September 19, 2005
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
AND LAURA GARZA
NEW ORLEANS, September 5—Thousands of working people headed back today to neighborhoods on the outskirts of this city. As vehicles came to a halt on the hot, traffic-jammed highway, with only several hours remaining to pick up belongings before curfew, people began talking to one another. Many of the conversations we were part of were marked by outrage at the response of federal, state, and local governments and capitalist politicians to the social disaster that has ensued since Hurricane Katrina.
Military convoys snaked through the city, filling the highways along with National Guard troops and city and state cops. Helicopters hummed overhead.
Ten minutes into the city limits, just off Magazine Street, with police and army vehicles passing regularly, we met a group of residents who said they had yet to receive food or water from any officials or aid agencies.
“We have been here for seven days,” Cleveland Frenell Jr. said. “I got a cut on my hand. I can’t get any medical help. Yesterday was the first day we got anything. What we got was water and toilet paper, and it was not even from the government. It was from some individual. Everybody talks about what they are going to do, and nobody has done anything.” Asked what the military and police do, Frenell shouted, “Nothing! They do nothing! They ride around.”
Frenell and his neighbors had cooked beans and sausage they obtained shortly after the storm, when residents opened some local stores to allow people to get food. They shared their meal, and we gave them some water, an item in short supply.
‘Cops pulled guns on us’
“Two days ago the cops pulled guns on us,” said another member of the group, Joseph Webber, 61, a self-employed handyman. “We were riding a bicycle back from the Convention Center where we had gotten water. They demanded to know where we lived, to see our IDs, what we were doing. They could see I had the water on top of the bicycle.” The group stays together during the day and doesn’t venture out at night.
“The governor gave the police strict orders that give them the right to use any kinds of means,” Webber said. “They could shoot you and say whatever they want. The police treat you like nothing. That’s why we stick together.”
On September 6 the mayor of New Orleans announced a mandatory evacuation order for all remaining residents. An estimated 10,000 people are to be moved out, forcibly if necessary, according to city officials.
In an area with condominiums that fared well, we spoke with Robert LeBlanc, the manager of the Park VII complex. “Now they’re in here like buzzards,” he said, referring to the troops. “But it’s too late. They preached, ‘Be prepared, know where you’re going, what you’re going to do’—but they weren’t prepared.”
It’s not the hurricane “that got me pissed, it’s the way the government acted,” LeBlanc said. There was no serious effort to evacuate or help people in the aftermath. He described a body left laying near Magazine and Jackson Streets. Someone finally built a brick barrier around it after a few days. It was still there as we drove by, though now guarded by a soldier. “It could’ve been one of us,” LeBlanc said.
Riding into the city, we had joined residents of Jefferson Parish in a line of cars waiting to be allowed back into the area to visit their homes and gather needed items. Residents were instructed to be out of the city by the 6:00 p.m. curfew enforced by the cops. Nicole Flowers, a 34-year-old restaurant and retail worker, led us to her neighborhood of Harvey.
“People get displaced from their families,” Flowers said. “There is no effort whatsoever made to keep families together. They give you no information about where to go to get help, cash checks, or get food and supplies. Or, if they do tell you where to go to get assistance, you get there and they don’t know anything about it.”
Bernard Johnson, 45, a catering worker, stayed in his nearby apartment complex through the hurricane. He is not sure where his family is or whether they are together. “I’ve been sleeping outside,” Johnson said. “We can’t live inside because the roof caved in and the carpet and furniture are wet.” He hadn’t seen any buses come through the area to pick people up.
When residents asked for help, he said, cops on patrol just gave them the number of the parish president’s emergency line. Many have no working phones, and whenever they borrow someone’s cell phone they get a busy signal.
“My main concern is that we need ice,” said Hazel Thomas, 32. A friend “has seizures and if she gets overheated she needs ice, and all we have is warm bottles of water.”
Like many other working people here, Thomas has taken initiatives—sometimes dangerous ones—to save others, such as moving two elderly women to a safer building when their roof caved in during the hurricane. “There’s over 100 people here who need to get out,” said Thomas.
The Red Cross came by on September 4 and gave out boxes with 12 army-issued MRE food packets and some water. “They said they’d come back to pick people up today,” Thomas said, “but we haven’t seen them.”
What millions of people in the region are now facing is the battle to get jobs, decent housing, health care, and basic necessities from clothing to furniture. Based on recent experience, many working people here are recognizing that will take a fight.
September 26, 2005
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
MOBILE, Alabama—In the second week since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, people forced to live in tents or in their cars are still trying to get into shelters. Yet given the deplorable conditions in these facilities, many of those already in them are trying to get out.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as of September 7, 182,000 people have made their way to 559 shelters across the United States.
There are between 15,000 and 25,000 evacuees in Alabama, the governor’s office reports. Some have found housing or shelters, but many are stuck in cars or sleeping on park benches.
At Our Savior Lutheran Church here, which has been turned into a Red Cross shelter, signs are posted on the walls to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance. But “we have no access to phones here,” commented Robert Sneed, 43, a laid-off shipyard worker.
Glenda Cate, a nurse practitioner from North Carolina, is volunteering at the shelter for three weeks. She reported that FEMA officials came by two days earlier and said they would put two phone lines in, but have yet to return. “I let people use my cell after 9:00 p.m., when I have free minutes,” she said.
A FEMA notice offering cash relief was put up on the wall today for the first time. This facility is in a better-off area in Mobile. It houses working people from various nationalities. At a shelter in the Black community, volunteer Denise Ervy, who is a retired school teacher, said no FEMA notice on vouchers had been posted.
Conditions at Our Savior Lutheran contrast sharply with a private special needs shelter organized by the First Baptist Church in Semmes for Fresenius Medical Care patients needing dialysis. Pastor Dave Abbott told the Militant that on the initiative of one of the church members, the sizable church with many rooms and facilities is now being put to use.
While making clear he was not seeking to criticize the government or any of the relief agencies, he explained to reporters that they were getting little help from the Red Cross or FEMA. “If you call and ask for something, it could be four to five days before you get it,” he said.
Patients in this shelter were brought in from hospitals throughout the Gulf Coast decimated by the hurricane. Many hospitals in affected areas have been partially or totally shut down.
In the New Orleans area alone, 24 of 27 hospitals have been closed and fully evacuated, Bloomberg News reports. Patients have been sent to hospitals across the region.
The bodies of more than 40 mostly elderly patients were located in the flooded-out Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. Hospital officials claim they don’t know exactly how they died. At the inundated St. Rita’s Nursing Home just east of the city, 34 corpses were found. The owners were charged September 13 with negligent homicide.
May 13, 1996
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
HAVANA – Dancing to Afro-Cuban beats from drums and trumpets, singing, blowing whistles, and chanting, more than one million workers, students, members of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, and others marched here on May Day.
Similar actions involving hundreds of thousands took place in every provincial capital and other cities across the country. Pedro Ross, general secretary of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers (CTC), reported the next day that 5.5 million demonstrated throughout the island.
The 1,900 delegates from the congress of the CTC, which had concluded its working sessions the night before, led the Havana march.
“This day is ours. It belongs to the proletariat around the world,” said Grisela Feyové, a production worker at the Dairy Complex outside Havana, who, with a bullhorn, was leading a contingent of 22,000 workers from the municipality of Cotorro. “We are here to show the Yankee imperialists we’ll defend our revolution to the last drop of blood.”
“This is one of the biggest May Day marches ever,” said Carlos Sánchez, a foundry worker at the Antillana de Acero steel mill near Havana. “We all feel like we’re coming out of an impasse in the economy. We have more control. We can see the light of the dawn.”
Sánchez pointed to the improvement in the sugar harvest this year as an example of a slight economic upturn that has boosted the self-confidence of working people. “We’re up to 4 million tons. We’re sure to make the 4.5 million goal,” he said. Sánchez, 54, who has worked at the steel plant for 34 years, remarked that the five-year decline in Cuba’s main export crop had hurt the morale of the workers.
“We now know we can make a difference,” added José Isaqi, one of Sánchez’s 2,000 co-workers who turned out for the march. Isaqi volunteered on several weekends in the last two months to cut sugarcane in rural areas.
Their group was nearing Revolution Square, filled with colorful banners, where waves of workers marched for hours past the statue of Jose Martí, Cuba’s national hero.
Starting in the early morning hours, contingents of members of the metal, electrical, food processing, agricultural, construction, transportation, and many other unions assembled at the center of the city. Other groups were organized from the municipalities and from mass organizations like the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and the Federation of University Students (FEU).
CTC leader Ross, opened a short rally at 9:00 a.m. to kick off the demonstration. The trade union federation, which organized the march, decided to dedicate the massive proletarian mobilization to the Cuban youth, he said. Ross introduced Victoria Velázquez, first secretary of the Union of Young Communists, who gave the main address.
“Tomorrow we will read how this day unfolded across the world,” Velázquez said, “where many workers lack a future, where the future is uncertain.”
“For all those workers who are not able to march today, for all of those proletarians who cannot raise their voices, the Cuban people will march united with them.”
Ross and Velázquez were joined on the reviewing stand at Revolution Square by Cuban president Fidel Castro, other members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba, government ministers, the newly elected members of the CTC’s National Committee, and representatives of trade union federations from around the world.
Velázquez thanked the CTC for honoring young people in this way. “For Cuban youth, the workers organizations are the best schools of communism, which we’ll never renounce,” she stated.
As the next century approaches, the disparities between imperialist powers and the underdeveloped world widen, the UJC leader said, and the gap between the poor and the opulent increases.
In this world, where the struggle of humanity for a better future continues, Velázquez stated, the UJC calls on youth around the globe to join the World Festival of Youth and Students to take place in Cuba in the summer of 1997.
Among the topics to be discussed at the international youth gathering will be democracy, peace, the struggle for sovereignty, women’s rights, employment, protection of the environment, and “how to raise our voices to condemn racism, xenophobia, and imperialism.”
“In 1997 we will meet in socialist Cuba,” Velázquez said, where “nothing has been impossible for Cuban patriots since we got rid of capitalism through a genuine revolution.”
Denouncing U.S. economic war
Some of the largest contingents at the march were organized by the Pioneers, Federation of High School Students, Federation of University Students, and the UJC. The FEU contingent was led by two tractor trailers and a truck full of young people who had just participated in volunteer brigades in agriculture. A large group of young soldiers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Youth Army of Labor, which works in agriculture, was also part of the youth contingent that followed the trade union columns.
“There are so many of us here today because we want to protest all the attacks against us,” said Elsa Tavares, a language student at the University of Havana. “The blockade, the violation of our airspace. We want the world to know that we are for the revolution and for socialism.”
Tavares was referring to the so-called Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton act, passed by U.S. Congress and signed into law by President William Clinton March 12. The measure tightens Washington’s embargo on Cuba and legitimizes claims by capitalists abroad on property that was nationalized by Cuban workers.
“It’s unjust,” stated Marcia Hinojosa, a bank worker, referring to the U.S. law. “Why should someone who abandoned the country and the revolution come back after 37 years and say `this is my housé and kick the person living there out? I was born in 1959, the year the revolution triumphed, and I’ll defend it to the end.”
“Socialism or death,” “Long live May Day,” and “Down with Helms-Burton” were among the many handmade signs. “Even with a thousand ignorant laws you can’t crush the people” read another banner carried by a group of young people.
“Clinton delincuente, no conoces a esta gente,” (Clinton, you criminal, you don’t know our people) chanted a group of agricultural workers from Guines in Havana province.
Asked about Cuba’s downing of two U.S. planes that violated the country’s airspace February 24, Demetrio Guerra García, from the Guines group, said, “We’ll do it 100 times again if necessary. In fact, we should have shot them down in January when those gusanos [worms] from Florida flew over Havana to drop their poisonous counterrevolutionary leaflets on the people.”
One especially popular float was carried by members of the Federation of University Students contingent: a cardboard casket, complete with body, that said, “Helms-Burton” on the side.
Also at the demonstration were hundreds of international guests, including delegations from the United States, Canada, Germany, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Colombia. Many of these guests had been attending the 17th Congress of the CTC.
Throughout the march, contingents of union members carried signs showing progress they have made in their workplaces in increasing production over the last year and helping to put their country on the road to economic recovery. “We’ve surpassed our production target by 25 percent,” said Carlos Rodríguez, who works at Frioclima, a plant making air conditioning units. “This is happening in many factories. So while relations with the United States have become more tense, our people are confident and calm.”
Some 20,000 bicycle riders and hundreds of peasants on horseback closed the demonstration. Just ahead of them, a contingent of 500 Cuban athletes, who will take part in the Olympic games in Atlanta this summer, marched in uniform. “You know, those workers in Chicago started the struggle last century that came to be symbolized by May Day,” said weight lifter Barbaro López, referring to the Haymarket martyrs. “We have simply picked up the banner on the front lines of the international working class.”
August 24, 1998
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
“Fidel, Fidel!” roared an enthusiastic crowd when Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz arrived in Grenada August 2 on the last stop of a week-long tour through the English-speaking Caribbean. The revolutionary leader’s visit to Grenada, Barbados, and Jamaica registered the weakening of Washington’s decades-long efforts to seal off Cuba from the other nations in the region. Just 15 years ago, U.S. forces invaded Grenada, occupied the island for 18 months, and installed a government subservient to Washington.
Castro’s first stop was Jamaica. “We are implacably opposed to the economic blockade of Cuba, which is morally wrong,” declared Jamaican prime minister P.J. Patterson at a rally in Montego Bay. Castro was presented with keys to the city. A number of Jamaican hotel chains have set up facilities in Cuba recently, and trade is expected to deepen. While visiting Barbados, the Cuban leader spoke at a ceremony marking the abolition of chattel slavery in the 1830s. The Barbados government also unveiled a memorial to the 73 passengers, most of them Cuban, who were killed in a terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976. The Cuban government faults counterrevolutionaries in the United States for the deaths.
Ever since working people in Cuba took power in 1959, Washington has pressured Caribbean governments to break off ties with Havana. Lázaro Cabezas, Cuba’s ambassador to the eastern Caribbean, commented that today “no one can speak of the Caribbean without including Cuba.” Trade between Cuba and its neighbors has jumped from $6 million 10 years ago to $65 million in 1997. The Clinton administration has threatened to sanction Caribbean nations for trading with Cuba. But ever- declining U.S. investment in the region – from $226 million a decade ago to $24 million today -means such threats have less impact.
The Cuban government, with the approval of most of its Caribbean neighbors, is moving towards entering the 15-nation trading bloc CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and has even been named an official observer in European Union negotiations to set up a trade pact between EU, Caribbean, Pacific, and 71 African nations.
Honoring those killed in U.S. invasion
Hundreds of people in Grenada came out of their houses to welcome the Cuban president, and show solidarity and appreciation for Cuba’s role in helping to develop and defend that island. Castro received a 21-gun salute, and was greeted by Cabinet members and other dignitaries to the rhythm of a calypso interpretation of the Cuban song “Guantanamera.”
Castro was present for the unveiling of a plaque to honor the Cuban internationalist construction workers killed in the 1983 U.S. invasion of the island. They had been in Grenada building a new airport – a major contribution to the country’s economy -and defended themselves when attacked by the invading forces.
More than 5,000 Grenadians out of a population of 97,000 turned out to give a hero’s send off to the Cuban leader at the end of his visit.
The big-business press tried to downplay the significance of Castro’s tour of the Caribbean, taking the occasion to lie and slander Cuban internationalists and Grenadian revolutionists. The New York Times published an article August 3 by Larry Rohter that referred to Cuban construction workers and other personnel in Grenada in 1983. Rohter alleges that the Cuban workers “defied Castro’s orders.” He also asserts that those who weren’t killed in the U.S. assault “eventually surrendered and returned to Havana in disgrace.”
This is a blatant falsehood. The construction workers were viewed as heroes, and on Nov. 14, 1983, more than a million people turned out at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana to honor and pay final respects to those killed during their internationalist mission in Grenada. Castro spoke at the rally proudly describing the actions of the Cuban workers and condemning Washington’s invasion.
In March 1979 the Grenadian toilers, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement (NJM), toppled the hated dictatorship of Eric Gairy and replaced it with a workers and farmers government. This popular government from its earliest days received unconditional aid and collaboration from Cuba.
In 1983 a counterrevolutionary faction in the NJM led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard succeeded in overthrowing the workers and farmers government, and placing Bishop on house arrest. A massive outpouring of nearly a third of the population followed. Troops loyal to Coard turned their guns on the protests. They assassinated Bishop and other revolutionary leaders, as well as killing and wounding many demonstrators. This betrayal stunned and demoralized the Grenadian people, opening the gates for Washington’s “peacekeeping” forces to invade the island a few days later.
Refuting Washington’s lies
Speaking at the rally in Cuba to honor the construction workers, Fidel Castro gave a point-by-point refutation of 19 lies perpetrated by Washington about the U.S. invasion of Grenada. These lies, which are echoed again today by writers like Rohter, include: that the airport was meant to be a military outpost for Cuba; that the construction workers were really professional soldiers; that Washington invaded to protect the lives of U.S. citizens; that Cuba was behind the coup that killed Bishop; that Cuba was planning to invade and occupy Grenada; and more.
Maurice Bishop himself, in an interview with the Miami Herald in 1983, said the idea that Cuba was building a base for Cuba military aircraft was “ludicrous.” “There has never been any attempt on the part of any Cuban official, including Fidel Castro, to try to get us to do anything in return for the assistance we received…. On the contrary, I have found it is precisely those countries – the United States for example – that have cut economic assistance that are the ones that are making all the demands, putting on all the pressure.”
The Cuban government’s decision that the volunteers would stay and continue construction of the airport, even after Bishop’s assassination and in face of clear preparations for an invasion by Washington, was part of those internationalists’ commitment to the people of that struggle. They rejected the idea that Washington had any authority in the region whatsoever, no matter what internal conflicts existed on the island.
The overwhelming majority of Cuban personnel in Grenada at the time were civilians, nearly half of whom where older than 40. Others were children of diplomats. Like most Cubans, they had basic training with weapons, but at the time of the invasion these were not yet even distributed. Nor were there enough to go around. Only the Cuban construction workers had instructions from Havana to only engage the Yankee aggressors if attacked, and that is what they did.
But these workers – men and women of the Cuban revolution – did defend their ground. They continued construction as long as possible and gave the invading force a left hook that U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who later commanded Washington’s 1991 slaughter of the Iraqi people, had not expected.
What “started as a highly unconventional, surgical in nature operation went sour right away…because of the assumption that the Cubans weren’t going to fight,” Schwarzkopf said in a 1991 interview with New Republic magazine. In an additional tribute of sorts, the reporter paraphrased Schwarzkopf as adding that the U.S. commanders hadn’t expected resistance from Grenadians either, but “many of the gunners had been trained in Cuba; they were brave and highly disciplined; not only did they remain at their posts in the face of withering fire from U.S. helicopter gunships, they fired back.”
February 9, 1998
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Visits to Washington by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Yasir Arafat January 20-23 for separate meetings with U.S. president William Clinton resolved none of the issues around Tel Aviv’s withdrawal from West Bank settlements.
According to agreements signed by the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1995, the first of three Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank was to have been carried out in September 1996, followed by two others six and 12 months later. The third withdrawal was to leave Palestinians holding as much as 91 percent of the land in the West Bank. But so far the Israeli government has not carried out even the first pullback. Only 3 percent of the land in West Bank is under full Palestinian control. Another 24 percent is administratively run by the Palestinian Authority, but under Israeli military control. And the rest of the territory is held completely by Tel Aviv.
Clinton’s main proposal was to urge the Palestinian Authority to crack down more on liberation forces there. He also proposed that the Netanyahu regime pull back its forces from about 10 percent of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, which Tel Aviv has occupied since 1967. This is a far cry from the 60 percent demanded by Palestinian officials.
Netanyahu said no pullouts would take place until Arafat organizes a “serious” crackdown on liberation organizations. In fact, the Israeli regime decided to begin building six new 300-room housing units in Jabal Abu Ghneim, a Zionist settlement in the West Bank, according to Palestinian Cabinet general secretary Ahmed Abdul Rahman.
In the Gaza Strip, a small area of land that is also occupied by Tel Aviv, there were several protests January 23-24 demanding that Israeli settlers leave Gush Kitif in southern Gaza. “Relations between Palestinians and Israelis are boiling down to square one -the relationship between the occupied and the occupier,” Ziad Abu-Amr told the New York Times.
Abu-Amr, a Palestinian government representative from Gaza City, added that if the so-called peace process does not advance, “the result will be resistance.”
Meanwhile, millions of Iranians took to the streets across the country on January 23 – Jerusalem Day – in support of the Palestinian struggle.
June 1, 1998
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
“Long live Palestine!” chanted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in demonstrations across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip May 14. The protests were marking al nakba (the catastrophe) – the founding of the state of Israel 50 years earlier and the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland. Israeli soldiers attacked the demonstrations, killing at least five Palestinians and injuring hundreds. Protests and confrontations continued for several days.
The 50-year anniversary was also a flashpoint for the growing polarization within the Israeli ruling class between those calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw from a portion of the occupied territories and others who are pushing to extend Israeli settlements deeper into the Palestinian region.
Israeli troops were put on high alert May 14, with tanks and armored personnel carriers deployed along the Gaza border. They opened fire on protesters with live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, batons, and mounted cops.
The actions, called as a “million person march,” drew residents from throughout West Bank and Gaza. Manara Square in Ramallah was the site of the day’s largest event, where tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered for an address from Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) head Yasser Arafat. “50 Years of Steadfastness and Resistance” and “Freedom for prisoners in Israeli jails” were among the signs in the crowd there.
Some of the biggest face-offs took place in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital. Marchers there tried to pass through a main shopping strip, but were blocked by Israeli riot cops. Uniformed school girls chanted at the cops, “PLO! Israel No!” and “With soul, with blood we will redeem you, Palestine! Jerusalem is Arab! Freedom and national unity!” As a detachment of police moved against the crowd, they were pelted with stones. Police responded by firing a salvo of plastic bullets.
The same day on the steps of the National Palace Hotel, Israeli mounted police and other cops attacked Palestinians who were observing a moment of silence in memory of their fellow patriots killed by Zionist troops.
The Israeli army sealed off all Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank during the demonstrations to prevent travel in either direction. One group of women tried to return to their home towns and villages, which are now within the Israeli borders, and held up placards listing 400 Palestinian villages demolished as part of the founding of Israel in 1948.
In the weeks leading up to the May 14, 1948, declaration of the state of Israel, 200,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in what became Israeli territory. In the war that followed, more than half a million more were dispossessed. The 133,000 Palestinians who remained within the Israeli borders were reduced to second-class status. Eleven minutes after the declaration of the Zionist state, Washington recognized the government. Nearly two decades later, Tel Aviv made another land grab, seizing the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria in a six-day war in 1967.
Israeli aggression condemned
The Palestinian Authority (PA) immediately issued a statement condemning the government assault on the Palestinians’ 50th anniversary protests. “Confronting our peaceful march with live ammunition and the awful crime of killing our people in cold blood will never prevent us of continuing our struggle to get the cancer of the occupation… out of our land.”
The Israeli aggression also drew international attention. Iranian foreign minister Kaman Kharrazi spoke out against the killings, likening them to the measures used to establish the Israeli state.
The South African Foreign Affairs Department released a statement of condemnation May 15, saying, “The existence of Israeli settlers with an accompanying military presence in Palestinian areas such as Gaza, Bethlehem, and Hebron can only serve to heighten the risk of confrontation…. This in turn emphasizes the need for a speedy Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land as envisaged under the Oslo accords.”
Under those accords signed in 1995 by Tel Aviv and the PLO, the Israeli government was supposed to make three pullouts from occupied territories within approximately two years of the agreement, leaving Palestinians with up to 91 percent of the land in the West Bank. But so far the PA fully controls less than 3 percent of those lands, in scattered patches. Another 24 percent is administratively run by the Palestinian Authority, but is subordinate to Israeli military command.
In Lebanon thousands of Palestinian refugees joined protest actions beginning May 14. In Baddawi and al Bared refugee camps located in the northern city Tripoli, people demonstrated inside the camps. Students also rallied, releasing helium balloons carrying names of many Palestinian towns and villages overrun by the Zionist government of Israel.
Recent “peace negotiations” between Israeli and Palestinian officials brokered by Washington have not resulted in any pullbacks of Israeli troops. A rumor was circulated and picked up in some big-business press that Netanyahu agreed to withdraw his forces from 13 percent of the West Bank, provided it was agreed to be the final pullback. The Palestinian Authority rejected any agreement that excluded the further handover of land to Palestinian control. Netanyahu and James Rubin, spokesman for U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, both quickly held press conferences denying the rumor. U.S. officials had earlier proposed a 13 percent troop withdrawal at meeting in Washington, to be followed by another pullback. Tel Aviv rejected that offer, claiming that any withdrawal exceeding 9 percent posed “security risks.”
In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, U.S. vice president Albert Gore declared, “America stands by Israel, now and forever…. Our special relationship is indestructible…. It doesn’t depend on the peace process. It transcends the peace process.”
Gore lauded the establishment of the Zionists state as a “miracle… [that] grew democracy in the desert.” Gore then announced plans to increase U.S. military aid to Israel, which now stands at $1.8 billion a year.
Meanwhile, several opposition parties submitted no confidence motions against Netanyahu to the Israeli parliament. These include the Labor, Meretz, and Hadash parties, all of whom accuse the premier of botching up “peace” talks and not accepting the 13 percent pullout. At the same time, rightist politicians in Israel have threatened to topple the regime if any pullout beyond 9 percent is considered.
August 2, 1999
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization held hearings here July 6 on Puerto Rico’s colonial status and approved a resolution supporting that Latin American nation’s right to self-determination, including independence. The committee, which has always been boycotted by the U.S. government, has approved similar resolutions for most years since the early 1970s.
The UN committee heard testimony from almost two dozen representatives of organizations. The big majority were pro- independence groups. Their testimony hammered away at two issues in particular that highlight the consequences of U.S. colonial rule. One was the campaign to free 17 Puerto Rican political prisoners who are locked up in U.S. prisons because of their pro-independence activities. The other was the renewed fight to get the U.S. Navy out of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
The final resolution adopted by the UN committee, which as in most previous years was sponsored by the revolutionary government of Cuba, explicitly supports these two campaigns.
Calls for U.S. Navy to leave Vieques
“For almost 60 years our island [Vieques] has been used by the Navy for U.S. wars,” stated Ismael Guadalupe, a leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques. “The presence of that military apparatus comes as a result of a political situation in which decision-making powers do not lie within our country, but in another country.”
The committee has been leading sustained protests in Vieques, including on restricted Navy territory, since April 19, when the U.S. Navy “accidentally” bombed and killed David Sanes in a military training exercise taking place during Washington’s assault on Yugoslavia. The protests have drawn fishermen, students, religious leaders, and others.
“In carrying out these actions in open defiance of the U.S. Navy,” said Guadalupe, “we have four principal demands: demilitarization of Vieques, the return of our land, decontamination, and the development of that land.” Vieques residents have long accused the Navy not only of occupying three-fourths of their land, but of polluting it and devastating the island’s economic development.
“On Feb. 6, 1978, a group of Vieques fishermen, armed only with their own little boats, slings, stones, and the willingness to risk their lives, met NATO warships at sea,” testified Zoé Lugo-Mendoza, 24, a member of the Vieques Support Campaign in New York City. “They succeeded many times and more than 30 war maneuvers had to be aborted [over the years]….
“It was after the recent death of a civilian by a U.S. bomb that the whole island of Puerto Rico has finally heard the message. Now all of Puerto Rico along with Vieques is demanding, `Stop the bombing of Puerto Rico. U.S. Navy out of Vieques.’ ”
“In 101 years of military occupation of Puerto Rico we have had the dubious reputation of serving the U.S. empire in several wars, conflicts carried out under the concept of `common defense,’ which in our view is nothing but a subterfuge,” said Olga Cintrón of the Great Eastern National Masonic Lodge of Puerto Rico, a pro-independence group.
The chair of the committee hearings, Cuban ambassador Rafael Dausá, opened the floor for discussion after each presentation, which a number of UN delegates took advantage of. After hearing several petitioners expose the U.S. Navy for its use of depleted uranium-coated bullets in Vieques and the high levels of cancer among Vieques residents, Iraqi representative Mowafak Mahmoud Ayoub asked a question and said, “I am speaking because the United States used the same type of weaponry in Iraq, particularly in the South. Cancer has risen in those areas.”
Free Puerto Rican political prisoners
A number of speakers pointed to the frame-up of Puerto Rican independence advocate José Solís and the U.S. government’s incarceration of 17 Puerto Rican independentista prisoners, some of whom are serving jail sentences of up to 98 or 105 years.
“Even as we testify,” said Marisol Corretjer, vice president of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, addressing the case of José Solís, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, “the United States is seeking the incarceration of yet another political prisoner, a distinguished university professor who dared teach students to question their colonial status. These violations of our human rights can stop only when we are a free and independent nation.” Wilma Reverón, co-chair of the Hostos National Congress, made a similar point.
Jorge Farinacci, a leader of the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, told the UN delegates, “The U.S. government continues to be deaf to the universal call for the freedom of our political prisoners, who are the longest-held political prisoners in the western hemisphere.”
Rodolfo Benítez, Cuba’s delegate at the hearings, asked for more information on the frame-up of Solís. Farinacci took the opportunity to announce demonstrations planned at federal buildings across the United States and in Puerto Rico on July 7, when Solís was due to be sentenced, to demand his immediate release.
Martín Koppel, who spoke as a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee, focused on why the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence is in the interests of workers and farmers in the United States. “Colonial rule of Puerto Rico gives the U.S. government a freer hand to attack the democratic rights of those in the United States who struggle in defense of our livelihood,” he stated. “A successful struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico will deal a powerful blow to our common enemy. It will show that it is possible to stand up to the most brutal capitalist class in the world and break its domination.”
Other petitioners included Juan Mari Bra’s and Lolita Lebrón, longtime figures in the independence movement. Also speaking in favor of independence were Fernando Martín, vice president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party; Julio Muriente, president of the New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico (NMIP); Vanessa Ramos, general secretary of the American Association of Jurists; and Eunice Santana of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.
In an unusual appearance for the head of Puerto Rico’s colonial administration, pro-statehood governor Pedro Rosselló addressed the UN decolonization committee. He called for the U.S. Navy to leave Vieques and used Puerto Rico’s colonial status as an argument for why it should be become the 51st U.S. state. His administration had earlier appointed a commission that issued a 53-page report detailing the U.S. Navy’s atrocities, which ended with a call for the U.S. military to withdraw from Vieques.
Representatives of a few other pro-statehood organizations spoke. Nearly every speaker at the hearing denounced the U.S. military occupation of Vieques. Unlike previous years, no representative of organizations supporting the current “commonwealth” setup attended the hearings.
The UN resolution in support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence was approved with 12 votes in favor, none opposed, and 6 abstentions.
While in town, several of the independence fighters from Puerto Rico spoke at public meetings that took place all over New York City. The evening after testifying at the United Nations, Fernando Martín, Ramos, Muriente, Reverón, Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz of the Lawyers Guild of Puerto Rico, and others spoke on a panel before an audience of 90 people at Hunter College.
Following a July 8 picket line in front of the United Nations, the Vieques Support Campaign in New York sponsored a forum that also featured a broad panel of speakers, which Corretjer, Farinacci, Guadalupe, Muriente, and Santana addressed.
The next day Guadalupe and Farinacci got a warm reception when they visited the picket line of striking Domino Sugar workers in Brooklyn, New York. Guadalupe spoke with strikers about his participation in the struggle in Vieques, while learning about the sugar workers’ fight against job cuts and for better wages.
May 15, 2000
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Several thousand people filled the streets in front of Fort Buchanan in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 4, to condemn the U.S. government and colonial authorities for the eviction of protesters from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The protesters have been opposing the use of the island for bombing practice by the U.S. Navy.
Students at the University of Puerto Rico shut down the campus in opposition to the evictions carried out in a predawn raid by hundreds of U.S. cops and marines.
At 5:15 a.m. that day, some 200 FBI agents and 100 U.S. marshals, backed up by 1,200 U.S. Marines, evicted some 160 protesters at a Navy bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
At the entrance of the U.S. Navy’s Camp García, Puerto Rican antiriot police blocked off the highway as masked U.S. marshals rolled onto the site of a protest in vans with no headlights on. Protesters refused to leave, but submitted to arrests without tussle. Some 30 people were mounted onto trucks and taken inside the military facility.
Meanwhile, U.S. military helicopters swooped down on the bombing range in eastern Vieques. FBI agents handcuffed and removed close to 140 protesters from 12 camp sites in the area.
The protesters were shipped off to the U.S. naval base at Roosevelt Roads on the main island. While U.S. authorities chose not to charge them, they took down their names and warned them that they would be arrested on trespassing charges if they returned to Navy territory.
At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard, aided by the marines, established a three-mile-wide “security” zone in the waters around the base on Vieques to block more protesters from arriving. They intercepted at least nine boats that morning. Protesters vowed to continue to penetrate the military-controlled territory.
Pentagon officials have said they intend to resume Navy bombing exercises on Vieques within two weeks. Washington is intent on sending a decisive message to opponents of the U.S. military presence.
Among those detained were dozens of Vieques residents; Lolita Lebrón, a longtime independence fighter and former political prisoner; Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz, and Robert Rabin, both leaders of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.
Also removed were some 40 religious figures and several U.S. politicians, including New York city councilman Jose Rivera, and U.S. Congresspeople Nydia Velázquez and Luis Gutiérrez, from New York and Illinois, respectively.
Washington sets stage for ‘reinvasion’
The Clinton administration’s decision to launch the police-military operation on Vieques took place after the April 22 assault by U.S. immigration cops and marshals on a private home in Miami — carried out in the name of returning Cuban boy Elián González to his father. Within days of the INS operation in Miami, three U.S. warships steamed to Vieques with the marines. For a few days they loomed offshore, while helicopters frequently buzzed over the camps and Humvees and other military vehicles made passes near the range, trying to unnerve protesters.
Agapito Belardo, a leader of the camp in front of Camp García, told the Militant in a phone interview that townspeople were awoken by protesters as the arrests were being made. A large part of the town’s population gathered at the main square to oppose the evictions. “People were outraged,” Belardo said.
In April 1999, a U.S. Navy plane “accidentally” dropped a 500-pound bombs that killed Vieques resident David Sanes. This touched off a groundswell of demonstrations and other actions demanding the Navy stop bombing Vieques and get out. With growing support, opponents of the U.S. Navy presence on the Puerto Rican island set up civil disobedience camps on the Navy bombing range.
In face of these protests, and to try to defuse them, U.S. president William Clinton won the agreement of Puerto Rican colonial governor Pedro Rosselló on a deal. According to this agreement, a referendum is to be held no later than 2002 where Vieques residents are given two choices: to keep the Navy on their land, or for the U.S. military to leave. In the meantime, the Navy would resume bombing practice, using “inert” shells instead of live ammunition and reducing bombing to “only” 90 days a year. Meanwhile, Clinton promised to provide $40 million in economic aid. There has been widespread public rejection of this deal in Puerto Rico, however.
“Judging from information I know, I don’t agree with the bombing or the U.S. occupation,” said Cynthia Paniagua, a 22-year-old Hunter College student in New York. “It’s not just the bombing. Other things are being affected like marine life,” she said, pointing out that fishing is a major part of the Vieques economy. As an advocate of Puerto Rican independence, Paniagua said, “I don’t want them there, period!”
Awilda Rodríguez, 23, another Puerto Rican activist in New York, stated, “What they have done in Vieques is similar to what they’ve done to all of Puerto Rico minus the bombs. This will open a lot of peoples’ eyes. It used to be said that only independentistas fight against the Navy in Vieques, but now after seeing what the U.S. is capable of, many more have come out,” said Rodríguez, who was raised in Puerto Rico. “Growing up, I heard many negative things about the U.S. government. Now I know they’re true.”
U.S., Puerto Rican fighters call protests
“Mass mobilizations in important U.S. cities are key to denounce the arrests and to increase pressure against Navy plans for Vieques,” read an e-mail letter send out internationally by the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.
Demonstrations have been called in Vieques and cities around Puerto Rico.
In Minneapolis 50 people picketed in front of the Navy recruiting center. “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! U.S. Navy has got to go!” chanted pickets there. The protest was called by the Puerto Rican Coalition.
Protests have also been held in Boston and Tucson, Arizona, as well as other cities. Actions have been called in numerous U.S. cities, as well as in Toronto and in south Korea.
July 16, 2001
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama–“We are fa-mi-ly!” chanted unionists on a feisty 4:30 a.m. picket line here outside the Meadowcraft plant July 2. Members of United Steelworkers of America Local 8285 voted to strike the plant June 30 after rejecting a concessionary contract that would cut $2 or more from some workers’ hourly wages. Meadowcraft, which employs about 500 workers, is a manufacturer of metal lawn chairs.
More than 120 strikers and their families showed up on the picket line on the first day of the strike. Some workers held signs reading “8285: no incentives.” Bernard Effinger, a heavy machine operator, explained, “They want to put welders on an incentive plan where they will have to work at 104 percent production every day of the working week to make $12.88 an hour. If you don’t make 104 percent, you will make $8.16 an hour.” Welders currently make between $10.25 and $12. Effinger commented that “104 percent is hard to make.”
“There isn’t a person on the picket line who wants to be out here,” said Charles King, who has worked at the plant for 31 years. “But if it wasn’t for the union they would try to cut us to minimum wage. That’s what they’d like to do. You can get sick in this plant and the same supervisor who drives you to the hospital will write you up for leaving early. That’s the kind of people they are. They care about as much for people out here as the dirt under their feet.”
José Gutiérrez, a welder for five years at the plant, said, “It’s not fair–I’ve been working here for five years, but some workers have given their lives to the company and are now older. You can’t expect them to make 104 percent. Some have arthritis. It’s also difficult because they give you bad parts to weld.”
One worker, 27, who asked that his name not be used, said, “We are out here because they are trying to introduce an incentive plan to decrease welders’ pay. We have a number of people who are older and may not be able to make rate.”
Speaking over the blare of a passing semi-truck honking in support, María García stated, “I think it is humiliating that they want to lower our wages to as little as $7.” García is a finishing welder, a job that earns about 50 cents an hour more than parts welders. “I’m making $10.75. Now they want to pay me $7? That’s crazy!”
Dora López, who has worked at the plant for 10 months, said, “I will not accept a drop in my wages.”
Close to half the workers at the plant are Mexican-born. A number of U.S.-born workers remarked that the role Mexican workers play in the strike is crucial to its victory. At the July 1 picket one striker who is a Black woman hopped out of a truck and asked, “Where are the Spanish signs?” When she found out there weren’t any, she approached one of her Mexican co-workers, and they got some fluorescent green poster board to make several signs. The next morning a striker who is Black decided to hold the Spanish-language sign, which read, “Compañeros mexicanos, we need your support for this strike because it is beneficial to everyone that [the company] respects the decision of the union because it would be humiliating for one who would accept to work for less money.”
Striker Rafael Sánchez declared, “No one from Mexico will enter that plant.” His words were echoed by his co-worker Antonio Pérez.
Meadowcraft had security guards at the gate with video cameras. A plain white company van crossed the line several times. People would yell “Scab!” each time. But when the van went into the plant and let out passengers, workers noted that they were supervisors and office staff. It did not appear to strikers that a serious attempt to work production was yet being organized.
“What it boils down to is they want to make us do a day-and-a-half’s work in one day,” explained Maurice Coleman. “If they make the welder work harder, every department will get sped up, too. Incentive pay is like gambling: if I make 100 percent, if I can do it for a week. We as welders are already underpaid. Most places start at $12 or $13 an hour. If we let them put welders on incentive, they will start to do it to every department.”
Jeanne FitzMaurice, a garment worker in Alabama, contributed to this article.