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Foreign Policy In Focus

Foreign Policy In Focus

Analysis of foreign affairs and policy that emphasizes global cooperation and grassroots participation.

Promoting a ‘Right to Heal’ From Fort Hood to Abu Ghraib

Soldier at Walter Reed

A soldier who was wounded in Iraq receives treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

 

The recent shootings of soldiers at Fort Hood and other US military bases have once again brought to public attention the challenge of making sure that soldiers returning from war zones find security and support at home. The Washington Post calls the pressures on veterans “the next war.” But whatever war comes next, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their consequences continue.

The exploding rates of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the escalating numbers of soldiers turning their weapons on each other as well as themselves, and the spread of PTSD all are linked to the wars themselves. Wars of aggression and occupation have an enormous, terrible effect on the young women and men ordered to fight them.

And that’s just on the US side. We also have a moral and legal responsibility to respond to the wars’ even more devastating impact on millions of Afghans and Iraqis.

Last March, a hundred or so people filled a Washington, DC, church, reprising a scene more common several years ago—an examination of the impact of the US war in Iraq. That night, the young soldiers of Iraq Veterans Against the War (and some of their parents) joined Iraqi women’s rights and labor leaders, along with US-based lawyers, epidemiologists and activists, to build a campaign demanding what they call the Right to Heal. The veterans’ demands begin with the urgent need to end the military’s practice of sending soldiers diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other related wounds back into battle. That need is linked directly to dealing with the suicides, homicides, domestic violence and other problems facing the high numbers of veterans returning from the post-9/11 wars with serious mental injuries.

But IVAW linked its demand for better care for US veterans to the need to respond to the deep destruction left in Iraq and Afghanistan—social, environmental and medical—that continues to plague those violence-riven countries.

American troops were withdrawn from Iraq two and a half years ago. But the nearly decade-long US occupation—which followed not only the 2003 invasion, but also the Pentagon’s 1991 war and twelve years of crippling US-led sanctions—destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, despoiled the country’s environment and shredded its social fabric. The consequences of the US war are embedded in the shattered cities, polluted rivers, carcinogenic military burn pits and the bodies of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Iraqis, as well as of tens of thousands of US soldiers.

Meanwhile, in an all-too-rare front-page feature documenting the Afghanistan War’s ongoing impact on Afghans, The Washington Post recently dissected the consequences for the “rising number of children…dying from U.S. explosives littering Afghan land.” The Post set a scene similar to post-occupation Iraq: “As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan,” it reported, “it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells. The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked.” Ominously, it adds, “Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.”

Back at the Washington church, with film producer and longtime television host Phil Donahue moderating, IVAW members detailed their experiences. The mother of Joshua Casteel, an army interrogator at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison who died of a rare cancer in August 2012, described the toxic nature of the military’s burn pits—which are filled with plastics and other chemical materials—100 yards from where Joshua lived, worked and breathed thick black smoke for seven months in 2004.

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American environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani documented the cancers, birth defects and other health crises among Iraqis, particularly in areas where “the Iraqi public has been exposed to toxic compounds, such as lead and mercury.” She noted, “I would like to see large-scale environmental testing in Iraq.”

Iraqi women’s rights advocate Yanar Mohammed called for “reparations for families facing birth defects, areas that have been contaminated. There needs to be cleanup…. The US has to be held to account for this.”

Such accountability—to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the US forces returning from years of war and occupation—would go much further to protect US troops and veterans than better gun control at Fort Hood.

 

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on Fort Hood: a tragic reminder of the military's mental health crisis.

Eritrean Refugees at Risk

Immigration protest in Israel

Eritrean refugees are one of the main groups in this protest against Israel's hard line on immigration, Tel Aviv, January 5, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled a repressive dictatorship since 2001. Their small northeast African country, which has a population of 4-5 million and was once touted as part of an African “renaissance,” is one of the largest per capita producers of asylum seekers in the world.

Many languish in desert camps. Some have been kidnapped, tortured and ransomed—or killed—in the Sinai. Others have been left to die in the Sahara or drowned in the Mediterranean. Still others have been attacked as foreigners in South Africa, threatened with mass detention in Israel or refused entry to the United States and Canada under post-9/11 “terrorism bars” based on their past association with an armed liberation movement—the one they are now fleeing.

It’s not easy being Eritrean.

The most horrifying of their misfortunes—the kidnapping, torture and ransoming in Sinai—has generated attention in the media and among human rights organizations, as did the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean. But the public response, like that to famine or natural disaster, tends to be emotive and ephemeral, turning the refugees into objects of pity or charity with little grasp of who they are, why they take such risks or what can be done to halt the hemorrhaging.

This is abetted by the Eritrean government, which masks the political origins of these flows by insisting they are “migrants,” not refugees, and no different from those of other poor countries like Eritrea’s neighbor and archenemy, Ethiopia. This fiction is convenient for destination countries struggling with rising ultra-nationalist movements and eager for a rationale to turn Eritreans (and others) away.

But this is not a human—or political—crisis amenable to simplistic solutions. Nor is it going away any time soon.

The Source

Eritrea’s history has been marked by conflict and controversy from the time its borders were determined on the battlefield between Italian and Abyssinian forces in the 1890s. A decade of British rule was followed by federation with and then annexation by Ethiopia. Finally in the 1990s, after a thirty-year war that pitted the nationalists, themselves divided among competing factions, against successive US- and Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes, Eritrea gained recognition as a state.

Since then Eritrea has clashed with all of its neighbors, climaxing in an all-out border war with Ethiopia in 1998–2000 that triggered a rapid slide into repression and autocracy. The government has survived by conscripting the country’s youth into both military service and forced labor on state-controlled projects and businesses, while relying on its diaspora for financial support, even as it has produced a disproportionate share of the region’s refugees. This paradox underlines the strength of Eritrean identity, even among those who flee.

Eritrea is dominated by a single strong personality: former rebel commander, and now president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions, and there is no viable successor in sight, though there are persistent rumors of a committee-in-waiting due to his failing health. Meanwhile, the three branches of government—nominally headed by a cabinet, a National Assembly and a High Court—provide a façade of institutional governance, though power is exercised through informal networks that shift and change at the president’s discretion. There is no organizational chart, nor is there a published national budget. Every important decision is made in secret.

The ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), a retooled version of the liberation army, functions as a mechanism for mobilizing and controlling the population. No other parties are permitted. Nor are non-governmental organizations—no independent trade unions, media, women’s organizations, student unions, charities, cultural associations, nothing. All but four religious denominations have been banned, and those that are permitted have had their leaderships compromised.

Refugees cite this lack of freedom—and fear of arrest should they question it—as one of the main reasons for their flight. But the camps in Ethiopia and Sudan reflect a highly unusual demographic: Most such populations are comprised of women, children and elderly men, but officials of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia and Sudan say that among those registering in the camps there, close to half in recent years have been women and men under the age of 25. The common denominator among them is their refusal to accept an undefined, open-ended national service. This, more than any other single factor, is propelling the exodus.

The UNHCR has registered more than 300,000 Eritreans as refugees over the past decade, and many more have passed through Ethiopia and Sudan without being counted. The UNHCR representative in Sudan, Kai Lielsen, told me last year that he thought seventy to eighty percent of those who crossed into Sudan didn’t register and didn’t stay. Thus, a conservative estimate would put the total close to a million. For a country of only four to five million people, this is remarkable. And it is the combination of their vulnerability and their desperation that makes them easy marks.

The Trafficking

For years, the main refugee route ran through the Sahara to Libya and thence to Europe. When that was blocked by a pact between Libya and Italy in 2006, it shifted east to Egypt and Israel. Smugglers from the Arab tribe of Rashaida in northeastern Sudan worked with Sinai Bedouin to facilitate the transit, charging ever-higher fees until some realized they could make far more by ransoming those who were fleeing.

The smugglers-turned-traffickers eventually demanded as much as $40,000-$50,000, forcing families to sell property, exhaust life savings and tap relatives living abroad. As the voluntary flow dried up, they paid to have refugees kidnapped from UN-run camps after identifying those from urban, mostly Christian backgrounds (those most likely to have relatives in Europe and North America).

I spoke with one survivor in Israel last year whose story was typical. Philmon, a 28-year-old computer engineer, fled Eritrea in March 2012 after getting a tip he might be arrested for public statements critical of the country’s national service. Several weeks later, he was kidnapped from Sudan’s Shagara camp, taken with a truckload of others to a Bedouin outpost in the Sinai and ordered to call relatives to raise $3,500 for his release. “The beatings started the first day to make us pay faster,” he told me.

Philmon’s sister, who lived in Eritrea, paid the ransom, but he was sold to another smuggler and ransomed again, this time for $30,000. “The first was like an appetizer. This was the main course,” he said. Over the next month, he was repeatedly beaten, often while hung by his hands from the ceiling. Convinced he could never raise the full amount, he attempted suicide. “I dreamed of grabbing a pistol and taking as many of them as possible, saving one bullet for myself.”

Early on they broke one of his wrists. During many of his forced calls home to beg for money they dripped molten plastic on his hands and back. After his family sold virtually everything they had to raise the $30,000, he was released. But his hands were so damaged he could no longer grip anything. He couldn’t walk and had to be carried into Israel. Because he was a torture victim, he was sent to a shelter in Tel Aviv for medical care. In this regard, he was one of the lucky ones.

For some 35,000 Eritreans who have come to Israel since 2006, each day is suffused with uncertainty, as an anti-immigrant backlash builds. The government calls them “infiltrators,” not refugees, and threatens them with indefinite detention or—what many fear most—deportation to Eritrea. Philmon has moved on to Sweden, where the reception was more welcoming, though there, too, a virulent anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Last year, the Sinai operation began to contract due to a confluence of factors: increased refugee awareness of the risks, the effective sealing of Israel’s border to keep them out and Egyptian efforts to suppress a simmering Sinai insurgency among Bedouin Islamists. But this didn’t stop the trafficking—it just rerouted it.

What I found in eastern Sudan last summer was that Rashaida tribesmen were paying bounties to corrupt officials and local residents to capture potential ransom victims along the Sudan-Eritrea border—and even within Eritrea and Ethiopia—and were holding them within well-defended Rashaida communities there. Such captives would not be counted by government or agency monitors and would not show up at all were it not for the testimony of escapees and relatives.

Last fall, Lampedusa survivors revealed that Libya is becoming another site for ransoming and kidnapping, illustrating that as one door closes, new opportunities arise across a region of weak states and post–Arab Uprising instability. What Sudan and Libya have in common is not the predators but the prey. And the practice is expanding as word spreads of the profits to be had, much as with the drug trade elsewhere. And it will continue to expand as long as there’s a large-scale migration of vulnerable people with access to funds and no coordinated international response to stop it.

Eritrean refugee flows today run in all directions. They’re facilitated by smugglers with regional and, in some cases, global reach. The gangs behind this engage in a range of criminal activities, within which human trafficking is just a lucrative new line of business. Some have ties to global cartels and syndicates. Some have political agendas and fund them through such enterprises. Most are heavily armed.

Under such conditions, a narrowly conceived security response could quickly spin out of control and escalate into a major counterinsurgency, as in the Sinai in Egypt. For weaker states across the Sahel, the risks of ill-thought-out action are infinitely greater.

What Needs to Happen

An effective approach to this crisis would start with education and empowerment of the target population and involve efforts to identify and protect refugees throughout their flight. A key step is the early, uncoerced determination of status according to international standards. This could be coupled with an expansion of incentives to deter onward migration, including education, training, employment and, where appropriate, integration into host communities. But none of this can work without refugee engagement in the process itself.

Then, and only then, would a security operation targeted at the smuggling and trafficking have a chance of success. But it, too, needs to be multidimensional in substance and regional in scope. Each state in this network is acting independently of the others. Sudan has arrested individuals implicated in trafficking, including one police officer, but has not cracked down on corrupt officials or gone into Rashaida communities to take down the ringleaders. Ethiopia has instituted security measures within the refugee camps on its northern border but is not working with Sudan on cross-border movement. Egypt has launched military operations in the Sinai where the torture camps are situated, but the announced aim is to break up the Islamist insurgency—the government denies trafficking is taking place. A coordinated initiative would start with a conference of affected states, and it would have to be supported by donor states and appropriate agencies (Interpol among them), not only in terms of aid but also intelligence, logistics, coordination and communication.

But if the trafficking operations are truly to be rolled up, the marginalized populations from which they arise and on which they depend need to be offered sufficient incentives to withdraw support for the criminals. This means access to resources, economic alternatives to off-the-books trading, involvement in the local political process, education for their children and more. These people need to be made stakeholders in the states where they live, which is not the case today for the Sinai Bedouin or the Sudan-based Rashaida or most of the other groups involved in trans-Sahel smuggling.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Meanwhile, to dry up this particular supply of prey, political change is needed at the source, in Eritrea. That means, at a minimum, opening up the political system and the economy, limiting (not necessarily ending) national service, releasing political prisoners, implementing the long-stalled constitution and ending controls on travel so those who do want to go abroad as migrant workers can do so without illegally crossing borders and going through illicit smuggling networks.

The most important thing the United States can do to facilitate this process is convince Ethiopia to back off the border dispute that centers on a frontier town, Badme, and accept in practice—not just rhetorically—the 2002 Border Commission ruling that went in Eritrea’s favor.

Ethiopia’s intransigence on this issue—and US inaction—has long been the Asmara regime’s most powerful argument for keeping the lid on all forms of dissent. Eritreans will simply not trust Washington—or Addis Ababa—until they see some evidence of good faith.

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on racism in Israel

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled a repressive dictatorship since 2001. Their small northeast African country, which has a population of four to five million and was once touted as part of an African “renaissance,” is one of the largest per capita producers of asylum seekers in the world.

Many languish in desert camps. Some have been kidnapped, tortured and ransomed—or killed—in the Sinai. Others have been left to die in the Sahara or drowned in the Mediterranean. Still others have been attacked as foreigners in South Africa, threatened with mass detention in Israel or refused entry to the United States and Canada under post-9/11 “terrorism bars” based on their past association with an armed liberation movement—the one they are now fleeing.

It’s not easy being Eritrean.

The most horrifying of their misfortunes—the kidnapping, torture and ransoming in Sinai—has generated attention in the media and among human rights organizations, as did the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean. But the public response, like that to famine or natural disaster, tends to be emotive and ephemeral, turning the refugees into objects of pity or charity with little grasp of who they are, why they take such risks or what can be done to halt the hemorrhaging.

This is abetted by the Eritrean government, which masks the political origins of these flows by insisting they are “migrants,” not refugees, and no different from those of other poor countries like Eritrea’s neighbor and archenemy, Ethiopia. This fiction is convenient for destination countries struggling with rising ultra-nationalist movements and eager for a rationale to turn Eritreans (and others) away.

But this is not a human—or political—crisis amenable to simplistic solutions. Nor is it going away any time soon.

The Source

Eritrea’s history has been marked by conflict and controversy from the time its borders were determined on the battlefield between Italian and Abyssinian forces in the 1890s. A decade of British rule was followed by federation with and then annexation by Ethiopia. Finally in the 1990s, after a thirty-year war that pitted the nationalists, themselves divided among competing factions, against successive US- and Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes, Eritrea gained recognition as a state.

Since then Eritrea has clashed with all of its neighbors, climaxing in an all-out border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000 that triggered a rapid slide into repression and autocracy. The government has survived by conscripting the country’s youth into both military service and forced labor on state-controlled projects and businesses, while relying on its diaspora for financial support, even as it has produced a disproportionate share of the region’s refugees. This paradox underlines the strength of Eritrean identity, even among those who flee.

Eritrea is dominated by a single strong personality: former rebel commander, and now president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions, and there is no viable successor in sight, though there are persistent rumors of a committee-in-waiting due to his failing health. Meanwhile, the three branches of government—nominally headed by a cabinet, a National Assembly and a High Court—provide a façade of institutional governance, though power is exercised through informal networks that shift and change at the president’s discretion. There is no organizational chart, nor is there a published national budget. Every important decision is made in secret.

The ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), a retooled version of the liberation army, functions as a mechanism for mobilizing and controlling the population. No other parties are permitted. Nor are non-governmental organizations—no independent trade unions, media, women’s organizations, student unions, charities, cultural associations, nothing. All but four religious denominations have been banned, and those that are permitted have had their leaderships compromised.

Refugees cite this lack of freedom—and fear of arrest should they question it—as one of the main reasons for their flight. But the camps in Ethiopia and Sudan reflect a highly unusual demographic: Most such populations are comprised of women, children and elderly men, but officials of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia and Sudan say that among those registering in the camps there, close to half in recent years have been women and men under the age of 25. The common denominator among them is their refusal to accept an undefined, open-ended national service. This, more than any other single factor, is propelling the exodus.

The UNHCR has registered more than 300,000 Eritreans as refugees over the past decade, and many more have passed through Ethiopia and Sudan without being counted. The UNHCR representative in Sudan, Kai Lielsen, told me last year that he thought seventy to eighty percent of those who crossed into Sudan didn’t register and didn’t stay. Thus, a conservative estimate would put the total close to a million. For a country of only four to five million people, this is remarkable. And it is the combination of their vulnerability and their desperation that makes them easy marks.

The Trafficking

For years, the main refugee route ran through the Sahara to Libya and thence to Europe. When that was blocked by a pact between Libya and Italy in 2006, it shifted east to Egypt and Israel. Smugglers from the Arab tribe of Rashaida in northeastern Sudan worked with Sinai Bedouin to facilitate the transit, charging ever-higher fees until some realized they could make far more by ransoming those who were fleeing.

The smugglers-turned-traffickers eventually demanded as much as $40,000-$50,000, forcing families to sell property, exhaust life savings and tap relatives living abroad. As the voluntary flow dried up, they paid to have refugees kidnapped from UN-run camps after identifying those from urban, mostly Christian backgrounds (those most likely to have relatives in Europe and North America).

I spoke with one survivor in Israel last year whose story was typical. Philmon, a 28-year-old computer engineer, fled Eritrea in March 2012 after getting a tip he might be arrested for public statements critical of the country’s national service. Several weeks later, he was kidnapped from Sudan’s Shagara camp, taken with a truckload of others to a Bedouin outpost in the Sinai and ordered to call relatives to raise $3,500 for his release. “The beatings started the first day to make us pay faster,” he told me.

Philmon’s sister, who lived in Eritrea, paid the ransom, but he was sold to another smuggler and ransomed again, this time for $30,000. “The first was like an appetizer. This was the main course,” he said. Over the next month, he was repeatedly beaten, often while hung by his hands from the ceiling. Convinced he could never raise the full amount, he attempted suicide. “I dreamed of grabbing a pistol and taking as many of them as possible, saving one bullet for myself.”

Early on they broke one of his wrists. During many of his forced calls home to beg for money they dripped molten plastic on his hands and back. After his family sold virtually everything they had to raise the $30,000, he was released. But his hands were so damaged he could no longer grip anything. He couldn’t walk and had to be carried into Israel. Because he was a torture victim, he was sent to a shelter in Tel Aviv for medical care. In this regard, he was one of the lucky ones.

For some 35,000 Eritreans who have come to Israel since 2006, each day is suffused with uncertainty, as an anti-immigrant backlash builds. The government calls them “infiltrators,” not refugees, and threatens them with indefinite detention or—what many fear most—deportation to Eritrea. Philmon has moved on to Sweden, where the reception was more welcoming, though there, too, a virulent anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Last year, the Sinai operation began to contract due to a confluence of factors: increased refugee awareness of the risks, the effective sealing of Israel’s border to keep them out and Egyptian efforts to suppress a simmering Sinai insurgency among Bedouin Islamists. But this didn’t stop the trafficking—it just rerouted it.

What I found in eastern Sudan last summer was that Rashaida tribesmen were paying bounties to corrupt officials and local residents to capture potential ransom victims along the Sudan-Eritrea border—and even within Eritrea and Ethiopia—and were holding them within well-defended Rashaida communities there. Such captives would not be counted by government or agency monitors and would not show up at all were it not for the testimony of escapees and relatives.

Last fall, Lampedusa survivors revealed that Libya is becoming another site for ransoming and kidnapping, illustrating that as one door closes, new opportunities arise across a region of weak states and post–Arab Uprising instability. What Sudan and Libya have in common is not the predators but the prey. And the practice is expanding as word spreads of the profits to be had, much as with the drug trade elsewhere. And it will continue to expand as long as there’s a large-scale migration of vulnerable people with access to funds and no coordinated international response to stop it.

Eritrean refugee flows today run in all directions. They’re facilitated by smugglers with regional and, in some cases, global reach. The gangs behind this engage in a range of criminal activities, within which human trafficking is just a lucrative new line of business. Some have ties to global cartels and syndicates. Some have political agendas and fund them through such enterprises. Most are heavily armed.

Under such conditions, a narrowly conceived security response could quickly spin out of control and escalate into a major counterinsurgency, as in the Sinai in Egypt. For weaker states across the Sahel, the risks of ill-thought-out action are infinitely greater.

What Needs to Happen

An effective approach to this crisis would start with education and empowerment of the target population and involve efforts to identify and protect refugees throughout their flight. A key step is the early, uncoerced determination of status according to international standards. This could be coupled with an expansion of incentives to deter onward migration, including education, training, employment and, where appropriate, integration into host communities. But none of this can work without refugee engagement in the process itself.

Then, and only then, would a security operation targeted at the smuggling and trafficking have a chance of success. But it, too, needs to be multidimensional in substance and regional in scope. Each state in this network is acting independently of the others. Sudan has arrested individuals implicated in trafficking, including one police officer, but has not cracked down on corrupt officials or gone into Rashaida communities to take down the ringleaders. Ethiopia has instituted security measures within the refugee camps on its northern border but is not working with Sudan on cross-border movement. Egypt has launched military operations in the Sinai where the torture camps are situated, but the announced aim is to break up the Islamist insurgency—the government denies trafficking is taking place. A coordinated initiative would start with a conference of affected states, and it would have to be supported by donor states and appropriate agencies (Interpol among them), not only in terms of aid but also intelligence, logistics, coordination and communication.

But if the trafficking operations are truly to be rolled up, the marginalized populations from which they arise and on which they depend need to be offered sufficient incentives to withdraw support for the criminals. This means access to resources, economic alternatives to off-the-books trading, involvement in the local political process, education for their children and more. These people need to be made stakeholders in the states where they live, which is not the case today for the Sinai Bedouin or the Sudan-based Rashaida or most of the other groups involved in trans-Sahel smuggling.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Meanwhile, to dry up this particular supply of prey, political change is needed at the source, in Eritrea. That means, at a minimum, opening up the political system and the economy, limiting (not necessarily ending) national service, releasing political prisoners, implementing the long-stalled constitution and ending controls on travel so those who do want to go abroad as migrant workers can do so without illegally crossing borders and going through illicit smuggling networks.

The most important thing the United States can do to facilitate this process is convince Ethiopia to back off the border dispute that centers on a frontier town, Badme, and accept in practice—not just rhetorically—the 2002 Border Commission ruling that went in Eritrea’s favor.

Ethiopia’s intransigence on this issue—and US inaction—has long been the Asmara regime’s most powerful argument for keeping the lid on all forms of dissent. Eritreans will simply not trust Washington—or Addis Ababa—until they see some evidence of good faith.

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on racism in Israel.

The World Bank’s Waste of Energy

Cambodian villager

A woman in rural Cambodia uses a wood burning stove to cook. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme—like carbon trading—to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The UN established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM. First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a UN-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013. There was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the Rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in African and “least developed” countries (LDCs) by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments”—in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the program seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families. The bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one program—the readiness fund—to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers. The initiative has a second program—the carbon fund—to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The bank says it is prioritizing support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management. Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A Better Approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind and small-scale hydropower projects. The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean. It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Read Next: Alec Luhn writes about whether the IMF bailout will turn Ukraine into another Greece.

How Ethnic Tensions and Economic Crisis Have Strengthened Europe’s Secession Movements

Catalan independence

Marchers wave Catalonian nationalist flags as they demonstrate during Catalan National Day in Barcelona. (Reuters/Albert Gea)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The opening to Tolstoy’s great novel of love and tragedy could be a metaphor for Europe today, where “unhappy families” of Catalans, Scots, Belgians, Ukrainians and Italians contemplate divorcing the countries they are currently a part of. And in a case where reality mirrors fiction, they are each unhappy in their own way.

While the United States and its allies may rail against the recent referendum in Crimea that broke the peninsula free of Ukraine, Scots will consider a very similar one on September 18, and Catalans would very much like to do the same. So would residents of South Tyrol, and Flemish speakers in northern Belgium.

On the surface, many of these secession movements look like rich regions trying to free themselves from poor ones, but while there is some truth in that, it is overly simplistic. Wealthier Flemish speakers in northern Belgium would indeed like to separate from the distressed, French-speaking south, just as Tyroleans would like to free themselves of poverty-racked southern Italy. But in Scotland, much of the fight is over preserving the social contract that conservative Labour and right-wing Tory governments have systematically dismantled. As for Catalonia—well, it’s complicated.

Borders in Europe may appear immutable, but of course they are not. Sometimes they are changed by war, economic necessity or because the powerful draw capricious lines that ignore history and ethnicity. Crimea, conquered by Catherine the Great in 1783, was arbitrarily given to Ukraine in 1954. Belgium was the outcome of a congress of European powers in 1830. Impoverished Scotland tied itself to wealthy England in 1707. Catalonia fell to Spanish and French armies in 1714. And South Tyrol was a spoil of World War I.

In all of them, historical grievance, uneven development and ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by a long-running economic crisis. There is nothing like unemployment and austerity to fuel the fires of secession.

The two most pressing secessionist movements—and the ones most likely to have a profound impact on the rest of Europe—are in Scotland and Catalonia.

Both are unhappy in different ways.

Scotland

Scotland always had a vocal, albeit marginal, nationalist party, but was traditionally dominated by the British Labour Party. The Conservatives hardly exist north of the Tweed. But Tony Blair’s “New Labour” record of spending cuts and privatization alienated many Scots, who spend more on their education and health services than the rest of Britain. University tuition, for instance, is still free in Scotland, as are prescription drugs and home healthcare.

When Conservatives won the British election in 2010, their austerity budget savaged education, healthcare, housing subsidies and transportation. Scots, angered at the cuts, voted for the Scottish National Party in the 2011 elections for the Scottish parliament. The SNP immediately proposed a referendum that will ask Scots if they want to dissolve the 1707 Act of Union and once again be an independent country. If passed, the Scottish government proposes re-nationalizing the postal service and throwing Britain's nuclear-armed Trident submarines out of Scotland.

If one takes into account its North Sea oil resources, there is little doubt that an independent Scotland would be viable. Scotland has a larger GDP per capita than France and, in addition to oil, exports manufactured goods and whiskey. Scotland would become one of the world’s top thirty-five exporting countries.

The Conservative government says that if the Scots vote for independence, they will have to give up the pound as a currency. The Scots respond that if the British follow through on their currency threat, Scotland will wash its hands of its portion of the British national debt. At this point, there is a standoff.

According to the British—and some leading officials in the European Union—an independent Scotland will lose its EU membership, but that may be bluster. For one, it would violate past practice. When East and West Germany were united in 1990, some 20 million residents of the former German Democratic Republic were automatically given EU citizenship. If 5.3 million Scots are excluded, it will be the result of pique, not policy. In any case, with the Conservatives planning a referendum in 2017 that might pull Britain out of the EU, London is not exactly holding the high ground on this issue.

If the vote were taken today, the Scots would probably vote to remain in Britain, but sentiment is shifting. The most recent poll indicates that 40 percent will vote for independence, a 3 percentage-point increase from the previous poll. The “no” votes have declined by 2 percentage points, to 45 percent, with 15 percent undecided. All Scottish residents over the age of 16 can vote. Given the formidable campaigning skills of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the SNP, those are chilling odds for the London government.

Catalonia

Catalonia, wedged up against France in Spain’s northeast, has long been a powerful engine for the Spanish economy, and a region steeped in historical grievance. Conquered by the combined armies of France and the Spain in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), it was also on the losing side of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. In 1940, triumphant fascists suppressed the Catalan language and culture and executed Catalonia’s president, Lluis Companys—an act no Madrid government has ever made amends for.

Following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain began its transformation to democracy, a road constructed by burying the deep animosities engendered by the Civil War. But the dead stay buried only so long, and a movement for Catalan independence began to grow.

In 2006 Catalonia won considerable autonomy, which was overturned by Spain's Supreme Tribunal in 2010 at the behest of the current ruling conservative People’s Party (PP). That 2010 decision fueled the growth of the Catalan independence movement, and in 2012 separatist parties in the province were swept into power.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s PP is pretty much an afterthought in Catalonia, where several independence parties dominate the Catalan legislature. The largest of these is Province President Artur Mas’s Convergencia i Unio (CiU), but the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) recently doubled its representation in the legislature.

That doesn’t mean they agree with one another. Mas’s party tends to be centrist to conservative, while the ERC is leftist and opposed to the austerity program of the PP, some of which Mas has gone along with. The CiU’s centrism is one of the reasons that Mas’s party went from sixty-two seats to fifty in the 2012 election, while the ERC jumped from ten to twenty-one.

Unemployment in Spain is officially at 25 percent—but far higher among youth and in the country's southern provinces—and the left has thrown down the gauntlet. Over 100,000 people marched on Madrid last month demanding an end to austerity.

Rajoy—citing the 1976 Constitution—refuses to allow an independence referendum, a stubbornness that has only fueled separatist strength. This past January the Catalan parliament voted 87 to 43 to hold a referendum, and polls show a majority in the province will support it. Six months ago, a million and a half Catalans marched in Barcelona for independence.

The PP has been altogether ham-fisted about Catalonia and seems to delight in finding things to provoke Catalans: Catalonia bans bull fighting, so Madrid passes a law making it a national cultural heritage. The Basques get to collect their own taxes, Catalans cannot.

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How would the EU react to an independent Catalonia? And would the central government in Madrid do anything about it? It is hard to imagine the Spanish army getting involved, although a former minister in the Franco government started Rajoy’s party, and the dislike between Madrid and Barcelona is palpable.

Other Fault Lines

There are other fault lines on the continent.

Will Belgium split up? The fissure between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south is so deep it took eighteen months to form a government after the last election. And if Belgium shatters, does it become two countries or get swallowed by France and the Netherlands?

In Italy, the South Tyrol Freedom Party (STFP) is gearing up for an independence referendum and pressing for a merger with Austria, although the tiny province—called Alto Adige in Italy—has little to complain about. It keeps 90 percent of its taxes, and its economy has dodged the worst of the 2008 meltdown. But some of its German-Austrian residents are resentful of any money going to Rome, and there is a deep prejudice against Italians—who make up 25 percent of South Tyrol—particularly among those in the south. In this way, the STFP is not very different from the racist, elitist Northern League, centered in Italy’s Po Valley.

It is instructive to watch the YouTube video on how borders in Europe have changed from 1519 to 2006, a period of less than 500 years. What we think of as eternal is ephemeral. The European continent is once again adrift, pulling apart along fault lines both ancient and modern. How nations like Spain and Britain, and organizations like the EU, react to this process will determine if it will be civilized or painful. But trying to stop it will most certainly cause pain.

 

Read Next: Nicolai Petro on Crimea’s vote to rejoin the Russian Federation

America’s Homegrown Terror Threat—and Why We’re Doing Nothing to Fight It

Nuclear power

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1, Middletown, Pa., 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The US security complex is up in arms about cyberhackers and foreign terrorists targeting America’s vulnerable infrastructure. Think tank reports have highlighted the chinks in homeland security represented by unsecured ports, dams and power plants. We’ve been bombarded by stories about outdated software that is subject to hacking and the vulnerability of our communities to bioterrorism. Reports such as the Heritage Foundation’s “Microbes and Mass Casualties: Defending America Against Bioterrorism” describe a United States that could be brought to its knees by its adversaries unless significant investments are made in “hardening” these targets.

But the greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning to assault American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States plays host to thousands of nuclear weapons, toxic chemical dumps, radioactive waste storage facilities, complex pipelines and refineries, offshore oil rigs and many other potentially dangerous facilities that require constant maintenance and highly trained and motivated experts to keep them running safely.

The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the past sixty years. We don’t have enough inspectors and regulators to assess the safety and security of ports, bridges, pipelines, power plants and railways. The rapid decline in our financial, educational and institutional infrastructure is the greatest threat to the safety of Americans today.

And it’s getting worse. The current round of cutbacks in federal spending for low-visibility budgets for maintainence and inspection, combined with draconian cuts in public education, makes it even more difficult to find properly trained people and pay them the necessary wages to maintain infrastructure. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution points out, the 2015 budget fresh off the press includes a chart indicating that non-defense discretionary spending—including critical investments in infrastructure, education and innovation—will continue to drop severely, from 3.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 to just 2.2 percent in 2024. This decision has been made even though the average rate for the past forty years has been 3.8 percent and the United States will require massive infrastructure upgrades over the next fifty years.

The recent cheating scandal involving employees of the country’s nuclear weapons complex is emblematic of the problem. Nuclear officers charged with protecting and maintaining the thousands of US nuclear weapons simply copied the answers for tests about how to employ the complex machinery related to nuclear missiles. The scandal is only the latest in a long series of accidents, mishaps and miscommunications that have nearly caused nuclear explosions and tremendous loss of life. As Eric Schlosser has detailed in his new book Command and Control, we have avoided inflicting a Hiroshima-sized attack on ourselves only through sheer dumb luck.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which painted a grim picture. The average grade for infrastructure—covering transportation, drinking water, energy, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure—was a D+. The failure to invest in infrastructure over the past fifteen years, the report argues, bodes ill for the future and will guarantee further disasters. As political campaigns against “bureaucrats” render the federal government incapable of recruiting and motivating qualified people, these disasters appear almost unavoidable. The weakest links from the point of view of national security are the military and energy sectors.

Bad Chemistry

The problems begin with our weapons. Despite promises from twenty years ago that the Army Chemical Materials Agency would destroy chemical weapons stockpiles, we have finished only fifty percent of the job (whereas Russia has completed some seventy percent), according to Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The process of maintaining and removing dangerous weapons is tedious, labor-intensive and inevitably involves community approval and the rawest forms of politics. The task suffers from an unhealthy combination of secrecy and apathy: the military wants to keep their weapons secret while the general population treats the matter with a striking lack of interest. Although many chemical weapons are stored relatively safely—binary substances are stored separately and are dangerous only when combined—many chemicals related to fueling and other activities are also hazardous. Because they are out of sight and out of mind, they are poorly managed.

Military waste is but a small part of the problem. The United States is peppered with all-but-forgotten chemical waste dumps, aging nuclear power plants, nuclear materials, oil rigs, oil pipelines and mines (active and abandoned) that require an enormous investment in personnel and facilities to maintain safely.

Nuclear Headaches

The United States boasts the largest complex of storage facilities in the world related to civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. This network contains a dozen Fukushimas in the making. The US nuclear energy system has generated more than 65,000 tons of spent fuel, much of which is stored in highly insecure locations. ”Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements,” writes IPS nuclear expert Robert Alvarez. “Some [of the structures] are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.” An accident involving any one of these storage facilities could produce damage sixty times greater than the Chernobyl disaster.

The Energy Department, without much regard for public safety, plans to unceremoniously dump in a landfill a ton of radioactive material produced in its nuclear weapons program. Such an approach has precedents. The West Lake municipal landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, harbors highly radioactive material from the weapons program of the 1940s and ’50s. That unsecured material could become a major public health risk due to fire or flooding. More recently, investigation of the Hanford nuclear waste complexin Washington State revealed that “significant construction flaws” exist in six of the twenty-eight radioactive waste storage tanks. One of them has been leaking since 2012. The site dates back to the plutonium experiments of the 1950s, and those flawed storage tanks contain around five million gallons of radioactive material.

The Obama administration has pledged to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal and envisions a nuclear-weapons-free future. But at the same it is pouring money into “nuclear modernization” through the development of a new generation of weapons and, consequently, even more radioactive waste. Moreover, the administration continues to include nuclear energy as part of its carbon reduction plans, directing federal subsidies to the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia.

Despite the enthusiasm for nuclear weapons and power, the administration has turned a blind eye to the disposal of all the nuclear waste that both the military and the civilian sides have generated.

Situation Normal: All Fracked Up

The coal industry continues to slice the peaks off mountains and replace them with vast expanses of barren land that cannot support life. That process fills rivers and lakes with toxic sludge, and regulation is all but nonexistent. From the 1990s on, coal companies have torn up West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee using new technologies that have already destroyed a patch of land larger than the state of Delaware. The run-off from these mining operations has buried 1,000 miles of streams.

The recent contamination of the Elk River in West Virginia with the dangerous chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol used in coal mining left over 300,000 people without safe drinking water. Although storage of the chemicals was the responsibility of the now-bankrupt Freedom Industries, responsibility for the accident does not stop there. In fact, federal officials never inspected the site, and neither Freedom Industries nor local government officials drew up an emergency response plan.

A few weeks later a pipe failure in Eden, North Carolina, dumped 39,000 tons of arsenic-laced coal ash into the nearby Dan River, causing a similar crisis. The situation is growing more serious as state budgets for inspection and regulation are being slashed. Training and preparation for hazardous material disasters is underfunded, and the personnel are unprepared to do their job.

Coal and oil workers are dying in greater numbers as a result of chronic inattention to safety concerns. So bad is the situation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only ninety-five inspectors to oversee safety rules for all Texas work sites, and few of them have training or experience in the energy sector.

If you like coal mining, you’re going to love fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the latest weapon in the war on the environment. Fracking extracts natural gas and petroleum from subterranean rock formations by pushing water, sand and a variety of toxic chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and release the trapped oil or gas. The process leaves beneath the surface large amounts of toxic chemicals that have already been shown to contaminate drinking water. The chemicals are so toxic that the water cannot be cleaned in a treatment plant.

Fracking is gobbling up large swaths of the United States because sites are quickly exhausted and the driller must constantly move on, leaving behind toxic chemicals to seep into the water supply. The long-term consequences of leaving extremely toxic substances like benzoyl or formic acid underground for decades are unknown. Without extensive regulation, maintenance and planning for future disasters, the fracking boom is a ticking bomb for US security.

The peril is not just on land. The increasingly desperate search for energy is making extreme measures—like deep-water drilling for oil—profitable for energy companies. The Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 resulted in eleven deaths, affected 16,000 miles of coastline and will cost upwards of $40 billion. That accident didn’t stop the government from granting Shell a permit to drill in the deep waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the Alaskan coast, an effort that has already racked up its share of accidents.

Coming Up: Le Deluge

The unending demand for budget cuts is taking a toll on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency experienced cuts of more than 6 percent in both its budget and workforce: from a nearly $8.5 million budget in 2012 down to $7.9 million in 2013, and from 17,106 employees in 2012 down to 15,913 employees in 2013. This is happening at a time when environmental issues are growing more critical.

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Cuts in budgets for maintenance, inspection and regulation will all but guarantee further disasters and tens of billions of dollars in damages. The poor state of American infrastructure would be a problem in any case, but the challenge of climate change has thrown a monkey wrench into all predictions. The New York Panel on Climate Change concluded that rising sea levels will turn what was previously a once-in-100-years flood into something that happens once every thirty-five to fifty-five years by 2050 and once every fifteen to thirty years by 2080. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused more than $108 billion in damages, while Hurricane Sandy in 2012 cost more than $50 billion, according to the National Hurricane Center. Climate change combined with poor maintenance is a recipe for massive disaster. Although the costs of the next disaster will certainly exceed the 9/11 attacks in terms of damage, tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.

Unfortunately, the constituencies concerned with safety inspections do not hire the most expensive lobbyists and rarely show up in the press. Inspectors and experts cannot, and should not, be expected to defend themselves in Washington. The media-obsessed political culture that rules the capital today makes commitment to low-key support for maintenance and long-term safety the kiss of death for congressmen engaged in an unending struggle to raise funds for re-election.

The strategic foolhardiness of cutting back on low-profile programs has become politically smart. But a few more major industrial or infrastructural disasters will be enough to bring the country to its knees. The American superpower could topple from self-inflicted wounds without a rival like China or Russia even having to say “boo!”

 

Read Next: Justine Drennan on the ongoing fight for nuclear disarmament.

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa

anti-gay Uganda

Ugandans cheer their country's new anti-gay laws, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

In February, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing antigay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in US politics as well, similarly supported antigay laws in Uganda. At the peak of the controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that Mugabe has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenya-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), lobbied against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the EACLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Robertson has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach, considering Nigeria is home to about 80 million Christians in all.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to fourteen years' imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to ten years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denunciation from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the antigay law, President Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Antigay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread antigay sentiment.

One such group is the “pro-family” advocacy group Family Watch International. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and that homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ people are imaginary.

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FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix. Over the two-day event, FWI coached twenty-six UN staffers from twenty-three different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

 

Read Next: Adam Federman on how US evangelicals fueled the rise of Russia's ‘pro-family‘ right.

How Indigenous Communities in Honduras Are Resisting US-Backed Multinationals

Honduras protest

Members of a Lenca indigenous community protest against the planned construction of a dam in Honduras. (AP Photo/Edgard Garrido)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

 

“Screw the company trying to take our river, and the government. If I die, I’m going to die defending life.” So said María Santos Dominguez, a member of the Indigenous Council of the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, Honduras.

April 1 marks one year since the Rio Blanco community began a human barricade that has so far stopped a corporation from constructing a dam that would privatize and destroy the sacred Gualcarque River. Adults and children have successfully blocked the road to the river with their bodies, a stick-and-wire fence and a trench. Only one of many communities fighting dams across Honduras, the families of Rio Blanco stand out for their tenacity and for the violence unleashed upon them.

The Honduran-owned, internationally backed DESA Corporation has teamed up with US-funded Honduran soldiers and police, private guards and paid assassins to try to break the opposition. Throughout the past year, they have killed, shot, maimed, kidnapped and threatened the residents of Rio Blanco. The head of DESA, David Castillo, is a West Point graduate. He also served as former assistant to the director of military intelligence and maintains close ties with the Honduran Armed Forces.

María Santos Dominguez’s prediction that she would die defending life almost came true. On March 5, seven people attacked her as she was on her way home from cooking food at the local school. They assaulted her with machetes, rocks and sticks. When her husband, Roque Dominguez, heard that she was surrounded, he and their 12-year-old son, Paulo, ran to the scene. The men brutalized them as well. They brought a machete down on the child’s head, deeply slashing his face, cutting his ear in half and fracturing his skull. Roque Dominguez’s hand was severely injured, and he also suffered cuts to the face. (Friends of the Earth has organized a petition urging the Honduran government to investigate, which you can sign here.)

This was the second machete attack Roque Dominguez suffered since the community began its blockade. The first, last June 29, by several members of a powerful family allied with the dam company, left his eye, face and hand mutilated. Days later, a soldier murdered María’s brother, Tomás Garcia, and shot his 17-year-old son, Allan, in the chest and back. The two bullets barely missed Allan’s heart.

Washington has admonished Honduran land rights defenders, even singling out the people of Rio Blanco. The US ambassador to Honduras, in her remarks on International Human Rights Day last December 10, accused the Lenca community of trying to block development, and cited them as an example of people incorrectly taking justice into their own hands. And last June 28, according to the newspaper La Prensa, the ambassador called on the Honduran government to prosecute those who encourage small farmers to occupy lands. Weeks later, a Honduran court leveled exactly that charge, and others, against three leaders of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), of which the Rio Blanco community is a member.

The US government has been a strong force behind the exploitation of natural riches on indigenous and small-farmer lands. In 2009, the United States contributed to a coup against President Manuel Zelaya, which was motivated in part by a desire to quash his support for agrarian reform and greater rights for indigenous and land-based peoples. President Obama backed the unconstitutional administration that followed as it gave corporations free rein for resource extraction, including granting forty-one illegal contracts for dams. Many of those contracts are moving forward in today’s pro-business environment, in violation of Honduran and international conventions requiring free, prior and informed consent by the indigenous peoples on whose territories the projects would be located.

During the period between the coup against Zelaya and today, the US government has given not only political support to the anti-indigenous, law-violating administrations, but also almost $40 million in military and police aid—aid used for repression of citizens and for the so-called drug war. The United States also maintains six military bases in the country.

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Washington's support also helped Juan Orlando Hernández impose himself as president following the November 24, 2013 elections, guaranteeing an agenda promoting multinational looting of natural resources. Though the elections were marred by violence, intimidation and blatant fraud by backers of the ruling party—including the buying of votes, the counting of ballots from dead people, manipulation of the count and the selling of election-worker credentials—the US ambassador called them transparent. Hernandez’s business-at-any-cost position was clear from his time as president of the National Congress, when he passed a law that gave mining corporations priority access to water over the needs of the people living in the area, and championed a law creating “model cities,” which essentially turn land over to corporations to manage. As president, Hernandez is now pushing forward these “Special Economic Development Zones.”

Freshly out of the hospital, María Santos Dominguez insists on returning to her home in Rio Blanco and continuing to fight the dam. Many have warned her of the dangers, but she is, to quote one human rights worker who knows her well, “so unbudging.”

COPINH issued a communiqué on March 6 that read in part, “We demand that the authorities not leave this case to impunity… as they have so many aggressions against many Lenca members of COPINH in Río Blanco. We demand justice and an end to violence and threats against the individual and collective rights of the Lenca People of Río Blanco.”

María said, “As Lenca people, these are our lands. Our ancestors fought to defend this land for us. We also have children and grandchildren, and we are going to defend this land for them.”

 

Read Next: Sam Badger and Giorgio Cafiero on the triumph of the oligarchs in Honduras.

Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret

Svoboda

The Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda holds a rally in Kiev, January 1, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

As the Ukrainian crisis has unfolded over the past few weeks, it’s hard for Americans not to see Vladimir Putin as the big villain. But the history of the region is a history of competing villains vying against one another; and one school of villains—the Nazis—have a long history of engagement with the United States, mostly below the radar, but occasionally exposed, as they were by Russ Bellant in his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party (South End Press, 1991). Bellant's exposure of émigré Nazi leaders from Germany's World War II allies in the 1988 Bush presidential campaign was the driving force in the announced resignation of nine individuals, two of them from Ukraine, which is why he was the logical choice to illuminate the scattered mentions of Nazi and fascist elements among the Ukrainian nationalists, which somehow never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. Of course most Ukrainians aren’t Nazis or fascists—all the more reason to illuminate those who would hide their true natures in the shadows…or even behind the momentary glare of the spotlight.

Your book, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, exposed the deep involvement in the Republican Party of Nazi elements from Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians, dating back to World War II and even before. As the Ukrainian crisis unfolded in the last few weeks, there have been scattered mentions of a fascist or neo-fascist element, but somehow that never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. I can’t think of anyone better to shed light on what’s not being said about that element. The danger of Russian belligerence is increasingly obvious, but this unexamined fascist element poses dangers of its own. What can you tell us about this element and those dangers?

The element has a long history, of a long record that speaks for itself, when that record is actually known and elaborated on. The key organization in the coup that took place here recently was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], or a specific branch of it known as the Banderas [OUN-B]. They’re the group behind the Svoboda party, which got a number of key positions in the new interim regime. The OUN goes back to the 1920s, when they split off from other groups, and, especially in the 1930s, began a campaign of assassinating and otherwise terrorizing people who didn’t agree with them.

As World War II approached, they made an alliance with the Nazi powers. They formed several military formations, so that when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they had several battalions that went into the main city at the time, where their base was, Lvov, or Lwow, it has a variety of spellings [Lviv today]. They went in, and there’s a documented history of them participating in the identification and rounding up Jews in that city, and assisting in executing several thousand citizens almost immediately. They were also involved in liquidating Polish group populations in other parts of Ukraine during the war.

Without getting deeply involved in that whole history, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists to this day defend their wartime role. They were backers of forming the 14th Waffen SS Division, which was the all-Ukrainian division that became an armed element on behalf of the Germans, and under overall German control. They helped encourage its formation, and after the war, right at the end of the war, it was called the First Ukrainian division. They still glorify that history of that SS division, and they have a veterans organization that obviously doesn’t have too many of members left, but they formed a veterans division of that.

If you look at insignia being worn in Kiev in the street demonstrations and marches, you'll see SS division insignia still being worn. In fact, I was looking at photographs last night of it, and there was a whole formation marching, not with the 14th Division, but with the Second Division. It was a large division that did major battle around Ukraine, and these marchers were wearing the insignia on the armbands of the Second Division.

So this is a very clear record, and the OUN, even in its postwar publications, has called for ethno-genetically pure Ukrainian territory, which of course is simply calling for purging Jews, Poles and Russians from what they consider Ukrainian territory. Also, current leaders of Svoboda have made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks that call for getting rid of Muscovite Jews and so forth. They use this very coarse, threatening language that anybody knowing the history of World War II would tremble at. If they were living here, it would seem like they would start worrying about it.

Obviously these people don’t hold monopoly power in Ukraine, but they stepped up and the United States has been behind the Svoboda party and these Ukrainian nationalists. In fact, the US connections to them go back to World War II, and the United States has had a longstanding tie to the OUN, through the intelligence agencies—initially military intelligence, later the CIA.

Your book discusses a central figure in the OUN, Yaroslav Stetsko, who was politically active for decades here in America. What can you tell us about his history?

Yaroslav Stetsko was the number-two leader of the OUN during World War II and thereafter. In 1959, Stepan Bandera, who was head of the OUN, was killed, and that’s when Stetsko assumed the leadership. Stetsko was the guy who actually marched into Lvov with the German army on June 30, 1941. The OUN issued a proclamation at that time under his name praising and calling for glory to the German leader Adolf Hitler and how they’re going to march arm in arm for Ukraine and so forth. After the war, he was part of the key leadership that got picked up by the Americans.

There’s a number of accounts I’ve seen, at least three credible reports, on how they were in the displaced persons camp—the Allied forces set up displaced persons camps and picked up tens of thousands of these former allies of Hitler from countries all over the East—Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania. There weren’t Polish collaborators; I think most people know the Germans heavily persecuted and murdered millions of Polish residents—but Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and so forth, Belorussia. They had them in these camps they built and organized them, where the Ukrainians were assassinating their Ukrainian nationalist rivals so they would be the undisputed leaders of Ukrainian nationalist movement, so they would get the sponsorship of the United States to continue their political operation, and they were successful in that regard. So when Bandera was out of the picture, Stetsko became the undisputed leader of Ukrainian nationalists.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1943 under German sponsorship organized a multinational force to fight on behalf of the retreating German army. After the battle of Stalingrad in ’43, the Germans felt a heightened need to get more allies, and so the Romanian Iron Guard, the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and others with military formations in place to assist came together and formed the united front called the Committee of Subjugated Nations, and again worked on behalf of the German military. In 1946, they renamed it the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, or ABN. Stetsko was the leader of that until he died in 1986.

I mention this in part because the OUN tries to say, Well, during the war we fought the Germans and the Communists. The fact of the matter is that they were the leadership of this whole multinational alliance on behalf of the Germans the last two years of the war and in the war thereafter. All the postwar leaders of the unrepentant Nazi allies were under the leadership of Yaroslav Stetsko.

What happened when Stetsko, and others like him from other German allied forces, came to the United States?

In the United States, when they came, his groups organized "captive nations" committees. They became, supposedly, the representatives of people who were being oppressed in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union. They were, in fact, being given an uncritical blank check to represent the voices of all these nations that were part of the Warsaw Pact, when in fact they represented the most extreme elements of each of the national communities.

The Captive Nations Committee in Washington, DC, for instance, was run by the person who headed the Ukrainian organization of nationalists; that was true in a number of places. In my hometown area near Detroit, as well, they played a major role. In the early 1950s, when they were resettled in the United States, there were at least 10,000 of them that were resettled, when you look at all the nationalities. They became politically active through the Republican National Committee, because it was really the Eisenhower administration that made the policy decision in the early 1950s, and brought them in. They set up these campaign organizations, every four years they would mobilize for the Republican candidate, whoever it would be, and some of them, like Richard Nixon in 1960, actually had close direct ties to some of the leaders like the Romanian Iron Guard, and some of these other groups.

When Nixon ran for president in 1968, he made a promise to these leaders that they would—if he won the presidency, he would make them the ethnic outreach arm of the Republican National Committee on a permanent basis, so they wouldn’t be a quadrennial presence, but a continuing presence in the Republican Party. And he made that promise through a guy named Laszlo Pasztor, who served five years in prison after World War II for crimes against humanity. He was prosecuted in 1946 by the non-Communist government that actually had control of Hungary at the time (there was a period from ’45 to ’48 when the Hungarian Communist Party didn’t run Hungary). They were the ones who prosecuted him. He had served as a liaison between the Hungarian Nazi party and Berlin; he served in the Berlin embassy of the Hungarian Arrow Cross movement. This is the guy that got picked to organize all the ethnic groups, and the only people that got brought in were the Nazi collaborators.

They didn’t have a Russian affiliate because they hated all Russians of all political stripes. There were no African-Americans or Jewish affiliates either. It was just composed of these elements, and for a while they had a German affiliate, but some exposure of the Nazi character of the German affiliate caused it to be quietly removed, but other [Nazi] elements were retained.

Your book was researched and published in the 1980s. What was happening by that point in time, after these groups had been established for more than a decade?

I went to their meetings in the 1980s, and they put out material that really made clear who they were. One of their 1984 booklets praised the pro-Nazi Ustashi regime in Croatia; these Ustashi killed an estimated 750,000 people and burned them alive in their own camp in Croatia. And here they are praising the founding of this regime, and acknowledging that it was associated with the Nazis, and it was signed by the chairman of the Republican National Committee. You couldn’t make this stuff up! It was just crazy.

I interviewed the Cossack guy; he showed me his pension from service in the SS in World War II, and how he was affiliated with free Nazi groups in the United States, and he was just very unrepentant. These are the umbrellas that were called "Captive Nations Committees" by these people that Stetsko was over, and was part of, too. The Reagan White House brought him in, and promoted him as a major leader and did a big dinner. Jeane Kirkpatrick [UN Ambassador during the Reagan administration] was part of it, George H.W. Bush as Vice President, of course, Reagan—and Stetsko was held up as a great leader. And proclamations were issued on his behalf.

When Bush Senior was running for president in 1988, he came to these, basically one of the leading locations of the Ukrainian nationalists in North America, which is just outside of Detroit, a suburb of Detroit, to their cultural center, and one of their foremost leaders in the world is headquartered out of there. At the time, he got Bush to come there and they denounced the OSI, and Bush just shook his head; he wouldn’t say anything about it.

The OSI was the Office of Special Investigations. It was investigating the presence of Nazi war criminals in the United States, and deporting those who were found to have lied on their history when they applied to come into the United States after the war. They had deported a number of people from all over the United States. They had a lot of open investigations, and all these émigré Nazis were trying to bring all the political pressure they could to stop these investigations, including the Ukrainian nationalists.

So they denounced them, the OSI investigations, in front of Bush. Bush nodded his head, but he wouldn’t say anything because he didn’t want to sound like he was sympathetic to the Nazi war criminals, but at the same time he didn’t want to offend his hosts by disputing the issue with them. So, the issue of World War II was still being played out over four decades later, in the politics of the presidency, and unfortunately Bush and Reagan continued to be on the side that we defeated in World War II.

What was the response when your book came out, with all this information? How was the information received, and what was the political reaction?

Prior to the book’s publication, Washington Jewish Week had done a story about some of the ethnic leaders of the Bush campaign and their history, like denying the Holocaust, or being involved with these émigré Nazi groups. They named a couple of them that weren’t part of the Heritage Groups Council, but they were part of the Bush campaign.

Then, when I published the book, it brought out a lot more names, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe did stories on them. It got to the point where when a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer would call them about one of their ethnic leaders of the Bush campaign, the standard response was, he’s no longer part of the campaign, and they’d say that almost as soon as the name would get mentioned. So that they would call that person—and I’ll give the example of Florian Galdau, he was, he ran the Romanian Iron Guard in New York City. He had a wartime record. [Romanian Archbishop Valerian] Trifa himself was implicated in the mass killing of Jews in Bucharest in 1941, I believe. Galdau’s record is clear, because when Trifa was prosecuted he was one of the people targeted by the Office of Special Investigations, and he was forced into deportation in the 1980s, but in those records, they identify Florian Galdau as one of his operatives, so his history is known—except, apparently, to the Bush campaign.

So when he was identified by the Philadelphia Inquirer, they immediately said he wasn’t part of it, so the Inquirer called Florian Galdau, and he said, “No, I’m part of it. They never said anything to me. As far as I know I’m still part of the campaign.” And that was the pattern.

The Republican National Committee said after the election that they were going to put a blue ribbon committee together and do an investigation of the charges in my book. I was never contacted, nobody affiliated with the book project, the publisher wasn’t contacted. None of the sources I worked with was contacted. And after about a year, with nobody raising any issues or questions about it, they just folded it up and they said, well, we have not had the resources to investigate this matter.

I did publish an op-ed in The New York Times about two weeks after the election was over, and I think that was the last time anybody said anything publicly about it that got any kind of forum. I think they were allowed to just die and wither away—that is, those leaders. The Republican idea was probably to bring in another generation of people who were born in the United States as these émigré’s died off, but they never did anything about this history that Nixon had bequeathed them with. The Reagan White House had really made deep political commitments and alliances with them. They didn’t want to look like they turned their back on them, and Bush wanted them for his re-election campaign, so he wasn’t going to turn his back on them either.

If you want an anecdote, I know that 60 Minutes was working on a piece that Bradley’s team was working on. Nancy Reagan herself called the executive producer and said that we would really like it if you wouldn’t do this story, and they killed it. Because, basically, it’s not just about Nazis and the Republican National Committee and the White House. It inevitably raises the question of, who are they, how did they get here, who sponsored them? And it goes back to the intelligence agencies at that point. And some people don’t like treading there; if it’s tied to an intelligence agency, they prefer to just stay away from the subject. So, some people at 60 Minutes were frustrated by it, but that’s what happened. I think that they were able to effectively kill the story when people tried to cover it. They were able to persuade news managers to not delve into it too much.

What’s happened since you wrote your book, and most of the World War II generation died off? What have the OUN and its allies been up to since then that we should be aware of?

Once the OUN got sponsored by the American security establishment intelligence agencies, they were embedded in a variety of ways in Europe as well, like Radio Free Europe, which is headquartered in Munich. A lot of these groups in the ABN were headquartered in Munich under the sponsorship of Radio Free Europe. From there, they ran various kinds of operations where they were trying to do work inside the Warsaw Pact countries. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a number of them moved back into Ukraine as well as the other respective countries and began setting up operations there, and organizing political parties. They reconstituted the veterans group of the Waffen SS, they held marches in the 1990s in Ukraine, and they organized political parties, in alliance with the United States, and became part of what was called the Orange Revolution in 2004, when they won the election there.

The prime minister [a reference to Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010] was closely allied with them. They worked with the new government to get veterans benefits for the Ukrainian SS division veterans, and they started establishing the statues and memorials and museums for Stepan Bandera, who was the leader of the OUN, and who I should say were despised by other Ukrainian nationalists because of their methods, because they were extreme and violent toward rival Ukrainian nationalist groups. So Bandera wasn’t a universal hero, but this group was so influential, in part because of its US connections, that if you go online and you Google "Lviv" and the word "Bandera" you’ll see monuments and statues and large posters and banners of Bandera’s likeness and large monuments—permanent erected monuments—on behalf of Bandera so they made this guy like he’s the George Washington of Ukraine.

That government was in power until 2010, when there was another election, and a new regime was elected with a lot of support from the East. Ukrainian nationalist groupings around the Orange Revolution were sharply divided against each other, and there was rampant corruption, and people voted them out. The United States was very aggressive in trying to keep the nationalists in power, but they lost the election. The United States was spending money through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was pumping money into various Ukrainian organizations, and they were doing the same thing in Russia and many other countries around the world as well. We’re talking about many millions of dollars a year to affect the politics of these countries.

When the occupations came in Independence Square in Kiev late last year, you can see Svoboda’s supporters and you can hear their leaders in the Parliament making blatant anti-Semitic remarks. The leader of the Svoboda party went to Germany to protest the prosecution of John Demjanjuk, who was the Ukrainian who was settled in the United States who was implicated as a concentration camp guard in the killing of innocent people. The German courts found him guilty, and the Svoboda leadership went to Germany to complain about convicting this guy. The reason? They said they didn’t want any Ukrainians tainted with it, because they live a lie: that no Ukrainian had anything to do with the German Nazi regime, when history betrays them, and their own affiliations betray them. But they don’t like that being out there publicly, so they always protest the innocence of any Ukrainian being charged with anything, regardless of what the evidence is.

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Your book was an important revelation but was not alone. Your book notes that Jack Anderson reported on the pro-Nazi backgrounds of some of the ethnic advisors as far back as 1971, yet when your report came out almost two decades later, everyone responded with shock, surprise and even denial. What lessons should we draw from this history of buried history? And how should it influence our thinking about the unfolding crisis in Ukraine?

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to become familiarized and educated about the history of this phenomenon—both the wartime history and our postwar collaboration with these folks. There were a number of exposés written about the émigré Nazis. There was a 1979 book called Wanted, and it did a number of case stories of these people being brought into the United States, including the Trifa story. Christopher Simpson did a book called Blowback that discussed the policy decisions; it’s an incredible book. He’s a professor at American University, and he did years of research through the Freedom of Information Act and archives, and got the policy documents under which the decisions were made to bring these folks together, and not just into the United States but to deploy them around the world.

Like my book, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The New York Times book reviewer was negative toward the book. There are people who really don’t want to touch this stuff. There’s a lot of people who don’t want it touched. I think it’s really important for people who believe in openness and transparency and democratic values, who don’t want to see hate groups come back to power in other parts of the world, to know what happened.

There aren't very many Americans who really even know that the Waffen SS was a multinational force. That’s been kind of kept out of the received history. Otherwise people would know that there were Ukrainian Nazis, Hungarian Nazis, Latvian Nazis, and they were all involved in the mass murder of their fellow citizens, if they were Jewish, or even if they were co-nationalists that were on the other side of the issue of the war. They were just mass murderers, across Eastern Europe. And that history, those facts, aren’t even well-known. A lot of people didn’t even know this phenomenon existed.

I think all Americans have a responsibility to know what their government is doing in the foreign policy in Europe as well as elsewhere around the world, as well as Latin America, as well as Africa. Since our policy was to uphold apartheid in South Africa, why weren’t Americans challenging that more? They began challenging that in the '80s, but the apartheid regime was run by the Nazi party. They were allied with Germany in World War II. They were the Nationalist party and they took power in 1948 and the United States backed that for decades. We backed the death squads in Latin America, even though they massacred tens of thousands of people—200,000 people in Guatemala alone. Americans aren’t being attentive to what their government is doing abroad, even though it’s being done with their tax dollars and in their name, and I think we just have a general responsibility.

I went to these meetings, I went to these conferences, I went over a period of years. I met with them directly, most of the people I wrote about, I met with them personally or in group meetings. People can’t afford to do that on their own, timewise, but there’s enough literature out there so they can read about it. They will get enough of a handle to get what the real picture is, to demand change. I’m not totally partisan: I think the Republican Party was extreme on this, but the Democrats folded and didn’t challenge this when they knew it was going on.

There is an old Roman poet who once said truth does not say one thing and wisdom another. I’m a believer in that. Tell the truth and wisdom will follow.

 

Read Next: Conn Hallinan on the dark side of the Ukraine revolt.

How the Proposed US-EU Trade Agreement Screws Workers and Undermines Democracy

Euros

Central Bank, Brussels (Reuters/Thierry Roge)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Earlier this month in Brussels, US and EU negotiators held a fourth round of secret talks on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The agreement would remove so-called “trade barriers” between the United States and Europe by eliminating tariffs and weakening the regulatory authority of nation-states.

The talks in Brussels come on the heels of a new public relations push by the Obama administration. In February, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, speaking at the Center for American Progress (CAP), outlined the administration’s new “values-driven” trade agenda. Ostensibly stronger on labor and environmental standards, the approach promises to boost job growth at home by removing foreign tariffs on US exports.

Given that already ballooning corporate profits have not created a US jobs boom, an increase in corporate export profits is unlikely to help. What’s more, recent trade agreements have failed to increase US exports in the first place.

But engaging this argument misses the real issue. TTIP is much less about reducing tariffs, which are already fairly low between the United States and the EU, and more about weakening the power of average citizens to defend themselves against corporate labor and environmental abuses.

The key issue on this point is a controversial TTIP provision called Investor-State Dispute Settlement. ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue governments before special international tribunals over domestic laws that interfere with corporate profits. The tribunals are not accountable to any national public or democratically elected body. Corporations around the world are using similar ISDS provisions under existing trade agreements to extract taxpayer money from national governments. Actual or potential government losses then serve as strong deterrents to future public interest legislation.

At CAP, Froman accused trade critics of being stuck in the past. Trade policy has “evolved” substantially since the 1990s, he said, and new trade agreements will not only take into account labor and environmental concerns, but will actually raise standards.

The opposite is true. As corporations have become more adept at exploiting provisions like ISDS, trade agreements are getting worse for the rest of us. And the same corporate interests responsible for previous bad agreements are still in charge. Of the 700 US trade advisers who have exclusive access to negotiators and draft agreements, 90 percent represent private industry. Less than 9 percent come from labor, health, consumer or other public advocacy groups. Meanwhile, TTIP talks remain closed to the public, with limited press access.

The “free trade” threat to regular Americans is no longer just economic but political as well. Out of public view and under the influence of global corporations with little to no national loyalties, negotiators are trading away our most fundamental values: representative democracy and the right of citizens to protect themselves.

President Obama has asked Congress to renew “fast track” negotiating authority, which expired in 2007. Fast track empowers the executive branch to negotiate trade agreements like TTIP in secret before sending them to the Senate for an up-or-down vote, with only a simple majority required for approval. Unable to filibuster or offer amendments, senators could not remove provisions such as ISDS.

But opposition to fast track is growing on both sides in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 151 House Democrats have voiced their opposition. Even reliably pro–free trade Republicans are weighing in against it. Elsewhere, public outcry in Europe over ISDS has forced EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht to open a three-month public comment period on the issue. Advocacy groups in the United States have called for a similar move here.

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Now is an opportune time for Americans to voice their concerns. Tell your representatives in Congress to oppose fast-track authority and demand that US Trade Representative Froman open a public comment period on ISDS. By weighing in now, Americans can put an end to the disastrous era of “free trade” agreements negotiated in secret for the sole benefit of global corporations and their super-rich investors. The rest of us have suffered enough economic pain from these agreements. We must not suffer the final indignity of losing our democracy to them as well.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on the fatal flaws in Putin's US policy

A Precarious Victory in El Salvador

FMLN victory

Supporters of the progressive FMLN celebrate their party's election win, March 15, 2014. (Reuters/Jessica Orellana)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

 

After a closely contested election in El Salvador, the progressive Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) has emerged victorious, declaring a narrow victory over a right-wing opposition party that appealed to the military for intervention.

The vote marks a hard-fought victory for the FMLN’s ambitious economic agenda, which has included a host of new social programs that have improved education and healthcare for millions of Salvadorans. But right-wing forces vigorously disputed the election—one that the Organization of American States called the most transparent in El Salvador’s history—and conditions imposed by Washington are threatening to undermine the country’s gains.

While the US embassy officially maintained a neutral stance in the election, Washington is threatening to withhold development aid unless El Salvador adopts economic policies that are anathema to the ruling coalition of left and center forces that have been working together over the past five years. That threat could end up undermining the very programs that contributed to the FMLN victory in the March 9 poll.

A Landmark Election

Since taking power in 2009, the FMLN—a former guerrilla movement that became a political party in the early 1990s—has ushered in a host of popular social programs designed to improve living standards in El Salvador, where over a third of the population lives in poverty.

Before stepping down as minister of education to run for the presidency, FMLN president-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén started a literacy program that reduced adult illiteracy from 18 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2012. The program, part of a broader push to make education accessible to all Salvadorans, functions on a $2 million budget and enjoys the support of over 40,000 volunteers. Other reforms include free school uniforms and a glass of milk every day for schoolchildren.

Since 2009, the FMLN has been responsible for the implementation of a healthcare program that includes primary clinics throughout the country, regional hospitals and government funding for preventive health measures. Though healthcare has always been a right under the Salvadoran constitution, access had been restricted as part of privatization efforts—by 2006, in fact, 47 percent of Salvadorans had been pushed out of the healthcare system. Now, the Ministry of Health serves 80-85 percent of the population for free.

The election also marks the first time that a former FMLN guerrilla commander has defeated a candidate from the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA)—a right-wing party founded by Roberto D’Aubuisson, the father of the US-backed Salvadoran death squads. The two parties were the main opponents in El Salvador’s civil war (1980-1992) and have been the country’s principal political parties since the 1992 peace accords. Sánchez Cerén’s victory suggests that the FMLN’s social programs and community organizing helped the party overcome the fear-based ARENA propaganda that was broadcast by the country’s right-wing-dominated media.

In the run-up to the election, the Salvadoran Election Tribunal (TSE) quadrupled the number of voting centers, removed at least 50,000 deceased Salvadorans from the voter rolls and ensured that poll workers live close to voting centers, making it easier for them to identify fraudulent voters. These elections also marked the first time Salvadorans outside the country, who comprise over a third of the total population, have been able to vote.

Yet in response to his electoral defeat, ARENA candidate Norman Quijano cried fraud, pushing back the official announcement of a winner by the TSE by several days. Quijano, who had previously declared victory with only 70 percent of votes counted, subsequently called on the Salvadoran military to “implement democracy,” adding ominously that ARENA was prepared for war. With a bloody civil war at the center of the country’s recent history, ARENA’s willingness to call upon the military to intervene is highly concerning.

But David Munguía Payés, the minister of defense, rejected Quijano’s request, maintaining that the armed forces are “committed to respecting the electoral results issued by the Salvadoran Election Tribunal.” Days later, the TSE rejected ARENA’s demand to nullify the results and declared Sánchez Cerén the winner.

US Intervention

In the past, the United States has given the Salvadoran oligarchy considerable support, including $6 billion in direct military assistance and training for the armed forces during the war.

Though in recent years US intervention in Latin America has been less flagrant, Washington’s support for military interference in the region has continued. In 2009, when soldiers forced Honduran President Manuel Zelaya onto a plane to Costa Rica while still in his pajamas, the United States was the only country in the Americas not to classify the incident as a coup, allowing economic and military aid to Honduras to continue.

The use of US foreign aid to exert control over the Americas is worrying for left-leaning governments in the region, especially as institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy—which financed the protests that sparked the attempted coup against former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002—continue to funnel money into similar projects, such as funding the party of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López. With Sánchez Cerén already likened to the late Chávez in much of the Salvadoran media, it will be difficult for the president-elect to continue the programs he was voted in to protect without fear of reprisal from the United States.

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By threatening to withhold foreign aid, the United States coerced El Salvador into enacting last year’s Public-Private Partnership law, which privatizes public services and assets to a degree that would cause an uproar if it were attempted in the United States. The law, an initiative of El Salvador’s bilateral trade agreement with the United States, was written by US Treasury Department advisers with the IMF, World Bank and the outgoing administration of President Mauricio Funes. The proposed partnership was unveiled in November 2011 during a visit by Barack Obama.

Since its introduction, unions, to whom the new law guarantees no protections, have fiercely fought the Public-Private Partnership. If fully implemented, the law would threaten the job security of over 120,000 public-sector workers, who have seen wages drop as services have become privatized. The Bajo Lempa Community—a coalition of communities formed by ex-combatants and refugees from the civil war—warned in a statement that “the promises of employment and economic growth that were to accompany privatization, [US] dollarization and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement have never materialized. In their place, poverty, violence, [a] deteriorating environment and corruption have all increased.” The community has called the Public-Private Partnership “blackmail” and charged that it “violates the sovereignty of the Salvadoran state and its people.”

Unable to stop the passage of the Public-Private Partnership, the FMLN bloc in the legislature voted for a revised version of the law that stopped the privatization of water, higher education, and healthcare. Now, US Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte is making the privatization of these sectors a prerequisite for further funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US agency that provides foreign assistance on a competitive basis. After a close election, it will be difficult for the FMLN to forgo the Millennium Challenge Corporation money.

When the Salvadoran people voted for the FMLN, they were voting for a platform of increased social programs and community control. The Public-Private Partnership foisted on the country by Washington could put these goals out of reach. With the US government leaning on El Salvador to accept a privatization package that would never be accepted in the United States—and the tenets of which were rejected by Salvadoran voters themselves—it appears that Washington still isn’t ready to let democracy flourish in Latin America.

 

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