Adriano Mérola Marotta is a Uruguayan-Swedish social
justice activist and freelance writer. The son of Uruguayan political
refugees, he grew up in Sweden and did his BA in Development and his MA
in Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex. Personal tweets
@AdrianoMerola.

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Adriano Mérola Marotta is a Uruguayan-Swedish student living in the UK and is a social justice activist.

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The mysterious death of Alberto Nisman

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina. Mariano Pernicone under a Creative Commons Licence

On 18 July 1994, the headquarters of the Israeli Argentinian Mutual Association (AMIA) were blown up in Buenos Aires. The car-bomb explosion in the basement of the 100-year-old Jewish community centre was one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in Latin American history, with 85 people murdered and 300 injured.

Since then, there has been much speculation regarding the culprits. The state, under the leadership of then-president Carlos Menem, launched a full investigation. In 2005, Alberto Nisman was appointed head of the ongoing investigation.

Twenty-one years later, on the morning of the 19 January 2015, state prosecutor and lead investigator Alberto Nisman was found dead on the most important day of his career.

He was due to present his case to the Argentine Congress, allegedly deepening the claims which implicated Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Minister of Foreign Relations Héctor Timerman, elected representative Andrés Larroque, and two prominent trade unionists, Luis D’Elía and Fernando Esteche.

The Buenos Aires Herald, however, claimed ‘Nisman’s report failed to fan flames of conspiracy’ and contained little new information.

Nisman’s death, caused by a single shot to the head, was initially labelled a suicide by lead prosecutor Viviane Fein. Although Nisman had not been physically assaulted in any way, Fein has not ruled out murder.

Nisman had borrowed the gun that shot him from a friend, ‘for safety reasons’, while refusing to accept increased state protection, further confusing the case. No gunshot residue was found on Nisman’s hands.

If, as President Kirchner believes, Nisman’s death is a definite case of murder, who did it? And why?

The powerful rightwing press, led by the Clarín group, have picked up on the event, claiming that Nisman’s theories that the Iranian secret service and Lebanon’s Hizbullah group were behind the 1994 assassinations have now been vindicated.

Initially charging Hizbullah, in 2006, Nisman accused Iran of ‘directing’ the Lebanese militia group. With no obvious motive for this, the only explanation is implicit rather than explicit – that Iran and Hizbullah were using terrorism tactics to kill Jews in secret.

The Hizbullah/Iran allegation came to the fore in 2005, but its origins came from the collaboration of US and Israeli security services, with the FBI claiming Hizbullah involvement. This indictment coincided with the escalating low-intensity war between Israel and Hizbullah, which ended in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent 2006 Qana massacre. Similarly, the Iran ‘connection’ coincided with President Ahmadinejad’s first year in office in Iran and the escalation of US-led sanctions.

The lack of clear motive (why would Hizbullah or Iran target a community centre in Argentina?) and the dubious motivations of the sources of the original claims (the US and Israel), pose a conundrum.

At least, they did until Wikileaks confirmed the politicized nature of Nisman’s investigation. The Wikileaks cables of 2011 revealed that Alberto Nisman had been working extensively with the US embassy on the AMIA case, and that the US had had a direct role in providing the key leads in the investigation.

The key information connecting Iran and AMIA had come from the US via ex-Director of Counterintelligence of the Argentine Intelligence Services (SI), Antonio ‘Jaime’ Stiusso.

An infamous intelligence agent who rose to power during the repressive US-backed military junta of 1976-82, Stiusso was a central operative in the ‘gestapo-like’ business of the SI, allegedly linked to the drug trade. Known for his extensive surveillance of prominent politicians, judges and journalists,he retired, along with his staff, the week before Nisman’s death.

The Wikileaks cables revealed that Nisman was regularly reporting his findings to the US embassy and correcting them accordingly.

In fact, although evidence exists of Argentinian or Syrian agents playing a role in the 1994 attack, the FBI is reported to have ordered Nisman to only blame Iran: ‘Do not aim at the Syrian lead or the local connection. Following these leads could weaken the international case against the accused Iranians.’

Nisman’s indictment against President Kirchner came after she signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran in 2013 in order to establish a truth commission and allow Argentinian prosecutors access to Iranian sources for their investigations.

According to Nisman, Kirchner was ready to absolve Iran of guilt in order to procure bilateral trade agreements with the country (although no trade agreement was ever signed, and trade in fact decreased between the countries following the memorandum).

This was the turning point for Nisman, who indicted the president for aiding the alleged Iranian culprits. He was set to disclose further evidence in his case against the president on 19 January, the day he was murdered.

The deceased prosecutor’s investigation into the AMIA attack had hardly been an impartial or rigorous inquest, yet his death has validated suspicions that the president was desperate to avoid any more information being released.

With Argentinian general elections coming up later this year, the rightwing press has been doing its utmost to undermine the legitimacy of the Kirchner presidency.

The rightwing opposition, the Radical Civic Union, was quick to mobilize its supporters after Nisman’s death, calling for the president’s resignation and using hashtags like #YoSoyNisman (I am Nisman), in an echo of #JeSuisCharlie.

Amidst the mood of confusion and anger, in a country with a long history of secretive killings and state terror, many have questions but few have answers.

The leftwing elements of the trade-union movement have convened a march on 4 February, demanding an end to state impunity. Argentineans are owed greater transparency. And answers.

Chilean students defy Pinochet’s legacy

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Students demanding a free education. Francisco Osorio under a Creative Commons Licence

On the morning of 28 of June 2009, Honduran army soldiers kidnapped President Manuel Zelaya. Masked and armed, they stormed the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa and put Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica, forbidding him from returning for several months and banning him from Honduran politics.

In a sequence of events all too familiar to Latin Americans, democracy in Honduras was suspended in favour of an alliance of conservatives and military bound together by a shared admiration for free-market capitalism. As with Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970s, the supporters of the coup in Honduras came from the country’s élite.

Threatened by Zelaya’s refusal to sign free-trade agreements with the US, as well as his pro-poor policies and tacit alliance with Venezuela’s socialist government, the landlords and urban industrialists of Honduras had started the campaign to oust the president. After the coup, the conservative government of autocrat Porfirio Lobo Sosa signed free-trade agreements with both the US and the European Union, thereby entrenching the interests of the élite in Honduran law.

As a Latin American and the child of two political refugees from Uruguay who fled the military junta of the 1970s-1980s, I feared for the future of Honduras and of the continent as a whole. Much like the coup d’état of March 1973 in Uruguay, which heralded a dawn of authoritarianism in the Southern Cone of Latin America, the events in Honduras in 2009 had the potential to ripple through the continent in the 21st century. While this, luckily, did not happen, the message was resoundingly clear: Latin American progressive movements cannot presume that authoritarianism is a thing of the past.

40 years after Pinochet

On Wednesday, Chile marked 40 years since the coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Yet the legacy of Pinochet’s 17-year rule of Chile, which left thousands of people dead or ‘missing’ at the hands of the military, remains contested.

When Pinochet died in 2006, 60,000 people joined the public procession to mourn his death and many conservative parties still fondly remember the dictatorship. In the run-up to the anniversary of the coup, the rightwing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) politician Iván Moreira thanked Pinochet  for saving an entire generation from a Marxist dictatorship. Moreira’s party is part of the ruling conservative coalition and has been a pro-Pinochet party since its emergence in 1983.

UDI presidential candidate Evelyn Metthei lambasts commemorative statements by President Sebastián Piñera as reigniting the ‘hatred and the divisions of the past’, but many in Chile would disagree. There are still 1,210 people ‘missing’ from the military dictatorship, a persistent reminder that those who suffered have still not had justice. That was the message on Sunday of, when 30,000 Chileans protested in solidarity with the families of the missing. Recent polls show that 76 per cent of Chileans think that Pinochet was a dictator. Only nine per cent believe that he was a good leader.

In Chile, Pinochet’s legacy includes the 1980 Constitution, which remains virtually unchanged since the dictatorship, bar some alterations made in 2005. The Constitution gives protection to an educational model based on competition between the private and public sector. Since 2011, students across all levels of education have been demanding fully funded education, including tertiary institutions, as well as reforms to the democratic system regulated by the Constitution. The students aim to break with the Constitution’s neoliberal educational model in favour of a system which is free for everyone, regardless of income.

The Chilean student movement has been continuously occupying schools and universities in protest for two years now and is an inspiration to justice campaigners across the continent. Despite the last 80,000-strong student demonstration on 6th September ending with 214 arrests, the youth of Chile continue their campaign for free education.

Most young people have a negative view of Pinochet and have taken a robust aim at the economic policies which brought him into power. While Pinochet used the military prowess of the Chilean armed forces to oust his predecessor Salvador Allende, he clung on to power by maintaining close ties with the rich landowners and urban industrialists of the country. He succeeded in this by scrapping welfare programmes for the poor in favour of fiscal prudence, deregulating the economy and delegalizing trade unions. The result was a dramatic rise in inequality which still persists today: the top 10 per cent owns 40 per cent of the wealth and the bottom 10 per cent owns 1 per cent.

In contemporary Latin America, we need to remember the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s for what they were: brutally repressive, free-market regimes which institutionalized inequality across the Southern Cone. Yet we must not become complacent and think that dictatorships are a ‘thing of the past’. It is evident from the Honduran coup of 2009 that the spectre of military authoritarianism persists across Latin America.

We have a lot to learn from the students as they continue their fight for a more egalitarian and democratic society. That is ultimately the best way to commemorate those who died under the reign of Pinochet: to continue our fight for a better society, regardless of what adversity may lie ahead.

Colombian strikers brave police brutality

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Potato farmers such as these are protesting against the government's neoliberal policies Momentcaptured1 under a Creative Commons Licence

Last week a Colombian friend sent me a video on Youtube. The chilling footage showed a brutal police response to the ongoing general strike in Colombia. Sadly this offers a window on to the reality of politics here, where peaceful protests are met with state-sanctioned violence. The police are trying their best to break the striking workers' morale.

The Youtube video shows Colombian riot police on motorbikes following striking farm workers back to their communities, tear gassing their homes and breaking windows. Protesters have seen peaceful demonstrations and highway blockades attacked with brutal force, while the major highways of the country have been heavily militarized in order to prevent disruption. The government has sanctioned the use of extreme force to minimize the impact of the strike but it has in fact only served to embolden the strikers.

The protest began on 19 August as a national strike of agricultural workers who demanded lower costs of inputs and better access to markets. It has since widened and transformed into a general strike against the policies of President Juan Manuel Santos, with workers from public health, education, transport and mines joining the indefinite strike, and students occupying both universities and schools.  The demands, which are broad and reflect the diverse segments of society involved, include the call for a more accountable police force and the overhaul of restrictive trade union laws.

The protest is an organic reaction to the neoliberal policies – the product of no less than 11 free trade agreements between Colombia, the US and the EU – that have devastated local communities. These deals have led to continuous rises in petrol and food prices, and have destroyed local agricultural markets.

The strikers enjoy widespread public support, in Latin America's third most unequal country where between 45 and 64 per cent of people live below the poverty line. The wave of protests reflect a deep dissatisfaction with Santos' government: 72 per cent of the Colombian population do not think favourably of the president, up from 44 per cent in June, according to the latest Gallup polls.

With the population in open (peaceful) rebellion against the government, the state has responded with a calculated effort of repression and selective negotiations. The police justify their actions by claiming that terrorist elements have infiltrated the protests, while workers uphold their right to strike. Some are paying the price with their lives – nine workers are dead, and another 303 protesters seriously injured. At least 11 people have been hospitalized with serious gunshot wounds, a testimony to the excessive force used by the police to quell the protests.

Police have arrested some 250 people, many on suspicion of ‘inciting rebellion and terrorism’, among them prominent trade-unionist Huber Ballesteros. Ballesteros’ political party – the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) – condemned his arrest as an attempt to ‘demoralize and de-mobilize the popular agrarian movement’. Despite state force, striking workers have scored important victories. The transport workers, including lorry drivers, have reached tentative agreements with the government including a price-freeze on petrol prices.

Farmers have won a historic fight against policies that gave allowed large-scale multinational corporations to monopolize agriculture. Small-scale farmers and agricultural workers in the area of Tunja have managed to overturn a 2010 resolution that prohibited the use of non-certified seeds in agriculture. They simultaneously managed to increase government spending on farming for domestic consumption. Colombian neoliberalism in its present form seems unable to resist the overwhelming tide of public dissatisfaction which has fuelled the general strike.

Despite these important concessions, the government appears to pursuing a two-pronged strategy: maintaining repressive policies and opening selective negotiations in an attempt to break the resolve of other sectors. It is no coincidence that negotiations, which started on 27 August, came after the police failed to break the strike. Restrictive curfews across the country have become the norm, including in the capital Bogotá which, by many accounts, is currently one of the most highly militarized zones in Colombia. In a country still driven by a 50-year-old civil war, this general strike has drawn distinct battle lines between the affluent oligarchy and subsistence farmers allied with the urban poor and progressives.

With community protests and highway blockades, these social movements are demanding nothing less than an overhaul of Colombian neoliberalism – the streets and highways have become the battlegrounds for the future of Colombia.

¡Arriba los que luchan!



Living beside your oppressor: a Palestinian reality

Protesters at Sheikh Jarrah

Palestinian solidarity protests, March 2011. Photo by liormania under a CC Licence

On a seemingly desolate road in East Jerusalem, in the area of Sheikh Jarrah, dozens of Palestinian families live under continuous surveillance and harassment. Located next to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik (a revered Jewish High Priest), the street stands as an attestation to the indescribable conditions under which most Palestinian people live today.

The situation here is a familiar one for Palestinian families all over the West Bank. It is a story of Israeli expansion; of Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory, a war of attrition in which Palestinian families in the area become victims of psychological, and often physical, violence because of the colour of their skin, or the god they believe in.

The Israeli invasion into Palestinian territory is enacted through the creation of settlements; a process by which Israeli people, predominantly Orthodox Jews, squat Palestinian land that they feel should be in the Jewish domain; a process which always results in violence. On the receiving end of this violence, certainly in the case of Sheikh Jarrah, are inhabitants who have been in the area for generations, and claim legal rights to the land. The Israeli state apparently acts as an intermediary between the two, whilst openly being intent on annexing all of Jerusalem and creating a Jewish majority in the city, thus serving the interests of the settlers.

With two Jewish settlements on the street, tensions run high in this small residential area located just outside the centre of Jerusalem. The two settlements, across the street from each other, are in buildings that used to belong to Palestinian families. The smaller of the two, a squatted extension of the Al-Kurd residence, resembles a warzone more than a family home. Anti-Arab graffiti and Stars of David cover the front wall of the property. Just past the low stone walls demarcating the property, Israeli flags decorate the front of the squatted extension, accompanied by scribbles on the wall such as ‘Fuck Palestine’ and ‘This is Jewish land’.

As a foreigner visiting this settlement, the absurdity of the situation is striking. In front of the odious graffiti and Israeli flags adorning the squat stand several young men on guard, young men who do not spare their insults when met with a new face. To the right of the extension lies a narrow alleyway which leads to the back of the property, the part in which the Al-Kurd family live. They have been the legal owners since it was built in 1956; they were evicted from their extension as they only had a permit for construction to the rear of the property. This is because, according to the father of the family, Nabil Al-Kurd, the Israeli government refused him a planning permit because he was Palestinian. He had built the extension defiantly with his bare hands.

A Sheikh Jarrah childhood
A Sheik Jarrah childhood. Photo by ISM Palestine under a CC Licence.

Every night, international and Israeli activists gather in the alleyway of the property, acting as a buffer between the settlers and the Al-Kurd family. As this entrance is used daily by the Al-Kurd family, they are in constant contact with the settlers. The settlers, having been capable of violence against the family as well as their home in the past, take out their anger on the monitoring activists, who have to face verbal and physical abuse from the settlers, including, on occasion, the throwing of faeces.

 ‘We have nothing to lose here – this is what we have lived with our entire lives. This man here has been in and out of jail since the age of 11, for doing nothing more than being Palestinian,’ says Mohammed, a local resident of Sheikh Jarrah who frequently visits the settlement to support the monitoring activists, as he points to his friend outside the settlement. Being on the receiving end of aggression from settlers and state, the residents experience the full oppression of the Israeli military occupation on a daily basis. This is what life is like for the local residents, and there is no other option but to continue living the best way they can.

 Sheikh Jarrah serves as one of hundreds of examples of the absurdity and inhumanity of the situation in the region today. The residents are in direct daily contact with settlers who are trying to take over the neighbourhood, despite the fact that such a takeover is supposedly completely illegal. The Israeli state is constantly ready to crack down on any attempts at resistance, and even offers logistical support to the settlers.

‘What saddens me,’ says Mohammed, ‘is that in a few years’ time foreign visitors will come here to find the entire street colonized. There will be no memory left of the people that used to live here, and we can’t do anything about it.’

With Israel planning 2,600 settlements in East Jerusalem, who knows what the future holds for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah.