Month: September 2000

One Planet – September 27, 2000

The protests surrounding the Peruvian elections have borne fruit. Last month, a source inside the Peruvian government leaked a videotape showing Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s main ally–the hated and feared Vladimiro Montesinos, head of Peruvian intelligence–bribing an opposition lawmaker to support Fujimori’s candidacy. Montesinos, who has strong ties with the CIA, has always been referred to as Washington’s strongest drug-war ally in South America. However, he has recently been implicated in a deal to sell weapons to FARC rebels in Colombia–in exchange for drugs. For the world outside of the U.S. propaganda machine, Montesinos is more commonly known as the man who helped Fujimori carry out a self-coup in 1992 that shut down Congress, set up repressive military tribunals, and established martial law. Montesinos also established and controlled death squads that murdered tens of thousands of trade unionists, human rights workers, and civilians during Peru’s civil war against the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas. In addition, throughout the 1990s, while the Peruvian government accepted money from the U.S. to “fight the drug war” (and instead used it to fight Sendero), Montesinos and the military were implicated in drug trafficking. On September 16, within hours of the broadcast of the incriminating videotape on Peru’s independent Channel N, Fujimori ordered new elections and announced that he would not run again for the presidency. He fired Montesinos, but did not arrest him. According to the latest press reports, the Peruvian government has loaded Montesinos on a plane to Panama in hopes that Panama will grant him political asylum. It remains to be seen if Fujimori will keep his word about resigning and holding new elections. More likely, he’ll continue in office with the support of the Peruvian military, with the hope that getting rid of Montesinos will be enough to satisfy his critics at home and abroad.

Protests continue in Jakarta over the sagging trial against former Indonesian dictator Suharto. Hundreds of demonstrators have held daily vigils outside Suharto’s residence, while his doctors claim that Suharto is

too ill to stand trial. The judge has ordered a medical evaluation, while protesters have complained that he should stand trial regardless of his health. In the meantime, at each crucial stage during the ongoing trial, explosions have occurred at key points around the city, including Jakarta’s stock exchange; recent press reports have linked one of Suharto’s sons to the bombings. Activists are also pissed off that Suharto is being tried for stealing only $564 million from seven public charities during his 32-year rule, when he and his family bilked the government of over $45 billion and stashed it in private, overseas accounts. His trial opened on August 31, but has been adjourned twice; each time, the delay has been met with massive street demonstrations of increasing militancy. Suharto’s doctors claim that he has had two strokes and is incoherent. In the meantime, the aged President Wahid–who has had his own health problems and is nearly blind–has come under fire for letting the military run wild in Timor and Aceh, and for failing to stop the sectarian fighting in southern Java. Wahid has been forced to surrender some of his duties to his popular vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Last week, France joined Russia in defying the criminal sanctions against Iraq. A French plane loaded with doctors, artists, and athletes touched down in Baghdad. Within a day, a Russian flight landed, the third flight from Russia since Iraq opened its international airport last month. The Russian flight carried humanitarian supplies, politicians, oil officials, and a youth football team. Both France and Russia informed the U.N. sanctions committee of the flights, but neither sought approval for them, which has brought rabid criticism from the U.S. These are the first flights to enter Iraq bearing “ordinary people.” The sanctions have barred such flights; the only route into Iraq has been by flying to Jordan and traveling overland by truck. Among the French air passengers were a group of in-line skaters who oppose the sanctions. They plan to visit hospitals and give skating exhibitions as part of a cultural exchange program. Both France and Russia were close trading partners with Iraq before the sanctions were imposed at the behest of the U.S. and Britain in 1990, and both France and Russia are the strongest critics of the sanctions at the U.N. A second French flight is scheduled for September 29.

One Planet – September 13, 2000

5,000 activists, students, and trade unionists marched through Bogota on August 30 to protest Bill Clinton’s 9-hour visit to Colombia. Bogota was deemed too dangerous for the U.S. president, so he touched down briefly in the port city of Cartegena, where over 5,000 soldiers and police officers, 350 Secret Service agents, helicopter gunships, and navy patrol boats turned the entire city into a martial law zone. At one point during his visit, the police detained a group of barefoot schoolchildren, for fear they would attack Clinton. (Terrorist narco-traffickers of any age always go barefoot.) Dim Associated Press journalists reported that the locals were happy to see “Saint Bill,” completely missing the irony and subtle humor of statements like: “For me President Clinton is a saint because thanks to his visit, (City Hall) has built me a house that I wasn’t able to afford in 52 years” (from a working class woman whose shack was next door to a new courthouse that Clinton would be dedicating) and “I got a job thanks to one of Clinton’s miracles; it would be great if he could come at least once a year” (from a poor man who was hired to do maintenance work in preparation for Clinton’s visit). Other Colombians skipped the humor. “For the young, there is no other alternative, there are no jobs, they go to the guerrillas,” said a schoolteacher in Putumayo. In Bogota, students in ski masks set fire to a bus, while 5,000 demonstrators wore Uncle Sam hats and skeleton masks and shouted “Yankee go home!” and “Imperialism out of Colombia!” In Medellin, a group of 40 students in masks and bandannas threw rocks at police and shouted “Go home, Clinton!” Clashes were reported all around the country. FARC rebels bombed three ATM machines in Cali, fought with soldiers over the control of a highway, and shot up police stations and bombed army posts in seven districts. Meanwhile, in the U.S., three major human rights groups–Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America–condemned Clinton’s signing of a waiver to release the funds for Plan Colombia when the Colombian government and military had met none of the human rights criteria specified by Congress. Clinton cited “national security” reasons for this arrogant move.

Six U.N. staff were killed last week in West Timor by rampaging militia members. The victims included a Puerto Rican-born American, an Ethiopian, a Croatian, and three Timorese. The U.N. and other aid agencies immediately withdrew all their personnel from the refugee camps in West Timor for safety reasons. An estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees are still trapped in miserable conditions in refugee camps run by right-wing militia supported by the Indonesian military. On September 1, Indonesian investigators released a list of suspects they believe were involved in the post-election violence in East Timor last year. Supporters of East Timorese independence immediately criticized the list of 19 names, saying that it represented only a handful of lesser offenders and it should, but doesn’t, including the high-profile Indonesian General Wiranto and the feared Eurico Guterres, head of one of the largest East Timorese militias. The 78 member investigation team included a number of Indonesian military representatives and police, who have influenced the list of suspects. In the meantime, the militias have grown stronger and re-entered and re-established bases in the central and southern regions of East Timor. The U.N. peacekeeping forces have deliberately not confronted the militias; instead they are pursuing ineffective strategies, such as dropping leaflets on the suspected militia bases, hoping their members will spontaneously give up their weapons. Both leaders of the respected National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which is working with the U.N. to set up a new government in East Timor and hold elections next year, have reacted angrily to the reappearance of the militias and the inaction of U.N. peacekeepers. Jose Ramos Horta has said that Falintil pro-independence resistance fighters based near Dili have wanted to confront the militia, and he’s willing to let them, provided the U.N. agrees. Xanana Gusmao, who is poised to become East Timor’s first president, has said that it may be difficult to keep Falintil members from breaking away on their own to track down and kill the militia. Gusmao, who formerly led the Falintil, said that he would like to strike back at the militia at their main bases across the border in West Timor.

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