Learning Spanish as war began in Guatemala

memoir excerpt: Part I of Guatemala travels Jan 1979-February 1980

So in early December 1979, I took my second international excursion of my life and, after an emotional farewell with my family who drove me from our Long Island home to the airport, I flew from JFK to Guatemala City, where I hoped to be met at the airport by my friend’s family.  While en route in Houston I was asked if I would like to board an earlier flight to Guatemala City and took the opportunity.  As a result, no one was there to meet me when I arrived.  

     I remember as if it were yesterday the eerie feeling I got while waiting around at the Guatemala airport after my arrival and passing through immigration.  The “security” personnel patrolling the public spaces of the airport did not look like police or security personnel.  They were dressed in fatigues, carried M-16 machine guns, and what looked like a hand grenade, wore what appeared to be bullet proof vests and military grade boots, and had menacing countenances.  They seemed to stare suspiciously at me, a long haired young gringo loitering about not knowing where to stand or sit.  I spent what could be best described an awkward and apprehensive hour and a half waiting for my host family to come and fetch me.  

      My first two days in the company of my fellow student (we were not close friends), is a blur in my mind.  The affluent neighborhood where he lived in a fairly luxurious house had the air of a gated community.  His family was busy and my host had old friends raring to go out on the town in compact cars they evidently owned, or their families did.  We attended a horrific soccer game under glaring neon lights, in which fans were prevented from throwing projectiles onto the field by tall fences topped with barbed wire.  This did not prevent fans from trying, and at one point what sounded like an M 80 made it over the fence and landed near one of the referees  Police were dispatched into the stands to find the hurler of that small bomb but did not find the person.  As we departed the stadium the crowd nearly stampeded out the raw concrete corridors.  The whole experience was very unsettling. I can hardly remember anything about the game itself.  

     Once we had driven up to a roadside view of the city with my friend and his fast slang talking friends, the real business of this group became evident:  popping pills. I was offered various what I assume were amphetamines to swallow, which I politely refused. My companions became very animated, laughing and joking in excess of the content of what was being said, and then driving very fast to various points of the city, stopping and consuming more pills at each stop.  I had serious misgivings about the safety of running with this social grouping of affluent and decadent drug using wealthy Guatemalan young adult guys.. 

…. The next day I went to the office of the language school I had identified to enroll in. When I got there I was informed that the school in Antigua was all booked, and so were the schools in other nearby cities.  Inexperienced me had assumed it would not be a problem and I had not figured out how to enroll in advance of my arrival to Guatemala.  In the end the only city that had openings in December was Huehuetenango, in the far Northwest province near the Mexican border, a heartland for indigenous populations speaking Mam and K’iche and other highland Mayan languages.  

     The following day my Dutch diplomat host family called a taxi from their home to the bus stop where I bought a ticket for “Huehue”.  When I arrived in that far flung city, after having driven on what felt like treacherous curvy mountain roads for several hours in a modified US school bus, I eventually found the modest office of the San Joaquin Marroquin language school, and was assigned to a home.  When I got to that home, however, and saw the living conditions there, including a toilet that was not working and was full of nearly overflowing excrement, and a kitchen where my host mother was cooking a pot of pork in a most un-hygienic way, I thought, and who thought nothing much about my discomfort about the toilet situation, and where my bed was in a grungy side room with only a foggy glass window to adorn it, I began to feel a substantial discomfort at the idea of spending a month in this place, and decided to return to the language school office.  I did so, and although I felt badly about depriving that impoverished family of the fee they would be paid to house and feed me, I insisted that I needed a different home.  I was reluctantly reassigned to the home of a single Mom school teacher and her three children.  The place was clean, the host family friendly, and my room tidy and homey.  Thus began my month in Huehuetenango. 

     The language learning methodology was not very efficient, relying on learning some phrases and attempting to have memorized dialogues, and building vocabulary by random memorization exercises, mixed with a little confusing grammar instruction.  What it lacked for in pedagogical value, it made up for in time.. I spent every day in that school sitting for six or more hours, broken up by frequent coffee breaks. One result of this was that I immediately began consuming coffee, which I had never consumed before, and soon I was drinking 3-4 or more cups a day.  This made me jittery, to say the least.  I was making some progress, though, mainly in my home setting over meals, making conversation.  I got used to eating tortillas and black beans 2-3 times a day, but my host Mom also varied with other meat and vegetable dishes.  Breakfast was either bread with jam and coffee with milk as I recall, or a robust meal of tortillas and refried beans with delicious tomato cilantro sauce.  One evening I was served ripe plantains with crème, and this was an unforgettable experience.  After consuming the delicious fried plantain topped with crème, I swore that I had lost 20 years of my life by not having consumed this fabulous food.  (Almost 20 years later when I bought a 10-acre farm in the Dominican Republic, the home country of my future wife, the first thing I did was procure and plant 80 root stocks of plantain and shoveled truck loads of cow manure which I applied to the plantain field near our dwelling, to assure a steady supply of plantains for our family’s consumption.) 

    I had another warning of the impending war, when I observed a new military area with barracks and a volleyball court on the outskirts of the city, along the highway I had to walk to return each afternoon to my host family.  One afternoon while walking along that road, a military jeep passed by, the soldiers seated on benches in the back, waving automatic weapons out over the sides.  The arrogant indifference to civilian life was demonstrated when a jeep passed very close to me on the shoulder of the highway, and one of the M-16 rifle butts passed within 2 inches of my head.  The jeep was going fast, so only after the incident and whoosh of the steel rod so close to my skull did I realize how close I had come to becoming collateral damage to the militarization of the Western highlands. 

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Climate Crisis & a Green New Deal for Agriculture in Kentucky.

By Stephen Bartlett, Sustainable Ag of Louisville, Common Earth Gardens
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
estebanbartlett@gmail.com

“Better to die standing tall on your feet, than surrender to slow death on your knees.” A paraphrase of an old proverb.

I am daily heartened by the steady and strategic work of friends and compañeros with whom I roll as a local agriculturalist or as we of the international food justice movement call ourselves, peasants or campesinos (“people of the land”). Farmers and gardeners by our natures are hopeful, because we know that the plant world and the world of soil life, with sun and rain and the passing seasons, perform regular miracles of producing everything us two-leggeds need to live, sometimes in extravagant abundance.

No need to repeat ad infinitum the litany of challenges we all face today as two-leggeds on Mother Earth: extreme weather, limited access to land, expensive water bills, increasing economic inequality, raw, cunning, divisive and often violent political power in the hands of the extremely wealthy 1%, getting wealthier all the time, imperialism, racism, classism, media spin and propaganda, an uninformed and badly educated electorate manipulated by hate speech.

So here is how I envision a Green New Deal for agriculture in Kentucky: the organized people guided and led by the Urban Ag Coalition/ Food in Neighborhoods Coalition wage a campaign with Metro Council and the Mayor, to hold them to their public promises about acting in the face of the current and worsening climate crisis. The demands we bring are:

1) to streamline and prioritize the distribution of vacant and abandoned properties to individuals, entrepreneurs, organizations and associations, with a transparent and accountable process, in order to dedicate those properties to a variety of green space uses: food and medicine production, recreational green spaces, reforestation, water storage (in healthy soils and biomass) to reduce flood runoff problems, and to lower the heat sink that overly paved Louisville suffers.
2) to pressure the city to underwrite/ subsidize water dedicated to agricultural, forestry and other ecologically favorable uses. Such a policy would also help subsidize the installation of water conservation infrastructure in agricultural and silvicultural (forest) spaces, such as drip irrigation and other water conservation methods.

In order to prepare for the increasingly dangerous extreme weather events and their aftermaths, we absolutely need to increase our resiliency as a community to the impacts of climate change and find ways to contribute to mitigating climate warming by sequestering carbon and conserving resources including water. Such investments save money needed for repairs of infrastructure from excess flooding damage, reduce electric usage from air conditioning during heat events, moderate extreme high or low temperatures and maintain or increase biodiversity in our city to balance our ecosystem.

In addition, I believe the city should dedicate additional resources toward increasing local food production, that will lower the overall carbon footprint required when we ship most of our food in from distant regions of production. In addition, such productive green spaces will increase local economic activity in the sale and exchange of healthy foods and locally grown medicinal herbs and crops, and increase the amount of firewood for home heating and quality wood products from locally managed woodlots. Multiple benefits come from such public investments into a sustainable future, and cost a lot less on the front end, than it will cost to deal with the damage done by not being prepared for what is now scientifically proven to be an inevitability: extreme climate crisis impacting the very living systems humans rely on to survive, from shelter to a sustainable food system.

Agriculture and green space development absolutely need to be an integral part of a Green New Deal for Kentucky. It just makes sense.

One example can help illustrate this. The Common Earth Gardens organization facilitates and supports the agricultural activity of approximately 350 families of refugees from Asia and Africa in the Louisville area. 12 years ago the program began with two gardens and about 40 families. Today on six major gardens and small farm plots, there are 350 families of experienced gardeners and farmers producing an enormous amount of food that nourish several thousands of people with healthy fresh vegetables and roots and medicinal herbs to eat. There are many more such farmers and gardeners on waiting lists, and many of the current farmers have expressed a capacity to double or triple their production plot areas. The main obstacles to dramatically increasing production of such local gardens and farm plots are limited land access and the cost of water for irrigation, as well as a general lack of knowledge or appreciation of the general public to the benefits of localized agriculture and large piles of rich manure in the vicinity.

A forward thinking government would see the benefit of subsidizing water for such purposes and clearing away bureaucratic obstacles for people to access enough land near where they live, in order to green the overbuilt environment and feed the beautiful diverse people who live here. Proximity of productive garden spaces to where people live is important, given the demands our economy places on families to work multiple, often low paying jobs, people have little time to travel long distances to where they do their gardening or farming, not to mention the gasoline or bus money to waste. In addition, if the cost of local food production becomes prohibitive for maintaining optimum production or for expansion due to the high cost of city water, as is becoming the case in several of these gardens, this becomes an issue for the wider society and local government to seriously remedy.

We are fortunate here in Louisville to live on fertile land in a well watered river valley, and with people with the considerable knowledge and experience needed to be good food producers, not to mention decent infrastructure support for the transition back toward more local food production in terms of roads, vehicles, tools, machines, and other inputs for agriculture. Let’s get our government to see and act on the wisdom of providing a leg up to unleash People Power to transform our economy in these trying times of danger, corruption and crisis, but also of mobilization, indignation and increasing social movement organizing.

Venezuela Delegation Journal Part 3-5

Venezuela Delegation Journal Part 3

When we pulled into the gates of the luxurious Massey Ferguson retail outlet in the city of Banquisimeto, I wondered why.  We were supposed to be visiting a wholesale food distribution center where trucks laden with freshly harvested crops from distant farming communities like the one we just left, converged to sort out crops and then reload onto other trucks that pulled in from urban comunas to deliver into the teeming popular barrios of Venezuelan cities for distribution.  It turns out we weren’t in the wrong place after all.  Nevertheless, the historic Massey Ferguson tractor on the showroom floor was there, all dusted and ready for photo ops and reminiscing, as were the polished floor to ceiling windows and tasteful lighting, and the stairs that led straight up to the air conditioned boss’  offices.

Long story short, the former outlet owner, a Venezuelan oligarch named Avid had fled the country to England as a wanted Narco trafficker capo.  Following this dramatic bombshell, the workers of this outlet, we were told, admitted to some misgivings regarding the higher than normal salaries they had enjoyed while working for this establishment, but never, they said, suspected that this business’  primary function had been to launder drug money, and not to optimize profits from the sales of tractors.  Once the business was expropriated by the Venezuelan state, and more ordinary salaries were offered to avoid a sudden unemployment shock for the workers, and there turned out to be little actual work to perform, these workers eventually drifted away to other jobs or to leave the country.

 

Plan Pueblo a Pueblo was provided the space as a food distribution facility indefinitely by the revolutionary Venezuelan government.  The only significant alterations we saw were the portraits of Bolivar and Chavez placed on the wall behind the boss’ desk, and in a corner of the sprawling grounds a pig breeding facility had been installed.  A pregnant sow nursed piglets and a clean and well fed male barraco watched on from an adjacent stall.  Many vehicles were parked around the grounds:  two giant rice harvesting combines, refrigerator trucks large and small, flat bed cargo trucks and jeeps.  Most of these vehicles, we were informed, were impounded vehicles apprehended in the course of black market trips across the Colombian border, still not available for other uses by our hosts until the legal processes of expropriation had run their course through the courts.

After we ate a delicious lunch of sandwiches and chicken salad,  with mango or cantaloupe juice and coffee, served by the distribution brigade volunteers of Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, we watched a couple of short documentary videos about Plan Pueblo a Pueblo’s production and distribution networks and activities.  Afterwards we toured the facility.  Joseph, a self educated English interpreter, gave the presentations.  Out of a pile of pig manure a fantastically lush guandul (pigeon pea) bush had sprouted, a plant Venezuelans called Quinchocho.  Notwithstanding having its own  African name, Venezuelans, we learned, were not familiar with the consumption of pigeon peas with rice and coconut as is common in the Caribbean West Indies. Quinchocho was viewed primarily as animal feed, as this pig had evidently enjoyed.

The name Quinchocho seemed as strange to my ears, myself a long time producer and consumer of guandules,  as seeing an antique Massey Ferguson tractor in this context.  As strange as witnessing a bourgeois agro- import business turned into a peoples’  food distribution wholesale center that by now helped feed more than 300,000 families impacted by food speculation and a Draconian economic blockade.  This swanky facility now played a critical role in supporting a socialist project by means of enabling the distribution of healthy food to the former underclass of the country.  A kind of poetic justice was happening that came full circle to the original 1930s Massey Ferguson tractor that had helped many a US based family farmer feed the U.S. at a time when New Deal policies had enabled prosperity for family farmers for decades, before neoliberal policies brought in by Thatcher and Reagan labeled all of that socialist and therefore evil and farm bankruptcies spread like wildfire (1970s and 80s to the present time).  This Bolivarian Revolution, with its push for genuine agrarian reform indeed was an emancipator and democratizing process underway.  “Bravo!”  I thought as I played a card game with the 4 year old daughter of one of the Brigadistas in the boss’  air conditioned office.  Bravo to you faithful Bolivarians!

I liked the concrete manifestations of this revolutionary process had taken, especially as it was ushered in by Hugo Chavez pushing an agrarian reform process following international economic disruptions in 2008.  Maduro would have probably been subsequently overturned at the ballot box were it not for the structural gains in a economy that benefitted thousands as it developed, summoning the resources necessary to jump start a new peoples’  economy from below.  The process was slowed following the death of Hugo Chavez but it continued, albeit more slowly, and here was direct evidence, this Massey Ferguson popular food distribution center off the highway overlooking Banquisimeto.

 

Part 4

The Press Conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the La Ceiba station of the Cable Car transport system that sails daily over San Agustín parish like an angel´s spider web, like the generous and protective hand of a government for all of the people.  The cable car transit, free of charge, served residents of San Augustín Parish, and today also camera-lugging journalists, international delegates, and even tempered Bolivarian ex-guerrilleros and seasoned community assets turned community organizers.   The cable car system was impressive in its own right, making the downtown area of Caracas with its schools, government offices, libraries, public squares and health care personnel and infrastructure conveniently accessible to the people dwelling in the crowded back lanes and staircases of hillside popular neighborhoods rising high around the city.  The Chavez government had spent $1 billion USD on this project.  I tried to imagine my own government building such a fabulous transport system for the benefit of the poorest communities of my own city, and I couldn´t.  Each cable car had a message as well, and it wasn´t a consumerist advertisement. We rode up in a car seated on benches facing each other and with a panoramic view of the city, with the word “ethics” written boldly on its side.  Other cars we passed said:  humanism, literacy, equality, health.  We traveled back down later in a car labeled “social ethics.” There were also the names of neighborhoods and Venezuelan cities and states.  All of this spelled  “affirmation” of the Bolivarian revolution and its core values.

The cable car stops themselves were multilevel sports facilities, community meeting halls and museums and art galleries featuring famous Venezuelan music groups of the past and photos of important figures and quotes from social justice struggles in the history of these marginalized neighborhoods. There were elevators as well as staircases to navigate the stations for people confined to wheelchairs or with other disabilities. Dramatic panoramic vistas greeted your gaze at every turn, the city center, the mountains and the colorful compact hillside dwellings and freshly painted government-constructed low income housing flats, many built by the Chavez and Maduro governments to house the poorly housed.*

The travel time for a woman in labor to a downtown hospital or for workers or students heading to their places of work or study was dramatically shortened.  The cable car system was a marvel, putting to shame superpower first world governments across the global north unable to summon such a spirit of uplift for all.  These were indeed oil profits well spent.  And all of this, we couldn’t help remembering, and much more, was under the direct threat of regime change by the US government.

* Earlier in the week, we had toured such a housing complex in San Felipe, Lara state and saw how communities of low income people had benefited tremendously and were enjoying decent housing even in the midst of the current economic crisis.  Farmers involved in a nearby 125 acre agricultural cooperative were housed in that development enabling them short travel distance to both their farm and their markets in the city, with subsidized electricity and other utilities, as well as a local school set up in the middle of the community.  The current crisis, it is true, had led to a brain drain of some of the government teachers, a problem that had not yet been solved, and could not easily be solved until the sanctions and blockade were ended.

 

Part 5

According to Carlos Lazo a philosopher and Marxist theorist we heard from on our first day in Venezuela, in the long term the only way Venezuela could become truly autonomous was to develop its own science and technology.  In that way Venezuela, or any truly anti-capitalistic, independent country, could become the holders of the most important capital assets in the world today, machines and the knowledge to produce these machines, with homegrown intellectual capital.  Massive technology transfer was required for the ”have nots” to “have some.”

This was one of Carlos’ conclusions in the context of what could become a prolonged blockade, much like what Cuba suffered for more than 6 decades, or what Haiti suffered in the 19th century after the establishment of the first Black republic in the Americas in 1803, considered a “bad example” for slave-holding and mercantile, semi-feudal colonial societies.

Consider these figures:  prior to Chavez winning the presidential elections in 1998 there was a 67% poverty rate in Venezuela, with 35% living in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day per person).  92-97% of total government revenue came from oil sales, with the wealthy elites contributing only 2-3% of national income (from taxes).  Of the oil profits the government spent 116% on services and programs for the already wealthy.  That is, the government essentially went into debt to benefit the super wealthy of Venezuela.

Chavez in contrast increased revenue from oil by cutting out extortion and corruption and repatriating many billions of dollars from CITGO profits in the US.  That revenue was largely dedicated to the poor and extremely poor super majority of Venezuela.  Venezuela as a result, was among the only countries in the world to achieve the UN Millennium Goals for education and health indices well ahead of time, through comprehensively overcoming impoverishment.  This was done through “missions” of various kinds ranging from housing and health, to education, transportation, etc… by mobilizing people at the grassroots levels to participate and engage in building these programs together.

I would hope that international journalists could take note of and inform readers and listeners as well as decision-makers how strong a loyalty many Venezuelans have for this revolution that has so dramatically transformed and improved life for the Venezuelan majority.

 

Venezuela Journal 8/19- 8/28 Part 1 & 2

Venezuela journal August 2019

Part 1

The propaganda offensive against Venezuela was impressive from the start, way before the arrival of the toxic mix of Elliott Abrams to the rogues gallery of Pompeo, Pence, Bolton, Marco Rubio, and the ill-fated pretty boy Manchurian candidate Juan Guaidó. Obama himself had in 2015 declared Venezuela a “threat to US national security” when he decreed the first economic sanctions, looking for his own imperialist legacy. The use of the term “dictator” to describe the democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro was so widespread that even consumers of NPR were bombarded by this lie on a daily basis, not to mention the corporate media or worse FOX news.  Even Bernie Sanders had called Hugo Chavez, the most popularly elected president in Latin America, a dictator.

 

That this was outrageous right wing propaganda, stirred up by the Venezuelan oil-dependent oligarchy was obvious to me or any well-informed observer from day 1. However, since I had not been in Venezuela since 2008 and since a large number of very critical Venezuelans had left the country due to what was undeniably an economic meltdown, even I was uncertain of the merits of the Maduro administration, and the full range of causes of the multiple crises Venezuela was facing. I kept asking myself “What did Maduro do that was so bad, to deserve the visceral hatred of a large sector of the Venezuelan people?  I hadn’t heard any details of Maduro’s alleged transgressions, and it wasn’t clear how much support there still was for his administration among the base that had voted for Chavez andent Maduro so many times over the course of the Bolivarian revolution, in fact with majorities 22 of the past 24 elections. It had seemed like a miracle to begin with that an elected socialist government could have turned the massive oil industry into a force for good for the Venezuelan people and for the world. Yet this had happened and with such a track record, it was understandable how Maduro won the most recent election in October 2018 despite a severe financial and economic collapse, receiving more than 60% at the polls.

 

Spending 9 days in Venezuela, Aug 18-28, as a co-leader and Spanish-English interpreter for a solidarity delegation of folk from the US, England and Ireland, dispelled 99% of my doubts and confusion. I saw clearly that the Venezuelan people who had supported Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution had not abandoned this movement. In fact, many of them were digging in for a longterm revolutionary resistance and grassroots organizing phase, in the face of US threats of invasion, regime change, and even the attempt to starve Venezuela.  With nearly 80% of Venezuelan media outlets in the hands of opposition oligarchs, the support base of the Bolivarian project had become strongly immunized against the constant stream of distirtions, ideological attacks and systematic falsehoods gushing forth, as it had since Chavez’ first election in 1998. Some of the organizing happening in the face of the criminal economic sanctions-turned-wholesale-blockade were extremely strategic in concept and brilliant in execution. I felt privileged to be in a position as part of our delegation and every person we could subsequently mobilize to add dynamic support to their courageous and creative efforts.

 

PlanPueblo a Pueblo is one such effort among many that demonstrates how crisis can indeed be transformed at times into opportunity. Chavez had demonstrated this during the oil executive strike, and during and after the failed coup in 2002 and then again following the world wide economic crisis of 2008. The Venezuelan people, we saw, were capable of doing so again in the current crisis. The only path not imaginable was to surrender to the interventionist alternative sitting up in full view on the imperialist table.

 

Venezuela Journal Part 2

 

It took about 7 hours to drive from our hotel in Caracas to Carache in Trujillo state, westward and southwest about half way to the Colombian border. We arrived in Carache down switchbacks from an approaching ridge in the foothills of the Andes just before dusk. It was cool and quiet. Carache is an historic valley town about 1,800 meters above sea level, famous for its guerrilla movement and leader Algieri Galbadano, whose image, along with Bolivar and Chavez, was visible here and there in local farm houses and activists meeting rooms. The location of Carache for rebellion was strategic, being at a crossroads linking five productive and mountainous rural states covering every ecosystem from hot lowlands to high Andean “párramo” above the tree line, perfect climates for every variety of tubor, fruit, leafy or cucurbit vegetable or herb, and also good terrain on horse or muleback to stage a guerrilla resistance to tyrannical governments.

 

Just arrived in Carache I made a gaff when the owner of the guest house we were to stay in led us into a room with high ceilings and adobe walls appointed like a colonial chapel served up cool refreshing hibiscus tea. Our Irish delegate Fra saw his opportunity and began offering with little to no resistance to spike the tea with Irish whiskey he had brought across the Atlantic. The hostess Aide made a toast for the occasion to “Venezuela libre” to which I added “sovereign and in resistance”, words that caused a momentary pause and glance from Aide. I became suddenly aware that Doña Aide probably supported the bourgeois opposition to the Bolivarian government. To Aide’s credit, she didn’t miss more than a single beat and was a gracious host and spectacular host and fabulous cook for the duration of our stay. As guests we had the advantage of paying our bill with dollars, so highly coveted throughout the country for their buying power and stability.

 

Once settled in our new digs our partners from Plan Pueblo a Pueblo invited myself and Jenny to join them for an evening tour of their headquarters and staging warehouse up in the hills. The evening breeze was cool but not freezing, a good thing since I only had a t shirt on. Crouched in the back of a double cabin pickup, we wound up a  bumpy road road following a ridge line bordered by a swift flowing stream and dramatic drop offs on one side. Shortly in the pitch dark of the waning moon we reached a warehouse and got to observe a flatbed truck loaded with peppers, celery, cabbage, carrots and cilantro stacked in plastic crates. The truck was to leave at 3 am for the aggregation depot four hours away, en route to distribution fair # 199 since 2016, surpassing the 300,000 families fed mark.  We also saw the on loan house used for lodging local organizers that serves as Plan Pueblo a Pueblo Carache headquarters. Out back were stalls filled with a white breed of goats soon to be distributed to farmers with a 50/50 agreement, half home consumption, half sale through Plan PaP, and the first female born to go to a new farm household. The house was lively and full of children and seasoned multitasking activist farmer parents. There were computers around and revolutionary posters on the walls. We were handed sweet fruits called “tree tomatoes” which I had never seen before and which looked like barcelo sauce tomatoes but which definitely were not.

 

The next morning after a deluxe breakfast the delegation was eventually herded from our hotel in two batches and transported back up into the hills of La Mesa for a day of farm visits and a large and joyous community gathering and ceremony where we were honored for our solidarity and 20 kilo veggie seed delivery, and we in turn honored our hosts with affirmations and the announcement of the 2019 Food Sovereignty Prize awarded to Plan Pueblo a Pueblo by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Beautiful cultural presentations followed including a young adult and children dance performances and a guitar singing group with whom I eventually played my trumpet for singing rendition of “Cielito Lindo”.  One of the guitar players, Pascual, asked me to bring him on our next visit a set of guitar strings which the blockade had made replacement strings hard to come by. An elderly chisel-faced cowboy with considerable gravitas told me about his remote veggie operation way up in the mountains, inviting me to join him there in a future visit.

 

Young female and male leaders from other producer communities also participated in the festivities including a sturdy compact woman who had driven nearly 2 hours on a motorcycle and a group led by a dynamic young man from a high “párramo” community. There in La Mesa we had a genuine meeting of hearts and minds. Before we left this ridge top community in the late afternoon we made one last stop, at what we were told was a local bar. But drinks were not being served there for the time being. The fine wood worker who owned the bar showed us his extraordinary hand crafted building. The bar upon which drinks could be served itself was a glossy work of art. The wall and ceiling trim likewise were exquisite set off by the pristine white plastered walls. Above the gilded entryway were high end framed images of scantily clad maidens. Beneath that were sober photos of his own children at graduation ceremonies in solemn robes. A shiney sword once wielded no doubt by a Spaniard Lord or warrior hung on a side wall behind the bar. But the climax of this eclectic visual experience was the room behind the bar. Occupying most of the room from floor to ceiling was a colonial style bed built w exquisite hardwoods and said to be an exact replica of the bed belonging to none other than General Simón Bolivar himself. Stunned, the only thing I could think of to utter was a question to the owner who stood proudly by the adorned head board and vaulted guilded bed canopy: “Does,” I muttered “Does anyone sleep in this bed?”  To which the owner replied with a contented smile “Yes. I do.”

 

Outside the window from Bolivar’s bed, was an elegantly built stone masonry sluice where themountain stream powered a waterwheel where corn could be ground. To my mind this was a slice of paradise and a demonstration of rural creativity and quality rarely seen in most colonized and exploited rural communities. This rural hamlet instilled me with a renewed hope for the Venezuelan people and indeed for the world. Where a humble but ambitious farmer could sleep in a bed like the one a great Liberator once slept in when resting between battles for freedom from colonial tyranny.

 

 

Crystal Bay Resolves to Respond to Climate Emergency

(Prepared and introduced to Crystal Bay Township Council by my brother David Abazs and his wife Lise Abazs in April, 2019)

RESOLUTION ENDORSING THE DECLARATION OF A CLIMATE EMERGENCY AND REQUESTING AN IMMEDIATE TRANSITION TO RESTORE A SAFE CLIMATE

WHEREAS, the United States of America has disproportionately contributed to the climate and ecological crises and has repeatedly obstructed global efforts to transition toward a sustainable economy, and thus bears an extraordinary responsibility to rapidly solve these crises;

WHEREAS, the national government has neglected the seriousness of climate change, the need to address the seriousness of the climate change is immediate and needs swift action and  community’s like ours around the country to take a stand and take action;

WHEREAS, restoring a safe and stable climate requires an emergency mobilization on a rapid scale to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of our world, to rapidly and safely drawdown or remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, and to implement measures to protect all people and species from the consequences of abrupt climate change;

WHEREAS, ecological justice requires that frontline communities, which have historically borne the brunt of the extractive fossil-fuel economy, participate actively in the planning and implementation of this mobilization effort at all levels of government and that we transition to a renewable energy economy;

WHEREAS, Crystal Bay Township can act as a global leader by both converting to an ecologically, socially and economically regenerative economy at emergency speed, and by catalyzing a unified regional just transition and climate emergency mobilization effort;

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township declares that a climate emergency threatens our community, our region and the world;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township commits to a climate emergency mobilization effort to reverse global warming, and end greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, immediately initiating efforts to safely draw down carbon from the atmosphere, and accelerates adaptation and resilience strategies in preparation for intensifying climate impacts to the best of our ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township commits to educating ourselves and others about the climate emergency and working to catalyze a just transition and climate emergency mobilization effort to provide maximum protection for our residents as well as all the people and species of the world; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township joins a nation-wide call for a regional just transition and climate emergency mobilization collaborative effort focused on transforming our region and rapidly catalyzing a mobilization at all levels of government to restore a safe and lasting safe climate and environment.

Dan Kovalik on Venezuela and International Law, Presented at University of Louisville, Law School April 8, 2019

https://youtu.be/hjLddyZBw9s

My take away: The emergence of ´humanitarian interventionism´ based on a lense of the privileged and powerful nations looking down upon the less powerful has led to violations of international law, from Libya to Venezuela. State sponsored genocides such as that taking place in Yemen, or extreme humanitarian violations like that taking place in Gaza, for example, are largely ignored. 40,000 US people living in poverty are never viewed through this lense. Particularly when there is a desire to overthrow a regime, does this pretext come into use. The case of this pretext being used in favor of regime change in Venezuela is a flagrant on-going example.

Green New Deal for Agriculture

“The food system is breaking the planet.”  This is the opening line from an article entitled a Green New Deal for Agriculture just out by authors Raj Patel and Jim Goodman.  Jim Goodman is president of the National Family Farm Coalition and a dairy farmer who together with his wife Rebecca finally succumbed to reality and sold off their dairy herd in great sadness and closed shop after decades producing organic milk in Wisconsin.  Please read the whole article at the following link below.  The article goes on: “Nearly a quarter of human made greenhouse gases are driven by how we eat, and it’s impossible to tackle climate change without transforming agriculture. So the Green New Deal is wise to call for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” Better yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey’s proposal includes a call to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”

This has the makings of a bonanza for rural America. Healthy food costs more and is harder to access than processed food. Under a Green New Deal that helped Americans eat better, more cash might flow back to the land.”

If the federal government would truly represent the interests of the farm economy and rural communities, and recognize that well-managed soil would both sequester carbon and create living wage farm and agricultural jobs across the heartland, sustainable farming might become a way to end America’s rural poverty.

Let’s be clear, the family farmers still “outstanding in their fields” in the US are suffering impoverishment and bankruptcy.  The latest statistics paint a dire situation:  82% of farm income will come from off-farm jobs in 2019, median income from farms is now a negative number and farmer suicides are on a dramatic rise in recent years!  Due to decades of low prices and high costs for farmers, 75% of America’s farmed cropland is now controlled by 12% of farms.  These are cold statistics that harbor an immense hot bitter loss for millions of people and thousands of rural communities since the 80s, and arguably contributed to a situation that was leveraged in a deceptive way to elect Donald Trump.   Why has this happened?

The answer is quite simple:  Corporations that buy, process, distribute and sell agricultural products , whether it is tobacco, meat or vegetables, and those that sell seeds, fertilizers and chemicals to farmers, and those who sell insurance to farmers,  have become way too few, too powerful and too profitable.  They have through their cash and lobbying apparatus over decades stripped away the legislative advances made by the original New Deal and, as is a chronic problem for corporate led capitalism, turned the farm economy into monopoly capitalism, wiping out any semblance of free markets and rigging the system, rules and laws around trade, farm and economic policy through their campaign contributions.  Family farmers have been the victims of this system, not to mention the family members and farm workers those farmers need to hire for the labor intensive work of crops like tobacco or fruit or vegetable production.  Not to mention the Mom and Pop businesses that farm income supports in rural communities and towns.   The Green New Deal, if it is to succeed in both providing a Just Transition to Living Wage Jobs for Millions of Marginalized workers, and effectively slow and eventually reverse climate change and climate catastrophe, must break up Big Ag Corporate control, strip away their Virtual Monopoly powers, provide support for prices above the cost of production for essential commodities, and empower government agencies to respond to the needs of the many current and potential producers, over the needs of corporate merchants and their lobbyists such as the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Wall Street Crowd who have systematically captured and destroyed family farmers as a viable sector of the US economy.    Family farmers need to organize themselves in cooperatives, advocacy organizations and coalitions;  farm workers need to organize themselves into unions and coalitions, and people who need healthy food, into consumer associations in solidarity with the people who work the land.  Income should not be an obstacle to eating healthy food for the most impoverished and sickened communities in our country.  A GreenNew Deal could be a golden opportunity to both save humanity from climate catastrophe and from economic death through a thousands cuts of corporate economic predation and inequality by the 1% .  In short that death is very real, from eating in a fast food culture that makes you sick, because there is not enough $$ or time or community health and well being  to eat well.  Viable farm economy where agroecology can flourish is a keg solution to climate change.  On my 10 acre tropical farm in the Dominican Republic we sequestered the equivalent of 1,500 tons of carbon in 20 years.  That doesn’t even count the smaller carbon footprints of self-reliant people who live and work in rural communities overall.  Imagine if that can be multiplied a million times!   Please push to get the farmers and the farmworkers and their organizations to the table to help hammer out the policies the Green New Deal will need to implement in order to succeed in this urgent transformation to save humanity.    I believe in my heart that a powerful new rural, urban alliance in support of a Green New Deal is about to be born!   Carpei Diem! To quote a prophetic Filipino Climate negotiator:  If not now, then when!  If not us, then who?

HoeLine