Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mercenaries and the Worth of American Citizenship

The New York Times reports today that the United States is considering increasing troop levels in Iraq in order to secure the captial of Baghdad. This would raise the number from 134,000 to close to 150,000. This same week, the Boston Globe reported that officials at the Pentagon are considering recruiting immigrants and foreigners into the military , exchanging service for citizenship.

Some worry that using noncitizens in the military would amount to relying mercenaries to do the work of providing security and peacekeeping. Obviously, Pentagon officials have ignored the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli, who argued against the use of mercenaries in "The Prince":

"Any man who founds his state on mercenaries can never be safe or secure, because they are disunited, ambitious, undisciplined and untrustworthy--bold fellows among their friends, but cowardly in the face of the enemy: they have no fear of God or loyalty to men"

Machiavelli believes that mercenary troops are untrustworthy for two reasons: either they will always be trying to increase their authority by attacking their employers or by "oppressing people with whom you have no quarrel" In short, mercenary troops can be loose canons. Machiavelli concludes: "Experience teaches that independent princes and well-armed republics accomplish great things, but mercenary armies do nothing but lose."

Of course, some might argue that Machiavelli is talking about the use of mercenaries by republics for defense and the U.S. is far from a simple republic anymore. Instead some theorists, from a wide political spectrum, suggest that the U.S. is better thought of as an empire. Michael Walzer responds that even if we are not strictly speaking an empire, we must acknowledge that our power is wide reaching and hegemonic in away that is similar to how empires work.

A final interesting thought about this proposal is how American citizenship is conceived. The Pentagon is betting on the idea the citizenship is a kind of good that noncitizens and foreigners will want so badly that they will put their lives at risk to get it. The idea that American citizenship is this kind of good is at the heart of Joel Olson's terrific book "The Abolition of White Democracy"( thanks to our friend Tony Vogt for turning us on to this).

Olson builds on the Judith Shklar's idea that to be a citizen in America is to have a kind of special social "standing" with its owns rights,responsibilitiess, and respect. Olson argues that American citizenship has been something that white people have appropriated to further their own supremacy over people of color, denying them full standing in society and, thus, full human dignity. In other words, whiteness has come to equal citizenship and more civic benefits come with whiteness than not. This would seem to be supported by a recent study that suggest that immigrants with whiter complexions tend to do much better economically in ours society than those with darker skin.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Immigration and Family Values: "All They Will Call You Will Be 'Deportee""

Our friend Dennis alerts us to the week's news about the large immigration raids that netted about 1300 undocumented workers. The raids, part of Operation Wagon Train, raised another fear around immigration: identity theft. Many workers use fake IDs with old Social Security numbers. There is a booming underground business in these IDs (called mica chuecas). What was left out of the reports by Homeland Security this week is that these fake IDs held by undocumented workers are generating billions of dollars in Social Secuity taxes. Most of this money, taken out by employers in the form of payroll taxes, will never been seen by the workers themselves, but goes into the general SSA fund.

What many people found hard to deal with in these raids was how they separated families. Hundreds of children around the country had their parents arrested and husbands and wives were separated from their spouses.

This separation of families is not something new to Mexicans in the United States or to immigrant families now. In 1931, the United States mounted a massive repatriation program that sent almost half a million Mexicans and Mexican Americans back to Mexico. Many people were arrested and not allowed to contact their families. Many were actually American citizens, and not undocumented aliens. The plight of this group was captured in song by Woody Guthrie's song "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos".

A wonderful documentary that captures the displacement and loss of family unity because of immigration is "Letters from the Other Side". I really recommend it for anyone who wants to see how trade policies such as NAFTA have affected rural Mexican families and put pressure on so many young men to cross the border looking for work. The result over the last 12 years is many communities in Mexico in which there is nothing but women and children trying to scrape by economically, dealing with the emotional loss and an indifferent Mexican government.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet, Human Rights, and the Love of Justice

Over this past weekend, the former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, died from complications from a heart attack he suffered earlier this month. Ariel Dorfman, a fervent critique of Pinochet, writes that the struggle in Chile only now begins in earnest to deal with the legacy of this human rights violator. Marc Cooper agrees.

Pinochet hoped that his legacy would be that of a liberator, someone who freed Latin America from what he considered the pernicious ideology of communism. Instead, he came to represent the evil of Latin American national security fascism in the 1970s and 80s. Through Operation Condor, Pinochet was able to contribute to a campaign of surveillance and torture of left wing dissidents that extended throughout Latin America, exacerbating the "dirty wars" that left thousands of people dead.

One of the dead was the folk singer Victor Jara. Jara, who pioneered Nueva Cancion protest music in Chile, was arrested shortly after Pinochet's coup. He suffered torture for four days, including having his hands and wrists broken by the guards and then he was machine gunned to death. His experience was not at all unusual. As explained in 2004-2005 by the Valech Report, the official Chilean government report investigating the torture, prisoners suffered various forms of torture (some of which we have seen pop up again at Abu Graib and seem to have become part of the arsenal of modern torture techniques. Some of these are now allowable by U.S. forces under the Military Commissions Act of 2006) including:

*Repeated beatings
Deliberate corporal lesions
Bodily hangings [suspensions]
Forced positions
Application of electricity
Mock execution by firing squad
Stripping down to nakedness
Sexual aggression and violence
Witnessing and listening to torture committed on others
Russian roulette
Witnessing the execution of other detainees
Confinement in subhuman conditions
Deliberate privation of means of existence
Sleep deprivation or interruption
Exposure to extreme temperatures*

*Sexual violence against women
This Commission heard testimony from 3,399 women, almost all of whom said they were the object of sexual violence; 316 said they were raped. Of the latter, 229 were detained while pregnant. Because of the torture they suffered, 20 of them aborted and 15 gave birth while in prison. Thirteen women said they were made pregnant by their captors; six of those pregnancies came to term.*

Instead of anti-communist hero, Pinochet comes to represent a new era in the creation of a global human rights regime, extending the work of Nuremberg onward to the International Criminal Court . As 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta maintains, Pinochet's arrest in 1998 in the UK for crimes against humanity is one of the most important human rights developments in decades. His case signifies that heads of states are not immune from prosecution for committing such atrocities.

Hopefully, Pinochet's death can help renew a discussion in the United States about our nation's support for authoritarian powers in the name of "anti-terrorism", and can highlight what kinds of crimes governments frequently engage in, often against their own citizens, under the guise of freedom and security. In other words, perhaps we can use the occasion to engage fully in Jara's hope of a world where there is:

"Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity.
Love of peace in order to enjoy one's life.
Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of other's freedom, but rather the freedom of all."

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Poor Mexico, So Far from Democracy, So Close to the United States

December 1 is the traditional day to inaugurate the president-elect in Mexico. A few days before the ceremony in Mexico City, deputies in the Mexican Congress physically shoved and pushed each other in order to take control of the podium. The aftermath of the controversial presidential elections has not yet subsided. Felipe Calderon takes over at a very delicate time in Mexican politics.

Once again, Mexican intellectual Enrique Krauze castigates Andres Manual Lopez Obrador for continuing to threaten democracy in Mexico. A few weeks ago, Lopez Obrador held his own unofficial inauguration and named himself the legitimate president of Mexico. He even maintains his own cabinet of ministers "in exile". Many commentators take Krauze's lead in thinking this tactic to be simply an expression of Lopez Obrador's "messianic personality" and "arrogance".

However, the creation of "parallel governments" or, states in exile, has long been considered one of the classical tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience. Gene Sharp, (of the Albert Einstein Institution) in his catalog of historical tactics of nonviolent direct action, lists it along with the maneuvers known to us from the work of activists such as Gandhi, King, and Chavez. Parallel governments are one way of registering noncooperation with a regime that is considered illegitimate.

The question becomes how long to continue the campaign of nonviolent resistance. Carlos Fuentes acknowledges that Lopez Obrador did a service in raising awareness of the problem of crippling poverty in Mexico and argues that the Mexican Left needs to find direction to lead. There are models and warnings, Fuentes says, in the recent developments in the rest of Latin America where in the past month Nicaragua and Ecuador have elected leftists to the presidency--joining a wave that includes Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay.

However, neither Fuentes or Krauze say much about the other issue that was central to Lopez Obrador: renegotiation of NAFTA in order to mitigate the impact of neoliberal economic trade policy on Mexico. In our podcast last July, Victor Vargas argued that the effects of neoliberalism had to come to the forefront of political and ethical debates in order to understand what was going on in Mexico. Mexico's troubles with democratization are only exacerbated by its commitment, made in 1994, to tie its well-being to the success of free trade with the United States.

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