The people of Bolivia
took to the streets in massive numbers in October, calling for more
control over their country's oil resources and, finally, toppling
President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.
U.S.-educated Lozada, a millionaire nicknamed “El Gringo” for his North American accent, had signed an unpopular natural gas deal with the multinational corporation Pacific LNG to pipe gas out of Bolivia and export it to California via Chile. Indigenous coca farmers who blocked roads in the countryside and slumdwellers in the shantytowns overlooking La Paz known as “El Alto” were joined by middle class urban residents on a hunger strike as tens of thousands of people marched throughout the country, waving flags, and shouting for Lozada's removal. At least 70 people were killed during the demonstrations.
Although supporters of the gas deal have argued that it
would have provided Bolivia with much needed income, Bolivians like Evo
Morales, a leader of the indigenous Aymara, and members of the
organization Central Obrera Boliviana demanded the ouster of Lozada and
his neoliberal policies, saying that most of the money would have gone
to the multinationals and not to the increasingly impoverished Bolivian
Seventy percent of Bolivians live in poverty, and much
of the local coca-growing economy that Bolivians have depended on in
the past has been decimated by U.S.-backed eradication of this crop,
from which cocaine is made.
The uprising was also an indication of the growing
power and dissatisfaction of Bolivia's indigenous community, people of
Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani descent who make up more than half of the
Bolivian population. During the Spanish colonization of Bolivia,
thousands of indigenous laborers were worked to death in the mines
while the profits from the silver and tin extracted went into European
“The people rose up because they refused to accept that
what had happened with the silver, the saltpeter, the tin, and
everything else was going to happen with the gas,” said Uruguayan
writer Eduardo Galeano.
The uprising was the latest in a series of violent
demonstrations that had included the 2000 “war of the water” in which
Cochabamba peasants confronting bullets and tear gas wrenched ownership
of local water supplies from San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation,
and street protests earlier this year that halted IMF demands for a
special tax on salaries.
Former Vice President Carlos Mesa, who took office
after Lozada fled to Miami, has called for a national referendum on gas
policies, as well as more responsiveness to the needs of Bolivia's
—Lisa Gale Garrigues
Lisa Gale Garrigues is a freelance writer who writes on South America and is a contributing editor for YES!
Experts Join Challenge to Liberties Crackdown
In a case testing the Bush administration's crackdown on civil liberties in the wake of September 11, a host of prominent lawyers, former federal judges, and former federal officials are supporting a lawsuit against the administration's handling of the case of José Padilla.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was seized at Chicago's O'Hare
airport in 2002 under suspicion of planning to detonate a radioactive
“dirty bomb” as part of an Al Qaeda plot. Padilla was later declared an
“enemy combatant” and moved from a prison to a military brig, where he
has never been charged with a crime and has not been allowed contact
with a lawyer or his family.
“[T]he Executive's position in this case threatens the
basic rule of law on which our country is founded, the role of the
federal judiciary and the separations in our national government, and
fundamental individual liberties enshrined in our Constitution,” said a
friend-of-the-court brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. The
brief was filed on July 30 by groups from across the political
spectrum, including the Cato Institute, the Center for National
Security Studies, the Constitution Project, the Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights (LCHR), People for the American Way, and the Rutherford
Their brief cited the fundamental constitutional right of habeas corpus, the right of an accused person to appear in a court to answer charges. Currently, no one but Padilla's captors knows what is happening to him.
Another friend-of-the-court brief, signed by such
prominent lawyers as Harold Tyler, Jr., a longtime Republican and
former deputy attorney general under President Gerald Ford, likened the
administration's treatment of Padilla to the policies of totalitarian
Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal on behalf of Yasser Hamdi, another U.S. citizen declared an enemy combatant. That decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
“The threat of being declared an enemy combatant is
like a nuclear bomb,” said Kenneth Hurwitz, a staff attorney for LCHR.
Because an enemy combatant has no constitutional rights, an accused
person will plead guilty to any charge to avoid that status,
undermining the entire criminal justice framework, he said.
Criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the
war on terrorism is mounting. On October 10, the senior Red Cross
official in Washington, DC, Christophe Girod, criticized the indefinite
detention of over 600 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The public
statement was unusual for the Red Cross, which normally directs
criticism privately to government officials, and came, Girod said,
because the Bush administration had failed to take any action in
response to Red Cross concerns.
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
asked a federal judge to declare unconstitutional the portion of the
USA PATRIOT Act that allows the government to seize information and
belongings secretly and without showing any probable cause that a crime
has been committed. Also in July, the U.S. House of Representatives
voted 309-118 to forbid certain funds from going to Justice Department
agencies that use the provision of the PATRIOT Act that allows these
“sneak-and-peek” search warrants. The measure was sponsored by an Idaho
As of October, three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and
Vermont) and 190 cities, towns, and counties had passed resolutions or
ordinances opposing the PATRIOT Act's infringement of civil liberties.
The Committee for Constitutional Rights has filed a
class-action lawsuit on behalf of Muslims imprisoned and harshly
treated by the federal government after the September 11 attacks.
In September, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the
Secret Service for violating the free speech rights of protestors
during appearances by President Bush throughout the country. According
to the suit, local police, acting at the direction of the Secret
Service, moved people expressing views critical of the government far
away from public officials and often out of public view, while allowing
those with pro-government views to remain closer. The Bush
administration has stated such measures are necessary for security.
For more information on these cases, see www.lchr.org, www.nimj.com, or vvhttp://www.aclu.org.
Clean Elections Efforts Build
The movement for clean elections, covered in the Fall 2003 issue of YES!, continues to grow:
• In Maryland, a high-level government commission, appointed by the previous governor after a spate of money-in-politics scandals, is expected soon to recommend full public financing for all legislative offices. Progressive Maryland, a multi-issue coalition of over 45 organizations and 10,000 individuals, is leading an effort to turn those recommendations into policy.
• In Illinois, the state senate, under pressure from clean elections activists, passed a bill calling for full public financing of judicial elections. The coalition Justice at Stake is working to overcome opposition from the powerful speaker of the state house of representatives.
• In Wyoming, the Equality State Policy Center, a coalition of 23 organizations working on government accountability and public access issues, moving a democracy reform agenda through the legislature, and publishing a compilation of each legislator's campaign contributions and voting record, is working toward full public financing of Wyoming elections.
• A study by Public Campaign called “The Color of Money” has found that almost 90 percent of the $2 billion contributed by individuals in the federal elections of 2000 and 2002 came from zip codes that are majority non-Hispanic white. Just 1.8 percent of the cash came from predominantly Hispanic zip codes; 2.8 percent from predominantly African American zip codes, and 0.6 percent from predominantly Asian Pacific American neighborhoods.
Public Campaign is asking voters to sign on to a
“Lincoln Call” demanding an end to “government of, by, and for the
wealthy special interests.” Within the first week that the call was
issued, 2,900 people had signed at www.pcactionfund.org/lincolncall.
For more information, go to www.progressivemaryland.org, www.citizenaction-il.org, or www.equalitystate.org. Micah Sifry is Public Campaign's senior analyst.
California Goes Greener
What began as a group of students calling for the University of California to go solar has culminated in a new UC policy to construct green buildings on campuses and reduce system-wide non-renewable energy consumption by more than 10 percent by 2014. The policy, approved by the Board of Regents this summer, establishes one of the nation's first extensive plans for energy efficiency and sustainability.
The ‘Green Building Policy and Clean Energy Standard' requires the university to purchase green power from the electrical grid, promoting energy efficiency and local renewable power sources. Under the policy, all new and renovated university facilities must be constructed using sustainability principles that exceed required provisions of the California Energy Code's efficiency standards by at least 20 percent.
Elsewhere in California, the urban youth empowerment
organization Literacy for Environmental Justice is beginning
construction on the first “off the grid” public building in San
Francisco. The Living Classroom will be built from recycled
construction materials and will include an on-site natural wastewater
Funded by the San Francisco Department of the
Environment and the Coastal Conservancy, and designed with input from
public school students, the Living Classroom will be a solar- and
wind-powered community meeting space and environmental classroom in
Heron's Head Park, a 24-acre restored wetland on the former site of
Near the classroom will be gardens with plants traditionally used by the area's original Ohlone inhabitants for food, medicine, and boat-building materials. The project is slated for completion in 2004.
Global Warming Costs Mount
This September was the hottest September worldwide since accurate recordkeeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The spike in temperature coincided with the release of a study by the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) that concludes approximately 160,000 people die every year from the side effects of global warming, and the numbers could almost double by 2025.
The majority of global warming victims come from the
Third World, where the proliferation of tropical diseases such as
malaria and the rise in malnutrition due to crop losses claim thousands
of lives every year. And, as Professor Andrew Haines of LSHTM
explained, “These diseases mainly affect younger age groups, so that
the total burden of disease due to climate change appears to be borne
mainly by children in developing countries.” The 15,000 heat-related
deaths this past summer in France demonstrate that the First World is
not immune from the deadly effects of climate change.
As the intensity and frequency of droughts, floods, hurricanes, and windstorms increase with global warming, so do insurance losses. Forty years ago, an average of 16 large weather-related disasters occurred annually around the world. Today, the average is 72. The cost to insurers for weather-related events has risen from $7 billion to $90 billion. In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Allstate Insurance dispensed $500 million more in claims than it had ever collected from all types of insurance in the state of Florida. Andrew drove seven other insurance companies to bankruptcy. As mega-catastrophies begin occurring every 25 years instead of every 100 years, insured losses will grow by another 900 percent, according to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Faced with the prospect of losses on this scale, the insurance industry has been among the loudest voices urging political leaders to take the issue of climate change seriously.
Whose Voting Machines?
Two of the corporations that provide nearly all of the voting machines in the United States—ES&S and Diebold—are controlled by Republicans with strong ties to the Bush administration. One company is also linked to a far-right fundamentalist Christian movement.
In a recent mailing to Republican donors, Walden
O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., one of three companies certified to sell
electronic voting equipment to the state of Ohio, stated his commitment
“to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next
All of the $195,000 Diebold has given in political contributions since 2000 went to the Republican Party or Republican candidates, as has all of the over $240,000 that the company's directors and chief officers have donated, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Diebold and ES&S are heavily interconnected. Brothers Todd and Bob Urosevich founded American Information Services (AIS), which became ES&S when AIS merged with Business Records Corporation (BRC). Todd works at ES&S as vice president, while Bob is now president of Diebold. ES&S claims that it counted 56 percent of U.S. votes in the last four presidential elections.
AIS was initially funded by Howard Ahmanson. Ahmanson
is a member of the Council for National Policy, a “steering group”
linked to the Bush administration, and has holdings in ES&S.
Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former CEO of AIS, had significant AIS
holdings when the company counted the votes for his surprise election
victory in 1996. Hagel has been scrutinized by the Senate Ethics
Committee over his investments in the McCarthy Group. ES&S, which
counted the votes when Hagel was re-elected in 2002, is a subsidiary of
the McCarthy Group, according to The Hill.
BRC was started with money from Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt. Both Ahmanson and Hunt are large contributors to the Chalcedon Foundation, a think tank for the Christian Reconstruction movement, which advocates literal application of Old-Testament law.
The company hired by the Republican governor of Maryland to analyze Diebold's computer voting systems, defense contractor SAIC, also has close Republican ties. SAIC reported that security flaws in Diebold's systems could be fixed.
SAIC board members Admiral Bill Owens (former military
aide to Dick Cheney), and ex-CIA chief Robert Gates, who was implicated
in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, also serve on the board of
VoteHere, a growing elections software company. SAIC itself is
producing electronic voting systems in partnership with Diversified
SAIC has been investigated for fraud and security lapses in its electronic systems, but has received contracts for work in Iraq.
Electronic security and verifiability have become issues in the shift to computerized voting mandated by the Help America Vote Act. Voting expert Rebecca Mercuri, a Bryn Mawr College professor of computer science, argues that computer voting technology is vulnerable to error and manipulation and should not be used unless it includes paper receipts. (See YES!, Spring 2003 and Fall 2003.)
—Doug Pibel, Carolyn McConnell, and Krista Camenzind
Rides for Freedom
A two-week road trip across the country by the Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride (IWFR) culminated in a rally attended by an estimated 100,000 people on October 4 in Queens, New York. Organizers and riders vowed to continue the fight for immigrants' rights.
The IWFR, modeled after the Freedom Rides of the 1960s,
saw buses from 10 cities with over 800 riders drive across the country,
stopping in 93 cities and towns before meeting in Washington, DC, to
lobby Congress to change immigration law.
The IWFR's five-point agenda calls for legalization of undocumented workers, family reunification, labor law protections for immigrants, and civil rights for immigrants. The IWFR is being hailed as a success by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), which helped coordinate the event.
“Locally, we've seen a busload of people develop as a
team of leaders,” said Liza Wilcox, community action coordinator for
Seattle's Hate Free Zone.
Marissa Graciosa, communications coordinator for the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, also witnessed a transformation in the riders. “I got to see people evolve from being scared to use their name, to saying they have a right to use their name and to tell their story,” Graciosa said. “We now have 45 people who were on the bus ready to do the tough work to create real change they can see.”
Bobbe Hellom, an African-American rider from Chicago, who was on the bus to support immigrant riders, was energized by the IWFR. “I don't care if you're a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent—we've got a broken wheel and we should be prepared to repair it,” said Hellom. “I'm going to be kicking and fighting. I'm 68, I was born in 1935. If I live another 100 years, I'd be doing the same thing today. I should have been on the bus before now.”
The rides were conceived by labor unions, marking a
landmark change in immigration policy by the labor movement; the
AFL-CIO voted to support the rights of undocumented workers only in
“Labor has been incredible in this movement,” said
Graciosa. “They can really turn out a lot of support. It was great to
see not just immigrants in the crowds, but other people from labor as
well. They've raised the bar on organizing for immigrants' rights.”
Some coalition leaders, however, noted that although riders visited the
offices of over 200 members of Congress, many were met by secretaries,
aides, and even interns, leaving riders unsure of their impact.
Coalition leaders are holding a series of meetings to
discuss how to sustain the new momentum and to create local action
plans. Leaders of HERE met in Washington, DC, in October to discuss
plans for another national mobilization.
Navy Backs Down on Sonar, Not on DU
Marine mammals won new protection against sonar under an agreement between the U.S. Navy and environmental groups announced October 13. The agreement limits the Navy's peacetime use of a controversial low-frequency sonar system to less than 1 percent of the worlds' oceans. Environmental groups argue that the sonar, known as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low-Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA), can harm or kill marine life.
When the National Marine Fisheries Service gave the
Navy a permit to use SURTASS in 75 percent of the world's oceans, the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental groups
challenged the decision in court. Judge Elizabeth Laporte struck down
the permit in August and ordered the parties to come to agreement. The
accord, however, allows the Navy to use low-frequency sonar along the
eastern coast of Asia, a 1.5 million-square-mile area that includes the
waters off Okinawa. This area has been described as “the Galapagos of
the East,” and is home to the endangered dugong, a relative of the
Researchers have also found evidence of “the bends,” a
condition experienced by human divers who surface too quickly, in
whales found beached in the Canary Islands after a nearby naval
maneuver deployed mid-frequency sonar. SURTASS is a lower frequency
than the type that is suspected in the May deaths of 13 harbor
porpoises in the San Juan Islands, but the agreement is “a good step
because low-frequency active sonar travels so far,” said David Bain, a
researcher with the University of Washington.
The environmental groups' success in this lawsuit has fueled a push for further limits on the use of sonar. The European Parliament will be addressing a bill introduced last month calling for limits on sonar use by NATO. However, the U.S. Navy is pushing for legislation that would modify the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, exempting it from environmental regulations that the Navy says impede national security. If the changes are passed and the Navy is exempted from these regulations, the sonar victory may be short-lived.
The Navy has also been embroiled in a dispute over its firing of depleted uranium (DU) shells in fishing grounds off the coast of Washington. The Navy has been testing DU munitions since 1977, but the practice was only recently revealed to the public through an investigation by Glen Milner and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Washington and articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Although little research about the effect of this radioactive heavy metal on marine life has been done, DU shells fired on land have been shown to release radiation and produce toxic dust that can enter the food chain and are suspected in high cancer rates among U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. Community groups have been organizing in towns such as Port Townsend, Washington, near a DU munitions storage site, to inform people about DU and develop legal means to keep the Navy from incinerating DU or firing it in nearby waters.
Jewish Group Issues Call to Bring Settlers Home
American Jews who want to see Israel withdraw from its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are joining an online call to “bring the settlers home to Israel.”
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, a national grassroots membership organization founded in 2002, debuted its online signature campaign in May 2003. As of October, the online call had over 8,500 signatures from Jews throughout the U.S., crossing all ranks and denominations, from rabbis to laypeople and from Reform and Orthodox Jews alike.
Believing that the settlement issue is one of the most serious threats to Israel's security and a major obstacle to achieving a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (literally “a covenant of righteousness and peace” in Hebrew), wants the Israeli government to reverse its policy of providing financial incentives to settlers and use that same money to re-settle them back within the pre-1967 borders of the Jewish state.
In a May 2003 letter to the membership, Brit Tzedek
President Marcia Freedman estimated it would take between $2 and $3
billion to relocate all of the roughly 200,000 settlers currently
living in the territories. U.S. aid to Israel is about $3 billion per
While the amount Israel spends on the settlements is unknown, Freedman has concluded that the Israeli government spends twice as much on each settler as it spends on an Israeli living within the pre-1967 Israeli borders. An Israeli who moves to the West Bank or Gaza receives approximately $4,000 in tax breaks and subsidized down payments and mortgage interest rates.
“We believe that many American Jews share this
perspective, but are reluctant to express themselves for fear they may
bring harm to Israel and the Jewish people,” says the group's website.
While Brit Tzedek strongly disagrees with Israel's settlement activity,
the group wants it to be known that it is just as committed to the
well-being and safety of Israel as pro-Israeli groups.
After signing the call, members can join one of the 20
chapters already organized in cities around the United States or they
can start a chapter in their own city.
For more information, go to www.btvshalom.org. Janis Siegel is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle.