What Terror Looks Like

More than one year after the post electoral crisis, the terror created by the murders of protestors is still palpable here. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with these killings because you participated last year in an open letter to the families of the victims.

A few days ago Karen Spring wrote this excellent essay on the continued impunity for the killings.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the events of December 2017 & January 2018 are hardly in the past for many Hondurans. These killings were mentioned to me without prompting at some of our site visits, and my general impression both from these weeks on the ground and following social media is of a people where terror has genuinely taken root. I keep thinking of the many histories I’ve read or watched about societies existing under terroristic regimes, and realizing that in this moment I’m visiting one of those societies. And knowing that my friends and others live in it every day.

Nor are these impressions and facts far removed from the United States. Impunity for murdering protestors and the terror it spreads is creating an exodus of people arriving everyday at our border. To say nothing of the direct and indirect support for this terror provided by the US government itself. One example: the US provides funding, training, and “vetting” for various police and military forces implicated in human rights abuses including murder. We are funding terror.

The Songs of the Grandmothers

On Saturday I had the honor of hearing the songs of the grandmothers of COFAMIPRO, the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso. These women told us the stories of looking for their lost daughters and sons, who have been lost along the dangerous migrant trail between the US and Honduras or who lost contact with their families once arriving in the US. Rosa Nelly Santos told us about the heartbreaking work of repatriating remains, and how since 2000 she has walked with other mothers along the path wearing pictures of their children and asking around, hoping to find clues of where they were last seen. About the caravans, Rosa Nelly told us that they do not celebrate or agree with the migrant exodus because they would prefer to have people be able to stay in Honduras, but the most important thing is that no one disappears on an exodus. They may still die; but they will not disappear .

The women sang two songs they have written themselves: one for standing outside public offices demanding rights and recognition, and the second for when a person is found. It said “we don’t get tired of waiting.”

Together in a small circle, our Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective delegation cried with these women. We saw their pain, and held it with them for a few moments . We left them reluctantly in a flurry of hugs and smiles, always promising to share their stories.

accompaniment at the graveside

Over the last several days I have been in Honduras with Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, meeting with the Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ, Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) in several different sites and contexts.

It is not an exaggeration to say that many or maybe even all the folks we have met with have been through hell. We visited the Dignified Encampment for Water and for Life at Pajuiles, where participants became choked up telling us about how they were attacked brutally in August 2017 by members of the community further up the hill, who believe they will benefit from the dam project and who have been paid by the company . These water protectors, members of MADJ, also pointed to the nearby home of Geovanny Diaz Carcamo, who was brutally assassinated in front of his mother in the street in the post electoral conflict, January 2018.

From there we met with Magdalena, the widow of Ramón Fiallos, and other members of the Dignified Encampment in Defense of the Jilamito River. Ramón Fiallos was killed when he was shot with live ammunition at a protest and left without medical treatment. Magdalena told us how three days before his death, Ramón told her “If we have to die, I will die for a better Honduras with pride.” She told us that his words inspire her, and that through his death she has learned to lose her fear.

In the Tolupán community of San Francisco de Locomapa, we stood in solidarity alongside a fresh grave. Just one month ago two members of MADJ were murdered defending their pine forest, to which they have territorial rights recognized internationally as an indigenous tribe. The mountainside was burning all around us, an act of aggression against those resisting deforestation and looting, as we stood together. Here in this heavy place we were told by survivors that the struggle is very hard, but no one is crying. Everyone participating understands the risks and is ready to pay it. Words are hard to find in describing this moment standing with a small tribal community that has had 7 of its loved ones murdered over a struggle for natural resources since 2013.

Through these places we have been guided often by Martín Fernández who, as the effective longtime General Coordinator of MADJ, lives his life under ever present death threats. Everytime I say goodbye to Martín, I worry it will be the last.

As a group we have accompanied and met with these communities, humbly trying to offer some comfort through listening attentively to their stories and sharing in their pain as human beings. We have committed to share these stories with an often indifferent public in the United States who knowingly or unknowingly benefit from this theft of resources and life. None of it has ever seemed like enough. But I have written before about the small powerful webs of solidarity and continue to hope that although it is not, and can never be, enough, solidarity with others is the most powerful tool we have.

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How to take action in solidarity with the Honduran people

Regular People Are Deporting Each Other – Or Not

Last weekend I read about immigration lawyers and journalists with US and EU citizenships being denied entry to Mexico. Interpol alerts were placed on their passports because they were involved in assisting the masses of asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border.

We live in times of terror.

There are a lot of people who have to be involved to make a system of terror like this run and keep running. According to the LA Times, it’s highly likely that judges needed to approve the “alerts” be placed on these peoples’ passports. Judges who needed to somehow find it OK to refuse people the right to move across borders because they were assisting others with their human rights; judges who swore to uphold the first amendment and then flagged the passports of journalists. They did not need to participate in this. But that means there were also attorneys who presented the government’s case to the judge. There were people in the courtrooms at the time who have said nothing about this happening, regular people like perhaps a stenographer who have participated in keeping their mouths shut rather than whistle blowing. Even when something happens in judges’ chambers, documents go through a lot of hands.

There are the immigration officers who carried out the orders.

I haven’t even started on the folks carrying out all of this when it comes to the actual asylees, the adults and children who we know have been suffering on our border. I’m talking about the ones participating in the asylum interview bottleneck. The ones turning the locks on the cages. The ones building the cages. The ones actually making money on the cages. There are actually hundreds of thousands of participants in this. It isn’t just Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who I think readers of this blog will probably find to be beyond any sense of shame.

I keep thinking of Eichmann organizing those train schedules to make sure all the trains could move everyone around Nazi Germany, and of everyone else involved in running the train system. Bureaucracies are made up in part by individual people and their individual actions, and they are a necessary part of these systems. And while it’s easy to forget, bureaucracies are not faceless.

But I try—I try, because it’s hard–to also think about the forgotten and even intentionally concealed history of everyday resistance that so many people have taken part in throughout history too. I try to hold out hope that we can again find and cultivate those memories, at least among some of ourselves.

Shaun Slifer_Sabot

“Slow It All Down” Shaun Slifer – Text and Image from Justseeds: “As an icon of working class history, the story goes that sabots were thrown into early industrial machinery when workers’ demands weren’t met. The term saboter, however, originally referred to the noisy footsteps of clog-clad rural workers, and thus their low-rung, unskilled labor within newly mechanized industrial factories. The word evolved from there to mean the slowing or bungling of a job on purpose: work stoppage.”

What You Need to Know about the Coup in Venezuela

The U.S. is again attempting a foreign coup in Venezuela. This is not the first time, and if it doesn’t succeed, it will not be the last time. For those of us who are United States citizens, we have a tremendous responsibility to inform ourselves about what our government is doing and to not perpetuate the real and devastating harm that is being caused.

Imagine for a moment that another country declared our elections fraudulent because so many of us are unhappy with Trump, or because the person who wins the popular vote does not become the president. Imagine that country has several nearby military bases. In fact, can you imagine another country having a military base in or near the US?

For example, did you know about the role the United States has played in making sure that “socialism isn’t working” in Venezuela and causing a devastating economic crisis? From this interview with two scholars who have both written multiple books on Venezuela (some of which I’ve read and used in my classes):

Juan Gonzalez: “Citgo, the huge American-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil industry, which has not been allowed to remit back any of the money that it’s making here in the United States back to Venezuela.”

Steve Ellner: “The sanction that prohibits Citgo from remitting profits to Venezuela is a very important measure. It means that the Venezuelan government is being deprived of approximately $1 billion a year.”

“But, Juan, in addition to that, there is a major impact in terms of discouraging commercial and financial interests throughout the world from any kind of transaction with Venezuela. There is a list of 70—approximately 70 Venezuelan officials who are being sanctioned. And that translates into a situation in which the U.S. government, and specifically Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, has undertaken different investigations, workshops with representatives of Japan, Europe, Latin America, in order to find out where the shell companies are. In other words, he has created a situation in which commercial interests throughout the world are afraid to have anything to do with Venezuela. That amounts to virtually a block—an economic blockade.”

Did you know Mike Pence made an announcement to the Venezuelan people declaring someone else the president before Juan Guaidó even declared himself the president? Did you know our ambassadors and VPs made videos to people in other countries for social media? Can you imagine getting a message on FB from Angela Merkel telling us who our president “really” was?

soa latin america

Original image source: School of the Americas Watch

The coup attempt in Venezuela takes place within a history of constant violent military intervention throughout Latin America. These interventions happen regardless of Democratic or Republican administration; the most recent and obvious example is the coup in Honduras which was supported and ratified by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama in 2009. There seems to be no sense of irony to the calls of “lack of democracy” in Venezuela while an explicitly, clearly illegitimate and fraudulent president sits in office in Honduras with the full support of Washington.

Furthermore, in the US we are basically never exposed to how or why anyone would support Chavismo at the grassroots. What do you know, for example about the deeply democratic comunas? Now this environment has changed, but it is still essential to consider, and to wonder critically what accounts are being left out now?

Democracy Now! and NACLA are good places to get reliable coverage of what’s happening in Venezuela.

When we are ill-informed or when we turn away, or worse, when we perpetuate the idea that Maduro is a dictator, that there is another legitimate president, that a coup is legitimate, or any of the other lies our government is peddling to us, we put real people’s lives in danger.

military interventions map

Worrying about Others Is Nothing to Fear


Every day I think about my friends in Honduras and I worry about them. I wonder what they’re doing and if they’re OK, and I wonder if they’re worried about today or tomorrow. Then I worry and wonder about my friends in Argentina who I haven’t seen in a little longer. I feel bad that I owe them a visit and I am concerned that I have lost touch with some of them. But most of all I worry about how much they’re being affected by the deepening crash of the economy, increasing social repression, and overall sense of crisis reaching infamous 2001 levels. I also think about how I owe my good friend in prison a letter, and I wonder how he’s getting along too, and I hope that he knows that my longer than usual stretch without communication doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking of him often.

I feel connected to these folks, and my worries are personal rather than abstract. The problems they face—in the form, often, of risk to their lives—are elements of large social problems of the kind many of us read and hear about in the news. The visibility of these problems happening to people who are faraway makes both the people and the problems seem invisible. But they are not abstract social problems. They are everyday problems faced by real humans. They are the concrete problems faced by my living breathing friends, even if these concrete problems are overwhelming oppressive social structures.

It seems to me that I also know many people who have refused to face or even acknowledge these problems. Their reaction, it seems to me, is one of fear. They fear, perhaps, becoming sucked in to the sense of worry that I described above. They fear, perhaps, becoming overwhelmed by the extent of the world’s problems. They fear, perhaps, their sense of helplessness. It is true that “you can’t help everyone.”

But I wouldn’t trade my constant sense of worry and obligation for the disregard or the protective ignorance or the fear or whatever it is that stops people from engaging. Despite the fact that injustice will never be solved, I know that I am connected horizontally in relationships with others that are mutual, loving, and creating alternatives everyday to the systems which tear us down. I am engaged in nurturing myself and others. I know that I am not hiding from reality.

Every week I try to do what I can. It is overwhelming, and so I try to work first on the corner of the giant puzzle of injustice closest to me, while keeping the whole picture in front of me and making sure that my piece will still be able to connect. I work on always increasing my network of solidarity and especially its diversity. And I try to hand puzzle pieces to passersby, who happen to know me but no one else, and get them involved too, and I guess this for me is also part of how solidarity works.

Sometimes I fail, but every day I worry and I make all the room in my life I can to change the world. I reflect, I criticize, and I work at it. I know that I am obligated to others because my humanity is bound up in theirs. Without them, I am not fully human.

Do Not Bow to the King: I will not wish George HW Bush or any other powerful leader the peace in death they denied to others

Hopefully people have already seen some of the pushback on the sainting of George Herbert Walker Bush because of his legacy of human rights abuses in Panama, pardoning Iran-Contra conspirators, allowing people to die needlessly of AIDS, lying to the U.S. public about the invasion of Iraq, his involvement in Plan Condor, and his racist Willie Horton ad, to name some. But regardless of the specific person or their place in history, invariably it seems to go like this: some major political figure dies and the social media RIPs start rolling in. “I didn’t agree with you on everything but you were an honorable person and I respected you. Rest in Peace.” If we consider ourselves political at all, and if want to be capable of resisting injustice, then we need to stop automatically paying our respects to politicians when they die.

First of all, the fact that someone had grace, or carried themselves with honor or manners, is not a good reason on its own to show them respect. In fact it usually just means they are rich and powerful (or “patrician”).  Have y’all never seen Gone with the Wind? Those white people of old carried on in high fashion and extremely mannerly ways! Their white supremacy was extremely high fallutin’! I do not however respect it, or the people who perpetrated and participated in it, just because it demands respect. It was something extremely ugly dressing itself up in nice clothes and an elaborately coded system of manners and interactions. Do not fall for this.

Second of all, in the case of a deceased head of state or politician, when we say we disagree with their “policies,” we are actually talking about human lives, and often their deaths. I refuse to reduce human to policies. And while the politician may no longer be in power, the effects of their policies are usually still with us. In the case of George HW Bush, I saw several of the same people express sadness about his death who are also angry about Trump’s handling of the “migrant caravan” from Central America. The thing is that by and large it isn’t Trump’s policies that have created the migrant exodus (because he hasn’t had enough time to do that kind of structural damage), but those of previous administrations. The migrant exodus actually has a lot to do with George HW Bush. As president he escalated the devastating War on Drugs, which continues to devastate people throughout Latin America, in addition to the devastating “anti-communist” violence and coup d’etats he perpetrated as vice president and Director of the CIA. The legacy of this violence, in addition to actions by other leaders including Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama who facilitated the 2009 coup in Honduras, has created the structural instability leading to the mass exodus of refugees from Central America today. So, how can we say that we respect Bush but be in solidarity with the migrant exodus or people in Central America today? You can’t.

Finally, and perhaps most simply and importantly: if we aspire to resist the policies of our government when they are wrong and unjust, we have to stop our habit of automatically bowing to the King! We are not obligated to express sadness when a former head of state dies. We are not obligated to say they had good qualities or were a good person or look on the bright side. Ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it possible it’s because you’ve been conditioned to respect authority? Or to respect those who seem “patrician”? If it makes you uncomfortable to speak ill of the dead, then try practicing just not saying anything. After all, a public political figure is different from a neighbor down the street or another person that you know. They and their family will never know what you said. Their legacy is a matter of making the historical record, not simple politeness. But most importantly, if you practice bowing to the king over and over, even when you think it doesn’t mean anything, you will never be able to disobey his orders when given, no matter how unjust they are. And that is supremely dangerous.

The Refusal to Die Quietly

Many of us in the US may have seen and been shocked by images or stories of the migrant caravan’s march to the border on Sunday and the repression they faced. It can be hard to understand what’s going on, particularly because historically we haven’t received good information here in the US about Latin America. For example, although the United States has a military base in Honduras, none of the major news outlets has a reporter based there. If we are very honest though, it is also true that part of not knowing what is going on with other people in places “like Honduras” is part of not wanting to know what is going on. Sometimes as human beings we don’t know the details about the rest of the world because we don’t connect the dots that we can see.

I want to share in full the quickly and powerfully written testimony of my friend Amelia Frank-Vitale who witnessed Sunday’s experience on the border between Mexico and the US. Amelia lives in San Pedro Sula, studying the effects of deportation there, and has accompanied the caravan on part of its journey. Amelia witnessed Sunday’s teargassing:

“today was heartbreaking. my country, the one with the most powerful military in the world, used that power to overwhelm a group of people in search of safety and a better future for themselves and their children. I know, I know. the US is in no way the promised land. But, people deeply believe that their lives would be a touch easier, they could breathe a bit calmer, if they could just make it to the other side of that damn ‘fence.’

there was no getting there today. first, mexican police blocked off street after street, dividing the group and confusing what had been planned as a straightforward, peaceful protest near the pedestrian crossing point. instead, after trying to dialogue with the police, people split off, using side streets, no one totally sure where they were headed, but all hoping to be able to get near (or through) the check point.

when one group neared the ‘fence,’ the US border patrol and armed police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. that group dispersed. on the other side of the canal, well into Mexican territory, the US once again fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. this time, they hit people. there are at least five people wounded from impacts from rubber bullets and spray-paint can-sized gas canisters. this includes a foreign journalist and [my friend].

when I saw my friend bleeding profusely from the back of his head, all I could think was – fuck. my country did this. i took him to the hospital, he got some stitches, and he will be fine. thankfully. but seriously, this is the response to a few thousand people in flip-flops, many of them pushing baby carriages, trying to get in to the US?

my eyes still burn and I have that rough cough that comes from inhaling tear gas. but mostly, i feel heart broken and angry. at one point we traipsed across the canal that is (was?) the Tijuana river. There’s a small stream of waste water and a good part of the canal bed is kind of sticky muddy with sewage sludge. after walking across Mexico, people literally walked through shit today for a peek into the United States. That they were met force and cruelty by my country makes me so very ashamed.

I’ve heard reports that the march, and the actions of the caravaneros, wasn’t peaceful. that’s bullshit. peaceful is not a synonym for submissive. peaceful doesn’t mean you have to put your head down, accept shit, and thank the people stepping on your neck. people changed routes, jumped over fences, climbed up hills, and scrambled onto a parked freight train. a few people threw a few stones. some of them tried, desperately, to climb the wall. the only group of people using real force today, the only people really threatening violence, were the border patrol and police.”

Throughout the months the caravan has been traveling, I have found myself increasingly anxious about what will happen to these refugees/caraveneros once they arrive here in the US and the potentially deadly violence they will face on the border. I suspect it’s easy for a lot of us, from our variously privileged vantage points within the US, to worry about the possibility that people will be killed in a large standoff like this one. We know that permission to shoot has been granted. Although we might admire their bravery, we might then be tempted to take our worry and to be concerned at the risks the folks in the caravan are taking by approaching the border en masse like they did on Sunday.  It’s certainly true that there are people who are blaming the migrants for the use of force, although none of them might be reading this blog.  But would we feel better if these folks died en masse quietly in a shelter in Tijuana? What about if they died back in San Pedro Sula, as Amelia has also written about? What about if they died silently, individually on the migrant trail?

As they have been asserting all along, the migrant caravan/exodus is once again banding together for safety and visibility. Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans are dying regularly as a result of US policies whether we see them being attacked on the news over Thanksgiving weekend or not. What is powerful about the migrant caravan is that we are being forced to see it.

 

When They Come For You (Guest Post)

The Rebel Prof is honored to present a guest post written by anthropologist and professor Jelena Radović Fanta.

The words that were made by this country’s president on birthright citizenship was a punch in the gut. When I first heard it, it didn’t feel that way. I rolled my eyes, thought “here we go again,” took it with some humor, and then thought, well, many groups of people have been targeted by this government and his rhetoric and his executive orders over the last two years. Surely, I can’t compare this with what my fellow compañerxs have been going through. Because I have privilege and I’ve benefited from it. I’ve flown in and out of this country with my U.S. passport, I don’t need to worry about having a visa, or having a school pick-up or speeding ticket turn into a deportation. Who am I to complain.

But as I went through the day earlier this week, I had a pit feeling in my stomach. I brushed it off thinking is was due to little sleep, the list of things I need to tackle, the shorter days and darker mornings. Until a student asked me “and how are you doing?” And I realize that I had been punched in the stomach. I had a chill on my skin, my walk was slower, and my heart was heavy.

I know the (im)possibilities of this happening. And under the very improbably circumstances that this happens, I have other options. I am married to a U.S. citizen (you know, the more legit kind of citizen) and I am a citizen of another country I can go back to (a country also with birthright citizenship, DJT do your f*** research). If anything, there’s always the employment sponsored visa which I can hope to attain.

But the weeding out of everyone who does not look like or think like Trump continues. We were talking in my classes about the irreversible damage that is being done, where now 45-supporters will turn to people who seem gringo but might have that slight accent, look a little different, speak more than one language, travel back and forth, or simply have a different political viewpoint and say “You! Where are your parents from? Go back to where your parents came from!”

deport-trump

Art by Nicholas Lampert

I owe this country nothing. I am not going to list what I consider “accomplishments” that I’ve had in my life. I should not have to. But if we are going to talk about it, well than yes, I have given a lot to this country. And this country has given me a lot. There are many reasons why I am here. And if we are going to talk about immigration, let’s talk about it. If we’re going to talk about crime, let’s talk about crime and how immigrant crime rates are not higher than US born people. If we’re going to talk about social welfare, let’s do so and talk about how undocumented people are not eligible for federal public aid programs. You do not get to throw out half-ass “arguments” and logic that all they do is draw on emotion, on white fragility, on anxiety about the “browning” of this country, and other baseless bullshit “arguments.” All it does is reveal your xenophobia and fear of “other,” who, by the way has never, ever really been an other, but a “right here.” Right here next door neighbor, right here at the food truck, right here landscaping your yards, cleaning your bathrooms. Right here opening doors, driving taxis, caring for your children, educating students, doing your nails, creating art, and start up shops. There has never been an “over there.” The “over there” has only been there because you placed it there. And don’t get me started with the legality of how your grandparents came here. There was no legal way” back then. People arrived on ships and if they were healthy and part of a support system, in they came.

I had always heard that things don’t really hit you until they become personal. Attacks on Muslims, Undocumented Immigrants, African Americans, the Queer community, and Women are for me offensive, unacceptable, and must be fought. Always. Yet there’s this extra blow when I realized “Hey, he’s talking about me. And my family.” The sting is extra sharp. And it hurts a little more. And I hope that the bitterness and anger I feel will never stop pushing me to do something about it.