense that contaminated fish were caught all the way across the Pacific Ocean, on the California coast.

But it’s not only aquatic life that is suffering from side effects of the leaked radiation.

According to researchers, the radiation has caused mutations in some butterflies, giving them dented eyes, malformed legs and antennae, and stunted wings.

The results show the butterflies were deteriorating both physically and genetically.

But the harmful risks don’t stop with butterflies. The radioactivity which seeped into the region’s air and water has left humans facing potentially life threatening health issues.

Over a third of Fukushima children are at risk of developing cancer, according to the Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey.

­The report shows that nearly 36 per cent of children in the Fukushima Prefecture have abnormal thyroid growths which pose a risk of becoming cancerous.

The World Health Organization warns that young people are particularly prone to radiation poisoning in the thyroid gland. Infants are most at risk because their cells divide at a higher rate.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Fukushima fish carrying 258 times the ‘safe’ level of radiation

Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike

By Chris Webb | The Bullet | August 21, 2012

On August 4, 1946 over one thousand miners assembled in Market Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. No hall in the town was big enough to hold them, and no one would have rented one to them anyway. The miners were members of the African Mine Worker’s Union (AMWU), a non-European union which was formed five years earlier in order to address the 12 to 1 pay differential between white and black mineworkers. The gathering carried forward just one unanimous resolution: African miners would demand a minimum wage of ten shillings (about 1 Rand) per day. If the Transvaal Chamber of Mines did not meet this demand, all African mine workers would embark on a general strike immediately. Workers mounted the platform one after the other to testify: “When I think of how we left our homes in the reserves, our children naked and starving, we have nothing more to say. Every man must agree to strike on 12 August. It is better to die than go back with empty hands.” The progressive Guardian newspaper reported an old miner getting to his feet and addressing his comrades: “We on the mines are dead men already!”[1]

Mike Constable

The massacre of 45 people, including 34 miners, at Marikana in the North West province is an inevitable outcome of a system of production and exploitation that has historically treated human life as cheap and disposable. If there is a central core – a stem in relation to which so many other events are branches – that runs through South African history, it is the demand for cheap labour for South Africa’s mines. “There is no industry of the size and prosperity of this that has managed its cheap labour policy so successfully,” wrote Ruth First in reference to the Chamber of Mines ability to pressure the government for policies that displaced Africans from their land and put them under the boot of mining bosses.[2]

Masters and Servants

Mechanisms such as poll and hut taxes, pass laws, Masters and Servants Acts and grinding rural poverty were all integral in ensuring a cheap and uninterrupted supply of labour for the mines. Pass laws were created in order to forge a society in which farm work or mining were the only viable employment options for the black population. And yet the low wages and dangerous work conditions kept many within the country away, forcing the Chamber of Mines to recruit labour from as far afield as Malawi and China throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sordid deals between Portuguese East Africa and Apartheid South Africa ensured forced labour to be recruited for the mines and by 1929 there were 115,000 Mozambicans working underground. “It has been said,” wrote First in her study of migrant Mozambican miners, “that the wealth of Reef gold mines lies not in the richness of the strike but in the low costs of production kept down by cheap labour.”[3]

When AMWU was formed in 1941 black miners earned 70 Rand a year while white workers received 848 Rand. White miners had been organized for many years, but there was little solidarity between the two groups as evidenced by the 1922 Rand Rebellion led by the whites-only Mine Workers Union. White miners went on strike against management’s attempt at weakening the colour bar in order to facilitate the entry of cheaper black labour into skilled positions. Supported by the Communist Party of South Africa under the banner of “Unite and Fight for a White South Africa!” the rebellion was viciously crushed by the state leaving over 200 dead. The growth of non-European unions in the 1940s was dramatic and for the very first time the interests of African mineworkers were on the table. Their demands threatened the very foundations of the cheap labour system, and so in 1944 Prime Minister Jan Smuts tabled the War Measure 1425 preventing a gathering of 20 or more on mine property. Despite these difficulties the union pressed on and in 1946 they approached the Chamber of Mines with their demand for wage increases. A letter calling for last minute negotiations with the Chamber of Mines was, as usual, ignored.

By August 12th tens-of-thousands of black miners were on strike from the East to the West Rand. The state showed the utmost brutality, chasing workers down mineshafts with live ammunition and cracking down on potential sympathy strikes in the city of Johannesburg. By August 16th the state had bludgeoned 100,000 miners back to work and nine lay dead. Throughout the four-day strike hundreds of trade union leaders were arrested, with the central committee of the Communist Party and local ANC leaders arrested and tried for treason and sedition. The violence came on the cusp of the 1948 elections, which would see further repression and the beginning of the country’s anti-communist hysteria.

National Union of Mineworkers Poster on Fortieth Anniversary of 1946 Strike

While it did not succeed in its immediate aims, the strike was a watershed moment in South African politics and would forever change the consciousness of the labour movement. Thirty years later Monty Naicker, one of the leading figures in the South African Indian Congress, argued that the strike “transformed African politics overnight. It spelt the end of the compromising, concession-begging tendencies that dominated African politics. The timid opportunism and begging for favours disappeared.”[4] The Native Representative Council, formed by the state in 1937 to address the age old ‘native question,’ disbanded on August 15th and ANC president Dr. A.B. Xuma reiterated the demand for “recognition of African trade unions and adequate wages for African workers including mineworkers.”[5]

The 1946 mineworkers strike was the spark that ignited the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC Youth League’s 1949 Program of Action owes much to the militancy of these workers as does the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s and the emergence of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in the 1960s. It is too early to say what sort of impact the current Lonmin strike will have on South African politics, but it seems unlikely that it will be as transformative as those of the past. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), arguably the heirs to the 1946 strike are currently engaged in a series of territorial disputes with the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Meanwhile COSATU’s muted response has echoed the ANC’s line of equal-culpability and half-mast public mourning. The increasingly incoherent South African Communist Party has called for the arrest of AMCU leaders with some of its so-called cadres defending the police action. Former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s plea for miners to hold the line and form a more militant union reek of political opportunism.

Still Dependent on Cheap and Flexible Labour

What no one has dared to say, aside from the miners themselves, is that the mining industry remains dependent on cheap and flexible labour, much of it continuing to come from neighbouring countries. This has historically been the source of most miner’s grievances. A recent Bench Marks Foundation study of platinum mines in the North West province uncovered a number of factors linked to rising worker discontent in the region. Lonmin was singled out as a mine with high levels of fatalities, very poor living conditions for workers and unfulfilled community demands for employment. Perhaps most significant is the fact that almost a third of Lonmin’s workforce is employed through third party contractors.[6] This form of employment is not new in the mining industry. In fact, since minerals were discovered in the 19th century labour recruiters have scoured the southern half of the continent for workers. The continued presence of these ‘labour brokers’ on the mines and the ANC’s unwillingness to ban them – opting instead for a system of increasing regulation – is the bloody truth of South Africa’s so-called ‘regulated flexibility.’

There are a number other findings from the Bench Marks study that are worth mentioning as they illuminate some of the real grievances that have been lost amid photos of waving pangas. The number of fatalities at Lonmin has doubled since January 2011, and the company has consistently ignored community calls for employment, favouring contractors and migrant workers. A visit by the Bench Marks Foundation research team to Marikana revealed:

“A proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit. At the RDP Township we found broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points.”[7]

In fact, the study predicted further violent protests at Marikana in the coming year. The mass dismissal of 9,000 workers in May last year inflamed already tense relations between the community and the mine as dismissed workers lost their homes in the company’s housing scheme.

Once again, these facts are hardly new in the world of South African mining. Behind the squalid settlements that surround the mine shafts there are immense profits to be made. In recent years the platinum mining industry has prospered like no other thanks to the increased popularity of platinum jewellery and the use of the metal in vehicle exhaust systems in the United State and European countries. Production increased by 60 per cent between 1980 and 1994, while the price soared almost fivefold. The value of sales, almost all exported, thus increased to almost 12 per cent of total sales by the mining industry. The price rose so dramatically throughout the 1990s that it is on par with gold as the country’s leading mineral export.[8] South Africa’s platinum industry is the largest in the world and in 2011 reported total revenues of $13.3-billion, which is expected to increase by 15.8% over the next five years. Lonmin itself is one of the largest producers of platinum in the world, and the bulk of its tonnage comes from the Marikana mine. The company recorded revenues of $1.9-billion in 2011, an increase of 25.7%, the majority of which would come from the Marikana shafts.[9]

For risking mutilation and death underground workers at Marikana made only 4000 Rand, or $480 a month. As one miner told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper that, “It’s better to die than to work for that shit … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.” These expressions of frustration and anger could be from 1922, 1946 or today. They are scathing indictments of an industry that continues to treat its workers as disposable and a state that upholds apartheid’s cheap labour policies.


1. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.

2. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.

3. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.

4. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.

5. Dr. A.B. Xuma quoted in Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946.”

6. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.

7. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.

8. Charles Feinstein, “An Economic History of South Africa,” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 211.

9. Marketline Advantage Reports on South Africa’s Platinum Group Metals, 2011.

Chris Webb is a postgraduate student at York University, Toronto where he is researching labour restructuring in South African agriculture. He can be reached at

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike

Foreign adviser to S. Sudan president flees Juba after disclosure of corruption letter

Sudan Tribune | August 20, 2012

WASHINGTON — A South Sudan presidential adviser had been forced to leave Juba after the disclosure of a letter urging 75 officials to return some four billion dollars they are accused of stealing, a news report unveiled.

According to a report published on Monday by the American McClatchy Newspapers, an Ethiopian-American adviser to President Salva Kiir was forced to flee Juba fearing for his safety following the release of a letter sent to influential officials and individuals close to the government.

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Ted Dagne, (L) late Congressman Payne and John Prendergast of ENOUGH at a meeting on Darfur crisis in 2008 (file photo Enough Project)

Ted Dagne, hired by the U.N. to advise Kiir on anti-corruption policy and international relations, played a key role in the preparation of the letter which was put public to embarrass the officials who are accused of stealing the four billion dollars.

On 3 May Kiir asked the 75 officials to return money they allegedly stole and offered amnesty if they deposit it at a foreign bank account.

However the letter, released one month later on 4 June, was contested by many officials who denied the accusation as some others openly disputed the 4 billion figure. The U.N. told the McClatchy it “is not familiar” with how the $4 billion figure was calculated.

Following his departure to Nairobi after the release of the letter, Dagne received a message from the South Sudanese president telling him that “he should remain outside South Sudan. Dagne later tried to return, but was refused entry,” the report said.

However the United Nations said he is still on contract with its mission in South Sudan.

Dagne who has been settled in Juba since January 2012 was named to the coveted position by the head of U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) the Norwegian Hilde Johnson who was closely involved in the peace talks between Khartoum and the former SPLM rebels.

The influential U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, supported the appointment of the former Norwegian minister at the head of UNMISS.

Dagne, and Rice, were together in a close circle of people who worked during the past years to mobilise American officials and Congress members to support South Sudanese cause. The group narrated in a long story published byReuters last July how they worked to achieve South Sudan independence.

The Ethiopian American researcher and activist told the U.S. newspaper group before leaving Juba that he was very frustrated by the extent of corruption, tribal wars and lack of development in the new nation.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Corruption | , | Comments Off on Foreign adviser to S. Sudan president flees Juba after disclosure of corruption letter