The Via Campesina has begun to produce weekly news updates with reports from their members on the situation on the ground in the areas affected by the tsunami. In this first issue, you can read about groups like the Indonesian National Peasants Federation (FSPI). While donated food is stuck in airports and warehouses, local farmers are providing fresh fruit and vegetables, cassava and rice, and cooking tools and oil to the victims of the disaster. Other groups in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India are using their local movements to organize work crews to clear rubble, recruiting boat builders to begin to repair the devastated fishing fleet, and tailoring their relief efforts to meet the specific needs of the people who need the most help.
More than 100,000 people have now been reported dead in the aftermath of the earthquake and floods that have devastated the coasts nations around the Indian Ocean.
Grassroots International sends its condolences to the thousands of people who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the catastrophe.
We are monitoring the situation, looking for local groups that are doing vital relief and redevelopment work and advocating for a swift and effective response from the U.S. government. During the present emergency situation, we are directing our supporters to send their contributions to groups that we believe are doing their best to work directly with local organizations, and who are doing so wherever possible without becoming beholden to the U.S. government by dependence on government funding.
Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), sent us a note with seasons greetings and forwarded a copy of a Christmas card that PCHR had received.
He writes, "I think the card illustrates very effectively the state of affairs in Palestine. We look forward to a brighter and better year for Palestinians, and for peace loving people around the world, in 2005 and hope we can build this with your continued help and support."
Here's the card:
Every once in a while, in the midst of reports of massacres, political oppression, and natural disaster, we get a welcome reminder of the value of the work that we do here at Grassroots, and of the power of movements and organizations like our partners to find ways to move forward, in the midst of the violence and the chaos of everyday life.
Yesterday we received a note from Ziad Abbas with the news that the Ibdaa cultural center's kindergarten had been badly damaged when Israeli forces used explosives to demolish a nearby home. Today Ibdaa sent along these photos from the bombing.
I'm trying to imagine how people here in Jamaica Plain would react if the police came in the middle of the night and blew up someone's house next door to a kindergarten or a day care center, wrecking the kids' classrooms in the process, and it's just unfathomable. (It's also pretty clearly a form of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.)
In the past few weeks, members of the staff of Grassroots International have had the privilege of visiting young people at schools in Boston and the surrounding area, gaining inspiration from their energy and their commitment to finding ways to make the world of tomorrow a better place.
Meanwhile, in the world of today: This morning we received a note from Ziad Abbas, director of Ibdaa cultural Center, one of our partners in Palestine. He was writing to let us know that the building where Ibdaa's kindergarten was housed had been destroyed, blown up by an Israeli demolition crew in the pre-dawn hours.
Ziad's note begins:
At quarter to four this morning the Hamash family building was bombed by the Israeli Army. At least 12 jeeps invaded Dheisheh Camp and surrounded the families? homes, as well as Ibdaa?s kindergarten ? which share the same building. The Army ordered Musa Hamash, Aziz Hamash, and Ahmed Hamash and their families outside into the damp and chilly morning air. They were given 30 minutes to remove as many of their belongings as possible before the bombing. Not only was this not enough time, but the presence of Army jeeps blocking each of the narrow nearby streets made it even more difficult for them to save some family memories and some meager possessions.
You can read the rest of his letter here.
This Saturday a group of hooded gunmen arrived at a small parcel of land in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and opened fire on a group of children, women, and men who have been living there in a makeshift encampment for the last two years.
Brazil's Landless Workers Movement had identified the land as an un-used, state-owned parcel of land that, under the Brazilian Constitution, should have been distributed to landless workers so that it could be put to work for the good of all of Brazilian society.
More and more in the past two years, even under the worker-friendly goverment of President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, landowners and other forces alligned against agrarian reform have resorted to brutal violence to fight the re-distribution of land.
On November 20th a gang of hired gunmen opened fire on the families of Nova Alegria Farm near Felizburgo, Minas Gerais. Violent resistance to the agrarian reform movement led by Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST) has been on the rise in the last several years, and the perpetators of the crimes too-often go unpunished. For more information on the details of the attacks, read the statement below from the MST. Find out below how you can help put an end to impunity.
This morning, two of our partners were guests on a news special on Pacifica Radio. Ziad Abbas of Ibdaa Cultural Center and Hasan Barghouthi of the Democracy and Workers Rights Center talked about the struggle for self determination, democratic reform, and a just peace, but also about the even more profound struggle for respect of the most basic human rights and international law under the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
We also received a note from Hasan, expressing his gratitude for the solidarity and support of Grassroots International in the days since the death of Arafat, and outlining a series of questions that need to be answered in the coming days: what will the Israelis and the Americans do to restore hope that a just peace is possible? What will the new Palestinian leadership do to strengthen civil society and build democratic institutions? You can read Hasan's letter here.
The Passing of Yasser Arafat marks a moment of great change in Palestine. We believe that it is crucial to listen to the voices of democratic social change organizations in Palestine as we move forward. Here is a link to a statement from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Grassroots International partner:
We've started to post other statements and articles that we hope will provide insight into this moment. Be sure to check the links sidebar for updates.
Dan Connell, the founder and former director of Grassroots International, writes frequently on the Horn of Africa.
In the last few weeks, more than 50 people have been killed in political violence in Haiti. For days at a time, normal life in Port-au-Prince grinded to a halt, with the lucky few people who had jobs too afraid to go to work. Even emergency aid destined for the victims of September's floods in Gonnaives was stopped, because containers could not be unloaded in the port, and supplies that were in-country could not safely be delivered to the people who so desperately needed them.
In the immediate aftermath of the ouster of President Aristide, U.S.-led multinational forces proclaimed that they would embark on a program of disarmament, demanding that insurgents and extremists lay down their weapons to make a peaceful, democratic political transition possible. The proclamations lasted a few weeks, until the head of the U.S. mission revealed a change of plan: "This is a country with a lot of weapons and disarmament is not our mission. Our mission is to stabilize the country."
After more than six months in office, the "Boniface-LaTortue government has failed to serious tackle the task of disarming all illegally armed groups," according to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), in a report on the violence of the past week. Yesterday, the bodies of three slain police officers were buried as gunshots rang out in the area around the funeral (read the AP report here).
Last Tuesday, following a three-week withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli forces invaded the northern section of the Gaza Strip. The ensuing week has been one of the deadliest periods in Gaza in years. (For an overview of the last four years of intifada--1,008 Israelis and 3,334 Palestinians dead-- read Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's analysis on Electronic Intifada.)
Our partners in Gaza are doing their best to do their work and live their lives, but they are struggling. In addition to the 66 Palestinian deaths (including 19 children), there has been extensive damage to infrastructure, including the total destruction of water, power and sewage systems for more than 100,000 refugees.
The distribution of food aid to flood-ravaged Gonaives continues to be harried by armed gangs and looters, while ex-military rebels have challenged U.N. troops and said they would begin patrolling the streets of the city themselves, as the Haitian police have yet to mount a decisive plan for security.
Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince, a march to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the September 30, 1991 coup that deposed President Aristide erupted into violence.
The situatation is charged, to say the least. All of the actors in last winter's protests and last spring's insurgency are still active and armed, and there haven't been any signs to suggest that anyone has a plan to return the country to peace or stability.
The National Coalition of Haitian Rights (NCHR) has issued a statement on the anniversary, and on the state of Haiti's struggle to build a just, democratic political and economic system for all its citizens. We've posted it here for your consideration.
The news coming out of Gonaives and the surronding area is troubling.
Today there are reports that Haiti's former military have begun patrolling the area to prevent looting, and growing concern about the extent of damage the storm has done to crops in the area.
The Haitian National Police and the UN forces have been able to do little to insure the security of local and international aid workers, or to facilitate the delivery of direly-needed food, water and emergency shelter materials.
When President Aristide left office, the one thing that was clear to all Haiti observers was that if there was any hope for Haiti to return to a truly democratic government, and--dare we dream--to move toward a truly democratic society and economy, one of the first priorities had to be the disarmament of the rebel forces whose threatened besiegement of Port-au-Prince helped drive Aristide from office. (Even Rebel leader Guy Philipe announced in March that his men would hand in their guns.)
In the early stages, U.S., multi-national and U.N. forces announced that they would begin the disarmament process, but the rules of engagement for that military/humanitarian intervention collapsed to the point that the U.S. refused to use its helicopters to help victims of the catastrophic floods of the spring.
The continued presence of illegal armed gangs and militias throughout Haiti "seriously threatens the democratic process in Haiti and plans for holding elections in the coming year," as Pierre Esperance of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights said in an interview with Radio Metropole last week.
In the last couple of weeks there have been reports of increasing activity by members of Haiti's former army and other armed groups in Haiti. At the same time, the Haitian judiciary is taking troubling steps further down the road of impunity and politicization.
This week former soldiers--who were part of the armed uprising that led to Aristide's ouster in February--chased the police out of the southern town of Petit Goave and took the town over in an attempt to force the interim government to re-instate the army, which Aristide dissolved in 1995. (See this Reuters report for details.)