Sunday, December 30, 2012

La danza de los cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos

La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos
Javier Rebolledo
Ceibo Ediciones, 2012

The history of Cuartel Simón Bolívar remained a heavily shrouded secret of Direccion de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA), until the pact of silence was broken by Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, known as ‘el Mocito’. A struggle for survival grotesquely transformed into a life of treason – a man of campesino origins working as a servant in the household of Manuel Contreras Sepulveda – Head of DINA, later progressing to inclusion in DINA and transferred to Cuartel Simón Bolívar. ‘La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos’ (Dance of Crows: the fate of the disappeared detainees) delves into the atrocities committed by Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín through Vergara’s testimony who, in 2007, declared the Cuartel as ‘the only place where no one got out alive’. Residents living close to the extermination centre were reluctant to make friends, out of mistrust and the uncomfortable proximity to the terror inflicted upon detainees.
Vergara’s initiation into Manuel Contreras’ realm started with his employment as an errand boy. During the months spent at the household, Vergara equated respect with authority, particularly manifested in his obsession with weapon handling and ownership and learning to work in relation to crime, albeit unconsciously at first. Contreras’ power was gradually revealed – occasional phone calls from dictator Augusto Pinochet, the arrival of Uruguayan President Juan María Bordaberry and the ensuing collaboration in staging Operación Condór and Operación Colombo, the expensive automobiles, the presence of bodyguards and the visits of other DINA agents, such as Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Michael Townley and Juan Morales Salgado, were a fragment of the reality incarcerated within Cuartel Simón Bolívar.
Javier Rebolledo portrays Vergara’s testimony as a narration of memories, prompted by the author at times for clarification or further information; supplemented by the author’s research through official documents and court statements. However, it is essentially Vergara’s history intertwined with that of the torturers and the desaparecidos of Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Apart from his insistence that he was never involved in killing or torturing any of the desaparecidos, the sensation of blame is effortlessly enhanced. Indeed, Judge Victor Montiglio only acquitted Vergara on the grounds that he was not yet an adult according to the law, during his tenure working for DINA’s Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín.
The initial realisation of betrayal is only intensified as the book progresses. Vergara’s betrayal of his campesino origins, his betrayal of DINA and, more importantly, the betrayal of Chile’s struggle against oblivion merge and distance themselves incessantly. The contrasts of relieving one’s conscience versus the convenience of acquittal, coupled with Vergara’s trepidation of a possible assassination for revealing DINA’s profoundly fortified secret, all point to complicity in the fate of MIR and Partido Comunista disappeared militants.
On January 20, 2007 Jorgelino Vergara Bravo broke the pact of silence after being falsely identified as the murderer of Víctor Manuel Díaz López, head of the clandestine organisation of Chile’s Communist Party. Insisting that he never killed or tortured any of the desaparecidos, Vergara’s testimony shed light on Cuartel Simón Bolívar as Chile’s torture and extermination centre. There had been numerous speculations about the existence of a site specifically used for the persecution, torture and annihilation of MIR and Communist Party Militants, but DINA refused to reveal any vital information. While Vergara was detained in a high security prison, 74 DINA agents were immediately arrested, leaving no chance for a possible corroboration between officials to avail themselves of impunity. Betrayals and denials ensued. Contreras denied ever having set eyes upon Vergara. On the contrary, Juan Morales Salgado, Head of Brigada Lautaro, was the first to affirm that Vergara ‘was neither an apparition nor paranoid’, confirming Vergara’s employment at Cuartel Simón Bolívar and his previous job as errand boy in Contreras’ household.
Montiglio’s perseverance in bringing the DINA agents to justice was abruptly terminated upon his demise from cancer in 2011. By that time, evidence about Cuartel Simón Bolívar, the Calle Conferencia cases, as well as the process of disappearing MIR and Communist Party militants and Operacion Retiro de Televisores was swiftly unravelling, revealing the ruthless mechanisms of Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín.
Vergara’s previous fragmented knowledge, garnered from conversations between Contreras and other DINA agents, including Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Juan Morales Salgado, Burgos de Beer and Moren Brito, gradually manifested itself into revelations of actual torture and extermination ritual. Serving coffee and sandwiches to agents in the midst of torture sessions, Vergara recalls the indifference with which instructions on how to serve coffee jarred with the sight of a detainee writhing from excruciating torture. However, these scenes portrayed a fragment of the torture process. Vergara’s recollections of Dr Osvaldo Pincetti (also known as Dr Tormento) and detainees were impregnated with detail, yet the fate of the tortured dissidents remained obscured. Dr Pincetti specialised in hypnosis; on one occasion Vergara witnessed a victim being forced to watch himself bleed to death – a form of torture designed to coerce the dissident into signing false confessions or supplying information about Chilean dissidents.
The severity of torture ensured that detainees were exterminated and disappeared within seven days of arriving at Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Detainees were forced to listen to their compañeros’ anguish during torture sessions involving the parilla, which administered electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the genitals. Sometimes detainees were beaten to death or asphyxiated. Nurse Gladys Calderon, another DINA recruit whose work experience included assisting Dr Vittorio Orvietto Templinsky in Villa Grimaldi and DINA agent Ingrid Olderock, notoriously renowned for training dogs to violate women, administered cyanide injections to all detainees. Questioned about her role, Calderon deemed it ‘an act of humanity’ which ended the suffering of those destined to become the desaparecidos of Cuartel Simón Bolívar.
Vergara also narrates how detainees were used to test the manufacture of chemical weapons. Developed and manufactured by Eugenio Berriós and Michael Townley; a US citizen recruited by DINA and now living under the witness protection programme in the US, sarin gas featured prominently in Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Two Peruvian men were detained and brought to the Cuartel, where they were forced to inhale sarin gas in the presence of Contreras, Salgado, Barriga, Lawrence and Calderon. The Peruvians were administered electric shocks using a new device displayed by Townley and later beaten to death. Their bodies were probably disposed of in Cuesta Barriga – the site in question during the illegal exhumation of the desaparecidos’ bodies during Operación Retiro de Televisores in 1979.

Reinalda Pereira
Víctor Díaz
Memories of the torture inflicted upon Daniel Palma, Víctor Díaz, Reinalda Pereira and Fernando Ortiz Letelier are narrated in detail by Vergara, who describes Palma’s cries as being the loudest ever heard, prompting DINA agents to increase the sound level of their stereos to obliterate his cries. Díaz was tortured on the parilla, asphyxiated and later administered a cyanide injection by Calderon, upon direct orders from Morales. After manifesting her terror at the inability to protect her unborn child, Pereira was subjected to mock executions and severe beatings, incited by her pleas to DINA agents to kill her. Ortiz was beaten to death. The bodies were later subjected to further degradation – agents pulled out the teeth in a search for gold fillings. Later, the faces, fingers and any other particular features were torched to prevent any possible identification. As with other Calle Conferencia victims, the bodies of the detainees were ‘packaged’ during the night and ushered out of Cuartel Simón Bolívar, destined for burial in Cuesta Barriga or transferred to Pedelhue, loaded upon helicopters and dumped into the sea. According to Vergara, the desaparecidos were deemed ‘fodder for the fish’ by DINA agents. In 1976, 80 MIR militants suffered the fate of the detenidos desaparecidos – most of them through Cuartel Simón Bolívar.
Daniel Palma
Fernando Ortiz Letelier
Rebolledo’s intricate research constructs the alliance between agents of Cuartel Simón Bolívar and other detention and torture centres. A number of agents forming part of Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín were part of the contingent from Tejas Verdes. As the persecution of MIR and Partido Comunista militants widened to encompass all of Chile, torture centres were set up around the country under the command of Manuel Contreras. At the time of Vergara’s inclusion in DINA, torture centres such as Villa Grimaldi, Londres 38, Tres y Cuatro Álamos and José Domingo Cañas were already operating under special brigades such as Brigada Halcón, headed by Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko and responsible for the torture of detainees at Londres 38.
Vergara recalls a visit to Colonia Dignidad, run by Paul Schäfer and notorious for its abuse against incarcerated minors. Rumours originating from Contreras’ bodyguards indicated that DINA agents profited from the desaparecidos by setting up an organ trafficking trade to Europe, with the recipient countries being Switzerland and Belgium.
Betrayals ensured within DINA following its disintegration after the assassination of Orlando Letelier. With the creation of the CNI, Vergara was transferred to Cuartel Loyola where he found himself lacking the imaginary protection offered by Contreras. Pressed by Rebolledo as to whether he participated in any assassinations after his stint at DINA, Vergara replies in a rhetorical manner, implying self-defence against aggression as implication of participation. Rebolledo remarks upon the vagueness of Vergara’s recollections in this period, noting once again that Montiglio had exonerated him solely because he had been a minor during his time at Cuartel Simón Bolívar. The vague recollections coincide with Operacion Retiro de Televisores – an encrypted message issued by Pinochet ordering agents to illegally exhume the remains of the bodies buried clandestinely in Cuesta Barriga. The remains were either dumped into the sea or burned, to avoid any official investigation. Bone fragments later discovered on site led to the identification of Fernando Ortiz Letelier, Ángel Gabriel Guerrero, Horacio Cepeda and Lincoyán Berríos – all victims of Calle Conferencia.
The book is punctuated with the contrast between the lives of the desaparecidos and the agents in charge of their extermination, laying bare the crudeness with which various sections of the Cuartel served for disparate purposes – desaparecidos left to bleed to death in the gym, which would later be cleaned and used by the agents for their physical training. Sporting events were also held between different brigades of various torture centres.
Undoubtedly, Rebolledo’s research is striving to shift the dynamics of impunity. Recently the author was subjected to acts of intimidation when his research detailing further DINA atrocities was stolen. Chile’s dictatorship disguised under a semblance of democracy is still resisting the masses’ struggle in favour of memory. As stated in the first chapters, various agents still have not been processed for their roles in dictatorship crimes, whilst others continue to wield influence in Chile’s legal and political hierarchy.
‘La danza de los cuervos’ is both an indispensable read and a significant contribution to Chile’s struggle against oblivion and impunity. The exploitation of humanity decreed by Pinochet and Contreras is vividly depicted without committing error of shifting the focus from the detenidos desaparecidos. Rebolledo weaves his discourse out of a sequence of betrayals within diverse factions in Chile, compellingly bequeathing the memory of the desaparecidos to a country split between loyalty to the dictator’s manipulation and the masses clamouring for an integral part of their narrative which wallowed in oblivion for decades.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction

Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement RestrictionThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction
Nadia Abu Zahra and Adah Kay
Pluto Press, 2013

Denationalisation is the fundamental problem of Palestinians. The systematic annihilation of fundamental freedoms for Palestinians has resulted in an ongoing process of changes in demography, geography and social structure. "Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction" (Pluto Press, 2013) delves into the historical processes of population repression, demonstrating how the concept of denationalisation is proving instrumental for Israel to persist in a gradual extermination and expulsion of Palestinians from their land.

The book describes how, as early as 1914, Chaim Weizmann, later president of the World Zionist Congress, attempted to distort Palestinian history by stating, "There is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and, on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people, and it has no country. What else is necessary, then, than to fit the gem into the ring, to unite this people with this country?" Weizmann's discourse negated the existence of Palestinians, although this did not deter Zionists from conducting a census in order to perfect methods of denationalisation.
The provision of identity cards and documentation has been a source of controversy worldwide, within the global context of "security". Security has become the source of serious breaches of fundamental human rights. Surveillance and the withdrawal of documentation representing identity has enhanced oppressive governments and elitist exploiters, as can be seen in the case of migrant workers who are rendered stateless without access to their passports. Israel, however, has developed a process which renders identification a source of terror instead of a reciprocal relationship between the state and civilians.

Whilst international law declared denationalisation illegal after the Nazi's persecution of Jews, the international community has been weak in the wake of ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionists in Palestine. The book elaborates on how the census of 1948 was designed to expel Palestinians permanently from their land and instil preventive measures against the right and will to return. Many Palestinians who dared to defy the occupiers were shot when they tried to return, or were imprisoned. Zionists have blatantly ignored the "Right to Return" as stipulated by the UN in 1948. The resolution was declared non-binding by Zionists due to the use of "should" instead of "shall", in the phrasing of Article 11 in Resolution 194. The census omitted 90,000 Palestinians, labelled by Zionists as "absent", having forfeited "their status, land and possessions".

In the context of Palestinians, identity cards have been likened to "a license to live", distorting security and enhancing the state terror practices of the occupier. Over 101 types of permits have been issued to curb Palestinian movement. Such restrictions have widened the gap between Jews and Palestinians, putting to practice an apartheid system in which Jewish teenagers are recruited by Israeli soldiers to train as border guards. The exercise, which involves "hunting Palestinians" who lack work permits, is relished by these teenagers. The book quotes a Jewish high school recruit: "I consider it a form of pleasure. It simply provides me with values, and I love the action."

On the basis of denationalisation, Israelis conducted a meticulous process to strip Palestinians of any form of security. Permits and IDs could be revoked at random, whilst colonisers were granted citizenship. Infants born to Palestinians were listed as having "indefinite citizenship" in the population registry for non-Jewish people, effectively rendering them stateless and justifying the concept of citizenship as serving the "nation" instead of individual citizens.

Zionist discourse was far removed from actual practice and in fact for a while continued to appease the international community with adequate rhetoric about adhering to international law whilst embarking on further plans to diminish the Palestinian population, creating blacklists which later expanded to include entire communities instead of targeting individuals. Males aged 10 - 50 years were sent to prison camps, thus enforcing family separation. Massacres were carried out in Palestinian villages; another form of eliminating resistance to the occupation.

The book also expounds upon the methods through which Palestinians were used in the process of coercion and collaboration. With basic rights denied and bestowed at will, temporary residence permits became a bargaining tool exuding a certain degree of power. Acquiring an ID card meant that Palestinians were surrendering all of their rights to the Israeli authorities. Abu Zahra and Kay supplement the humiliation of obtaining identification with stories from Palestinians, who were subjected to various forms of abuse by authorities and soldiers at checkpoints. The humiliation extended to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where control and exception were routine practices. Israelis also recruited Palestinians to police fellow Palestinians, upon promises of money, cards and residence permits. This scheme rendered Palestinians active participants in their own oppression, as Palestinian informers recruited by Israeli soldiers played upon feuds between villages and indulged in the torture of other Palestinians.

The authors portray clearly the unsustainable reality in the chapter dealing with movement restriction and induced transfer. Describing Palestinians as living in crowded "open air prisons", the authors demonstrate how demography changes due to expulsion and forced removal. Palestinians were forced to relocate to other Palestinian villages after their villages were bombed, as in the case of Kafr Bir'im which was later occupied by Israelis. Israeli discourse regarding the annihilation of Palestinians was never mild. The initial declaration by Weizmann in 1914 was echoed in stronger terms by Ben Gurion in 1947, who said that transfer should be induced by "starving them to death". In 1974, an Israeli official responsible for agriculture described Palestinians as "a cancer in our bodies" and spoke of "eradicating the plague".

Apartheid was put into practice upon the simplistic equation with catastrophic consequences for Palestinians: freedom of movement for the colonists versus restriction of movement for Palestinians. Besides apartheid roads, the construction of the Wall endangered the lives of Palestinians as their access to health and education services were almost obliterated. Clinics were displaced and treatment became scarce as blockades or soldiers at checkpoints deliberately prohibited deliveries from reaching Palestinians incarcerated behind the Wall. Besides the interruption of medication for seriously ill people, soldiers have also opened fire on ambulances and prevented women in labour from getting medical attention in hospitals. Patients with severe kidney failure have also been turned away, on the grounds that "they don't look sick". Education has been hampered by soldiers opening fire in schools, conducting military exercises in the grounds, refusing entry to teachers and eliminating any type of learning outside the school environment.

Providing a thorough analysis of the Israeli occupation's extermination of freedom, the book concludes significantly with hope as a variant of resistance against assimilation. It is not a vague concept; rather a culture of survival and resistance against the occupation which seems to be gaining momentum within the international community. Denationalisation has failed to de-motivate Palestinians, who perceive their everyday reality as a basis for an ongoing struggle. Outlining how the process of denationalisation became a collective struggle, Unfree in Palestine dissects the politics of control to assert the need for a restoration of rights and autonomy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians?

This review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

Book Review: The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Gulglielmo Verdirame, Cambridge University Press, 2011
“One should always be aware of the risk that the distance between ‘might on the side of human rights’ and ‘human rights on the side of might may be a short one.’
The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? is based on the premise that UN operations around the world involving humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and implementations of sanctions have resulted in extensive human rights violations. Yet the UN continues to cite democracy to defend its legitimacy. The book’s author Guglielmo Verdirame quotes David Chandler; professor of International Relations at the University of Westminster and author of Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, to assert the UN’s defence of illegitimacy.
“… democracy can be taught or imposed by international bodies on the basis that some ‘cultures’ are not ‘rational’ or ‘civil’ enough to govern themselves … a transitional lack of sovereignty and the denial of self-government is necessary in certain situations.”
According to Verdirame, though the UN is bound by international human rights law and international humanitarian law, institutional concerns for liberty and accountability have faltered in certain cases due to the UN’s legal incompetence, impunity and lack of adherence to human rights standards.
The overstepping of mandates by international organizations bound to the UN has often been shielded by immunity, resulting in conquests of power granted by influential UN member states. As article 105: 1 of the UN charter states, “The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes.” Therefore, human rights violations have been committed by international organizations affiliated to the UN with impunity, impunity which undermines the UN’s accountability.

A historical overview of the UN shows that legislation was always influenced by social, political and economic interests, leading to international human rights discourse which lacked “moral concern” and relied heavily on international relations. Humanitarian discourse plays upon conscience in society, usually bringing about a form of political hegemony which derives its strength from exploiting divisions within a state. The hegemony within human rights discourse has impacted both theory and humanitarian practice, influencing the humanitarian agenda without emphasizing the necessity to maintain human rights.

The lack of clear legislation on human rights in UN member states makes accountability a distant phenomenon. This is combined with the fact that most UN operations are carried out in fragile states or areas where tribalism and civil war have created unsustainable situations. After NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo, Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the Responsibility to Protect as a measure which calls for international responsibility of protecting civilians when the state in which violations are occurring is either unable or unwilling to address the problem. Adopted in 2005, the Responsibility to Protect implementation was decreed to cover genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. However, Verdirame argues that this doctrine has not changed the law on humanitarian intervention; it simply reinforces already established principles that necessitate foreign intervention.

Peacekeeping missions have been replete with human rights violations. In Mozambique, UN troops driving UN vehicles picked children off the streets, creating a ring of child prostitution. The incidence of prostitution in fragile states is higher where UN troops are stationed. The absence of a clear legal framework which would allow criminal proceedings against a perpetrator exacerbates the level of impunity. Also, while the International Criminal Court can start criminal proceedings against a perpetrator, agreements exist in which prosecution is not carried out without state consent.

The UN also creates victims through illegality. Taking the example of refugee camps, Verdirame argues that the UN is sustaining and aiding illegality by the existence of camps, which violate basic human rights such as freedom of movement and the right to work. Other punitive measures applied by agencies include food suspension and forced relocation to other camps. An Ethiopian refugee was forcibly relocated to another camp in Kenya after raising human rights awareness with other refugees. UNHCR justified this decision by stating “It is the view of the UNHCR that the series of human rights lectures was a direct cause for the wave of tension and disruption of public order in the camp.” The administration of the camps usually reflects power relations between humanitarian agencies and host countries.

UNHCR exacerbates the powerlessness of refugees by misrepresentation. By using statistics, camp administrators shift attention from the reality of camp imprisonment, focusing instead on the attainment of minimum standards which fail to address the fact that refugees’ incarceration is illegal. On the other hand, in order to promote an ideal picture of camps, visits by high commissioners to the area are greeted by scenes of false utopia. Verdirame quotes an excerpt of a short story written by James Appe.
“… a show is organized with refugee dances and music, and the Commissioner receives little presents from refugees.”
Verdirame states that since UN operations such as peace keeping, international administration, refugee camps management and relief operations are carried out by the UN through other entities, any human rights violation is attributed to the UN, and therefore the UN should be held accountable. “Liberty and human rights do not exist in a political vacuum; the state provides a political space which no international organization has been able to match.” Without UN accountability for atrocities, the state may be destined to succumb to a higher power which wields immunity at will.

Verdirame suggests that a process through which international organizations are held accountable for human rights violations would enhance UN responsibility for atrocities committed by its troops, instead of allowing the matter to be judged solely in national courts. Semi judicial administrative processes, such as ombudsmen roles in violation investigations, member state control over violations and strengthening the international judicial process to assert UN compliance with international law would also serve to weaken the organization’s immunity which also extends to ‘representatives of member states, officials of the UN and experts on missions.’ While immunity does not free the organization from any obligation, it may frustrate the enforcement of law, as stated by Schermers and Blokker, authors of International Institutional Law (2005)

In The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Verdirame’s analysis of UN operations dispels the myth that international organizations always provide an effective solution to the consequences of war, displacement and poverty. By shifting discourse to the fundamental principles of human rights and moving beyond the established charters, Verdirame places the UN in a position of profound scrutiny. He reverses the prominent human rights propaganda, shedding light on the intricate web of violations to expose a thriving illegal and inhumane administration supported by the rhetoric of peace and democracy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

His Hands were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara

This review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara (2012) captures a spectrum of lyrics which explicitly portrays social upheaval and the struggle against injustices. Victor Jara’s poetry resonates with memory and history woven into relics of resistance and triumph, culminating into an unfinished poem narrating the decadence of the dictatorship and initiated annihilation of socialism.

Thirty nine years after his death, Victor Jara remains a symbol for the Chilean left. Joan Jara’s foreword to the book shifts between memory and exile, explaining the commitment towards imparting Victor’s legacy in the aftermath of his murder. Living a constant battle against the right wing’s coveted practice of oblivion when confronted with dictatorship atrocities, Joan reiterates that Chilean justice is hampered by secrecy and impunity.

A founding member of the nueva canción movement together with Isabel Parra, Angel Parra, Rolando Alarcon and Patricio Manns, Victor gave constant support for Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular political campaign. Epitomised by songs such as El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido and the ubiquitous hymn of Venceremos, Allende’s campaign amalgamated social struggle and culture into a popular movement. Nueva canción served as a medium of expression for the left wing and, following Allende’s electoral triumph, many musicians travelled abroad as ambassadors for Unidad Popular.

This collection portrays Victor’s tenacity to challenge inequalities which, at times, manifested themselves into atrocities. Born in Lonquen, Victor witnessed and experienced the ramifications of poverty, finding solace in music and later conducting extensive research in folk music. Songs such as Canción del minero (Miner’s Song) and Plegaría a un labrador (Prayer to a Labourer) assert the indignity of exploitation with regard to human labour and natural resources. The helplessness exhibited in Cancion del Minero is transformed into a yearning to defeat the oppressor in Plegaría a un Labrador – unity embracing revolution and hope. Acknowledging armed struggle as a possible means to achieve dignity is implied in the last verse – evolving from solitary lament into social consciousness.

Victor pays homage to Miguel Angel Aguilera in El alma llena de banderas (Our Hearts are Full of Banners). A communist and member of Brigada Ramona Parra, Aguilera was killed during a street demonstration in Santiago in 1970. Victor contrasts the inspiration of Aguilera with the traitorous attitude of his murderers, stating “In the hiding place of rich murderers/ your name will stand for many names/ The one who burnt your wings as you flew/ cannot put out the fire of the poor.”
Preguntas por Puerto Montt (Questions about the massacre of Puerto Montt) earned Victor the rancour of right wing sentiment after singing the song at a boys’ secondary school in 1969. The song is addressed to Mr Perez Zujovic, the Minister of Interior who ordered a massacre upon a peasant community occupying a stretch of wasteland in Puerto Montt. Ninety one peasant families were attacked by 250 armed police, leaving 11 dead and many injured. The youngest victim was a nine month old child.

A particularly poignant song, Manifiesto (Manifesto) articulates Victor’s testimony as a singer, reaffirming his dedication to alleviate and revolt against violations. “My guitar is not for killers/ greedy for money and power,/ but for the people who labour/ so that the future may flower.” Victor’s declaration of “… a man who will die singing/ truthfully singing his song” was no vague metaphor but an assertion of his loyalty towards the people and a premonition of his own fate. The song is reminiscent of El Aparecido (The Apparition), dedicated to Che Guevara a short while before he was ambushed and murdered by CIA trained troops in Bolivia.

On the day of the military coup, Victor Jara was taken prisoner along with other workers and students barricaded inside the Technical University. Estadio Chile, Victor’s last poem, was written during his brief imprisonment at the stadium, which was transformed into the first detention and torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Written on scraps of paper and smuggled out of the stadium by a detainee who was later released, Victor inscribed what would be one of the initial endeavours in memory narrative, describing the brutality of the dictatorship. The incomplete poem describes the terror inflicted upon the 5,000 detainees in the stadium, documenting the soldiers’ beatings and psychological torture inflicted upon the prisoners. “One dead, another beaten as I could have never believed/a human being could be beaten/ … one jumping into nothingness,/ another beating his head against a wall,/ but all with the fixed look of death.”

Despite efforts to reveal the identities of officers responsible for Victor’s murder, most details are shrouded in secrecy and strengthened by oblivion and impunity. The Armed Forces of Chile refuse to reveal information which would further investigations into Victor Jara’s murder. In May, a documentary entitled Quien Mato a Victor Jara? (Who Killed Victor Jara?) revealed the name of Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez as the lieutenant who allegedly pulled the trigger on Victor. Barrientos has been living in Florida since Jose Paredes, an ex-conscript, was indicted for his role in Victor’s murder and refuses to return to Chile. Other officers refuse to collaborate, since the impunity laws of the dictatorship still govern Chilean society.

This poetry collection furthers Victor’s testimony of political turmoil in Chile, the years of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular when metaphors transcended the realm of illusion, and the initiation of the subsequent US aided military coup. The figure of Victor Jara has, throughout the years, become synonymous with the fight for justice despite the repression of dictatorship relics still governing Chilean society. An endeavour which strikes against impunity and oblivion, His Hands Were Gentle imparts a revolutionary consciousness, ensuring that the cry of “ni perdon, ni olvido” (neither forgiveness, nor oblivion) enters the realm of internationalism.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Apartheid, colonialism and international law in the occupied Palestinian territoriesThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Flouting international human rights law and international humanitarian law, Israel's occupation of Palestine veers towards the illegal and illegitimate. Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012) evaluates Israel's belligerent occupation and violation of international law, with particular reference to colonialism and apartheid practices, as well as the international community's alienation from doing anything concrete about Israel's illegalities, thus ensuring the state's strategy of establishing a deviating narrative.

Israel's near-irrevocable occupation exhibits demographic control. Land purchase, forced displacement of Palestinians, political marginalisation and exclusion from labour created instability for Palestinians, who sought to form a culture of resistance to combat a collective construction of Jewish identity on occupied land. Zionism deconstructs the culture of resistance to "violence of the resistance", thus obscuring its own illegal practices and oppression within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

Whilst international law provides general obligations for states to end colonialism and apartheid, enforcement is incongruous. Colonialism is not considered a crime and carries no individual criminal responsibility. Whilst international humanitarian law declares the occupying power's responsibility towards "protected persons", excluding Israelis, human rights law demands a general protection for people under its control. Israel has conveniently neglected international human rights law in order to preserve Jewish identity and promote a series of "peace talks" which are dominated with security concerns, thus diverting attention from the realities of colonialism and apartheid in the OPTs.

The book acknowledges arguments by the international community brought against accusations of colonial and apartheid practices - some render the practice obsolete, others associating it with European domination over non-white lands. Another viewpoint excluding consideration of colonialism and apartheid is the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. However, the obliteration of Palestinian's right to self determination is equivalent to colonial practice. As the Declaration on Colonialism (1960) states, "The subjection of people to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the UN and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and cooperation." Apartheid has been defined as a systematic oppressive system over minority groups - declared a crime by the Apartheid Convention (1973).

Yet, despite Israel's negations with regard to its practices of colonialism and apartheid, its laws and actions suggest otherwise. The World Zionist Organisation's Jerusalem Programme sets the scene for systematic racial discrimination as it describes "settling the country as an expansion of practical Zionism." Besides declaring the state of Israel as "the creation of the entire Jewish people" and insisting on immigration rights for every Jew, Palestinians have been excluded by laws distinguishing between citizenship and nationality.

The book delves further into Israeli policies marginalising Palestinians. The overstepping of stipulated boundaries allocated to Jews is referred to as "administered" or "disputed" in order to avoid implications alluding to the right of self-determination. Land appropriation and management was a conscious action destined to deprive Palestinians of political unity. The Zionist Master Plan explicitly advocates in favour of land seizure: "The best and most effective way to remove any shred of doubt regarding our intention to hold Judea and Samaria forever is a rapid settlement drive in these areas." The Gaza Strip is affected by occupation relics. Despite troops being withdrawn from the territory in 2005, Israel still maintains control over the airspace, territorial waters, borders and population records.

Notably, the book delves into Israeli law to produce evidence of apartheid. Israel practices legal segregation. Whilst Jews are held accountable through civil law procedures, military legislation rules Palestinians in the OPTs. The military is authorised to commit serious human rights violations, including land seizure and destruction of villages, defined by Israel's military law as a "humanitarian undertaking". Further, mass detention of Palestinians is encouraged. Military legislation deems it legal to detain Palestinians for up to two years before being brought to trial, resulting in mass incarceration. Torture has not been abolished from Israeli law and is considered an act of omission "performed in good faith". The assassination of Palestinians suspected of "terror activities" is also legal and considered a necessity by the Israeli authorities, owing to the supposed difficulty of arresting suspects.

Besides the legal ramifications to the detriment of Palestinians, Israel also contributes towards their destruction by limiting water, electricity, fuel and medicine. According to the book, despite there not being enough evidence to construct a case for genocide, there is intent to fragment the Palestinian community physically, coupled with labour exploitation, destruction of schools and curfews destined to annihilate any process of culture recuperation.

Israel's tenacity towards apartheid practices has been strengthened by the international community's lenient stance towards the resulting atrocities. Although Israel emerges as the main perpetrator, there is no doubt that the failure to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing criminal process against Palestinians contributes to the illegalities. This necessitates a rethinking of roles and obligations of the international community with regard to oppressor powers. So far, there has been a trend of manipulation which seems destined to ingrain itself more deeply - an inhumane show of support in favour of oppressive governments in order to further the divide between the oppressor and the oppressed, which then relies of a network of regulations and conventions which are cited and rarely applied.

It is not without evidence that in his book The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Guglielmo Verdirame departs from the premise that the United Nations violates human rights. The creation of refugee camps and endorsing a restriction of freedom of movement resonates in Beyond Occupation, albeit in different circumstances such as the denial of the right to return to Palestine, restricted working and trade conditions, separate road networks for Palestinians and heightened border control. The United Nations has failed the Palestinians by hesitating time and again to take the necessary measures to combat Israel's violations. As the book states, "Failure by the United Nations to combat apartheid when it is in a position to do so is no different from a failure to prevent genocide."

The preface suggests the general reader might, on first glance, find the book too daunting as it relies heavily on a discussion of legal frameworks. However, the book explains legal ramifications meticulously, rendering this treatise a compelling read with an authoritative conclusion - the various facades of complicity and irresponsibility consolidating Israel's belligerent occupation; an occupation which should have been denounced as illegal, had the international community not been so intentionally alienated.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Politics of Indignation: Imperialism, Post Colonial Disruptions and Social Change

Book Review: Politics of Indignation – Imperialism, Post Colonial Disruptions and Social Change, Peter Mayo, Zero Books, 2012
This review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

By imparting a consciousness of human struggle against neoliberal violence and its ramifications, Politics of Indignation provides a discourse which seeks to disrupt the process through which citizens have become fodder for imperialist powers to consolidate a destructive political system.

Capitalism created a culture of oblivion, distorting international solidarity through globalization. The fragmenting of human rights discourse alienated the scope of internationalism, thus enabling imperialism and the media to create an imaginary platform of unity which strives to consolidate divergences, geopolitical stereotypes and control over freedom. Mayo discerns a flow of coercion which, through playing upon concepts such as citizenship, identity and the value of humanity, threatens to rupture unity within the oppressed.

With human rights fast becoming a bargaining tool in the hands of oppressive institutions, citizens’ indignation at the manipulation is increasing and social movements are gaining momentum. The state’s transformation from provider of welfare to a market regulator deprives many citizens of basic fundamental freedoms and necessities, such as education, housing and health care. The transformation from necessities to commodities exploits the people as mere puppets whose sole worth is to prop up governments thriving upon the plunder of natural resources and the eradication of culture in order to create a stereotype that can be modified with each imperialist aim.

Chile’s September 11, in 1973 paved the way for an onslaught upon Latin American countries. The US aided military coup brought an end to an established system of parliamentary democracy. The torture and disappearances inflicted upon Chileans reverberated in other Latin American countries, creating both a challenge to authenticate history and a struggle to recover dignity within countries engulfed by capitalist policies. Chilean market reforms ushered by Milton Friedman privatised education, resulting in poor quality education for low income families and indigenous people which is being challenged by the student movement and their protests in favour of free quality education for all.

The US’s September 11, in 2001 brought about devastation for thousands of people within the country due to the terror attack, as well as in the Middle East through the US War on Terror. Wars and the subsequent military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq on the pretext of hunting down terrorists devastated the countries and the region. Terror suspects – a number of them being dispensable bargains for militias far removed from terrorist activities, ended up tortured in notorious prisons such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Whilst imperialist powers and the media lauded the wars, human rights violations existed within a vacuum in which the perpetrators were neither held accountable nor responsible.

Mayo portrays how the Cuban revolution and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua were demonised, despite the reforms in education and healthcare. Educators in Nicaragua were targeted aiming to prevent the spreading of revolutionary pedagogy. In Cuba, health and educational reforms took on an internationalist approach, with doctors and educators providing assistance in various countries and amongst minority communities. Despite US efforts to undermine the Cuban revolution through counter revolutionary operations, Fidel Castro persisted in a worldwide revolutionary commitment, offering aid to countries and communities ravaged by war or natural disasters.

The book emphasises the significance of education to combat the imperialist attitude of disregarding human value. Creating a public space for education as opposed to neoliberal experiments would combat imperialism and its political violence manifested in various spheres, such as state violence, violence against minorities, the annihilation of indigenous cultures, the prohibition of protests and commemoration of workers’ struggle. Mayo describes how the workers’ struggle should become a focal point of internationalism, especially considering that right wing policies wield the power to fragment the workers’ struggle through exploiting their fears and displace their collective aspirations.
“Unless such an education strategy is developed, it is more likely that the working class people become attracted to the populist right wing and often neo fascist discourse that plays on their fears and leads to further segmentation and antagonism among workers on ethnic lines.”
Neoliberalism also created a global culture of incarceration, as seen in the case of migrants. Whilst globalization trends necessitate migration, migrants tend to become victimised repeatedly after leaving their countries of origin. The affirmation of ‘the other’ embodied by migrants facilitates the host state’s repressive policies of detention and marginalisation. Mayo insists that education should incorporate and promote “a critical and genuine anti-racist education.” With regard to indigenous communities, it is essential that the West stops projecting its education principles as the only viable solution in order to reap profits from the plundering of natural resources and human labour.

The importance of implementing education “as a public and not a consumer good” is brilliantly portrayed in the chapter entitled Education and the MDGs. The United Nation’s eight goals with regard to education have been accepted by many countries. However, many of these same countries are embroiled in a global oppression which prevents their achievement. The arms trade, war and conflict, and institutions such as the IMF and the World Trade Organization persist in exploitation and endorsement of imperialism; strengthening the previous history of colonialism, fuelling conflict between tribes and enhancing the conditions for social injustice.

Mayo insists that education cannot assume neutrality. An education system which allows oppressors to consolidate their reign with the aim of accumulating profits at the expense of humanity needs to be met with an opposite philosophy – one that embraces social obligations and defends the social sciences in order to liberate education and ensure the survival of culture in order to contribute in a tangible manner towards social justice. “Education is not an independent variable.” Hence, isolating education from social processes is an error that imbues education with powers above its role, giving rise to the hypocrisy of tolerance instead of aiming for inclusion.

A striking aspect of the book is its graceful sequence and absolute respect towards history and the masses’ narratives. Mayo’s writing reinforces a commitment towards education and revolutionary struggle in an authentic manner – a profound philosophy determined in its denunciation of the treachery perpetrated by global, imperial violence.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile - Ariel Dorfman

This review was first published in Upside Down World here.
Ariel Dorfman was thirty-one years old and working as a cultural advisor to President Salvador Allende when Augusto Pinochet's military coup abruptly destroyed the socialist revolution. The actions of the dictatorship created a reign of macabre realities which would split Chilean narratives into opposing memory camps. Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (HMH Books, 2011) is an eloquent memoir which fluctuates between reflections on death and exile - the meaning of not having died next to Allende in the presidential palace La Moneda, and Dorfman's own exile, a decision enforced by Allende’s advisors and which very possibly saved his life, yet which has assailed Dorfman with a tenacious need to question his own role and actions within that particular era of Chilean history.

The book moves rapidly from one event to another, disrupting chronology whilst creating an intense discussion of contrasts – death and exile, the revolutionary and the exile, the desaparecidos and the exile, language and exile. Exile becomes a single constant which, as time passes, exudes a certain inevitable detachment from the reality that is Chile. There is no reconciliation with the revolutionary past in exile – an issue which Dorfman struggled against for many years in various countries as he futilely sought to aid the Chilean resistance from abroad during the first years of exile in Paris and Amsterdam.

El pueblo unido – the people united in a socialist revolution under the banner of the Unidad Popular disintegrated in exile. A hierarchy developed within the exiled community, leading to strife within the movement struggling to develop a resistance movement against Pinochet. Dorfman recounts how his family had been promised an apartment in Paris by Carlos Iturra, author of the famous hymn Venceremos, at “solidarity rental rates.” The family moved their belongings to the apartment, only to discover a few days later that Iturra had received threatening phone calls from dictatorship sympathisers. The location was presumably unsafe. However, upon collecting their luggage from the apartment, it became evident to the family that the hierarchy of the Communist Party had negotiated with Iturra to reside in the apartment. Iturra was, at that moment, organising a vacation in the Alps for children of Chilean exiles. The sense of a community united in a revolutionary stance had deteriorated.

“Exile destroys children along with the parents.” Dorfman recounts how his children, Rodrigo and Joaquin struggle with identity and history in exile. Whilst the eldest, Rodrigo, gradually eliminates traces of Chile in his art, Joaquin seemingly fails to absorb the Chilean identity. Dorfman describes how the Andes Mountains feature prominently in Chilean children’s artwork – a characteristic which holds no fascination for Joaquin, born in exile. However, both sons are affected by the consequences of dictatorship and exile. Rodrigo has imbibed a rebellious streak which leads him to a return to Chile and subsequent filming of protests. Joaquin is haunted by the stories of the desaparecidos and the terror inflicted upon Chileans, such as the story of Rodrigo Rojas – a young man who, along with his girlfriend Carmen Gloria Quintana, had been doused with paraffin and torched. Their bodies were dumped in a ditch – at the exact location where three dissidents were discovered with slit throats only a year earlier. Dorfman admits an inconsistency between the lies designed to protect children from the horrors of the dictatorship and the children’s absorption of the truth.

The ramifications of exile flow into metaphorical prose. Dorfman distinguishes between various facets of exile – the actual departure from Chile, and the indefinite aspect – which lead the author to hold on to a library inside their house in Chile which was being used as a safe house for the MAPU, instead of acquiring new books. Exile created contradictions, ambiguity and barriers, as Dorfman realises that the revolutionary who joined the struggle for a socialist revolution, who was present when Allende saluted the people a week prior to the military coup, had distanced himself from his compañeros in Chile. After a long process in which he persisted in identifying with the resistance in exile and aiding the movement, Dorfman’s evolution veers towards the intellectual writer whose memories and stories are festering within an increasingly permanent exile and the still imagery of the revolutionary past.

Dorfman struggles with the truth as the exile commences in Buenos Aires. Narrating the case of Victor Jara, he tells of how a writer described Victor having his hands cut off by the lieutenants – an erroneous statement which portrayed how legends mingled with truth to construct a false reality. Another experience of false memory is Dorfman’s recollection of a photograph of him taken a week before the coup in front of La Moneda. His memory is of him in revolutionary stance, fists in the air. When the photo resurfaces, Dorfman discovers a pensive version of himself next to writer Antonio Skarmeta. The illusion of el pueblo unido had vanquished the actual memory – exile implants images in the mind of the exile and constructs an alternative reality.

It is not only actual memories that abscond from the exile. Pinochet’s reign contaminated language and society by referring to torture as ‘excesses,’ whilst the dictatorship was described as a ‘regime.’ The euphemisms contributed toward the cycle of impunity and infiltrated social circles where new alliances were being forged, with some former socialists seeking to gain elite status by liaising with the right wing – a phenomenon which Dorfman states was blatantly portrayed in the social pages of newspaper El Mercurio.

The book is also replete with stories of people from Chile. Carlos - the carpenter who hid Allende’s poster behind the boards in his workshop until Pinochet was arrested in London. Patricia, the wife of a right wing thug who used her husband’s status as a cover to transport Allende supporters to safety in a car gifted to her husband by DINA. Susana Weiner, who worked as a courier for MAPU, played a role in saving the lives of dissidents, including Dorfman, and was entrusted with transcribing notes describing torture in detention centres and smuggling them out of Chile. Their experiences, combined with the stories of the detenidos desaparecidos and President Patricio Aylwin’s initiative during the transition to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged Dorfman to contribute towards furthering the struggle, resulting in two particular publications written in exile.

Widows (1978) is a novel which deals with a group of women who refuse to hand over a body which washed ashore. As the novel was published, the first desaparecidos were being discovered in Chile. In the memoirs, Dorfman describes the act of disappearing people as an aberration on existence. “Disappearance was an outrage against the chemistry and structure of life itself. The bodies of the missing were wrenched out of the normal progression of existence ...” The outrage of the discovery contrasts sharply with another discovery of bodies in 1990, where younger Chileans born after the coup were less interested in the process. According to Dorfman, this discovery was a disruption in their lives which necessitated excavation and destruction of a football pitch.

Death and the Maiden (Penguin Classics) [Mass Market Paperback]
However, in his renowned play entitled Death and the Maiden, Dorfman shows how torture survivors were side-lined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Paulina – a torture survivor whose husband is a lawyer working on behalf of the Commission, kidnaps the man she believes to be her torturer and subjects him to a trial, appointing her husband as her oppressor’s defence lawyer. Paulina insists she wants the truth – a truth which till now wallows in impunity as torturers and victims walk side by side on Chilean streets, depriving torture survivors of their right to justice and the opportunity to inscribe their testimonies.

Dorfman describes how torture tarnishes universal expression such as music. The last scene features Paulina listening to Schubert in a concert – the music played during her torture session. The reconciliation with her favourite music was brought about after the confession was extracted from her torturer – the right to truth as opposed to sacrificing one’s self for the better of the democratic transition.

In the fragments of Dorfman’s diary of his return to Chile in 1990, the author grapples with the realisation that his experiences and that of the Chilean nation have diverged so greatly, it is impossible to nurture the dream of returning to live in Chile. The fragile transition, which sought to reconcile, rather than call for justice in order to avoid disruptions in the process, differed greatly from Dorfman’s vision of returning to the people united in a collective struggle. Exile further split the left wing memory camp, as those who remained in Chile looked upon exiles with certain resentment, contrasting the suffering they had endured with the relative comfort of escaping the horrors of the dictatorship.

Dorfman, unable to harmonize the experience of different memory camps on the left, decided to seek refuge in the US and later become a citizen of the same country which had conspired with Pinochet to overthrow Allende. He states that the desire to return was vanquished by the necessity to adjust, bringing to an end a previous personal conflict concerning language. Renouncing imperialism during the years of Allende’s presidency and the first years of exile also meant renouncing the English language, which Dorfman was familiar with since childhood, having lived in the US when his father and the family fled from Argentina. Throughout the course of exile and the subsequent return to Chile, Dorfman realises that language as a universal medium holds the power to navigate political borders and memory. Also, in Dorfman’s own words, acquiring US citizenship meant “I will never again go into exile.”

Personified by writers such as Milan Kundera, who Dorfman describes as “the saddest man I have ever seen,” and Antonio Skarmeta, author of Il Postino, who predicted Dorfman would never return to live in Chile, exile became the ultimate choice of survival, creating a refuge within another complex realm of loyalties.

Whilst the book might have benefited from a more chronological order, and the metaphorical prose might seem daunting for some readers, Dorfman has masterfully created a narrative so intricate and yet simple in its message. He lays bare the complexities of memory, made easier to follow once the reader acknowledges that memory knows no chronology but is rather a series of events that profoundly impacted the rememberer’s life, and the act of remembering is a process of cunningly implanting additional images and obliterating others. Most importantly, Dorfman furthers the split memory narrative by adding the memory of the exile, the desaparecidos and the torture survivors to the usual general divide between the supporters of Allende and those of Pinochet. As compromising as it may seem, Dorfman acknowledges the importance of embracing ambivalence in order to construct a narrative which berates, glorifies and wallows in despondency. The book emanates the turmoil of Dorfman’s complicated yearning to regain Allende’s years, and his unrepentant decision to seek shelter in a nation known for its oppression, in order to avoid repeating his own history.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings of V.I. Lenin

Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: V. I. Lenin
Get Political Series
Pluto Press, 2008

This review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

Hailed as essential reading for activists in the Occupy Movement, Lenin’s Revolution, Democracy, Socialism (Pluto Press, 2008), expounds upon the necessity of the working class achieving independence through political struggle in order to assert its supremacy and triumph over imperialism. Conscious of capitalism as a global phenomenon, Lenin’s writings reflect a revolutionary internationalist approach. Rather than affirm the reiteration that capitalism is unwavering, Lenin states that the conditions created by capitalism lay the foundations for a working class revolution.
“This struggle of the working class against the capitalist class is a struggle against all classes who live by the labour of others and against all exploitation.”
In his Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social Democratic Party, Lenin highlights the cycle of oppression brought about by industrial development: wealth gain for landowners resulting in poverty and displacement of peasants. The necessary emancipation of the working class against oppressor powers must be carried out by the workers themselves, hence the necessity of education in class consciousness. Class consciousness is defined as a struggle against capitalism, an affirmation of an international working class which is able to disseminate the perils of exploitation brought by private ownership of land and labour.

The reversal regarding capitalism’s stronghold on society sets the scene for Lenin’s activist base. Indeed, the writings in this book may be read as a treatise on activism leading to international revolution. Education, class struggle and activism are portrayed as necessary elements to consolidate the strength of the working class in its fight against capitalism, as opposed to “individual revolutionary ventures”, which diminish the effectiveness of the struggle against capitalists. Individual agitation which is not amalgamated into the workers’ movement has the tendency to separate socialism from the working class, weakening the struggle to the point of futility. A socialist movement needs to create its own political independence - this is achieved when the proletariat becomes conscious of its own struggle through education and organised individual agitation through a collective socialist political activity.

Lenin speaks of a social democratic movement, defined as a combination of the working class movement and socialism. Social democracy represents the workers’ movement and safeguards their political and ideological independence. Whilst imbuing the proletariat with socialism and political consciousness, Lenin views social democracy as the means through which a revolutionary party can be created in order to increase activism from the spontaneity of the working class movement.

Organisation of the struggle is a vital point for Lenin, who makes the distinction between revolt and strikes. Whilst a revolt is perceived as the reaction against oppression, strikes demand meticulous coordination resulting in widespread conscious struggle. If the proletariat is educated and trained in political consciousness, freedom and revolutionary activity, class political consciousness is achieved, described by Lenin as the “relationship of all classes and strata to the state and government, the sphere of interrelations between all classes.” Drawing upon the failure of the Russian’s peasants uprising in 1902, Lenin argues the failure was due to a lack of conscious political aim.

Another reversal of capitalist strategy with regard to democracy in this collection of writings paves the way for a more explicit international discussion of imperialism. In a bid to defame the concept of socialism, capitalism constructs a definition of democracy which alludes to freedom and achievement. The reality of a system which exploits and oppresses its citizens; hence the necessity of creating elusive human rights in recompense, is concealed by the illusion of freedom which it constantly imparts. Capitalists fear and therefore distort the definition of democracy, as its true nature would result in socialism. Lenin is adamant that the working class are educated and embrace the obligation of referring to, and associating their struggles with other historical struggles. Revolution cannot be isolated from history in the wake of capitalism’s expansion to a global empire.
“Wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created.”
Lenin distinguishes between wars of aggression and wars of defence. In wars of aggression, civilians are deceived by manipulating national ideology and patriotism in order to consolidate the capitalist stronghold. A war of defence is a war against imperialism, instigated when powerful nations fabricate history and current events in order to manipulate civilians into dependence. In the light of this theory, war is perceived as necessary, legitimate and progressive. Lenin finds fault with pacifism, deeming it perilous for socialism as it allows counter-revolutionary progress to annihilate the socialist struggle. Citing Marx and Engels “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”, Lenin argues in favour of internationalism in war to unite the working class against imperialist powers.
“… the socialists of the oppressed nations must unfailingly fight for the compete unity of the workers of the oppressed and oppressor nationalities.”
Contrary to imperialist intervention, which glorifies war and occupation as a necessity to ‘protect civilians’, Lenin deftly exposes plundering of natural resources as the sole reason behind imperialist wars. “Imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism” - the concentration of production, the seizure of natural resources, the dependence relationship between government and banks, as well as colonial policy are factors exploited by imperialism in order to consolidate its tyranny over civilians and nations. Thus, the duty of the socialist proletariat is to wage war upon imperialist motives and to remain conscious of internationalism.
“A proletariat that tolerates the slightest violence by its own nation cannot be called a socialist proletariat.”
US imperialism has, throughout history, increased its efforts to eradicate socialism and provided aid to countries whose violation of human rights is disregarded and indeed, praised. In Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force (Pluto Press 2011), Noam Chomsky quotes Colin Powell as saying “Colombia meets Washington’s human rights standards.” Despite the initial dissonance of such a statement, Chomsky exposes imperialist aims of providing humanitarian aid to oppressive nations. Lenin’s earlier awareness of imperialist oppression describes how the conquest of world hegemony by powerful nations blamed socialist struggle for any destruction. Socialists must emancipate themselves from imperialist slavery by annihilating the resistance of the exploiter powers.

Faced with “worldwide slaughter of nations for the division of profits”, Lenin argues that world revolution is imperative. Revolutionary aid should be given to people who have not yet educated themselves in revolutionary struggle and class consciousness in order to propagate ideological triumph and political freedom.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trazos de Memoria

Trazos de Memoria
Illustraciones animadas creadas a partir de los testimonios del archivio audiovisual de Londres 38, espacio de memorias
Londres 38, 2012.

Trazos de Memoria seeks to re-enact the recent history of Chile's dictatorship and its widespread torture and macabre annihilation of opponents. A short, illustrated text with testimonies from torture survivors and relatives of detenidos desaparecidos, the book imparts a sliver of memory narrative in flashes of recollections.

The testimonies are taken from Londres 38's audiovisual archive. Guillermo Rodriguez Morales (former MIR militant), Miguel Angel Rebolledo (former MIR militant), Mario Irarrazabal (survivor of Londres 38), Erika Hennings (former MIR militant, survivor of Londres 38 and wife of detenido desaparecido Alfonso Chanfreau), Luz Encina Silva (human rights activist and mother of detenido desaparecido Mauricio Jorquera Encina, former MIR militant) and Gastón Muñoz Briones (former MIR militant and torture survivor) disclose their experience of dictatorship practices, notably the struggle of each individual against the uncertainty of their plight.

As this book shows, the struggle against oblivion was a collective commencing far before Pinochet's insistence to obliterate memory with regard to torture and disappearances. Resisting lies regarding detention, blindfolds and unknown destinations, detainees relied on memory and verbal communication to construct their narratives and identity within history, in order to ensure recognition of other torture victims whose disappearance remains shrouded in violence and oblivion. A very striking testimony by Erika Hennings describes the manner in which detainees would describe themselves to others incarcerated with them - one of the women participating in this exercise was Muriel Dockendorff Navarrete, a disappeared former MIR militant whose name appears in the List of the 119, or Operacion Colombo.

The book is free to download from Londres 38 espacio de memorias. An innovative manner of imparting memory, I highly recommend this book for anyone willing to join the fight against dictatorship oblivion; also for others whose journey through history and memory needs to be rekindled.

Neither forgiveness, nor oblivion. A steadfast struggle for justice within memory.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Connecting with an International Historical Reality: Book review of "Jose Carlos Mariategui" An Anthology

Jose Carlos MariateguiThis book review was first publised in Upside Down World here

Jose Carlos Mariategui: An Anthology
Monthly Review, 2011

“We do not want American socialism to be a copy or an imitation, it should be a heroic creation. We must give life to Indo-American socialism with our own life, in our own language.” Jose Carlos Mariátegui

This anthology provides an illuminating insight into the writings and philosophy of Peruvian thinker and journalist, Jose Carlos Mariátegui. A pioneer for more contemporary thinkers such as Ernesto Che Guevara, and analyst of continuous struggles such as the Indigenous "problem," Mariátegui sought to rethink Marxism in a manner which would provide Peru and Latin America with its own Marxist reality. Mariátegui’s non-dogmatic thought transcends history to reflect current reality.

Mariátegui’s socialist orientation was visible by age 16, despite the fact that his writing exhibited none of the Marxist thought of his later literature. However, he supported revolutionary demands of students and workers. Peruvian dictator Augusto Leguía exiled him to Europe in 1919, bringing Mariátegui into contact with Benedetto Croce, an Italian communist whose work is extensively reflected upon in the writings of Antonio Gramsci. Upon returning to Peru in 1923, Mariátegui declared himself a Marxist. He was imprisoned twice by the Leguía dictatorship, without being convicted on any crime. His support for organizational struggle and strike action was described as subversive, at a time when the Peruvian government depended on foreign economic interests.

Mariategui’s political analysis delves into revolutionary socialist thought within a Latin American reality. The reconstruction of Peru’s social and economic history allowed Peruvians to establish their local reality. However, Mariátegui is adamant that such a process cannot be achieved in isolation. The effects of colonial and capitalist oppression of Peruvians should raise awareness in the country about the international nature of capitalist oppression, which is in direct confrontation with international revolutionary socialist thought. Isolating the effects of exploitation by feudalism and capitalism in Peru would sever the connection between internal oppression and foreign forces.

The three economic systems in Peru identified by Mariátegui: the fragments of original Indigenous communities which practiced a primitive form of communism, European feudalism and modern capitalist economy thrived on land. Land dispossession impoverished Indigenous people, who also suffered massacres and dispersion during uprisings against Spanish colonial rule. The Indigenous community was forced to work in mines, surviving under servitude whilst colonizers failed to organise Peruvian economy. Capitalism further impoverished Peru, using the country’s human and natural resources to strengthen the US imperialist program. With landholding evolving from feudal to capitalist, Peru’s economy continued to dwindle as contempt for workers increased and production suited the US market demand, creating an economic dependency which could not be sustained.

The agrarian problem features prominently in this anthology. Mariátegui states “What we call the Indigenous problem is the feudal exploitation of the native people in the large agrarian landholding system.” The Indigenous community was faced with a bourgeois system on the coast of Peru, while the highlands were controlled by feudalism – a system which hindered the development of civilisation. The forced recruitment of Indigenous people gives an impression of submission, serving to ignore the fact that revolt against the ruling classes brutally annihilated the majority of the Indigenous population. Hence, judgments on the problems faced by Indigenous people have been dominated by a colonial and imperialist ideology.

Formulating a historical social movement in Peru cannot be achieved without ‘asserting economic terrain’. Marxism and the proletariat, according to Mariátegui, demand a consciousness of nature in order to obtain legitimacy and historical necessity. While the Indigenous population is already ingrained in the principles of communism, defined in Mariátegui’s writing as Inca-communism, a lack of revolutionary consciousness prevents them from gaining stronger representation on a national level outside their community.

Socialist ethics prevents indifference in class struggle – central to strengthening socialist ethics is the necessity of creating class consciousness through socialist education. Besides insisting on education as a right for all Peruvians, Mariátegui considers socialism an integral and essential part of education. It should impart the principles of revolutionary pedagogy in order to unite the proletariat under a strong ideal which defines both solidarity and discipline. A socialist revolution in Peru should incorporate the peasants, the Indigenous community, the working class proletariat and the industrialized working class.

In their detailed introduction to Mariátegui’s life and thought, the editors emphasise the reality of capitalism’s failure to sustain itself. The book is replete with references to capitalism’s necessity to exploit natural resources and people, which created another realm of internationalism. Exploitation threatens to conquer the socialist concept of internationalism because socialism has mellowed into reformist practices. Capitalism internationalized human life – bringing to light a situation where exploitation retains its stronghold and socialism fails to discern the importance of the historical moment.

This observation is expounded in Mariátegui’s description of two groups of workers. The first group is alienated from the historical moment, lacking class consciousness and therefore willing to try achieving socialism by collaborating with the bourgeoisie, under the assumption that the proletarian movement is not yet ready for revolution. The second group believes in proletariat power, deems the bourgeoisie incapable of managing social wealth and recognises the current moment as revolutionary. An economic crisis, according to Mariátegui, portrays the ideological crisis between these groups of proletariat.

Imperialist intervention in Latin America leads to the necessity of reclaiming the definition of socialist revolution, stressing that additional terms such as anti-imperialist, agrarian and national revolutionary would have failed to materialise in the absence of socialism. Socialism’s involvement in the historic moment must relate to both language and reality.

A lack of military intervention, on the other hand, would require the bourgeoisie’s collaboration. Such a scenario would consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. Mariátegui explains how, from an anti-imperialist viewpoint, nationalism would not serve to unite the proletariat, since it comprehends only a fragment of a nation’s reality. The participation of the proletariat is a necessity brought about by the capitalist economic and political crisis. Since capitalism internationalized human life, the international human reality involves also Peru and Latin America.

This anthology not only offers a profound insight into Mariátegui’s writings. It manages to remain relevant to contemporary historical reality, at a time when intellectual writing remains confined to academia. The publication of this anthology, with its detailed introduction to Mariátegui’s life and work, brings readers closer to works which otherwise might have been inaccessible to a broader audience. In particular, apart from being an excellent, critical source of Latin American history and political thought, the concept of internationalism forming the premise of Mariátegui’s writings is a foundation through which Western readers may analyse the compromise which the left effected in relation to capitalism, smothering class consciousness within a system of dependence and exploitation.