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50 Years Later

Brazil's 1964 Coup: What 'Communist Conspiracy'?

 
It all began with Cuba in 1959. That was a line in the sand for Tio Sam. Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress in ‘61, and caudillos throughout South and Central America lined up for lessons on how to prevent their own homegrown communists from reproducing what Fidel and El Che had brought down from the Sierra Maestras. The School of the Americas’ manual of torture, originally drafted in Scotland and likely passed along during WWII to eager Yanks in the OSS, was in due course thumped like the bible into the hands of willing thugs in the pay of ruling elites from Guatemala to Chile. In Brazil, when the military grabbed the reins of government on April 1, 1964, the torture manual came off the shelf for immediate application to those who were obnoxious to the dictatorship ideologically, and with lethal consequences for some who fought from the more militant wings of the resistance.

Images from the 1964 coup; the man on the run was used to illustrate posters for a recent panel discussionImages from the 1964 coup; the man on the run was used to illustrate posters for a recent panel discussion

I was in Brazil at the time of the 1964 coup, spending a year at Rio’s exclusive Catholic University (PUC). I spent considerable time at first with a guy named Bud who worked for USIA, the “public” face of American overseas diplomacy. The agency operated cultural programs and libraries, also, back in D.C., Voice of America, where I worked part time as a Georgetown undergrad. My friend was a good guy, a kind of mentor twenty years my senior who welcomed me into his family as I slowly acclimated to the seductive lifestyle of the Brazilian gentry on the coattails of their sons and daughters, my classmates, who would invite me home for the hot sit-down midday meal, cooked and served by the black live-in empregadas. An American student was a novelty in those days, and, being short of funds, I was happy to eat out on it.

After a month I met Chris, an American my own age who’d been ski bumming in the Alps and drifted to Brazil to look up an uncle who held the second highest rank in the U.S. Embassy. Chris had just received his draft notice from home, and we got it in our heads to hitchhike to the Amazon where he’d hideout and avoid military service now that Vietnam was coming on with a vengeance. I don’t recall if we clued Bud in about the exact reason for our abrupt departure from Rio, but he very kindly provided contact info for other U.S. diplomats we could crash with as we made our way north along the coast. Our first stop was in Vitoria, a small coastal port for shipping ore from the neighboring but landlocked mineral rich state of Minas Gerais. The diplomat we stayed with in Vitoria, Bud had explained, was setting up a co-op to rival a similar effort influenced by the local communists who, by that time in Brazil, were organized into a mélange of currents on all sides of the Sino-Soviet split.

New Poem:

Shanghai Smog

 

There is a man reporting on how bad the smog is in China.
He is saying,
“See, right there,
at the end of this street that you don’t see
is the second tallest building in China.”
I squint. . . I don’t see anything!
“In fact”, he’s saying,
“the smog is so bad,
I’m actually standing right here in front of this camera,
so you wouldn’t have seen the building anyway,
but you can’t even see me!”
This guy is good!

The 50th Anniversary

Rio de Janeiro and the 1964 Military Coup

Rio de Janeiro in 1964 remained the de facto seat of the Brazilian government and home to its corps of international diplomats. Despite the fact that Brasilia, the modernist architectural ghost town erected in the scrublands of the country’s isolated interior was designated Brazil’s new capital in 1960, the foot dragging went on for years before the embassies and the governing bureaucrats accepted the inevitability that they would have to, not just occasionally commute between Rio and the new capital, but actually decamp and live there. Think of the founders and the whole apparatus of State being forced to abandon cosmopolitan Philadelphia in 1800 for swampy, malarial Washington. By 1964 standards, going to Brasilia, today Brazil’s 4th largest city, was worse.

Thus, when the coup unfolded on March 31, 1964 that brought down the democratically elected government of Joao (Jango) Goulart, American diplomats were still pulling strings on behalf of the Putschists from their comfortable embassy board rooms on the Avenida Woodrow Wilson in downtown Rio. And yours truly, a wet behind the ears undergraduate at the local Jesuit university for a year, in a Zelig-like coincidence, witnessed the military takeover from a window facing Copacabana beach in a building where the deposed president himself had an apartment.

Michael Uhl in March 1964 looking out a window onto the Copacabana, pictured at right circa 1960s.Michael Uhl in March 1964 looking out a window onto the Copacabana, pictured at right circa 1960s.

The dictatorship and its afterglow endured a quarter century until the direct election by popular vote of Fernando Collor de Mello in 1989, following the creation a year earlier of a new constitution, by far Brazil’s most democratic. Even then the military hovered in the wings having inserted into the new charter, according to historian Daniel Aarao Reis, the authoritarian wedge “of the military’s right to intervene in the national political life if they are summoned by the head of one of the three branches of government.”

Now, with twenty five years of democratic governments under their belt, and a flow of peaceful transitions from one presidential term to the next – including the resignation of President Collor under investigation for corruption – a Brazilian electorate many times larger than the one that brought Jango to office in 1961, might finally imagine itself immune from any future threat to democratic rule by the military, despite the menacing clause that lies dormant in their constitution.

Former Guerrilla Favored in Runoff

Observing Democracy in El Salvador

 

Panchimalco, El Salvador -- Thirty years ago, on a miserably hot and humid July day in 1983, I went to Washington DC with my wife and two-year-old son in his stroller. We were there with tens of thousands to protest US involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Last month, I became re-acquainted with the political struggle of El Salvador as a member of an international delegation to observe the first round of their presidential election on February 2nd.

Old enemies ran representing parties that either ruled during the civil war or grew out of the armed struggle after peace accords were signed in 1992. On the right, there’s the Nationalist Republican Alliance or ARENA, and on the left, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or FMLN. After the accords, ARENA retained the presidency until the 2009 election, when the FMLN and independents of the center and left won the presidency with the candidacy of Mauricio Funes, a respected Salvadoran journalist.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren during the war and running for president this yearSalvador Sanchez Ceren during the war and running for president this year
 

This election was among three candidates: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander and the current vice president representing the FMLN; Norman Quijano, a former ARENA mayor of San Salvador; and Antonio Saca, the ARENA president from 2004 to 2009 who was expelled from ARENA in 2009 and formed a new party called the Grand Alliance for National Unity of GANA that has worked with the FMLN in the legislature.

I arrived in San Salvador a week before the election with a good friend. We were met at the airport by seven other members of the delegation and began a process of getting to know, and learning to work with, what eventually became a 70-person delegation that included supporters of CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), National Lawyers Guild, Share and Sister Cities. Together, we would observe voting at some 30 centers with more than 300 stations, each the voting location assigned to 500 people.

Even in Los Angeles

Gentle Things

 

            In brutish, crass, profanity-spitting L.A., in developer-ravaged $2500-a-month “elegant density” L.A., in have-and-have-not ethnically separated L.A., in get-out-of-my-way-asshole, hit-and-run texting-and-primping-while-driving L.A. . . .

            Gentle things still happen.

            She sat at the front table at Papa Cristo’s, the Greek place at Pico and Normandie in the so-called Byzantine-Latino Quarter. Across the street from St. Sofia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, or, more appropriately considering that masses come with mariachis, Iglesia Santo Tomas Apostol.

            “This is excellent!” she said, and, really, it was amazing she could say anything at all, let alone in a clear, commanding voice. The withered and dry autumn leaves on the sycamore trees in the neighborhood were stronger. This was, to be indelicate, a corpse that hadn’t gotten around to officially dying. Stick limbs, prune skin, sunken cheeks. Talk about frailty, thy name is woman. . .

            “Okay, Babe,” said her companion, a young guy with brown curls pulled back in a pony tail. “I’ve got you.” And he steadied her as he removed her walker, and then helped her ease into a wooden chair at one of Papa Cristo’s wobbly tables. She didn’t seem comfortable.

            “Does your butt hurt?” said her companion.

            What butt, I wondered. Nothing there but bones.

Esther Cicconi, lifetime Communist and icon of LA's left fringe, says 'hello, not goodbye'Esther Cicconi, lifetime Communist and icon of LA's left fringe, says 'hello, not goodbye'

New video by Class War Films

Military Cancer

For a timely explanation of the crisis of the militarization of America, days after popular opposition, in a historic first, blocked a US war -- in this case against the sovereign nation of Syria -- check out this film by Lanny Cotler and Paul Edwards of Class War Films

Click on the image to go to the YouTube video 'Military Cancer'Click on the image to go to the YouTube video 'Military Cancer'

The official default is to lie

In Us We Have to Trust

 

“If people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress, and don't trust federal judges, to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here.”

-- President Barack Obama
 

While President Obama used the right words in this quote, he clearly is taking the public for idiots.
 
Because as he surely is aware, we do have some big problems. They are not caused by misguided citizens who foolishly mistrust their government, though. Rather, our problems stem from the fact that our leaders, including him, have consistently lied to us, been corrupted by big money and have acted to benefit corporate interests to the detriment of the commonweal.

On March 12 of this year, when Obama's National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a congressional inquiry that the government does not wittingly conduct surveillance of Americans, he was lying. He was deliberately deceiving the very people upon whom we're told to rely to exercise oversight and safeguard our rights. When caught out in his lie by the disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Clapper additted his prevarications, saying he had tried to give “the least untrue answer” he could come up with.

Obama himself too, subsequent to Snowden’s disclosures of the NSA’s nationwide vacuuming up of all electronic communications of all Americans, has radically changed his tune about the surveillance techniques which he criticized under President Bush but has now embraced fully.

At this point, when it comes to our elected and appointed leaders, we can trust only that their words are untrustworthy.

Trust Congress? Venal, corrupted, pawns of their powerful financial contributors, feckless posturing maintainers of the status quo; not too much to trust there.

How about the courts? How much trust can we gin up for the brilliant black robed justices who have anointed corporations with personhood? When they go duck hunting with a torture advocating Vice President one day, and rule on the constitutionality of his draconian national security laws the next, how much trust do they inspire?

No Mr. President, the problem is not with us, it is squarely with you and the National Security State that preceded you and that you have continued to further expand and empower.
Who're we gonna believe, our leaders or our lying common sense?Who're we gonna believe, our leaders or our lying common sense?

Making the hero pay:

A Nation's Betrayal

 

This week, the government began their assault against private Bradley Manning. Even though he has already plead guilty to misusing classified documents and faces twenty years in prison, prosecutors want him branded as having aided the enemy, with a life sentence to go along.

The government is incensed that this lowly private would take his oath to protect and preserve the Constitution seriously enough to expose illegal and unconstitutional acts by our government. They are furious that Manning's leaks gave the world video proof of some of the American military's war crimes. They want vengeance because the callous, supercilious, erroneous and ignorant acts by government officials in dealing with international affairs have been revealed to all through the leaked cables. They are embarrassed that they have been exposed as the lying liars that the public generally assumes them to be. They are mortified that some citizen or news organization will draw peoples' attention to the fact that the government is over-classifying documents at conspiratorial levels.

So, reminiscent of the best of Stalin or Kafka, they have put Bradley Manning “on trial” for his crimes. They will rely on secret evidence to make their case. They will not give Manning's defense full access to this evidence. And they will prevent him from being able to shine the spotlight on what should really be on trial here: the illegal and immoral actions of the United States government and military. Even Fulgencio Batista, the military dictator of Cuba, allowed Fidel Castro to speak in his own defense without censoring him while he was being tried for an armed assault on a Cuban military installation. Of course, Batista would soon be driven from power by Castro, and the oligarchy that runs America doesn't want to make the same mistake. So they will stack the deck against Manning, bring the media on board with tantalizing but vague claims of national security threats and then concoct some sort of narrative that casts the Private as a troubled, unstable soul, or perhaps a misguided and vindictive one that will explain away the why of the crime and the erase the significance of anything unearthed in the leaked documents.

Let's take a moment to consider some of the conduct of our most recent leaders and the outcomes of that conduct. Lyndon Johnson lied about a naval incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in order to initiate combat in Vietnam. Nixon lied to the American people about a secret plan to end the war while he was actually using intermediaries to delay peace talks to help his election chances. More than one million Vietnamese and 58,209 Americans perished in that senseless war. America's prestige was exposed as a fraud and we are still exacting a price from homeless veterans, Agent Orange survivors and PTSD victims, not to mention the decades it has taken in restoration efforts in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Pvt. Bradley Manning, a hero betrayed by his own commander in chiefPvt. Bradley Manning, a hero betrayed by his own commander in chief

Book Review:

Andre Vitchek's 'Point of No Return'

 

Point of No Return, a mixture of novel and autobiography, is an engaging story of an intrepid war correspondent who resembles a saucy crime detective. It is superb story-telling.

Andre Vltchek’s just re-released Point of No Return is a revised third edition. First published in 2005, the French edition was widely praised, with one French critic compared the authors writing with that of Malraux and Hemingway.

The hero is Karel, who has covered dozens of foreign wars and internal liberation struggles. Most of the book concerns Israel-Palestine and Latin America, especially Peru. Indonesia’s aggression against East Timor and Egypt also play important roles. There are also stops in Paris, New York and Japan.

The author Andre has traveled to three-fourths of the world’s countries over two decades, communicating to whomever he can reach about the state of the world. He has written a score of non-fiction, fiction and poetry books. He is also a photographer and documentary film-maker.

The robust story flows rhythmically, sensually, enticingly. It is a sad reality that the veteran war correspondent encounters sometimes sickening things, which are just a reality of living and dying for three-fourths of the world’s seven billion people.

In Andre’s own words:

“Politicians and economists are blurring the whole picture…A small group of historically aggressive nations is still ruling the world. The economic system which it promotes has nothing to do with humanism, with solidarity, compassion, willingness to share. We have billions of people rotting in gutters all over the world; hundreds of millions of people dying from curable or at least controllable diseases. The rich world is still plundering the rest of the planet; stealing raw materials, employing people for a pittance.... If poor nations resist, the rich world stages coups or something worse.... And it is all legitimized through the United Nations, which was sidelined, made truly impotent...”
Author Andre VitchekAuthor Andre Vitchek

Heading towards a police state

Destroying Ourselves

 

Has the "land of the free and home of the brave" decided to roll over and concede defeat to terrorism?

George Bush's “war on terror,” supinely backed by a cowed Congress of Democrats and Republicans, re-introduced torture to the American playbook, finished what Bill Clinton started in taking away our right to habeus corpus, made illegal wiretapping routine and built a culture of fear in our national psyche in order to keep us from rising up against these assaults on our Constitution. Barack Obama has continued these practices and gone further with his obsession with drone attacks worldwide, including strikes that murder American citizens without even bothering with indictments, let alone trials, and with his further expansion of wiretaps, secret government and police spying and repression of Constitutionally protected protest.

Now, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt, we're being told that there are a couple of new aspects to this “new normal” that we'll just have to get used to. Functional martial law--the shutting down of an entire metropolitan region -- has now happened without even an official declaration from the governor or the president. Our 4th Amendment right protecting us from unwarranted search and seizure no longer has any meaning if the powers that be deem it inconvenient. And the right to be told that we can remain silent rather than incriminate ourselves under interrogation is now optional, again at the discretion of the police authorities.
 
Let's examine these two new nails in the Constitution's coffin. During the manhunt, Boston and federal authorities, backed by National Guard troops and possibly private mercenaries (who were observed, though never officially acknowledged, working at the scene of the marathon), locked down the city, ordering residents to stay inside while police officers ignored the fourth amendment and entered any house at will in their search.

 Stay inside, don't question police, and you probably won't get hurt...Welcome to the new America: Stay inside, don't question police, and you probably won't get hurt...

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Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

Also, listen to Dave Lindorff on Chris Cook's Gorilla Radio on CFEV Radio in Victoria, Canada.

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