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December 5, 2000

High Court Hides From Camera in Bush v. Gore

When the Supreme Court entertained arguments last Friday that could determine who will be the 43rd president of the United States, it worked virtually in private. Unlike the Florida Supreme Court, which let the sunshine (and television cameras) into the hearing that gave the green light to hand-counted ballots, the highest court in the land convened before just 80 members of the public.

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court refuse to allow television coverage of their hearings. Reasons given range from protection of their personal privacy to preservation of the Court’s mystique. Chief Justice William Rehnquist told a 1992 judges’ conference that if the justices didn’t look good on camera, “it would lessen to a certain extent some of the mystique and moral authority” of the Court.

Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade, once passed a group of anti-abortion protestors during his noontime stroll. Unrecognized, he stood and looked on as they railed against the rights protected by the bystander’s most famous decision.

Twenty-three hours before the Supreme Court’s 1989 hearing in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, which many thought might overturn Roe v. Wade, hopeful spectators began lining up in front of the Supreme Court building to vie for the few public seats. A scalper sold the eleventh place in line for $100.

The Supreme Court has held that there is a right to a public trial. But it is not clear whether a public trial means a televised trial. When a defendant appears in court, there may be valid reasons for excluding a camera, if the publicity could harm his or her constitutional right to a fair trial. But when the Supreme Court hears arguments, there are no witnesses or jurors to be influenced or intimidated by the cameras.

Although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a group of University of Virginia law students that she generally favors gavel-to-gavel cameras in the courtroom, she didn’t specifically include the Supreme courtroom. She said: “The problem is the dullness of most court proceedings,” adding, “It’s often tedious.”

Justice Antonin Scalia once told an audience condescendingly that “law is a specialized field, fully comprehensible only to the expert.”

Yet millions sat glued to their television sets two weeks ago as the Florida Supreme Court grappled with technical legal issues of statutory construction. The High Court on Friday was faced with deciding whether the Florida Supreme Court violated federal law or the United States Constitution. Public interest in this hearing was overwhelming. It is imperative that the American public, so polarized in this post-election limbo, perceives the ultimate decision-making process as a fair one.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the petition filed by C-Span and CNN to allow cameras to televise Friday’s arguments was a foregone conclusion. As Justice David Souter told a House Appropriations subcommittee in 1996: “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

However, the Court took a small but significant step by allowing an immediate release of an audiotape of the proceedings, which in ordinary circumstances, wouldn’t be released for several months. In 1955, Chief Justice Earl Warren inaugurated the practice of audiotaping oral arguments. But although the tapes were turned over to the National Archives, scholars who checked them out had to sign a lending agreement that they wouldn’t reproduce them. University of California-San Diego political science professor Peter Irons defied the agreement in 1993 and marketed the tapes with a transcript entitled “May It Please the Court.” The Court, furious, threatened “legal remedies” but never followed through with its threat.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told conference attendees in Colorado a few years ago: “Eventually we will probably have television. But it probably won’t be for a good while.” How long a while that will be is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, Justice Souter will live to see the day.

November 5, 2000

Marching Against U.S. Punishment Politics in Cuba

None of the demonstrations I attended in the 60s prepared me for the experience of marching with one million Cubans last month to protest the United States’ blockade against Cuba. More than 100 U.S. lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild joined the march.

Absent was the tension always present in U.S. marches, which usually protest against the government. Fidel Castro led the Cuban march. Scores of children laughed and sang as they walked with their arms around each other. Attendance at the Cuban event was voluntary and the police were unarmed. Tear gas and rubber bullets, staples in American protests, were nowhere in sight.

Forty years ago, the U.S. imposed an “all-out ‘quarantine’ – economically, politically and diplomatically – of the Castro regime,” in the words of Vice President Richard Nixon. Its aim was to starve the people so they would overthrow Castro’s communist government, yet he remains in power. The Cold War has ended and the U.S. has normal relations with China and Vietnam. Nonetheless, we maintain a blockade against Cuba tighter than any other in the world. Its restriction on the sale of medicine and food is unprecedented.

Notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary, the legislation passed last month actually strengthens the blockade, by forbidding U.S. financing to Cuba to buy food from American farmers, and tightening the travel ban. Although an overwhelming majority of both the House and Senate had voted to relax the blockade, the GOP House leadership and right-wing Cuban-American members of Congress held the rest of Congress and President Clinton hostage at this crucial election juncture. Indeed, the pivotal role of Florida – the center of anti-Castro sentiment – in the excruciatingly close presidential election does not bode well for an early lifting of the blockade.

Meanwhile, Cubans suffer under the thumb of a vitriolic policy of economic isolation imposed by the U.S. Some flee in small unseaworthy crafts. But, scores of people from Mexico and Central America perish every year trying to cross the U.S. border. And, the U.S. approves only about 10 percent of visa applications from Cubans who seek to visit relatives in the U.S. but wish to remain in Cuba. Of the Cubans who have come to the U.S. on non-immigrant visas and who could have requested to stay under U.S. laws, 95 percent have voluntarily returned to Cuba.

Behind me in the march were large twin photographs of Jose Marti, the father of the Cuban revolution, and Abraham Lincoln. Castro is fond of quoting Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The Cuban constitution enshrines due process rights, the right to work, to education, to medical and dental care, to prenatal care and paid maternity leave, to child care, to participate in the running of the state, and the right to a life free of racial or gender discrimination. Although, like the U.S., Cuba still has the death penalty and instances of racial profiling, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is black.

Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas and one of the highest in the world. Vice President Al Gore told a Canadian magazine in 1994, “It’s disgraceful that we have this level of illiteracy; countries like Cuba put us to shame when it comes to this problem.” There are more doctors per capita in Cuba than any other country in the world. In fact, when representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus complained recently to Castro about the lack of doctors for the poor in the U.S., he offered to send them some Cuban doctors. He also offered 500 medical scholarships for Third World youth and other groups, on the condition they return to the U.S. to care for people in their communities.

At 74, Castro has demonstrated not only resilience but also a capacity for change reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Since the Pope’s visit, Cubans enjoy more religious freedom. A woman at a Jewish synagogue in Havana told us that when Castro visited at Chanukah, he regaled them for two hours with stories of Jewish history and was well versed on the Holocaust. Castro quipped to our group that if he hadn’t been a guerrilla, he would’ve been a pastor. He says, “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ.”

The U.S. government continues to betray the poor in Cuba, who remain under a state of siege in an undeclared war by the United States. We must lift the blockade of Cuba, not just for the Cuban people, but for our own humanity.

August 10, 2000

Cheney’s “Black Gold”: Corporate Oil Interests to Drive U.S. Foreign Policy in Bush-Cheney Administration

What do the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and the Balkans have in common? U.S. domination in these areas serves the interests of corporate multi-millionaires such as Dick Cheney. As George Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Cheney was chief prosecutor of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Humanitarian rhetoric notwithstanding, the bombing of Iraq – which continues to this day – was primarily aimed at keeping the Persian Gulf safe for U.S. oil interests. Shortly after Desert Storm, the Associated Press reported Cheney’s desire to broaden the United States’ military role in the region to hedge future threats to gulf oil resources.

Cheney is C.E.O. of Halliburton, the biggest oil-services company in the world. Because of the instability in the Persian Gulf, Cheney and his fellow oilmen have zeroed in on the world’s other major source of oil – the Caspian Sea. Its rich oil and gas resources are estimated at four trillion dollars by U.S. News and World Report. The Washington-based American Petroleum Institute, voice of the major U.S. oil companies, called the Caspian region, “the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East.” Cheney told a gaggle of oil industry executives in 1998, “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

But Caspian oil presents formidable obstacles. Landlocked between Russia, Iran and a group of former Soviet republics, the Caspian’s “black gold” raises a transportation dilemma. Russia wants Caspian oil to run through its territory to the Black Sea. The United States, however, favors pipelines through its ally, Turkey.

Although the cheapest route would traverse Iran to the Persian Gulf, U.S. sanctions against Iran belie this alternative. Cheney has lobbied long and hard, as recently as June, for the lifting of those sanctions, to lubricate the Iran-Caspian connection. This is consistent with his position, described in a 1997 article in The Oil and Gas Journal, that oil and gas companies must do business in countries with policies unpalatable to the U.S.

Cheney also favors the repeal of section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act, which severely restricts U.S. aid to Azerbaijan because of its ethnic cleansing of the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous enclave in Azerbaijan. Why would Cheney choose to ignore Azerbaijan’s human rights violations? Because Azerbaijan, key to the richest Caspian oil deposits, is, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “in fact, the focal point of the next round in the Great Game of Nations, a dangerous, hot-headed place with a Klondike of wealth beneath it. It is Bosnia with oil.”

Cheney’s oily fingerprints are all over the Balkans as well. Last year, Halliburton’s Brown & Root Division was awarded a $180 million-a-year contract to supply U.S. forces in the Balkans. Cheney also sits on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor. Replacing munitions used in the Balkans could result in $1 billion in new contracts. War is big business and Dick Cheney is right in the middle of it.

Meanwhile, energy and gasoline prices continue to soar in many parts of the United States. OPEC controls the oil production in the Persian Gulf. Cheney, worried about a fall-off in investment, spoke in favor of OPEC cutting oil production so oil and gasoline prices could rise.

Cheney is ineluctably invested in keeping the world safe for his investments. Although he is stepping down as C.E.O. of Halliburton to run for vice-president, his financial interests in the Persian Gulf, the Caspian region and the Balkans will invariably continue. Chosen by George W. Bush to bring foreign policy expertise to the ticket, we can expect a Republic administration to increase U.S. intervention in regions when it suits Dick Cheney’s oil and other corporate concerns.

August 1, 2000

Milosevic Empowered by Punishment Politics

One year after NATO’s bombs devastated Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic remains firmly entrenched as the nation’s leader. Although he was previously prevented from seeking another term, a “constitutional coup” by the Serbian-controlled parliament earlier this month resulted in constitutional amendments allowing Milosevic to run for re-election, and changing the requirements for election of president and Parliament.

Prior to the changes, it would have been impossible for Milosevic to continue his tenure as President of Yugoslavia beyond July of 2001. The amendment gives Milosevic the option of running for two additional four-year terms. Whereas the constitution had required the election of the president by the federal Parliament, the amendment provides for presidential election by a majority of the popular vote, which would blunt the effect of an opposition boycott. Finally, the election of Parliamentary deputies will now result from a popular vote, instead of by separate votes of the Montenegrin and Serbian assemblies. This change dilutes the power of the government of Montenegro to elect deputies hostile to Milosevic.

Parliamentary and local elections had been scheduled to take place in November 2000 and the presidential election was set for January 2001. Last week, however, Milosevic announced that Serbia and the Yugoslav federation will hold presidential, parliamentary and local elections September 24.

I was told at a recent international conference in Belgrade that there is widespread opposition to Milosevic in Yugoslavia. Results of a public opinion poll published last week shows Milosevic with only 13.7 percent support. So how can he be confident he would win a popular election?

The bombing, the economic sanctions and Milosevic’s war crimes indictment just weeks before the peace agreement all serve to perpetuate his power. It is the Serbian people who are being held hostage by NATO’s misguided and failed policy of punishment politics.

In 1992, to facilitate the secession of Slovenia, Croatia and later Bosnia and Kosovo from Yugoslavia, the United States pushed the U.N. Security Council to impose economic sanctions, a total blockade of the country. Enforced by military means, the sanctions blockade was policed by the U.S. Navy and its NATO allies who patrolled the Adriatic Sea and the Danube River, stopping all vessels possibly bound for Yugoslavia. Air traffic to and from Yugoslavia was blocked by NATO jets, and a 1995 bombing campaign in Bosnia ended with the Dayton Accords. The United States has continued to prevent Yugoslavia from receiving new credit and loans.

The 78-day bombing campaign last year was followed by the occupation of Kosovo, new sanctions and an oil embargo against Yugoslavia. The United States recently renewed these sanctions, and the European Union tightened trade sanctions in April.

Although responsible for an estimated $4 billion worth of damage to the infrastructure of Yugoslavia, the West has refused to provide economic assistance for reconstruction as long as Milosevic remains in power.

Yet Milosevic holds a tight reign while his people suffer. Roughly one-third of the labor force remains unemployed and the United Nations estimates that about two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. Production levels are way down, there is no exportation of goods and Yugoslavia is cut off from most international markets. Credit cards are no longer available to the people. They cannot send money abroad, and the airport looks deserted. Dozens of bridges and hundreds of apartments remain damaged by the bombs.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright made it clear that the United States would only agree to lift the sanctions if free elections are held. A recent public opinion poll showed that although two-thirds of Serbs want political change, 40 percent of eligible voters don’t know which party to vote for in the local and federal elections.

Although life was tough before the sanctions, it has worsened since. Many Serbs blame the West for the sanctions, as well as the bombing. The indictment of Milosevic just before the peace accord was signed effectively prevented any possibility he might step down as part of the agreement. His best chance to avoid prosecution for war crimes is by staying in power.

As the Bay of Pigs tightened Castro’s hold on power in Cuba, so did the NATO bombing solidify nationalist sentiments in favor of the government in Yugoslavia. And like the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba failed in its goal of overthrowing Castro, the sanctions against Yugoslavia have failed to unseat Milosevic. An overthrow requires a strong, organized internal opposition, which doesn’t exist in Yugoslavia, or in Cuba. The sanctions have failed in their goals and have only punished the people. The West should rethink its policies in both of these countries.

June 28, 2000

The WTO: A New World Government Dedicated to the Principle That Property Interests Are More Sacred Than Human Rights

What brought more than 50,000 trade unionists, environmentalists, human rights and social justice activists from all over the world into the streets of Seattle in late November and early December of last year to protest the World Trade Organization? They all understood: “Economic globalization is the number one threat to the survival of the natural world.” The global transfer of economic and political power from national governments to multinational corporations is a disaster for human rights, the environment, social welfare, agriculture, food safety, workers’ rights, national sovereignty and democracy.

This article analyzes the role and function of the World Trade Organization, which is dedicated to ‘free trade’ for trans-national corporations. It seeks to unveil the WTO’s myth that everyone’s interests will be protected if trade is allowed to flourish unfettered. In contrast to the National Lawyers Guild’s unifying principle – that human rights are more sacred than property interests – the WTO’s raison d’etre is the elevation of property interests above the protection of human rights.

THE BENEFITS OF GLOBALIZATION DON’T TRICKLE DOWN

In a 1999 human development report, the United Nations found that even though globalization has resulted in skyrocketing net capital flows in countries such as Indonesia, prosperity has not trickled down. The gap between rich and poor has increased geometrically because of the global trading system.

As a result of globalization, wages of low-income workers in the United States have dropped, while corporate profits have soared to record heights. The affected workers include large numbers of women and people of color. In developing countries, poverty has increased as governments have slashed funding for food and social programs in order to promote export-oriented agriculture.

In the six years since the enactment of NAFTA, poverty in Mexico has increased as wages have dropped. The United States trade deficit with Mexico has mushroomed. Most NAFTA-related job losses have occurred in the apparel and electronics industries, prime employers of women and people of color. A study by the International Labor Organization reported a “widening earnings gap between TCF [textile, clothing and footwear] workers in higher and lower-income countries.”

THE WTO: ACCOUNTABLE TO WHOM?

Globalization has been a boon to the multinational corporations – at the expense of of us all. Ironically, the states that have joined the WTO have ceded it the power to prevent them from protecting their own people because they are economically beholden to the multinational corporations.

Who runs the WTO? A self-anointed group of security-cleared trade advisors to the WTO, it is a veritable “Who’s Who” of representatives of global corporations and industrial interests, including several Fortune 500 corporations. Further, representatives of the 135 WTO member countries meet in secret, excluding non-governmental organizations representing labor, environmental, human rights and social justice interests.

Any WTO member country can challenge rules or laws of another country as “trade barriers.” Moreover, the WTO has the power to levy huge fines against offenders. Its enforcement mechanism emanates from a structure encompassing all three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – and aspiring to wield more power than the United Nations. Indeed, the U.S. has committed itself to abide by WTO rulings while it has routinely ignored UN resolutions opposing its actions. In a 1994 speech promoting United States approval of the WTO, GATT Director General Peter Sutherland said, “Governments should interfere in the conduct of trade as little as possible.” Not surprisingly, WTO rulings have upheld the interests of trans-national corporations in every instance that an environmental, labor, health and safety, or human rights protection has been challenged as a ‘trade barrier.”

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS = ‘TRADE BARRIERS’

The WTO contains no specific agreement on the protection of the environment. Articles I, III, XI and XX, which are derived from GATT, actually militate against protecting the environment.

Article I – Most Favored Nation Treatment – prohibits governments and citizens from setting standards that favor goods produced under more environmentally sustainable conditions. For example, the WTO ruled in 1998 that a country cannot place restrictions on the importation of products such as shrimp, based on the way they are produced. In that case, the restriction was aimed at protecting endangered sea turtles.

Article III – National Treatment – restricts nations from giving more favorable treatment to domestic goods that may be produced in a safer, more humane or environmentally friendly manner. A pre-WTO GATT ruling struck down a United States law that banned the importation of tuna caught in nets lethal to dolphins. The Acourt said that no distinction could be made between the process and the product. In other words, the end justified the means.

Article XI – Elimination of Import and Export Controls – specifies that WTO members cannot limit imports or exports of resources or produce across their borders, effectively eliminating a nation=s right to allocate its own natural resources. This provision nullifies the prohibition against trade in endangered species. Hundreds of species are becoming endangered each year, drastically upsetting the balance of nature.

Article XX – General Exceptions – provides that nothing in the WTO agreement shall prevent measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life, or health or natural resources. WTO apologists frequently cite this article as evidence that human and environmental concerns are protected. But whenever it has been invoked, a trade dispute panel found a rationalization to avoid its application. Thus far, the WTO study group on trade and the environment has focused more on avoiding environmental impediments to trade than on protecting the environment. The WTO struck down an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule requiring gasoline refineries to produce cleaner gas in order to reduce air pollution. As a result, the EPA, which administers the Clean Air Act, was forced to lower its standards to allow dirtier gasoline.

In each and every environmental case that has come before it, the WTO has ruled against protecting the environment and in favor of protecting the interests of big business.

FOOD HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTECTIONS = ‘TRADE BARRIERS’

The World Health Organization reported in 1996 that the globalization of the food supply was a growing cause of illness worldwide. Under its rules, countries are not required to maintain minimum health and safety standards, but can be penalized for setting higher standards than those set by the WTO. The WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures restricts what governments can do to regulate food and agriculture for the protection of the environment, human, animal and plant health and the food supply.

Many countries base their health and food safety regulations on the Aprecautionary principle, where the substance stays off the market until proven safe. Two WTO rulings turn the precautionary principle on its head. In one case, the European Union banned the non-therapeutic use of artificial beef hormones, citing several studies showing that these hormones could cause cancer. The United States successfully challenged Canada and the European Union. The ruling demanded a showing of scientific certainty that hormones cause cancer and thereby voided the ban. The European Union refused to cave in to U.S. pressure and was hit with $115 million in WTO-authorized trade sanctions.

The United States also successfully challenged Japan=s health-related pesticide residue testing regulations for agricultural imports. Because Japan=s standards exceeded those of the WTO, Japanese people must now accept produce with higher levels of toxic pesticides than their own government deems safe.

The WTO threatens the health and safety of everyone but the global corporations.

HUMAN RIGHTS = ‘TRADE BARRIERS’

In Burma (Myanmar), Asoldiers committed serious human rights abuses, including extra judicial killing and rape, according to a U.S. State Department report. The Special Rapporteur to the UN Commission on Human Rights reported Aextrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and enforced disappearances, torture, abuse of women and children by government agents.@ Violations of the rights of women – particularly Aforced labor, sexual violence and exploitation, including rape@ – were also documented. The International Labor Organization found that the civilian population, especially women and children, was being used for forced labor.

In 1966, Massachusetts enacted a law barring companies that do business with Burma from bidding on large public contracts in the state. But the European Union and Japan challenged the Massachusetts law as unfair Ato the trade and investment community. They cited the WTO 1994 Agreement on Government Procurement, which prohibits consideration of non-commercial factors, such as human rights, in governmental purchasing decisions.

A U.S. district court in Massachusetts ruled in 1998 that municipalities and states cannot interfere in foreign policy when there is a “great potential for disruption and embarrassment.” That ruling was upheld by a federal appellate court in 1999. The case is currently pending in the United States Supreme Court, so the WTO challenge is on hold.

China will soon join the WTO. Human rights violations by China created controversy within the United States Congress before it granted China Amost-favored nation trading status. The contradiction was aptly described by Lhadon Tethong, a Canadian-born Tibetan who represents Students For A Free Tibet:
The idea that the world trade organization can supersede sovereign countries laws is really terrifying when you think of it from the aspect of human rights.

We are insisting that China take some responsibility and deal with the worsening situation in Tibet, in Inner Mongolia, in E. Turkestan, in China itself.

Ideally, we would like to work toward some economic sanctions, like the divestment campaigns that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa.

But once China gets into the WTO – which looks imminent – it can challenge any economic leverage we have and argue that it is a barrier to free trade.

We have a duty and an obligation to press for the idea that yes, trade is not a bad thing, but let=s play at a fair level, a level where trade does not undermine a people=s right to self-determination.

The WTO has consistently chosen the protection of property over the sanctity of human rights.

LABOR PROTECTIONS = ‘TRADE BARRIERS’

The WTO has delegated jurisdiction over labor matters to the International Labor Organization (ILO). But the ILO, unlike the WTO, has no enforcement power when it finds violations of labor rights. The United States has ratified only 11 of the 182 conventions of the ILO. Most of the conventions ratified by the U.S. deal with maritime labor. Only two of them deal with fundamental human rights – the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
According to the ILO, more than 250 million children between the ages 5 of 15 work full-time or part-time around the world. Although the 1995 Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing ensured the protection of the Agirl child,@ many millions of girls still work as prostitutes. Children are bonded laborers, welders or rubbish pickers. The only labor protection currently written into WTO rules is that countries may restrict imports of goods produced with prison labor. If a country wished to ban imports on goods produced with child labor or apply a trade sanction on a country that was violently repressing an independent labor union, the WTO could strike it down as a Atrade barrier.

Not coincidentally, the day after the Seattle protesters shut down the WTO, President Bill Clinton suggested that labor rights be enforceable by trade sanctions. But this noble gesture would take decades to implement.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE NOT ‘TRADE BARRIERS’

Although the economic trading rights of WTO countries trump environmental protections, labor rights, health and safety precautions, and human rights, intellectual property rights are indelibly enshrined in the WTO agreements.

The WTO Multilateral Agreements contain Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. ‘TRIPS’ is a bad trip. For centuries, indigenous peoples in many countries have developed herbs, seeds and plants for use as food and medicine. ‘TRIPS’ gives foreign corporations the right to take traditional indigenous seed varieties developed by small farmers, ‘improve’ them with slight genetic alteration and patent them. In order to use them, the people who originally developed them must buy them back at exorbitant rates.

Some countries call it biopiracy. India has seen mass demonstrations protesting this practice. New hybrids that have displaced native seeds are vulnerable to pest attacks. Farmers are forced to buy costly pesticides, which often puts them out of business. There has been an epidemic of farmer suicides in parts of India that used to be prosperous agricultural regions before the Aecological and social disaster caused by biopiracy.

But protection of Aintellectual property goes beyond merely bankrupting farmers. It can be deadly. When Thai companies made AIDS drugs available at a cost well below that of United States drug companies, the U.S. – on behalf of the drug companies – threatened a WTO TRIPS challenge for patent infringement. Thailand, which depends on the U.S. for 25% of its exports, was effectively blackmailed into stopping the manufacture of cheaper AIDS drugs.

According to UNICEF, 1.5 million infants die every year, primarily from fatal infant diarrhea caused by the replacement of breast feeding with artificial formulas.

Gerber Food claimed on its packages that its infant formula would insure healthy babies, and bolstered the claim with photographs of fat, healthy babies. Guatemala enacted a law, modeled after the World Health Organization Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, to protect infant health. It required that formula producers clearly state the superiority of breast feeding on their labels. All of Guatemala=s domestic and foreign suppliers of formula changed their packaging to comply. The country=s infant mortality rates dropped dramatically. Gerber, however, induced the United States State Department to threaten a WTO challenge based on the company’s intellectual property claim to its labeling. In response, Guatemala amended its law to exempt imported baby food products.

Intellectual property rights are well protected by the WTO – at the expense of human beings.

THE WTO VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL AND U.S. DOMESTIC LAW

Both the Charter of the United Nations and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) memorialize human rights and fundamental freedoms that must be respected by state parties. Treaties ratified by the United States become part of the supreme law of the land under the U.S. Constitution and are thus binding domestic law.

The UN Charter was ratified by the United States in 1945. By signing and ratifying the Charter, the U.S. and other UN member countries pledge to respect the principles of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” and agree to promote “higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development.”

Further, the ICCPR, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, guarantees to all people the right to freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions. Also ensured under the ICCPR is the right to self-determination of all peoples, to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and for their own ends, to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.

The Charter on Economic Rights and Duties of States, passed by the UN General Assembly in 1974, recognizes the political sovereignty of nation states to protect their public interest by regulating foreign investment. Member nations are granted the authority to supervise the operations of trans-national corporations within their jurisdictions, by establishing performance requirements to ensure foreign investments serve the economic and social and priorities of national development.

Trans-national corporations have social obligations, since the formation of capital is a social process which depends on the labor of others. The Charter on Economic Rights and Duties of States requires all developed countries to cooperate with developing countries – establishing, strengthening and developing their scientific and technological infrastructures and scientific research and technological activities – in order to help expand and transform the economies of the developing countries. Under the Charter, every state has the duty to cooperate in promoting the steady and increasing expansion and liberalization of world trade. However, the Charter creates the corresponding duty of states to cooperate in improving the welfare and living standards of all peoples, particularly those of the developing countries.

The WTO – which serves the interests of trans-national corporations, including many U.S. corporations – systematically violates these international laws. WTO’s defenders advocate ‘free trade’ but, in practice, free trade does not result in fair trade. Free trade theorists claim that the rising tide of trade will ‘lift all boats,’ providing economic benefits to all sectors of society. The only boats, however, that have been lifted so far are yachts. Former Canadian agricultural minister Eugene Whelan observed, AThese deals aren=t about free trade. They’re about the right of these guys [corporate agribusinesses] to do business the way they want, wherever they want.

As detailed above, the UN Charter establishes the primacy of human rights and equality for all nations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to form and join trade unions as well as the right of all peoples to self-determination. Finally, the Charter on Economic Rights and Duties of States obligates developed countries to help developing countries transform their economies and improve their welfare and standards of living.

In stark contrast, under the WTO, any national, state or municipal law that may protect labor, the environment, health and safety or human rights, may be struck down if considered a barrier to trade by the faceless bureaucrats and corporate hustlers who are now empowered to decide these matters.

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

The anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle followed a tradition of protest in the United States. A century ago, working people organized sit down strikes aimed at the bosses who exploited their labor. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists marched and demonstrated against the pernicious system of racism in the U.S. And close on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, masses of people from all walks of life joined together to stop the War in Southeast Asia. In each instance, these struggles for justice and dignity have resulted in social change. Because they fought and died for labor rights, workers gained the 8-hour day and the minimum wage. Because masses of people marched on Washington and Memphis, and because of sacrifices of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Act was born. Because hundreds of thousands of students at campuses across the country demonstrated, and masses of GI’s refused their orders, the killing in Southeast Asia was stopped. And because people demonstrated in Seattle, the delegates to the secret meeting of the World Trade Organization were forced to consider labor, environmental, health and human rights protections as more than simply “trade barriers .” Because people were in the streets, the media was forced to broadcast their demands for “Fair Trade, Not Free Trade.”

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Seattle protests was the international diversity of the demonstrators. People from all over the world – many from countries where struggles for human rights and freedoms have persisted for centuries – joined together for common humanitarian goals. They were saying that it must be the people, not the WTO, who control our lives.
The WTO establishes the primacy of property interests over human rights. It also threatens the peace and security of the world, in direct violation of the UN Charter. There is no limitation placed by the WTO on trade in weapons, which may pose a major threat to international peace and security. The survival of our global community is at stake.

Since 1937, members of the National Lawyers Guild have been instrumental in providing legal support for those struggling for human rights and fundamental freedoms. That tradition continued with our legal defense for the protesters in Seattle and Washington D.C. In keeping with our motto that human rights shall be more sacred than property interests, “the Guild will continue to work Ain the service of the people.”

April 18, 2000

Lethal Law: America Must Follow International Lead, Abolish Death Penalty

“The deliberate institutionalized taking of human life by the state is the greatest conceivable degradation to the dignity of the human personality,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg wrote in a 1976 article in the Boston Globe. Echoed by all Western democracies except the United States, Goldberg’s words aptly describe the tragedy promised if Mumia Abu-Jamal is executed.

For 17 years, Jamal, a journalist and political activist, has been on death row in Pennsylvania for the murder of a police officer. Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over Jamal’s trial, has presided over more trials resulting in death judgments than any other U.S. judge.

Sabo rejected all of Jamal’s new evidence introduced at his 1995-96 post-conviction review hearings in state court. This new evidence included witnesses who wanted to recant their testimony implicating Jamal, who testified about police coercion of false testimony, who knew about police suppression of exonerating evidence, and who saw another man shoot the officer.

Unfortunately for Jamal, federal review of his incomplete state record is now threatened. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, federal judges must give a presumption of correctness to state court factual findings in criminal cases.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn will decide whether to limit Jamal’s federal habeas review to Sabo’s state court record or whether to re-open the federal court record. The record as it stands would virtually ensure execution. Six former Philadelphia prosecutors have sworn in court documents that no accused could receive a fair trial in Sabo’s court.

International treaties and customary norms have consistently condemned capital punishment. One of Jamal’s 29 claims in his federal habeas corpus petition is that his death sentence is unconstitutional under evolving standards of international law.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a major international treaty, provides, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

In the Second Optional Protocol to this covenant, the U.N. General Assembly stated, “No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present protocol shall be executed.” It further mandates that, “Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.”

Capital punishment is not one of the penal options available to the International Criminal Court. It likewise is not available to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, established to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law in the former territory of Yugoslavia.

Significantly, in Protocol No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the European Convention stated, “The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.”

According to last week’s report of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, capital punishment is becoming obsolete among its 54 active members, although a handful, including the United States, continues to use the death penalty.

Amnesty International reported that four of the countries that executed people in 1998 – the United States, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia – accounted for 85 percent of all executions.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee found the United States to be noncompliant with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States, because of its excessive number of offenses subject to the death penalty and the number of death sentences imposed.

The United States has no uniform law on the death penalty: Each state is free to choose whether or not to execute its residents. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that this discrepancy violates the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which the United States signed.

In 1997, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reported to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that “race, ethnic origin, and economic status appear to be the key determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a death sentence” in the United States. The commission responded by calling for an immediate moratorium on capital punishment.

Also in 1997, the American Bar Association, concerned about incompetency of counsel in death penalty cases and racial bias toward either the victim or the defendant, called for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Since 1976, 75 people in the United States have been released from death row as a result of DNA and other exonerating evidence. Several others, however, have been mistakenly executed. And, two months ago, Illinois Gov. George Ryan, dismayed that his state had proven innocent nearly as many death row inmates as it had executed, announced a moratorium on executions.

A recent study in Texas, which leads all other states in the number of people executed, showed that the current capital punishment system is an outgrowth of the racist “legacy of slavery.”

The Marquis de Lafayette, speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in 1830, years after witnessing the excesses of the French Revolution, said, “I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.”

The United States must fall in line with the prevailing principles of international law and the community of civilized nations by abolishing the death penalty. As Justice William Brennan wrote in his dissent in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), “the choices of governments elsewhere in the world also merit our attention as indicators whether a punishment is acceptable in a civilized society.”

Treaties ratified by the United States become the law of the land under the Constitution. In honoring these treaties, norms of international law must also be followed regarding international displeasure with the death penalty. Even Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O’Connor have considered international law in their rulings.

For instance, in a case last October that challenged the lengthy delays in execution as cruel and unusual punishment, Justice Breyer looked to Jamaica, Zimbabwe and international treaties in arguing, albeit unsuccessfully, that the Court should give “decent respect to the views of mankind.”

Like virtually all other civilized countries, the United States must take the high road and abolish the death penalty. We must choose and affirm life, not death.

March 21, 2000

No “Victor’s Justice” in Yugoslavia: NATO Must be Held Accountable for Its War Crimes

After World War II, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was established to try Japanese military and political leaders accused of committing atrocities. The United States, which was responsible for at least two of the greatest war crimes in the history of the world – the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – was not brought before the tribunal. Only the vanquished Japanese were held accountable for their war crimes. In the words of dissenting Judge Radhabinod Pal of India, this was “victors’ justice.” The United States – and its “victorious” NATO allies – will once again escape responsibility for war crimes, this time for those committed against the people of Yugoslavia.One year ago, 120 countries adopted the Statute of the International Criminal Court as a multilateral treaty. Established under the aegis of the United Nations to operate independently starting in five years, the ICC will be the first permanent international body to try suspected war criminals. Its jurisdiction extends to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Art. 5(1), Statute of the International Criminal Court, U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 183/9 (17 July 1998). Seven countries – including Libya, Iraq, China, India, Sudan, Israel and the United States – voted against the establishment of the ICC. The U.S. sought to ensure the legal processes of the ICC would not jeopardize its role as global superpower, insulating its soldiers and policy-makers from becoming defendants in war crimes prosecutions.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

In 1993, the U.N. Security Council – with significant financial aid from the leading NATO governments – set up the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or ICT-Y. S/RES/827 (1993), 32 ILM 1203 (1993). It has jurisdiction over grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity, committed in the former Yugoslavia since 1991. The tribunal rightfully indicted President Slobodan Milosevic and other Yugoslav officials for war crimes. But thus far there have been no indictments against NATO for war crimes it committed during its 11-week aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia.

Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had warned NATO it might be held accountable for war crimes after two buses in Kosovo were bombed, killing more than 50 civilians. She said “People are not collateral damage. They are people who are killed, injured, whose lives are destroyed.”

Article 3 of the ICT-Y Statute prohibits “devastation not justified by military necessity.” NATO bombs killed an estimated 1500 civilians and injured thousands more. “Smart” laser-guided weapons hit 50 bridges, 12 railroad lines, five civilian airports, 50 hospitals and clinics, 190 educational institutions, 16 medieval monasteries and shrines, and several factories, power plants, water mains, major roadways, media stations, libraries and homes. NATO Commander Wesley Clark said the goal was to disrupt, degrade, devastate and destroy the infrastructure of the country.

The United States used that same strategy in Iraq in 1991. When asked five years later on “60 Minutes,” about the half million Iraqui children who had died as a result, Madeleine Albright said, “We think the price is worth it.”

Spanish Captain Adolfo Luis Martin de la Hoz, who participated in NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, reported that NATO consciously chose non-military targets and “every single” mission was planned by high U.S. military authorities.

Also prohibited by Article 3 of the ICT-Y Statute is the “employment of poisonous weapons or other weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” NATO used cluster bombs banned by international conventions. Children (i.e., “soft targets,” according to the manufacturer) are being mutilated and killed when unexploded bomblets blow up in their hands. Equally troubling is NATO’s use of depleted uranium weapons, condemned in a 1991 U.S. Nuclear Defense Agency report as a “serious health threat.”

One speck of DU dust lodged in a lung upon impact or ingestion can cause cancer. This deadly compound, first used on a large-scale by the United States during the Gulf War, has been linked to Gulf War Syndrome and high levels of stillbirths, birth defects and leukemia among Iraqui children.

On April 18, 1999, NATO bombed three major industrial plants in Pancevo, a city near Belgrade. Levels of the carcinogen vinyl-chloride monomer (VHM) released into the air reached 10,600 times more than accepted safety levels. This has poisoned the air, the land, the crops and the Danube River. Teams from the U.N. Environmental Programme and the U.N. Centre for Human Settlements in Yugoslavia warn of the dangers of “miscarriages, birth defects and incurable diseases of the nervous system and liver.”

Physicians in Pancevo have recommended privately that all women who were present in the town the night of the bombing avoid pregnancy for the next two years. They also advised women less than nine months pregnant to obtain abortions. Most have reportedly complied.

Dr. Slobodan Tosovic, chief ecotoxicologist at Belgrade’s Public Institute of Health, said, “It’s enough to make me believe the Americans and NATO were making a biochemical experiment with us.”

The United States was well aware of the consequences of bombing the petrochemical complex. “The Americans built that factory, so they knew precisely what was inside when they bombed it,” said Pancevo Mayor Mikovic.

A recently released U.N. report said the 11 weeks of NATO air strikes have had “a devastating impact” on the environment, industry, employment, essential services and agriculture of Yugoslavia.

Walter Rockler, former prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal said, “The Nuremberg Court found that to initiate a war of aggression, as the U.S. has done against Yugoslavia, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime.” Rockler also claims the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia violated the U.N. Charter and the charter of NATO itself, prohibiting aggression and forceful military intervention.

Bombing the infrastructure of Yugoslavia went beyond legitimate military targets. “The notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with random destruction and killing by advanced technological means is inherently suspect,” Rockler wrote in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. “This is mere pretext for our arrogant assertion of dominance and power in defiance of international law.”

Article 18 of the ICT-Y Statute requires the Prosecutor to “initiate investigations” ex-officio or “on the basis of information obtained from any source, particularly from Governments, United Nations organs, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.” Upon determining that a prima facie case exists, the Prosecutor shall prepare an indictment.

Complaint Lodged with ICT-Y Prosecutor

In May of 1999, a group of Canadian lawyers and professors as well as the American Association of Jurists, a non-governmental organization with consultative status before the U.N. Social and Economic Council, lodged a complaint with the tribunal. It asked Prosecutor Louise Arbour to “immediately investigate and indict for serious crimes against international humanitarian law” the 67 named heads of state, ministers and NATO officials.

The alleged crimes include “willful killing, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, employment of poisonous weapons or other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity, attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science.”

The complaint also charges “open violation” of the U.N. Charter, NATO’s own treaty, the Geneva Conventions and the principles of international law recognized by the Nuremberg Tribunal. It points to the bombing of civilian targets and alleges that NATO leaders “have admitted publicly to having agreed upon and ordered these actions, being fully aware of their nature and effects.”

The Independent Commission of Inquiry Indictment

It is unclear whether the Prosecutor will initiate an investigation of these allegations. However, on July 31, 1999, the International Action Center in New York convened the Independent Commission of Inquiry Hearing to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark prepared a multi-charge indictment, naming President William J. Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, various U.S./NATO generals and others, as defendants for their part in the war against Yugoslavia.
The charges are based on crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Commission of Inquiry will examine the laws of armed conflict, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Tribunal, the U.N. Charter, the NATO Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international treaties and international law as well as the Constitution and domestic laws of the United States. Several months of mass hearings will be held followed by a War Crimes Tribunal. Hearings have been scheduled in several countries. The Commission will ask internationally acclaimed jurists, human rights activists, trade unionists, leaders of civil rights and women’s organizations, members of parliaments and others to review the body of evidence and issue a public verdict.

It is incumbent upon the ICT-Y prosecutor to take the complaints seriously and initiate an official investigation into NATO’s war crimes. We must not allow “victors’ justice” to repeat itself in Yugoslavia.

March 16, 2000

Punishment Politics: Tug of War Over Cuban-Boy Refugee Is Symbolic of U.S.-Cuba Embargo Problems

Elian Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban boy, was found floating on an inner tube off the coast of Florida on Nov. 25, 1999, his mother and 10 others from Cuba having perished in a boat accident. Elian was rescued and is staying in Florida with relatives of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, a hotel doorman in Cuba. Elian’s father has demanded the return of his boy to Cuba. The case has become a cause celebre in Cuba, where hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand Elian’s return to his homeland. In the United States, Elian is the political flash point for an illegal and inhumane U.S. policy toward Cuba.

U.S. politicians who seek to prevent Elian from returning to Cuba point to the large numbers who have fled Cuba in recent years, many risking and some losing their lives in unseaworthy crafts to reach the shores of Florida. The desperate economic conditions in Cuba are a direct outgrowth of U.S. policy toward Cuba, which in turn mirrors the strength of the Cuban-American voting lobby. Because it is a potent political force in U.S. electoral politics, Congress and all presidents since 1959 (the year of Fidel Castro’s Marxist revolution) have been loathe to cross the Cuban-American lobby.

The Cubans who left Cuba after the revolution have wielded a powerful sword on the U.S. political scene. L.D. Mallory, a state department senior official, wrote in a 1960 memorandum that, “the majority of Cubans support Castro,” and “there is no effective political opposition.” Thus, he maintained, “the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” He stressed that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba,” and he proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

Later that year, the Eisenhower Administration declared a partial embargo on trade with Cuba in an attempt to pressure Cuba to change its form of government. Vice President Richard Nixon described this policy as an “all-out ‘quarantine’ – economically, politically and diplomatically – of the Castro regime.” The Kennedy Administration in 1962 announced a total embargo of trade with Cuba.

Successive administrations have honored this embargo, and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 was the first Congressional legislation to expand the scope of the embargo. It strengthened further in 1996 with the adoption of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, commonly known as the Helms-Burton Act, which empowers the U.S. government to cancel foreign aid to nations that grant preferential treatment to Cuba. According to Richard Garfield, of the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, the U.S. government used “Mafia-type pressure tactics” to dissuade foreign sales to Cuba of ingredients for making soap and detergents. An amendment to the act that would have carved out an exception to the embargo for the sale of medicine and food to Cuba lost in the House of Representatives. In the past seven years, the United States has extended the reach of the embargo by attempting to force foreign countries and corporations to participate in the economic blockade of Cuba.

The United States embargo – or economic blockade – of Cuba has had disastrous effects on the Cuban people. Its restriction on the sale of food, medicine and medical equipment is unprecedented. Even the U.N. sanctions against Iraq do not ban the sale of food or medicine, because, as stated in a 1991 article in the New York Times, it is internationally “unacceptable to cause the wide-spread suffering among civilians through impeding the shipment of foods and medicines” to a civilian population.

In 1997, after conducting a 12 month investigation into the Cuban health system, the American Association for World Health found the U.S. embargo “has caused a significant rise in suffering – and even deaths – in Cuba.” The AAWH report also states that, since the enactment of the Cuban Democracy Act, Cuban “patients going without essential drugs or doctors performing medical procedures without adequate equipment . . . has sharply accelerated.” According to the AAWH, Cuba has access to less than half the new medicines on the world market, and it cannot buy some life-saving medical supplies anywhere. Fatal heart attacks in Cuba have increased because the U.S. pacemaker monopoly will not sell to Cuba. New anti-cancer and AIDS drugs are not accessible to Cubans. The CDA’s prohibition on the sale of food, fertilizer, pesticide and animal feed to Cuba has resulted in a 33 percent drop in caloric intake. The AAWH also found that food shortages have caused low birth weight in babies and a significant increase in nervous disorders.

The economic blockade against Cuba is a crime against humanity, defined by the Nuremberg Principles as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds . . .” For 39 years, the U.S. government has punished the Cuban people because it dislikes their political system.

In 1948, the United Nations passed the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The United States and Cuba signed and ratified it, and it took effect in 1950. The Convention guaranteed “the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores . . . intended only for civilians . . .” and “. . . essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, expectant mothers and maternity cases.” A blockade on food, medicines and other objects indispensable to survival is not permitted even in times of war.

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly has condemned the embargo annually for the last eight years. This year, only the United States and Israel voted against the U.N. resolution. Ill. Gov. George Ryan, whose delegation visited Havana in October, recently urged an end to the economic embargo against Cuba. He observed that it “has been largely driven by political strength of the Cuban exile community in South Florida.” Ryan’s report states, “Clearly the 40-year-old U.S. policy of embargo and isolation against Cuba has not succeeded in driving Castro from power, and it is unlikely to ever be successful.”

Meanwhile, the embargo continues to take its toll on the people of Cuba. In addition, the U.S. government broadcasts anti-Cuba and pro-U.S. propaganda to Cuba on Radio Marti. As a result, many Cubans have left, crossing the Florida Strait in unsafe boats. In 1994, the United States and Cuba issued a Joint Communique, providing that “migrants rescued at sea attempting to enter the United States will not be permitted to enter the United States.” Cuba pledged to try to prevent unsafe departures using mainly persuasive methods. A joint statement between the United States and Cuba in 1995 stated that “Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the United States and attempting to enter the United States will be taken to Cuba.” The “wet feet-dry feet” policy, however, allows only Cubans caught on U.S. shores to become permanent U.S. residents and legal workers. Those intercepted at sea go back.

Although rescued at sea, Elian Gonzalez has not gone back to Cuba. Immigration and Naturalization Service Director Doris Meissner acknowledges that “U.S. law, and I think Cuban law, says a parent [Elian’s father in Cuba] has the primary custody right. But we will create an opportunity for those who have an interest in the boy’s well-being to be heard,” Lawyers for Elian’s Cuban-American relatives have filed a political asylum claim on his behalf. They claim Elian has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in Cuba if he returns, which can depend on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Judging from the Cuban outpouring of support for Elian, no one seems to have a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The frivolous asylum claim made by Elian’s American relatives has served to focus attention on the economic deprivation in Cuba, which caused his mother to flee with him and others in an unseaworthy craft. The U.S. economic blockade of Cuba has led to the tragic conditions in Cuba. The blockade must end at once. Elian Gonzalez must go back to his homeland.

May 21, 1999

The Dark Side of the Bombing of Kosovo

The bombing of Kosovo is being justified as a tactic to prevent “ethnic cleansing.” But the primary motivation is to use NATO to secure the U.S. as the sole superpower. The U.S. has historically used its military force for intervention to protect its own economic and political interests. According to a 1996 New York Times article, “Now, in the years after the cold war, the United States is again establishing suzerainty over the empire of a former foe. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has prompted the United States to expand its zone of military hegemony into Eastern Europe (through NATO) and into formerly neutral Yugoslavia. And – most important of all – the end of the cold war has permitted America to deepen its involvement in the Middle East.”

Why does the U.S. desire control over Eastern Europe? Because the Caspian Sea region rivals the Middle East with its extremely rich oil and gas resources, estimated at $4 trillion by U.S. News and World Report. The American Petroleum Institute, the Washington-based voice of the biggest U.S. oil companies, called the Caspian Sea region, “the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East.”

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been an ongoing competition between Russia and the West for access to this oil. Retired Navy Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, who until recently oversaw all U.S. naval forces in Europe, including the Caspian area, said, “I think within the next decade, the Caspian and Black Sea area will become the next Persian Gulf, with the same enormous potential for positive engagement as well as trouble.”

The Caspian Sea is landlocked between Russia and a group of former Soviet republics (including Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan). The key problem is how to transport this oil to world markets. Russia wants the pipelines to run through its territory, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The U.S. wants them to go through its ally,Turkey. If the U.S. were truly concerned about ethnic cleansing, it would not do business with Turkey. In recent years, that country has prosecuted its own ethnic cleansing campaign, killing 100,000 Kurds and forcing millions more off their land. That vile campaign has not daunted the U.S.; Turkey is the third largest recipient of U.S. financial aid.

Five years ago, Clinton became aware of the importance of Caspian Sea oil. Former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sent by Clinton as an emissary to Azerbaijan, observed, “Clinton became rather directly involved.” Clinton created an ambassadorial position in the State Department to deal with Caspian projects. Richard Morningstar, Clinton’s Caspian energy advisor, was a keynote speaker at “The U.S. Caspian Ambassadors’ Tour,” held in New Orleans earlier this month. He outlined Clinton’s goals of providing commercial opportunities to U.S. firms, mitigating regional conflicts among Caspian nations and promoting energy security for the U.S. and its allies. “For these countries to be independent, the resources have to be able to get out freely without undue influence from competitive countries,” Morningstar noted.

Interestingly, former U.S. Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and James Baker as well as Brzezinski have earned large consulting fees for oil companies working in the region.

NATO, in its eastward expansion, has incorporated the former Soviet nations that border the Caspian Sea, into its sub-group, Partnership for Peace. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, described the difference between membership in NATO and PFP as “razor-thin.”

How does Caspian oil tie in to the war in Kosovo? The April NATO bombings of bridges at Novi Sad and other points on the Danube River blocked international cargo traffic moving to the Black Sea. The Danube crosses from Yugoslavia into Romania just east of Belgrade, and carries oil from the Caspian into Europe.

The U.S. is attempting to establish military dominance at the choke point for Caspian Sea oil, thus assuming effective military control over all of the oil resources for the entire industrialized world.

Russia and China have been particularly threatened by the new NATO expansion and the air war in Serbia. Russia’s defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, worries the situation in Yugoslavia “could happen anywhere.” Many Russians are concerned NATO could use Kosovo as a precedent to intervene in Russia’s breakaway province of Chechnya, also a hot spot along proposed routes for oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea. Last year, Boris Yeltsin told an interviewer, “Some seek to exclude Russia from the game and undermine its interests. The so-called ‘pipeline war’ in the region is part of this game.”

And China, whose Belgrade embassy was bombed recently by NATO, is the subject of a formal protest by Azerbaijan for reported arms deliveries to Azerbaijan’s rival Armenia, claiming China is trying to disrupt Caspian oil exports.

Even though the Soviet Union has dissolved and Russia is weakened by internal economic and political problems, the U.S. is vying to maintain its status as sole superpower in the world. Meanwhile, the people of Serbia suffer. The bombing must stop.

May 4, 1999

Stanford Redux: Staying True to the April Third Movement

The April Third Movement was a life-changing experience for hundreds of Stanford students in the 1960s and 1970s. Sent to Stanford by our parents who anticipated we would receive a top-notch education, we found ourselves transforming the very world we were studying. As we read about the War in Southeast Asia, we came to understand the role of the United States, and of Stanford University, in conducting and perpetuating that War. We saw films of the Vietnamese people, living and working and educating their children under ground, to avoid the bombs being dropped by the United States. We witnessed the destruction of their small country, as the bombs devastated the crops and the countryside and the people. We were haunted by anguished women and children running from U.S. planes loaded with deadly napalm.

Our reactions to what we saw and read were colored by our knowledge that Stanford University was complicit in this war on the people of Southeast Asia. We learned that research to develop chemical, biological and other high-tech weapons, as well as electronic warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, was being conducted at Stanford. The War was being waged in our own backyard. And we felt personally responsible.

We spent countless hours studying, discussing and strategizing to end the War. No action was taken without lengthy study and debate as we tried to implement “participatory democracy.” Hundreds of students sat in buildings, occupied the Stanford Industrial Park and defended ourselves against tear gas when the police reacted to our civil disobedience. We risked our futures as many of us were arrested or disciplined by the Stanford power structure.

Our political awakening was inextricably bound up with our personal development. We found ourselves in the midst of a cultural revolution, as we questioned authority, elevated love over destruction and underwent profound transformation in our lifestyles. We strove for equality – between races, between sexes and between classes. We studied together, we worked together, we lived together. Our values were reflected in the music we loved, performed by the poets of our time – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.

Ultimately, we were successful. Our efforts contributed to ending the War. But it didn’t stop there. Many of our lives have been guided by the values we internalized during our days in the April Third Movement (named for the date in 1969 when we decided to sit in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory; the occupation lasted eleven days). We have continued to do progressive work as community organizers, educators, lawyers, journalists, farmers, doctors, poets, politicians and scholars (to name a few). And we salute the activism of the current Stanford students as you try to make the world a better place, by supporting workers, minorities, gays and lesbians and environmentalists in their struggles for justice.

The University must be a laboratory for both theory and practice. It is here we have the opportunity to study; but it is here we also have the responsibility to use our knowledge to change ourselves, and in turn, our community. Please join us this weekend as we look back at the 60s and 70s as well as ahead to the next century. Let us work together to make the world a more humane place for all.