Archive for March, 2009

Mo(u)rning in El Salvador

March 26, 2009

The Nation.

A young supporter of FMLN presidential candidate, now president-elect, Mauricio Funes. RODRIGO ABD/AP

Roberto Lovato

March 26, 2009

In Izalco, El Salvador, an idyllic but very poor village nestled under the gaze of the great volcano of the same name, I asked Juliana Ama to help me understand how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the guerrillas-turned-political-party, had managed to triumph over the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the presidential election on March 15, ending the right-wing party’s twenty-year reign. Ama guided me to a dusty, football field-size dirt lot adjacent to a church. The 61-year-old schoolteacher said nothing at first, staring meditatively at a round spot blackened by a campfire or some burnt offering. Then she said simply, “It’s our dead.”

Her explanation lacked the revolutionary bravado and the análisis político heard from chain-smoking former guerrilla commanders and Facebook-using radical students in San Salvador, the capital. Instead, she threw open her arms and said, “Most of the people killed in the Matanza [the Great Killing] are buried here.” Before us lay the remains of many of the 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous Pipil-Nahuat killed in January 1932 on the orders of military dictator Maximiliano Hernández.

In slow, measured speech, Ama, one of a tiny fraction of Salvadorans who identify themselves as indigenous, explained how indigenous peasants like her great-great-granduncle, the peasant leader Feliciano Ama of Izalco, and others from the western coffee-growing part of El Salvador rose up against deadly poverty, stolen land and other abuses in Depression-era El Salvador, only to be brutally slaughtered.

“We’ve organized commemoration ceremonies on this spot since 2001,” said Ama, as she pointed at the darkened patch on the lot. “People who can’t remember and are silent are people who are submitted (sumisos). Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us. Nothing like this was ever possible before, and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.”

My initial reason for visiting Izalco during the country’s presidential election season was that I’d learned of ARENA’s defeat in the Izalco mayoral race in January–the party’s first defeat since it was founded in 1981 by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads. The death squads, backed by the right-wing military government, were responsible for killing many of the 80,000 people who died during the bloody civil war of 1980-92.

The FMLN’s recent victory in small, neglected Izalco–after campaigning on a message of change backed by a coalition of Catholics, students and evangelicals–had political analysts buzzing about how it might herald a national trend in the lead-up to the historic presidential election. Even some ARENA loyalists I interviewed quoted D’Aubuisson’s prophetic maxim: “The day we lose Izalco, that day will be the end of the party.”

In Izalco it became clear how Ama’s explanation of the FMLN’s victory aligned perfectly with the central lesson of revolutionary political warfare that some former Salvadoran guerrilla commanders told me they’d learned in Russia, Vietnam and other Communist-bloc countries in the 1960s and ’70s: the spirit of the people matters most. The power that broke the chain of oligarchies and military dictatorships that shackled El Salvador for 130 years was the will of the people to break their silence.

Few embody this will to break the silence like Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate and the first leftist elected president in the history of El Salvador.

Funes, a 49-year-old former journalist, rose to prominence in no small part thanks to the democratic space created by the signing of the peace accords ending the war in 1992. Until then, the seventy-year rule of oligarchs and dictators made freedom of expression a rarity. My first memories of Funes are as the talk-show host and commentator my family in San Salvador would listen to in the late ’80s as they huddled around a small, battered black-and-white television set during their lunch breaks.

As the grip of state military-run television loosened in the postwar period, Funes became the country’s most popular TV personality in his role as host of Entrevista al Dia (Interview of the Day), El Salvador’s equivalent of Meet the Press.

Hosting al Dia, on which he grilled and debated left- and right-leaning guests with his famously mercurial intelligence, helped to make Funes a symbol of the openness ushered in by the signing of the peace accords. After losing every presidential race since laying down its arms to become a political party in 1992, the FMLN embraced change. With the help of people like Funes’s mentor Hato Hasbun–a sociology professor who worked closely with the six Jesuit priests killed by the military during the FMLN offensive in 1989–the party finally recognized that putting up presidential candidates who were former guerrilla commanders or wartime opposition leaders might not be the best strategy for winning over an electorate trying to overcome the war’s painful legacy. The party chose Funes, who was neither a combatant nor a member of the FMLN during the war.

In doing so, the former guerrillas gave their party a much-needed upgrade that allowed them to use the FMLN’s legendary organizational capacity (during the war, the US State Department called the FMLN one of the “best organized” and “most effective” people’s movements in Latin America in the last fifty years) to meet the political requirements of the media age. And as a Jesuit-influenced intellectual, Funes also gave the FMLN–an organization with many leaders who were themselves profoundly influenced by liberation theology and first organized in Christian base communities–some ideological comfort.

When I interviewed Funes on the night of his victory, in the restaurant of a San Salvador hotel, the first thing he did was echo the thinking of one of those who courageously broke El Salvador’s silence. “Now we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.”

Like almost every Salvadoran I spoke with after Funes’s victory, the candidate said he wished a deceased family member, in his case his brother killed during the war, was with him to share the moment.

And like Juliana Ama, he too rooted his victory in the legacy of silence and struggle from Izalco: “Our history–what happened in 1932, the poverty of the ’70s that caused the armed conflict in the ’80s and the state in which many in the countryside like Izalco still find themselves today–these can be explained fundamentally by the unjust distribution of wealth, the use of the government to support the process of concentrating wealth.”

After talking with Funes at the hotel, I went to the Escalon neighborhood, where those who have benefited from the concentration of the country’s wealth live and do business behind the big, heavily guarded walls of gated buildings and fortressed mansions. For reasons I don’t know, but imagine have something to do with poetic justice, the FMLN decided to hold its massive victory celebration that Sunday night on Escalon Boulevard.

The neighborhood was also where the FMLN launched its offensive on San Salvador in 1989. After the demise of Communism put in doubt the survival of Latin American revolutionary movements, including El Salvador’s, the FMLN made a strategic decision to bring its guerrilla army of young men and women and older adults, some of whom had little to no combat experience, into the capital, leading to some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

I walked along the crowded blocks of the Escalon with my good friend Joaquin Chávez, a fellow in the NYU history department, who founded the first Central American studies program in the United States with three other colleagues and me. Passing by Citibank and Scotiabank, OfficeMax, McDonald’s and other corporate buildings on the Escalon never felt so exhilarating. The major difference was the hundreds of thousands of boisterously happy, red-shirted, mostly poor children, youth and families waving homemade red-and-white FMLN flags.

For his part, my bookish, bespectacled historian friend Joaquin, who had lost many friends and family members during the war, was initially pretty academic about what the electoral victory meant.

“The origins of the war were not ideological. What brought on the armed struggle,” began Joaquin, whose current research looks at the role of intellectuals in the origins of the war, “was the reaction of various groups to the repression of the state. If the government had allowed fair elections in 1972 and 1977, there would have been no war.” His voice started to crack slightly with emotion. “And that’s what makes tonight so hope-inspiring: it makes possible a political transition through legal and electoral means.”

Watching the wave of thousands of mostly young FMLN supporters walk, sing and dance as they held handpainted signs with messages like Misión Cumplida: Compañeros Caídos en La Lucha (Mission Accomplished: Compañeros Who Fell in the Struggle), Joaquin reminisced, not as the accomplished historian but as the former guerrilla leader: “I remember being here on Seventy-fifth Street (during the 1989 offensive) to pick up the bodies of dead and injured young combatants. They were the ages of these kids walking here now.”

He continued: “Tonight I feel like they didn’t die for nothing. Spiritually, it feels like a weight has been taken off of you, where you feel the absence of those who initiated these processes. This is an explosion of happiness and a celebration of rebellion, a triumph of the 1932 rebellion of Feliciano Ama and the indigenous people.”

Back at the empty lot, near the blackened patch of dirt that is ground zero of revolutionary El Salvador, Juliana Ama pondered the escape from silence her country had begun. Despite the threats the commemoration ceremonies provoked, she said, “our ceremony is not intended as a political act. It is first and foremost a spiritual act. We have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Her eighth-grader son, Alex Oswaldo Calzadia Chille, stood solemnly nearby.

Asked what he thought the political turns in his country portended, the rather reticent, dark-skinned 14-year-old star student, soccer forward and drummer at the Mario Calvo school responded with an unexpected forcefulness. “I’m Pipil (Indian). Feliciano Ama, he’s my family and was killed defending the land against the government, like many people do today.” As if he’d been waiting for the opportunity to speak even more, he declared, “My family voted for the FMLN because they wanted change.” His intense brown eyes alive with the energy one imagines his rebellious ancestor had, Alex added, “When I’m old enough, so will I.”

Must See Moyers Interview: Mike Davis on “De-globalization,” the Socialist Option and the Role of the U.S. Left

March 22, 2009

Mike Davis, photo by Robin Holland

If we lived in a world in which depth of thought-regardless of political orientation- was publicly recognized and rewarded, my friend and companero (a word he loves), Mike Davis, would have a movie about him called “A Beautiful Mind” (hopefully a better-made, well-acted and ardently personal-is-political version.) One of less than a handful of inspirations for my own preferential option for the Militant Word, Mike is the author of more books than I have time to name here (Late Victorian Holocausts & City of Quartz are among my favorites).

I can think of few thinkers whose depth of analysis, way with words and serious conviction rise to the moment of crisis we face. This interview with Bill Moyers gives Mike the ample space needed for us to appreciate his thought, short of actually reading him.Trust me: you can’t leave listening to Mike without reconfiguring your synapses in some way. Besides introducing concepts like “de-globalizaton,” one of the most interesting things about the interview, which, BTW, Bill conducts nimbly, is that Mike let’s out the lesser-known optimism lurking in his socialist heart. Must Watch Television. Really. Enjoy.

R

CUNY TV Interview on El Salvador Elections

March 22, 2009

This interview with CUNY TV‘s Gary Pierre-Pierre goes over lots of terrain. Thanks to CUNY TV’s Michelle Garcia for conceiving of and developing the idea for what turned out to be a good interview. Enjoy!

RL Debates Blind (Literally) Immigrant Nativist Woman on BBC World… Really.

March 19, 2009

https://i2.wp.com/hub.tv-ark.org.uk/images/news/bbcworld/bbcworld_images/2007/bbcworld_pres_april2008a.jpg

Just back from covering what may be (for personal and objective reasons) the most astonishingly transcendental political battle he may ever cover, yours truly returned to the “reality” of U.S. politics just in time to battle a different kind of adversary on the global airwaves of the BBC’s World Have Your Say show: a blind nativist immigrant woman who lives in Virginia. Really. I didn’t know who I’d be debating until we were on the air. But when I found out, I knew my appearance was doomed from the moment Hala, a blind Lebanese immigrant living in Virginia, uttered, “I’m blind and I learned English. Why can’t they (undocumented immigrants.)?” For those of you waiting to see if they’ll queue me up to get Gladiator on paraplegic octogenerian Nazis, deaf mute baby Latino skinheads and any other adversaries, another portion of the show will be broadcast at 2:30 EST

Who needs the sublime experience of overcoming 130 years of oligarchy and military dictatorship in El Salvador and other barbarian outposts when such foes and epic battles await us here in the center of “civilization?”

Daring to Change: Exclusive Interview with El Salvador’s President-Elect, Mauricio Funes

March 18, 2009

A Conversation With Mauricio Funes

by Roberto Lovato & Josue Rojas

March 17, 2009

On March 15, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party to clinch a presidential election in the history of El Salvador. By 10 pm, it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “¡Si Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), while they celebrated the victory of the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes.

Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, to 49 percent cast for Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, which had been in power for twenty years. Though Funes, a former journalist, is the best-known Salvadoran on his country’s TV networks, he is little known outside the region. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nation and New America Media (NAM), reporters Roberto Lovato and Josue Rojas had the opportunity to interview El Salvador’s next president on the night of his election. What follows is an excerpt from this interview with Funes, who addressed numerous issues: the meaning of his presidency, El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, immigration and other domestic and foreign policy concerns.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the US-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s approach to this issue differ from that of the outgoing Saca administration?

The fact that we’re going to rebuild the democratic institutions–enforce the constitution and make of El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law–is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration. Salvadorans who leave to go the United States do so because of the institutional abandonment, the lack of employment and dignified ways to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the US. It’s not the same for us to ask the US government to renew TPS [temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, as to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can’t get mixed up in repealing CAFTA…nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we’d be facing serious problems because we wouldn’t have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

rl-funes1

What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regard to El Salvador at this time?

To the degree that we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the US and we’ll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the US.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We’re going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions. This government implies a break from traditional policy-making. Now, what we’re going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people–the totality of the Salvadoran people–but fundamentally, of that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country’s social and economic development. [The people who for] not just the last twenty years but for last 200 years or more have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies. A government like the one I’m going to create will give them the protagonist’s role, which, until now, they have not ha

Democracy Now! Interview on FMLN Electoral Victory in El Salvador

March 16, 2009

Democracy Now!

You can find what will surely be my most cogent (estoy super cansadisimo, pero contento) interview on yesterday’s elections in El Salvador here at the DN website. Clips from a video interview with President-elect Funes will be forthcoming, depending on what editors tell me. Transcript of interview below. R

Amy Goodman: In El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, of the former rebel FMLN party, has won the country’s presidential election, ending two decades of conservative rule. Funes won 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Rodrigo Avila of the ruling right-wing ARENA party. He conceded defeat late on Sunday.

ARENA had won every presidential election since the end of El Salvador’s brutal civil war eighteen years ago. The FMLN was a coalition of rebel guerrillas who fought the U.S.-backed military government during almost two decades in which more than 70,000 people died. Tens of thousands, the majority of those people, died at the hands of the Salvadoran military or paramilitary forces.

Funes is a former television journalist who reported on the years of the conflict and is the first FMLN presidential candidate who is not a former combatant. In his victory speech, he stressed his moderate policies during his campaign and says he intends to maintain good relations with the United States.

President-elect Mauricio Funes: [translated] To strengthen international relations and implement an independent exterior policy based on protection and the boosting the national interest, the integration of Central America and the strengthening of relations with the United States will be aspects of priority on our foreign policy agenda.

Amy Goodman: The Obama government has assured Salvadorans it would work with any leader elected, a departure from the Bush administration, which in 2004 threatened to cut off aid to El Salvador if the FMLN won.

Close U.S. ties saw El Salvador keep troops in Iraq longer than any other Latin American country, with the last of its 6,000 soldiers returning last week. El Salvador had also become a hub of regional cooperation with Washington in the so-called drug war. The country’s economy depends on billions of dollars sent home by 2.5 million Salvadorans who live in the United States.

We go now to San Salvador to speak with Roberto Lovato. He is a contributing associate editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine. He blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com. He met with the President-elect, Mauricio Funes, last night and interviewed him. Roberto Lovato joins us now via Democracy Now! video stream.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Roberto. Can you tell us the climate now in San Salvador?

Roberto Lovato: I would just say — I’ll just quote a song that says, “Y que venga la alegria a lavar el sufrimiento” — “Let the joy come and wash away the suffering.” It’s something on an order I’ve never seen in my life. As a child of Salvadoran immigrants and as someone who’s spent time here and as someone who saw the Obama experience, I really can’t tell you what this is like, when you’re talking about ending not just the ARENA party’s rule, but you’re talking about 130 years of oligarchy and military dictatorship, by and large, that’s just ended last night. You’re talking about $6 billion that the United States used to defeat the FMLN, as you mentioned earlier. You’re talking about one of the most formidable — a formerly political military, now political forces, in the hemisphere, showing the utter failure of not just the ARENA party but of somebody in particular, too, who has a special place in many of our hearts: Ronald Reagan. This is the defeat of Ronald Reagan, nothing less.

AG: Explain what you mean.

RL: Ronald Reagan — well, you mentioned those 70,000 dead. If there’s a single person responsible for the death squad apparatus that pursued many of our family members, that pursued some of us, that killed — according to the United Nations, 95 percent of all the 70,000 to 80,000 people killed were killed by their own government. Ronald Reagan really, really started us along the road to the — what’s even called in Iraq now “the Salvador Option.” And so, $6 billion — it cost Ronald Reagan and the US $6 billion to try to destroy the FMLN.

And now the streets are red, not with the FMLN’s blood, but with young children, boys, girls, elderly people, families dressed in red, joyously celebrating, singing revolutionary songs commemorating a victory that they’ve never known in their lives, coming out of a silence that this country has always known its whole life. And so, I mean, there were tears and not blood in the streets of San Salvador this morning and even now. It’s about 6:00 a.m. You guys got me up a little early, but it’s just something I’ve never seen in my life, and I’m so moved. I wish I had the words to tell you how moved many of us are here right now.

AG: Can you tell us who Mauricio Funes is? Tell us his background.

RL:
Mauricio Funes is, I would say, one of the great symbols of the aspects of democracy brought to El Salvador, thanks to the FMLN bringing the United States and El Salvador to the negotiating table. Freedom of expression was not a possibility under a military dictatorship. And so, the peace accords brought a modicum of political space, in the media, in particular. And so, Mauricio Funes was like a talk-show host who became the biggest media star in El Salvador, one who happened to lean left, who lost a brother during the war, and who is extremely smart, extremely smart.

You know, I interviewed him for about twenty-five minutes last night, and I find him to be a very, you know, smart guy, in terms of foreign, domestic policies, and speaks with great details and not the usual inanities and simplistic nonsense that most Salvadoran politicians I’ve spoken of — about for most of Salvadoran life. And so, he came as a breath of fresh air, to the point where even 46 percent of the evangelical vote in El Salvador — an extremely conservative evangelical vote, I might add — voted for him.

AG: Explain, finally, Roberto Lovato, speaking to us from San Salvador, the significance of this election of Mauricio Funes, of the FMLN party, for Latin America.

RL: Well, this is a continuation of the red and pink tide that’s taken hold in the hemisphere. The big difference is that it brings us even closer to the north. It brings us even closer to the border wall. Remember, there are more Salvadorans here than there are most — in the United States than there are any other South American country. So the Salvadoran population was here in force, as were many North Americans. People that — like, I’m sure many in your audience, Amy, have supported the people of El Salvador since the 1980s, doing solidarity work, doing sanctuary work. So all of those people’s hearts were moved last night. I’m sure a lot of people in the United States cried with joy. I’m sure a lot of people in United States know and are going to be committed to El Salvador. And so, you bring a tiny Latin American country with one of the most powerful solidarity movements in the United States right now. So, this is major.

This is major also because the Summit of the Americas is coming up, and now Barack Obama is going to have to deal with another Latin American country that has turned away from the United States agenda and that he’s going to have to try to woo somehow, to back into some conversation and not confrontation with the US.

AG: Roberto Lovato, we’re going to leave it there, though we will continue to cover these developments. Again, the FMLN presidential candidate of El Salvador has won. Mauricio Funes is his name. Roberto Lovato, our guest, contributing associate editor with New America Media, frequent contributor to The Nation magazine, blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com, in San Salvador covering the elections.

Breaking News: Salvadoran Elections Inspire Mexican Crooner Fernandez to Come Out of Revolutionary Closet

March 16, 2009

chente-5-f51

“QUE VIVA EL FMLN!” El Salvador’s Left Wins Elections, Ends 150 Years of Military-Oligarch Rule

March 16, 2009

rl-funes

After more than 150 years of oligarchy, military dictatorship and radical poverty, El Salvador’s former guerrillas, the FMLN, won the presidency. The picture above depicts yours truly and Mauricio Funes, President-elect. It was taken just a little while ago and I’m sending as a preview of an exclusive interview I did with El Salvador’s new Presidente. But first, I must go toast, cry and sing to this joyous moment. More later soon.

R

Conflicting Rumors From El Salvador’s Electoral Tribunal

March 15, 2009

I just conducted an extensive interview a well-placed member of El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the body responsible for overseeing today’s presidential vote. The source asked to remain anonymous. I went to investigate rumors about a firm, Universal Identification Solutions (UIS), that some international observers told me was emplyed by the TSE to help certify the viability of the electronic systems used to count the vote. Some observers expressed concern that e firm and some of its associates may have been involved in electoral controversies in elections in Venezuela.

So, I went to interview members of the TSE, who confirmed that UIS had indeed been contracted-but by the office of the Salvadoran President Antonio Saca of the ARENA party. “That decision is the right of the President” , said the source, who also confirmed that UIS conducted a presentation to international observers last Friday in which it “certified” the viability of the electronic vote counting system used in today’s historic elections. “No other country would hire that firm because if has a dark part” said the source, who did, however, explain that there were other international contractors monitoring the system on the part of  both parties.

More on this story as it develops.

——–

My own prediction of the results: a big FMLN blowout. I’ll tell you why I believe this soon.

Electoral Observers Denounce Mysterious Presence of Over 150 Buses On Eve of El Salvador Election

March 15, 2009

This just in from the election observer mission of several US groups, including the National Lawyers Guild, Salvadoran American National Network, CASA de Maryland, Wesley United Methodist Church among others. Please visit the group’s blog for more and regularly updated information.

R

San Salvador- Around 9pm on Saturday March 14, 2009, just hours before the presidential election in El Salvador, a group of electoral observers, including international electoral observers from the United States, noticed a group of over 150 suspicious buses that were just parked at the Cuscatlán Stadium in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Reports from the nearby community assured the presence of foreigners coming into the country in those buses to illegally cast votes in the upcoming heated Salvadorian presidential election taking place on Sunday March 15, 2009. In response, international electoral observers have decided to stay in the surrounding areas of the stadium, and other key places, throughout the night to monitor the suspicious activity.

It is our hope that our presence as International Observers helps diminish the likelihood of political intimidation, electoral fraud and violence during the important elections. We are committed to reporting our observations at all times.

Among the members of our group of International Electoral Observers from the United States are: The U.S. National Lawyers Guild, County Councilmember George Levanthal from Montgomery County, Maryland; Salvadorian American National Association; CASA de Maryland; Manuel Zapata Olivella Center for Education and Human Development in Washington, DC; Wesley United Methodist Church in Washington, DC; the Matea Group in the Washington, DC region; among many more.

My Late Night, Pre-Electoral Salvadoran Drug of Choice: Sombrero Azul

March 15, 2009

After a long day of reporting, running around and drinking Cuban rum into the night with friends, I was tired, overcoming dire sickness and left no choice but to resort to my drug of choice here in El Salvador: El Sombrero Azul (the Blue Hat), one of the anthems of the Salvadoran struggle, which will reach its most recent culmination within hours. Written by the great Ali Primera of Venezuela in the 1980’s, Sombrero Azul is a pretty simple tune sung by a man and his guitar.

But as you will see and hear from this video recorded in 1983 at the Concierto por la paz en centroamerica in Managua the song captures one of the most awsome force forces I know – yes, the Revolutionary spirit, I said it – a spirit, that 150 years of military dictatorships (many of which were backed by Republicans and Democratic US Presidents), hundreds of thousands of slaughtered innocents and millions of exploited people could not silence. That’s the stuff that’s cleaning the smoggy air, the polluted water and violent culture engendered by oligarchic-military rule; Same stuff that’s got me coming out of sickness and tiredness to work even harder.

Am too run down to communicate what it feels like, but, fortunately, I found this song we used to sing in the previous period. Try breathing deeply, following the lyrics (in video and below), let them take hold in your lungs and chest and lift up your left arm and sing “Dale”when Ali signals and I guarantee that you too will be transported here by the music of this hairy, hippy-looking, beautiful revolutionary troubador of a man who makes many of us cry from inspiration.

Dale Salvadoreno!

Sombrero Azul

El pueblo salvadoreño
tiene el cielo por sombrero
tan alta es su dignidad
en la búsqueda del tiempo
en que florezca la tierra
por los que han ido cayendo
y que venga la alegría
a lavar el sufrimiento

Dale que la marcha es lenta
pero sigue siendo marcha
dale que empujando al sol
se acerca la madrugada
dale que la lucha tuya
es pura como una muchacha
cuando se entrega al amor
con el alma liberada

Dale salvadoreño, dale
que no hay pájaro pequeño, dale
que después de alzar el vuelo, dale
[ Find more Lyrics on http://www.mp3lyrics.org/mnq ]
se dentenga en su volar (bis)

Al verde que yo le canto
es el color de tus maizales
no al verde de las boinas
de matanzas tropicales
las que fueron al Vietnam
a quemar los arrozales
y andan por estas tierras
como andar por sus corrales
dale salvadoreño…

Hermano salvadoreño
viva tu sombrero azul
dale que tu limpia sangre
germinará sobre el mar
y será una enorme rosa
de amor por la humanidad
hermano salvadoreño
viva tu sombrero azil

Tendrán que llenar al mundo
con masacres de Sumpul
para quitarte las ganas
del amor que tienes tú

Dale salvadoreño..

RL to Discuss El Salvador Election Live on Al-Jazeera @ 10pm EST

March 14, 2009

The image “http://batuloabdirahman.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/aljazeera.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I’ll be interviewed live on the Al-Jazeera (English) television network this evening. Those of you interested in watching can find out more here.

(Update: not sure if and where they put the live interview, but here’s a nice clip the AJ’s Mariana Sanchez did on the history and current role of radio in war and in peace.  Makes a good accompaniment to my previous piece on media and elections:

War by Other Means: Media and the Elections in El Salvador

March 14, 2009

funes-media-crowd

In pre-electoral El Salvador, media is merely the continuation of war by other means.

No one in this tiny country of 6 million understands this better than Mauricio Funes. As the first candidate of the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) with a real possibility of winning the presidency (most recent polls show him with a 5-11 point lead), Funes, a former journalist, knows well the new ways of waging political war in the media age.

As a result of their success, Funes and the FMLN also find themselves at the center of what many local and international media analysts concur is the fiercest, most expensive and dirtiest media campaign in Salvadoran history, a media campaign run not by the right wing ARENA party and its candidate, Rodrigo Avila, but by the news media itself.

Surrounded at a recent press conference held in a posh hotel and organized by the small army of black-suited young (male and female) media professionals that’s replaced many of the older, former guerrillero cadre that managed previous FMLN presidential campaigns, Funes defended against attacks by one of his primary adversaries-El Salvador’s largest and oldest media outlets.

“Their dirty campaign will backfire,” said Funes, whose media operatives then backed up his statements using various weapons in their media arsenal: a slide show detailing what they call the “Government-Party in government-News Media” continuum that opposes the FMLN and a booklet titled “Record of a Dirty Campaign.” FMLN operatives also distributed a video containing more than a dozen examples of news reports they believe reflect the “bias and extremism” of the mainstream Salvadoran media: television and print media news reports of “possible” FMLN involvement in the distribution of M-16’s to the Mara 18 gang in prison; reports in major newspapers of Funes and the FMLN dissolving the armed forces in the event of a victory in Sunday’s elections; news reports that the Obama Administration “may deny legal status” to Salvadorans living in the United States if the FMLN wins.

(newspaper headline claiming Salvadorans will lose legal status with FMLN victory)

es-tps-piece

Once engaged in politico-military combat against the big agrarian interests defended by the Salvadoran military, the FMLN of the digital age now finds itself fighting the big financial interests at the heart of ARENA, interests that domestic and foreign observers say are defended by the country’s most powerful media outlets.

A report released last January by the more than 30 members of the Election Observer Mission of the European Union (EU) appeared to confirm the very political role of El Salvador’s news media. The report found “disproportionate disequilibrium in the amount of time or space assigned to the parties” in 11 of the 15 news media in monitored. Without naming the ARENA party by name, the Spaniard in charge of the EU mission, Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo said, “We are concerned that there exists in the campaign a very notorious disequilibrium in the support of the news media and the State towards one of the two candidates.”

For her part, Alexandra Bonilla, a reporter with La Prensa Grafica, one of El Salvador’s oldest newspapers, defends against reports critical of outlets like hers. “These reports are unfair” says Bonilla, who reports on the media. “The larger media here are owned by conservative interests, but we do try to uphold professional standards in our election coverage. We give equal time and coverage to both parties.”

funes-multimedia

While the concentration of big media power does present a major obstacle to Funes and the FMLN, the new age of Salvadoran media has also provided the left with the means to take power. Both the FMLN and ARENA have made extensive and effective use of the confluence of new media known as Web 2.0: Facebook, Youtube, blogs and other media. And the deployment of new media outside the formal and often rigid structures of political parties has also making a major debut.

This year’s elections also mark the first time internet-based independent media have played a serious role in the elections as well. Political blogging on all sides of the political spectrum has started taking hold in El Salvador. Internet news sites like El Faro, ContraPunto and Raices are among the most popular sites of their kind in the country and have seen exponential increases in traffic because of the intense interest in this year’s elections.

“Internet news sites are still an incipient political medium” said Juan Jose Dalton, founder and editor of ContraPunto. “But they are already a major force because of the demand for fast news, professional reporting and alternatives to the very compromised officialist media” declared Dalton, who is the son of Roque Dalton, El Salvador’s revered revolutionary poet and writer. “We bring a vision, a political space that has not existed for most of our history.”

(journalist Juan Jose Dalton listening to Mauricio Funes at press conference)

funes-juan-jose

One anonymous blogger interviewed for this story said that he thought that the ability of alternative media to compete with his country’s big media is, in no small part, rooted in the culture of political anonymity created by the successive strings of oligarchs and military dictatorships that dominated the country for more than 150 years. “Blogs and other alternative media give us a way to participate anonymously; they allow us to say what we can’t say publicly. We’re watching an explosion of new voices and new ways to express ourselves” said the bespectacled young blogger.

While attending the Funes news conference, the blogger had his hands full with the camera he uses for blogging and the tape recorder he uses in his day job: journalist at a magazine. “In a country where saying publicly that you supported the FMLN could get you killed, alternative media offers the best alternative to the multi-million dollar campaigns of the right. The media itself has become a field of battle-and we’re going to win!”

Salvadoran Elections Provoke Cautious Optimism On U.S. Relations

March 13, 2009

nam_logo_tagline

https://i1.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3580/3325364967_8728b9a968.jpg

Editor’s Note: El Salvador’s elections this Sunday, March 15 has Salvadorans and observers in Latin America wondering, not just about the outcome, but also about the future of United States relations with this Central American country in the new era of Pres. Barack Obama. NAM contributor Roberto Lovato reports from the capital city.

SAN SALVADOR– El Salvador’s election on March 15 is an occasion for Salvadorans to consider future relations with the United States and the new Obama Administration. How the new president and his advisers respond to these elections could be an early measure of U.S.-Latin American relations. And it may also be an opportunity for Obama to begin fulfilling his campaign promise to “lead the hemisphere into the 21st Century.”

As much as he appreciates the change of U.S. administrations, philosophy student Carlos Ramirez, 24, who was sitting beneath a tree near the central plaza of his school, the University of El Salvador in San Salvador, expressed concern that the administration has only made a brief statement of neutrality on the widely-watched elections here. Ramirez and others, including more than 33 U.S. congressmembers who sent Obama a dear-colleague letter about the Salvadoran elections, fear a repeat of 2004. Then, Bush Administration officials intervened in the Salvadoran elections, suggesting that a victory by the opposition party would endanger the legal status of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States and would prohibit remittances they send home.

“I want Obama to understand that there are some students here–a minority, I would say–who still have the ‘80’s attitude of permanent confrontation with the United States that we see in campus protests against the Iraq war, CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement] and other policies,” said Ramirez. “But most of us are open to re-thinking the relationship with the United States. We all recognize that all of us, including the United States, are in a profound crisis and extremely interdependent, as you can see in issues like immigration, trade and security. We’re open and now it’s up to Obama to define his position, and the elections are a good place to start.”

Ramirez’ open-but-cautious attitude is the product of both political maturity and the Bush era policies toward Latin America that bred alienation from the United States. Viewed from this perspective, Sunday’s elections have significance beyond the tiny country of 7 million. How the Obama Administration deals with El Salvador’s hotly contested elections and their aftermath will communicate much about what this country and Latin America can expect from him.

The policies of post-World War II presidents in the United States, both Republican and Democratic, make many Salvadorans wary of Obama, even though they give him high popularity ratings, says Edgardo Herrera, an international relations expert at the university.

“If it is truly committed to improving relations with El Salvador and the rest of Latin America, the Obama Administration should remember what we say about justice here,” said Herrera. “Justice is like a snake. It only bites the barefoot poor, not the rich who have shoes.” He thinks the United States is not in sync with ideas about justice on the Salvadoran street. He cites an annual opinion poll conducted by Central American University since 2003. “Every year Salvadorans are telling the United States they do not like its policies, including the Iraq war, the CAFTA and the dollarization of the country’s currency,” Herrera said. “Rejection of these policies has turned the Salvadoran electorate against the ARENA government-and the United States.”

For Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador in the Carter Administration and President of the Center for International Policy, the challenge of U.S.-El Salvador policy before and after Sunday’s elections is to foster autonomy and self-determination. “Although the country may be small and its economy heavily dependent on remittances from the United States,” White said, “it is still important for that country to demonstrate its policy independence. Many questions have been raised by some of the Salvadoran government’s past actions.”

White, who is monitoring the elections in El Salvador from Washington, D.C., recalled how the Bush Administration influenced El Salvador’s “extraordinary rapid recognition of the 2002 coup regime in Venezuela, which I believe lasted less than 48 hours.” The leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is leading the right-wing ARENA party, which dominated politics for 20 years. Should the FMLN win, White said the U.S. should “treat it as a normal event in a democracy.”

Ramirez agreed. “The best thing Obama can do is to engage us in this time of transition and expectation,” he said. “If he were to visit us, he would see immediately that what he needs to do is simply help us reconstruct the campus and the country as the Uniteds States did in Europe and Japan after World War II.”

Izalco, El Salvador and the Way Beyond the Silence

March 12, 2009

izalco1

Mystical Izalco portends the end of Salvadoran silence.

To understand the current presidential elections in El Salvador, you have to understand the cities, towns and the campo, El Salvador’s countryside, located outside the capital of San Salvador. What follows is my attempt to provide further context for the media’s description of the horse race between the FMLN and the ARENA parties. A good starting point is the fact that both parties trace all or some of their political roots to Izalco, a relatively small town in the western, coffee-growing part of the country. Izalco is also home to one of the largest concentrations of El Salvador’s small (less than 1% of the population) indigenous population.

For strange, tragic, even mysterious reasons, Izalco, which in the racist popular national lore (ie; one way to call someone ugly is to say they look “indio”) is home to witches, is also home to what, in my opinion, is the ever-present, but unspoken political and cultural spirit of the country. And this region also concentrates large numbers of volcanos, some of which are also quite alive (see above) , as are the narrow and crowded streets of Izalco (below).

izalco-streets

If we want want to take the political pulse of a country as poor (50% of the population lives in poverty) as El Salvador, speaking with people who are not just poor, but a small, indigenous poor minority living in such an enchanting and dark land will give us a unique read. Not all people here in Izalco identify as native people, but all recognize and live indigenous reality like few other places in this country of 7 million.

kids

You can see the indigenous presence in the sublime faces of the kids here.

You can also find it in and on the nahuatl textbooks and notebooks:

nahuat-arm

And you can find the indigenous presence in the deep, dark soil of Izalco’s history. Almost all of the children from Izalco’s Mario Calvo school pictured above are descendants-great, great and great, great, great, grandchildren- of the 20,000-30,000 indigenous people who rebelled against deadly poverty and abuse and were then slaughtered in 1932 by General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who perpetrated what is known as “La Matanza” (the Great Killing). Martinez and his troops did all this in less than a month, according to scholars like my friend Aldo Lauria-Santiago, whose book is pictured below with a cover of the Izalco volcano.

http://mriveraq.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/1932-libro-nueva-portada1.jpg

Recent research like Aldo’s and that of other scholars reveals that the idea that the rural insurrection in the west was led by urban communists of the period like Farabundo Marti is wrong. In fact, these scholars tell us, it was led by the ancestors (below) of the children pictured above. Below is the picture of the real leader of the insurrection, Jose Feliciano Ama.

https://i2.wp.com/3.bp.blogspot.com/_I4smoUo73EI/SSrUw5lftII/AAAAAAAAClI/8dExOP7XwLU/s400/felicianoama.jpg

The spiritual reality behind images such as these inspired revolutionary Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton to say in his oft-quoted poem,

Todos nacimos mitad muertos en 1932

Sobrevivimos pero medio vivos

(we were all born half dead in 1932

we survived but half alive)

Despite recent research, many still blur the differences between the communists and the indigenous rebels of the period. Even many members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) make the mistake as do members of the governing ARENA party, which was founded in Izalco by Roberto D’abuisson. D’abuisson also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads, one of which was named for the old dictator, Hernandez Martinez.

arena1

I actually have no idea who the group of Izalco Areneros pictured above are. I visited the office and spoke with the directores of Arena’s campaign in Izalco, who told me why their message of “democracy,” their message of “freedom” from the threat of El Salvador becoming a “Hugo Chavez satellite” moves Izalco’s voters.; The directores also lauded D’abuisson, whom they met, and Hernandez Martinez, whom they admire. The events of 1932, they said, saved the country from comunismo and laid the foundation for the later formation of the ARENA party. For these and other reasons, they said , ARENA always begins its presidential campaigns in Izalco, as they did when this year’s presidential candidate, private security mogul and former head of the national police, Rodrigo Avila, came here to kickoff his campaign.

The directores also showed me a copy of the ARENA anthem which hails El Salvador as the “tomb where the reds will be terminated.” I thought it odd that, rather than let me take their picture, the directores told the people pictured above to stand outside the ARENA office, where I took the picture. Less than half a small block to the right of the ARENA office is the large (1.5 blocks) field where most of the indigenous people killed in 1932 are buried in an anonymous mass grave (see picture of plaque and smoky Izalco volcano in background below) excavated by forensic scientists from Argentina in 2007.

32

The fact that this is the only commemoration of La Matanza in El Salvador, a country where surveys tell us that 75% of the population knows nothing about the events of 1932, provides an object lesson in the dangers of institutional and political amnesia; It also tells us why ARENA has won every mayoral election in Izalco since it was founded here in 1981; Every mayoral election until this year, that is:

f5-izalco-mayor

Pictured above in the blue shirt is Roberto Alvarado, a member of the FMLN and Mayor-elect of Izalco whose stunning victory last January reflects the depths of the changes here and in the entire country. “They sang that stupid song about “the tomb of the reds,” Alvarado,a former teacher who was pursued by death squads, told me adding, “Now we are going turn Izalco, the cradle of ARENA, into the the political grave of the ARENA party.” Alvarado’s coalition-students, indigenous communities, Catholics and evangelicos– provided the FMLN with a major spiritual and political victory -and a model to be emulated across the country.

Streets reddened and silenced for several decades by the blood of the indigenous martyrs are now red with the hope voters are placing in the FMLN and its candidate , the multi-mediagenic former journalist, Mauricio Funes:

fs-streets1

f5-cola-ii

f5-shoes

The unprecedented openness expressed in the shoes, shops and streets of Izalco has many, many reasons and thousands of people to thank for it. Together, these forces ended the silence that cast a permanent cloud over Izalco -and El Salvador-after the events of 1932. One of today’s most vocal and effective breakers of the silence is Juliana Ama, director of the Calvo school that teaches nahuatl. She is also the great, great granddaughter of rebel leader, Jose Feliciano Ama (above). Since 2001, Juliana has organized commemoration ceremonies every January at the site of the mass grave near the ARENA office in Izalco, ceremonies that draw conflict and controversy.

Despite the tensions, despite the threats she has received, Ama soldiers on in what she defines first and foremost as a”spiritual act” because, she says, “we have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Juliana also believes that there is a direct link between the commemoration ceremonies and the defeat of the ARENA party. “Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us,” she said. “Nothing like this was ever possible before and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.

juliana

Finally, as the son of the 10 year-old boy who witnessed and survived la Matanza and then went on to become my father, I want to thank Juliana and the people of Izalco for their example, their courage and their great wisdom.

R

The Pink, Bloodied & Reconstructed Walls of History: RL Reporting from El Salvador

March 11, 2009

doble-arena2

Saludos from El Salvador, land of my ancestors and of ghosts loving and hostile, a land that’s -again- on the verge of volcanic, platetechtonic shifts of consciousness – regardless of the outcome of this week’s historic elections. In the short time since landing last week, my own consciousness has been shaken by the central fact of Salvadoran life today: how absolutely and passionately people here are ready for change. Even small talk in this small country is full of big ideas –democracia, cambio, justicia-and other things we who are Border Walled-off from the insurgent continent can learn from. For those of you that don’t know me personally, intimately or otherwise, there would simple y sencillamente be no Of América without the people of El Salvador, their espiritu de lucha, mi espiritu de lucha.

Those of you who visit the site regularly may find some of my dispatches a bit more personal than usual. For example, as I prepared for the trip, the “journalist” within cautioned against exposing too much of my personal or political past. I even hesitated about sharing the pic above taken from within the pretty pink walls my aunt’s room in the province of San Vicente; I think the culture of fear and paranoia that fills the tropical (and very polluted) air here had infected me and manifested its noxious symptoms in the cautious voice of the journalist. But as I thought about it, having family that has sympathies for the right-wing Arena party -family that I love despite politics- is a fact of life for many a Salvadoran whose heart was not mangled or killed during the 12 year civil war. Furthermore, the frontal, direct assault on the hydra-head of Fear is nothing if not the great defining trait of people on the verge of another big revolutionary step.

It’s late and I’ve been on the road. So, the best thing I can do with remaining energy is to preview one of my stories by sharing pics from a recent visit. Am trying to share the stuff that reporters stationed behind the guarded, air-conditioned walls of hotels in San Salvador might not be able to.

luisito2

This pic is from San Vicente, my mom’s hometown. This is the view from the cobblestone street in front of my grandmother’s house, a street I used to float paper boats on. I also used to chase giant green dragonflies on the street with Luisito, my best childhood friend when I visited San Vicente. Luisito disappeared one teen year and I later found out he flew off to join the FMLN, El Salvador’s former guerrillas, who are now well-positioned to win the Presidency in this Sunday’s elections against the Arena party (pictured in pic of pink wall). Luisito called my aunt after being injured in combat. He wanted to speak with his mother before he died and my aunt was the only one with a phone back then. His radicalization and death weren’t something you talked about in small town San Vicente-even after the war ended in 1992.

This picture is interesting because the busloads of FMLN supporters, several of whom are members of Luisito’s family, are standing in front of his home wearing the red shirts and scarves and waving the red flags, something unimaginable years back. Thought it was also interesting that the FMLN campaign office is located across the street from Luisito’s.

You might also note the big red, white and blue flag of the Arena party, which is behind in most polls. Further in the background is the white wall of the Iglesia del Pilar, a colonial church, where ,in the 1830’s, Nonualco indian leader Anatasio Aquino took the crown of San Jose and crowned himself King of the Nonualcos after he and 3,000 men rebelled against local land barons. Aquino was later betrayed, beheaded and buried in the San Vicente cemetery where my family is buried.

Aquino and other indigenous leaders were adopted by the FMLN as symbols of their struggle while Arena draws inspiration from people like Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who started El Salvador on the road to modernization after slaughtering between 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous people in what historians call “La Matanza” or the Great Killing of 1932. He ruled until being ousted in a coup in 1944 and was later assassinated (more below)
aquino-i1

My aunt showed me the wall where, as a girl, she saw Martinez’s troops execute criminals, indians, alleged subversives and other personas nada gratas. I walked over to the wall and also found one of the big treats of my trip thus far: Aquino’s tomb. Right in front of the tomb, radical students, some of whom were gathered in front of Luisito’s and the FMLN office, painted a mural last year on the same wall where Martinez’s troops killed many innocents. In their younger days (1980’s), older, 40-50 something others in the FMLN crowd gathered for electoral activities had come down from the mountains pictured behind the walls and hid in the cemetery before launching military offensives inside the town.

The pink, bloodied and rebuilt walls of El Salvador will be voting on Sunday too.

Obama’s Durban II Boycott & the Perils of a “Post-Racial” Planet

March 2, 2009

At a time when racial conflict and discrimination are on the rise around the world, the Administration of the world’s first black U.S. president will not be attending the world’s most important conference on race and racism.

In what may signal a dangerous new, “post-racial” approach to global race relations, President Barack Obama’s Administration announced that it will not attend the second World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Geneva next April. According to this article in the New York Times, the Administration will boycott the conference to protest what it deems the unfair equation of Zionism with racism in the outcome documents of the first conference held in Durban, South Africa, and now the second conference, also known as “Durban II, as well .” Other concerns cited by Administration officials, some of whom recently attended preparatory meetings in Geneva,in their justification of the boycott include a proposal to place restrictions on the defamation of religions and any language calling for reparations for slavery. According to the Times article, one of the primary reasons for the Obama Administration’s decision was that “Israel and some American Jewish groups urged a boycott of the April conference, and several close American allies, including Canada.”

Praised by groups that lobbied against Durban II like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose leaders applauded the U.S. decision, “for refusing to participate in a process that would in any way brand Israel as a racist country,” the Obama Adminsitration’s boycott comes at the worst possible time for a planet facing rapidly increasing levels of recession-inspired racism, xenophobia and hatred.

Increasing numbers of experts report that most continents – Europe, Africa, Asia – are seeing exponential growth in hate crimes, ethnic tensions and other manifestations of the racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, the kind on intolerance that will be discussed at the Durban II Conference. And in the Américas, the very palpable rise in racial tensions, hate crimes and other discrimination are well illustrated by events here in the “post-racial” United States: the NY Post Chimpanzee cartoon scandal, the U.S. visit (including a film screening in Congress) by Euro-racist Geert Wilders and the massive protests against the racial profiling, humiliation and other practices of Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to name a few taking place in the United States. And these were only the events that the Obama Administration was silent about this past week.

The Obama Administration’s silence on both these racial incidents and on such fundamentally racial -and global-problems as the “drug war”, criminal justice reform and immigrant detention contrasts with the much-lauded statements on race by Attorney General Eric Holder. In statements made to coincide with the start of Black History Month, Holder called the U.S. “a nation of cowards” when it comes to discussion of race .

Apparently, as indictaed by Obama Administration’s boycott of the Durban II conference, Mr. Holder’s statements are equally applicable to the global discussion of race. Consider, for example, Mr.Holder-and the Obama Administration’s- relative silence on reversing the abject failure and tragedy that is the global and domestic “war on drugs” (he’s actually in favor of pursuing it more intensely) and the unprecedented levels of racialized imprisonment it entails. In the face of the radicalization of racial hatred that is afoot throghout the world, both the Durban response and Holder’s Black History Month statements are beginning to sound like the oh so many hollow and jaded “Si Se Puede”‘s and other ethnic, racial “History Month”-like slogans designed to gain favor among former minorities, all the while pursuing right-of-center criminal justice policies that devastate these same communities.

And with its very dangerous boycott of Durban II in response to pressure from the very powerful Israel Lobby , the Obama Admnistration may be giving the green light to governments and other groups practicing their own brand of racial discrimination, promoting hatred and other forms of discrimination. While much of the media is discussing the U.S. boycott, most of these reports neglect to the mention the near universal condemnation of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, which United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto likened to apartheid last November:

“More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took the lead from civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to provide a non-violent means of pressuring South Africa. Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel.”

Rather than join the rest of the world in Durban and in condemning the killing and discrimination on the part of the Israeli and other governments-including our own-, Obama’s boycott reflects his choice to pursue the more dangerous path to dealing with race, racism and discrimination: symbolism at the expense of real changes to very devastating policies. Such are the perils of our increasingly post-racial presidency in a racially-troubled world.

Political choices like the Durban decision or the blind eye turned to the indiscriminate killing of and discrimination against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank make one wonder if the Obama Administration has also chosen to become the black face of empire.