Archive for April, 2009

French Colonial Wars and the CIA in the Americas

April 29, 2009
On April 18th, Barack Obama attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago where he announced that the US seeks an ‘equal partnership’ with all the nations of the Americas.  In spite of this grand gesture, he specified that the hemisphere cannot be kept prisoner of past disagreements or ‘blame for right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing insurgents,’ also adding that Latin America shouldn’t blame all of their problems on the US.  In this context, despite critical studies of US war crimes in the recent past appearing in increasing number, Obama’s moderate tone on the problematic history in the hemisphere seems to try to sweep this past under the rug.  In other words, how can the Americas move forward together without fully acknowledging the crimes of the past and their roots in colonialist and reactionary ideology?

A recently published book in France titled ‘L’Ennemi Intérieur’ by Mathieu Rigouste looks at the origin of counter-insurgency strategy and warfare in the 20th century, tracing its history in governmental and extra-governmental bodies of Western ‘democracies.’  Starting with the colonialist wars at the end of the French empire in Indochina (1947-1954) and Algeria (1954-1962), Rigouste looks at the development of certain practices of extreme state violence which increasingly gained currency in post-World War II French military strategy known as ‘counter-revolutionary war’ to brutally repress and contain anti-colonial resistance movements.  Employing death squads, systematic torture, internment of ‘suspects’ in concentration camps, kidnapping, disappearances, manipulation of the violence of opponents, disinformation and psychological warfare, these tactics are in use by Western imperial powers in ‘non-conventional war settings’ up through the second war on and occupation of Iraq, in the present (thus the Pentagon’s 2003 screening of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers which they termed a ‘useful illustration of the problems faced in Iraq’).  While originally existing on the margins of official policy, the use of these tactics in Indochina and Algeria continually increased in proportion with the need to counter the growing resistance, and maintain French colonial control over its territories.  By the end of the war in Indochina, the French began to export these tactics to the United States, Israel as well as Latin America.

‘The enemy exists among the populace like a fish in water.’  These words of Mao Zedong describe the ‘Third World’ resistance fighter, following the Second World War.  While the Western armies radiate their officious presence wherever they go, the resistance fighter not only uses the local population as a cover but forms a part of the whole, thus leading their colonial oppressors to situate entire peoples in the category of ‘insurgent fighters.’  This new paradigm in which entire populations were categorized as ‘enemy combatants’ necessitated a new type of protracted warfare based on the ability of the aggressor to dismantle ‘insurgent’ or ‘terrorist’ networks with the use of underhanded tactics such as torture and military presence in civilian zones.  A colonialist counter-insurgency strategy was thus the foreign policy of the ‘free world’ during the Cold War due to the fact that colonized peoples – making up more than 3/4 of the global population – were considered to be the point of proliferation of the communist menace that was necessary to neutralize.  In other words, all non-white, non-Christian citizens of the French colonial empire were considered susceptible to anti-colonial communist infiltration; this threat of ‘Soviet encirclement’ of the ‘free world’ was thus a pretext to use ‘whatever means necessary.’

Developing at the same time as this theory of the anti-colonial ‘communist menace’ was the concept of the counter-insurgency ‘shock team,’ of which the CIA created its first in the early 1950s upon intelligence gained from the French.  This secret organization within a secretive organization had its first chance to test its skills on the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz.  An extremely poor country due to unequally distributed land resources among a largely Indian population, Arbenz undertook a land reform project that aimed to deprive United Fruit of 84,000 acres, roughly 1/3 of its land in Guatemala.  As a result the CIA ‘shock team’ under the leadership of John Foster Dulles – a United Fruit stockholder – organized a mercenary army under the code name PB/Success that invaded from Nicaragua and Honduras to overthrow Arbenz in June 1954.  Arbenz later claimed that, ‘Our only offense was to create our own laws, our crime was to apply them to United Fruit.’  Following the overthrow of the Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh after his decision to nationalize Iranian oil resources, PB/Success gained a reputation of invincibility in the CIA, and president Dwight D. Eisenhower gave them the green light to attack Cuba.  However, the attempt at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 failed with Dulles’ resignation soon to follow.  Nevertheless, Miami became the epicenter of the largest paramilitary operation in the world shortly after with the help of Gen. Edward Lansdale, who worked with the French secret service in the colonial war in Indochina.  Also part of this group was Porter Goss, future head of the CIA following the 2004 ‘Terrorism Prevention Act,’ co-sponsor of the Patriot Act, and co-chair of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry. 

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, counter-insurgency strategy began to take on a more official form with the creation of the School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone and the training of 300 members of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in counter-insurgency military installations at Fort Benning, GA, Fort Mayers, FL, and Fort Peary, VA.  This group consequently was shipped off to Belgian Congo where they supplied arms to the future dictator Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, and attempted to track down Che Guevara and his group of Latino revolutionaries using the planes and supplies of Air America, a company owned by the CIA.  Two years later, in March 1964, the CIA was involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected Brazilian leader with the help of French experts from the Algerian war, sparking a series of coups d’états in the region in which newly installed dictatorships systematically used torture, kidnapping and disappearances to quell political opposition.

The links between the French and the American Schools however were most profoundly developed in the Vietnam War in which the US reused and further developed counter-insurgency tactics through financing from the opium traffic in Laos and Burma (again with the documented use of Air America planes to such ends).  And here again we find many of the same characters from the Bay of Pigs including John Negroponte, future ambassador to Honduras, Deputy Secretary of State, first ever Director of National Intelligence, and ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005, and Oliver North who was later implicated in the Iran-contra scandal.

In 1970 with the election of Salvador Allende in Chile, Nixon gave the order for the CIA to prevent him from taking office.  The attack failed to harm Allende yet killed General René Schneider, loyal to Allende, leaving Augusto Pinochet to lead the army.  The rest of the story is well known, and the US became increasingly brash in the hemisphere following these large ‘successes.’  The CIA, in effect, became the right hand of imperialist American economic interests, used to create violent situations in which the US could more easily enact its neo-colonial desires on the people of the region (an idea exemplified in Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’).  Further CIA attacks just after Allende’s overthrow in 1973 targeted Cuban passenger airplanes in Venezuela, as well as former members of Allende’s cabinet.  Other well known CIA violent counter-insurgency activity includes the US proxy war in Central America in the 1980s which killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and El Salvadorians in another war against ‘left-wing insurgents’ – as Obama calls them – that lasted throughout the decade of the 1980s.  After Congress declared all aid to the contras illegal in 1984, the Reagan Administration (with George H. W. Bush as Vice President) continued to funnel money to the contras by illegally selling weapons to Iran.  All involved were consequently absolved of their crimes when Bush occupied the presidency in 1989.

With this historical trajectory as a background, it is easy to understand how the people of the Western hemisphere find it difficult to take the United States for its word.  Obama’s commentary on the need to move forward and leave behind the past’s ‘stale debates’ obfuscates the dire historical injustice exacted on the ‘weaker’ countries, and legitimizes the ‘might makes right’ foreign policy that pardoned American war criminals and left the hemisphere in its current disastrous state.


Works Cited

Marie-Monique Robin’s ‘Les Escadrons de la mort: L’école française’

Mathieu Rigouste’s ‘L’Ennemi Intérieur’

Le Monde Diplomatique’s ‘Plus de Cinquante ans de “coups tordus”: L’équipe de choc de la CIA’ from January 2009


30,000 Gather In Strasbourg, France To Say ‘Destroy Nato, Yes We Can’

April 15, 2009

30,000 Gather In Strasbourg, France To Say ‘Destroy Nato, Yes We Can’

Published in english at:,,,,

And in french at:,

En Français: Tandis que les manifestants commencent à construire des barricades et mettre le feu, le pont de la frontière franco-allemande déborde de CRS blindés.  Les gens se côtoient, échangent des tractes, regardent des dizaines de bateaux de police sur le Rhin, et font l’allée-retour entre le terrain du meeting à 400 mètres de là.  L’atmosphère est crispée.  Les flics entourent l’île qui est le port de Strasbourg, mais pour le moment sur l’île même les manifestants ont carte blanche.   La destruction est dans l’air.

Le jeudi précédent a déjà vu les 1500 du black block déclenchent des ravages dans la partie sud de la ville, brisant des fenêtres au siège de la police et une base militaire, en taggant tout au long de la rue.  La répression policière suivait par une invasion du village des 10.000 manifestants et 140 arrestations.  Plus tard le jeudi, une tentative d’invasion du camp a été repoussée après que la police a lancé des bombes de gaz lacrymogène dans les quartiers résidentiels environnants et les manifestants ont allumé le feu sur des barricades et ont répondu avec des cocktails Molotov.  Le vendredi a été une journée “légère” durant l’anti-congrès de l’OTAN avec de grands orateurs comme Tariq Ali et Noam Chomsky, bien qu’à la suite des conférences il y ait encore une fois des échauffourées à la périphérie du camp.

Cependant, samedi était le premier jour officiel du sommet de l’OTAN à Strasbourg qui a accueilli tous les dirigeants des pays de l’OTAN avec l’annonce de leur “nouveau concept stratégique pour le 21ème siècle”, dans lequel l’OTAN  a l’intention de remplacer l’ONU en tant que dirigeant de la politique internationale.  Ce “concept” prolongera sans doute la trajectoire post-1989 d’encercler la Russie à la poursuite des bases militaires dans les Balkans et en Europe de l’Est, et de son bouclier de défense anti-missiles en République tchèque et en Pologne, malgré que l’opinion populaire soit massivement contre le projet.

Toutefois, le motif le plus évident de Barack Obama et de sa délégation américaine est la “stratégie globale” en Afghanistan.  Son intention est de poursuivre l’occupation mise en place par l’administration Bush et son intensification continue – entre 2004 et 2007 le nombre de bombardements aériens a augmenté, passant de 86 à 2926 – par l’ajout de 21.000 soldats aux 38000 déjà sur le terrain.  Etant donné  que le pays est déjà divisé en secteurs occupés, comme l’Allemagne ou l’Autriche d’après guerre, par des Italiens, des Américains, des Français, des Allemands, aussi bien que le secteur contrôlé par les Néerlandais / Canadiens / Anglais, l’intervention poursuit une guerre qui n’a guère cessé depuis 30 ans avec 8000 morts en 2007, où 260.000 Afghans ont fui le pays, et où ¼ de la population manque de nourriture et d’eau.   En outre, seulement 15 milliards de dollars sur 25 milliards de dollars de l’aide de l’OTAN promise a atteint le pays, avec 40% de l’aide accordée aux entreprises européennes et américaines par contrat dont l’objectif est de maintenir l’occupation et, par conséquent, l’aide ne parviendra pas à la population affectée.

La situation est désespérée.  46.000 Afghans sont déjà morts d’un décès qui aurait pu être évité pendant les 40 premiers jours de la présidence d’Obama.  Et si Obama prétend qu’il désire une perspective plus globale en appelant à l’aide d’autres dirigeants du monde, il exige aussi plus de “responsabilité” de leur part pour les guerres de l’Amérique dans le monde musulman.  Un mois avant le sommet de l’OTAN, le président français Nicolas Sarkozy a annoncé la réintégration de la France dans le commandement militaire de l’OTAN après 40 ans d’absence.  Cela avait de l’intérêt: ne serait-ce à dire que la France – et d’autres pays européens – va envoyer plus de troupes pour combattre dans la guerre illégale en Afghanistan?  Et cela pourrait-il compromettre l’avenir de la France et sa capacité de contester les guerres illégales américaines comme ils l’ont fait en Irak?

Néanmoins, le moment s’est avéré comme un cri de ralliement pour le mouvement anti-guerre et les quelque 30.000 manifestants qui se sont réunis à Strasbourg pour dire non à l’OTAN.  En dépit de la provocation initiale de la police de sécurité empêchant les manifestants d’atteindre le point de rencontre pour la manif,  les grands groupes ont commencé à se regrouper dans le quartier résidentiel du port de Strasbourg, à environ 13 h samedi.  Les contingents se sont pointés vers la frontière allemande où la police a constitué un obstacle redoutable pour les 7000 manifestants allemands de l’autre côté – on leur a menti en disant qu’ils pourraient se joindre à la manif – et, par conséquent, de mettre le feu au bureau de la douane.  Les hélicoptères au-dessus foutaient le camp, leur vision obscurcie par la fumée. Bureaux sortaient de l’immeuble à alimenter les barricades en flammes.  Graffiti gribouillé sur les murs proclament “la guerre sociale”, “pour les Afghans”, et “contre l’OTAN, contre le capitalisme.”  Marchant vers le terrain du meeting, les manifestants commencent à démonter des panneaux publicitaires, des caméras de sécurité et des distributeurs de billets.  La manif n’a toujours pas pu se démarrer tant que la police bouclée la zone, en empêchant plus de manifestants d’y entrer et ceux déjà présents de partir, alors la destruction commence à incorporer de nouveaux éléments.  Une banque, une pharmacie, à l’instar du bureau de la douane, sont en flammes alors que d’énormes vagues de fumée s’envolent dans le ciel.  Stations de bus sont défoncées avec des barres en fer, des pavés sont jetés sur la barricade naissante, et les églises environnantes ont des portes taggées avec des citations des Lumières.  La prochaine cible est un hôtel 4 étoiles qui est pillé et brûlé.  Peu de temps après, l’arrivée de la police avec des bombes de gaz lacrymogène obligent les derniers manifestants de partir vers le terrain du meeting.  Un nuage de gaz lacrymogène commencent à envelopper la zone entière, et atteint les 30.000 manifestants réunis à seulement 100 mètres de là.  Des milliers de personnes toussent et s’aspergent du sérum dans les yeux pour soulager la sensation de brûlure.  La majorité écrasante condamne les actions policières contre la foule.

La manif commence finalement à près de 15 h lorsque la grande masse fait son chemin le long du port jusqu’au pont à l’entrée de la ville.   Des milliers de policiers anti-émeutes bloquent le passage, forçant la foule de tourner à droite et se pointer vers le quartier dévasté.   En arrivant à la voie ferrée qui représente l’entrée dans le quartier, le passage est à nouveau bloqué.  La police commence à enfermer les gens des deux côtés, bombardant la foule avec des tirs de flashball, du gaz lacrymogène, des grenades assourdissantes et un canon à eau.  Les bureaux autour sont encore une fois brisés, un bureau de poste saccagé.  Les cailloux de la voie ferrée pleuvent sur la police qui réagit avec plus de gaz lacrymogène.  La violence des flics atteint son sommet quand ils reprennent le contrôle de la voie ferrée et acculent un groupe de pacifistes contre un mur, les aspergeant de gaz lacrymogène.  Ils finissent par diriger le troupeau de manifestants, sans défense et fatigués, hors de la zone portuaire en arrêtant toute personne habillée en noir.  En fin de compte, environ 300 sont arrêtés – bien que seulement 12 restent en garde à vue – avec près de 50 blessés – dont un quart de la police.

Bien sûr le consensus dans les médias a été le choc et la condamnation le lendemain.  La seule perspective intéressante était celle des résidents dans le quartier populaire ravagé qui ont dirigé leur choc et colère contre les autorités qui “ont permis leur communauté d’être sacrifiée.”  Alors qu’ils étaient confus et humiliés par la destruction de leur quartier, ils ont compris que la ville qui accueille un sommet de l’OTAN dans le contexte actuel ne sortira pas indemne.  Au contraire, une ville qui accueille le 60 e anniversaire de l’OTAN et la célébration de ses crimes de guerre doit nécessairement payer cher.  Pourtant, ils étaient les seuls obligés d’assumer la charge.

Anti-NATO protest in Strasbourg

April 6, 2009

On arriving in Strasbourg, police block our passage, encircle us, and search us one by one.Hundreds of them escorted our group of 50 or so out of the area as we all 'baaad' like sheep.Wall of anarchist organizing center.Early scufflesEarly scuffles

As protesters begin to build barricades and set them on fire, the Franco-German border bridge is brimming with cops in full riot gear.  People are milling about, exchanging flyers, watching the dozens of police boats zip around on the Rhine, and walking back and forth from the large meeting ground 500 yards or so away.  The atmosphere is tense.  Police surround the island that is the Port of Strasbourg, yet on the island itself protesters have free reign.  Destruction is in the air.

Thursday already saw the 1,500 strong black block wreak havoc in the south part of the city, smashing windows at the police headquarters and a military base, graffiti-ing all along the way.  Police repression followed with an invasion of the 10,000 strong protesters’ camp ground and 140 arrests.  Later on Thursday, an attempted invasion of the camp was fought back as police launched tear gas into surrounding residential neighborhoods, and protesters lit barricades on fire and responded with Molotov cocktails.  Friday was a “lighter” day as the anti-NATO conferences went ahead with big speakers such as Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky, though following the conferences there were once again skirmishes on the outskirts of the camp. 

Saturday however was the first official day of the NATO Summit in Strasbourg hosting all the leaders of NATO countries and the announcement of their “New Strategic Concept for the 21st Century” in which NATO, in effect, intends to replace the UN as the deciding international body.  This “concept” will undoubtedly continue NATO’s post-1989 trajectory of encircling Russia by pursuing military bases in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and its missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland despite massive popular opinion against the project. 

However, the clearest motive of Barack Obama’s American delegation is the “comprehensive strategy” in Afghanistan which intends to continue the occupation’s escalation by the Bush administration – between 2004 and 2007 the number of air strikes increased from 86 to 2,926 – by adding 21,000 troops to the already 38,000 plus on the ground there.  As the country is already divided into occupied sectors of Italians, Americans, French, Germans, and Dutch/Canadian/British like post-Nazi Germany or Austria, the current intervention continues a war that has hardly ceased for 30 years with 8,000 dead in 2007, 260,000 having fled the country, and ¼ of the population lacking adequate food and water.  Additionally, only $15 billion of the $25 billion in promised aid from NATO has reached the country, albeit with 40% of the aid given to European and American companies contracted to maintain the occupation there and thus never actually reaching the population. 

The situation is dire, as 46,000 Afghans have already died avoidable deaths in the first 40 days of the Obama presidency.  And while Obama claims he desires a more global outlook by reaching out to other world leaders, he is also demanding more “responsibility” on their part by fighting America’s wars in the Muslim world.  Just one month before the NATO summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the full reintegration of France in NATO’s military command after a 40-year absence.  This peaked people’s interest: would this mean that France – and other European countries – will send more troops to fight the illegal war in Afghanistan?  And could this compromise France’s future capability to challenge illegal American wars as they did in Iraq?

Regardless, the move proved a rallying cry for the anti-war movement and the roughly 30,000 protestors who gathered in Strasbourg to say no to NATO. 

Despite initial police provocation preventing protesters from safely reaching the meeting point for the protest on Saturday, large groups began to amass in the residential area of the Port of Strasbourg around 1 o’clock.  Contingents made their way to the German border bridge where police had formed a formidable obstacle for the 7,000 German protesters on the other side – who were emptily told they could join the French protest – and consequently set fire to the customs office.  Helicopters zoomed overhead, their view obscured by the smoke.  Desks came out of the building to fuel the fiery barricades.  Graffiti scrawled on the walls proclaimed “social war,” “this is for the Afghans,” and “down with NATO, down with capitalism.”  Walking toward the meeting grounds, protesters start dismantling billboards, security cameras, and ATMs.  With the protest still unable to start as police cordoned off the zone preventing more protesters from entering and those inside from leaving, the destruction begins to take on a new element.  A joint bank-pharmacy, like the customs office, goes up in flames sending huge waves of smoke into the sky.  Bus stations are obliterated with crow bars, street signs are thrown on developing barricade fires, and church doors are graffiti-ed with quotations from the Enlightenment.    The next target is a 6-story hotel which is pillaged and set on fire.  Shortly after, the police arrive with tear gas, forcing out the last protesters.  A cloud of tear gas envelopes the zone, reaching the assembled 30,000 protesters just 100 yards away.  Thousands are coughing and spraying serum into their eyes to alleviate the unbearable burning sensation.  Nevertheless, the speeches continue with the overwhelming majority condemning the police actions against the crowd.

The protest finally begins at roughly 3 o’clock as the large mass makes its way along the port to the entrance bridge into the city.  Thousands of riot police block the passage, forcing the protest to turn right and circle its way back into the embattled neighborhood.  Arriving at the railroad crossing over the entrance back into the neighborhood, the passage is once again blocked.  Police begin to close people in on both sides, shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, deafening grenades and spray from a water cannon.  Offices are once again smashed, a post office ransacked.  Rocks from the train tracks rain down on police who respond with more tear gas.  Police violence reaches a peak when they regain control of the tracks and corner a group of pacifists against a wall raining tear gas down upon them.  They consequently herd the defenseless and weary mass out of the port zone arresting anyone dressed in black.  In the end, roughly 300 are arrested – though only 12 remain in custody – with around 50 injured – ¼ of which are police.

Of course the following day the consensus in the media was shock and condemnation.  The only interesting perspective was that of residents in the ravaged working class neighborhood who directed their shock at the authorities who “allowed their community to be sacrificed.”  While they were confused and afflicted by the destruction of their neighborhood, they seemed to understand that a city which welcomes a NATO summit in the current environment will not come out unscathed.  To the contrary, a city which welcomes the 60th anniversary celebration of NATO’s war crimes must inevitably pay a heavy price.  Yet, they were the only ones forced to shoulder the burden.