Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Not to sound communistic, but, in many countries, all the land is owned by the people who live in that country. This is true in the U.S.
To use the U.S. as an example, land is obtained in several ways, and then it is "put in trust" for the people by the government. The government then decides who can use the land. The main thing to remember is that the government can take the land back at any time if it wants to use it for some public purpose. In recent years, the courts in the U.S. have been illegally legislating on this issue (illegal because they don't have the right to legislate, but they do anyway) by taking land from private citizens and giving it to private land developers.
Some of the ways the U.S. came to own the land (theoretically in the name of all the people) include
1. Taking it from previous owners by war (war-ending treaties or driving them off the land)
2. Getting it deeded to them by English, French and Spanish kings who owned by control
3. Buying it from previous owners
4. Having the previous owners deed over the land due to various other treaties
The government then begins to parcel out the land as it sees fit: for development, homesteading, putting it in trust for certain purposes (reserves, parks, etc.) or simply affirming private ownership which had already existed. None of this giving or reserving has to be permanent. This ultimate control of the land by the government is known as "eminent domain." The ultimate top government is called the "sovereign lord" from English times.
The U.S. Constitution allows the use of eminent domain ONLY for the purpose of a public good or benefit. It is obvious to all who can read, that the constitution was talking about using land for roads and bridges and dams and the like. In other words, they are not supposed to be able to take your land just to give to a builder to build condos there because more housing may be needed in your town. But they can do that now. You can thank former Justice John Paul Stevens for that ruling. I remember there was a petition drive to confiscate his personal country farm when he retired just to let him share in the blessings of his ruling, but nothing ever came of it.
Large public works projects almost always require the exercise of eminent domain. Many landowners or people living on the land which is needed for the project are displaced (and compensated, in the U.S. version, though such compensation doesn't have to be for any amount the landowner wants.)
What does a person do when he doesn't want to move and let the government take over his land? He finds out in a hurry that the government ultimately owns all the land; he will be forcefully removed from "his" land. If he persists in blocking or hindering the project, he will be imprisoned.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Since the turn of the last century, since the advances in electricity and what it can do, the U.S. and other countries have concentrated on getting the benefits of electricity to more and more people. Soon came the great electrification projects of the Great Depression and later. Huge numbers of people benefited. Quality of life improved for much of rural America. Farmers' way of life changed drastically. Factories were vitalized. A whole new age changed our lives forever.
Soon came efforts to "harness" the great rivers in the U.S. to produce electricity. There were a few great falls. Niagara comes to mind as one of the first that was harnessed to provide electric power. There are not many great falls of that magnitude, though, so the imagination turned to building dams to use the power of water. It was very costly. Hugely costly. But many were put to work at a time when work was hard to find. The great public works projects of the Great Depression helped pull America out of a terrible time in our history.
In the case of every dam we built, the river backed up and created the lake needed for falling water. People lived in these areas that had to be flooded. They had to be relocated. Sometimes smaller groups of people must sacrifice for the good that will affect so many more people for the better. So they say, and I suppose it is true. In some cases, many of the people that had to be relocated were Native Americans. That is a whole other post.
The Tennessee Valley Authority comes to mind as one of the earliest and largest of these huge projects. Remember how the heros of the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?" were saved at the end of that movie? One of the first dams built in this system was Norris Dam, begun in late 1933. This project relocated 2900 families and necessitated the removal of over 5,000 gravesites. That sounds pretty gruesome.
Another huge public works project begun in the Great Depression, also in 1933, was on the Columbia River in Washington State, a dam across the Grand Coulee gorge. It was another monstrous undertaking of engineering. Huge benefits in electricity and crop irrigations were realized. But again, the created lake flooded much land and people had to be relocated. Some of the Native American descendants of those people are still in court even today, trying to get more money because they were relocated and don't think they were compensated fairly.
Hoover Dam was begun in 1931. It is a marvel of engineering. It is the largest dam in the U.S. It provides power for people in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Lake Mead was created by Hoover Dam, and, of course, people had to be relocated that used to live along the Colorado River. As usual, many were indigenous people living on ancestral lands.
Great dams exist in Canada as well, and great benefits are being derived from these structures. Again, vast numbers of people benefit and a (relatively) few people must be displaced.
There was also a need for electrification of Central and South America. These projects are extremely expensive and beyond the means of most of these small and unstable countries. That is one of the reasons the world bankers, the U.N., and the International Monetary Fund exist. Some of the dams built with "loans" from the word banks, and via the U.N., were not spectacularly huge, but each time, as is always the case, people who lived in the new flood plain had to be displaced.
In the next post, I want to talk about one of these dams, financed by world banks, located in Guatemala.
Posted by Relax Max at 11:47 AM
Sunday, October 21, 2012
The history of humans in the Americas goes back perhaps 18,000 years. It's hard to pinpoint such things, so scientists give estimates. White people tend to think history in the Americas began with the first voyage of Columbus, but many civilizations rose and fell long before his excursion. Even mass murder didn't start with Columbus. That is to say, the "Indians" learned to fight and kill each other thousands of years earlier. Then there was religion. Christopher brought his religion to the Americas, of course, but the ancient American civilizations were practicing mass human sacrifices long before Columbus began killing in the name of Catholicism. The history of religion is the history of bloodshed and control of one's fellow man. This is not to deny the good of religion. The history of man killing other men needs no excuse, though. It has gone on since the beginning of time.
The people who lived in the Americas before Columbus did their share of killing and treating their fellows unfairly. The Spanish came and killed and brought disease and took new diseases back home to Europe and treated the residents of the Americas terribly. This went on for a few hundred years before the British and the French came and killed and brought disease and treated the Americans terribly and unfairly. And, along the way, the people in America tried to kill as many of the invaders as possible.
I don't know if anyone would say things are much different today. Some people on both sides try, but mostly things don't get better for many of the descendants of those early Americans. As I see it, we have no real way to turn back the clock and make amends or do things differently. We do have the opportunity to change ourselves starting now, and some people of goodwill already have started doing their small part. Maybe someday we will all live in peace. I am not optimistic.
I like to read history books and look at the collections in museums. As I said before, I can't go back in time and make any changes, but I feel it helps me make better choices for the future if I study history and try to understand how we got to where we are today and why we are liked by some people and disliked by other people. As I read and study, I am horrified sometimes, but I never have the urge to try and apologize for what my racial ancestors did wrong. I think the very thought of apologizing for a whole race of people long ago is ridiculous. If I personally do something bad, I will apologize and try to make it right.
So I study history to learn how we got to where we are today, and try to use history to guide future choices, choosing as much as possible from knowledge instead of prejudice.
This post was intended to give an overview of Guatemala, because the history of Guatemala is typical of the history of much of Central and South America. In many ways it is typical of of the European takeover of North America as well.
With very few exceptions, the people who live south of the U.S. speak Spanish as their main language. Of course, individual "Indian" languages are preserved as well. In both North and South America, the system of conquest by the Europeans was pretty much the same: they came and took what they wanted, killed as many people as it took to subdue them so they could enslave them and take their land and goods and try to turn them into good Christians along the way. After that it was a simple matter of exploiting them as if they had no rights as humans at all. That is still the situation today, in the main. We are still in the exploitation stage and treating them as rather subhuman. From time to time, we ponder why they don't seem to like us.
In what is now known as Guatemala, the Spanish came and killed and took everything and enslaved the people and turned them into serfs. That is to say they took over from the former rulers who had enslaved the common people and treated them like serfs. After the Spanish were driven out, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, more or less, the white people from the north began to come down and be their new friends. Banana and rubber plantations. Mines. Puppet governments who served the interest of the U.S. and others. And new novel religions.
In short, the history of Guatemala, and so many other countries, has, from the standpoint of the real owners of the land, been a history of oppression by outsiders, hatred of outsiders, exploitation by outsiders, a hope of someday throwing off that oppression. As we have mentioned before, this is the fertile ground for Communism - another form of oppression of the common people, but with the cruel false promise of liberation. Of course, the native leaders who promoted communism were not meaning to be cruel. They truly believed communism was the pathway for getting their land back from the oppressors. The leaders of numerous revolutions were taught the communist way by outsiders and then took it upon themselves to put theory into reality. They got some land back from the foreigners, but the new leaders didn't make their lives any better.
Is that where we are today in Latin America? Are things getting better? Certainly the governments seem to last longer than they used to. There seem to be more and more democratic elections, or at least manipulated democratic elections. Outsiders still covet their natural resources, but seem to have begun more and more to paying for them. Some countries are still communist or communist-leaning, but a lot of the people have stopped trusting that that is any better than anything else. There still seem to be a lot of large multinational companies making insider deals with the various elected governments.
The "recent" history of Guatemala is a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, and events leading up through the present day. The civil war involved the national governments/army juntas and their various supporting factions; and the left wing "insurgents." The left wingers unfortunately tried to sabotage the economy as well as fight. And the government soldiers were brutal against the population as well. The people were squeezed in the middle as usual. The military massacred citizens.
In 1982, Rios Montt was elected under the Christian Democracy Party. He was a lay pastor in the Protestant evangelical "Church of the Word." In his inaugural address, he stated that his election resulted from the will of God. He had the support of U.S. President Reagan. He formed a three member military junta, annulled the constitution, disolved congress, suspended political parties, cancelled electoral laws. Then he dismissed the junta and declared himself "President of the Republic." [Wikipedia]
And indeed he was.
Rios Montt, July 1982, to an audience of indigenous Guatemalans: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you." The Plan de Sanchez massacre occurred the same day.
The government began to form PACS (local defense patrols.) Young men who wouldn't join PACS were labeled guerillas. It was boys and old men too. At their peak, the PACS had a million "patroller" conscripts.
Rios Montt's brief presidency was the most violent period of the civil war. Thousands of indigenous peoples, noncombatants, and others, were captured, tortured, killed. Montt was deposed a year later, but survived to become President of Congress in 1995 and 2000.
In 1999, President Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the wrong people.
Much of the business of Guatemala today is concerned (some would say "bogged down") with investigations and litigations concerning events that happened in the civil war. Perhaps when everyone is hurt badly enough and enough money and retribution is exacted, the country can concentrate on making life better in Guatemala. I hope so.
Posted by Relax Max at 12:34 PM
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
You seldom see a picture of Che Guevara without his famous beret or with it pulled back, but he had a cute widow's peak, just like Paul Ryan. Not many people have noticed that. I notice things like that. Worse, I talk about those things in my blog posts, making the posts even longer.
Paul Ryan was born after Che was executed, and Paul Ryan is 42 years old, and Che never saw 40, but they both had black hair and widow's peaks. Hey, I'm trying to find common ground here. That's about as close as I can come.
Che Guevara, an Argentinian, while still in medical school in Buenos Aires in 1950 and 1951, took two lengthy journeys (2,800 miles, then 5,000 miles) of exploration by bicycle and motorcycle, throughout Argentina, and then through most of South America's rural provinces. He and a friend went up the Amazon, and spent time volunteering at a leper colony. Che was enraged at the working conditions of Chilean miners, and by the way the poor people lived and how he saw poor people being exploited wherever he went. Peasants worked small plots of land owned by wealthy landlords. While in the leper colony, he was impressed by the camaraderie of the lepers.
"The highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise among such lonely and desperate people," he said. He soon came to hate the evils of capitalist exploitation, so rampant in Latin America mostly from the United States or U.S. Companies, such as United Fruit Company (later Chiquita Foods.) He began to form his vision of a borderless Hispanic America, a single liberated entity, controlling its own destiny.
He returned Buenos Aires and completed his medical education. He published a best-selling book called "The Motorcycle diaries." Then the newly-minted "Dr. Ernesto Guevara" returned to the rural provinces and tried to make a difference in the poverty, hunger and disease. Frustrated at "the inability to treat a child because of lack of money [for medicines]" he gradually came to the conclusion that, to make a difference, he would have to leave the field of medicine and enter the world of political struggle through armed conflict. Che began to fight instead of heal.
Che worked and Che traveled. Bolivia. Peru. Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador. What he saw intensified his hatred for the United Fruit Company and other U.S. "capitalistic octopuses" who controlled huge HUGE amounts of land and kept the common people - the rightful owners, as Che saw it - in grinding poverty.
In December, 1953, Che arrived in Guatemala. A new popular president was trying to enforce land reforms, taking unused land from United Fruit Company and giving it back to the people. Che was introduced to the President. He also was to meet two brothers during this time period, Raul and Fidel Castro, who had been involved with the July attack on the military barracks in Santiago, Cuba. Birds of a feather. Idealists. Pissed off at The Establishment and capitalists - America and it's minions and puppets.
Throughout the world, whenever the vast majority of a population is being oppressed - enslaved - in hopeless poverty by dictators and other tyrants, the situation becomes ripe for a communist revolution.
Communism is a system of politics and economics - a method - by which an existing government is taken over because they are corrupt and unresponsive to the will and needs of the people. Communist take-over is the continual story of Central and South America since the 1940s. There is really no one to blame but our greedy capitalistic selves. In retrospect.
Communist takeover is usually a two-stage affair in which the population is infiltrated and propagandized until a covert militia resistance is formed; the second stage being the actual military conflict. It isn't hard to gain support and soldiers from an impoverished and oppressed population, and all the guerilla leaders have to do is wait for the inevitable major blunder by the existing government to ignite the revolution.
As part of the initial propaganda campaign, the people are told that the land will be taken back from the rich undeserving aristocrats, and will be divided among the deserving long-suffering poor.
Of course, history shows us that what actually happens is that the land is placed in the custody of the "provisional government" (pending elections, of course) and then a new group of tyrants arise from the ashes of the old tyrants - the leaders of the glorious revolution get the best of the spoils and live in mansions and get driven around in big black Mercedes just like the old dictators did, and they rule the poor people with an iron fist. The people are told they must endure hardship and sacrifice for a short period of time while the economy stabilizes. You've watched it happen time and time again. The trouble with communism is that the economy NEVER stabilizes and the temporary sacrifices never end. But, except for the fat cat leaders, you must admit that the common people are become equal again in their new hopelessness. Viva la revolucion, eh?
Incidentally (speaking of "eh?") that's what "Che" means in Spanish. Which is to say, it means nothing at all. "Che" is just a conversation-filler, something to say when you pause between sentences or to seek agreement with what you've just said. Eh. Umm. Ernesto said it so often it became his nickname.
Anyway, the above scenario is the story of the Russian Revolution, the story of the Cuban Revolution, the story of every communist governmental overthrow everywhere. The common people and workers are never really liberated; the workers' paradise never quite materializes; the elites who run the show live in marvelous luxury and privilege. Communism, promising the purest form of democracy, is, in truth, democracy denied.
Quickly we must add that capitalism is not the panacea either. Hardly. Capitalism unchecked is what causes the oppressed and destitute and exploited class in the first place. Yet, paradoxically, it is capitalism, when properly controlled and regulated by honest leaders, which holds the real key to lifting the poor to a higher station, generation by generation. The only thing - it never seems to be properly controlled and regulated, though, probably because of a lack of honest leaders. Power corrupts. Greed begets short memories.
I'm not sure if there is an ideal political or economic system that has been invented. I do know such a system is not capitalism and it's not socialism. I have long advocated a combination of both and a proper balance. However, without honest leaders, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Wasn't that a song? "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but in the meantime - in between time - ain't we got fun?"
Next: A very short history of Guatemala. You should know about this. Honest.
Remember dear little Eddie Munster? Of course you do.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
If you live in Austria and a revolution fires up in Central America, your government has three choices of what to do:
1. Your government can support one side
2. Your government can support the other side
3. Your government can ignore the revolution and do nothing at all
Of course, the above statement doesn't just apply to Austria; it applies to most of the countries in the world.
Unfortunately, choice number three is seldom available if you are the world's "superpower." The world seems to expect the superpower to lead, to formulate some sort of policy about anything and everything (after secret consultations with it's "allies".) The friendly countries will then probably begin to support that policy, and the enemies of that superpower will almost automatically form an opposite policy, and their friends will then oppose the superpower as well.
Usually in Central America, Africa, or the Middle East - in countries which have a dictator or strongman of some sort in power - a smoldering revolution finally breaks out with the "rebels" (good guys) revolting against the dictator or strongman (the bad guy) moving from the "guerilla/terrorist" stage to open warfare, once the rebels get supplied from the superpower/allies or the Commie camp.
The question arises as to who the U.S. should support. Make no mistake, it must take sides and many people will always think they've chosen the wrong side. Criticism for U.S. foreign policy is a way of life now. If the U.S. does nothing at all (option three) they are, of course, criticized for doing nothing. This illustrates that the U.S. would be playing a losing game if it were to try and satisfy the rest of the world. You choose who you support and, at the same time, you are choosing who you offend.
In recent memory (maybe the last 60 years or so) the U.S. has had a priority of supporting countries, first of all, who were not Communist. Communist dictators were for the opposition to support and finance. Any sign of internal resistance in any Communist country was supported openly or clandestinely, with munitions or other supplies or simply money, by the U.S. - and often its "allies." If a country was NOT Communist, then the U.S. (and often it's allies) would support that government (even if not exactly democratic) against Communist infiltration or outright invasion. Most of you who are over 40 remember this policy.
At the same time, there has long been a secondary policy of the U.S. to support the dictator in power, even though we didn't really like him (dictators never seem to be a "her") as long as he wasn't Communist-leaning and as long as his government was "stable." Support the guy who is in power and in control of the situation, even if you have to hold your nose. It would be hard to make a complete list of people like this we have supported and continue to support. In the past, Saddam comes to mind; the Shah of Iran; Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak; the Saudi and Kuwaiti and Jordanian royal families -- the list goes on and on. It continues with present-day dictators as well.
The point is, you support the government who is in power as long as it is not openly Communistic and turn your head at it's faults (like torturing its own people) and do your best to make sure a little of the financial aid gets to the populace instead of all going into the dictator's Swiss bank account. The alternative is to constantly have a dozen bloody wars going on all at the same time in the world. Luxembourg doesn't have to fret over this, but the U.S. does.
I say these things to lay the groundwork to talk about some of the things the U.S. Government has done or condoned/allowed the doing of in Central America.
That follows in a later post.
Posted by Relax Max at 2:10 PM
Sunday, October 7, 2012
1. Ronald Reagan was the oldest when he first took office (age 69.)
2. Kennedy was the youngest "elected" at age 43, but T. Roosevelt assumed office at age 42 when his predecessor was killed while in office.
3. Tallest? Lincoln. (6-4.)
4. Shortest? Madison (5-4.)
5. Can you name 5 who were Vice-President before becoming President? (There have been 14,)
6. One President never married. (Buchanan.)
7. 5 Presidents were remarried widowers, but only one was divorced and remarried. (Reagan.)
8. Most children? (Tyler with 15.)
9. Two Presidents were married in the White House.