Some English reporting on May 24…

A book on women in Bolivian social movements co-written by Alison Spedding, that I’ve been carrying with me for the last week or so incisively observed (in its opening literature review) that texts on the 2000 to 2003 period written by women tend to describe the specific impact of events on people involved, while those by men tended to assimilate events to their political argument. Unlike Cesar Brie’s documentary, these articles seem to follow the latter trend. Still, I wanted readers to have something other than my description to go by.

 

Wednesday: Anti-racism on the march, at least for a day, in Sucre

Monday night, I went to the well known scholars group Comuna on their biweekly meeting/event in La Paz. Instead of the usual talk though, they were hosting a video screening of a new documentary (by Cesar Brie–his poorly translated take on the events) rushed to production on the events of late May in Sucre…

To take a step back, the rapid advance of a largely indigenous grassroots left in Bolivia has been met by a polarizing of the politics here. Region (the highland west/center vs. the lowland east “the Media Luna”), race (native vs. mestizo-white), and divisions that capture both (Kolla vs. Camba) have been key dividing lines that are suddenly more visible. This is in part a reaction to the biggest line crossing of all, the presence of an indigenous peasant union leader, Evo Morales, in the presidency, but it goes beyond that.

In the east, particularly Santa Cruz, the white opposition has cottoned on to a long-running aspiration to autonomy for the department (think state in the US or province in Canada; provinces here are smaller divisions). This separatism has a youth wing, whose focus goes beyond separation to attacking and intimidating indigenous leaders and offices of the MAS party in national government. This wing, often with broader collaboration from the white opposition parties, have been threatening and carrying violence to disrupt what might otherwise be run-of-the-mill state functions involving Morales. This has reached the point where the President has been avoiding certain cities because regional governments are not guaranteeing his security.

So, back to the video. On May 24 in Sucre, Evo was set to preside over the awarding of ambulances to each province across the department of Chuquisaca, whose capital is Sucre. Right-wing youth and the anti-Morales mayor’s Inter-insitutional Committee urged Evo not to come, and threatened a confrontation. With local leaders from the countryside already on their way in, Evo backed down from attending. The rightists turned on the indigenous leaders, attacking with sticks and rocks. Several dozen fled to a house on the outskirts of town, only to be surrounded there.

They were escorted forcibly from there to Sucre’s main square, where a spectacle of public humiliation unfolded over the afternoon. Stripped to their underwear, forced to kneel, they had to endure insults, punches, and watch as their banners and the indigenous flag (or wiphala) was burned. The spectacle, captured by the mainstream media, continued for quite a long time.

In the judgment of the documentarian, the withdrawal of national police on the day happened because of a strategic decision to face and reveal what the rightists would do, rather than to confront them with force. If so, the price involved was paid by the indigenous leaders, whose pained after-the-fact interviews formed a key part of the documentary.

It was a hard film to watch, and left me in a pretty pensive mood Monday night. I had known that one in a series of racist outrages had happened in Sucre in May, and that the Women’s Summit would feature a public act dis-agression (desagravio) to repudiate it. But this was the first I had seen what was actually involved.

The whole situation strongly evokes what I’ve heard of the (US) Southern response to the Civil Rights Movement. How on front lawns, in jails, and with gunshots, the ugliest parts of a history of racism were revived to terrorize people organizing for equality.

As it happened, today’s desagravio was a complete success. Leaving from the ministadium where the summit is happening, a march of over 1,000 people traversed all over Sucre, including the plaza where local leaders were humiliated. As women filed through Sucre’s streets, wiphala and Bolivian flags in hand, shouting slogans for unity and against racism, scores of people came out in the streets: a few hostile but calmed by our numbers, and many visibly relieved and excited to have the march there–applauding as the march went past.

Campesinas on the streets of Sucre

The act was a defiance of fear. For me, a little, and for the movement a great deal. It’s hoped that it can change the dynamic in the streets and in this department. The section I marched with had a frequent chant: “Viva la esperanza. Basta de racismo. [Long live hope. Enough of racism.]” For now, I just want to convey that it happened, and happened in peace and providing some inspiration.

Indigenous, Feminist and Campesina Women March through Sucre

Dad makes the papers…

Frank JamesSo, my father has been spending a lot of the last five years remembering and retelling the story of his past, especially during World War II. The main result is a self-published memoir, Capers of a Medic, courtesy of some herculean typing and editing work by my mom. It’s been a real pleasure and an amazing gift to have access to this portion of his life. A couple weeks ago, he told his story in person to reporter who came by my parent’s house. The result appeared today in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer:

Many who fought and survived, in so many different ways, during World War II are gone now.

Some took their stories with them.

But not this one.

For every World War II GI who pulled a trigger, dropped a bomb or fired a shell, there were thousands of people making sure they could.

They were the support and supply troops who, as famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle noted, toiled “from day to day in a world full of insecurity, discomfort, homesickness and a dulled sense of danger.”

Among them were many of the 1 million black Americans who served during the war, including Frank James, 83, of Shaker Heights.

read more on Cleveland.com

Something you learn fast when you start to listen to black soldiers of this era, is the immensely two-sided nature of the war, the way they were forced to fight on two fronts at times, and to choke back their well-grounded outrage to racism at home at other times. There’s also a generational experience of being respected, through their ranks, through being seen as liberators, through encountering people not schooled in racism American-style, that a million black men, my father included, brought home. It stiffened his, and their, spine for the hard work ahead.

The book is available from me (for those who know me), or online at CapersofaMedic.com.

Haditha watch: Marines investigate their own atrocities

The morning of November 19, 2005, one Marine and 24 Iraqis were killed in the town of Haditha, in occupied Iraq.  Within hours, the Marines had claimed that the improvised explosive device that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had also killed 15 civilians, while eight “insurgents” were killed in self-defense.  This description was a lie.  None of the Iraqis, 19 of whom died in their homes, were killed by the roadside bomb.  Among the men, four were killed in a house, while five – three students, a friend and their taxi driver – were either ordered or dragged from their car before being shot on the street. A balanced investigation of the morning by the German magazine Der Spiegel is online, as is the collaborative Wikipedia article on the Haditha killings.

Largely because the bedrooms of the 15 women and children who were killed that morning were recorded on video, and because that video made it into the American press, the marines involved are now on trial. One of them has turned state’s evidence, testifying that that not only did he shoot civilians of the orders of a superior officer, but he then proceeded to desecrate their freshly killed bodies. Meanwhile, apartheid rules of evidence are governing both the trial and the American press coverage. Iraqi eyewitness testimony and the conclusions of the medical examiner are being essentially discounted as either pleas for compensation money, or subject to nationalist bias.  The Marines are being held to a standard based on rules of engagement, rather than morality or law. Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who “responded instinctively, assaulting into the room and emptying his pistol” into the house where four men were killed, was recommended for exoneration by the Marines on the grounds that,  “Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement.”

You can expect that the assumption that any Military Aged Male in Iraq is an insurgent (see Juan Cole on the Rules of Engagement) will be upheld, or at least that any marine testifies that he thought such a person was armed will be backed up. this is especially chilling given the story of the men in the taxi (quoting Der Spiegel):

They were driving eastward into the morning sun, and the driver was probably momentarily blinded by the glare. By the time they had registered the scene unfolding in front of them, it was too late. What they saw signaled imminent danger: a wrecked Humvee, clouds of smoke, soldiers with drawn weapons. Normally they would have turned around immediately. But the soldiers motioned for them to stop. Anyone who attempted to continue driving at that point would come under fire. Those are the rules in Injun Country.

The Iraqis stopped. The Marines approached, signaling to the driver to turn off the engine. The Iraqis got out of the car. Up until this point, the various pieces of testimony coincide. The men and the vehicle had to be searched for weapons and explosives. When no weapons were found, it was clear that the five men posed no immediate danger. They were told to sit down with their hands behind their heads.

At some point the five men were shot.

The “Rules of Engagement” permit any Marine to kill without warning in the event of danger. This is especially applicable when it comes to so-called MAMs, or Military Age Males. Who were these five men? Were they scouts who had been sent to investigate how successful the attack had been?

The Marines must have known how unlikely this was. Only one man, not five, would have been needed to survey the scene. He would have hidden first or would have come from the River Road, on a motorcycle.

Did the five men try to run away? That was the way the accused Marines described it. Possible, but also unlikely. Most of all, it is unlikely that all five Iraqis would have pursued the same suicidal impulse. Besides, the Marines could have shot the Iraqis in the legs to prevent them from running away. However one paints the scenario, the key issue is that the men were unarmed.

Can these men get justice? A recent Editor & Publisher apology to Sharatt makes MAM status into a full explanation:

Unlike Sharratt, who was accused of killing three men who were between the ages of 24 and 41, Tatum is accused of killing women and children as young as 4 years old and as elderly as 76 years old.

For his part, Tatum is arguing “women and children can hurt you, too.” To make the entire situation more bleak, the man with the final decision on prosecution is none other than Lt. Gen. James Mattis, infamous for the following quote:

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

Mattis has just pronounced Sharatt “innocent” and exonerated Capt. Randy Stone for failures in reporting the incident (more on those here).  On Stone, Mattis stated yesterday, “his attentiveness to training the Marines in the law of war and rules of engagement and willingness to share their hardship to better appreciate the challenges facing them are notable. By patrolling alongside the infantrymen in his Battalion, he helped them embrace the imperative of ethical behavior in combat.”