Category Archives: Book Review

Book reviews by CASC members.

Blood of Extraction Canadian Imperialism in Latin America

Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber.   2016. Fernwood Publishing. Halifax and Winnipeg, Canada

ISBN: 9781552668306

Author Jeff Webber Review and photo of author, Jeffrey Webber, by Theresa Wolfwood

“In recent years, the Canadian state has lent its support to a repressive post-coup regime in Honduras; had provided military and ideological backing for a repressive regime in Colombia, one which boasts the hemisphere’s worst human rights record; has aggressively interfered in the domestic affairs of left-of-centre Latin American governments such as that of Higo Chavez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador; it has supported ecological destruction and the dislocation of vulnerable populations in the region through its support Canadian natural resource companies…”  from the introduction

At a time when many Canadians are becoming aware of the role of Canadian registered mining companies (75% of all mining companies in the world are Canada-based) Gordon and Webber have provided an important documentation of how Canada operates as an imperial power globally, nowhere more egregiously than in Latin America. Canadian mining companies devastate the social and physical environment of many communities from Mexico to Peru, destroying the social fabric of people who were not consulted about mines, accrue no benefits and hose human rights are tragically disregarded. As Gordon and Webber illustrate, Canadian government foreign policy developed lock step with corporate expansion. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the changes in Canadian development aid. Canadian aid used to be directed to the poorest of the poor. CIDA had a record of assisting vulnerable populations throughout the world.  Now, as the authors write, things are different; they quote a Harper government official, “Our government is strengthening its development assistance in the Americas because this is our neighbourhood, where we have significant interests.”  Grants to faith-based groups that worked with communities, the Mennonites, Catholics and ecumenical organizations, that criticized Canadian mining projects were cut.

Corporate Social Responsibility, a nice phrase which this reviewer considers an oxymoron, really is a cover-up for aid projects that partner with corporations; they may appear benign by helping train and prepare for resource exploitation; in reality this aid masks the human rights abuses, community intimidation and the provision of brutal private security forces that are an inseparable part of Canadian mining companies’ operations and profiteering.

The authors provide chapters of context, history and details about Canadian involvement in Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and an overview of Central America.

In just one example, in Honduras, after the overthrow of democratically elected President José Manuel Zelaya who had attempted some reforms, including a new constitution, education benefits, raising the minimum wage and, in mining, he planned to implement stricter environmental regulations. Maybe the red flag was his intent to ban open-pit mining.  Canada rushed in after the coup, even as poverty and violence increased; Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, mainly of journalists, activists, reformers, including most recently, the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres. Yet Canada actively refused to support a return to democracy in Honduras, as the new government welcomed openly foreign investment.  The Canadian governments continued in Honduras as throughout Latin America to support the profitable expansion of Canadian capital.

Gordon and Webber put it this way, “Canadian capital continues to tread heavily over the lives of ordinary Latin Americans, the mass of evidence we have accumulated in this makes a mockery of mining and maquila executives who plead not guilty…We have likewise exposed the hypocrisy of Canada’s claims of genuine commitment to democracy in contemporary Latin America…”

Altogether the analysis and documentation expresses clearly that Canada is capable and guilty of as crass greed and ruthlessness as any imperial power, including the one to south of us. We may be tiny but we can play with the big boys.  It is obvious our politicians prefer to identify with the interests of Canadian capitalism rather than its citizens.  It may appear on the surface that repression and power say equate with stability but as we know and as the authors emphasize, there is another force in Latin America, Canada and the world.  As the authors express it, “Out of cracks of this international system of domination, powerful and creative forms of self-organization and resistance have emerged against the odds. They represent the greatest threat to the reproduction of capitalist imperialism, and the greatest to humanity, social justice, and ecological sustainability.”

We might well ask ourselves and our politicians to answer the question posed in the famous song, “Which side are you on?”

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Theresa Wolfwood is Victoria activist and writer. More of her book reviews may be read on http://bookreviews.bbcf.ca/   Her poetry collection, “Love and Resistance” is available at Ivy’s bookshop.

 

A new poetry collection by Theresa Wolfwood

…with many poems about Central America


Theresa Wolfwood. 2014. Smallberry Press, London. UK ISBN: 978-0993031502

The passion for social justice, human rights and the longing for peace illuminate many of Theresa’s poems. In some the passion is expressed by individuals: a child in Gaza recounts her own war story and tells readers…we are still here in Gaza. In El Salvador a baker stands up against international mining interests…strong from the resistance of bread dough. She expresses her love for the world she inhabits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, a world where all life in connected … rooted we are together in this brief borrowed paradise.

The poetry of Theresa Wolfwood also includes the intensely personal love poems for her lover …your back a mahogany guitar/ emerging from its case… and for her mother…She lay unconscious, a crumpled stained handkerchief/on a stretch of dirty snow.

Theresa Wolfwood is a poet of fine sensitivity and deep passion for the human condition, the world we travel through and our search for truth and meaning. Her poems are to be savoured and re-read as sign posts in all our journeys; her words, honest about tragedy and horror are nonetheless imbued with hope and optimism that …we will transform the power of desecration/ our song will restore the earth.

From the publisher
Theresa Wolfwood writes intelligent, compassionate poems that are able to bear witness to human suffering and resilience, distant and near, with the same intimacy, sweetness and persuasive power. Theresa has a steady open gaze, what Iris Murdoch called ‘the reality of compassion…. the ability to see clearly.” Heather Spears, artist and Governor-General’s Award winning poet, author of 11 books of poetry and 4 novels

“Theresa Wolfwood puts her passion for justice into action, presentations, photography, fabric banners and fortunately for us — also on the page. Her poetry sings us to a better world through lament, challenge, hope and above all, love. Through much of my life, Theresa’s work has been an inspiration.” Carolyn Pogue, author of Rock of Ages and After the Beginning

“Like ‘the steadfast scent of za’atar’, the poems of Theresa Wolfwood are the product of her big heart: passionate, encouraging and hopeful. Yes, her poems crave the beauty of justice in an unjust world. To her, the Palestinian pain is not a theme of solidarity but a first-hand personal experience in her life. To be political and convincing in the same time is difficult but this is exactly the achievement of these poems.” Mourid Barghouti, author of Midnight and other poems & I saw Ramallah

Available from:
Ivy’s Bookshop, Victoria, BC
Beit Zatoun shop, Toronto, Ontario
Arbutus Arts, Hornby Island, BC
On line on Amazon & other outlets

For bulk purchase please contact the publisher: orders@smallberrypress.co.uk

Osorio, Jesus Tecu. Memoir of the Rio Negro Massacres

2012. Translated from the Spanish & published with assistance of Rights Action & Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network. www.mayawuj.nawalwuj.com ISBN 978-9929-634-008

 

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Images from the book

 

“May my parents’ tragic story live on in the memories of my children”

“The objective… is to share the bloody history that we have lived and to make this story available in all of the education centres so that our children and grandchildren may know it and never forget it.”

The only country in North America that is populated with a majority of indigenous peoples, resource-rich Guatemala has a long and brutal history that continues today. This straightforward narrative of one child’s experiences, illustrated with his own drawings of the brutal events of his life, is interspersed with verses of poignant poetry by Jose Luis Villatoro from Balada de los ninos y de las mujeres en Rio Negro…

Oh these tears have no end,

Life belonged to the children,

Life belonged to the women,

Life is in the earth;

Death arrived and plagued

The land of Rio Negro.

 

Life was harsh and difficult for Osorio’s family in his birthplace, in the village of Panima’ or Rio Negro in the highlands of Guatemala – a poor community of small farmers who traded their surplus for some basic goods, but the author had love from his parents, siblings and playmates. He was eight years old when the electrical company, INDE, came to build a dam on the river and displace the community, causing social conflict in the village as opinions differed about the project. Sacred archaeological sites were destroyed and, when some people opposed the dam, they were branded as guerrillas.

In 1980 “a period of history called la violencia (the violence) began with the arrival of the National Army of Guatemala.” Within two years most of the villagers had been massacred, the author, still a boy was a witness to these horrors.

Conflict between company officials and the military with villagers became violent; the arrests, torture and killings began and continued. In February1982 most of the villagers of Rio Negro were tortured and murdered, including Osorio’s parents. Those killed were always called guerrillas.

He writes, “These were days of much sadness for me and my siblings…We lived in a society of terror.”

In March the military came again and started raping women and forcing their captives to march into the hills. The killing began with women first; children witnessed the horror and some of them were beaten and killed.

“I cannot forget the day when they killed all the women and children. I still remember the screams and the gunshots in the ravine.”

Some boys, including Osorio were spared to become slave labour. But when the author carried his younger brother with him, his captors beat and killed the little child in front of Osorio. He was taken to the home of Pedro Gonzales Gomez, his captor, and became his slave until his older sister rescued him in 1984. He went to school for a few years until he had to work to help the family survive.

But in spite of continued repression, people resisted, some returned to their villagers and INDE made some gestures of compensation.

By 1993, mass graves had been found and Osorio and other survivors began to report these discoveries. Even with the fears of reprisal they went to Guatemala City, contacted human rights groups and filed reports to start court proceedings against the killers and for official exhumations of the graves. In April, 1994, his family members were reburied with a last farewell from the living.

Osorio was ostracised, threatened and called a guerrilla fighter when he went to court to seek justice for the murdered but he persevered.

“What was important to me was that those who had violated the fundamental rights of other people were brought to justice. I was no longer scared by the threats I received.”

After many trials, re-trials and appeals, many of the killers, including Osorio’s captor, were found guilty of murder. The Commandante, protected by the government, was not charged.

There is a powerful and positive end to this memoir. Amazingly, Osorio has turned his story into hope and action. He has travelled abroad, telling his story, written this book and gained international support. In 1996 he was chosen for the Rebok Human Rights Award in the USA. With the prize money he has created Foundacion Nueva Esperanza in Rio Negro. The organization has given many scholarships to young people of families affected by the massacres and violence. It also promotes the consciousness of human dignity, and respect for human rights…and cooperates with other institutions that have similar aims.

The violence has not ended; now mining exploitation threatens those who oppose the social and environmental destruction that greed for resources creates. Osorio’s story illustrates what can happen when development projects are inflicted on communities without permission and participation of those to be most affected.

Osorio is happily married and continues his commitment to the aims of his foundation.

“My challenges are to continue the struggle for justice until the material and intellectual authors of the genocide…are brought to trial…In reaching this goal we will be able to say Guatemala has achieved reconciliation and peace.”

 

PARAMILITARISM AND THE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY IN HAITI

Sprague, Jeff. PARAMILITARISM AND THE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY IN HAITI. 2012. Monthly Review Press, NY, USA. ISBN 978-1-58367-301-0 Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Sprague, a USA scholar, has written a detailed and readable history of Haiti, now the poorest country in this hemisphere; once the source of great wealth for its colonizer, France. His emphasis after reviewing early history is on the last 40 years of paramilitarism. (Paramilitarism is militarism that is outside the structure of regular government military – in Haiti’s case, militarism controlled by wealthy elites.) He writes, “The central focus of this book, the phenomenon of paramilitarism in Haiti and its role in crushing Haitian people’s experiment in popular democracy begins in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when democratic struggles for social justice and inclusion were taking place around the world.”

Canada has had a significant role in that crushing of democracy. In 1991 a pro-democracy movement organized and elected the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After several bloody coups driven by paramilitarism, Aristide was driven from office in 2004; his accomplishments were destroyed and his supporters, the popular movements, repressed and punished. Canada was right there with the USA and France doing the job of global capitalism – not allowing this small poor country the chance of being a model for other countries and an inspiration for oppressed people everywhere. Paramilitary forces, backed by the USA, have been a major reason for the continuing violent suppression of democracy movements since 2004.

Sprague explains the different waves or groups that have been formed and re-assembled to do this dirty work. “In its contemporary form in Haiti, paramilitarism was institutionalized by the state under the Duvalierist regime with the backing of wealthy elites and at key periods the U.S. and, very likely, French intelligence agencies.”

All this is a much needed background to why Haiti has been continually punished for its courage to try to be independent and democratic. In spite of its poverty, lack of infrastructure and deforestation and soil erosion, all exacerbated by the earthquake of January, 2010, Haiti is a rich country, easy plucking for global corporate interests.

“The recognition of Haiti’s mineral potential, coupled with an improving business climate, resulted in EMX’s establishment of an exploration program in early 2006. EMX’s initial exploration successes at the La Miel and La Mine projects led to the establishment in 2008 of a Joint Venture and Regional Strategic Alliance with Newmont Ventures Limited (“Newmont”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Newmont Mining Corporation.” From http://www.eurasianminerals.com/s/Haiti.asp – the website of Eurasian Minerals, whose head office is in Vancouver.

Jane Regan, lead author of “Gold Rush in Haiti: Who Will Get Rich?” a report by Haiti Grassroots Watch quoted in The Guardian and Haïti Liberté, wrote “You’ve got a perfect storm brewing whereby you’re looking at giant pit mines in the north, in a country that’s already environmentally devastated, and giant pit mines being run by Canadian and American companies…Most of the money that’s made and most of the gold that’s dug up will go straight north.”

These quotes go a long way to explain both the Canadian government’s eagerness to cooperate with the overthrow of Aristide’s government which was attempting to protect Haiti’ people and resources, and our government’s support of the present Haitian government.

In his concluding chapter: Unending Social Conflict Sprague writes “the most pressing question is how we can expose paramilitarism and promote justice for the victims of rightist political violence in Haiti…New strategies are needed by activists and movements from below to investigate and communicate to a mass audience the levels of extreme violence that are being used against the poor.”

He emphasizes the importance of building links between grassroots movements and organizations active in Haiti and other countries He urges us to act; and hopes that “truth compels our actions”.

Join the Canada Haiti Action Network, the Vancouver based group that sponsored Sprague’s Canada book tour: http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca for ongoing action and current information. Solidarity activists in Canada have a major responsibility to counteract both corporate media and government lies; fortunately we have the context for our work provided by Sprague’s major work and the journal “Press for Conversion!” published in Ottawa.

See: Lies without Borders:How CIDA-funded ‘NGOs’ waged a propaganda war to justify Haiti’s 2004 coup Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue #63 (November 2008) Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT).

Also see its three previous issues of Press for Conversion! on Canada’s role in Haiti: Issue 62 (May 2008) “Putting the Aid in Aiding and Abetting: CIDA’s Agents of Regime Change in Haiti’s 2004 Coup” Issue 61 (September 2007) “CIDA’s Key Role in Haiti’s 2004 Coup: Funding Regime Change, Dictatorship and Human Rights Atrocities, one Haitian ‘NGO’ at a Time” Issue 60 (March 2007) “A Very Canadian Coup in Haiti: The Top 10 Ways that Canada’s Government helped the 2004 Coup and its Reign of Terror”

We cannot claim ignorance as an excuse for inaction; Haiti deserves our support and solidarity.

VENEZUELA SPEAKS! Voices from the Grassroots

Martinez, Carlos & Michael Fox, & Jojo Farrell. VENEZUELA SPEAKS! Voices from the Grassroots. 2010. PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA. ISBN 978-1-60486-108-2

“…the failure of neoliberalism combined with the political failure of representative democracy…contributed significantly to the rise of the New Left.”

“…in Venezuela, as a consequence…new urban community associations and political parties emerges that provided an important impetus for the emergence of Hugo Chávez in 1998.”

At a time when Venezuela and its friends are still mourning the loss of President Hugo Chavez, this collection of interviews and insights into the social movements of Venezuela gives us many reasons for a hope-filled future in Venezuela.

Venezuela is a country rich with creative community that supports a progressive, equitable and just society for its citizens. They also know how to organize. As they organized in the last decades, they continue to do so in the present, ensuring a a better future from the grassroots.

Arranged in sections on different groups and interests this book covers concerns from land & housing reform, women & sexual diversity, workers & labour, community media, arts & culture, indigenous & Afro-Venezuelan, the student movement and community organizing- in other words the total spectrum of social activism in the words of the activists themselves.

In a slaughter house where health and Labour standards were ignored by the company, the workers organized – hiding in bathrooms to get signatures and donations, the organizer was offered bribes, even blank cheques by the company, but Candido stayed the course until the company threatened to fire him and other organizers, then all the workers decided to occupy the factory and form a cooperative to run it. They also knew the community and ranchers needed their work. The cooperative has been so successful that, “Our operations have not stopped for a single day!”

Community radio thrives in Venezuela; Valentina says there is complete freedom of expression in Venezuela, “because a community radio station is like having access to a window that shows you how the world is- the world that we want and which we are constructing…”

And the mantra of the western Caracas community television is, “Don’t watch it, make it!”

Read this book and be moved to action by so many dedicated people, their courage and creativity as they work towards the world they want. Venezuela is a country of many leaders, where every citizen can participate in leadership; it will survive and continue to inspire for many years.

Maria says, “What is participatory democracy? …giving power to the people…for the people to administer their own resources…when you can speak of your rights and your duties, where the freedom to protest exists, where there is no marginality, where there is no poverty.”  Words that resonate everywhere.

Book Review: Fair Trade: A Human Journey

St-Pierre, Éric with Emerson da Silva, Mathieu Lamarre, & Barbara Sandlands.   Fair Trade: A Human Journey. 2009. Les Éditions de l’homme. Montreal, Canada

Review by Theresa Wolfwood with photos from the book

“Today neoliberalism and its Holy Trinity – deregulation, innovation and globalization – are facing a crisis, and we are finding out that the trendy notion of ‘sustainable development’ is… an oxymoron. The time is ripe to rethink our way of doing things and fight the spread of individualism and consumerism… Fair trade proposes an alternative based on the ideas of social justice, product quality and respect for the environment…Its aim is to encourage involvement and solidarity…This book is a sign of hope that another world is possible.” From the preface by D’Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma, an early founder of fair trade.

This beautiful publication is more than a coffee table book; it is all about the coffee we put on that table –  and 11 other major agricultural products available in Canada that are sold as ‘fair trade.’  It also includes handicrafts and soccer balls in its stories. Every product is highlighted by its history and means of product, personal stories of farmers who grow fair trade and statistics giving the conventional and fair trade  production, prices and importers; all illustrated by wonderful and vivid images of workers and their lives. My only regret about this very comprehensive and well presented book is that fair trade Palestinian olive oil and the role of conflict in agriculture were only mentioned in passing. Maybe in the next edition of this impressive work.

 

For every product there is good news of increasing fair trade and stories of community benefits, schools, clinics, adult literacy programs and improved environment and health. I was pleased to learn that in Switzerland 50% of imported cut flowers is fair trade. Coffee continues to a global success story which is close to home in Victoria. Here the Central America Support Committee bags and markets freshly roasted coffee from Nicaragua. We work with a larger non-profit group that pays producers a premium price, recently raised, and with surplus funds it sponsors community projects in Nicaragua and Guatemala. Several Victoria activists have visited the Ometepe coffee producers and made personal links.

Bananas are, by weight, the largest fair trade product. The major exporter of this fruit is Ecuador – where only 4% of the proceeds from conventional trade stay in the country. The story of the El Guabo association is fascinating. The group does not use herbicides or nematicides – a major health bonus for workers who receive a premium price for fair trade and an extra premium for organic. They have worked through the complexities of production, marketing and transport to become a highly successful association of small farmers.

Fair Trade is a long term commitment and there is much room for growth. One community in Pakistan – Siakolt – produces 70% of the world’s soccer balls. It was not mentioned during the media frenzy about the World Cup that the balls used were made by children in slave-like conditions. Only 3.7% of soccer balls are made in fair trade conditions. Maybe some of those millionaire players could devote some time, money and energy to fair trade and end this exploitation.

Victor Hugo is quoted as saying, “Today’s Utopia is tomorrow’s reality”. In a few decades fair trade has become a reality for many: 6,000 certified products, 125,000 sales outlets and 5$ billion in sales. There are fair trade schools and universities and 650 cities, villages, and regions that endorse fair trade. This success is based on the dreams and hard work of many workers and organizers.

St-Pierre writes, “…fair trade must not be measured only in terms of numbers. You have to be very clever indeed to quantify hope, pride and dignity.” He closes with the hope that we will see in the faces in this book, “the aspirations for happiness and freedom that are common to us all and that identify us as brothers and sisters in the great human family.”

Book Review: Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary

Hooks, Margaret. Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary 1993. Pandora, HarperCollins Publications, London UK

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Tina Modotti came from a poor family in Italy to the USA: her beauty and strong character lead her into a modelling and acting career. She became a model, mistress and assistant of USA photographer, Edward Weston. Together they went to Mexico; she fell in love with that country and stayed after he went home and became an amazing photographer in her own right – first with photos of flowers but soon her political convictions moved her to social documentary photography.

Cover Image
Cover photo of Tina by Edward Weston

 

She was a friend and colleague to many of the art and left community in Mexico from Frida Kahlo to the famous male muralists. She posed for her lover Diego Rivera and her image can be found in his murals “the Abundant Earth“, “the Enslaved“, “Germination” and “Virgin Earth” and “In the Arsenal“, at the Secretaría de Educación Pública Building, Mexico City, 1928. Later she was commissioned by several muralists to take documentary photos of the works.

Another one of her many lovers, Julio Antonio Mella, exiled Cuban revolutionary, was assassinated as they walked in Mexico City; he died in her arms. Although she knew the famous and notorious, she never forgot her family and friends; she was a loyal and loving person. Her home was open to exiles and the needy. Although politically very committed, it is her compassion that comes through as a driving force in her life. For many years she fund-raised and helped refugees from fascist Italy.

One of Tina’s photos of a Mexican woman

Her work as a photographer (a total of only 400 photographs) is now being recognized for its own value and she has emerged to be considered independently from her teacher, Edward Weston. . The largest exhibition of her work opened at Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna on June 30, 2010. It presents 250 photos, many never shown before. The exhibition is based on the collections of Galerie Bilderwelt, Berlin and Spencer Throckmorton, NYC, curated by Reinhard Schultz. (Information about exhibitions from online Wikipedia.)

When Mexico’s political climate changed she was exiled to Europe. The Italian government agents attempted to capture her in Holland but she was helped to safety, first in Germany, then Russia. From there she went to the Spanish Civil War as an aid and medical worker where she met Norman Bethune.

Many adventures and dangerous assignments later, she returned to Mexico and died in a taxi of heart failure in 1942. Her tombstone in the Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City has a lovely relief portrait of Modotti by engraver Leopoldo Méndez. Her friend, Pablo Neruda, wrote a poem for her funeral, part of which is on also on her tombstone:

Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life,
bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam,
combined with steel and wire and pollen
to make up your firm and delicate being.

Theresa Wolfwood's Book Review

Theresa Wolfwood [top left], is the director of The Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation.. To read more book reviews and articles see. www.bbcf.ca

Off, Carol. BITTER CHOCOLATE: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. 2006. Random House. Canada.

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

  “…wafers of warm bliss give moments of ecstatic oblivion to all who tastebut this pleasure has no history …” from a poem by T. Wolfwood

  Carol Off, a Canadian journalist, sets off into the jungle of West Africa in search of the truth about Cote d”Ivoire’s most precious commodity, cocoa. She reached a poor remote village where the tired and weary people have no school, no clinic, no electricity or phones. She says they grow “the food of the gods”, but live a long way from paradise.  They grow cocoa, sell it to buyers, but have no concept of what happens to it or where it goes when the raw product leaves their community. When chocolate bars are explained to the children of the village they do not grasp the idea that children here eat chocolate bars frequently.

She writes, “…the children who struggle to produce the small delights of life in the world I come from have never known such pleasure, and most likely, never will. It’s a measure of the separation in our worlds, a distance now so staggeringly vast…the distance between the hand that picks the cocoa and the hand that reaches for the chocolate bar.”

The misery and slavery –yes, slavery – of today’s cocoa producers, including thousands of children, is the present result of centuries of injustice. Off describes in Bitter Chocolate the horrific history of the production of cocoa and its sweet offspring, chocolate, that our privileged world loves so much. 

 

When Cortes invaded what is now Mexico he found the elite of Montezuma court   and army drinking a miraculous liquid that nourished and strengthened leaders and soldiers. He took it cocoa, a commodity so precious that it was used in the conquered lands as currency, to Spain from where is spread in popularity across Europe. Thus began our society’s participation in the more than 500 years of exploitation, colonialism and slavery that continues to this day so that millions of the privileged can enjoy chocolate in all its forms. From the plantations of indigenous people the trade expanded so that slaves were imported from Africa to the new colonies  Cortes started the cocoa rush            to produce both sugar and cocoa.  Meanwhile improvements and additives made the popularity of the new drink spread throughout Europe – from the royalty down to any who could afford it. Cocoa became a beverage imbued with health, sexual and sensuous pleasures.  By the 1700s Van Houten, a Dutch inventor, had created cocoa powder and the Fry enterprise in England invented the modern chocolate bar. 

The Fry’s were Quakers and soon other Quakers, Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s, were in the chocolate business (a nice alternative to the arms trade) and they all had sense of social responsibility to their workers. They pioneered social benefits, housing and good working conditions for their English employees (as did Hershey later in the USA); but their morality did not extend to the workers who produced the cocoa who “had hardly any control over their destinies and lived and died as slaves”. By then cocoa production had been established in Africa with a ready source of labour in European colonies. Journalists began to track the story, a task which continues to the present as chocolate grown with slave and child labour is still promoted as a symbol of love, luxury, religion and even health. New empires were created on cocoa by Hershey, Nestles and Mars. It just keeps growing (and so do profits) to fill our endless desire for this pleasure.

 It seem like such a cosy and warm feeling thing to do – give a lover a box of chocolates, make a cup of cocoa for a sick a child, take chocolate chip cookies to a party. But as Susan Hawthorne says in Wild Politics, Disconnection is critical for a system based on profit.  And profit is what contemporary trade and food production is all about.  We enjoy these small luxuries (and expensive ones, like diamonds) without any connection to the workers who make our pleasure possible.  Off makes the connections for us without mercy for our sensitivities, driven by her experiences in West Africa where she followed other journalists who were murdered because they sought the truth. Organizations dedicated to human rights and relief also feel the pressure, many pack up and leave countries when their work and workers are threatened.

  Today the Ivory Coast still produces more cocoa than any ot
her country but no nation controls the production or price of the raw cocoa it exports. Slave child labour is still used, no supposed agreements and commitments to end this practice has worked, because there is not proper monitoring and as Off learned, trying to reveal the truth is dangerous. We are talking big business here; marketing is controlled by the notorious Cargill and the lesser known Archer Daniels Midland – both secretive and powerful in many agricultural commodities. Cocoa, like diamonds, is a useful currency for the arms that the minority world industry and governments are happy to peddle in the majority world to dictators who have no desire to upset this trade by creating justice for peasants and labourers.
 
 

 

Several issues  become very clear as one reads Bitter Chocolate; issues that stay with the reader, issues firmly based in the documentation Off provides. First of all, we in the minority world seem to believe we have a divine right to cheap food and other commodities, but especially food. We rarely connect the price of food to the conditions of farms, including the rapidly disappearing Canadian family farm. Another issue is the much         Photo: the temptations at every cashier in Canada 

touted “free trade” we are supposed to enjoy. The powerful nations, corporations and institutions like the IMF, which inflict trade liberalization on small, poor, countries that produce raw materials, all support the subsidies and protection that big farmers in the USA and European Union enjoy (and then there is British Columbia, a global exporter of raw logs and always being manipulated by USA softwood lumber interests).

This book does a good job of explaining the advantages and problems of Fair Trade using a project in Belize as an example. Here Mayan farmers have gone back to traditional varieties of cocoa trees that do not need chemical inputs. The farmers get a guaranteed price for their production; they and their communities prosper. In order to assure European consumers of the trustworthiness of fair trade, the cost and administrative work is very high for farmers. A Canadian manager tells us that the bureaucratic demands will be difficult to sustain, these costs present real problems, particularly for small producers who want to have the security of fair trade. The need of veracity and the limited capacity of small farmers have to be addressed and reconciled if we want to support community based Fair Trade.

 One company that Off does not mention is Camino, the cocoa brand that I use; it is widely available in supermarkets as well as specialty shops. Based in Ontario, Camino products come from La Siembra growers in the Dominican Republic. Since 1999, La Siembra has increased its sales as the first organization to import, manufacture and distribute fair trade certified organic cocoa products in North America. La Siembra’s Cocoa Camino products include cocoa, chocolate bars and chocolate chips. See: www.lasiembra.com   It is a sobering incentive to buy Fair Trade when we know that the producer of coca gets barely 5% of the profit of this finished retail product.

 So it is possible to enjoy cocoa products that mean better lives, health and working environment for whole communities. So far only a few thousands of the 14 million cocoa works worldwide enjoy this opportunity, in Belize and Dominican Republic as well as those on cooperatives in Ghana, but the Fair Trade of cocoa products is growing rapidly and cocoa sales are approaching those of Fair trade coffee.  .

Fair Trade is the immediate answer for privileged consumers but we also need to work on the dismantling of unfair trade regulations and the appalling power of corporate buyers who can make or break producers, whole countries, at will. We have to respect food and be willing to pay those who produce it. Bitter Chocolate is a real eye-opener and expose of a filthy oppressive trade system. I recommend we follow up Off’s references and incorporate the issues she illustrates with action.

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 Canadians involved in the Co-op movement can initiate action here like this: the UK Co-operative 2,400 supermarket chain sources all cocoa for its own brand of chocolate bars from the Ghanaian Kuapa Kokoo farmers.

 The words and faces of cocoa producers that benefit from Fair Trade will melt your heart faster than chocolate in your mouth and will convince anyone to use Fair Trade.

 A good book to read as a companion to this book is The Bittersweet World of Chocolate by Troth Wells & Nikki van der Gaag of the New Internationalist Publications. It has wonderful recipes interspersed with interesting information about cocoa and Fair trade as well as references and action data.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE PRICE OF FIRE: RESOURCE WARS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN BOLIVIA

 

 

 

 

“The history of Latin America has been one of expropriation… Resources, and with them workers’ rights and public services have been squashed in a post-colonial free for all’

Dangl, a young USA writer, travels through Latin America learning about the past and present history-in-the-making events of our southern neighbours. The main focus is Bolivia but he puts it into context with reports from surrounding countries as well. Recent events in this small mountainous country – the plebiscites on the elected President, Evo Morales, and state governors, that were demanded by the US-backed wealthy who want to make a new country of the petroleum-rich region – confirmed that a majority of Bolivian people want a new government that answers to citizens and their social movements that protect and empower people & save their resources. In spite of incredible resources – petroleum, iron and other metals – Bolivia is the 2nd poorest country in this hemisphere.

The citizen-organized Gas War in 2003, a popular uprising reversed corporate policies and ousted a president. They were empowered by the success of another social uprising in Cochabamba, a Water War against the privatization of water and its sale to the Bechtel Corporation which saw Bechtel chased out – and inspired many richer more powerful groups and places around the world to fight to keep their water public. It was in these movements that the leadership skills of activist Evo Morales  – the first indigenous president in Latin America – were honed.

 

‘In the 1980s, the policies that enforced those beliefs came together under the umbrella of “neoliberalism.”… Neoliberalism’s objectives were the deregulation of the economy and the attraction of foreign investors. Across Latin America, trade barriers were removed, labour and environmental laws were loosened, tax breaks were given to foreign companies, and public telephones, water systems, railroads and electricity were “privatized” and sold…education, healthcare and public transportation were slashed.’

 

This is the program for not only Latin America, but the world. The people of Latin America have provided incredible and courageous resistance to this program – to the shame of those of us who are apathetic and politically ignorant in wealthier lands.  This resistance takes different forms across Latin America; those who occupy land, some who take over factories, others create social movements that topple governments. Dangl gives good reports from around the continent on these exciting waves of change, but I was most fascinated by his personal accounts of social groups in Bolivia that provided the hope, organization and strength for political change. He was right there on the streets during many events and it makes gripping reading.  From the feminists in Mujeres Creando who create the ways and means for women to overcome traditional oppressive values and customs so they can participate fully in society to Teatro Trono, a theatre group founded in the 1980s to ‘reclaim democracy through theatre and art’ with those who are normally exclude from artistic expression – homeless children, poor miners and many others. Social movements were the creative force for resistance. 

‘…nowhere else In Latin America did corporate globalization wreak as much havoc as it did in Boliva. Nowhere else has the people’s resistance been so strong.’

 

The Price of Fire is a great antidote to our ignorance and apathy, full of lively current history and stories to inspire all who long for social change but are not engaged in the process. We face the same fate if we don’t see the parallels and start organizing.   

Theresa Wolfwood is the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation. To read more book reviews and articles see: www.bbcf.ca

 

 

TW

The role of the West in Rwanda's genocide,

A People Betrayed: The role of the West in Rwanda‘s genocide, by Linda Malvern, Zed Press, 2000

Reviewed By Roger Annis

 

I recently read a comprehensive history of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, "A People Betrayed: The role of the West in Rwanda‘s genocide." I was drawn to read it by the experience of the current UN-sponsored occupation of Haiti. There are important parallels between the two experiences.

 In 1994, the United Nations Security Council stood by while more than one million Rwandans were killed in a planned genocide by a regime that received important backing from the U.S., France, Belgium and Egypt. The regime acted in the name of a fictional "Hutu" nationality against a minority people called "Tutsi". Killings on a massive scale began in April of that year and only ended with the military and political defeat of the "Hutu Power" regime by the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The human misery continued because the new government inherited a shattered country, and some one million people were driven out of Rwanda into a barren region of Zaire by the genocide regime in order to preserve a population base.

 I knew the rough outlines of the genocide. What the book reveals is that not only did the UN Security Council and its member countries stand by before and during the genocide, they gave active military and diplomatic support to the genocide regime. France and Egypt provided arms. France and the Security Council maintained their diplomatic recognition of the regime until its dying days. With Security Council backing, France intervened in late June with a 2,500-member military force in order to salvage the remnants of the regime and impose a "coalition" regime on the Rwandan people, that is, a government of the RPF and the architects of the genocide. (The RPF flatly refused).

 Canadian General Romeo Dallaire was the head of the UN’s "peacekeeping" contingent in Rwanda. It arrived in the summer of 1993 and numbered 2,500 troops. It did not have a mandate nor the resources to intervene and stop the genocide when it began in earnest in April 1994. In fact, as the killings mounted, Belgium, the former colonial power, pulled out the remainder of its armed forces. (France had withdrawn in late 1993). Dallaire is treated as a folk hero in Canada and internationally for his apparent efforts to stop the genocide. I think the adulation is undeserved, for several reasons.

 One, if UN forces were truly interested in stopping the genocide, they would have aided the Rwandan patriotic forces in the RPF who were attempting to do just that. But Dallaire always couched his appeal for stronger UN intervention as a measure to "separate two warring sides." In other words, he sought to preserve elements of the genocide regime in the form of an imposed coalition government, the same goal that France attempted in June. The RPF never received support nor cooperation from UN forces.

 Two, Dallaire travels and speaks widely on the Rwanda genocide. And what is his message? That the UN, the very agency that "betrayed" the Rwandan people, as the title of the book under review states, should be strengthened and reinforced. He is an enthusiastic proponent of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine authored by the ideologues of his government (Dallaire is a member of the unelected Canadian Senate).

 Dallaire has unique insight and information of the events that transpired in Rwanda. He knows first-hand of the cruel betrayal of the Rwandan people by the U.S. and France in particular, not to speak of the UN Security Council. Does he condemn this betrayal? Only in the vaguest of language. Meanwhile, he preaches forgiveness and renewal of confidence in the governments and international institutions that betrayed.

 If Dallaire were sincerely interested in averting future Rwandas, he would denounce the "betrayals" of other peoples by the Security Council, including in Haiti. There, in early 2004, the Security Council sanctioned the violent overthrow of Haiti‘s elected president and other governing institutions, and then recognized an appointed and illegal regime that perpetrated widespread killings and human rights violations against supporters of Haiti‘s democracy.

 I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the role of the UN in today’s world. "Peacekeeping?" "Responsibility to Protect?" This book is a reminder of how poisonous are these doctrines. Beware of their proponents.

 Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network. He resides in Vancouver BC.