the Disillusioned kid: June 2005
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Thursday, June 30, 2005


It's been a while since I posted anything about Uzbekistan, but this article in today's Guardian brought me back to the subject. It reveals that UK "military advisers" trained Uzbek troops in "marksmanship" shortly before the government-orchestrated massacre in Andijan which claimed the lives of hundreds of civillians. I've been looking for sometime, but finding details of British involvement in the country and its dealings with the Karimov regime has been difficult. Much more attention has been focused, unsurprisingly, on the US role. As this article demonstrates, however, that doesn't mean that the UK is faultless. Far from it:
The training was part of a larger programme funded by Britain despite concerns expressed by the Foreign Office at the time over the Uzbekistan government's human rights record.

A group of Uzbek military cadets were given a "coaching course" in marksmanship by British soldiers in February and March this year.


It is not known whether any Uzbek military students or officers trained by Britain were involved in this or any other operation against civilians.

Details of Britain's military training programme in Uzbekistan have been given by Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, in answers to parliamentary questions from the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Michael Moore.

Over 100 Uzbek military personnel were trained by the British military advisory and training teams between October last year and March, at cost of £175,000. The courses included "field training" and instructor training, as well as coaching in marksmanship. Uzbek soldiers, including senior officers, have also been trained in Britain, in courses ranging from peacekeeping to "war-fighting".

One Uzbek officer attended a course in "managing defence in a democracy".
I doubt whether, in reality, this had much to do with "defence" let alone "democracy" in a country ruled by a regime as repressive and brutal as that of Islam Karimov.

The article also reports that military Land Rovers were used in the Andijan "operation". These
appear to have been assembled under licence by the Turkish company Otokar.

There had been a joint exercise between the Uzbek and Turkish armies. Land Rovers "might have been put at the disposal of the [Uzbek] military", a spokesman for the British-based company told the Guardian last month.
Imagine the response if, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian equipment built under licence elsewhere had been used for a similar operation in an allied country.

But don't worry:
The Ministry of Defence said last night: "Our limited activities in Uzbekistan are designed to sow the seeds of democratic management and accountability of the military."
So that's alright then.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Make Richard Curtis History

Lenin has written a good post in response to Richard Curtis' 'Girl in a Cafe', shown as part of the BBC's Africa Lives series and in support of the Make Poverty History Campaign. As I haven't seen the programme (and have no desire to, romantic comedies not exactly being my favourite genre) I'm not really in a position to comment on that, but I do feel qualified to echo many of Lenin's sentiments with regard to MPH, which resonate with things I have written previously (here and - in passing - here).

Lenin argues that Girl in a Cafe "sums up the bleating hypocrisy and political stupidity of the organisers," but concedes, "A slightly more compelling reason for suspecting the Make Poverty History bunch, which Richard Curtis is one of the main driving forces behind, is the extraordinary lengths they have gone to to squeeze politics out of the G8 protests." He points to the sale of the now ubiquitous "white wrist-bands in [Scottish millionaire Tom Hunter's] clothing shops, branded with the logos of clothing companies that violate workers rights" and refers to the recent Sunday Telegraph story about the use of slave labour in the production of these bands.

He also points to the worrying absence of African social movements in the campaign and quotes Kofi Maluwi Klu, a Ghanaian activist, who notes, "We have a saying in the African liberation movement, 'nothing about us, without us'". Lenin points additionally to the exclusion of certain political groups from the campaign, notably the Stop the War Coalition who will be participating in Saturday's big MPH march (under the slogan "Fight Poverty Not War"), but who have been prevented from actually joining the coalition. More worryingly Lenin reports,
One leaked e-mail from Milipedia, an events management company, to MPH advised on the desirability of removing people from the events, if they set up unauthorised stalls and sell newspapers - this was apparently prompted by a Socialist Party plan to involve themselves in the rallies and wear their red 'Make Capitalism History' t-shirts. MPH has purchased a market traders' license to enable them to move unauthorised 'traders' - which will include those foolish enough to sell books, pamphlets or newspapers - off the sites they have booked.
There is no doubt that protests do sometimes attract crackpots and cranks who you'd rather not be associated with (I've had more than my fair share of discussions with unreconstructed Stalinists at such events), but I'm concerned at the idea that the organisers of an event can censor the actions of participants. I've had too many arguments with stewards at demos to be unconcerned about attempts to curtail deviations from the party line.

A related concern which Lenin doesn't point out is the way that MPH has established hegemony over the protests around the G8. They have done a very good job at putting issues of poverty and debt back on the front-pages, but in so doing they have diverted attention away from other areas for which they have responsibility. There are many other very important issues to protests about next week. The issue of climate change has received some attention in the media, but nearly all of this is framed in terms of Tony Blair's efforts to get Bush to act on the issue, as if the PM's own record on the issue was not itself pretty awful.

The G8 are also influential in other areas. James O'Nions points out that "of the G8 nations, only Japan doesn’t make it into the world’s top ten arms exporters." He notes further, "In 2003 alone, the G8 countries exported major conventional weapons worth in excess of $24 billion. Whilst some of these exports were to other G8 or richer countries, the majority were to the world’s poorer countries. Furthermore, the US Congressional Research Service estimates that in 2003 around 89 per cent of arms transfers to the global South came from just five members of the G8: the US, Russia, France, Britain and Germany." It goes without saying that money spent on guns, bombs and missiles cannot be spent helping the populations of those countries. Coupled with the role of such sales in fuelling conflict around the world it is clear that such sales have a major detrimental effect on the lives of thousands, if not millions, in the Global South.

Various groups have taken up the cause of refugee rights and for global free movement, Make Borders History (who have 'imaginatively' continued the Make Bad Stuff History meme started by MPH) being one of the most prominent. Others point to the imperial role of the G8 nations (witnessthe Anglo-US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; Russian oppression in Chechnya; and French, Canadian and US meddling in Haiti). Many groups and individuals, however, argue that central to our campaigning should be a rejection of the legitimacy of the G8 as an institution. This is the position taken by Lenin and (as if your interested) myself.

The idea that 8 men have the right to make decisions for the rest of the world is shockingly undemocratic. They represent something like 13% of the world's population (insofar as any of them can be said to "represent" anyone, but the interests of their national ruling classes) and as George Monbiot has pointed out, "They were all elected to pursue domestic imperatives: their global role is simply a by-product of their national mandate." To be sure, they have such power that if forced they can do good (debt relief and increased international aid as advocated by MPH could save the lives of millions), but the very system which places this much influence in the hands of such a clique must be challenged. Power must be given to the people. A tall order, no doubt, but not, I think, impossible.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm off to Edinburgh next week (Friday actually, but you know what I mean...). Maybe I'll see some of you there.

Update 29/6/05: More here.

Monday, June 27, 2005

What's Wrong With America?

Some thoughts.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Red Alert

The Zapatistas are a movement originating in Chiapas, Southern Mexico. In 1994 they launched an uprising against the Mexican government demanding autonomy and rights for the indigenous people who make up their key constituency. Since then they have been a huge influence on the "anti-globalisation" movement and radical groups around the world. They have communicated with the world through the often poetic communiques of the balaclavered Subcomandante Marcos.

While they have attracted massive amounts of support throughout Mexico and from abroad they have also attracted the ire of the Mexican government who have attacked their strongholds and supported paramilitaries seeking to undermine and/or destroy the movement and the communities from which it draws strength. On June 19 the Zapatistas issued a communique announcing that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (or Ejercitio Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, EZLN) had declared "general red alert" throughout rebel territory. This was followed by a further communique explaining some of the reasons for the red alert. The underlying reason apparently being that they had received evidence of a forthcoming government assault. Justin Podur has also posted a partial translation of an article offering a number of possible reasons for this suspicion.

Later, Irlandesa who transaltes most of the Zapatista communiques posted a "letter of explanation" on her blog. The letter offers some further insight into developments in the region and thanks those around the world who have supported the movement. Despite the tone, Marcos insists that it "is not a letter of farewell".

It is difficult if not impossible to speculate with any degree of certainty on the likely turn of events, but it is clear that the Zapatistas are taking the threat very seriously. They seem confident that they will be able to continue the struggle regardless of what the Mexican government throws at them. Announcing "that conditions are in place to continue leading the zapatista struggle even if it were to lose – be it through jail, through death or through forced disappearance – some or all of its publicly known current leadership..." Nevertheless those of us in the wider world should not be silent. As Pranjal Tiwari notes, "international solidarity is one of the main reasons their communities have been able to survive. The more noise we make outside, the more chance we have of averting a potential disaster in the region."


Thursday, June 23, 2005

Return to Chagos

Remember Halliburton? The construction firm headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney until July 2000 until he left to join the Bush Campaign has attracted considerable controversy over its involvement in Iraq where it has received various large contracts for "reconstruction" work. It now emerges that a subsidiary of the company, Kellogg, Brown and Root, have been awarded contracts for the construction of detention facilities around the world including, insofar as it is possible to be sure, on the British island of Diego Garcia.

John Pike, director of defense watchdog and analysis group, said KBR is uniquely qualified for building other detention facilities, having been pre-qualified for emergency naval construction projects in 2000.

“KBR was pre-qualified to do that work,” he added. “If the Navy needed something built quickly, they could get them on the phone and just do it.”

“Somebody had to build them,” Pike told RAW STORY. “If it was Diego Garcia for instance, it was quite probable that it would have been built under that contract. I think Diego Garcia would be an excellent location for a detention facility.”

Pike said its location made it an ideal choice for another prison.

“It’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” he continued. “Nobody visits there.”

Pedants might point out that the paucity of visitors is not simply, as Pike implies, a result simply of the island's remoteness, but a consequence of a consciously pursued policy. This policy saw the island's indigenous population removed and prevented from returning through a series of legal machinations including, most recently, the use of little known prerogative powers endowed upon the Monarchy. Which leads me onto a related story which like the one above appeared in my inbox via the Chagos Discussion List.

According to the Scotsman a legal challenge to the use of these powers is being challenged in the courts. The article sugggests that this challenge is being brought by Louis Bancoult, although they surely mean Olivier Bancoult, the de facto leader of the Chagossian community. It reports,
[O]n June 10 last year the Queen made two Orders in Council removing the right of the Chagossians to enter the territory – nullifying the effect of the High Court ruling against the Government [in 2000].

Sir Sydney [representing the Chagossians] said in court today [i.e. Wednesday June 22]: “Having searched the books, there is absolutely no precedent in British history for such an exercise of the Royal Prerogative.”

An Act of Parliament was the only legitimate way to take away the islanders’ right of return.

In the past successive governments had avoided letting the controversial issue of the Chagossians go before Parliament “for obvious reasons”.
Keep your eyes open for further developments in this case, but I wouldn't get your hopes up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Danny Boy

I really haven't been very good at posting here recently have I? I'm afraid I don't really have much of an excuse beyond a distinct lack of inspiration, although I doubt that the level of posting is likely to change anytime soon.

If you're looking for a blog which does get updated regularly with interesting stuff, you could do far worse than check out DanR's new blog, intriguingly titled The Naked Lunch. Longtime readers may recall that Dan is a fellow blogger at the Peace Pipe, indeed he is the only other person to have posted there despite there ostensibly being five team members. He's written some good stuff on the G8 including a report on the protests against the meeting of the Justice and Home Ministers from the various G8 countries which took place in Sheffield last week and which we both attended.

Dan also links to PowerSwitch in another post. PowerSwitch are a group seeking to raise awareness about the issue of "peak oil" whom we met a representative from last week. They are concerned about the consequences of "Hubbert's Peak" which predicts that global oil production will increase before reaching a peak after this it will begin to decline, a decline which will continue regardless of improvements in extraction. This has already occured in the US and the North Sea, but as it begins to take hold globally it will put increasing pressures of oil prices and threaten our hugely oil dependant economies and societies. I also went to see "The End of Suburbia" which is a film about the phenomenon and its likely consequences. Although quite US-centric there is much of interest and its worth checking out if you get the chance.

If that isn't enough for you, I've just read George Monbiot's latest column in the Guardian which examines the anti-poverty strategy being pursued by Bob Geldof and Bono, warning that it may do more harm than good. Again, go check it out.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Darfur Redux

Via the Human Tide an "opinion piece" from satirical website The Onion on the situation in Darfur, westrern Sudan:
I was pretty worried a year or so ago when the news came out that thousands of people had been indiscriminately slaughtered in Darfur. It was unsettling to hear that citizens of one ethnicity (Arab, maybe?) were systematically mass-murdering the population of some other ethnicity (Was it the Ganjaweeds? It's been so long since I've read their names!) But lately, the main stories in the news seem to be about Deep Throat, the new summer blockbusters, and something about stem cells. Since I'm sure I would have remembered if the U.S. had intervened in some way to stop it, I can only assume that the whole genocide-in-Darfur thing has somehow worked itself out.
The rest here.

As you are no doubt aware the situation in Darfur has not resolved itself. It's simply disappeared from the mainstream conciousness (and I must confess mine, to a large extent). Human Rights Watch reported on May 25:
Gross human rights abuses continue in Darfur, where Sudanese government-sponsored militia known as Janjaweed are attempting to consolidate “ethnic cleansing” by attacking internally displaced persons—mostly farmers—who try to return to their homes. The Sudanese government at the national and state level has taken no serious steps to rein in or prosecute those forces despite several U.N. Security Council resolutions since July demanding such action.

“The security situation remains clearly unsatisfactory for the whole population. Six million people in Darfur are faced with banditry, militia attacks and a devastated economy,” said Takirambudde. “Two million Darfurians have already been displaced, and most farmers will not be able to plant for yet another year.”

The United Nations has estimated that as many as 3.5 to 4 million people in Darfur will not have enough to eat in the next few months. The Sudanese government has recently stepped up its bureaucratic war on the vast humanitarian relief effort that is attempting to help millions of Darfurians. Since December, the Sudanese government has been trying to intimidate some humanitarian agencies in Darfur through arbitrary arrests, detentions and other more subtle forms of harassment.
On the same day the World Food Programme warned that hunger persisted in the region, however, "WFP's Humanitarian Air Services – providing vital passenger and cargo services throughout Sudan for the humanitarian community, donors, and the media – will have to cut back services if contributions of US$5 million are not received immediately. Overall WFP-HAS has a shortfall of US$14 million for 2005."

Last November I suggested that the rhetoric about Darfur and the possibility of Western intervention, which had reached a crescendo the previous summer, had been intended primarily for domestic consumption, perhaps in order to distract people from the turn for the worse which the occupation of Iraq was taking. Six months (and some) later this remains a difficult conclusion to avoid.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Constitutional Issues

One of my handful of regular readers keeps pestering me for some commentary on the European Constitution. As I wouldn't want to disappoint my adoring fans and because I can't actually think of anything to write myself I suppose it's as good as any other topic.

What strikes me most about the so-called constitution is the arrogance which seems to underly it. The text is written in the dense bureaucratic legalese familiar to anyone who's had the misfortune to study EU law and stretches to several hundred pages. The upshot of which is that no normal person is ever going to read it, let alone understand what it's all about. Despite this, our Glorious Leaders still expect us to take them at their word that its a good thing and trot along to the polling booths, like their obedient little lapdogs, to vote for it. Unfortunately for them, things don't seem to be working out that way.

Both France and Holland have held referenda (referendums?) on the treaty which have gone against it and several of the other countries planning referenda at some point in the future look likely to vote the same way and Jack Straw looks set to put the referendum in the UK, which was always likely to vote against, on hold. There is much worried talk in the echelons of power about the future of the constitution, even of the European project itself. Despite much of this being alarmist and frankly a little silly (Europe is unlikely to fall simply because it doesn't adopt this specific treaty as its "consitution"), it does point to something: that for all their discussions, negotiations and planning the architects of the treaty forgot one key element. The people.

That said, it doesn't go without saying that a vote against the treaty is neccesarily progressive. In the UK, the complete and abject failure of the radical left to make any impact on the debate on Europe mean that a no vote here would be a seen as a victory for the reactionary, racist, isolationist bigots of the Conservative party's right-wing, UKIP, Veritas and the BNP. This needn't be the case, however.

A number of commentators have argued that the French no vote can be seen as a progressive victory (see e.g. this, that and the other). Much of the left was actively involved in campaigning against the treaty, with socialist parties and trade unions being particulalry prominent. A friend who was in Paris in the run-up to the referendum reports that nearly all the anti-"constitution" graffitti he saw was progressive, although this may tell us more about the political leanings of Parisian graffitti artists than anything else. It is also worth noting that Parisian elites dispatched to the provinces to sell the "constitution" came back with the message that the debate there was radically different to the one taking place in the rareified political world with which they were more familiar.

It will suffice for me to concede that not being able to read French and being several hundred miles away I can't really be sure either way. That said, the very real difference between the situation there and in the UK cannot be stressed strongly enough. Here those progressive groups opposed to the treaty seem to have allied themselves with a bunch of Tories and corporate anti-"constitution" types. In my opinion, given the political context, this is a major mistake. We should be doing all we can to make our arguments distinct from those of the right and these differences are hardly of little consequence. Where they oppose it because of its liberalism, internationalism and provision of welfare we oppose it because of its neoliberal capitalism, militarism, attacks on social provision and class biases.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stuff and Nonsense

Apologies for the distinct lack of posts over the last few days. I don't really have an excuse, although the large dent in my financial reserves and the not inconsiderable quantitites of alcohol I consumed over the weekend may have contributed to my absence from the blogosphere. Hopefully the miscellaneous delights below will go someway towards mitigating my disappearance.

Timx kindly pointed me in the direction of Radio 4 who on Wednesday aired a play based on the experiences of the Chagossians, exiled from their island homes to make way for a US military base. You can find details and a real player version of the play from here (although the play will only be available for seven days after the broadcast).

Elsewhere Australia's Green Left Weekly continues to be one of the best sources for information on the Chagossian issue by publishing a brief history of Mauritian socialist group Lalit (which in French Creole means 'Struggle'), based on an interview with leading militant Ram Seegobin.

Meanwhile in the deepest realms of cyberspace the guys at and others have developed Activista, an activist search engine. Which is nice. Those of you running Firefox (and if not, why not?) or Mac's Sherlock can even get it as a plugin.

For those of you looking for something a little more pretentious you may care to check out "Anarchism and the Politics of Ressentiment" by Saul Newman which I found via the funky Postanarchism Clearinghouse. Warning: This is an academic text including extensive reference to post-isms and impenetrable scholarly turns of phrase. Beware! If you can get beyond the not very user-friendly appearance, however, there is much of interest for anybody interested in anarchism and its relevance in the modern world.

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