Saturday, August 25, 2012

DU Legacy and Iraq's Dying Children

The Children Are Still Dying: Violence is Not News

by Ramzy Baroud

Somewhere in my home I have a set of photo albums I rarely go near. I fear the flood of cruel memories that might be evoked from looking at the countless photos I took during a trip to Iraq. Many of the pictures are of children who developed rare forms of cancer as a result of exposure to Depleted Uranium (DU), which was used in the US-led war against Iraq over two decades ago.

I remember visiting a hospital that was attached to Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The odor that filled its corridors was not the stench of medicine, but rather the aroma of death. At a time of oppressive siege, the hospital lacked even basic anesthetic equipment and drugs. Children sat and stared at their visitors. Some wailed in inconceivable pain. Parents teetered between hope and the futility of hope, and at prayer times they duly prayed.

A young doctor gave a sweeping diagnosis: “No child that ever enters this place ever leaves alive.” Being the young reporter I was at the time, I diligently made a note of his words before asking more questions. I didn’t quite grasp the finality of death.

Several years later, Iraq’s desolation continues. On August 16, 90 people were killed and more were wounded in attacks across the country. Media sources reported on the bloodbath (nearly 200 Iraqis were killed this month alone), but without much context. Are we meant to believe that violence in Iraq has transcended any level of reason? That Iraqis get blown up simply because it is their fate to live in perpetual fear and misery?

But the dead, before they were killed, were people with names and faces. They were fascinating individuals in their own right, deserving of life, rights and dignity. Many are children, who knew nothing of Iraq’s political disputes, invited by US wars and occupation and fomented by those who feed on sectarianism.

We often forget this. Those who refuse to fall into the trap of political extremes still tend to process and accept violence in one way or another. We co-exist with tragedy, with the belief that bombs just go off randomly and that surviving victims cannot be helped. We somehow accept the idea that refugees cannot be repatriated and the hungry cannot be fed.

This strange wisdom is most apparent in Sudan. In the Upper Nile state, people are dying from sheer exhaustion before they reach refugee camps in Batil. Some walk for weeks between South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, seeking respite and any chance of survival. Those who endure the journey – compelled by fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels groups – might not survive the harshness of life awaiting them at Batil. The BBC News reported on August 17, citing a warning by Medecins Sans Frontieres, that “[p]eople are dying in large numbers in a refugee camp in South Sudan.”

I almost stumbled on the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Batil (as described by MSF’s medical co-ordinator, Helen Patterson) while reviewing reports of the deteriorating situation in some Darfur refugee camps. Batil now hosts nearly 100,000 of the estimated 170,000 refugees who recently fled their homes. According to the medical charity, 28% of the children are malnourished, and the mortality rate is twice that of the accepted emergency threshold.

Darfur is, of course, a festering wound. Many of the internally displaced refugees often find themselves in a constant state of displacement, as was the case earlier this month. UN officials say that ‘all’ 25,000 people in a single refugee camp, Kassab, went on the run again after armed groups clashed with government forces. They settled in another ‘shelter’ nearby, the town of Kutum. According to the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the supposed new shelter ‘lacks water, food and sanitation’ (CNN, August 9).

Since then, the story has somewhat subsided. Not because the fleeing refugees are in a good standing, but because this is all the attention that 25,000 refugees can expect from a media awash with news of two-faced politicians and celebrity scandals. It might take a ‘peacemaking’ celebrity to place Batil or Kassab on the media map for another day or two, and surely nothing less than a sizable number of deaths to make the refugees a relevant news item once again.

That said, no attention-seeking VIP is likely to venture out to Mali anytime soon. While the humanitarian crisis in West Africa is reaching frightening levels, the media continues to address the conflict in Mali in terms of the logic of Western interests being threatened by rebels, coups and jihadists. Aside from the fact that few ask of Western complicity in the chaos, 435,000 refugees are flooding neighboring countries. This was the most recent estimate by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on August 16, but the fact is ignored by most media.

The World Food Program says that the food crisis is devastating – not only for distraught refugees, but also for millions within the country. Malian children are, of course, outnumbering all other victims. They are helplessly dragged around through endless deserts. When they die, they merely leave a mark as yet another statistic, estimated without much certainty, and, sadly, without value.

However, here may lay the moral to the story. Every Malian, Sudanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni or Rohingya child matters immensely to those around him. His or her life – or death – might conveniently serve to fortify a political argument, make a good National Geographic reportage, or a Facebook photo with many ‘shares’ and ‘likes’. But for parents, families, friends and neighbors, their children are the center of their universe, however poor and seemingly wretched. Thus, when UNICEF or UNRWA complains about a shortage of funds, it actually means that thousands of innocent people will needlessly suffer, and that centers of many universes will dramatically implode, replacing hope with bottomless despair, and often rage.

It may be convenient to assign conventional political wisdom to explain complex political issues and violent conflicts. But protracted conflicts don’t make life any less precious, or children any less innocent. It is a tragedy when Iraqis seem to be on a constant parade of burying their loved ones, or when the Sudanese seem to be on a constant quest to save their lives. It’s a greater tragedy, however, when we get so used to the unfolding drama of human violence that we can accept as destined the reality of children crossing the Sahara in search of a sip of water.

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)

How Green Was My Economy?

A Green Full Employment Economy Requires Mass Mobilization


A Green Full Employment Economy Requires Mass Mobilization Bob Pollin Pt6: The first steps towards full employment is to create a green engine of jobs growth Watch full multipart Is Full Employment Possible in Capitalism?

Fracking the Province: What LNG and Site C Boondoggles Mean for the Province's Future

LNG, Fracking and Site C Dam: BC's Looming Energy Boondoggle

by Damien Gillis - The

The proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan bitumen pipelines through BC are finally receiving the attention they deserve - as is the much-needed corollary conversation on the Alberta Tar Sands and their true impact on Canada's economic future, elevated to national prominence by Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair.

Yet, as big of a game-changer as oil pipelines and tankers would be for BC, one could argue that the collection of proposed natural gas-related developments on the table is, taken together, at least as transformative for the province's future - though you wouldn't know it from the relative silence on the topic.

Until recently, that is. The past several months have seen a number of highly significant events related to this matter.

First, in mid-June, Apache Canada announced a massive new shale gas find in the Liard Basin, which stretches from northeast BC into the southeast corner of the Yukon. The Liard play, being touted as the "best shale gas reservoir in North America", is west of the Horn River basin play, already one of the world's largest. The find is undoubtedly a game-changer, elevating northeast BC to the world's mecca for the relatively new, yet highly controversial process for breaking open shale gas formations deep underground, known as "fracking".

The next big development came the day after Apache's announcement, when the NDP, led by Energy Critic and likely future Energy Minister John Horgan, came out fully supporting an expanded natural gas industry in Northeast BC, downplaying environmental concerns about fracking. In the same breath, the Official Opposition showed clear support for the Liberal plan to build a number of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plants in Kitimat to export the resource to Asia.

The party's position was solidified last week when the Georgia Straight reported it was fully backing a new pipeline from Summit Lake, north of Prince George - Encana, EOG and Apache Canada's joint venture Pacific Trails Pipeline - to carry natural gas from northeast BC to three proposed LNG refineries in Kitimat.

Finally, Premier Christy Clark announced a week later that her government will be reclassifying previously dirty natural gas as "clean" - but only when it's burned to power these proposed LNG plants in Kitimat. The Campbell/Clark Government previously banned the development of new gas-fired electrical plants, putting the emphasis on renewable or so-called "clean" energy alternatives - wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydro.

The premise for these new multi-billion dollar LNG plants is to access new markets in Asia which currently pay far more for gas than North American customers. Prices in China, Japan and Korea range up to $17 per thousand cubic feet versus a historic low of two to three dollars in North America today - largely thanks to the glut of natural gas flooding the domestic market as a result of new shale gas plays. The idea is to turn some of BC's plentiful gas supply into liquid, put it on tankers and ship it to Asia to reap big profits. Without these prices, big finds like Apache's in the Liard Basin simply don't make sense to develop.

While the plan looks financially (though certainly not environmentally) promising on the surface, it's fraught with complications:

1. The process of converting gas to liquid is enormously energy intensive. According to Christy Clark, all the the power from BC Hydro's proposed new 1,100 Megawatt Site C Dam on the Peace River would be required for just Shell's one proposed LNG plant in Kitimat. That may have changed, now that these plants are allowed to burn their own cheap gas for power, but, curiously, Site C Dam has not been taken off the table in the wake of that announcement. The otherwise energy self-sufficient BC has nowhere near enough electrical supply to power three new LNG plants and all the new mines the Clark Government is pushing forward.  

2. The whole plan is contingent on this high price differential carrying forward - which is doubtful for a number of reasons. China's economy is already showing signs of slowing down, while Japan is looking to restart its nuclear program; where will its energy demand be in 10 years when these plants are built and supplying the Asian market with LNG?

3. We're not the only horse in the race. China has its own shale gas plays - which it is now starting to develop. Moreover, a number of other countries are thinking the same way we are - chief among them Australia, which is much further along and has already secured contracts to sell LNG to China

4. The main method of supplying these plants - gas from fracking operations - is coming under increased scrutiny globally, with various moratoria having been instituted in other regions, relating to concerns over water use and contamination, earthquakes, and myriad human and animal health concerns. Fracking producers may well (and should) face increased regulation - meaning added costs and further reduced profits - or, worse, outright restrictions and shutting down of operations as awareness and evidence build against this controversial technique.

LNG and Mines Mean Site C

As befuddled and full of flip-flopery as the Liberals have been on this file, the NDP are in quite a pickle too. First, they give their environmental seal of approval to shale gas, while supporting the massively risky undertaking that is building and fueling multi-billion dollar plants on BC's coast to turn this gas into liquid and ship it to new markets in Asia. But when the Liberals reclassify gas as "clean" (remember, the NDP just did as much themselves not a week previous) in order to allow these plants to use their own gas to power the enormously energy-intensive liquid compression process, the Opposition cries foul. Why? Because burning gas isn't clean. So which is it, Mr. Dix?

I filmed a rally in Victoria two years ago led by First Nations and farmers from the Peace Valley in opposition to Site C Dam. NDP Energy Critic John Horgan, to his credit, attended the rally and spoke - but he stopped short of outright opposing the dam. He would only say that it required a full environmental assessment and that it should only proceed if the science supports it.

Then, in January, 2011, Horgan told the Georgia Straight that he didn't think Site C was "necessary" at the time - though still leaving the door open to the project:

They want some peace in the valley, and as long as the spectre of Site C hangs over their head, there’s never going to be a comfort level in the community,” Horgan said. “They want a full-fledged, full-on environmental assessment, so that they can put on the table the science of the sloughing, the costs of dredging, and the total costs on ratepayers of a $6- to $7- to $8- or even $9-billion project.

Earlier this year, my colleague at the Common Sense Canadian, Rafe Mair put NDP leader Adrian Dix on the spot regarding Site C and got more of the same fence-sitting.

To my understanding, the NDP is on the fence or publicly committed to the above schemes - Site C, fracking, LNG - for three main reasons:

1. It is conscious of not allowing itself to be branded by its political opponents as "anti-progress" or "anti-industry", especially after having taken a strong position against the Enbridge pipeline

2. It is wary of not stepping on the toes of First Nations who have signed onto to the LNG scheme - particularly the Haisla Nation of Kitimat, who have also been vocal opponents of the Enbridge pipeline.

3. It recognizes how much the province's coffers have come to depend on royalties, licenses and other fees related to the natural gas industry and doesn't want to disturb that flow, leading to big deficits that will play into its opponents' hands.

While these are all politically understandable reasons for supporting this massive industrialization of northern BC, they do not excuse the arguments against this program.

In the very least, the environmental and health concerns associated with fracking and the loss of vital farmland and fish and wildlife habitat from Site C - not to mention the notion of massive public subsidies for an industry on less than solid ground going forward - should argue for a more mature position from the province's government-in-waiting. They know this whole scheme is fraught with complications and this outright endorsement of it shows the NDP is ready to put short-term politics ahead of reasoned, long-term policy for the province.

Subsidizing Energy for Industry

Clearly, Site C, mining, fracking, LNG are all interrelated. Even if Site C isn't used to power LNG, there are over a dozen proposed new mines in northern BC - each of which is hungry for taxpayer-subsidized electricity. This begs the question - one answered by economist Erik Andersen in a recent interview with Rafe Mair: should the public be subsidizing new industry at all, with skyrocketing power bills and new $10-plus billion dam projects like Site C?

One of the key bones of contention at this year's failed Rio climate conference was the matter of ending subsidies for hydrocarbon production. Plainly, this is a no-brainer, if we are to get on with the necessary transition away from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources. Moreover, the wealthiest corporations in history are the last entities that should be receiving public subsidies. And yet, we learned through a leaked memo that the Harper Government was leading the charge against the move to end hydrocarbon subsidies. So much for the "free market" Stephen Harper and his fellow Milton Friedman disciples keep railing on about!

So in that regard, it makes abundant sense for the natural gas industry to use some of its own product to supply the enormous energy needs of these LNG plants. And yet, anyone should be able to recognize the environmental folly of reclassifying gas as "clean" to enable its burning, to ship more gas half way around the world to be...burned. And that's ignoring the myriad environmental problems associated with the initial extraction of the gas through fracking.

A Looming Boondoggle

No matter the degree to which Site C or our public hydroelectric system are used to power this LNG program, the taxpayers of BC, as shareholders in our gas resource, are impacted by the choices the industry makes on numerous levels. We need to ask whether this LNG-Asian market vision is an economically viable, environmentally responsible idea, or an epic resource boondoggle in the making, as we have seen in the past with similar forays into the Asia market with our coal and timber.

These political parties and the industry are banking on achieving a higher price for their gas in Asian markets - particularly China and Japan. But China has its own shale gas potential and is only just beginning to develop it. On top of that, China's economy - and thus energy demand - is showing real signs of faltering. It will take us 5-10 years to build all these LNG plants and the additional energy assets to power them. Will China still be paying premium prices for LNG a decade from now, given the volatility of the various factors which enable that pricing today?

There are other players, such as Korea and Southeast Asia who might. Petronas Energy of Malaysia recently scooped up Candian gas company Progress Energy for over $5 Billion.

But this raises another question: how will this benefit the BC and Canadian economy - especially in light of new labour laws from the Harper Government that allow companies like Petronas to import foreign workers and pay them 15% less than Canadian employees. So under this system, we could see many jobs going to foreigners (excepting those that are too technical to be done by cheap, imported workers), while these new profits flow out of Canada, along with the energy resource.

This LNG scheme - as with plans to export Alberta bitumen to Asia - should be viewed as a hail mary pass to try and get the Canadian oil and gas industry out of the financial pit into which it is presently sinking. With prices where they are, there is a real danger that BC's once-thriving industry could collapse, without a North American market willing to pay a reasonable price for its product. And yet, Site C, LNG and fracking, taken together - as they should be - constitute a massive gamble for the citizens of Birtish Columbia, both environmentally and economically. As such it's time we have a frank  conversation about the issue before rushing headlong into a potential boondoggle of unprecedented proportions for our province.

Perhaps what needs to happen here - from both an environmental and economic perspective - is a planned ramping down of the North American natural gas supply, until prices begin to stabilize again. As energy economists like Jeff Rubin argue, the most effective way to regulate energy consumption is through price. Clearly, at $2-3/unit of energy, there is no incentive for the North American public or industry to conserve natural gas. Nor does this price point benefit the gas industry or the public, who are partners in the resource through the royalties and tax dollars we receive from its sale - all of which are significantly diminished in this climate. And yet, reducing supply in the North American market would be a tremendous undertaking that requires a level of collusion - and may not be practical, regardless, with hundreds of companies looking out for their own short-term interests.

In any event, while the public reaction and much-needed discussion around these issues have been delayed, there are signs they are now developing quickly. The political discussion surrounding the issue is intensifying, as is the media's coverage of it. Already, the bubble shows signs of bursting, as Kitimat LNG - the joint venture between Encana, EOG and Apache - was recently delayed by another year as the consortium has yet to sign the contracts it needs with Asian buyers to finance the project. Meanwhile, some First Nations and environmentalists are beginning to organize protests against the consortium's Pacific Trails Pipeline - the primary connector between fracked gas of northeast BC and this and other proposed LNG plants on the coast. Opposition to Site C Dam has been steadily growing as well, as I documented at this year's record-setting 'Paddle for the Peace'.

It's high time this issue generated some of the intensity that the Enbridge project has received - as it would likely have as big, if not an even greater cumulative impact on the future of this province, environmentally and socioeconomically.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Daiichi Questions: Can Spent Fuel Pools Catch Fire?

Can Spent Fuel Pools Catch Fire?

In this Fairewinds’ feature, Fairewinds Associates Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen analyzes a US government national laboratory simulation video that shows nuclear spent fuel rods do catch fire when exposed to air. This simulation video proves Fairewinds’ assertions that nuclear fuel rods can catch fire when exposed to air, and Arnie discusses the ramifications of this phenomena if the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 spent fuel pool were to lose cooling water.

The Sandia National Laboratories video in its entirety can be seen here.

Arnie Gundersen: Hi, I'm Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds and today I would like to talk to you about fuel pool fires:  are they possible, what causes them and what are the consequences.  Related to that is why is everybody focused on Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4.  Before I get into the details, I need to go back and touch on a couple of basics.  Inside a nuclear reactor, uranium splits and when it splits, it gives off 95% of the heat.  That is what makes nuclear fission so neat is that one atom can give off an incredible amount of heat.  The problem is that 5% of the heat remains in these pieces called fission products.  That heat gradually decays away over 5 years, but for at least 5 years, these pieces, these fission products, have to be cooled.  That part of the reaction does not occur in the nuclear reactor, it occurs in the spent fuel pool.  Remember now, that the uranium is in a pellet, about the size of my pinkie, and these pellets are put into about 12 foot long rods.  The rods are made of a material called zircaloy and that is the problem.  Zircaloy can burn in air if it gets hot enough.  And it is called pyrophoric, so when it starts to burn, water cannot put out the combustion.

Now these pellets and rods are put into bundles.  The bundles are about that big and 12 feet high.  And those bundles are then lifted out of the nuclear reactor and put into the spent fuel pool.  Now we know zircaloy can burn.  Back in April of 2011, Fairewinds put a video up where we showed a single zircaloy rod burning in air.  And on that video, you can actually see the piece of zircaloy bouncing across the table top.  And it was combusting on it's own, there was no flame, and it was basically burning in air with no internal source of heat.

The question is, can that happen in a nuclear fuel pool?  And what is it about Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4 that has everyone concerned?  There are 4 reactors in jeopardy at Fukushima-Daiichi.  But everyone's attention now has been focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4.  Why is that?  Well, in the Mark I design, there is no containment over the fuel pool.  And that means that if there is a problem in the fuel pool, there is nothing to trap the radiation and prevent it from going airborne.  At Fukushima-Daiichi, Unit 4 though, an entire nuclear fuel core had just recently been removed from the containment, from the nuclear reactor, and was put into the spent fuel pool.  That is what makes Daiichi Unit 4 unique.  It has got an entire nuclear core, out of the reactor, out of the containment, and in the fuel pool.  Related to that though, is the fact that Fukushima-Daiichi 4 is also damaged.  There is a bulge in the bottom of it and I believe it is something called a first mode Euler strut bulge.  And it clearly is an indication of a seismic damage.  This is not something that happened from the explosion.  The building has been damaged from a seismic event.  So Daiichi Unit 4 has an entire nuclear core out of the containment in a spent fuel pool and the building it is housed in, has been previously damaged by the explosions in the building and by the seismic events that occurred since March 11th of 2011.  That is why all eyes in the world are focussed on what is going on in Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wanted to know if a fuel bundle can burn in air too.  And they commissioned Sandia National Labs to run a test.  Just by coincidence, the test was done about 2 weeks before the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.  Now this was a test of a nuclear fuel bundle, but I need to be clear:  there was no spent nuclear fuel in the bundle.  The heat from the pellets was simulated using electric resistance heaters, pretty similar to what you have got inside your toaster.  So, this was a test to create the same amount of heat that the fuel pellets would create, but it was done with electricity, not with spent nuclear fuel.  Other than that though, the fuel bundle was identical to the bundle that is in a nuclear fuel pool.

Now, this is a 5 hour video that we've condensed down to about 1 minute. The screenshots that we've taken for this show, in the upper left, a picture of a fuel bundle with wires going into it - that's the electricity - that's designed to heat the fuel and wires coming out - those are monitoring wires. And, on the far right, is top to bottom looking at the fuel bundle from the side. There's an enormous amount of data collected in these 5 hours and all of it is on the Sandia site which we linked to/from the Fairewinds site. The first video shows a bundle immediately before the heat was applied. Shortly after, it's the same bundle, the heat is on, and it's already beginning to smoke. A little further on is the bundle, again, smoking considerably. Well, where's there smoke there is fire. The last one in the sequence shows the bundle on fire. Now, what you're seeing is zircaloy burning in air. There was no match applied to start this fire, it just got hot enough so that it began to combust of its own volition - in air.

Just to be clear one last time, that was a simulated test we just watched using electricity in place of spent nuclear fuel.  But it is clear that a single nuclear fuel bundle can burn in air.  Now Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4 would be even worse.  Inside Daiichi's fuel pool, are 1500 fuel bundles, not one, 1500 fuel bundles, 300 of which are just removed from the nuclear core.  So instead of one very hot bundle, we have got 300 very hot bundles.

Now it is even worse than that.  The Japanese put all of their nuclear fuel from this latest core offload in a very confined space in the pool.  In America, we do not do that.  We call it checker-boarding.  We will put hot nuclear fuel next to cold nuclear fuel in a checkerboard pattern so that there is a gap between them.  But the Japanese did not do that.  This entire nuclear core is side by side by side with other physically hot bundles.

So, is a fuel pool fire possible at Fukushima-Daiichi?  We have got the video evidence to show it is.  What can make it happen is the real question.

In early July, the fuel pool cooling system failed at Fukushima-Daiichi.    Both the primary pump and the back-up pump failed and for a period of several days, there was no water circulating in the fuel pool.  During those days, the pool began to heat up and it heated up at about 18 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Centigrade every day.  This is a huge pool, it is 300,000 gallons of water.   And to think about 300,000 gallons of water heating up at 18 degrees a day gives you a feel for the amount of heat that is in that pool.  So after about a week, the pool would begin to boil, and after about another week, the pool would begin to boil to the point where the top of the nuclear fuel was exposed.  And an event like we saw on the Sandia Labs video would indeed become possible.

So the Japanese have about 2 weeks in the event of the fuel pool cooling system fails to fix it.  I do not think that that will be a problem.  I think they could fix almost every cooling problem in two weeks.

The real problem is if there is an earthquake.  The building is already structurally damaged and if the pool were to drain from an earthquake, then all bets are off.  There is no way to cool the pool and we know that the heat source is astronomical.  The fuel in the pool would catch fire, and the uranium that is then encased in the zircaloy, would go airborne.

Brookhaven National Labs did a study back in 1998 about this and they estimate that over 180,000 cancers would result from a fuel pool fire and that an area of about 40 mile radius would have to be permanently evacuated.  Now the Brookhaven study had less uranium in it than the Fukushima fuel pool.  So the odds are that if a fuel pool fire were to occur at Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4, it would, in fact, be worse than the Brookhaven study.

Regardless of what the nuclear industry claims, a fuel pool fire is possible if the water were to drain from a seismic event.  Now this is not just a Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4 problem.  There are 23 Mark I reactors in the United States and they have even more nuclear fuel in them than Unit 4 at Fukushima-Daiichi.  This is an international problem, especially in the United States, because we have the most of these Mark I reactors.  What can we do about it?  We can put the pressure on Tokyo Electric and on the Japanese Government to get the fuel out of that pool just as quickly as possible.  We cannot wait for an earthquake to be proven right or wrong.  In the United States, we can demand that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission take the fuel out of these fuel pools in the 23 nuclear reactors that are identical to Fukushima-Daiichi.  Right now, industry pressure to save money is preventing those fuel pools from being emptied.

Fairewinds Energy Education has tried to bring forward several really important worldwide technical issues since the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi.  One of them is the condition of spent fuel pools in the Mark I design.

This August, again, we are asking for your help to continue with our energy education efforts.  Maggie and I take nothing from Fairewinds Energy Education.  But it does cost money to produce these videos and to do the research and development that support the videos.  We are very grateful for the donations we have received so far, and we would appreciate your considering a donation now in August again, so we can continue into the future.

Thank you very much.  I will keep you informed.

Seventh Annual Victoria Anarchist Bookfair


Announcing the 7th Annual Victoria Anarchist Bookfair, 

September 8 & 9, 2012

Bookfair Location:
Fernwood NRG Community Hall
1240 Gladstone Ave, Victoria, BC, 

 Songhees Territory

We are pleased to announce the seventh annual Victoria Anarchist Bookfair, located on unceded Songhees Territory in Victoria, British Columbia. The Bookfair is for anarchists and non-anarchists, with participants from all over North America and beyond.

This year's workshops focus on a variety of historical and contemporary Indigenous issues, notably efforts to stop proposed pipeline developments on Indigenous territories in British Columbia. Speakers will also  address topics such as the Quebec student movement; anarchism; radical labour struggles, alternative parenting, and activist media.

Participating publishers, bookstores and distros from the United States, Canada and elsewhere include: Spartacus Books (Vancouver), AK Press (San Francisco), Camas Books (Victoria), Little Black Cart Press (Oakland), ThoughtCrime Inc. Press (Edmonton), Black Raven Records (Victoria), El Libertario Distro (Venezuela) and Red Lion Press (Nanaimo).

We are also featuring tablers with an independent D.I.Y. orientation: zinesters, artists, patch and t-shirt makers, and video/new media producers Medianet.

Additionally, Victoria author Tom Swanky, who is well known for his research exposing the colonial use of small-pox as an early form of germ warfare on indigenous peoples, will be giving a talk to launch his book,
'The Great Darkening: Canada's 'War' of Extermination on the Pacific Coast'.

For more information, including the full bookfair workshop listings and the Festival of Anarchy schedule, please visit our website:

September 8th Saturday: 11 am--6 pm
September 9th Sunday: 11 am--5 pm


For Immediate Release

Contact Email:

Japan Syndrome: Where is the Daiichi 3 Nuclear Core?

Japan Nuclear Expert: Melted fuel may have gone through cement floor and into ground under Fukushima reactors — I don’t believe Tepco’s claim for one second — Where in the world is it? (VIDEO)

 by ENE

Fell through steel reactor…

So where did the melted material go from there? It fell into the containment vessel and what is that made of? Also steel.

But what Tepco has been telling us is that underneath that steel is a floor of cement and that cement hasn’t melted yet.

But it’s not as if Tepco has gone there and seen if this is the case or anything like that. It’s based on calculations that they claimed to have worked out that way.

But I don’t believe it for one second.

There’s at least a possibility that it’s gone through all of it and leaked into the ground…

If something like that happens, there’s a strong possibility that it leaks into the environment and the ocean is right there.

I’ve been advocating since last May that a wall be built underground…

That’s really all I know at this point. I really hope something is done so the material doesn’t spread to the greater environment and I’m going to do all I can do to prevent that from happening.

Hiroaki Koide, nuclear reactor specialist and Assistant Professor at Kyoto University’s Nuclear Research Institute:

The problem right now is not figuring out what the cause of the explosion [at Unit 3] is, but where in the world is the melted nuclear material that is in the plant right now?

Unfortunately we have no way of figuring this out…

We can’t go in and look… there’s nothing we can do at this point…

Like I said we have no idea where the melted nuclear core is at this point…

100 tons [was in reactor]…

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Action Camp to Stop Pacific Trails Pipeline 2

The Action Camp 2
by SubMedia.TV

This is the second video has produced about the struggle to stop a natural gas transport project called the Pacific Trails Pipeline or PTP. The Unis’tot’en, a clan of the Wet’suet’en Nation have built a protection camp to bock PTP, in in so called British Columbia in Canada. This is the third time the Unis’tot’en have called for a convergence in their territories.

This year’s camp attracted over 150 people who came from as far east as Montreal and as far south as Florida. The camp organizers opted not to tap large environmental ngo’s for material support, and instead reached out to grassroots, community based allies.

Out of the proposed pipeline projects that would cross  through Unis’tot’en land, Pacific Trails is the first one slated to begin construction and poses and immediate threat. The PTP project is partnership between Apache Canada, Encana and EOG Resources formerly Enron Oil and Gas. The 463-kilometer PTP pipeline would connect a liquified natural gas port in the pacific ocean to the Spectra Energy Westcoast Pipeline in North East BC, with the aim of transporting gas extracted through fracking, to overseas markets.

The much talked about Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would transport tar sands oil from Fort McMurray, an extraction project that is devastating the nature and indigenous communities in the Athabasca region of Northern Alberta. The Enbridge pipeline would be built side by side to the PTP.

These dirty energy schemes not only threaten nature and indigenous communities in the north. They also have global implications. If decisive action is not taken to stop the flows of oil and gas, the effects of global climate change could be catastrophic for people, plants and animals the world over. This is why Indigenous people and their allies traveled from far away to this camp. Our next report will focus on the student strike in Quebec and how it evolved into a social movement. To help make this happen click here to make a donation.

This year’s camp attracted over 150 people who came from as far east as Montreal and as far south as Florida. The camp organizers opted not to tap large environmental ngo’s for material support, and instead reached out to grassroots, community based allies.

Out of the proposed pipeline projects that would cross  through Unis’tot’en land, Pacific Trails is the first one slated to begin construction and poses and immediate threat. The PTP project is partnership between Apache Canada, Encana and EOG Resources formerly Enron Oil and Gas. The 463-kilometer PTP pipeline would connect a liquified natural gas port in the pacific ocean to the Spectra Energy Westcoast Pipeline in North East BC, with the aim of transporting gas extracted through fracking, to overseas markets.

The much talked about Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would transport tar sands oil from Fort McMurray, an extraction project that is devastating the nature and indigenous communities in the Athabasca region of Northern Alberta. The Enbridge pipeline would be built side by side to the PTP.

These dirty energy schemes not only threaten nature and indigenous communities in the north. They also have global implications. If decisive action is not taken to stop the flows of oil and gas, the effects of global climate change could be catastrophic for people, plants and animals the world over. This is why Indigenous people and their allies traveled from far away to this camp. Our next report will focus on the student strike in Quebec and how it evolved into a social movement. To help make this happen click here to make a donation.

Pursuit of Assange and the Continuing Assault on Journalism

The Pursuit of Julian Assange is an Assault on Freedom and a Mockery of Journalism

By John Pilger

August 23, 2012 "Information Clearing House" The British government's threat to invade the Ecuadorean embassy in London and seize Julian Assange is of historic significance. David Cameron, the former PR man to a television industry huckster and arms salesman to sheikdoms, is well placed to dishonour international conventions that have protected Britons in places of upheaval. Just as Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq led directly to the acts of terrorism in London on 7 July 2005, so Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have compromised the safety of British representatives across the world.

Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an "alleged criminal", Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain. The same brave newspapers and broadcasters that have supported Britain's part in epic bloody crimes, from the genocide in Indonesia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, now attack the "human rights record" of Ecuador, whose real crime is to stand up to the bullies in London and Washington.

It is as if the Olympics happy-clappery has been subverted overnight by a revealing display of colonial thuggery. Witness the British army officer-cum-BBC reporter Mark Urban "interviewing" a braying Sir Christopher Meyer, Blair's former apologist in Washington, outside the Ecuadorean embassy, the pair of them erupting with Blimpish indignation that the unclubbable Assange and the uncowed Rafael Correa should expose the western system of rapacious power. Similar affront is vivid in the pages of the Guardian, which has counselled Hague to be"patient" and that storming the embassy would be "more trouble than it is worth". Assange was not a political refugee, the Guardian declared, because "neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty".

The irresponsibility of this statement matches the Guardian's perfidious role in the whole Assange affair. The paper knows full well that documents released by WikiLeaks indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters of civil rights. In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammedel-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and "rendered" to Egypt, where theywere tortured. An investigation by the Swedish ombudsman for justice found that the government had "seriously violated" the two men's human rights. In a 2009 US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks, entitled "WikiLeaks puts neutrality in the Dustbin of History", the Swedish elite's vaunted reputation for neutrality is exposed as a sham. Another US cable reveals that "the extent of [Sweden'smilitary and intelligence] cooperation [with Nato] is not widely known" and unless kept secret "would open the government to domestic criticism".

The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, played a notorious leading role in George W Bush's Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and retains close ties to the Republican Party's extreme right. According to the former Swedish director of public prosecutions Sven-Erik Alhem, Sweden's decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of sexual misconduct is "unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate". Having offered himself for questioning, Assange was given permission to leave Sweden for London where, again, he offered to be questioned. In May, in a final appeal judgment on the extradition, Britain's Supreme Court introduced more farce by referring to non-existent "charges".

Accompanying this has been a vituperative personal campaign against Assange. Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover,has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal.The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a "damaged personality" and "callous". They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables. On 20 August, Harding was outside the Ecuadorean embassy, gloating on his blog that "Scotland Yard may get the last laugh". It is ironic, if entirely appropriate, that a Guardian editorial putting the paper's latest boot into Assange bears an uncanny likeness to the Murdoch press's predictable augmented bigotry on the same subject. How the glory of Leveson, Hackgate and honourable, independent journalism doth fade.

His tormentors make the point of Assange's persecution. Charged with no crime, he is not a fugitive from justice. Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations - allegations almost entirely promptly dismissed by the senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, before the intervention of a politician, Claes Borgstr?At the pre-trial of Bradley Manning, a US army investigator confirmed that the FBI was secretly targeting the "founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks" for espionage.

Four years ago, a barely noticed Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to "criminal prosecution". On 18 August, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed, in a Freedom of Information release of official files, that the Australian government had repeatedly received confirmation that the US was conducting an "unprecedented" pursuit of Assange and had raised no objections. Among Ecuador's reasons for granting asylum is Assange's abandonment "by the state of which he is a citizen". In 2010, an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found that Assange and WikiLeaks had committed no crime. His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom.

VanCity Divestiture from Enbridge Holdings Beginning of End of Endbridge in B.C.?

Victory! Vancity divests from Enbridge: "Pipeline boycotts and blockades are just beginning"

 by Wild

Vancity announced today that it has divested Enbridge stock from its Socially Responsible Investment funds. The BC credit union is the first financial institution to quit investing in pipelines, but it won't be the last, a Victoria group promises.

Vancity announcement:

"The pipeline boycotts and blockades are just beginning," said Zoe Blunt, director of Forest Action Network (FAN). "This should be a wake-up call for any company that thinks it can bulldoze its way across BC."

In May 2012, FAN challenged Vancouver City Savings Credit Union to live up to its "sustainable investing" label and divest from Enbridge. A spokesperson for Vancity's board of directors began a review of its holdings after shareholder lobbying failed to persuade the pipeline giant to drop the Northern Gateway proposal.

The blockades started months ago. Members of the Unis'tot'en and other clans are refusing access to pipeline surveyors and work crews.  On August 6, 2012, FAN delivered a schoolbus full of food, supplies, and activists to a blockade camp hosted by the Unis'tot'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation near Houston BC. Over 160 people from as far away as Florida and Illinois spent a week in workshops and training beside a cabin built in the pipelines' path on the Morice River.

Info on the camp:

"If boycotts don't stop the pipes, blockades might," Blunt notes. Communities all along the pipeline route are organizing against the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the more imminent Pacific Trail natural gas line, which was approved last April. Enbridge and Pacific Trail share the same route over much of western BC.

In the meantime, Blunt says, "Everyone should tell their bank, credit union, or investment firm to cut their ties to pipeline companies. Tell them why it’s wrong to invest in corporations that destroy watersheds, wildlife, and communities."


For immediate release
9 am Wednesday August 22
Contact: Zoe Blunt 250-813-3569

Hotline: 250-813-3569

Where the News Never Heals

Where the Wounds Refuse to Heal

It is getting dark and my friend Manuel, a local journalist, is driving me in his battered old pick up truck through the ruined streets of the tough and violent Panamanian city on the Caribbean coast – Colon.

Near the first corner where we stop I spot an old woman puffing on something wrapped in a makeshift paper cone. The smoke is heavy and it stinks: it is neither tobacco nor marijuana; it is something unidentifiable and thoroughly vile. She spits on the ground and then looks straight at me with provocative and bloodshot eyes. I say nothing, she says very little; but those few words that she utters represent the lowest grade of the language that used to serve such great poets like Cervantes and Octavio Paz. Her Spanish is indeed as degraded as the stuff she is smoking, but she does not care, nothing seems to matter to her anymore.

Two kids aged roughly 8 and 12, are carrying some dirty carton boxes on their heads. They first salute me with the thumb-up sign, than with some complex gangster finger-twisting gestures. I try to imitate them but cannot match the complexity and so I reply with a grin, which evokes bewilderment on their faces and which they refuse to return.
The stench all around us is bad – of rotting food, an open sewage, probably a decomposing rat or other unfortunate creature that passed away somewhere nearby.

“Work quickly and get into the car!” says Manuel. “This is ‘red zone’ – ‘zona roja.’”

“What is red zone?” I ask. “A brothel district?”

Almost every country in Latin America has its own terminology, at least for  brutality, sex, and poverty and for public buses.

“No”, he replies. “Simply the most dangerous part of the city. The epicenter of the gang violence.”
I take a few more still images, then film for two minutes and finally get into the car.

“The best is still to come. Frankly you saw nothing, yet”, explains Manuel. “But for the time being, let’s follow some common sense: don’t buckle up, don’t roll down the windows unless you are really ready to film; don’t make any eye contacts and please keep extremely low profile. You are in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.”

Of course you hear the same warnings all over the region: “The meanest streets of the Western hemisphere are those of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, of Tijuana in Mexico, of San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Rio de Janeiro, Cali or Medellin. And if you buy into the Western defamation coverage of El Proceso in Venezuela, you would certainly believe that the murder capital of the Western hemisphere was Caracas.

But no matter how bad the other contenders are; Colon is unique in its hopeless decay and ferocity.

Abandoned church, Colon, Panama.

The city never truly recovered from the brutal US invasion of December 1989, cynically code-named “Operation Just Cause”. The operation was launched to oust the strongman Manuel Noriega who used to be backed by the US, but at some point opted for the worst crime imaginable in the eyes of the Empire: to part ways with the West, embarking on a semi-independent course. To do it in the country that literally sits on one of the most important waterways in the world – Panama Canal – proved to be synonymous to committing a ritual suicide.

There had to be some fig leaf to justify the unlawfulness of the invasion, in this case the drug trafficking in which Noriega was involved.

During the invasion, thousands of people died. Entire cities, towns and neighborhoods were leveled to the ground. The people of Panama and entire Latin America were once again reminded that the Monroe Doctrine was still the main ‘law’ by which the Western Hemisphere had been governed. And so, in 1989, Panama joined the long list of devastated countries that experienced the brutality of direct or indirect invasions from the North: Granada, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay to name at least some.

The city of Colon was never rebuilt. Until now it feels as if the US jets and helicopters were still periodically flying over its roofs, as if the armored vehicles were driving through the fronts of cafes and bars, as if the gunshots could be heard right behind the next corner. Colon does not actually look like a city, but more like a huge ship wreck, a frightening monument to destruction.

Beggar, Colon, Panama.
* * *
We are cruising slowly and despite Manuel’s warning I keep my window down, photographing and filming all along the way.

“If you use professional cameras: Leica or big Nikons, everything looks better than in the real life”, I explain to Manuel. “You have to get very close if you want to capture things accurately; if you want your images to make an impact.”

He ignores my musing; he is scared. And I have no heart to tell him that the Leica I am now using has almost no zoom; the zoom is my own body, so I have to actually get very close to the street scenes of his battered native city of Colon.

I see a girl – she is walks by; she almost levitates. Her legs are fully and provocatively exposed but the entire upper part of her body is covered in white. She looks like a fragile ghost, or, from the waste up as a saint, but with provocatively painted lips. There is definitely a strong doze of poetry in all that I see around me. She smiles at me; I nod.

And then the children appear, young girls, as young as ten. They make suggestive motions while I am trying to look the other way. The poetry is gone. The images become extremely raw – everything here seems to be overexposed.

There are young boys with the stares as sharp as knives. And there are two old men having a dispute, their fingers pointing at each other’s faces menacingly. There are entire families with children living on the streets.

The decay is everywhere and it is quite an unimaginable decay; entire blocks of houses turned into skeletons, half-fallen churches, open garbage dumps, child sexual workers and gangs of desperately looking tiny boys. I see no guns but I see knives and gang symbols, I hear extremely violent music, the toughest grade of Panamanian rap.

“The violence came with the invasion”, says Manuel. “It never left. The tanks left but the violence did not. Then gang culture got its inspiration from the streets of LA and other US cities, as hopelessness translated itself into increased immigration to the North where many families ended up living in the toughest ghettos. The children became the foot soldiers of the gangs, moving back and forth between the North American inner cities and their native Panama.”

It all did not sound unfamiliar. I have witnessed the same pattern for years in places as far apart as Honduras, Samoa and Cambodia.

“This building was bombed by the US forces”, Manuel points at the huge, ghost-like, still surprisingly inhabited skyscraper. “If you want to film it, do so, but do it very quickly.”

To Manuel’s desperation I take my time. The building and its past fascinate me: the story is just incredible – the US forces bombed the tower inhabited by hundreds of civilians simply because it was tall and because it was ‘there’. I recall my work in Grenada, a decade after the US invasion. I studied in disbelieve what was left of the mental hospital blasted to pieces in 1983 in the so-called Operation Urgent Fury, with all its patients inside, simply because it had a green roof, unlike the rest of St. George’s with its iconic red roof tops.

We pass by the place of worship belonging to Jehovah Witnesses. Houses of Christian sects are all over the city, and so are the mosques, even one huge Hindu temple. As always, wherever there is no hope left and fear reigns, religions move in, quickly and efficiently, instantly filling the void.

What is striking is that in Colon even the houses of worship are fortified: with several layers of barbed wire, some armed with surveillance systems.

Colon almost quater century after the invasion.
* * *
In the very center of the city I hear the howl of the ambulance sirens. I spot a tall hospital, not far from the ridiculously out of place looking Radisson Hotel and decaying cruise ship port. There is a crowd of desperate relatives at the entrance to the medical facility. Everything in Colon seems to be overanxious, loud and unsettling.  Observing the state of its infrastructure and services it is astonishing and hardly credible that the country ranks 58 on the Human Development Index (UNDP, HDI, 2011), above nations like Kuwait and Malaysia.

The contrasts are everywhere and they are monstrous – on one side is the port designed for the cruise ship liners, with several empty restaurants and the Radisson Hotel. Not far away is the dark and frightening city overrun by violence, desperation and permanent decay.

As we come closer to the port, it strikes me that there are no civilian ships. Instead I see one huge US battleship docked at the pier.

“But they are not supposed to be here, are they?” I drop my naïve rhetorical question, listing Philippines and other places where the US marines are actually ‘not supposed to be’ docking their ships.

“But they are”, Manuel shrugs his shoulders.

“Is this a cruise ship?” Two well-groomed women with very good middle class accents approach me after spotting me filming the vessel. I smile and reply that this is actually a war ship, with the cannons sticking out in all directions. For a moment I think they came for sightseeing: two nice and naïve teachers or young doctors or office workers. But then I see miniskirts and incredibly high heels, and the piercing scent of cheap perfume penetrates my nostrils.

I move to the main entrance to the jetty: “No dogs” it says: “The Entrance”.

I film for just a few seconds, before one tough looking and uniformed US marine comes running towards me: “No filming!” he screams.

I try a Kafkaesque approach on him: “But could I photograph?”

“Yes, but not too much”, he barks at me. Whatever that means. I switch one of my still cameras to an HD video mode and film a little bit more.

The ship is being refueled.

“How many people died during the invasion?” I ask an old man who is smoking some cheap cigar, right next to a huge plastic replica of a bottle of local rum serving as advertisement.

“Thousands, sunny”, he says, laconically.

”Some say 3,500 in the whole country,” I suggest.

“More”, he says. “I think more died in Colon alone”.

“Father, but how is life now?” I ask him with my exaggerated Chilean accent, to make sure he does not take me for gringo.

He pretends that he is thinking; although we both know the answer that is coming. He spits tobacco on the ground before speaking.

“Life is shit, sunny”, he replies pensively, leaving no space for further inquiries. “Una mierda, hijo.
* * *
Then it is night and I feel hungry and near my hotel what is open are only several North American fast food joints and a disproportionally huge casino. I go through the security, then enter the casino. It is Friday but nobody is gambling. The roulette and blackjack tables are empty and so are the stools in front of flashing and noisy slot machines.

Life music in café is very loud but good; a corpulent local starlet is pouring out her heart in classic boleros, and then teasing the audience with good Columbian cumbias. It is all as it should be on a Friday night: “I die without you… You are my life… If you leave me…” It all goes well, and the dish of shredded beef and friend plantains is delicious. One could easily forget that the city outside resembles a war zone and that the gangs and child prostitutes are roaming the streets.

But then the music stops and the expression on the face of the singer changes. Something is going to happen, I think. With one bizarre, unnecessary and vulgar gesture she lifts up her skirt above her waste. The audience roars.

As I am leave the casino, I clearly hear the gunshots nearby.

* * *
The same night I stalk a police officer, whose name is D. Rodriguez. He is bored, guarding nothing more exciting than a large parking lot. He is eager to talk, as there is nothing better to do than to talk. I ask him how bad is really life in Colon? He thinks for a few seconds than begins his long litany:
“To tell you the truth, earlier, things were much better for the poor. No matter what they say, Noriega was actually helping many poor people. In his days, most of the families were able to get by easily. Now they squeeze you with taxes and regulations but you get almost nothing in return. In the past, one could encounter plenty of respect. One man; just one police officer would be able to guard an entire prison… Now forget it: security forces are being taken hostages; there is no safety in this country, anymore.”
I ask him about the terrible state in which his city appears to find itself, but he does not seem to understand my question. He is a man of concrete questions and answers. He was born and raised here and this is all he knows; there is no point of comparison.

“It is falling apart, I know”, he says. “They – the administration – do nothing. But it is like this for decades, at least since the invasion…”

* * *
But others do seem to know and they compare.

In January 2009 Grisel Bethancourt wrote for La Critica:
The City of Colón is the most violent in the Republic of Panama, according to an analysis of crime statistics taken from around the entire country announced by the Minister of Government and Justice Dilio Arcia. According to Arcia, this conclusion is derived from the numbers of homicides in Colón during 2008. There were 33 homicides for every 100,000 residents, which is greater than the 27 homicides for every 100,000 residents in Panama City. This report on the violence occurring along the Atlantic coast form part of the diagnosis of the criminal situation faced by the entire country. Most of the murders in Colón are tied to gang activity, said Arcia. In 2008 there were a total of 652 homicides in the entire Republic of Panama, where gang activity, the settling of accounts, quarrels between rival groups and revenge are the main causes. Even though Panama is not a drug producing country, most crime is tied to drug trafficking and 80% of the murders are caused with firearms. The statistics also indicate that in the prisons the average age of the inmates is 30 years, and more than two thirds of the inmates started their criminal careers at age 12, where school drop-outs are a big part of the problem.
The editor of the publication replied:
At 33 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, Colón could very well be the most dangerous city in Latin America.
In his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Noam Chomsky wrote about the state of post-invasion Panama:
The US put the bankers back in power after the invasion. Noriega’s involvement in drug trafficking had been trivial compared to theirs. Drug trafficking there has always been conducted primarily by the banks – the banking system is virtually unregulated, so it’s a natural outlet for criminal money. This has been the basis for Panama’s highly artificial economy and remains so – possibly at a higher level – after the invasion. The Panamanian Defence Forces have also been reconstructed with basically the same officers.
In general, everything’s pretty much the same, only now more reliable servants are in charge. The same is true of Grenada, which has become a major centre of drug money laundering since the US invasion. Nicaragua, too, has become a significant conduit for drugs to the US market, after Washington’s victory in the 1990 election. The pattern is standard – as is the failure to notice it.)
* * *
One of the managers working at the Hotel Four Points by Sheraton at a suburb of Colon called Rainbow City originally comes from the capital. He is ready to compare and to talk, but does not want to be named:
“Life here is very tough. Not much seems to be working here now: the medical care is terrible and so is education…  Noriega was no saint, but during his government the poor and the middle class were just fine. The rich of course hated him, as he was making their life difficult. Like the President that we have now – for decades he has been an arch enemy of Noriega.”
The name “Rainbow City” where we speak comes from the days when the North Americans were building the Panama Canal. It is said that when they came here, they began housing and racially segregating local workers, similarly as they had been doing at home in the United States.

“Of course I did not experience those days of segregation”, says Manuel. “It all happened before I was born, but my parents and grandparents told me all about the past. There were shops, even supermarkets for the whites only and others for the rest of the people.”

Then he returned back to the invasion:
“It all depends to whom you decide to talk, of course. You hear one thing from the military and from the official press, which is owned by the rich, and you hear the opposite things from those whose children were killed during the bombing and invasion. What I can tell you is that this country was used as one enormous training ground by the US military. They tested all sorts of latest and the most sophisticated equipment here, to check it and to see how it would work in much more challenging war scenarios. They even brought some stealth bombers to this backwater. Why, to fight against the owners of Laundromats and minimarkets? And don’t forget that we have very good jungle here. You know what I mean by ‘good’ – it fits to thousands of diverse war scenarios.”
“Many Panamanian people died”, concluded Manuel. “Yes, many people died here – in Colon; they were bombed, they were shot. But you know what? You will hardly find anything that would remind you of those horrors. Although the whole city looks now like one enormous war zone, like something that had been bombed to the ground, there are almost no bullet holes left and no remnants of the structures that were bombed. All proofs of the crime were painstakingly removed.”
Manuel does not want to have his real name mentioned. He would lose his job if he would be associated with the opposition intellectuals and their reports.

Before we part, he drives me to a former police station in the center of the battered city.
“It was totally destroyed; bombed. Now you only see the gate.

”Apparently everything had been destroyed around here”, I say.

He nods.
* * *
The next day I drive around, to posh marinas outside the city where to speak Spanish is clearly considered déclassé and where catamarans are flying flags of the United States, Canada and European Union. I drive to the series of ancient fortifications now designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Above all I want to see the Panama Canal; that fortified monster, the engineering masterpiece, the pride and damnation of this country.

As enormous ships are majestically pulling through the locks, as tugboats and locomotives are performing their precision work, as the flags of dozens of countries from around the world are flying above the vessels and along the Canal, one could not avoid thinking about the striking contrast between this ribbon of high technology and precision connecting two oceans, and the naked misery just a few miles away.

Between the city of Colon and the Gatun Locks, frenetic construction is under way: the new canal, new locks and new waterway that will increase maritime traffic through Panama.

The companies that were awarded construction contract belong to Belgium, Spain, Italy and other nations. And the ownership of the original Canal had been officially transferred from the United States to Panama in 1999.

But it is no secret that the sole superpower is firmly in charge of this strategically crucial country with only around 3.5 million inhabitants. Since May 2009, the super-conservative, pro-US supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli runs the country.
“Panama’s Torrijos was succeeded by the right wing Ricardo Martinelli, who comes from one of Panama’s oldest economic and political oligarch families”, wrote Annie Bird for The Red Phoenix. “JIATF-S, a unit under the U.S. military’s Southern Command (SouthCom), left Panama for Miami 19 years ago when the U.S. left the Canal Zone. Last year JIATF-S came back to Panama providing “Operational Support” in a newly reopened U.S. military base which serves as the Center of Operations for the Central American System for Regional Integration’s Regional Security Strategy (SICA-COSR). COSR will most likely be the regional center for the JIATF-S’s C4I border surveillance program, which creates technology canals of radars and other electronic surveillance equipment linked to Colombian and Mexican border control technology.”
Elsewhere in Central America

The legacy of the US invasions and interventions is still visible all over Central America, it is scarring entire communities, entire nations.

“Gang violence, drug culture, extremely high crime rate: these are all legacies of the imported conflicts and wars”, legendary Spanish priest padre Pepe explained to me several years ago, who is, since 1985, fighting gang violence in El Salvador by trying to bring opportunities and skills to the youngsters who were recruited to some of the most brutal gangs in the world, particularly “M18” and Mara Salvatrucha (MS13).

In San Salvador, at Polígono Industrial Don Bosco, I witnessed hundreds of young men and women learning trades and trying to find their place in the society. Some of them had terrible histories shattering their young lives: they had to kill, to murder in cold blood, in order to survive and to prove their allegiance to the gang. Many of them lost relatives during the civil war, some were ‘sent’ to the United States for education. Some joined the gangs here, others in California or elsewhere.

The gang-wars in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico and at much smaller extent in other Central American countries have been reaching epic proportions for many years. Activities of the gangs are range from extortion, killings, rape, arson and illegal gambling to bank robberies and property fraud. The brutality is unimaginable: beheading and body part dismembering are the usual forms of executions. One of the former members of MS13 once confessed to me that after being gang-raped a female victim had her chest cut open with a knife and her heart eaten by the gang members while she was still alive.

Gangland, El Salvador.

In Central America, as in the real war, there are usually two sides to the ‘conflict’. It could be the war between two gangs, or as it was for years in El Salvador, a war between the gangs and equally (or even more) brutal vigilante paramilitary groups like the Sombra Negra (“Black Shadow”) death squad, which consists of the members of the military and police and executes on the spot anyone suspected of belonging to the maras.

As brutal as the gangs are, their members are products of the violence that was often brought to this part of the world from outside. This was clearly the point being made by a great French filmmaker Christian Poveda who spent years documenting Salvadorian gangs and who himself was murdered by maras in 2009. Poveda often described maras as “Victims of society”.

In June I drove to the same neighborhood of Soyapango where the filmmaker was allegedly murdered. I filmed the gang insignias and then I asked the driver to come back to allow me to take still photographs. As we were making the second approach, our car came under fire.

The same afternoon I visited the town of Guazapa, a place where some of the most terrible atrocities during the civil war took place. I was shown electric poles with the bullet holes, the places where the military and death squads  (many of them trained in the United States) charged against the civilians. I was taken to the places where the people were murdered in broad daylight.

I crossed the river, stopping at the concrete wall where the names of the victims were once engraved into the simple monument, but were now fading. The river flowed lazily by and it was getting dark and eerie.

“This was the border between the land controlled by the revolutionary FLMN and the rest of the country”, explained my guide, a basketball trainer Henrique (not his real name). “Thousands of people were massacred here by the military, by paramilitaries, by the US covert operations. The slopes of the volcano are like some massive graveyard. And why? Just because the majority of our people wanted their left-wing government!”

The area is dotted with craters from intensive bombing (not unlike those I saw in Laos and Cambodia), with some remnants of schools and peasant houses.

The civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992) took, according to the official counts, between 70.000 and 75.000 lives, but it is widely believed that much more than 100.000 people were killed or disappeared in this small country with just slightly over 6 million inhabitants (2012 estimate).

I visit an old man – the only member of the family of over 30 that was massacred during the war. “They came with a truck, loaded all of us to the back of it and then shot and killed everybody just a few kilometers away. I was the only one who survived.” We agree on a formal interview and filming in the future. As the darkness begins to descend on the villages around Guazapa, my driver begins to panic. “This  area is controlled by maras”, he explains.

Henrique calms him down. “They will not attack us. I coach many of their members. We play basketball together.” Sport is his way to draw young people away from violence.

“Most of them are good kids”, he says. “But look at this country: when they were children, their parents and relatives were disappearing, being slaughtered like animals. Weapons were everywhere. Death was hiding behind every corner and life was cheap; it had hardly any value.”

Now former FMLN guerillas are governing El Salvador, and things are slowly beginning to improve. But the legacy of violence will remain in the country for many long decades.

The US involvement in El Salvador (and in the rest of the region) has had a devastating impact on the local societies. Even with the new winds blowing though Latin America, it is very difficult to change the old power structures that are firmly in place. Not only financial, but also moral corruption has been implanted here for generations.

In 1987, John Stockwell, former high-ranking CIA agent, gave a powerful speech on the Secret Wars of the CIA. He mentioned El Salvador where the war was then still in full swing:
They don’t meet the death squads on the streets where they’re actually chopping up people or laying them down on the street and running trucks over their heads. The CIA people in San Salvador meet the police chiefs, and the people who run the death squads, and they do liaise with them, they meet them beside the swimming pool of the villas. And it’s a sophisticated, civilized kind of relationship. And they talk about their children, who are going to school at UCLA or Harvard and other schools, and they don’t talk about the horrors of what’s being done. They pretend like it isn’t true.
But it was true and it is true even now. In El Salvador the civil war fought for ideals and sovereignty ended two decades ago, but the violence never stopped – it mutated to senseless gang wars and endless assassinations. There are thousands of literally sick elements of society, including members of the Sombra Negra, who are simply too accustomed to killing and too sure of their impunity.
* * *
In Guatemala, one of the most racially divided and feudal countries on earth, the civil war (1960-1996) took almost a quarter of a million people: 200,000 were killed and 50.000 disappeared. The conflict was mainly between the right-wing governments and the military and indigenous Maya groups, which actually represented the great majority of the country. Left-wing guerilla MR-13 fought for 36 years both the pro-Western fascist governments and the US direct (Green Berets “advisors”, for instance) and indirect interventions.

Even before the war, the U.S. government ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to launch Operation PBSUCCESS (1953–54) and halt Guatemala’s “communist revolt”, basically progressive forces – “October Revolutionaries” – who took control of the country after 1944, implementing countless socially- oriented reforms; another terrible crime in the eyes of the Empire.

In the neighboring Honduras, the United States established its continuous military presence and from there it was supporting (illegally, even according to the US Constitution) the terrorist Contras across the border in Nicaragua.
The military of Honduras was taking for years direct orders from the United States and there were entire waves of extra-judicial killings in the country’s history, backed by the CIA. Notorious “Battalion 316” performed the worst ones. There were also kidnappings and disappearances of countless Left wing opposition figures (including members of ‘Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement’) by the armed forces.

Recently, in 2009, the Left-Wing President Manuel Zelaya had been deposed in what was widely believed to be a US-backed coup.

Both Guatemala and Honduras are suffering from some of the highest levels of gang violence and delinquency anywhere in the world, the fact linked directly to the militias and death squads supported and trained for decades by the United States, as well as by the past wars ignited and fueled from the North.

Abandoned ship “Hope.”
* * *
Nicaragua is different.

There is no other country in Central America that had suffered more in the hands of the Empire. An adventurer William Walker declared himself a King here in 1856 before being driven from his ‘throne’ by other Central American countries one year later.

At the beginning of the 20th Century President Zelaya dared to make an attempt to regulate foreign access to Nicaraguan natural resources and the United States reacted by predictable fury, invading the country in 1909 and staying, with one brief interval, until 1933. Nicaragua was converted to a de facto colony. Shortly after the Marines left, long and horrible era of Somoza Dynasty (1936 – 1979) was installed and sponsored from the North. Anastasio Somoza García was a strange brew, a fascist and caudillo, but above all the fateful servant of the Empire. His offspring followed the same line; Anastasio Somoza Debayle, first the head of the notorious National Guard later the President, was ‘educated’ at West Point.

During the brutal dictatorship of Somoza clan, Nicaragua lost almost all of its coastal pines; there was unbridle deforestation, soil erosion and the land grabs by ruling elites. Hundreds of thousands of people were constantly on the move – relocated, displaced, forced to abandon their land. Lethal pesticides like DDT and Dieldrin were poisoning the land. The US interests and the local elites were ruining the country, systematically and without mercy.
The violence of destruction reached unimaginable heights.

But unlike elsewhere, the opposition was well organized and disciplined. The fight against fascism did not only include weapons, it encompassed education, revolutionary pathos ventilated through poetry, literature and music.
After the devastating “Managua Earthquake” which killed 10.000 and left 500.000 homeless on December 1972, the government had stolen much of the money from international relief funds. This was the last straw and on 27 December 1974, a group of FSLN guerrillas went to action and the war for the liberation of Nicaragua erupted.

For almost seven years the government used death squads and bombed civilians. Martial law was declared and entire villages were razed. The US was unconditionally supporting its ally. The Soviet Union and Cuba felt obliged to join the fight and support FSLN.

On July 19, 1979, Somoza dictatorship was over. The new – Sandinista – government was proclaimed, led by 35-years old Daniel Ortega. Young revolutionaries took over the city, with their songs and good humor, bringing hope to a ghostly capital.

Fabulous creative energy was unleashed; several years of rebuilding the nation began. After brutal pro-US dictatorship, Sandinistas had to fight malnutrition, pollution, widespread misery and illiteracy.

But success and the independent course unleashed, as always, a furious reaction from the United States, who embraced Contras, established by Somoza’s National Guard and strongly supported by former Nicaraguan business elites. Contras were allegedly funded by the CIA elements involved in cocaine trade in Central America, and the United Sates itself.
In Reagan years, the US unleashed nothing short of a war against the poor Central American nation, destroying its ports, infrastructure and terrorizing civilians. Contras were brutalizing local population, making excursions from their bases in Honduras and Costa Rica.

As always in similar scenarios, the US was enjoying absolute impunity. Although the International Court of Justice (ICJ) condemned its actions in 1986, the U.S. refused to pay restitution to Nicaragua, even after The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in order to pressure the U.S. to pay the fine. Only El Salvador and Israel voted against.
Brutality of the civil war exhausted the country and broke its revolutionary spirit. Sandinistas lost elections in 1990, and then again in 1996.

Poetry Park, Managua.

I drove all around the country in October 1996. The remnants of the violence were everywhere. Destroyed towns and villages, the bullet holes. In Rama, I hired a small boat and sailed down the Rio Escondido. There, some of the most vicious fighting had been taking place during the war. And it was there where I witnessed the most symbolic remnant of the war – long and ghostly wreck of the cargo boat rotting in the middle of the river; the boat sank by Contras. Its name was “Hope”.

Imagine “Free and fair” elections (that is how they were described by Western mass media) where most of the people you ask say they would vote for Sandinistas, but vote for the Right-wing instead, too scared of the threats coming from the US embassy that is almost openly suggesting that the war would resume would the Left win again in democratic elections.
In those years I tried to make sense of all that was happening in Nicaragua and I spoke to Daniel Ortega and I spoke to Eden Pastora, Commander Zero, first the hero of the Revolution and later the leader of one faction of the Contras, the man who apparently refused to accept the US command and tactics and suggested to his North American counter-parts to “eat shit”.

One thing was clear to me: no matter how broken the country felt, no matter how depressing were regressive policies of the right wing governments, it was obvious to anyone that Nicaragua was “different” from other Central American nations. It was a place where people still knew how to dream about a better world. There was much more solidarity and awareness here than anywhere else in the region.

When the Left (Republicans) lost the civil war in Spain, they used to say: “We lost, but we had better songs!” Even when I worked one year in Costa Rica, a ‘region’s star”, I felt relief driving across the border to Nicaragua. They had always better jokes and much better songs there.

To have good songs and good education certainly helps. The nation finally pulled together and in November 2006 Daniel Ortega won elections once again. Of course he is far from being a perfect leader. Pastora, who came back and is now a cabinet minister, is also far from being ‘clean’. But what a difference between Nicaragua and those other Central American countries that also went through the deadly spiral of violence like Guatemala, Honduras, or Panama!

* * *
After coming under fire in San Salvador, after seeing all that hopelessness and decay of the city of Colon in Panama, I arrived in Nicaragua. I came for just two days, for B roll I had to collect for one of my documentary films. I rented a car and after checking in my hotel in Managua, drove to splendid Granada on the Lake Nicaragua.

It was already late afternoon when I arrived. Before entering the city center, I noticed a large and welcoming park in front of the historic train station. It was dotted with impressive modern sculptures of great Nicaraguan poets. Each sculpture had one poem engraved in white color to its black surface. I read the names and the poems with reverence: Ernesto Cardenal, Enrique Fernandez Morales, Manolo Cuadra, Jose Coronel Urtecho, Joaquin Pasos…

Children were playing all around the park and lovers were sitting underneath those engraved poems, holding hands, embracing and kissing, whispering promises that were whispered by those who are in love since the very beginning of the world.

There was something moving and good about this entire atmosphere. It was an image of peace, of simple joy, of goodness.
It hit me that this was all very symbolic – this was the spirit of Central America, the beautiful and tender part of the world with its great ancient civilizations and communal and sharing spirit. In this world many great poems and songs were born. The couples would dance here until the early morning hours while the stories would flow often for days and nights. The beautiful land and the sea produced more than enough to sustain those few millions who lived here.

But outside of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the violence is still torturing and scarring the people; blood is still flowing, women are crying at night remembering all those horrors they had to witness, remembering the men they loved and lost, the children they breastfed and lost, and all that injustice that is impossible to ever forgive and forget.

All that injustice… And all that violence unleashed by the generations of those who only knew wars and monstrous

dictatorships, the death squads.

Chances are that the child who grows up playing on the metal replica of old steam train under the statues of great writers will grow up to recite poems to his first love, somewhere in the park like this one in Granada. Chances are that a child who played with knifes and grew up witnessing indescribable violence will join some gang, will turn to killing and raping with no second thought.

In Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua: people were certain what societies they wanted to live in. At one point or another they opted for progressive, humane governments. But their choices were drowned in blood. The Empire; the United States of America, put business and colonial interests ahead of any considerations for human lives. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered. No apology, no compensation ever came.

Entire nations ruined, entire cities ruined. The gangs, the violence, the misery – this is what replaced the hope and natural strife for justice.

Two countries, two places only in this tortured strip of land between Mexico and Darien Gap are now rising from the ashes again: Nicaragua and El Salvador. Honduras tried but was cut in the middle by yet another US-backed shameless coup. The only way for Nicaragua and El Salvador to survive is to join hands, to cling with all their strength to their bigger brothers in South America, those who are uniting, those who are finally coming through, those who, after centuries of servility, are standing proudly on their own feet.

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His book on Western imperialism in the  South Pacific – Oceania – is published by Lulu . His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” and will be released by Pluto Publishing House in August 2012. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website.
All photographs by Andre Vltchek.