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Israeli gunfire blocks sowing of Palestinian farmland in Gaza

Resistenza Quotidiana | January 22, 2014

In the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli forces' gunfire blocks Palestinian farmlandGaza, Occupied Palestine – Since the Zionist occupation forces’ bulldozers had destroyed part of Khaled Qudaih’s field in Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, he and his family went out to sow it again. The military responded with about half an hour of gunfire, threatening to  strike Qudaih directly if he had not moved away.

Qudaih had sown wheat a little less than a month ago. It was growing, it was green and in May would be ripe. On 19th January, he went to his lands with his family to spray fertilizer. Samiha, his twelve year old daughter, wanted to get closer to the separation barrier, but she knew that it was forbidden: mamnua in Arabic.

She came as close as she could, until she reached foreign activists with yellow jackets. She approached and, with the voice of a twelve-year-old child, with the slightly clumsy behavior of those approaching foreigners for the first time, explained that the land is forbidden to her.

“I am forbidden to approach the barrier more than this,” she said. “Over there, there are the Israelis and they shoot. That land is prohibited (mamnua). It is my family’s land and  is prohibited. Sometimes the Israelis shoot even when we are away from the barrier, but today it is quiet. Will you come back when we will harvest? For the harvesting, the whole family will come. There will also be my grandfather, uncles …  a few days ago the bulldozers came and destroyed this plot of land that we had sown. Now it is destroyed.”

In the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli forces' gunfire blocks Palestinian farmlandIt gives a certain feeling to hear that horrible word mamnua from a young girl referring to her family’s land, “prohibited.”

In any case, on the 19th, fertilizer was sprayed fertilizer and there was no Zionist aggression.

Qudaih, however, was not entirely satisfied.

There was the land he had planted at the edge of the field, beside the barrier, which had been destroyed by occupation bulldozers. Even that was his land. The Zionists had no right to prevent him from cultivating it, to prevent him from reaping its benefits. He would be back the next day to reclaim it. That land could not be mamnua, “forbidden,” because it was his land, because he had also sown there, because the grain was used to make bread for his family, because the stems and bran are used to feed the sheep in his backyard , and they produce milk to drink and wool for warmth. No, not even the extreme limit of his land, 50 meters from the barrier, could be mamnua land.

So Qudaih promised that the next day he would return. He would come back with hoes to clear the ground , and with  the donkey and plow for after sowing. If it was not under Zionist threat he would do it all with the tractor. But not here. This area is too close to the separation barrier. The Zionists would not let him use a tractor.

Qudaih’s case is not an isolated one. Indeed, one can almost say that he is lucky, because usually, it is impossible to approach the less than 300 meters from the separation barrier. This is not only to attack the freedom of movement of Palestinians in their own land, but also their right to work, and , even worse, their food self-sufficiency. The Gaza Strip’s population density is among the highest in the world and, with its demographic explosion in progress, the enclave is becoming increasingly dependent on external aid, unable to meet its own needs.

In the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli forces' gunfire blocks Palestinian farmlandQudaih reaches his land with his wife, his wife’s sister, and three of his sons. Wael, no older than ten years, is also among them. Some foreign activists accompany them. A donkey cart carries the seeds, hoes and plow; Qudaih leaves the cart at the edge of the field, farthest from the barrier, and carries everything by hand. The Zionists cannot claim they could not see what was on the cart, and nothing, neither the donkey nor the material it brought could pose a threat to Israel’s security or the safety of the soldiers of the occupation forces.

Qudaih and his sons aggressively work the ground with hoes. After about ten minutes a Jeep arrives. A few seconds after it stops, the Zionists shoot a few rounds of gunfire, without any warning, without any provocation toward them. Qudaih and his sons, including Wael, are not intimidated and continue to work. Their land cannot be mamnua just because a racist and unjust occupation force has decided so. Who is stronger, the occupation forces with all their weapons and armor, or these farmers armed with hoes? The older children continue to pave the way. Khaled holds the plow in the right position while Wael drives the donkey. It takes a long time to plow the land with the donkey, because it cannot pull a heavy plow, only a small plow, which must go back and forth several times.

While the farmers continue to work, several Jeeps pass on the other side of the barrier. They continue to shoot every now and then, just to remind that they are not gone, and that the land is mamnua. But Qudaih and his family do not move away until a soldier exits a Jeep. He remains a few minutes hidden behind a mound of earth, created to hide the occupation forces, and then comes out shouting, in Arabic with a strong Hebrew accent, that they have to leave otherwise he will shoot to hit them.

While it is nice to think that the presence of internationals helped ensure the soldier got the first shot in the air, and that it has discouraged them from directly targeting Qudaih, on the other hand, it is frustrating to realize that if this happens it is only because the world is fundamentally racist, and a witness from the West is more inconvenient than a Palestinian witness.

Meanwhile, the soldier continues to shoot. Not only single shots, but also bursts of gunfire. At first Qudaih continues to plow the land. Then he must desist: He has a family, he can not afford to get hurt, he needs be able to continue working. Then, half an hour after the first rounds of gunfire, all of us return to where the donkey had been left, with the cart, in safer territory. A few grains of wheat remain on a spot that Qudaih has not been able to plow, in a Palestinian land where a violent occupying force said mamnua.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

The Strange but ‘Stable’ Alliance: US Senate Await Israeli Instructions

By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | January 23, 2014

Israel is often viewed by Washington politicians as the most ‘stable’ ally in the Middle East. But stability from the American perspective can mean many things. Lead amongst them is that the ‘ally’ must be unconditionally loyal to the diktats of the US administration. This rule has proven to be true since the United States claimed a position of ascendency, if not complete hegemony over many regions of the world since World War II. Israel, however, remained an exception.

The rules by which US-Israeli relations are governed are perhaps the most bewildering of all foreign policies of any two countries.

An illustration of this would be to consider these comments by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon quoted in the Israeli news portal Ynetnews. “The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said, referring to efforts underway since July by American Secretary of State John Kerry, “who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.” Kerry “cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” said Ya’alon.

So far, Kerry has made ten trips to the Middle East with the intention of hammering out an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Based on media reports, it seems that the potential agreement is composed in such a way that it mostly accommodates Israel’s ‘security’ whims and obsessions, including a proposal to keep eastern West Bank regions and the Jordan Valley under Israeli military control. In fact, there is growing interest in the idea of ‘land swaps” which was floated by Israel’s notorious Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ten years ago.

“When Mr. Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians’ West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand,” wrote the Economist on Jan. 18. “Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible ‘transfer’ plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.”

Those days are long gone, as Israeli society drifted rightward. “Even some dovish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable.” Back then, the Americans themselves were irked, even if just publically, whenever such ideas of ‘population transfers’ and ethnic cleansing were presented by Israel’s ultra-right politicians. Now, the Americans find them malleable and a departure point for discussion. And it’s Kerry himself who is leading the American efforts to accommodate Israel’s endless list of demands – of security and racial exclusiveness even if at the expense of Palestinians. So why is Ya’alon unhappy?

The Defense Minister, who sat immediately next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Kerry, was unapologetic about his reasoning: “Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure.” It means unrelenting Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is hardly an innocent bystander in all of this, although for diplomatic reasons he often entrusts his government minions to deliver such messages. The Prime Minister is busy issuing more orders to populate the occupied West Bank with Jewish settlements, and berating every government that rejects such insidious behavior as being anti-Israel, ‘pro-Palestinian’ or worse, anti-Semitic. This was the case again in recent days following another announcement of settlement expansion.

On Jan. 17, Netanyahu called on Europe to stop its “hypocrisy”. On the same day, Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and Spain, “accusing their countries of pro-Palestinian bias,” reported the BBC online. According to the ministry, the “perpetual one-sided stance” of these countries is unacceptable.

Yet, considering that Europe has supported Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories for decades, economically sustained the ‘Jewish state’ and its over 100 illegal Jewish settlements, and continue with its often unconditional military support of Israel, the accusations may appear strange and equally bewildering to that of Ya’alon against John Kerry.

How could a country the size of Israel have so much sway over the world’s greatest powers, where it gets what it wants and more, hurls regular insults against its sustainers, and still asks for more?

European countries found themselves in Israel’s firing line because a day earlier, the four EU countries took the rare step of summoning Israeli ambassadors to object to the Netanyahu government’s latest announcement of illegal settlement expansion (that of an additional 1,400 new homes). EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton even went to the extent of calling the settlements “an obstacle to peace”, although hardly an advanced position considering that Israel’s colonial project in Palestine has been in motion for 46 years.

But even that is too much from the Israeli point of view. “The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses?” Netanyahu asked as if baffled by a seemingly foreboding act, in a Jan 16 press conference. He even had the audacity to say this: “This imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace,” and also this, “I think it pushes peace further away because it tells the Palestinians: ‘Basically you can do anything you want, say anything you want and you won’t be held accountable.”

There is no sense in arguing with Netanyahu’s strange logic, but the question regarding Israel’s stronghold over the US and EU remains more pressing than ever, especially when one considers the ruckus in US Congress. No, the congress is not revolting because of the unmitigated power of the Zionist lobby, but for something far more interesting.

There seems to be a level of confusion in US Congress because members of the Senate are yet to feel serious pressure by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over a bill that proposes more sanctions on Iran.

“The powerful pro-Israel lobby has not engaged in a shoe-leather lobbying campaign to woo wayward senators and push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a vote on the bill. While the group supports the bill — authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — it is not yet putting its political muscle behind a push for an immediate vote,” reported Politico, citing key senators and their aides.

To say the least, it is disturbing that the US Senate is completely bewildered that AIPAC, which lobbies for the interest of a foreign power, is yet to provide its guidelines regarding the behavior of America’s supposedly most respected political representatives.

“I don’t know where AIPAC is. I haven’t talked to anybody,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

This alone should shed some light on the seemingly bewildering question of the ‘strong bond’ and ‘stable’ alliance of Israel and the US – and to a lesser degree EU countries. This is not to suggest that Israel has complete dominance over US foreign policy in the Middle East, but to ignore Israel’s indispensable role in shaping the outlook of US foreign policy is dishonest and inconsistent with the facts, to put it mildly.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Outside Forces Seeking Palestinian-Hezbollah Conflict

By Franklin Lamb | Al-Manar | January 23, 2014

Ain el Helweh camp, Lebanon – It isn’t just the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine six decades after the Nakba; one can sense the carnivorous drooling from Tel Aviv to Amman, from Riyadh and the Gulf Kingdoms all the way to Washington DC and beyond—drooling and salivation over their project to promote tensions between the Palestinian Resistance and what is in some respects its historic offspring—Hezbollah.

The hostile forces gathered against the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah-Palestine Resistance alliance are reportedly hard at work on yet another scheme to weaken, and possibly destroy, all four. It won’t be easy, but it is a key game plan among those still seeking regime change in Syria.

Even as some of these governments deceptively play down their central goal of regime change in public, they appear to be fantasizing that by building up the Lebanese army—with a pledged $3 billion from Riyadh—that Lebanese troops can be induced to confront Hezbollah and its allies, this in what seems to be a “beat em or bleed em” strategy.

Patrick Cockburn, writing recently in the UK Independent and Counterpunch, gave a digest of anti-Shia hate propaganda being spread by Sunni religious figures, clerics financially backed by, and in some cases based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies. Cockburn noted accurately that what is being painstaking laid is the groundwork for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world.

Efforts to egg on a confrontation between Palestinians and Hezbollah have increased over the past three months in Lebanon’s camps, stemming principally from some of the local Sunni and Christian power centers. Support is being seen for various “militia of the month” groups, those terrorizing the population of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Moreover, the Takfiri Al-Nusra Front leader Abou Mohammed al-Joulani insists his organization is active on Lebanese soil in order to help the Sunnis, including Palestinians, face the “injustice” of Shiite Hezbollah. “Lebanon’s Sunni are requesting that the mujahideen intervene to lift up the injustice they are suffering from at the hands of Hezbollah and similar militias,” he said recently in an interview on Al-Jazeera.

Shiite-populated areas across Lebanon have been the target of terror attacks even before Hezbollah entered the fighting on the side of the Syrian government in May 2013, but those terror attacks have intensified recently. Four car bombings have targeted southern Beirut in recent months, while a number of IED attacks have occurred in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

The head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement in Ain al-Hilweh camp voiced fears on January 8 of a possible armed sectarian confrontation between Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon if the party did not revise its policies at home and in Syria. Sheikh Jamal Khattab told the Daily Star that should fighting erupt between Palestinians and Hezbollah the conflict could be even worse than the “war of the camps” (read: massacres) of the 1980s, when that conflict was not considered particularly sectarian. Today, says Sheikh Khattab, it would be different. Today it would be a Sunni vs. Shia war, with regional and international consequences, given the poisonous sea-change in sectarian relations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In Ain al-Hilweh and other camps, posters of local men killed while fighting alongside Takfiri groups in Syria, or against U.S. troops in Iraq, are tacked up throughout the camp. Lebanese security sources claim that Palestinian Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh have all finalized preparations to for a possible conflict with the Hezbollah’s organized and trained “Resistance Brigades.” These organizations include Usbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham, Fatah al-Islam, and other Salafist groups, and supporters of the controversial fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, and rumors abound that some of these elements are being financed by certain of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as some Lebanese pro-Western March 14 parties. Apparently the consideration among such groups and their sponsors is that conditions in Lebanon are ripe for an expanded war against “Shia infidels,” and reportedly plans are now in place to bring it here, with several groups that are now fighting in Syria pledging to widen the Sunni-Shia war into Lebanon.

For their part, some pro-Hezbollah groups and many Lebanese citizens are suspicious of possible Palestinian involvement in recent terror attacks in Dahiyeh and the recent bombing of the Iranian Embassy. In point of fact, one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy on November 17 was Mouin Abu Dahr, a known pro-Palestinian whose mother is a Shiite and his father a Sunni. Ain al-Hilweh of course has also been in the spotlight with the arrest of Majed al-Majed, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Majed is believed to have lived in the camp since 2012.

Clearly Israel and its new—as well as its longtime—allies seek a Sunni-Shia war, and the sooner the better. Also favored is a continuation of the Syria crisis for the reason that they consider Hezbollah to be squandering some of its best fighters and commanders and well as its weapons stores. Western Diplomats have spoken about US-Israeli hopes that Syria will be Hezbollah’s Achilles heel and Iran’s Vietnam, and Israeli media have commented on views by some officials that Hezbollah has shifted its attention toward Syria and away from the southern front with occupied Palestine.

Time will tell.

Hezbollah maintains it is using only five percent of its capacity to confront Israel, and according to one source close to the Resistance: Hezbollah has self-sufficiency when it comes to the missiles, strategic and non-strategic weapons. All these weapons are quite abundant. Any additional equipment will constitute a negative factor because there is no need for them. All the weapons that are manufactured by Iran or owned by Syria are also available for Hezbollah. The land forces and the Special Forces fighting in Syria have acquired a lot of practical and intelligence related experience and a force of maneuvering on the land. This experience will be used when the war with Israel begins again.

The Sunni and the Shia, just as with the Palestinians and Hezbollah, need each other for many reasons, including confronting growing Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate propaganda, and the deepening and broadening apartheid occupation of Palestine.

All must work to tamp down their differences publicly and privately while endeavoring to neutralize sectarian provocateurs, Sunni as well as Shia—domestic and regional as well as international—provocateurs that today are seeking internecine and sectarian violence in order to weaken both sects, and even all of Islam.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Africa miners demand 100% wage increase

Press TV – January 23, 2014

Thousands of platinum miners in South Africa have embarked on a strike demanding their entry-level pay be doubled to nearly 1,200 dollars a month.

Workers at Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum, and Lonmin mines embarked on an indefinite strike on Thursday, crippling output at the world’s three biggest platinum producers.

Striking miners chanted slogans as they marched to Wonderkop Stadium near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.

The protest, organized by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, is the biggest industrial action in South Africa’s platinum sector since 2012, when police shot and killed 34 striking miners in Marikana.

South Africa’s mining companies have been rejecting calls for a wage increase, pointing to weaker profits and rising costs.

South Africa’s mining sector has been paralyzed by a series of wildcat strikes over miners’ low pay since August, 2012. The strikes have also damaged South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination.

The three top platinum companies operating in the African country say strikes cost the industry a total loss of output amounting to about USD 1.2 billion in 2012 and 2013.

South Africa possesses nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. The country’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latest Human Rights Watch Report: 30 Lies about Venezuela

By Tamara Pearson | Venezuelanalysis | January 23, 2014

In the six pages that HRW dedicates to Venezuela in its World Report 2014, released this week, it manages to tell at least 30 serious lies, distortions, and omissions. Pointing out these lies is important, because many people believe that HRW is a neutral authority on human rights, and the mainstream press publish articles and headlines based on HRW report conclusions. Here are some of the headlines in both English and Spanish (translated to English) that have come out of the 2014 report:

Global Post – Venezuela intimidates opponents, media: HRW report , PanAm Post – Human Rights Watch: A black eye for Latin America , AFP – HRW criticises Venezuela in its annual report on human rights, El Economista – HRW: Democracy in Venezuela is fictitious, El Universal – Human Rights Watch report denounces persecution of media in Venezuela, El Siglo – Human Rights Watch: Venezuela is an example of “fictitious democracies”, El Colombiano: HRW describes Venezuela as a fictitious democracy , NTN24 – HRW warns that Venezuelan government applies “arbitrary” measures against media that is critical of its policies

The headlines which talk about a “fictitious” or “feigned” democracy, are referring to the start of the report, where HRW put Venezuela, along with other countries, under the category of “abusive majoritarianism”. There, HRW provides a very limited definition of democracy; “periodic elections, the rule of law, and respect for the human rights of all” and argues that Venezuela has adopted “the form but not the substance of democracy”. HRW cites Diosdado Cabello not letting legislators who didn’t recognise democratically elected President Maduro speak in parliament – yet the punishment seems soft, considering the crime.

Below, I’ve grouped the lies and omissions according to HRW’s own subheadings in its chapter on Venezuela. Unlike with other countries such as the US, HRW omits all of Venezuela’s human rights achievements in its assessment, and in reality a range of other subheadings would be deserving, such has right to have access to housing, people’s right to be consulted about policy, right of the poorer people to be heard in the media, right to education, the right to health care, to land, and so on. Of course, nowhere in the report does HRW mention the economic crimes committed by the business sector against Venezuelans’ right to access affordable goods (hoarding, speculation, etc).

15 lies and distortions

Introduction

1. “The Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council rejected appeals filed by the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, challenging the results [of the April 2013 presidential elections]”. – The CNE did meet with the opposition and they came to an agreement to do a manual recount of the remaining 46% of votes which hadn’t already been revised on the day of the election. The entire recount was televised live. Given how incredibly flimsy Capriles’ “evidence” was, the Supreme Court would have been ridiculing itself to do anything but reject his case.

2. “Under the leadership of President Chavez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics.” – HRW offers very little evidence to substantiate such accusations. The reality is the opposite; private media makes up the vast majority of the media, and freely criticises the government on a daily basis, to the point where it invents news and blames the national government for things it isn’t even responsible for. Just last week here in Merida a few opposition students held a protest by burning tires on a main road. For a week, traffic to a key hospital was blocked, and the students had no placards stating the reason for their protest. The police closed off the roads around them to protect their right to protest.

3. “In September 2013, the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights took effect, leaving Venezuelans without access to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, an international tribunal that has protected their rights for decades in a wide array of cases.” – The IACHR has not protected Venezuelans’ rights. From 1969-1998, a repressive period of disappearances, political repression, and massacres such as those at Cantaura, Yumare, and the Caracazo, it only considered six cases, and of those only one was brought to the commission. In contrast, from 1999 to 2011 it ruled on and processed a total of 23 cases. It did not take any action after the coup attempt against democratically elected president Hugo Chavez in 2002.

Post-Election Violence

4. “Security forces used excessive force and arbitrary detentions to disperse anti-government demonstrations after the April elections, according to local groups”. -Though it may have varied from region to region, unlike HRW, I was at those protests, and took photos of and interviewed opposition protesters in Merida – one of their strongholds. Despite threatening to take over and destroy the CNE and the PSUV head offices, with large piles of projectiles like rocks and shrapnel and Molotov cocktails, the police merely cordoned off those areas. They were not armed, and there were no injuries or arrests observed. The threats were not empty ones either, as seen by other destruction carried out by the opposition around the country. HRW also needs to specify what it means by “security forces”, as the police system here is complicated and most police continue to be managed at a state level, but HRW implies that the national government is entirely responsible. Finally, merely attributing these claims to “local groups” is very vague. One might also say, HRW is a capitalist front, said local groups.

5. “Official sources reported that nine individuals were killed at the time, although the circumstances in which the deaths occurred remain unclear. President Maduro and other high level officials have used the threat of criminal investigations as a political tool, attributing responsibility for all acts of violence during demonstrations to Capriles”. – Does HRW want an investigation or not? The violence occurred the day after the presidential elections, and all of the victims and buildings destroyed were Chavista supporters or part of national programs. It was clearly political, why is it a problem to mention that, and why does it become a “threat” when Maduro talks about bringing murderers and those who set fire to public hospitals, to justice? A thorough investigation was conducted, and those who were responsible for the deaths were arrested.

Judicial Independence

6. “The judiciary has largely ceased to function as an independent branch of government”. – While it is true that there are serious problems in Venezuela’s court system: HRW doesn’t mention those: the delays and corruption. Instead, it argued the judiciary is not “independent” because it doesn’t always rule against the government, as HRW would like. If it is not independent, why were almost a hundred supposedly pro government workers in SAIME, SENIAT, the China-Venezuela bank, and so on, arrested last year for corruption?

Freedom of Media

7. “Over the past decade, the government has expanded and abused its powers to regulate the media… fear of government reprisals has made self-censorship a problem” – No it hasn’t. What the government has done, over the last four years or so, is pass legislation which limits media abuse: racism, extreme violence, and sensationalism that is so extreme it can be psychologically damaging. Those regulations apply equally to the private, public, and community media, but the reality is it is the private media which tends to be most abusive. Nevertheless, Conatel has emitted less than 10 fines over the last few years.

8. “The government has taken aggressive steps to reduce the availability of media outlets that engage in critical programming.” – HRW is not able to cite any examples to back up this statement. Instead, it refers to one case from years ago, RCTV, who’s license was not renewed after it played an active role in the 2002 coup.

9. “In April 2013, Globovision was sold to government supporters… since then it has significantly reduced its critical programming”. The owners of Globovision sold it to a group of Venezuelan investors headed by businessman Juan Domingo Cordero, who is not a government supporter. Since then, Globovision’s coverage is somewhat less extreme and sensationalist, but it is just as critical.

10. “The government has also targeted other media outlets for arbitrary sanction and censorship”. – The government has not censored any media. Today alone, for example, Tal Cual freely published these headlines: “The fiscal report is a time bomb”, “The government uses violence as an excuse to censor the media” , “Dance with death” (to refer to the government) and “The government tragicomedy”. El Nacional received a fine in August last year for using a three year old photo of naked corpses on its front cover, and that is it.

Human Rights Defenders

11. “The Venezuelan government has sought to marginalise the country’s human rights defenders by repeatedly accusing them of seeking to undermine Venezuelan democracy with the support of the US government”. – The lie here is “the country’s human rights defenders”. HRW is referring to a select few organisations such as itself and other individuals, who use human rights as a front for their right-wing political agenda. The government is completely within its right in pointing that out.

Abuses by Security Forces

This section is somewhat accurate, but lacks any causal analysis.

Prison Conditions

These criticisms are also somewhat legitimate, though the information is selective. For omissions, see below.

Labour Rights

12. “Political discrimination against workers in state institutions remains a problem. In April 2013, Minister of Housing Ricardo Molina called on all ministry personnel who supported the opposition to resign, saying that he would fire anyone who criticised Maduro, Chavez, or the revolution”. Though perhaps a bit extreme, HRW forgets to point out that Molina made that remark in the context of the opposition not recognising a democratically elected president. That there is political discrimination against workers is largely untrue, though may occur in isolated situations. It is no secret that most of the public education and health workers, for example, support the opposition.

13. “The National Electoral Council (CNE), a public authority, continues to play an excessive role in union elections, violating international standards that guarantee workers the right to elect their representatives in full freedom” – Actually, what the CNE provides to unions is logistical support: machinery that makes cross-country elections much easier. If there were concern about the CNE somehow influencing elections, the opposition would not have also used its logistical support for its primaries in February 2012.

Key International Actors

14. “For years, Venezuela’s government has refused to authorise UN human rights experts to conduct fact-finding visits in the country” – That’s why the UNESCO and the FAO have both recently praised Venezuela’s education and food development. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right’s most recent report on Venezuela was made in September last year, it was about Venezuela’s elimination of racial discrimination.

15. “In June 2013, Venezuela became the pro-tempore president of Mercosur… The Asuncion Protocol…states that “full respect of democratic institutions and the respect of human rights” are essential…By not addressing the absence of an independent judiciary in Venezuela, as well as the government’s efforts to undermine human rights protections, the other Mercosur member states have failed to uphold these commitments” – See previous and subsequent comments on Venezuela’s judiciary and treatment of “human rights” protections.

15 omissions

The following very important facts on Venezuela’s human rights record were completely omitted from the report. Such omissions are as serious as lying.

Post-Election Violence

1. HRW conveniently doesn’t mention that the 15 “health centres” that were “vandalised” (ie they were set on fire on medical equipment was destroyed) were CDIs- Cuban-Venezuelan run free health centres that have come to be a symbol of the Bolivarian revolution. HRW doesn’t mention that opposition supporters attacked them, it lets readers believe that the government supported such violence.

2. HRW doesn’t criticise the extremely undemocratic move by Capriles to not recognise the president whom the majority of voters chose in the April presidential elections. Their omission to do so amounts to tacit support of Capriles. That sort of context is also necessary when HRW criticises the fact that there were arrests following the elections: it’s possible that some arrests were not justified, but given that the Bolivarian revolution has already suffered one (failed) coup, and the continent has suffered many successful and bloody ones, it is reasonable to arrest participants in that. Any other country would do the same.

3. HRW focuses on the post election violence, and blames the national government for it, rather than recognising the opposition’s role. It purposefully omits to mention that while Capriles called for a “venting of rage”, Maduro called on supporters to play music and dance in the street.

Judicial Independence

4. HRW criticises the imprisonment of “government critic” judge Afiuni, but omits to mention that she was arrested for illegally releasing a bank president who stole US$27 million from state currency body, CADIVI. Does HRW advocate such judicial corruption? In June Afiuni was awarded conditional release.

5. There are, however, other cases of court inefficiency and bribery of judges, which HRW completely ignores, perhaps because the victims are mostly Bolivarian revolution supporters. Over the last year, many rural workers, commune members, trade unionists, and indigenous activists were murdered by hired killers, and though the killers are usually easy to identify, few have been arrested and prosecuted.

6. HRW criticises Venezuela for withdrawing from the IACHR, but omits to mention that that court is totally under the thumb of the US. It then hypocritically comments on Venezuela’s so called “lack of judicial independence”.

Freedom of Media

7. While in most countries, people who aren’t rich don’t have the right to run their own media, that right is being promoted in Venezuela, with the state materially and legally supporting over 500 community and alternative radios, television stations, and newspapers. That is an important development in media freedom, but HRW completely ignored it.

8. HRW states that, “In November 2013, the broadcasting authority opened an administrative investigation against eight Internet providers for allowing web sites that published information on unofficial exchange rates”. HRW intentionally omits to point out that those sites were illegally publishing those figures, and that those figures have contributed to the three and four fold price increase of basic products. At no point does HRW criticise the role of business of deliberately making basic food and goods unaffordable for Venezuelans.

9. HRW also doesn’t mention the almost one thousand free internet centres the government has set up, its promotion of freeware, and its distribution of laptops to school children: part of the government’s efforts to make the right to information a reality.

Human Rights Defenders

10. HRW criticises the government for supposedly “marginalising” “human rights defenders” by investigating their sources of funding, but fails to mention the fact that the US does use such groups as a front for funding the undemocratic wing of the opposition. It fails to criticise this affront to Venezuela’s right to sovereignty.

11. Likewise, it doesn’t mention the important role played by the real human rights defenders in Venezuela: gender and sexuality activists and movements, indigenous and afro-descendents organisations, the Cuban doctors defending the right to free and quality health care, community activists, environmental movements, volunteer teachers, social mission workers, activist analysts who are constructively critical of the situation in the country, and so on. Many of these movements and workers receive financial, institutional, and/or legal support from the state, though there are improvements to be made there as well, such as legalising gay marriage, abortion, and so on.

Abuses by Security Forces

12. Here it is telling that HRW simply doesn’t mention Venezuela’s creation of the UNES, a university training police in human rights and preventative policing. While it is legitimate that HRW points out ongoing problems within the police forces, it doesn’t mention that such corruption has significantly decreased, nor that police political repression has been almost completely eliminated.

Prison Conditions

13. HRW rightly points out the ongoing problems of overcrowding and organised prisoner violence in prisons, but simply omits to mention anything the government is doing to improve prisoner rights, including letting those who have committed minor offences out during the day time to work or study, internal prison education and productive work programs, assistance on leaving prison, cultural workshops such as video production in prisons, and government meetings with prisoners.

Labour Rights

14. For HRW it seems labour rights are limited to the right of opposition supporters to work in governmental programs that they don’t agree with (a right they have). HRW omits to mention the Labour Law which came into effect in May last year, which beats most of the world in providing workers with rights to permanent work (contract labour is made illegal), to childcare in the workplace, to maternity leave and to paternity leave, shorter working hours, retirement pensions, and much much more.

15. HRW alleges that opposition workers were “threatened” with losing their jobs if they supported Capriles, but provides no evidence of that, nor mentions that of course voting is anonymous and such a threat could not be carried out, and neglects to mention that governor Capriles fired fire fighters in May last year for demanding pay they were owed, uniforms, and infrastructure improvements.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Deception | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador to urge US military withdrawal

Press TV – January 23, 2014

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has announced plans to call for the withdrawal of some US military officers from the South American country.

347245_Rafael-CorreaSpeaking at the Carondelet presidential Palace in the Ecuadorian capital Quito on Wednesday, Correa said his government will ask Washington to withdraw “nearly 50 military personnel” assigned to the US embassy in the Latin American country.

He described the number of American military personnel in Ecuador as “inconceivable,” saying, “Unfortunately, these people have been so infiltrated in all the sectors that what is scandalous appeared normal.”

Correa also noted that Quito was “already taking measures” to address the outsized presence of the US forces.

The remarks came after revelations concerning the presence of four US military personnel in an Ecuadoran military helicopter that came under fire in October last year near the border with Colombia.

“They (the US troops) flew in the helicopters of the air force, of the army. It was normal for foreign soldiers to be flying with our soldiers in frontier areas,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US embassy said it has not received any request from the Ecuadorian government yet.

In 2009, Quito refused to renew an agreement with Washington on counter-narcotics operations after accusing it of financing opposition groups.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Independent review board: NSA phone data collection ‘illegal’

Press TV – January 23, 2014

An independent review board working to protect Americans’ civil liberties and privacy has concluded that the US National Security Agency’s phone data collection program is illegal and should be stopped.

In a 238-page report to be issued on Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has said that a law known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act “does not provide an adequate basis to support” the NSA’s program for collecting billions of Americans’ phone records on a daily basis.

The report, which was obtained by The Washington Post and The New York Times, also says that there has been no single instance in which the US government’s spying program contributed to the discovery of a terrorist threat to the United States.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the report said.

“Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack,” it added.

While the board had shared its conclusions with US President Barack Obama prior to his speech on Friday, the report is in contrast to Obama’s speech which portrayed the program as useful and lawful.

During his speech on Friday in which Obama promised some modest changes to the NSA’s spying programs, the US President did not indicate that the phone data collection program should be stopped. He said the NSA’s database of phone records should be moved out of government hands and be kept by private phone companies.

However, the PCLOB says the program should be shut down.

“Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection,” said the board in its report.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legal Residents Claim They are Punished for Living Near Mexican Border

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | January 23, 2014

A leading civil rights group has accused Border Patrol agents of abusing the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens and legal residents living in southern Arizona.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding a government investigation of those guarding the border with Mexico.

“Border Patrol checkpoints today bear little resemblance to those authorized by the Supreme Court. Many Border Patrol officials do not understand—or simply ignore—the legal limits of their authority at checkpoints,” James Lyall, an attorney with the ACLU of Arizona, said in an administrative complaint (pdf) sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General and Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The ACLU also forwarded its complaint to Arizona’s congressional representatives, the U.S. Department of Justice and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

At least 15 American citizens have been subjected to unlawful acts by Border Patrol agents at checkpoints in Arizona, the ACLU claims.

“Residents often experience extended interrogation and detention not related to establishing citizenship, unwarranted searches, racial profiling, verbal harassment, and physical assault, among other abuses,” the letter said.

In one instance, a Border Patrol agent drew his gun at a driver, pulled him from his car and handcuffed him for 45 minutes after the individual declined to answer questions unrelated to citizenship.

Another incident saw Border Patrol agents order a driver and passenger from their vehicle, and place them in wire cages while their car was searched—and all because a service dog detected something in another car.

A third case involved a mother of twin six-year-old children being threatened and assaulted by agents for lawfully attempting to record a search of her vehicle following a false canine alert.

All of the aforementioned individuals, as well as others mentioned in the ACLU complaint, were released and never charged with violating immigration or other laws. The ACLU wants the incidents it documented to be investigated.

The group previously filed two other complaints (in April 2012 and October 2013) alleging abuses by Border Patrol agents. To date, it has not received a response from the government about them.

“The ACLU believes the lack of response to widespread civil rights abuses by the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency is symptomatic of broader oversight failures within CBP and DHS,” it said in a press release.

To Learn More:

Border Patrol Checkpoints in Southern Arizona Violate the Constitutional Rights of Border Residents, ACLU of Arizona Demands Investigation (American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona)

Complaint and Request for Investigation of Abuses at U.S. Border Patrol Interior Checkpoints in Southern Arizona, including Unlawful Search and Seizure, Excessive Force, and Racial Profiling (American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and American Civil Liberties Union Border Litigation Project) (pdf)

Federal Judge Rules that Border Patrol Does Not Need Reasonable Suspicion to Confiscate Laptops and Phones (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

10 Lawsuits Filed against Border Patrol for Abuse (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Polls Continue to Show Majority of Americans Against NSA Spying

By Mark M. Jaycox | EFF | January 22, 2014

Update, January 2014: Polls continue to confirm the trend. In a poll conducted in December 2013 by the Washington Post, 66% of Americans were concerned “about the collection and use of [their] personal information by the National Security Agency.” Americans aren’t only concerned about the collection. A recent Pew poll found—yet again—that a majority of Americans oppose the government’s collection of phone and Internet data as a part of anti-terrorism efforts.

Since Americans are both concerned with, and opposed to, the spying, it’s no surprise that they also want reform. In a November 2013 poll by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research,1 59% of respondents noted that they wanted surveillance reform and 63% said they wanted more oversight of the spying programs. While these polls focused on the larger population of Americans, a Harvard University Insitute of Politics poll focusing on younger Americans (aged 18-29 years old) reaffirmed younger Americans are both wary of the NSA’s activities and that a majority do not want the government to collect personal information about them. 

Shortly after the June leaks, numerous polls asked the American people if they approved or disapproved of the NSA spying, which includes collecting telephone records using Section 215 of the Patriot Act and collecting phone calls and emails using Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The answer then was a resounding no, and new polls released in August and September clearly show Americans’ increasing concern about privacy has continued.

Since July, many of the polls not only confirm the American people think the NSA’s actions violates their privacy, but think the surveillance should be stopped. For instance in an AP poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they oppose the NSA collecting data about their telephone and Internet usage. In another national poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, 74 percent of respondents said the NSA’s spying intrudes on their privacy rights. This majority should come as no surprise, as we’ve seen a sea change in opinion polls on privacy since the Edward Snowden revelations started in June.

What’s also important is that it crosses political party lines. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans believe the NSA’s spying programs intrude on their privacy rights. This change is significant, showing that privacy is a bipartisan issue. In 2006, a similar question found only 50 percent of Republicans thought the government intruded on their privacy rights.

Americans also continue their skepticism of the federal government and its inability to conduct proper oversight. In a recent poll, Rasmusson—though sometimes known for push polling—revealed that there’s been a 30 percent increase in people who believe it is now more likely that the government will monitor their phone calls. Maybe even more significant is that this skepticism carries over into whether or not Americans believe the government’s claim that it “robustly oversees” the NSA’s programs. In a Huffpost/You Gov poll, 53 percent of respondents said they think “the federal courts and rules put in place by Congress” do not provide “adequate oversight.” Only 18 percent of people agreed with the statement.

Americans seem to be waking up from its surveillance state slumber as the leaks around the illegal and unconstitutional NSA spying continue. The anger Americans—especially younger Americans—have around the NSA spying is starting to show. President Obama has seen a 14-point swing in his approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 after the NSA spying.

These recent round of polls confirm that Americans are not only concerned with the fact that the spying infringes their privacy, but also that they want the spying to stop. And this is even more so for younger Americans. Now is the time for Congress to act: join the StopWatching.Us coalition.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Ashton continues to support Egyptian regime and expresses satisfaction about the referendum

MEMO | January 21, 2014

cathy-ashton-eu-2The European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton has said that the EU is pleased with the results of last week’s constitutional referendum in Egypt.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera English, Ashton suggested that the referendum was an important step towards returning to the path of democracy.

The referendum was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces opposed to the military coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected government on 3 July 2013. In the lead up to the referendum, activists campaigning for a “no” vote were harassed and arrested, and during the two-day election several protesters were even killed.

While Ashton noted that the democratic transition must include everyone, she made an exception for those who support “violence” or “terrorism”.


January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , | Leave a comment

What President Obama’s Surveillance Speech Should Have Addressed

By Frank Pasquale · Concurring Opinions · January 21, 2014

In his recent speech on surveillance, President Obama treated the misuse of intelligence gathering as a relic of American history. It was something done in the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, and never countenanced by recent administrations. But the accumulation of menacing stories—from fusion centers to “joint terrorism task forces” to a New York “demographics unit” targeting Muslims—is impossible to ignore. The American Civil Liberties Union has now collected instances of police surveillance and obstruction of First Amendment‐protected activity in over half the states. From Alaska (where military intelligence spied on an anti-war group) to Florida (where Quakers and anti-globalization activists were put on watchlists), protesters have been considered threats, rather than citizens exercising core constitutional rights. Political dissent is a routine target for surveillance by the FBI.

Admittedly, I am unaware of the NSA itself engaging in politically driven spying on American citizens. Charles Krauthammer says there has not been a “single case” of abuse. But the NSA is only one part of the larger story of intelligence gathering in the US, which involves over 1,000 agencies and nearly 2,000 private companies. Moreover, we have little idea of exactly how information and requests flow between agencies. Consider the Orwellian practice of “parallel construction.” Reuters has reported that the NSA gave “tips” to the Special Operations Division (SOD) of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which also shared them with the Internal Revenue Service.

The legal status of such information sharing is murky at best: the national security data is not supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes. Apparently the SOD sidestepped these niceties by re-creating criminal investigations from scratch, fabricating alternative grounds for suspecting the targets. Thus the “parallel construction” of two realities for the law enforcers: one actual, secret record of how targets were selected, and another specially crafted for consumption by courts. Two senior Drug Enforcement Administration officials defended the program and called it legal, but did not disclose their reasoning. At present, the practice looks like little more than intelligence laundering. Five senators asked the Department of Justice to assess the legality of “parallel construction;” it has yet to respond.

I have little doubt that the DEA used parallel construction in cases involving some pretty nasty characters. It must be tempting to apply “war on terror” tactics to the “war on drugs.” Nevertheless, there are serious legal and ethical concerns here. One of the American revolutionaries’ chief complaints against the British Crown was the indiscriminate use of “general warrants,” which allowed authorities to search the homes of anyone without particularized suspicion they had committed a crime. Thus the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution decrees that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” Law enforcers aren’t supposed to set up “dragnet surveillance” of every communication, or use whatever data stores are compiled by the National Security Agency, unless there is a true security threat.

Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program engaged in domestic covert action designed to disrupt groups engaged in the civil rights, antiwar, and communist movements. As Lawrence Rosenthal has observed, “History reflects a serious risk of abuse in investigations based on the protected speech of the targets,” and politicians at the time responded. Reviewing intelligence agency abuses from that time period, the Church Committee issued a series of damning reports in 1975-76, leading to some basic reforms. If a new Church Committee were convened, it would have to cover much of the same ground. Moreover, it would need to put in place real safeguards against politicized (or laundered) domestic intelligence gathering. Those are presently lacking. I have yet to find a case where the parties involved in any of the intelligence politicization (or laundering) were seriously punished. Nor have I seen evidence that the victims of such incidents have received just compensation for the unwarranted intrusion on their affairs.

Before we can develop better surveillance policy, we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review (and rebuke) the politicization of intelligence gathering post-9/11. Too many privacy activists have been unwilling to admit the persistence of catastrophic threats that may only be detected by spies. But the US government has been even less moored to reality, unwilling to admit that a runaway surveillance state has engaged in precisely the types of activities that the Bill of Rights is designed to prevent. To have a debate about the proper balance between liberty and security, we need to confront the many cases where misguided intelligence personnel spied on activists with neither goal in mind.

Frank Pasquale is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. His research agenda focuses on challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries. Frank accepts comments via email, at pasqresearch@gmail.com.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment