Return Of People Power
By John Pilger
Clearing House" -- - In researching a new film, I
have been watching documentary archive from the 1980s, the era of
Ronald Reagan and his "secret war" against Central America. What is
striking is the relentless lying. A department of lying was set up
under Reagan with the coy name, "office of public diplomacy". Its
purpose was to dispense "white" and "black" propaganda - lies - and
to smear journalists who told the truth. Almost everything Reagan
himself said on the subject was false. Time and again, he warned
Americans of an "imminent threat" from the tiny impoverished nations
that occupy the isthmus between the two continents of the western
hemisphere. "Central America is too close and its strategic stakes
are too high for us to ignore the danger of governments seizing
power with military ties to the Soviet Union," he said. Nicaragua
was "a Soviet base" and "communism is about to take over the
Caribbean". The United States, said the president, "is engaged in a
war on terrorism, a war for freedom".
How familiar it all sounds. Merely replace Soviet Union and
communism with al-Qaeda, and you are up to date. And it was all a
fantasy. The Soviet Union had no bases in or designs on Central
America; on the contrary, the Soviets were adamant in turning down
appeals for their aid. The comic strips of "missile storage depots"
that American officials presented to the United Nations were
precursors to the lies told by Colin Powell in his infamous
promotion of Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction at the
Security Council in 2003.
Whereas Powell's lies paved the way for the invasion of Iraq and the
violent death of at least 100,000 people, Reagan's lies disguised
his onslaught on Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. By the end of
his two terms, 300,000 people were dead. In Guatemala, his proxies -
armed and tutored in torture by the CIA - were described by the UN
as perpetrators of genocide.
There is one major difference today. That is the level of awareness
among people everywhere of the true purpose of Bush and Blair's "war
on terror" and the scale and diversity of the popular resistance to
it. In Reagan's day, the notion that presidents and prime ministers
lied as deliberate, calculated acts was considered exotic; Nixon's
Watergate lies were said to be shocking because presidents did not
Almost no one believes that any more. In Britain, thanks to Blair, a
sea-change in public attitudes has taken place. No less than 80 per
cent regard him as a liar; 82 per cent believe his warmongering was
a principal cause of the London bombings; 72 per cent believe he has
made this country a target. No modern prime minister has been the
object of such informed opprobrium. In addition, a majority remain
sceptical about the veracity of a "plot" to blow up aircraft flying
from Heathrow. The recent, thuggish self-promotion of the Home
Secretary (Interior Minister) John Reid is rejected by a clear
majority, along with the media-promotion of Treasurer Gordon Brown
as the man who brought economic prosperity to Britain while acting
as paymaster for various imperial adventures. More than
three-quarters of the population believe Brown and Blair have merely
made the rich richer (YouGov and Guardian/ICM).
In my experience, this critical public intelligence and moral sense
have always been ahead of those who claim to speak for the public.
What Vandana Shiva calls an "insurrection of subjugated knowledge"
is on the rise in Britain and across the world, perhaps as never
before, thanks to a revived internationalism aided by new
technologies. Whereas Reagan could get away with many of his lies,
Bush and Blair cannot. People know too much. And there is the
presence of history; no imperial power has been able to sustain
three simultaneous colonial wars indefinitely.
That is already true of the United States and Britain in
Afghanistan, where the "democratic" puppet regime is in predictable
trouble and the besieged British army is having to call in American
bombers, which, on 26 August, killed 13 fleeing civilians, including
nine children, a
In Iraq, in contrast to the embedded lie that the killings are now
almost entirely sectarian, 70 per cent of the 1,666 bombs exploded
by the resistance in July were directed against the American
occupiers and 20 per cent against the puppet police force. Civilian
casualties amounted to 10 per cent. In other words, unlike the
collective punishment meted out by the US, such as the killing of
several thousand people in Fallujah, the resistance is fighting
basically a military war and it is winning. That truth is
suppressed, as it was in Vietnam.
In Lebanon, the pattern continues. An armed resistance a few
thousand strong has humbled the fifth-most powerful army in the
world, which is supplied and backed by the superpower. That much we
know. What is not known is the extraordinary and decisive part
played by the unarmed people of southern Lebanon. Reported as a
trail of victims, the spectacle of people heading back to their
homes was an epic act of defiance and resistance. On 13 August, as
the Israeli army advanced in southern Lebanon, they warned people
not to return to their homes. This was defied almost to a man, woman
and child, who abandoned the refugee centres and headed south,
jamming the roads and flashing victory signs.
An eyewitness, Simon Assaf, described "gangs of local men along the
route clear[ing] paths by dragging away the piles of electrical
cable, rubble and twisted metal that littered the highway. A new
stream of cars would rapidly form through every breach in the
rubble. There were no army or police . . . it was the locals who
directed traffic, guided cars past dangerous craters and pushed
buses up dirt tracks around collapsed bridges. As they neared their
homes, the refugees would form great processions. Town after town,
village after village was reclaimed. Powerless to confront this
human wave, the Israelis abandoned their positions and began fleeing
to the border. This flood of people emerged out of an unprecedented
mass movement that grew up across the country as the bombs rained
The Lebanese resistance, armed and unarmed, is from the same
wellspring as other movements throughout the world. Each has learned
to put aside its sectarian differences in the face of a common enemy
- rampant empire and its proxies. In Bolivia, Latin America's
poorest country, the first government of indigenous people since
their enslavement by Spain was elected by a landslide this year,
after hundreds of thousands of unarmed campesinos and former miners
faced the guns of an army sent by the oligarchic dictator, Gonzalo
Sánchez de Lozada. Marching on La Paz, the capital, they forced him
to flee to the United States, where he had sent his millions. This
followed a mass resistance to the privatising of the water supply of
Cochabamba, Bolivia's second city, and its takeover by a consortium
dominated by the mighty Bechtel company. Now Bechtel, too, has been
forced to flee.
Throughout Latin America, mass resistance movements have grown so
fast that they now overshadow traditional parties. In Venezuela,
they provide the popular support for the reforms of Hugo Chávez.
Having emerged spontaneously in 1989 during the Caracazo, an
eruption of political rage against Venezuela's subservience to the
free-market demands of the IMF and World Bank, they have provided
the imagination and dynamism with which the Chávez government is
attacking the scourge of poverty.
Here in the west, as people abandon the political parties they once
thought were theirs, there is much to learn from resistance
movements in dangerous places and their tactics of informed direct
action. We have our own examples in Britain, such as the
achievements of the growing resistance to Blair and Brown's
privatising of the National Health Service by stealth. An American
giant, United Health Europe, has been prevented from taking control
of GP (local medical) services in Derbyshire, after the community
was not consulted and fought back. Pat Smith, a pensioner, took the
case to court and won. "This shows what people power can do," she
said, as if speaking for millions.
There is no difference in principle between Pat Smith's campaign of
resistance and that of the people of Cochabamba who refused to pay
almost half their income to an American company for their water.
There is no difference in principle between the people's movement
that saw off the Israeli invaders and the stirring of people
everywhere as they become aware of the real meaning of the ambitions
and hypocrisy of Bush and his vassal, who want us to be ever fearful
of and cowed by "terrorism" when, in truth, the greatest terrorists
of all are them.
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