11 February 2010

Underhanded hollowing out of Canada: What Conservatives do best

Here is a horribly bad deal, never trust a single thing that comes out of this Conservative government - its the lesson of the past 4 years.

In particular, the Ontario wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Council of Canadians criticize the deal for giving permanent and unrestricted foreign access to publicly funded contracts that supply schools, universities, social services and hospitals.

The labour groups warn that, if approved by the provinces, the deal would be the first time Canadian governments agreed to open their procurement contracts to bids by other World Trade Organization members since the landmark Canada-U.S. free trade deal of 1988.

Ontario and the other provincial governments have until Friday to peruse the pact and suggest amendments. After that, the Canadian and U.S. governments will present the proposal to the WTO for formal approval, and the plan will be enacted as early as next Tuesday, citizen's advocacy group the Council of Canadians said.

02 February 2010

Between Heaven and Hell: Life in Rio 2016

Rio de Janeiro is without doubt the most beautiful and most dangerous city to host the Olympics. Picture the beautiful people on the stunning beaches of Copacabana, framed by the green Pão do Açúcar rising out of the water and the Sambadrome filled with dancers during Carnival. Contrast those images with stereotypical imaginaries of the poverty of favelas—informal housing areas or “slums.” Made infamous by films like City of God and Elite Squad, favelas are perceived as urban warzones of drug lords and corrupt police.

In the popular imagination, heaven and hell have never been geographically closer. When Rio hosts the 2014 World Cup final and 2016 Olympics, it will be easy to forget it is a city of over 6 million, where, as in most places, people go about living their lives. Both imaginaries of Rio obscure how its inhabitants will experience these sporting events.

Already the words “development” and “security” are defining how the Olympics will affect the residents of Rio's favelas. Elsewhere globally, security and development have been linked to perpetuate inequality; from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the occupation of Palestine to the ongoing response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Rio's Olympic Games do not simply represent the “circus” to the “bread” of Bolsa Família—a state funded family-based conditional cash transfer to the poor in Brazil. To be critical of the Olympic process, one has to recognize the problem is not the popular excitement of sport, which can have many different meanings, but rather the processes of privatization that have come to define events like the Olympics.

During the neoliberal period of tax-cuts, privatization, and downloading of services, a model for urban “development” through massive sporting events emerged from the Global North. The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, 2000 Sydney Games, and the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester City are often cited as successful examples of this model. The logic is that the international attention will drive investment for “public”-private partnerships—though that often means the public partially covering the costs for private benefit.

Underdeveloped (cheap) and de-industrialized areas of a city are selected as event sites for transformation, while more iconic areas receive corporate face-lifts. Infrastructure, such as transit, is often also improved. Sound familiar? Think Toronto's proposed waterfront redevelopment as part of its failed 2008 Olympic bid, which without the Olympics continues to languish.

In an era when public planning and public financing are impossible without “unpopular” tax increases, sporting events supposedly bring what people want: new subways, more housing, better parks, and a reinvigorated urban economy.

As Vancouverites are probably now asking with the approach of the 2010 Olympics, couldn't the city have built the infrastructure without privatizing public spaces, spending public money on private development, while actually focusing on the issues of marginalized communities? The Olympics in Rio will likely magnify the problems of development for private benefit because of the violent dynamic of “securitization” used around the world to maintain inequality.

In a 2007 article, Uruguayan social critic Raúl Zibechi provocatively linked the strategies of urban containment developed by the US military to control Baghdad, the actions of Brazilian peacekeepers in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, and the securitization of slums around the world. In such cases, governments and corporations label the poorest urban populations as a violent security threat, which coincidentally prevents economic development or aid delivery.

Unlike the Palestinians in the Gaza strip, who are completely contained and isolated, in many cases informally housed poor populations are vitally important to the urban economy. Many urban poor have migrated to the city in search for work in the low-waged, informal service economy, providing exploitable and cheap labour.

As the economic dynamic of exploitation expands with the migration of the poor to the cities, the rapidly growing inequality of wealth creates an explosive situation. Through international news coverage we are familiar with images of Brazilian police and military launching spectacularly bloody raids into the informal urban neighbourhoods of Rio and São Paulo to combat heavily armed drug gangs.

The week after Rio won the Olympics, several of the city's favelas exploded in violence with gangs fighting police and the army. A Reuters headline from October 25 read, “Rio violence upsurge underlines Olympic challenge.”

Rio is a city of over 500 favelas. We are trained to think the people living in the favelas are violent and dangerous and need to be securitized before they can be brought “development” schemes—which rarely mean water, electricity, jobs, dignity, respect, and equality.

Through the eyes of “security” we see the social processes of exploitation and exclusion as a problem of unruly and violent people first, poverty second, and rarely if ever as the true inequality that securitization perpetuates. “Development” and the Olympics are generally already on dubious foundations of privatization and public debt for private gain.

When our Olympics are protected from Rio's marginalized by the police, soldiers, and private mercenaries, will the coercive force also be used to further marginalize Rio's poor? When security and development collude to create the 2016 Olympic Games, what will be the legacy for the people of Rio de Janeiro?

Originally published in The Leveller volume 2 issue 4.

20 January 2010

Haiti, Honduras and the neo-colonization of the Americas

The latest re-expansion of US colonialism in the Americas is underway. We've seen two models for US recolonization of the Americas - first in Honduras, under an oligarch coup, which initially was organized by the local business elites and had limited support from like-minded conservatives in the US. The incapacity of the Obama administration to control the US government bureaucracy particularly the US State Department, influenced by its own historical legacy of supported colonialism in the Americas and very limited contact outside of Latin American elites, resulted in the continuance of the coup regime, attempted legitimization through meaningless elections, which accomplished the main goal of driving away international media attention and therefore pressure on the US government, and the firm (re)establishment of the coup regime and its leaders into the governance of Honduras. Re-focusing on the US, whether or not Obama himself desired a new future for US-Americas relations, the end result of the Honduras coup will be a model for economic elites both in the US and in the rest of the Americas. The relationship that began the Cold-War colonialism of the Americas in Guatemala in 1953 with the deposing of President Jacobo Arbenz by local economic elites, their paid thugs, US multinationals (particularly United Fruit Company), and their paid thugs the CIA, has been reaffirmed through Honduras and no doubt encouraged the economic elites in other countries currently under-threat from democracy to consider their own golpe de estado.

The second-model is now underway in Haiti. Anyone familiar with the Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, a much-less naive take on the affects of capitalism than her earlier No Logo, will recognize the interrelated deployment of US military, private security, NGOs, and the 'security' discourse following a 'disaster' as a situation ripe for political-economic manipulation. Haiti was the poorest country in the hemisphere, it will be even more devastated by poverty after the proverbial dust settles. It has twice suffered at the hands of a coup d'etat, backed or at least influenced by the US, of its democratically elected government who promised to address poverty through public measures. It is not unimportant to note that the second, third, and fourth poorest countries in the past four years in the region, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras (order depends on how the calculation is done), have all elected governments promising similar state-led measures to address poverty, with one already fallen to a coup of its own. The latest coup against President Aristide was preceded by an suspension of aid and loans by the US, and the development banks controlled/influenced by the US. Following that coup, political control was turned over to either individuals in Haiti who 'understood their place' - trained either by greed or fear and metaphorical handcuffs - to not challenge the idea of market-led 'development'.

But nominally Haiti remained an uncontrollable place, making Haiti poor was easy, controlling the will and desires of its people not. After all, no colonial system could ever trust the first truly successful anti-colonial revolt (White USians gaining 'liberty' from White English, while keeping slavery is hardly anti-colonial, it was a change in ownership) that happened in Haiti from 1793 to 1803. Since then, no major Atlantic colonial power has missed an opportunity to suppress Haiti - the French, the English, and the US all have had their interventions into Haiti. The history is not uncomplicated, the morality of Haitian leaders may be questionable, but there has never been a justification for the repeated colonial attempts that have enjoyed periods of success before once again Haitian people fight back. These interventions have left Haiti a poor, disjointed country. In the early 1800s Simon Bolívar received support from Haiti, as the only anti-colonial Republic in the Americas, in his attempts to liberate South America. This history is not without important symbolic and material significance and a foundation for what was to come.

The Cold War and global capitalism demanded new forms of colonialism, in many ways developed by the British in the Americas from the 1800s onwards. When colonial interests are private-corporations then the governance of a country does not need to be directly controlled by a foreign government, but in the interest of the corporation and the small representative local elites. A more nefarious and indirect face to colonialism, that nevertheless serves the same purpose: to extract wealth Northwards, maintain geographic inequality, and in particular cases serve examples. Haiti has been the Caribbean and the America's most striking example: boldness leads to repression, resistance leads to increased poverty, and independence leads to more intervention. The example has been maintained, and we can now see once again exploited.

The US, with the enlisted support of its now junior partner in colonialism in the Americas, Canada (useful for image of legitimacy and as another channel for investment, particularly in extractive industries listed on the TSX), is once again exerting its full overwhelming strength to make an example of Haiti. Where Honduras' coup demonstrates the manipulative, underhanded, covert, indirect, and economic relationships of US corporate colonialism in the Americas, Haiti is once again the expression of uncomplicated, demonstrative, and coercive colonialism. Thousands of US and Canadian troops, outside of the control of UN forces, have taken up strategic control of the major airport, will control the port facility, and are now in charge of the logistical distribution of aid. What remains of the Haitian economy (to become nearly completely dependent upon aid once there is nothing left to scavenge, what US and Canadian media are calling 'looting') around Port au Prince is under the coercive jurisdiction of the US military.

More at The Real News

Legitimacy is of central concern - after all the colonial powers of Europe and North America in the 21st centuries are democracies and the purse-strings are controlled by the level of discontent amongst a manipulated middle-class in the global North. Whereas legitimacy in Honduras was ensured by the appearance of 'democracy' (or what is understood to be a symbol of democracy): an election; Haiti there is no such reasonable expectation. Governance is ensued from 'security'. Coercive control over Haiti, like Naomi Klein's description of post-Katrina New Orleans, is legitimized by pictures of 'looters' and reports of apparent 'rioters'. There is no interrogation of what 'looting' means in a post-earthquake destroyed Port au Prince (easily described as collecting available resources to stave off starvation - how can you loot from a business that no longer exists?) or why people have become angry, which is what passes as rioting in apathetic and blasé middle-class North America. From this emerges the legitimization that heavily armed soldiers are needed first before aid can be delivered. The North American media audience has been prepared for this argument, so very similar to the one often repeated and cited in the War on Afghanistan - economic 'development' cannot happen until or without a massive 'securitization'. It relies on an imaginary of the development/aid worker as being weak, uncourageous, and incapable of dealing with complex and dangerous situations (they are often arts or medical graduates after all) and a neo-racialization of the poor in developing countries as irrational (they cannot recognize someone who is helping them), quick to tend towards violence, and visibly threatening. Instinctively both important imaginaries of the donating and voting middle-class (the economic support for neo-colonialism) respond easily to images of defenceless aid workers and 'scary' black Haitians, and there is a level of established comfort and recognized bravery of a heavily armed soldier. The failure to address the immediate needs of Haitians for their survival following this earthquake will be blamed on the 'fundamental' incapacity to establish 'security' rather than real explanations such as the inadequate distribution of incoming aid (which is in part a consequence of the amount of time and resources being devoted to logistically organizing the 'security' as the priority: evidenced by the repeated failed attempts of MSF to land a supplies at the Port au Prince airport).

The long term consequences of how these first few weeks are unfolding are described by Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. It will be the economic and political subservience to the neo-colonialism of the Americas. The US increasingly losing control of the economics of the world is being driven by its corporate elites to rediscover its place in the Americas as a hegemon with a backyard. Haiti and Honduras are important demonstrations of how the US will reclaim, reestablish, and reinforce its economic and political influence in the region. Being prepared and actively responding to crisis, whether real or perceived, Naomi Klein argues is the only way to resist.

Haiti and its people need help, they need aid, and they need long term solidarity - but this cannot come at the expense of a new method for re-colonizing the Americas. If you are donating money, please donate to organizations that understand the economic-political reality and put Haitians first, such as Partners in Health or MSF. These people are courageous individuals who need economic and material support, not an imagined 'security', to do their jobs. Canadians and Americans must pressure their governments to not become involved colonially in Haiti and resist media interpretations that manipulate racialized fears to legitimize the militarization of development and aid.

17 January 2010

Securitizing aid relief - What is the injustice being perpetrated?

I'm very nervous about Canada's deployment of 1000 troops. It really bothers me that everyone here has automatically taken up the 'security' line when it comes to disaster response. We have been trained to assume that aid work requires 'securitization', particularly from the way in which Afghanistan and Iraq have been portrayed in the media. In reality, in both cases where there has been heavy-handed securitization the safety of the aid workers has become more dependent upon guns and the capacity to carry out the work at hand diminishes.

Now in Haiti, the line is we have to prevent riots before the aid can be effectively delivered but the problem is that the riots emerge because the aid is not reaching people for many reasons, but certainly including this security mentality.

With aid being turned away at the airport by the US so that US military planes can land with more troops I have to wonder about this process. Mexico had one of its aid planes turned away, CARICOM's disaster task-force was turned away. Who else is going to be turned away? Probably targets that the US does not want in Haiti - including Cubans and Venezuelans.

All of this is justified because the US military is a logistics machine, it has the personal and resources, and above all else because we believe that the poor and destitute will automatically turn to stark raving lunatics (without cause nor reason) or that they are ultimately under the control of corrupt gangs. Therefore the military is needed to keep 'security' and stop corruption. But who's military and under who's orders?

But one also has to really ask, are they really necessary? Are persons with guns the solution to the problem, or they a likely cause of their own problem? Yes there needs to be an establishment of control and organization to reach through the chaos, yes this will probably require some 'protection' and demonstration of legitimate force, but at the number of 11 000+ heavily-armed troops from US and Canada alone? A people after a disaster are in a state of shock, they are not organizing a threat to stability, only as they emerge out of their state of shock and begin to see injustice will they become angry. What might be the injustice that they see? Stockpiles of aid perhaps? Rich people having access to private jets to flee (slowing down the incoming aid)? The lack of presence of aid workers in some parts, and an over abundance in others? And all of this now being guarded by guns attached to flags of countries that have a long history of taking out popular leaders and replacing them with governments for the rich and foreign. Or maybe they will begin to connect their current crisis, with the events that dictated their poverty before the crisis and start to question if all the suffering and misery is not just an act of god, but one of man too.

I wonder how many armed guards Cuban doctors need or thought to bring with them? Somewhere close to zero I imagine, and I wonder why over 400 medical staff that the Cubans have working in Haiti act in the moment, without a thought to 'security' as we in the North have grown accustomed to think is necessary. Is it because they do actually feel threatened, are not scared of the 'gangs' or the raving mobs and riots? I wonder if that is also true for the doctors with MSF? I suspect it is but I don't know anymore as so many European and North American NGOs have been trained to think, or have always thought, like a colonizer.

We can remember back to Katrina, the looting did not start immediately, but when it did there was a legitimacy to start shooting and killing the 'thieves'. People coming out of shock if dealt with compassionately and to the best of ones ability are not going to turn into a raving mass and riot - do you attack the person who pulled others from the rubble, the doctor who worked to stop the bleeding, or those who do their best to ensure the food and water reaches everyone, not discriminating against one group over another? It is only when they emerge from that shock and see injustice they become angry and so-called security and stability is threated. If we are sending so many troops, preparing ourselves for insecurity and instability, I think everyone has to ask - what is the injustice being perpetrated?

15 January 2010

World Cup 2014 Comes to Porto Alegre

Upsidedown World has another fascinating article up (as always) demonstrating top-notch journalism, this time on the impact of hosting a massive international sporting event in a 'developing' country. The author, Michael Fox, uses Porto Alegre's 2014 World Cup plans as a case-study. Fox cites the use of 1990 Barcelona as the gold-standard model for 'development' through sports. Another, smaller but similar, case is Manchester's Commonwealth Games 'development' strategy, which has brought 'investment' to a previously industrialized city, and some argue revitalized the city's urban economy to fit in the 21st century.

The Porto Alegre story is of interest to me, as I recently briefly visited the city in the Brazilian winter of 2009. Winter time in southern Brazil is not that cold when you are a Canadian, but it is at the limit of Brazilian toleration. And thus understandably the city probably was not at its full hustle and bustle, but my very short stay (2 days) not enough to really have any idea about what life is like in Porto Alegre nevertheless was interesting. Porto Alegre was my introduction into Brazil and it is a city not made for tourists in my impression. It is a city that spends most of its time 'working', and not your typical North American/European stereotype of Brazil, and like many other large cities in the South gives off an air of discipline and organization (epitomized by Curitiba, the second largest city in the south and arguably the best organized city in South if not all of the Americas). I wandered around the city in my two days, unsure of safety levels (I was overly cautious because the transition to portuguese left me feeling defenceless), but could see a lot of 'potential' in the eyes of a North American who is conditioned to see 'development' in a particular light.

North Americans like showy restaurants, clean shopping areas, mixtures of old and glass in the architecture, and the opportunities of a 'waterfront' to transform into an ideal playground of the rich but not exclusionary to the aspiring 'middle class'. This is what we see as meaningful development. My limited understanding of Barcelona coming out of the Franco dictatorship and into the 1980s fits this as well, certainly Manchester had many of these qualities. Porto Alegre fits a lot of the necessary conditions - a busy pedestrian area that could be 'upgraded', old market buildings still functional but transforming into restaurants, old port buildings abandoned or underused near the centre, a 'waterfront' (river front) that has open space for building, and an industrialized character that could be polished and 'de-industralized' to leave a shell of its former-self and gutted.

These forms of transformation are so easy to accept for the middle-class mind. These spaces, while not necessarily fully accepting of the middle-class (the condominiums and housing is too expensive, the restaurants too pricey, the most shopping beyond the reach of even the credit card) but are open to you - you can stroll around, have a coffee, buy a stylized tee-shirt. And the visuals inspire the middle-class mind to think of the possibilities of becoming just a little bit richer. If we just focus on the 'middle-class' transformations such as Barcelona can be seen as wonderful and beautiful, and in a society in Spain or England or Canada where the majority walks around with a middle-class mind the perception can easily become 'popular'. Of course we ignore so much even here - particularly the cheap and exploited labour that cleans, cooks, builds, and generally maintains these spaces. This labour does not actually have access to these areas except to 'work' and in privatized spaces, which often accompanies this form of development the homeless, economically displaced, and overall marginalized are simply not welcome.

Porto Alegre did have an economic boom at one point and it does have a more sizable middle class than many Brazilian cities, but I would not want to exaggerate this point. And like most of Brazil its labouring class does not have access to the 'middle-class' mind, though it may aspire at times with delayed purchases of expensive sports shoes or other visible statements of class. It makes me question this 'development' possibility.

I have to admit I'm a football fan, particularly the world cup. having been in Brazil, I know how important the sport is. No corner is left untouched by the sport's influence. Porto Alegre is divided between its two teams Gremio and Internacional and is one of the few places in Brazil where the local teams crowd out the massive São Paulo and Rio teams. The World Cup is HUGE for Brazil and I imagine the excitement cuts easily across class. Is this bad? I wont try to argue that.

I think Fox does a good job getting to the contradictions and difficulties with hosting a massive sporting event that is clearly popular in a 'developing country'. Instead of copying the model of development that is clearly for the elite class, that appeals to the middle class mind, that exists in the privatization of public space that results from the Barcelona or Manchester model, I would hope Brazil creates a distinctly Brazilian-local model. Porto Alegre is the city that created large urban participatory budgeting, it hosted the World Social Forum - it has creatively attempted to 'do things differently' and make the marginalized, in some way or another, a central pillar of their programs. Curitiba is another city that has lead the world in thinking about urban 'development' differently, responding to the local issues and problems, and looking at itself to come up with its own strategies. As a result of the innovating urban planning, Curitiba now has cheap, effective, and efficient mass(ive) transit, accessible urban parks, and large pedestrian areas. Its impact as a 'model' is evident across Southern Brazilian cities, who all now have vibrant pedestrian centres.

What would development in Porto Alegre look like? Instead of building on top of the homes of already economically displaced and/or exploited peoples, they would be the central pillar. Transit and transportation would be built to make life easiest for those who have to move the furthest - the poor and working classes. Public spaces would be opened up, rather than privatized, so that everyone has ownership and contributes to the creation of space. Parks, public cultural spaces, an inclusive waterfront that integrates the environment rather than destroys it, and so on. What does that leave the middle-class mind? Rather than dreaming of being rich and aspiring to the practically unattainable, and being economically exploited all the way along (hundreds of dollars for a marketed shoe made for less than 1 dollar), it would be a space where they too would have the capacity to contribute. Instead of dreaming to be a part of a space already made, they would get the opportunity to create a public space. This model of development might not be a success for the sponsors of the world cup, but it would be a success for the world cup and the city of Porto Alegre.

27 October 2009

Otto Reich's logic

In an unfortunate irony, I am restarting a blog that's last post was a celebration of Honduras' joining of ALBA with a post about Otto Reich's latest imperialist diatribe article printed in Foreign Policy on why Obama should support a military coup in Honduras.

The article is here: Honduras is an Opportunity, And the US shouldn't squander it.
By Otto Reich, Foreign Policy, 27 October 2009.

But I've saved you some time by summarizing the article.

The central argument was that Reagan's widely condemned imperialist adventure in Grenada in 1983 demonstrates the epitome of US leadership in the region, while Obama is failing to learn from this in his dealings with the Honduran coup. Grenada, according to Reich, in 1983 was the latest bridgehead of communism in the Americas and was being torn apart by the immorality of marxism (my words - but like all neo-cons there is an unpronounced and assumed spiritual-ethical argument as to why communism is inherently bad). Reagan made the bold, internationally unpleasant, and necessary decision to launch an all out assault on the Caribbean state (noting that 800 US citizens and 'medical students' were in danger if you were not already convinced). What does this have to do with Honduras? Well - Zelaya was a crazy leftist aligned with the new global communism: Chavez! You are expected to respond, OMG NOT CHAVEZ! He is a dictator (that continually gets democratic support but as a good little neo-con you wont mess things up with facts) and VERY SCARY because he doesn't like freedom™. Grenada:Marxist - Zelaya:socialist dictator (check). Second, Grenada: Int. unpopular - Coup: Int. unpopular (check). Third, and the most important point - Reagan took the opportunity to restore order in the region by invading Grenada. The coup government, I mean democracy© freedom™ fighters of awesomeness (also known as the elitist institutions of politics in Honduras: congress, supreme court, and military) saw an opportunity to restore order, making sure that the people did not get out of hand and start dreaming up things too big like fair wages, a just distribution of wealth, and other far out and unfree things. Obama is missing an opportunity that Reagan seized to topple the despots of the world. Where Reagan invading Grenada lead to the downfall of communism, Obama is letting Chavez manipulate everything and making the world dangerous for US imperialism, I mean capital, I mean FREEDOM! Or some stupid shit like that.

For a little run down on the fascist imperial slime that is Otto Reich, with a focus on his latest coup related action in Honduras:

But in a relatively short version: he has spent several decades advancing very wealthy elite interests throughout Latin America, backing and designing some of the most overt and disgusting examples of US imperialism - from the Contras in Nicaragua to the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela. He has monied interests in privatizing Honduras' public telecom-company, is paid by coup-mongers to lobby Washington, and in a just world would have zero access to major media to spread his lies.