Monday, June 23, 2008

Top 25 Censored Stories for 2008

 
 
 
No Habeas Corpus for "Any Person"

With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for US citizens and noncitizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in the New York Times October 19, have given false comfort that we, as American citizens, will not be the victims of the draconian measures legalized by this Act-such as military roundups and life-long detention with no rights or constitutional protections-Robert Parry points to text in the MCA that allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for "any person" regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for "any person" arbitrarily deemed to be an "enemy of the state." The judgment on who is deemed an "enemy combatant" is solely at the discretion of President Bush.
The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge governmental power of arrest and corpus laws, considered to be the most critical parts of the Magna Carta which was signed by King john in 1215.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist #84 in August of 1788:
"The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus... are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains .... The practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious [British eighteenth-century legal scholar] Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:
"To bereave a man of life" says he, "or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."
While it is true that some parts of the MCA target non-citizens, other sections clearly apply to US citizens as well, putting citizens inside the same tribunal system with non-citizen residents and foreigners.
Section 950 of the MCA states that, "Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter [of the MCA] who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission."
Section 950V. "Crimes Triable by Military Commissions" (26) of the MCA seems to specifically target American citizens by stating that, "Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States, or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy, shall be punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct."

"Who," warns Parry, "has 'an allegiance or duty to the United States' if not an American citizen?"

Besides allowing "any person" to be swallowed up by Bush's system, the law prohibits detainees once inside from appealing to the traditional American courts until after prosecution and sentencing, which could translate into an indefinite imprisonment since there are no timetables for Bush's tribunal process to play out.

Section 950j of the law further states that once a person is detained, not withstanding any other provision of law (including section 2241 of title 28 or any other habeas corpus provision) no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever... relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions."
Other constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights, such as a speedy trial, the right to reasonable bail, and the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment," would seem to be beyond a detainee's reach as well.

Parry warns that, "In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel 'star chamber' system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and possible execution of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.

"Under the cloak of setting up military tribunals to try al-Qaeda suspects and other so-called unlawful enemy combatants, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress effectively created a parallel legal system for 'any person'-American citizen or otherwise-who crosses some ill-defined line."

In one of the most chilling public statements ever made by a US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales opined at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18, 2007, "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended."

More important than its sophomoric nature, Parry warns, is that Gonzales's statement suggests he is still searching for arguments to make habeas corpus optional, subordinate to the President's executive powers that Bush's neoconservative legal advisers claim are virtually unlimited during "time of war."

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Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to "suppress public disorder."

By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The 1878 Act reads, "Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." As the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law-the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Historically martial law has been imposed by various governments during times of war or occupation to intensify control of populations in spite of heightened unrest. In modern times it is most commonly used by authoritarian governments to enforce unpopular rule.'

Section 333 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, entitled "Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law," states that "the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service-to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (or "refuse" or "fail" in) maintaining public order-in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."

Thus an Act of Congress, superceding the Posse Comitatus Act, has paved the way toward a police state by granting the president unfettered legal authority to order federal troops onto the streets of America, directing military operations against the American people under the cover of "law enforcement."

The massive Defense Authorization Act grants the Pentagon $532.8 billion to include implementation of the new law which furthermore facilitates militarized police round-ups of protesters, so-called illegal aliens, potential terrorists, and other undesirables for detention in facilities already contracted and under construction, and transferring from the Pentagon to local police units the latest technology and weaponry designed to suppress dissent.

Author Frank Morales notes that despite the unprecedented and shocking nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007's Defense Authorization Act contained a "widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order without the consent of the nation's governors."

A few weeks later, on September 29, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."

Leahy noted "the implications of changing the [Posse Comitatus] Act are enormous." "There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."
Morales further asserts that "with the president's polls at a historic low ... and Democrats taking back the Congress ... it is particularly worrisome that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator."

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AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa's Resources

In February 2007 the White House announced the formation of the US African Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa, to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the Global War on Terror. The real objective is, however, the procurement and control of Africa's oil and its global delivery systems.

The most significant and growing challenge to US dominance in Africa is China. An increase in Chinese trade and investment in Africa threatens to substantially reduce US political and economic leverage in that resource-rich continent. The political implication of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China is resulting in a new cold war in which AFRICOM will be tasked with achieving full-spectrum military dominance over Africa.
AFRICOM will replace US military command posts in Africa, which were formerly under control of US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with a more centralized and intensified US military presence.

A context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from observing CENTCOM in the Middle East. CENTCOM grew out of the Carter Doctrine of 1980 which described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the US, and affirmed that the US would employ "any means necessary, including military force" to overcome an attempt by hostile interests to block that flow.

It is in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa that the US military force is most rapidly increasing, as this area is projected to become as important a source of energy as the Middle East within the next decade. In this region, challenge to US domination and exploitation is coming from the people of Africa-most specifically in Nigeria, where seventy percent of Africa's oil is contained.

People native to the Niger Delta region have not benefited, but instead suffered, as a result of sitting on top of vast natural oil and natural gas deposits. Nigerian people's movements are demanding self-determination and equitable sharing of oil-receipts. Environmental and human rights activists have, for years, documented atrocities on the part of oil companies and the military in this region. As the tactics of resistance groups have shifted from petition and protest to more proactive measures, attacks on pipelines and oil facilities have curtailed the flow of oil leaving the region. As a Convergent Interests report puts it, "Within the first six months of 2006, there were nineteen attacks on foreign oil operations and over $2.187 billion lost in oil revenues; the Department of Petroleum Resources claims this figure represents 32 percent of 'the revenue the country [Nigeria] generated this year."

Oil companies and the Pentagon are attempting to link these resistance groups to international terror networks in order to legitimize the use of the US military to "stabilize" these areas and secure the energy flow. No evidence has been found however to link the Niger Delta resistance groups to international tenor networks or jihadists. Instead the situation in the Niger Delta is that of ethnic-nationalist movements fighting, by any means necessary, toward the political objective of self-determination. The volatility surrounding oil installations in Nigeria and elsewhere in the continent is, however, used by the US security establishment to justify military "support" in African oil producing states, under the guise of helping Africans defend themselves against those who would hinder their engagement in "Free Trade."

The December 2006 invasion of Somalia was coordinated using US bases throughout the region. The arrival of AFRICOM will effectively reinforce efforts to replace the popular Islamic Courts Union of Somalia with the oil industry-friendly Transitional Federal Government. Meanwhile, the persistent Western calls for "humanitarian intervention" into the Darfur region of Sudan sets up another possibility for military engagement to deliver regime change in another Islamic state rich in oil reserves.

Hunt warns that this sort of "support" is only bound to increase as rhetoric of stabilizing Africa makes the dailies, copied directly out of official AFRICOM press releases. Readers of the mainstream media can expect to encounter more frequent usage of terms like "genocide" and "misguided." He notes that already corporate media decry China's human rights record and support for Sudan and Zimbabwe while ignoring the ongoing violations of Western corporations engaged in the plunder of natural resources, the pollution other peoples' homelands, and the "shoring up" of repressive regimes.

In FY 2005 the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative received $16 million; in FY 2006, nearly $31 million. A big increase is expected in 2008, with the administration pushing for $100 million each year for five years. With the passage of AFRICOM and continued promotion of the Global War on Terror, Congressional funding is likely to increase significantly.

In the end, regardless of whether it's US or Chinese domination over Africa, the blood spilled will be African. Hunt concludes, "It does not require a crystal ball or great imagination to realize what the increased militarization of the continent through AFRICOM will bring to the peoples of Africa."

***

Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements

The Oxfam report, "Signing Away the Future," reveals that the US and European Union (EU) are vigorously pursuing increasingly destructive regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements outside the auspices of the WTO. These agreements are requiring enormous irreversible concessions from developing countries, while offering almost nothing in return. Faster and deeper, the US and EU are demanding unprecedented tariff reductions, sometimes to nothing, as the US and EU dump subsidized agricultural goods on undeveloped countries, plunging local farmers into desperate poverty. Meanwhile the US and EU provide themselves with high tariffs and stringent import quotas to protect their own producers. Unprecedented loss of livelihood, displacement, slave labor, along with spiraling degradation of human rights and environments are resulting as economic governance is forced from governments of developing countries, and taken over by unaccountable multinational firms.

During 2006, more than one hundred developing countries were involved in FTA or Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations. "An average of two treaties are signed every week," the report says, "Virtually no country, however poor, has been left out."

Much of the recent debate and controversy over trade negotiations has revolved around the increasingly devastating trade-distorting practices of rich countries versus the developing countries' needs for food security and industrial development. The new generation of agreements ... extends far beyond this traditional area of trade policy-imposing a damaging set of binding rules in intellectual property, services, and investment with much deeper consequences for development and impacts on the poor.

Double standards in the intellectual-property rights chapters of most trade agreements are glaring. As new agreements limit developing countries' access to patented technology and medicines while failing to protect traditional knowledge-the public-health consequences are staggering. The US-Colombia FTA is expected to reduce access to medicines by 40 percent and the US-Peru FTA is expected to leave 700,000 to 900,000 Peruvians without access to affordable medicines.

US and EU FTAs also require the adoption of plant-breeder rights that remove the right to share seeds among indigenous farmers. The livelihood of the world's poorest farmers is thus made even more vulnerable, while profit margins of the world's largest agribusinesses continue to climb. US FTAs are now pushing for patents on plants, which will not only limit the rights of farmers to exchange or sell seeds, but also forbid them to save and reuse seed they have grown themselves for generations. Under US FTAs including DR-CAFTA, US-Peru and US-Colombia FTAs, developing-country governments will no longer be able to reject a patent application because a firm fails to indicate the origin of a plant or show proof of consent for its use from a local community. As a result, communities could find themselves forced to pay for patented plant varieties based on genetic resources from their own soil.

New rules also pose a threat to essential services as FTAs allow foreign investors to take ownership of healthcare, education, water, and public utilities.
Investment chapters of new FTAs and BITs allow foreign investors to sue for lost profits, including anticipated future profits, if governments change regulations, even when such reforms are in the public interest. These rules undermine the sovereignty of developing nations, transferring power from governments to largely unaccountable multinational firms. A growing number of investment chapters and treaties further tip the scales of justice by preventing governments from screening or regulating foreign investment-banning the use of all 'performance requirements' in all sectors including mining, manufacturing, and services.

More than 170 countries have signed international investment agreements that provide foreign investors with the right to turn immediately to international investor-state arbitration to settle disputes, without first trying to resolve the matter in national courts. Such arbitration fails to consider public interest, basing decisions exclusively on commercial law.

Not only is the legal basis for investment arbitration loaded against public interest, so are the proceedings. Despite the fact that many arbitration panels are hosted at the World Bank and the United Nations, the investment arbitration system is shrouded in secrecy. It is virtually impossible to find out what cases are being heard, let alone the outcome or rationale for decisions. As a result, there is no body of case decisions to inform governments of developing countries when drafting investments agreements.

Oxfam notes that the only group privy to this information is an increasingly powerful select group of commercial lawyers, whose fees often place them out of reach of developing-country governments. These lawyers, according to the Oxfam report, are eager to advise foreign investors regarding opportunities to claim compensation from developing countries under international investment agreements.

Strong opposition is growing to the political asymmetry inherent in these bilateral trade and investment agreements. As Oxfam notes, "It is in nobody's long-term interest to have a global economy that perpetuates social, economic, and environmental injustice."

***

KIA: The US Neoliberal Invasion of India

Farmers' cooperatives in India are defending the nation's food security and the future of Indian farmers against the neoliberal invasion of genetically modified (GM) seed. As many as 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last decade as a result of debt incurred from failed GM crops and competition with subsidized US crops, yet when India's Prime Minister Singh met with President Bush in March 2006 to finalize nuclear agreements, they also signed the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and Wal-Mart. The KIA allows for the grab of India's seed sector by Monsanto, of its trade sector by giant agribusiness ADM and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart.

Though the contours of KIA have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor the scientific community know its details, it is clear that Prime Minister Singh has agreed to sacrifice India's agriculture sector to pay for US concessions in the nuclear field.

In one of very few public statements by a US government official regarding KIA, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, states, "While the civilian nuclear initiative has garnered the most attention ... Our first priority is to continue giving governmental support to the huge growth in business between the Indian and American private sectors. Singh has also challenged the United States to help launch a second green revolution in India's vast agricultural heartland by enlisting the help of America's great land-grant institutions."

Vandana Shiva translates, "These are twin programs about a market grab and a security alignment ... Burns announced that while the nuclear deal is the cutting edge, what the US is really seeking is agricultural markets and real estate markets ... to take over the land of people, not through a market mechanism, but using the state and an old colonial law of land acquisition to grab the land by force."

Through KIA, Monsanto and the US have asked for unhindered access to India's gene banks, along with a change in India's intellectual property laws to allow patents on seeds and genes, and to dilute provisions that protect farmers' rights. A combination of physical access to India's gene banks and a possible new intellectual property law that allows seed patents will in essence deliver India's genetic wealth into US hands. This would be a severe blow to India's food security and self-sufficiency.

At the same time KIA has paved the way for Wal-Mart's plans to open five hundred stores in India, starting in August 2007, which will compound the outsourcing of India's food supply and threaten 14 million small family venders with loss of livelihood.

"This is not about 'free trade," Shiva explains, "Today's trade system, especially in agriculture, is dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It's become a genocide."

Farmers are, however, organizing to protect themselves against this economic invasion by maintaining traditional seed banks and setting up exemplary systems of community agrarian support. In response to the flood of debilitating debt tied to GM/hybrid seeds and the toxic petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides these crops depend on, one woman in the small village of Palarum says, "We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds." Instead village women save and trade hardy traditional seeds that have evolved over centuries to produce low-maintenance, nutritious "crops of truth."

Each village in this rural area of India has formed its own community-based organization called a sangham. Seventy-two sanghams are part of a regional federation. These sanghams form an informal social security network that, through the maintenance of seed banks, will come to the rescue of individuals or entire villages in times of crop failure. Every member of the community has access to food and is assured of some work even if landless. The federation furthermore trains students in skills such as carpentry, computing, pottery, bookbinding, veterinary science, herbal medicine, sewing, farming, waste management, and agro-forestry.

Author Arun Shrivastava comments that, "These seventy-two villages were once horizontally and vertically stratified along caste, class, and religious lines. Food scarcity was endemic, people were malnourished, the majority worked as unskilled day wagers. Today they are cohesive, interdependent. I did not see one malnourished person. Rarely do people go to urban centers to seek work." Shrivastava continues, "The community is the most important entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security... The right of access to natural resources-land, rivers, forests, air, and everything that Nature has given us, including seeds, is the fundamental right of the communities, not of the corporations or the state or the individual. No corporation has the right to expropriate what Nature gave us."

Professor of genetics Suman Sahai concludes, "India must be cautious that it does not become the dumping ground for a technology and its controversial products that have been rejected in many parts of the world and whose safety and usefulness remain questionable... Food security is an integral part of national security. All India's efforts in the nuclear arena to shore up its national security goals will be undermined if it allows itself to become insecure in the \matter of food."

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Vulture Funds Threaten Poor Nations' Debt Relief

Vulture funds, otherwise known as "distressed-debt investors," are undermining UN and other global efforts to relieve impoverished Third World nations of the debt that has burdened them for many decades.

Vulture funds are financial organizations that buy up debts that are near default or bankruptcy. The vulture fund will pay the original investor pennies on the dollar for the debt and then approach the debtor to arrange a better repayment on the loan, or will go after the debtor in court.

In the private financial world, these funds, like the birds they are named for, provide a useful function for investors who are unable to follow up on defaulted debts and are themselves facing financial ruin if the debtor reneges entirely.

Under normal circumstances, distressed-debt investing-like day trading-is risky business. It is a gamble and the company knows that going in. The vulture fund may get nothing for its investment if the debtor continues to default and has no assets to attach. However, if there is still meat on the bones (the debtor has considerable assets to liquidate) the vulture fund can make millions.

A problem has arisen in recent years, however, as vulture funds have begun inserting themselves into an increasingly globalized "free market"-where no distinction is made between an irresponsible and defaulted company and a destitute and impoverished nation.

In the case of nations, the actions of vulture funds are corrupting the process begun in 1996 to provide debt relief for Third World nations struggling to emerge from the heavy debt laid upon them by previous corrupt rulers and colonial masters.

In one recent case, the poverty-stricken nation of Zambia was negotiating with Romania to reduce a $40 million debt still owed from a 1979 loan to buy Romanian tractors. In r999, Romania had agreed to liquidate the entire loan for $3 million. Zambia planned to use the debt cancellation to invest in much-needed nurses, teachers, and basic infrastructure. Just before the deal was finalized however, investors at the England-based vulture fund Donegal international convinced the Romanian government to sell them the loan for just under $4 million-not much more than Zambia had offered. Donegal then turned around and sued Zambia (where the average wage is barely a dollar a day) for the full $40 million.

Throughout the lawsuit, global NGOs have pleaded with the English High Court to void the new contract and allow Zambia to honor the original agreement of $3 million. But on February 15, 2007, an English court ruled that Donegal was entitled to much of what it was seeking-at least $15 million, perhaps more.,
In a last desperate plea, global NGOs working to relieve Third World debt (such as Oxfam and the Jubilee Debt Campaign) turned to Donegal directly, asking them to forgive the debt. Donegal knows that, as a national entity, even a cash-poor country like Zambia has access to considerable resources; in this case copper, cobalt, gem stones, coal, uranium, marble, and much more. Public works and other civic improvement projects can also be liquidated.

Also, Donegal has no history of mercy toward impoverished nations. In 1996 it paid $11 million for a discounted Peruvian debt and threatened to bankrupt the country unless they paid $8 million. Donegal got its money. Now they're suing Congo Brazzaville for $400 million for a debt they bought for $10 million. Donegal and other vulture funds have teams of lawyers combing the world for assets that can be seized.

Even worse, many of these vulture funds have influential ties to powerful world leaders like the Bush administration. The risk normally faced by distressed-debt investors is virtually eliminated when they have political influence that is greater than the poor nation they are suing. They raise most of their money through legal actions in US courts, where lobbying and political contributions hold influence. And many vulture fund CEOs have close links to top officials both in the US and England.

President Bush has the power to block collection of debts by vulture finds, either individual ones or all of them, if he considers it to be at odds with US foreign policy-in this case debt relief for poor countries. According to Congressman John Conyers, "It's our position that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the comity doctrine brought from our constitution allows the president to require the courts defer in individual suits against foreign nations. And so, we're conducting a couple of things. First of all, we want to know where these practices are going on at the present time, and, two, how we can get this information to President Bush so that he can, as he indicated to us, stop it immediately."

Chancellor Gordon Brown, now the prime minister of England, calls the vulture funds perverse and immoral. Oxfam and jubilee have urged the chancellor to use his influence as chair of the International Monetary Fund's key decision-making committee to make sure that new regulations are devised that prevent private companies from bypassing international debt rules and pursuing debts from very poor countries.

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The Scam of "Reconstruction" in Afghanistan"

A report issued in June 2005 by the non-profit organization Action Aid reveals that much of the US tax money earmarked to rebuild Afghanistan actually ends up going no further than the pockets of wealthy US corporations. "Phantom aid" that never shows up in the recipient country is a scam in which paychecks for overpriced, and often incompetent, American "experts" under contract to USAID go directly from the Agency to American bank accounts. Additionally, 70 percent of the aid that does make it to a recipient country is carefully "tied" to the donor nation, requiring that the recipient use the donated money to buy products and services from the donor country, often at drastically inflated prices. The US far outstrips other nations in these schemes, as Action Aid calculates that 86 cents of every dollar of American aid is phantom.

Authors Ann Jones and Fariba Nawa suggest that in order to understand the failure and fraud in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is important to look at the peculiar system of American aid for international development. International and national agencies-including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and U SAID, that traditionally distribute aid money to developing countries-have designed a system that is efficient in funneling money back to the wealthy donor countries, while undermining sustainable development in poor states.

A former head of U SAID cited foreign aid as "a key foreign policy instrument" designed to help countries "become better markets for US exports." To guarantee that mission, the State Department recently took over the aid agency. USAID and the Army Corps of Engineers now cut in US business and government interests from the start, making sure that money is allocated according to US economic, political, strategic, and military priorities, rather than according to what the recipient nation might consider important.

Though Afghans have petitioned to allocate aid money as they find appropriate, donor countries object, claiming that the Afghan government is too corrupt to be trusted. Increasingly frustrated and angry Afghan communities meanwhile claim that the no-bid, open-ended contracts being awarded to contractors such as Kellogg, Brown, and Root/ Halliburton, DynCorp, Blackwater, and the Louis Berger Group are equivalent to licensed bribery, corruption, theft, and money laundering.

The Karzai government, confined to a self-serving American agenda, has delivered little to the average Afghan, most of whom still live in abject poverty. Western notions of progress evident in US-contracted hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls full of new electronic gadgets and appliances are beyond the imaginations or practicalities of 3.5 million war torn Afghan citizens who are without food, shelter, sewage systems, clean water or electricity.

Infrastructure hastily built with shoddy materials and no knowledge or respect for geologic or climatic conditions is culminating in one expensive failure after another. USAID's website, for example, boasts of its only infrastructure accomplishment in Afghanistan - the Kabul-Kandahar Highway - a narrow and already crumbling highway costing Afghanis $1 million a mile. The highway was featured in the Kabul Weekly newspaper in March 2005 under the headline, "Millions Wasted on Second-Rate Roads." The article notes that while other bids from more competent construction firms came in at one-third the cost, the contract went to the Louis Berger Group, a firm with tight connections to the Bush administration-as well as a notorious track record of other failed and abandoned construction projects in Afghanistan.

Former Minister of Planning, Ramazan Bashardost, complained that when it came to building roads, the Taliban had done a better job. "And," he also asked, "Where did the money go?" Now, in a move certain to lower President Karzai's approval ratings and further diminish US popularity in the area, the Bush administration has pressured Karzai to turn this "gift from the people of the United States" into a toll road, charging each driver $20 for a road-use permit valid for one month. In this way, according to American "experts" providing highly paid technical assistance, Afghanistan can collect $30 million annually from its impoverished citizens and thereby decrease the foreign aid "burden" on the United States.

Jones asks, "Is it any wonder that foreign aid seems to ordinary Afghans to be something only foreigners enjoy?"

***

Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops V

Eyewitness testimony confirms indiscriminate killings by UN forces in Haiti's Cite Soleil community on December 22, 2006, reportedly as collective punishment against the community for a massive demonstration of Lavalas supporters in which about ten thousand people rallied for the return of President Aristide in clear condemnation of the foreign military occupation of their country. According to residents, UN forces attacked their neighborhood in the early morning, killing more than thirty people, including women and children. Footage taken by Haiti Information Project (HIP) videographers shows unarmed civilians dying as they tell of extensive gunfire from UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSTAH).

A hardened UN strategy became apparent days after the demonstration, when UN officials stated they were entering Cite Soleil to capture or kill gangsters and kidnappers. While officials of MINUSTAH have admitted to "collateral damage," in the raids of December 2006, they say they are there to fight gangsters at the request of the René Préval government.

But many residents and local human rights activists say that scores of people having no involvement with gangs were killed, wounded, and arrested in the raids.

Although MINUSTAH denied firing from helicopter gunships, HIP captured more than three hours of video footage and a large selection of digital photos, illustrating the UN's behavior in Haiti.

An unidentified twenty-eight-year-old man, filmed by HIP, can be seen dying as he testifies that he was shot from a circling UN helicopter that rained gunfire on those below. HIP film also shows a sixteen-year-old, dying just after being shot by UN forces. Before dying he describes details of the UN opening fire on unarmed civilians in his neighborhood. The wounded and dying, filmed by HIP, all express horror and confusion.

IPS observed that buildings throughout Cite Soleil were pockmarked by bullets; many showing huge holes made by heavy caliber UN weapons, as residents attest. Often pipes that brought in water to the slum community now lay shattered.

A recently declassified document from the US embassy in Port-auPrince reveals that during a similar operation carried out in July 2005, MINUSTAH expended 22,000 bullets over several hours. In the report, an official from MINUSTAH acknowledged, "given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets."

Frantz Michel Guerrier, spokesman for the Committee of Notables for the Development of Cite Soleil based in the Bois Neuf zone, said, "It is very difficult for me to explain to you what the people of Bois Neuf went through on Dec. 22, 2006-almost unexplainable. It was a true massacre. We counted more than sixty wounded and more than twenty-five dead, among [them] infants, children, and young people."

"We saw helicopters shoot at us, our houses broken by the tanks," Guerrier told IPS. "We heard detonations of the heavy weapons. Many of the dead and wounded were found inside their houses. I must tell you that nobody had been saved, not even the babies. The Red Cross was not allowed to help people. The soldiers had refused to let the Red Cross in categorically, in violation of the Geneva Convention." Several residents told IPS that MINUSTAH, after conducting its operations, evacuated without checking for wounded.

Following the removal of Haiti's elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government , up to one thousand Lavalas political activists were imprisoned under the US-backed interim government, according to a Miami University Human Rights study.

A study released by the Lancet Journal of Medicine in August 2006 estimates that 8,000 were killed and 35,000 sexually assaulted in the greater Port-au-Prince area during the time of the interim government (2004-2006). The study attributed human rights abuses to purported "criminals," police, anti-Lavalas gangs, and UN peacekeepers.

HIP Founding Editor Kevin Pina commented, "It is clear that this represents an act of terror against the community. This video evidence shows clearly that the UN stands accused, once again, of targeting unarmed civilians in Cite Soleil. There can be no justification for using this level of force in the close quarters of those neighborhoods. It is clear that the UN views the killing of these innocents as somehow acceptable to their goal of pacifying this community. Every demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is seen as a threat to their control if it includes demands for the return of Aristide to Haiti. In that context it is difficult to continue to view the UN mission as an independent and neutral force in Haiti. They apparently decided sometime ago it was acceptable to use military force to alter Haiti's political landscape to match their strategic goals for the Haitian people."

***

Impunity for US War Criminals

A provision mysteriously tucked into the Military Commission Act (MCA) just before it passed through Congress and was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006, redefines torture, removing the harshest, most controversial techniques from the definition of war crimes, and exempts the perpetrators-both interrogators and their bosses-from prosecution for such offences dating back to November 1997.

Author Jeff Stein asks, "Who slipped language into the MCA that would further exempt torturers from prosecution?"

The White House denies any involvement or knowledge regarding the insertion of such language, leaving the origin of adjustments to this significant part of the MCA a mystery.

Motivation for this provision, however, leads clearly to leadership in the Bush administration, as the passage effectively rewrote the US enforcement mechanism for the Geneva War Crimes Act, which would have, upon sworn testimonies of Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, Major General Mike Dunlavey, and US Brigadier General Commander, Janis Karpinski, held former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George Bush guilty of active roles in directing acts of torture upon detainees held at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib (see Censored 2007, Story #7).
A spokesperson for the Center for Constitutional Rights comments, "The MCA's restricted definitions arguably would exempt certain US officials who have implemented or had command responsibility for coercive interrogation techniques from war crimes prosecutions...

This amendment is designed to protect US government perpetrators of abuses during the 'war on terror' from prosecution."

Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch adds that the effect of this provision of the MCA is "that perpetrators of several categories of what were war crimes at the time they were committed, can no longer be punished under US law."

As a whole, the MCA evolved out of the need to override the June 2006 Supreme Court declaration that the administration's hastily assembled military commissions were unconstitutional. That momentous Supreme Court decision confirmed that all prisoners in US custody had to be held in accordance with the Geneva Convention's Article 3, which prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Through passage of the MCA, Congress and the President negated the corrective role of the courts in checking and balancing executive power.

A Senate aide involved in the drafting of the Senate version of the bill that was agreed upon by john McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Warner, said, "We have no idea who [the extended impunity provision] came from or how it came to be." White House spokesperson Dana Perrino said the stealth changes didn't come from the counsel's office, "It could have come from elsewhere in the White House or justice Department," she said, "but it didn't come from us."
Whatever the source, the amended provision was passed and is a part of US law.

***

Mexico's Stolen Election

Overwhelming evidence reveals massive fraud in the 2006 Mexican t ./ presidential election between "president-elect" Felipe Calderón of the conservative PAN party and Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador of the more liberal PRD. In an election riddled with "arithmetic mistakes," a partial recount uncovered evidence of abundant stuffing and stealing of ballots that favored the PAN victory.

Meanwhile, US interests were significantly invested in the outcome of Mexico's election. Though neither candidate had any choice but to cooperate with the US agenda, important differences existed around energy policy, specifically with regard to foreign privatization of Mexican oil and gas reserves.

Though the energy sector of Mexico is already deeply penetrated by US capital, as it stands, the Mexican government owns and controls the oil industry, with very tight restrictions on any foreign investment. Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the fifth largest oil company in the world, exports 8o percent of its oil to the US. Sixty percent of its revenue ($30 billion per year) currently goes to the Mexican government, accounting for more than 40 percent of the Mexican government's annual revenues.

Calderón promises a more thorough and streamlined exploitation of Mexico's oil, demanding that Mexico remove barriers to private/foreign investment (which are currently written into the Mexican Constitution). Obrador, on the other hand, insisted on maintaining national ownership and control of the energy sector in order to build economic and social stability in Mexico.

In June 2005, Mexico signed an accord called Alliance for the Security and Prosperity of North America (AS PAN) with Canada and the US. The point was made that this accord would be binding on whoever became president of Mexico in the upcoming elections. Included in AS PAN is a guarantee to fill the energy needs of the US market, as well as agreements to forge "a common theory of security," allowing US Homeland Security measures to be implemented in Mexico.

Five months later, in November 2005, an "audition" was held with Mexican presidential candidates before members of the US Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City. All candidates were asked whether they would open the energy sector in Mexico, especially the nationalized oil company, PEMEX, to US exploitation.

Felipe Calderón received resounding applause when he answered that he is in favor of private investment in PEMEX, and of weakening the labor unions. He also received applause when he stated that he supported George Bush's guest worker program and that he agreed the border needed to be secured or militarized. Obrador said that he would not allow risk capital investment in PEMEX-but hastened to add that other sectors would be opened to investment.
Calderón won the audition, Obrador was granted the role of understudy. Former US Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow told Obrador, "If you win the election, we will support you." But when Obrador appeared to be the front-runner in the election, PAN allied with forces in the US to launch a feverish campaign against him.

Though US laws prevent US influence in other countries' elections, anti-Obrador ads airing on Mexican TV were designed by US firms and illegally financed by business councils that included such transnationals as Wal-Mart and Halliburton. US election advisers Rob Allyn and Dick Morris were contracted to develop a media campaign that would foment fear that Obrador, with ties to Chavez and Castro, posed a dangerous Socialist threat to Mexico.
Outgoing president Vicente Fox violated campaign law by making dozens of anti-Obrador speeches during the campaign, as the PAN party illegally saturated airwaves with swift-boat style attack ads against Obrador. Under Mexican law, ruling party interference is a serious crime and grounds for annulling an election.

While Obrador's campaign and hundreds of independent election observers documented several hundred cases of election fraud in making their case for a recount, most Mexican TV stations failed to report the irregularities that surfaced. Days after the election The New York Times irresponsibly declared Calderón the winner, and Bush called to personally congratulate Calderón on his "win," even though no victor had been declared under Mexican law. Illegal media campaigns combined with grand-scale fraud had had their effect.

Dominant forces in the US thus had a strong presence behind the scenes of the 2006 Mexican election. As a consequence, Washington looks forward to working with Calderóri, who promises tighter (repressive) control and cooperation on all matters of interest to the US, in an accelerated plan to put Mexico more directly under US domination.

Mexico has thus been denied the democratic election of a president who might have joined Latin America in standing up to aggressive US neoliberal policies.

***

People's Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda

The US Free Trade model is meeting increasingly successful resistance as people's movements around the world build powerful alternatives to neoliberal exploitation.

This is particularly evident in Latin America, where massive opposition to US economic domination has demanded that populist leaders and parties take control of national governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.

Latin American presidents are delivering on promises to fix the mistake of twenty-five years of neoliberal reforms that resulted in the region's worst economic collapse in more than one hundred years. In the two decades preceding World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, 1960-1980, the region's income per person grew by 82 percent. By comparison it grew just 9 percent 1980-2000, and only 4 percent 2000-2005.

Strong ties between Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, along with cooperative relationships with major economies including Argentina and Brazil, are creating the real potential for autonomous alternatives to US-dictated economic policy in the Western Hemisphere.

In the past year alone several leaders have announced plans to cut ties with the World Bank and IMF. After a sweeping reelection in December 2006, Chavez announced April 30, 2007 that, having paid off debts to the World Bank and the IMF, Venezuela would cut ties with both institutions. Chavez has been able to put his nation on a path of solid growth by fulfilling his 1998 campaign promise to renationalize Venezuela's oil industry (PDVSA). Though fierce US opposition to his move to end foreign privatization led to a failed US-backed military coup in 2002, nationalized oil is now the source of nearly half the Venezuela government's revenues and 8o percent of the country's export earnings. Venezuela's economy has grown 38 percent in the last three years.
Chavez plans to set up a new lending institution run by Latin American nations and has pledged to support it with Venezuela's booming oil revenues., Venezuela's $50 billion in foreign exchange reserves is providing financial support to countries in the region without the exploitive policy conditions attached to WTO and World Bank lending. Leaders are thus able to deliver on promises to their people, contributing not only to stability but to the strengthening of Democracy in the region.

In April 2006, Evo Morales announced his rejection of the IMF and any future FTA with the US. He instead launched the Bolivian Peoples Trade Agreement (PTA), a socialist alternative to the neoliberal free trade model. The PTA emphasizes support of indigenous culture, reciprocity, solidarity, and national sovereignty. Above all the PTA emphasizes improved living conditions for the whole population as a result of international trade and investment. Bolivia's 2005 passage of a Hydrocarbons Law raised the royalties paid by foreign gas companies to the government of Bolivia. While infuriating US corporations, the resulting tens of millions of dollars in revenue have enabled Bolivia to pay off its IMF debt and begin to build social programs and national reserves.

In December 2006, Rafael Correa, who recently won the presidential election in Ecuador on an anti-privatization, anti-US military base platform, announced plans to restructure Ecuador's foreign debt in order to increase spending on crucial social programs. Ecuador has since paid its debt to the IMF and announced plans to sever ties to the institution. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has also announced negotiations toward an IMF exit.

Argentina was one of the IMF's most publicized "successes" turned-crushing-failure at the end of the last century. From 1991 to 1998 the country adopted a host of IMF-recommended reforms including large-scale privatizations. The economy grew substantially during this period but went into a terrible downward slide beginning in mid-1998. At the end of 2001 the whole experiment fell apart, with the country defaulting on more than $100 billion of debt. The currency collapsed soon thereafter, and the majority of people fell below the poverty line in a country that had previously been one of the richest in Latin America.

When Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner finally refused the IMF's debilitating repayment mandates, Argentina's economy began to rebound-and it hasn't stopped growing. In a remarkable expansion, which was never supposed to have happened according to IMF predictions, Argentina's economy has grown by 47 percent in the past few years, making it the fastest growing economy in the Western Hemisphere, and pulling more than nine million people (in a country of 36 million) out of poverty. Argentina decided to make its break with the IMF in January 2006 by paying off its remaining $9.9 billion debt.

As of December 2005, Brazil is also free to make its own decisions, free from IMF interference, after paying off its debt two years ahead of schedule. "We repaid the money to show the world that this country has a government and it is the owner of its own nose," Lula said at the time, adding, "Brazil has been able to decide that it does not want another IMF deal."
 

US asks to rewrite detainee evidence

The Bush administration wants to rewrite the official evidence against Guantanamo Bay detainees, allowing it to shore up its cases before they come under scrutiny by civilian judges for the first time.

The government has stood behind the evidence for years. Military review boards relied on it to justify holding hundreds of prisoners indefinitely without charge. Justice Department attorneys said it was thoroughly and fairly reviewed.

Now that federal judges are about to review the evidence, however, the government says it needs to make changes.

The decision follows last week's Supreme Court ruling, which held that detainees have the right to challenge their detention in civilian court, not just before secret military panels. At a closed-door meeting with judges and defense attorneys this week, government lawyers said they needed time to add new evidence and make other changes to evidentiary documents known as "factual returns."

Attorneys for the detainees criticized the idea, saying the government is basically asking for a last-minute do-over.

"It's sort of an admission that the original returns were defective," said attorney David Remes, who represents many detainees and attended Wednesday's meeting. "It's also an admission that the government thinks it needs to beef up the evidence."

~ more... ~

 

'There is some evidence that the truthers are swaying the rest of us'

A New York Times/CBS News poll in 2006 revealed that only 16 per cent of Americans polled believed the Bush administration was telling the truth about 9/11. More than half thought it was "hiding something". This is not the same as believing the government actually launched the attacks, but a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll the same year found that more than a third of those questioned suspected that federal officials assisted in the attacks or took no action to stop them so that the US could go to war.

The truthers certainly believe that they are on a roll. The crowd in the Immanuel Presbyterian Church seemed electrified. As the donated sound system pumped out angry rap, a giant video screen showed images of protesters demanding a new investigation into 9/11. The symbols and the language were borrowed from the civil rights struggle, but the truthers are an eclectic group, including anti-Bush, anti-war liberals and anti-government libertarians. A young man in a "Vote Ron Paul" T-shirt scuttled through the hall, filming us as we took our seats on wooden pews.

First up was Richard Gage, a San Francisco architect who founded Architects, Engineers & Scientists for 9/11 Truth, which now claims to have 379 professional members. Gage told us that the collapse of the Twin Towers could not have been due merely to gravity, the impact of the airliners and the resulting jet fuel fires – which would not have been hot enough to weaken the steel sufficiently. Behind him on the video screen was the south tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke poured from its upper floors. A respectful silence fell over the audience, followed by gasps as the building appeared to dissolve before our eyes.

While I have seen this footage countless times, it seems that I had clearly never understood what I was seeing. The destruction of the Twin Towers, along with the collapse of the nearby 47-storey World Trade Center 7 building, had all the hallmarks of controlled demolition, according to Gage. They all came straight down, almost at the speed of a free-falling object, right into their own footprints. Steel-framed buildings had never collapsed because of fires before. On this day three did, one of which, "Building 7", was not even hit by an aircraft.

[ ... ]

If the 9/11 truth movement is fighting a kind of asymmetric war against official sources of knowledge, it is also battling itself. As the movement morphs into an international activist group, it recognises that if it is to convince middle Americans, it must distance itself from its exotic fringe. Once, it was the Mihops versus the Lihops. These factions, who sound like warring species from an H.G. Wells story, are those who believe the government Made It Happen On Purpose and those who think it Let It Happen On Purpose. The Mihops are in the ascendancy.

The genesis of all this can be traced back to a schism that followed the first real attempt to bring scholarly credibility to the 9/11 sceptics. In 2005, Steven Jones was invited to form a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth by James Fetzer, a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Minnesota and the author of some 20 books on the philosophy of science and artificial intelligence. Fetzer teaches critical thinking, and is nothing if not critical. He has been campaigning for more than a decade to prove that the Zapruder film is a hoax perpetuated by the same government intelligence agencies that orchestrated JFK's assassination.

But within a year, Jones had written to all members of Scholars announcing that he and others no longer wanted to be associated with Fetzer, who was, in the rebels' opinion, holding them up to ridicule. Fetzer had backed a theory by Judy Wood, a former assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Clemson University, proposing that the Twin Towers were brought down by a "directed energy" weapon developed as part of the US government's Star Wars programme. It prompted a stampede to a new group, Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice, headed by Jones. Confusing the two groups would be like mistaking Monty Python's Judean People's Front for the People's Front of Judea: this was a major doctrinal split.

Fetzer's view is that any serious inquiry into what happened on 9/11 should look at all possibilities. Supporters of the directed energy hypothesis keep popping up at 9/11 Truth lectures to heckle what Python fans might call the "splittist" thermite theorists. Among the advocates of the Star Wars theory is Morgan Reynolds, perhaps the first prominent US government official to claim that 9/11 was an inside job. At the time of the attacks, Reynolds was chief economist at the US Department of Labor.

Some Star Wars supporters, in turn, accuse proponents of the thermite hypothesis of being government shills. One, on CheckTheEvidence.com, alleges that Jones's public denunciation of Star Wars theories is actually a Trojan horse; he notes that Jones once worked at Los Alamos, where directed energy weapons are researched. This line of conjecture also entangles Norman Mineta, US transportation secretary on September 11 2001. Mineta was the man who grounded all civilian aircraft on that morning. But he was also once vice-president of Lockheed Martin, a founding member of the Directed Energy Professional Society ... In this outer reach of the blogosphere, no one is ever more than six degrees of separation from the heart of the conspiracy.

Jones did, in fact, do post-doctoral research at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility for the University of Wyoming, but he says it was peaceful and non-weapons-related. He says the more out-there theories, including those of the no-planers, are harming the movement. "First, they discourage others who are trying to do serious work, and they tend to be quite vocal about their heckling," he says. "More serious is that when we're really trying to look at an evidence-based approach, we get lumped in with these people and then dismissed as a whole."

[ ... ]

The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission – the official story – is that the 2001 attacks got through because those charged with protecting America had not truly conceived of the threat: in its author's evocative phrase, they had suffered a "failure of imagination". After trawling the internet in search of 9/11 Truth, it seems to me the American imagination is strong. "Americans are very good at dreaming up these scenarios," says Lewis Lapham, the former Harper's magazine editor and a prominent critic of the Bush administration post-September 11. "We are open to all kinds of magical theories," he says, citing the continuing fascination with the assassination of JFK. "We are also good at creating religions." Lapham thinks the theory that 9/11 was an inside job follows in this long tradition, but also reflects cynicism among Americans towards their government. He does not accept that the Bush administration planned 9/11 or even allowed it to happen. Nonetheless, he thinks a new investigation is warranted. In 2004, Harper's ran a trenchant piece describing the 9/11 Commission as a "whitewash" and a "cheat and a fraud" for downplaying evidence that warnings of the al-Qaeda threat were ignored. Such flaws allowed space for alternative theories to develop, Lapham says.

In this, there are shades of the Warren Commission into the assassination of President Kennedy, which served merely to deepen popular distrust. But if we have seen the likes of the 9/11 Truth movement before, it also represents something new. "With the Kennedy assassination, pretty soon after the events themselves there were fairly significant questions being raised by people of all types and stripes about what actually happened," says Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. "But whereas then it was a generalised, amorphous kind of response, the amount of organisation – politically and through alternative media – is far more striking now than it was back then."

Fenster thinks that the 9/11 Truth movement is in some ways a typical American response to a surprising and traumatic event. But it also represents a step change in its use of telecommunications technology. "One of the interesting things, particularly in the beginning of this movement, was the extent to which there were a lot of local groups in different cities organising protests ... and they could co-ordinate and create a national and international movement," he says. "Whether that translates into more people actually believing in the conspiracy theory is a completely different question."

~ From: The truth is out there ~

 

A man-made famine - India and the world in the Great Hunger of 2008

1. India's Emerging Food Security Crisis: The Consequences of the Neoliberal Assault on the Public Distribution System - Analytical Monthly Review
2. A man-made famine - Raj Patel, The Guardian
3. The World Food Crisis: Sources and Solutions - Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review
4. Manufacturing a Food Crisis - Walden Bellow, The Nation
5. Global food crisis: 'The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model' - Ian Angus, Socialist Voice
6. Soaring prices are causing hunger around the world - Washington Post Editorial
7. The World's Growing Food-Price Crisis - Time magazine

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India's Emerging Food Security Crisis: The Consequences of the Neoliberal Assault on the Public Distribution System

An editorial from Analytical Monthly Review

Today, but few can recall memories of the Bengal famine of 1943 and 1944. Most disturbingly, after almost two decades of "reform" and a full decade or more of a nonstop media festival of growth rates and India Shining songs and chants, a massive acute food crisis is again a possibility. For the rulers of India such concerns, while now unavoidable, remain highly abstract. The memories of Bengal famine are again of special importance. Ashok Mitra, in his memoir Apila-Chapila (Ananda Publishers, 2003) [in English translation A Prattler's Tale (SAMYA, 2007)], tells of millions from the countryside dragging themselves to the cities to beg and to die in the streets. "We went to college, stepping over these live corpses, these half-dead men, women and children. It was an appalling situation. Yet the daily lives of the middle and upper classes were largely unaffected." Those with similar experience were a guiding force in the creation of post-independence food security programs that, for all their faults and inequalities, achieved a significant rise in per capita foodgrain and calorie consumption over the four decades from 1950. This achievement was swiftly wiped out by the period of neoliberal reform. Already by 2004 foodgrain absorption per capita had dropped to the 150 kilograms per year level of 1950-51, a fall of over 20 kilograms from levels achieved by the 1990s.

The consequences of over a decade of neoliberal hunger are what make the current conjunction of global foodgrain price rise and severe weather events, such as the recent Burmese cyclone, the Australian drought, the extraordinarily severe Chinese winter, a matter requiring urgent attention. Famine is not the result of a failed monsoon or other extraordinary extreme shortage that exhausts what under normal circumstances would be abundant food reserves. Even the most efficient historical systems of food stocks, such as that of Ming China, ran into the year that exhausts reserves. Widespread hunger, not famine, is the result. Only when a population has been nutritionally deprived for an extended period does the year of extraordinary shortage become the year of famine. Utsa Patnaik, our leading specialist in the agrarian economy, asserts that — although wartime burdens placed upon India by the British were a primary cause — the Bengal famine was largely the result of "the preceding three decades of declining nutrition in Bengal which had seen a much larger than average drop in per capita foodgrains availability, by nearly 40% between 1911 and 1947." It is precisely this situation in which we now find ourselves. For most Indians a persistent decline in available calories has marked the neoliberal era. A recent useful study (Ranjan Ray, "Diversity in Calorie Sources and Undernourishment during Rapid Economic Growth," EPW, 23rd February 2008) used household calorie intake data from recent National Sample Survey rounds and generally accepted minimum gender specific daily calorie requirements for rural and urban populations to compose a "prevalence of undernutrition" index that would permit comparison over time. The percentage of rural Indian households that were undernourished rose from 48% at the time of NSS Round 43 (1987-8) to 67% at NSS Round 57 (2001-2). Undernourished urban households rose from 37% in 1987-8 to 51% in 2001-2. Things have worsened since 2002, as population growth has overwhelmed rapidly declining domestic rates of growth of food production and rural poverty has accelerated. It is this decade of increasing prevalence of malnutrition and hunger that threatens disaster as a result of an emerging food security problem.

The primary defense for food security remains a badly weakened Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS was developed in the 1960s both to provide food to deficit regions and all strata of the population and to create sufficient effective demand to encourage a growing agricultural production. The PDS took advantage of increased yields of the "green revolution" to fashion a system of subsidies that despite all global price fluctuations guaranteed farmers a price above costs, moved foodgrains from the favored surplus areas of "green revolution" production to deficit areas, and sold foodgrains at a price low enough to ensure adequate offtake. Though always beset with problems, the PDS was at base a success and achieved a substantial increase in per capita consumption of calories. After 1991, intense pressure from the IMF and the World Bank to reduce the budget deficit brought first a sharp rise in the PDS price of foodgrains unmatched by higher prices for farmers, and then the introduction of "Targeted PDS" in 1997. Within ten years all that had been gained over a generation was lost. "Targeting" involved the near-criminal use of indefensible "Poverty Lines" to subject a vast impoverished population to paying prevailing market prices for essentials. Though accompanied by hypocritical expressions of concern for the poor from both World Bank and Indian neoliberals, targeting was a deliberate and successful attack on the PDS system as a whole. As Utsa Patnaik has said:

If one looks at the history of targeting in other countries, it becomes clear that it has always been a prelude to winding up of state intervention in procurement. That has been the ultimate aim of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. They specifically say that the state should not intervene to buy and sell at prices other than global prices. The WTO agreement on agriculture states that for food security purposes, the government can maintain food stocks but then, at the same time, it says that the government cannot offer farmers prices that are higher than global market prices. Global prices are very volatile. The government's role here is to protect both the farmer and the consumer. The whole rationale of the PDS lies in that. - (Interview by TK Rajalakshmi, Frontline April, 2008)

And indeed the targeted PDS has gone a long way to the destruction of the system. According to NSS Report on Public Distribution System and Other Sources Of Household Consumption, 2004-05, 58 per cent of subsidised foodgrains do not reach Below Poverty Line ("BPL") families, as 22 per cent reach Above Poverty Line ("APL") families, while 36 per cent are sold in the black market. Only 57 per cent of BPL households have ration cards, while the homeless often do not have any. Only 28 per cent of the rural poor have benefited from any type of government food assistance schemes, and for urban areas the figure is just 9.5 per cent. Over half (51%) of rural households with the smallest landholdings (less than 0.01 hectares) do not possess ration cards that entitle them to monthly rations of rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene under the PDS. See . A more effective means of "targeting" was Chidambaram's budget proposal, in long overdue acknowledgement of the desperate agricultural crisis, to forgive bank debt to farmers. Of course the richer farmers have larger outstanding loans and would benefit the most, and the poorest forced to subject themselves to the village usurers would not benefit at all. The neoliberals are not against subsidies that benefit the more prosperous.

This introduction of "free market forces" into food production and distribution has amounted to, in fact, murder. At first, as was inevitable in a market system subjected to strong deflationary pressures from World Bank, IMF and governmental authorities, prices shot down and small farmers lost in sequence their profits, their lands and their lives. Then as world market prices for essential foods shot up — the result of the U.S. exporting its inflation to the rest of the world to finance its aggression in Iraq and the U.S. provision of vast subsidies to turn foodgrains into fuel — masses living in hunger are driven to the verge of starvation while foodgrains they cannot afford to buy accumulate in the warehouses. We know that no long-term solution is possible absent revolutionary land reform, but neoliberal policies have brought the nation to the point where the vagaries of climate could produce famine not experienced in two generations. This desperate situation demands the immediate abolition of targeting and the introduction of universal PDS with an effective system for public supervision.

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A man-made famine

By Raj Patel, The Guardian

For anyone who understands the current food crisis, it is hard to listen to the head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, without gagging.

Earlier this week, Zoellick waxed apocalyptic about the consequences of the global surge in prices, arguing that free trade had become a humanitarian necessity, to ensure that poor people had enough to eat. The current wave of food riots has already claimed the prime minister of Haiti, and there have been protests around the world, from Mexico, to Egypt, to India.

The reason for the price rise is perfect storm of high oil prices, an increasing demand for meat in developing countries, poor harvests, population growth, financial speculation and biofuels. But prices have fluctuated before. The reason we're seeing such misery as a result of this particular spike has everything to do with Zoellick and his friends.

Before he replaced Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, Zoellick was the US trade representative, their man at the World Trade Organisation. While there, he won a reputation as a tough and guileful negotiator, savvy with details and pushy with the neoconservative economic agenda: a technocrat with a knuckleduster.

His mission was to accelerate two decades of trade liberalisation in key strategic commodities for the United States, among them agriculture. Practically, this meant the removal of developing countries' ability to stockpile grain (food mountains interfere with the market), to create tariff barriers (ditto), and to support farmers (they ought to be able to compete on their own). This Zoellick did often, and enthusiastically.

Without agricultural support policies, though, there's no buffer between the price shocks and the bellies of the poorest people on earth. No option to support sustainable smaller-scale farmers, because they've been driven off their land by cheap EU and US imports. No option to dip into grain reserves because they've been sold off to service debt. No way of increasing the income of the poorest, because social programmes have been cut to the bone.

The reason that today's price increases hurt the poor so much is that all protection from price shocks has been flayed away, by organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank.

Even the World Bank's own Independent Evaluation Groupadmits (pdf) that the bank has been doing a poor job in agriculture. Part of the bank's vision was to clear away the government agricultural clutter so that the private sector could come in to make agriculture efficient. But, as the Independent Evaluation Group delicately puts it, "in most reforming countries, the private sector did not step in to fill the vacuum when the public sector withdrew." After the liberalisation of agriculture, the invisible hand was nowhere to be seen.

But governments weren't allowed to return to the business of supporting agriculture. Trade liberalisation agreements and World Bank loan conditions, such as those promoted by Zoellick, have made food sovereignty impossible.

This is why, when we see Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF wailing about food prices, or Zoellick using the crisis to argue with breathless urgency for more liberalisation, the only reasonable response is nausea.

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The World Food Crisis - Sources and Solutions

By Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review

An acute food crisis has struck the world in 2008. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished. In order to understand the full, dire implications of what is happening today it is necessary to look at the interaction between these short-term and long-term crises. Both crises arise primarily from the for-profit production of food, fiber, and now biofuels, and the rift between food and people that this inevitably generates.

'Routine' Hunger before the Current Crisis

Of the more than 6 billion people living in the world today, the United Nations estimates that close to 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. But this number, which is only a crude estimate, leaves out those suffering from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition. The total number of food insecure people who are malnourished or lacking critical nutrients is probably closer to 3 billion—about half of humanity. The severity of this situation is made clear by the United Nations estimate of over a year ago that approximately 18,000 children die daily as a direct or indirect consequence of malnutrition (Associated Press, February 18, 2007).

Lack of production is rarely the reason that people are hungry. This can be seen most clearly in the United States, where despite the production of more food than the population needs, hunger remains a significant problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2006 over 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Due to a lack of food adults living in over 12 million households could not eat balanced meals and in over 7 million families someone had smaller portions or skipped meals. In close to 5 million families, children did not get enough to eat at some point during the year.

In poor countries too, it is not unusual for large supplies of wasted and misallocated food to exist in the midst of widespread and persistent hunger. A few years ago a New York Times article had a story with the following headline "Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots" (December 2, 2002). As a Wall Street Journal headline put it in 2004 "Want Amid Plenty, An Indian Paradox: Bumper Harvests and Rising Hunger" (June 25, 2004).

No 'Right to Food'

Hunger and malnutrition generally are symptoms of a larger underlying problem—poverty in an economic system that recognizes, as Rachel Carson put it, no other gods but those of profit and production. Food is treated in almost all of the world's countries as just another commodity, like clothes, automobiles, pencils, books, diamond jewelry, and so on. People are not considered to have a right to purchase any particular commodity, and no distinction is made in this respect between necessities and luxuries. Those who are rich can afford to purchase anything they want while the poor are often not able to procure even their basic needs. Under capitalist relations people have no right to an adequate diet, shelter, and medical attention. As with other commodities, people without what economists call "effective demand" cannot buy sufficient nutritious food. Of course, lack of "effective demand" in this case means that the poor don't have enough money to buy the food they need.

Humans have a "biological demand" for food—we all need food, just as we need water and air, to continue to live. It is a systematic fact of capitalist society that many are excluded from fully meeting this biological need. It's true that some wealthy countries, especially those in Europe, do help feed the poor, but the very way capitalism functions inherently creates a lower strata of society that frequently lacks the basics for human existence. In the United States there are a variety of government initiatives—such as food stamps and school lunch programs—aimed at feeding the poor. Yet, the funding for these programs does not come close to meeting the needs of the poor, and various charities fight an uphill battle trying to make up the difference.
In this era relatively few people actually die from starvation, aside from the severe hunger induced by wars and dislocations. Most instead become chronically malnourished and then are plagued by a variety of diseases that shorten their lives or make them more miserable. The scourge of malnutrition impedes children's mental and physical development, harming them for the rest of their lives.

The Acute and Growing Crisis: The Great Hunger of 2008

At this moment in history there are, in addition to the "routine" hunger discussed above, two separate global food crises occurring simultaneously. The severe and acute crisis, about two years old, is becoming worse day by day and it is this one that we'll discuss first. The severity of the current crisis cannot be overstated. It has rapidly increased the number of people around the globe that are malnourished. Although statistics of increased hunger during the past year are not yet available, it is clear that many will die prematurely or be harmed in other ways. As usual, it will be the young, the old, and the infirm that will suffer the worst effects of the Great Hunger of 2008. The rapid and simultaneous rise in the world prices for all the basic food crops—corn (maize), wheat, soybeans, rice, and cooking oils—along with many other crops is having a devastating effect on an increasing portion of humanity.

The increases in the world market prices over the past few years have been nothing short of astounding. The prices of the sixty agricultural commodities traded on the world market increased 37 percent last year and 14 percent in 2006 (New York Times, January 19, 2008). Corn prices began their rise in the early fall of 2006 and within months had soared by some 70 percent. Wheat and soybean prices also skyrocketed during this time and are now at record levels. The prices for cooking oils (mainly made from soybeans and oil palm)—an essential foodstuff in many poor countries—have rocketed up as well. Rice prices have also risen over 100 percent in the last year ("High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest," New York Times, March 29, 2008).

The reasons for these soaring food prices are fairly clear. First, there are a number of issues related directly or indirectly to the increase in petroleum prices. In the United States, Europe, and many other countries this has brought a new emphasis on growing crops that can be used for fuel—called biofuels (or agrofuels). Thus, producing corn to make ethanol or soybean and palm oil to make diesel fuel is in direct competition with the use of these crops for food. Last year over 20 percent of the entire corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol—a process that does not yield much additional energy over that which goes into producing it. (It is estimated that over the next decade about one-third of the U.S. corn crop will be devoted to ethanol production [Bloomberg, February 21, 2008].) Additionally, many of the inputs for large-scale commercial agricultural production are based on petroleum and natural gas—from building and running tractors and harvesting equipment to producing fertilizers and pesticides and drying crops for storage. The price of nitrogen fertilizer, the most commonly used fertilizer worldwide, is directly tied to the price of energy because it takes so much energy to produce.

A second cause of the increase in prices of corn and soybeans and soy cooking oil is that the increasing demand for meat among the middle class in Latin America and Asia, especially China. The use of maize and soy to feed cattle, pigs, and poultry has risen sharply to satisfy this demand. The world's total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last twenty years alone. (New York Times, January 27, 2008.) Feeding grain to more and more animals is putting growing pressure on grain stores. Feeding grain to produce meat is a very inefficient way of providing people with either calories or protein. It is especially wasteful for animals such as cows—with digestive systems that can derive energy from cellulose—because they can obtain all of their nutrition from pastures and will grow well without grain, although more slowly. Cows are not efficient converters of corn or soy to meat—to yield a pound of meat, cows require eight pounds of corn; pigs, five; and chickens, three (Baron's, March 4, 2008).

A third reason for the big jump in world food prices is that a few key countries that were self-sufficient—that is, did not import foods, although plenty of people suffered from hunger—are now importing large quantities of food. As a farm analyst in New Delhi says "When countries like India start importing food, then the world prices zoom….If India and China are both turning into bigger importers, shifting from food self-sufficiency as recently we have seen in India, then the global prices are definitely going to rise still further, which will mean the era of cheaper food has now definitely gone away" (VOA News, February 21, 2008). Part of the reason for the pressure on rice prices is the loss of farmland to other uses such as various development projects—some 7 million acres in China and 700,000 acres in Vietnam. In addition, rice yields per acre in Asia have reached a plateau. There has been no per acre increase for ten years and yield increases are not expected in the near future (Rice Today, January–March 2008).

Some of the reasons for the recent price increases for wheat and rice are related to weather. The drought in Australia, a major wheat exporting country, and low yields in a few other exporters has greatly affected wheat prices. A 2007 cyclone in Bangladesh destroyed approximately 600 million dollars worth of its rice crop, leading to rice price increases of about 70 percent (The Daily Star [Bangladesh], February 11, 2008). The drought last year in northcentral China combined with the unusual cold and snow during the winter will probably lead the government to greater food purchases on the international markets, keeping the pressure on prices.

Speculation in the futures market and hoarding at the local level are certainly playing a part in this crisis situation to make food more expensive. As the U.S. financial crisis deepened and spread in the winter of 2008, speculators started putting more money into food and metals to take advantage of what is being called the "commodities super cycle." (The dollar's decline relative to other currencies stimulates "investment" in tangible commodities.) While it would be a mistake to see these aspects, however despicable and inhumane, as the cause of the crisis, they certainly add to the misery by taking advantage of tight markets. It is certainly possible that the commodity bubble will burst, bringing down food prices a bit. However, speculation and local hoarding will continue to put an upward pressure on food prices. Transnational corporations that process agricultural products, manufacture various foods, and sell food to the public are, of course, all doing exceptionally well. Corporate profits usually do well in a time of shortages and price increases.

Although not a cause for the increase in prices of other foods, the higher prices for ocean fish have created an added burden for the poor and near poor. Overfishing of many ocean species is removing this important protein source from the diet of a large percentage of the world's population.

The response to the crisis has come in the form of demonstrations and riots as well as changes in government policies. Over the past few months there have been protests and riots over the increasing cost of food in many countries, including Pakistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Morocco, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. China has instituted price controls for basic foods and Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs, and cooking oil for six months. Egypt, India, and Vietnam have banned or placed strict control on the export of rice so that their own people will have sufficient food. Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer, has expanded the number of people eligible to receive food aid by over 10 million. Many countries have lowered protectionist tariffs to try to lessen the blow of dramatically higher prices of imported foods. Countries heavily dependent on food imports such as the Philippines, the world's largest importer of rice, are scrambling to make deals to obtain the needed imports. But these various stop-gap efforts have mainly marginal effects on the problem. Almost all people are forced into a lower standard of living as those in the middle class become increasingly careful about the foods they purchase, the near poor drop into poverty, and the formerly poor become truly destitute and suffer greatly. The effects have been felt around the world in all classes of society except the truly wealthy. As Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Program, said in February, "This is the new face of hunger….There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before" (The Guardian, Feb. 26, 2008).

Although Haiti has been a very poor country for years—80 percent of the people try to subsist on less than what two dollars a day can purchase in the United States—the recent situation has brought it to new depths of desperation. Two cups of rice, which cost thirty cents a year ago, now cost sixty cents. The description of an Associated Press article from earlier this year (January 29, 2008) is most poignant in its details:

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The "cookies" also contain some vegetable shortening and salt. Toward the end of the article is the following:

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."

Many countries in Africa and Asia have been severely impacted by the crisis with hunger spreading widely—but all nations are affected to one extent or another. In the United States—where over the past year the price of eggs increased 38 percent, milk by 30 percent, lettuce by 16 percent, and whole wheat bread by 12 percent—many people are starting to purchase less costly products. "Higher Food Prices Start to Pinch Consumers" is the way the Wall Street Journal put it in a headline (January 3, 2008).

It should be noted here that while wheat prices are at record levels and prices of wheat products in the United States will certainly go higher, the cost of the wheat in a loaf of bread is only small part of the retail price. When wheat prices double, as they have, the price of a loaf of bread may increase by 10 percent, perhaps from $3 to $3.30. However, the effect of a doubling of prices for corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice is devastating for poor people in the third world who primarily purchase raw commodities.

With food pantries and soup kitchens stretched to the breaking point, the U.S. poor are experiencing deepening suffering. In general, the poor in the United States tend to first pay their rent, heat, gas (for a car to get to work), and electricity bills. That leaves food as one of the few "flexible" items in their budgets. In the central part of my home state of Vermont, over the last year the use of food shelves (i.e., aid from local, charitable food assistance programs that give groceries directly to the needy) has increased 133 percent among all users and 180 percent among the working poor! (Hal Cohen, with the Central Vermont Community Action Council, personal communication February 20, 2008.)

The economic recession is beginning to be felt in many parts of the United States, adding to the rise in requests for help from the various government food assistance programs ("As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record," New York Times, March 31, 2008). But, frequently people using the inadequately funded government programs tend to run out of food toward the end of the month, resulting in a huge increase in demand at food shelves and soup kitchens at that time. And as the need for food has increased, food donations have actually declined—with a large drop in federal donations (with high prices there are fewer "surplus" commodities from farm programs, so $58 million in food was given to food shelves last year versus $242 million five years before).

Supermarkets have found ways to make money from damaged or dated goods they previously donated to charities. In Connecticut, there has been a surge in demand for food while supply is not keeping up. A food pantry in Stamford is supplying food to four hundred families, double the number of a year ago. According to the food pantry's director, "I have had to turn people away….There were times I went home and wanted to cry" (New York Times, December 23, 2007). A professor at Cornell University who studies food-assistance programs in the United States has summarized the situation: "There is a nascent crisis building….Demand for food-bank assistance is climbing rapidly when the resources are falling in dramatic terms because the dollars just don't go as far" (Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2008).

The Long-Term Food Crisis

As critical as the short-term food crisis is—demanding immediate world notice as well as attention within every country—the long-term, structural crisis is even more important. The latter has existed for decades and contributes to, and is reinforced by, today's acute food crisis. Indeed, it is this underlying structural crisis of agriculture and food in third world societies which constitutes the real reason that the immediate food crisis is so severe and so difficult to surmount within the system.

There has been a huge migration of people out of the countryside to the cities of the third world. They leave the countryside because they lack access to land. Often their land has been stolen as a result of the inroads of agribusiness, while they are also forced from the land by low prices they have historically received for their products and threats against campesino lives. They move to cities seeking a better life but what they find is a very hard existence—life in slums with extremely high unemployment and underemployment. Most will try to scrape by in the "informal" economy by buying things and then selling them in small quantities. Of the half of humanity that lives in cities (3 billion), some 1 billion, or one-third of city dwellers, live in slums. The chairman of a district in Lagos, Nigeria described it as follows: "We have a massive growth in population with a stagnant or shrinking economy. Picture this city ten, twenty years from now. This is not the urban poor—this is the new urban destitute." A long New Yorker article on Lagos ended on a note of extreme pessimism: "The really disturbing thing about Lagos' pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous" (November 13, 2006).

One of the major factors pushing this mass and continuing migration to the cities—in addition to being landless or forced off land—is the difficulty to make a living as a small farmer. This has been made especially difficult, as countries have implemented the "neoliberal" policies recommended or mandated by the IMF, the World Bank, and even some of the western NGOs working in the poor countries of the third world. The neoliberal ideology holds that the so-called free market should be allowed to work its magic. Through the benign sanctions of the "invisible hand," it is said, the economy will function most efficiently and will be highly productive. But in order for the market to be "free" governments must stop interfering.

With regard to agriculture, governments should stop subsidizing farmers to purchase fertilizers, stop being involved in the storage and transportation of food, and just let farmers and food alone. This approach also holds that governments should stop subsidizing food for poor people and then the newly unbridled market will take care of it all. This mentality was evident as the Haitian food crisis started to develop late in 2007. According to the Haitian Minister of Commerce and Industry, "We cannot intervene and fix prices because we have to comply with free market regulations" (Reuters, December 9, 2007). This was the same response that colonial Britain adopted in response to the Irish potato famine as well as to the famines in India in the late 1800s. But to a certain extent this way of thinking is now internalized in the thinking of many leaders in the "independent" countries of the periphery.

This ideology, of course, has no basis in reality—the so-called free market is not necessarily efficient at all. It is also absolutely unable to act as a mechanism to end poverty and hunger. We should always keep in mind that this ideology represents the exact opposite of what the core capitalist countries have historically done and what they are actually doing today. For example, the U.S. national government has supported farmers in many ways for over a century. This has occurred through government programs for research and extension, taking land from Indians and giving it to farmers of European origin, subsidizing farmers directly through a variety of programs including low-cost loans, and stimulating the export of crops. It should also be noted that the United States, Europe, and Japan all developed their industrial economies under protectionist policies plus a variety of programs of direct assistance to industry.

The effects of the governments of the third world stopping their support of small farmers and consumers has meant that the life for the poor in those countries has become more difficult. As an independent report commissioned by World Bank put it: "In most reforming countries, the private sector did not step in to fill the vacuum when the public sector withdrew" (New York Times, October 15, 2007). For example, many African governments under pressure from the neoliberal economic policies promoted by the World Bank, the IMF, and the rich countries of the center of the system stopped subsidizing the use of fertilizers on crops. Although it is true that imported fertilizers are very expensive, African soils are generally of very low fertility and crop yields are low when you use neither synthetic nor organic fertilizers. As yields fell after governments were no longer assisting the purchase of fertilizers and helping in other ways, more farmers found that they could not survive and migrated to the city slums. Jeffrey Sachs—a partially recovered free-trade shock doctor—has had some second thoughts. According to Sachs, "The whole thing was based on the idea that if you take away the government for the poorest of the poor that somehow these markets will solve the problems….But markets can't step in and won't step in when people have nothing. And if you take away help, you leave them to die" (New York Times, October 15, 2007).

Last year one country in Africa, Malawi, decided to reverse course and go against all the recommendations they had received. The government reintroduced subsidies for fertilizers and seeds. Farmers used more fertilizers, the yields increased, and the country's food situation improved greatly (New York Times, December 2, 2007). In fact, they were able to export some food to Zimbabwe—although there are those in Malawi, who consider that to have lowered their own supplies too far.

Another problem occurs as capitalist farmers in some of the poor countries of the periphery enter into world markets. While subsistence farmers usually sell only a small portion of their crops, using most for family consumption, capitalist farmers are those that market all or a large portion of what they produce. They frequently expand production and take over the land of small farmers, with or without compensation, and use fewer people than previously to work a given piece of land because of mechanized production techniques. In Brazil, the "Soybean King" controls well over a quarter of a million acres (100,000 hectares) and uses huge tractors and harvesting equipment for working the land. In China corrupt village and city officials frequently sell "common land" to developers without adequate compensation to the farmers—sometimes there is no compensation at all.

Thus, the harsh conditions for farmers caused by a number of factors, made worse by the implementing of free-market ideology, have created a continuing stream of people leaving the countryside and going to live in cities that do not have jobs for them. And those now living in slums and without access to land to grow their own food are at the mercy of the world price for food.

One of the reasons for the growing consolidation of land holdings and forcing out of subsistence farmers is the penetration of multinational agricultural corporations into the countries of the periphery. From selling seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides to processing raw agricultural products to exporting or selling them through new, large supermarkets, agribusiness multinationals are having a devastating effect on small farmers. With the collapse of extension systems for helping farmers save seeds and with the disbanding of government seed companies the way was paved for multinational seed companies to make major inroads.

The giant transnational corporations such as Cargill and Monsanto now reach into most of the third world—selling seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and feeds while buying and processing raw agricultural products. In the process they assist larger farms to become "more efficient" —to grow over larger land areas. The main advantage of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds is that they help to simplify the process of farming and allow large acreages to be under the management of a single entity—a large farmer or corporation—squeezing out small farmers.

The negative effects of the penetration of large supermarket chains are being felt as well. As a 2004 headline in the New York Times put it "Supermarket Giants Crush Central American Farmers" (December 28, 2004). Large supermarkets would rather deal with a few farmers growing on a large scale than with many small farmers. And the opening of large supermarkets does away with the traditional markets used by small farmers.

The Prolonged Crisis Is Intensifying

It seems logical that with higher food prices, farmers should be better off and produce more to satisfy the "demand" indicated by the market. To a certain extent that is true—especially for farmers that can take advantage of all the physical and monetary advantages of large-scale production. Yet, the input costs for just about everything used in agricultural production have also increased, thus profit gains for farmers are not as large as might be expected. This is a particularly difficult problem for farmers raising animals fed on increasingly expensive grains.

In addition, things are not necessarily going well for small and subsistence farmers. Many are stuck in debt so deep that it's hard for them to get back on their feet. An estimated 25,000 Indian farmers committed suicide last year because they could see no other way out of their predicament. (The Indian government has proposed a budget that includes loan wavers for small farmers that have borrowed through banks. However, if it actually goes into effect, the millions that have borrowed from local usurers will not benefit.) The consolidation of land holdings and the removal of small farmers and landless workers from the land has been exacerbated by the exceptional crop price increases over the last few years.

Rising crop prices cause the price of farmland to increase—especially of large fields that can be worked by large-scale machinery. This is happening in the United States and in certain countries of the periphery. For example, Global Ag Investments, a company based in Texas, owns and operates 34,000 acres of Brazilian farmland. At one of its farms, a single field of soybeans covers 1,600 acres—that's two and a half square miles! A New Zealand company has purchased approximately 100,000 acres in Uruguay and has hired managers to operate dairy farms established on their land.

Private equity firms are purchasing farmland in the United States (Associated Press, May 7, 2007) as well as abroad. A U.S. company is cooperating with Brazilian and Japanese partners to purchase 385 square miles in Brazil, approximately a quarter of a million acres! This is also happening with South American capital taking the lead—a Brazilian investment fund, Investimento em Participacoe, is buying a minority stake in a an Argentine soybean producer that owns close to 400,000 acres in Uruguay and Argentina.

Rising crop prices have also led to an acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon basin—1,250 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island) in the last five months of 2007—as capitalist farmers hunger for more land (BBC, January 24, 2008). In addition, huge areas of farmland have been taken for development—some of dubious use, such as building suburban style housing and golf courses for the wealthy.

In China during 2000 to 2005, there was an average annual loss of 2.6 million acres as farmland is used for development. The country is fast approaching the self-defined minimum amount of arable farmland that it should have—approximately 290 million acres (120 million hectares)—and the amount of farmland will most likely continue to fall. As part of an effort to gain access to foreign agricultural production, a Chinese company has made an agreement to lease close to 2.5 million acres of land in the Philippines to grow rice, corn, and sugar—setting off a huge protest in the Philippines that has temporarily stalled the project (Bloomberg, February 21, 2008). As one farmer put it: "The [Philippine] government and the Chinese call it a partnership, but it only means the Chinese will be our landlords and we will be the slaves.''

Ending World Hunger

Ending world hunger is conceptually quite simple. However, actually putting it into practice is far from simple. First, the access to a healthy and varied diet needs to be recognized for the basic human right that it clearly is. Governments must commit to ending hunger among their people and they must take forceful action to carry out this commitment. In many countries, even at this time, there is sufficient food produced to feed the entire population at a high level of nutrition. This is, of course, most evident in the United States, where so much food is produced. It is nothing less than a crime that so many of the poor in the United States are hungry, malnourished, or don't know where their next meal will come from (which itself takes a psychological toll) when there is actually plenty of food.

In the short run, the emergency situation of increasingly severe hunger and malnutrition needs be addressed with all resources at a country's disposal. Although mass bulk distribution of grains or powdered milk can play a role, countries might consider the Venezuelan innovation of setting up feeding houses in all poor neighborhoods. When the people believe that the government is really trying to help them, and they are empowered to find or assist in a solution to their own problems, a burst of enthusiasm and volunteerism results. For example, although the food in Venezuela's feeding program is supplied by the government, the meals for poor children, the elderly, and the infirm are prepared in, and distributed from, peoples' homes using considerable amounts of volunteer labor. In addition, Venezuela has developed a network of stores that sell basic foodstuffs at significant discounts over prices charged in private markets.

Brazil started a program in 2003 that is aimed at alleviating the conditions of the poorest people. Approximately one-quarter of Brazil's population receive direct payments from the national government under the Bolsa Família (Family Fund) antipoverty program. Under this program a family with a per capita daily income below approximately $2 per person per day receives a benefit of up to $53 per month per person (The Economist, February 7, 2008). This infusion of cash is dependent on the family's children attending school and participating in the national vaccination program. This program is certainly having a positive effect on peoples' lives and nutrition. It is, however, a system that does not have the same effect as Venezuela's programs, which mobilize people to work together for their own and their community's benefit.

Urban gardens have been used successfully in Cuba as well as other countries to supply city dwellers with food as well as sources of income. These should be strongly promoted—with creative use of available space in urban settings.

Agriculture must become one of the top priorities for the third world. Even the World Bank is beginning to stress the importance of governments assisting agriculture in their countries. As Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, has stated,

Today the attention of the world's policy makers is focused on the sub-prime woes, and the financial crises. But the real crisis is that of hunger and malnutrition…this is the real problem that should grab the world's attention. We know that 75 percent of the world's poor people are rural and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is today, more than ever, a fundamental instrument for fighting hunger, malnutrition, and for supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction.
(All-Africa Global Media, February 19, 2008)

Almost every country in the world has the soil, water, and climate resources to grow enough food so that all their people can eat a healthy diet. In addition, the knowledge and crop varieties already exist in most countries so that if farmers are given adequate assistance they will be able to grow reasonably high yields of crops.

Although enhanced agricultural production is essential, much of the emphasis in the past has been on production of export crops. While this may help a country's balance of payments, export oriented agriculture does not ensure sufficient food for everyone nor does it promote a healthy rural environment. In addition to basic commodities such as soybeans, export-oriented agriculture also leads naturally to the production of high-value luxury crops demanded by export markets (luxuries from the standpoint of the basic food needs of a poor third world country), rather than the low-value subsistence crops needed to meet the needs of the domestic population. Production of sufficient amounts of the right kinds of food within each country's borders—by small farmers working in cooperatives or on their own and using sustainable techniques—is the best way to achieve the goal of "food security." In this way the population may be insulated, at least partially, from the price fluctuations on the world market. This, of course, also means not taking land out of food production to produce crops for the biofuel markets.

One of the ways to do this and at the same time help with the problem of so many people crowded into urban slums—the people most susceptible to food price increases—is to provide land through meaningful agrarian reforms. But land itself is not enough. Beginning or returning farmers need technical and financial support in order to produce food. Additionally, social support systems, such as cooperatives and community councils, need to be developed to help promote camaraderie and to solidify the new communities that are developed. Perhaps each community needs to be "seeded" with a sprinkling of devoted activists. Also, housing, electricity, water, and wastewater need to be available to make it attractive for people living in the cities to move to the countryside. Another way to encourage people to move to the country to become farmers is to appeal to patriotism and instill the idea that they are real pioneers, establishing a new food system to help their countries gain food self-sufficiency, i.e., independence from transnational agribusiness corporations and provision of healthy food for all the nation's people. These pioneering farmers need to be viewed by themselves, the rest of the society, and their government as critical to the future of their countries and the well-being of the population. They must be treated with the great respect that they deserve.

Conclusion

Food is a human right and governments have a responsibility to see that their people are well fed. In addition, there are known ways to end hunger—including emergency measures to combat the current critical situation, urban gardens, agrarian reforms that include a whole support system for farmers, and sustainable agriculture techniques that enhance the environment. The present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. A sustainable and secure food system requires a different and much more equitable relationship among people. The more the poor and farmers themselves are included in all aspects of the effort to gain food security, and the more they are energized in the process, the greater will be the chance of attaining lasting food security. As President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a country that has done so much to deal with poverty and hunger, has put it,

Yes, it is important to end poverty, to end misery, but the most important thing is to offer power to the poor so that they can fight for themselves.

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Manufacturing a Food Crisis

By Walden Bello, The Nation

When tens of thousands of people staged demonstrations in Mexico last year to protest a 60 percent increase in the price of tortillas, many analysts pointed to biofuel as the culprit. Because of US government subsidies, American farmers were devoting more and more acreage to corn for ethanol than for food, which sparked a steep rise in corn prices. The diversion of corn from tortillas to biofuel was certainly one cause of skyrocketing prices, though speculation on biofuel demand by transnational middlemen may have played a bigger role. However, an intriguing question escaped many observers: how on earth did Mexicans, who live in the land where corn was domesticated, become dependent on US imports in the first place?

The Mexican food crisis cannot be fully understood without taking into account the fact that in the years preceding the tortilla crisis, the homeland of corn had been converted to a corn-importing economy by "free market" policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Washington. The process began with the early 1980s debt crisis. One of the two largest developing-country debtors, Mexico was forced to beg for money from the Bank and IMF to service its debt to international commercial banks. The quid pro quo for a multibillion-dollar bailout was what a member of the World Bank executive board described as "unprecedented thoroughgoing interventionism" designed to eliminate high tariffs, state regulations and government support institutions, which neoliberal doctrine identified as barriers to economic efficiency.

Interest payments rose from 19 percent of total government expenditures in 1982 to 57 percent in 1988, while capital expenditures dropped from an already low 19.3 percent to 4.4 percent. The contraction of government spending translated into the dismantling of state credit, government-subsidized agricultural inputs, price supports, state marketing boards and extension services. Unilateral liberalization of agricultural trade pushed by the IMF and World Bank also contributed to the destabilization of peasant producers.

This blow to peasant agriculture was followed by an even larger one in 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Although NAFTA had a fifteen-year phaseout of tariff protection for agricultural products, including corn, highly subsidized US corn quickly flooded in, reducing prices by half and plunging the corn sector into chronic crisis. Largely as a result of this agreement, Mexico's status as a net food importer has now been firmly established.

With the shutting down of the state marketing agency for corn, distribution of US corn imports and Mexican grain has come to be monopolized by a few transnational traders, like US-owned Cargill and partly US-owned Maseca, operating on both sides of the border. This has given them tremendous power to speculate on trade trends, so that movements in biofuel demand can be manipulated and magnified many times over. At the same time, monopoly control of domestic trade has ensured that a rise in international corn prices does not translate into significantly higher prices paid to small producers.

It has become increasingly difficult for Mexican corn farmers to avoid the fate of many of their fellow corn cultivators and other smallholders in sectors such as rice, beef, poultry and pork, who have gone under because of the advantages conferred by NAFTA on subsidized US producers. According to a 2003 Carnegie Endowment report, imports of US agricultural products threw at least 1.3 million farmers out of work–many of whom have since found their way to the United States.

Prospects are not good, since the Mexican government continues to be controlled by neoliberals who are systematically dismantling the peasant support system, a key legacy of the Mexican Revolution. As Food First executive director Eric Holt-Giménez sees it, "It will take time and effort to recover smallholder capacity, and there does not appear to be any political will for this–to say nothing of the fact that NAFTA would have to be renegotiated."

Creating a Rice Crisis in the Philippines

That the global food crisis stems mainly from free-market restructuring of agriculture is clearer in the case of rice. Unlike corn, less than 10 percent of world rice production is traded. Moreover, there has been no diversion of rice from food consumption to biofuels. Yet this year alone, prices nearly tripled, from $380 a ton in January to more than $1,000 in April. Undoubtedly the inflation stems partly from speculation by wholesaler cartels at a time of tightening supplies. However, as with Mexico and corn, the big puzzle is why a number of formerly self-sufficient rice-consuming countries have become severely dependent on imports.

The Philippines provides a grim example of how neoliberal economic restructuring transforms a country from a net food exporter to a net food importer. The Philippines is the world's largest importer of rice. Manila's desperate effort to secure supplies at any price has become front-page news, and pictures of soldiers providing security for rice distribution in poor communities have become emblematic of the global crisis.

The broad contours of the Philippines story are similar to those of Mexico. Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was guilty of many crimes and misdeeds, including failure to follow through on land reform, but one thing he cannot be accused of is starving the agricultural sector. To head off peasant discontent, the regime provided farmers with subsidized fertilizer and seeds, launched credit plans and built rural infrastructure. When Marcos fled the country in 1986, there were 900,000 metric tons of rice in government warehouses.

Paradoxically, the next few years under the new democratic dispensation saw the gutting of government investment capacity. As in Mexico the World Bank and IMF, working on behalf of international creditors, pressured the Corazon Aquino administration to make repayment of the $26 billion foreign debt a priority. Aquino acquiesced, though she was warned by the country's top economists that the "search for a recovery program that is consistent with a debt repayment schedule determined by our creditors is a futile one." Between 1986 and 1993 8 percent to 10 percent of GDP left the Philippines yearly in debt-service payments–roughly the same proportion as in Mexico. Interest payments as a percentage of expenditures rose from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994; capital expenditures plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. In short, debt servicing became the national budgetary priority.

Spending on agriculture fell by more than half. The World Bank and its local acolytes were not worried, however, since one purpose of the belt-tightening was to get the private sector to energize the countryside. But agricultural capacity quickly eroded. Irrigation stagnated, and by the end of the 1990s only 17 percent of the Philippines' road network was paved, compared with 82 percent in Thailand and 75 percent in Malaysia. Crop yields were generally anemic, with the average rice yield way below those in China, Vietnam and Thailand, where governments actively promoted rural production. The post-Marcos agrarian reform program shriveled, deprived of funding for support services, which had been the key to successful reforms in Taiwan and South Korea. As in Mexico Filipino peasants were confronted with full-scale retreat of the state as provider of comprehensive support–a role they had come to depend on.

And the cutback in agricultural programs was followed by trade liberalization, with the Philippines' 1995 entry into the World Trade Organization having the same effect as Mexico's joining NAFTA. WTO membership required the Philippines to eliminate quotas on all agricultural imports except rice and allow a certain amount of each commodity to enter at low tariff rates. While the country was allowed to maintain a quota on rice imports, it nevertheless had to admit the equivalent of 1 to 4 percent of domestic consumption over the next ten years. In fact, because of gravely weakened production resulting from lack of state support, the government imported much more than that to make up for shortfalls. The massive imports depressed the price of rice, discouraging farmers and keeping growth in production at a rate far below that of the country's two top suppliers, Thailand and Vietnam.

The consequences of the Philippines' joining the WTO barreled through the rest of its agriculture like a super-typhoon. Swamped by cheap corn imports–much of it subsidized US grain–farmers reduced land devoted to corn from 3.1 million hectares in 1993 to 2.5 million in 2000. Massive importation of chicken parts nearly killed that industry, while surges in imports destabilized the poultry, hog and vegetable industries.

During the 1994 campaign to ratify WTO membership, government economists, coached by their World Bank handlers, promised that losses in corn and other traditional crops would be more than compensated for by the new export industry of "high-value-added" crops like cut flowers, asparagus and broccoli. Little of this materialized. Nor did many of the 500,000 agricultural jobs that were supposed to be created yearly by the magic of the market; instead, agricultural employment dropped from 11.2 million in 1994 to 10.8 million in 2001.

The one-two punch of IMF-imposed adjustment and WTO-imposed trade liberalization swiftly transformed a largely self-sufficient agricultural economy into an import-dependent one as it steadily marginalized farmers. It was a wrenching process, the pain of which was captured by a Filipino government negotiator during a WTO session in Geneva. "Our small producers," he said, "are being slaughtered by the gross unfairness of the international trading environment."

The Great Transformation

The experience of Mexico and the Philippines was paralleled in one country after another subjected to the ministrations of the IMF and the WTO. A study of fourteen countries by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization found that the levels of food imports in 1995-98 exceeded those in 1990-94. This was not surprising, since one of the main goals of the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture was to open up markets in developing countries so they could absorb surplus production in the North. As then-US Agriculture Secretary John Block put it in 1986, "The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, which are available in most cases at lower cost."

What Block did not say was that the lower cost of US products stemmed from subsidies, which became more massive with each passing year despite the fact that the WTO was supposed to phase them out. From $367 billion in 1995, the total amount of agricultural subsidies provided by developed-country governments rose to $388 billion in 2004. Since the late 1990s subsidies have accounted for 40 percent of the value of agricultural production in the European Union and 25 percent in the United States.

The apostles of the free market and the defenders of dumping may seem to be at different ends of the spectrum, but the policies they advocate are bringing about the same result: a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture. Developing countries are being integrated into a system where export-oriented production of meat and grain is dominated by large industrial farms like those run by the Thai multinational CP and where technology is continually upgraded by advances in genetic engineering from firms like Monsanto. And the elimination of tariff and nontariff barriers is facilitating a global agricultural supermarket of elite and middle-class consumers serviced by grain-trading corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and transnational food retailers like the British-owned Tesco and the French-owned Carrefour.

There is little room for the hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor in this integrated global market. They are confined to giant suburban favelas, where they contend with food prices that are often much higher than the supermarket prices, or to rural reservations, where they are trapped in marginal agricultural activities and increasingly vulnerable to hunger. Indeed, within the same country, famine in the marginalized sector sometimes coexists with prosperity in the globalized sector.

This is not simply the erosion of national food self-sufficiency or food security but what Africanist Deborah Bryceson of Oxford calls "de-peasantization"–the phasing out of a mode of production to make the countryside a more congenial site for intensive capital accumulation. This transformation is a traumatic one for hundreds of millions of people, since peasant production is not simply an economic activity. It is an ancient way of life, a culture, which is one reason displaced or marginalized peasants in India have taken to committing suicide. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, farmer suicides rose from 233 in 1998 to 2,600 in 2002; in Maharashtra, suicides more than tripled, from 1,083 in 1995 to 3,926 in 2005. One estimate is that some 150,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives. Collapse of prices from trade liberalization and loss of control over seeds to biotech firms is part of a comprehensive problem, says global justice activist Vandana Shiva: "Under globalization, the farmer is losing her/his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a 'consumer' of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally."

African Agriculture: From Compliance to Defiance

De-peasantization is at an advanced state in Latin America and Asia. And if the World Bank has its way, Africa will travel in the same direction. As Bryceson and her colleagues correctly point out in a recent article, the World Development Report for 2008, which touches extensively on agriculture in Africa, is practically a blueprint for the transformation of the continent's peasant-based agriculture into large-scale commercial farming. However, as in many other places today, the Bank's wards are moving from sullen resentment to outright defiance.

At the time of decolonization, in the 1960s, Africa was actually a net food exporter. Today the continent imports 25 percent of its food; almost every country is a net importer. Hunger and famine have become recurrent phenomena, with the past three years alone seeing food emergencies break out in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and Southern and Central Africa.

Agriculture in Africa is in deep crisis, and the causes range from wars to bad governance, lack of agricultural technology and the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, as in Mexico and the Philippines, an important part of the explanation is the phasing out of government controls and support mechanisms under the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs imposed as the price for assistance in servicing external debt.

Structural adjustment brought about declining investment, increased unemployment, reduced social spending, reduced consumption and low output. Lifting price controls on fertilizers while simultaneously cutting back on agricultural credit systems simply led to reduced fertilizer use, lower yields and lower investment. Moreover, reality refused to conform to the doctrinal expectation that withdrawal of the state would pave the way for the market to dynamize agriculture. Instead, the private sector, which correctly saw reduced state expenditures as creating more risk, failed to step into the breach. In country after country, the departure of the state "crowded out" rather than "crowded in" private investment. Where private traders did replace the state, noted an Oxfam report, "they have sometimes done so on highly unfavorable terms for poor farmers," leaving "farmers more food insecure, and governments reliant on unpredictable international aid flows." The usually pro-private sector Economist agreed, admitting that "many of the private firms brought in to replace state researchers turned out to be rent-seeking monopolists."

The support that African governments were allowed to muster was channeled by the World Bank toward export agriculture to generate foreign exchange, which states needed to service debt. But, as in Ethiopia during the 1980s famine, this led to the dedication of good land to export crops, with food crops forced into less suitable soil, thus exacerbating food insecurity. Moreover, the World Bank's encouragement of several economies to focus on the same export crops often led to overproduction, triggering price collapses in international markets. For instance, the very success of Ghana's expansion of cocoa production triggered a 48 percent drop in the international price between 1986 and 1989. In 2002-03 a collapse in coffee prices contributed to another food emergency in Ethiopia.

As in Mexico and the Philippines, structural adjustment in Africa was not simply about underinvestment but state divestment. But there was one major difference. In Africa the World Bank and IMF micromanaged, making decisions on how fast subsidies should be phased out, how many civil servants had to be fired and even, as in the case of Malawi, how much of the country's grain reserve should be sold and to whom.

Compounding the negative impact of adjustment were unfair EU and US trade practices. Liberalization allowed subsidized EU beef to drive many West African and South African cattle raisers to ruin. With their subsidies legitimized by the WTO, US growers offloaded cotton on world markets at 20 percent to 55 percent of production cost, thereby bankrupting West and Central African farmers.

According to Oxfam, the number of sub-Saharan Africans living on less than a dollar a day almost doubled, to 313 million, between 1981 and 2001–46 percent of the whole continent. The role of structural adjustment in creating poverty was hard to deny. As the World Bank's chief economist for Africa admitted, "We did not think that the human costs of these programs could be so great, and the economic gains would be so slow in coming."

In 1999 the government of Malawi initiated a program to give each smallholder family a starter pack of free fertilizers and seeds. The result was a national surplus of corn. What came after is a story that should be enshrined as a classic case study of one of the greatest blunders of neoliberal economics. The World Bank and other aid donors forced the scaling down and eventual scrapping of the program, arguing that the subsidy distorted trade. Without the free packs, output plummeted. In the meantime, the IMF insisted that the government sell off a large portion of its grain reserves to enable the food reserve agency to settle its commercial debts. The government complied. When the food crisis turned into a famine in 2001-02, there were hardly any reserves left. About 1,500 people perished. The IMF was unrepentant; in fact, it suspended its disbursements on an adjustment program on the grounds that "the parastatal sector will continue to pose risks to the successful implementation of the 2002/03 budget. Government interventions in the food and other agricultural markets… [are] crowding out more productive spending."

By the time an even worse food crisis developed in 2005, the government had had enough of World Bank/IMF stupidity. A new president reintroduced the fertilizer subsidy, enabling 2 million households to buy it at a third of the retail price and seeds at a discount. The result: bumper harvests for two years, a million-ton maize surplus and the country transformed into a supplier of corn to Southern Africa.

Malawi's defiance of the World Bank would probably have been an act of heroic but futile resistance a decade ago. The environment is different today, since structural adjustment has been discredited throughout Africa. Even some donor governments and NGOs that used to subscribe to it have distanced themselves from the Bank. Perhaps the motivation is to prevent their influence in the continent from being further eroded by association with a failed approach and unpopular institutions when Chinese aid is emerging as an alternative to World Bank, IMF and Western government aid programs.

Food Sovereignty: An Alternative Paradigm?

It is not only defiance from governments like Malawi and dissent from their erstwhile allies that are undermining the IMF and the World Bank. Peasant organizations around the world have become increasingly militant in their resistance to the globalization of industrial agriculture. Indeed, it is because of pressure from farmers' groups that the governments of the South have refused to grant wider access to their agricultural markets and demanded a massive slashing of US and EU agricultural subsidies, which brought the WTO's Doha Round of negotiations to a standstill.

Farmers' groups have networked internationally; one of the most dynamic to emerge is Via Campesina (Peasant's Path). Via not only seeks to get "WTO out of agriculture" and opposes the paradigm of a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture; it also proposes an alternative–food sovereignty. Food sovereignty means, first of all, the right of a country to determine its production and consumption of food and the exemption of agriculture from global trade regimes like that of the WTO. It also means consolidation of a smallholder-centered agriculture via protection of the domestic market from low-priced imports; remunerative prices for farmers and fisherfolk; abolition of all direct and indirect export subsidies; and the phasing out of domestic subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture. Via's platform also calls for an end to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regime, or TRIPs, which allows corporations to patent plant seeds; opposes agro-technology based on genetic engineering; and demands land reform. In contrast to an integrated global monoculture, Via offers the vision of an international agricultural economy composed of diverse national agricultural economies trading with one another but focused primarily on domestic production.

Once regarded as relics of the pre-industrial era, peasants are now leading the opposition to a capitalist industrial agriculture that would consign them to the dustbin of history. They have become what Karl Marx described as a politically conscious "class for itself," contradicting his predictions about their demise. With the global food crisis, they are moving to center stage–and they have allies and supporters. For as peasants refuse to go gently into that good night and fight de-peasantization, developments in the twenty-first century are revealing the panacea of globalized capitalist industrial agriculture to be a nightmare. With environmental crises multiplying, the social dysfunctions of urban-industrial life piling up and industrialized agriculture creating greater food insecurity, the farmers' movement increasingly has relevance not only to peasants but to everyone threatened by the catastrophic consequences of global capital's vision for organizing production, community and life itself.

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Global food crisis: 'The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model' - Part 1

By Ian Angus, Socialist Voice

"If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave. If the police and UN troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end, if we are not killed by bullets, we'll die of hunger." — A demonstrator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

April 28, 2008 — In Haiti, where most people get 22% fewer calories than the minimum needed for good health, some are staving off their hunger pangs by eating "mud biscuits" made by mixing clay and water with a bit of vegetable oil and salt.[1]

Meanwhile, in Canada, the federal government is currently paying $225 for each pig killed in a mass cull of breeding swine, as part of a plan to reduce hog production. Hog farmers, squeezed by low hog prices and high feed costs, have responded so enthusiastically that the kill will likely use up all the allocated funds before the program ends in September. Some of the slaughtered hogs may be given to local Food Banks, but most will be destroyed or made into pet food. None will go to Haiti.

This is the brutal world of capitalist agriculture — a world where some people destroy food because prices are too low, and others literally eat dirt because food prices are too high.

Record prices for staple foods

We are in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide food price inflation that has driven prices to their highest levels in decades. The increases affect most kinds of food, but in particular the most important staples — wheat, corn, and rice.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that between March 2007 and March 2008 prices of cereals increased 88%, oils and fats 106%, and dairy 48%. The FAO food price index as a whole rose 57% in one year — and most of the increase occurred in the past few months.

Another source, the World Bank, says that that in the 36 months ending February 2008, global wheat prices rose 181% and overall global food prices increased by 83%. The bank expects most food prices to remain well above 2004 levels until at least 2015.

The most popular grade of Thailand rice sold for $198 a tonne five years ago and $323 a tonne a year ago. On April 24, the price hit $1000.

Increases are even greater on local markets — in Haiti, the market price of a 50 kilo bag of rice doubled in one week at the end of March.

These increases are catastrophic for the 2.6 billion people around the world who live on less than US$2 a day and spend 60% to 80% of their incomes on food. Hundreds of millions cannot afford to eat.

This month, the hungry fought back.

Taking to the streets

In Haiti, on April 3, demonstrators in the southern city of Les Cayes built barricades, stopped trucks carrying rice and distributed the food, and tried to burn a United Nations compound. The protests quickly spread to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where thousands marched on the presidential palace, chanting "We are hungry!" Many called for the withdrawal of UN troops and the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled president whose government was overthrown by foreign powers in 2004.

President René Préval, who initially said nothing could be done, has announced a 16% cut in the wholesale price of rice. This is at best a stop-gap measure, since the reduction is for one month only, and retailers are not obligated to cut their prices.

The actions in Haiti paralleled similar protests by hungry people in more than 20 other countries.

In Burkino Faso, a two-day general strike by unions and shopkeepers demanded "significant and effective" reductions in the price of rice and other staple foods.

In Bangladesh, more than 20,000 workers from textile factories in Fatullah went on strike to demand lower prices and higher wages. They hurled bricks and stones at police, who fired tear gas into the crowd.

The Egyptian government sent thousands of troops into the Mahalla textile complex in the Nile Delta, to prevent a general strike demanding higher wages, an independent union, and lower prices. Two people were killed and more than 600 have been jailed.

In Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, police used tear gas against women who had set up barricades, burned tires and closed major roads. Thousands marched to the President's home, chanting "We are hungry," and "Life is too expensive, you are killing us."

In Pakistan and Thailand, armed soldiers have been deployed to prevent the poor from seizing food from fields and warehouses.

Similar protests have taken place in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Zambia. On April 2, the president of the World Bank told a meeting in Washington that there are 33 countries where price hikes could cause social unrest.

A senior editor of Time magazine warned:

"The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War…. And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world. …. when circumstances render it impossible to feed their hungry children, normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose."[2]

What's driving food inflation?

Since the 1970s, food production has become increasingly globalised and concentrated. A handful of countries dominate the global trade in staple foods. Eighy per cent of wheat exports come from six exporters, as does 85% of rice. Three countries produce 70% of exported corn. This leaves the world's poorest countries, the ones that must import food to survive, at the mercy of economic trends and policies in those few exporting companies. When the global food trade system stops delivering, it's the poor who pay the price.

For several years, the global trade in staple foods has been heading towards a crisis. Four related trends have slowed production growth and pushed prices up.

The end of the `green revolution': In the 1960s and 1970s, in an effort to counter peasant discontent in south and southeast Asia, the U.S. poured money and technical support into agricultural development in India and other countries. The "green revolution" — new seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, agricultural techniques and infrastructure — led to spectacular increases in food production, particularly rice. Yield per hectare continued expanding until the 1990s.

Today, it's not fashionable for governments to help poor people grow food for other poor people, because "the market" is supposed to take care of all problems. The Economist reports that "spending on farming as a share of total public spending in developing countries fell by half between 1980 and 2004."[3] Subsidies and R&D money have dried up, and production growth has stalled.

As a result, in seven of the past eight years the world consumed more grain than it produced, which means that rice was being removed from the inventories that governments and dealers normally hold as insurance against bad harvests. World grain stocks are now at their lowest point ever, leaving very little cushion for bad times.

Climate change: Scientists say that climate change could cut food production in parts of the world by 50% in the next 12 years. But that isn't just a matter for the future:

Australia is normally the world's second-largest exporter of grain, but a savage multi-year drought has reduced the wheat crop by 60% and rice production has been completely wiped out.

In Bangladesh in November, one of the strongest cyclones in decades wiped out a million tonnes of rice and severely damaged the wheat crop, making the huge country even more dependent on imported food.

Other examples abound. It's clear that the global climate crisis is already here, and it is affecting food.

Agrofuels: It is now official policy in the US, Canada and Europe to convert food into fuel. US vehicles burn enough corn to cover the entire import needs of the poorest 82 countries.[4]

Ethanol and biodiesel are very heavily subsidised, which means, inevitably, that crops like corn (maize) are being diverted out of the food chain and into gas tanks, and that new agricultural investment worldwide is being directed towards palm, soy, canola and other oil-producing plants. The demand for agrofuels increases the prices of those crops directly, and indirectly boosts the price of other grains by encouraging growers to switch to agrofuel.

As Canadian hog producers have found, it also drives up the cost of producing meat, since corn is the main ingredient in North American animal feed.

Oil prices: The price of food is linked to the price of oil because food can be made into a substitute for oil. But rising oil prices also affect the cost of producing food. Fertiliser and pesticides are made from petroleum and natural gas. Gas and diesel fuel are used in planting, harvesting and shipping.[5]

It's been estimated that 80% of the costs of growing corn are fossil fuel costs — so it is no accident that food prices rise when oil prices rise.

By the end of 2007, reduced investment in third world agriculture, rising oil prices, and climate change meant that production growth was slowing and prices were rising. Good harvests and strong export growth might have staved off a crisis — but that isn't what happened. The trigger was rice, the staple food of three billion people.

Early this year, India announced that it was suspending most rice exports in order to rebuild its reserves. A few weeks later, Vietnam, whose rice crop was hit by a major insect infestation during the harvest, announced a four-month suspension of exports to ensure that enough would be available for its domestic market.

India and Vietnam together normally account for 30% of all rice exports, so their announcements were enough to push the already tight global rice market over the edge. Rice buyers immediately started buying up available stocks, hoarding whatever rice they could get in the expectation of future price increases, and bidding up the price for future crops. Prices soared. By mid-April, news reports described "panic buying" of rice futures on the Chicago Board of Trade, and there were rice shortages even on supermarket shelves in Canada and the US.

Why the rebellion?

There have been food price spikes before. Indeed, if we take inflation into account, global prices for staple foods were higher in the 1970s than they are today. So why has this inflationary explosion provoked mass protests around the world?

The answer is that since the 1970s the richest countries in the world, aided by the international agencies they control, have systematically undermined the poorest countries' ability to feed their populations and protect themselves in a crisis like this.

Haiti is a powerful and appalling example.

Rice has been grown in Haiti for centuries, and until 20 years ago Haitian farmers produced about 170,000 tonnes of rice a year, enough to cover 95% of domestic consumption. Rice farmers received no government subsidies, but, as in every other rice-producing country at the time, their access to local markets was protected by import tariffs.

In 1995, as a condition of providing a desperately needed loan, the International Monetary Fund required Haiti to cut its tariff on imported rice from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean. The result was a massive influx of US rice that sold for half the price of Haitian-grown rice. Thousands of rice farmers lost their lands and livelihoods, and today three-quarters of the rice eaten in Haiti comes from the US.[6]

US rice didn't take over the Haitian market because it tastes better, or because US rice growers are more efficient. It won out because rice exports are heavily subsidised by the US government. In 2003, US rice growers received $1.7 billion in government subsidies, an average of $232 per hectare of rice grown.[7] That money, most of which went to a handful of very large landowners and agribusiness corporations, allowed U.S. exporters to sell rice at 30% to 50% below their real production costs.

In short, Haiti was forced to abandon government protection of domestic agriculture — and the US then used its government protection schemes to take over the market.

There have been many variations on this theme, with rich countries of the north imposing "liberalisation" policies on poor and debt-ridden southern countries and then taking advantage of that liberalization to capture the market. Government subsidies account for 30% of farm revenue in the world's 30 richest countries, a total of US$280 billion a year,[8] an unbeatable advantage in a "free" market where the rich write the rules.

The global food trade game is rigged, and the poor have been left with reduced crops and no protections.

In addition, for several decades the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have refused to advance loans to poor countries unless they agree to "Structural Adjustment Programs" (SAP) that require the loan recipients to devalue their currencies, cut taxes, privatize utilities, and reduce or eliminate support programs for farmers.

All this was done with the promise that the market would produce economic growth and prosperity — instead, poverty increased and support for agriculture was eliminated.

"The investment in improved agricultural input packages and extension support tapered and eventually disappeared in most rural areas of Africa under SAP. Concern for boosting smallholders' productivity was abandoned. Not only were governments rolled back, foreign aid to agriculture dwindled. World Bank funding for agriculture itself declined markedly from 32% of total lending in 1976-8 to 11.7% in 1997-9."[9]

During previous waves of food price inflation, the poor often had at least some access to food they grew themselves, or to food that was grown locally and available at locally set prices. Today, in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that's just not possible. Global markets now determine local prices — and often the only food available must be imported from far away.

Food is not just another commodity — it is absolutely essential for human survival. The very least that humanity should expect from any government or social system is that it try to prevent starvation — and above all that it not promote policies that deny food to hungry people.

That's why Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was absolutely correct on April 24, to describe the food crisis as "the greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model."

Global food crisis: 'The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model' - Part 2

"Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet." —Fidel Castro, 1998

May 11, 2008 — When food riots broke out in Haiti last month, the first country to respond was Venezuela. Within days, planes were on their way from Caracas, carrying 364 tons of badly needed food.

The people of Haiti are "suffering from the attacks of the empire's global capitalism," Venezuela's President Hugo Chàvez said. "This calls for genuine and profound solidarity from all of us. It is the least we can do for Haiti."

Venezuela's action is in the finest tradition of human solidarity. When people are hungry, we should do our best to feed them. Venezuela's example should be applauded and emulated.

But aid, however necessary, is only a stopgap. To truly address the problem of world hunger, we must understand and then change the system that causes it.

No shortage of food

The starting point for our analysis must be this: there is no shortage of food in the world today.

Contrary to the 18th century warnings of Thomas Malthus and his modern followers, study after study shows that global food production has consistently outstripped population growth, and that there is more than enough food to feed everyone. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, enough food is produced in the world to provide over 2800 calories a day to everyone — substantially more than the minimum required for good health, and about 18% more calories per person than in the 1960s, despite a significant increase in total population.[1]

As the Food First Institute points out, "abundance, not scarcity, best describes the supply of food in the world today."[2]

Despite that, the most commonly proposed solution to world hunger is new technology to increase food production.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to develop "more productive and resilient varieties of Africa's major food crops … to enable Africa's small-scale farmers to produce larger, more diverse and reliable harvests."[3]

Similarly, the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute has initiated a public-private partnership "to increase rice production across Asia via the accelerated development and introduction of hybrid rice technologies."[4]

And the president of the World Bank promises to help developing countries gain "access to technology and science to boost yields."[5]

Scientific research is vitally important to the development of agriculture, but initiatives that assume in advance that new seeds and chemicals are needed are neither credible nor truly scientific. The fact that there is already enough food to feed the world shows that the food crisis is not a technical problem — it is a social and political problem.

Rather than asking how to increase production, our first question should be why, when so much food is available, are over 850 million people hungry and malnourished? Why do 18,000 children die of hunger every day?

Why can't the global food industry feed the hungry?

The profit system

The answer can be stated in one sentence. The global food industry is not organized to feed the hungry; it is organised to generate profits for corporate agribusiness.

The agribusiness giants are achieving that objective very well indeed. This year, agribusiness profits are soaring above last year's levels, while hungry people from Haiti to Egypt to Senegal were taking to the streets to protest rising food prices. These figures are for just three months at the beginning of 2008.[6]

Grain Trading

* Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Gross profit: $1.15 billion, up 55% from last year
* Cargill: Net earnings: $1.03 billion, up 86%
* Bunge. Consolidated gross profit: $867 million, up 189%.

Seeds & herbicides

* Monsanto. Gross profit: $2.23 billion, up 54%.
* Dupont Agriculture and Nutrition. Pre-tax operating income: $786 million, up 21%

Fertiliser

* Potash Corporation. Net income: $66 million, up 185.9%
* Mosaic. Net earnings: $520.8 million, up more than 1,200%

The companies listed above, plus a few more, are the monopoly or near-monopoly buyers and sellers of agricultural products around the world. Six companies control 85% of the world trade in grain; three control 83% of cocoa; three control 80% of the banana trade.[7] ADM, Cargill and Bunge effectively control the world's corn, which means that they alone decide how much of each year's crop goes to make ethanol, sweeteners, animal feed or human food.

As the editors of Hungry for Profit write, "The enormous power exerted by the largest agribusiness/food corporations allows them essentially to control the cost of their raw materials purchased from farmers while at the same time keeping prices of food to the general public at high enough levels to ensure large profits."[8]

Over the past three decades, transnational agribusiness companies have engineered a massive restructuring of global agriculture. Directly through their own market power and indirectly through governments and the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation, they have changed the way food is grown and distributed around the world. The changes have had wonderful effects on their profits, while simultaneously making global hunger worse and food crises inevitable.

The assault on traditional farming

Today's food crisis doesn't stand alone: it is a manifestation of a farm crisis that has been building for decades.

As we saw in part one of this article, over the past three decades the rich countries of the north have forced poor countries to open their markets, then flooded those markets with subsidised food, with devastating results for Third World farming.

But the restructuring of global agriculture to the advantage of agribusiness giants didn't stop there. In the same period, southern countries were convinced, cajoled and bullied into adopting agricultural policies that promote export crops rather than food for domestic consumption, and favour large-scale industrial agriculture that requires single-crop (monoculture) production, heavy use of water, and massive quantities of fertiliser and pesticides. Increasingly, traditional farming, organised by and for communities and families, has been pushed aside by industrial farming organised by and for agribusinesses.

That transformation is the principal obstacle to a rational agriculture that could eliminate hunger.

The focus on export agriculture has produced the absurd and tragic result that millions of people are starving in countries that export food. In India, for example, more than one-fifth of the population is chronically hungry and 48% of children under five years old are malnourished. Nevertheless, India exported US$1.5 billion worth of milled rice and $322 million worth of wheat in 2004.[9]

In other countries, farmland that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows luxuries for the north. Colombia, where 13% of the population is malnourished, produces and exports 62% of all cut flowers sold in the United States.

In many cases the result of switching to export crops has produced results that would be laughable if they weren't so damaging. Kenya was self-sufficient in food until about 25 years ago. Today it imports 80% of its food — and 80% of its exports are other agricultural products.[10]

The shift to industrial agriculture has driven millions of people off the land and into unemployment and poverty in the immense slums that now surround many of the world's cities.

The people who best know the land are being separated from it; their farms enclosed into gigantic outdoor factories that produce only for export. Hundreds of millions of people now must depend on food that's grown thousands of miles away because their homeland agriculture has been transformed to meet the needs of agribusiness corporations. As recent months have shown, the entire system is fragile: India's decision to rebuild its rice stocks made food unaffordable for millions half a world away.

If the purpose of agriculture is to feed people, the changes to global agriculture in the past 30 years make no sense. Industrial farming in the Third World has produced increasing amounts of food, but at the cost of driving millions off the land and into lives of chronic hunger — and at the cost of poisoning air and water, and steadily decreasing the ability of the soil to deliver the food we need.

Contrary to the claims of agribusiness, the latest agricultural research, including more than a decade of concrete experience in Cuba, proves that small and mid-sized farms using sustainable agroecological methods are much more productive and vastly less damaging to the environment than huge industrial farms.[11]

Industrial farming continues not because it is more productive, but because it has been able, until now, to deliver uniform products in predictable quantities, bred specifically to resist damage during shipment to distant markets. That's where the profit is, and profit is what counts, no matter what the effect may be on earth, air, and water — or even on hungry people.

Fighting for food sovereignty

The changes imposed by transnational agribusiness and its agencies have not gone unchallenged. One of the most important developments in the past 15 years has been the emergence of La Vía Campesina (Peasant Way), an umbrella body that encompasses more than 120 small farmers' and peasants' organisations in 56 countries, ranging from the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil to the National Farmers Union in Canada.

La Vía Campesina initially advanced its program as a challenge to the "World Food Summit", a 1996 UN-organised conference on global hunger that was attended by official representatives of 185 countries. The participants in that meeting promised (and subsequently did nothing to achieve) the elimination of hunger and malnutrition by guaranteeing "sustainable food security for all people".[12]

As is typical of such events, the working people who are actually affected were excluded from the discussions. Outside the doors, La Vía Campesina proposed food sovereignty as an alternative to food security. Simple access to food is not enough, they argued: what's needed is access to land, water, and resources, and the people affected must have the right to know and to decide about food policies. Food is too important to be left to the global market and the manipulations of agribusiness: world hunger can only be ended by re-establishing small and mid-sized family farms as the key elements of food production.[13]

The central demand of the food sovereignty movement is that food should be treated primarily as a source of nutrition for the communities and countries where it is grown. In opposition to free trade, agroexport policies, it urges a focus on domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency.

Contrary to the assertions of some critics, food sovereignty is not a call for economic isolationism or a return to an idealised rural past. Rather, it is a program for the defence and extension of human rights, for land reform and for protection of the earth against capitalist ecocide. In addition to calling for food self-sufficiency and strengthening family farms, La Vía Campesina's original call for food sovereignty included these points:

* Guarantee everyone access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.
* Give landless and farming people — especially women — ownership and control of the land they work and return territories to indigenous peoples.
* Ensure the care and use of natural resources, especially land, water and seeds. End dependence on chemical inputs, on cash-crop monocultures and intensive, industrialised production.
* Oppose WTO, World Bank and IMF policies that facilitate the control of multinational corporations over agriculture. Regulate and tax speculative capital and enforce a strict code of conduct on transnational corporations.
* End the use of food as a weapon. Stop the displacement, forced urbanisation and repression of peasants.
* Guarantee peasants and small farmers, and rural women in particular, direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels.[14]

La Vía Campesina's demand for food sovereignty constitutes a powerful agrarian program for the 21st century. Labour and left movements worldwide should give full support to it and to the campaigns of working farmers and peasants for land reform and against the industrialisation and globalisation of food and farming.

Stop the war on Third World farmers

Within that framework, we in the global north can and must demand that our governments stop all activities that weaken or damage Third World farming.

Stop using food for fuel. La Vía Campesina has said it simply and clearly: "Industrial agrofuels are an economic, social and environmental nonsense. Their development should be halted and agricultural production should focus on food as a priority."[15]

Cancel Third World debts. On April 30, Canada announced a special contribution of C$10 million for food relief to Haiti.[16] That's positive – but during 2008 Haiti will pay five times that much in interest on its $1.5 billion foreign debt, much of which was incurred during the imperialist-supported Duvalier dictatorships.

Haiti's situation is not unique and it is not an extreme case. The total external debt of Third World countries in 2005 was $2.7 trillion, and their debt payments that year totalled $513 billion.[17] Ending that cash drain, immediately and unconditionally, would provide essential resources to feed the hungry now and rebuild domestic farming over time.

Get the WTO out of agriculture. The regressive food policies that have been imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and IMF are codified and enforced by the World Trade Organisation's Agreement on Agriculture. The AoA, as Afsar Jafri of Focus on the Global South writes, is "biased in favour of capital-intensive, corporate agribusiness-driven and export-oriented agriculture."[18] That's not surprising, since the US official who drafted and then negotiated it was a former vice-president of agribusiness giant Cargill.

AoA should be abolished, and Third World countries should have the right to unilaterally cancel liberalisation policies imposed through the World Bank, IMF and WTO, as well as through bilateral free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA.

Self-determination for the global South. The current attempts by the US to destabilise and overthrow the anti-imperialist governments of the ALBA group — Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada — continue a long history of actions by northern countries to prevent Third World countries from asserting control over their own destinies. Organising against such interventions "in the belly of the monster" is thus a key component of the fight to win food sovereignty around the world.

More than a century ago, Karl Marx wrote that despite its support for technical improvements, "the capitalist system works against a rational agriculture … a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system".[19]

Today's food and farm crises completely confirm that judgment. A system that puts profit ahead of human needs has driven millions of producers off the land, undermined the earth's productivity while poisoning its air and water, and condemned nearly a billion people to chronic hunger and malnutrition.

The food crisis and farm crisis are rooted in an irrational, anti-human system. To feed the world, urban and rural working people must join hands to sweep that system away.

Go to top

Footnotes for Part 1:

[1] Kevin Pina. "Mud Cookie Economics in Haiti." Haiti Action Network, Feb. 10, 2008. http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/2_10_8/2_10_8.html

[2] Tony Karon. "How Hunger Could Topple Regimes." Time, April 11, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1730107,00.html

[3] "The New Face of Hunger." The Economist, April 19, 2008.

[4] Mark Lynas. "How the Rich Starved the World." New Statesman, April 17, 2008. http://www.newstatesman.com/200804170025

[5] Dale Allen Pfeiffer. Eating Fossil Fuels. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC, 2006. p. 1

[6] Oxfam International Briefing Paper, April 2005. "Kicking Down the Door." http://www.oxfam.org/en/files/bp72_rice.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] OECD Background Note: Agricultural Policy and Trade Reform. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/52/23/36896656.pdf

[9] Kjell Havnevik, Deborah Bryceson, Lars-Erik Birgegård, Prosper Matondi & Atakilte Beyene. "African Agriculture and the World Bank: Development or Impoverishment?" Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, http://www.links.org.au/node/328

Footnotes for Part 2:

[1] Frederic Mousseau, Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? Ending World Hunger in Our Time. Oakland Institute, 2005. http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/pdfs/fasr.pdf.
International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Global Summary for Decision Makers. http://www.agassessment.org/docs/Global_SDM_210408_FINAL.pdf

[2] Francis Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset. World Hunger: Twelve Myths. (Grove Press, New York, 1998) p. 8

[3] "About the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa."
http://www.agra-alliance.org/about/about_more.html

[4] IRRI Press Release, April 4, 2008. http://www.irri.org/media/press/press.asp?id=171

[5] "World Bank President Calls for Plan to Fight Hunger in Pre-Spring Meetings Address." News Release, April 2, 2008

[6] These figures are taken from the companies' most recent quarterly reports, found on their websites. Because they report the numbers in different ways, they can't be compared to each other, only to their own previous reports.

[7] Shawn Hattingh. "Liberalizing Food Trade to Death." MRzine, May 6, 2008. http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/hattingh060508.html

[8] Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster and Frederick H. Buttel. Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment. Monthly Review Press, New York, 2000. p. 11

[9] UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Key Statistics Of Food And Agriculture External Trade. http://www.fao.org/es/ess/toptrade/trade.asp?lang=EN&dir=exp&country=100

[10] J. Madeley. Hungry for Trade: How the poor pay for free trade. Cited in Ibid

[11] Jahi Campbell, "Shattering Myths: Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?" and " Editorial. Lessons from the Green Revolution." Food First Institute. www.foodfirst.org

[12] World Food Summit. http://www.fao.org/wfs/index_en.htm

[13] La Vía Campesina. "Food Sovereignty: A Future Without Hunger." (1996) http://www.voiceoftheturtle.org/library/1996%20Declaration%20of%20Food%20Sovereignty.pdf

[14] Paraphrased and abridged from Ibid

[15] La Vía Campesina. "A response to the Global Food Prices Crisis: Sustainable family farming can feed the world." http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=483&Itemid=38

[16] By way of comparison, this year Canada will spend $1 billion on the illegal occupation of and war in Afghanistan

[17] Jubilee Debt Campaign. "The Basics About Debt." http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=98

[18] Afsar H. Jafri. "WTO: Agriculture at the Mercy of Rich Nations." Focus on the Global South, November 7, 2005. http://www.focusweb.org/india/content/view/733/30/

[19] Capital, Volume III. Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 37, p. 123

~ From: Sanhati ~

 

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