Friday, October 21, 2005
It so happens that on some Friday's I just reprint an article of
interest or importance from another source en lieu of the Oread
Daily. Today, my friends, is another one of those days. The following article comes from CorpWatch.
Blood, Sweat & Tears:
Asia’s Poor Build U.S. Bases in Iraq
by David Phinney, Special to CorpWatch
October 3rd, 2005
Jing Soliman left his family in the Philippines for what sounded like a sure thing--a job as a warehouse worker at Camp Anaconda in Iraq. His new employer, Prime Projects International (PPI) of Dubai, is a major, but low-profile, subcontractor to Halliburton's multi-billion-dollar deal with the Pentagon to provide support services to U.S. forces.
But Soliman wouldn’t be making anything near the salaries-- starting $80,000 a year and often topping $100,000-- that Halliburton's engineering and construction unit, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) pays to the truck drivers, construction workers, office workers, and other laborers it recruits from the United States. Instead, the 35-year-old father of two anticipated $615 a month – including overtime. For a 40-hour work week, that would be just over $3 an hour. But for the 12-hour day, seven-day week that Soliman says was standard for him and many contractor employees in Iraq, he actually earned $1.56 an hour.
Soliman planned to send most of his $7,380 annual pay home to his family in the Philippines, where the combined unemployment and underemployment rate tops 28 percent. The average annual income in Manila is $4,384, and the World Bank estimates that nearly half of the nation's 84 million people live on less than $2 a day.
“I am an ordinary man,” said Soliman during a recent telephone interview from his home in Quezon City near Manila. “It was good money.”
His ambitions, like many U.S. civilians working in Iraq, were modest: “I wanted to save up, buy a house and provide for my family,” he says.
That simple dream drives hordes of low-wage workers like Soliman to travel to Iraq from more than three dozen countries. They are lured by jobs with companies working on projects led by Halliburton and other major U.S.-funded contractors hired to provide support services to the military and reconstruction efforts.
Called “third country nationals” (TCN) in contractor’s parlance, they hail largely from impoverished Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan, as well as from Turkey and countries in the Middle East. Once in Iraq, TCNs earn monthly salaries between $200 to $1,000 as truck drivers, construction workers, carpenters, warehousemen, laundry workers, cooks, accountants, beauticians, and similar blue-collar jobs.
Invisible Army of Cheap Labor
Tens of thousands of such TNC laborers have helped set new records for the largest civilian workforce ever hired in support of a U.S. war. They are employed through complex layers of companies working in Iraq. At the top of the pyramid-shaped system is the U.S. government which assigned over $24 billion in contracts over the last two years. Just below that layer are the prime contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel. Below them are dozens of smaller subcontracting companies-- largely based in the Middle East --including PPI, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting and Alargan Trading of Kuwait, Gulf Catering, Saudi Trading & Construction Company of Saudi Arabia. Such companies, which recruit and employ the bulk of the foreign workers in Iraq, have experienced explosive growth since the invasion of Iraq by providing labor and services to the more high-profile prime contractors.
This layered system not only cuts costs for the prime contractors, but also creates an untraceable trail of contracts that clouds the liability of companies and hinders comprehensive oversight by U.S. contract auditors. In April, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress concluded that it is impossible to accurately estimate the total number of U.S. or foreign nationals working in Iraq.
The GAO's investigation was prompted by concerns in Congress about insurance costs that all U.S.-funded contractors and subcontractors in are obligated by law to carry for their workers--costs which are then passed on to the government.
"It is difficult to aggregate reliable data,” said the GAO report, “due in part to the large number of contractors and the multiple levels of subcontractors performing work in Iraq."
The menial wages paid to TCNs working for the regional contractors may be the most significant factor in the Pentagon’s argument that outsourcing military support is far more cost-efficient for the U.S. taxpayer than using its own troops to maintain camps and feed its ranks.
But there is also a human cost to this savings. Numerous former American contractors returning home say they were shocked at conditions faced by this mostly invisible, but indispensable army of low-paid workers. TCNs frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait outside in line in 100 degree plus heat to eat “slop.” Many are said to lack adequate medical care and put in hard labor seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, for little or no overtime pay. Few receive proper workplace safety equipment or adequate protection from incoming mortars and rockets. When frequent gunfire, rockets and mortar shell from the ongoing conflict hits the sprawling military camps, American contractors slip on helmets and bulletproof vests, but TCNs are frequently shielded only by the shirts on their backs and the flimsy trailers they sleep in.
Adding to these dangers and hardships, some TCNs complain publicly about not being paid the wages they expected. Others say their employers use “bait-and-switch” tactics: recruiting them for jobs in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries and then pressuring them to go to Iraq. All of these problems have resulted in labor disputes, strikes and on-the-job protests.
While the exact number of TCNs working in Iraq is uncertain, a rough estimate can be gleaned from Halliburton’s own numbers, which indicate that TCNs make up 35,000 of KBR’s 48,000 workers in Iraq employed under sweeping contract for military support. Known as the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), this contract – by far the largest in Iraq -- is now approaching the $15 billion mark. Citing security concerns, however, the Houston-headquartered company and several other major contractors declined to release detailed figures on the workforce that is estimated to be 100,000 or more.
High Risks, Low Benefits
“They do all the grunt jobs,” said former KBR supervisor Steve Powell, 54, from Azle, Texas. “But a lot of them are top notch.”
Powell returned home from at Camp Diamondback in May this year. He was disillusioned, he said, with the high staff turnover of KBR employees and the treatment of TCNs that a KBR subcontractor from Turkey had hired as mechanics.
“The Filipinos were making $600 to $1,200 a month. That’s good money for them, but there was tension from time to time. They sometimes thought they were doing all the work,” says Powell who drove trucks for 30 years before working as a KBR truck maintenance foreman in Iraq for a year for $6,000 to $8,000 a month. “We weren’t supposed to get our hands dirty.”
The TCNs not only do much of the dirty work, but, like others working for the U.S. military, risk and sometimes lose their lives. Many are killed in mortar attacks; some are shot. Others have been taken hostage before meeting their death. In particularly gruesome set of murders on August 30, 2004, the captors of 12 Nepalese cooks and cleaners working for a Jordanian construction company beheaded one worker and posted a video of the execution on the internet with the message: "We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalese who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians . . . believing in Buddha as their God."
The murders led Kathmandu to bar its citizens from working in Iraq, although companies doing business there continue to employ Nepalese workers.
The Pentagon keeps no comprehensive record of TCN casualties. But the Georgia-based nonprofit, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, estimates that TCNs make up more than 100 of the estimated 269 civilian fatalities. The number of unreported fatalities could be much higher, while unreported and life-altering injuries are legion.
Soliman was one TCN who barely escaped death on the night of May 11, 2004, when his living trailer at Camp Anaconda was blown apart by a bomb attack. Sardonically dubbed “Mortaritaville,” the camp sits 42 miles north of Baghdad. Some 17,000 US soldiers and thousands of contractors have dug into the former Iraqi airbase for a long-term occupation.
Three others were injured along with Soliman that night. One roommate, 25-year-old fuel pump attendant Raymund Natividad, was killed. Soliman flew home to the Philippines in a wheelchair days later because he wanted medical treatment in his own country. But even after surgery and skin grafts, he sometimes feels nagging pain in his leg, he says. Doctors tell Soliman he will walk with a piece of shrapnel lodged in his left leg for the rest of his life.
“It was too deep” to remove, he explains.
The attack ignited shock waves of fear among the 1,300 Filipino workers at Camp Anaconda. Some 600 PPI employees immediately quit over safety concerns. “Filipinos don't want to work anymore in the mess halls, laundry and fuel depot,” a Filipino embassy official in Baghdad said at the time. “There's a paralysis of work.”
By mid-July, 2004, the Philippines would resign from the "Coalition of the Willing" and withdraw its modest military presence of 43 soldiers and eight policemen from Iraq one month earlier than scheduled. The precipitating event was a threat by Iraqi militias to behead Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old truck driver for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Company. One day after the withdrawal, his captors released the father of eight. He returned home to the storm of media attention hailing his safe return and offers of a free home and scholarships for the children.
Only fleeting headlines in Manila greeted Soliman’s homecoming just months earlier. Now jobless, he speaks fondly of the U.S. troops to whom, he says, he was forbidden to speak to by his company supervisors at PPI.
"The Army treated us like friends," he said, boasting of a certificate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded him in recognition of his service as a warehouse worker who handled and received food supplies for the camp.
His memories of PPI are less congenial. His managers were foul-mouthed and verbally abusive and lunches served on the job sites were unfit to eat, Soliman said. PPI restricted employees to two 5-minute phone calls home a month and deducted the cost from their paychecks.
"They were $10 more expensive than at the PX (the retail store on the military base), but if they see you making a call at another location, they would send you home," Salomon said.
A number of former KBR supervisors say they don’t know why TCNs continue working in Iraq when they face much more brutal working conditions and hours than what their American and European co-workers would tolerate.
“TCNs had a lot of problems with overtime and things,” recalls Sharon Reynolds of Kirbyville, Texas. “I remember one time that they didn’t get paid for four months.”
The former KBR administrator, who spent 11 months in Iraq until April, says she was responsible for processing time sheets for 665 TCNs employed by PPI at Camp Victory near Baghdad. The 14,000 troops and the American contractors based at this former palace for Saddam Hussein have use of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a manmade lake preserved for special events and fishing.
But TCNs have to make do with far less . “They don’t get sick pay and if PPI had insurance, they sure didn’t talk about it much,” Reynolds recalls. “TCNs had a lot of problems with overtime and things. ...I had to go to bat for them to get shoes and proper clothing,"
As for living conditions, TCNs “ate outside in 140 degree heat,” she says. American contractors and U.S. troops ate at the air-conditioned Pegasus Dining Facility featuring a short-order grill, salad, pizza, sandwich and ice cream bars under the KBR logistics contract.
“TCNs had to stand in line with plates and were served something like be curry and fish heads from big old pots,” Reynolds says incredulously. “It looked like a concentration camp,”
And even when it came to basic safety, the TCNs faced a double standard. "They didn’t have personal protection equipment to wear when there was an alert," Reynolds said. "Here we are walking around with helmets and vests because of an alert and they are just looking at us wondering what’s going on.”
PPI in Dubai has failed to respond to numerous phone calls about the accusations of mistreatment. “I don’t think anyone will want to comment.” said a representative who answered the phone and decline to provide phone numbers or e-mail addresses of company executives.
There is little public information about PPI, but other contractors say the company’s leading officers boast of a close association with Halliburton and say that it was formed by staff who previously worked with local firms sponsoring Halliburton’s business activities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Several sources say PPI was active as a major Halliburton subcontractor in Bosnia and at the high-security prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Halliburton spokesperson Melissa Norcross denied that the company has ownership or investment ties with PPI. The Halliburton unit is proud of its employees and subcontractors “who daily face danger to support the troops serving in Iraq and the Middle East,” said Norcross, adding that Halliburton requires all subcontractors to provide acceptable living and working conditions for its workers.
“KBR operates under a rigorous code of ethics that describes not only its standards of integrity, but its commitment to treat all of its employees and subcontractors with dignity and respect,” Norcross wrote in an e-mail. The company “is aware of past disagreements between subcontractors and their employees, and KBR has interjected itself into the situation as appropriate and worked with the subcontractors to address these concerns.”
Norcross did not offer details of past problems involving working conditions for TCNs, nor did KBR’s project manager for Iraq and Kuwait, Remo Butler, when contacted by e-mail. But if allegations of wrongdoing or contract violations are found, Norcross said, Halliburton would address them, and “would also report any wrongdoings to the appropriate authorities, including our customer, the U.S. military.”
The military, however, is apparently either unaware of the conditions or has simply chosen not acknowledge them. Margaret A. Browne, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Field Support Command which manages KBR's LOGCAP contract, confirmed that the company is expected to fulfill health, security and life support requirements for subcontractors in the LOGCAP agreement.
These are “serious issues and we are presently investigating the specific incidents you've addressed,” she said referring to problems outlined by former KBR supervisors and TCN workers. “We are concerned about employment conditions for all employees,” Browne said in an e-mail, adding that KBR is expected to fulfill a number of requirements outlining the health, security and life support requirements for subcontractors under the LOGCAP agreement, but that oversight for those requirements is under the purview of Halliburton and its subcontractors.
Diverted to Iraq
Challenging Halliburton and Army assurances, former KBR supervisors say they frequently witnessed subcontractors failing to meet required conditions , while some TCNs share horror stories with claims that they were falsely recruited, believing they were signing up for work in Kuwait and then having their contract changed to Iraq.
“I had no idea that I would end up in Iraq” says Ramil Autencio, who signed with MGM Worldwide Manpower and General Services in the Philippines. The 37-year-old air conditioning maintenance worker thought he would be working at Crown Plaza Hotel in Kuwait for $450 a month.
He arrived in Kuwait in December 2003, only to discover that First Kuwaiti had bought his contract. The company, which now holds U.S.-funded contracts valued in the neighborhood of $1 billion, threatened that unless he and dozens of other Filipino workers went to Iraq, the Kuwaiti police would arrested them, he says. “We had no choice but to go along with them. After all, we were in their country.”
Once in Iraq, Autencio found that there were no air conditioners to install or maintain, so he spent 11 hours a day “moving boulders” to fortify the camps, first at Camp Anaconda and then at Tikrit.
Food was inadequate and workers were not getting paid, he says. “We ate when the Americans had leftovers from their meals. If not, we didn’t eat at all.”
Working and living conditions were so bad, that in February 2004 Autencio escaped with dozens of others. A U.S. soldier born in the Philippines helped them leave the camp, and sympathetic truck drivers working for KBR offered them rides through the country. By the time the Filipinos reached the Kuwaiti border, Autencio said the number of fleeing workers was so great that the border police let them pass through without proper papers.
First Kuwaiti general manager Wahid al Absi says Autencio is lying. His proof is a working agreement, purportedly signed in the Philippines by Autencio. Al Absi admits that unscrupulous recruitment agencies do sometimes misrepresent jobs and take money from people eager to work, but he provided Autencio’s undated contract with First Kuwaiti that identified the job site as both Kuwait and “mainly” Iraq.
The agreement also lays out salary: $346 a month for 8-hour days, seven days a week, plus $104 a month for a mandatory 2 hours overtime every day.
Al Absi insists that Autencio was paid in full.
“He sued me in court over this, and he lost,” Al Absi said. “He doesn’t have a case against us.”
First Kuwaiti holds $600 million in Army contracts, Al Absi said. The company is also a leading competitor for $500 million contract to build the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and presently holds contracts for more than $300 million for preliminary work on the project.
Pattern of Recruiting Abuses
Autencio is not the only former TCN worker with a grievance against Halliburton subcontractors and the layers of third-party recruiters.
The Washington Post lays out an intricate recruiting scheme involving dining service workers from India who were lost in a maze of five recruiters and subcontractors on several continents. The Indians claimed to have been falsely recruited for jobs in Kuwait, only to end up in Iraq. During their time at a military camp in the war zone, they lacked adequate drinking water, food, health care, and security, according to the July 1, 2004 article.
"I cursed my fate -- not having a feeling my life was secure, knowing I could not go back, and being treated like a kind of animal," for less than $7 a day, Dharmapalan Ajayakumar told the newspaper.
Ajayakumar’s case is a study in the convoluted world of Iraqi contracts: Workers were reported to have been first recruited by Subhash Vijay in India to work for Gulf Catering Company of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Gulf Catering was subcontracted to Alargan Group of Kuwait City, which was subcontracted to the Event Source of Salt Lake City, which in turn was subcontracted to KBR of Houston. And KBR, of course, is a subsidiary of Halliburton.
Nepalese worker Krishna Bahadur Khadka told a similar story of false recruitment in a September 7, 2004 news report in the Kathmandu Post. After being recruited for a job in Kuwait, he says, he arrived only to be told by First Kuwaiti Trading that if he and 121 other workers they refused work in Iraq, they would be sent back to Nepal.
“I was not happy at first as my contractors did not provide me a job as heavy vehicle driver as pledged. But they had offered Rs 175,000 [$2,450], and one would not be able earn half that amount in Kuwait. So I signed the papers,” Khadka said, adding that he had already invested $1,680 as payment to an agent in Nepal.
First Kuwaiti’s general manager claims that this allegation, too, is a lie and that Khadka misrepresented his skills. Again al Absi presented a contract identifying the work site as “mainly Iraq." It bore Khadka’s signature and fingerprint.
“Khadka is a troublemaker who was trying to organize the workers,” al Absi said, noting that thousands of TCNs working for First Kuwaiti have renewed their contracts with raises. “We treat our workers with excellent care,” he said.
Labor Strike, You’re Out
But cared for or not, hundreds of Filipinos in Iraq face being fired for staging labor strikes and sickouts to protest their treatment at military camps. In May 2005, 300 Filipinos went on strike at Camp Cook against PPI and KBR. The workers were soon joined by 500 others from India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to protest working conditions and pay, according to the Manila Times. The dispute was settled with intervention from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs.
At the time of the strike, the Philippines offered the strikers free flights back to the Philippines, an invitation first made in April when the Philippines reiterated its ban on work in Iraq. The offer sparked concern at the U.S. embassy in Manila, according to news reports, because a loss of Filipino workers threatened military support services in Iraq.
The U.S. embassy then clarified its position on April 27. Embassy spokesperson Karen Kelley acknowledged that while Filipinos “play a crucial role in the allied effort to bring peace and democracy to a people who have been too long deprived of both,” embassy officials also “recognize the government of the Philippines' concern for the welfare of its citizens.”
Other strikes have gone unreported, recalls former KBR employee Paul Dinsmore. Hired as a carpenter, he later transferred to Logistics as a heavy truck driver at Camp Speicher, a sprawling 24-square-mile installation near Tikrit in northern Iraq. Dinsmore says the work crews he supervised at the former Iraqi airbase were made up of Hindis, Pakistanis, Nepalese, and Filipinos working for First Kuwaiti.
Working at Camp Speicher for seven months before returning home in May 2005, Dinsmore said he knew of three different instances of TCN construction workers who refused outright to work or showed up only to sit out most of the day. Asked what was going on, TCNs told him that First Kuwaiti had not been paid them for several months and that they didn’t want to be treated that way.
“I heard that several hundred Filipinos were fired in September 2004 before I got there because of labor problems,” Dinsmore said. After discovering that the TCN assistants were not paid any overtime, he was careful to get them back to their compound after their 10 hour day.
Like Powell and Reynolds, Dinsmore recounted dismal working conditions. “One of the construction Filipinos told him that they were treated like human cattle by some of the Western employees there and that they did not receive enough medical treatment when they were ill.”
Many times, Dinsmore said, he would buy non-prescription drugs from the PX for his crews, especially when a very bad virus was going around during the winter of 2004-2005. If the case was bad enough, he would take the workers to the KBR clinic. His supervisor and the clinic medics told him that treating TCNs violated company policy. “We were told that First Kuwaiti was supposed to take care of them,” Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore also turned to the Army for food. He says the food First Kuwaiti served was so poor, that he and other KBR employees would hand out military field rations – known as “meals ready to eat” or MREs. "When the Army stopped that practice, many of us KBR people would pick up “to go” plates from the DFAC [dining facilities] and hand them out to the TCNs we were responsible for. If you want them to work well, you’ve got to feed them.”
Despite these conditions, TCNs finished jobs ahead of schedule, says Dinsmore. He credits these workers for personal praise he won from KBR and the military for his own performance. “The reality was that without the TCNs, very little construction would get accomplished on time on Speicher,” said Dinsmore adding that "I heard that eventually KBR took care of the pay issue."
First Kuwaiti manager Wadih Al Absi insists that his company provides the same quality of living and food that the U.S. Army provides to its soldiers and that the company has received commendations from the Army. “We have no problems with our employees; they get excellent care,” he said.
Let Them Eat Sand
Randy McDale, who rose to be a KBR foreman for heavy construction equipment at Camp Victory and other installations near the Baghdad International Airport, confirmed many of the other contractors’ and TCN’s charges of miserable conditions and inadequate safety.
“Everyday was like T-bone steaks for us, but I would starve to death before eating what they had,” he said of the workers with PPI. “Guys would just go and get lunch for them and bring it to the work site. The TCNs couldn’t get it fast enough.”
McDale, a KBR foreman for heavy construction equipment at Camp Victory and other installations near the Baghdad International Airport, spent 15 months in Iraq before returning home in April to an eight-year-old trailer house on 35-acres of land in cattle ranch country outside of Bogata, Texas, “halfway between Paris and Texarkana.”
Earning about $7,500 to $8,000 a month before his promotion, McDale said many American workers saw a clear line between themselves and the TCNs. “There’s a prejudice among some Americans that they are not equal and just labor force,” he said. “Americans are supposed to be the experts.”
The division was made all the more clear to McDale by TCNs’ lack of protective armor for threat alerts and boots and hard hats for construction work. “Some were wearing sandals walking in the mud when it was winter and 40 degrees,” he said of the Indians, Sri Lankans and Filipinos he worked with. “One guy didn’t even have a coat.”
KBR gave McDale grief after he requested 20 hard hats for his workers, he said. “I don’t know why KBR wasn’t giving PPI a hard time for not getting the right equipment. That’s the way it works in the States. If a subcontractor isn’t ready, you fire them.”
Willing to Return
Although Filipino passports now explicitly ban entry into Iraq, the ranks of Filipinos sneaking over the border from neighboring countries has as swelled from an estimated 4,000 before the 2003 ban to 6,000 today.
Filipinos “believe it is better to work in Iraq with their lives in danger rather than face the danger of not having breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the Philippines,” said Maita Santiago, secretary-general for Migrante International, an organization that defends the rights of more than a million overseas Filipino workers.
Despite complaints about First Kuwaiti, Autencio said he would return to Iraq if he had guarantees for proper food and pay. “I would take my chances abroad if I couldn’t find a decent job here,” he said during an interview at his home in Pasig City, an urban area in metropolitan Manila “But I’d take any job here that pays enough to buy me a second hand car and start my own business.”
Soliman, now finds his problems with PPI and injuries in Iraq pale in comparison to life back in the Philippines. Jobless, he sees his life teetering on the edge. He may be splitting up with his wife, and plans for providing a new home to his family are on hold. He says he doubts that PPI will be sending money for his final medical checkup or even the several months salary he says he is still owed But those things don't matter so much.
What really matters now is finding another job. “If you hear of anything, let me know,” Soliman said at the end of the interview. “I would even go back to Iraq.”
David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and on ABC and PBS. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucille Quiambao and Howie Severino reported from the Philippines for this article. Additional research by Pratap Chatterjee.
Voyages with a Vision
Guatemala: January 7-14, 2006
We are pleased to invite you to join MADRE's Voyages with a Vision delegation to Guatemala from January 7-14, 2006. MADRE's Voyages with a Vision trips offer a chance to visit the communities of our sister organizations and learn from our partners about their work for human rights and justice.
In Guatemala City, we will meet with women organizing to end abusive conditions in maquilas (sweatshops) and respond to the daily needs of local families through public health and education programs. Then we will travel to the western highlands, where we'll visit a local women's weaving cooperative and talk to Indigenous women and youth about their work to promote sustainable development and Indigenous Peoples' rights in their community and nationwide. We'll take part in discussions with human rights advocates working at the national and local level and learn about the creative ways communities are responding to neo-liberal economic policies such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). And we'll leave plenty of time for you to enjoy the spectacular Guatemalan countryside and visit local markets.
Dates: January 7-14, 2006
Accommodations: Hotels in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango
Estimated Cost: $1190 per person*
Includes: Hotel; daily breakfast; celebration dinner on the final evening; ground transportation for all planned activities; background information and resources; experienced guides and translators; and a memorable program including visits to communities and local projects, and meetings with human rights activists and community leaders.
*Does not include international airfare.
TO JOIN MADRE'S GUATMALA DELEGATION
Because space on these trips is limited, please send us a deposit of $200 ($100 of which is non-refundable) as soon as possible to save your place, using the registration form below. Reservations will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, so hurry. Delegations often fill up within a few weeks. Full payment is due on December 2, 2005. Delegates who cancel before December 2, 2005 will receive a refund of 50%. No refunds are available after December 2, 2005. If you have any questions, please contact Irene Schneeweis at (212) 627-0444 or email@example.com.
We hope that you can join MADRE for this exciting trip! Please share this information with friends you think would also like to join us. We look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Registration Form (pdf)
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are unable to access the registration form.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Today I’ve decided to do something different. Lots of articles in the Oread Daily deserve follow up, but they seldom get it. I kinda figure if you’re interested, you’ll look into it. However, I think I’ll start occasionally doing short follow ups anyway. So instead of the usual Oread Daily mismash, you get the following…
On that situation in Port Pirie, Australia where local children are being poisoned by led spewed into the air by the world’s largest smelter comes the following update.
Former South Australian health minister John Cornwall has spoken of his regret over the political "compromises" that have failed to deal with the rising rates of lead poisoning in Port Pirie, home of the world's biggest lead smelter.
Dr Cornwall was health minister in 1984, when the Bannon Labor government rejected a proposal to relocate the town, opting instead for a multi-million-dollar decontamination process after high levels of lead were recorded in the blood of local children.
He put the government's decision down to "money ... and, of course, concern about (the smelter's) legal liability".
High levels of lead in the blood of young children can cause irreparable damage to their IQ, as well as behavioral and other health problems.
Dr Cornwall said while it was not "huge damage", it had the potential to "drag" a child of average intelligence "below the level of coping in the world".
Meanwhile, the best they could come up with at an emergency meeting between the government and the smelter operator was imposing new emission on the smelter which is owned and operated by the Zinifex Corporation.
EPA chief executive Paul Vogel also said relocating children living in high-risk areas was one option being considered. Source: The Australian
Following up on protests at the University of Rhode Island (URI). Students are continuing their protests over changes in disciplinary rules being implemented. The students are donning gags and will appear at a Faculty Senate meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon on the URI campus. Source: NBC10 News (Providence)
Remember the article about the Nazis in Toledo who didn’t march. You’ve probably read all about the “violence” which followed. Well, here is a statement from the One People’s Project released earlier this week.
In the wake of the events after the National Socialist Movement (NSM) attempted to march in North Toledo, OH, a number of reports and statements have been released based on the NSM’s spin on those events that attempt to link One People’s Project with the rioting that took place in the city. We feel that this could not go unanswered, particularly given the history we have had with the NSM’s spokesperson Bill White.
One People’s Project is an anti-racist organization that investigates and reports on groups and individuals on the right, most notably the racist right. We are a small organization whose primary focus is to disseminate information. From time to time we may take an active role in organizing events, such as the concert in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park during the Republican National Convention last year, but in the end we are reporters. Because of how through and aggressive we tend to be in this mission, we have had our share of detractors. One of them has been Bill White, and we have written about him extensively in articles that can be found on our website www.onepeoplesproject.com. He is among those within the white supremacist circles that have developed a particular axe to grind with myself and other members of One People’s Project. Much of his anger comes from the fact that our work prompted an investigation by the FBI and HUD regarding his purchases of property in a black community in Roanoke, Va. When he purchased these homes, he began to evict black and biracial tenants for various reasons. He had stated earlier on his website that it was his intent to create a whites only living space with these properties. Our reporting and efforts against his actions prompted those FBI and HUD investigations, which are still pending, and well as the local NAACP working with one of his former tenants to take action against him. He is also being sued for 800K by a former tenant. On Oct. 24-25 this and other issues regarding neo-Nazis will be spotlighted on a two-part story on the news magazine “A Current Affair”. Bill White, myself and others all participated in this story, and the issue regarding his properties will be addressed.
During the buildup to the Toledo march and afterwards during the riot, Bill White, and internet radio host Mike Blevins, both speaking for the NSM, attempted to suggest we were responsible for instigating the violence. In fact, on a number of outlets they have said flat out that One People’s Project passed out the rocks and eggs that were used against the police. This is an outright lie. One People’s Project had nothing to do with the riot, and we most certainly did not provide anyone with rocks, eggs or any type of weapon to be used against the police. This needs to be made clear as a number of media outlets reported this as fact without contacting us. If those outlets were familiar with White's reputation for telling untruths, we doubt they would have taken his information on its face.
Bill White has done this to us before. In the past, he has written on his website that I and this organization orchestrated a rape, that I joined controversial communist organizations after being fired from a police force in New Jersey (I never worked for a police force in New Jersey) and even that I was soliciting nude photos of him! He has also written a bio about me that is so devoid of fact, it would take too long to point all the inaccuracies out. My lawyers have sent letters to him regarding his slander routine in the past. This recent slander by White and the NSM against us in the wake of the Toledo situation is the last straw, and we will be dealing with this shortly. It is one thing for these lies to go out among other white supremacists. It is quite another for them to be repeated by mainstream media outlets.
In regards to what happened in Toledo on Saturday, we feel we should make our position clear. While white supremacists and other questionable groups have the right to speak, we have that right as well, and when these groups come out we will use that right to respond. In fact, we feel that we are obligated to do so given the fact that these groups are using these rights to advocate taking them and others from the rest of us. While it is important to come out and oppose these groups whenever they try to agitate a community in a given town, we also feel that the public must deal with these bad elements in our society much better than we have in recent years. A number of the major white supremacist organizations like Aryan Nations, World Church of the Creator and National Alliance have fallen apart over the past five years. This did not happen by merely opposing them at their rallies. This happened by exposing them in areas where they did not want to be exposed, and putting pressure on them and their supporters so that they were unable to function in the open, and most importantly, unable to function at all. If we are so passionate against these groups and individuals that an entire neighborhood would explode as North Toledo did, then it is that important for us as a society to focus and deal with them on our timetable and on our terms, not just when they play dress-up and stand on courthouse steps or march down a neighborhood street. We ask that you join us and other antifascist (antifa) groups in that endeavor. Source: One People’s Project
In regards to the outbreak which killed seventeen persons at a nursing home in Toronto recently comes the following news. The province is calling upon the man who looked into Toronto's SARS crisis to head an independent review of a legionnaires' outbreak in the city. Dr. David Walker will review the events surrounding the outbreak that killed 17 people at an east-end senior's home. Health Minister George Smitherman says the dean of health sciences at Queen's University will be able to get to the bottom of the crisis faster than a public inquiry. The health minister says the doctor will examine communication and coordination during the tragedy. The nursing home remains closed. Source: CFRA (Toronto)
In Russia where the OD reported on a Peruvian student beaten to death recently, Police in the Russian city of Voronezh have arrested 14 people over his murder. “The 14 arrested men are part of the same group and are all students aged between 17 and 22 and have all confessed their guilt,” regional police spokesman Igor Suchkolov stated. On Tuesday there came news of a fresh attack on a foreign student, a 23-year-old Albanian man studying at the Voronezh state university. A suspect has been arrested and charged with attempted murder. Source: MosNews
A few weeks back, you may recall, we reported on the racist brutality rampant in British jails. The award-winning playwright Tanika Gupta has created a play based on the case of Zahid Mubarek who was fatally beaten by his racist, psychopathic cellmate Robert Stewart on the day in March 2000. The Independent writes, “By combining the words of Mr Justice Keith's inquiry with the dramatization of events, the play - perhaps more brutally than any other forum - illustrates the gaping chasm between those who attempt to rationalize society's ills and those caught up in its most violent excesses. The sterile, educated and rational meets the bloody, dispossessed and senseless.” Source: The Independent
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
The good old US of A has gone and done it again. We’ve taken a stand against every other nation represented at the UN (but Israel). This time it was “our” vote last night over a convention intended to protect linguistic diversity and minority cultures from the negative impacts of globalization.
A commission at the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to accept a 40-page text that affirmed the "sovereign right" of countries to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory and in international trade.
The 151 nations voting in favor of the text included the 25-members of the European Union as well as Brazil, which took the rare step of dispatching the cultural minister to vote in person. Australia and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati abstained.
Supporters of the treaty - led by France and Canada - said it would help countries defend domestic culture from the homogenizing influence of globalization.
The treaty affirms the “sovereign right” of countries to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions and requires this to be taken into account in applying other accords, such as the rules of the World Trade Organization.
"Our efforts to get this Convention adopted by Member States of UNESCO are driven by our unshakeable commitment to protect and promote Canada's rich cultural diversity, including our aboriginal heritage and the boundless creativity of Canadians," said Frulla.
Britain's ambassador, Timothy Craddock, also spoke in favor of the draft text, calling it "clear, carefully balanced, consistent with the principles of international law and fundamental human rights." He also said the European Union believes that the convention was "frequently and thoroughly negotiated by all parties, most of whom have made several compromises during this process." He spoke on the EU's behalf because Britain currently holds the 25-nation bloc's rotating presidency.
French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres hailed the text as recognition of France's long-held contention that cultural activities should be given separate consideration in trade talks and are "not merchandise like any other." "We are no longer the black sheep on this issue," he said.
But the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO Louise Oliver said the treaty could be used to erect trade barriers against cultural exports.
Some observers attribute Washington's hardened stance on the proposed treaty to pressure by powerful Hollywood companies and other U.S. media giants to resist any restrictions on the international trade in cultural products, including films, books and music.
"This line, however, overlooks the circumstance that unlike wheat or coal, cultural products are also intimately bound with matters of social identity and consciousness," writes Allen Scott, director of the Centre for Globalization and Policy Research at the University of California and quoted by IPS.
"A rhetoric of pure market ideology misses a crucial point here," Scott reasons in a scholarly article entitled, "Hollywood in the Era of Globalization: Opportunities and Predicaments". Scott points out that major Hollywood production companies directly control distribution systems in all their principle foreign markets. For example, United International Pictures, a joint venture by Paramount and Universal, owns distribution facilities in as many as 37 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Japan.
The United States pulled out of UNESCO in 1984, accusing the agency of anti-American bias and corruption. U.S. first lady Laura Bush said that the decision to rejoin in the 2003 was a signal that her husband, U.S. President George W. Bush, wants to work with other countries.
Well, at least, to work with other countries when they agree with her hubby anyway. Sources: Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, IPS, CBC
Striking nurses at Lansing, Michigan’s Ingham Regional Medical Center (IRMC) said no to a management proposal on Tuesday. The nurses said the proposal will not resolve staffing issues. The hospital’s proposal offered to form a committee to review staffing.
Union officials representing about 500 nurses at the center said staffing remains the key issue of contention, and they want the hospital to hire more nurses.
"That (the hospital proposal) didn't do it for the nurses," Joseph Marutiak of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 459 told the Lansing State Journal. "We'd return to work without one single nurse being added (under the proposal). They're not taking the nurses seriously."
Over 90% of the hospitals RN’s walked off the job a week ago today and continue to picket.
"We didn't make this decision lightly," says Tasinda Ridsdale, R.N. of their move to strike. "We agonized over it, and we believe this is what we got to do."
"We're not striking for money. It's about staffing," Chris Veldman, a registered nurse and member of the union's bargaining committee
The Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 459 says nurses have been forced to work double shifts and work many short-staffed shifts. Jeffrey Fleming, a union representative said, “They believe this has negative effects on patient care and patient safety.” Fleming also stated, "(The nurses) proposed to increase staffing, but Ingham refused to add a single nurse. This has been a problem for years."
The hospital, following the course of others in the industry, turned the care of its patients over to 206 temporary nurses hired from U.S. Nursing Corporation, an infamous strike breaking company. It is paying these nurses far more than it has ever offered its own.
The Lansing State Journal says, “When one looks at the issues leading the nurses at IRMC to call for a strike, not many people would question their decision. As hospital management offers came and went, one thing remained constant: the lowering of benefits for hard-working employees. Ingham management attempted time and again to get a lower retirement multiplier and wages not in line with other area hospitals. It possessed a firm commitment not to discuss nurse to patient ratios at the bargaining table.”
The newspaper also says, “Finally, the pay increases for the hospital president and other upper management over the last five years would make any blue-collar union member sick to their stomach! The president's benefit package alone is more than $250,000, with his pay doubling in total amount during this time period. How can a true leader of a corporation ask his employees to "sacrifice" for the good of the company during tough times if he alone has benefited so immensely?”
While the hospital has been unable to help out the nurses, it has broken ground on building a new addition. However, at the building site union contractors walked off the job to show support for the striking nurses last Wednesday. Sources: WILX (Lansing), WLNS (Michigan), Lansing State Journal, Detroit Free Press, State News (Michigan State University)
Student unrest continues to bubble in the Islamic Republic of Iran according to sources from all sides of the political spectrum.
Iran Focus reports that last Saturday thousands of students from the Najaf-Abad Open University demonstrated on campus on Tuesday against new sex segregation rules. The demonstration by a reported 7,000 students was attacked by security forces.
Students complained about new measures implemented on campus, including separate entrances and exits for male and female students, refusal of entry for students with long hair, short-sleeve shirts, bright-colored clothes, or sports shoes.
Chants of “Bassijis, leave the university” could be heard during the rally. The Bassij are hard-line Islamist vigilantes loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Basij were established by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Today the Basij act to enforce the country's strict Islamic codes.
This eyewitness report of the protest Najaf-Abad Open University came from the student publication Bazr:
“At 11:30 AM a large group of boys and girls of the technical college gathered in the hallways. They all chanted in unison: "Shame on you Despots, release the Universities from your claws - Shame on you Despots, release the students from your claws." The University students were so enraged, they began to break windows. The now frightened guards stepped aside and began to survey and scrutinize the student activists.”
“The head of the guard unit came forward and told the students: ‘Keep it up and later you'll pay the price.’ This enflamed peoples' emotions even more; everyone booed him. Then people began to tear down the light fixtures and since the ceilings of that area of the university was artificial and flimsy, the entire hallways' ceiling came crashing down. The students then picked up the garbage cans, raising them over their heads, began to throw them toward the guards, shattering all the big windows nearby. The water coolers were ripped out of their places and dumped on the ground with water splashing all over the floor. Nothing could hold these students back and when the Dean came to calm the situation down, he was pushed to the back and his office was demolished as well. The only thing that could be heard was the shattering of glass everywhere and the constant chanting against the regime and their ruthless guards.”
”The female students were very active and both the boys and girls continued chanting in unison while attacking the guards. For the many students who had, over the recent years, been involved in the student uprisings, these scenes became reminiscent and therefore rejuvenated, galvanized and energized them.”
Meanwhile the state owned daily Jomhouri Islami reported that students from a female dormitory of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran protested late Sunday night about living conditions at their university. They reportedly clashed with security forces, set paper and several tires on fire, while also chanting for the resignation of the university dean. Parts of the female dormitory have had no water supply for several days.
The state run Islamic Student News Association said, “…a significant group of the University students who reside in the Beheshti University dorms, gathered and set fire to a section of the men's dorms; they were protesting the lack of academic standards as well as their living conditions such as the disconnection of running hot water in the women's dorms and lack of simple accommodations. Several students blocked the fire department from entering the area whose fire they wanted to contain."
Throughout the protest the disciplinary forces dispersed the throngs of civilians who gathered in order to observe the protest. Sources: ISNA, Jomhouri Islami, Iran Focus, Iran Press News, Bazar, My News and Ideas (blog)
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
It comes out at night, an invisible haze that blankets Jane Stevens's Port Pirie, Australia home and contains a chemistry she knows can't be good for her kids.
"It depends where the wind is blowing at the time," Mrs. Stevens, 39, told the Australian. "It can be like fog coming down ... sometimes you can't see anything but you know something is in the air because it's burning your nose and you are smelling it."
It is a “haze” of lead and it is sickening the children of the town of Port Pirie.
You see, Port Pirie is home to the world's largest lead smelter.
Lead levels in the blood of Port Pirie children are more than five times higher than the preferred safe level set by world health experts and indicate urgent action needs to be taken.
Mrs. Stevens has no idea what emissions from the smelter are doing to her children's health. "They're getting a lot more colds than what they used to," she says. She says the local schools carry out sporadic testing but the children are picked at random.
Michael R. Moore, director of the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology in Brisbane and an expert on the biomedical effects of lead, said there was "solid evidence" that overexposure to lead irreversibly lowered intelligence, particularly in unborn babies and young children, and damaged nerves. It also damaged the heart and caused other problems, such as reducing the body's ability to make red blood cells.
South Australian Health Minister Lea Stevens revealed blood lead levels in 370 out of the more than 600 Port Pirie children tested last year were greater than 10mcg/dl. The average blood lead level of all the children was 10.6mcg/dl, a rise of 4 per cent in 12 months, and the highest mean level among children in Australia.
Professor Moore said people living with levels of 40mcg/dl had "unequivocal evidence" of damage, and by increasing levels higher than that "you go into the sphere of death". However, he conceded that there was "a continuum of effects" and any amount of lead in the blood would cause damage to some degree.
"Some people believe a figure of 1(mcg/dl) is still too high."
Operators of the Port Pirie lead smelter, the world's biggest, will hold a crisis meeting with the South Australian Government today over the rising rates of childhood lead poisoning in the industrial city.
The Australian Environmental Protection Authority has confirmed that increased emissions at the 120-year-old smelter, operated by publicly listed mining company Zinifex, is responsible for the increased rates of lead poisoning.
The company, which reported a net profit of $234million last financial year, has committed $15million over five years to upgrade areas of the smelter thought to be responsible for contamination.
It doesn’t seem to be doing one hell of a lot of good.
The smelter, which began operating in the city in 1889, reported. In contrast, the Health Department estimated in 1998 that 1000 tons of lead were emitted.
The Port Pirie Regional Council in South Australia has been accused of inaction over increasing levels of lead in the blood of local children.
Greens MP Kris Hanna told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the local council, as well as Zinifex, should be doing more.
"They need to explain why they haven't got a strategic plan to deal with dust management ... because everyone in Port Pirie has to work together," he said. "I mean I'm not a local but it's just commonsense ... the company, the Government, the council and the community have to work together on this."
Hanna also says the State Government should have taken action much earlier.
"What the Government is doing now is what I was doing earlier in the year, asking Zinifex to explain what they're doing," he said. "I'm glad that the Government are doing something but it has to be more than just talk.”
In Port Pirie people tend to keep to themselves. Many want to remain anonymous, fearing people's reaction if they speak out about the lead emissions coming from the smelter.
"I don't want a bar of it, mate," a Port Pirie resident said when asked about emissions. "But you come here for a look there at 3o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning and you see all the crap that comes out of the smelter when everybody is asleep. Even today I was out on the motorbike and you could taste the acid in the air."
Meanwhile the mother of Jayden Evans is worried for her young son’s health.
"He is just a normal child ... I don't know whether the lead is going to do something to his health and I won't know until he is older and they can do tests," she told the Port Pirie Recorder. "I won't know whether anything has changed him mentally or anything like that.” Sources: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Port Pirie Recorder, The Australian, Advertiser (Australia)
Last Friday Chicago community activists testified before a three-member panel of the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that Chicago has a long history of police brutality against black people that has been covered up by authorities. They said that history should be investigated and put in the world’s spotlight.
The Chicago Sun Times says that attorneys for victims pleaded for an onsite investigation, including interviews of Mayor Daley, to get to the bottom of what they said was the city's record of systematic abuse of blacks at the hands of the police.
Bernardine Dohrn, a law professor at Northwestern University and spokeswoman for the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, said that during a 19-year period ending in 1991, Chicago Police displayed "extreme discrimination and racism" in torturing 135 blacks, and no officers were ever charged or tried.
''We have officials in Chicago who could deal with it, but they don't want to deal with it," said David Bates, who said he was tortured by police more than two decades ago at age 18. "It's a shame we have to come to Washington, D.C., to get people from different countries to deal with it."
Flint Taylor, a lawyer for The People's Law Office, said Daley was Cook County state's attorney for eight years when 55 of the torture cases occurred. "He was aware of torture from the beginning and he did nothing about it," Taylor said before the hearing began. Taylor told the commission while the extreme forms of brutality "more or less" ended with the firing of by Chicago Police Lieut. Jon Burge in the early 1990s, the cover-up of the abuses has extended for 30 years.
No city officials appeared before the panel.
Two lawyers for the U.S. State Department sat in as observers but had no comment.
According to the CBC, Commission Chairman Clare Roberts, a lawyer from Antigua and Barbuda, suggested the Chicago activists consider bringing a formal case before the panel.
A formal case could produce public findings by the commission that could prove embarrassing to Chicago officials but it would not require the city to become involved in an international court proceeding. The United States is not a signatory to the international agreement that provides for court solutions in such cases.
A special prosecutor has been looking into the allegations for more than three years and has said he hopes to finish his investigation by the end of this year.
Don't hold your breath. Sources: CBS2 (Chicago), Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, Chicago Sun Times, CBC, Quad City Times
Chanting, "Hey Carothers, you're not our mother," about 100 University of Rhode Island (URI) students marched on the schools administration kicking off a week of resistance to new student conduct regulations passed by the faculty senate and signed by URI President Robert Carothers.
In summary, the approved legislation changes will:
• broaden jurisdiction of the student discipline system over off-campus conduct.
• expand current searches to allow limited, visual administrative searches of student residence rooms without the consent of the student but with “concrete evidence” and the approval of the director of housing and residential life.
• grant a complainant the right to submit an appeal request to the University Appeals board within a one-week period based on new evidence.
• allow the vice president for student affairs to approve emergency suspensions.
• change all references from “judicial” to conduct” in student conduct legislation.
"[Carothers] is just doing his job but he's just made a very, very bad decision," protest organizer Micah Daigle told the crowd over a megaphone. He added, "What's in my dorm room is not to be rifled through. I am an adult and a student, I deserve rights."
"I'm here because my rights have been revoked, but I feel this is a great movement and we need to come together and show the administration and those outside in the community that we are adults and we have rights," protester and junior Noel Marandola said. "We're here today, all of us, to express that we have rights and we're not going to lay down and let [the administration] trample them."
President Carothers signed the legislation on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The policies are in effect with the president’s signature, but will not be put into practice until January 2006.
Carothers issued a statement Monday defending changes to the code, writing, "The higher education landscape has changed, and there's a rational and reasonable case to be made for these new policies." Concerns about liability and a desire to build a better relationship with URI's neighbors spurred the revisions, he said.
Carothers added, "We're trying to keep kids out of trouble."
But the “kids” at the protest were unconvinced, saying the changes threaten their freedom from unjustified searches and double jeopardy and open the possibility of harsher or broader interpretation of the handbook's new language at some later date.
"I think it's pretty ridiculous that they're trying to enforce these ridiculous new laws," said Kelly Long, a sophomore quoted in Brown Daily Herald. "They're trying to take away our civil rights guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution."
Erin Philbick, a sophomore and president of URI's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, offered similar criticism. "This is not acceptable. We deserve the right to respect," Philbick said. SSDP is part of the Student Rights Coalition, which is made up of 18 groups opposed to the changes.
Cristin Langworthy, one of the protest organizers and a member of the Faculty Senate Student Rights and Responsibilities Committee that drafted the changes, told the student newspaper Good Five Cent Cigar that students would continue to protest. "I think that this is the beginning of student outcry and I think the public and this university are going to be made immediately aware that students are not going to sit down and take this," she said. "The more they ignore us, the more uncomfortable we are going to make them."
Last May, the ACLU sent a letter to the Faculty Senate and Carothers opposing many of the changes and calling them a dangerous precedent.
Today the students plan start an action simply entitled “Call President Carothers!”
They hope to jam the phone lines with demands for student rights! They say to “Call 874-2444 and 874-4462 all week long!”
"This is pretty much ridiculous," said sophomore Chase Altneu. "I don't want to live my life in college being watched -- constantly. This isn't high school. They're treating us like children." Sources: Boston Herald, Rhode Island News, University of Rhode Island, The Brown Daily Herald, Good Five Cent Cigar, Student Rights Coalition
Organizing White People to support the African community's own solutions for economic power, social justice and reparations
UHURU SOLIDARITY CONFERENCE
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22nd from 1 - 5pm
Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
From New Orleans to Philadelphia...Aren't You Outraged?!
African people are under assault from the U.S. Government: facing poverty,
powerlessness, police brutality, massive imprisonment, inadequate education,
healthcare, & housing
-Omali Yeshitela, Keynote Speaker, Chairman of the African People's Socialist
-Penny Hess, Featured Speaker, Chairwoman of the African People's Solidarity
-Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal
-Diop Olugbala, African People's Socialist Party, New York
-Larry Hamm, People's Organization for Progress
-Panel Discussion: Prisons, Reparations, Gentrification, New Orleans, Police
Getting Active in the Uhuru Solidarity Movement
Sponsored by the African People's Solidarity Committee and the Uhuru Solidarity
215-552-8722 • email@example.com
$5 - 20 donation requested; no one turned away for lack of funds.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Yesterday I received an e-mail from Lance Hill. Lance is an old friend and was one of the founders of the original Oread Daily back in 1970. Lance is truly one of the best organizers I have ever known. He is also the author of the book “Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement.”
Lance is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University.
Lance is currently a resident of New Orleans and he has a story to tell about the aftermath of Katrina and what it means now.
Below is the e-mail, followed by an unpublished op/ed piece Lance wrote back in September. You will also find a bio of Lance published by the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University.
E-mail from Lance
I am sorry about the long delay in response to all of your many queries, but we only now got an email connection so that we can communicate with rest of the world.
Eileen and I are fine. As you may know, we ignored the evacuation order and spent 33 days under martial law inside New Orleans, leaving only to get medical treatment and supplies to bring back inside the Parish. It was quite an experience. On Friday, September 2nd we filled our car with food and water and began runs into the Morial Convention Center, where more than 10,000 people were languishing outside in the heat with little food or water. Police, guardsmen, and the Red Cross refused to enter the convention center to help people because they claimed it was too dangerous. Their claims of danger were just an excuse to starve people out of the center. The refugees were kind, grateful, and protective of me (I was, though, chased and fired upon by state police on one of my return trips for supplies). On my fourth and final run I was stopped at gunpoint by city and state police and told not return because they were preparing to bring in food and water themselves, which they did. It was the single most emotionally disturbing day of my life. On the way to the center I drove past a bloated body on one of the city's main intersections: it remained there for ten days.
Eileen and I spent the rest of our 33 days inside taking care of people who had also refused to evacuate, mostly elderly people who would not abandon their pets to go to the shelters and who lived on the historically high and dry alluvial ridges. We also spent a great deal of time trying to communicate to the media what was happening inside. Despite endless threats of "forcible extraction" from our house by a number of law enforcement agencies and guard units, we managed to avoid arrest and forced evacuation. The closest we came was on September 28 when the police kicked in our front door and illegally searched our apartment in response to my refusal to provide identification to a patrolling Oklahoma guard unit. The "police" turned out to be Tulane University security guards loaned out to the militarily to make arrests in the surrounding neighborhoods. No apology from Tulane and they did not even suspend the officer. But that's another story.
Tulane has sealed off the campus and locked us out of the Southern Institute office building for nearly seven weeks now, though our building took on only 18 inches of water on the main floor. So we have had to set up a satellite office and we are now up and running. We can only hope that our irreplaceable collection of interviews with Holocaust survivors and veterans of the civil rights movement has not been destroyed by the heat and mold.
Eileen and I left after 33 days to get some "R & R" and returned last Monday. The martial law and curfew orders are, for the most part, unenforced now and most of our neighbors are back and things are returning to normal. We are in good health, though Eileen has permanently lost her teaching position in Orleans Parish schools--along with virtually all the other 5,000 teachers. But we fared far better than most: only today Eileen learned that one of her co-workers lost her husband in the flood.
I have attached an op-ed piece I wrote the second week of the hurricane. It was never published, but I still agree with most of what it, though now I think there is little hope that New Orleans will ever reconstitute its black majority community. The locus for the struggle for racial justice is now, and will remain for years to come, in the predominantly white cities to which New Orleanian blacks have been exiled.
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research
M.R. Box 1692
31 McAlister Drive
New Orleans, LA 70118
Unpublished op/ed piece from Lance
September 16. 2005
Day 19 of Martial Law
“The niggers are killing each other over in Lafayette” said the pickup driver, referring to the black New Orleanians who had relocated to a shelter in Cajun country following Hurricane Katrina. The driver, a middle-aged white man employed in disaster clean business, was accompanied by the owner of several gas stations. I sat quietly observing from the back seat of a Texas National Guard humvee on my way to receive a tetanus shot at a military hospital. (I had refused to evacuate and, thankfully, the Texans had decided to defy city and state authorities who prohibited providing food, water, or medical assistance to “outlaws” such as myself). “Thank God you guys are here,” the driver shouted over din of his diesel engine. “Keep the blacks out,” he yelled. “Don’t let them back in. We’re going make this a beautiful city.”
New Orleans authorities will soon suspend martial law and permit the reentry of all New Orleanians to their city. This will result in one the most remarkable political transformation of any major city in United States’ history. New Orleans will resurrect under a white political majority in a city where African Americans were 70% of the population only a month ago. This seismic shift is the direct result of Katrina’s destruction of tens of thousands of black homes that, notwithstanding massive federal aid and flood insurance guarantees, will never be rebuilt, or will be rebuilt at costs far beyond the reach of most blacks.
The question that will face New Orleanians in the coming weeks is “In whose image will New Orleans be reconstituted?” What will become of black New Orleans and its dynamic culture that gave the world Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Mardis Gras Indians, brass bands, and uniquely inflected contemporary musical innovations in rap and hip hop music? What will become of the endearing culture of celebration that served as an antidote for the numbing boredom of repressed but and colorless Midwestern lives. The spirit and ethnic diversity of New Orleans is worth saving as much as the Italianate mansions along St. Charles Avenue. But as we rebuild this city there will be tremendous pressure to commercialize, package, and deliver the culture without the people who made it. New Orleans, the city of majestic homes and elegant muscular oaks will no doubt be reborn; but possibly without a soul. Such a spiritual death will result in New Orleans becoming the Orlando of the South. That’s when I will voluntarily evacuate.
Since Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29, I have traveled by bicycle through hundreds of neighborhoods taking care of strangers (mostly pet lovers who would not leave their pets) talking to people from all walks of life. I do not pretend to know what the nation’s perception of the events here have been. We “resisters”, as the government has dubbed us (odd, I thought I was a “resident”) have gone three weeks without newspapers, internet access, postal service, land-line phones, and receive almost all of our news through one officially designated radio/television station. So I do not know the issues in the national policy debate on the rescue and recovery efforts. But I do know what I have seen and heard on the streets, and it is not encouraging.
There is a growing and powerful “racial exclusion movement” among a significant section of the white New Orleanian community that sees Katrina as an opportunity to eliminate poverty and crime by eliminating black people. It is not a new movement, nor is it the sole province of parvenu gas station owners. Proposals of remove the New Orleans black population enjoyed a measure of support as late as the 1950s. I now hear many members of the old moneyed “carnival royalty” families openly arguing that Katrina provides an opening to depose black majority rule in the same way that their confederate forbearers overthrew the bi-racial Reconstruction government in?
I draw a distinction between a disaster and a tragedy. Disasters are something nature inflicts upon humans. Tragedies are something humans inflict upon other humans in their botched efforts to remedy disasters. The rescue efforts were clearly a tragedy; now we are faced with a second tragedy in the recovery processes both material and moral.
The decisions that will set the course for recovery for decades to come are being made today——with only one percent of the city’s voters present. It is not a foregone conclusion that the issues of equity and fairness will make it to the table. The table has already been set, and who will be at it is anyone’s guess. The New Orleans African American community finds itself fragmented and living in exile; not only the thousands of poor and unemployed African Americans in shelters, but also the thousands of educated black middle class professionals who comprised the city’s political, intellectual, religious, and social justice activist leadership. When these people return things will no doubt heat up, given that the majority of black voters opposed Mayor Ray Nagin’s election and his strongest critics, like the rest of the city’s residents, have not been allowed back into the city.
There are already ominous signs that the recovery path may end up reproducing privilege inside New Orleans and poverty outside. Economically secure white New Orleanians have, for the most part, returned to secure their homes, yet no return provisions have been made for poor homeowners and renter. Particularly disturbing is the failure of corporate and institutional leadership in the city to set an example of equity. As thousands of unemployed black New Orleanians sit idle in relocation centers in Texas, many of New Orleans’ leading businesses and institutions are rapidly cleaning up with the help of thousands of workers--largely Hispanics imported from Texas. The city is flooded with Latinos who will soon become the new preferred service class. This development does not bode well for the eventual return of the black working poor.
Despite the dearth of outside news, I did listen to President George Bush’s speech on the radio when he laid out his recovery plan. His call to build 4,000 new homes for low-income people is a good start; but that will provide housing for less than six percent of the 350,000 blacks who lived in New Orleans before Katrina. What was missing from his speech was a commitment to a specific funding level and the guarantee of equality in outcomes, not simply treatment.
The degrading treatment of black New Orleanians during the rescue phase also raises questions about the recovery process and equity. To this day, the city and state governments refuse to provide water, food, or medical aid to anyone remaining in New Orleans, though virtually all of those people live in the thousands of homes that sit on historically high ground and have never flooded by way of Lake Ponchartrain. Many of these residents are wondering aloud if we should place our confidence in the same people to plan and direct a recovery process that results in a vibrantly diverse city?
The final task is that of moral recovery. My wife, Eileen San Juan and I originally stayed because we have lived through thirty years of hurricanes and floods and have always stayed to care for our homes and help our neighbors. It is the appalling indifference to the suffering of others that I have witnessed as a "resister" inside the city that convinces me that we urgently need a carefully planned and comprehensive program for “moral and ethical” recovery. My own experience was particularly disturbing.
On September 2nd I awoke to radio news that thousands of evacuees were continuing to languish in the sun at the Morial Convention Center because city officials had ordered police and guardsmen not to issue food, water, or medical support. The news account also reported that two corpses were propped by the front door of the convention center.
I frantically loaded our car with supplies, spay-painted “AID” on all the doors and windows and headed for the convention center. On the way I passed a dead bloated body at Magazine and Jackson. She was wearing white socks with large blue stars. The scene at the convention center was one of unspeakable and shameful suffering. Women begged me to take their babies who were dehydrating. I had to tell them that there were no hospitals: all medical personnel had been forcible evacuated, even on dry land. Contrary to official pronouncements that the convention center was too dangerous for police, let along unarmed relief workers, people at the center greeted me like an angel from the heavens. People orderly distributed my goods as others implored me to bring back baby formula, water, and antibiotics. A man approached my car as I tried to leave. His eyes were dark and hollow. “Please mister,” he said in daze. “Tell the world what’s going on down here. Tell them that people are killing each other just for a drink of water.”
Shaken, I raced back to my home to get more water and supplies. A mile from the center a white pick-up truck fell in behind me with two police officers. The unmarked truck had no siren or lights. I decided not to stop because I was sure they would tell me not to come back. Then suddenly, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” The state patrolman had fired three shots into the air from his handgun to force me to stop. I stopped, though furious that they had nothing better to do then chase relief workers. The policeman demanded to know what I was doing and why did I have “AID” painted on my car. I heatedly explained that I was taking food, water, and medical supplies to babies and elderly people who were dying in the sun at the convention center. Then I asked what were they doing heading away from the problem with an empty truck. They let me go.
The moral recovery in Katrina’s wake needs to be approached with the same forethought and resources as the material recovery. I have directed an organization for thirteen years that has the simple mission to teach the moral imperative to speak out against the suffering and persecution of others. We have used the history of the Holocaust and the civil rights movement to teach young people the causes and consequences of racism and moral indifference. Now, we no longer have to reach back decades to find a telling case-study of human failure and redemption. Hurricanes bring out the best and worst of human behavior. It is heartening that so many communities have opened their schools to the 60,000 black New Orleanian students left homeless by this disaster, but plunging children into strange worlds without preparing and training them, their families, and their host schools for the culture shock is a recipe for a second disaster.
The recovery process is not written in stone—yet. The only guarantee for a recovery that does not exacerbate racism and compound inequality, and one that brings New Orleans back to life in both body and spirit, is a national mobilization of African Americans and all those lovers of “the city that care forgot” to relentlessly pressure the federal government for an inclusive and fair decision-making process
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University
Author of “Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement” UNC press
Brief biography of Lance
Dr. Lance Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. Dr. Hill worked as a community activist and labor organizer for twenty years before embarking on an academic career. From 1989 to 1992, Dr. Hill served as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism (LCARN), the grass roots organization that led the opposition to former Klansman David Duke's Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns. One of the coalition's founders, Hill directed the organization's extensive television, radio and direct mail campaigns. The New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune credited LCARN with playing the leading role in Duke's ultimate political demise.
In 1993, Hill co-founded the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. Over the past ten years the Institute's tolerance education program-the most comprehensive project of its kind in the South-- has provided training to more than 3,600 teachers from 785 schools in the Deep South. The program uses case studies of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement to teach the causes and consequences of prejudice. With a geographic scope of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, the Institute prides itself on successful implementing programs in rural and isolated communities that have been traditional strongholds of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Dr. Hill also directs the Southern Institute's cross-cultural communication training and research program which teaches advanced skills to improve communication and collaboration among ethnic groups in the United States.
Hill holds a PhD from Tulane University, where he has taught US History and Intercultural Communication. His scholarly research field is the history of race relations and the radical right. He is the author of The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and "National Socialist Race Doctrine in the Political Thought of David Duke," in The Emergence of David Duke by Doug Rose (University of North Carolina Press, 1994). He has served as a consultant on several PBS documentaries on the radical right and the civil rights movement and has written extensively on racial politics in the South.
Dr. Hill resides in New Orleans with his wife of thirty years, Eileen SanJuan.
El Diario reports the lawyer for former Puerto Rican political prisoner Antonio Camacho Negrón has expressed concern for the physical safety of her client in light of the reports that the FBI is attempting to arrest him again. She given notice that if they want to communicate with him that they must do it through her.
Linda Backiel says that the United States does not have any reason whatsoever to send her client to jail. He already completed more than the maximum of his earlier sentence for the robbery of a Wells Faro armored truck in West Hartford, Ct, in 1983.
Backiel says her client was kept in prison more time than was permitted by law and that when they finally released him he there was not even enough time left for supervision of a probation officer. She says she sent a detailed letter to the Parole office about that but has never received a response.
The FBI is remaining silent.
Bakiel says Negrón is in Puerto Rico.
She says the action by the FBI is in “reprisal” against Camacho Negrón because of his statements denouncing the FBI operation in Hormigueros during which federal agents murdered the Commander of the Popular Boricua Army-Macheteros, Filiberto Ojeda. “He has not done anything illegal”, said Backiel and added in response to questions by the press, that after what happened to Ojeda “I cannot say that I will sleep with any tranquility.”
Negron said the operation against Ojeda Rios was "a firing squad, because the FBI's intention was never to arrest Ojeda Rios." Negron pointed out the operation involved "more than 100 agents backed by 300 cops" against "a person 73, 74 years old."
Negron was hardly alone in his feelings.
Thomas Rivera Schatz, president of the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP), which calls for Puerto Rico to become part of the US, said that "the agents who participated in this disgraceful incident have managed to destroy the image of the US government with the Puerto Rican people." Pro-statehood strategist Oreste Ramos said "the feds have earned everything the independence supporters may say and everything they may do" by committing an "immoral" act, a "first- degree murder." Ruben Berrios, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and a critic of the Macheteros' tactics, called Ojeda Rios' killing "shameful."
The search for Negron is not something being done in isolation. It seems that FBI agents are carrying out a large scale operation against Puerto Rican pro-independence activists in various cities in the United States. According to reports obtained from lawyers and civil rights advocates, the operation is taking place simultaneously in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Puerto Rico. Attorney Jan Susler reported that agents from the anti-terrorist squad of the FBI are visiting the homes of former political prisoners and other pro-independence activists in Chicago and Philadelphia. Susler said that agents arrive – in some cases wearing bullet proof vests – at times when it is obvious that the people they seek are working, but in their homes are their wives, children and neighbors.
There are also reports that Vieques Political Prisoner Jose Velez Acosta is being denied medical treatment for a serious ailment. He has been extremely ill for
almost a month. He has been bleeding profusely from his rectum, feels pain in his colon/kidney area, and has lost his appetite. He has been given various medications, but has not undergone any medical examinations. He has a Colonoscopy scheduled, but has not undergone the procedure.
The ProLibertad Freedom Campaign is urging supporters and friends to download a PDF format copy of the following letter (see below) and mail it out to Warden Tracy Johns of USP Coleman I and demand that Jose Velez Acosta receive the medical attention he deserves!!
Sources: ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, El Diario, World War IV Report