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India’s Maoist Menace

By Mehul Srivastava – // <![CDATA[// Jul 29, 2010 (source:
Bansi Kumar Ponwar, a former army brigadier

Bansi Kumar Ponwar, a former army brigadier, shown on horseback, trains security forces in Kanker, India, less than 100 kilometers from the Dandakaranya forest on June 14, 2010. Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg Markets via Bloomberg

Armed rebels hold the Red Corridor, a region the size of Portugal, in their grip. The nation’s mineral wealth and 8.5 percent annual growth are at stake.

At the heart of the Bailadila Hills in central India lie 1.1 billion tons of raw ore so pure and plentiful that half a century after miners first hacked at it with pickaxes, it remains the richest, and one of the largest, iron deposits on the planet.

Essar Steel Ltd. built a plant near the hills in 2005 to turn the ore into a liquid. The Mumbai-based company, controlled by billionaire brothers Ravi and Shashi Ruia, added a 267- kilometer pipeline to pump the slurry to the east coast, where Essar makes steel.

Yet on this quiet June day, cobwebs hang on rusted pipes in the all-but-abandoned facility, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September 2010 issue. Caretakers prepare to switch truck-size rock crushers out of their coma, rousing the machines for five minutes a month to ensure they still work.

Maoist rebels from the surrounding Dandakaranya forest armed with guns and explosives — and some wielding axes and bows and arrows — attacked the facility four times in little more than a year, officials at the now-mothballed plant say. They burned 54 trucks waiting at factory gates in April 2008 and damaged part of the slurry pipeline, the world’s second longest, in June 2009. Essar idled the plant that month.

‘Sucked Into the Conflict’

“The Maoists are gaining ground, and India’s resource crunch will only get deeper,” says Suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights. “The entire economic development of the country is being sucked into the conflict.”

Half hidden even to Indians, some 10,000 Maoists fighting over stretches of mineral-laden land hold a Portugal-sized swath of India known as the Red Corridor in their grip. From an area they call the Dandakaranya Regional Zone and neighboring forests, the rebels run their own schools and clinics, print their own books, fly their own flags — and are stepping up their attacks.

Maoist-related violence killed a record 998 people last year as assaults on economic targets reached an all-time high, according to Ministry of Home Affairs data.

A Mumbai-bound train derailed in May, killing at least 146 people, after what police suspect was sabotage by a Maoist group. More than 200 security officers died in attacks in the first six months of 2010.

‘Long, Bloody War’

“We do not have the forces to move into areas occupied by the rebels,” Home Secretary Gopal K. Pillai told India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in March, according to media reports. “We have a long, bloody war ahead. It is going to be a long haul, and I see violence going to go up.” Pillai declined to comment for this story.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told chief ministers of Maoist-hit states on July 14 that the federal government will strengthen security forces and provide better roads, schools and health care in areas where Maoists operate. Maoists have some degree of influence in 220 of the nation’s 626 districts, the government estimates.

India’s failure to defuse the conflict is another setback as it struggles to become a Western-style power. The nation must spend $1 trillion to improve living standards and infrastructure from 2012 to 2017 for its $1.2 trillion economy to grow at close to 10 percent, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on March 23. Growth has averaged 8.5 percent a year in the past five years.

Further Behind

Even with technology parks for International Business Machines Corp. and Infosys Technologies Ltd.; brand-new airports in Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi; and luxury malls for 300 million middle-class consumers, stretches of India remain mired in poverty. Thirty-seven percent of its 1.1 billion people live on less than $1.50 a day, the government says. Life-expectancy and child-malnourishment rates rival those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Violence in the Red Corridor has left local populations — many of them tribal peoples — even further behind.

Maoist activity in seven eastern and central states is threatening at least $78 billion in natural-resource projects, brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets estimates. Beneath this region lies the ore in the Bailadila mines; 40 billion of India’s 46 billion tons of proven coal reserves; bauxite for aluminum; tin; and even diamonds. India’s expansion — and its attempt to catch up to China in industrial prowess — depends on unlocking this bounty.

“The growing Maoist insurgency over large swathes of the mineral-rich countryside could stall industrial-investment plans just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine, just when foreign companies are joining the party,” a nine-person committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in November.

India’s Naxalites

India’s Maoists, called Naxalites, take their name from a group of villages known as Naxalbari in east India where farmers revolted to gain land ownership in 1967. China, then in the throes of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, praised the uprising in the “People’s Daily.”

“The Indian revolution must take the road of relying on the peasants, establishing base areas in the countryside, persisting in protracted armed struggle and using the countryside to encircle and finally capture the cities,” the Communist mouthpiece said on July 5, 1967.

Armed with rifles stolen from police and explosives pilfered from mining companies, the Naxalites are following that advice as they plot a collective state run by farmers and landowners.

‘New Society’

“Try and understand, sir: What we want is a total eradication of the Indian government,” a man who says he’s involved with the Naxalites’ political wing said in a May interview with Bloomberg Markets in Jharkhand state. “A total eradication of the multinationals,” continued the man, who declined to have his name printed because he says he’s wanted by police. “Only then can we build a new society.”

Leaders of the now-banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) agreed on a time line and targets for their revolution at a February 2007 meeting in a Jharkhand teak and bamboo forest so dense that it has never been fully mapped, according to two officials in Indian foreign intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing and the April 2007 Maoist newsletter “People’s March.”

Solar panels powered their laptops and a diesel generator fed a photocopier, dragged in on mules, according to the newsletter and photographs that intelligence officials reviewed from computers captured in later raids.

Targeting Steel

The Maoist leaders put top steelmakers on their hit list. Today, Essar; ArcelorMittal, run by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal; JSW Steel Ltd. and Tata Steel Ltd., both based in Mumbai; and Pohang, South Korea-based Posco have made little headway on planned projects in India’s mineral belt.

Delays in acquiring land have hurt ventures that could help double the country’s steel production to 110 million tons a year, Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh said on Dec. 10.

ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, wants to build a $10 billion plant in Jharkhand and another in the east coast state of Orissa. Local farmers, some of them coached by the Maoists, refuse to move to accommodate the world’s largest steelmaker. The company declined to comment for this story.

“Naxalism has emerged as the biggest single internal security challenge,” Prime Minister Singh said at a New Delhi press conference on the first anniversary of his second term in May. “Controlling Naxalism is very necessary for the country’s progress,” he added.

Deadly Train Sabotage

Singh’s warning played out with deadly consequences four days later. As the Gyaneshwari Express sped toward the financial capital of Mumbai on May 28, the train derailed after hitting track police suspect a Maoist-backed group called People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities had sabotaged. The express rammed into a cargo train.

Almost 15 hours after the crash, workers were still using chain saws to reach survivors. A child’s red shirt lay strewn across engine controls. A red suitcase had burst open, leaving clothes spilled and chocolate cookies rotting in the heat. Authorities arrested four group members on July 1; a trial date hasn’t been set.

About 400 miles (644 kilometers) away, Naxalites ambushed a 70-person security team as it cleared roads of improvised explosive devices, killing 26 on June 29. Rebels had assaulted a similar patrol in April, killing 76 soldiers in the worst such attack in the uprising’s almost 43 years.

Creating Fear

“The Maoists think the best way to create disorder, confusion, terror and discredit the government is to target civilians,” says Kalim Bahadur, former professor of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “The objective is to create fear.”

The Naxalites are winning the trust of some farmers as companies and states try to commandeer land for industry. From 2001 to 2007, 1.4 million residents were displaced in four states after their property was taken under India’s equivalent of eminent domain laws, the Ministry of Rural Development estimated in 2008.

Ninety percent said they’d gotten too little compensation, according to the Indian Social Institute, which aids minorities. Naxalites argue that in the height of economic bounty, India is ignoring its neediest.

“There is no ready, quick fix,” says Walter Rossini, who helps manage $1.2 billion in emerging-market stocks, including Tata Steel, at Milan-based Aletti Gestielle SGR SpA. “The Tata Group knows the situation very well — and the risk — but the region is very rich in natural resources. If you wait, the opportunity may not last forever.”

‘Left-Wing Connections’

Tata Steel plans plants in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa states. In Chhattisgarh, Tata says, 70 percent of the affected families have accepted the offer of up to $4,200 per acre — at least twice the market rate — a small plot for a house and the possibility that Tata would provide land elsewhere and a job with the company.

“There are a minuscule percentage of hard-core families having extreme left-wing connections who are delaying the process,” spokesman Sanjay Choudhry says.

In West Bengal state, JSW paid about $6,400 an acre. It threw in another $6,400 in company shares. Near Delhi, Reliance Industries Ltd. paid as much as $46,000 an acre in 2007.

Posco, Asia’s most profitable steelmaker, has gotten nowhere with its proposed 26,000-acre (10,520-hectare) Orissa steel plant and port. Villagers have rejected all offers and erected barricades around their land, scuffling with police and Posco officials.

‘Living Like a Slave’

“Why should they move?” says Abhay Sahoo, a communist leader who has led protests against Posco. “The farmer may not be living like a king, but without his land, he will be living like a slave.”

The violence stretches back to the years after India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Communist parties pledged to distribute land to farmers, an initiative that stalled in the 1950s.

After the 1967 revolt, the Maoists failed to spread into Kolkata, then called Calcutta. Leaders started local uprisings in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala states. By the late 1990s, the Andhra Pradesh government had chased the fighters into the Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand forests, where they started fresh, says Aditya Swaroop, cabinet and principal secretary for Jharkhand.

The Maoists began re-emerging around 2003. The Chhattisgarh state government launched the Salwa Judum, or Purification Hunt, paying villagers $40 a month to fight the rebels and help force people off their land for companies, says Chakma of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.

Violent Raids

“With the active support of government security forces, Salwa Judum members conducted violent raids on hundreds of villages suspected of being pro-Naxalite,” a 2008 study by Human Rights Watch found.

The state evicted people from at least 640 villages to make way for proposed Essar and Tata factories, according to a March 2009 draft report by the Ministry of Rural Development. About 350,000 villagers were displaced, “their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed and their youth maimed,” the report said. Those who didn’t escape into the jungle were herded into refugee camps, where some 60,000 still live.

A later report, dated December 2009, drops references to forceable displacement and assaults as well as references to Essar and Tata. The ministry didn’t respond to requests to comment on either report. Essar says it had no connection to the Salwa Judum; Tata noted that the final report had removed the allegations.

Forest Meeting

Six-hundred Maoist rebels slipped out the Dandakaranya forest and swarmed state-controlled National Mineral & Development Corp.’s iron ore facility, not far from Essar’s plant, in February 2006.

They hijacked a vehicle delivering food and killed nine policemen, according to a report by the Central Reserve Police Force, or CRPF, a paramilitary agency. They carried off 20 tons of ammonium nitrate explosives, loading boxes onto wooden stretchers for the trek back into the forest.

The next year, the CPI (Maoist) met for the first time in 30 years for the Ninth Congress, as members called the strategy session deep in the forest. Government helicopters buzzed overhead, too high to spot the gathering, while villagers and an indigenous population faithful to the rebels kept watch, the man who spoke to Bloomberg in Jharkhand says.

‘Glorious Event’

“I call upon the people of India to come forward in large numbers and support this embryonic people’s war and protect India from the greed of the Mittals, Tatas, Ruias and (unintelligible),” Muppala Lakshana Rao, general secretary of the CPI (Maoist) told the crowd, according to a transcript created from a video of his speech. “Indians, rise up as a tide to smash imperialism.”

In Jharkhand, the man remembers the Ninth Congress and smiles.

“It was a glorious event in our history,” says the man, who recalls trekking three days into the forest to reach the gathering.

A four-hour drive from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, some villagers welcome today’s Maoists. The road ends before it reaches the home of Laxmi, a tribal beer brewer and, as such, among the lowest castes in India’s hierarchy. Laxmi, an emaciated man with yellowing teeth who asks to be identified by one name, says his 15-year-old son ran away to join the Naxalites, and he can’t blame him.

“The more my son read books, the angrier he got at how poor we were,” he says.

Laxmi’s Tale

Laxmi says he has seen a doctor once in his life, when his family loaded him onto a passing bus to get a cast on his broken arm. A dilapidated health clinic with a clipboard in a desk drawer lists the last nurse visit: October 1998. Today, women use the building to defecate away from public view.

Prime Minister Singh says families like Laxmi’s make obvious targets for Naxal recruitment.

“These areas have lagged behind the rest of the country,” Singh told ministers of Naxal-affected states, according to a July 14 transcript. “For far too long have our tribal brothers and sisters seen the administration in the form of a rapacious forest guard, a brutal policeman.”

Singh’s government has deployed about 47 CRPF battalions — some 50,000 troops — and 10 battalions of an elite force called Commando Battalion for Resolute Action to Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and three neighboring states.

Bansi Kumar Ponwar, a former army brigadier who fought insurgencies on India’s borders with China and Pakistan, is training security forces in Kanker, less than 100 kilometers from the Dandakaranya forest.

Counter Terrorism College

Officers spend 45 days on jungle survival, speed marching and rappelling from helicopters at his Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College. Then they leave for their regular police or CRPF units.

Ponwar chose Kanker because its hilly, tree-covered terrain is like Maoist strongholds.

“Isn’t it funny that right in the heart of India, there’s an entire region where normal people like you and I just can’t walk in?” he says. “You will be killed, or kidnapped or questioned by some authority other than Indian police. It’s become a kind of liberated zone.”

Such entirely rebel-run territories are key to Maoist plans, according to their training manuals. The CRPF estimates 1,500 to 2,000 guerillas come to the forests each year to learn modern weaponry, and children as young as 16 are trained in AK- 47s and rocket launchers. In April 2005, November 2006 and March 2007, Maoists attacked two armories and a police station, killing 55 people and carrying off 730 rifles and 28,000 rounds of ammunition.

‘Safeguard Your Weapons’

“Safeguard your weapons like your life,” reads page 52 of a 200-page manual the CRPF took from a village in 2008. “The enemy must be finished, his weapons seized and he must be made powerless.”

The few people who have been invited into these rebel-run zones, such as Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, describe places devoid of formal Indian presence. They portray an egalitarian society where people live in balance with the untouched forests.

The Maoists carry printing presses on horses or mules to distribute news from Indian, Nepali and South American communists, according to the man in Jharkhand and propaganda manuals reviewed by Bloomberg Markets.

A Red Salute’

In one instance documented by the CRPF, four Maoists used laptops to tap into a mobile phone tower near the Dandakaranya forest, sending mass text messages declaring their presence. Mostly, they communicate by notes in the regional Telugu language carried by children. The young messengers hide the letters, known as biscuits, folded into small squares in their mouths. Some read like poetry.

“A red salute to our red brothers,” says a redacted version seen by Bloomberg Markets. “There is beauty in the rains and also strength.” Intelligence officials interpret the latter sentence as a signal to lie low until the monsoons end.

CRPF Special Director General for Left Wing Extremism Vijay Raman looks over three-dimensional maps on June 12 created from satellite data gathered by the Indian Space Research Organisation. Then he plans an attack on a suspected Maoist gathering in Jharkhand. The offensive will claim 10 Maoists, but Raman says military action isn’t the answer.

These People Are Indians’

“I really would be the last person to open fire on them,” he says. Instead, the government must supply electricity, schools and roads. “Ultimately, fundamentally, these people are Indians,” he says. “The only solution is to reach out to these populations.”

Until then, the rebels may count on villagers like Laxmi, for whom they act as a surrogate government.

“The Maoists think of themselves as Robin Hood types, but they harm innocent people,” Ponwar says. “Mr. Robin Hood needs to be reminded that this is not justice; this is jungle law.”

Ponwar ponders a deeper question: “How come the great Indian economic boom has bypassed these tribals?” he asks. “Bows and arrow, still, like in the 18th century.”

Laxmi’s town, with its mud huts and derelict clinic, shows what India is up against as it strives to unleash its industrial riches and become a world power.

The village lies near the site proposed for one of the two ArcelorMittal steel plants. Police and CRPF soldiers pass through weekly, to chat and establish routes.

At night, the Maoists make their rounds. Some, like Laxmi’s son, meet their families before heading back into the forest. Others gather information, discuss ideology and recruit volunteers, Laxmi says.

Then, in a sentiment that bodes ill for India’s aspirations, he adds, “If I were young and could carry a gun, I would join too.”

Mehul Srivastava is a Bloomberg News reporter in New Delhi at; With assistance from Unni Krishnan and Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi.


Pentagon Papers 2.0: Afghanistan


Phyllis Bennis

This set of documents is unquestionably the most important history so far of key parts of the US war in Afghanistan. These are reports of troops and commanders in the field to other military officials — this is where they tell the truth, to themselves. It is significant that the Obama administration has not tried to claim the reports are not accurate.

What they are trying to do is to have it both ways: claiming that disclosure of the reports somehow endangers US troops, but at the same time disparaging the documents as showing nothing we didn’t already know.

These reports, of events already past, are hardly likely to endanger the troops in Afghanistan — the people and insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t need Pentagon documents to know what US/NATO forces are actually doing in their countries.

The documents probably will have a significant impact on the US/NATO war though — just not what the White House is warning of.

These reports will likely stoke even greater global anger around the world, as evidence filters out to those far from Afghanistan and Pakistan who didn’t already know what the US/NATO occupation looks like.

That will certainly mean rising anger towards US policies and unfortunately towards Americans as a whole…but more importantly it will spur enormous anti-war activity in places like Europe, Canada, Australia, and Turkey.

And that means greater pressure on those governments still providing troops for Washington’s war in Afghanistan. And most important of all, they will mean greater pressure than ever on the Obama administration to end the war and especially on Congress to vote NO on next week’s supplemental war funding bill.

There is no evidence yet of a new smoking gun among the individual documents. But taken as a whole, the documents provide a collective arsenal of evidence of a brutal war that never did have a chance to “succeed” — and evidence of what a government, through two administrations, were determined to keep secret from its own people and the rest of the world.

The documents chronicle escalating Special Forces’ operations, drone attacks, and more. They describe activities like those of Task Force 373, a death squad that goes after named individuals on a kill-or-capture list. No trial, of course.

Who knows how much of the intelligence that lands someone on that list is rooted in a neighborhood feud or tribal or political power struggle?

General McChrystal’s and now General Petraeus’s “nation-building” efforts are failing. In places like Marja, last spring’s poster-city of a new US-backed “government-in-a-box,” the hand-picked mayor-in-a-box, who spent most of the last 15 years living in Germany, is so unpopular that he has to be ferried into town on US military helicopters for occasional meetings, and then quickly whisked away.

The much-heralded spring 2010 offensive in Kandahar is on apparently permanent delay.

I haven’t read even a fraction yet of the 92,000 reports covering 250,000 pages. But the overviews provided by the international journalists who are certainly consistent with the view that the “counter-insurgency” approach is already giving way to an old-fashioned Bush-style counter-terrorism war.

That would mean that claims that protecting Afghan civilians is most important, would fade in favor of acknowledging that the military’s role is simply to kill whoever they decide are the bad guys.

So if the war becomes more of an air war, and drones are called in to do more of the dirty work so US troops are not at risk, and more Afghan or Pakistani civilians are killed as a result, well that’s just part of the cost of war.

The documents include evidence of far more civilian deaths than were ever reported in the press. Many of them were probably never even mentioned – or asked about – in the virtually non-existent Congressional oversight of these years.

They detail massive levels of corruption, extortion, and constant violence inflicted on Afghan civilians by the US-backed, US-trained and US-funded militias known as the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

And they demonstrate, again, the continuing links between Pakistan’s top military intelligence agency, the ISI, and the top leadership of the Taliban– despite claims by Secretary of State Clinton and others in the Obama administration that Pakistan is a reliable US ally that just needs to work a little harder on going after terrorists.

The Obama administration’s answer to the documents simply repeats their efforts to blur the very distinct organizations known as the Afghan Taliban (mostly based in Pakistan but operating in Afghanistan) and the Pakistani Taliban (who target the Pakistani government, and against whom that government has indeed acted) into a generic presence in Pakistan known as “the terrorists” or “the Taliban.”

Pointing to Islamabad’s actions against the Pakistani Taliban says nothing about their officials’ ties with and apparent support for the Afghan Taliban.

The Wikileaks Papers provide a treasure trove of new evidence of what we already knew: this war has already failed.

Every death, of Afghan civilian and of US or NATO soldier, is needless. Every dollar spent on military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan is wasted.

The cost of this occupation and this war – in Afghan blood, in US and NATO military blood, in the billions of dollars needed for jobs at home and real reconstruction in Afghanistan and elsewhere – is too high.

We need to stop the funding for escalation now, bring the troops and contractors home, support Afghan and regional/UN diplomacy, and begin the long effort of making good on our huge debt to the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Maybe, just maybe, this 21st century Pentagon Papers – the 2.0 version: Afghanistan – will provide the spark of anti-war outrage to make that happen.

¿Por qué desembarcan los marines en Costa Rica?


Atilio Boron [1]

Con los votos del oficialista Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), el Movimiento Libertario y el diputado evangélico del partido Renovación Costarricense, Justo Orozco, el pasado 1 de Julio el Congreso de Costa Rica autorizó el ingreso a ese país de 46 buques de guerra de la Armada de los Estados Unidos, 200 helicópteros y aviones de combate, y 7.000 marines.

Si bien la multiplicidad de versiones encontradas no permiten ver con claridad el origen de esta decisión, la escasa evidencia disponible parece señalar que fue Washington quien solicitó la internación de las tropas.

Es sumamente llamativo el silencio de la prensa de Estados Unidos sobre el tema y la ausencia de cualquier referencia explícita a esta autorización en los boletines de prensa diarios de los departamentos de Estado y de Defensa, todo lo cual alimenta la sospecha de que fue la Casa Blanca la que tomó la iniciativa favorablemente acogida por el Congreso costarricense y para la cual exigió la mayor discreción. Lo que se comunicó al país centroamericano fue que la situación imperante en México había forzado a los cárteles de la droga a modificar sus rutas tradicionales de aproximación e ingreso a Estados Unidos y que para desbaratar esa maniobra era preciso garantizar el despliegue de un sólido contingente de fuerzas militares en el istmo centroamericano, condición sine qua non para librar una efectiva batalla en contra del narcotráfico.

Como era previsible, el gobierno de la Presidenta Laura Chinchilla – estrechamente vinculada a lo largo de muchos años con la USAID, nada menos- brindó todo su apoyo y el de sus parlamentarios para responder obedientemente a la requisitoria de Washington.

A nadie sorprende la apelación al pretexto del narcotráfico pues es el que corrientemente utiliza Washington -a falta de otros, como los que brindara el terremoto en… Haití- para justificar la intrusión del personal militar estadounidense en los países de Nuestra América.

No obstante, conspira contra la credibilidad de este argumento el hecho que sean precisamente los países caracterizados por una fuerte presencia militar de Estados Unidos quienes sobresalen por su producción y comercialización de narcóticos.

Tal como quedó demostrado en El Lado Oscuro del Imperio. La Violación de los Derechos Humanos por Estados Unidos, fuentes inobjetables de las Naciones Unidas (la UNODOC, la Oficina de la ONU contra la Droga y el Crimen) demuestran con estadísticas abrumadoras que desde que las tropas de Estados Unidos se instalaron en Afganistán se produjeron grandes avances en la producción y exportación de opio y la fabricación de heroína, a la vez que en Colombia la presencia estadounidense no fue óbice (sino todo lo contrario) para que se registrase una notable expansión de los cultivos de coca. [1] [4]

Todo esto no debería causar sorpresa alguna, por varias razones. Una de ellas es que el país que se arroga el derecho a combatir el narcotráfico en todo el mundo demuestra una incapacidad tan asombrosa como sospechosa para hacer lo propio dentro de sus fronteras, desde desmontar las redes que vinculan a las mafias del narco con las autoridades, las policías y los jueces locales y estatales que hacen posible el negocio de la droga hasta implementar una campaña mínimamente significativa para contener la adicción y recuperar a los adictos.

Nada sorprendente, insistimos, por cuanto el narcotráfico mueve una cifra que se empina por encima de los 400.000 millones de dólares, anuales, que luego son convenientemente “lavados” en los numerosos paraísos fiscales que los principales países capitalistas han establecido a lo largo y a lo ancho del planeta (comenzando por Estados Unidos y Europa) para ser luego introducidos al sistema bancario oficial y, de ese modo, fortalecer los negocios del capital financiero.

Por otra parte, la debilidad e inconsistencia de este pretexto, el de la “lucha contra el narcotráfico”, se tornan más evidentes cuando se aprende que Estados Unidos es el primer productor mundial de marihuana, lo que según un estudio de la Fundación Drug Science, reporta a ese país una suma superior a los 35.000 millones de dólares, cifra que supera el valor combinado de la producción de trigo y maíz. [2] [5]Tercero y último, ¿cómo subestimar la importancia que tienen el control y la administración del negocio de los narcóticos para sostener la dominación imperialista en las provincias exteriores del imperio?

¿No fue acaso Gran Bretaña quien reintrodujo el opio en China (droga que había sido prohibida por el emperador Yongzheng debido a los perjuicios que ocasionaba a su población) cuyo consumo masivo promovido por los británicos sirvió para equilibrar sus déficits de balanza comercial con el celeste imperio? Para impulsar esa adicción entre los chinos, británicos y portugueses libraron dos guerras, entre 1839 y 1842 y 1856 y 1860, a resultas de las cuales establecieron dos cabeceras de playa para organizar el tráfico del opio en toda la China: una en Hong Kong, bajo control inglés, y otra en Macao, dominada por los portugueses.

¿Por qué tendríamos hoy que pensar que Estados Unidos, hijo putativo del imperio británico, habría de ser movido por otros intereses cuando declara, de la boca para afuera, la guerra al narcotráfico? ¿No resulta acaso funcional a sus intereses tener una América Latina caracterizada por la proliferación de “estados fallidos” -carcomidos por la corrupción que genera el tráfico de estupefacientes y sus secuelas: desintegración social, mafias, paramilitares, etcétera- e incapaces por eso mismo de ofrecer la menor resistencia a los designios imperiales?

El permiso concedido por el Congreso de Costa Rica se extiende por seis meses, a partir del 1 de Julio del corriente año. No obstante, esta concesión, que se materializa en el contexto de la Iniciativa Mérida (que abarca a México y Centroamérica) es un proyecto que tiene metas pero no plazos, por lo cual la probabilidad de que las tropas estadounidenses salgan de Costa Rica a finales de este año y retornen a sus cuarteles en la metrópolis es prácticamente cero.

Además, la experiencia internacional enseña que tanto en Europa como en Japón las tropas que Estados Unidos estacionó allí después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial por unos pocos años, extendidos luego con el pretexto de la Guerra Fría, ya llevan en esas locaciones más de 65 sin que sus jefes den las menores muestras de aburrimiento o deseos de regresar a casa.

En Okinawa, la repulsa generalizada de la población local contra los ocupantes yankis -que, amparados en su inmunidad, matan, violan y roban a su antojo- no fue suficiente para forzar el desmantelamiento de la base estadounidense. De paso, este incidente subraya la valentía y eficacia del gobierno de Rafael Correa que sí logró la salida de las tropas estadounidenses de la base de Manta.

Y en caso de que hubiera un clamor popular exigiendo reeditar tan insólita ocurrencia en Costa Rica, un par de operaciones criminales de esas que la CIA sabe montar muy bien harían que ese pedido se revirtiese instantáneamente, sobre todo con un gobierno como el de Laura Chinchilla que se desvive por demostrar su incondicional sumisión a los dictados del imperio.

Al igual que lo establecido en el Tratado Obama-Uribe mediante el cual Colombia cede inicialmente el uso de siete bases militares a Estados Unidos, en el caso que nos ocupa el personal militar de este país gozará de total inmunidad ante la justicia costarricense, y sus integrantes podrán entrar y salir de Costa Rica a su entera voluntad, circular por todo el territorio nacional vistiendo sus uniformes y portando sus pertrechos y armamentos de combate.

Con esta decisión la soberanía de Costa Rica no sólo es humillada sino que llega a los límites del ridículo para un país que, en 1948, abolió sus fuerzas armadas y que, en gran medida gracias a eso, pudo desarrollar una política social de avanzada en el deprimente contexto regional centroamericano porque el gendarme oligárquico había sido desbandado.

En lo que hace al armamento, la autorización del Congreso permite el ingreso de guardacostas y pequeños navíos pero también de otros como el portaaviones de última generación MakinIsland, botado en agosto del 2006 y dotado de capacidad para albergar a 102 oficiales y 1.449 marines, pudiendo transportar 42 helicópteros CH-46, cinco aviones AV-8B Harrier y seis helicópteros Blackhawks. Aparte de eso la legislación aprobada extiende su permiso para naves como el USS Freedom, botado en el 2008, con capacidad para combatir a submarinos e internarse en aguas poco profundas.

El permiso se extiende también a otros navíos, tipo catamarán, un buque hospital y vehículos varios de reconocimiento con capacidad para transportarse tanto por mar como por tierra. Armamentos y pertrechos que, en síntesis, de poco y nada sirvan para combatir al narcotráfico, en el dudoso caso de que esa sea la voluntad de los ocupantes. Es más que evidente que su objetivo es otro.

Esta iniciativa del gobierno estadounidense hay que situarla en el contexto de la creciente militarización de la política exterior de los Estados Unidos, cuyas expresiones más importantes en el marco latinoamericano han sido, hasta ahora, la reactivación de la Cuarta Flota, la firma del tratado Obama-Uribe, la de facto ocupación militar de Haití, la construcción del muro de la vergüenza entre México y Estados Unidos, el golpe de Estado en Honduras y la posterior legitimación del fraude electoral que elevó a Porfirio Lobo a la presidencia, la concesión de nuevas bases militares por el gobierno reaccionario de Panamá, a todo lo cual se le agrega ahora el desembarco de los marines en Costa Rica. Por supuesto, todo lo anterior articulado con el mantenimiento del bloqueo y acoso a la Revolución Cubana y el permanente hostigamiento a Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador.

En el plano internacional el desembarco de los marines estadounidenses en Costa Rica debe ser interpretado en el marco de la inminente guerra contra Irán y la grotesca provocación a Corea del Norte, sobre cuyas gravísimas consecuencias hace tiempo viene advirtiendo en sus Reflexiones el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz.

En conclusión, el imperio avanza en la militarización de la región y en los preparativos para una aventura militar de proporciones globales. Si la agresión a Irán finalmente llegara a consumarse, como autorizarían a pronosticar los aprontamientos vistos en estos últimos días, la gravísima situación internacional resultante impulsaría a los Estados Unidos a procurar garantizar a cualquier precio el control absoluto y sin fisuras de lo que sus estrategas geopolíticos denominan la gran isla americana, un enorme continente que se extiende desde Alaska a Tierra del Fuego, separado tanto de la masa terrestre eurasiática como de África y que según ellos desempeña un papel fundamental para la seguridad nacional estadounidense. Esa es la razón de fondo por la cual se ha venido produciendo, preventivamente, la desorbitada militarización de la política exterior estadounidense. Es ridículo que se pretenda convencer a nuestros pueblos de que la veintena de bases militares establecidas en Centro y Sudamérica y en el Caribe, a las que ahora se suma el desembarco en Costa Rica, y la activación de la Cuarta Flota tienen por objetivo combatir al narcotráfico. Cómo enseña la experiencia, a éste no se le combate con una estrategia militar sino con una política social, que Estados Unidos no aplica dentro de sus fronteras ni permite que se haga afuera gracias a la enorme influencia que el FMI y el Banco Mundial tienen sobre países vulnerables y endeudados. La experiencia antes de Colombia y ahora de México (¡con sus más 26.000 muertos desde que el presidente Felipe Calderón declarase su “guerra al narcotráfico”!) atestiguan que la solución al problema no pasa por los marines, portaviones, submarinos y helicópteros artillados sino por la creación de una sociedad justa y solidaria, algo que es incompatible con la lógica del capitalismo y repugnante para los intereses fundamentales del imperio. En síntesis: el desembarco de los marines en Costa Rica tiene por objetivo reforzar la dominación estadounidense en la región, derrocar por diversos métodos a los gobiernos considerados “enemigos” (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador), debilitar aún más a los vacilantes y ambivalentes gobiernos de “centro-izquierda” y fortalecer a la derecha que se ha hecho fuerte en el litoral del Pacífico (Chile, Perú, Colombia, Panamá, Costa Rica, Honduras y México), reordenando de ese modo el “patio trasero” del imperio para así tener las manos libres y la retaguardia asegurada para salir a reafirmar la prepotencia imperial guerreando en otras latitudes.

[1] [6] Cf. Atilio A. Boron y Andrea Vlahusic, El Lado Oscuro del Imperio. La Violación de los Derechos Humanos por Estados Unidos (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Luxemburg, 2009), pg. 73.

[2] [7] Cf. El Lado Oscuro, op. Cit. , p. 72.

Greece: same tragedy, different scripts


Walden Bello

Athens. Cafes are full in Athens, and droves of tourists still visit the Parthenon and go island-hopping in the fabled Aegean. But beneath the summery surface, there is confusion, anger, and despair as this country is plunged into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Greece, tiny Greece, has been presented by the global media as the epicenter of the second stage of the global financial crisis, much like Wall Street was portrayed as ground zero of its first stage.

Yet there is an interesting difference in the narratives surrounding these two episodes.

Two narratives in conflict

The Wall Street crash that morphed into the global financial crisis has been traced to the unregulated activities of financial institutions that created ever more complex instruments to magically multiply money.

With Greece, however, the narrative goes this way: this country piled up an unsustainable debt load to build a welfare state that it could not afford. This is a case of a spendthrift that must now be forced to tighten its belt. Brussels, Berlin, and the banks are presented as the dour Puritans that must now exact penance from the Mediterranean hedonists for living beyond their means and committing the sin of pride by hosting the costly 2004 Olympics.

Penance comes in the form of a European Union-International Monetary Fund program that will increase the value-added tax to 23 per cent, raise the retirement age to 65 for both men and women, make deep cuts in pensions and public sector wages, and eliminate practices promoting job security. The ostensible aim of the exercise is to radically slim down the welfare state and get the spoiled Greeks to live within their means.

There are certainly some nuggets of truth in the welfare state narrative, but it is fundamentally flawed. The Greek crisis essentially stems from the lack of regulation of finance capital that earlier led to the implosion of Wall Street. That is, it has been created principally by the frenzied drive of finance capital to draw profits from the indiscriminate, massive extension of credit. The Greek crisis falls into the pattern traced by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff in their book This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly [4] (Princeton; Princeton University Press, 2009): periods of frenzied speculative lending are inexorably followed by government or sovereign debt defaults or near defaults. Like the third world debt crisis in the early eighties, like the Asian financial crisis in the late nineties, the so-called sovereign debt problem of the southern European countries is principally a supply-driven crisis, not a demand-driven one.

It is estimated that, in their drive to raise more and more profits from lending, Europe’s banks poured $2.5 trillion into what are now the most troubled European economies: Ireland, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. German and French banks hold some 70 per cent of Greece’s $400 billion debt. German banks were great buyers of toxic subprime assets from US financial institutions, and they applied the same lack of discrimination to buying Greek government bonds. For their part, since the outbreak of the financial crisis, French banks, according to Bank of International Settlements cited by Newsweek, increased their lending to Greece by 23 per cent, to Spain by 11 per cent, and to Portugal by 26 per cent. (“Worse than Wall Street,” Newsweek, July 2, 2010 [5])

The frenzied Greek credit scene featured not only European financial actors. Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs showed Greek financial authorities how financial instruments known as derivatives could be used to make large chunks of Greek “disappear,” thus making the national accounts look good to bankers that were always eager to lend more. Then the very same agency turned around and, engaging in derivatives trading known as “credit default swaps,” bet on the possibility that Greece would default, raising the country’s cost of borrowing from the banks but making a tidy profit for itself.

If ever there was a crisis created by global finance, it is Greece.

Hijacking the narrative

So the question is: why is the Greek story now being told not as a case of speculative frenzy by global finance capital but as the time-worn cautionary tale of people living beyond their means? There are two key reasons behind this.

The first is the financial institutions’ successful hijacking of the narrative of crisis to serve their own ends. The big banks are now truly worried about the awful state of their balance sheets, impaired as they are by the toxic subprime assets they took on and realizing that they severely overextended their lending operations. The principal way they seek to rebuild their balance sheets is to generate fresh capital by using their debtors as pawns. The centerpiece of this strategy is getting the public authorities to bail them out once more, as they did in the form of rescue funds and a low prime lending rate in the first stage of the crisis.

How will they do this? Well, the threat that Greece and the other highly indebted European countries would default was never taken seriously by the banks since the dominant Eurozone governments would never allow the collapse of the euro that this would bring about. But by having the markets bet against Greece and raising its cost of borrowing, the banks knew that the Eurozone governments would come out with a bailout package, most of which would go towards servicing the Greek debt to them. Promoted as rescuing Greece, the massive 110 billion euro package that has been put together by the dominant Eurozone governments and the IMF will largely go towards rescuing the banks from their irresponsible unregulated lending frenzy.

It’s the same old confidence game—then known as structural adjustment—that was played on developing country debtors during the Third World debt crisis of the 1980’s and on Thailand and Indonesia during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990’s, two episodes that followed lending binges from northern banks and speculators: pin the blame on the victims by characterizing them as living beyond their means, get public agencies to rescue you with money upfront, and stick the people with the terrible task of paying off the loan by committing a massive chunk of their present and future income streams as payments to the lending agencies.

It would not be surprising if similar massive multilbillion rescue packages are now being prepared for the banks that overextended themselves in Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.

Shifting the blame

The second reason for promoting the living-beyond-one’s means narrative in the case of Greece and the other severely indebted countries is to deflect the pressures for tighter financial regulation that have come from citizens and governments since the start of the global crisis. The banks want to have their cake and eat it too. They secured bailout funds from governments in the first phase of the crisis, but do not want to honor what governments told their citizens was an essential part of the deal: the strengthening of financial regulation. Governments, from the US to China and Greece, had resorted to massive stimulus programs to keep the real economy from collapsing during the first phase of the financial crisis. By promoting a narrative that moves the spotlight from lack of financial regulation to this massive government spending as the key problem of the global economy, the banks seek to forestall the imposition of a tough regulatory regime.

But this is playing with fire. Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman and others have warned that if this narrative is successful in opposing new stimulus programs and halting the drive for tough banking regulations, the result will be a double-dip recession [6], if not a full-blown depression. Unfortunately, the message of the recent G-20 meeting in Toronto seems to be that in both Europe and the United States, governments are caving in to the short-sighted agenda of the banks, who have the backing of unreconstructed neoliberal ideologues that continue to see the activist, interventionist state as the fundamental problem. In the view of these ideologues, a deep recession and even a depression is the natural process by which an economy stabilizes itself and Keynesian spending to avert a collapse will only serve to prolong the coming of the inevitable.

Resistance: Will it make a difference?

The Greeks are not taking all this lying down. Massive protests greeted the ratification of the EU-IMF package by the Greek Parliament on Thursday, July 8. This was dwarfed, however, by an earlier protest, on May 5, when 400,000 people turned out in Athens in the biggest demonstration since the fall of the military dictatorship in July 1974. Yet, there seems to be little street protests can do to avert what many feel to be social catastrophe that will unfold with the EU-IMF program. The economy is set to contract by 4 per cent in 2010. According to Alexis Tsipras, president of the left parliamentary coalition Synapsismos, this will result in the rise in the unemployment rate from 15 to 20 per cent in two years’ time, with the rate among young people expected to hit 30 per cent.

As for poverty, a recent joint survey by Kapa Research and the London School of Economics cited by Interpress Service found that, even before the current crisis, close to a third of Greece’s 11 million people were living close to the poverty line. This figure, says the study, indicates that a “third world” is being created within the country. (“Greece: More Poverty than Meets the Eye,” IPS, Nov. 13, [7]) This process can only be accelerated by adherence to the Brussels-IMF adjustment program.

The irony of the situation is that the adjustment is being presided over by a Socialist government headed by George Papandreou that was voted to office last October to reverse the corruption of the previous conservative administration and the ill effects of its economic policies. There is resistance within Papandreou’s party PASOK to the EU-IMF plan, admits the party’s international secretary Paulina Lampsa, but the overwhelming sense among the party’s parliamentary contingent is, as Margaret Thatcher famously put it, “TINA– “that there is no alternative.”

The consequences of compliance

Is there indeed no alternative? Faced with the program’s savage consequences, there are increasing numbers of Greeks who are talking about the option of adopting a strategy of threatening default or a radical unilateral reduction of debt. Such an approach could be coordinated, says Alexis Tsipras, with Europe’s other debt burdened countries, like Portugal and Spain. Here Argentina may provide a model: it gave its creditors a memorable haircut in 2003 by paying only 25 cents to every dollar it owed. Not only did Argentina get away with it, but the financial resources that would otherwise have left the country as debt service were channeled into the domestic economy, triggering an average economic growth rate of 10 per cent yearly between 2003 and 2008.

The “Argentine Solution” is certainly fraught with risk, but the consequences of surrender are painfully clear if we examine the records of countries that submitted to IMF adjustment.

Forking over 25 to 30 per cent of the government budget yearly to foreign creditors, the Philippines in the mid-eighties entered a decade of stagnation from which it has never recovered and which condemned it to a permanent poverty rate of over 30 per cent.

Squeezed by draconian adjustment measures, Mexico was sucked into two decades of continuing economic crisis, with terrible social consequences such as the pervasive narcotics traffic that have brought it to the brink of being a failed state.

The current state of virtual class war in Thailand can be traced partly to the political fallout of the economic sufferings imposed by the IMF austerity program imposed on that country a decade ago.

The Brussels-IMF adjustment of Greece shows that finance capitalism in the throes of crisis no longer respects the North-South divide. The cynics would say, welcome to the Third World, Greece. But this is not a time for cynicism but for global solidarity. We’re all in this together now.