Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Travesty of Conscience: Amnesty, Assange, and Manning

Amnesty International declares Julian Assange “not a prisoner of conscience”

by Laura Tiernan - WSWS

23 May 2019

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a multi-award-winning investigative journalist and publisher, is locked up in HM Prison Belmarsh in London in solitary confinement.

US extradition proceedings have begun. If extradited, he will face charges under the Espionage Act for publishing information that exposed US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The charges being prepared by the US Department of Justice carry the death penalty.

Chelsea Manning, who courageously blew the whistle on US atrocities by giving information to WikiLeaks, endured seven years of torture in a military prison and was jailed again last week for refusing to testify against Assange.

But according to Amnesty International (AI), neither Assange nor Manning are “prisoners of conscience” and their defence is not being actively pursued by the human rights charity.

In a letter to the Julian Assange Defence Committee (JADC) on May 17, Amnesty International UK declared, “Julian Assange's case is a case we're monitoring closely but not actively working on. Amnesty International does not consider Julian Assange to be a Prisoner of Conscience.”

AI’s curtly worded letter followed an urgent appeal by Maxine Walker on behalf of the JADC. Her letter drew attention to multiple human rights violations against Assange.

“We cannot state strongly enough that Julian Assange is in great peril”, she wrote.

Walker cited AI’s April 11 statement that “Assange should not be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, where there are concerns that he would face a real risk of serious human rights violations due to his work with Wikileaks.”

Since then, Walker challenged, “no further statements appear to have been made by you… His name appears not to have been mentioned in your material for World Press Freedom Day, an extraordinary omission given his current situation and that Julian Assange was awarded the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award for New Media.”

Her letter continued: “The UK government has ignored, indeed poured scorn, on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 2015 ruling that ‘the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange is arbitrary and in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.”

The UN Working Group, Walker pointed out, had described Assange’s imprisonment in Belmarsh as having “furthered the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange.” They judged his 50-week sentence in a supermax prison had “contravene[d] the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by the human rights standards.”

Walker’s letter concluded, “It is urgent that organisations concerned with human rights should become more vocal and active on this case. One statement is not adequate to deal with the threats to Julian Assange and the wider implications for free speech, freedom of information and the protection of journalists.”

AI’s two-paragraph reply was received by Walker three days later. It linked to a statement by AI’s Deputy Director for Research for Europe, Massimo Moratti, published on May 13, supporting Sweden’s reopening of “preliminary investigations” into fabricated “rape” allegations against Assange. Headlined, “Julian Assange rape allegations must be treated with utmost seriousness,” Moretti declared, “It is vital that the allegations against Julian Assange are properly investigated in a way that respects the rights of both the complainant and the person under investigation.”

This is a travesty.

For nearly nine years, bogus “rape” and “sexual molestation” allegations against Assange have been wielded by Sweden and Britain to smear the WikiLeaks founder and secure his extradition to the US. Assange was always willing to travel to Sweden to answer the allegations against him, but Swedish authorities refused to guarantee against his onward extradition under fast-track “temporary surrender” arrangements in place with the US. It was the threat of US extradition which forced Assange to seek political asylum in Ecuador.

Assange has already been questioned by Swedish police and prosecutors—in August 2010 in Stockholm and at Ecuador’s embassy in London in November 2016. On both occasions, the preliminary investigation was closed with not a single charge laid. Under Swedish law, Assange can be charged prior to an extradition request. Yet even now, Sweden has submitted no charges and is seeking a European Arrest Warrant for blatantly political objectives.

AI deliberately conceals the political context of Assange and Manning’s incarceration: international geopolitics, illegal wars of occupation, regime change, assassination threats by US politicians against Assange—none of this exists. Having pointed to Sweden, AI simply states that it does not regard the world’s most persecuted journalist a Prisoner of Conscience. It believes he, “should not be extradited to the USA, where he faces a real risk of serious human rights violations… due to his work with Wikileaks.” It’s just that they are not “actively” pursuing the case.

AI seizes on the Swedish allegations as a pretext to wash its hands of Assange, but what of Manning? The World Socialist Web Site contacted AI on Tuesday to ask why it had also refused to list Manning as a Prisoner of Conscience. AI’s UK press officer contacted their US office before explaining via email that “detention for not testifying before a grand jury is not itself illegal.” And neither is chopping off heads in Saudi Arabia, which has not prevented AI from actively campaigning on that issue.

AI hastened to tell the WSWS that “we understand Chelsea’s motivations for declining [to testify] when she has already testified at length on these issues,” adding that the “excessive sentencing and cruel treatment of her previous incarceration served as a stark reminder of the lengths that those in power will go to in order to keep others from speaking out.”

Yet they have not posted a single statement on Manning since 2017.

AI defines a Prisoner of Conscience as “someone who has not used or advocated violence but is imprisoned because of who they are (sexual orientation, ethnic, national or social origin, language, birth, colour, sex or economic status) or what they believe (religious, political or other conscientiously held beliefs).”

Assange and Manning have been thrown in prison because of their “conscientiously held beliefs” that all people have the right to know about war crimes, state corruption, mass surveillance and antidemocratic intrigues by the world’s most powerful states. “I can either go to jail or betray my principles,” Manning has explained. “I would rather starve to death than change my opinion.”

If Assange and Manning are not prisoners of conscience, then who is?

AI told the WSWS they do not maintain an international list of POC designates. But a partial list published on Wikipedia shows the majority come from Russia, Iran, China, the former Soviet republics and Saudi Arabia. Just one POC is listed in the United States, none from Britain and none from France where journalists are presently being threatened with jail for exposing French military involvement in the ongoing war in Yemen that has claimed over 100,000 lives.

On its website, AI states,

“We protect people, defending their right to freedom, to truth, and to dignity. We do this by investigating and exposing abuses where they happen.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) “remains fundamental to Amnesty’s work.” “It provides the bedrock of most of our campaigning, and it helps us to hold authorities to account when rights are abused.”

When it comes to Assange and Manning, AI holds no authority to account, remains silent in the face of outrageous human rights violations and helps to magnify the government-media smear machine. Virtually all of the UDHR’s thirty articles have been breached by the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and Ecuador in their treatment of Assange and Manning.

The most egregious violations of Assange’s rights relate to the following principles: Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him; Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution; Article 15: No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality; Article 17: No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property; Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Written in 1948, the preamble to the UDHR states that “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” Emerging from the blood and filth of fascism and a World War that claimed 60 million lives, the imperialist powers erected an international framework of economic, political and legal mechanisms to guard against a new descent into war, social upheaval and revolution.

If the framers of the UDHR sought insurance against recourse to “rebellion”, this aim was shared by those who established Amnesty International. Its founder, barrister Peter Benenson, wrote in 1960, “The important thing is to mobilise public opinion quickly and widely, before a government is caught up in the vicious spiral caused by its own repression and is faced with impending civil war.” It was also important to choose POCs carefully: “The technique of publicising the personal stories of a number of prisoners of contrasting politics is a new one. It has been adopted to avoid the fate of previous amnesty campaigns, which so often have become more concerned with publicising the political views of the imprisoned than with humanitarian purposes.”

The unstated premise—clear in AI’s silence on Manning and Chelsea—is that the “political views” of these two prisoners should not be publicised and the institutions of western capitalist “democracy” must be defended, especially from any popular and revolutionary threat from below. Eight years ago, Amnesty International hailed WikiLeaks and the Guardian for their role in publishing documents that played a “catalytic role” in sparking the 2011 Arab Spring, especially in Tunisia. Today, the Guardian is the Witchfinder General, gruesomely smearing Assange as a Russian stooge and “rapist”, while AI has thrown Assange and Manning to the wolves.

A political chasm has opened. In Britain, all of the establishment parties—Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National Party—along with the pseudo-left Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party are ranged against Assange, with a host of NGOs and human rights groups in tow. The Swedish allegations merely serve as a convenient pretext for their naked defence of imperialism. Sweden is the “Pontius Pilate option” for those like Dianne Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, who declared to the media on April 13 that “there can be no hiding place from those kind of accusations” and that Assange should be sent to Sweden if an extradition request is received.

Lest anyone doubt the role of Sweden’s re-re-revived “preliminary investigations”, consider the words of Heather Barr, Acting Co-Director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch UK, who issued a statement on April 16 that should be entered onto a rollcall of shame: “When WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange was arrested in London last week so he could face charges in the US, it raised deep concerns around media freedom. Amid these concerns, however, let’s remember that Assange is also accused of rape.”

Barr’s statement effectively overrode HRW’s earlier condemnation of Assange’s arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy, endorsing his lengthy incarceration in Belmarsh Prison (“UK, Deciding Assange's Fate, Should Give Sweden Time to Evaluate Rape Case”) while making false and defamatory statements against Assange. Barr makes repeated reference to rape “charges” against Assange—charges that have never existed!

The political line-up on Assange confirms the central contention of the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site: Assange and Manning’s freedom rests on the independent political mobilisation of the working class. It is to the great mass of working people, youth and all genuine defenders of democratic rights that the fight to free Assange and Manning must be taken.


Appendix: An exchange of letters

The following is an exchange of letters between the Julian Assange Defence Committee’s Maxine Walker and Amnesty International UK.

Julian Assange Defence Committee

14 May 2019

Dear Amnesty International UK

I am writing to you on behalf of the Julian Assange Defence Committee, which was set up to oppose his extradition to the USA and to galvanise opposition to it.

We cannot state strongly enough that Julian Assange is in great peril. Indeed you may have seen the interview with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson following his and Pamela Anderson’s recent visit to Belmarsh in which Mr Hrafnsson states, ‘It is a question of life and death, that’s how serious it is.’

We are aware that you made a statement after his arrest in April in which you said:

"Amnesty International believes that Julian Assange should not be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, where there are concerns that he would face a real risk of serious human rights violations due to his work with Wikileaks.”

You recognised in this statement the potential violations of his human rights should such an extradition take place including the ultimate violation, that of his right to life.

However, we also note that no further statements appear to have been made by you since then. His name appears not to have been mentioned in your material for World Press Freedom Day, an extraordinary omission given his current situation and that Julian Assange was awarded the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award for New Media. Julian Assange has won many such awards in recognition of WikiLeaks’ pivotal role in exposing US and UK war crimes and violations of human rights that have taken place in those wars including torture, murder and inflicting large numbers of civilian casualties.

The UK government has ignored, indeed poured scorn, on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 2015 ruling that “the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange is arbitrary and in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. After Julian Assange’s arrest in April, the Working Group also stated, ‘ The Working Group regrets that the Government has not complied with its Opinion and has now furthered the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange.’ It expresses concern that Mr. Assange has been detained since 11 April 2019 in Belmarsh prison, a high-security prison, as if he were convicted for a serious criminal offence. “This treatment appears to contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by the human rights standards.”

It is urgent that organisations concerned with human rights should become more vocal and active on this case. One statement is not adequate to deal with the threats to Julian Assange and the wider implications for free speech, freedom of information and the protection of journalists. We would ask you: to prioritise this case in your publicity and campaigns; to lobby MPs who should be raising concerns about this case and his prison conditions (and are not doing so); to encourage your supporters to write to him in prison.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes
Maxine Walker

Dear Maxine,

Thank you for your email regarding Julian Assange.

Our latest statement, following the re-opening of the Swedish Prosecution Authority's investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, can be found here;

Julian Assange's case is a case we're monitoring closely but not actively working on. Amnesty International does not consider Julian Assange to be a Prisoner of Conscience. AI does, however, continue to believe that he should not be extradited to the USA, where he faces a real risk of serious human rights violations, including in relation to the likely conditions of his detention, due to his work with Wikileaks.

We hope this explains our position.

Kind regards,

Supporter Communications Team

Amnesty International UK,

The Human Rights Action Centre,

17-25 New Inn Yard,



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Last Stand

Custer's Last Stand Meets Global Warning

by Robert Hunziker  - pressenza

May 22, 2019

A recent article in Arctic News on the outlook for global warming foresees a frightening scenario lurking right around the corner. Hopefully, the article’s premise of impending runaway global warming (“RGW”) is off the mark, by a lot.

More to the point, off by really a lot in order to temper the sting expected when abrupt temperature increases hit hard, as projected in the article, which is entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating.”

Oh, BTW… the worst-case scenario happens within one decade!

Here’s a snippet:

“… such a rise in greenhouse gas levels has historically corresponded with more than 10°C or 18°F of warming, when looking at greenhouse gas levels and temperatures over the past 800,000 years….” (Source: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019)

Obviously, it goes without saying no sane person wants to believe, and likely won’t believe or accept, studies about killer temperatures locked, loaded, and ready to fire, right around the corner. That fact alone serves to christen the title “Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming.”

Furthermore, and for journalistic balance, it is important to mention that mainstream science is not warning of imminent Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”), as outlined in the Arctic News article.

Still, the article does have credibility because it is the product of academic scientists. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, one can only hope that their Ouija boards were out-of-whack, misinterpreting the data.

Alas, the Arctic News article would not be out there if only the U.S. Senate had taken seriously Dr. James Hansen’s early warnings about global warming way back in 1988. The New York Times headline d/d June 24, 1988 read: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

Curiously enough, ten years later, in 1998, the process of assembling the International Space Station (“ISS”) commenced as approved by Congress, which included 100% solar power. But, ignoring the obvious, no solar initiatives were suggested for the country, not even mentioned. In fact, ever since Dr. Hansen’s warning of 40 years ago, Congress is MIA, a big fat nada, not even one peep or word about efforts to contain global warming.

As such, it’s really no surprise (but somewhat shocking) that a Children’s Climate Crusade, originating in Sweden, is brewing and stewing about the global warming crisis, and they’re addressing a very long list of failures by “the establishment.”

Honestly, does it take children to figure this one out?

The Arctic News article is a haunting commentary on the current and future status of global warming, as follows: The article describes a powerful combination of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (NO2), and nitrous oxide (N2O) in combination with oceans and ice taking up ever-less planetary heat, threaten life on Earth within a decade.

According to the article:

“So, how fast and by how much could temperatures rise? As oceans and ice are taking up ever less heat, rapid warming of the lower troposphere could occur very soon. When including the joint impact of all warming elements … abrupt climate change could result in a rise of as much as 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026. This could cause most life on Earth (including humans) to go extinct within years.” Ibid.

That can’t possibly be true, or can it? The good news is nobody knows 100% for sure. But, here’s the rub: Some really smart well-educated scientists think it could happen, in fact they are almost sure it will happen. According to the article, the setup for the worst-case scenario is falling into place much faster, and sooner, than ever thought possible. It’s highly recommended that interested parties read the entire article, Google: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019.

Based upon the article, civilization has been living on borrowed time, meaning, the oceans as well as glacial and ocean-bearing ice have been absorbing up to 95% of the planet’s heat, thus, minimizing atmospheric global warming and saving civilization from a bad heat stroke.

However, those two huge natural buffers are losing their mojo, kinda fast. Increasingly, extreme ocean stratification and heavy loss of ice minimize the effectiveness of those two crucial buffers to rapid global warming. Consequently, forcing the atmosphere to take up more and more, and way too much more, planetary heat, leading to bursts of global temperatures when least expected, the Custer’s Last Stand moment.

One of the primary causes of upcoming acceleration of global warming includes a very recent study about nitrous oxide, N2O, which is 300xs more potent than CO2 and has a lifetime of 120 years, found in huge quantities (67B tons) in Arctic permafrost, to wit:

“The study by Jordan Wilkerson, et al: shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. A 2018 analysis (Guibiao Yang, et al, Magnitude and Pathways of Increased Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Uplands Following Permafrost Thaw, Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society) points at the danger of large nitrous oxide releases from thawing permafrost in Tibet. Even more nitrous oxide could be released from Antarctica,” Ibid:

N2O, the third most important GHG, is an intensely effective molecule that impacts global warming 300xs more than CO2. That is an enormous, big time, impact. In that regard, the rate of current N2O emissions is extremely concerning. According to recent research, nitrous oxide is being released from melting permafrost “12xs higher than previously assumed.” That could be a sure-fire formula for helping to turbocharge global warming, and it lends supporting evidence to the underlying thesis of the Arctic News article.

So long as bad news is the order of the day, in addition to N2O as a powerful GHG (greenhouse gas), it is also an ozone depleting substance, uh-oh, which brings to mind shades of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987, an international treaty designed to save civilization’s big fat ass.

For those who missed class back in the day (1987), the ozone (O3) layer of Earth’s stratosphere (10-30 miles above ground level) absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, without which Homo sapiens would be toast!

Ozone is widely dispersed in the atmosphere, to an extreme; however, if it were all compressed into one thin layer, it would be the thickness of one penny. From a narrow viewpoint, as just explained, one penny of thickness of ozone molecules separates humanity from burning alive, and thus explains the Great Panic of the late 1980s when a Big Hole was discovered in the ozone layer as a result of too much human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) Halons and Freons.

According to James Anderson (Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry), co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on ozone depletion, speaking at the University of Chicago about global warming in 2018:

“People have the misapprehension that we can recover from this state just by reducing carbon emissions, Anderson said in an appearance at the University of Chicago. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles… This has do be done, Anderson added, within the next five years.” (Source: Jeff McMahon, We Have Five Years To Save Ourselves From Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says, Forbes, Jan. 15, 2018).

Based upon that gauntlet as laid down by professor Anderson, only 4 years remains to get something done to “save us.” But, sadly, there is no “WW-II style transformation of industry” under consideration, not even a preliminary fact-finding mission.

But, there is a very active ongoing Children’s Crusade prodding adults to do something… for a change, but as the children are quick to point out, they do not expect much help from the adults in the room based upon years of “doing nothing.”

Still, children skip classes to publicly protest the misbehavior of adults and occasionally, they give speeches, for example: At Katowice, Poland, COP-24 (Conference of the Parties) in December 2018, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year old from Sweden at the time, addressed the UN secretary general António Guterres. Here’s her speech:

“For 25 years countless people have stood in front of the UN climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.
So I will not ask them anything.
Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.
Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.
Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness… So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.
We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Citing Drivers Behind Haiti’s Political Crisis

Haiti at a Crossroads: An Analysis of the Drivers Behind Haiti’s Political Crisis

“Be Strong,” says the sign. “Say down with corruption in public institutions.” 
Current wave of protests started last summer in response to a deteriorating 
economic situation and widespread government mismanagement, including 
revelations government officials embezzled billions from PetroCaribe fund.

(The first of three parts)

I. Introduction

Haiti is in the midst of an escalating political crisis that has repeatedly paralyzed the nation. Tens of thousands have been taking to the streets to protest President Jovenel Moïse’s corruption, economic mismanagement and impunity for human rights abuses.1 While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, some protests have resulted in property damage, and clashes with police have at times turned deadly.2 During the ten days of protest in February that placed the country in lock-down, at least 34 people died and over 100 people were injured.3 People were unable to leave their homes to access food, water and other basic necessities, placing an already-vulnerable population on the brink of a humanitarian emergency.4

The current wave of protests started in the summer of 2018 in response to a deteriorating economic situation and widespread government mismanagement, including revelations that senior government officials across administrations embezzled billions of dollars from a subsidized oil fund known as PetroCaribe.5

The movement is unprecedented in recent decades in its persistence and broad support base that spans a diverse range of social sectors. Protesters are demanding President Moïse’s resignation — a call that is backed by a coalition of political parties, many civil society organizations, and Senators and Deputies including from the President’s own political party.6

The President has in turn forced the removal of Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant, which resulted in a Parliamentary no-confidence vote that ended Céant’s tenure on Mar. 18, 2019.7 President Moïse is now forming a new government for the third time during his two years in office.8

The reshuffling of the cabinet is unlikely to resolve the current crisis. Protesters are demanding systemic reforms to increase government accountability and responsiveness, to reign in widespread impunity for corruption and human rights violations, and to give Haiti’s impoverished and marginalized a meaningful voice in governance.9

To fully understand the political crisis, it is necessary to understand how political failures over the last several years have set the stage for the current protests, and how those failures are enabled by longer-term structural injustices.

President Jovenel Moïse assumed office without a true popular mandate, 
having been elected in a low-turnout process that left him beholden to 
foreign and elite interests.

This report seeks to put the current crisis in Haiti into context by explaining the short-, medium- and long-term factors driving the unrest, including detailing some of the gravest human rights violations in Haiti during President Moïse’s tenure. In the short term, the PetroCaribe scandal galvanized civil society and was the spark that brought Haitians into the streets. In the medium term, the movement is a response to the Moïse administration’s broader abuses of authority and de-prioritization of the rights and needs of the impoverished majority. President Moïse assumed office without a true popular mandate, having been elected in a low-turnout process that left him beholden to foreign and elite interests and a patronage network over the impoverished majority.10

In office, his administration has engaged in human rights abuses, flouted the rule of law, and mismanaged the economy in ways that disproportionately impact the poor.11 In the long term, this administration’s failures are enabled by years of flawed elections, a dysfunctional justice system and domestic and foreign economic policies that have impoverished the majority of Haitians.

The drivers behind the movement reflect repeated failures by Haitian leaders to serve their people, but they are also the result of decisions made by actors outside of Haiti. While the international community has invested billions in building up rule of law institutions in Haiti,12 powerful governments and international institutions have also exerted influence on Haiti to forge ahead with problematic, exclusionary elections and to accept a system of justice that allows foreign and elite actors to operate above the law.13

The faults of the decades-long prioritization of short-term stability over rule of law are now cracking. If the international community is to support a sustainable way forward for Haiti, it must finally take its lead from Haitians and support systemic reform that will be long and difficult. Systemic reform is the only way for Haiti to emerge out of this crisis into a place of true stability.

II. Immediate Triggers

While the economic and political situation in Haiti has been deteriorating for several years, the mass demonstrations that have come to characterize the crisis were triggered by several immediate factors. The first round of protests erupted in July 2018 in response to a Government announcement to end fuel subsidies that would have sharply increased the cost of transport, cooking and other basic needs.14 The following month, protesters returned to the streets to demand accountability for corruption, propelled by a social media post by a Haitian filmmaker asking “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???,” or “where is the PetroCaribe money???.”15

The demand for accountability for the missing funds went viral on social media and sparked the mass mobilization in the streets that have continued regularly since. In February 2019, while the country was in virtual lockdown during PetroCaribe demonstrations, the arrest and subsequent unlawful release of a group of heavily-armed foreign mercenaries further underscored the ability of the rich and powerful to operate above the law and became another rallying point for demonstrations.16

A. Fuel Price Hike

In July 2018, simmering tensions exploded into massive protests after President Moïse announced a fuel-price hike that would have devastated Haiti’s poor majority17 who are already struggling to survive on $2 per day.18 The price increases — between 38% and 51% — were required earlier that year by the International Monetary Fund as a condition of its bailout of the Haitian Government.19

President Moïse responded to the protests by suspending the price hike and replacing then Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant to placate protesters.20 But he did not take further measures to address the rising costs of living and predatory corruption that made the price hikes so devastating in the first place. The failure to address these deeper drivers made the situation ripe for further uprisings. IJDH Director Brian Concannon warned at the time that “if Haiti’s government does not confront poverty and corruption, more unrest will follow.”21

B. PetroCaribe Corruption Scandal

Protests erupted again the following month, and have now coalesced around demands for accountability for the disappearance of an estimated $3.8 billion from the PetroCaribe fund, which holds revenue from a low-interest fuel loan program from Venezuela intended to finance socioeconomic development in Haiti.22 Official investigations have implicated much of Haiti’s political class, including numerous high-level officials throughout recent administrations, in the corruption scandal.23

In November 2017, the Haitian Senate’s Special Commission of Investigation released a 650-page report that identified 15 former ministers and top officials suspected of corruption and misappropriation of the public funds, resulting in the loss of $1.7 billion.24

From May 2011 to January 2016, President Moïse’s predecessor and patron President Michel Martelly allegedly spent about $1.256 billion of the $1.7 billion (74% of all the money the Haitian government took over a decade from the PetroCaribe Fund) to finance projects that were either not finished or never started.25 President Moïse is also personally implicated, accused of overbilling the government on a $100,000 contract to install solar lamps back in 2013.26

The implication of so many high-level officials in and close to this government has thwarted accountability at every level of government, even within supposedly autonomous agencies.27 At the legislative level, the Senate obstructed investigations by blocking a vote on the Commission report for four months.28 Senators with the majority party then passed a resolution condemning the report as politically-motivated in a clandestine session convened after opposition senators had left the building.29

In a move described as “exposing the cowardice of the Senate”, the resolution referred the dossier to the Cour Superieur des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif (CSCCA), a governmental body that had already signed off on the contracts in questions at the time they were awarded.30

The CSCCA did issue an audit report in January 2019 that appears to be a serious attempt to advance the investigation.31 The report demonstrated that many state entities are delaying or denying the cooperation that the CSCCA needs to complete its work. Because of this, the CSCCA only addressed projects where it had enough information.

In April 2019, the CSCCA announced that a follow-up report was further delayed due to inadequate resources to complete the investigation.32 At the executive level, President Moïse unlawfully fired the director of UCREF, the financial crimes unit that produced an investigative report during the 2016 elections implicating President Moïse in money laundering, and replaced him with an unlawful “interim” director more favorable to Moïse.33

The new Parliament dominated by President Moïse’s allies then passed a law that granted the executive de facto control over the entity, greatly undermining its independence.34 Finally, at the judicial level, criminal prosecutions have been slow to advance.

As of October 2018, private citizens had filed over 60 complaints in court, which are now before an investigative judge assigned to the matter.35 According to a March 26, 2019 statement from civil society group Fondasyon Je Klere, the judge ordered the freezing of bank accounts associated with some of the individuals and companies implicated in the scandal, including Haiti’s former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and several former ministers.36 But no officials have been held criminally accountable for wrongdoing related to PetroCaribe to date.37

President Moïse unlawfully fired Sonel Jean François (above), the 
Director of UCREF, the financial crimes unit that produced an investigative 
report during the 2016 elections implicating President Moïse in money laundering.

Civil society is pushing for accountability from the streets in Haiti to social media around the world.38 Massive protests were held in August, November and December 2018, and February 2019, and are expected to continue. President Moïse has mostly responded to the protests with silence, declining to address the concerns of the opposition. During the ten-day lockdown in February, he waited until day four to issue a five-minute statement that was widely criticized for lacking in substance.39

C. Arrest and Release of Foreign Mercenaries

At the height of the February protests, the arrest and subsequent unlawful release to the United States of seven heavily armed foreign mercenaries further roiled the nation.40 Haitian police intercepted the men in an unlicensed vehicle with a cache of automatic rifles and pistols outside the Central Bank.41 The men allegedly told the police they were “on a government mission.”42

They were arrested on weapons trafficking charges and held in Haitian jail. On the order of the Minister of Justice, a close ally of President Moïse, they were later transferred into U.S. custody and taken to Miami, where U.S. authorities released them without charge.43 One of the men involved, ex-Navy SEAL Chris Osman, publicly lauded the release operation in a social media post, stating “I have seen the weight of the U.S. Government at work and it’s a glorious thing”.44

While many of the details remain murky, subsequent journalistic investigations suggest that the men were in Haiti to provide security for a Haitian businessman with close ties to the President, who was moving $80 million from the PetroCaribe fund into an account that the President controls in order to further consolidate power.45 Osman has publicly contested this account, countering that the group’s understanding of the mission was to provide security protection during the signing of a multimillion dollar infrastructure contract.46 While the true motives may not be known, the incident — eerily evocative of the U.S. marine occupation of Haiti in 1914 that started with a seizure of Haiti’s gold reserves at the Central Bank47 – sowed further anxiety at a time of intense insecurity in Haiti.

The U.S. government’s interference with the Haitian justice system sparked particular outrage,48 and contravened the U.S.’s own policy of not intervening when U.S. citizens are before the Haitian criminal justice system.49 As the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux wrote in a letter to the U.S. Ambassador denouncing the interference, the action undermined stability, sovereignty and the rule of law.50 It was a vivid reminder of the ways in which power interests operate above the law in Haiti, thus adding fuel to an already roiling fire.

(To be continued)


  1. Evens Sanon & Danica Coto, Haitians Seek Basic Necessities in Aftermath of Government Protests, PBS, Feb.18, 2019,
  2. Anthony Esposito, Haiti Police Fire Rubber Pellets at Mourners as Protests Resume, REUTERS, Feb. 22, 2019,; Tom Barnes, Police Clash with Demonstrators Demanding Haiti President’s Resignation Amid Deadly Protests, THE INDEPENDENT, Feb. 11, 2019,
  3. U.N. Secretary-General, United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, U.N. Doc. S/2019/198, (Mar. 1, 2019), [hereinafter U.N. Secretary-General 2019 report].
  4. PBS NewsHour: Violent Protests in Haiti may Mean a Humanitarian Crisis, PBS (Feb.16, 2019),
  5. Jacqueline Charles, Haiti Owes Venezuela $2 Billion – and much of it was Embezzled, Senate Report Says, MIAMI HERALD, Nov. 15, 2017,
  6. Hillary Leung, Haiti: President Says He Won’t Resign, Protests Grip Capital, TIME, Feb.15, 2019,
  7. Jacqueline Charles, Haiti’s Latest Government Falls after Six Months as Lawmakers Fire Prime Minister, MIAMI HERALD, Mar. 18, 2019,
  8. Jovenel Moise nomme Jean Michel Lapin comme Premier minister, LE NOUVELLISTE, Apr. 9, 2019,
  9. Aaron Richterman, You Can’t Understand Haiti’s Protests Without Understanding History, WBUR, Mar. 11, 2019,; Brian Concannon, Jr., If Haiti’s Government Does Not Confront Poverty, Corruption, More Unrest Will Follow, MIAMI HERALD, July 17, 2018,
  12. USAID has spent over $470 million on rule of law and governance in Haiti since 2010. Jake Johnston, Where Does the Money Go? Eight Years of USAID Funding in Haiti, CTR. FOR ECON. & POLICY RESEARCH (Jan. 11, 2018), [hereinafter Where Does the Money Go?]. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose mandate included strengthening the institutions and rule-of-law structures of the Government of Haiti, spent over $7 billion in Haiti from 2004-2017. Jake Johnston, UNSC Votes to Gradually End Haiti Mission — And Start A New One, CTR. FOR ECON. & POLICY RESEARCH (Apr. 13, 2017), )[hereinafter UNSC Votes] (noting Security Council voted to replace MINUSTAH with a smaller mission after 13 years a $7 billion spent); See S.C. Res. 1542 (Apr. 30, 2004), (setting out MINUSTAH’s mandate).
  13. Inst. For Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Haiti’s November 28 Elections: Trying to Legitimize the Illegitimate 7-9 (2010), ; Haiti Election Primer, Part 5: The International Community, HAITI ELECTIONS, Nov. 20, 2016,; see also Nat’l Lawyers Guild & Int’l Ass’n of Democratic Lawyers, Haiti’s Unrepresentative Democracy: Exclusion and Discouragement in the November 20, 2016 Elections 2 (2017),; Irwin Stotzky & Brian Concannon, Jr., Democracy and Sustainability in Reconstructing Haiti: A Possibility or a Mirage?, 44:1 UNIV. MIAMI INTER-AM. L. REV. 1 (2012), available at
  14. Haiti Fuel Protesters’ Anger turns on President Moïse, BBC NEWS, July 9, 2018,
  15. Jacqueline Charles, ‘Where did the Money Go?’ Haitians Denounce Corruption in Social Media Campaign, MIAMI HERALD, Aug. 23, 2018, [hereinafter Haitians Denounce Corruption].
  16. Matthew Cole & Kim Ives, U.S. Mercenaries Arrested in Haiti Were Part of a Half-Baked Scheme to Move 80 Million for Embattled President, THE INTERCEPT, Mar. 20, 2019,
  17. Jacqueline Charles, Haiti Fuel Price Jump Was ‘Guaranteed to Lead to Backlash,’ U.N. Poverty Expert Says, MIAMI HERALD, July 16, 2018, [hereinafter Haiti Fuel Price].
  18. Overview, World Bank, (last visited Apr 12, 2019),
  19. Charles, Haiti Fuel Price, supra note 17.
  20. The Government suspend its decision!, HAITI LIBRE, July 7, 2018,; Haiti’s Prime Minister Quits Amid Protests Over Fuel Plan, ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 14, 2018,
  21. Concannon Jr., supra note 9.
  22. Charles, Haitians Denounce Corruption, supra note 15.
  23. Lucy Papachristou, Haiti: Top Officials Fired After Anti-Corruption Protests, ORGANIZED CRIME & CORRUPTION REPORTING PROJECT (Oct. 28, 2018),
  24. SÉNAT DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE D’HAÏTI, RAPPORT DE LA COMMISSION SENATORIALE SPECIAL D’ENQUETE SUR LE FONDS PETRO CARIBE (2017), available at; see also Jake Johnston, Haitian Government on the Defensive Following UN Welcoming of Corruption Investigation, CTR. FOR ECON. & POLICY RESEARCH, Mar. 7, 2018, [hereinafter Haitian Government on the Defensive].
  25. Kim Ives, The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency, COUNTERPUNCH (Sept. 18, 2018),
  26. Johnston, Haitian Government on the Defensive, supra note 24, at para. 2.
  27. Fonds Petrocaribe: des Haïtiens Demandent des Comptes à la Classe Politique, RFI, Aug. 20, 2018, [hereinafter Fonds Petrocaribe].
  28. Jake Johnston, Haitian Government on the Defensive, supra note 24.
  29. Collectif 4 Décembre et al, Scandale Petro Caribe : Des Organisations de la Société Civile Exigent Toute la Lumière sur la Dilapidation des Fonds, (Feb. 8, 2018),; Johnston, Haitian Government on the Defensive, supra note 24.
  30. Johnston, Haitian Government on the Defensive, supra note 24; Collectif 4 Décembre et al,, supra note 29, at 2.
  31. Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif, Audit Spécifique de Gestion du Fonds PetroCaribe,, Jan. 31, 2019,
  32. Haïti – PetroCaribe : La CSC/CA ne pourra pas remettre son rapport d’audit à la date prevue, HAITI LIBRE, Apr. 24, 2019,
  1. Moïse lacked authority to replace the director as a new law that would grant the executive de facto control over the entity had yet to be approved. See Kim Ives, Illegally Ousted Anti-Corruption Chief: “The President Had to Find Someone Who Was More Obedient.,” HAITI LIBERTE, July 19, 2017,
  2. Jake Johnston, Did Trump Take a Page Out of Haiti’s Presidential Playbook?, HAITI LIBERTE, July 4, 2017, [hereinafter Haiti’s Presidential Playbook].
  3. The #Petrocaribe Challenge Mobilization Continues, Despite Apparent Government Attempts to Intimidate Protestors, ALTERPRESSE, Oct. 16, 2018,; Robenson Geffrard, PetroCaribe: 33 Plaintes Déposées, le Juge d’Instruction Attend les Réquisitions du Parquet, LE NOUVELLISTE, Mar. 19, 2018,
  4. Proces PetroCaribe Mesures Conservatoires : le Juge d’Instruction Montre ses Muscles, Radio Television Caraibes, Mar. 26, 2019, available at
  5. Johnston, Haiti’s Presidential Playbook, supra note 34, at para. 1.
  6. Fonds Petrocaribe, supra note 27.
  7. Sandra Lemaire, Haitian President to People: ‘I Hear You’, VOICE OF AMERICA, Feb. 14, 2019,
  8. Jake Johnston, Our Boss Will Call Your Boss, CTR. ECON. & POLICY RESEARCH, Mar. 2019, [hereinafter Our Boss].
  9. Id.
  10. Jacqueline Charles, Haitian police arrest five Americans who claimed they were on a ‘government mission, MIAMI HERALD, Feb. 18, 2019,
  11. Johnston, Our Boss, supra note 40.
  12. Id.
  13. Cole, supra note 16.
  14. Jacqueline Charles, ‘We’re not Mercenaries. We’re not Murderers,’ says Ex-Navy SEAL Arrested in Haiti, MIAMI HERALD , Mar. 21, 2019,
  15. U.S. Dep’t of State, Office of the Historian, U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915–34 (last visited Apr. 17, 2019),
  16. Jacqueline Charles & Jay Weaver, Americans Arrested in Haiti with Arsenal of Guns Won’t Face U.S. Charges, MIAMI HERALD, Feb. 21, 2019,
  17. See ARREST OF A U.S. CITIZEN, U.S. EMBASSY IN HAITI (2019), Another recent incident also raises questions about the U.S. government’s interference in the Haitian justice system. In January 2019, the U.S. Embassy intervened to secure the release of an American military officer arrested and charged in Haiti for gang-rape. He was returned to the U.S., where he was apparently released without charge. See Lawyers condemn illegal U.S. removal of Americans arrested for weapons charges and rape in Haiti, THE CANADA-HAITI INFO. PROJECT, Mar. 16, 2019,
50. Letter from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux to Amb. Michele Sison, “Open Letter to the US Ambassador to Haiti to Denounce the US Embassy’s Interference in the Internal Affairs of the Haitian Justice System,” (Feb. 28, 2019), available at

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Media and Julian Assange: Time to Correct the Distortion

The Media Are Intentionally Distorting Assange Case - It's Time to Correct the Record

by Charlotte Gracias - 21st Century Wire

May 21, 2019

In 2019, media propaganda and distortion of the truth is commonplace. It is equally, if not more evident, in the treatment of Julian Assange by many mainstream media journalists.

As a journalist himself, Julian Assange fought relentlessly to expose the truth, putting his own life at risk and this made him a target of harassment by the state sponsored media in the UK, US and Australia.

Can we trust the mainstream media? Can we trust what they have written and are writing about Assange, Manning and Wikileaks?

Noam Chomsky from The Common Good:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but to allow very lively debate within a narrow section of that spectrum.”
Julian Assange. In his own words in, The Media, Propaganda and You: 


In 2010, two women walked into a police station in Stockholm to ask for advice on how to compel Julian Assange to have an STD test. They had both had unprotected sex with him and Swedish police, recording their encounter, opened ex officio two cases of sexual misconduct against him. Since then, the media have sought to demonise Assange, undermine his reputation as a journalist and portray him as a sex offender even though no criminal charges were ever made during the past 9 years.

After questioning him inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in November 2016, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation in May 2017 and revoked the arrest warrant.

Since his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 11 April 2019, several smear pieces were published about alleged behaviour in the Ecuadorian Embassy that were untrue and slanderous.

In Julian Assange’s own words, to fight disinformation and counteract propaganda, “the simple greatest contributor to our expanding horizons is you.”

The public deserve to be presented with factual, honest reporting on Assange, and to know why the US Department of Justice wants to prosecute him for ‘conspiracy to commit computer intrusion’ – a charge the previous Obama administration deemed to be insufficient to prosecute criminally. The DOJ charges also accuse Assange of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to download and publish records containing classified defence information. Manning has bravely refused to incriminate Assange and faces further jail time for her defiance of the secret grand jury witch-hunt of Assange.

Julian Assange’s well-being and potentially his life are at risk if he is extradited either from the UK or Sweden to the US. Firstly, we must make the facts of the Swedish rape allegations clear to try and prevent the extradition to Sweden. Kristin Hrafnsson, editor of Wikileaks, provides some context on the Swedish rape allegation in this interview:

Holding the Mainstream Media to Account

How do we counter the disinformation about Julian Assange and Wikileaks? It’s up to us the citizen journalists and independent media to take up the challenge and expose the mainstream media lies.

In order to help correct the record, Wikileaks tweeted a posting from, which presents a note to all editors on the exact details of the Swedish allegations. It’s vital that the public are made aware and that the media report those facts.

Mainstream media outlets also have a professional responsibility to publish objective and accurate information. But reporting on Assange has been inaccurate, biased and largely unchallenged. Many of the media in the UK have signed up to a voluntary code of conduct. The Independent Press Standards Organisation sets out the rules that members including newspapers and magazines agree to follow. Those rules are regulated by the IPSO for their members, although membership is voluntary.

We need to dissect every article that aims to portray Julian Assange as a villain and highlight every inaccuracy on the reporting of what he did as a journalist, the role of Wikileaks, the ‘rape’ allegations in Sweden, his asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy, the bail skipping charges, and the real reasons for extradition orders. Each misleading article must be challenged either directly with the individual media organisation or by lodging a complaint with the IPSO with details of the inaccuracy within the article as well as providing the actual facts.

Every complaint should be monitored, the responses, apologies and corrections published and shared with others online. As more published articles are challenged, those journalists and their editors will be forced to respond which will be costly and time consuming.

The role of independent journalists or alternative media is also crucial to identifying and disseminating the truth. It’s mainly through these sources that we are able to establish facts about Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning. We must support independent journalists and protect them from unfair censorship and attacks by mainstream media, politicians and groups of individuals who focus on spreading disinformation on social media platforms and are often aligned with state sponsored propaganda.

By working together, we can unpick the lies and smears about Julian Assange, inform public opinion and try to prevent his unjust extradition.

Reliable sources of information on Julian Assange are his lawyers, websites: and If you wish to participate in setting the record straight, join the Julian Assange Defence Committee, a grassroots solidarity campaign for the WikiLeaks publisher by sending an e-mail to

READ MORE WIKILEAKS NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire WikiLeaks Files


Amnesty's Flickering Candle: Defending Empire in Venezuela (and other places)

Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire

by Roger Harris - CounterPunch

May 21, 2019

Uncle Sam has a problem in his South American “backyard” with those uppity Venezuelans who insisted on democratically electing Nicolás Maduro as their president instead of by-passing the electoral process and installing the unelected US asset Juan Guaidó.

No matter, Amnesty International has come to the rescue with a full-throated defense of US imperialism:

“Faced with grave human rights violations, shortages of medicines and food and generalized violence in Venezuela, there is an urgent hunger for justice. The crimes against humanity probably committed by the authorities must not go unpunished.” (Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International)

Amnesty International fails in its broadside to put its claims against the Maduro government in the context of a concerted regime-change campaign, which amounts to war, by the bully from the north. The US is waging an illegal war against Venezuela and Amnesty International’s broadside leaves out this inconvenient fact, egregiously even omitting any mention of sanctions.

As human rights activist Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice noted about Amnesty International (AI): “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” A more credible and honest account of what is unfolding in Venezuela, than the hatchet job presented in AI’s May 14th Venezuela: Crimes against humanity require a vigorous response from the international justice system, would have also noted along with the alleged transgressions of the Maduro government:

Grave human rights violations. Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University recently reported that US sanctions on Venezuela are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. This is the price being exacted on Venezuela, with a prediction for worse to come, for the regime change that AI is implicitly promoting.

Shortages of medicines and food. Since 2015, when US President Obama first instituted them, the US has been imposing ever more crippling illegal sanctions on Venezuela expressly to create misery for the population in the hope that it would then turn against their own democratically elected government.

The sanctions are specifically designed to suffocate the economy so that Venezuela cannot address its problems. The US government boasts about the impacts of sanctions. Playing the good cop to the US role as bad cop, AI laments the very conditions they are tacitly promoting in asking for ever increasing “punishments.” New US sanctions on Venezuela were imposed on May 10th.

Generalized violence. The US government has repeatedly and unapologetically threatened military intervention in Venezuela if the elected government doesn’t abdicate. Short of attacking militarily, the US has waged war against Venezuela by economic and diplomatic means, not to mention low-intensity warfare such as cyber attacks.

The extreme rightwing opposition has called for the extra-legal overthrow of the government and has eschewed electoral means for effecting political change. AI is correct in noting that since 2017 new violence has been inflicted on the Venezuelan people but fails to note the role of the opposition in provoking that violence with their guarimbas and other actions.

Meanwhile Guaidó, whose popular support in Venezuela is bottoming out, is reported sending his envoy to meet with the US Southern Command to “coordinate.”

How is it possible that an organization purporting to stand for human rights and global justice can so blithely ignore facts that do not fit into their narrative and so obsequiously parrot the Trump-Pompeo-Bolton-Abrams talking points? Why would AI go so far as to meet with the self-appointed Guaidó and then within days issue a report condemning the Maduro government, without also investigating the other side in the conflict?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time AI has shown an imperial bias as it has regarding US-backed regime-change projects in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Nicaragua.

Objectively deconstructing the many allegations (e.g., “more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions by the security forces”) made against Venezuela in the AI broadside and its accompanying report remains to be done. Unfortunately, the Empire has a surfeit of resources to churn out propaganda compared to the ability to counter it by genuine humanitarian groups.

AI alone has an annual budget of over $300 million. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, AI receives grants from the US State Department, the European Commission, and other governments along with the Rockefeller Foundation.

To conclude, AI’s broadside calls for justice about as often as it calls for punishment with the subtext that punishment of the Empire’s victims is justice. Were AI truly concerned about justice, rather than justifying another US regime-change operation, they would champion the following:

+ Ending the unilateral sanctions by the US on Venezuela, which are illegal under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

+ Supporting dialogue between the elected government and the opposition as has been promoted by Mexico, Uruguay, Pope Francis, and most recently by Norway.

+ Condemning regime-change activities and interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and actively rejecting the US government’s aggressive stance as articulated by US VP Pence: “This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action.”

+ Respecting the sovereignty of Venezuela and restoring normal diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela.
Roger Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 32-year-old anti-imperialist human rights organization.
More articles by:Roger Harris

Palestine's Response: Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

by Ramzy Baroud - Palestine Chronicle

May 21, 2019

Rim Banna, a famous Palestinian singer who translated Palestine’s most moving poetry to song passed away on March 24, 2018, at the age of 51.

Rim captured the struggle for Palestinian freedom in the most dignified and melodious ways. If we could imagine angels singing, they would sound like Rim.

When Rim died, all Palestinians mourned her death. Although a few international outlets carried the news of her passing at a relatively young age, her succumbing to cancer did not receive much coverage or discussion.

Sadly, a Palestinian icon of cultural resistance who had inspired a whole generation, starting with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, hardly registered as an event worthy of remembrance and reflection, even among those who purport to champion the Palestinian cause.

Compare Rim to Madonna, an ‘artiste’ who has stood for self-aggrandizing personal fame and money-making. She has championed the most debased moral values, utilizing cheap entertainment while catering to the lowest common denominator to remain relevant in the music world for as long as possible.

While Rim had a cause, Madonna has none. And while Rim symbolized cultural resistance, Madonna symbolizes globalized cultural hegemony - in this case, the imposition of consumerist western cultures on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony defines the US and other Western cultures’ relationship to the rest of the world. It is not culture as in the collective intellectual and artistic achievements of these societies, but as a set of ideological and cultural tools used by ruling classes to maintain domination over the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed.

Madonna, along with Michael Jordan, the Beatles and Coca Cola represent far more than mere performers and fizzy drinks, but also serve as tools used to secure cultural, thus economic and political dominance, as well. The fact that in some cities around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere, Coca Cola “flows more freely than water” speaks volumes about the economic toll and political dimension of cultural hegemony.

This issue becomes critical when a pro-Israel Madonna decides to perform in Israel, as she has done repeatedly in the past, as part of the Eurovision contest. Knowing who she is and what she stands for, her decision should not come as a surprise; after all, in her September 2009 Tel Aviv concert, she sang while wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Of course, it is essential that artistes of her caliber and the contestants representing 41 different countries, are reminded of their moral responsibilities towards occupied and oppressed Palestinians. It is also important that Israel is confronted regarding its unrelenting efforts to mask its apartheid and war crimes in Palestine.

Indeed, the whitewashing of Israeli human rights violations using art - also known as “art washing” - should not be allowed to continue when Gaza is under siege, where Palestinian children are shot and killed daily without remorse and without the least legal accountability.

This is why such artistic events are important for the Israeli government and society. Israel has used Eurovision as a distraction from the blood and gore that has been taking place not far from that venue. Those who labored to ensure the success of the event, knowing fully how Israel is using the brand as an opportunity to normalize its war against Palestinians, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

But, on the other hand, should we be the least surprised? Aren’t such global music events, as Eurovision, at the heart of the western-centric globalization scheme of cultural hegemony, which sole purpose is to enforce a capitalist view of the world, where western culture is consumed as a commodity, no different from a McDonald’s sandwich or a pair of Levi jeans?

Calling on 60-year-old Madonna to refrain from entertaining apartheid Israel can be considered beneficial as a media strategy, for it helped highlight, although momentarily, an issue that would have been otherwise absent from news headlines.

However, by placing so much focus on Madonna, and whatever human rights’ values she supposedly stands for, we also take the risk of inadvertently validating her and the consumerist values she represents. More, in this Madonna-driven trajectory, we are also neglecting Palestine’s cultural resistance, the core drive behind Palestinian ‘somoud’ - steadfastness - over the course of a century.

In response to her critics, Madonna answered, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” In the eyes of many who are ignorant of the facts, such an answer may appear as if an ‘empowered’ response to those who are trying to sway a genuine, pure artiste from following her calling.

In fact, Madonna is an expert in appearing as if morally-guided, yet never translating such morality to anything meaningful in reality. In a speech described as “powerful” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Madonna declared during a Women's March in Washington D.C. in 2017 “to the rebellion, to our refusal as women to accept this new age of tyranny. Where not just women are in danger, but all marginalized people.”

Of course, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women - who have paid a heavy price for Israeli Occupation, war and marginalization - are not to be included in Madonna’s false revolution. And the chances are, shortly after she sings and dances in a jubilant, apartheid Israel, she will once more take on many platforms as if the Rosa Parks of revolutionary art.

While it is important that we keep the pressure on those who engage and validate Israel politically, economically and culturally, these efforts should come secondary to embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance. Behaving as if Madonna’s stage shenanigans represent true culture, while ignoring Palestinian culture altogether, is similar to academics addressing decolonization from the point of view of the colonizer, not the colonized. The truth is, nations cannot truly rid themselves from the colonial mindset without having their narratives take the center-stage of politics, culture and every other aspects of knowledge.

“The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even more, without feeling and being impassioned,” wrote Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. This entails the intellectual and the artist to feel “the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and, therefore, explaining and justifying them.”

The truth is that appealing to Madonna’s moral sense without immersing ourselves passionately in the art of Rim Banna will, in the long run, do Palestinians no good. Only embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance will, ultimately, keep the self-serving, hegemonic and cheap cultural messages of the Madonnas of this world at bay.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter, and is a former Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

Brexit, the Uncivil War: Watering Myths with Teardrops

Brexit, the Uncivil War: Watering Myths with the Teardrops of the Ruling Class

by Maximilian C. Forte - ZeroAnthropology

21 May, 2019

What have been billed as momentous EU Parliament elections are taking place this week (May 23–26), and it seemed like the right time to review some Brexit films—one is entertainment, the other is a documentary.

The reason for the Brexit theme has to do more with 2019 than with 2016, especially since the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, is supposed to make a massive showing in the EU election.

As expected, long lists of injunctions against the left retaking ground ceded to the right are coming out in The Guardian, chief purveyor of wishes for doing everything wrong again and never learning from mistakes.

Also as expected, Russia is being blamed in advance—because the right thing to do with a really bad conspiracy theory is to keep it alive.

The first movie being reviewed for our Brexit mini-series is Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019), produced by House Productions and shown on HBO and the UK’s Channel 4. It was directed by Toby Haynes, written by James Graham, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch. The plot synopsis is available here, and the official trailer is below.

The movie opens with these words on the screen: “This drama is based on real events and interviews with key people who were there. Some aspects of dialogue, character and scenes have been devised for the purpose of dramatisation”.

The second sentence effectively negates the first. In fact, not only were “some aspects” merely “devised,” they were completely invented, including not just dialogue but also some of the “real events” with “key people” shown in the film. This movie is a mixture of comedy and docudrama, a tepid attempt at reproducing and combining The Big Short and In the Loop, both of which are immeasurably superior films (and probably less insulting to the intelligence of viewers).

The movie opens with Dominic Cummings (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the manager of the Leave campaign. Cummings is immediately shown as eccentric—or perhaps a little of an idiot savant. He opens the film with the line, “Britain makes a noise” (only I heard, “Pudding makes a noise”—perhaps the script should have chosen what I heard, to really emphasize how weird the main character is meant to be, for us).

In one of his fragmented opening monologues, the Cummings character makes some indisputably wise points:

“as a global society we are entering a series of profound economic, cultural, social and political transitions, the like of which the world has never seen…. Massive increase in resource requirements…. A rising tide of religious extremism…. A synthesis of…inter-generational inequality in the West on an historic level”. 

At other times, as discussed below, he is a mere puppet for the filmmakers’ polemic against Brexit.

Insight into Elite Myth-Making

The movie can serve as a useful insight into the minds of elite, establishment Remainers, and their ability to dedicate time, energy, and resources into orchestrating a collective international wailing. As has been said repeatedly on this site: those in power would love for us to feel their pain as if it were our own, to make a loss for the transnational capitalist class appear to be our loss, so that we may then rise up and strike out to defend their interests (while annihilating our own).

The movie references the fall of the Berlin wall—with Brexit being the biggest political upset since then. That is a “problem”: the thing about Berlin walls is that they are only supposed to fall in other countries, never in our own. “We” have suffered a basic transgression, a violation of our entitlement to eternal continuity, in spite of the contradictions and conflicts we create and multiply. In other words, it shows you just how deranged our ruling classes have become.

The Ugly Face of Conspiracy

The opening’s main point is to prepare us for the revelation of yet another alleged grand conspiracy, almost like the mythical Russiagate conspiracy theory. We hear forgettable technocrats droning on about UK law and asking Cummings if his actions were within electoral law, or were a threat to democracy. Then the Cummings character, facing the camera, states:

“Everyone knows who won. But not everyone knows how”—and that is the point of this movie. And what a miserable little point it is.

In the end, what the filmmakers achieve is another reminder to us that the only real conspiracy we face is the conspiracy of enforced unanimity by state and corporate media—unanimous in their contempt for voters, and for the will of the voters. Abolish the “will” of the voter, by making it appear to be merely the by-product of a sinisterly-devised algorithm and data mining operation, and you thus abolish the voter. No agency, thus no agent. The only real people are the members of the ruling elite.

Appropriate for a conspiracy movie, Douglas Carswell (laughable troglodyte), holds a secret meeting with Matthew Elliott (nervous nerd), in a portrait gallery. I foolishly hoped this would be the end of the silly caricatures, forgetting this is a commercial entertainment product and not a documentary.

Had I prayed for more caricatures, I would have been immediately satisfied—meet Arron Banks (snarling pig). Only the Boris Johnson character is a softer version of the real thing, the actual Boris Johnson being abundantly self-caricaturing already.

The usual inflation of grotesque features that one finds in British films, is a simplistic equivalent of bold print, only it is applied to faces. The face is meant to convey meaning—and the meaning here is: villainous conspiracy.

Thus we are shown the faces “behind the [imagined] scenes,” with the hatching of a conspiracy in the UK Independence Party (UKIP, the notorious villain in all establishment narratives second only to “Russia”). “Gunpowder, treason, and plot,” mutters the Cummings character, thus evoking the 1605 Gunpowder plot.

What follows is a lesson from the arch conspirator, Cummings: “How to Change the Course of History. Lesson One: Kill conventional wisdom”. The aim here is to learn from the “true disruptors of Europe”: Napoleon, Otto von Bismarck, and Alexander the Great.

The film hurries through the reasons for voter discontent—there were many, and they were diverse—so that we instead come away with the impression that mere “talking points” are being generated by conspirators: the EU seems abstract; immigration is a problem—but what kind of problem? Is it about race? Integration? The levels of immigration?; “people are feeling angrier, left out, ignored”; “don’t think our kids will have a better future than us”; “we spend more time than ever online, but we feel more alone”; “we’re not getting married as much”; “less of us have faith”; “we’re not saving as much”; “we trust less the institutions and people our parents trusted”.

Had the movie drawn this out longer, it would have been a service to the Remainers who seem particularly thick when it comes to trying to understand the opposition and the groundswell of support for Brexit. No luck.

Instead, we are shown the conspiracy, boiling it all down to core talking points: “Loss of national identity. Clear. Sovereignty. Digestible. Loss of community. Simple. Independence. Message repeated over, and over, and over”.

The point is to, “tap into all these little wells of resentment, all these little pressures that have been building up, ignored, over time. We could make this about something more than Europe. Europe just becomes a symbol, a cypher, for everything: every bad thing that is happening, has happened…”.

One reviewer noted a basic contradiction in the movie’s polemic, which involves its magnification of the role of Dominic Cummings. The movie has Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer, foreign data firms, big private donors, and every theory possible thrown at the screen as to why Brexit won. Then why did Cummings matter at all?

“Post-Truth”: The Anti-Anthropological Message

The movie also shows us what “post-truth” is meant to mean. Truth is where one appeals to voters’ heads, by using “facts”. The other thing, which has no name other than “post-truth,” appeals to voters’ hearts, using “emotions”. What a poor anthropology this is, where human emotions are divorced from the facts of being human. Any anthropologist who uses the phrase, “post-truth,” does not deserve to be called an anthropologist at all, because they have essentially abolished anthropology. A truth that denies that humans often understand facts emotionally, and that emotions can generate facts, is no truth at all. The real “post-truth” then lies among those who coined the phrase “post-truth” in the first place.

This movie makes no bones about which side owns “the truth”: the Remainers. The movie shows the Remain campaign desperate to counter Brexit with, in their own words, “the truth”. The truth is not shared, equally accessible to all—it is the special preserve of an equally special class, the class that has the Nobel prize-winning economists on their side. The Remainers are shown complaining about the media giving any air time to opponents—there is a deep yearning for censorship. It is all about virtue against democracy.

The Remainers own “expertise”—and the other side owns the ignorant ingrates who forgot their duty was to obey by believing the experts, regardless of their many mounting failures. This is precisely the kind of movie that is not needed now (or ever); it merely invites more scorn and can only validate the resentment of Brexit supporters (and judging from reviews posted online, it has).

The voice of the establishment—Craig Oliver, communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron—describes Cummings as “basically mental”—“just an egotist with a wrecking ball”. And the voters are Frankenstein: “There’s the danger…of having unleashed something which we can’t then control”.

The voters, shown in focus groups, are cast as either ignorant and bumbling fools, or overly opinionated extremists. We are meant to see voters as a pathetic, troubling mass. If we cannot abolish the vote, and the voters, then we should at least try to do so. If moviegoers thought that, then the movie would have succeeded in achieving one of its aims.

One needs to be familiar with the conventions of British entertainment television and the movie industry, obviously in the hands of elites with an axe to grind, to understand how working class voters are shown. This is the same industry that produces things like Coronation Street and The East Enders, or My Name is Lenny (2017), which portray working class people as freakish, mutant rogues. They are either malicious with contorted expressions, or simple dopes who look like they are permanently suffering a stroke. Lacking truth, so they lack goodness and beauty too. We are thus back at “post-truth,” the cherished trope of a neo-Aristotelian class that claims a monopoly on virtue, that tolerates vast inequalities and produces a teleology to justify them.

Does History Need a Sock Puppet?

The filmmakers also resort to using the Cummings character as their sock puppet, having him mouth lines critical of the referendum as “a really dumb idea”—which is what the filmmakers think, and what they want us to think. Here is fake Cummings:

“Referendums are quite literally the worst way to decide anything. They’re divisive. They pretend that complex choices are simple binaries…and we know there are more nuanced and sophisticated ways out there to make political change and reform, not that we live in a nuanced or political age, do we?
Political discourse has become utterly moronic, thanks to the morons who run it...But there it is. If that is the way it is to be, then I will get us across the line, in whatever way I can”.

This is meant to be the honest, hidden, inside appraisal said in secret—so we think that it’s the truth.

The Cummings character then styles himself as a political “hacker,” entering the “back door,” to “re-program the political system”. It’s all covert, dishonest, and there is a sense of illegality. Meetings are always secret, surreptitious, cloaked—classic conspiracy stuff. Having abolished the will of the voter, the film now abolishes the vote. It’s an expression of a deep desire: for Brexit to have never happened, for the vote to never have been allowed. That’s all. It’s crude, and transparently obvious to even a half-awake viewer.

It was not the only time the filmmakers used Cummings in a contradictory role, that made no sense for the movie. They had this supposed algorithmic genius of online data mining look all disturbed and scared as an American explained to him the new politics of data. He turns and looks at people walking by, using smart phones and tablets, as if they were alien invaders. The final act of sock puppetry was when the filmmakers had Cummings mutter that Nigel Farage is, “a moronic little cunt”—their script, their view. Keeping it classy.

All About Trump?

Of course, there had to be a Trump angle—there is a Trump angle to everything now. We are thus presented with some whispering conspirators from America, in the figures of Robert Mercer (financier), and the Dark Lord himself, Steve Bannon of Breitbart, shown entering the UK to intervene on the side of Brexit. Then we hear “Cambridge Analytica”—the British, not Russian firm that allegedly masterminded Trump’s online campaign. Of course, none of this is true: Robert Mercer never went to offer help with Leave; and, Zack Massingham, the Canadian whose company boasted having a cutting edge date-modeling program, never provided it to the Leave campaign. It’s too bad Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles were not alive to act in this film—their presence could have vastly dignified this poor attempt at film noir. Albert R. Broccoli would have made a more believable film, with more credible villains.

How to Abuse One’s Viewers with Misdirection and Mystification

This movie works by building a chain of misplaced concerns and misidentified problems. That is how mystification works. The “problem” (fake) is with the fear-driven, resentful working class—not their exploitation, marginalization, and even vilification by the privileged. The “problem” (fake) is with nostalgia—not with the current climate being so bad it makes everyday people miss the past. The “problem” (fake) is with hatred—because the problem is always with the response to what has been provoked by those who hold the power.

The “problem” (fake) is with xenophobia—not with a system that taught them pride in being British in the first place, that colonized the world, and for centuries looked down on others with contempt. The fact that huge numbers of refugees were entering Europe—fleeing the regime change wars that Europe helped to manufacture by participating in NATO—only added to the sense of an urgent crisis. Engineering a massive influx of immigrants when locals are locked out of the labour market is a recipe for social peace—exactly nowhere.

The “problem” (not fake, just misleading) was that Jo Cox, Member of Parliament, was assassinated in the lead up to Brexit—the problem was never that Cox herself backed ever escalating violence in Syria to promote catastrophic regime change in the name of “humanitarianism”.

The “problem” (fake) is with the previously apathetic being marshalled to come out and vote—not the fact that they were previously ignored, impeded, and so generally turned off by the dominant politics.

The “problem” (fake) is with crafty data miners who know their business—not with the asymmetry in access to information that props up the political system, or the fact that every political campaign exploits data.

The “problem” (fake) is with the lying politicians on their side—not the lying politicians on all sides, who get away with lying because the system refuses any corrective mechanism to ensure accountability.

And on it goes. When you opt for ideology instead of analysis, you get garbage.

Lessons Not Worth Teaching

So what are the “lessons” of the film? One is “data is power”—actually, data is just data, but anyway. The idea here is that Britain was a “lab experiment” for a new politics based on data mining. Is it bad to gather data about voters? But then why would it be bad? Should one not try to understand voters and what they want?

In a system that bars ordinary people from making decisions even about the basic, immediate, day-to-day aspects of their lives, and that permanently distances and silences them except for a few seconds at a ballot box every few years—how many other ways does the system allow itself to hear from them? Does it matter even, if you can effectively criminalize the mere act of gaining knowledge about voters? Even this movie itself repeats the fact that one side—Remain—had access to the national voter database, while the other side had Cummings try to build an alternative from scratch. If there was a conspiracy, it was here, in this lopsided and unfair distribution of advantages, which the Brexit side overcame. Was Brexit wrong to overcome this data disadvantage?

Did only one side mine online data? Was only one side guilty of “spin”? How much did the Remain campaign spend, compared to the Leave campaign? In fact, the Remain campaign outspent the Leave side by millions of pounds. The movie makes no mention of that fact, nor of the private investors backing Remain, and has little to say about their key influencers. The people with the most votes, spent less money (and won), and they came under investigation for campaign finance violations.

If viewers were truly shocked, chilled, appalled, etc., by what they saw in this movie, then what has stopped them from militating for the total abolition of the advertising industry? Advertisers and PR firms have been doing what this movie shows for generations now. Why the sudden raising of a hue and cry? Why is the outrage so selectively focused on a pinpoint example? Because it’s a dishonest pseudo-critique. That’s one of the things you get when ideology substitutes for analysis.

A second lesson of the film appears to be that the Brexit side was backed by shady financiers—with agendas that are not made clear to us. So who backed the other side? Is there an innocent and pure party here, which the filmmakers neglected to present? Was it the Brexit side that invented the structure of private financing of public political campaigns?

A third lesson has something to do with voter apathy, and the ability of one side to tap into the huge mass of people that regularly refuse to vote in elections in our societies (which would include myself). The crime here appears to have been Brexit’s ability to bring out such persons to vote—as if they found a secret list of dead persons and padded voter rolls. Reducing voter apathy thus becomes something like rigging an election. Yet the quest for the non-voter seems to have failed altogether with Trump: a plurality of eligible voters refused to actually vote. The real winners of the popular vote in the 2016 US presidential elections were precisely those who refused to come out and vote.

The final lesson, with which the movie closes, is that the real problem with the referendum was that it had two sides to it, when ideally it should have had only one: stay. A “crime” was committed by the other side working as if they actually wanted to win. Indeed, the movie closes with the statement that, “in 2018, the Electoral Commission found the Vote Leave campaign guilty of breaking Electoral Law. Leave.EU were subsequently referred to the National Crime Agency for investigation into breaches of Electoral Law”.

Had the country in question been Venezuela, the headlines would have read: “Authoritarian regime cracks down on opponents”. In fact, the investigations had not opened by the time the film was made and, more importantly, the movie itself shows absolutely nothing about how the Leave campaign violated said law. One would think that is a major omission.

Accidentally Intelligent

“We’re asking voters not to reject the status quo, but to return to it”. The only really intelligent point the movie made, was one done quickly and only in passing—it seems to have been by accident, so it may be wrong to ascribe “intelligence” to the filmmakers. The point was this: the real contest in 2016 was not between the status quo and a “disruptive” insurgency, but between two status quos: the present status quo versus those preferring the status quo ante.

In other words, it was effectively a conservative vs. conservative fight. Neither side proposed any revolutionary transformation, of anything really. It was a clash between those clinging to what was known and tried—the only difference being where their preferences fell on an historical timeline. In other words, the Remain vs. Brexit fight was between preservation and restoration, both of which are conservative positions. Now the two sides have been reversed: the pro-Brexit side is struggling to ensure that Britain remains on track to leave, while the pro-Remain side imagines the EU in utopian terms and occupies itself with, “lament, regret, and nostalgia for an imagined arcadian past in which the EU was a land of milk and honey”.

Similarly, in the US Trump was cast as the candidate nostalgically pining away for the lost days of American glory. However today he is campaigning with a new slogan: “Keep America Great”. Joe Biden instead presents himself as driven by the nostalgic need to restore the old order. Just wait until Biden delivers a blistering speech about life in America under Trump—Fox News is certain to denounce him as the “doom and gloom” candidate who offers a picture of “Midnight in America” (just as the others did with Trump).

The best “lesson” of the movie was the one that was unintended, and it is revealed by how the movie backfires on its makers. This movie is a reminder of why dominant interests so richly deserved to lose—and not necessarily that the other side deserved victory. Brexit has been very “profitable” in at least one sense: it has revealed a dysfunctional UK, quasi-governed by inept, visionless elites, incapable of containing a crisis of their own making.

Remember: these are the same elites that turn around and lecture other countries about democracy and good governance, and that bomb other nations in the name of human rights. If anything, Brexit was not a mean enough defeat: much more is needed.