March 31, 2011

US-NATO: Might is not right

The US-NATO military intervention in Libya is being justified by invoking UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) authorizing all Member States to undertake "all necessary measures" for the protection of civilians and for the enforcement of a "no fly zone" in Libya’s airspace.

It is supposedly based on the Security Council’s determination, in accordance with Article 39 of the UN Charter, that the Libyan conflict constitutes a threat to international peace and security necessitating the imposition of coercive measures, including the use of force, by all member states.

The premise is grounded on the following claims that have yet to be irrefutably established: (1) the Kaddafi regime is that of a brutal, fascist despot despised by his own people; (2) the opposition to the Kaddafi regime embodies the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people and is supported by them; and (3) the unarmed, peaceful protest actions against the government were being met with unacceptable force allegedly “amounting to crimes against humanity”.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Kaddafi is as authoritarian and as repressive as the US, France, the United Kingdom, some Arab countries as well as international media want us to believe, the fact is that many such regimes have enjoyed the unwavering political and economic support from the US and EU countries, allowing them to overstay despite widespread social discontent and organized dissent.

In the face of these regimes’ bloody, strong-arm measures to tamp down the mass unrest and popular uprisings threatening their rule, there are no moves to impose on these regimes international sanctions of any kind much less armed intervention.

A more credible explanation is that the US-NATO interventionists all have their oil rigs pumping out thousands of barrels of oil and gas daily from the Libyan fields. To cite only the major players and their oil corporations, we have the US (Exxon-Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Marathon, Hess and Occidental), France (Total), UK (British Petroleum), Spain (Respol), Netherlands (Royal Dutch Shell), Italy (Eni), and Norway (Statoil).

Interestingly, Kaddafi reportedly announced in January 2009 a plan to
nationalize Libyan oil, raising fears that the share of oil production by US and European corporations would be reduced, if not totally eliminated. The plan however was temporarily blocked by senior Libyan officials who felt the moves were too drastic, and proposed that the nationalization be postponed.

UNSC Resolution 1973 itself deserves more critical study. Prof. Hans Kochler, president of the International Progress Organization which has consultative status with the UN, has submitted a memorandum to the UN Secretary-General denouncing it as “international vigilantism and a humanitarian free-for-all”.

Kochler says that the vague and completely undefined term “all necessary measures’’ can and will be interpreted according to the self-interest of the intervening parties. This invites the “arbitrary and arrogant exercise of power and makes the commitment of the United Nations Organization to the international rule of law void of any meaning.”

What is even more ironic is that a closer look at the UN structures and system reveals what realpolitik democracy it practices: the truly representative General Assembly has no teeth to enforce its resolutions, while all the real power resides in the Security Council, which consists of a minority of five self-appointed permanent members (each one with absolute veto power) and ten temporary lesser members chosen on rotating basis.

Within weeks the Security Council was persuaded to shift from its earlier Resolution 1970 (2011) adopting a travel ban and asset freeze on Kaddafi, his family members and other high officials of his regime and an arms embargo to Resolution 1973 (2011) or outright military intervention. This is also highly questionable.

Consider that it was generally conceded that the actual situation inside Libya could not be reliably ascertained at the time and even up to now. Reports of civilian casualties, the outcomes of see-saw battles between government forces and the rebels as well as the nature and strength of the motley groups that were fighting the Kaddafi regime could not be independently verified.

The truth is there are alternative assessments of Kaddafi’s almost four decades of rule in Libya that cast further doubt on his touted propensity to massacre his own people. For one, he used income from nationalized oil production to raise the living standards of Libyans way above that in the rest of Africa, considerably higher than in feudal Saudi Arabia which has vastly bigger oil reserves and revenues and generally higher than in the rest of the developing world.

He was generous in his political and financial support for national liberation movements and governments in Africa and Latin America that emerged from colonial struggles before he zoomed to the top of the list as a “rogue” regime targeted for assassination, subversion, foreign-sponsored rebellion, and outright bombardment. Thereafter he was forced to be more circumspect and even to backtrack in his support.

After the Iraq invasion in 2003, Kaddafi tried to ward off further threatened aggression by making big concessions to the imperialists. He opened the economy to foreign banks and corporations; he agreed to IMF demands for “structural adjustment,” privatizing many state-owned enterprises and cutting state subsidies on necessities like food and fuel.

As to the anti-Kaddafi groups depicted by the intervening powers and international media as part and parcel of the democratic winds sweeping the North African and Arab regions but not much more, a close, hard look reveals disturbing information.

The National Front for the Salvation of Libya was reportedly formed and trained by the US and Britain from Libyan soldiers captured by the Chad army, with funding also coming from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Syria. It was involved in attempts to assassinate Kaddafi in the 1980s. It took part in the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition in London in 2005, which is now the umbrella formation of the rebels in Benghazi.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Al-Jama'a Islamiyyah al-Mugatilah bi-Libya) is an Islamic fundamentalist group with links to Al Qaeda. Like the Abu Sayyaf and counterparts in other countries, it consists of former mujahedeen who fought in Afghanistan, trained and funded by the US CIA. It has also been reportedly involved in several assassination attempts on Kaddafi as well as on other Libyan officials, soldiers and policemen. The LIFG is in the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.

With the justification for military intervention and its UN fig leaf of legitimation brought under serious doubt, it becomes crystal clear that what is taking place in Libya today is big powers intervention into the internal affairs of a sovereign country in order to depose a regime not to their liking.

This has spawned more casualties among the civilian population.

This will lead to a prolongation of the armed conflict, greater economic dislocation and hardships for Libyans and foreign workers, and the worsening of political turmoil and social tensions. It could lead to partitioning the country into pro-Kaddafi West and anti-Kaddafi East and foreign control over Libya’s oil and gas resources.

There is no guarantee, not even a clear prospect, that any regime change will result in a better life for the Libyan people. On the contrary, foreign intervention has deprived the Libyan people of their right to determine their own destiny.

History is replete with examples of societies being plundered and destroyed by foreign powers imposing their values and will in the name of humanitarianism, civilization, progress and democracy. There is no iota of evidence that Libya’s case will be an exception. #

Published in Business World
31 March - 1April 2011

March 25, 2011

Libya: Unmasking humanitarian intervention

Barely a week into the massive bombing and shelling of Libya by the US, France, the United Kingdom and their allies, it has become abundantly clear that regime change and not so-called humanitarian intervention is the real object: Kaddafi himself is the target.

Once Kaddafi is removed, the Western powers aim to install a much more pliant client regime with “democratic” credentials signed, sealed and approved by them. Big power and corporate control over the oil, gas and other natural resources of Libya and the Libyan people themselves will thus be secured.

French and British top government officials were at first unabashed about getting rid of Kaddafi but backtracked when members of the Arab League which had previously acceded to the no-fly zone drew the line on this and as more criticism and condemnation from Latin American and African leaders arose.

The US has tried to make it appear that they are abiding by the limits imposed by UN Security Council Resolution1973 (2011) to “protect civilians.” But Obama’s earlier clear-cut statement that Kaddafi must step down has prompted speculation about how the US intends to pull the rug from under him.

This is where purported “surgical strikes” to take out Kaddafi and other key Libyan political leaders and field commanders of the Libyan army comes to mind. Kaddafi’s residential compound itself was bombed on the second day of the attacks and the reason given was that there was a “command center” inside. No evidence of this was provided reporters covering events in Tripoli.

Despite repeated claims by Obama that there will be no deployment of ground troops into Libya, there is little doubt that American, British and other countries’ Special Forces operatives and intelligence agents are already in action inside Libya as proven by the capture of British SAS operatives escorting an MI6 agent disguised as a diplomat even before the bombardments began. Moreover, regardless of claims that the bombing targets are identified through satellite and aerial surveillance photos, it is always the ground observers who verify the targets as well as confirm the hits.

The US-led military intervention provides the anti-Kaddafi forces all the leeway to regroup and re-arm, fortify their hold on Benghazi and other areas and utilize Kaddafi’s political isolation to position the self-proclaimed opposition Transition Council as Libya’s legitimate government. In this way the US and its allies ensure their hold on the regime that will take over if and when Kaddafi is brought down.

All these constitute flagrant violations of international law using the United Nations approval no less as a means to launch a war of aggression in Libya.

In the same way that the US justified the invasion of Iraq by lying about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Hussein’s hands, the US-led coalition utilized unverified and out rightly biased reports (albeit aided by incendiary statements from Kaddafi and his followers) to paint the scenario of an impending civilian massacre in the strongholds of anti-Kaddafi forces.

Earlier, the same interested parties succeeded in portraying Kaddafi as a corrupt and exceptionally brutal despot such that the Libyan people were groveling in misery and ignorance. The overwhelming majority of Libyans purportedly despised Kaddafi and, inspired by popular uprisings in neighboring countries, finally rose up in protest only to be mowed down by government forces.

What strikes one immediately is that there is a clear double-standard here because Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron are clearly not about to condemn much less bomb the equally if not more corrupt, brutal and despotic leaders in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia who are using armed might to deal with the turmoil at their doorsteps.

This is obviously a question of whether the particular SOB is theirs or not.
Moreover, while the allied marauding powers continue to hide behind the smokescreen of “protecting civilians” in Libya, it is becoming more obvious that their military strikes are themselves causing unacceptable numbers of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The US has a long bloody record of deliberately inflicting massive civilian casualties in military actions, inventing and invoking the term "collateral damage" to mitigate if not cover up culpability for murder.

Of course, this is vigorously denied by them but Russia and China, countries that had opposed the no-fly zone to begin with, give credence to reports to this effect. There are renewed calls for a ceasefire and mediation by the UN and independent parties to initiate dialogue and negotiations to end the conflict.

The US and NATO have capitalized on their successful demonization of Kaddafi over the past four decades so much so that they have been able to get away with the UN mandate to bomb Libya in the name of giving the Libyans a crack at "democracy".

Yet from numerous reports that have emerged after the eruption of the conflict, including accounts of OFWs, the Libyan people are not in as bad straits socially and economically as they are depicted by the Western press to be.

If it means anything at all, Libya rates a high 7.8 in the UN Human Development Index, much higher than the world average and the highest in Africa. The HDI provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income and represents a broader definition of well-being over conventional measures of national development.

Libya ranks 53rd in the world while the Philippines is number 97. Surely this achievement is nothing to scoff at and do not provide the sort of indicators that would automatically spawn rebellions and uprisings.

Do the Libyan people, reputed to be strongly nationalistic, really want foreign, especially military, intervention, in their internal affairs? There has been no definitive proof or evidence so far that they do. On the contrary, reports that have emerged shortly after the conflict cite statements from rebel groups themselves that they object to the attacks by US and its allies.
The Libyan people have seen what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US and its allies had intervened militarily in a sovereign country under various pretexts.

Apart from millions killed and maimed, vital social and physical infrastructure destroyed, and cultural treasures ruined, Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced to occupied territories and vassal states of the US. Their peoples and natural resources are under the control of the Western powers that claim to have liberated them from allegedly authoritarian and “rogue” regimes only to replace these with their stooges who are even worse in many respects.

It is high time the peace-loving peoples the world over voice out their protest and condemnation against the wanton trampling of the Libyan people's sovereignty and the deceitful use of the UN to legitimize this naked act of aggression. #

Published in Business World
25-26 March 2011

March 17, 2011

Libya: Separating grain from chaff Part I

Most Filipinos generally lack information as well as interest in the countries of North Africa. But in time Libya, a country rich in oil resources and ruled by Moammar Kaddafi, has become a favored destination for migrant workers because of the relative ease in securing well-paid work there and eventually as a springboard for moving to Italy and other European countries where even better economic opportunities hopefully lie.

In the past month, when armed clashes between loyalist and anti-government forces threatened to develop into a full blown civil war, the face of that war to Filipinos was still that of thousands of overseas Filipino workers caught in the crossfire. With no defenses and nowhere to turn (one OFW sent a video showing embassy officials abandoning their posts), they desperately tried to get out, literally crossing the vast Libyan desert with only their clothes on their back.

But they faced the bleak prospect of finding themselves poor and jobless once more back in the Philippines, a fate they had tried escaping by working in a far away country and a culturally unfamiliar society.

The little that was reported on about the fighting between the pro- and anti-Kaddafi forces centered on alleged excessive force inflicted by government forces on unarmed protesters turned armed insurgents; the quick victories by the rebels in capturing Benghazi (the second largest city in Libya north of the country’s richest oil fields as well as close to most of its oil and gas pipelines, refineries and its LNG port) and several other towns east and west of the capital, Tripoli; and the establishment of a “transition government” which France and Portugal immediately recognized as the legitimate government of Libya.

Local mass media outlets have depended almost entirely on reports by international wire agencies about what is going on inside Libya. Most of these have been sketchy, relying on unattributed sources such as purported “witnesses” and unnamed “rebels” who were obviously biased against the Libyan government.

The US and its European allies were quick to condemn Kaddafi and called on him to step down, imposed travel and asset sanctions, poised their warships for an attack on Libya, and are now working for the enforcement of a “no-fly zone” over Libya, all under the pretext of “international humanitarian intervention”.

Critical voices that questioned the demonization of Kaddafi and the legitimacy, popularity and strength of the anti-Kaddafi forces (particularly the pro-monarchy National Front for the Salvation of Libya) in representing the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people have been drowned out by the chorus of Western governments, Arab leaders and pseudo-expert political analysts hostile to Kaddafi.

But even the Western-dominated global media, the United Nations Security Council and the Pentagon concede that not enough is known about what is really happening on the ground. For the moment, this is one big factor that has forestalled any overt and drastic military intervention by the US-NATO such as the “no-fly zone”, even as US and British Special Forces and covert intelligence agents that serve as advance units are confirmed to be already operating inside Libyan territory.

In the last few days reports filtering out of Libya indicate that the Kaddafi government has regained the initiative, pushing back the rebels from important captured towns and controlling not just Tripoli but large swathes of the country as well.

It is conceded that Kaddafi’s loyalist forces are composed of well-trained and better-equipped soldiers with the advantage of fire-power from warships and an air force that his opponents lack.

What is slowly becoming clearer is that Kaddafi’s staying power can not only be attributed to his military prowess but to the continuing support of significant, if not majority, segments of the Libyan populace.

Moreover, while Western media constantly point to so-called black mercenaries, other sources describe these non-Libyan forces as volunteers from African nations and liberation movements that had benefitted from Kadaffi’s well-known acts of solidarity and generosity and were now fighting to defend his government as well as Libyan sovereignty.

Such support provides Kaddafi political legitimacy despite the campaign early on to demonize him before the international public. It lends justification to the increasingly successful military offensives of his loyalist forces as part of the right of the Libyan state to defend itself against an armed rebellion.

Conversely, it would mark any direct US-NATO military intervention as an outright attack on the sovereign will of the Libyan people especially since even anti-Kaddafi forces are divided on whether such intervention would help their cause or serve to undermine it. Even Western media sources have reported that most of the Libyan opposition vehemently oppose it.

But why all of a sudden are these great western powers exhibiting such inordinate concern for the seven million or so Libyans?

Military action to overthrow the Kaddafi government on the pretext of “humanitarian intervention” will not be as easy to explain much less justify. This much the US and its NATO allies are now realizing based on their interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and earlier in the Balkans.

Aside from the truth having been exposed especially with regard to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, questions are raised why these powers were not concerned about the lives lost and the destruction wreaked on Gaza when it was being bombarded by Israel in 2009, or when Palestinian refugees were massacred in Sabra-Shatilla in 1982?

Why are they not as quick to condemn and call for international intervention - diplomatic, economic and military – against the continuing mailed-fist treatment of unarmed protestors in other North African states such as Egypt and Yemen and those in the Middle East such as Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain has already declared martial law, killed scores of demonstrators, and has welcomed 1000 elite Saudi Arabian troops to help quell the unrest.

The truth is that as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its NATO allies are jumping at the opportunity presented by the internal strife in Libya to control the latter’s oil resources by deposing Kaddafi and installing a more friendly and pliant regime. Libya has the largest confirmed oil reserves in Africa, three times that of the US and nearly one tenth of the world total.

After Kaddafi nationalized the Libyan oil industry in the 1960s until the 1990s when Kaddafi gave in to Western pressure rather than risk being the next US target after Iraq, the West had only limited access to Libyan oil, and much of the oil revenues were funneled to support Third World liberation movements and revolutionary governments. After Libya accepted the imposition of neoliberal policies on its economy, US and European oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon, Total, British Petroleum and others were allowed to explore and extract oil.

No doubt, these foreign monopolies want more, if not all of Libyan oil and natural gas. They will settle for nothing less than absolute, not partial access and control of these abundant strategic resources. #

Published in Business World
18-19Mrch 2011

March 10, 2011

A woman’s liberation

Last March 8, GABRIELA, the foremost Filipino women’s alliance championing women’s rights, held a nation-wide mobilization to commemorate 100 years of International Women's Day (IWD).

Let us recall that it was Clara Zetkin, an outstanding German socialist and a fighter for women's rights, who proposed in 1910 that an international working women's day be held on March 8 of each year. March 8 marked the day when hundreds of women workers in the United States of America demonstrated for the right to suffrage and to build a powerful garments union.

The following year in March 1911, more than one million women and men in Europe attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, to hold public office, equal pay for equal work, maternity and child benefits and better working conditions as well as for the general upliftment, emancipation and empowerment of women.

GABRIELA emphasized that this year, IWD will be commemorated as, worldwide, women join their menfolk in mass protests and uprisings “spurred by the burgeoning impact of protracted global depression” especially in poor and backward countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Further, the alliance said, “Filipino women, like our toiling sisters in other countries, suffer from the same torment of poverty, hunger and violence caused by imperialism's last ditch attempt to salvage its moribund existence by plundering poor nations and further enslaving the working class people.”

GABRIELA concluded that Filipino women must demand immediate respite from the Aquino government through urgent socio-economic reforms as well as join the rest of the Filipino people in struggling for fundamental change, for genuine freedom and democracy, against an elite-ruled and foreign-dominated social order.

At the March 8 rally, as I waited to deliver my speech to the thousands of women gathered at some distance from the Presidential Palace, I could not help but reflect on my own sojourn as a woman, from a carefree middle class upbringing to one defined by the social and political struggles and upheavals of my generation.

I thought about how I had been surrounded by feisty, assertive and articulate women all my life: a mother who transcended social stereotypes, was an outstanding operating room nurse and a working woman all her life; aunts who despite economic hardships guided their brood to stable and successful careers; sisters who are capable and personable individuals, accomplished in their own fields; friends and most of all comrades who have struggled to combine the roles of working/career women, activist/revolutionary and wife/mother/daughter - to varying degrees of success.

My father gave us a very liberal upbringing. He made sure his children had all the opportunities to excel in school and have an active social life. There was never any stereotyping of girls as good cooks, homemakers, fashionistas. But he did expect his daughters to serve him his coffee while the only boy was free to gallivant.

My education in an all-girls’ school run by socially-oriented nuns, who were exacting in academic work and disciplinarians to boot, gave me the basic skills, self-confidence, and empathy for the poor and underprivileged that served me well in my adult life. It also provided the inestimable benefit of growing up in an academic environment where being a male was no advantage. There weren’t any.

In high school, I was introduced to the concept of women’s liberation by my eldest sister who left for the US to do graduate studies and eventually settled there. She had strained against the social conventions of her time that kept even middle class, educated women from being equal to men and achieving their full potential as individuals. She became a feminist and an active participant in the US women’s liberation movement.

When I entered the University of the Philippines, the liberal arts program of the general education course (which UP has since abolished) reinforced my openness to feminist views from the West, my involvement in moderate social activism at the UP Student Catholic Action, and later, in more radical student activism as a member of the student council and while doing organizing work among jeepney drivers and the urban poor.

My stint at UPSCA was a major venue for male-female socialization. A milestone in my life took place in the friendly environs of Delaney Hall and the UP Chapel: that is where I met my first boyfriend who eventually ended up as my lifelong partner.

My husband deserves several sentences in this narrative. Being much older than me, he was mature where I was immature. Being an engineering graduate, he was practical-minded where I was an idealistic AB Psychology student. Being a patriot, a democrat, and a closet Leftist, he was supportive of my political activism.

And being the self-confident, loving man that he was, he let me pursue my passions and my commitments with nary a hint of jealousy nor insecurity even as he worried and watched out for me at every turn. (Yes, of course, we wrangled about the inherent dangers and the time away from family that was the offshoot of my political activities.)

As I grew more deeply involved in the national democratic movement, my ideas about egalitarianism, social progress and commitment to a cause higher than oneself resonated with the movement’s Marxist philosophy, revolutionary political analysis and program and its mantra “Serve the People”.

This includes the presumption that being a woman is no barrier to being a dedicated activist and revolutionary. It also meant subordinating boyfriend-girlfriend relationships to political considerations.

It meant making independent decisions that entailed risks and sacrifices including the risk of being separated from one's boyfriend or husband. This was a harsh reality especially during martial law when the tempo and direction of one's life were altered in major, unanticipated ways.

The struggle for women's emancipation from feudal culture as well as bourgeois stereotypes had to be carried through inside the “nd” movement. Notions of sexual roles were rapidly being transformed even as there was also resistance to change and the vestiges of old-type relationships persisted.

More important, the need to organize women who, as Chairman Mao said, “hold up half the sky”, to achieve their own liberation from economic, political and cultural bondage was met by the conscious effort to build a distinct women’s movement integrated into the people’s movement for national and social liberation.

I will always credit and be grateful to the two major influences towards my liberation as a woman – the national democratic movement and the people – women and men alike - who fostered my full development as an activist/revolutionary and as an emancipated wife and mother. #

*Published in Business World
11- 12 March 2011