Foreign Policy News Stories
Clinton Administration Aggressively Promotes U.S. Arms Sales
The United States is now the principal arms merchant for die
world. U.S. weapons are evident in almost every conflict worldwide
and reap a devastating toll on civilians, U.S. military personnel,
and the socio-economic priorities of many Third World nations.
On June 7, 1997, the House of Representatives unanimously
approved the Arms Transfer Code of Conduct. This code would prohibit
U.S. commercial arms sales or military aid and training to foreign
governments that are undemocratic, abuse human rights, or engage
in aggression against neighboring states. Yet the Clinton Administration,
along with the Defense, Commerce, and State Departments, has continued
to aggressively promote the U.S. arms industry at every opportunity.
With Washington's share of the arms business jumping from 16 percent
worldwide in 1988 to 63 percent today, U.S. arms dealers currently
sell $10 billion in weapons to non-democratic governments each
year. During Clinton's first year in office, U.S. foreign military
aid soared to $36 billion, more than double what George Bush approved
Most U.S. weaponry is sold to strife-torn regions such as
the Middle East. These weapons sales fan the flames of war instead
of promoting stability, and ironically, put U.S. troops based
around the world at growing risk. For example, the last five times
U.S. troops were sent into conflict, they found themselves facing
adversaries who had previously received U.S. weapons, military
technology, or training. Meanwhile, the Pentagon uses the presence
of advanced U.S. weapons in foreign arsenals to justify increased
new weapons spending- ostensibly to maintain U.S. military superiority.
Given that international arms sales exacerbate conflicts and
drain scarce resources from developing countries, why does the
Clinton Administration push them so vigorously? Proponents of
arms sales say that these sales are a boon to the economy and
that they create jobs. However, the government's own studies reveal
that for every 100 jobs created by weapons exports, 41 are lost
in non-military U.S. firms. And as U.S. arms exports have soared,
some 2.2 million defense industry workers have lost their jobs
due to corporate layoffs.
Thus the more plausible motive is the drive for corporate
profits. It is no small detail that U.S. global arms market dominance
has been accomplished as much through subsidies as sales. In return
for arms manufacturers' huge political contributions, much of
the U.S. arms exports are paid with government grants, subsidized
loans, tax breaks, and promotional activities. With the 1996 welfare
reform law cutting federal support for poor families by about
$7 billion annually-an amount almost equal to the yearly subsidies
given to U.S. weapons manufacturers-it is the poor who will pay
the price for escalating arms exports.
Lawrence Kolb, a Brookings Institute fellow and former assistant
secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, sums up the problem:
"It has become a money game: an absurd spiral in which we
export arms only to have to develop more sophisticated ones to
counter those spread out all over the world.... [And] it is very
hard for us to tell other [countries]... not to sell arms when
we are out there peddling and fighting to control the market."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR LORA LUMPE: Costly Giveaways' was based on
a longer report ('Recycled Weapons: American Exports of Surplus
Arms') that my former associate Paul F. Pineo and I published
in mid-1996. That study demonstrated that the Pentagon and White
House had quietly implemented a major new form of military assistance
in the wake of the Cold War (and the 1990-1991 Gulf War). We documented
approximately $7 billion in shipments of free, 'excess,' American
weapons to countries around the world during 1990-95.
"The full report and 'Costly Giveaways' garnered some
mainstream media coverage. Jack Anderson and Colman McCarthy,
columnists with the Washington Post, both wrote about it. Harper's
ran a box on it in the May 1997 'Readings' section, and William
Greider referenced the report in an excellent article on the U.S.
arms industry in Rolling Stone (July 10-24,1997). However, in
all of the press coverage, the narrow taxpayer angle received
the greatest attention, while what I consider to be the most significant
aspect of the story-the impact of these weapons shipments on people
working for peace, democracy, economic justice, or human rights-received
"The report and article had some policy impact. Senator
Paul Sarbanes read the study and enacted several of its recommendations
into law (Public Law 104164). Most significantly, this law requires
an annual State Department report listing all transfers of 'excess
defense articles' (EDA) and emergency 'drawdowns' of Pentagon
weapons stocks during the preceding year. The listing, by country
and specifying the type of equipment, greatly enhances congressional
and public oversight of these programs. According to the first
iteration of this report, released in September 1997, the Executive
Branch authorized over $830 million of grant surplus weapons transfers
in fiscal year 1996. Among the recipients were Mexico, Columbia,
Peru, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, and Turkey-all countries
where serious political repression and/or human rights violations
were reported in 1996. Senator Sarbanes' law caps future EDA shipments
at X350 million a year, beginning in fiscal year 1997 (the year
that ended on September 30, 1997). His law also maintains for
four years a requirement that the Pentagon provide surplus arms
to Greece and Turkey in a 7 to 10 ratio, allegedly balancing the
arms race between these antagonistic U.S. allies.
"In a related article that ran six months after our study,
U.S. News and World Report (December 9, 1996) exposed the ease
with which civilians and foreign agents are able to purchase surplus
military spare parts from the Pentagon. In thousands of instances,
the Department of Defense failed to 'demilitarize' equipment before
sale, allowing civilians to, for instance, convert regular helicopters
into assault helicopters. This story (and an accompanying piece
on 60 Minutes) led to congressional hearings, an internal Pentagon
audit of the surplus inventory, and the introduction of legislation
mandating accurate classification and demilitarization of surplus
parts (HR 2602, introduced in October 1997 by Representative Pete
"For more information on the issues raised in 'Costly
Giveaways' and in this update, visit the Federation of American
Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project on the World Wide Web
at http:/l www.fas.org/asmp."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR MARTHA HONEY: "As the sole remaining
superpower, the U.S. has the opportunity to map out a new foreign
policy direction towards arms reductions in this post-Cold War
era. Sadly, however, the U.S. is now the world's leading arms
exporter; and NATO expansion, the centerpiece of Clinton's second
term, offers a bonanza to U.S. arms exporters. Arms merchants
are the second greatest recipients of corporate welfare surpassed
only by farmers who receive agricultural subsidies.
"Since the article was published, the Clinton Administration's
positions have, unfortunately, hardened. Washington stands nearly
alone in the world in its refusal to sign the land mines treaty.
In August, Clinton agreed to lift the two-decade-old moratorium
on transfers of high-tech weapons to Latin America, thereby threatening
to trigger an arms race in South America.
"Regarding coverage of the article, I did a number of
radio interviews after it appeared, but I am not aware of any
significant coverage in the mainstream print or television media."
For more information on U.S. military sales and exports, contact:
MARTHA HONEY Foreign Policy in Focus Project Institute for
Policy Studies (IPS) 733 15th Street, NW, Suite 1020 Washington,
DC 20005 Tel: 202/234-9382 E-mail: email@example.com. org.
The Foreign Policy in Focus Project at IPS publishes a number
of briefs on arms sales and subsidies, NATO expansion, defense
conversion, and other related topics.
LORA LUMPE Federation of American Scientists 307 Massachusetts
Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20002 Tel: 202/ 675-1018 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lora Lumpe has a major project on conventional arms and arms
WILLIAM HARTUNG Arms Trade Resource Center World Policy Institute
New School for Social Research 65 Fifth Avenue, Suite 413 New
York, NY 10003 Tel: 212/229-5808 E-mail: email@example.com.
This center compiles invaluable information on defense contractors
and lobbying/political contributions.
TOM CARDOMONE Council for a Livable World Education Fund 110
Maryland Avenue, NE, Suite 409 Washington, DC 20002 Tel: 202/543-4100
Tom Cardomone runs the Conventional Arms Transfer Project.
United States Companies are World Leaders in the Manufacture
of Torture Devices for Internal Use and Export
In its March 1997 report entitled "Recent Cases of the
Use of Electroshock Weapons for Torture or ILL-Treatment,"
Amnesty International lists 100 companies worldwide that produce
and sell instruments of torture. Forty-two of these firms are
in the United States. This places the U.S. as the leader in the
manufacture of stun guns, stun belts, cattle probe-like devices,
and other equipment which can cause devastating pain in the hands
According to the report, the following are some of the American
companies currently engaged in the production and sale of such
weapons: ... B-west Imports Inc. of Tucson, Arizona; and Taserton
of Corona, California... B-West joined with Paralyzer Protection,
a South African company, to produce shock batons that deliver
a charge of between 80,000 and 120,000 volts. Taserton was the
first company to manufacture the taser, a product which shoots
two wires attached to darts with metal hooks. When these hooks
catch a victim's skin or clothing, the device delivers a debilitating
shock. Los Angeles police officers used the device against Rodney
King in 1991.
These weapons are currently in use in the U.S. and are being
exported to countries all over the world. The U.S. government
is a large purchaser of stun devices-especially stun guns, electroshock
batons, and electric shields. The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) and Amnesty both claim the devices are unsafe and may encourage
sadistic acts by police officers and prison guards both here and
abroad. "Stun belts offer enormous possibilities for abuse
and the infliction of gratuitous pain," says Jenni Gainsbourough
of the ACLU's National Prison Project. She adds that because use
of the stun belt leaves little physical evidence, this increases
the likelihood of sadistic, but hard-to-prove, misuse of these
weapons. In June 1996, Amnesty International asked the Bureau
of Prisons to suspend the use of electroshock belt, citing the
possibility of physical danger to inmates and the potential for
In 1991, Terence Allen, a specialist in forensic pathology
who served as deputy medical examiner for both Los Angeles and
San Francisco's coroner's offices, linked the taser to fatalities.
With electrical current, Allen says, the chance of death increases
with each use. Allen warns, "I think what you are going to
see is more deaths from stun weapons."
Manufacturers of electroshock weapons continue to denounce
allegations that use of their devices is dangerous and may constitute
a gross violation of human rights. Instead, they are making more
advanced innovations. A new stun weapon may soon be added to police
arsenals: the electroshock razor wire, specially designed for
surrounding demonstrators who get out of hand.
UPDATE by AUTHOR ANNE-MARIE CUSAC: "Many citizens do
not realize that the abuse of prisoners is epidemic in the United
States. Since I wrote the piece, evidence that guards in the Maricopa
County, Arizona, jail system mistreated inmates with stun guns
(including one incident where a guard shocked a sleeping inmate)
has led to a new jail policy restricting the use of 'non-lethal'
weapons such as stun guns. There has also been some disturbing
news; the stun belt recently appeared in South Africa.
This is the first documented export of the device.
"Meanwhile, the manufacturers have been busy. One company
recently announced a device it calls 'The Sticky Shocker,' which
fires an electrified high-pressure saline solution. The 'Net Gun,'
another new product, uses a grenade launcher to shoot a sticky
web that can deliver a 60,000 volt shock.
"The mainstream media have had no response to 'Shock
Value,' and have given scant coverage to the issue as a whole.
A copy of Amnesty International's report on stun devices may be
obtained by phoning 212/807-8400. The American Civil Liberties
Union Prison Rights Project (Tel: 202/234-4830) also has information
on the devices."
Norplant and Human Lab Experiments in Third World Lead to
Forced Use in the United States
Low-income women in the United States and in the Third World
have been the unwitting targets of a U.S. policy to control birth
rates. Despite continuous reports of debilitating effects of the
drug Norplant, women here and in the Third World, who have received
the implantable contraceptive, have had difficulty making their
complaints heard, and in some instances have been deceived, according
to our resources. Norplant is a set of six plastic cylinders containing
a synthetic version of a female hormone. It is intended to prevent
pregnancy for five years. Surgery is required for removal-at a
cost far beyond the reach of low-income women, regardless of their
nationality, if the removal is not subsidized.
Jennifer Washburn's Ms. article focuses on Medicaid rejection
of Norplant removals for low-income women prior to the standard
five-year period, even when side effects are chronic. In the U.S.
State Medicaid agencies, for example, often generously cover the
cost of Norplant insertion but don't cover removal before the
full five years. Although Medicaid policy may cover early removal
"when determined 'medically necessary,' " medical necessity
is determined by the provider and the Medicaid agency, not the
Journalist Rebecca Kavoussi reports in her Washington Free
Press article that the reproductive rights of women addicted to
drugs or alcohol have once again become the focus of U.S. legislation.
Senate Bill 5278, now under consideration in the state of Washington,
would require "involuntary use of long-term pharmaceutical
birth control" (Norplant) for women who give birth to drug-addicted
babies. Under this proposal, a woman who gives birth to a drug-addicted
baby would get two chances-the first voluntary, the second mandatory-to
undergo drug treatment and counseling. Upon the birth of a third
drug-addicted child, the state would force the mother to undergo
surgery to insert the Norplant contraceptive.
Similarly, Norplant is figuring in reproductive rights issues
and legislative policies worldwide as well. In his May 1997 Human
Events article, Joseph D'Agostino reports on the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC) documentary The Human Laboratory, which accused
the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) of acting
in conjunction with the Population Council of New York City, to
use uninformed women in Bangladesh, Haiti, and the Philippines
for Norplant tests. Many of these women were subjects in pre-injection
drug trials that began in 1985 in Bangladesh, one of the world's
The BBC documentary contained interviews with women who complained
of debilitating side effects from Norplant, but who were rebuffed
when they asked to have the implants removed. These women stated
that they had been told that the drug was safe and not experimental.
Implantation was free.
One woman interviewed in the documentary said that after implantation,
suddenly her body became weak, and that she couldn't get up, look
after her children, or cook. Other women reported similar problems,
stating that when they asked to have Norplant removed, they were
told it would ruin the study. "I went to the clinic as often
as twice a week," one woman said, "but they said, 'This
thing we put in your arm costs 5,000 takas. We'll not remove it
unless you pay this money."' The narrator of the documentary,
Farida Akhter, recounted that when another woman begged to have
the implant removed-saying, "I'm dying, please help me get
it out"-she was told, "Okay, when you die, inform us,
we'll get it out of your body."
The documentary asserts that the women should have been told
that the pre-introductory trials were to assess the drug's safety,
efficiency, and acceptability. Now, says the BBC, many women who
were used in the trials are suffering from eyesight disorders,
strokes, persistent bleeding, and other side effects.
However, the Norplant saga appears to have global political
implications that interfere with reasonable resolution. According
to the documentary, the U.S. government considers global population
control a "national security issue" and has increased
U.S. population control efforts around the world.
Norplant side effects have resulted in over 400 lawsuits being
filed against Wyeth-Ayerst, the maker of Norplant. These lawsuits
include class actions representing over 50,000 women which are
only just now making their way to the courts.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR JENNIFER WASHBURN: "When Norplant hit
the market in 1990, a flurry of state legislation was proposed
offering AFDC recipients monetary incentives (anywhere from $200
to $700) to use Norplant. At the same time, state Medicaid agencies
were crafting policies that deny coverage for early Norplant removal
(before five years) even if a woman was experiencing chronic side
effects, policies that still exist in many states. The mainstream
media, to my knowledge, never picked up on this story, and rarely,
if ever, covers issues affecting the health and reproductive rights
of low-income women. Norplant usage has, however, declined dramatically
in all populations largely due to the negative publicity generated
from the lawsuits involving some 50,000 women which are only just
now making their way to the courts.
"Since my story came out, 'child exclusion laws' that
deny additional benefits to children born to mothers on welfare
have spread to at least 21 states. The new federal welfare 'reform'
law permits states to punitively exclude benefits to these children,
despite the fact that two recent studies in New Jersey and Arkansas-the
first two states to implement 'family caps' as they are euphemistically
called-found no difference in birth rates between women denied
benefits and those eligible for them. At the same time that welfare
recipients are being asked to achieve self-sufficiency in five
years or less, 34 states continue to allow Medicaid coverage of
abortion services only in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
Meanwhile, the new law encourages competition among states for
'illegitimacy bonuses,' and dedicates an extraordinary $50 million
for 'abstinence-only' education-which may not be combined with
traditional sex education programs that teach about both abstinence
and contraception. Many fear that this will wipe out more encompassing
sex education programs from schools, hardly a viable solution
for sexually active women of any class who want control over their
reproduction as well as their lives."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR REBECCA KAVOUSSI: "Although Washington
state Senate Bill 5278 will take effect July 1, 1998 (if passed),
there has been no mainstream media coverage of its year-long journey
through the Washington state legislature.
"Technology is commonly equated with progress, and progress
is believed to be positive. Accordingly, our culture seems to
view advances in reproductive technology as indicators of more
broad and extensive advances in freedom and autonomy for women
as a group. In the case of legislation like this, however, we
glimpse the stunning negative potential of technology when it
is called upon to bring order to emotionally and politically loaded
"In the most updated version of the bill, women targeted
for mandatory contraception also face the termination of parental
rights. While the writers of the bill suggest no funding for improving
the resources available to pregnant addicts, they are considering
extending Senate Bill 5278 to include mothers of children born
with fetal alcohol syndrome.
"Both Lexis-Nexis and the Web offer the full text of
legislation at state and national levels. In her book, At Women's
Expense: State Power and the Politics of Fetal Rights (Harvard
University Press, 1993), Cynthia Daniels details the relationship
between reproductive technology and the state."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR JOSEPH D'AGOSTINO: "Two crucial concerns
intersect in the story of Western organizations promoting population
control in the Third World at all costs: the unspoken belief that
the lives of Third World people are less valuable than those of
Westerners, and the perversion of women's sacred reproductive
rights. Despite the well-respected BBC's report, almost nothing
has appeared in the American mainstream media on the experimental
use of Norplant on unsuspecting Third World women. All that I
could find was a two-sentence mention in passing by a guest on
NPR's Talk of the Nation on February 5, 1997, and an article by
Mount Holyoke College Professor of Women's Studies Asoka Bandarage
in the July 14, 1997 Christian Science Monitor.
"The Population Council continues to insist Norplant
is safe, as does the World Health Organization and U.S. AID. But
the FDA has kept open the petition of the Population Research
Institute (PRI) to decertify the device. Class action suits against
the device are pending."
Mattel cuts U.S. Jobs to Open Sweatshops in Other Countries
Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), U.S. toy
factories have cut a onetime American work force of 56,000 in
half and sent many of those jobs to countries where workers lack
For 23 years, Dennis Mears worked as an electrician at the
Fisher-Price factory in Medina, New York. In 1993, Mattel, Inc.
took over the plant, welcoming the people of Fisher-Price to the
Mattel family. Two years later, after Mattel had lobbied for NAFTA,
touting the agreement as a boon for U.S. workers, Mears and 700
other employees, including his wife, an employee of 18 years,
lost their jobs. Some of the jobs moved to the South, but 520
disappeared because of "increased company imports from Mexico,"
according to the U.S. Labor Department. Today, Mears works in
an applesauce factory, earning half of what he made at Fisher-Price.
In the past decade, Mattel, the makers of "Barbie,"
bought out six major competitors, making it the largest toy manufacturer
in the world. Employing 25,000 people worldwide, Mattel now only
employs 6,000 workers in the United States. NAFTA has freed Mattel
to further reduce its American work force and take advantage of
repressive labor laws in other countries.
Delfina Rodriguez is a middle-aged woman with seven children.
Until September 9, 1996, she assembled Mattel toys on the night
shift at the Mabamex factory, a Mattel affiliate in Tijuana, Mexico.
On that night, she reports, she came to work carrying pamphlets
from a workers'-rights meeting held the previous day.
Upon entering the plant she says her purse was searched and
she was taken into a room by a security guard. She and two other
workers say they were interrogated, accused of passing out subversive
materials, detained against their will until the next morning,
and prevented from going to the bathroom or making phone calls
to their families. In the end, they were told they would have
to quit their jobs or go to prison. They were released only after
agreeing to resign. Although they have reached a settlement with
the company awarding them severance pay, the women have filed
a penal complaint in Tijuana, claiming their rights were violated.
In the Dynamic factory just outside of Bangkok, 4,500 women
and children stuff, cut, dress, and assemble Barbie dolls and
Disney properties. Many of the workers have respiratory infections,
their lungs filled with dust from fabrics in the factory. They
complain of hair and memory loss, constant pain in their hands,
neck, and shoulders, episodes of vomiting, and irregular menstrual
periods. Metha is a militant woman in her twenties who tried to
start a union at the Dynamics plant. She claims the company not
only fired her but threatened to shut her up "forever."
She developed respiratory problems and was hospitalized. She expresses
her fear to talk to a reporter by saying, "Barbie is powerful.
Three friends have already died. If they kill me, who will ever
know I lived?"
Though separated by distance, these Mattel workers are intimately
connected by experience, as are those of countless other abused
workers in toy factories in Thailand and China, where Mattel now
produces the bulk of their toys.
Under pressure, the industry adopted a code of conduct, which
conveniently calls upon companies to monitor themselves. There's
little evidence, however, according to authors Anton Foek and
Eyal Press, of any changes in these abusive practices.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR EYAL PRESS
"A few years ago, questions about conditions in the toy
industry began to be raised in the media after a fire killed more
than 100 workers, mostly young women, at a factory in Thailand.
Since that time, little has been done to address the unsafe and
inhumane working conditions that predominate in the industry;
and the media's attention has, predictably, focused on the craze
for 'Elmo' dolls, the latest version of Barbie, and to the intense
jostling among companies for profit and market share. The fact
that so many toys are made in sweatshops is simply not a pleasant
topic to dwell upon, so while it's mentioned in occasional news-stories,
most consumers remain uninformed and oblivious.
"My article gave a detailed, first-hand account of a
previously unreported case of worker harassment and intimidation
at a Mattel toy factory in Mexico. I connected this story to related
events in a town in upstate New York, where, earlier in the same
year, Mattel had laid off hundreds of workers, shifting production
to Mexico. The strength of the story, I think, rested in the first-hand
interviews I conducted with workers in both places. The article
also provided a detailed look at how Mattel and other toy companies
have lobbied Congress to ensure that U.S. tariff and trade agreements
be separated from the question of labor rights. In the fine print
of trade agreements with China and Indonesia, the industry has
won special privileges eliminating all tariffs on toy imports,
and it has blocked attempts to tie these privileges to improvements
in labor rights.
"The short-term response to my story was positive: I
was invited to speak on numerous radio shows across the country,
both commercial and public. There have also been several good
stories done on conditions in the toy industry in the past year-including
a program that aired on NBC Dateline. Nevertheless, the issues
addressed in my article have not received sustained attention.
In addition, I know for a fact that an award-winning reporter
at a mainstream newspaper had a lengthy feature story on abuses
in the toy industry killed by his editors just around the time
that my story appeared. He was enraged, suspecting that his editors
(and no doubt the paper's advertises) simply did not want such
a story to appear during the holiday shopping season. Given that
the United States is by far the world's largest market for toys
and that the industry's abuses could easily be curtailed without
threatening its financial well-being, it's impossible to believe
that consumers would prefer that such stories be relegated to
the back pages."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR ANTON FOEK:
"In the year since my story was published, at least one
of the women I wrote about died. And unsafe sweatshop conditions
continue in Bangkok, Thailand, as elsewhere. A positive change,
however, is that the sort of conditions I reported in 'Sweatshop
Barbie,' have since garnered widespread concern, receiving publicity
in U.S. News and World Report, on NBC Dateline, and in other media.
As a result, companies like Mattel have publicly responded. The
July/August 1997 Humanist featured a letter written by Sean M.
Fitzgerald, Vice-President of Corporate Communications for Mattel,
Inc., followed by my reply. In his letter, Fitzgerald denied or
minimized what I had personally observed, photographed, and tape-recorded.
But, after standing by my story, I expressed the idea that we
should look beyond the toys of Mattel to the forest of the corporate
world as a whole, seeing how the goal of amassing private fortunes
can work at cross-purposes with the goal of extending participatory
"Though I haven't heard that my reply changed Fitzgerald's
mind, I consider the corporate response sufficient. It shows that
journalistic efforts can have impact. But we must do more. Consumes
should write letters and send e-mail to major corporations whose
products carry labels indicating manufacture in developing nations,
and ask about working conditions there. Further, consumer groups
should be encouraged to rate products according to working conditions
as well as safety. To know how best to vote with your dollars,
contact The Council on Economic Priorities at 30 Irving Place,
New York, NY 10001; Tel: 800/729-4237."
U.S. Paper Companies Conspire to Squash Zapatistas
The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
has ushered in an era of unprecedented military and corporate
domination over the already beleaguered indigenous citizens of
Mexico. On the day NAFTA went into effect, the Zapatistas of Chiapas
in Southern Mexico rose up in rebellion against the exploitation
that they feared NAFTA portended. Though the initial violence
did not last long, the Zapatistas have continued to resist intrusions
into their communally held lands, known as eijdos. Inhabited by
the indigenous people of Mexico, the eijdos have been farmed collectively
With the passage of NAFTA, the Mexican government is pushing
for the elimination of these communally held lands. By privatizing
the land, the government hopes to make lucrative deals with multinational
corporations from the U.S. and elsewhere.
Under the guise of the perpetual "War on Drugs,"
the U.S. has funded a massive build-up of the Mexican military
over the last three years. Over 50 Huey helicopters and various
other offense-capable weapons have been provided to Mexico by
the U.S. government. Most of this hardware can be used to control
the poor and indigenous peoples there. The U.S. State Department
admits that it is unable to account for how military aid to Mexico
In recent years, the Mexican military has constructed roads
deep into the Zapatista-inhabited areas of Chiapas in order to
expedite movement of troops into the region. Previously a pristine
and relatively remote area with few roads, the military presence
in Chiapas has intimidated and isolated the various Zapatista
communities, interfering with planting and harvesting their crops.
This, in turn, has led to widespread malnourishment in the communities.
The absence or lack of enforcement of environmental and health
and safety regulations in Mexico makes it particularly attractive
to corporations from more regulated industrialized nations. Major
deals have already been brokered between the Mexican government
and multinational corporations for the development of forest and
petroleum resources in the country.
One company, Pulsar, has presented a project to plant (non-indigenous)
eucalyptus trees over 300,000 hectares throughout Chiapas and
surrounding territories, and has contracted to sell the wood to
International Paper (IP). In 1995, the vice president of IP sent
a letter to the president of Mexico warning: "at this time,
the projections of that project are not positive [since] the political
environment [in Chiapas] represents a high risk." He went
on to advise that "the development of a Mexican forest industry-strong
and globally competitive, supported by commercial plantations-is
a national priority." The implication- that the Mexican military
ought to be making a greater effort to eliminate the `'Zapatista
problem"-cannot be disregarded.
To make matters worse, Chiapas sits on major petroleum reserves
that are second only to Venezuela in the Western Hemisphere. Many
of these are under Zapatista-controlled lands. In 1996, the Mexican
government made a deal with a major Canadian corporation, HydroQuebec
International, to develop natural gas resources throughout Chiapas.
To the indigenous communities of Mexico, many of whom have
inhabited their lands for hundreds of years, the loss of their
homes would have ramifications which reach beyond simply the loss
of their crops and livelihoods. As has happened so often in the
Americas, it would mean the loss of their autonomy, their identity,
and the tragic death of yet another innocent culture.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR VIVIANA: "Much of the information regarding
corporate interests and plans for development of the natural resources
of Chiapas remains widely unreported. However, these factors are
central to understanding the depth of U.S. involvement in the
politics of the region and the fate of its natural resources.
"Historically, indigenous people have repeatedly found
themselves backed into the same corner, with their culture and
ability to exist threatened by the race for control over their
resources. The solution to the Mexican crisis depends on our awareness
that we are a significant part of the problem. With this knowledge,
we are challenged to participate in real solutions that support
the struggle for human rights and cultural identity of the indigenous
people in Zapatista communities and throughout Mexico.
"This story went unnoticed by the mainstream press, just
as the Zapatista struggle has had little coverage. Because of
this lack of response, the information was primarily disseminated
through independent publications of non-profit organizations such
as the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, the Native
Forest Network, and the Earth First! journal. The Internet has
also played an important role (as it has throughout the work in
support of the Zapatista movement) in accessing the relevant reports
and articles from Mexico and in communicating the information
to the United States.
"The Zapatista struggle continues as does the Mexican
military's low-intensity war against the indigenous communities
of Chiapas. The U.S. government has not acknowledged its role
in the military presence in Chiapas, and continues to contribute
to the military buildup."
FBI: Sloppy, Out of Touch, and Very Powerful
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for years was perceived
as the nation's preeminent crime-fighting agency. That image took
a blow from events at Waco and Ruby Ridge, where
the FBI had major confrontations with citizens, as well as
from a reported mess at the FBI crime lab. Now, after examining
the bureau's own records, a law enforcement reporter concludes
that the FBI today is a sloppy, unresponsive, badly managed, uncooperative,
and out-of-touch agency that is aggressively trying to expand
its control over the American people.
The bureau concentrates on drug dealers, credit-card scams,
and bank robbers, all tasks that could easily be left to state
and local agencies. Meanwhile, insufficient attention is given
to the financial loss and the physical pain and deaths that result
from the work of the nation's army of white-collar criminals.
Records also show that the success rate of FBI cases is dismal.
Justice Department prosecutors find much of the FBI's investigative
work inadequate. From 1992 to 1996, only one-fourth of all FBI
cases referred to prosecutors resulted in convictions. The much-touted
FBI lags behind the Drug Enforcement Agency, Internal Revenue
Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in prosecution success rates.
Given the current system in which the FBI runs with a free
hand, there's little reason to expect the bureau to improve or
change. Because the FBI operates within the Justice Department,
most people assume that it is accountable to the Attorney General.
This is incorrect. From his appointment in 1924 to his death in
1972, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was his own boss. This was
largely due to the fact that Hoover understood the importance
of information and how it could be used to garner power and influence.
Hoover was untouchable. After his death, Congress attempted to
put some controls on the FBI. Now the director serves a 10-year
term and can be removed from office only for "just cause."
Subsequently, new FBI directors have a 10-year period to be their
own masters with little accountability or oversight.
The FBI is continually pushing for greater control over and
access to the private domains of American citizens. Evidence of
this is given in a program quietly signed into law by President
Clinton in October 1994. This program required the nation's telephone
companies to install a new generation of FBI-approved equipment
that will make it much easier for the bureau to tap telephones
throughout the country. The implications of this mandate are made
even more far-reaching by the subsequent development of computer
technologies that are able to monitor these wiretaps with little
or no help from human operatives-making wiretapping considerably
Testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime
in June, Louis Freeh, the current FBI Director, said, plainly:
"We are potentially the most dangerous agency in the country."
UPDATE BY AUTHOR DAVID BURNHAM: "The Federal Bureau of
Investigation is the most powerful and secretive agency in the
United States. Decade after decade, with no consideration of alternatives,
it has continuously sought to expand its reach over the American
people. Despite this steadily growing authority, the 'B', is special
agents refer to it, has rarely been subject to informed scrutiny.
"Most news organizations are satisfied with press releases
and leaks that are always carefully crafted to serve the FBI's
purposes. While FBI Director Louis Freeh frequently testifies
before Congress, the information he provides is almost always
anecdotal. Public interest groups, lawyers, and scholars frame
their questions about the FBI around individual horror stories
that are easily dismissed as exceptions to the rule.
"The FBI article in The Nation was important because
for the first time ever, it used the comprehensive internal records
of the Justice Department to document what the bureau does and
does not do, and how well or poorly it does it. FBI investigations
result in thousands of convictions for drug crimes, bank robberies,
and small-time fraud against the banks, but only a handful of
convictions of big time white-collar criminals, fraudulent medical
providers, or brutal cops. Even by its own standards, other agencies
like the DEA appear to do a better job than the FBI in the enforcement
of the nation's drug laws.
"The data that served as the foundation of this article
were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Transactional
Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research organization associated
with Syracuse University. I am a founder and co-director of TRAC.
At the time The Nation published the FBI article, we mounted an
FBI Web site with more than 2O,000 pages of maps, charts, graphs,
textual material, and other information about the bureau's operations.
This information is available to every citizen, every reporter,
every public interest group, and every congressperson who is concerned
about the FBI, at http://trac.syr.edu/tracfbi. TRAC has created
similar sites about the IRS, DEA, and BATF.
"Post Script: On August 5,1997, just as The Nation was
coming off the presses and TRAC's Web site was going up, ABC's
Nightline ran a favorable program on TRAC and its FBI findings.
For a transcript of the program, call me at 202/ 544. 8722 or
e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org The Web site of TRAC is: http://www.trac.syr.edu.