Written by Annie Lukins and Seb Harris-Frost
Last week, no international news sensation captivated as much attention in the world arena as the newest wave of brutal attacks on Gaza. The attacks, branded “Operation Pillar of Defense” by Israeli forces finally subsided with a cease fire after eight full days of bombings, but not before 5 Israelis and 160 Palestinians had died. The Israeli Palestinian conflict has wavered in and out of international spotlight since it began over 60 years ago, and arguably, even longer than that. Nothing catapults a news story to the front of international attention like images of destruction, and this conflict is rich in these images; a child buried in the rubble of a home destroyed by missiles, or a pregnant woman killed as she flies from gunfire. These instances of graphic, unequivocal violence should cause us to look deeper into the ways in which violence is perpetrated through institutionalized power relations, often quietly, with no bloodshed, and without the attention of international media.
So last Monday in the pouring rain, when CISPES rallied with Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights to pay silent respect to Gaza, we remembered the quiet violence of free trade systems. We’d just come from our weekly meeting at the University of Washington and our Salvadoran compañeros who are threatened, not by missiles, but by the slow creep of privatization were still in our thoughts. Just a few weeks ago the Right wing mayor of San Salvador, Norman Quijano, bulldozed the stalls of street vendors in the downtown marketplace. They destroyed 10,000 dollars of merchandise and over 900 vendors livelihoods. The next week this same mayor ordered raids on the offices of the largest union coalition in El Salvador. He accused them of housing grenades and other weapons, an outrageous accusation. It is suspected that Quijano is targeting vendors and the Salvadoran Union Front because they’re the strongest forces fighting against the Asocio Publico Privado (Public Private Partnership) law. The United States is in the process of pushing PPP under their “Partnership for Growth” program in El Salvador. It would divert funds from the first ever leftist salvadoran government which has been providing universal health care, literacy circles, access to free seed and fertilizer, and other programs for the 99%. All of this, including the air and seaports, water systems, electricity, and education that the people of El Salvador have built and defended against corporate ownership would be offered to the highest bidders. The incredible new social programs would be lost, and residents would be forced to pay while accepting below minimum wages, dangerous working conditions, and sordid services.
After attending the vigil for Gaza, CISPES activists drenched ourselves further as we joined a banner drop at the skybridge by the U District. By pure coincidence, Monday was the day that the Tar Sands Blockade had called for solidarity actions across the country. The banner read, “Seattle Stands in Solidarity.” The day of action was part of a long term campaign to stop construction of a new pipeline that would transport tar sands from Canada across the United States to refineries in Texas. A team of local landowners and environmental activists has staged a blockade in Texas, where construction of the first stretch of pipeline has already begun. TransCanada, the company contracted to build the pipeline, has seized land from Texan landowners unwilling to give it up voluntarily. Under Eminent Domain, a corporation is authorized seize land from the owner of the property to exercise “functions of public character”. Some Texan landowners oppose the construction of a pipeline that would transport what environmentalists call the dirtiest fossil fuel. And they oppose a private company bulldozing farmland and forest to build this pipeline on their property. One Texan landowner attempted to block a bulldozer, and was arrested for trespassing on her own land. The mining of tar sands is a relatively new process, but it has already wreaked devastating environmental damage in Canada, where it is extracted. Too thick to be piped to the surface like conventional oil, tar sands must literally be excavated from the earth. It is necessary to move approximately 4 tons of earth for every single barrel of tar sands oil. Like so many exploitative projects, the advent of the Keystone XL pipeline can be traced back to the free trade agreements. The so-called “proportionality clauses” under NAFTA obligates Canada to make a full two thirds of their oil available to the United States. While NAFTA stands, there is little alternative to the pipeline.
The push for privatization in El Salvador, the devastation in Canadian land, and the marginalization of landowners’ rights in Texas are quiet, they demonstrate the violence of free trade agreements. It’s frustrating that they receive relatively minor international media attention- overshadowed by more graphic instances of violence that our news system seems to sensationalize. However, free trade devastation can harbor the same death tolls. In El Salvador, the Partnership for Growth program was brought to the country in November 2011 after the resignation of Manuel Melgar from his head position for the Public Security Cabinet. He was focusing on comprehensive reform to gang violence in El Salvador. He was implementing community programs designed to get youth involved in politics and organizing. States that dwelled on these tactics saw huge decreases in violence. A wikileaks cable showed that the US would refuse to establish the Partnership for Growth if Melgar continued to hold his position. At the time the Partnership for Growth sold itself to the Salvadoran government as an economic boost. Melgar was replaced by David Payes, a military general trained by the School of the Americas, and since the Public Security cabinet has been responding to violence in the country with more militarization. Militarizing Mexico, Colombia, as well as the rest of Central America has proved a futile and bloody effort. It’s said that in the past five years of the War on Drugs in Mexico that there have been 48,000 deaths. While The Partnership for Growth is also the US’s key tool in pushing the Asocio Publico Privado law in El Salvador, that’s only about a fourth of it’s focus. The rest of it’s efforts fuel this very War on Drugs. Evidently, it’s a war on people already impoverished by Free Trade agreements, and who have few other options of making a livelihood. Privatization has been designed to rely on the degradation of the people’s quality of life through institutional violence, one with as many deaths as Israeli occupation.
While Israel’s attacks on Gaza strip weren’t examples of this creeping violence incited by corporate interests, the effects and motives stem from similar sources. As Transcanada’s pipeline and the Partnership for Growth are clear examples of the effects of Free Trade, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict reckons back to the roots of this sort of take over; colonialism. Palestine was taken over by Britain after the First World War and used to hold military bases, this began pushing Palestinians into ghettos and imposing other forms of structural violence. After the Second World War and Israel was established on Palestinian land as a country for Jews, we see the occupation growing more and more violent. The increase in fighting just leads to further development of their weapons technology, which is one of the world’s most advanced. There may be similar economic drivers here as in Texas and in El Salvador. There’s also a corporate sense about states now. In 2005, Israel spent billions in taxpayer’s money on a multi-million dollar Public Relations campaign in response to the decreasing popularity of Israeli-occupation. Known as “Brand Israel” the campaign attempts to frame Israel as a liberal leader in the Middle East for sustainable energy, LGBT Equality and Jews. This is a vain effort to distract from violent checkpoints, discrimination, and imperialism. It’s probable that the media powers of the Free Trade system will attempt wipe the bombing of Hamas from our memories, and daily they neglect institutional violence this same system perpetuates.
Thus, it becomes our duty, more than ever not to turn our faces down from those who are suffering, and whose voices are silenced- whether this suffering is the graphic violence of Gaza or the slow exploitation of free trade. CISPES stands in solidarity with El Salvador, but we must recognize the intersections between and all those who are violently marginalized and oppressed by the free market system. So in closing, we invite you to join us on Saturday, as we protest a devastating Free Trade agreement. The TransPacific Partnership, or TPP, is a new free trade and investor rights deal drafted primarily by corporations which would open up NAFTA style free trade in throughout Pacific countries. Eight countries along the pacific rim have already signed onto the deal, and The United States, Canada, and Mexico are slated to join on December 1st. On Saturday, buses will leave Seattle at 9:30am from Bailey Gatzert Elementary School (Yesler & 14th) and travel to Blaine, WA on the Canadian border. There will be a rally, incredible speakers, an action, and free food! Buses will return to Seattle by 6pm and the ride is also cost free. We hope you can join CISPES in radical solidarity against all corporate sponsored free trade agreements which legitimize corporate greed at the expense of basic human rights. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TPPxBorder.org if you can join us. If not please spread the word; we are only as strong as our signal.
Upcoming Seattle CISPES Events include:
- Funds rasied will go towards the February Labor Tour in which a Salvadoran union organizer will mobilize U.S. activists and union organizers to join their fight against privatization and the right-wing’s war on worker’s rights! The labor speaker will be touring through Seattle February 2nd- February 4th. For more information, email email@example.com.