Thursday, September 22, 2011


Unanswered Questions from the Catacomb in the Flower of Mankind

There is no point in saying it poetically. Yesterday an innocent man named Troy Davis was put to death by the US criminal justice system in the state of Georgia.

Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, despite decades of sustained organized support for Mr. Davis, from his family to international institutions, despite rallies in his defense attended collectively by thousands around the world, he was executed.

Up until the final minute last night, people around the world were hoping that a stay would be put on his execution, or that a reprieve would give his legal defense another chance to speak truth to power. In vigils from Georgia to New York and beyond, thousands united in prayer for Mr. Davis and his family, and in the hope that sanity and justice would somehow prevail.

Yesterday evening in St. Mary’s church in Harlem, I gathered with hundreds of others as the scheduled date of his execution approached. We watched a live stream of Democracy Now, reporting at the gates of the death row prison in Georgia, where Mr. Davis’ family and hundreds of supporters were gathered in protest against his execution. A few minutes after the scheduled time of his execution, a massive cheer went up -- he had been granted a reprieve! At this news, many of the hundreds that had gathered began a chant of “The people united shall never be defeated!”

It was a tragic prelude to what was to come later that evening. Our prayers were answered with nothing but contempt. But it is a sad truth upon which we must reflect: the people have united, and been defeated, time and time again. There is no single solution except to continue the struggle. But in what direction and by what means?

In the tense minutes approaching his execution, Benjamin Jealous, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) speaking with Amy Goodman, gave his impression of the significance of Troy Davis’ frustrated fight for justice:

"We hear a lot of definitions of ‘patriotism’ in this country, but patriotism is what was shown by Troy Davis saying, you know, let’s hold out hope to the last minute. Always hold out hope to the last minute… We are patriots. We believe in our nation."

For Mr. Jealous and the NAACP, Troy Davis seems to be some kind of modern day Socrates: a man who fell victim to his country, but who died believing in it. A man whose faith in his nation’s political system was so great that even a death sentence for a crime he did not commit could not convince him otherwise. The lesson seems to be that, despite our sadness and indignation, we should still try to work within the system for that famous “more perfect nation”.

Earlier this month, Mr. Davis wrote a message of thanks to all of his supporters. At the end, he says something that I think points in a different direction:

“no matter what happens in the days, weeks to come, this Movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.”

The name of Troy Davis is joined today with not only the hundreds of innocents still on death row, but with the names of all those before him who suffered the same fate. Hundreds have been executed with impunity in the United States, through similarly grotesque courtroom trials in which evidence played no role. Like Mr. Davis, many of them left the world with words condemning the system that killed them. Perhaps it may be relevant to reflect on one such case over 80 years ago.

In 1927, a sham trial sentenced Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to the electric chair without a shred of evidence. Like Troy Davis, they were victims of a rigged system and its racist judges. Thousands protested around the world, for years on end, but to no avail. Nicola Sacco gave a final speech to the courtroom in broken English:

"I never knew, never heard, even read in history anything so cruel as this Court... I would like to tell all my life, but what is the use? …You forget all this population that has been with us for seven years, to sympathize and give us all their energy and all their kindness. You do not care for them."

Speaking after him Bartolomeo Vanzetti spoke to the thousands who mobilized around the world in their defense and were taught a lesson in contempt:

I am glad to be on the doomed scaffold if I can say to mankind, "Look out; you are in a catacomb of the flower of mankind. For what? All that they say to you, all that they have promised to you -- it was a lie, it was an illusion, it was a cheat, it was a fraud, it was a crime. They promised you liberty. Where is liberty? They promised you prosperity. Where is prosperity? They have promised you elevation. Where is the elevation?"

Today we must ask ourselves the same questions. As we contemplate the path forward, we must reflect on what we have learned, on what our history shows us. Do we mourn the execution of Troy Davis as a terrible and unnecessary sacrifice on the altar of the United States, the flower of mankind, the aspiring "beacon of human rights,” as Mr. Jealous described this country?

Or is the life and death of Troy Davis a moment of revelation, in which beacon becomes beast, in which execution becomes murder, in which flower becomes catacomb?

What have we learned from all this? What will be the meaning of the life and death of Troy Davis?

He lives on to the extent that we honor him, and we honor him to the extent that we carry his struggle for justice forward. But we cannot do either if we do not reflect profoundly on just what this struggle for justice requires, and who and what exactly must be overcome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


by Quincy Saul
September 11th, 2011

Ground Zero
The 10 year anniversary of 9/11 is being commemorated at Ground Zero today, but not everyone is invited. Excluded from the ceremonies are New York City firefighters, police and other emergency personnel who are universally acknowledged to be the heroes of that tragic day. According to spokespeople from Mayor Bloomberg's office, due to the lack of space to accommodate everyone, the ceremony will be restricted to families of the victims. Oh, and some politicians. In addition to the big names like President Obama, former president George W. Bush, and former NY mayor Rudolph Giuliani, House Speaker John Boehner said that the government will be paying for representatives from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to attend the ceremony.

Unsurprisingly, this has provoked outrage among the first responders and their families. "It's a painful insult for many of the approximately 3,000 men and women [who] risked their lives, limbs and lungs on that monumental day, puncturing another hole in a still searing wound," reported CNN. This searing wound is not only emotional. According to a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet, firefighters who worked at Ground Zero have a 32% higher rate of cancer than those who didn’t work in lower Manhattan. As these victims struggle for their lives and for compensation from a public administration enamored with the logic of austerity, their exclusion from the 9/11 commemoration can only be interpreted as adding disdainful insult to already deadly injury.

For these reasons, today's ceremony is being observed by many with indignation as an insane paradox. How dare the organizers of this memorial put politicians (and their massive security escorts) before the heroes who were on the front lines ten years ago? How dare these politicians bask in the spotlight even while ignoring, politically and fiscally, the real heroes, who still suffer?

But for different reasons, today's ceremony can be observed by many others with no surprise at all, as nothing but rational continuity. For those who have been following the stories and organizing efforts of many firefighters, World Trade Center employees, and others who risked their lives ten years ago today, the exclusion of these groups is perfectly consistent with how they have been treated, both by the state and by the majority of civil society, for the last ten years. It is not that their stories have not been told. It is that we have not listened.

Can the subaltern speak?
Perhaps the most prominent example is the story of William Rodriguez. Prior to 9/11, Rodriguez was a maintenance worker in the World Trade Center for 20 years. On 9/11, Rodriguez was the only person with the master key to the stairwells in the North Tower. That fateful morning, he personally rescued 15 injured people, re-entering the building three different times after the attacks had begun. He rescued people trapped in elevators between floors by lowering ladders to them. He also helped firefighters get into the building, unlocking doors for them, thus helping to rescue hundreds more. After exiting the building a final time, just before its collapse, he was buried under rubble for two hours before being rescued. He is widely believed to be the last person to leave the North Tower alive.

For his heroism, Rodriguez was personally awarded a special commendation of valor by President George W. Bush. Charismatic, fluent in English and Spanish, and sympathetic to the Republican Party, many saw Rodriguez as a potential politician. The Republican Party even offered to train him for political office and to put millions of dollars towards financing an electoral campaign. The only problem was that Rodriguez started talking about what happened on 9/11.

In his testimony to the Official 9/11 Commission, Rodriguez talked about bombs inside the building. He explained in detail the injuries that he witnessed due to the repeated explosions going off in all parts of the building, before and after the plane hit. He provided the Commission with a list of eyewitnesses to these explosions who were willing to testify under oath. Rodriguez was not alone. His testimony was joined by a multitude of first responders, all of whom testified to multiple explosions going off in both Towers both prior to and after the planes hit the buildings.

The testimony of Rodriguez, and indeed all testimony of these explosions, did not appear in the Official 9/11 Commission Report. In January 2009, due to public pressure, the commission's records were finally made public -- mostly. The testimony of Rodriguez still remains "restricted" to the public. The same can be said of the majority of firefighter and first-responder testimony, all of which dramatically contradicts the Official 9/11 Commission Report.

In the last 10 years, the stories of many of the heroes of 9/11 have been systematically ignored. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that almost every sector of our country, from the government to the media to the whole spectrum of civil society institutions, is determined not to hear these stories. The fact that they are widely available online doesn't seem to make any difference.

Is it any surprise, then, that first responders have been excluded from the official commemoration of the 10 year anniversary? Their exclusion at Ground Zero today is entirely consistent with their exclusion over the last ten years. In this light, the outrage about the exclusion of their bodies from this ceremony, combined with the silence about the exclusion of their voices, is the only real paradox of today's spectacle.

A radical awakening
Like everyone, I have a story about where I was when I first heard the news. I remember a teacher interrupting my ninth grade class to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We crowded into a room with a TV for the next several hours. At that time in my life I had no particular political or historical awareness. I had been force-fed the standard liberal white-washed version of US history and current events for eight years of public and private schooling. I resisted it, but haphazardly. I was a case study of the rebel without a cause, suspicious of authority and its knowledge system, but without any idea of an alternative; without any way to understand my own insubordination. I remember watching the first allegation on live TV that Osama bin Laden was the primary suspect for the attacks, and I remember wondering how they could have found a suspect so quickly, before the dust had settled. I remember watching the live footage of the news being whispered in George W. Bush's ear, and his slow nod and absence of facial expression. I remember the words coming out of my mouth before I contemplated them: "It looks like he knew about it." I was quickly reprimanded by several of my peers and teachers. I didn't know anything about it, they said. And they were right.

9/11 was a wake up call for me. I suspected that the US government was generally antagonistic, just like other authority figures I was familiar with. But I was unable to hold up my end of a serious argument. My knowledge of history and politics had more blind spots than anything else. 9/11 silhouetted this for me in very stark light. I knew that there was a whole world of knowledge that would help me to understand what happened on 9/11 and what would happen in its aftermath. And moreover, I realized that I had to learn quickly, that there was no excuse anymore for not being informed. I had to grow up.

This germ of political and historical self-awareness that 9/11 sparked in me led me on a path of self-education that continues to this day. That search led me, two years after 9/11, to drop out of high school, and for the first time take responsibility for my own education. I devoted particular time and attention to US history and current events, and particularly to 9/11.

I spent several years of my life trying to figure out what happened on 9/11. I’ve read thousands of pages about it. I learned about William Rodriguez and his frustrated efforts to tell his story. I followed the stories of many other firefighters and first responders whose voices were similarly excluded from the Official 9/11 Commission Report, and their subsequent efforts to make their voices heard. I followed the story of the 3000 members of families of victims who made the Joint 9/11 Inquiry in September of 2002 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, raising numerous questions about what exactly US government agencies like the NY/NJ Port Authority, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Federal Aviation Administration were doing on that day.

I learned about the Project for a New American Century, a Washington DC-based think tank, almost all of whose members became part of George W. Bush's cabinet. I read about their unabashed plans for world domination, and their famous quote that "the process of transformation" towards their goal of US world supremacy, "is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor." I learned about the warnings received by US government agencies prior to 9/11, of an attack on that day, listing specific targets, from governments and reputable press agencies all over the world. I learned about the organizations of engineers and scientists who challenged the physics of how the Twin Towers could have collapsed the way they did. I learned about the most extensive War Games in the history of the US military, which were being conducted on 9/11. I watched over and over the free-fall collapse of WTC Building 7, which wasn't hit by any plane, and was amazed to find no mention at all of Building 7 in the Official 9/11 Commission Report.

While I continued to navigate through all this, I did my best to get others involved. I became something of a 9/11 truth evangelist. I never claimed, nor do I now, to know exactly what happened on that day. But I knew that the official story didn't hold water, that it wouldn’t hold up in any serious courtroom. Over a couple of years, I gradually built a base in my small community of friends and family who shared my concerns about 9/11. With this group, among other things, I organized a public event in the local town hall, raising questions about what happened on 9/11, which over a hundred community members attended.

Deeper than fear or denial
All my efforts met with mixed results. I encountered many people who, similar to myself, had embarked on a course of self-education in the aftermath of 9/11, and shared my concern both about the truth of what happened that day, and about the trajectory of US history and foreign policy in general. Just as frequently, however, I met with dismissal and ridicule, not only from the usual staunch defenders of the status quo, "right or wrong", but also from people I considered friends and allies. People who I admired, people who I had learned so much from over the years, who I had come to trust about almost everything, dismissed my research and organizing efforts as "conspiracy theories," and lamented what they interpreted as me "going off the deep end." People with radical politics who are generally not afraid to take a stand on controversial issues regardless of the consequences, (people like Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman, everyone at The Nation and Counterpunch, etc, etc, etc.) nonetheless continue to believe the official story about 9/11. In so many words, they dismiss people who care about 9/11 truth as crazy, misguided, stupid, and even dangerous.

This behavior has bewildered and mystified me for a full decade now. For many years I operated under the assumption that if people took the time to look at the facts, they would change their minds. But years of working in the 9/11 truth movement persuaded that this is not the case. The Age of Reason has not yet arrived. People can read the testimony of firefighters and the families of victims, they can watch the collapse of Building 7, and still continue to dismiss anything but the official story as a conspiracy theory. Many are not moved by the extent of scholarship and emotional vulnerability that goes into questioning the official story.

I am now certain that the causes of this dismissal are not simple, but are deeply rooted in a psychological process that is deeper than just fear or denial. My friend John Wells has an insightful hypothesis, which he calls "the Santa Claus syndrome". I will quote at length from his thoughts in our correspondence on the subject:

"I think that psychologically, American culture has adopted what I think of as the "Santa Claus" syndrome. I think that as children they go through a period where they believe in Santa Claus, but there comes a time in their lives where they are faced with the overwhelming evidence that Santa Claus is not actually real. There is a period that follows where one has the choice of being angered by having been lied to, or to adapt to the symbolic order which embraces the Santa Claus mythology as a necessary and beneficial story. So in our society, over the years as evidence is revealed about how our governments engage in covert action, overall there is an initial shock, and then a psychological assimilation to a new world view that incorporates the lies as something normal and necessary. But also there is a factor of the time it takes to be clear about what really happened and the ability to hold anyone responsible, when so many years pass before the ability to do anything about it would ever occur (even the Iran Contra Affair was revealed in relatively short time to allow for a hearing, and the President admitted having been involved and explained that it was necessary, and nothing really could be done to him as enough people believed his idea). So American society will eventually accept that 9-11 was a covert action, but by that time they will be ready to accept it and forgive it, for what choice does a child have whose parents finally admit that Santa is not real? Well, there are many choices we have for we are not children, but these are not obvious to most people."

The Santa Claus syndrome relates to one of the insights of the leader of the Nazis. In relation to 9/11, Hitler's famous assertion rings true: "A definite factor in getting a lie believed is the size of the lie. The broad mass of the people, in the simplicity of their hearts, more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one." Most of us are ready to believe that we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But we will still accept that 19 hijackers with abysmal flight skills were able to outsmart the most advanced military defense system in the world, and cause three steel skyscrapers designed to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, one of which was not hit by anything, to collapse at free fall speed into their own footprint. That lie has proved simply too big to be disbelieved.

Since 9/11, the whole media spectrum from left to right has been saturated with "anti-conspiracy theory" tropes that do their best to ridicule those who question the official story, usually by falsely associating them with a variety of straw-man theories. In a 2002 essay, Gore Vidal, who was one of the first brave enough to speak clearly on this subject, wrote: "Post-9/11, the American media were filled with pre-emptory denunciations of unpatriotic 'conspiracy theorists' who not only are always with us but are usually easy for the media to discredit since it is an article of faith that there are no conspiracies in American life."

For these complex but very real and material reasons, I’ve found it impossible to mobilize a movement around 9/11 truth. I’m tired of asking the same questions and hearing the same dismissals. It’s excruciating when it’s from the people you respect. So as the years went by I moved on to other political organizing projects that seemed to have more of a future, and for the most part stopped talking about it. But 9/11 still haunts me. How is it possible that something of this magnitude fails to ignite mass public indignation? Is ten years not enough time to do your own research? How can so many continue to ignore the evidence, even when brought forward by those who lost and sacrificed most?

All of the victims
Today we acknowledge the people who lost their lives on 9/11, and open our hearts to their families and friends. But they are not the only ones we must remember. In addition to those who perished in the attacks ten years ago, we must also acknowledge the victims of the lies about 9/11. They are also victims of our failure to demand the truth. "A time comes when silence is betrayal," said Martin Luther King, Jr. In this case, our silence about 9/11 truth is complicit with the Global War on Terror, which uses the lies of 9/11 as a mandate to pursue its imperial objectives. Many have died for our collective, cumulative denial about what happened that day.

How many? Researcher, professor and author Gideon Polya calculates in an article titled "The Post-9-11 Decade by Numbers: The American Holocaust": "The (US-complicit) 9-11 atrocity killed about 3,000 people but the subsequent War on Terror has directly killed about 10 million people, the breakdown being 2.7 million (Iraq, 2003-2011), 5.0 million (Afghanistan, 2001-2011), 1 million (Somalia, 2000-2011) and 1 million (global opiate-related deaths due to US Alliance restoration of the Taliban-destroyed Afghan opium industry). In addition, about 7,340 US Alliance military personnel have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan." Before you dismiss these numbers as too high, please look at his statistical methodology.

In light of figures like these, many are hoping to get back to a pre-Bush Golden Age, before the War on Terror, before Afghanistan, before Iraq. Some think Obama can take us back and forward at the same time. But for many of us, the flash of 9/11 illuminated not only the present but the past. As a student of US history, is it cynical to ask what’s new about the War on Terror? It’s not about cynicism, it’s about imperialism. In a recent article in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, dedicated to today’s 10 year anniversary, Melvyn Leffler points out that while 9/11 was certainly a world-historic event, post-9/11 policy is old news:

"Many argue that U.S. foreign policy after 9/11 was distinguished by its unilateralism. But the instinct to act independently, and to lead the world while doing so, is consonant with the long history of U.S. diplomacy, dating back to President George Washington's Farewell Address and President Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural speech... The long-term significance of 9/11 for U.S. foreign policy, therefore, should not be overestimated... [9/11] did not change the world or transform the long-term trajectory of U.S. grand strategy. The United States' quest for primacy, its desire to lead the world, its preference for an open door and free markets, its concern with military supremacy, its readiness to act unilaterally when deemed necessary, its eclectic merger of interests and values, its sense of indispensability -- all these remained, and remain, unchanged."

In Leffler's surprisingly candid assessment, published in one of the central organs of mainstream political discourse, 9/11 was just another episode in the sitcom of empire as a way of life. One thing that did change on 9/11, Leffler points out, is that Muslims and Islam itself became the new targets abroad and the new scapegoats at home. They are being forced to suffer for all our imperial resentment and hubris. In retrospect that may be the most distinguishing feature of post-9/11 politics.

So in today’s moments of silence, we might take that time to consider what it might mean to have solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, abroad and at home, especially all those behind bars, in the US, Guantanamo, and beyond, for crimes they have not been, and may never be charged with. They too are victims of our collective silence about the truth of 9/11. Our sympathy is not enough. What is to be done? As Malcolm X forewarned, “a delayed solution is a non-solution.”

Emptiness and empire
What is being commemorated at Ground Zero today is not a tragedy but the disfiguration of a tragedy. We are commemorating the subordination of the victims of 9/11 to a spectacle which exploits a false version of what happened that day. We are commemorating the perversion of our memories, and the corralling of our emotions into a degenerate political system and its war machine. We are commemorating the desperate efforts of a country in decline to get it up one last time for empire.

In his moving reflections on today's anniversary, cultural worker and former WTC security guard John Pietaro has written that "[t]en years hence, the stench of charred memories are dissipated but the gaping hole remains. The space where the Towers once stood is not the only emptiness we've come to know."

To me, 9/11 has come to mean this emptiness, this lacuna in the hearts and minds of us all. I'm wondering if anything has changed over the last ten years. Have we had enough time to heal? Are people more, or less willing to accept the official story? More, or less willing to challenge a big lie? Has the truth about 9/11 become an academic question, to be debated in books and articles, simply because historical truth is important in the abstract? Or is it still a living question with living consequences, one for which people are willing to make sacrifices to get answers? The first decade of the 21st century has been framed by this seemingly unfathomable question. The meaning of 9/11 depends on our answer. Either we will accept emptiness in addition to empire as a way of life, or we will accept that we must struggle for an alternative to both.

What will we be doing ten years from today?
Perhaps on September 11th, 2021
You and me and everyone
Will commemorate this day
A different way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The War on Drugs and the Mexican Movement to End It

(first published in a Special to the Narco News Bulletin:

By Quincy Saul
August 6, 2011

The forty year anniversary of the war on drugs came and went this summer without any mention of the most significant movement to end it.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report in June with a clear and succinct conclusion: “The global war on drugs has failed.” The US government has now spent about a trillion dollars on this war, but drug consumption has increased and drug-related violence and incarceration have spiraled ever further out of control. Signed by a wide diversity of prominent names such as Paul Volcker, Ernesto Zedillo, Carlos Fuentes and Kofi Annan, the report went on to accuse the United States of “drug control imperialism.”

More than any other country, Mexico is dying from the sins of the war on drugs. As the bottleneck of the drug trade for all of the Americas, almost 50,000 have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last six years alone, with the numbers of dispossessed and disappeared mounting ever higher.

It is not entirely surprising then, that the first mass movement to end the drug war has arisen in Mexico. More surprising is the almost total boycott in the United States and international media of this movement.

The Movement

Seen from the outside, the current movement to end the war on drugs in Mexico began suddenly. The brutal murder of the son of a prominent poet named Javier Sicilia prompted him to write a call to action urging all Mexicans to take to the streets to end the drug war. His voice reached and touched millions. Within days, tens of thousands had filled the centers of forty major cities, calling for the legalization of drugs and the demilitarization of their country.

Popular mobilization has been sustained since then through two major actions involving all demographics of Mexican society. Led by Sicilia, a week-long march to end the drug war from the city of Cuernavaca to the nation’s capital culminated on May 8th when 100,000 people filled the central square of Mexico City. That same weekend, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation led a silent march of tens of thousands out of the mountains, occupying the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Several weeks later, the mobilization continued with a “caravan of solace,” in which tens of thousands more participated. The caravan traveled from Cuernavaca through a dozen major cities, for the first time sharing and organizing the pain which until now most Mexicans have suffered in fear and isolation. The caravan culminated in the infamous Ciudad Juárez. Renowned as the most violent city in the world, the caravan inscribed a fresh, new and indelible chapter in the city’s history. In the words of Antonio Cervantes, a participant in the caravan, on the eve of its arrival, “we are going to occupy Ciudad Juárez peacefully… We are going to fill the most violent city on earth with humanity and desire for life.” The nonviolent occupation of Juarez concluded peacefully with the reading of drafts of a pact which includes demands and a program of action.

By any measure, this movement is a game changer. Calling itself the “Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity,” it is the first nonviolent mass movement in the history of Mexico. Javier Sicilia is doing what all previous leaders in Mexico have failed to do—unite all sectors of society into a sustained movement in which all groups see their interests reflected. “We have to return to the era of Gandhi, to the era of Luther King,” said Sicilia, who on numerous occasions has promoted the legacy and tradition of civil disobedience. Slowly but surely, this movement is standing up, preparing itself to end this war, with or without the agreement of the government. A placard in the city of Chihuahua urged the caravan, “If Crime is Organized, then Why Not Us?”

Media Silence

With a few isolated exceptions, there has been a complete boycott by the US media of this movement. International press has been barely better. For the English speaking world, only a few small online news sources like Narco News are paying any attention.

Reporting on the horrific violence of the drug war in Mexico is abundant and detailed both in mainstream and alternative media. So why the silence about a movement to end it? After all, the development and consequences of this movement are guaranteed to have effects in the United States and around the world. Is it that the abundance of popular uprisings this year have newsrooms swamped, and that this one is just slipping through the cracks? Months into the movement, such arguments are no longer adequate. When a story of this magnitude consistently fails to break headlines for such a long period, we must ask if there are other reasons, other interests behind the silence.

The Drug Trade and the Global Economy

The ugly but undeniable truth is that the drug trade plays a pivotal role in the global economy. By nature there are no detailed statistics about the exact size of the black market, but even the most conservative estimates are in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Add to this the arms trade that is an integral part of the drug war and we arrive at a number that is a hefty percentage of the global GDP.

Where does all this money go? Again, the nature of the data is that it’s secret, but that doesn’t leave us completely in the dark. We know that this money isn’t going into mattresses and suitcases. This is the modern era! It’s going into banks.

The important question is not which banks are laundering drug money. If we’ve learned anything about finance since 2008, it’s that everything is interconnected—the savings in your local bank are intimately connected to all kinds of institutions and markets all over the world. So it’s not a question of who is connected to the drug trade—we all are. That’s how “globalization” works. A few banks have been exposed for laundering, and pointing fingers is important, but it doesn’t get us any closer to an alternative. The question we need to ask is, how deep does drug money go?

James Petras alleges that “every major bank in the United States has served as an active financial partner of the murderous drug cartels—including Bank of America, Citibank, and JP Morgan, as well as overseas banks operating out of New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and London.” To give only one example, in May of this year, The Guardian printed an article citing US Department of Justice records to the effect that Wachovia Bank alone (now owned by Wells Fargo) laundered $378 billion dollars of drug money between 2004 and 2007. Court cases involving these allegations are usually settled for miniscule fractions of the bank’s quarterly profits.

Where does the global economy begin and where does the drug trade end? Dare we wonder if the global economy can survive without drugs? An answer to this question became unavoidable in the US financial crisis at the end of 2008. In January of 2009, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime, was quoted by Reuters: “In many instances, drug money [was]... currently the only liquid investment capital… In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem, and hence, liquid capital became an important factor… interbank loans were funded by money that originated from the drug trade and other illegal activities… [there were] signs that some banks were rescued in that way.” If the terminology is obscure, the message is clear: the global economy and the drug trade are one. And yet that is only half the story….

The Guns Behind the Drugs

You can’t separate drug money from blood money any more than you can filter drugs out of blood. To understand the drug trade, we have to understand the drug war. Like an ocean, the arms market is impartial, accepting all tributaries, from governments to security contractors to major cartels to small-time gangs.

The matrix of the black market and the arms trade was clarified this year on the fortieth anniversary of the war on drugs. While representatives from dozens of civil society organizations met in Washington DC to discuss the failures of the drug war, and while a caravan in Mexico led by Javier Sicilia began to organize a movement to end it, politicians met in Guatemala to extend and expand the war. At a meeting in Antigua in late June, representatives from more than fifty countries met and pledged over $2 billion towards bringing the drug war to Central America.

This initiative was led by the United States. The principal representative of the United States at the Guatemala meeting, Hillary Clinton, seemed confident that the war on drugs is not in vain. “We know from the work that the United States has supported in Colombia, and now in Mexico, that good leadership, proactive investments, and committed partnerships can turn the tide,” she said.

In a fitting complement to this meeting, also in June, the United States led a massive special forces exercise in El Salvador, including troops from 25 different nations. This is only the latest event in a trend over the last several years of increasing US military presence in Latin America. In the last two years alone, the construction of bases by the US military in South and Central America has doubled, all under the name of the war on drugs.

The US militarization of Latin America comes in at least four different forms. Firstly, through the direct operation of US military bases on foreign soil. Secondly, through security partnerships in which US military personnel operate, train and gather intelligence on foreign military bases. Thirdly, through the increasing covert deployment of US special operations troops throughout Latin America, and finally, through the simple sale of weapons. In Mexico, 90 percent of the weapons recovered in drug-related violence are manufactured in the United States.

The evidence is piling up, but how you read it depends on which side of the fence you’re on. In the eyes of a growing global movement, the drug war is more indefensible every day. But in the eyes of others, it is every day in more need of defense. Investigative journalist Bill Conroy has described the escalating violence of the drug war in Latin America as “a situation not unlike a Chinese finger puzzle, with one finger, representing militarization and the other prohibition, each pulling against the other as more pressure is exerted and all to no avail in escaping the trap.”

A movement in Mexico is gaining momentum which has an answer to this Chinese finger puzzle, to this Gordian knot of drugs and guns which is like a tumor on the heart of the global economy. The answer? Legalize drugs. It is, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, “the simplest thing so hard to achieve.”

Behind and Beyond the Movement

In the time of a few months, this young movement is already historic. Javier Sicilia has been able to catalyze and sustain it with a poetic inclusiveness that no previous social movement in Mexico has been able to articulate. While radical ideas may be at the heart of the movement, it is organized in terms that completely eclipse the ideological divides which traditionally paralyze mass movements.“The pain caused by the sinking of this nation is so great that it surpasses any ideology,” Sicilia has said on numerous occasions. “We cannot lose sight of the moral of the story nor of the victims.” In response to many who have tried in different ways to co-opt the movement for a different cause, Sicilia has been politely blunt: “We cannot lose sight of the heart. Ideological and political speeches impose themselves over human dignity.”

The ability of Sicilia to articulate this radical unity in non-ideological terms may be largely responsible for the mobilization of thousands of Mexicans who have never before taken part in political activity of any kind. Moreover, it indicates a welcome escape from the seemingly insurmountable sectarianism that has plagued social movements for centuries. It is not to be taken for granted.

However, if the success of the movement depends on its continued ability to transcend ideological opportunism, this does not mean that the movement can avoid ideological questions. The movement’s demands—the legalization of drugs and the demilitarization of the country—may seem at first glance to be relatively technical political questions. But haunting the Chinese finger puzzle of prohibition and militarization is the specter of the global economy. More specifically, behind the war on drugs is the United States.

The movement to end the war on drugs doesn’t have to—and perhaps shouldn’t—articulate itself in these terms. But behind and beyond the movement is a global economy that depends on the drug war, and an empire, centered in the United States, which depends on the continued subordination of the Mexican government and people. Ultimately, the goals of the movement cannot be realized without confronting and overcoming these realities. The path towards these confrontations has begun and is inexorable. As Jose Martinez Cruz, head of the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Morelos, recognized, “the movement can’t drop its guard now.”

Some fear the future and denounce the movement, trying to silence its depth and significance. Others hope to channel it into a reformist course. Still others are struggling, for better or worse, to radicalize it. We would all do well to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backwards.”

Whatever the causes of this media silence—laziness, fear, money, politics or some combination of these—it is a silence of epic and historic proportions. Even among all the unprecedented social movements that have emerged this year, the movement in Mexico, due to its unique position as a bottleneck of the US empire and the global economy, may prove to be the most significant of them all. In spite of the media silence and also because of it, we must stay tuned.

A Movement Against Empire?

Pancho Villa, leader in the Northern front of the 1910 Mexican revolution, not long before his betrayal and murder at the orders of Mexico President Venustiano Carranza, wrote a letter to his counterpart in the South, Emiliano Zapata. In this letter, Villa invited Zapata to embark on a new and different course of struggle. Instead of continuing their bloody struggle for land reform, in which many hundreds of thousands of Mexicans had already perished, Villa suggested, they should unite against the common enemy to the North. “We have decided not to burn another cartridge on Mexicans,” he wrote. “And to prepare and organize ourselves properly to attack the Americans in their own lair.” He went on to prophetically warn that Mexico would never be free until this battle was fought once and for all.

A century has come and gone since Villa and Zapata fought for land and liberty. Today, the movement to end the war on drugs is struggling in the same shadow that Pancho Villa discerned so long ago. The fate of both Mexico and the United States will depend on the will of both peoples to see, behind and beyond the drug war and the growing movement to end it, a shared history and future. In Chihuahua rancher Julián LeBarón’s words, “The clock ticks as the hand of crime holds the heart of our country in a bloody fist.”

Narco News is on the Front Lines of Journalism in the 21st Century

By Quincy Saul
Class of 2011, School of Authentic Journalism
May 5, 2011

(First published on Narco News:

There is no hiding from it: historical time is accelerating. Whether we spend our time glued to the screen of the news, in a busy trance of distracted denial, or in a frenzy of organizing, the world is moving beneath us, more than we can imagine. The last five years have contained enough world-historical events for at least a few decades, and the last five months have been more consequential than some centuries. Even in the last five weeks so much has changed: revolution, scandal, disaster, and war, from the largest scale to the smallest. Dare we wonder what is to come? Dare we contemplate what is to be done?

We have entered an unprecedented and pivotal moment that will reverberate into the long-term future of humanity and planet Earth. Is seems that more than ever is now at stake.

Very few outcomes are inevitable, and no solutions will be universal. But some things are essential to us all. Whether we are struggling to change the world, or to just survive, whether we arrive to one of these gradually or find ourselves suddenly saddled with both at once, we all need to know.

We need to know our world to understand it, and we need to understand our world in order to act in it, and on it. On the front lines of interpreting our world are journalists. They are writing, recording, and risking their lives to give us all something more essential, precious and delicate than just truth; it is the living connection with our world, without which we are stranded, helplessly adrift in the immense orbit of history.

Of course I am not talking about the corporate journalists, the ones who mystify and contort reality for profit or privilege, out of ignorance or indifference. They are enemies of this fragile life force we call knowledge, and they bear more blame than they know for every tragedy they hasten and exacerbate.

Nor am I talking about the strict dictionary definition of journalism. In the 21st century we will all have to think outside the box of the newsroom.

Anyone who is reporting, reflecting, sharing and expressing their knowledge about current events for a wider audience, anyone who contributes creatively to this tangled web of real-time information that we live and breathe, which is the best foundation we have to build the future, these are the journalists of which I speak. Artists, orators, bloggers, videographers, fiction writers, performance artists, all of these and more are inheriting this calling. The old established news agencies continue to harbor a few journalists worthy of the cause, but can no longer be trusted to be the sole guardians of this vital profession.

On the front lines of journalism in the 21st century is Narco News. In its methodology and its content, Narco News blends history and theory with urgency and practice in a reportage of current events that demonstrates a commitment to both justice and fearlessness. Narco News runs several websites that frequently crack cutting edge stories. It has an online TV program, and runs a school for what it calls “Authentic Journalism.” This year, the 2011 class of the School of Authentic Journalism brought together 21st century journalists from five continents, all of whom are redefining the meaning and practice of journalism.

Few organizations in the world today can claim that they are doing as much as Narco News, especially considering its limited resources, to turn the tide in the war of ideas. Not only are its journalists providing an example of journalism at its best, but they are training the next generation. Narco News provides scholarships for all its students and pays travels costs for most of them.

I had what I consider to be the great honor of being among the class of 2011 at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. A decade of work as a student, organizer, writer, artist, and aspiring revolutionary led me there. On behalf of Narco News and on behalf of the pivotal role of journalism at the dawn of the 21st century, I’d like to ask you to make a donation to the Fund for Authentic Journalism. It helps Narco News to fight the corporate media establishment and to defy the structures and systems that be. It helps me and other radical journalists from around the world attend the only school of authentic journalism in the world. It helps Narco News keep up its cutting edge coverage. But seriously, it cannot do all this without your help!

Please make a donation today, online, at this link:

Or you can make a check out to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027 USA

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