You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
Views in brief

February 2, 2007 | Page 4

Protesting polluters in Argentina
A populist who dines with CEOs
Playing politics with lives

Protesting polluters in Argentina

FOR OVER a year, the people of Gualeguaychú, a town in Argentina's northern province of Entre Rios, have been protesting against the construction of polluting pulp mills in the neighboring town of Fray Bentos, Uruguay.

Knowing full well that they could not rely on the government to prevent the contamination of the Uruguay River that runs through the north of Argentina along the border with Uruguay, a self-organized people's assembly has been blocking the bridge that connects the two countries on a weekly, and even daily, basis. The assembly has resolved that the protests will continue for an indefinite period until the construction of the factories is stopped.

Before the protests began, both the governments of Uruguay and Argentina had been aware of the construction plans and surely also knew of the environmental risks involved without lifting a finger to prevent them.

Uruguay's president, Tabaré Vázquez had made deals with the Spanish company ENCE and Finland's Botnia to allow the construction. ENCE was forced to relocate after the surge of protests brought international attention to the issue. Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner felt pressured to intervene against the construction of the plants. Botnia, however, has refused to negotiate.

In an attempt to alleviate himself of some popular pressure ,Kirchner posed his opposition to the factories in the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial institution of the United Nations (UN). The World Bank's International Finance Corporation, the financers of the construction project, headed the "investigation" of the potential environmental impacts and released an impact study predictably favorable to the companies.

The International Court ruled against impeding the construction of the plants with a 14-1 vote. The same court later decided that Kirchner is to blame for the continuation of the border protests because of his "acquiescence."

Now, the court and Vazquez are trying to have the UN tribunal order Kirchner to confront the protests, ideally by sending the federal armed forces--as Uruguay has already done on its side of the border--to ensure the construction of the plants.

Throughout the conflict, Kirchner has revealed the real nature of his acquiescence by tacitly siding with imperialism. He recently called on Juan Carlos, the king of Spain, to be the mediator of the conflict. Yáñez Barnuevo, Spain's UN ambassador sent by Carlos to mediate the conflict, concluded that Kirchner must make an effort to disperse the protests and that there is no chance of reaching an agreement without the participation of Botnia.

Kirchner seeks the resolution most favorable to imperialism. He rejected the help offered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, known for his confrontational attitude towards imperialism, and has not allowed the assembly of Gualeguaychú to play a role in the official negotiations.

On December 9, the protesters of Concordia (another border town of Entre Rios), numbering about 120, returned to their usual site to block the bridge and were confronted by 300 militants and provincial officials of Kirchner's Partido Justicialista, who had come to "negotiate" with the oversight of the federal armed forces. The protesters were prevented from blocking the bridge.

Kirchner's "center-left" government has shown how little opposition it is willing the raise against imperialism. His position was made clear when he paid $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund, while Argentina remains ridden with poverty and unemployment.

It is important that the people of Gualeguaychú receive international support for defending their community from corporate contamination and for taking a stand against imperialism and its accomplices.
Jocelyn Blake, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Back to the top

A populist who dines with CEOs

I ENJOYED reading Christian Wright's review of Lou Dobbs' book, War on the Middle Class ("A bigot tries on populist clothing," January 19). I think that Wright is correct to question the notion that Dobbs is a populist.

A recent profile of Dobbs that appeared in the New Yorker reveals that he often dines with corporate CEOs, the very people he accuses of waging "war on the middle class." This same article reports that Dobbs began his career as a business reporter. In that capacity, he was much respected by his colleagues for his understanding of the business world.

In view of this, I think we can assume that Dobbs's attacks on immigrants are not the result of ignorance. They are a conscious effort to divide and weaken the working class. It would be a tragic mistake for people on the left to think they can work with Dobbs.
Evan Kornfeld, Eugene, Ore.

Back to the top

Playing politics with lives

I AM writing because I noticed one of those rare stories, usually buried at the back of the paper, where government officials actually admit playing politics with people's lives.

Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2005 during the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, said January 19 in New York that party politics influenced decisions on whether, where and when FEMA would take control.

Brown said that some in the Bush administration suggested that the feds take charge in Louisiana because Gov. Kathleen Blanco is a white female Democrat, while leaving Mississippi's male Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in control in his state.

It's a form of "divide-and-conquer" tactics. The White House was seemingly counting on the blame for the pathetic response in Louisiana falling on Blanco, and then wanted to use the fallout to stoke mistrust among the Black population of Louisiana against the white Democratic governor, thereby picking up votes for the Republicans. Meanwhile, a more effective rescue effort in Mississippi meant Barbour would look good.

Republicans may have also been trying to pit Blanco against New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is African American, like a high percentage of his city's residents. The Nagin-Blanco feud was public for a while, a thinly-veiled symbol of racial tension, probably to the delight of Karl Rove.

How dare these vile scum! Sacrificing the chance to save lives by handcuffing the Democrats and playing them off each other--who knows how many more lives could have been saved?

Of course, the White House denied Brown's accusation, but it helps explain Bush and Co.'s wholly inadequate response. Considering the racism of other Bush administration policies, Brown's statements seem well within the realm of possibility.

This is not to excuse any failings of the Democrats, but what Brown says that the Republicans did is unconscionable. To make sure this never happens again, we must build a movement not only to stop the Bush gang in particular, but also to fight for a world where people's lives are more important that winning an election.
Jonathan Wexler, Atlanta

Home page | Back to the top