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Colombia's Color Code

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(NNPA) I had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia for a meeting of representatives of public sector unions from the Western Hemisphere. The focus of the meeting was on issues of race and xenophobia.

One of the things that struck me in the meeting was the discussion of the situation facing the Afro-Colombian population. Descendants of slaves brought over by the Spanish, the Afro-Colombian population is on the lower rungs of the economic ladder of Colombian society. They have been subjected to racist discrimination, as well as atrocities at the hands of narco-terrorists, paramilitaries and elements of the government. Those who speak up about their conditions and take up various social justice struggles, e.g., the fight for land, are subject to death threats, attempts on their lives, or actual murder.

Colombia, like much of Latin America, has been in deep denial of race and racism, whether it is racism carried out against the indigenous population or the Afro-descendant population. One of the reasons for this is that in Latin America, the racial divide is not always as clear as it is in the U.S.A Shades of skin color are far more important in Latin America than they are here in terms of how one is treated in the larger society. Whereas a light-skinned African American in the U.S. is still recognized as an African American [Black], albeit sometimes having access to some privileges, in Latin America, the extent to which one’s skin shade is closer or farther from Europeans can make all the difference. But here is the catch: because there is so much African blood in the veins of Latin Americans, they can equally deny that there are any special problems facing those who are quite evidently of African descent. As someone once said to me in Venezuela, “…we all have African blood…” While this may sound quite revolutionary when thinking about what it would mean for White Americans to say such a thing, in Latin America it essentially means that no special attention needs to be placed on race.

There are organizations throughout Latin America of Afro-descendants that are trying to bring greater attention to the situation facing Afro-Latinos. In Brazil, there has been an explosion of Black consciousness organizations, but there have also been important developments in Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Central America. These are efforts to watch carefully, and where possible, support. These groups are calling attention to the manner in which White supremacy developed over time in Latin America and the lasting impact on Afro-descendants and the indigenous.

In Colombia political dissent is punished quickly and brutally. Trade unionists are killed in record numbers, and so, too, are Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders. The U.S. government likes to pretend that the Colombian government is taking steps to address these crimes, but what is closer to reality is that the Colombian government has a very effective public relations campaign underway.

I would join with others in suggesting that the covers must be ripped away from this farce so that we are all made aware of the utter brutality of the Colombian system. We must also be aware of those who have had the courage to stand tall in the face of such repression in the name of human rights and social justice.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

The RNC Twitter "Mistake" Wasn’t a Mistake

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By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist

The Republican Party’s inability to prevent some of its elected officials and party operatives alike from making racist and sexist remarks and tamp down others’ penchant for cringe-worthy gaffes along those lines necessitates a slight revising of that old saying: It’s always like déjà vu all over again.

Last week, it was – actually for just a moment – the Republican National Committee’s sole turn in the spotlight.

On December 1, it sought via a tweet to mark the anniversary of the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks, the legendary incident that provoked the famous Montgomery (Ala.) Bus Boycott and the start of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s: “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism,” it said.

The blogosphere and Twitterverse immediately exploded with derisive reminders that racism and racial segregation continued long after the victory of the bus boycott movement in overturning segregation on the Montgomery buses.

Not until the next day did the RNC issue a corrective tweet – implicitly acknowledging it’s worthwhile getting the facts and consequences of history exactly right: “Previous tweet, should have read ‘Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.’”

Unfortunately, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, of California, soon added to the GOP’s reputation for offensiveness when, in a December 2 interview on CSPAN, he declared that lying “is part of Middle Eastern culture.” Hunter added for good measure that “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying.”

Later, Hunter’s spokesman made a weak stab at damage control, claiming he was only referring to the leaders of Middle Eastern countries, not their entire populations.

Has there been a week in the last five years – since Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States – in which some Republican politico in a low or high position has not been exposed as the author of a racist, sexist and/or homophobic e-mail, video, tweet, or remark?

There must be some kind of mechanism virtually implanted in the minds of Republicans these days that goes ringgggggg—your turn! compelling someone somewhere in its elective-office or operational structure to make particularly outlandish remarks or claims that underscore the breadth of the backward attitudes that rule the Party.

If it’s not a Todd Akin, the failed Missouri 2012 Senate candidate, revealing his crackpot “legitimate rape” notions of female physiology, it’s Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum rushing during the GOP presidential primary skirmishing to pledge allegiance to the “marriage vow” declaration of the right-wing FAMILY Leader organization. In doing so, they overlooked its despicable assertion that Black children born into slavery before the Civil War, and their parents, were better off than those Black children born outside of marriage today.

If it’s not Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earlier this year wrongly lecturing students at predominantly Black Howard University on some elementary facts of Black American history, it’s Iowa Rep. Steve King weirdly asserting last July that many undocumented immigrants who had come to the U.S. as children had actually been ferrying drugs – producing in them “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

There are many, many more examples one could cite, ranging from the picayune to the deeply disgusting. And they themselves are just a portion of the voluminous evidence that bigotry itself has become a more and more powerful congenital virus within the GOP. These “gaffes” and “mistakes” GOP officials keep making aren’t gaffes or mistakes. They are at this stage of its existence markers of what the GOP is: the party where bigotry thrives.

Indeed, earlier this year the Republican National Committee itself was victimized by that sickness. It had moved quickly after the November 2012 “shellacking” the Obama campaign machine had given the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket to develop a “Growth and Opportunity” agenda that it said would enable the Party to win back the White House in 2016. Making concerted efforts to appeal to voters of color and other key groups of the winning Democratic coalition was high on the report’s list of recommendations.

The response of the Republican Party leadership? They in effect looked the other way as conservative think-tankers and the GOP-allied punditocracy savaged the document – and immediately began suggesting the GOP could win the White House in 2016 just by doubling down on its appeal to White voters only.

No doubt the large majority of copies of the RNC report are resting comfortably at the bottom of the Potomac River.

And by the time this column will be read, there’ll be one, or two, or three or more similar Republican Party “mistakes” and “gaffes” to add to the list.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Eager for a War with Iran

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(NNPA) Some of the responses by the Republicans and their friends to the Iran nuclear deal have been nothing short of amazing. The deal includes greater and closer inspections of Iranian sites, some relief from the sanctions, and the delay in certain steps that the Iranians had been contemplating. After six months this is to be reviewed.

The Israeli government and many of their Republican friends in the U.S. immediately attacked the deal, in some cases not even waiting to review the full text of the agreement. There is only one conclusion that can be derived from that approach: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends in the Republican Party here in the U.S.A. want a war with Iran. There really is no other conclusion.

For all of the rhetoric about increasing the sanctions, there are several ironies afoot. Israel, a country that has never been a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (and reportedly possesses at least 100 nuclear weapons), wants to cripple – if not attack – Iran, which is a country that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has no nuclear weapons and has not been shown to actually be developing nuclear weapons. Think about that for a moment.

The Israeli government, along with hawks in the Republican Party, along with some Democrats, have been beating the war-drums for years. Iran, which has a right to develop nuclear power, is being told, in essence, that it does not have such a right, though the Israelis have been permitted to secretly create nuclear weapons, some of which they developed in conjunction with apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

The deal that the Obama administration signed with Iran, along with other major powers, steps back from the brink of war. One does not need to be a fortune teller to know that heightened sanctions represent only one step away from all-out war. Thus, the question is whether one believes that war with Iran is justified. This needs to be put on the table and demagogues need not be permitted to walk around the issue.

There are no demonstrable facts to indicate that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons. You can believe anything that you want and see all sorts of possible dangers, but the evidence is not there. Instead, the Israeli government – which during the Iran/Iraq War supplied Iran with weaponry – wishes to play up fears and Islamophobia in order to discourage any sort of peaceful resolution of the conflict. In that regard it is important that you, the reader, ignore the flowery language that we hear from the Israeli government and the hawks here about their alleged desire for peace. They are looking for what would amount to the complete surrender of the Iranians. That is not going to happen.

War with Iran would be a game-changer. The financial markets know it; the oil markets know it; and, my guess is that you know it. While I continue to believe that Iran – which has not invaded another country in more than 1,000 years – should be left alone, in the immediate this peace deal needs to be supported. War with Iran will be an endless war. And if you want to be reminded of some of the consequences, look at what has been happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and, by the way, open the paper to the weekly list of dead U.S. soldiers.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Senate Disarms Weapon of Mass Obstruction

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“For the first time in history, Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing his executive team or confirming judges…The change we propose today would ensure executive and judicial nominees get an up or down vote on confirmation – yes or no.” -Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

(NNPA) The United States Senate recently took a highly controversial but much-needed step to end the abuse of the filibuster and ensure that nominees to executive branch appointments and federal judgeships can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. By a 52-48 vote, the Senate limited a longstanding filibuster procedure that has been used to block an unprecedented number of President Obama’s appointments and turned “advise and consent” into “deny and obstruct” over the last five years.

The National Urban League applauds this historic action and hopes that it clears the way for a final vote to allow a number of highly qualified Americans to serve their country. This includes the three judges the president recently picked to fill vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals and Rep. Melvin Watt, a 20-year member of the House Financial Services Committee and former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was nominated in May to be Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Prior to the change in Senate rules, Watt was virtually assured of becoming the first sitting Member of Congress since 1843 to be rejected for a Cabinet-level appointment. Mel Watt and several other stellar candidates would also bring much-needed diversity to their roles at a time when people of color and women continue to face obstacles to equal justice and suffer disproportionately from the housing crisis. It is clear; these nominees were being blocked solely on the basis of partisanship and ideology, not their qualifications.

Partisan gridlock and obstructionism have risen to new heights since President Obama first took office almost five years ago. The minority party in the Senate and the majority party in the House have gone to extraordinary lengths to thwart the president’s legislative priorities. And his nominees for executive branch positions and judgeships have been repeatedly stonewalled. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reminded us, “In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote. But Republican filibusters deny them a fair vote and deny the President his team.”

The outrageous filibuster blockade that has left so many important federal positions vacant in recent months has not only been harmful to the president, it has been a gross disservice to the American people. Well aware of that fact, President Obama responded to the Senate’s action by saying, “It’s no secret that the American people have probably never been more frustrated with Washington. And one of the reasons why that is, is that over the past five years, we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done…So I support the step the majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business.”

So do we. Rather than being used as it was originally intended, as a tool of last resort on matters of principle, in recent years, the filibuster has been used for purely political ends. That is why disarming this weapon of mass obstruction was the right thing to do.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Mozambique Facing Another Civil War?

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(NNPA) The news out of the southeast African nation of Mozambique has been most disturbing. After a 21 year period of peace, Renamo—the notorious Mozambican National Resistance—has announced that it is breaking its pact with the ruling Frelimo (Mozambican Liberation Front, the movement that led the struggle for independence from Portugal). Skirmishes have commenced with the government and government forces have moved into the traditional headquarters of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and seized it.

It remains far from clear whether Mozambique will return to a state of civil war, but the fact that conditions have deteriorated says something both about post-independence Mozambique as well as the rather bizarre and politically conservative Renamo.

In the aftermath of gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, the Frelimo-led government embarked on a major effort at development, as well as equal efforts at solidarity with other progressive movements in Southern Africa. Aligning itself with the USSR and China, Frelimo saw itself as ultimately building a socialist state in Mozambique. It also saw itself as providing support to freedom fighters in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

In a major effort at destabilization, the White minority regime in Rhodesia trained and armed conservative Mozambicans to begin a guerrilla war against Frelimo. The Rhodesian objective was to tie down Frelimo and prevent it from offering any substantial support to the national liberation forces in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Playing upon various grievances that existed under the post-colonial regime, these armed units, which came to be known as the Mozambican National Resistance (MNR, but more commonly, Renamo), undertook a vicious and terroristic campaign against Frelimo and its supporters. When the Rhodesian regime collapsed and national liberation arrived in Zimbabwe, the apartheid South African government took up supporting Renamo.

One of the most striking features of Renamo was its viciousness. Rather than trying to secure “liberated zones” and demonstrate an alternative to Frelimo, Renamo resorted to a campaign of open terror. There appeared to be no targets that were off limits. Civilians were murdered and/or tortured in an effort aimed at creating nothing short of panic. This situation lasted for more than 15 years, ultimately ending in a peace pact in 1992.

In the period since the peace pact, Renamo—which repositioned itself as an opposition party to Frelimo—has gained little ground. Many observers believe that the myopic orientation of Renamo leader Dhlakama has straight-jacketed the movement, both chasing away some of its most talented cadre plus locking the movement into an “all or nothing” approach in its dealings with Frelimo.

In the meantime, Frelimo has faced a very different set of challenges. While the economy of Mozambique has, overall, improved and there has been relative stability, Frelimo has dramatically shifted from the orientation that it had during the anti-colonial war and under subsequent leader Samora Machel that emphasized social transformation. In part, as a result of the war with Renamo, along with collapse of the Soviet bloc and the adoption of capitalism by the People’s Republic of China, Frelimo increasingly followed a path of development consistent with the objectives of international financial institutions and global capitalism. One result of this, in addition to a very uneven living standard, has been increased corruption.

There is nothing progressive in the apparent return to warfare by Renamo. It will bring further misery. Renamo has no positive vision for Mozambique but has repeatedly demonstrated its interests in enriching its leadership. Nevertheless, tensions within Mozambican society that have nothing to do with the politics of Renamo, may end up playing a role in any ensuing conflict between Renamo and the Mozambican government. To the extent to which Mozambicans have concluded that their Frelimo-led society is not transforming their lives in an equitable fashion, they may withhold badly needed support from the Mozambican government, thereby prolonging the conflict and, possibly worse: turning Mozambique into a battleground for militias.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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