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Hoodboy on Pakistan
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Zaps - 10-09
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Fearful Symmetry in Bolivia
In August, artists from Skid Row Los Angeles teamed with Bolivian actors to perform a play throughout Bolivia about the "war on drugs." Drug issues have strained relations between the U.S. and Bolivia and the "war" against drugs has claimed many victims in both countries. The idea of the tour was to see if the play might stimulate citizens of the two countries to find common ground and create a more constructive dialog than their governments.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader of any South American country, has been for many years, and remains, head of the federation of coca growers. The Bush administration accused Morales of failing to stem the tide of cocaine production and distribution. In turn, Morales accused the U.S. of meddling in Bolivian affairs and plotting with his political enemies to overthrow his government.
Both countries expelled each other's ambassadors. The U.S. ended its preferential trade terms with Bolivia, citing the country's lack of drug enforcement cooperation. In retaliation, Bolivia threw out U.S. government employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Peace Corps. Morales and some U.S. officials have expressed a cautious optimism that relations between the two countries may improve in the Obama era, but recently the Bolivian president accused the U.S. of complicity in the Honduras military coup.
The California group—named the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD)—has been performing radical street theater for 25 years. Made up of recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, ex-convicts, and formerly homeless men and women, the group voted to name itself using the initials of the police force with whom many of them had sparred.
Setting up Agentes y Activos in Prado, La Paz; Javier Mendizaval and Augusto Hinojosa in front, Nilo Berrocal on stage—photo by Cristina Lopez
LAPD founder and director John Malpede based his play Agents & Assets on a 1998 transcript of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee hearings that examined allegations of CIA complicity in the crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged minority communities in California cities. As journalist Gary Webb detailed in an explosive 1996 newspaper series, "Dark Alliance," the CIA enabled huge shipments of cocaine to enter the United States to raise money for the anti-government forces in Nicaragua known as the Contras.
The U.S. Congress had denied funding for the Contras, even as President Reagan called them freedom fighters and compared them to America's founding fathers. So Oliver North and the CIA found a way to get money for Contra military actions, though it contributed to creating a huge new class of crack addicts among America's ethnic urban poor.
As Malpede told a Bolivian audience after one performance: "We work in the poorest part of Los Angeles, where people come when they have no place else to go and end up living in the streets. LAPD lives and works in an area affected by drugs. It was the anger of Los Angeles citizens that the CIA might have been involved in smuggling crack cocaine into the country that sparked these legislative hearings. These hearings are also a metaphor for all things the U.S. government does all around the world that they shouldn't, instead of taking care of their own people."
Malpede edited the hearing transcript for length and clarity, but did not change a word of it. Each performance is unique since Act Two is a discussion among local expert panelists, the actors, and the audience about how the issues raised in the play are relevant to the "here and now" of each production.
Agents & Assets began its run of performances during the post-presidential election period of 2000, touring many cities throughout the United States. With different drug reform laws up for votes in various states, Agents & Assets proved relevant not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, which suffers its own intransigent problems with drugs and drug law
Bolivian actor Wiler Vidaurre as CIA Inspector Fred Hitz —photo by Cristina Lopez
For its South American premiere, the play (called Agentes y Activos in Bolivia) toured a country where much cocaine originates. Bolivian media and government officials had expressed interest in this project combining the efforts of Americans and Bolivians. After rehearsals and performances in Cochabamba, the show played Oruro, La Paz, El Alto, Sucre, and Santa Cruz. Questions and comments in every city reflected the intense emotions the issues of the play raise about the drug war, notions of justice, and international relations. Bolivian historian, activist, and ex-government official Rafael Puente reminded audiences that, though events in the play might seem remote, the same sorts of things were happening here in Bolivia at the same time. In 1980, the CIA assisted the violent "narco golpe de estado" (drug coup) of General Luis Garcia Meza, which former DEA agent Michael Levine wrote about in his book The Big White Lie.
As the play shows, in 1998 CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz denied and obfuscated the CIA connection to Contra drug smuggling. Recently, under pressure from the ACLU, the Agency released a highly redacted CIA Inspector General's report about CIA torture techniques. Some of the same players were involved in both episodes. Porter Goss, chair of the dramatized hearing, played down the allegations of CIA malfeasance in the 1980s. Later, as CIA Director under George W. Bush, Goss lobbied for keeping the torture report secret to avoid damaging America's reputation and CIA morale.
Agents & Assets reveals the hypocrisy of lawmakers who decry illegal drugs, even as they refuse to sanction the CIA for enabling Americans to become cocaine addicts in order to pay for an illegal war. LAPD actors and others who play the 12 committee members, and the CIA inspector general called to testify, are men and women who have been personally affected by illegal drugs and the "war" against them. Some have suffered addiction or incarceration. By speaking the words of lawmakers who permit systemic abuse, the actors bear witness against them.
Former cocaine addict and current LAPD actor Kevin Michael Key told a Santa Cruz audience, "It's in the interest of the governments to continue narco-traffic as a means of controlling the people. Criminalization is the American way. Though rehabilitation exists, many drug users are simply locked up in jail. The demand for rehabilitation has to come from the people."
In answer to a Bolivian audience member's question about whether or not Obama will change things, Malpede opined that, "Changing drug policy is not a high priority for Obama. Changes in drug policy have come from communities or states in defiance of federal law, to reduce penalties and put treatment in place of jail time." Malpede's tag line for the show, that "the war of drugs imposes a military solution to a social and public health issue," was widely printed in the Bolivian press.
Bolivians have their own defective drug war in place, thanks to Law 1008 passed in 1988 under intense pressure from the United States. Anyone accused of drug violations under what one former law school dean calls this "inhumane" law loses basic human rights, such as the presumption of innocence, safeguards against self-incrimination, the right to a defense, to an impartial judge, to due process, or to a speedy trial. Law 1008 expands the definition of "trafficking" to mean "to produce, possess, keep, store, transport, deliver, administer or give as a gift." Judges routinely hand out harsh sentences. An accusation is tantamount to a judgment of guilt and snitches often turn in people for the reward money with whom they have grudges unrelated to drugs. Police often resort to torture to extricate confessions from the accused. Such forced confessions are all that is needed for proof of guilt in Bolivian judicial proceedings. In their book The Weight of Law 1008 (1996), the Andean Information Network compiled heartbreaking narratives of poor, illiterate Bolivians hounded into prison because they could not pay the bribes that were demanded by officials to make their cases disappear. Several of these drug war victims report being tortured under the direction of gringo DEA agents.
On the post-show panel at one of the Oruro performances, two drug officials parried questions from the audience about Bolivia's war on drugs. Alex Alfaro, departmental director of the Special Police Force to Fight Drug Trafficking, said drug production was rising in Oruro. In the year he has worked there, his forces have found 17 cocaine labs. So far in 2009, the police have confiscated more than a ton of cocaine, as much as in all of 2008.
Alfaro said a kilo of marijuana costs $100 and a kilo of cocaine $1,200. He handed out anti-drug pamphlets, warning of the dire organic consequences of using marijuana, cocaine, tobacco, alcohol, and inhalants. But members of the audience, unaccustomed to access to these usually invisible officials, began to ask penetrating questions.
What did Alfaro, and the public prosecutor appearing with him, Franz Villegas, think of Law 1008? Villegas fudged his opinion, merely describing it as a drug law. Kevin Michael Key asked if they thought the CIA really was involved in drug trafficking in the 1980s as the play alleged? They did not know. Was it good or bad for Bolivia that the Morales government had expelled the DEA? Alfaro said it was a national government decision, not his. He said he had worked with the DEA and "they supported us. Now the national government helps us fight drugs..."
A Bolivian woman asked: "You are preoccupied with drug consumption and apprehension. Is there any attention being paid to the health aspects of this problem?" The two officials made no attempt to respond. Someone else asked: "Is drug enforcement a form of social control?" The public prosecutor answered, "Drug enforcement involves citizen participation. It's everyone's fight. Denuncias are an important part of the system."
Someone else asked: "What about innocent people caught up and arrested under Law 1008? Like a taxi driver whose passenger might have drugs without the driver's knowledge?" Villegas said: "We don't accuse people just to accuse them. I don't know of a single case where a taxi driver has been unfairly jailed..."
And so it went as the drug officials evaded questions and shaded their responses in ways that precisely mirrored the dynamics of Agentes y Activos, in which the CIA Inspector General danced around issues, answered questions he had not been asked, and flat out lied about the CIA's links to the Contra cocaine scandal. The show was replayed immediately afterward in an updated, Bolivian mode where everyone (except the officials) could see it.
Agentes y Activos played theaters, schools, public plazas, and even a prison, helping to show that the real struggle is not between Bolivia, where coca grows, and the United States, where much cocaine is consumed. Rather, the greater problem lies within each country, between each government and its own people.
By declaring a war on drugs, the United States and Bolivia have both declared war on their own populations, but only against the small-time users and dealers, not the powerful few who profit most from the ongoing, proliferating illicit drug trafficking. If all the world's a stage, then it's time for a new global act. This "war on drugs" thing isn't playing well anywhere, in any language.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.