The police murder of George Floyd added jet fuel to a nationwide push to defund the police. We go to Minneapolis to speak with Kandace Montgomery, co-executive director of Black Visions Collective, about their response to the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd and an update on the push to divest from Minneapolis police and invest in communities.
Archive for category: DEMOCRACY NOW
The Biden administration is struggling to address the flow of migrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents, many fleeing extreme violence, poverty and natural disasters in their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. News reports show more than 3,500 children were detained at the border in just the first nine days of March, with many being held longer than the legal limit of 72 hours. “We can call it a crisis. We can call it a surge,” says Aura Bogado, senior investigative reporter at Reveal. “What we shouldn’t call it is a surprise.”
Democrats in Congress are pushing ahead with impeachment following the violent insurrection that killed five people at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The single article of impeachment against President Trump cites his incitement of insurrection and accuses him of subverting and obstructing the certification of the 2020 election. This comes as authorities are warning of more right-wing violence around Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, with possible armed far-right protests planned at all 50 state capitols as well as the U.S. Capitol. We speak with Walden Bello, an acclaimed sociologist, academic, environmentalist and activist, whose latest column argues the United States has entered a “Weimar Era,” in which democratic elections are increasingly delegitimized as street violence becomes the norm. “This is not something that’s unusual that has happened in the Capitol. Right-wing groups, when they begin to lose electorally, … they resort to the streets and to violence in order to stop that process,” says Bello.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to what’s happening in the Capitol. The Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to vote to impeach President Trump as soon as Wednesday, unless Trump resigns or Vice President Mike Pence first invokes the 25th Amendment to remove him, which looks unlikely. On Monday, House Democrats unveiled a single article of impeachment against the president for incitement of insurrection against the government of the United States, a week after Trump’s supporters violently attacked the Capitol. Trump is also accused of subverting and obstructing the certification of the 2020 election. The article of impeachment states, quote, “Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”
This comes as authorities are warning of more right-wing violence around Joe Biden’s inauguration January 20th. The FBI has warned of possible armed far-right protests being planned in all 50 state capitals, plus the U.S. Capitol, beginning January 16th. In Washington, 15,000 members of the National Guard are expected to be deployed ahead of the inauguration. The New York Times reports Pentagon officials are preparing for a number of nightmare scenarios, including snipers targeting attendees of the inauguration, drone attacks and “suicide-type aircraft.”
Authorities have also expressed concern about the number of active-duty soldiers and veterans, as well as police officers, who took part in the insurrection last week. Commanders at Fort Bragg are investigating the role of a PSYOPS Army captain — that’s a psychological operations Army captain — who led a group from North Carolina to D.C. last week to rally for President Trump. Meanwhile, two Capitol Hill police officers have been suspended, and at least a dozen others are under investigation, for aiding the attack that left five people dead, including a Capitol Hill police officer, who supported Donald Trump.
For an international perspective on the crisis facing the United States, we go to the Philippines to speak with Walden Bello, the acclaimed sociologist, academic, environmentalist and activist. His latest column for Foreign Policy in Focus is headlined “America Has Entered the Weimar Era.” Walden Bello is also a senior analyst at the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, as well as an international adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Bello is the author or co-author of 25 books. Part of his book Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right looks at the social roots of Trumpism. Bello served as a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 2009 to 2015. He’s the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Walden Bello, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can talk about what you thought as the insurrection unfolded last week? If you could put this in a global context?
WALDEN BELLO: Yes. Well, Amy, thanks a lot, and Juan, for inviting me to your program.
Well, let me just say that the first thing that came to mind was, of course, shock at this insurrection right at the very heart of the American political system. But, on the other hand, having studied counterrevolutions, it was sort of something that, although I did not expect it to take this dramatic form, you know, that this kind of street-type warfare, mobilization of the streets, you know, that the right wing, or the far right, in the United States would resort to this.
And, you know, things that came back, came to my mind, were, for instance, the right-wing gangs in Chile that created the chaos that resulted in the military intervention that ousted President Allende back in 1973. And, you know, we had these groups like Patria y Libertad that pretty much were like this, the Proud Boys in the United States and the other right-wing gangsters.
Another image that flashed into my mind was the fascist squadristi of Mussolini, you know, that took power first by taking over the streets. And because the socialists in Italy at that time were becoming quite popular at the ballot box, the ruling class fought back mainly by promoting the fascist squads in their very violent ways of repressing the left.
And, of course, the other image that came to my mind was, you know, in the late ’20s, the last years of the Weimar Republic, where basically there was a strong political polarization that was taking place, and the fascists, or the Nazis, wanted to resolve the stalemate, parliamentary stalemate, by basically taking over the streets and beating up people, beating up social democrats, beating up the communists, and using that surge from the streets to be able to push Hitler to power, both through electoral as well as the street terrorist means.
So, this is not something that’s unusual that has happened in the Capitol. Right-wing groups, when they begin to lose electorally, when they begin to see that their opponents are gaining the upper hand in terms of being able to win elections and electorally, they resort to the streets and to violence in order to stop that process.
So, those are the things that came to mind. It was very dramatic. But, on the other hand, it was something that I, having studied counterrevolutions, expected something like it would happen at some point in the United States, given the developments over the last few years, which has really resulted in this move to the far right of significant sectors of the population that are allied to the Republican Party.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Walden Bello, I wanted to ask you. In another article you wrote back in May, titled “The Race to Replace a Dying Neoliberalism,” you write — and I’m quoting you — “Crises do not always result in significant change. It is the interaction or synergy between two elements: an objective one, meaning a systemic crisis, and a subjective one, that is, the people’s psychological response to it that is decisive.” And you go on to say, “Unfortunately, it is the extreme right that is currently best positioned to take advantage of the global discontent.” And you mention that in both the Global North and the Global South. Could you explain why that is?
WALDEN BELLO: Well, OK, I was referring to the fact, you know, that the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 dragged on and on without any real resolution, because the steps were not taken to really control the banks, save homeowners and bring a significant employment back to the United States. You know, that was a very alienating process. So, that neoliberalism, as I said, you know, helped create this situation. So, if in 2008 you did not yet have the conditions for radicalization, by the time COVID-19 erupted in 2020, the conditions were there for this polarization, this radicalization, to increase even more.
Now, when I say that the extreme right has been the one that has been able to benefit from this more than the left, I mean mainly that — several things, you know, that there was this appeal to racism, a dog whistle-type Republican politics that started with Richard Nixon with the Southern strategy, you know; so, the second one was, of course, the impact of neoliberalism that created so much unemployment, deindustrialization. And especially among workers, including white workers, you had significant unemployment and deindustrialization hitting their communities, and then the fact also that so much of the working class, of the white working class, began to no longer see the Democratic Party as the party that was carrying their interests, because of a sense that somehow the Democratic Party had begun to buy into the neoliberal narrative, starting, for instance, with Clinton and up to Obama.
And so, there was this mass of people, white workers, that was ready to be mobilized someplace, and it was Trump and the right in the United States that took advantage of that, mobilized them, but in a right-wing direction, in a racist direction, basically. So, that’s when basically you had this process of right-wing mobilization, that which said, you know, “You have liberals taking away what should be yours and giving that to the minorities,” so explaining the economic crisis of workers in racist terms, you know? So, this is the kind of base, this is the kind of hidden mass, that Trump was able to cultivate. And let me just say that with respect to Trumpism, you know, that Trump is as much a creature as the creator of that base. There’s this synergy that’s taking place there.
So, on the other hand, when you look at the left, the left was the one that recognized the critique of globalization. And unfortunately, that came from the independent left. But the broad left, with social democrats in Europe, the Democratic Party in the United States, was pretty much seen as complicit with neoliberal, pro-Wall Street policies. OK? And so, you know, an alternative that would come from the mainstream left and the Democratic Party, that wasn’t coming at all. And so, what we saw happening in this process was, yes, there were great ideas coming from the left — you know, deglobalization, degrowth — fantastic ideas that were for an alternative society; the unfortunate thing is that it wasn’t gaining any political traction. Right down to the grassroots, it was just — you know, the progressives were just not gaining that kind of mass base that was very necessary.
And that’s why I said that, and especially during that Trump years, it was the right, it was people like Trump, that was cherry-picking anti-globalization and other elements that had been offered by the left, cherry-picking them, but putting them —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, if I can —
WALDEN BELLO: — in a right-wing gestalt. Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, if I can ask you about another issue that you’ve focused on? And you say that the COVID-19 pandemic has really accelerated the decline of the United States as a worldwide power and the rise of China as — the continued rise of China as the industrial heartland of modern capitalism.
WALDEN BELLO: Yes. Well, I think that, to link that to what I said earlier, so much of the deindustrialization, the shipping of jobs that took place, you know, was carried out by corporate America, and a lot of those jobs and industrial processes were shifted to China. And it was the U.S. corporate, transnational class that carried this out, you know? Now, of course, China played a role there, but China was seeking developmental objectives, whereas the TNCs, the U.S. TNCs, were using it purely for exploitative purposes.
So, what happened, basically, was China became the workshop of the world. You had a massive industrial base that was created, that produced value and became the new center of global accumulation, whereas what happened to the United States was deindustrialization, people thrown out of jobs, communities deindustrialized and the economy financialized, so that it became — the United States economy basically began to run mainly on financialization and speculation. So, that core of a healthy economy, that was centered on industry and the creation of value, that disappeared. And so, this is the background of my comment, that you had the creation of a strong center of capital accumulation in China that paralleled the collapse of the industrial capacity of the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how has the failure of our government to deal with COVID accelerated that?
WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, when you look at what happened with COVID, was when it hit, because so much of the supplies, even of personal protective equipment, had been sourced to China, and the United States was no longer capable of producing this because so much of its manufacturing capacity had been shifted over to China, OK, that you saw that, in addition to the pandemic, you also had this crisis of global supply chains, that began to stop because the Chinese economy in the first few months of 2020 also stopped, you know? So, basically, you had this interaction of an economic crisis and a pandemic coming together, especially in the United States, which was, of course, accelerated by the fact that Trump never took COVID-19 seriously. And so you had this concatenation of events, economic, political and ideological, that just created this tremendous crisis of leadership in the United States and an economic crisis at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Walden Bello, you were a young student in Chile on another September 11th: September 11, 1973, when the Pinochet forces rose to power, overthrowing the democratically elected president of Chile. If you can talk about — I mean, you’re talking about the pandemic now. Three thousand people die a day in the United States alone, by far the worst death toll in the world. Three thousand people, that’s a 9/11 every single day in the United States. What does the Pinochet years have to teach us, in Chile? What does the Marcos years in your home country of the Philippines, and even what’s happening with Duterte today, have to teach us about President Trump and what you talk about as the crises to come in this country? I mean, the FBI just warned that in the next days we could face violent attacks in all 50 state capitols. What lessons should we understand?
WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, several things, Amy. Firstly, key lesson that we should understand here is that when the forces of reaction, when the right, begins to lose at the ballot box, begins to lose in terms of voting in parliaments, it resorts to street warfare to be able to stop the democratic process. And this is what happened in Chile, basically. You know, we had a duly elected government, and the right tried to stop it, in terms of legislatively and bureaucratically. And when it couldn’t do that, then the right-wing mobs came and basically took over the streets and beat up the left and created a new situation, you know, that then invited military intervention. And that’s where Pinochet came in, quote-unquote, “for the sake of political stability,” but really in a process that favored the right.
The second thing that comes from that is that Chile had a very proud tradition of military nonintervention in politics from the early days of the Chilean republic. But in 1973, when you had a situation of political polarization, the military came in and intervened in favor of the right. Now, what I’m saying here is that we should not underestimate or overestimate the strength of political institutions like civilian control of the military. You know, at some point, if there’s great political polarization that takes place, then those sort of principles begin to become more loose, and we should expect that there will be elements within the security forces, within the agencies of the state, that would say, “Hey, the civilians can’t work it out. The political elite is divided. We have to be the ones to stabilize the country. And we stabilize it by eliminating democracy.” OK? So, basically, this is the same thing that happened in the Philippines in 1972. Marcos basically said, “Democracy is now stalemated. We have to move forward. And therefore, we have to declare an authoritarian regime.”
So, that’s what I’m saying at this point in time, you know, that do not overestimate the strength of American political institutions, because Trump has shown over the last four years how he could easily violate so many U.S. traditions, and we have not seen the end of that. In fact, I’m thinking, at this point in time, you know, that since the demographic balance is going against the white population in the United States, since the political balance is going against the Republican Party, and we just saw, for instance, how Georgia and a number of other states, Arizona, through political mobilization, have gone over to the Democrats — we saw how the popular vote was won by Biden with over 7 million votes — so, basically, the political, electoral weight is shifting over to the left, to the broad left, to this coalition of progressives, liberals and minorities. And I think — given that, I think you should be expecting more street warfare being waged by the right in the United States at this point in time. And I think this is something that people should just be prepared for, because if they can’t win electorally, they’ll win through trying to control the streets. And if that happens, then that creates the possibility or the opening for military intervention.
So, I think they enter — the U.S., in fact, I think, is entering what I call the Weimar period, which is basically the period of both electoral and street struggle and chaos that characterized the last days of the Weimar Republic and ended with the elevation of Hitler in 1933 to the chancellorship. So, you know, of course things may not happen exactly the same, OK, and we should always remember that history never repeats itself in quite the same way. But at the same time, there are lessons that we should be taking from the rise of counterrevolutionary movements in the 20th century and in this century, and that the United States is not exempt from this. The United States is no longer the kind of exceptional society. The United States, as events have shown over the last few years, and especially the last few months and the last few days, is becoming more and more like the rest of the world. So, this is the end of American exceptionalism.
AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, we want to thank you so much for being with us, acclaimed Filipino scholar, activist, author of many books, including Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right. We’ll also link to your latest piece, “America Has Entered the Weimar Era,” and also encourage people to go to our conversation with Allan Nairn last week, who talked about what’s happened in the Capitol as a mild version of what the U.S. has supported abroad, for example, in Chile, in Guatemala, in El Salvador.
Oh, and this breaking news: Billionaire casino owner and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson has died at the age of 87. Adelson was Donald Trump’s largest single donor during the 2016 race. Since 2015, he donated more than $250 million to Republican candidates and right-wing super PACs. He was also an influential political power in Israel, where he used his news outlets to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. He will be buried in Israel.
Next, we look at President Trump’s race to execute more prisoners before his term ends, in an unprecedented lame-duck killing spree. Back in 30 seconds.
Dozens of immigrant women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia have joined a class-action lawsuit against ICE over allegations they were subjected to nonconsensual and invasive gynecological procedures and surgeries that were later found to be unnecessary, and in some cases left them unable to have children. The lawsuit cites sworn testimony from at least 35 women about their treatment by Mahendra Amin, a physician in Ocilla, Georgia, and describes retaliation and threats of deportation for speaking out. “We have more than 40 women who filed sworn testimony in court despite consistent attempts by ICE to silence them,” says Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at Project South and co-counsel for women at Irwin who say they were subjected to these procedures. We also speak with two women who say they underwent unnecessary medical procedures: Wendy Dowe, who was deported to Jamaica after she says her fallopian tubes were removed without her consent, and Elizabeth, who is detained at the Irwin County ICE jail and who says she faced retaliation for speaking up about her unnecessary medical treatment.
Joe Biden’s nominee for defense secretary, retired four-star Army General Lloyd Austin, would make history as the first African American to lead the Pentagon if confirmed by the Senate. But Austin can only be confirmed if he secures a waiver from Congress due to laws designed to preserve the civilian control of the military, and several leading Democratic senators have indicated they would oppose granting a waiver. Andrew Bacevich, president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, says he shares those concerns. “The general is not a civilian, and it seems to me if we’re serious about civilian control of the military — and we should be as citizens — that we ought to have a bona fide civilian in charge of the Pentagon,” he says.
As the World Food Programme accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, we look at the growing global hunger crisis amid the pandemic, the climate crisis and war. In the United States, as many as 50 million people could experience food insecurity before the end of the year — including one in four children. “It’s important to remember that hunger does not always happen because of natural disasters,” says Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It is often the result of things that we do to each other deliberately.”
A nearly three-decade-old ceasefire has ended in occupied Western Sahara — what many consider to be Africa’s last colony. Fighting has broken out in several areas between the Moroccan military and the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement seeking independence, after the Moroccan military broke into a no-go buffer zone in southern Western Sahara. For the past three weeks, Sahrawi civilian protesters had blocked a Morocco-built road in the area that Sahrawis consider to be illegal. The peaceful blockade backed up traffic for miles and cut off trade between Morocco and Mauritania to the south. The Polisario Front says it is now mobilizing thousands of volunteers to join for the fight for independence. “We have not seen fighting like this in Western Sahara since 1991,” says Jacob Mundy, associate professor of peace and conflict studies and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Colgate University. “We’ve seen tensions on the rise, but to have open warfare like this is very significant.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
A nearly three-decade-old ceasefire has ended in occupied Western Sahara. Morocco has occupied the territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. Western Sahara is widely considered to be Africa’s last colony. Over the weekend, fighting broke out in several areas between the Moroccan military and the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement seeking independence. Meanwhile, Morocco has intensified its repression in occupied Western Sahara, raiding the homes of independence activists, cracking down on protests. Moroccan military drones were reportedly spotted in the city of Dakhla.
The ceasefire ended Friday after the Moroccan military broke into a no-go buffer zone in southern Western Sahara and exchanged fire with the Polisario Front. For the past three weeks, Sahrawi civilian protesters had blocked a Morocco-built road in the area that Sahrawis consider to be illegal. The peaceful blockade backed up traffic for miles and cut off trade between Morocco and Mauritania to the south. The Moroccan military entered the buffer zone on Friday morning to disperse the civilians, who were evacuated to safety by the Polisario Front. Morocco took military action just hours after U.S. Major General Andrew Rohling met in Morocco with the commander of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Southern Zone, which includes occupied Western Sahara. At the United Nations, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned against further violations of the ceasefire.
STÉPHANE DUJARRIC: The secretary-general remains committed to doing his utmost to avoid the collapse of the ceasefire that has been in place since 6 September, 1991. And he is determined to do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the resumption of the political process.
AMY GOODMAN: The Polisario Front says hundreds of Sahrawi volunteers have signed up and left for the front over the weekend from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. Sidi Omar, the Polisario Front’s representative to the United Nations, said, quote, “For us, it is an open war,” unquote. In the streets of Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, Sahrawi protesters took to the streets in a nighttime demonstration for independence.
AMY GOODMAN: Sahrawis also demonstrated over the weekend in other cities, including occupied Dakhla.
AMY GOODMAN: Protests in solidarity with Sahrawi independence also occurred over the weekend in Spain and in New Zealand, where activists with Extinction Rebellion and other groups protested at a fertilizer company which buys phosphate from occupied Western Sahara.
In a moment, we’ll speak to professor Jacob Mundy at Colgate University about the end of the ceasefire, but first let’s take a look at the roots of the crisis. In 2016, Democracy Now! broke the media blockade imposed by Morocco and reported from inside occupied Western Sahara. We were the first international news team to report from the occupied territory in years. This is an excerpt from our documentary, Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony.
AMY GOODMAN: Western Sahara, where peaceful protesters, led by women, are beaten in the streets. Thousands have been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation.
SULTANA KHAYA: [translated] He jabbed right at my eye with his baton. I was yelling at him, “Hey, you Moroccan! You pulled out my eye!”
AMY GOODMAN: Where natural resources are plundered, from phosphates to fish.
HMAD HAMMAD: [translated] I say that our damnation comes from the natural resources we have here. If it wasn’t for these natural resources, Morocco never would have invaded Western Sahara.
AMY GOODMAN: Where a massive wall divides a people, the Sahrawi, the native population, denied a vote for self-determination.
ELGHALIA DJIMI: [translated] If we don’t speak out, especially us, as victims who have suffered all of this, if we don’t speak out and defend our cause, this problem will remain.
AMY GOODMAN: Western Sahara — the center of a four-decades-long struggle for independence from Morocco, its neighbor to the north. Morocco has occupied the territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community.
The story of Western Sahara is one of colonialism, plunder and resistance. It’s also a story rarely told in the international media.
And it’s here in Western Sahara where the scholar Noam Chomsky says the Arab Spring first began in late 2010, before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The Moroccan forces came in, destroyed tent cities, a lot of killed and wounded and so on. And then it spread.
AMY GOODMAN: But the struggle in Western Sahara dates back much longer. For nearly a century, Western Sahara was colonized by Spain. But the Spanish occupation ended in 1975, setting off a regional fight. On October 31st, 1975, both Morocco from the north and Mauritania from the south invaded Western Sahara as Spain withdrew.
Days after Moroccan troops invaded, King Hassan II ordered hundreds of thousands of Moroccan citizens to enter Western Sahara in what became known as the Green March. Mauritania would withdraw less than four years later, but Morocco has remained to this day.
Just days after the Moroccan invasion, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger privately told President Gerald Ford he hoped for a, quote, “rigged UN vote” at the Security Council to confirm Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara.
About half of the Sahrawi population fled the invasion to neighboring Algeria, where they settled in refugee camps in the middle of the desert. The Moroccan invasion set off a 16-year-long war with the Sahrawi liberation movement known as the Polisario Front. Morocco’s army, with the help of U.S. military aid, drove the Polisario to Western Sahara’s Eastern Desert. Morocco then created the world’s longest minefield and built the second-longest wall on Earth, with the help of U.S. weapons companies Northrop and Westinghouse.
The nearly 1,700-mile wall divides Sahrawis who remain under occupation from those who fled into exile.
The Moroccan government began decades of torture, disappearances, killings and repression against pro-independence Sahrawis living in the occupied territory.
In 1991, the U.N. sponsored a ceasefire and promised Sahrawis a referendum on self-determination, organized by its peacekeeping mission known as MINURSO. Since then, Morocco has blocked attempts to organize the vote, and the U.N. Security Council has refused to implement its own referendum plan or allow MINURSO to monitor the human rights situation in the territory.
Today, no country recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, one of the most inaccessible places in the world. And the international media has largely ignored the occupation, in part because Morocco has routinely blocked journalists from entering Western Sahara.
But in late 2016,Democracy Now! successfully broke the news blockade. We were in Marrakech, Morocco, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. With U.N. credentials and U.S. passports, we decided to take a chance and attempt to do what no foreign television crew has done in years: report from Africa’s last colony.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Democracy Now!’s documentary, Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony. Special thanks to Mike Burke, John Hamilton, Denis Moynihan and Laura Gottesdiener. You can watch the full documentary at democracynow.org.
On Friday, a nearly three-decade-old ceasefire has ended in occupied Western Sahara after Morocco launched a military operation.
We’re now joined by Jacob Mundy, associate professor of peace and conflict studies and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Colgate University. He co-authored the book Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.
Professor Mundy, it’s great to have you on Democracy Now! We just went deep dive into the history of what’s happening in Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony, because so few people understand what’s happening there. But this critical moment that took place last week when Morocco violated the no buffer zone, explain the significance of breaking this 29-year ceasefire.
JACOB MUNDY: Yeah, we haven’t seen fighting like this in Western Sahara since 1991. There have been periods where, due to increasing tensions and the lack of progress toward self-determination, we’ve seen tensions on the rise, but to have open warfare like this is very significant.
The civilians that were blockading the road, being really the only paved road that connects West Africa to Europe, was a significant tactical victory by Polisario, and clearly it aggravated Morocco enough that they launched a military incursion. And Morocco has said explicitly that this was a military operation. So, what we have is Moroccan forces crossing into a restricted area that’s technically under Polisario sovereignty, so this is a clear violation of the ceasefire. And we’ve heard nothing from the Security Council.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what the stakes are right now. And also, what do you understand is U.S. involvement? We saw this tweet from Saharawi Voice: “On the same day the Moroccan army launched its operation in Guerguerat yesterday, US Army Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling was meeting with Moroccan Gen. Belkhir El Farouk, who’s in charge of the Moroccan army’s operations in Western Sahara.”
JACOB MUNDY: Well, the significance is that if this spirals out of control, you could see a very, very significant war between Morocco and Polisario forces. Were Morocco to chase Polisario forces all the way into Algeria, then you could see a third party enter, which is Algeria, which is also on high alert right now and very, very concerned about this in terms of what it does for security across the Sahara region, which we’ve seen in recent years has been a zone that’s seen a lot of conflict and terrorism and unfortunate things like that.
The connections between the Moroccan military and the U.S. military have grown in recent years, largely due to Morocco’s cooperation with the construction of AFRICOM as the U.S. military command in Africa. Morocco hosts one of the largest training exercises organized by AFRICOM. It’s called the African Lion annual exercise, where countries from all over Africa participate. And it’s usually held — provocatively, I think — in southern Morocco not too far from Western Sahara. So, it certainly is not good optics that Morocco chose to launch this military incursion in violation of the U.N. ceasefire on the same day that military commanders were in Morocco preparing for their annual African Lion exercise.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what happened when the United States was pushing for Arab nations to recognize Israel — you know, UAE, among others, Jared Kushner making a massive weapons deal with UAE? And then we heard that Morocco would be one of the countries that would do this, as well. Now, in 2019, in the Trump administration, major weapons sales to Morocco, and then we heard that perhaps Morocco would also recognize Israel, perhaps in exchange for U.S. recognizing de facto Morocco’s occupation, de facto occupation of, annexation of Western Sahara.
JACOB MUNDY: Yeah, we’ve heard this reported in several locations. It hasn’t happened yet, thankfully. The State Department has actually, in some ways, been, historically, as an institution, one of the more sober voices when it comes to these efforts within various U.S. administrations to push for recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. We saw this in the W. Bush administration with Elliott Abrams seeking to get U.S. recognition, and the State Department poured cold water over it. And recently the State Department has said that this isn’t on the table, in terms of Morocco recognizing Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition over its sovereignty over Western Sahara.
So, the bigger picture, though, is that, yes, Morocco is using arms purchases as a way of signaling its allegiance to U.S. interests in the region. Not having had good relations with the Trump administration so far, having really bet on Clinton winning the elections in 2016, Morocco has had to find other ways to try to communicate to the White House its interest in strengthening their partnership, and so one of the ways they did this was through massive arm purchases, that Morocco in 2019 eclipsed Egypt as the number one arms purchaser for U.S. weaponry. And that’s their way of signaling to an administration that’s been quite aggressive in terms of pushing U.S. weapons abroad, and Morocco has tried to get on that train so as to improve relations with the Trump administration.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2019, something like $1 billion the U.S. sold in missiles and other weaponry to Morocco. What do you think it will take for another ceasefire right now, Professor Mundy? What can the United Nations do? One of the leaders of the Sahrawi people, Aminatou Haidar, many of these activists are in Laayoune — they are essentially, virtually, under house arrest, being monitored nonstop — has appealed to the U.N. Security Council. And significantly, South Africa is now on the Security Council, that has long been an ally of the Sahrawi people.
JACOB MUNDY: Well, it will take a major diplomatic initiative from the U.N. The Sahrawis are generally very tired of the empty promises of the Security Council and the U.N. Secretariat. The previous personal envoy who led the negotiations between Morocco and Polisario left in 2019 and hasn’t been replaced in over a year and a half. And that just shows you that the Security Council is willing to let this issue drift. And it’s drifted back into open warfare.
So, it’s difficult to say what it will take to pull Polisario back. The Sahrawis, especially those who lived in exile since 1975, about 180,000 of them in the refugee camps in Tindouf, are incredibly frustrated. They’ve been frustrated for decades. They almost returned to war in 2001. And hundreds of Sahrawis from the diaspora voluntarily returned to Algeria unprompted to join the fight. So you can imagine, what, you know, 20 years later, how many Sahrawis are really willing to go to war. And there’s really no reason for them to respect the words of the U.N., because the U.N. has been on the ground since 1991 promising a referendum and has done nothing to push forward with that.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk about Tindouf, Tindouf in Algeria, where so many Sahrawis are living in refugee camps for years, now it’s from these refugee camps that young men, hundreds of them, are leaving to go to this buffer zone to fight?
JACOB MUNDY: Exactly. There’s a large youth population in the refugee camps, especially young men. There’s not a lot of economic activities, opportunities for them. Military service is required. And the reserves are being called up. Polisario already has advance placements inside what they call the liberated territories, the about a fifth of Western Sahara that’s under their control. And they’ve already mobilized attacks against Moroccan positions along the separation wall inside Western Sahara. More troops are heading to the area to reinforce them and to continue the fight. Morocco is pretending like nothing’s happening in its media — not surprising. They fairly were caught very unprepared, and some positions were easily overrun by Polisario forces.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back, to give a little more history to what is happening here, to Democracy Now!’s documentary, _Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony_. While we were in Western Sahara in 2016, Moroccan authorities violently broke up an independence protest led by Sahrawi women. This was not unusual. We traveled to meet with the women shortly after the protest ended.
AMY GOODMAN: Inside, we find a number of women tending to an activist named Aziza Biza, who’s retching and vomiting from her injuries.
AMY GOODMAN: Should she go to a hospital?
JAMAL: She said she can’t go to a hospital, because they will not admit her, and she’s also too scared to go there.
AMY GOODMAN: The activists have recorded video of their protest — and the subsequent beatings by Moroccan forces — on cellphones and camcorders.
What our cameras couldn’t capture, citizen journalists’ could.
We begin downloading their footage, as activist Mina Bali describes what happened.
MINABALI: [translated] Because of your presence here, we wanted to have a protest and show you how things are here — and how we are treated.
It’s been about two years since any journalists have accessed the territory.
We came chanting slogans, making peace signs with our fingers, as usual. And then they intervened against us in the street.
They were a large group. They pushed us into a narrow street. They took me. One of them grabbed my hair, and he started beating me. He wounded me here, under my nose. He grabbed my breast and continued beating me against the wall.
Aziza was with me, and he struck her in the kidney and hit her head against the wall. And then she fell on the ground at my feet.
And Ghalia Yimani was being dragged there. And Sultana Khaya.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to go with the women to see their bruises. They’re going to show me. And then we’ll see what we can show the camera.
AMY GOODMAN: We follow Sultana Khaya into a small bedroom. She pulls back her melhfa — her traditional Sahrawi robe — and shows me fresh bruises on her leg, both arms and on her breast.
AMY GOODMAN: Sultana, describe what happened to you?
SULTANA KHAYA: [translated] All of us were participating as Sahrawis in the peaceful demonstrations for our right to self-determination. I was trying to gather my sisters for the protest at 5:00. And the whole area was besieged.
They were insulting us, beating us, dragging us and using violence, to let us know that we weren’t going to be able to protest.
They tried to single us out, and pushed us into narrow streets where they could beat us without anyone observing.
What you saw today is nothing compared to what we’ve witnessed, over and over, since 1975. But the news never gets out.
As Sahrawi women, we’re not backing off until we get our final victory and liberate our homeland. The beatings will not deter us from continuing the fight. And even if we die, it will be a sacrifice, so that our sons and future generations can live in the freedom that we’ve been denied.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s an excerpt from from our Democracy Now! documentary, and we’re going to post the whole thing at democracynow.org, Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony. Professor Jacob Mundy, as we wrap up here, if you can talk — I mean, the women we talked to — for example, Mina Bali, who had just been beaten very badly — Aminatou Haidar was not there, but Mina and Aminatou, they are under house siege right now in Laayoune. Elghalia Djimi ran the Human Rights Center. Sultana Khaya had her eye poked out by Moroccan police 10 years before, and she was being beaten once again. Where do you see this resistance going at this time? And could you see this becoming an outright major confrontation? And what chance does the Polisario have when it comes to military competition as opposed to solving this diplomatically?
JACOB MUNDY: Yeah, those are good questions. The concern is, and we’re seeing evidence, that Morocco is using this new context as a pretext to crack down on Sahrawi civil society. We’re actually at the 10-year anniversary of the events that — in the documentary, you noted that Noam Chomsky called the protest at Gdeim Izik the first uprising of the Arab uprisings of 2011. We’re also at the anniversary of the accords whereby Madrid agreed to hand over Western Sahara to Mauritania and Morocco in 1975. So it’s a very strange situation we’re in right now with these anniversaries.
And the significance is that Sahrawi civil society has been under incredible pressure by Morocco since 2010, since the uprising then, and we haven’t seen anything significant in terms of popular manifestations. So, the blockade at Guerguerat was one of the most significant acts of civil disobedience we’ve seen from Sahrawis in about a decade. And it was significant enough to trigger a Moroccan military incursion, that in turn triggered a Polisario response that has now led to war.
Now, Polisario, it will be very difficult for them to regain territory inside the occupied Western Sahara, but they can do significant damage to Moroccan forces along the defensive barrier, where most of Morocco’s thousands, tens of thousands of troops are positioned. And so, what we’ll see is whether or not this turns into a war of attrition or if it’s just kind of a tit-for-tat exchange and then, hopefully, cooler heads from the U.N. will come in and make the usual promises. And hopefully, out of this, we can get something more meaningful in terms of a peace process and something that can actually lead to self-determination.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jacob Mundy, I want to thank you for being with us, associate professor of peace and conflict studies and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Colgate University, co-author of the book called Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.
When we come back, 44 years. That’s how long an African American man in North Carolina was held for a crime he did not commit. He recently got out of jail and voted for the first time. Stay with us.
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