Month: June 2000

One Planet – June 28, 2000

The Clinton Administration has announced plans to hold joint military exercises with Indonesia. Last September, Clinton suspended all ties with Indonesia in wake of the rampage by right-wing paramilitary groups and the Indonesian military (TNI) in East Timor after the Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. The Clinton Administration claims that the TNI has cleaned up its act; however, reports are still surfacing of TNI atrocities in Aceh province, Irian Jaya, and West Papua. In addition, the TNI still supports right-wing militias in West Timor, where a large number of Timorese refugees are still living in misery, waiting to be repatriated to East Timor. And efforts to prosecute those responsible for crimes during the rampage have been stymied by the participation of military personnel in the so-called “civilian” investigations.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government is planning to start a CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness Training) military exercise with the TNI in July or August. The CARAT will involve simulated amphibious invasions of Indonesian islands. Last August, a number of Indonesian officers went directly from last year’s CARAT exercises to East Timor to participate in the post-electoral rampage. Journalist Allan Nairn, speaking to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Rights on May 11, said: “One of these officers, Lt. Col. (later Col.) Willem, helped coordinate the Indonesian naval forces in CARAT and then went to Dili where he served as a senior official in KOREM military headquarters, the very base from which the Aitarak militias staged their terror raids during late September. I saw this first hand, since I was a prisoner in KOREM and was interrogated by Col. Willem.” Willem has recently been promoted to head the personal staff of Admiral Widodo, the national TNI commander. For more information, contact the East Timor Action Network at 1-718-596-7668, john@etan.org, or http://www.etan.org.

On June 19, three British women wielded bolt-cutters to dismantle a new high-security fence around the grounds of the U.S. National Security Agency Space-War Spy Base at Menwith Hill in England. The women are: Anne Lee (who has campaigned against the base for years at the Menwith Hill Women’s Peace Camp), Helen John (from the Menwith Hill campaign and a member of Trident Ploughshares 2000), and Angie Zelter (also a member of Ploughshares). Helen John said, “I’m doing this because I oppose the threat that Star Wars poses to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Outer Space Treaty.” Said Angie Zelter: “This base plays a key role in NATO military intelligence. Even if we get rid of Trident tomorrow, they are still planning to have new nuclear-powered weapons in space. Ballistic missile defense undermines the entire international legal order. The Americans are just running ahead without consulting anyone.” Menwith Hill may become one of many key sites for the expensive, but unworkable anti-ballistic missile system. Currently, the Menwith Hill base houses Echelon computers which are used in domestic and international surveillance and economic espionage. The base also downloads information from satellites that can be fed to the targeting systems for cruise missiles and other weapons. For more information, contact the Menwith Hill Women’s Peace Camp(aign): 011-1-943-468593 or Trident Ploughshares 2000: 011-1-324-880744.

The indigenous U’wa people of Colombia have been fighting against an oil exploration project on their ancestral lands. The company involved is Occidental Petrolium, a U.S. corporation. The 11th Circuit Court of Bogota had issued an injunction to stop the project, but Occidental appealed to a higher court, which has now overturned the injunction. Occidental is set to begin construction of its facilities in the “Gibraltar 1” area in northeastern Colombia. The U’wa, however, remain undeterred; they in turn have appealed the ruling to a higher court. The U’wa have gained the support of several international human rights groups and environmental organizations. U’wa leaders have also called upon members of the U.S. Congress to put pressure on Colombian President Andres Pastrana to halt the Occidential project. To contact your representative, call the capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or look your representative up on the Internet: www.house.gov.

Gridlock Forever

Two weeks ago the City Council dropped the Monorail into limbo. By a 4-4 vote they killed an initiative to let Seattle voters decide whether or not to fund a $4 million monorail feasibility study. When it came time to assign the proposal to a committee for discussion, Richard McIver, Heidi Wills, Jan Drago, and Jim Compton voted against discussing the initiative further. Usually such proposals are assigned to committee as a matter of course.

But the monorail has had to fight an uphill battle with the city from the beginning. McIver, who is the chair of the council’s transportation committee, has been instrumental in planning Sound Transit’s light rail line, and Sound Transit has always viewed the monorail as a competing project that would draw resources away from light rail (not necessarily a bad thing, with the light rail system fast becoming an enormous financial sinkhole). McIver has never let an opportunity to slam the monorail pass him by. Downtown supporters like Drago, Compton, and Pageler (who didn’t vote because she was on vacation) stand firmly with mayor Paul Schell in scorning the monorail as a vanity project–an embarrassing result of too much direct democracy. And Heidi Wills–well, on easy decisions (like a ban on circus animals), Heidi Wills can take a stand on principle, but when push comes to shove, she lets the establishment, pro-business types tell her what to do.

Judy Nicastro and Nick Licata had proposed the initiative in response to a lawsuit filed against the city in King County Superior Court by monorail supporters. The monorail initiative included wording that requires the city to finance the project if no private investors step in. The city has responded by playing semantic games; the initiative is “vaguely worded,” say city attorneys. The relevant passage reads: “The City Council of Seattle shall make funds available … either by issuing councilmanic revenue bonds or raising the city’s business and occupation tax.”

That’s pretty clear. But, no, says the city, the problem is the word “shall.” Evidently, no one at city hall knows the meaning of this word–and that assertion has been the sum of their defense against the lawsuit.

According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the first definition of “shall” is: “will have to (MUST), will be able to (CAN).” The second definition is: “used to express a command or exhortation; used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory.”

Mandatory. Got that? Evidently King County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Learned got it; she ruled on the lawsuit last week and told the city that they had to either fund the monorail or vote to repeal the initiative. In other words, the City Council can’t simply continue to ignore it or refuse to discuss it, as they did two weeks ago.

The city will probably argue that the monorail can’t be built because there’s no money for it. Obviously Mayor Schell and the majority on the City Council think the monorail would pull money away from the new downtown city hall building or the new downtown library or the new $200 million parks initiative or a host of other pet projects on the city’s itinerary. They can use the city’s money to build parking garages and they can give land subsidies to Wright Runstad (the PacMed property), but they will claim that they can’t fund transit.

But even Judge Learned pointed out that the city could simply put together a funding package–a hike in the B&O tax, for example–and put it on the ballot for the voters to decide. The Mayor and the City Council have the duty to at least make an attempt.

Instead, Paul Schell has thrown several million dollars into road upgrades and his own vanity projects. On June 3rd, the mayor’s office announced a 10-point Mobility Plan that would take approximately the same amount of money that would have been spent on the monorail feasibility study and put it into a large number of tiny projects, the sum of which will surely be gridlock and more gridlock forever.

For example, Schell would spend $515,000 primarily for repainting traffic lane stripes on an annual basis. Another $500,000 would go for new bicycle lanes on five arterials–a nice idea in itself, but let’s be realistic. This is a city of hills and rain; only the most athletic people are going to bike to work everyday, and damn few folks take their bicycles to the grocery store.

Another $600,000 will go for “optimizing traffic signals” and adding remote video cameras to Aurora Avenue North and the Duwamish industrial area, ostensibly for drivers to check via the city’s website how congested these streets are before they leave home. Someone must be joking. The website idea is clearly pork barrel. And the benefits of changing traffic lights are few; during rush hour, the problem is traffic volume, not the timing of traffic lights.

Little bits of money will go for other meaningless projects. $100,000 will be spent to give buses priority at traffic lights (how this will fit with the “optimizing traffic signals” theory is never explored). Another $50,000 will go to set up a “test” shuttle project, likely to run from the International District to First Hill and then downtown to connect with the Convention Place Station (businesses and stores on Pike and Pine Streets probably lobbied heavily for this one).

Two of the smaller projects have gotten the most favorable press: $100,000 for a project that would get people to use taxicabs instead of their own cars and explore car-sharing options, and $135,000 for a “car-free” campaign. The taxicab idea is particularly weird. No one in their right mind is going to leave their expensive car at home to take an expensive taxi to the grocery store or to school. Car-sharing is a good idea, but it needs more funding to be effective.

The “car-free” campaign is completely undefined: “A car-free campaign will offer communities cost-effective tools to reduce car trips in their neighborhoods”–and that’s all it says. It’s probably just another high-paying government job for the son or daughter of one of Paul Schell’s buddies.

The largest single item on the list is for construction: $1 million for road and sidewalk improvements and new signal lights for the Duwamish industrial area, the U-District, and the corridor from Elliot Avenue W to 15th Avenue NW in Ballard. In other words, Paul Schell wants special attention for work the city would perform anyway as part of its annual road budget.

In addition to the 10 points listed above, the city has doubled its road budget from $3 million to $6 million this year. Clearly the city’s commitment to investment in car commuter traffic is much greater than its commitment to transit funding.

There’s no question that the city could fund the monorail feasibility study if it wanted to, and the city has to respond in some way to the court ruling. The issue is whether the city will eventually do what the voters have asked it to do: roll up their sleeves and make the monorail–or a monorail starter project–a priority.

One Planet – June 14, 2000

Zimbabwe’s Land Crisis

The press has been full of articles condemning the black squatters who are taking over white-owned farms in Zimbabwe. Each article details acts of violence–the killing of a white farmer or the beatings of black employees of white farmers. Usually the articles claim that the black squatters are members of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, and each article mentions that Mugabe has been in power since the country gained independence in 1980–in other words, he’s a “president-for-life,” a term reserved exclusively for African politicians. The inference is clear: Mugabe and his supporters are racists, and land reform always leads to violence and injustice. The reality, however, is more complicated.

The history of colonial Africa is not pretty. Whole tribes were nearly wiped out by a combination of displacement, slavery, and forced labor imposed by the white colonists. Genocide–a term that’s thrown around quite loosely these days–accurately applies to white colonial policies throughout Africa: colonial governments purposefully decided to butcher whole ethnic groups of indigenous African people down to the last man, woman, and child. The enormous, white-owned plantations in Zimbabwe make up the best arable land in the nation; it was stolen from its original, indigenous inhabitants who were either forced to work for white farmers or driven into “reserves.” These are facts that cannot be denied.

Recent history is also important. The war of independence in Zimbabwe (1965-80) was fought primarily for land reform. Upon independence, the new constitution specified that the government could not confiscate white-owned farms, but had to purchase the farms from those willing to sell. The British, the former colonial government, granted 44 million pounds sterling to Zimbabwe for the purchase of this land, but there were few willing to sell. Today, about 4,400 white farmers work over 70% of the arable land in Zimbabwe to grow mostly tobacco, while one million black farmers scrape out a miserable existence on dry, rocky soil.

In 1990, the provision to purchase land from willing sellers expired and the government passed a law allowing it to make compulsory purchases, but the process has been slow. The British have frozen payments to Zimbabwe for land repurchases, claiming that most of the land has gone to Mugabe’s associates and that dividing the lands up into small plots would destroy Zimbabwe’s agricultural export market. Three years ago Mugabe announced a list of 1,500 farms that would be bought without the owners’ consent, but the pace has been slowed because of scarcity of funds. In addition, some of the farms were bought without exactly adhering to the legal process and some white owners have been able to sue in the courts and re-acquire their lands.

Last November a constitutional committee made up of ZANU-PF members and opposition parties wrote a draft of a new constitution. Opposition parties protested that the new draft gave the president more power, instead of less, as they had desired. A new coalition of opposition parties, which includes the white farmers union and urban trade unions, formed to oppose ZANU-PF in general elections scheduled for late June 2000, and they lobbied heavily against the new constitution. In February of this year, the constitution was put to a nationwide, general referendum and it was defeated 55% to 45%; this was widely viewed as a vote of no confidence in Mugabe. High inflation, a fuel crisis, Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo War, and stories of corruption among top government officials helped to defeat the referendum.

The new constitution would have enshrined the government’s ability to seize white-owned farms without compensation. Within a few days of the vote, a dozen white-owned farms had been occupied by poor, black farmers led by war veterans. The veterans have their own bone to pick with the opposition parties, who have defeated legislation for increased compensation for veterans. The veterans and squatters have received weapons and food from members of the military, with whom the veterans have close ties.

Mugabe supports the farm occupations, and this had made him more popular with rural blacks. The occupations, however, have caused a split in the ZANU-PF; some of Mugabe’s senior ministers have condemned the occupations. The international response has been mixed. European nations and the international lending agencies have frozen funds and aid to Zimbabwe, while a number of black African leaders, including Thabo Mbeke of South Africa, have voiced support for the land occupations, although this support is growing thin as attacks against opposition party members have increased.

Land reform is a vital issue for poor, subsistence farmers in Zimbabwe and all over the world. The western press, however, has not covered the issue from the squatters’ perspective. One thing is clear: the squatters feel that the war for independence is not over, and that it will never be finished without land reform.

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