Truthout Stories Tue, 06 Oct 2015 10:47:59 -0400 en-gb Parenting on the Brink: Wrestling With Fears Too Big to Name

Madeline is in the swing, her face the picture of delight. "Mo, mo," she cries and kicks her legs to show me that she wants me to push her higher and faster. I push, and push, and push with both hands. There is no thought in my head except for her joy. I'm completely present in this moment. It's perfection. Madeline embodies the eternal now and she carries me with her, pulling me out of my worries and fears and plans.

But not forever: after a few minutes, my mind and eyes wander. I take in the whole busy playground, crowded with toddlers plunging headlong into adventure and their attendant adults shouting exhortations to be careful, offering snacks, or lost in the tiny offices they carry in their hands. It's a gorgeous day. Sunny and blue and not too hot, a hint of fall in the breeze. And then my eye is caught by a much younger mom across the playground trying to convince her toddler that it's time to go.

When Madeline graduates from high school, I will be 57. Jeez, I think, that mom will still be younger than I am now when her kid walks across that stage. If I live to be 85, Madeline will be 46 and maybe by then I'll have some grandkids.  In fact, I'm suddenly convinced of it.  Between Madeline and her three-year-old brother Seamus and their eight-year-old sister Rosena, I will definitely live to see grandkids.  I reassure myself for the millionth time that having kids in my late thirties was totally fine.

And then another thought comes to mind, the sort of thought that haunts the parents of this moment: When I'm 85, it will be 2059, and what will that look like? When my grandkids are my age now, it could be almost a new century. And what will our planet look like then? And I feel that little chill that must be increasingly commonplace among other parents of 2015.

And then I'm gone. You wouldn't know it to look at me.  After all, I'm still pushing the swing, still cooing and chatting with my buoyant 18-month-old daughter, but my mind is racing, my heart is pounding. This playground will not be here. This tranquil, stable, forever place wasn't built to last 100 years, not on a planet like this one at this moment anyway.

I look around and I know. None of this - the municipal complex, the school across the street, the supermarket up the road - is built for 100 years, especially not this hundred years. It won't last. And I can't imagine a better future version of this either. What comes to mind instead are apocalyptic images, cheesy ones cribbed from The Walking Dead, that zombie series on AMC; The Day After, a 1980s made-for-TV dramatization of a nuclear attack on the United States; Cormac McCarthy's haunting novel The Road; Brad Pitt's grim but ultimately hopeful World War Z; and The Water Knife, a novel set in the western United States in an almost waterless near future.

They all rush into my head and bump up against the grainy black-and-white documentary footage of Hiroshima in 1945 that I saw way too young and will never forget. This place, this playground, empty, rusted, submerged in water, burned beyond recognition, covered in vines, overrun by trees. Empty. Gone.

Then, of course, Madeline brings me back to our glorious present. She wants to get out of the swing and hit the slides. She's fearless, emphatic, and purposeful. She deserves a future.  Her small body goes up those steps and down the slide over and over and over again. And the rush of that slide is new every time. She shouts and laughs at the bottom and races to do it again. Now. Again. Now. This is reality. But my fears are real, too. The future is terrifying. To have a child is to plant a flag in the future and that is no small responsibility.

We Have Nothing to Fear but...

We mothers hear a lot these days about how to protect our children. We hear dos and don'ts from mommy magazines, from our own mothers, our pediatricians, each other, from lactation experts and the baby formula industry, from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, from Doctor Bob Sears, from sociologists and psychiatrists and child development specialists. We are afraid for our kids who need to be protected from a world of dangers, including strangers, bumblebees, and electrical outlets.

Such threats are discussed, dissected, and deconstructed constantly in the media and ever-newer ones are raised, fears you never even thought about until the nightly news or some other media outlet brought them up. But hanging over all these humdrum, everyday worries is a far bigger fear that we never talk about and that you won't read about in that mommy magazine or see in any advice column.  And yet, it's right there, staring us in the face every single day, constant, existential, too big to name.

We can't say it, but we are increasingly afraid of the future, of tomorrow, afraid for our children in ways that, in themselves, are frightening to bring up. It's as diffuse as "anything can happen" and as specific as we are running out of ______ [fill in the blank: clean water, fossil fuels, space for people, arable land, cheap food stuffs, you name it]. Even if the supply of whatever you chose to think about isn't yet dwindling in our world, you know that it will one of these days. Whatever it is, that necessity of everyday life will be gone (or too expensive for ordinary people) by ______ [2020, 2057, 2106].

It's paralyzing to look at Madeline and think such thoughts, to imagine an ever-hotter planet, ever-less comfortable as a home not just for that vague construct "humanity," but for my three very specific children, not to speak of those grandchildren of my dreams and fantasies.

It's something that's so natural to push away. Who wouldn't prefer not to think about it?  And at least here, in our world, on some level we can still do that.

For those of us who are white and western and relatively financially stable, it's still possible to believe we're insulated from disaster - or almost possible anyway. We can hold on to the comfort that our children are unlikely to be gunned down or beaten to death by police, for example. We can watch the news and feel sadness for the mass exodus out of Syria and all those who are dying along the way, but those feelings are tinged with relief in knowing that we will not be refugees ourselves.

But for how long? What if?

They say: enjoy your kids while they're young; pretty soon they'll be teenagers. Haha, right? Actually, I'm excited about each stage of my kids' lives, but Madeline won't be a teenager until 2027. According to climate scientists and environmentalists, that may already be "past the point of no return." If warming continues without a major shift, there will be no refreezing those melting ice shelves, no holding back the rising seas, no scrubbing smog-clogged air, no button we can press to bring water back to parched landscapes.

These are things I know. This is a future I, unfortunately, can imagine. These are the reasons I try to do all the right things: walk, eat mostly vegetarian, grow some of our own food, conserve, reuse, reduce, recycle. We had solar panels installed on our roof. We only have one car. We're trying, but I know just as well that such lifestyle choices can't turn this around.

It will take everyone doing such things - and far more than that. It will require governments to come to their senses and oil companies to restrain the urge to get every last drop of fossil fuel out of the ground.  It will take what Naomi Klein calls a "Marshall Plan for the Earth." In her groundbreaking and hopeful book, This Changes Everything, she writes,

"I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale [than the New Deal]. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up."

Which brings me to fear and how it paralyzes. I don't want to be paralyzed in the face of catastrophic climate change or any other looming calamity. I want to be motivated and spurred to action not by an apocalyptic vision of our local playground engulfed in flames or submerged under several feet of water, but by the potential for the brighter future than is surely within our grasp - within my grasp today and Madeline's in some future that she truly deserves. 

Preparing for the Unthinkable 

Growing up, I heard this a lot: "Don't be so First World, Frida."

That's what Phil Berrigan - former priest, brazenly nonviolent activist, tireless organizer for peace and justice - would tell me, his eldest daughter. If I was flippant or tweenish, that's what he would always say. "Don't be so First World." It was his rejoinder when I asked for spending money or permission to go to the movies. What he meant was: regulate your wants, consider others, be comfortable being alone, put yourself second, listen, be in solidarity, choose the harder path.

My father's admonishment sounds a discordant note amid today's morass of parenting messages with their emphasis on success and ease and happiness. But it prepared me for much of what I encountered along the road to adulthood and it resonates deeply as I parent three children whose futures I cannot imagine. Not really. Will they have clean water, a home, a democracy, a playground for their children? Will they be able to buy food - or even grow it? Will they be able to afford transportation? I don't know. 

What I can do is prepare them to distinguish needs from wants, to share generously and build community, to stand up for what they believe and not stand by while others are abused. When, as with Madeline at that playground, the unspoken overwhelms me, I wonder whether I shouldn't sooner or later start teaching them how the world works and basic skills that will serve them well in an uncertain future: what electricity is and how to start a fire, how to navigate by the stars, how to feed themselves by hunting and gathering, how to build a shelter or find and purify water, or construct a bicycle out of parts they come across on the road to perdition.

The only problem is that, like most of my peers and friends, I actually don't know how to do any of that (except maybe for the bicycle building), so I better get started. I should also be planting nut trees in our backyard and working for global nuclear disarmament. I can help New London (a water's edge community) be prepared and more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and be active in our local Green Party.

I know that there's no simple solution, no easy or individual fix to what's coming down the road. I know as well that there is no future except the one we are making right now, this second, again and again and again. And in our world, I call that hope, not despair. Perhaps you could just as easily call it folly.  Call it what you will.  I don't have a label for my parenting style. I'm not a helicopter mom or a tiger mom. But like a lot of other people right now, whether they know it or not, realize it or not, I am parenting on the brink of catastrophe. I'm terrified for my children, but I am not paralyzed and I know I am not alone, which makes me, despite everything, hopeful, not for myself, but for Madeline.

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Campus Carry ]]> Art Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Netflix's Offer of Paid Family Leave Reflects Larger Divide in Tech

In August, Netflix announced it would begin offering unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave to its employees during the first year of their new child's life. Within days of the announcement, the California-based tech company had become trumpeted as the new face of progressive employee benefits among private sector companies. The following day Microsoft announced its own maternity/paternity leave upgrade. (The company says the timing was pure coincidence and not at all related to Netflix's.)

But the web streaming giant failed to mention that this new and improved benefit only applies to salaried employees in its web-division and will not be enjoyed by the 450 waged employees who work in their mail order or customer service division, 261 of whom are part time or seasonal.

Netflix's new leave policy is the latest development in the private sector that illustrates the widening disparities in benefits, wages and standards of living between "elite" tech workers and low-wage service workers in this rapidly growing industry. This is especially evident on the West Coast, where the majority of tech companies and startups are located. Policies like this say to wage workers that though their labor is essential for generating profits, only their "elite" salaried colleagues—who aren't so easily replaced are deserving of decent benefits, conditions and pay.

Stanford University economics professor Paul Oyer agrees. He recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that "Netflix isn't doing this because they're nice guys. Netflix is giving this parental leave because they're in an incredibly competitive market for engineers and high-tech workers who have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a place to work. Hourly workers just aren't in that same kind of market. They can be replaced."

Netflix soon faced backlash from progressive and labor groups as well as their own employees—a number of whom allege they were not informed about the new policy and learned about it via social media. Days later, activist groups and non-profits like Working Families Party, UltraViolet, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Democracy for America, Make It Work and each launched petitions demanding that Netflix change its policy to include wage employees in its mail and customer service divisions.

Together the petitions garnered over 100,000 signatures over the course of about three weeks, and on September 1, disappointed Netflix customers joined members of this broad coalition to deliver the collected signatures to Netflix at their headquarters in Los Gatos, California. Netflix representatives refused to accept the collected signatures.

Netflix, however, is not unique in dividing its workforce along such lines. Tech companies like Amazon boast about offering luxurious amenities to their corporate office workers, yet a number of recent exposés and low-wage tech company worker organizing drives have highlighted the abuse and exploitation these workers are subject to.

Expanding and extending parental leave is also about figuring out how to recruit and retain more women workers. In that vain, Apple and Facebook have both recently introduced a new healthcare benefit which they would like to think helps solve that problem: pay for their female employees to cryogenically freeze their eggs in order to delay pregnancy. Last year, Apple said in a statement, "We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families."

This is certainly good news for women who are unsure whether they want to have children, though it's unclear how encouraging employees who want to have families to delay pregnancy is empowering. Postponing personal goals or plans in order to keep your opportunities for employment or career advancement from running dry the minute you decide to have a family benefits bosses more than workers. What is clear, however, is that these policies are reactions to what these companies see as a problem when it comes to recruiting and retaining female tech workers: their desire to have families.

Netflix's new extended maternity and paternity leave benefit will greatly improve the lives of what it considers its elite employees while reminding its waged customer service and warehouse workers that they're not worth living wages or decent benefits that would significantly improve their quality of life.

Wage workers like the 450 who will be denied unlimited maternity and paternity leave under Netflix's new employee benefits package are essential to the profit-generating process of these companies, but they're seen as replaceable components of their well-oiled machine rather than as human beings with familial aspirations and obligations. Until these decisions over benefits and wages are determined and enforced by federal law, workers will be at the mercy of their employers. That's a losing option for workers.

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Environmental Activists Continue to Face Interrogations at US-Canada Border

Three members of the radical environmental organization Deep Green Resistance and two other individuals were detained for more than seven hours at the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia on their way to Vancouver to attend a talk by author and activist Chris Hedges on Friday, September 25. They were questioned about the organizations they were involved in, their political affiliations, and their contacts in Canada before being turned away by Canadian border agents. Upon re-entering the United States they were then subjected to another round of questioning by US border agents. The car they were traveling in as well as their personal computers were searched.

The interrogation comes on the heels of an FBI inquiry into Deep Green Resistance last fall in which more than a dozen members of the group were contacted and questioned by FBI agents. Several months later the group's lawyer, Larry Hildes, was stopped at the same border crossing and asked specifically about one of his clients, Deanna Meyer, also a Deep Green Resistance member. During the 2014 visits, FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents showed up at members' places of work, their homes, and contacted family members to find out more about the group. Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent if she'd be interested in "forming a liaison." The agent told her he wanted to, "head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know." Two of the members detained at the border on Friday were also contacted by the FBI last fall.

Since Hildes was last held up at the Peace Arch border crossing in June he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. In August he received a letter from the DHS saying the agency "can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information."

It's not only Deep Green Resistance members who have had trouble getting across the border. Environmental activists who were part of a campaign in Texas opposing  the Keystone XL pipeline were the targets of an FBI investigation in 2012 and 2013 and have also been denied entry into Canada. At least one of those activists, Bradley Stroot, has been placed on a selective screening watchlist for domestic flights.

Nearly all of the activists involved are US citizens who have not had issues traveling to Canada in the past, leading them to believe that the recent FBI investigation and interest in their activities has landed them on some kind of federal watchlist. According to Peter Edelman, an immigration attorney in Vancouver, there are three broad categories under which Canadian border agents may deny entry to a foreign national: If they suspect you are entering Canada to work or study or you clearly don't have the financial resources needed for the duration of the visit; if you pose a security threat to Canada or are a member of a terrorist or criminal organization; or if you've committed certain crimes. Edelman says that US citizens tend to get targeted more easily at the Canadian border because of the various information- sharing programs between the two countries. As soon as they scan your passport, border agents have access to a whole host of state and federal databases. Still, Edelman says, "Who gets targeted and who doesn't is definitely an exercise in profiling."

On Friday, September 25 Deep Green Resistance members Max Wilbert, Dillon Thomson, Rachel Ivey and two other individuals not affiliated with the group drove from Eugene, Oregon to attend the talk by Hedges, which was a collaboration with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter and the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. They got to the border around 1 p.m., told the border agents where they were going, and that they'd be returning to Oregon the next day. They were then asked to exit their vehicle and enter the border control facility, where they assumed they would be held briefly before continuing on their way.

Instead, they ended up spending four hours on the Canadian side, each questioned separately. At one point, an agent came into the building carrying Wilbert's computer and notebooks. He asked the agent what they were doing with the computer and was told they were searching for "child pornography and evidence that you're intending to work in Canada." The agent also said they were "not going to add or remove anything."

According to Edelman the searching of computers and cell phones at the border has become standard procedure despite the fact that there are questions about whether a border search allows for such invasive measures. Border agents take the view that they are permitted to do so, but the legal picture remains murky. "The searching of computers is an issue of contention," Edelman says.

After four hours of questioning, all but one of the travelers were told that they would not be allowed to enter Canada. Wilbert, who grew up in Seattle and has traveled to Canada many times without incident, including as recently as January 2015, was told that they were suspicious he was entering the country to work illegally. A professional photographer, he had volunteered to take pictures of the event, which he had openly told the agents. "It was pretty obvious they were grasping for straws," Wilbert says. "Under that level of suspicion you wouldn't let anybody into Canada."

The other three individuals were told they had been denied entry for previous political protest-related arrests. Rachel Ivey, a Deep Green Resistance member arrested in 2012 during a protest near the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, had traveled to Canada in December 2014 without any problems. The one individual allowed entry had no prior arrest record or explicit affiliation with any political groups. (Interestingly, several Deep Green Resistance members traveling separately, including one of the group's founders, Lierre Keith, were allowed to pass through the border and attend the event.)

After being denied entry to Canada, the group turned around and attempted to reenter the United States, at which point they were again pulled aside and told by US border agents to exit their car. The group was then subjected to a similar round of questioning that lasted three and a half hours. This time, US agents took three computers from the vehicle into the border control facility and kept them for the duration of the interrogation.

According to Wilbert, the questions on the American side were more obviously political. Agents wanted to know the names of the groups they were involved in, what kinds of activities they engage in, what they believe in, and who they were going to see.

"It seemed very clear on the US side that they had already come to conclusions about who we are and what we were doing," Ivey says.

Around 8:30 p.m. they were told they could leave and that it had been nothing more than a routine inspection.

Wilbert doesn't see it that way. Two days later he got a new computer and says he plans to get rid of the one seized by border agents. Despite assurances from the border officials that nothing was "added or removed" he says, "We feel like everything we do on those computers will never be private."

"It was pretty clear to us that it was an information gathering excursion," says Wilbert. "They had an opportunity to harass and intimidate and gather information from activists who they find threatening."

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Military Changes Its Account of Afghanistan Hospital Bombing

Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S. military on Monday changed its account of a devastating bombing in northern Afghanistan, saying that Afghan forces, not U.S. advisers, initiated a request for an American airstrike that killed 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

It was the first time the U.S. military acknowledged that its airstrike hit the hospital, but the disclosure only deepened the questions surrounding what has become one of the most controversial civilian casualty incidents in nearly 14 years of American combat in Afghanistan.

It remained unclear what role, if any, was played by U.S. special forces on the ground, whether Taliban fighters were in or near the hospital, what kind of training the Afghan forces had undergone to learn the rules of engagement, and why the United States would carry out an attack on a medical facility, which ordinarily would be clearly marked.

Doctors Without Borders says it gave NATO forces the GPS coordinates for the hospital both before and during the attack.

Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, called a news conference at the Pentagon to revise earlier statements that the airstrike was carried out on behalf of American military personnel who were under fire from Taliban insurgents early Saturday in the city of Kunduz.

"We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck."

Pressed repeatedly about the role U.S. forces played, Campbell said Afghan forces "asked for air support from a special forces team that we have on the ground," but that the U.S. team had not been under fire.

American warplanes and ground forces, including an undisclosed number of special operations troops, have been assisting in the Afghan operation to retake Kunduz after it fell to the Taliban last week. Residents said Monday that government forces had nearly regained total control of the city of 300,000 and that many people were venturing outside for the first time since fighting began.

The U.S. military has offered few details of the hostilities that prompted the Saturday airstrike. Officials have said American troops were advising the Afghans who requested the airstrike, but it remained unclear how close they were to the firefight.

Doctors Without Borders - the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical charity that operates hospitals in poor and strife-torn countries worldwide - accused the U.S. of changing its story and "attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government." The group closed the Kunduz hospital Sunday and has called for an independent investigation into the incident.

"The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs," said Christopher Stokes, general director of the group that is also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF.

"The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The U.S. military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack."

The bombing has refocused attention on the rules of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which in January was downsized to 9,800 troops focused on training and advising Afghan forces. The U.S. military has sharply curtailed its use of airstrikes, although officials say they can still be authorized in some cases to protect Afghan forces, which lack capable air power.

An Afghan request for an airstrike must be approved by the U.S. and is coordinated by an officer known as a joint terminal attack controller, who is trained in calling in close air support from attack aircraft.

Afghan military officials say American air power has been decisive in several battles over the last year against a resurgent Taliban, but the U.S. has tried to limit its role. Through August, the U.S. had launched 523 airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2015, one-third as many as in the same period last year.

"Just because the Afghan security forces ask, doesn't mean that they receive" an airstrike, said a U.S. military official in Afghanistan, who wasn't authorized to speak on the matter.

It remained unclear whether the coordinates in the Kunduz strike - which was carried out by an AC-130, a heavily armed aircraft that fires rounds powerful enough to rip apart tanks - were mistaken or if the precise location of the hospital was unknown. MSF says it notified officials in Washington and Kabul repeatedly of the GPS coordinates of the facility, as is standard practice in conflict zones.

Initial statements from U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said the hospital suffered "collateral damage," indicating it wasn't the target of the strikes. But MSF says it contacted military officials after the bombing began around 2:08 a.m., and airstrikes continued for more than one hour, precisely striking the hospital's main building roughly every 15 minutes, "while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched."

U.S. and Afghan officials say that Taliban militants were using the area near the hospital to launch attacks against their forces - an assertion that could not be independently verified. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said over the weekend that the hospital area had seen "intense fighting."

Militant groups such as Hamas, in the Gaza strip, have been accused of using hospitals and other civilian structures as human shields. Afghan insurgents in recent years have increasingly attacked civilian targets, including schools and hotels in Kabul and other cities, resulting in thousands of casualties.

"The United States military takes extraordinary steps to avoid harm to civilians," Campbell said. "However, the Taliban have purposefully chosen a fight from within a heavily urbanized area, purposely placing civilians in harm's way."

The MSF hospital in Kunduz had previously come under scrutiny by Afghan forces because of the organization's policy of treating all patients regardless of political affiliation. In July, Afghan commandos raided the facility, reportedly on suspicion that an al-Qaida suspect was being treated there, causing the group to briefly close the hospital to new patients.

Immediately after the bombing Saturday, a Taliban spokesman issued a vague statement saying none of its fighters was being treated at the MSF hospital "because the prevailing military situation of Kunduz would not allow us to admit our patients."

The statement did not answer allegations that Taliban fighters were launching attacks from near the facility. But MSF has distributed accounts from hospital staff members that cast doubt on claims that there were hostilities in the area immediately prior to the bombing - including one from a nurse who said he was sleeping when the airstrike began.

"Over the past week, we'd heard bombings and explosions before, but always farther away," said the nurse, Lajos Zoltan Jecs.

MSF said the "constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts" underlined the need for an independent probe. Campbell said three investigations - one by the Pentagon, another involving the U.S. and Afghan governments and a third by NATO - are examining the incident.

U.S. defense officials say the investigations are centered on whether the U.S. military knew the hospital was nearby when the airstrike was launched and whether the facility was being used by the Taliban to launch attacks.

Carter, in Madrid as part of a five-day trip through Europe, said that as of Sunday neither U.S. nor Afghan forces had been able to reach the hospital because it was in an embattled area.

For the Pentagon, the incident has been a bleak rerun of previous incidents in Afghanistan when U.S. warplanes hit wedding parties and other civilian gatherings, prompting outrage from former President Hamid Karzai. According to the United Nations, more than 1,700 Afghan civilians have been killed by airstrikes since 2007, the vast majority of which were likely from U.S. forces, which dominate the air war in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz operation has served as a reminder that U.S. combat in Afghanistan is not over, despite the Obama administration's efforts to bring the war to an end.

"Afghanistan remains an area of active hostilities, and our personnel continue to operate in harm's way," Campbell said. "Therefore, they retain the inherent right of self-defense."

In Kunduz, life slowly began to return to normal Monday, with shops reopening in the morning and vehicle, bicycle and foot traffic returning to the city.

"Today the situation in Kunduz is good," Qasim Jangal Bagh, the provincial police chief, told reporters. "People are walking around and returning to their routines."

Special correspondent Latifi reported from Kabul, and Times staff writers Bengali from Mumbai, India, and Hennigan from Madrid.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Solar Power Boom in India: Will It Reach the People Who Need It Most?

The sun is shining on India, and India is poised to take advantage of it, with massive investments in solar energy facilities to help meet the needs of a population that is expected to grow to make it the planet's most populous nation by 2022. But will the power go to the people who need it most?

With its large land mass and tropical location, many experts consider the country particularly suitable for solar power. In fact, a recent study by Deloitte and the Confederation of Indian Industry estimated India's solar power potential at 749 gigawatts - nearly three times the country's entire installed electrical capacity in 2012 - and reported that not even 1 percent of this potential is currently tapped.

The Indian government is making aggressive moves to accelerate the country's solar energy supply. According to Bridge to India, a Delhi-based solar energy firm, India's solar industry is expected to grow 250 percent this year, putting the country on track to become one of the top five solar countries globally. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has just approved a plan to develop 50 solar cities. The world's first airport that runs entirely on solar power was recently built in the southwestern Indian state of Cochin. And India is soon to have the world's largest solar power station. Describing solar energy as the "ultimate solution," Modi pledged to give all Indians access to electricity and called on the country's scientists to develop more efficient solar energy equipment.

"Solar power is India's opportunity of a lifetime. It has the power to address not only India's development problems, but it could also be a game changer for global climate change," says Tobias Engelmeier, director of Bridge to India. "Reaching a capacity of 100 gigawatts in 15 years is realistic," he says.

According to the Delhi-based think tank The Energy and Resources Institute, 300 million people in India have no access to electricity. Solar power could make it easier for schoolchildren to do homework after dark, help residents connect to the world through mobile phones and more. However, Engelmeier says, it will be a challenge for solar power to filter to the urban poor.

"Decisions regarding the solar power investments are very politically driven and erratic," Engelmeier says. "Even those who have access to electricity in cities regularly suffer from power cuts. Especially without centralized power systems and with the unpredictable nature of politics, it's difficult to anticipate what will happen."

That said, many initiatives intend to make India's urban poor benefit from the solar power boom. Through the project "Lighting a Billion Lives," The Energy and Resources Institute has already illuminated more than half a million households not just in India, but also in 11 other developing countries. Similarly, the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund provides financial, technical and business support to small enterprises that provide solar infrastructure. Established in 2012, the Australia- and India-based social business Pollinate Energy has sold micro solar grids in more than 1,000 communities.

"It will be the [non-profit] sector and the individuals from communities who will leverage the solar power boom to slums," says Katerina Kimmorley, founding director of Pollinate Energy.

However, even at subsidized rates offered by social businesses such as Pollinate Energy, a solar power unit costs Rs. 5500 (US$83) whereas a daily wage of a construction worker can be as low as Rs. 200 (US$3). Many urban dwellers work in volatile sectors such as construction, where jobs are cut during the rainy season, which means many households would likely find it difficult to afford such solutions.

Not only that, but electricity is not the energy upgrade India's poorest residents need most. By far the greatest use of energy in slums is for cooking food and sterilizing water - a need currently met by biomass fuels, which pollute the air and cause health problems, and which cannot easily be met by micro solar photovoltaics because of the relatively small amount of electricity they produce. Nevertheless, micro solar grids can benefit households to a certain degree, especially when it comes to satisfying smaller everyday needs such as illuminating houses and charging mobile phones.

There's little doubt that it will take many years, if not decades, for consumer demand and rising market competition to make solar power affordable enough for all. However, with the right steps, policies and the heavy involvement of the nonprofit sector, solar may indeed play an important role in helping India's 300 million current power-less people gain access to electricity.View Ensia homepage

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Republican Legislators Coming for Universities After Planned Parenthood

Members of the United States Congress are currently using a heavily edited and misleading video as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood. Now, Republican legislators at the state level are also jumping on the bandwagon. Rather than targeting Planned Parenthood, however, they're targeting the university labs that use fetal tissue in their research.

According to Politico, since the Planned Parenthood debacle reignited this summer, eight states have advanced bills that would either defund labs that conduct research with fetal tissue or ban the practice altogether.

It's weird to see fetal tissue legislation reemerge now. Though similar laws were passed decades ago, many were subsequently struck down after challenges in court. As we've seen a lot lately, though, Republicans aren't afraid to take stands on issues that will appeal to their base that judges might later deem unconstitutional.

For example, Wisconsin State Representative Andre Jacque has already tried twice to introduce bills that ban fetal tissue research, to no success. Now that fetal tissue is the topic du jour, however, Jacque's conservative peers are throwing their support behind his latest attempt. He expects to have enough votes to pass the bill in Wisconsin before the end of the month.

It'll be a shame if it does pass since fetal tissue is on the forefront of all sorts of medical research. As NPR reports, labs are currently using fetal tissue to find cures and treatments for AIDS, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, schizophrenia, blindness and various birth defects. Moreover, because fetal tissue is "versatile" and has a longer shelf life, it has a greater use in labs than adult tissue does.

Singling out research is a roundabout way to attack abortion. By the legislators' own admission, these bills would do nothing to decrease the number of abortions performed. It's hard to imagine many women opting to carry a fetus to term after discovering the tissue wouldn't be used for research. Still, it's a way for lawmakers to take a stand on something related to abortion that will appeal to the anti-choice crowd.

Many scientists have intentionally stayed out of the attack on Planned Parenthood, afraid that speaking up would put funding for their own research at risk. Now state legislators are dragging them into the battle anyway. If these laws are passed, it is likely that a lot of important university research will be halted.

"This is a debate about abortion, not fetal tissue research," said Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin. "That's just an excuse. If you were to show pictures of cadavers – of what we do when we take out their bones, take out their organs, it would be equally hard. These images are just hard."

At this point, the war on science and the war on women are interlocked. If conservative politicians cannot outlaw abortion directly, they're content to shut down anything they can that's tangentially related to the practice. Unfortunately, we'll all be worse off if laboratories conducting this research are no longer permitted to conduct their experiments.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Congress Lets Sun Set on Land and Water Conservation Fund

Stewart Udall, then Secretary of the Interior, and Lady Bird Johnson in Grand Teton National Park, in 1964, the year before the Land and Water Conservation Fund was created. The LWCF later paid for acquiring inholdings within the park.Stewart Udall, then Secretary of the Interior, and Lady Bird Johnson in Grand Teton National Park, in 1964, the year before the Land and Water Conservation Fund was created. The LWCF later paid for acquiring inholdings within the park. (Photo: Robert Knudsen / LBJ Photo Archive)This story was originally published on October 1, 2015, at High Country News (

In July, Montanans celebrated the addition of 8,200 acres, known as Tenderfoot Creek, to the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Most of the $10.7 million cost was paid for by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses oil and gas royalties for conservation and recreation projects.

But last month, the 50-year-old fund, widely viewed as one of the nation's most popular and most successful land conservation programs, was allowed to expire completely. Despite broad bipartisan support, and despite a deadline that was no surprise to anyone, Congress failed to take action to reauthorize it. That means that offshore oil and gas producers will no longer be paying into the chest that funds the program - and now that the funding connection has been broken, reinstating it will be very difficult, especially given the tone of this Congress. Instead, lawmakers will be dickering over how to divvy up former LWCF appropriations, which will now be going into the general treasury.

Earlier this summer, dozens of representatives on both sides of the aisle had signed a letter in support of the perpetually underfunded program, which has conserved more than seven million acres so far. LWCF purchases wildlife habitat, buys private inholdings within wildernesses and national parks, preserves cultural heritage sites, provides public access for fishing and hunting, and pays for urban parks, playgrounds and ballfields. (The Center for Western Priorities created an interactive map showing how LWCF has made national parks whole by paying to buy inholdings from private landowners.) And if put to a straight-up vote, reauthorization would pass both the House and Senate with bipartisan majorities.

But action on LWCF was derailed by far-right opposition, led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, House Natural Resources chairman, reflecting the anti-public-land and anti-federal sentiments afoot in some quarters of the West. Bishop is floating his own reforms to the program, which include redirecting most of the money to state and local projects (in the 1970s, Congress removed a requirement that states get 60 percent of LWCF funding).

The sunsetting of the LWCF was greeted with dismay by conservationists and by many of the legislators from both parties who have long supported it, including Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zink of Montana. At a breakfast organized by the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in support of LWCF, Daines said, "I personally don't think Rob (Bishop')s view, and others have said this, necessarily reflects probably where most of the conference is now."

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona had some scathing words for the House in a statement: "You can see just how extreme some House Republicans really are when a popular conservation program with a spotless, fifty-year history of bipartisan reauthorization expires thanks to their partisan games. They can't pass a highway bill, they can't fund the government, they're still struggling with a defense bill, and now they insist that LWCF funding has to stop."

Congress is authorized to allocate up to $900 million annually to LWCF, not from taxpayers' dollars but from royalties paid by energy companies drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. It rarely gives the fund anywhere close to that, though, and in recent years has sent about two-thirds of the allocation to the general treasury. As a result, the program has accumulated a $20 billion IOU, which Rep. Bishop cites as a reason not to continue funding it. But that money isn't just lying around waiting to be spent, explains Mary Hollow, executive director of Montana-based Prickly Pear Land Trust, in the Helena Independent Record: "This is a paper account with nothing in it - there are only cobwebs," she said. "The $20 billion has already been spent - diverted to fund other things … it's inaccurate and unrealistic to think that if LWCF expires and we lose our authorization and revenue source that it would be business as usual."

So what's likely to happen next? "This is a sad day for everyone who cares about our national parks and outdoor conservation, recreation and wildlife.  Congress has broken an enduring promise to the American people," said Alan Rowsome, senior director at the Wilderness Society and co-chair of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, in a statement. But the coalition, the outdoor recreation industry, other conservation groups, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers aren't just  mourning the program's loss - they'll be kicking efforts into high gear to get the LWCF reauthorized as quickly as possible.

And Congressional supporters are looking for those opportunities. Sen. Daines told the breakfast meeting that reauthorization has "a higher probability if we attach it to another piece of legislation," so they'll be looking for some piece of must-pass legislation before the end of the year, like the omnibus spending bill or a highway and transportation bill. He and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, have also cosponsored legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, that permanently reauthorizes the program, and Tester cosponsored a bill that goes farther, locking in the full appropriation of $900 million so it can't be siphoned off for other uses.

Tenderfoot Creek on the Lewis and Clark National Forest, approx. 8,000 acres purchased this summer with primarily LWCF dollars and some non-federal funds. (Photo: US Forest Service)Tenderfoot Creek on the Lewis and Clark National Forest, approx. 8,000 acres purchased this summer with primarily LWCF dollars and some non-federal funds. (Photo: US Forest Service)

Sen. Grijalva and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick co-sponsored a permanent reauthorization bill as well. When introducing it, Grijalva said, "Drawing out the uncertainty over the program's funding every few years serves no one, especially when our constituents so strongly believe in the LWCF's mission and value to the country. We should make it permanent, avoid prolonged budget battles and get back to the business of protecting our natural spaces. Anything less is a disservice to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and the generations of Americans who gave us the many beautiful American landscapes we enjoy today."

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Democracy No Longer Matters in the EU": Dimitri Lascaris Analyzes the Greek Election Results

Political analyst and journalist Dimitri Lascaris has closely monitored developments in Greece during the economic crisis. In this interview, he discusses the Greek election results, voter behavior and why the breakaway Popular Unity Party failed to enter parliament.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras giving his last public speech before the Greek elections, Athens, Greece, Sept. 18.Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras giving his last public speech before the Greek elections, Athens, Greece, September 18. (Photo: Bill Anastasiou /

On September 20, amid record-high abstention, early Greek parliamentary elections were held, bringing Syriza and Alexis Tsipras back to power in a new coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks Party (ANEL). Despite the collapse of the previous Syriza-led coalition government over the summer following its betrayal of the overwhelming referendum result, which rejected further troika-imposed austerity, Syriza managed to emerge victorious with barely a decline in its electoral share, albeit with a much smaller pool of voters casting ballots in these snap elections.

What does this electoral result mean for Greece though, and does this re-elected government have staying power? Political analyst and journalist Dimitri Lascaris of The Real News Network, who has closely monitored the political developments in Greece during the crisis, shares his insights into the election results, voter behavior, the failure of the breakaway Popular Unity Party to enter parliament, and the likelihood of this new government remaining in place for more than a few months. Additionally, he discusses his own candidacy in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections as a member of the Green Party and draws some parallels between the political situations in Greece and Canada.

Michael Nevradakis: After a tumultuous political summer in Greece, during which we saw the Syriza-led government turn its back on the referendum result of July 5, where Greek voters resoundingly rejected austerity, we saw those same Greek voters bring Syriza back to power, with barely a decline in its share of the vote compared to January's elections. Are you surprised by this result?

Dimitri Lascaris: I am surprised that they didn't suffer more losses in terms of the popular vote. However, I am not surprised, given the sad state of the Greek political landscape, that they emerged as the party with the most votes. The options, frankly, were not particularly attractive, and the one that I think was most disappointing from my perspective - I would have hoped that it would have performed better - was Popular Unity. Not because Popular Unity is necessarily ready to take power - it was a party that was remarkably formed just shortly after the election was called - and I've never, in my experience, seen a party perform well after it comes into existence following the calling of an election. Parties need to have organizational infrastructure in place; they need to have funding in place; they need time in order to contend, and Popular Unity had none of that. So it's not surprising they didn't have a dominant share, but I would have thought at least they could have exceeded the 3 percent threshold.

"It's not at all surprising that you would see a record-low turnout after the democratic choice of the Greek people was completely squashed."

This may have something to do with their choice of leader. I don't know if an alternative was available to them or not, but I think if they had put someone like Zoe Konstantopoulou in the leadership position, they would have almost certainly performed better. I think she has proven herself to be a person, certainly by the standards of the Greek Parliament, of incredible integrity and conviction. She seems to command a great deal of respect amongst the Greek electorate, and she would have constituted a break with the male-dominated past of Greek politics, and so perhaps that would have helped them get over the threshold and garner a larger share of the vote. But at the end of the day, there was no party that I think was really well positioned, that had the infrastructure in place to challenge Syriza in the sorry landscape of Greek politics.

What other factors do you believe may account for the electoral failure of Popular Unity?

As I understand it, there was a failure, to some degree at least, of the anti-austerity forces of the left to unite. My understanding is that there was some movement from the anti-capitalist front Antarsya to Popular Unity, but there wasn't a complete union of those political forces, and of course you have KKE (Communist Party of Greece) remaining aloof of the attempts to unify the anti-austerity left. I think if there had been a true united political front put up, then there undoubtedly would have been a much better performance by the true anti-austerity forces in Greece, and I certainly don't count Syriza, as it's currently constituted, as part of that movement. So I think that had something to do with it.

One of the big stories coming out of this election is the very high abstention level, the highest in Greece in almost 70 years. What do you make of this? Do you believe that those eligible voters who did not participate in the elections were attempting to send their own message to the political system?

Certainly some of them were probably of that mind. Others may have just given up, frankly. If anything has been learned over the last eight or nine months since the election of Syriza, it's that democracy doesn't matter anymore in the European Union, particularly if you are a voter in one of the so-called "peripheral countries" like Greece, which has very little influence within the EU.

It's not at all surprising that you would see a record-low turnout after the democratic choice of the Greek people was completely squashed. There was a resounding and historic vote in excess of 60 percent in the face of intense pressure to reject the so-called "bailout" that was on the table in early July, and what did the Greek people end up with? They ended up with something worse than what they rejected, and I think it's actually worse by a wide margin. In those circumstances, why would anyone have any confidence in the democratic process in Greece?

At the end of the day, what we get is that Alexis Tsipras attained the vote of 20 percent of eligible voters. So if he thinks he has some kind of resounding mandate to now proceed with this inhumane austerity program, I think frankly the man lives on another planet.

What type of government do you believe will be formed in Greece in the aftermath of the election, and how long do you believe this new coalition will last?

Well, it appears that the prior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), will again be the coalition partner of Syriza in the new government. You know, if we weren't dealing with an agreement - a so-called "bailout" agreement that is going to have devastating effects on an already ravished Greek economy - I would say that this coalition would have some prospect of lasting for several years. But the reality is quite different. The slashing; the further reduction in pension benefits; the primary surplus targets which are simply and irrationally aggressive; the additional taxes, consumption taxes and income taxes that are being imposed upon the population; the privatization program, which is going to result in a fire sale of key Greek assets; all of these things are going to exacerbate the economic difficulties in Greece. It's already dealing with Depression-era levels of unemployment, and in my view, there is no realistic prospect whatsoever of Greece obtaining the debt relief that it requires in order for its debt to become sustainable.

"The eurozone has austerity baked into its DNA."

The German government has been quite clear that a write-down is out of the question, and officials even said that there may be some minor tweaking of the interest rates, which is possible, but they really don't have any appetite for that. All they're really talking about doing is extending the maturities on Greek debt, and that is going to be a very marginal benefit to the Greek people because, as I understand it, the next debt principal payment dates are in 2022. So if you extend out the maturities modestly, which is what the German government is talking about doing, it's going to be of no significant benefit to the government fiscally for the next six years, and when a country is in a depression, that's an eternity, six years. And certainly this government has no prospect of lasting six years.

So what we're going to find, very soon, is the Greek debt drama will again resurface; it will again become apparent, no matter what modest debt relief is afforded to Greece, that that debt is unsustainable, and it's wildly unsustainable. That this program that's being imposed on the Greek people has no prospect of lifting Greece out of its depression and will, in fact, exacerbate it, and when all of that becomes readily apparent, as it soon will, we are going to find ourselves again in a world of immense political instability in Greece and that government will fall. And at that point, all bets are off as to what could happen.

Many of us have feared that the extreme right will eventually become a much more potent political force. It's already a force that has a frightening level of support amongst the population, at around 7 percent. It's now the third party in parliament. That's really a raging indictment against the European Union, that a vehemently neo-Nazi party could command that level of support in a country in the EU. So, what happens when that government falls, as it will in I think a reasonably short order, is really uncertain and could cause us all to rue the day that the European Union was created.

How can the Greek people and the anti-memorandum forces in Greece mobilize and regroup and gain a stronger foothold in the Greek political landscape, especially if the current government doesn't last very long?

I think the forces of the left have to demonstrate themselves capable of significantly improving the day-to-day lives of the people, and through cooperative networks, [and] grassroots efforts, it's possible to inspire a greater level of confidence amongst the Greek electorate. But the sad reality is, in the current environment, it's very, very difficult for any political force in Greece to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the Greek people. There has to be, ultimately, either a withdrawal from the eurozone, which itself invites quite significant risks and many would say potentially catastrophic risks for the Greek economy, or there has to be a wholesale change in the architecture of the eurozone.

Right now, the eurozone has austerity baked into its DNA, and it's dominated by political forces that are absolutely determined, in the face of a mountain of economic evidence to the contrary, to pursue austerity throughout the EU and to continue to weaken the rights of workers, [and] to continue to favor large business interests over the population. As long as that is the political landscape in the eurozone, and as long as Greece remains within the eurozone, any political force in Greece, however well intentioned it is, is going to be extremely limited in what it can do.

You are a candidate in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections with the Green Party. Share with us a few words about your campaign.

To give you some context, the Green Party in Canada currently commands a little less than 5 percent of the popular vote. The party in power, the Conservative Party of Canada, is without a doubt, the most neoliberal, right-wing government that this country has ever seen, and certainly that it has seen in the post-World War II period. The government that's currently in power seems to have one overarching objective, and that is to convert Canada into a petrostate superpower, and for that purpose has bended or altered the laws to favor the tar sands industry, which is concentrated in the province of Alberta. That party has, through the pursuit of these policies, earned a very high level of opposition and hostility from the vast majority of the electorate. It's currently commanding about 30 percent of popular support.

The problem is that the other political forces are divided. It's not dissimilar to what you see in Greece, although the level of division is not quite as acute as it is in Greece. There are three significant parties opposing the Conservative government. The first is the Liberal Party; the second is the New Democratic Party (NDP), which historically has been the social democratic force in Canadian politics; and then there's the Green Party. I chose the Green Party for one simple reason, and that is - those two parties, the Liberals and the NDP - have become the parties of the status quo. This country faces quite severe problems, and at the very top of the list is climate change. We all face that problem, and there is absolutely no appetite in the leadership of the NDP or the Liberals to confront that problem; they in fact are openly advocating for an expansion of the tar sands. They favor, to varying degrees, the construction of pipeline infrastructure that would facilitate the expansion of the tar sands.

There's a very telling and sad development in Canadian politics: The NDP threw one of its star candidates, Linda McQuaig, based in Canada's largest city, Toronto, under the bus a month ago because she had the courage to state a simple scientific fact, which is that in order for us to avoid catastrophic climate change, we're going to have to leave the majority of the oil underground. I mean, this is just science; this is not a political judgment. When she said this, the leadership rushed to the microphones because she came under fierce attack from the right, and said that's not part of the NDP platform. So here you have Canada's so-called social democratic party saying that science is not part of its platform, and basic humanity is not part of its platform, because the consequence of it rejecting the science will be a disaster for humanity.

Quite apart from that, the NDP, under a gentleman by the name of Tom Mulcair, has begun to look increasingly like the current government. The NDP favors, for example, democracy-destroying trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and there's a similar agreement under negotiation with Europe in fact, the Canada-European trade agreement. These agreements contain investor-state dispute resolution provisions that will effectively give multinational corporations the ability to obtain huge judgments, potentially multibillion-dollar judgments against Canada, when it adopts legislation that's economically and environmentally beneficial for the citizens.

And the people who are going to be deciding whether these judgments ought to be rendered against the Canadian government are going to be corporate lawyers, the very people who are enriched by the activities of the multinationals, who will be suing the government of Canada in the future. So these provisions - these investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms - are horrible for our democracy, are fundamentally antithetical to the principles of social democracy, and when we have the leader of the so-called social democratic party, Tom Mulcair, saying publicly a few weeks ago that his party now enthusiastically supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, in fact, it supported a recent agreement between South Korea and Canada, which contained essentially the same type of provisions.

So, what we have here is similar to what we are seeing in Greece, a wasteland in the political scene, and there's only one party that is truly offering transformative change, and that's the Green Party, and that's why I've decided to run for them. Of course, we don't have the advantages of the money, the financial support that the other parties receive, particularly the conservatives, and we don't have the benefit of media sympathy. Like Europe and like the United States, Canada has a high level of corporate concentration in the media. The people who run the media here frankly have an agenda, in my view, that is inconsistent with the objectives of the Green Party, and so we're constantly having to battle against those forces and our leader, who has been given one opportunity in this election to debate the other leaders, and who I think was universally or almost universally viewed as having been the winner of that debate, has been shut out of subsequent debates by various shenanigans, by the media and the main political parties. Her name is Elizabeth May, [and] she's widely admired across the political spectrum in Canada, but she can't get in front of the microphone nearly often enough in order to convey to the electorate what the party has to offer and why we are the party the people of Canada should support in order to save the future of our children.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Indigenous Communities Seek Autonomous Development Projects in Guatemala

Mega hydroelectric projects threaten to displace Indigenous communities in Guatemala, and are often accompanied by violent state repression. However, Indigenous peoples are seeking alternative forms of development that allow them to stay on their land and use their resources as they see fit.

4th Meeting of Latin America Network Against Dams and For Rivers held in Colonia el Naranjo, Guatemala in October 2005. 4th Meeting of Latin America Network Against Dams and For Rivers held in Colonia el Naranjo, Guatemala in October 2005. (Photo: Glen Switkes / International Rivers)

As Guatemala faces its greatest political crisis since the 1980s, behind the scenes, plans for the United States' Alliance for Prosperity continue to move along. The plan, which was modeled after Plan Colombia, would provide the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - the "northern triangle" of Central America - with an additional $1 billion aid package, on top of existing aid plans, to spur further investment in the region. The expansion of hydroelectric construction projects and the further integration of electric grids are central to the plan, yet these projects threaten indigenous communities' land rights.

Hydroelectric dams have been presented as renewable, "green" sources of energy, with little to no impact on the environment. But environmental impact reports consistently overlook the deep social and cultural effects of the projects, especially for indigenous Mayan communities.

According to a 2012 report by the Guatemalan Wholesale Market Administration, Guatemala produces 2.3 gigawatts of energy every year, but consumes only 1.8 gigawatts. The remainder is exported through SIEPAC, a regional energy transportation network that sends power to other Central American countries, Mexico and - reportedly - the United States. Yet despite this energy surplus, many regions across Guatemala still lack access to electricity or any other social services.

Guatemala's hydroelectric industry has expanded rapidly in the last six years, and it is still growing, with more than 300 hydroelectric projects in progress. In the past, expansion of infrastructure in Guatemala was based on a nationalist model of development. But in the era of neoliberalism, multinational companies have taken the lead on the expansion of projects across the region. Multinational companies from Spain, Honduras and Israel privately fund today's hydroelectric projects.

The widespread construction of hydroelectric dams has renewed conflicts between transnational corporations - allied with the Guatemalan government - and indigenous Mayan communities, echoing the violence of the past.

"They may no longer kill us with bullets, but they are still killing us and taking our natural resources."

Many of these communities, in regions such as Huehuetenango, El Quiche and Alta Verapaz, were targeted in the Guatemalan military's genocidal campaign in the 1980s. Then, it was common for the military to be deployed against indigenous communities who stood in the way of infrastructure development projects. For example, from 1981 to 1983, the military murdered over 500 indigenous Q'eqchis to make way for the World Bank-sponsored Chixoy dam project.

"The war never ended," a member of the community of 31 de Mayo, who declined to be named, told Truthout. "The peace accord was their thing, something to give the appearance of peace. They may no longer kill us with bullets, but they are still killing us and taking our natural resources."

When the massacres were revealed, the World Bank condemned the murders and stated that similar violence would never be permitted alongside their projects. But today indigenous communities resisting the construction of projects that are certified and sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations and the United States once again face violence for their resistance.

The 1996 peace accords opened up new space for the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna peoples of Guatemala to practice their traditional forms of social organization and begin constructing their own forms of autonomy. For the first time, Guatemala was recognized as a plural-national state, with several distinct cultures, languages and social structures. In 1997, Guatemala became a signatory of the International Labor Organization's Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, and elements recognizing the rights of indigenous people were included within the Guatemalan Constitution.

But the expansion of the hydroelectric projects, and the accompanying violence, has continued, reflecting the division that remains in Guatemala nearly 20 years after the signing of the peace accords. As a woman associated with the indigenous rights organization Waqib Kej stated: "There are two sides to the Guatemalan reality. There is the side of business and the government, and there is the side of the indigenous communities, those affected by the megaprojects."

Evictions and Dispossession for Private Accumulation

The expansion of Guatemala's hydroelectric industry has had disastrous effects on the country's indigenous people. The 24-megawatt Santa Rita dam under construction on the Icobay River exemplifies the problem.

The Guatemalan-based company Hydro Electrical Santa Rita S.A., owned by the elite López-Roesch family, first proposed the Santa Rita hydro project in 2009. The powerful and influential cement company Cementos Progreso, owned by the Guatemalan Novella family, is reported to also have interests in the project.

However, the project's owners are now facing accusations of substantial human rights violations, including the deaths of community members resisting construction of the dam.

Despite these allegations, the Santa Rita dam has received the blessings of international bodies. In January 2014, the United Nations and the Colombian Institute for Technical Standards and Certification granted the Santa Rita dam green energy certification, based on the requirements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the certification, the dam met all the clean development requirements established during the Kyoto talks in 1997.

But as is common in Guatemala, the impacted indigenous communities were not given a voice in planning the project. This exclusion sparked the initial conflict over the project and led to the violent eviction of indigenous communities that lived there for generations.

The communities along the River Dolores, one of the headwaters of the Icobay River, have resisted the project since it was first announced. They are concerned that the project will lead to the destruction of their land and forests. But this resistance has led to violence against the community.

August 14, 2015, marked the one-year anniversary of the violent eviction of the Q'eqchi Mayan residents of the Monte Olivo and Samococh communities to make way for the Santa Rita dam. The communities commemorated the eviction with music and theatre performances, but the painful memories of the year before underlay the festive atmosphere.

"It has been one year since we had to flee to the mountains, leaving our houses open to the riot police," recalled David Chen, a resident of Monte Olivo. "But today we have returned to our homes. We are going to continue to exercise our right to demonstrate and to defend our land and territory."

”Whenever they implement one of these megaprojects, they do not consult the populations that are affected."

In Monte Olivo, the state used its full force against the community. On August 14, 2014, 600 police units were deployed to evict a community of a few hundred families along the River Dolores. Residents fled to the hills above their community, just as they had done during the bloody internal armed conflict. But for many, the parallels to the internal armed conflict went beyond merely hiding in the hills; police and military illegally burned fields, homes and belongings, just as they had done during the war.

"The police are not legally supposed to burn the houses, the crops etc.," said Juan Roberto Buzoc Che, a Q'eqchi Maya who works with the Mayan Association for Community Service and Development (ASOMADIC). "But here they did."

"I was pregnant when we had to flee to the mountain when the police came to invade our community," one resident, who requested anonymity, told Truthout. "When we returned two days later from the mountain, our house was completely destroyed, and the police threw all our things all over the place, and robbed many items. My house was violated; this is the repression that we suffered at the hands of the government."

In the following days, two other communities, 9 de Febrero and Samococh, both faced similar violent evictions to make way for the dam. These communities were driven out by 1,600 police units, and 22 community leaders were detained.

But the tragedy of the eviction didn't stop there.

During the eviction of Samococh, police shot and killed three men, Sebastian Rax, Oscar Chen Quej and Luciano Can Jucub. Both Rax and Can Jucub were fathers and leaders in the community, and Chen Quej was a young member of the community. The killings have been declared extrajudicial executions, and 19 officers who participated in the eviction were eventually arrested.

Activists and community members have also claimed that the police tactics changed between the beginning of the evictions and the second day. They charge that there was an infiltration by the military during the eviction.

"There was an infiltration by military in police uniforms during the second day of the eviction," Buzoc Che told Truthout. "This infiltration wasn't just by any soldier; it was the soldiers that were trained in terror."

According to Buzoc Che, this is just another example of how the constitution and the peace accords are violated by the unification of the police and military during operations. But it is difficult to confirm this charge of infiltration.

The three men killed in Samococh are only the latest victims of this conflict over the Santa Rita dam. The community has accused the company of the murder of four youths by people on the company's payroll, and the 2013 murder of two boys, David Eduardo Pacay Maas and Hageo Isaac Guitz, 11 and 13, respectively, who were playing in a field near the construction site near Monte Olivo on the day they were shot and killed by an associate of the project. There was never an investigation into the murders.

The communities had demanded a public consultation in accordance with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, but the departmental and state authorities denied the request.

The communities have stated that they are not necessarily against development projects. Rather, they oppose the form that these projects take, including eviction from their ancestral land and other violations of their rights.

"It isn't that [indigenous communities] are against the development," Buzoc Che told Truthout. "The problem is that they are not in agreement with the form and the methodology of work. There are constitutional and international rights of indigenous communities that companies and the government must comply with. However, whenever they implement one of these megaprojects, they do not consult the populations that are affected. We feel affected by these projects. It is because of this that we resist. But the state uses the entire force of the state and the police against these communities."

But there are alternatives to these projects of death and destruction.

Autonomy as an Alternative

In the remote central region of La Zona Reyna, between the Ixil Triangle and the Ixcan, small communities produce export crops such as cardamom, cacao and coffee, and cultivate subsistence crops on small fields called milpas. There is little state presence, and the only development projects are the construction of private mega-dams like the Santa Rita dam. However, a small-scale, community-led hydroelectric project has revolutionized life there, and offers an alternative to the destructive megaprojects.

Following the end of the war, former Communities of Populations in Resistance (CPR) arrived on the former fincas (farming estates) to build their new lives following decades of war. In 1998, the hamlets of San Antonio Nueva Esperanza, 31 de Mayo, San Marcos La Libertad, El Lidio and Te Sólo Nuevo de Marzo were founded by these former rebel communities.

"This idea came from the time in the mountains," Regina, a member of the Community Association of the Sierras, told Truthout. "The idea of community energy in the schools for the children and the hospitals began there during the resistance."

Soon after, the communities began to develop a community-based hydroelectric project, but it stalled due to a lack of funds. In 2008, the community organized the installation of a single turbine in the river Lidios, with assistance from the Norwegian Embassy. The project first began operating on May 5, 2012. It produces 1 megawatt of energy, enough to power nearly 400 homes.

"The big businesses only think about the profits, and never about the impacts that they bring."

Energy prices skyrocketed after privatization in 1997, but the community-based hydro project allows the communities in La Zona Reyna to avoid the high prices. Whereas it is common for households to pay over 125 quetzales a month for power (about $16), the residents in La Zona Reyna pay 20 quetzales a month. And the money stays in the community instead of profiting a foreign company.

"For many years we have been without energy," Regina said. "In La Zona Reyna, the energy that is produced is sent to other countries, such as Costa Rica and Mexico, but not for Guatemala. [The communities] think, 'How is it that the energy leaves from here, and we stay without energy?' Here we now have energy."

"31 de Mayo is an example," Regina added. "For the people, these projects show that they don't only need the business for energy; communities too can administer their own resources. If they don't administer their own resources, it is going to cause damage to the people."

Initially, not every community in the region benefited from the project. So at the end of 2014, the communities decided to expand their energy production capacity. In December 2014, the communities started installing a second turbine. It began operating in January 2015. A third turbine in the community of La Taña began operating at the end of September 2015.

Today, the majority of houses in four of the six communities receive energy from the river. There are plans to provide the remaining community of La Gloria, a nearby community that was established years before the CPR communities arrived, with energy from another turbine in the near future.

The project has guaranteed that they communities are able to benefit from the natural resources that exist so close to their homes. It has also meant an improved standard of living, with one resident commenting, "You need to go to El Lidio; they have actual streetlights."

These autonomous projects stand in stark contrast to the violence that accompanies the construction of megaprojects, especially the expansion of hydroelectric projects across the country.

"The big businesses only think about the profits, and never about the impacts that they bring," Regina told Truthout. "The are giving us so many problems."

She added, "Why do they have to evict us and destroy our communities when the solution is so easy?"

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400