CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE PANEL MITCHEL ORGANIZED AT THE 2016 LEFT FORUM IN NYC, with panelists: Margaret Stevens, Ann Snitow, Irene Javors, Jack Shalom (dialectical magic – video!), Mitchel Cohen, and Debbie Despina Sophia Stamos. Also invited, Sister Dragonfly, was unable to attend.
Giant mural at University of Havana in support of Occupy Wall Street. Details list hundreds of corporations and their profits for the year.
A talk by Mitchel Cohen at the “Seminar on Socialist Renewal and the Capitalist Crisis – A Cuban-North American Exchange”, Havana, Cuba: June 16-30, 2013
in association with the Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and the Radical Philosophy Association
Mitchel Cohen’s poem about Cuba, “The Unrepentant Bather (90 Miles Out)”, opened the talk and was brilliantly translated into Spanish by Karell Acosta, University of Havana
This talk is dedicated to our comrade and teacher
John “Tito” Gerassi
July 12, 1931 – July 26, 2012
always a true friend of the Cuban revolution
You can hear Mitchel’s radio interview with Tito Gerassi HERE:
THE UNREPENTANT BATHER (90 MILES OUT)
My love swims alone
in an ocean of sharks
circling to starboard
circling to bow
waiting their moment
off guard, stroke falters
gnashing their teeth
flexing their jaws
wearing the defenses down
Swim for your life, sweetheart,
Swim for your life!
Don’t give up an inch,
Don’t fall for the trap!
The sharks are all circling
’Round History’s bones
You swim there alone
My love swims alone
of lush old-growth forests
& crystalline streams
but industry dangles
gnashing their teeth
flexing their jaws
baiting the bloodlash
Swim for your life, Cuba
Swim for your life!
Don’t give up an inch,
Don’t fall for the trap!
The sharks are all circling
’Round History’s bones
You swim there alone
SOUTH AFRICAN FREEDOM FIGHTER STEVE BIKO observed: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Nowhere do those sentiments apply more than they do to Cuba during the special period of the 1990s and 2000s -– a time that was extremely harrowing for all Cubans. But the people of Cuba refused to consider themselves victims. They responded creatively. They formed new and ecologically innovative projects that might otherwise have never gotten the chance, for unless it is disrupted, the hegemony of the capitalist industrial model of development plagues even countries aspiring to socialism.
Who would have thought 40 years ago that Fidel Castro, in his old-age, would become a stirring spokesperson for the global environmental movement, of all things? Yet, here’s Fidel:
“Should we expect that densely populated countries such as China, India, Indonesia, will have as many automobiles in proportion to their population as North America and Western Europe?”
He answers his own question:
“Well, it’s necessary: The expansion of capital requires it. It’s also impossible; the earth cannot sustain it.”
Here’s Fidel again, this time in 1990 evaluating the effects in Cuba of the imported Eastern European machinery:
“Let’s speak clearly once and for all … We Cubans don’t export garbage. But often what we get back in trade is junk! No one else in the world buys Bulgarian forklifts. They are such garbage, only we bought them. How many hundreds, thousands of them stand idle in our warehouses? The Hungarian buses … pollute the city with fumes and poison everyone around. Who knows how many people have died from the fumes of those buses just because they put in a defective fuel pump? On top of it all, those buses have a two-speed Czech transmission that alone wastes 30 percent of the fuel! Oh, how happy I am to speak with such openness! [Fidel said.] It’s been difficult to talk about these things in the past, but thanks to these new circumstances we have been relieved of our previous compromises.”
Much of that honest evaluation and many of the ecological advances emerging from it entailed what at first were experienced as enormous sacrifices by the Cuban people. Over time, however, they became NOT sacrifices but a badge of national pride, a striving by an entire people for something greater, and a rejecting of the notion that the “good life” must be based on the mass production and accumulation of commodities and the consequent massive consumption of Nature.
This was an ideological advance. It was no small feat achieved by the Cuban revolution, even if in the beginning of the Special Period it was the result of making a virtue of necessity. Cuba’s example provided, and continues to provide, a revolutionary eco-socialist impulse inspiring many throughout the world to think about what we’d like to see in a new and humane society, how we should treat each other, animals and Nature. How can we organize our lives so that we deepen our consciousness and commitment to each other and take action for social justice and for saving this god-forsaken planet?
Let me state my conclusions here, just so these points don’t get lost.
- We, friends of the Cuban Revolution, need to oppose genetic engineering of agriculture, which is fundamentally a mechanism of colonization of the living cell. Through genetic engineering capitalist relations re-emerge, even in an aspiring socialist country like Cuba.
- We need to refuse to accept, and to reframe, what is promulgated as “The Good Life.”
- We need to train ourselves in how to think and plan holistically.
- We need to stop fetishizing science and technology. They are not neutral. They do not stand apart from the class struggle. They are not our saviors. They are dripping with the ideology of the dominant capitalist framework of the societies in which they develop. To say that they are “ideology free” is itself part of that dominant ideology!
- We need to reframe THE WAY we raise and fight for issues, so that we can create institutions that begin to implement solutions through our own direct action, even as we make appeals to the system to do “this or that” for us. We then fight to defend those liberated zones, and we strive to expand them until they become the new society in embryo.
- To do all that, we need to practice how to bring out the ecological dimension that is buried in every issue. We may need to actively search for it, but it is there. Make it visible. Take action.
* * *
A SPECTER IS HAUNTING THIS PLANET – the specter of biological devastation and ecological catastrophe. It is ravaging all the ecosystems sustaining life. Butterflies, frogs, bees, redwood forests – whole familiar and essential species are in sudden danger of being wiped out by pesticides and chemical agriculture, pollution, petrochemical emissions, wastes and radiation from nuclear power plants – all fueling global climate change – and genetically engineered crops. Mechanisms for propagation – even seeds! – are coming under the private ownership of a tiny number of very large agro-chemical corporations bent on extending their control over land – and water – and monopolizing the world’s food supply by altering the reproductive capacities of entire species.
In the U.S., this colonization is legitimized by new Enclosure Acts similar to those of centuries ago, a legal fiction codifying the shameless orgy of capitalist profit and conquest. Here’s Fidel, once again, sharply criticizing the use of the world’s available land for monocropping plants for biofuels and the resulting elimination of the world’s forests, which Fidel termed “The internationalization of genocide.”
Indeed! In the last 50 years, fully 80 percent of the world’s forests have been chopped down. One Cuban scientist told me that “trees are nice to have, but they are a secondary concern when we are talking about the needs of people, which come first” – a surprisingly un-dialectical view. Forests prevent floods; they maintain healthy soil; they defuse hurricanes and detoxify drinking water. They oxygenate the air; they serve as habitats for thousands of species. In the U.S., less than 5 percent of the old-growth forests remain. In Argentina and Brazil, huge swaths of primeval rainforest are being cut down and the land monocropped with genetically engineered soy for animal feed and biofuels exported to the United States, Japan, China and Europe. In Indonesia, millions of acres of forest have been burned for palm oil production, mining and cattle grazing. In Mexico the Lacandona forest – the home of the ancient Mayan people and the Zapatista rebellion – is under siege by international paper companies as much as by federal troops. Under Clinton and Gore more trees were clearcut in the U.S. than by any of their predecessors in recent history – COMBINED!
The destruction of forests is one of the most notorious contributors to global climate change and the pending ecocide of this planet. The NY Times cuts down 60,000 trees per week to publish its Sunday paper. Don’t expect the Times to stray too far from its mantra of corporate “rights”.
Remember, por favor, there is no ‘Planet B’! No more the once magnificent old growth forests; no more the pristine drinking water, healthy soils, non-mutated frogs, pollinating bees, seas teeming with fish – the entire North Atlantic has been “fished out,” if you can even call what industrial trawlers do these days “fishing,” scraping miles of giant steel mesh weighing 15 tons each through the most ancient and protected parts of the world’s oceans, sweeping up everything in their path. And, as we know, the polar ice caps are melting, which is already causing the oceans to rise by many meters, and threatening to wipe out not only Greenland, but New York City and Havana within the next two decades!
One hundred and sixty years ago, the 24-year-old editor of Cologne’s Reinische Zeitung wrote forceful editorials in defense of the forest against privatization, and in favor of the rights of peasants to collect dead wood from the forest floor – lands that had been unrestricted by law and used in common for millennia. The editor – Karl Marx – railed against the state’s jack-booted stormtroopers’ expropriation of the Commons. Marx named that expropriation “primitive accumulation.” He exposed the system’s legalization of such plunder as part and parcel of the emerging capitalist class’ attempts to increase its control of the State. He pointed out that by 1842, 85 percent of all prosecutions in the Rhineland dealt with a new crime: the “theft” of dead wood lying on the ground, which the State applied only to peasants while allowing wealthy businessmen and corporations to strip whole forests with impunity. It was Marx, especially, who explained how such “enclosures” came to receive acceptance socially and sanction in law.
How did it happen that people allowed public lands and early machinery to be privatized and re-shaped to serve the needs of capital? Why didn’t people revolt? (Well they did, according to Silvia Federici, in her great book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation.) We can ask the same questions today: How did our once-public universities, hospitals, beaches, libraries, drinking water, parks and even prisons in the United States suddenly become privatized? Private mercenary armies now make up a large percentage of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; the water tables are so polluted that drinking water is now sold in plastic bottles, their sources owned by the world’s largest corporations, and the plastic wastes have accumulated in the Pacific Ocean forming a floating plastic island five times the size of Cuba!
It is worth remembering that Marx’s critique of capitalism started with his denunciation of the cutting down of forests for private profit, the enclosure of lands used in common, and the State’s criminalization of peasants taking dead wood for heating and cooking. Ecological justice was central to Marx’s outlook from his earliest writings. Today, Marx would be railing against industrial agriculture and especially the use of genetically engineered crops.
But since his death in 1883 and until very recently, Marx’s followers for the most part have ignored his writings on the environment and ecological justice, which were based on his formulation of the twin sources of value – the exploitation of Labor and the expropriation of Nature. The Communist parties have, contra Marx, repeatedly called for developing the instruments of production at any cost, rarely analyzing the vastly destructive role played by the expropriation of Nature (a primitive accumulation which is ongoing, at all times) in the production of wealth and in the reproduction of the capitalist system, which was central to Marx’s analysis of capitalist accumulation, as most tersely presented in The Critique of the Gotha Programme. In omitting or minimizing the expropriation of nature, Marxists have allowed capitalism’s – and “actually existing Socialism’s” – ravaging of the environment through its industrial form of production to go unchallenged.
Along with the industrial form of production comes the following: the drudgery of the assembly line and office; the inferno of rotten relationships and rancid dreams; the privatization of everything and twisting of everybody into things to be bought and sold; the reproduction and consolidation of patriarchy, hierarchy, domination and exploitation; the subjugation of Nature (and of the Nature within – our very chromosomes and cells!) to the exigencies of production and the market; the exploitation of natural and human resources; the irreversible destruction of the environment and the planet – all are embedded in industrial technology as such. Industrial technology reproduces the social conditions and ideology of the capitalist system even under Socialism. And we, who are raised in those same conditions have become dependent on them; we can barely conceive of how to reorganize society to satisfy human needs in any other way. Steeped as we are in capitalist and patriarchal ideology, industrial production seems to us most “natural”. Our longing for what constitutes “Progress” and “the good life” is shackled to industrial production, its products, and its capitalist integuments. Those who try to uproot those assumptions are smeared as quaint “throwbacks” to an earlier time or, should their challenges take root, as “Luddites” and then dismissed.
Contrary to the popular misconception, the Luddites of 1811 did NOT oppose the use of tools or machinery. They organized across England hammers in hand to dismember that new form of technology that broke up and colonized their communities – the centralized giant looms owned by a few wealthy owners. In France, they threw “sabots” (wooden shoes) into the gears (and hence the term “sabotage”). The Grow or Die system physically crushed the Luddites and other mass movements, and then obliterated memory of their heroic example from the history texts. The new technologies and the commodities produced through their use embody an ensemble of social relations that do not stand outside of the history of exploitation, organization of production, class relations, hierarchies of domination and control, the desecration of the natural environment, and destruction of the Commons. Industrial production based on the assembly line and now the genetic engineering of agriculture are technologies of colonization of both Labor and Nature, no matter the kind of system utilizing them.
We Leftists must reject the “factory form” of production altogether. The Cuban revolution had begun to envision new ways for producing the things humans need and desire, but that could only be made possible when we stop measuring “progress” through a striving for “efficiency” – at least an “efficiency” as measured through capitalist criteria. Where, for example, are all of those supposedly “inefficient” bicycles that had daily flooded the streets of Havana in the ’90s, streets that are choking, once again, on the exhaust of GM and Ford dinosaurs of the 1950s? The charms of the old cars fade quickly when we consider that they exacerbate asthma, cause lung cancer, and increase infant mortality and health costs to society as a whole – costs that the capitalist model excludes from its measure of “efficiency”. Regardless of which class owns and controls the means of production, capitalism’s shaping of “progress” and “the good life” will inevitably end up undermining the forces of socialism and ravaging the planet.
So now, let’s get back to that “bloodlash of ‘Progress’ ” and alternatives to it.
Cuba could become the world leader in global ecology, organic agriculture, and alternative and sustainable solar energy. Even in the far more impoverished and chaotic Haitian countryside Solar Energy powers whole communities. Why not in Cuba? With planning, Cuba could become the exemplar of what socialist revolution could mean in practice. It could present not only “health care for all” but, in addition, an expansive view of complementary or holistic medicine freed from the biases of Western technological and pharmaceutical models. Imagine thousands of visitors flocking to Cuba to learn ecologically sound planning, farming, diet and health!
But for that to happen, the Revolution must reach deeply into that well of its most precious waters – the creativity, high political consciousness and humor of its people – that is, its Socialism! Cubans would take pride in being the first western country to reject the industrial model of science & ecology, and in leading the charge to saving the planet. That is what socialism must become. Socialists must reject that bloodlash of ‘progress’ that whips all who stray back into the neoliberal model, with its technological quick-fix “solutions” like the so-called “Green Revolution” and Genetic Engineering. We must create a new Internationale of those who exert their self-determination as a people, as anti-imperialists, and as Eco-Warriors in defense of this planet. More than ever, the choice comes down to this: The Capitalist System vs. the Immune System – for the entire planet!
Cuba has begun experimenting with the genetic engineering of agriculture. We’ve heard mixed reports about how far along that is and what the process will be in determining Cuba’s future in that regard. Socialists should not have to ask – but I guess we still need to do so – whether manufacturing living plants to withstand huge amounts of pesticides and herbicides, or turning every cell in a stalk of corn into a mini-pesticide factory that sterilizes the soil of nutrients and life and that won’t wash off, is something that socialists should applaud, regardless of whether it would increase yield – and it doesn’t even do that when all factors are considered. Please remember, we are no longer talking about the customary technologies that at least in theory could be re-called, like a car, if a flaw is discovered. Once a genetically modified organism is released into the wild it cannot be taken back. It’s too late. It’s out there reproducing on its own. And, through drift, it pollutes the land and colonizes the local plants and natural environment.
Agro-Ecologists Fernando Funes Aguilar, Miguel Altieri, and Fernando R. Funes-Monzote convincingly show that newly available financial and material resources … “are for the most part being used to implement specialized conventional, large-scale monoculture” in Cuba. They write that “such industrial agriculture for export is dependent on genetically engineered corn and soy, heavy use of pesticides and herbicides, and centralized monocropping requiring the use of large machinery, non-organic fertilizer, and heavy use of water.”
In fact, in 2011 the pesticide manufacturer “Juan Rodriguez Gomez” IN HAVANA, produced around 100,000 liters of the herbicide Glyphosate, according to Funes. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp, a toxic herbicide suspected by Greenpeace of causing cancer and nerve disorders, and is especially dangerous for children.
Will the drive for much-needed investments let the devil out of Pandora’s box and overrun the socialist potential in Cuba’s economic and ecologically sound policies? We need to follow Fidel’s lead here and think more carefully about our acceptance of such capitalist technologies as genetic engineering and nuclear power.
I invite our comrades in the Cuban government and the Cuban people to put an end to this deadly experiment with genetic engineering and a return to chemical agriculture before it goes any further, and before it becomes too late to reverse course, and to publicize that position at the U.N. and throughout Latin America. Imagine the powerful shot-in-the-arm to the global movement against GMOs, should Cuba join it and provide it with socialist leadership!
Cuba, POR FAVOR, stop the experimentation with genetically engineered crops and seeds now!
I close with two excerpts from poems, the first by the great Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal:
“Nothing ever comes to the sleeper but a dream.”
And the second by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
“Rise like lions after slumber
In Unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in Sleep have fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few.”
* * *
Following the talk, Mitchel circulated the following Open Letter, and asked for signatures:
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE AGAINST GENETIC ENGINEERING OF AGRICULTURE
We, the undersigned friends of the Cuban revolution visiting Havana and participating in the Encuentro of “Socialist Renovation and Capitalist Crisis,” are deeply concerned with the proposed introduction of genetically modified agriculture to Cuba.
We recognize that unlike other technologies, once a genetically engineered organism is released into the wild, it will be difficult to recall. The engineered genes will drift, invade other plants and reproduce on their own, transforming indigenous plants in ways that are not known, unplanned, and potentially dangerous to human health and to Cuba’s sensitive ecological balance.
We oppose the genetic engineering of agriculture in our own countries and we urge a full and public discussion of this issue in Cuba, hopefully leading to Cuba’s complete rejection of genetically engineered agricultural technology.
Green Party, and WBAI Radio
Brooklyn, New York
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
West Chester University
Stony Brook University
E. Setauket, New York
MarxLenin P. Valdes
Universidad de la Habana
La Habana, Cuba
City College of NY Graduate Center
New York City, New York
American Federation of Teachers
San Francisco, California
University of Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain/Sta Clara, Cuba
Labor Action to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Universidad de la Habana
Cuban 5 Committee
Rita L. Moneia Fernandez
Medico Master C.P.
Universidad de la Habana
Orlando Cruz Capote
Universidad de la Habana
* Names of organizations are for identification purposes only. The individual signing the open letter is self-identifying as a member of that organization, but that should not be taken to imply that the organization itself has necessarily taken a position on this issue.
“Dan Berrigan was a moral giant and the closest thing we have in our society to a prophet.” – Jeremy Scahill
Mitchel Cohen writes: I was standing in the back of the jam-packed, magnificent Church of St. Francis Xavier on W. 16th St. in Manhattan Friday for the funeral and “sending off” of liberation theology Catholic priest, poet and anti-war hero Dan Berrigan, when the entire church — following the choir’s lead — broke into Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th. Spine-chilling and beautiful. As Dan Berrigan’s casket was carried slowly through the church and out into the waiting hearse, people broke the protocol and cheered and roared appreciation of a wonderful and meaningful life. Ohhhhh …….
- Wonderful Recollections of people on the walk of hundreds to Dan Berrigan’s funeral, by Mike Burns of Democracy Now! Click HERE.
- Jeremy Scahill — author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars — remembers his times and inspirations with Dan Berrigan and the love of ice cream. From great coverage by Democracy Now! Click HERE.
- Amy Goodman, Frida Berrigan, Bill Quigley, “Dan Berrigan: A Moral Giant” on Democracy Now! Click HERE.
From Jeremy Scahill’s interview on Democracy Now!
In 1981, on CNN, Chris Wallace says to Dan Berrigan, basically, “Well, you used to be famous, but nobody really pays much attention to what you do these days.” Meanwhile, a year earlier, Dan and his colleagues had gone into this nuclear plant at the General Electric factory in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and hammered on Mark 12A warheads, starting the Plowshares Movement, which became global. But Dan’s response to Chris Wallace was just classic Dan Berrigan and also just sort of stunning in its simple brilliance. He said, “Well, you know, we don’t view our conscience as being tethered to the other end of a television cord.”
OUTRAGED NYC VOTERS AT THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS
Please Listen to this report:
I am not a Democrat, I’m an enrolled Green, and I hope Bernie Sanders accepts Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s offer to run an independent campaign with her on the Green Party line. Jill Stein has even offered to run as Vice-Presidential candidate and Bernie could run for President as a Green.
In New York, Greens and other independents were not permitted to vote in the Democratic Party primary. Which is, in my view, as it should be, despite others’ calls for “Open Primaries.” We wouldn’t want hordes of corporate Democrats or Republicans swarming into the Green Party primary and taking over the Greens, right?
Still, as a Green, I made an exception and helped campaign for Bernie Sanders. It’s not often that I’d done that — in fact, I have never before campaigned for a Democrat for president. Well, at least not since Eugene McCarthy in 1968. But this campaign is so critical in raising …. not just socialism (democratic, of course), or peace, or justice, or environmental issues, but just plain old human decency in the face of lunatics and fascists (and I include Hillary Clinton in that camp. I believe she is even more dangerous than Donald Trump who is awful but not as awful as Cruz).
Below are some audio clips of interviews I’ve done for WBAI covering various election events.
Clip #1: April 14, 2016 — I inadvertently stumbled into a bar in Brooklyn, corner of Cortelyou Rd. and Coney Island Avenue. Sign in the window said “Watch the debate here”. Inside the small bar, over 70 people — mostly young — screamed at the TV, interjected comments continuously, and if there was a Hillary Clinton supporter in there at the start there weren’t any by the end.
Clip #2: April 13, 2016 — Walking at talking with Marxist economist Rick Wolff following the giant Sanders rally in Washington Square Park, April 13th 2016.
Clip #3: April 13, 2016 — Bernie Sanders’ speech to 50,000 people in and around Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, NYC.
Clip #4: April 10, 2016. On the blustery boardwalk at Coney Island, waiting for the Sanders rally. I met a man — an immigrant from Russia — who is an enrolled Republican with a very interesting story and an open mind.
Clip #5: April 7, 2016 — Haitian activists waiting in line to hear Bernie Sanders speak at his old homestead in Flatbush, near Kings Highway. They have quite a lot to say about Hillary Clinton and her despicable role in Haiti.
Clip #6: April 7, 2016 — Rev. Paul Patrick, on line to hear Bernie Sanders in Flatbush. This was broadcast on the WBAI Evening News.
Clip #7: April 7, 2016 — Jewish 11 & 12-year-olds in Flatbush supporting Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Clip #8: April 7, 2016 — Former Brooklyn College professor Nancy Romer talks about building a movement, at the Sanders speech in Flatbush.
Clip #9: April 7, 2016 — French journalist at Sanders rally in Flatbush puts in a plug for WBAI radio.
BY MITCHEL COHEN
“No one knows who Bernie Sanders is”, said U.S. Congressional representative Charles Rangel just 3 months ago, as Rangel once again endorsed Hillary Clinton. “I never consider Senator Bernie Sanders to be in the same professional standard for the president as I do Hillary Clinton, not by a long shot.”
– U.S. Congressional Representative Charles Rangel
Americans are notorious for having very short memories. So with Charlie Rangel on the stump again for Hillary Clinton, let’s go back 8 years to 2008 when Clinton was running in the Democratic Primary for President of the United States against Barack Obama.
At polling places in Charlie Rangel’s Harlem congressional district, EDs were reporting votes of 300 to ZERO, 240 to ZERO, for Clinton over Obama — IN HARLEM.
In Brooklyn, dozens of Election District’s — some in predominantly Black neighborhoods — reported zero votes for Obama and 93 votes for Clinton. (See the Brooklyn Paper story, below.)
“We know with complete certainty that the motivation for her vile assassination was her struggle against the exploitation of nature’s common wealth and the defense of the Lenca people. Her murder is an attempt to put an end to the struggle of the Lenca people against all forms of exploitation and expulsion. It is an attempt to halt the construction of a new world. Berta’s struggle was not only for the environment, it was for system change, in opposition to capitalism, racism and patriarchy.”
– Berta’s Mother and children
REPORT BY LINDA PERRY & MITCHEL COHEN FOR WBAI RADIO’S EVENING NEWS, MARCH 21, 2016
REPORT BY AMY GOODMAN FOR DEMOCRACY NOW! BEFORE HER ASSASSINATION, BERTA CACERES SINGLED OUT HILLARY CLINTON FOR BACKING HONDURAN COUP
⇒See April 2 UPDATE below …..
Gustavo Castro Witnessed the Murder of Berta Cáceres. That Means His Life Is in Danger.
In the face of silence from Washington, the Clinton-backed coup government in Honduras is mopping up activists for democracy and indigenous rights.
The sole eyewitness to Honduran social movement leader Berta Cáceres’ assassination on March 3, 2016 has gone from being wounded victim to, effectively, political prisoner.
Now Gustavo Castro Soto may also be framed as the murderer of his long-time friend.
Mexico’s ambassador to Honduras, Dolores Jiménez, and Castro himself are worried that the Mexican national will be charged by the government for the killing, they told the National Commission of Human Rights of Honduras on March 16.
“No matter where one is or with whom one works, activists are not safe in Honduras.”
The following letter by Mitchel Cohen was published in the Linewaiters’ Gazette, the newspaper of the Park Slope Food Coop.
Let me ask a question: What do terrorists eat?
Halal? Kosher? Organic? Vegetarian?
Do they shop at the Park Slope Food Coop? A government-designated “terrorist” might be working right next to you!
One Coop member (Daniel McGowan) spent 7 years in jail for so-called “eco-terrorist” acts — attempting to save the planet. A former member of the Coop (Paul Bermanzohn) was shot by the Klan — who were assisted by the FBI — 40 years ago and was seriously wounded, for demonstrating with people maligned as “terrorists”. Five were killed. Currently, people who visit Planned Parenthood — many Coop members do! — are more and more portrayed as frequenting a “terrorist” organization, and of being complicit in that organization’s “crimes”.
The word “terrorist” — like the phrase “hate speech” used to designate the words of those opposing the state of Israel’s policies — is so imprecise as to be undefinable. Who is a terrorist? Says who? What actually is “hate speech”?
Ronald Reagan once praised the terrorist death squads in Nicaragua known as “contras”, calling them “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” Say what? Oliver North secretly sold TOW missiles to Iran, he testified, and channelled that cash to fund the contras.
Reagan’s equation is instructive. Most of the founding fathers were indeed terrorists. Just ask the American Indians. Or the slaves the founding fathers owned.
More and more events are portrayed as “terrorist attacks”. The last two years have recorded 350 “mass killings” in the U.S. Officially, mass killings are incidents in which 4 or more people are murdered. 300 of the perpetrators were Christian. Two were committed by people who said they were Moslems. Guess how many of the 350 mass killings are considered to be “terrorist-related”. (If you need a hint, you really should ratchet-up your critical thinking. Red Alert!)
“Terrorist” has become a word devoid of historical consistency. Why is Saddam Hussein but not Hillary Clinton seen as a terrorist, despite Clinton’s authorizing the bombing of Libya? Why isn’t Barack Obama’s targeting-by-drone considered “terrorism”, blowing up hospitals, schools, wedding parties?
The labeling of someone as “terrorist” or of being connected to a “terrorist” group is an opportunistic political ploy. Coop members who oppose Israel’s policies towards Palestinians are labeled “hate speakers” by Israel’s defenders in the Gazette; they risk being marginalized, losing their jobs and becoming targets of violent attack, so many stay quiet here.
Those maligning others as “using hate speech” are following the criminal Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Zionist playbook. Some are funded by front groups he’s set up for the purpose of casting aspersions on those (like me) who demand justice for Palestine, and for all people everywhere.
I hate the term “hate speech”. Like “terrorism”, it means whatever abusers of the language want it to mean. I like to think of Coop members as thwarters of mindless acquiescence to received doctrine. We are proud “Terra-ists”, part of the “Terra-ist International” out to save this planet. Look around the Coop. This is what terra-ists eat.
by RICHARD LEVINS
with an into by Mitchel Cohen
With the indiscriminate spraying of toxic insecticides on the people of NY and the natural environment, this article — originally written in 1991 and updated in 1995 — becomes even more useful. In it, Richard Levins discusses, among other things, the use of ants and natural predators as a means to replace pesticides, based on experimental farms he and others established in Cuba throughout the 1980s. The details are fascinating, and my introduction locates this enterprise in its political context by examining what we mean by “natural”, and why the “Natural” is always a socio-political construct.
Richard Levins died on January 19, 2016.
He was the pre-eminent dialectical scientist, who taught the rest of our ecology and anti-imperialist movements. If you want to read what a dialectical inquiry looks like in practice, read The Dialectical Biologist by Levins and Lewontin. Dick Levins was a genius, a founder of Science for the People, and very supportive of the NY Marxist School and all of us younger activists (like me! ha!) over many years ….. In fact, the very first pamphlet the Red Balloon Collective published, on Agriculture in Cuba (below), was written by Levins — he’d originally written in the late 1980s a piece on Rosa Luxemburg and political struggles in the U.S. and Cuba, and I was so impressed with his footnotes — which were all about his real life experiences using ants in Cuba to protect crops from other insects — that I asked him if I could turn his footnotes into an essay and discard the rest! He said YES, we went back and forth painlessly a few times, and voila, a great pamphlet was born. Already missing Dick Levins!
An earlier version of this article appeared in Capitalism, Nature and Socialism. Mitchel, with Levin’s permission, edited and reworked it for Red Balloon Magazine (1992), and Richard Levins updated it for printing as a separate pamphlet in 1995. If you’d like a printed copy of that pamphlet, drop Mitchel a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cyclones, Volcanoes, Crop Failures & Other “Natural” Disasters
By Mitchel Cohen
The cyclone that swept away more than 200,000 lives in Bangladesh in the early 1990s is hardly of consequence to most Americans, partly because it is seen as a “natural” tragedy over which we have no power. Says the left: “Nuthin’ we can do about it. Let’s talk about the war.”
“Thinking about ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ disasters gets complicated,” editorializes The Nation (June 3, 1991), “when there are so many tragedies to digest at the same time — not just Bangladesh and Kurdistan but also famine in Ethiopia and Sudan, earthquakes in Soviet Georgia and Costa Rica, cholera in Peru. Some no doubt still find refuge, like Pangloss when he contemplated the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, in the thought that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Among humanitarian agencies, the phrase of the moment is donor fatigue: Americans, their consciences jarred and then numbed by bad news, have largely reacted by flipping the channel.
“Relief workers, politicians and editorialists will all agree that the best response to the cyclone in Bangladesh is not cure but prevention. That’s exactly the point. Those who died on the drowned islands and sandbars could have been saved by human decisions as conscious and controllable as those that unleashed the B 52s on Iraq or the Republican Guard on the Kurds.
“This is not a call to rehabilitate King Canute, who sat on the beach and ordered the waters to retreat; stilling the winds and waves remains beyond the reach of human science. But the roots of Bangladesh’s serial disasters are not hard to find. The floods that afflict the Ganges delta year after year are the direct result of the deforestation of the Indian Himalayas; topsoil is swept into the great river and causes it to burst its banks after the monsoon rains. The cyclone driven waves that roll in from the ocean can be blocked by coastal barriers. Or people can be protected by taking refuge in concrete shelters. Bangladesh has 300 of these shelters; almost every person who found one survived. But it needs 5,000.
“Whenever disaster strikes, the humanitarian relief agencies issue those familiar appeals that tell small donors what their dollars will buy. Help to Bangladesh’s food victims takes the form of plastic sheeting and water purification tablets, rice and molasses and intravenous drips. CARE says that $14 will purchase a ‘survival pack’ to support a family of four for five days.
“Here are some other ways of thinking about what larger donors might do with their money:
“An ATACM long range artillery rocket costs $55,000; $50,000 buys a concrete cyclone shelter.
“A GBU 15 precision guided bomb costs $584,000; $500,000 buys ten cyclone shelters.
“A C 17 military cargo aircraft costs $373 million; $235 million buys all the shelters Bangladesh needs.
“$1.4 billion is the total that Bangladesh says it needs to mop up after this cyclone — while doing nothing to stop the next one, which will come as surely as the sunrise.
“These figures should not be a cause for fatigue but a spur to start saving lives.”
Twenty years ago, China (which we then called “Red China”) was able to detect a forthcoming earthquake not through elaborate technological devices but by closely observing the changed behavior of animals for several days before the quake; millions of lives were saved by preparation and quick communication.
The Chinese observation of animals to detect earthquakes is but one of many ways people devise all the time to empower themselves over the conditions that affect their lives. We in the U.S., on the other hand, are rapidly losing knowledge not only concerning “what to do” about particular problems, but whole ways of knowing, and we cede more and more authority for imagining life to a relatively few “representatives” trained in narrow technological approaches, at which they are expert. And it all seems so … well … natural.
But the more we learn about the forms of knowledge people around the world have used in living their lives, often under horribly adverse conditions, the more unnatural becomes our own slavish cringing in the U.S. before this system’s profit seeking high tech magic bullet MTV approach to everything, especially nature — which is only fitting since capitalism promotes itself as a “natural” — in fact, the only natural — economic system. (Hey, and how about that “organic” composition of capital?!)
Framed in that way, that which keeps us from imagining differently — say, different ways of detecting earthquakes, or non invasive pest control methods in growing food, or natural childbirths at home with the aid of midwives instead of the false sterility of fluorescent stirrupped on-your-back-hospitals — are not only scientific, but highly charged (in both senses of that term) political problems. The storms that devastated the Caribbean (1994) were integrally related to the decimation of the Brazilian rainforest and the new wind and moisture patterns the clearcutting caused — a political battle. The tuberculosis epidemic in New York City — a disease of poverty — is a direct result of the Koch administration’s gutting of preventive care in the 1980s — a political decision. As we undertake to free our minds from the dead weight of all the generations weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living, we can begin to imagine — and act to achieve — wholly different relationship to nature, to work, to each other, to our own bodies. As it turns out, today’s seemingly “natural” relationships not only have a cultural and scientific dimension to them but a political one as well.
But that remains conveniently hidden when we believe these forces to be “natural” and thus beyond our control. From the moment we come splashing into our very own blue or pink nuclear families — no! even before, in utero: the sounds the fetus senses, the rhythms, the food, the immune system’s antibodies; in that way, even the womb has a view — our daily lives, our very ways of framing the questions are drenched in politics, but we don’t see it as such. Instead, to account for the ways people interrelate and for the degrading and alienating conditions of daily life, we are inculcated with the false (and from the system’s vantage point, ideally self serving) idea that man [sic] is blessed with an inherently greedy, jealous, gender coded and selfish human nature; and we’re also taught to view attempts to counter greed, jealousy, sexual conditioning and selfishness as somehow hopelessly idealistic and na?e (unless we’re in a charitable mood, and we find them quaintly anachronistic, nostalgic and romantic — either way, disempowering) and therefore not worthy of our efforts … and certainly not political!
But, contrary to most of the Official Left’s tedious annual exhortations to subsidize Washington bound bus companies, revolutionary politics has little to do with the organized whining and begging that passes for protest against the slimy gyrations of sad eyed colonels in the lowlands of congress. Politics is about countering the ways we reproduce the dominant ways of seeing in our daily lives, the ways we relate, the metaphors through which we perceive the world, and the strategies we devise to fight back.
If oppression, exploitation, domination and greed are indeed natural, as most of us are taught, then so must be our helplessness before them. Thus, we become doubly victimized — first by the conditions we’re born into, which are maintained by the society around us, and second by their affect on our minds, shackling us to the dominant modes of conceptualizing and channeling our own potential, and preventing us from even conceiving of alternatives outside of the ruling class’ “ideological hegemony,” as they say in the old country — even during those heady moments when, with consciousness raised, we march to the barricades, fists flailing, hearts pounding, a song on our lips!
Recent anarchist and green pundits, too, are in danger of failing to imagine what hoops people are forced to jump through, and what happens to them when they refuse to jump. Especially when it comes to Cuba. Not only to imagine what could have been (and perhaps what could still be), in which case criticisms of various Cuban governmental policies, the hierarchy and the like would be very much apropos, but of what Cuba actually is: contested space where contradictory efforts and policies wash over it, back and forth, waves coming in and receding with the vast ocean surrounding it, a little island alone in a sea of capitalist sharks. It is no coincidence that it is in Cuba (as it was in Nicaragua when the Sandinista revolution was in full bloom), that most highly politicized of countries, that important ecological dreams are being born: its new solar energy manufacturing industry promises to become the cutting edge, especially for countries now dependent on expensive foreign oil, and explorations into new non intrusive agricultural techniques, producing quality foods at higher yields per acre without using pesticides, lift high the green vision of a different, non destructive relationship to nature, and are publicly funded and promoted. Should Cuba’s experiments in natural agriculture blossom, it will pose a threat to U.S. agribusiness, fertilizer, petroleum and other related industrial domination, for it imagines the possibility of countries, now caught up in the vicious cycle of producing cash crops for export while their own people go hungry, creating a way out of the IMF/World Bank “developmental” trap — the revolutionary implications of what is best in a green vision of an ecological world.
Many leftists, though, have bought into the U.S. government’s demonization of Cuba. The Greens’ Left Green Notes, for one, has printed vitriolic condemnations of Cuba for building a nuclear power plant that go far beyond any legitimate critique, while failing to offer a realistic alternative energy approach — proposals that would be welcomed by most Cuban agencies, some quite independent from the national government, who are eager for skilled international input. Fortunately, revolutionary scientists like Richard Levins and others have been working steadily in Cuba to put into effect just such a vision, and the following essay sketches some of that work. Anarchists, marxists, socialist feminists and greens (O my!) need to move beyond the academic critiques we’re so good at from afar and offer coherent alternatives, working with others to put them into practice, by helping to form communities of resistance and nurturance that alone can give rise to and sustain the required struggles over long periods of time. Had we been able to work more closely with revolutionaries in India and prevented the deforestation of the Himalayas, with indigenous people in the Amazon and saved the rainforest, the regular flooding of the Ganges river and the storms that tear through the Caribbean with such devastation — and all the consequent loss of life — could have been avoided. Had we even been able to construct cyclone shelters in Bangladesh, or prevented the U.S. bombardment of Iraq — all of which involve a political dimension that too many ecology minded people shun — hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved, and horrible “natural” catastrophes averted. When we fail to take direct action to build up the kind of world we can only occasionally imagine, we allow the ruling class, and particularly Western science, to purse its profits with our lips, and spin its final solutions out of our golden desires.
As Richard Levins writes in the following essay, solidarity with the Cuban revolution does not mean passive endorsement of all present conditions and practices in Cuba, but an active, critical and supportive engagement with (and through) the revolutionary process. Through that engagement, we’ll find suprising new ways of framing the questions that will not only help the Cuban people but generate conditions that enable us to liberate ourselves! Radical ecologists, greens, must support and involve ourselves in the experimental agriculture and alternative energy projects going on in Cuba, and keep U.S. imperialism out of there, for it is in such communities that our hopes for a new relationship to nature and an ecological future are being worked out and made to yield fruitful harvests.
– Mitchel Cohen, 1995
The Struggle for Ecological Agriculture in Cuba
By Richard Levins
Richard Levins, who died last week, was a professor of Biology at Harvard University who continued to work extensively in Cuba and who, with Richard Lewontin, is the author of The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press, 1985).
A quarter of a century after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, pesticides remain a serious hazard to our health, agricultural production and the environment in general. In some parts of the world, pesticide use is increasing and still regarded as an index of progress, while in a few places the expansion of chemical pest control has been stopped or even reversed.
I have followed and participated in the struggle for an ecological agriculture in Cuba since 1964. It is a struggle: science is not the smooth illumination of darkness by light, or a natural process of the unfolding of knowledge. It involves conflicts over priorities, uncertainties about what is necessary or possible, disagreements among different outlooks — in a word, politics.
For a society like Cuba’s, poor but bent on eradicating poverty, there exists an urgency to increase production, sometimes in just a matter of months. Under such circumstances, and especially in the face of uncertainty that accompanies agricultural production, neither farmers nor planners can afford the risks — mass starvation, disease, and dislocation — of switching to new technologies. Nor do they have the resources or the time to conduct the research necessary to develop alternative, ecologically sound production methods.
Additionally, throughout the Third World there is ignorance of the dangers of a chemicalized agriculture and of the existence of alternatives. But ignorance is not the passive absence of knowledge. It is structured into a belief system with areas of information, misinformation, and lack of information that allow people to be dazzled by the promises of progress and blind to its seamy side. In the Third World, this ignorance is organized around the ideology of “developmentalism.” [See “The Debt Crisis: Africa and the New Enclosures,” by Silvia Federici, also in the Winter/Spring 1992 issue of Red Balloon Magazine].
Consequently, in many areas of the world there are no alternative networks able to compete with the chemical industry’s sales efforts. And even planners and administrators with a strong commitment to serving the people can be so preoccupied with production and costs that they leave themselves vulnerable to the sales efforts of the chemical industry that promise quick fixes to long term problems. These forces are pushing their poisons throughout the world; Cuba is one of the few countries in which it may be possible to break that chain in the immediate future, if circumstances (and the U.S.) allow it.
What A Difference A Revolution Makes: Formation Of The Cuban Ecology Movement
The first major factor in the shift toward ecological agriculture in Cuba was the growth, maturity and self confidence of an articulate community of ecologists enjoying public support. Popular interest in ecology was growing. The press carried articles on biological pest management, Jorge Ramon’s wildlife program appeared on television for many years, and amateur groups like the Speleological Society and associations of amateur botanists were part of a national commitment to science and development growing out of the post revolutionary enthusiasm for the nation’s own plants and animals, which seems to accompany the winning of national independence in all countries.
As in most colonial and post colonial societies, Cuban biology was dominated by systematic biology (the description and classification of plants and animals), medicine, (1) and agriculture.(2) In 1959, the revolution brought a strong commitment to science but scarce means for acting on that commitment. Cuba’s small group of systematic zoologists, botanists, and biogeographers (3) felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task of describing the biota of Cuba and its geographic distribution before new economic development would alter the habitats beyond recognition. Although there was interest in ecology and evolutionary biology, there was a strong sense that description must precede experimentation. Instructors did not feel capable of teaching in these areas and the library lacked books and journals.(4)
The International Biological Program was a major turning point for Cuban ecology. UNESCO sponsored intensive long term biome studies around the world through the “Man and the Biosphere” projects.(5) Cuba’s contribution was a study of the montane rainforest in the Sierra del Rosario.(6) Collaboration with the Polish and Czech academies of science and individuals from other countries created an international environment within which Cuban botanists and a few zoologists emerged as ecologists. The rainforest project paralleled a reforestation program which included monoculture and clear cutting. As a result, the Institute of Botany came into conflict with the foresters around the ecological irrationality of the scheme, its first foray into ecological policy questions.
At the site of the old Agricultural Experiment Station, the National Institute for Fundamental Research in Tropical Agriculture (INIFAT) was organized. In the new institute, research projects were chosen for both their practical importance and their value in training biologists.(7) Other ecology minded researchers promoted biological control in the Instituto Nacional de Sanidad Vegetal and laboratories of the citrus subministry. In 1980, at the first national ecology meeting, it became clear that ecological interests were emerging in biology, plant protection, fisheries, the tourist industry, and even the food industry.(8)
During the meetings, erosion and deforestation were identified as the major ecological problems, but pollution was expected to increase in importance.(9) In 1987, the Institutes of Botany and Zoology merged to form the Institute of Ecology and Systematics of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and the first international symposium on these topics was held in Havana in 1988. Ecology was now a respected and legitimate branch of biology with public visibility.
There is now a growing ecological movement in Cuba. But it is not an ecological movement in the sense of those in Europe or North America. It is not a distinct political movement such as the Greens, nor is it an opposition movement confronting a resistant government and corporations; nor is it yet an “official” movement of the sort set up by governments to say yes. Cuban ecology activists are political, committed revolutionaries who see their struggles for ecologically sound policies as part of the duty of communists in building a new society with its own relation to nature.(10)
In their view, ignorance, developmentalism and economic urgency are their main adversaries. But unlike the situation in the United States where vested interests prevent alternative “development” because it threatens profits, the problem in Cuba is not a systematic drive towards chemicalizing agriculture for profit, nor lack of channels for expression, but resistance from developmental ideas which still hold sway. In one stunning recent victory for ecologists, the planning board of Havana has begun to set aside land for restoring mangroves — a hotly contested proposal over the years because of the needs of other sectors. (The government had encouraged “development” along the coast in order to promote tourism and obtain desperately needed foreign exchange, which could have ruined the offshore cays. Recently, however, one section of the stone causeways built to an offshore cay for tourism development was torn up and replaced with a bridge span after ecologists argued that it would harm the mangroves by interfering with the circulation of water.) Similarly, where substandard housing is being demolished in areas of old Havana, they are being replaced by parks, and new housing will be built elsewhere. In the absence of greed as a major interest to be overcome, discussions are not confrontational in the same way as they are in the U.S., and the honest clash of ideas towards common goals replaces the purchased loyalty of privatized industry’s public relations firms and grant agency scientists.
Ants vs. Pesticides: Demonstrating the Effectiveness Of Ecological Pest Management
Higher oil prices and the collapse of its trading partners in eastern Europe have forced the Cuban government to promote energy conservation measures that will cut state energy expenditures by half and private use by 33 percent, as well as alternatives to reliance on foreign non renewable energy sources. The government has already imported hundreds of thousands of bicycles from China to replace reliance on costly automobiles, and farmers have also recently introduced oxen to replace some tractors. In addition to saving on fuel, oxen are better for the soil and their use encourages integrated field crop and pasture. Most daily papers have gone to weekly schedules to conserve paper and energy, and the precarious economic circumstances have even forced some of them to suspend publication. All enterprises have been cutting back on staff, especially on administration. But unlike in the U.S., people left without work are given alternative jobs, retrained at government expense, or receive unemployment insurance at 70 percent of previous wage. And a new industry centered around the manufacture of solar energy devices, which are required on all new construction in Cuba, holds some promise for the future.
The need to economize on foreign exchange, combined with the growing sophistication of the ecological community, has also been a major incentive for the government to seek non chemical pest management strategies. Although natural pest deterrence and control was already being used in a number of areas, ecologists needed dramatic successes to convince the Cuban government to put a major effort into ecological pest management. The first successes came with ants; many of them proved to be voracious predators of agriculture pests. The species Pheidole megacephala is especially versatile in reducing the costs of pest management of a number of crops.
One example: The beetle Cylas formicarius causes significant damage by boring into sweet potatoes while they are forming. Pheidole can form colonies around the sweet potato itself; if the ants get there first they keep the beetles away.
But since Pheidole does not tolerate direct sunlight very well, nests have to be planted in the field after the vines have grown for about 45 days and produced sufficient shade. So the ants are cultivated in pieces of banana stalk and set out into the field at the rate of nine nests per hectare. Even with the labor of propagating and caring for the ants this system of biological pest management cut in half the direct costs of protection. And in bananas, the ants provided long lasting protection compared to chemical methods, which had to be repeated every few weeks.
As the benevolent role of ants became widely known, the recognition of the possibilities of biological methods increased. Cuba now has 14 centers for ant production, probably the only place in the world where ants are propagated for pest management.
The ant project began through a convergence of two independent pathways. I had been agitating for the use of ants because my own studies in the theory of ecosystems convinced me that generalized predators such as ants could play an important role as a first line of defense against pests.(11)
Meanwhile, people at INIFAT were looking for methods of retarding the almost inevitable decline of banana production in old plantations. Across the road from one of INIFAT’s experimental stations was a private farm which had been able to sustain high yields for some 20 years. The farmer did not know why he had this success except that he never had allowed entomologists onto his property with sprayers. A brief investigation revealed the presence of Tetramorium ant nests at the base of each banana plant, protecting them from insect larvae of many kinds, an observation later quantified by Juan Torres working in Puerto Rico.
The success with ants has made it clear that ecological criticism of pesticides was more than a theoretical critique; it could be turned into explicit practice, and in a reasonable amount of time.
Three years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture adopted biological pest control as one of its national priorities for the new five year plan, which included the expansion of the present pesticide free areas by about 30 percent. As a result, the Hermanos Nuñez farm in Pinar del Rio, for instance, is raising earthworms for humus for itself and other farms. The beds lie under a light shade of palms where ants are being raised. The farm also recycles pig residues to feed geese, goose residues to fertilize the pond, and fish residues to enrich the feed for pigs. In addition, they are experimenting with free running native chickens as an alternative to factory style poultry production. Under the national plan, citrus will shift completely to natural control over the five years. As of 1990, 15 percent of the non sugar cane farm land was already under natural control. And in sugar, no insecticides are used, although herbicides are still standard practice.
There are currently four major programs for biological control: the use of ants in bananas and sweet potatoes; the use of trap crops such as corn to divert fruit worms from peppers; the application of Bacillus thuringiensis in vegetable crops; and the cultivation of the parasitic wasp Trichograma on an artesanal scale on farms throughout the country. (12)
In addition, there is active experimentation with fungi, nematodes, wasps, and ants for pest control and at a citrus farm we are designing an ecosystem for multipurpose use. The program includes the selection of plants to improve organic matter in the soil, house beneficial predators and pathogens, attract wasps to nectar sources, fix nitrogen, and increase the rate of decomposition of citrus leaf litter in order to interrupt the life cycle of the greasy spot fungus disease and for other purposes. Local farmers, both individually and cooperatively, have been eager to adopt methods which avoid pesticides; on their own, they have developed innovative techniques for testing additional predator species.
Cuba’s Commitment To Social Benefit
We know from the dismal environmental conditions of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that socialism [or what has attempted to pass for it — ed.] is certainly no guarantee of ecological approaches and that the advantages of social planning can be overwhelmed by other factors. Indeed, they were overwhelmed in Cuba, also, during the first decades of the revolution.
But today several aspects of the socialist organization of Cuban society favor ecological rationality. First, there is no strong commercial interest in selling pesticides. This is not entirely absent, since Cuba is part of a world capitalist economy and foreign producers would like to sell more pesticides to Cuba. But, unlike other countries, Cuban government officials do not invest in the import business, nor do they have other personal economic interests in purchasing pesticides.
Second, commitment to planned development for the benefit of the whole society means that the health impact of a technology and its effect on the environment cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. Awareness of pesticide toxicity has not only led to health protection measures for farmworkers, but has also empowered the Ministry of Health to have a voice in pesticide policy. And in response to demands from ecologists, the National Commission for Natural Resources and the Environment (COMARNA) has been elevated from an organ of the Academy of Sciences to cabinet level.
With economic concerns pressuring Cuba, the need to protect the 30 percent of Cuban secondary school students who attend schools in the countryside from pesticide exposure becomes increasingly prohibitive. Unlike in the United States, where environmental degradation and health costs are not included in the costs of production that generates them, in Cuba the health related expenses caused by chemical methods in agriculture, and the need to protect people from the dangers, are figured into the composite social cost and weigh heavily in all cost/benefit analyses. There was never any question of ignoring the health impacts of pesticides, so that these issues became part of the balance sheet from the start.
Third, large scale socialist agriculture allows for coherent land use patterns that benefit the whole society, including the adoption of ecological pest management strategies. It may seem that large scale production is inimical to ecological sensitivity to local conditions and to the imperative for diversity. Indeed, in capitalist societies this is all too often the case; but for societies that have rejected economic cutthroat competition between producing units — and with it the systemic drive towards monocultures, maximizing profits, and mechanization (run on non renewable fuels) — large scale planning can implement programs of natural pest control over a large enough area to be effective.(13)
Here’s an example: In capitalist agriculture it would be extremely difficult to get some farmers to forego planting their most lucrative crop (and relinquish their competitive edge) in order to create gaps in its distribution, which would slow down the spread of pests. Nor would they volunteer to grow guavas instead of citrus so that some pests can be sustained on guavas all year round, thus maintaining a permanent reservoir of food for predators which would then move over to the citrus when the pest population increases after the spring rains. With large scale planning in a socialist society, however, such a program of natural pest control can be extremely effective precisely because there is no systemic push toward monoculture. The unit of planning must be large enough to allow precisely for the integration of diverse conditions,(14) while the unit of production will be much smaller and reflect the need for mosaic, alley, and polyculture patterns.
Sugar And Foreign Exchange
The sugar industry, however, is a special case. Because of its importance in the Cuban economy, sugar is under a separate ministry from the rest of agriculture. This is certainly an impediment to mixed farming enterprises. The future of sugar in Cuba depends on a number of factors. Sugar is still a major source of foreign exchange for an economy that badly needs it. But prices have been falling and future markets are uncertain. Cuban planners are coming to see sugar, increasingly, as a raw material for industry, including paper, chemical, fuel, and feed for cattle. As the crisis deepens, alternative sources for cloth, such as hemp, are also being developed.
The sugar cane plant is still one of the most effective solar energy collectors we know. It is expected that the industrial products of sugar will gradually replace raw sugar as a prime contributor to Cuban foreign commerce. However, this will create new problems. The very efficient use of the whole cane plant for fuel in the mills as well as for sugar means that there will be less residue left in the field. Therefore, more fertilizer will be required, and under present conditions the best source will be nitrogen fixing plants. This would encourage a step toward diversification through crop rotation.
The same pest control ecologists who work in other branches of agriculture also attend to sugar. Insecticides have never been used extensively in sugar cane, and new problems are being approached ecologically. On one Cuban cooperative farm, a bale of hay recently fell off a truck along a road next to a cane field. Ants living in the hay invaded the cane and within a few months have cleaned the sugar cane borer from several hectares. The ant is now being propagated deliberately by the cooperative. I expect the ecological methods of pest control can be introduced easily into cane, but that the diversification of sugar land use will require more fundamental changes in the planning of agriculture.
Finally, national planning of research makes it possible to establish priorities for ecologically sound pest management and thus to allocate limited resources where they are most needed.
These general favorable factors have been reinforced by recent economic events. Unequal exchange, the disparity between the prices of industrial products that Cuba imports and the agricultural produce that is exported, has been growing in recent years and can be expected to increase even further as Cuba’s major trading partners adopt world (capitalist) price structures as the standard for their own commerce. The problem of the balance of payments has become especially urgent in the last few years and is perhaps the decisive influence making economists receptive to ecologists. Thus, both the long term structure of the economy and the economic constraints of the world recession are acting in phase, for the time being, to encourage biological control of pests and ecological approaches to agriculture.
These factors do not guarantee rational environmental behavior, however. The desperation to produce, whether to maximize profits or to eliminate scarcity, can, and often has, overwhelmed broader and more long term considerations. Administrators whose success will be evaluated by production or profits may be afraid to try something new — especially measures such as refraining from spraying, a crucial factor in allowing wasps, which feed on many pests, to return. But the society’s political and ideological commitment to seeing the whole and working for social benefit makes it possible to win victories by discussion and education, unencumbered by having to bang up against resistance from the system’s fundamental economic interests as well.
The Shift Toward The Left
In recent years, there has been a general leftward shift in Cuban politics that has contributed to the development of ecological rationality in agriculture, whereas most “socialist” countries have adopted rightist “solutions” to the stagnation and alienation created by their command economies and bureaucratic states, including:
- the promotion of private economic initiatives;
- management of public enterprises based on the same criteria — profitability — as capitalist firms;
- adopting capitalist forms of organization and job definition;
- conventional approaches to science and learning;
- reliance on the old motivations, such as private marketing of produce and other personal economic incentives;
- a managerial technocratic approach to development;
- reliance on experts;
- putting of economics in command;
- acceptance of national chauvinism and sexism as well as environmental destruction — all in the name of progress.
Cuba has, in many ways, gone against the recent trends and has challenged capitalist ways of doing things. Instead of giving in to the market pressures, it has innovated new forms of organization to resist them, emphasizing collective and social motivations through which people empower themselves and gain their own expertise, aspire to change human relations, and place politics, not economics, in command.
The resurgence of the leftward trend in Cuba began in the late 1980s. It is referred to as “rectification” and, especially utilizing the ideas of Che Guevara, includes:
1) Exposure of corruption and bureaucratic behavior at all levels of society;
2) Criticism of “economism,” the reliance on capitalist type incentives for production. This includes: restriction on the private marketing of agricultural produce; criticism of the practice of using excessive bonuses to achieve fulfillment of production goals; an appeal to administrators not to look only at meeting production goals but also at how their decisions affect the whole socialist process; revival of the microbrigades (construction brigades recruited from different enterprises to build housing, daycare centers, family doctor clinics and other social construction); the popularization of Ernesto Che Guevara’s economic ideas (including multioficio, the practice of having people do whatever is necessary rather than being confined within a narrow job definition and consagracion, or dedication to one’s job); and reinforcement of egalitarian values with increases in the minimum wage;
3) A general increase in criticism at public meetings and conventions, such as the secondary school students’ federation, the Communist youth, teachers’ meetings, etc.;
4) More vigorous, tenacious and independent investigative journalism;
5) Expanded reliance on mass mobilization (in addition to the central army) for defense;
6) A general increased interest in political questions.
The leftward trend favors an ecological approach to agriculture because it encourages looking at the whole picture rather than narrow economistic goals, criticizes narrow specialization and encourages initiatives. Municipal governments have even been encouraged to develop systems of municipal gardens, where the objective is continuous year round production of a diverse range of vegetable crops. Indeed, in following up on suggestions by ecologists, the food program now requires each province to be as self sufficient as possible in food as a protection against the uncertainties of weather. Each farm is also encouraged, at the very least, to supply its own lunchroom.
This decentralized approach favors widespread innovation and polyculture, and the overall political direction provides a counterweight to the pressures of the world market which makes earning or saving foreign exchange a top priority.
Countertendencies, and the Relationship of Ideology and Material Conditions
But there remains a strong developmentalist current, too. Its major tenet is that progress, including technological progress, proceeds along a single axis from less developed to more developed. Therefore, the task of the less developed is to adopt, adapt, and even surpass the “advanced” countries along this axis using the same technology and basing themselves on the same science.
Such naïve “progressivism” has become part of some marxist traditions, in which science and technology are viewed as “objective” processes, outside of human control and free of class content.
They are seen as essential to generic human progress and needed to solve the major issues of production and society through the expansion of production — especially of cash crops — to meet world market needs and generate foreign exchange which can then be, so they argue, reinvested. This becomes a top priority in a technocratic view of development and social change.
The major elements of developmentalist beliefs in agriculture are: 1) Labor intensive agriculture is backward, capital intensive is modern; 2) Diversity is backward, uniform monoculture is modern; 3) Small scale production is backward, large scale is modern; 4) Subjection to nature is backward, an increasingly complete control over everything that happens in the field or orchard or pasture is modern; 5) Folk knowledge is backward, scientific “expertise” is modern; 6) Generalists are backward, specialists are modern; 7) The smaller the object of study (a reductionist approach), the more modern the investigation.
Determinism and Freedom
Although this outlook is criticized by many marxists as economistic, it nevertheless arises again and again under urgent pressure to meet a country’s consumption needs, and it is often the dominant current where Communist parties are in power.
This sense of urgency is paradoxical. On the one hand, it emphasizes the backwardness and lack of choice of the society struggling to survive in a hostile world. On the other hand, it manifests a tremendous confidence that “we can do anything,” including avoiding the pitfalls of adopting the products of capitalist progress without suffering the same destructive impacts.
Those of us who oppose developmentalism start from an emphasis on the wholeness, historicity and contradictoriness of the world — key components of a truly dialectical materialist analysis. “Science” is not an “objective process outside of human control and free of class content” but is a social process, an instance of the division of labor in which activity aimed at organizing experience for the purpose of finding out is separated from other labor. It is given institutional form (the University, research facilities and corporate think tanks); it develops its own tools (reductionist science); and it adapts its own self conscious ideology from the prevailing ideologies of the broader society (change comes through the management of technocratic and academic elites).
The development of science and technology is the result of a strong interaction between the social structure as a whole, the condition of science, and the natural objects it attempts to study. Therefore, there is not any one inevitable and necessary pathway for the development of science and technology. We are not limited to a choice between stagnation and the high tech pathway that has prevailed over the last half century. We are not predetermined to take the technocratic road. But there are conditions that need to exist, and be strengthened, for that free choice to be possible.
The ‘Greening’ of Socialism in Cuba
Marxists, greens, and other radicals need to approach science differently; for a long time now, as pointed out earlier, science has been seen to be independent of class forces and as an objective force standing outside of human control, and therefore outside of history. We need to begin to see the particular form of conventional agricultural science in its historical context — as the convergence of the commodification of knowledge, the needs of agribusiness, and the dominant reductionist philosophy of science, which sees problems as fundamentally separable and soluble by independent “magic bullets.”
In an agricultural context, developmentalism, in Cuba, is being challenged in many areas:
First, the present high tech, specialized agriculture is a transient developmental stage which fairly rapidly undermines its own productive base through soil depletion, erosion, compaction, salinization, loss of diversity, and the creation of new pest problems. It increases vulnerability to natural and economic disasters and harms the health of the agricultural workers and eventually the whole society and the rest of nature. In capitalist countries, this developmental stage increases class differentiation and undermines the status of women because access to the new technologies is available only to those who can afford it, generally men.
Its successor should be a gentle and thought and knowledge intensive technology that nudges rather than bludgeons nature.(15) This technology makes use of minimum inputs, depending as much as possible on processes already at work in the land:
- Instead of choosing irrigation as the best way to moisten soil, it first looks to how to increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil.
- Before building dams it considers forests as the best reservoirs.
- Before relying on chemical fertilizer it looks to improvement of the soil.
The search for new commodity inputs to sell farmers must be subordinated to the design of agroecosystems that are as self operating as possible.
Second, the spatial patterning of agriculture should be neither the random diversity of the minifundia as determined by land tenure nor the homogeneity of agribusiness, but a mosaic of planned heterogeneity on different scales. This will allow for a more or less uniform need for labor throughout the year, provide products for local consumption as well as for the market, take advantage of the existing variability of the land in soil, exposure and topography, and allow for advantageous agronomic and microclimatic interactions of different kinds of plants and their associated faunas. Among the important interactions are the effects of plants on wind (which thereby modulate the microclimate to a distance of about ten times their height), weed suppression, changes in soil texture depending on the pattern of root formation, retarding erosion, fixation of nitrogen by legumes, accumulation of organic matter, attraction of pests’ natural enemies to sources of nectar and nesting sites, and the confusion, diversion or repulsion of pests.
Alley farming is one way to get the benefits of scale and mechanization but also the interactions between adjacent plots. Strips of crop are long enough to make mechanization feasible and useful but of a width that both allows for machinery and for interactions between crops. Polyculture provides advantages for pest control and soil improvement as well as a hedge against climatic uncertainty. And, on a larger scale, the land use pattern can include non agricultural formations which preserve natural diversity, store water, prevent erosion, modulate climate, and serve as reservoirs for beneficial wildlife. The integration of field crops, pasture and forestry allows for strong recycling pathways.
Third, we distinguish between the unit of production and the unit of planning. The unit of production should be small enough to take advantage of the microclimate heterogeneity of a farm and permit interactions between habitats while being large enough to take advantage of the economies of scale. But the whole patchwork of plots should be coordinated to allow for the management of even highly mobile pests, the recycling of residues among field, orchard and pasture, and the coordination of many different operations. The subunits allow for a detailed intimate knowledge of very local conditions while the whole enterprise allows their fitting together in the service of larger societal goals.
Fourth, we recognize that nature is inherently variable. That variability is harmful if we have very narrowly prescribed targets, but an advantage when we learn to ride with it. For example, small temperature differences can alter drastically the synchrony of populations of pests, their host plants, and their predators. If we depend for plant protection on a single predator or parasite it becomes necessary to monitor the microclimate quite precisely. But if we build an insect community of many species, when one does poorly another does better and we can achieve crop protection without controlling the complex dynamics of all the interacting species. In the face of uncertainty we can select ensembles of crops for their tolerance to change and use diversity as a buffer against the unexpected.
Fifth, the gentler the technology, the more site specific it has to be. The adaptation of a technology suited to every microsite is beyond the capacity of even the most affluent extension service. Rather, the technology has to be developed on the farm through a collaboration of the farmers who have a detailed, intimate, local knowledge of their own circumstances and the off farm scientists who can provide the general, theoretically based and abstract knowledge that requires some distancing from the particular. This interaction is only possible when the parties meet on terms of equality and mutual respect. In class divided societies this is extremely difficult to achieve. In Cuba, the fact that many of the agricultural scientists come from peasant backgrounds makes it easier.(16)
Sixth, many of the most dramatic failures of agricultural or public health or development programs have come about not because of a failure to know the details about the parts of the system but because of a failure to look at the whole. Each specialist invents a contribution which works given the results of the other specialists: engineers design machines for monoculture because agronomists recommend monoculture because the varieties have been selected for their performance in monoculture because that is how farmers plant because the machines are designed. … Each party makes choices that seem rational given the choices the others made so that the whole process gives the appearance of necessity and inevitability. What we are seeing in reality is a contradiction between the growing rationlity in the particular and the irrationality of the enterprise as a whole. Therefore, it is essential to place specialized knowledge into a broader context where we are aware of its source and limitations and always look at the whole.
Finally, the enthusiasm for genetic engineering has reinforced the reductionist bias which sees molecules as more basic than cells which are more basic than organisms which are more basic than populations which are more basic than ecosystems. The term “modern biology” is used to refer to molecular biology, ignoring modern systematics, population genetics, ecology, bioclimatology, etc. Yet the processes on the level of populations and communities determine directly the outcomes of interest to us and are not deducible from the behaviors of their components. Whole system study is the weakest area of agricultural science and must become a top priority.
These arguments are derived from a dialectical materialist marxist approach to science in general and agricultural science in particular. This does not mean that they can only be reached in that way. Some of the same conclusions have been reached by others from different perspectives. But they are easier to reach from a point of view which self consciously calls attention to complexity, process, historicity and contradiction. Nevertheless, the phrase “are derived from” does not mean “arise spontaneously or receive unanimous welcome.” They are a particular reading of marxism which has to confront the developmentalist interpretations.
The struggle for an ecologically sound agriculture is not over in Cuba but progress is being made. This came about through the convergence of several lines of causation: the maturing of the community of ecologists and of worldwide ecological mass movements, the economic pressures to reduce imports, the demonstrated success of several biological pest management programs, the political shift towards the left in the last few years, and active educational campaigns by particular individuals creating both a public awareness of ecological issues and building support within the research institutions and the Ministry of Agriculture.
All of this happened against a background of a socialist economy in which there is no profit oriented chemical industry pushing pesticides, and in which the conscious goal of planning is a better, more abundant and healthier life. Difficulties arise when intermediate goals towards these ends take on a life of their own, become the measure of an enterprise’s contribution to society, and seem to conflict with the long term goals. Although socialism is all too obviously no guarantee that intermediate goals will not obstruct ecological wisdom, it does practically eliminate vested economic interest in perpetuating harmful practices. Therefore, a debate over technological directions is only an argument, a confrontation of opposing beliefs, but not a confrontation of opposing interests.
This gives a different feel to argument even against stubborn ignorance. It makes strong argument effective and makes convincing the other party more important than the simple exercise of power. It also affects the style of the struggle, which starts from the premise of comrades struggling with each other for a shared goal and is more educational than oppositional.
My own participation has been exclusively through a battle of ideas. I hold no power at all in Cuba (or in the United States, for that matter). Yet, when I raised criticisms of particular projects, those who disagreed with me thought it necessary to attempt to convince me of their position, urging that I visit the sites, and discussed the issues at length. The debate also takes place within a marxist theoretical framework, with its emphasis on the historical contingency of science and technology, the importance of looking at the whole, and the recognition of complexity, process and contradiction. This provides the tools for challenging technocratic developmentalist assumptions.
At a time when ecological issues are becoming major political concerns throughout the world, the Cuban struggle should be watched closely and actively supported. The different texture of the struggle in Cuba from that in capitalist countries reveals the intensely political character of human ecology. Its victories under difficult circumstances show just a little of the potential of socialism and of marxism in negotiating a new relation with nature. If it can keep the U.S. and market forces from skewing its socialist development, Cuba may yet be able to overcome some of its contradictions, destructive residues of previous stages of development, and the commandist state form that has plagued all of the so called “socialist” countries; Cuba can become a world ecological power as well as a medical one. Therefore, Cuban ecology needs allies.
Allies of Cuban ecology can support this struggle for ecological rationality in two main ways. Some of us can participate directly by helping the development of Cuban science, providing scientific information that opens up alternative pathways, participating in Cuban scientific meetings, subscribing to scientific journals for the Cuban Academy of Sciences, ordering Cuban journals and, in general, breaking the blockade.
All of us can help by working against the political and economic pressures the United States is applying against Cuba. These pressures reinforce the urgencies that promote short sighted developmentalism and thwart efforts to insist on the big picture and the long horizon. Solidarity with the Cuban revolution does not mean passive endorsement of all present conditions and practices in Cuba but an active, critical and supportive engagement with (and through) the revolutionary process.
- Systematics and medicine were possible because they were low cost fields in which individuals could work in relative isolation. And indeed there were outstanding researchers such as Carlos Finlay in infectious diseases and Filipe Poey in systematic biology. Foreign biologists also used Cuba as a field site, enriching the museums of Spain and the United States but without creating an indigenous scientific community.
- The agricultural experiment station was established by the sugar producers in the early years of this century to serve their industry. Although individual staff members attempted to direct the research agenda more toward Cuban needs, their efforts were limited by the agenda of the administrators, corruption and lack of resources.
- The availability of biologists had been reduced by the emigration of opponents of the new government and by the recruitment of some of its enthusiastic supporters into the tasks of organizing science instead of doing research.
- Under these conditions, my advocacy of advanced work in ecology and population biology probably made more stark the contrast between what was necessary and what was possible.
- A biome is an ecological formation such as rain forest, long grass prairie or desert.
- Ricardo Herrera, et al., “Ecologia de los Bosques Siempreverdes del la Sierra del Rosario, Cuba,” Proyecto MAB #1, Academica de Ciencias Cuabana, 1988. Montane refers to mountains. The Sierra del Rosario was an upland rain forest. Sea level rainforests were all pretty much destroyed long ago.
- The first results of the use of ants for pest control were obtained at INIFAT, working with Tetramorium bicarinatum as a protector of bananas, as discussed later.
- Representatives of polluting industries came to call the attention of ecologists to the pollution they were causing with the piles of husks beside the rice mills and fruit pits where juices were being canned or bottled. They asked for help from ecologists in ameliorating the impact. This was a unique experience for me, since in the United States the representatives of industry play a quite different role in such discussions.
- The criticism of pesticide use was raised several times but also resisted by a plant protection station staffperson who argued that pesticides could not be all bad since the Soviet Union produced them.
- Some struggles will be more difficult than others. Cuba’s dependence on imported oil makes arguing against nuclear energy more difficult. And the crucial economic role of sugar and its institutionalization in a separate ministry will make the shift to multipurpose farming in the sugar areas more traumatic.
- Unlike the more specialized parasitoids, their populations can be maintained even in the absence of the pests we want to control so that they do not lag behind the pest in an outbreak. Ants have another special property: more than one possible community of ants can live in a particular place since the outcome of ant competition depends in part on the age of the colonies, on which got there first. Therefore, if we could introduce ants to a habitat they are capable of occupying, they could maintain themselves in the face of later invasions. Aside from all theoretical arguments, I confess to a special affection for ants which attracted my attention to their practical possibilities and added enthusiasm to my advocacy.
- Artesanal as in artisan, small scale craft production rather than industrial.
- While relatively immobile pests such as mites and scales can sometimes be controlled on the scale of a single tree, the highly mobile secondary pests (pests that emerged as problems because previous pesticide use destroyed their natural controls, a kind of agricultural iatrogenesis — the provocation of disease by physicians — present a different sort of problem. A moth lays eggs on a plant and the emerging caterpillars eat the leaves, moult, and emerge as moths which fly away. Next year’s pests will not be the offspring of moths from a particular small area but from the whole region. Therefore, the killing of the moths after they have emerged does not protect a small farm. But on a large scale, such measures can reduce the population of pests for the region. This allows additional options for pest control such as the use of birds and bats whose area of activity is relatively large scale.
- Eighty percent of Cuban farm land is divided into 400 large state farms. Some three quarters of the remaining land is organized into cooperatives. The small number of enterprises is an advantage for the extension activities of researchers. Fifty one local centers of plant protection service an average of eight state farms each, meet with the cooperatives and individual farmers and cooperate with the small farmers’ association (ANAP) in promoting more suitable methods.
- There is nothing romantic or sentimental about the notion of a gentle technology even after George Bush gave gentleness a bad name. Whereas 19th century thermodynamic technologies romanticized the employment of vast quantities of energy to move vast amounts of matter, modern scientific interest emphasizes information, the achievement of big effects with small efforts. The energy of a nerve impulse or the mass of hormone molecules are trivial compared to their impacts. The same applies to ecological management.
- In our citrus project on a large state farm, work is being done by scientists from Havana, the science staff of the farm, and secondary school students in an ecology interest circle. We maintain close contact with the state farms and cooperatives, as well as the private sector, networks of innovators meet regularly and cooperatives usually have a member assigned for liaison with scientists.
DEFENDING RON McGUIRE, PEOPLE’S LAWYER — STUDENTS BEAT CUNY IN COURT. NOW CUNY-EDUCATED JUDGE PUNISHES THEIR ATTORNEY
by MITCHEL COHEN
I wrote this story ten days ago and it was published in the Queens Free Press, which is edited by Joel Kuszai, a professor at Queens Community College. Since that time, additional information was published by columnist Juan Gonzalez, whose article on Ron McGuire appeared in today’s New York Daily News, and by civil rights attorney Bill Simpich in ReaderSupportedNews (RSN), which added a great deal of background to Ron McGuire’s story as an activist, before he became a lawyer.
As this battle picks up steam to defend the attorney who defended the students in the City University of New York system, the courts as well as the de Blasio administration will be deciding this matter’s fate. I urge you to contact your local press and the Mayor’s office and City Council members in support of Ron McGuire. This case may seem on the surface like it’s only about a lawyer trying to recover funds from the City, but there’s really a lot more that’s at stake. As Juan Gonzalez accurately puts it,
“If lawyers like McGuire can’t receive adequate compensation for defending the rights of low-income students, then no one else will even try.”
Thirty years ago I wrote this essay. I solicit your feedback on how the same patterns used then — Secretary of State Alexander Haig‘s holding-up for the cameras of falsified photographs (which was itself a repeat of Sen. Joe McCarthy‘s use of cropped photos in the Army-McCarthy televised hearings in 1954, as shown in the great documentary, “Point of Order”), were repeated by Colin Powell in his televised testimony to the United Nations about alleged (but false) Iraqi mobile biowarfare labs, as one of the bases for sending U.S. troops into Iraq, along with the lies orchestrated by the U.S. government of infants tossed out of Kuwait’s incubators by Iraqi forces — continue to this very day.
by Mitchel Cohen
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
We take for granted that our government lies to us. The Left agrees with that, the Right does as well, and so do those attempting to straddle the ever‑narrowing fence in the middle. In fact, one of the great, unifying themes of American democracy is the belief by an overwhelming majority of our population that the government
regularly and consistently lies to us.
Depending upon whom you listen to, the reasons behind the lies vary. Sometimes it’s “for your own good”. Sometimes it’s for the sake of “National Security”. Sometimes it’s to “protect corporate investments and private interests from public scrutiny”. But whatever the reason, we all agree that the government lies to us. That’s part of what unites us as a country. It’s a cherished American tradition. We are a nation of “the lied‑to’s”.
Of course rarely will anyone admit to actually believing the lies. Oh, no, we’re much too sophisticated for that! I have yet to meet a single person who believes, for example, that President Reagan is actually trying to support an end to Apartheid in South Africa with his “constructive engagement” ruse. It’s clear that’s just a phrase to make palatable the U.S. government’s continued funding of the apartheid regime. Still, Americans have a collective appreciation for a well-constructed euphemism. My current favorite is the President’s dubbing of the MX nuclear missile “The Peacekeeper”! We chortle gleefully at the glib turns of phrase while all the while knowing, of course, that a ruse is a ruse is a ruse. We are a nation of bedtime story-lovers, and no one is better than President Reagan than spinning tall tales, often right on the spur of the moment, to tuck us in at night.
I admit that it did take me a while to imagine our so-called “founding fathers” — Tom Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams ‑‑ let alone Benjamin Franklin, to whom President Reagan compared the contra death squads in Nicaragua ‑‑ carrying M-16s and slogging through the muck of Honduras, along its border with Nicaragua. Even more preposterous, their distribution of “how‑to‑murder” manuals, which were in fact prepared in secret by the CIA! I much prefer the bed-time story of the founding fathers’ distribution of the declaration of independence celebrating freedom from foreign domination.
When one hears first hand accounts by peasants living in Nicaragua of how the contras, funded by the U.S. government, raped their mothers while they (as kids) were forced to watch, and how the contras jabbed knives into their mothers’ vaginas and jagged upwards, flaying them open while still alive, one wonders which of our “founding fathers” President Reagan was dreaming of.
Was it true that “the contras really cut off the heads of doctors and teachers just north of Jinotega,” as the newpapers reported, and rolled them down the dirt streets like soccer balls as a lesson to the poor peasants for housing such “communist” medics who treated the sick for free and taught the illiterate to read and write? I had to find out for myself. And so in 1983 I visited that beautiful mountain town, very poor, and heard the stories. To my horror, I found that the worst things said about the contras in the U.S. barely scratched the surface! The U.S. government’s lies to the contrary, the Nicaraguan people despised the contras, even those who voted for oppositional candidates to the Sandinistas in the recent elections.
Some outrages are worse than others. Still, why should we set one injustice against the other, as though seeking greater exhibitions of revulsion at the one oppression or injustice than at the other.
And yet we do. The murder of Eric Garner last year at the hands (literally) of one of New York’s “Finest” is one such outrage. It stands out from the “normal” horror story, so beyond the pale as to be unspeakably inhuman.
Garner’s murder in Staten Island, along with that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has triggered a movement across the U.S. against all outrages, known as “Black Lives Matter.”
Equally outrageous is the sentencing by the regime in Saudi Arabia of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr to death by crucifixion and beheading (!) for his participation in “Arab Spring” pro-democracy protests in 2012.
Ali was 17 years old when arrested and tortured. (Support Ali Mohammed al-Nimr HERE.) Meanwhile, the Saudi regime continues to receive billions of dollars each year in “foreign aid” and military hardware from the United States. Saudi Arabia was just chosen to head the United Nations Council on Human Rights.
And this week, just in time for Yom Kippur (Days of Atonement), we learn of Israeli soldiers’ assassination of 18-year-old Hadil Salah Hashlamoun at a checkpoint in Hebron.
Hadil was ordered to open her bag. When she did, an Israeli soldier screamed at her in Hebrew (which she did not understand), and shot her in one leg and then the other, and other soldiers opened fire on the poor girl. She collapsed and, while still alive, her body was dragged over the ground to a corner where she waited for more than 30 minutes for an ambulance (while Israeli emergency personnel stood by joking with the soldiers). She died later in the hospital.
You can listen to Amy Goodman’s story about Hadil on Democracy Now!:
Amnesty International has issued a scathing report following its examination of photographs from the scene and interviews it conducted with witnesses, concluding that “the killing of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun by Israeli forces in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, on 22 September 2015 was an extrajudicial execution.”
The Amnesty International report goes on to say that when one of the Israeli soldiers was standing half a meter away from Hadeel, he fired a shot at the ground and she moved away and stood behind a metal rail next to a wall. According to witness Abu Aisheh,
al-Hashlamoun had her hands inside her niqab (full-face veil) throughout this entire period and at no point tried to approach any of the soldiers. The four soldiers who had just arrived pushed Abu Aisheh 3-4 metres back and refused his offer of translation. At this point, according to Abu Aisheh, the girl was behind metal rails separating her from the soldiers and the same soldier who had fired the first shots moved back, dropped to one knee, and shot al-Hashlamoun in her left leg. According to Abu Aisheh, she fell to the ground and dropped her bag, as well as a knife with a brown handle that she had been holding under her niqab. The first witness, who was slightly farther away than Abu Aisheh, did not see any weapon.
According to Abu Aisheh, the soldier who had shot first got up and moved closer to her, until he was about a metre away, and then shot at her upper body four or five times again while she was lying motionless on the ground. He said that the soldier shot a few times despite other soldiers yelling at him to stop. The first witness also described the soldier moving closer to al-Hashlamoun and shooting her in the chest.
Amnesty International’s report continues:
Even if al-Hashlamoun did have a knife, Israeli soldiers, who are protected with body armour and heavily equipped with advanced weapons, could have controlled the situation and arrested her without threatening her life. Open fire regulations of the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank allow soldiers to open fire only when their lives are in imminent danger, and Amnesty International concludes that this was not the case in the shooting of al-Hashlamoun, as she was standing still and separated from the soldiers by a metal barrier. There was no attempt to arrest al-Hashlamoun, according to the eyewitnesses, or to use non-lethal alternatives.
To then shoot al-Hashlamoun again multiple times as she lay wounded on the ground indicates that her killing was an extrajudicial execution.
Such utter disregard for human life! The Israeli soldiers are reminiscent of the Chicago police force — another (but similar) kind of occupying army — in December of 1969 following their murder (while he slept) of Black Panther organizer Fred Hampton, snickering as they carried away his body.
I want to make it clear to the world — or at least anyone who cares to read this blog: This Jew (me) is outraged at the behavior of the Israeli occupation forces. I — and many other Jews — denounce such inhumanity, such callous disregard for the life of another human being. They claim to be doing this in my name and in the name of all Jews everywhere! I am numb. Not in my name! Their actions (and the policies that led to them) are horrible beyond all comprehension.
I have only one question: Checkpoints? When did we, as human beings, come to accept permanent checkpoints as legitimate “standard operating procedure” to begin with?
There was a time in New York City when the purple footsteps were everywhere, leading to the City’s wreck of a beautiful garden of Eden (thank you Ed Koch). Adam Purple had been building his zen masterpiece garden a little bit every day for a decade, while living in the adjoining tenement building (where he once had been the super), which the landlord abandoned and Con Ed had turned off the electricity and water, in the rubble of the then “not quite trendy” Lower East Side.
Adam Purple died on Sept. 14th, 2015 at age 84 while biking from Brooklyn across the Williamsburg Bridge.
Yes, support the “Iran Deal”. However, there has been so much propaganda around the “Iran Deal” that even peace organizations have been sucked into supporting it for the wrong reasons, repeating the “preventing a pathway to nuclear weapons” line and joining the “Stop Iran!” hysteria. Please click on the logo below to listen to this brief radio interview with journalist Nima Shirazi and read his latest piece, below, which clearly explain what’s wrong with the assumptions underlying the “Iran Deal”.
Posted originally to http://www.NoSpray.org
August 11, 2015 — The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOH) renews its annual pesticide-spraying assault on the people of New York City tonight in Staten Island and Queens.
Areas of New Jersey are also being widely sprayed.
All mass spraying of pyrethroid and organophosphate pesticides are dangerous to human health (especially to children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems), as well as to pets, fish, and other animals. The spraying must be halted immediately.
LISTEN TO DR. ROBERT SIMON, TOXICOLOGIST, TALK ABOUT PESTICIDES CLICK HERE
Every year, the NYC DOH grants itself waivers from New York City Local Law 37, a law passed in 2005 in response to growing concerns over the health and environmental consequences of mass-spraying of Malathion (and other organophosphates) and Anvil 10+10 (and other pyrethroids, especially those containing the carcinogen Piperonyl Butoxide).
Only through application and granting of such waivers is the Department of Health enabled to legally conduct the pesticides spraying.
But the NYC DOH is circumventing the law. It applies for a waiver to itself, and then it grants itself pro forma the right and authority to spray deadly pesticides in NYC. No other agency reviews its application. The checks and balances envisioned in Local Law 37 are thus thwarted. Continue reading »