The Bloody and Toxic Legacy of Bananas and Why I Don’t Eat Them Any More

Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison

Directed by Jason Glaser and Diego Lopez (2014)

Film Review

Thanks to a shrewd production and marketing strategy by United Fruit Company (now renamed Chiquita), the banana is the most consumed fruit in the US. United Fruit was founded in 1899 with the deliberate goal of making bananas the cheapest fruit available. To meet this objective, the company controls every aspect of production and supply. In addition to murdering union leaders and propping up puppet dictators, they also control shipping ports and media coverage involving their product.* They and Dole, the other major banana exporter, also routinely expose plantation workers to dangerous pesticides that have been banned in the US and EU.

On December 6, 1968, Colombia banana workers went on strike demanding improved working conditions (an 8 hour day, a 6 day week and payment in cash instead of script). With the support of the US State Department, Colombian troops massacred thousands of strikers.

In coming years the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, a government-linked paramilitary force, continued to drive peasants from their lands and murder and disappear labor leaders and activists who threatened Chiquita’s interests. For many years, the AUC relied on Colombian cartels for most of their funding. During the 1990s, Chiquita began paying the AUC directly to terrorize rural communities. The documentary features heart wrenching testimony from a mother whose husband and son were murdered by AUC members, who subsequently gang raped her 11-year-old daughter.

Surprisingly the 2001 Patriot Act, which made it illegal for Americans to fund terrorist groups, designated the AUC as a terrorist organization. Chiquita continued to fund them until they were indicted by the Obama Justice Department. Chiquita officials and board members were allowed to plead anonymously and pay a $20 million fine over five years.

The last half of the documentary concerns Nicaraguan and Ecuadoran workers’ ongoing battle against DDT, DPCP and other dangerous pesticides banned in the US and EU. These poisons are responsible for a horrifying epidemic of sterility, birth defects, cancer and liver disease among plantation workers.

As of 2017, Danish inspectors were still finding traces of dangerous pesticides in bananas imported from Denmark. See Danwatch English


*For example it’s a myth bananas can’t be kept in the refrigerator – if you refrigerate them, they last longer and you won’t buy as many.

 

 

Chevron vs the Amazon

Chevron vs the Amazon

Abbey Martin (2016)

Film Review

 

Chevron vs the Amazon is an Abbey Martin documentary about Texaco-Chevron’s deliberate dumping of oil and toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and the vicious dirty tricks they have engaged in to avoid responsibility for cleaning it up.

Texas began drilling for oil in Ecuador in 1964, under a US-installed dictatorship that agreed not to regulate their activities. The amount of oil they spilled into the Amazon was 1700 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and 140 times that of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Indigenous groups filed suit for the extensive damage to their water, health and livelihoods in 1993, a year after Texaco abandoned their Ecuadoran well sites. Texaco settled this first suit by agreeing to a phony remediation scheme that never happened.

Part 1 consists of great footage of the vast amount of oil remaining in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and interviews with indigenous Ecuadorans whose entire families have been devastated by the health effects (cancer, leukemia, rashes, miscarriages, birth defects) of the contaminated water they are forced to drink.

Part 2 provides background to the second class action lawsuit brought against Texaco by 30,000 indigenous residents – the largest environmental lawsuit in history. Texaco has a really ugly human rights history, beginning with the bankrolling of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco and illegal provision of oil, financial support and secret intelligence to Hitler and Mussolini. After losing a series of punitive lawsuits over its environmental crimes, they were forced to merge with Chevron in 2000.

The latter has its own history of human rights and environmental crimes in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Cameroons, Equatorial Guinea and Richmond California.

After fighting the suit for eight years in US courts, Chevron eventually won a court ruling that that the suit had to be tried in Ecuador instead. When it was re-filed in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in blackmail, extortion, bribery, illegal surveillance, “judicial terrorism” (bringing 30 lawsuits against oil spill victims for “racketeering”), and “financial terrorism” (suing all the non-profit groups supporting the indigenous plaintiffs).

In 2011 the Ecuadoran plaintiffs ultimately won their suit for $9.6 billion – a ruling confirmed by Ecuador’s supreme court. Instead of paying up, Chevron forced them to file suit in various countries where Chevron has financial assents (including Canada, Brazil and Argentina). A 2016 ruling in US court makes it illegal for Ecuador to file a claim against Chevron’s US holdings.

Part 3 explores the long history of US economic colonization in Latin America (on behalf of Wall Street corporations) via direct military intervention, the installation of puppet dictators and the paramilitary death squad terrorism carried out through Henry Kissinger’s notorious Operation Condor. All this has changed with the 2007 election of Rafael Correa (who granted Julian Assange asylum in London’s Ecuadoran embassy).

At present Chevron seek to perpetuate their economic imperialism via a secret World Bank tribunal in the Hague. There 20 hand picked corporate “judges” have found that the successful lawsuit against Chevron retroactively violates of the 1997 US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (Texaco-Chevron left Ecuador in 1992) and ordered Ecuador to pay Chevron $112 million in damages.

2017 update: In March 2017 lawyers representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs have petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn the flawed (by bribery and corruption) racketeering conviction  against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their lawyers. (See Chevron in Ecuador )

Demolishing the Myth of Perpetual Growth

Life After Growth: Economics for Everyone

Leah Temper and Claudia Medina (2010)

Film Review

The purpose of Life After Growth is to challenge the perpetual growth paradigm in an era in which markets have taken the place of religion in determining major social values.

At present media pundits and policy makers champion continual economic growth as an unquestioned fact of life. In reality, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Prior to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, all human civilization was characterized by a steady state economy in which both population and productive capacity grew very slowly.

The documentary argues that the urgent crises of poverty, inequality, shortages of water and energy and ecological destruction mean the time has come to explore better ways to design the economy other than infinite growth – especially as the latter is impossible on a finite planet.

At present a “healthy” economy is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% a year. At that rate, the size of the economy doubles every 23 years, as do carbon emissions and resource depletion.

Filmmakers also explore what the transition from a growth economy back to a steady state economy might look like. They do so by profiling a number of “DeGrowth” groups that have opted out of “corporate” society:

• The voluntary simplicity (aka voluntary simplicity) movement launched by Vicki Robin’s 1992 book Your Money or Your Life – where members vastly improve their quality of life by working 1-2 days a week, living more simply and consuming less.
• The Transition Towns movement – involving communities throughout the industrialized world collectively organizing to downsize their lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint.
• The Catalan Integral Collective in Spain – funded by the civil disobedience of Enric Duran, in which he used credit cards to “borrow” 492,000 euros from 39 banks, an amount he couldn’t possibly repay. (See Spain’s Modern Day Robin Hood )
• Ecuador’s Keep the Oil in the Soil campaign – in which the president of Ecuador pledges to not to mine Yasuni National Park (one of the most biodiverse places on earth) for oil provided developing countries commit to replace Ecuador’s lost income.
• Bhutan’s decision to measure their country’s success through Gross Happiness Index (GHI) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
• The Church of England’s God is Green program dedicated to reducing Britain’s carbon footprint.

How 20th Century Missionaries Opened Up Latin America for Wall Street

the-missionaries

The Missionaries: God Against the Indians

By Norman Lewis

Penguin (1988)

Book Review

The Missionaries is a travelogue by British journalist Norman Lewis recounting his visits in the fifties, sixties and seventies to remote regions of Vietnam and Latin America. His purpose is highlighting the systematic genocide of indigenous tribes during this period and the role played by evangelical missionaries (with close CIA collaboration) in evicting native peoples from land US corporations sought to exploit it.

As a prologue, Lewis describes the English invasion and occupation of Tahiti in 1767. English missionaries spent seven fruitless years trying to voluntarily convert native Tahitians to Christianity. They eventually resorted to force, collaborating with colonial police to execute natives who refused to convert and outlaw cultural practices such as dancing, tattooing, surfing and wearing flowers. The usual sentence for engaging in such practices was hard labor on the roads.

Over the next 25 years, the British and French governments successfully colonized all the South Pacific islands and virtually extinguished all native culture.

The book fast forwards to World War II, when the invention of the caterpillar tractor allowed Europeans and Americans to finally penetrate inaccessible jungles in South East Asian and Latin America – enabling them to kill and displace even more indigenous populations.

Lewis focuses mainly on the two most powerful missionary organizations: the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and the New Tribes Missions (NTM). Both assisted the CIA and their puppet dictators in displacing thousands of indigenous groups from the jungles of Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil and Paraguay. The evidence he lays out directly implicates these missionary groups in the slaughter (in some cases by aerial bombardment), enslavement and forced prostitution. In most cases, individual  missionaries had their own commercial stake in colonizing these regions (eg selling food to native populations following the destruction of their jungle habitat and hiring out their female children as domestic servants and prostitutes).

The callous attitude (towards the enslavement and extermination of their converts) of these so-called men of God is quite astonishing. They rationalize their actions based on the “inevitability” of native assimilation. If the transition to civilization kills most of them, so much the better. By baptizing them, the missionaries can ensure they go straight to Heaven.

Once Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama and Columbia ousted their US-sponsored military dictators, all five countries banned both the SIL and the NTM, which were ultimately denounced by both the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) for violating the UN Genocide Convention.

People can read a more detailed account of the CIA/SIL collaboration to open up Latin America to US corporate interests in Thy Will Be Done the Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil

Empire Building US-Style

Apologies of an Economic Hitman

Directed by Stelios Kouloglou (2008)

Film Review

This is a very intriguing Greek documentary about John Perkins, author of the 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In the film, Perkins summarizes his recruitment by the NSA to work as an “economic hitman.” Despite his close affiliation to US intelligence, he was technically under the employ of a private engineering company called Charles T Main Inc. It was his role to approach third world presidents with bribes to accept World Bank loans for massive infrastructure projects – which were usually built by major US companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton.

This was done with the deliberate intention of saddling the third world countries with debt they couldn’t repay. Their only option would be to seek refinancing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which usually demanded they slash public services and open up their resources to further exploitation by Wall Street interests .

As Perkins describes it, this was the strategy of choice (as opposed to direct military intervention) for expanding US empire between 1945-2000. Any third world leader who refused to play ball was openly threatened with assassination. The first step in dealing with a recalcitrant leader was to send in the “jackals,” CIA officers and contractors who would try to instigate a military coup. If this failed, US intelligence would send in an assassination team. If this also failed, they would fall back on military invasion and occupation (always a last resort).

The film zeroes in on the assassination (via plane crash) of Ecuadorian president Jaime Roldós Aguilera and Panamanian president Omar Torrijos in 1981. It also provides interesting background to the US invasion of Iraq, following Saddam Hussein’s rejection of a massive Bechtel oil pipeline project.

I was previously unaware of the CIA effort to instigate a military coup against Saddam in 1996. The CIA discarded the option of assassinating him because he had too many doubles. Even his own bodyguards never knew if they were guarding the real Saddam.

The Global Movement for Participatory Democracy

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas

Directed by Silvia Leindecker and Michael Fox

Film Review

Beyond Elections is about the global participatory democracy (aka direct or deliberative democracy) movement – the grassroots effort to replace so-called representative democracy (aka polyarchy*) with a process in which citizens participate directly in policy decisions that affect their lives. Historically participatory democracy began in ancient Athens, where people governed directly through large public assemblies (unfortunately assemblies were limited to free born men, who comprised only one-fifth of the population).

According to the filmmakers, participatory democracy died out until 1989, when the Brazilian Workers Party resurrected it in Porto Allegre Brazil by creating participatory budget assemblies. In my view, this isn’t strictly correct, as the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who the Marxists expelled from the First International** , advocated for a system of participatory democracy called “collective anarchism.” Workers used participatory democracy to run the 1871 Paris Commune, as did numerous Spanish cities during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spread of Participatory Democracy

The documentary explores how this new style of local government spread throughout Brazil and to other Latin American countries, as well as to Europe, Africa and even parts of Canada (Guelph Ontario and parts of Montreal). A few US activists are campaigning for more American communities to adopt participatory democracy (several are described in the 2012 book Slow Democracy), but most Americans have never heard of it. The only aspect of participatory democracy widely adopted in the US are workers cooperatives.

Beyond Elections presents numerous examples of participatory democracies in the various Latin American countries that have implemented it. Under representative democracy, local councils are nearly always controlled by local business interests, and elected officials typically enact budgets that benefit these interests. When ordinary people control the budgeting processes through popular assemblies, they spend the money on programs benefiting the entire community, eg on clean safe housing, health centers and basic sanitation.

The Venezuelan Example

Following Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, the Venezuelan government called a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution. The latter enabled Venezuelans to directly govern their communities through communal councils, as well as water committees, workers committees (to set up and run workers cooperatives), health committees and land committees (to implement land reform and set up farmers cooperatives).

The projects carried out by the communal councils and various committee were funded by grants from the central government. Despite endemic corruption in the Venezuelan bureaucracy, these new grassroots-run structures succeeded in bringing health care, decent housing and basic sanitation to Venezuelan slums for the very first time.

The film also examines the adoption of participatory democracy in Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Mexico controlled by the Zapatistas.

The film is in 16 parts of roughly 5 minutes. Each successive segment starts automatically as the preceding segment finishes.


*In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic “free elections” in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “free elections” are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda. See Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery
**The First International Working Man’s Association was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist[1] and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle.

Privatization and the Theft of the Commons

Catastroika

by Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi

Film Review

Catastroika is a Greek documentary on neoliberalism, with a specific focus on the privatization of publicly owned resources. Although it makes no mention of historian Richard Linebaugh, its depiction of the neoliberal privatization movement provides an elegant illustration of the ongoing theft of the Commons (see Stop Thief: the Theft of the Commons).

After a brief overview of the University of Chicago economists (championed by Milton Friedman) who first put neoliberal theory into practice during the Pinochet dictatorship, the documentary tracks the wholesale privatization of Russia’s state owned industries after the 1993 coup by Boris Yeltsin, in which he illegally ordered dissolution of the Russian parliament (see The Rise of Putin and the Fall of the Oligarchs).

The fire sale of state assets to oligarchs and western bankers would virtually destroy the Russian economy, throwing millions of people into extreme poverty and reducing average life expectancy by ten years.

The Privatization of East Germany

With German reunification in 1990, East Germany would be the third major target for massive privatization. According to German economists interviewed in the film, the process amounted to an “acquisition” of East Germany by West German bankers. The West German government set up an agency called Treuhand to buy up state owned East German businesses at the rate of ten to fifteen a day – a total of 8,500 businesses in four years. The process, undertaken with virtually no oversight, predictably resulted in massive chaos and fraud. Many well-performing East Germany companies were dissolved for the simple reason they competed with West German businesses. Three million (out of 4.5 million) East German workers lost their jobs, which East Germany’s GDP shrank by 30%.

Using Debt to Compel Compliance

With the gradual demise of the world’s dictatorships during the 1990s, debt, rather than brute force, became the main mechanism to compel people to give up their publicly funded assets. At present, most of the focus is on Greece.

Current EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker holds up Treuhand (which incurred a 250 million euro debt German taxpayers are still paying off) as a model for the Greek Asset Development Fund. The latter has been steadily selling off (at bargain basement prices) Greek railroads and municipal power and water systems.

The Dismal Track Record of Privatized Utilities

The filmmakers end the film by highlighting the disastrous outcome of Britain’s decision to privatize its railroads in 1993, the city of Paris decision to privatize its water service in the 1980s (it’s recently been re-municipalized due to massive public unrest – like privatized water systems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina) and California’s experiment with electricity deregulation in the 1990s (leading to the Enron scandal).*


*The Enron scandal involved massive securities fraud and a deliberate conspiracy by power companies to withhold power to drive up electricity prices.