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Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Protests of Human Rights Abuses

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Message Edward Pepe
It would seem that not all violations of human rights were created equal.

I of course do not wish to condone Chinese behavior in Tibet. Far from it. But until we see that selective criticism —holding some responsible for human rights abuses but not others—is counterproductive, and might even be serving conservative interests, we ought to take pause.

Why, for example, do protestors against China get such ample coverage in the press? Figuring this out is not rocket science, of course, if you take the time to stop and think about it. The same old cold war communist witch hunt is behind it. Not far below the surface of the indignation feigned by the corporate media in the face of human rights abuses in Tibet lies somehow the notion that capitalism is a panacea, the cure for all that ails us.

These are the same sentiments, of course, that are behind the Bush administration’s latest sleight of hand—the transformation of a “free trade agreement” with Colombia (about which there would be little “free” either for Colombians or for American workers since these agreements lead to a greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and undermine both labor rights and environmental protections in the countries that sign them) into a “national security issue.” Hugo Chávez’s influence in the region must be stopped, they tell us. If I recall correctly, Chávez is a freely elected head of state who won his election with a greatly larger majority than George Bush did (if Bush even won). It would seem that Chávez would have the right to exert an influence in South America if he can, and it would seem appropriate for other South American countries to make alliances, either economic or military, with him if they choose to do so. (Given the history of CIA intervention in Latin America, it is not surprising that leaders there are reluctant to trust the US and want to ward off further agitation from the north. Can we blame Rafael Correa for suspecting CIA infiltration of Colombia’s armed forces?)

But the imperialist dream dies very hard, and the United States, in the face of dwindling economic influence exacerbated by the excesses of a capitalism that under the Bush administration is even less regulated than usual (hence the so-called lending crisis), feels the urgency to try to undermine in South America a burgeoning sense of independence from the North. (And then Americans don’t understand why people do not like us or why two-thirds of the people in the world no longer think we exert a positive influence.)

Of course, official reaction in the US to events in Latin America not only ignores human rights abuses there, it also puts the lie to the administration’s professed intentions of promoting democracy in the world. But there is no surprise there. George Bush, after all, was one of the first to congratulate his conservative crony, Felipe Calderón, on his election “victory”—even before government agencies in Mexico (using computer vote-counting software sold to them by Calderón’s brother in law!) chose to ignore overwhelming evidence for fraud, rejected popular calls for recounting votes, and pronounced the Harvard-educated neo-liberal as president (just as the US Supreme Court had done for Bush). It appears that other countries have a right to free elections as long as the US likes the results. But if a bit of skullduggery helps insure the desired result, democracy be damned!

Meanwhile, just as protestors climbed the Golden Gate Bridge the other day to protest Chinese brutality in Tibet, two young Trique women—indigenous human rights activists—were gunned down by high-powered rifles in the Mexican State of Oaxaca (three others in the car, including a child, were wounded). The women were on their way to testify before representatives of the Mexican Supreme Court about egregious violations of human rights there. Government atrocities are of course nothing new in Mexico (the most famous being the Kent State like massacre of students in Mexico City in 1968), but they have intensified in the last two years in Oaxaca as the result of a popular attempt to unseat a governor who is widely seen as corrupt, arrogant, incompetent and brutal—even for Mexico. This devastating conflict saw 27 members of the opposition killed and many more “disappeared.” No investigations have been launched, largely because everyone assumes that it was the government who was responsible for the murders. But since Mexican politicians are immune from any sort of charges against them, nothing will happen to him, at least for now. With the opposition terrified to speak out and with Oaxaca freshly painted, tourists once again prowl the streets, blissfully unaware of what happened or why, or that it could flare up again at any moment. The “bottom line” is that tour guides are more concerned about tourist money than tourist safety.

But violations of human rights that occur in Mexico, or Colombia, do not grab headlines in the US. Clearly the media, beholden to big business, does not want to offend America’s most conservative allies in the region. Indeed, they work hard to promote the notion that a new democracy is flowering just over the southern border. (Meanwhile the same media villainizes the ordinary Mexicans who are forced to cross the border because they cannot make a living in a Mexico that protects only the interests of the rich). But the reality is also that American businesses do not wish to offend Mexico for fear they might upset their chances to buy into Mexico’s petroleum reserve. Privatization of Mexican oil, or a lightly disguised version of the same, is one of Calderón’s most urgent chores on the list drawn up by his bosses up north (along with the other usual ones of destroying public education and privatizing it, militarizing the country in the guise of fighting a drug war, and generally destabilizing and terrorizing the citizenry in the hopes that they will accept any kind of employment offered them and at any wage, and at the same time turn over their individual rights in return for “public security.”)

There might be little we can do about all of that at the present. Until businesses are chopped back down to manageable sizes and actually scrutinized and regulated, until we reject our current system of professional politicians who depend on campaign contributions (and should we, by the way, think that any of the candidates currently raking in the dough are going to act independently once elected?), and until we all exhibit a more mature and accurate understanding of the negative effects of an unbridled capitalism, there is little hope that the media will experience any kind of epiphany and suddenly report the news objectively.

But there ought to be something we could do about getting human rights protestors themselves to highlight all human rights abuses equally, no matter where they occur, and no matter what we are told about the governments involved.

Ignoring human rights abuses in Mexico or Colombia or anywhere else cheapens efforts on behalf of the Tibetan people. It makes protests ideological in a way that should not be, and cannot be, if they are to be effective. China protestors should seek out those who are working on behalf of the victims of abuse in Latin America. A united front is needed to educate people not only about China’s abuses in Tibet, but also about the brutalizing effects of America’s foreign policy and that of its (few) allies in Latin America and elsewhere. I cannot help but believe that an American people that was really presented with the facts about Mexico, for example, would not learn to turn the official version of things on its head. They would come to understand and appreciate Mexico’s people and to condemn its government.

But only once the equivalence of Trique rights and Tibetan rights are really taken to heart
will the dark powers that now reign be forced to take notice.

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Edgar Pope is an artist, musician, writer who is old enough to remember when the world really was, or at least seemed, a kinder and gentler place.
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