No. 184, July 25-31, 2002


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Rioting students paralyze Kenyan capital

A student taunts riot police after lighting a road barricade
in Nairobi in June, 2002.
Protests have been erupting over the past few months.
Photo by George Mulala, Reuters/Newscom

By Katy Salmon

Nairobi, Kenya, July 19 (IPS)— Hundreds of students swarmed through Nairobi city center Friday, bringing traffic to a standstill. Office workers lined the streets watching the noisy procession.

Chanting “No more killings,” the students marched to the police headquarters, Vigilance House, where they called for the resignation of police chief Philemon Abongo. Riot police used tear gas to drive them away.

The students also marched to parliament, demanding that a senior government official come out and address them. When none did, they threatened to march to State House, President Daniel arap Moi’s official residence.

The riots started Thursday night when students stoned and set alight cars to protest the killing of their colleague, David Kimuyu. One of the vehicles destroyed belonged to a Dutch diplomat, who was hit in the head with a rock. Police used tear gas and live ammunition against the students, according to local media reports on Friday.

Kimuyu was shot by police during a drug raid on Nairobi campus. Police spokesperson Peter Kimanthi says the student charged at the police with a knife and one officer shot him in self-defense.

Nairobi police boss Stephen Kimenchu says Kimuyu was among a group of students found by police smoking cannabis at a thicket near the campus on Thursday lunch time. Four were arrested, others escaped, while Kimuyu allegedly drew out a knife.

The police say two kilograms of marijuana were recovered from the scene of the shooting. The rioting students do not believe this version of events.

“They are saying that the guy charged them with a knife but these are the things they have always been saying. They have been killing innocent people,” said one student demonstrator who refused to give his name.

“How can one student, a young student, overpower four policemen with guns? That is impossible. That’s why we are protesting. It was injustice. That’s why we are rioting,” he explained.

“How can you shoot a person with a knife when you have a gun?” asked his colleague.

“These policemen are trained. They should be able to handle someone with a knife if at all he had one. But I don’t think he had a knife at all,” he said.

The students even allege that the police planted the cannabis on the dead student.

“We want the government to know that we are annoyed. They can’t kill innocents and expect us to be in class. Is it normal?

“This is not the first time they are saying that they pulled a knife. They are just cheating. Even the marijuana the police were having they took from central police station,” alleged another rioter.

“All sorts of charges are made against us. That is not new. Those charges are not justified at all. How can we plant bhangi on students? How did we know those students would be there. Those things are just said to malign our name and nothing else,” said Kimanthi.

The police are appealing to the students to stop rioting and come to the negotiating table.

“If someone is guilty of having committed a crime, he or she will be dealt with according to the law. We are a civilized nation and we expect everyone else to be civilized. Things can never be settled through violence. We can settle our problems at a table, find out what went wrong and right those wrongs,” said Kimanthi.

“Demonstrations are not evidence. Evidence will come from people who witnessed what took place and that evidence will be presented before a court of law. It is the court that will decide.

“I don’t think demonstrations and violence will get us anywhere.

“My appeal to those who are involved in this demonstration must also consider the rights of other people and make sure nobody is hurt in the process. If it is something that they want us to hear, let them say it clearly. We will hear and we will respond,” he promised.

It is doubtful that the students will respond to Kimanthi’s plea. Kenyans are often shot dead by the police in controversial circumstances, but the officers are rarely punished by the courts.

In 1998, police shot and killed a university student, claiming that they thought he was a car thief. The young man was driving his mother’s car after attending classes.

In November 2000, two university students and a passer-by were seriously wounded when police fired on student demonstrators who had blocked a road in Nairobi and surrounded a car carrying a government minister.

Rights groups say the police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. They want to see an independent body set up to investigate extra-judicial police killings.

Activists shake up Coca-Cola

By Melissa Fridlin
and Willy Rosencrans

Atlanta, Georgia, July 22 (AGR)— Over 100 activists gathered outside the gates of the Coca- Cola Company in Atlanta today to protest the company’s complicity in the assassination and kidnapping of Colombian workers and its policy of providing only 1.5% of its African workforce with HIV/AIDS coverage. Union organizers from Colombia were present, as were members of the Teamsters, Jobs with Justice, Amnesty International, Witness for Peace, ACT UP, and other groups.

The crowd marched before the company’s headquarters chanting and brandishing signs for several hours.

“I am here to give testimony to the abuse of workers in Colombia,” said Javier Carrera of The National Food Industry Worker’s Union (SINALTRAINAL), which represents 2,300 food workers in Colombia, including 500 employees at plants where Coca-Cola is bottled.

“Coca-Cola has used terror tactics to make us desist in our unionizing efforts in Colombia. Our union halls have been attacked. They have tried to kidnap our children,” said Carrera.

Protesters criticized Coca-Cola for their complicity in the death of workers in Africa as well.

“Coke is the largest private sector employer in Africa,” said Kellie Caspar of ACT UP, an AIDS activist group. “But it provides only limited health care, and almost all of that goes to its white backroom employees — 1,500 out of 100,000 workers … People are literally working themselves to death. Coca-Cola has no conscience for human health, either here or abroad.”

Last year, Coca Cola’s net revenues in Africa exceeded $620 million. Its profit margin in that country is expected to rise 12% in the next four years, exceeding margins in all other regions of the world.

SINALTRAINAL in Colombia, with legal assistance from the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and the International Labor Rights Fund, has brought a lawsuit against Coca-Cola in US Federal Court. The protest was part of a weekend of events which was organized to announce the suit to the public in the United States.

SINALTRAINAL members will hold similar hearings in Brussels on Oct. 10 and in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, on Dec. 5.

On Saturday, Javier Carrera, president of the union, presented a draft of a statement in support of the lawsuit, which the union hopes will be signed by dozens of organizations across the United States and worldwide.

“This terrorism being waged against the people of Colombia is the same terrorism that was waged against us in the ‘60s when churches were bombed, when people were killed,” said Reverend James Orange, a veteran of the US civil rights movement.

SINALTRAINAL’s suit against Coca-Cola, in US Federal Court in Florida, uses US laws to sue both the international Coca-Cola corporation, Panamerican Beverages, and Bebidas y Alimentos, which operates the Carepa Coca-Cola plant where a SINALTRAINAL worker was killed in 1996.

According to the Florida case, at 8:30 am on Dec. 5, 1996, rightwing AUC paramilitary forces assassinated Isidro Segundo Gil, a member of the union’s executive board, on the floor of the Coke bottling plant in Carepa. An hour later, the AUC kidnapped another union leader from his home. At 8pm, paramilitaries came to the union’s offices, breaking in and destroying equipment and later burning down the entire house. The following day, paramilitaries came to the Carepa plant, called workers together and threatened them with death if they did not resign from the union by 4:00 that afternoon.

The suit claims that plant manager Ariosto Milan Mosqera said he “had given an order to the paramilitaries to carry out the task of destroying the union.” At the time of Gil’s assassination, workers had been in the process of negotiating with management. After his death, the union dissolved. Workers who left were replaced with new employees paid a lower wage.

In the past 10 years, Coke managers in Colombia have also fired 10,000 workers, closed plants throughout the country, and have allegedly framed labor leaders in an attempt to imprison them. Seven Coke workers have been killed in Colombia — three of the workers were in the process of negotiating with Coke management at the time of their murders.

Coca-Cola has consistently denied any connection to the violence perpetrated against workers in Colombia. They claim that they are not responsible for the atrocities because the plants are actually owned by Colombian companies and are simply subcontractors for Coca-Cola. SINALTRAINAL is also suing these subcontractors.

Holly Clifford, a spokeswoman for the company, stood outside the company’s gates watching the protest, but said she was not allowed to answer any questions. According to a statement prepared by the company, Coca-Cola and its bottling partners “respect human rights and workers’ rights. We do not promote or condone violence against anyone.”

At the protest’s end, members of SINALTRAINAL and ACT UP gave an enormous banner to Clifford bearing the words “Warrant… served on Coca-Cola for crimes against human rights.”

“We wanted to give you this on behalf of the workers at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colombia,” said Carrera through an interpreter. “We ask that Coca-Cola change their actions and start respecting human rights.”

Clifford accepted the warrant, folded it, and carried it back with her through the gates.

Ban on military domestic police powers being reviewed

Compiled by Sean Marquis

July 24 (AGR)— The Bush administration has directed lawyers in the Departments of Justice and Defense to review the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 and any other laws that sharply restrict the military’s ability to participate in domestic law enforcement -- including carrying out arrests, searches, seizure of evidence, and other police powers on US soil.

Since Sept. 11, Congress has given law enforcement agencies more latitude to conduct wiretapping and other intelligence gathering to uncover “terrorist” plotting. President George W. Bush has proposed the biggest government reorganization in 50 years to put more than 100 offices and agencies into one cabinet-level department. Congress is racing to approve legislation by the end of its session this fall that would make Bush’s proposed Department of Homeland Security a reality.

In the Senate, a version of the measure by Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., tracks closely with Bush’s plan but would give more power to the agency to gather and analyze intelligence from the FBI, CIA, and other departments.

Established after the Civil War in response to federal troops enforcing laws in the South, Congress revised the Posse Comitatus Act in 1981 to allow the military to help the Coast Guard in drug interdiction efforts. Another change would require congressional approval.

“I think it is time to revisit it,” Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Fox News Sunday program. “We have to take a look at it, and I think it has to be amended. But we’re not talking about general police power.”

Gene Healy from the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, did not agree with the administration’s view. Healy, an attorney and policy analyst with Cato, thinks having the military performing civilian law enforcement duties would be a “disaster.”

“I think it’s a terrible idea. Soldiers are trained to shoot to kill. Civilian police officers ideally are trained to use force as a last resort,” said Healy.

Sen. Fred Thompson, a Tennessee Republican, said no one was suggesting the military be engaged in making arrests, rather that they be used for better surveillance along the borders and other such tasks.

“It might be an idea whose time has come,” Thompson said.

Tom Ridge, appointed head of Bush’s current Homeland Security office, said officials haven’t yet discussed giving the military powers to arrest US citizens, though such authority might be discussed once Bush’s homeland security department is created.

Empowering “the military with the ability to arrest,” Ridge said on CNN’s Late Edition “…may come up as a part of a discussion.”

“We need to be talking about military assets, in anticipation of a crisis event,” Ridge said. “And clearly, if you’re talking about using the military, then you should have a discussion about Posse Comitatus.”

New look at Northern Command
Posse Comitatus has long been viewed as the cornerstone to policy that kept a line between the military and civilian affairs, and as recently as May, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon would not seek any changes in the law.

But White House officials insisted that administration lawyers review the law to determine whether domestic preparedness and response efforts would benefit from greater involvement of military personnel.

Though the change would represent a public abandonment of Posse Comitatus, documents released through the Freedom of Information Act have long revealed US plans for domestic military deployment for countering urban unrest under Operation Garden Plot.

Federal troops from the Marines and Army Airborne were last used against US citizens to repress the 1992 uprising over the Rodney King police brutality case in Los Angeles, resulting in over 10,000 arrests.

Air Force General Ralph E. Eberhart, who will head the recently-created Northern Command, said he had no specific changes in mind, but added in an interview with the New York Times, “We should always be reviewing things like Posse Comitatus and other laws if we think it ties our hands in protecting the American people.”

“My view has been that Posse Comitatus will constantly be under review as we mature this command, as we do our exercises, as we interact with FEMA, FBI, and those lead federal agencies out there,” said Gen. Eberhart, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Northern Command, which begins operations in the US on Oct. 1, will be in charge of all military personnel involved in flying patrols over American cities and guarding the waters up to 500 miles off the United States coast.

In his vision for the new command, Gen. Eberhart said the military could use new technology, like remote-controlled surveillance blimps and unmanned Predator drones that would patrol American coastlines, the Times reported.

No one is sure what additional responsibilities the military might take on if Posse Comitatus is revised, but some post-Sept. 11 examples give a hint.

About 5,000 federal troops supported civilian agencies at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City this year -- which had been declared a “national security event.”

And more recently, on July 18 Alabama activated a 300-soldier Army National Guard tank battalion as part of a homeland defense force.

In a statement, Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman said the Ozark, Ala.-based 1st Battalion, 131st Armor “is equipped with modern battle tanks, the M1A1 Abrams [and] will serve in the homeland defense role within the United States.”

Siegelman, commander-in-chief of the state’s national guard, did not say what role the tank battalion would serve in homeland defense. Siegelman’s office forwarded questions about the activation to the Alabama National Guard.

Asked if the armored battalion was deploying with its tanks and, if so, if they would play a domestic role, Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Horton said: “That can’t be discussed. It all will depend on the mission.”

Sources: Associated Press, BBC, Bloomberg News, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Cybercast News Service, New York Times, Reuters


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