No. 196, Oct. 17-23, 2002




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Columbus Day reviled by indigenous peoples

More than 50 peasants and civil organizations organized roadblocks on the Pan-American Highway in Chiapas, Mexico to protest the 510th anniversary of the first invasion of the Americas by Christopher Columbus

Compiled by Eamon Martin

Oct. 15 (AGR)— The 14th day of October is commonly marked as a holiday by most nations in the Western hemisphere. In some countries, such as the United States, government workers and students are given the day off to observe the historical importance of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ wayward journey to “India.” But the history of conquest and colonization that birthed the geopolitical entity now collectively referred to as the Americas inspires no fond reflections amongst those nation’s surviving indigenous peoples. For many, Columbus Day is not an occasion to celebrate, but a day to protest against a grossly inaccurate and glorified myth. This year, thousands of indigenous activists and supporters from Canada to Chile blocked roads and borders, held marches, cultural celebrations, and rallies to demand attention and justice be paid to the issues of racism and oppression which they say have persisted as a consequence of Columbus’ “discovery.”

“October 12 [2002] marks the 510th anniversary of the coming of the colonial pirate Christopher Columbus and the beginning of the American holocaust that has claimed 16 million Indian lives in what is now called the United States,” said American Indian Movement leader Vernon Bellecourt.

On Saturday, in Denver, CO, roughly 2,000 Native Americans, descendants and their supporters marched in a morning anti-Columbus Day parade. Aztec dancers in brilliant blue and gold feathered headdresses performed while sage was burned to purify and protect the marchers while summoning the spirits of their ancestors.

Hours later, while Italian-Americans celebrated Columbus’ arrival in the “New World,” protesters ripped down barricades and chanted “shame on you,” saying the European settlement of America decimated native people. Six young women, in an act of civil disobedience, sat down in front of the Italian pride parade. They and one other were arrested.

Scores of indigenous people, campesinos, unionists and grassroots activists protested across Latin America. Some of the largest protests were in Mexico, where thousands took part in protests in the southeastern state of Chiapas. The protesters focused on opposition to plans for a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement; the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), a trade pact for southern Mexico and Central America; and an indigenous rights law the Mexican Congress passed last year over objections from indigenous organizations that considered it inadequate.

Teodosio Angel of the Union of Indigenous Communities in the Northern Zone of the Isthmus in Oaxaca, Mexico said, “For 510 years, governments and corporations have ignored us and it continues today with the PPP.”

Some 500 protesters marched in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, while dozens of indigenous Tzotzil people blocked the Pan American highway. Hundreds of other protesters surrounded the Rancho Nuevo military base and symbolically “took” the installation by blocking the entrances for several hours with strips of cloth. There were protests in at least 30 Chiapas municipalities.

Campesinos blocked another highway for one and a half hours to protest FTAA and PPP. In Mexico City, more than 5,000 demonstrators marched from the Monument to the Revolution to the main plaza to oppose FTAA and plans to privatize the electricity industry and the education system.

Meanwhile, in Chihuahua, some 2,500 farmers blocked highways at 60 points throughout the state to protest the FTAA and to demand concrete solutions from the federal government for rural problems.

In Ciudad Juárez, at the border with El Paso, Texas, hundreds of protesters blocked the Santa Fe international bridge and two lanes of the Córdoba bridge to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and US President George W. Bush’s plans for a war against Iraq.

Organizers said in a statement that they are seeking an end to “the militarization that accompanies corporate globalization,” and “an end to free trade agreements that exploit native communities and their lands.”

On Saturday, a diverse array of 2,000 indigenous, anarchist, and gay rights activists marched in Santiago, Chile, to support the ancestral rights of the Mapuche indigenous people to “lands usurped by the white man.”

In Cochabamba, Bolivia, demonstrators marched to protest the colonization of the Americas; while in Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez announced a decree designating Oct. 12 as a “Day of Indigenous Resistance.”

In Colombia, the army recognized the day by releasing a report showing that armed groups have killed 500 indigenous leaders over the past 25 years.

In Argentina and Uruguay, demonstrations were held on Oct. 11 to mark “the last day of freedom of America” for indigenous people and those descended from enslaved Africans, in a counter-celebration against the “Day of the Race,” as Oct. 12 is known in Latin America. Indigenous Argentines held protests in the provinces of Chaco, in the north, and Neuquén, in the south, while African-descended Uruguayans marched through the center of their country’s capital, Montevideo.

In Guatemala, demonstrators denounced the PPP and FTAA while blocking roads at strategic points in the northern province of Peten, which borders both Mexico and Belize.

Protests in Honduras, which took place in several cities and along the country’s borders with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, also targeted the International Monetary Fund for criticism. In Tegucigalpa about 2,000 demonstrators from various groups protested.

In El Salvador, hundreds of trade unionists and members of groups belonging to the Civil Society Forum staged rallies at numerous key road junctions to repudiate both the PPP and FTAA.

About 300 Nicaraguans and 100 Costa Ricans held peaceful rallies against the PPP and FTAA under the watchful eyes of police in the respective capitals.

“October 12, so-called Columbus Day, is the day when terrorism began on our lands,” said Andrea Carmen of the Yaqui Nation and executive director of the International Indigenous Treaty Council.

“We’ve seen our lands taken, cultures and sacred sites destroyed, treaties violated, families killed and imprisoned, and so-called development imposed on us with no regards for our peoples’ ways of life,” Carmen said.

“We are coming together today,” she said, “to rededicate ourselves to the struggle for safeguarding our Mother Earth, the continued survival of our traditional cultures, and renewing bonds of solidarity with all peoples of this world who share our aspirations for a better life.”

In Denver, Colorado, the birthplace of the Columbus holiday, nearly 2,000 people assembled to confront the approxiamately 200 Columbus Day participants on Sat., Oct. 12, 2002.

At the Denver Transform Columbus Day rally, on the steps of the State Capitol Building, one speaker explained: “The legacy of Columbus is alive and well…That’s what Globalization is. They turn the world into an Indian Reservation. GATT, NAFTA, FTAA, that is the Columbian legacy.”

Sources: Associated Press, Environmental News Service, Inter Press Service, Oread Daily, Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center, Weekly News Update on the Americas


Anti-war activists arrested at NC congressman’s office

By Phillip Bailey

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Oct. 8— A 26 hour sit-in calling on Representative David Price (D-NC/4th District) to oppose a looming US attack on Iraq ended Tuesday when police arrested three local anti-war activists and removed five more at Price’s district office. The activists, who were charged with second degree trespassing, had sought to pressure Congressman Price to oppose resolutions in the US House of Representatives containing measures leading to an unprovoked attack on Iraq that could kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in bombings and far more if ground troops invade and occupy Baghdad.

The three were arrested after refusing a police order to leave the building. Chapel Hill police officers physically removed two protesters who practiced non-violent, passive resistance in response to the arrests.

Explaining why she decided to resist arrest Lenore Yarger said, “I didn’t feel like I wanted to help them do their job.” She said she felt the protests and sit-in had been successful in showing significant public opposition to war in Iraq and raising public awareness about what elected officials can do to help stop an invasion from happening, but expressed deep disappointment that Congressman Price would not commit to opposing war on Iraq as he did in a 1991 vote on the first Gulf War.

“I feel very sad that this country is moving toward war and a lot of people [in Iraq] will have to suffer and die in a few weeks,” she said.

Police carried the two handcuffed women out of the building by their arms and legs to a waiting unmarked police van.

Witnesses said police had a camera on hand and appeared to be videotaping the arrests. Police spokesmen said they did not know the reason for the presence of the video camera. All three anti-war activists were released without bond on a written promise to appear in court Nov. 18 at 9am.

Earlier Tuesday, approximately thirty protesters gathered for a second day of protests outside Congressman Price’s office in opposition to the war and in solidarity with the sit-in action.

Orange county resident Bob H. Hall, 58, had a question for Congressman Price, “I want to know how many innocent Iraqi’s should be killed for him to justify what they’re doing.” Hall said he’d like to see Price “stand up to Bush’s arrogance and his determination to get the country in a war frenzy.”

Source: North Carolina Independent Media Center:


Britain takes control of N. Ireland, again

Compiled by Sean Marquis

Oct. 16 (AGR)— Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, suspended Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government on Monday Oct. 14 and said the order to suspend the authority of the Ulster Assembly would last indefinitely. He defended his intervention as essential to prevent the collapse of the coalition which has taken years of negotiations to forge and sustain.

Reid’s move followed a threat by the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to withdraw from power-sharing — the key goal of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 — because of alleged Irish Republican Army (IRA) spying.

First Minister David Trimble, leader of the UUP and the Northern Ireland administration, had set Tuesday as a deadline for Britain to intervene.

Trimble wanted Reid to expel Sinn Féin, the IRA-linked political party, rather than to take power from all four parties in the coalition. Trimble said he accepted Reid’s move as “a poor second best,” and offered to resume cooperation with Sinn Féin if the IRA disbanded.

Four people, including Sinn Féin’s top legislative aide, are in jail awaiting trial for espionage-related charges following police raids Oct. 4.

Britain’s move means the 108-member legislature will no longer convene. Instead Reid, a Scotsman appointed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000, will oversee the administration’s 12 departments with help from a beefed-up contingent of lawmakers from London.

Reid indicated he planned to consult regularly with the powerless administration’s top two figures — Trimble and the Catholic deputy leader, Social Democratic and Labor Party chief Mark Durkan.

Reid said he will be a “hands-on” executive for Northern Ireland and is willing to tackle difficult issues — even considering introducing water charges to Northern Ireland, an issue Executive ministers were considering but were reluctant to enact.

On Monday Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Minister of Parliament, addressed the Ulster Assmembly at Stormont — during their final meeting — and said:

“This morning’s analysis of the current crisis by the British Secretary John Reid is a dishonest one. We are in crisis because political unionism is resisting change and rejecting the Good Friday Agreement and because the British government has failed to act on their obligations.

“In addition to suspending the political institutions three times, Mr. Reid has failed to act on policing, demilitarization, equality, justice and human rights. This record does not inspire confidencee that Mr. Reid will now move to implement this Agreement.”

Adams also reiterated Sinn Féin’s call for “the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, said they were “deeply saddened” by Reid’s move. But in a joint statement the premiers said it would prevent the outright collapse of the coalition.

The Ahern and Blair statement said Sinn Féin’s connections to an illegal organization must be “brought to an unambiguous and definitive conclusion.”

London is understood to be particularly pleased that Ahern was willing to sign up to so strongly-worded a statement that was critical of the IRA, and by implication of Sinn Féin.

Analysts predict this crisis will be the toughest yet to resolve because of rising Protestant hostility to sharing power with Sinn Féin, a party that has grown increasingly popular among Catholics, thanks to the peace process.

Monday’s suspension of powers was the fourth ordered by Britain since Trimble’s coalition took office in December 1999, following the US-brokered compromise. Under that plan, Sinn Féin received two administration posts on condition that the IRA began to disarm.

Apparently Reid suspended the Unionist-dominated assembly rather than cave into the Unionist calls to sack the republican Sinn Fein from the power-sharing government.

The latest crisis has purportedly been caused by allegations of IRA intelligence gathering inside Britain’s Northern Ireland Office.

The “intelligence gathering” acusations were set-off by an Oct. 4 police raid on Sinn Féin’s Stormont offices. Police claim they uncovered evidence that senior Sinn Féin and IRA members were involved in intelligence operations in Reid’s office.

The alleged republican spies, who included Sinn Féin’s senior administrator, Denis Donaldson, had allegedly intercepted documents which included the names and addresses of about 1200 serving Northern Ireland prison officers and senior police.

They are also said to have had copies of correspondence relating to the peace process between Reid, Trimble, Blair and US President, George W. Bush.

Britain’s Northern Ireland Office will take over day-to-day running of the province of 1.6 million people, while Blair seeks to rebuild consensus among the political parties.

Unionist leaders, whose supporters are in the majority in Northern Ireland and want to retain links with Britain, say the IRA must disband or openly disarm before the peace process can get back on track.

In an Oct. 9 editorial the BBC’s Northern Ireland security editor, Brian Rowan, said that calls by Britain and the UUP for the IRA to disband were one-sided.

“Look too at what the loyalist [Unionist] paramilitaries are up to — shooting at each other and in between times attacking vulnerable nationalist communities,” Rowan said. “While all of that is going on, republicans will see a continuing need for the IRA.”

Rowan said that the IRA exists in a “bigger context,” of an occupied land and questioned: “Is the IRA really likely to step off the stage with the British Army still on it?”

Rowan also said that according to British security sources the current ceasefire between British, unionist, and republican forces was not under threat from the IRA.

“But,” according to Rowan, “unionists and the British government now expect much more from the IRA’s ‘complete cessation of operations’ - an end to intelligence gathering, targeting and the acquisition and development of weaponry. Indeed, an end to the IRA itself.”

Republicans angrily reject the spying claims and other allegations.

There are some in Ireland who are saying that the police raid was a media stunt pulled-off to help prop-up failing British and nationalist agendas.

According to An Phoblacht/Republican News, an Irish weekly political newspaper, with the UUP openly endorsing an anti-Agreement agenda, nationalists inadvertently became the only defenders of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Even the possibility of such a configuration was just too much for the British,” the paper reported.

“The timing of the arrests was perfect for David Trimble. Last week, he was being blamed for bringing down the institutions; this week, republicans are being blamed.”

“However, it was the high media profile of the raid on the Sinn Féin offices that gave David Trimble the excuse he desperately needed to collapse the institutions on his terms.

“The new Chief Constable of the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland], Hugh Orde, authorized that raid. He knew there was nothing to be found in those offices. He knew they are permanently unlocked and accessible at any time day or night. He knew the political cover such a raid would give to David Trimble,” according to An Phoblacht.

Sources: An Phoblacht/Republican News, Associated Press, BBC News, Irish Times, Sydney Morning Herald



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