US ‘Has the Gall’ to Ask Cambodia to Pay War Debt

A U.S. Air Force Boeing Stratofortress dropping bombs over Vietnam. | Photo: Wikimedia

Almost half a century after dropping 500,000 tons of explosives and killing hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia, the United States seems to be demanding that the country pay back US$500 million in war debts, a move that sparked outcry across the political spectrum in Cambodia.

“To me, Cambodia does not look like a country that should be in arrears … buildings coming up all over the city, foreign investment coming in, government revenue is rapidly rising,” William Heidt, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, told local newspaper Cambodia Daily.

Since the elections of President Donald Trump, the Cambodian government has been urging Washington to cancel the debt, but the ambassador dismissed any plans to do so by the new administration.

“I will say that the issue of cancellation … that wasn’t on the table when I was here in the 1990s. It has never been on the table since then. So we have never discussed seriously or considered canceling that debt with Cambodia,” he said, while also calling for a deal to be struck between the two countries for debt payment.

Speaking at a conference earlier this month, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former commander with the Cambodian communists, slammed the ambassador for his comments and recalled the atrocities committed by the U.S. in the 1970s.

“They dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money,” Sen said, according to local media. “We should raise our voices to talk about the issue of the country that has invaded other (countries) and has killed children.”

In the late 1960s, the U.S. had given US$274 million loan, mostly for food supplies to the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government who had taken over the country in a coup a year earlier. The debt has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a repayment program.

As Nol fought against the Khmer Rouge between 1970 and 1975, U.S. fighter jets carried out secret carpet-bombings against the group in support of the right-wing government killing more than 500,000 people, many of them women and children.

After the Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1975, more than 2 million people died as a result of political executions, disease and forced labor.

The idea that Cambodia owed the United States money is rejected by many, including those who witnessed the massacres.

“He (Heidt) has the gall to demand the ‘loans’ back even though either the Khmer Rouge or the current government have been in power since 1975, that this money was still due,” James Pringle, who served as the bureau chief for Reuters in the Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh City during the invasion of Cambodia, wrote for The Cambodia Daily.

“Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the U.S. for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover.”

— source telesurtv.net

How to Remove a President

On Sunday, ousted South Korean leader Park Geun-hye left the Blue House presidential compound and returned to her private residence in southern Seoul two days after South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously ruled to remove her from office over charges of graft and corruption. The unanimous ruling strips Park of immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for her to face criminal charges. Park’s power had been sharply reduced since December, when South Korea’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to impeach her.

A new election will be held in 60 days. The upheaval in South Korea comes days after North Korea test-fired several ballistic missiles and as the Trump administration is deploying a missile defense system to South Korea. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of South Korea and U.S. troops, backed by warships and warplanes, are currently engaging in a massive military exercise. Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that the U.S. and North Korea are, quote, “like two accelerating trains coming toward each other.” He called on both sides to de-escalate tensions. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading for his first trip to Asia later this week, stopping in Japan, South Korea and China. In a break with precedent, Tillerson is not traveling with members of the press.

Christine Ahn talking:

I would say it’s a really incredible outcome of months of organizing by mass movements to unseat this president that was obviously charged for political corruption but whose policies have really steered South Korea into a very dangerous situation that we are in today. And I think it’s extraordinary what people in mass movements can do, and I think it’s not just great for South Korea and for peace on the Korean Peninsula, but I think it’s a really great symbol for the rest of the world.

she was first moved by parliamentary vote to impeach her, and then, just recently, the Constitutional Court affirmed that decision. But it really took, you know, months of massive—millions of people taking to the streets, holding candlelight vigils, demanding her ouster, demanding that she be impeached.

And I think it’s a great day for social justice and democracy in South Korea. Her policies have been really bad for workers’ rights, for labor unions, for farmers, and it’s endangered Korea. And it’s worsened inter-Korean relations to the worst point, that just last year, you know, the Kaesong industrial complex, which was the economic zone that was established during the Sunshine Policy era, was—you know, between North and South Korea. It was within the Demilitarized Zone. And that was one step towards reconciliation, towards reunification. And she basically did away with that, you know? And that had a lot to do with her confidant, Choi Soon-sil, who was unlawfully giving her advice and was also tied to her corruption.

But I think it’s a new day for the Korean Peninsula. I hope that the U.S. doesn’t take military action in this very dangerous hour, where there is a tremendous possibility for miscalculation. There is that political vacuum in South Korea, until, likely, Moon Jae-in, who is the leading contender for president, who was the chief of staff during Roh Moo-hyun, the last liberal government that was, you know, carrying out the Sunshine Policy. And he has said he would reopen Kaesong. He has said, “We must return to talks with North Korea. We must acknowledge that Kim Jong-un is the leader of North Korea.” And so, hopefully, the U.S. won’t do anything dangerous in the interim.

Bruce Cumings talking:

Park Geun-hye was, of course the daughter of President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated by his own intelligence chief in 1979, precipitating a crisis that led to another military coup. At this point, Park Geun-hye had been living in the Blue House, I think, for 10 or 11 years. She went into a kind of seclusion for a long time and then came out in the 1990s as a member of the National Assembly. She was elected, really, in reaction against Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, two progressive presidents who were in office from 1998 to 2008. And her constituency, as you can see from the protests in Seoul in favor of her, really consists of people who are still deeply anti-communist, anti-North Korean. They hate the North Koreans. They tend to be in their sixties, seventies, eighties. It’s obviously, therefore, a declining constituency. And she really, basically, lost her popular base in light of the corruption case that Christine was just talking about, which raised all kinds of historical memories for Koreans, because, in the past, kings and queens had relied on shamans and others to do their business, and this seemed to be a harking back to that. So she is one of the most unpopular presidents in Korean history, and now she’s gone.

the U.S. holds these exercises every year, because South Korea, under Park’s leadership, is a welcoming country for these war games involving, as you said, hundreds of thousands of troops. There aren’t many other countries in the world who are willing to do that. And the North, predictably, responds every time with missile tests or bomb, atomic bomb, blasts.

In this case—and I want to emphasize that the North Koreans pay acute attention to what’s going on in Washington, and they try to do something that symbolizes what they want from the U.S. or to try and get attention. They did that when Prime Minister Abe was having dinner with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago a few weeks ago. And they basically presented a missile right in the middle of the dinner. They tested a missile. Trump pulled out his 1990s flip phone to discuss it.

But what wasn’t pointed out in our media is that Abe is the grandson of Kishi Nobusuke, who was a war criminal, a Class A war criminal in World War II, according to the U.S. occupation, and had been one of the people fighting against Kim Il-sung in Manchuria in the 1930s. He was responsible for munitions production. So you have Abe, who reveres his grandfather, and Kim Jong-un, who likewise reveres his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. And, basically, 70 or 80 years of history is represented by that particular missile test. But Americans think that’s a bunch of irrelevant minutiae. They don’t realize that Japan and North Korea have terrible relations, no diplomatic relations.

And basically, the North Koreans, at that dinner, wanted to present Trump with a message. The recent tests of four simultaneous missiles, of course, is a direct response to the hurried deployment of the THAAD antimissile system. They’re just rolling it out right now so they can do it before a progressive president takes over in South Korea. By doing that, the North Koreans reveal that they have capabilities that were undetected before.
____

Christine Ahn
founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing for peace in Korea. Her recent article for Foreign Policy in Focus is titled “Korean Women Take On Trump”

Bruce Cumings
professor of history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books on Korea, including Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History and North Korea: Another Country.

— source democracynow.org

Vote with What We Wear

On Wednesday, 24 April 2013 in the Savar Upazila of Dhaka, Bangladesh where an eight-story commercial building named Rana Plaza, collapsed. The search for the dead ended on 13 May 2013 with a death toll of 1,139. (image/Creative Commons)

For more than two decades, more and more Americans have become aware of the exploitation and violence associated with much of the globalized garment industry producing more than 95 percent of our clothes. A series of media exposures, including the 1996 revelation that TV host Kathy Lee Gifford had endorsed a clothing line produced by Honduran children in sweatshop conditions, spurred a growing consciousness of labor abuses in many countries.

These exposures highlighted the persistent use of child labor, the absence of living wages that could sustain a decent livelihood for millions of workers, and the prevalence of unsafe working conditions. The latter issue was thrust dramatically into public awareness by the collapse in April, 2013 of Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh that housed a number of garment companies supplying brands like Children’s Place, Benetton, Cato Fashions, and the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. The collapse of the building, which many workers had warned was unsafe, killed 1,139 workers and injured 2,500 more.

Although many of the major brands made public commitments to rectify such abuses, they continue to shed direct responsibility by contracting with local suppliers and subcontractors in different countries. They can easily move from country to country, supplier to supplier, to keep prices competitive while exerting downward pressure on workers’ wages and working conditions.

This dynamic, too, has gained media attention along with the abuses themselves. TV satirist John Oliver focused on it last year in a segment of his show, “Last Week Tonight,” while filmmaker Andrew Morgan devoted an entire documentary, The True Cost, to exposing the system and its detrimental effects on millions of people. Both Oliver and Morgan unveiled visual evidence of profound inequity, yet exploitation and deprivation persist while fashion industry executives have become some of the wealthiest people on the planet (e.g. Stefan Persson of H&M worth $28 billion; Amancio Ortega of Zara worth $57 billion).

Global Citizen

Many consumers who become aware of these problems are left with uncertainty as to a responsible course of action. Some have begun to look to fair trade certification as an answer, seeking out businesses that promise adherence to ethical labor and environmental standards. Yet considering the vast preponderance of garments manufactured by major brands, a number of critics argue that for the 40 million garment workers worldwide, a more comprehensive, sector-wide approach is needed.

One possible beginning step for individuals is a basic one: moving beyond the identity of “ethical consumer” to embrace the broader, more responsive identity of global citizen. The former is still closely identified with the products we choose, the latter with an awareness of the social relations defined by a globalized capitalist economy. As a more encompassing term, citizenship entails a responsibility for continuing self-education no matter what one’s stage of life may be.

From this perspective, it may well be worth one’s while to visit the websites of organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. These umbrella organizations represent broad coalitions of trade unions and human rights organizations, and their response to the issues is political. They engage in advocacy, lobbying, and public education to support garmentworkers’ rights (including freedom of association and union representation) across the national boundaries that transnational corporations so easily traverse. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance makes a crucial distinction between the legal minimum wage in many of the producing countries and a living wage that enables workers to support themselves and their families with dignity. And these organizations offer ways that individuals can help take a stand in solidarity with workers, including (on the Clean Clothes website) a link that provides information on the corporate behavior of specific labels.

It may be objected that with so many American jobs already lost overseas, our focus should stay squarely on retaining and growing jobs here at home. Yet the garment industry is itself a prime example of outsourcing; it wasn’t very long ago that most of the clothes purchased in the U.S. were made by American workers. The same global economics affecting the welfare of workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia affect the welfare of workers here.

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from Birmingham, Alabama, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” If he had written those words today from Dhaka or Mumbai, Phnom Penh or Jakarta, they’d ring as true now as they ever did.

— source commondreams.org by Andrew Moss

Rodrigo Duterte: A Fascist Original

Despite his bloody reign, Duterte remains popular, with the latest domestic poll giving him a trust rating of “excellent.” What makes Duterte tick? What drives many of his admirers to exclaim that they’re ready to die for him?

In 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte placed his country prominently on the global radar screen—too prominently, in the opinion of some Filipinos.

Duterte’s campaign to rid the Philippines of drug users and pushers through extrajudicial executions elicited shock even among the most hardened observers. And his now legendary cursing of President Obama as a “son of a bitch” — part of an angry farewell to a long-standing alliance with Washington and an embrace of China — upended Asian geopolitics.

Despite his bloody reign, Duterte remains popular, with the latest domestic poll giving him a trust rating of “excellent.” What makes Duterte tick? What drives many of his admirers to exclaim that they’re ready to die for him?

Fascism comes in different forms in different societies, so people expecting fascism to develop in the “classic” way often fail to recognize it even when it’s already upon them. In 2016, fascism came to the Philippines in the form of Duterte, but this event continues to elude a large part of the citizenry — some because of their fierce loyalty to the president, others out of fear of admitting that naked force is now the ruling principle in Philippine politics.
Why Duterte Fits the “F” Word

At a panel I was part of last August, one month after Duterte ascended to the presidency, there was considerable hesitation in using what panelists euphemistically called the “F” word to characterize the new executive. There is an understandable reluctance to use the term “fascist,” undoubtedly because the word has been applied very loosely to all kinds of movements and leaders that depart, in some fashion, from liberal democratic practices.

However, there are a few broad characterizations of a fascist leader that could unobjectionably apply to Duterte. In this scheme, a fascist leader is a) a charismatic individual with strong inclinations toward authoritarian rule who b) derives his or her strength from a heated multiclass mass base, c) is engaged in or supports the systematic and massive violation of basic human, civil, and political rights, and d) proposes a political project that contradicts the fundamental values and aims of liberal democracy or social democracy.

If one were to accept these elements provisionally as the key characteristics of a fascist leader, then Duterte would easily fit the bill.
A Fascist Original

Having said that, Duterte is nevertheless an original sort of fascist personality.

His charisma is not the demiurgic sort like Hitler’s, nor does it derive so much from an emotional personal identification with a “nation.” Duterte’s charisma would probably be best described as carino brutal, a Filipino-Spanish term that denotes a volatile mix of will to power, a commanding personality, and gangster charm that fulfills his followers’ deep-seated yearning for a father figure who will finally end what they see as the “national chaos.”

Duterte is not a reactionary seeking to restore a mythical past. He’s not a conservative dedicated to defending the status quo. His project is oriented towards an authoritarian future.

He is best described, using Arno Mayer’s term, as a counterrevolutionary. Unlike Hitler or Mussolini, however, he’s not waging a counterrevolution against the left or socialism. In Duterte’s case, the target is liberal democracy — the dominant ideology and political system of our time. In this sense, he is a local expression as well as a pioneer of an ongoing global phenomenon: the rebellion against liberal democratic discourse that Francis Fukuyama had declared as the “end of history” in the early 1990s.

Counterrevolutionaries aren’t always clear about what their next moves are, but they often have an instinctive sense of what would bring them closer to power. Ideological purity isn’t high on their agenda — they put a premium on the emotional power of their message rather than its ideological coherence.

The low priority accorded to ideological coherence is also extended to political alliances. Duterte’s mobilization of a multiclass base while ruling with the support of virtually all of the elite is unexceptional. However, one of the things that makes him a fascist original is that he’s brought the dominant section of the left into his ruling coalition, something that would have been unthinkable with most previous fascist leaders.

But perhaps Duterte’s distinctive contribution to fascism is in the area of political methodology. The stylized paradigm has the fascist leader or party begin with violations of civil rights, followed by a power grab, then indiscriminate repression. Duterte turns this “Marcosian model” of “creeping fascism” around. He begins with impunity on a massive scale — that is, the extrajudicial killing of thousands of alleged drug users and pushers — and leaves the violations of civil liberties and the grab for absolute power as mopping up operations in a political landscape devoid of significant organized opposition.
A Product of EDSA

Duterte’s ascendancy cannot be understood without taking into consideration the debacle of the EDSA liberal democratic republic that was born in the anti-Marcos uprising of 1986. (It’s named EDSA for the long thoroughfare in Metro Manila where the main actions of the rebellion took place.)

In fact, EDSA’s failure was a condition for Duterte’s success. What destroyed the EDSA project and paved the way for Duterte was the deadly combination of an elite monopoly of the electoral system and neoliberal economic policies with the priority placed on foreign debt repayment imposed by Washington.

By 2016, there was a yawning gap between the EDSA republic’s promise of popular empowerment and wealth redistribution and the reality of massive poverty, scandalous inequality, and pervasive corruption. The EDSA republic’s discourse of democracy, human rights, and rule of law had become a suffocating straitjacket for a majority of Filipinos, who simply could not relate to it owing to the overpowering reality of their powerlessness.

Duterte’s discourse — a mixture of outright death threats, coarse tough-guy talk, and frenzied railing coupled with disdainful humor directed at the elite (whom he called “conos,” or cunts) — was a potent formula that proved exhilarating to his audience, who felt themselves liberated from the stifling hypocrisy of the EDSA discourse.
Fascism in Power

Probably no fascist personality since Hitler has used the mandate of a plurality at the polls to reshape the political arena more swiftly and decisively than Duterte in 2016.

Even before he formally assumed office, the extrajudicial killings began; the elite opposition disintegrated, with some 98 percent of the liberal “Yellow Party” joining the Duterte Coalition; and Duterte achieved total control of both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court, shying away from a confrontation, chose not to challenge the president’s decision to have the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, buried in the national Heroes’ Cemetery. A traditional bulwark of defense of human rights, the Catholic Church, exercised self-censorship, afraid that it would be a sure loser in a confrontation with a popular president who threatened to expose bishops and priests with mistresses and clerical child abusers.

A novice in foreign policy, Duterte was able to combine personal resentment with acute political instinct to radically reshape the Philippines’ relationship with the big powers, notably the United States. What surprised many, though, was that there was very little protest in the Philippines at Duterte’s geopolitical reorientation toward China, given the stereotype of Filipinos being “little brown brothers” to Washington. What protest there was came mainly from traditional anti-American quarters which evinced skepticism about the president’s avowed intentions.

Here, Duterte again showed himself to be a masterful instinctive politician. While ordinary Filipinos often admire the U.S. and U.S. institutions, there’s a strong undercurrent of resentment at the colonial subjugation of the country by the U.S., the unequal treaties that Washington has foisted on the country, and the overwhelming impact of the “American way of life” on local culture. One need not delve into the complex psychology of Hegel’s master-servant dialectic to understand that the undercurrent of the U.S.-Philippine relationship has been the “struggle for recognition” of the dominated party. Duterte has been able to tap into this emotional underside of Filipinos in a way that the left has never been able to with its anti-imperialist program.

The anti-American comments from Duterte supporters that filled cyberspace following President Obama’s criticism of Duterte’s executions were just as fierce as their attacks on local critics of his war on drugs. Like many of his authoritarian predecessors elsewhere, Duterte has been able to splice nationalism and authoritarianism in a very effective fashion, though many progressives have seen this as mainly motivated by opportunism.
What Surprises Await the Philippines?

What are the chinks in Duterte’s armor? And what are the prospects for the opposition?

One vulnerability is the health of the president. Duterte has been candid about his medical problems and his dependence on the drug Fentanyl, reportedly a strongly addictive substance that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and has the same effects as heroin. The age factor is not unimportant either, considering that the president is turning 72. Hitler became chancellor at 44 and Mussolini became prime minister at 39. For the successful pursuit of an ambitious political project, one’s energy level is not unimportant.

More problematic is the issue of institutionalizing the movement.

The force driving Duterte’s electoral insurgency has not yet been converted into a mass movement. So Duterte is leaning on Jun Evasco, the secretary of the cabinet and a longtime Duterte aide, to fill the breach by coalescing a “Movement for Reform,” which was launched in August 2016. Evasco’s vision is apparently a mass organization along the lines of those of the left-wing National Democratic Front, where he cut his political teeth.

This won’t be easy since, as some analysts have pointed out, he would have to contend with competing projects from Duterte’s political allies — like the Pimentels, the Marcoses, and the Arroyos — who would prefer an old-style political formation that brings together elite personalities. Needless to say, a political formation along the lines of the latter would be the kiss of death for Duterte’s electoral insurgency.

A bigger hurdle would be failure to deliver on political and social reforms. Practically all of the key political and economic elites have declared allegiance to Duterte, so it’s difficult to see how he can deliver on his political and economic reform agenda without alienating key supporters. The Marcoses, who still have their ill-gotten wealth stashed abroad; the Arroyos, who have been implicated in so many shady deals; and so many other elites, many of whom have cases pending, are not likely to be disciplined for corruption, especially given their very close links to Duterte. Nor will the Visayan Bloc, which has come in full force behind Duterte, agree to a law that will extend the very incomplete agrarian reform program. Nor will the big monopolists like Manuel Pangilinan and Ramon Ang, who have pledged fealty to Duterte, submit without resistance to being divested of their corporate holdings.

This is not to say that Duterte is a puppet of the elites. Having a power base of his own that he can easily turn on friend or foe, he is beholden to no one. Indeed, one can argue that most of the elite have joined him mainly for their own protection, like small merchants paying protection money to the mafia. The issue, rather, is how serious he is about social reform and how willing he is to alienate his supporters among the elite.

The same goes for economic reform. Ending the increasing contractualization of Philippine employment (or ENDO, for “End of Contract”), one of the president’s most prominent promises, is currently bogged down in efforts to arrive at a “win-win” solution for management and labor, and all the major labor federations are fast losing hope the administration will deliver on this. As for macroeconomic policy, any departure from neoliberal principles on the part of orthodox technocrats like Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and National Economic Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia is far-fetched.

Again, the question lies in how convinced Duterte is that neoliberalism is a dead end — and how willing he is to incur the loss of confidence on the part of foreign investors by pursuing a different program.

Social and economic reform is Duterte’s Achilles heel, and the president himself is aware that popularity is a commodity that can disappear quickly in the absence of meaningful reforms. Dissatisfaction is fertile ground for the build-up of opposition.

This spells danger for the country in the medium term. Even if he’s able to quickly create a mass-based party, Duterte would likely still need to resort to the repressive apparatuses of the state to quell discontent and opposition. This may not be too difficult a course to follow. Having led a bloody campaign that’s already claimed over 6,000 lives, the suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of permanent emergency rule would be in the nature of “mopping up” operations for Duterte. It would be a walk in the park.
The Elite Opposition

Does the opposition matter, though?

The elite opposition is extremely weak at this point, with most of the Liberal Party having joined the Duterte bandwagon out of opportunism or fear. An opposition led by Vice President Leni Robredo, who resigned from Duterte’s cabinet after being told not to attend meetings, is not likely to be viable. While undoubtedly possessing integrity, Robredo has shown poor judgment, receptiveness to bad advice, and little demonstrated capacity for national leadership — and is, in the view even of some of her supporters, largely a creation of Liberal Party operatives who wanted to convert the name of her deceased husband, former Department of the Interior and Local Government head Jesse Robredo, into political capital.

Moreover, her continuing ties to the double-faced Liberal Party and the former administration easily discredit her among both Duterte supporters and opponents.
The Left in Crisis

This brings up the left.

Duterte’s rise to power created a crisis for the left. For one sector of the left — like Akbayan, the social democratic party that had allied itself uncritically with the neoliberal Aquino administration — Duterte’s ascendancy meant their marginalization from power along with the Liberal Party, for which they had essentially become the grassroots organizing arm.

For the traditional left, or what some called the “extreme left,” Duterte posed a problem of another kind. While the National Democratic Front and Communist Party had not supported Duterte’s candidacy, they accepted Duterte’s offer of three cabinet-level positions dealing with agriculture reform, social welfare, and anti-poverty programs. They also accepted the president’s offer to initiate negotiations to arrive at a final peace agreement between the government and rebellious Communist factions.

For Duterte, the entry of personalities associated with the Communist Party into his cabinet provided a left gloss to his regime, a proof that he was progressive — or “a socialist, but only up to my armpits,” as he put it colorfully during his victory speech in Davao City on June 4, 2016.

It soon became clear that Duterte had the better part of the bargain. As the regime’s central policy of killing drug users and pushers without due process escalated, the left’s role in the cabinet became increasingly difficult to justify. This dilemma was compounded by the fact that no new land reform law was passed that would allow agrarian reform to continue, there was little movement in the administration’s promise to end contractualization, and macroeconomic policy continued along neoliberal lines.

The left, however, found it hard to shelve the peace negotiations, from which they had already made some gains, and to part from heading up government agencies that gave them unparalleled governmental resources to expand their mass base.

Duterte had again displayed his acute political instincts. Knowing that the traditional left was at ebb in its fortunes, he gambled that they would accept his offer of cabinet positions. And having accepted these, he knew, they would find it extremely difficult to part from them. The price, the leaders of the left realized, was their association with a bloodthirsty regime.

The Communist Party and its mass organizations tried to alleviate the contradiction by issuing statements condemning Duterte’s bloody policies. But this only made their dilemma keener, since people would ask why they continue to provide legitimacy to the administration by staying on in the cabinet. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Duterte brought the left into his regime — and in doing so, he’s been able to sandbag it and subordinate it as a political force. So far, that is.

Whether he’s fully conscious of it or not, Duterte’s ascendancy has severely shaken all significant political institutions and political players in the country, from right to left.
Civil Society Mobilizes

Where real opposition to Duterte has developed over the last six months has been from civil society.

A leading force is I Defend, a broad grouping of over 50 people’s organizations and non-governmental organizations that has waged an unremitting struggle against the extrajudicial killings. Another is the coalition against the Marcos burial. While Duterte has painted these formations as “yellow,” the reality is that most of their partisans are progressives that are as opposed to a neoliberal “yellow restoration” as they are to Duterte’s policies. Others are newer and younger forces drawn from the post-EDSA and millennial generations that have become alarmed at Duterte’s fascist turn.

This growing opposition doesn’t seek a reprise of 1986, when an uprising toppled the dictator Marcos — perhaps heeding Marx’s warning that “history first unfolds as tragedy, then repeats itself as farce.” It’s increasingly realizing that the fight for human rights and due process must be joined to a revolutionary program of participatory politics and economic democracy — to socialism, in the view of many — if it is to turn back the fascist tide. There is no going back to EDSA.

What the opposition still has to internalize is that opposing fascism in power will not be, to borrow a saying from Mao, “a dinner party.” It will indeed be exceedingly difficult and demand great sacrifices. Moreover, there is no guarantee of success in the short or medium term. Fascism in power can be extraordinarily long-lived. The Franco regime in Spain lasted 39 years, while Salazar’s Estado Novo in neighboring Portugal went on for 42 years.

Like the anti-Marcos resistance four decades back, the only certainty members of the anti-fascist front can count on is that they’re doing the right thing. And that, for some, is a certainty worth dying for.

— source tni.org By Walden Bello

HSBC financing tied to deforestation

Loans and credit from the British bank HSBC have helped support the unsustainable clearing of forests for oil palm plantations in Indonesia, Greenpeace said in a report published Tuesday.

The world’s sixth-largest bank has helped marshal $16.3 billion in financing for six companies since 2012 that have illegally cleared forests, planted oil palm on once-carbon-rich peatland, and failed to secure the support of local communities for their operations – all of which run counter to HSBC’s own environmental commitments, according to Greenpeace.

— source news.mongabay.com

boycott palm oil, palm oil used products and HSBC.

About The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

30 January 2004
Writing in the Guardian, John Pilger reviews what he describes as a ‘spell-binding’ new documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, directed by the Cambodian film-maker, Rithy Panh.

“It is my duty,” wrote the correspondent of the Times at the liberation of Belsen, “to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind.” That was how I felt in the summer of 1979, arriving in Cambodia in the wake of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime.

In the silent, grey humidity, Phnom Penh, the size of Manchester, was like a city that had sustained a nuclear cataclysm which had spared only the buildings. Houses, flats, offices, schools, hotels stood empty and open, as if vacated that day. Personal possessions lay trampled on a path; traffic lights were jammed on red. There was almost no power, and no water to drink. At the railway station, trains stood empty at various stages of interrupted departure. Several carriages had been set on fire and contained bodies on top of each other.

When the afternoon monsoon broke, the gutters were suddenly awash with paper; but this was money. The streets ran with money, much of it new and unused banknotes whose source, the National Bank of Cambodia, had been blown up by the Khmer Rouge as they retreated before the Vietnamese army. Inside, a pair of broken spectacles rested on an open ledger; I slipped and fell hard on a floor brittle with coins. Money was everywhere. In an abandoned Esso station, an old woman and three emaciated children squatted around a pot containing a mixture of roots and leaves, which bubbled over a fire fuelled with paper money: thousands of snapping, crackling riel, brand-new from the De La Rue company in London.

With tiny swifts rising and falling almost to the ground the only movement, I walked along a narrow dirt road at the end of which was a former primary school called Tuol Sleng. During the Pol Pot years it was run by a kind of gestapo, “S21”, which divided the classrooms into a “torture unit” and an “interrogation unit”. I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor, where people had been mutilated on iron beds. Some 17,000 inmates had died a kind of slow death here: a fact not difficult to confirm because the killers photographed their victims before and after they tortured and killed them at mass graves on the edge of the city. Names and ages, height and weight were recorded. One room was filled to the ceiling with victims’ clothes and shoes, including those of many children.

Unlike Belsen or Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng was primarily a political death centre. Leading members of the Khmer Rouge movement, including those who formed an early resistance to Pol Pot, were murdered here, usually after “confessing” that they had worked for the CIA, the KGB, Hanoi: anything that would satisfy the residing paranoia. Whole families were confined in small cells, fettered to a single iron bar. Some slept naked on the stone floor. On a school blackboard was written:

1. Speaking is absolutely forbidden.

2. Before doing something, the authorisation of the warden must be obtained.

“Doing something” might mean only changing position in the cell, and the transgressor would receive 20 to 30 strokes with a whip. Latrines were small ammunition boxes labelled “Made in USA”. For upsetting a box of excrement the punishment was licking the floor with your tongue, torture or death, or all three.

This is described, perhaps as never before, in a remarkable documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, by Tuol Sleng’s few survivors. The work of the Paris-based Khmer director Rithy Panh, the film has such power that, more than anything I have seen on Cambodia since I was there almost 25 years ago, it moved me deeply, evoking the dread and incredulity that was a presence then. Panh, whose parents died in Pol Pot’s terror, succeeded in bringing together victims and torturers and murderers at Tuol Sleng, now a genocide museum.

Van Nath, a painter, is the principal survivor. He is grey-haired now; I cannot be sure, but I may have met him at the camp in 1979; certainly, a survivor told me his life had been saved when it was found he was a sculptor and he was put to work making busts of Pol Pot. The courage, dignity and patience of this man when, in the film, he confronts former torturers, “the ordinary and obscure journeymen of the genocide”, as Panh calls them, is unforgettable.

The film has a singular aim: a confrontation, in the best sense, between the courage and determination of those like Nath, who want to understand, and the jailers, whose catharsis is barely beginning. There is Houy the deputy head of security, Khan the torturer, Thi who kept the registers, who all seem detached as they recall, almost wistfully, Khmer Rouge ideology; and there is Poeuv, indoctrinated as a guard at the age of 12 or 13. In one spellbinding sequence, he becomes robotic, as if seized by his memory and transported back. He shows us, with moronic precision, how he intimidated prisoners, fastened their handcuffs and shackles, gave or denied them food, ordered them to piss, threatening to beat them with “the club” if a drop fell on the floor. His actions confront all of us with the truth about human “cogs” in machines whose inventors and senior managers politely disclaim responsibility, like the still untried Khmer Rouge leaders and their foreign sponsors.

Panh, whose film-making is itself an act of courage, sees something positive in the mere act of bearing witness and, speaking of the prisoners, in “the resistance [that is] a form of dignity that is profoundly human”. He refers to the “little things, these unsubstantial details, so slight and fragile, which make us what we are. You can never entirely ‘destroy’ a human being. A trace always remains, even years later … a refusal to accept humiliation can sometimes be conveyed by a look of defiance, a chin slightly raised, a refusal to capitulate under blows … The photographs of certain prisoners and the confessions conserved at Tuol Sleng are there to remind us of it.”

It seems almost disrespectful to take issue at this point; but one must. For too long Pol Pot and his gang have been an iconic horror show in the west, stripped of the reasons why. And this extraordinary film, it has to be said, adds little to the why. When Pol Pot died in his bed a few years ago, I was asked by a features editor to write about him. I said I would, but that the role of “civilised” governments in bringing him to power, sustaining his movement and rejuvenating it was a critical component. He wasn’t interested.

The genocide in Cambodia did not begin on April 17 1975, “Year Zero”. It began more than five years earlier when American bombers killed an estimated 600,000 Cambodians. Phosphorous and cluster bombs, napalm and dump bombs that left vast craters were dropped on a neutral country of peasant people and straw huts. In one six-month period in 1973, more tons of American bombs were dropped on Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during the second world war: the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. The regime of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did this, secretly and illegally.

Unclassified CIA files leave little doubt that the bombing was the catalyst for Pol Pot’s fanatics, who, before the inferno, had only minority support. Now, a stricken people rallied to them. In Panh’s film, a torturer refers to the bombing as his reason for joining “the maquis”: the Khmer Rouge. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. And having been driven out by the Vietnamese, who came from the wrong side of the cold war, the Khmer Rouge were restored in Thailand by the Reagan administration, assisted by the Thatcher government, who invented a “coalition” to provide the cover for America’s continuing war against Vietnam.

Thank you, Rithy Panh, for your brave film; what is needed now is a work as honest, which confronts “us” and relieves our amnesia about the part played by our respectable leaders in Cambodia’s epic tragedy.

— source johnpilger.com