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The Fight to Save Mexico's Mangroves

Losing the Lagoons



Standing in front of the Vicente Guerrero Elementary School as the children played, Obdulia Balderas recalls when she came to Zihuatanejo in the state of Guerrero more than 40 years ago. A young schoolteacher from the Guerrero town of Taxco, Balderas was haunted by the violence against dissident students and youth by Mexican security forces, who slaughtered hundreds in what has become known as the Tlatleloco Massacre.

Figuring that the quiet port of Zihuatanejo was a safer place and only a stone's throw from Acapulco, Balderas accepted a job as a third-grade teacher. She was surprised to discover that it took hours to reach the little Pacific bay on a winding, dusty dirt road.

Next to the school was a mangrove estuary where the children hauled out a hidden wooden raft and splashed and fished in the water during recess. Fresh water percolated in from a pristine arroyo that entered the bay.

That was in 1968. A few years later the administration of President Luis Echeverria expropriated communally-owned lands for a new tourist development, offering local landowners a small cut of the sales proceeds.

"It hit us like a big drinking binge," Balderas says. "We didn't realize what we were losing. They gave the (landowners) a little bit of money ... everyone felt like they were rich. Some bought a car, others got drunk. But they didn't realize what they were losing."

Today, little remains of Balderas' memories of Zihuatanejo. The mangroves have been torn out, the estuary drained, and the clean water replaced with a stream of water-born contaminants that enter the bay from a cement-lined canal. On the other side of Zihuatanejo's main beach, the dirty wastewater defiles the vestiges of a mangrove ecosystem that stretches to Las Salinas Lagoon. A man was recently charged for cutting down more than five acres of threatened mangrove trees at another local beach, Playa Larga.

Zihuatanejo was an appropriate place for the most recent meeting of the International Mangrove Network (IMN)-Mexico, a section of a network that draws together defenders of mangroves from across the globe. Characterized by lazy waters and droopy trees, mangroves constitute "the first scale of life," says Marco Antonio Rodriguez of Marea Azul, a non-governmental environmental group based in the Mexican state of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico.

Situated on the coasts of Latin America and much of the tropical world, mangrove estuaries are places where the hum of insects, the splash of fish, the flutter of birds, and the prowl of crocodiles can sometimes still convey a timeless natural world in an age where time is money and space a commodity. Tropical mangroves function to capture carbon, incubate numerous aquatic species, prevent coastal erosion, serve as windbreaks to storms, shelter migratory birds from the north, and nourish coastal communities and cultures, say Rodriguez and other members of the IMN-Mexico.

Threats to Mangrove Ecosystems

In today's Mexico, mangrove ecosystems are under growing pressure. Statistics compiled by Greenpeace Mexico and the federal Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources report that mangrove habitat in the country's coastal zones fell from 1,041,267 hectares in 1976 to 683,881 in 2007. If present trends continue, Greenpeace Mexico warns, the country will lose an additional 40-50% of its existing mangrove cover by 2025.

The Mexican mangrove story is one that is repeated across the world. A 2001 report from the World Rainforest Movement noted that half the planet's mangroves vanished during the latter part of the 20th century.

Alejandro Olivera, ocean and coastal campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Mexico, says mangroves contain important economic value for fishing and coastal economies. A study done in the Gulf of California by Mexico's National Fisheries Service, Olivera says, reported that each hectare (2.6 acres) of mangroves generates $37,500 in economic value.

For the members of the Barra de Santa Ana Cooperative in the Mexican Pacific state of Michoacan, mangroves sustained the shrimp harvest in the past and could embrace an eco-tourism project in the future. Co-op members plan to build cabins and take tourists on boat excursions to view crocodiles and other wildlife.

"We've created the ecotourism project to satisfy the necessities of our families," says co-op Secretary Hector Madrigal. "We're only lacking the authorization of the appropriate authorities."

Madrigal and friends maintain a mangrove nursery, planting 5,000 new trees last year. A similar mangrove reforestation effort is underway in the Tres Palos Lagoon near Acapulco, with the support of the city government and local fishermen.

Tourist development, the construction of residential subdivisions in urban centers like Acapulco, new ports on the Pacific Coast, Pemex facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, and contamination of estuaries from heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals all pose serious threats to Mexico's mangroves.

Despite opposition from tourism developers, a tough new law protecting mangroves was approved by the Mexican Congress in 2007. Two years later, pressures to develop coastal tourism and trade, especially in tough economic times, are encouraging efforts to gut the law. According to Greenpeace's Olivera, two initiatives in the Mexican Congress could elevate development over environmental protection. "We're worried," Olivera acknowledges. Activists are campaigning to make sure the 2007 law stays intact.

The "Climate Change President" and Destruction of the Mangroves

While President Felipe Calderon and members of his administration make speeches about Mexico being a world leader in reducing greenhouse gases and blunting climate change, environmentalists warn that pro-development policies will destroy an essential ecosystem that guards against the effects of climate change as well as climate change itself.

Mangroves could become a tragic casualty of the rush to trade in the country's coasts for dollars. Calderon recently inaugurated the Pacific Coast Planned Integral Center (CIP) in Sinaloa. Located in the middle of an extensive mangrove forest, the new tourism project is envisioned to be twice the size of Cancun and attract 3 million tourists annually according to Miguel Gomez Font, director of Mexico's National Tourism Promotion Fund. Gomez claims the project will grow a city of 500,000 people and create 150,000 jobs.

In a February speech inaugurating the project in Escuinapa, Sinaloa, President Calderon pledged the mega-project will respect the environment. But Gabriel Martinez Campos, president of the Colima-based environmental organization Bios Iguana, criticizes President Calderon for unveiling the CIP without first having a required environmental impact assessment.

"With this decision, the government of Felipe Calderon creates a legal uncertainty and allows investors who want to become established in the country an open door to come in without any administrative or legal pressure," Martinez says. "We are now in a situation where ecocide is an action of the state, and there is going to be impunity in the environmental arena."

Earlier this year, Bios Iguana co-filed a complaint with the Montreal-based North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) over another project—the massive expansion of the Pacific port of Manzanillo. Manzanillo is a key link in China-North America trade where plans are underway to construct a liquefied natural gas (LGN) re-gasification terminal operated by the Federal Electricity Commission as well as a second LNG facility run by the Ciudad Juarez-based Zeta Gas Company.

The complaint contends the development will jeopardize the Cuyutlan Lagoon, one of the richest mangrove habitats of Mexico's Pacific Coast, as well as jeopardize the safety of nearby residents. Approved by the national environmental ministry, the local municipal development plan facilitates port and terminal construction—all in violation of Mexican environmental law, the complaint alleges.

Conflicts of Interests

CEC Executive Director Adrian Vasquez recused himself from involvement in the Manzanillo complaint. Vasquez's Mexican citizenship as well as his former service as a Mexican government official drove the decision. A chemist by trade who graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso, Dr. Vasquez previously worked in neighboring Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua both as an environmental regulatory official and as a consultant to private industry. Zeta Gas is one of the most ubiquitous and influential firms in northern Mexico. Dr. Vazquez also recused himself from participating in another CEC case filed by Chihuahua activists opposed to the planting of genetically-modified corn.

Both the Manzanillo and Chihuahua cases are currently under review in the CEC.

Set up as the environmental side commission of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the CEC does not have the authority to order changes in the Manzanillo project. After reviewing the complaint, the CEC could decide to investigate and deliver statement of facts to Mexican environmental authorities, who would then have the discretion to alter the project or not.

Environment Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quezada has called preserving mangroves a "priority task for the current administration," but members of IMN-Mexico contend the federal agency lacks the needed resources and political muscle to be effective.

"On the one hand they have humanistic principles and principles of being Mexican nationalists," says Marco Antonio Rodriguez. "On the other hand, they have interests they cannot overcome."

Perhaps an emblematic case in point involves the former chief of environmental office for the state of Guerrero, Leonel Lozano. Lozano was fired from his post last February after running afoul of tourism developers. The showdown erupted after Lozano filed three legal complaints against the planned Bungalows Playa Azul tourist development near Acapulco.

In response, lawyers for the development pursued a formal complaint against Lozano, alleging he trespassed on private property and exceeded his authority as a government official. Subsequently, the internal affairs division of Mexico's federal government determined Lozano should be sacked from his job.

Insisting he was within legal limits, Lozano says he ran across violations during one of his routine inspections of the Guerrero countryside. Lozano maintains Bungalows Playa Azul had encroached upon the prohibited federal zone near the beach, partially filling a lagoon with construction material and erecting buildings in a "high risk" area for natural disasters where a lagoon meets the Pacific Ocean.

According to the Acapulco daily El Sur, the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection shut down the Bungalows Play Azul site shortly after Lozano's firing because the development was found to have exceeded its environmental permit.

Lozano's firing hit the national press, got attention in the Mexican Congress, and provoked outrage among Guerrero environmentalists, including members of the IMN-Mexico. Although a 2008 article in an Acapulco magazine promoting Bungalows Playa Azul bore the logo of the Guerrero state government, Governor Zeferino Torreblanca later publicly disassociated his administration from the project.

A full plate on their table, members and supporters of IMN-Mexico from 47 organizations, the Guerrero state government, and Zihuatanejo municipal governments concluded a meeting in the Pacific town last month. More than 100 people heard research presentations, networked with fellow environmentalists, and issued a statement, "The Zihuatanejo Declaration."

Besides redoubling their commitment to protecting mangrove zones, the signers of the declaration opposed the proposed La Parota Dam near Acapulco, expressed solidarity with Mexican environmentalists facing state repression, and called for public clarification of the Lozano firing.

Signatories of the Zihuatanejo Declaration included the Zihuatanejo Network of Environmental Organizations, Oaxaca Coastal Wetlands Network, Greenpeace Mexico, Bios Iguana, Marea Azul, and SOS Bahia, among many others. The statement addressed Latin American and international issues, including a controversial petrochemical project slated for Venezuela's Paraguana Peninsula, which has been proposed as a biosphere reserve in the United Nations.

While expressing solidarity with environmental policies of the Venezuelan government, the Zihuatanejo Declaration conveyed concern about a massive development project intended with support from China and Iran.

The Zihuatanejo event was originally planned as a Latin American gathering but was stymied by Mexican immigration authorities, according to Colima mangrove defender Esperanza Salazar. Although conference planners submitted paperwork months in advance in order to obtain visas for a delegate from El Salvador and one from Colombia, Salazar insists, immigration officials finally refused to issue the necessary travel permits. The conference co-organizer blames current Mexican policies that cast suspicion on certain foreign nationals who might attempt to remain in Mexico or try to cross the border into the United States.

"This is very grave for the people," Salazar says, "because it's part of the struggle, and if we aren't together, we can't struggle together."

For Marco Antonio Rodriguez, preserving mangrove ecosystems is an especially urgent task in a world besieged by twin economic and climate crises. Delving into past history as a guide to the future, Rodriguez reaffirmed the sentiments that first brought pro-mangrove activists from Mexico, Ecuador, and Honduras together back in 1995.

"We determined that the only solution was for the people to come together, to form bonds of sisterhood, and to make demands and engage in forms of struggle that permit (people) to conserve the natural resources which sustain their lives and economies," Rodriguez says.

Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist who covers the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Latin America, and an analyst for the Americas Program at

Iglesias contra los derechos de las mujeres

República Dominicana

Mirta Rodríguez Calderón


El tremendo poder que tienen las iglesias, en particular la católica, en este país ha permeado de un matiz de virulencia inusitado la discusión sobre las modificaciones a la Carta Magna, especialmente en lo concerniente a un artículo que establece que la vida "es inviolable desde el momento de la concepción".

La presión es tanta que hasta en su Sermón de las Siete Palabras, el último día de la Semana Santa, el cardenal José de Jesús López Rodríguez, dedicó palabras al asunto.

Influido por estas presiones, el Congreso de la República consumió cuatro horas de su sesión del último jueves (16 de abril) en considerar argumentaciones diversas acerca de la vida humana, contenidas en el artículo 30 del proyecto de reforma constitucional que le ha sido sometido por el Poder Ejecutivo.

El Congreso, con carácter de asamblea revisora, deberá realizar las modificaciones pertinentes a la Carta Magna. En concreto, el artículo que considera el parlamento dice: "El derecho a la vida es inviolable desde la concepción hasta la muerte. No podrá establecerse, pronunciarse ni aplicarse, en ningún caso, la pena de muerte".

Durante su sermón, el Cardenal mencionó por sus nombres y endilgó etiquetas de abortistas a la diputada Minou Tavares Mirabal (figura prominente por demás, hija de Minerva Mirabal) y al diputado Víctor Terrero, quienes junto con la presidenta de la Comisión de Género del Congreso, Magda Rodríguez, han representado las posiciones en defensa de la vida de las mujeres cuando peligre la salud de la madre y su propia existencia, haya sido violada, incube un embarazo resultante de incesto o el feto porte malformaciones.

Es basándose en esas circunstancias especiales que los movimientos de mujeres han demandado una formulación racional del artículo 30, que posibilite abortos terapéuticos frente a quienes alegan la existencia de una vida "desde la concepción". Estos últimos la han emprendido también contra los médicos y médicas —incluida la directiva del Colegio Médico Dominicano—, a quienes han acusado de criminales y asesinos.

El planeamiento de reformulación que reclama el Foro de Mujeres por la Reforma Constitucional precisa: "El Estado Reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la vida de las personas, promoverá su protección y disfrute con la más alta dignidad. No podrá establecerse, pronunciarse ni aplicarse, en ningún caso la pena de muerte".

Al debate que ahora suscita este tema, y que también se refleja en la prensa, se le atribuye una esencia política, y así lo han declarado los propios diputados y algunas diputadas durante las reuniones del Congreso.

El meollo parece estar en el temor a enfrentarse a la iglesia y ver influidas las condiciones de las próximas elecciones municipales y congresuales, en mayo de 2010, lo que condiciona las conductas de buena parte de los y las congresistas, cuya mayoría aspira a la reelección y a garantizarles votantes a sus partidos.

Anualmente se realizan aquí 100.000 abortos y las cifras declaradas de mortalidad materna están en 159 por cada 100.000 nacidos vivos al año, de las cuales 20 por ciento corresponde a muertes por abortos inducidos, según el informe "Análisis de la Situación del Aborto Inseguro", adoptado por la Sociedad de Obstetricia y Ginecología. Ese guarismo, sin embargo, no es confiable, porque a muchos fallecimientos se les consignan otras causales.

Aunque las diputadas han sido menos agresivas para con las difíciles situaciones que eventualmente pueden implicar a sus propias congéneres, también una parte de ellas modulan sus palabras y las "acomodan" para no inquietar a los poderes presentes.

El Parlamento dominicano está conformado por un 6,3 por ciento de senadoras y un 19,7 por ciento de diputadas.

El movimiento de mujeres ha sido activo en esta coyuntura, pero una larga etapa de desmovilización afecta sus potencialidades para influir de una manera contundente.

La discusión del polémico artículo 30 se reanudará el martes 21. Ya han sido rechazadas dos mociones de procedimiento: una para que el debate se cierre y se vote; otra para que el tema —por lo complejo— sea enviado a una Comisión Especializada.

Queda esperar, entonces, que algunos segmentos en las Cámaras intenten introducir, y quizás ganar, una moción para que este tema se segregue de la Constitución y se deje en el Código Penal, que lleva más de una década en discusión y en el cual se penaliza severamente el aborto.

Otra posibilidad, poco factible a ojos vista, es que se reconozca que no hay aproximaciones de consenso en el enfoque del problema y que se omita el articulado que lo aborda.

Homework, Testing and Stealth Apartheid in Education

Killing the Sacred Cow



Humans are a species of ape that evolved more developed brains to compensate for the greater dangers of living on the ground instead of sheltering in the trees. Monkeys cluster into troops of several families each, for the mutual protection of the young, and to exert authority over the territory a troop inhabits. The monkey population of a jungle, for each species, will be distributed as a mosaic of troops, and the boundaries between these troops are the lines along which the competition for resources takes place. The survival and status of any single monkey is tied to that of its troop, and each member is imprinted with the behavior of excluding outsiders. This is to coalesce the members into a defensive force when attacked, and an offensive force when gaining territory and resources. It is also to guard a member's personal rank in the troop hierarchy, by excluding the competitive threat of new members.

It is helpful to keep these features of monkey life in mind when trying to understand the politics of education.

We must concede at the outset that humanity, like a mix of oil and water, will avoid solution and segregate into cells of pure type; our tribalism and racism are embedded in our natures, and it is only by conscious effort that primitive fears and instinctive behaviors can be redirected. It is a social convention -- politeness -- to assume we all make such conscious efforts today, but this in not actually the case. The unfortunate reality is that our society is quite hypocritical, and that most of us harbor prejudices, stereotypes, fantasies, preferences and impulses that we are ashamed to admit to, often even to ourselves. It is a social convention -- politeness -- not to talk truthfully about what we really want, and how we really think. While our highly developed frontal cortexes make it possible for us to devise conscious behaviors that redirect our primitive instincts, this advancement in brainpower also makes it possible for us to avoid truthful assessments of reality, by fabricating lies, euphemisms and delusions, and all these are extremely popular in our society.

To understand how we run primary and secondary education in the United States, it helps to accept these unflattering facts of our social selves. Though the picture to be presented was shaped by observations in California, it can be applied to much of the country.

The Mosaic of Schools

Most of the children in the United States are educated in publicly funded primary and secondary schools. Parents who have a greater sense of religious or racial or ethnic tribalism, or a greater sense of class competitiveness (which are all forms of fear) and have the financial means to assuage those fears, will fund the education of their children in private schools. Money is the measure of social immiscibility, it buys exclusivity.

It is a legal obligation of the governments within the nation to provide local systems of public primary and secondary education (K-12). These are funded by tax revenues, and so are resented by all individuals and corporations that define themselves by their property and profiteering. Since greed is another popular attribute in our society, these resentful taxpayers are a large population, and they organize politically to minimize their own taxes, as well as to minimize the funding of institutions serving tribes they disown ("those kind of people"). One has to recognize the strong correlation between property, or class, or "ownership," and "race" in the U.S. "Property" is stingy, and when spending prefers its own troops.

So, city and state governments run their K-12 public education systems like insurance companies: discharge the legal requirements to eliminate the liability, and do so at minimum cost. Similar to HMOs, these are EMOs, education maintenance organizations. A school district is the local government bureaucracy (usually a separate and city-wide jurisdiction) that performs the specific tasks of education, at costs limited by the combined amount of the local, state and federal tax subsidies awarded to the district, and which in turn are set by tax politics.

The essence of any bureaucracy is inertia and accumulation: it is not a rolling stone, it swells with moss. School districts will naturally try to maximize their income, to compensate for the penuriousness of tax politics at funding the resources for the children and the teachers (who in the early grades often supplement their classroom supplies from their own pockets), and the infrastructure of education. Also, they want to fatten the salaries and benefits of the administrators, teachers and service workers in the school district; which is pure human nature, and often enough justified in this field.

While most of the funding for school districts is from taxes, there can also be small private contributions, and corporate and foundation gifts, which are always part of some marketing or political agenda. These commercial forays into the schools are a corrupting influence -- literally as in the case of soda machines dispensing tooth decay to school children, with the intent of corrupting their minds by embedding "name brand recognition" -- and they are symptomatic of an anti-social tax imbalance. Charter schools are another example of the commercialization in public education, and they are also a tactic for union-busting.

The school district is itself a bipolar entity: its administrators seek to advance their careers by fulfilling the state mandates, primarily for cost, and in this they are in perpetual conflict with the teachers whose pay they always seek to limit, and who long ago organized into labor unions to protect themselves against the unrelenting pressure against their compensation (or employment). The stingier the tax base, the more acrid the labor dispute.

With the possible exception of in some very depressed and dangerous neighborhoods, parents will feel an instinctive "troop loyalty" to their local school. School is where their children are preparing for their futures, it is a community of hopes and dreams and the bright effervescence of youth. It is natural to experience a sense of community with the parents of your child's schoolmates. This sentiment can organize itself as "parent councils" allied to the school, and which contribute funds and labor to improve the school site and to provide additional resources, such as instructors in physical education, art, music, language, and for extra-curricular activities. Many such parent councils could form or group into political action committees lobbying for additional public money for education, but this is not typical (that is much more work and with little likelihood of payoff before your child 'ages out' of the school).

Obviously, neighborhoods with wealthier residents are likely to have better organized and funded parent councils, and more "perks" for their local schoolchildren. Additionally, the reputation of such schools benefit from the nature of their student bodies because of the obvious socio-economic correlation between affluence and achievement in school: families experiencing multi-generational affluence generally offer a home environment of greater stability and intellectual attainment within which their children can develop. Schools populated by such children, and given additional resources by parent donations, will be "better" by every accepted technical and popular measure. Any parent would want their child in such a school, and any parent whose child attends a lesser school will chafe at the "equity disparity," since public education is supposed to be non-discriminatory.

We are back to the monkey troop mosaic. How do we achieve equity? And, is it really a generally-held social goal to do so? Can a school district, in fairness, actually reduce the funding of a "good" school in a "rich neighborhood," or prevent the most senior teachers in the district from choosing to work there (job-site choice is a seniority benefit specified in labor contracts) so as to compensate for the equity imbalance with a poor neighborhood school? Wouldn't that be imposing a special tax burden on the parents of the wealthier neighborhood, and mightn't that simply discourage them from further contributions?; or chase away the most financially able, to other school districts or to charter or private schools?

Many "poor" schools are those with the very different and difficult challenge of extreme ethnic diversity from large immigrant communities, and so many first languages (there are 12 in some Oakland, California schools). This can be in addition to serving economically disadvantaged populations.

Is it possible to provide a uniformly equitable educational experience to every child, with school districts funded primarily by local (real estate) taxes in a nation of steep socio-economic and ethno-race disparities?

No, and we want it that way. Our first instinct is to seek to be in with the winners ("let's use Grandma's address to get him into a better school," "let's move over the hill to get into a better school district"). Our sympathies for the losers are insufficient to limit the advantages of the winners, and our tribalism and stinginess prevents raising all schools (in a state) to the conditions exhibited by the best examples. This, in any case, is the message transmitted by the political realities of today.

Money-and-Testing versus Children-and-Learning

A total of $972B was spent on public and private education at all levels in the U.S. in 2007. An average of $11,000 was spent per public school pupil (the highest public school per-pupil figure of 2005, and equalled by the Swiss), and public school pupils are 85% of the 37.9 million grammar school children and 16.5 million secondary school students in the U.S. Taking $6000 per pupil as an average spent on the 15% of students in private schools and home schooling (much higher costs for elite schools, typical of parochial schools, much lower for home schooling) my estimate of annual expenditures on primary education is $388.5B ($354.4B public, $34.1B private), and for secondary education it is $169.1B ($154.3B public, $14.8B private), for a total of $557.6B ($508.7B public, $48.9B private). This is a money stream of 'Pentagonic' proportion, so naturally it will attract considerable political attention.

The income of a school district is often about 40-some-odd percent from local taxes, 40-some-odd percent from the state (from income, sales and corporate taxes) and a small percentage from federal grants. The ratio between local and state funding proportions varies across the states. The school district exerts "local control" of the school system (physical plant, selecting the superintendent, labor contracting) and curriculum, but the state sets many standards and imposes numerous mandates (and takes direct control of districts that go bankrupt).

With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the federal government now exercises greater influence on state educational standards. The NCLB imposes the requirement on the states to carry out standardized testing, issuing rewards or punishments in the form of federal grants to school districts either awarded or withheld on the basis of the test scores.

The US education system must serve a very diverse population, and in this regard it is at a disadvantage when compared internationally on standardized scales with good education systems with more homogeneous populations, like that of Finland.

Also, the domestic comparison of public and private schools is flawed because these two systems educate different types of populations. Private schools can cheery-pick their clients for socio-economic shine, academic potential, and mental and physical fitness. They do not have to make concessions for special education; submit to NCLB testing (only public education is so punished); or retain students deemed disruptive or academic failures, and who can be expelled permanently.

Public schools must accept all, accommodate all (though this is a bureaucratic struggle in cases that do not correspond exactly to one of the legally mandated accommodations), and cannot reject any. That adds overhead expenses to their per-pupil costs, making public schools unavoidably more expensive than many private schools. When these realities are factored into consideration, the US public school system can be judged to provide a worthy education for many of its students. The harshest criticisms of public education are broadcast by corporatist factions hostile to any effective socialist and democratizing institution; they also favor privatizing Social Security. ("Is Public Education Working? How Would We Know?" by Robert Freeman,

The cunning hypocrites of the George W. Bush administration had a real genius for stroking the yearning racism in the resentful hearts of the ownership class, and with the connivance of seasoned congressional 'pork barrellists', they devised the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which skewed federal funding for education to the outcomes of standardized tests in mathematics and reading. This was supposedly to ensure parents were getting value for their money and could choose "good" school districts and pressure "bad" schools to turn out "bad" teachers, and to have their children taught with the instructional methods that would ensure they achieved to the standards set.

NCLB is the fruit of the "standards-based education reform" movement, which began in the late 1980s, surging in many states during the 1990s, and which was the standard camouflage of the school privatization forces. Its basic idea is to set absolute standards of what students "should" know and be able to do; to have these standards guide the development of curricula at the local level; to measure student performance, or "outcomes," by standardized tests; and to align assessments and professional development (of both students AND teachers) to these standards. Basically, an overt paleo-conservative control-freak nightmare of social engineering covering a covert privatization prospecting caper.

A basic criticism of standards-based education and NCLB is that "it is not realistic to expect all students to perform at the same level as the best students, nor to punish students simply because they don't perform as well as the most academically talented"

The [NCLB] Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. NCLB does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state, in line with the principle of local control of schools. The Act also requires that the schools distribute the name, home phone number and address of every student enrolled to military recruiters and institutions of higher education, unless the student (or the student's parent) specifically opts out.

The second clause noted above is no doubt to allow every college, and not just Harvard, to recruit your high-achieving Johnny or Jill.

"Teach To The Test," and Homework

How do state education departments and local school districts respond to NCLB? Are you kidding? Since money is on the line all the way down from the state's Title 1 grant (of federal funds to school districts, for disadvantaged children) to the local administrators' raises and the teachers' paychecks: the states can lower standards so as to "raise" test scores, the administrators narrow the curricula to the core material featured in the anticipated tests, and the teachers teach to the test.

Teachers cannot "waste time" coddling the slower learners (why should children develop at their natural pace when tax revolters want "accountability?"), nor can the school district "waste resources" on enrichment activities for the fraction of gifted students, unless there is a separate state program to fund such activity, and provided it doesn't distract the teachers from the overarching goal of priming their classes for "the test" (three weeks in April-May!).

Your child is a chip in a high-stakes game for career advancement and economic survival. As a result, all the fundamental material that is so essential to learn, like the times tables, and that was once "drilled" and taught by patient and creative repetition because of the evanescence of attention among the very young, is now sent home as "homework," because there is no time to teach it in class. This is why your child is burdened with homework, often of excessive quantity; it is displaced teaching.

The ideal amount of homework is zero: do real teaching and real learning during school, and allow the child to decompress, play, and engage in family life in those few hours between the bell closing the school-day and the goodnight kiss at bedtime (instead of displacing the entire family's after-work after-school activities in order carry the burden of a child's homework). The play, music lessons, time with friends, and family life after school are so essential to a child's development. (The Case Against Homework, by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, 2006, Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing Group:

As schools try to cram more and more into the day to prepare kids for No Child Left Behind testing or simply to stay competitive, there's no way teachers can get through all the material, especially with ever-growing class sizes. The result: assignments that cover concepts and techniques that haven't been taught thoroughly in class or that are brand new -- even though this is ineffective, according to educators. "Homework seems to have supplanted teaching," says Marcia, [a] mother from San Francisco. "Whatever the teacher hasn't finished becomes homework." Increasingly, parents are expected to take up the slack. (The Case Against Homework)

Robbing children of their time to be free, to instead do homework (often requiring a parent-tutor interrogator), because the necessary teaching was evicted from the curriculum so as to devote months of school-days programming children to function like robots primed for regurgitation at their anticipated tests, because every paycheck in the school system rides on the elevation of those test scores, is a most despicable intergenerational crime, and an utter debasement of teaching.

Betty Olson-Jones, president of the teacher's union in Oakland, California (the Oakland Education Association) recently stated in a public meeting that teaching to the test is like holding a lit match to a thermometer in a cold room. Naturally, the indicated temperature rises, but you have not heated the room. Real teaching to real students, as opposed to programming automatons-in-training, is like warming up a real space so the rise of the indicator corresponds to an actual change of environment.

State education departments can canvass the best insights of academic experts in education and child development, and recommend standards and methods; but, ultimately, actual learning is crafted by an individual teacher for each individual student, as a knowing and very human interaction shaped by the realities of the personalities involved. Standardized testing is the delusion of measuring out standardized children produced in standardized environments; and who can ever believe their child and their child's learning environment to be standard?

The only method of any effectiveness to improve any (and so every) child's learning is to provide more focused adult attention, ideally a single tutor per child. We can surmise that Alexander the Great was an indifferent student, but his education was probably better than might have otherwise been the case, because he was tutored by Aristotle. As our children are placed in larger groups before a single teacher, they receive less thoughtful consideration during the development of their thinking processes. One can imagine how learning would improve if the student-to-teacher ratio was 3:1 to 5:1 during grammar school (instead of 20:1), 6:1 to 8:1 during middle school (grades 6, 7, 8) (instead of 30:1), and under 12:1 through secondary school.

Hire more teachers and layoff more administrators? Yes, if children's learning is more of the goal than the manipulation of money flows. "Children" versus "money," "learning" versus "testing," how do you see your school district?

Shallow Curricula For Hurried Children

In my 1950s schooling, I spent all of third grade perfecting the times tables. Today, they send them home and ask parents to infuse them into their offspring in two weeks, and then move on (with copious homework) to double and triple digit multiplication, estimating sums and differences, the rounding of large numbers, and even long division! Yes, I saw these later in fourth and fifth grades, and could understand them then because I had the good basis of the times tables on which to build. Imagine, even in those primitive times I eventually got smart enough to do calculus in high school, and to be drafted. So, what is the rush today, beyond an artificially induced money panic?

Fewer than one-third of US 4th-grade and 8th-grade students performed at or above a level called "proficient" in mathematics; "proficiency" was considered the ability to exhibit competence with challenging subject matter. Alarmingly, about one-third of the 4th graders and one-fifth of the 8th-graders lacked the competence to perform even basic mathematical computations (Rising Above The Gathering Storm, The National Academy of Sciences, 2006)

The recommendation of national experts in math and science education, on primary school math and science curricula, is that fewer and basic concepts be presented, and that more time be devoted to each. This is to build a solid foundation of understanding in young minds of hummingbird-like flightiness, on which a more elaborate framework of learning can be erected later, as their ability for complex thought and sustained attention increases.

The National Research Council recommends that schools [K–8] present fundamental concepts gradually over several years, rather than cramming them into a few weeks or months. It also suggests focusing on core topics, such as the atomic-molecular theory of matter, evolution, cell theory, and Newtonian laws of force and motion. (Janet Raloff, "Strategies To Improve Teaching," Science News, December 8, 2007; Vol.172 #23, p. 366)

The NRC's recent book, Ready, Set, Science! Putting Research to Work in K–8 Science Classrooms (National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008) "aims to improve science education by building on the results of a recent study of U.S. teaching methods and emerging data on how children learn and retain scientific concepts." It "offers examples of classroom projects that let kids assimilate such concepts by testing them out."

What exists in too many early-grade classrooms is a jumbled heap of a curriculum with many disconnected bits, like a slumping unstable talus slope eroded from a once monolithic mountain of knowledge. All this does is confuse the eager if simple minds of children. The reason one-fifth of 8th-graders, nationally, cannot do simple calculations is because they still don't know the times tables, and whatever personal circumstances may conspire to impede their learning, they definitely have not been helped by being rushed along through shallow curricula, which reflect the underlying societal impatience for monetary payoffs.

The ideal 3rd-grade math curriculum would train children to have the skills of first-rate bookies and odds-makers. Besides the arithmetic of sums and differences, this is the mathematical skill of greatest impact: the ability to find products, to perceive fractions and proportions. Any educational system focused primarily on children's learning would ensure EVERY child could do this by the end of fourth grade BEFORE moving on to other concepts in mathematics, or anything involved in general science. We should base our pacing of instruction on the developmental clocks of the children -- individually -- not to one artificial standardized timer wound by the impatient hand of the revolted tax-obsessed mentality of the ownership class.

No homework, slow down, simpler curricula, more playground breaks, person-to-person teaching in the class, no high-stakes testing, pacing and focusing attuned to the natural cycles of attention and distraction of children, and their natural rate of information absorption. Children are like fresh blades of grass in that they can't be yanked up to be made to grow faster, that can be deadly. Instead, they blossom eagerly into favorable environments that are tended and prepared by patient and perceptive adults who anticipate the children's development.

The Sacred Cow

The great difficulty for many parents will be that they cannot let go of their competitive fears, and they will defend homework -- the sacred cow -- and testing as tools that will give their youngsters a leg up. After all, many competitive parents are part of the tax-obsessed mentality of the ownership class that pushed for the NCLB type of institutionalized pressure on the states' public education systems.

This anxiety over financial accumulation ("success") is blind to such facts as:

According to a 2001 review of more than 120 studies of homework and its effects by Professor Harris Cooper of Duke University, the country's leading homework researcher, and his updated 2006 review of an additional sixty studies, there is very little correlation between the amount of homework and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school, "too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive," writes Cooper in his research review of early 2006.

Many countries with the highest scoring students in achievement tests, such as Japan, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, have teachers who assign little homework. Meanwhile, countries such as Greece, Thailand, and Iran, where students have some of the worst average scores, have teachers who assign a lot of homework. Americans students do as much homework as their peers in other countries -- if not more -- but still manage to only score around the international average.

Citations for the two items above, as well as more data and recommendations are to be found in The Case Against Homework.

It only takes a few minutes of reflection to realize how much better our children would be if freed from homework and the testing driving it:

-- They would have more opportunities for play and physical exertion during and after school, counteracting the obesity-inducing damage of the fast-food, TV and internet 'couch-potato' commercialism they are bombarded with.

-- Kids' school backpacks would become much lighter, if they need them at all, since they can dispense with the lugging back-and-forth of workbooks, binders and assignment notebooks (or 'day planners'). Many kids today have backaches because they are so loaded down.

-- They would have the time to get more sleep, the lack of which is a significant health and developmental problem. For children, lack of sleep has a similar effect to a limitation of oxygen: it harms mental development. Also, with enough sleep, mood improves and stress is reduced.

-- Children diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder), and that today may be drugged to "calm them down" so they will sit through long class periods, might be easily accommodated if allowing to burn off their extra energy for fifteen minutes in the playground every forty-five minutes, and for hours after school, ensuring a sound night's sleep and alert mind the next morning. A 19th century accommodation to be sure, but it works (ADHD often diminishes with age, and fades into a normal adolescence or young adulthood; usually a 3 to 5 year lag in the development of focusing attention and impulse control, compared to peers). And, is it really worth it to drug your kid to put him or her through the teach-to-test and homework grind?

-- It is true there is a small proportion of children who have more serious problems in regard to attention and/or hyperactivity and must be treated with specific interventions (this is not a euphemism for drugs, they need helpful "company"), but the explosion of much milder cases today is largely driven by the undue pressure put upon our schoolchildren.

It is only in a world where schooling or adherence to a particular set of social norms is compulsory that a condition like ADHD becomes a disorder. There was greater scope over a century ago than there is now for children to do other things in childhood and wait until they settled down in adolescence without being treated for their condition. (--David Healy, interviewed by Christopher Lane)

Some parents take things one step further in the effort to give their kids an edge: They try to get them diagnosed with a learning disability, even if they don't have one, says one family therapist from Northern California. "Most of the kids I see are pretty normal, average kids. They don't have learning disabilities. But the parents want to do all this testing and get all these special arrangements," she says. Such arrangements include extra time on tests and tutoring. (The Case Against Homework)

Paraphrasing Jesus Christ's "the word was made for man, not man for the word" from the New Testament, imagine: a school system that is molded to the requirements of each child, not a school system that regiments all children to an arbitrary standard whose purpose is entirely mercenary.

Education as a Monkey War

The real purpose of No Child Left Behind standardized testing is to maintain segregation.

Neighborhoods and districts with "good schools" and "high" test scores are "rich" and primarily white. "Poor," "minority" and many "urban" schools are those with large non-white populations, with many immigrant children and so many languages; and parents with less money.

For he that hath, To him shall be given; and To he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." (Matthew 13:12).

In the case of our monkey war over education we might apply the above freely this way: For the school district that hath high test scores, To that school district shall be given $, and To the school district that hath not high test scores, from that school district shall be taken even that $ which the school district has. This is how NCLB will dispense its "grace."

The parents of children in the more homogeneous, "higher performing" schools do not want to mix with the lower social classes and darker races, and they want to have greater "competitive" advantages given to their children (i.e., to graduate with high grades from a "good" school and get into a "good" college, to go on and make more money in a "good" career). This segregation is based on primitive racism, plus primitive competitiveness, plus fear, and the usual comfort most people find in their ethnic and class clannishness.

The smarmy reactionaries of the George W. Bush administration crafted the NCLB Act to preferentially funnel government money to the whiter wealthier neighborhoods, it is stealth apartheid.

It is also stealth union-busting, because test scores are used to judge teacher and school performance, and to make salary and job-action decisions in the public school systems. Increasing the funding to charter schools encourages non-union hiring, and school privatization enterprises. Also, NCLB incites pressure for school privatization by stoking public resentment over "low performance" as showcased by test results from hard-pressed public schools. The clause about military recruiting seems to be merely incidental to the NCLB package, and thrown in for convenience.

I think the key to understanding NCLB and the current distortion of public education by teaching-to-the-test and homework-as-displaced-teaching is to see NCLB as being targeted pork barrel to encourage public school privatization and enable stealth apartheid, and a tactic of top-down class warfare in the same spirit as the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

While a cunning and clever ruse, it is sad to think that such mean-spirited small-mindedness exists, to so callously destroy the learning experiences of millions of children just to advance the grasping monetary ambitions, and to indulge the worst prejudices of the ownership class.

The best hope for the future is that enough parents and children revolt simultaneously, killing the sacred cow of homework, and joining into a large enough political force to overturn the NCLB distortion of public education, before the children "age out" of the system and the parents lose personal interest in the struggle.

Manuel Garcia, Jr. can be reached at

Fortalecen el parto intercultural para disminuir muertes


Helen Álvarez Virreira


La primera hija de María Rasguido Coca nació parada y ambas hubiesen muerto en el parto de no ser por un médico respetuoso. Después de dos días de sufrimiento en el hospital, una enfermera le aconsejó que se fuera y la llevó con el galeno que le salvó la vida.

Tenía 16 años y juró no volver a un hospital. De eso hace 32 años. Sus otras tres hijas y sus seis varones, incluidos sus mellizos, nacieron en su casa con la ayuda de su abuela, que era la partera de la comunidad.

Ahora ella tiene la misión de lograr la complementación entre la medicina tradicional y la científica, pues fue designada directora de Medicina Tradicional e Interculturalidad, dependiente del viceministerio del sector.

María Rasguido es una mujer aymara que reconoce que sobrevivió a su primer parto gracias a la medicina científica, pero también afirma que el trato que recibió y los procedimientos de atención la ahuyentaron del hospital.

Ahora, en cambio, la nueva Carta Magna ha fortalecido la incorporación de prácticas tradicionales en la medicina convencional. Médicos y líderes indígenas hablan entre ellos de salud. "Más que antes con la nueva Constitución Política del Estado (CPE) se está incentivando la interculturalidad", dice Ángel Maida, director del hospital materno infantil Germán Urquidi, de Cochabamba.

Mientras, las enfermeras de centros de salud y hospitales de ocho municipios cochabambinos realizan prácticas en el área rural, asistiendo partos tradicionales. "Hay que recuperar los saberes", sostiene Rasguido.

Partera tradicional

De su abuela aprendió los secretos del oficio de comadrona, además de otros porque María Rasguido también practica la medicina tradicional. Atendió su primer parto a los 20 años. Una mujer sin dinero y abandonada por su pareja le pidió ayuda; así trajo al mundo a su primer ahijado.

La noticia corrió de boca en boca y se convirtió en la partera de la región. Llevando plantas medicinales, como el romero, muchas veces tuvo que caminar varias horas, por trochas y parajes inaccesibles, para llegar hasta las casas de las mujeres que atendía.

Ni una de ellas murió en sus manos, asegura, pero sabe que en el área rural hay cuatro veces más probabilidades de morir por complicaciones del embarazo, parto o post parto que en las ciudades.

Ella siempre mira en la coca lo que depara el destino. Cuando predice complicaciones en el parto, recomienda acudir al hospital y también aconseja a otras parteras que evalúen bien el riesgo para que no tengan que lamentar muertes.

Durante un parto tradicional en la zona andina, las mujeres pueden elegir la posición, generalmente de cuclillas; tienen a su familia cerca y consumen infusiones. Luego del parto, deben mantenerse abrigadas y evitar el contacto con el agua fría. Las indígenas de tierras bajas recurren menos a las prácticas ancestrales.

Parto intercultural

En la población de Patacamaya, en el departamento de La Paz, se dieron las primeras experiencias de complementación entre la medicina tradicional y la científica para la atención del parto.

Cochabamba, empero, es pionero en la incorporación del parto intercultural en el sistema de salud pública, a través del proyecto de Fortalecimiento de Redes de Salud (Forsa) que se ejecuta en ocho municipios rurales del departamento.

La primera sala de parto intercultural comenzó a funcionar el mes pasado en el hospital Manuel Ascencio Villarroel, del municipio de Punata. La Agencia de Cooperación Internacional de Japón (JICA) destinó 65.000 dólares a su construcción y más de 100.000 al equipamiento de centros de salud de primer, segundo y tercer nivel.

En esta sala, las mujeres pueden dar a luz en la posición que elijan: de cuclillas o de rodillas, por ejemplo, en lugar de la posición horizontal. Disponen para eso de un grueso colchón, cóncavo en un costado, que fue diseñado por técnicos y médicos del norte del departamento de Potosí.

El espacio es amplio; así, algunos familiares e incluso la partera pueden acompañar y ayudar en el parto, siempre bajo supervisión médica. Luego del nacimiento, la mamá es trasladada a una cama normal que está en la misma sala, donde también hay una cuna. Niños y niñas podrán ingresar después.

Al lado de la habitación, está una pequeña cocina equipada, para que la familia pueda preparar los mates y alimentos que suelen consumir las mujeres indígenas antes y después de dar a luz. El propósito es generar un ambiente de confianza y, por eso mismo, no se les exige que utilicen la ropa del hospital.

La infraestructura contempla también dos salas de hospedaje para los acompañantes, que antes debían deambular por pasillos y corredores, pues no tenían dónde quedarse.

Capacitación de parteras

Entre las mujeres indígenas, el 78 por ciento de los partos ocurre en los domicilios. En general, en Bolivia el 53 por ciento de las muertes maternas se produce en la casa y cada año fallecen unas 623 mujeres por complicaciones durante el embarazo, parto y post parto, de acuerdo al informe oficial "Por una maternidad y nacimiento seguros", presentado en 2007. También pierden la vida unos 380 recién nacidos y nacidas.

Sin embargo, lograr que las mujeres confíen en los hospitales o tengan más acceso a éstos, tomará tiempo. Por ello, con apenas unos días en el cargo, María Rasguido quiere impulsar el programa de capacitación de parteras tradicionales, en aspectos puntuales, para que puedan asistir mejor a las parturientas.

La Directora de Medicina Tradicional, que también es secretaria de Prensa y Propaganda de la Confederación Sindical de Indígenas Originarias Bartolina Sisa, también pretende incorporar comadronas al sistema público de salud. El Ministerio de Educación certificará esa capacitación.

Preferencias a la hora del parto

De haber existido esas condiciones cuando tuvo a sus cinco hijos, Marcela Paredes hubiese ido al hospital, así tal vez hubieran vivido los dos que murieron en el parto. Su hija sí recibió atención médica en sus dos alumbramientos.

Amalia Quispe, quien tendrá su tercer hijo a los 25 años, prefiere la posición ginecológica; pero su cuñada tuvo a sus siete hijos de cuclillas, sólo con la ayuda del esposo y sin complicaciones; su último bebé tiene dos meses.

A Betty Carrión, en cambio, le gustaría tener a su segundo hijo de forma tradicional, así como ella nació hace 19 años, siempre que sea en un hospital.

Las condiciones están cambiando, dice Amapola Prado, responsable de Salud Pública del hospital Manuel Ascencio Villarroel. Lo que ha cambiado poco, en su criterio, son las relaciones de poder, ya que quienes todavía mandan sobre los cuerpos de las mujeres durante el parto y posparto son, por lo general, el marido y la suegra.

Collective Farming and the Lynch Case

Judge Leans Toward Leniency



Things looked grim for Charles Lynch last week when the Department of Justice instructed the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles to keep seeking a five-year mandatory minimum sentence in his case. Lynch had been convicted in federal court last summer of marijuana-law violations –five counts—stemming from his operation of a Morro Bay dispensary. In March U.S. District Judge George Wu, noting Attorney General Eric Holder's stated intention to not prosecute dispensaries that comply with state law, put off sentencing Lynch until DOJ weighed in. That happened April 17 when Deputy AG H. Marshall Jarrett advised the prosecution not to cut Lynch any slack.

Evidently Wu--a Bush-the-Younger-appointee handling his first case as a federal judge--wanted to do the right thing whether or not DOJ did. Yesterday he indicated that Lynch, not being a “kingpin,” qualified for the exception to the mandatory minimums. Wu said he was contemplating a year-and-a-day sentence and asked the defense to brief him on how Lynch might serve his time outside a prison. Wu postponed the sentencing once more, until June 11.

"It looks good for Charlie, but it's not a done deal yet," said patients' advocate Bill Britt, our man in the courtroom. Bill said the testimony of character witnesses for Lynch was especially convincing – "not that the judge needed convincing." The mayor of Morro Bay, Janice Peters, spoke admiringly of Lynch, said he had always done what city officials asked of him, and evinced no criminal intent. City Attorney Rob Schultz got a laugh when he testified that the only complaint he had received about Lynch "had to do with the quality of the medical marijuana" available at his dispensary.

Attorney Joe Elford of Americans for Safe Access testified that Lynch’s dispensary was operating as a de facto collective and that he would not have been indicted had the current DOJ policy prevailed in 2007. (The prosecution contends that Lynch was not a "primary caregiver" under California law and that he was a profiteer who grossed $2.1 million over 11 months in 2006-07.)

The most compelling witness of all, according to Britt, was Owen Beck, who at age 17 had obtained cannabis from Lynch’s dispensary, resulting in the sold-to-a-minor count against Lynch. Crucial facts were inadmissible during Lynch's trial in Wu's courtroom: Owen had bone cancer and was using marijuana with his parents’ permission and on the advice of his Stanford University Hospital oncologis) to reduce nausea and sustain appetite during chemotherapy. Lynch''s sale of marijuana to Owen Beck was repeatedly misrepresented to the media by the US Attorney as an example a state-law violation.

Steven Beck, Owen's father, testified that the marijuana provided by Lynch (free or at a deep discount) enabled his son to eat and sleep, and restored his spirits. "I never felt as though Charlie was there for the money," Beck said.

Bill Britt was pleased to report that Owen, an amputee, "has grown into a strong, good-looking young man." Bill said Judge Wu began his commentary on the case yesterday by recounting all the reasons he ought to impose the mandatory minimums. Anxiety built in a courtroom filled with friends of Charlie Lynch. One well-wisher expressed premature outrage and was ejected by a bailiff shortly before Wu’s line of thinking swerved towards leniency.

Lynch was represented by federal public defender Reuven Cohen. He intends to appeal his conviction. Despite his satisfactory relations with Morro Bay officials –and the Chamber of Commerce – the feds indicted him at the urging of San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges.

Collective Farming

Bill Britt was peripherally involved in another case that resulted in a strong expression of support for medical marijuana providers. On April 3 a Mendocino County jury hung 7-5 in favor of Luke Strauss and Joe Maligno, who had been growing hundreds of pounds for a West Hollywood storefront dispensary. As reported by Pebbles Trippet in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, "Attorneys J. David Nick and Edie Lerman proved to the jury that Strauss and Maligno were in compliance with state law on collectives. The evidence… revealed that approximately $1.4 million passed through the West Hollywood collective's bank accounts in order to cover overhead expenses and the cost of cultivating the cannabis. The prosecution, on the other hand, had no evidence that they were operating illegally. They simply relied on their accusation that it was just 'too much marijuana.'"

Edie Lerman commented, "The law is clear. It allows for medical marijuana patients to associate and collectively cultivate, to get paid for their labor and services and reimbursed for expenses." The jury understood what the Mendocino County sheriff and district attorney did not: California law does not limit the number of members who can associate in a medical-marijuana collective or cooperative cultivation project, nor does it limit how much weight a grower can provide to physician-approved patients.

Bill Britt was going to testify that medical marijuana consumers in urban areas –especially in Southern California, given the bias of local law enforcement— rely on growers from rural areas, but Judge Ron Brown granted a prosecution motion to exclude Britt on grounds that his testimony would be redundant. It didn't matter; the jurors understood the common-sense reality.

Four of the five jurors who voted for conviction have reportedly advised DA Meredith Lintott not to re-file the case against Strauss and Maligno.

Here's Trippet's hopeful summary of the legal situation from the real paper of record (the AVA):

The Strauss-Maligno case relied on the new marijuana laws enacted under the Medical Marijuana Program Act (Senate Bill 420) in 2003. In August 2008 the California Attorney General published his Medical Marijuana Guidelines. They are currently considered the best authority for the legal elements of the "closed circuit membership" model, that explains how to lawfully cultivate collectively or cooperatively under H&S 11362.775 (SB420). The most comprehensive legal analysis of the new medical marijuana laws under SB420 is the 3d District Court of Appeals precedent, People v Urziceanu (2005), that interprets the meaning of "collective cooperative cultivation projects" as adding extra protections for sales and distribution, if evidence shows a situation of collective good rather than individual profit. In Urziceanu, the court held that:

"This new law represents a dramatic change in the prohibitions on the use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana for persons who are qualified patients or primary caregivers... It's specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana and the services provided in conjunction with the provision of that marijuana."

Defense attorney Edie Lerman remarked about the case after the verdict, "This shows that juries will be fair if they hear all the evidence and understand the law, regardless of the quantity involved. The Strauss-Maligno case proves that no credible medical marijuana case should be dealt away with a plea agreement, unless perhaps it is for deferred judgment, where the record is erased in six months. We're getting calls from other lawyers saying they are now emboldened to take their cases to trial."

Fred Gardner edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice. He can be reached at


Campesina y campesino que amanecen haciendo revolución (II)

Agricultura familiar un buen negocio

Delia Polanco-Loaiza


Continuando en el mes donde se celebra el día internacional de la lucha campesina por la tierra (17 abril), y el día de la Tierra -que son todos los días- (22 abril), presentamos la segunda entrega (2), referida a la inclinación mercantilista de los proyectos para la agricultura campesina (AC). En este caso, con una reflexión sobre la Reunión Especializada sobre la Agricultura Familiar ( REAF) del Mercosur . Quedan pendientes: la conceptualización de la agricultura campesina que la faculta como una de las socio economías insurgentes contra el capital; la importancia de una agricultura campesina con medios y modo de producción acorde con una economía de vida, y la quinta y última entrega donde se precisará el cuestionamiento político del presente ensayo.
Venezuela asistió a la “X Reunión Especializada sobre la Agricultura Familiar ( REAF)” celebrada en Brasil del 21 al 28 de noviembre del 2008, donde uno de los folletos distribuidos, rezaba: “Agricultura familiar un buen negocio”. No es de extrañar en una reunión creada en junio 2004 por el Grupo Mercado Común, -órgano ejecutivo del MERCOSUR (3)-, la cual tiene como objetivo fundacional el fortalecer las políticas públicas para el sector, promover el comercio de los productos de agricultura familiar campesina (AFC), y promover y facilitar la comercialización de productos oriundos de la AFC de la región. El Fondo Internacional de Desarrollo Agrícola (FIDA) ha sido el principal organismo financiador de la REAF, cuya visión para el Mercosur -según lo expuesto en la reunión de Montevideo en 1997- es “El combate a la pobreza con reglas de mercado” (Ramos, s.f.). No obstante, en la reunión de noviembre 2008, se aprobó la instauración de un fondo que le dará autonomía a la REAF.

Demos una mirada por los 14 años de existencia de la REAF:

1) Consolidación del discurso del desarrollo. José Ernesto Büttner Limprich (s.f). , Director de la Secretaría Administrativa del Mercosur (2006-2007), señala que la REAF, ha sido un eficiente mecanismo formal de participación y propuesta, “ promoviendo el diálogo político sistemático y haciendo valiosos aportes que apuntan a mejorar las condiciones de competitividad e inclusión social que permitan al sector contribuir a acelerar sus procesos de desarrollo económico con justicia social” (Subrayado, dado el conflicto que genera cada proposición con su contrario) . La REAF ha consolidado un espacio de diálogo político reconocido por Gobiernos, O NGs , y por el MERCOSUR (4), bajo el alegato de ‘políticas diferenciadas y los problemas del comercio para la agricultura campesina’, y figur an en la Agenda política, diplomática y técnica de las negociaciones comerciales intra y extra MERCOSUR. Siendo las cosas así, resulta evidente la unificación del discurso d el ‘desarrollo económico’ para la AC, entre sus países miembros y asociados. Discurso de origen occidental que ha operado como un poderoso mecanismo para la producción cultural, social y económica, en América Latina, África y Asia, según lo ha evidenciado el colombiano Arturo Escobar (1996).

2) Creación del aparato institucional, el cual comprende desde las instituciones internacionales existentes del capital, por ejemplo, el Banco Mundial y otras del sistema de la Organización de Naciones Unidas (FAO, PMA; PNUD; FIDA), hasta los ministerios de los países miembros, sus agencias nacionales de planificación y desarrollo, así como proyectos de desarrollo a escala local. En Venezuela, Proyecto Ciara-Barlovento de cadenas agroproductivas; El Proyecto de Consolidación del Desarrollo Sostenible de la Zona Semiárida de los estados Lara y Falcón (Prosalfa); actualmente se elabora el ‘Plan Socialista de agricultura familiar’ bajo la coordinación del los ministerios del Poder Popular para la Alimentación (Minppal), Agricultura y Tierras (Mppat), bajo convenio con el Ministerio de Desarrollo Agrario y Abastecimiento de Brasil (ABN, 2008) . En Argentina se formó el Foro Nacional de la Agricultura familiar; en Uruguay la Dirección General de Desarrollo Rural, en el MGAP, orientada a la formulación de instrumentos diferenciados para la agricultura familiar campesina y el Desarrollo Rural; Procesos en el Paraguay para el fortalecimiento del MAG para el diálogo político, a través de la Dirección de Extensión Agrícola y la Dirección General de Planificación, entre otros.

Este considerable aparato institucional le ha permitido a la REAF por una parte, unificar, difundir y consolidar el discurso de la ‘inclusión de la agricultura campesina en la económica del capital’ y su importancia en el PIB nacional de c/u de los países (5) , y por otro, ‘naturalizar la forma de hacer las cosas’ : elaboran las propuestas de desarrollo rural y fomento de la agricultura familiar, que son enviadas a los órganos ejecutivos del bloque regional para su aprobación y posterior incorporación en las políticas nacionales e identifican acciones concretas de ‘cooperación horizontal’ (6) entre gobiernos y Organizaciones Sociales de los países participantes en la REAF. Ello , bajo la estrategia de ‘desarrollo sustentable ’ y/o soberanía alimentaria. Recuérdese que otrora ya se tuvo un primer intento con organismos internacionales, bajo la estrategia del ‘desarrollo rural’ y complicidad de gobiernos nacionales, quienes facilitaron la vinculación sistemática de conocimiento (expertos en agricultura, alimentación, procesamiento, otros), y práctica por medio de proyectos e intervenciones, particulares (asistencia técnica, extensión agrícola, transferencia de tecnología, agrosoportes, financiamiento, otros), transformando sociedades campesinas de una ‘agricultura para la vida’ por la de mercado. A lo anterior le debemos agregar la pérdida de saberes y quehaceres ancestrales y/o tradicionales, y lo más trascendente, la exclusión del sentir de los pobladores campesinos.

3) Instrumentación y procedimientos, rápidos y ‘exitosos’: cursos, talleres, seminarios, buscando ‘profesionalizar la agricultura campesina’ (7). Utilización del lenguaje y propuestas de movimientos alternativos, como por ejemplo, equidad de género, riesgo climático, inversión extranjera en tierras, seguros agrícolas, inclusión de jóvenes campesinos, entre otros. Aunado a ello, cuentan con la efectividad en el diligenciamiento, al punto que en mayo 2007, crearon el Observatorio de Agricultura Familiar del Mercosur (APM, 2007), cuyo cometido es el de obtener, procesar y poner en servicio todos los datos e información acerca de la agricultura familiar en la región; identificar la población rural beneficiaria de las políticas diferenciales; la creación e instalación de la Red de Instituciones de Políticas en materia de Acceso a Tierra y Reforma Agraria; ‘listado consolidado de productos de importancia socioeconómica’ y para la seguridad alimentaria proveniente de la agricultura campesina; Sello que identifique los productos de la agricultura campesina y/o la economía social rural (8); Reglamentos técnicos y libre circulación. En la reunión de noviembre 2008, se aprobó la instauración de un fondo, que le dará autonomía a la REAF, como señalamos anteriormente. Cada país tendrá que aportar anualmente al fondo con porcentajes proporcionales a la media histórica de su Producto Interior Bruto (PIB) en relación al total del bloque (Brasil, 70%; Argentina, 27%; Uruguay, 2%, y Paraguay, 1%). El orden, control y progreso llegó para los pequeños agricultores y agricultoras de los países del Mercosur (9). ¿Tendrán escapatoria?

¿Cuándo aprenderemos que el capital esta muy bien organizado, con objetivos claros y toda su parafernalia consolidada? Debemos, afinar el foco: si no inventamos otro mundo, y lo concretamos, -lo que requeriría de otro conocimiento fuera del contexto institucional del capitalismo-, vendrá la barbarie, peor de la que hemos tenido en estos 500 años de historia del mercado como conductor de nuestros destinos.

El capital sabe que la agricultura campesina es un bastión de resistencia, viene por ella (10).

Delia Polanco-Loaiza. Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad Central de Venezuela (Fagro-UCV).


Referencias bibliográficas

ABN (2008). Venezuela y Brasil adelantan Plan Socialista de Agricultura Familiar, [en línea]. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN). Sección Poder Popular. 12.12.08. Disponible en:

APM (2007). Crean en el Mercorsur Observatorio de Agricultura Familiar, [en línea]. Agencia Periodística del Mercosur. 03-05-2007. Sección: Otro mundo posible. Disponible en:

Bansart A. (2006). Cooperación, ¿asistencia o engaño? Revista Question, año 4, nº 47. Mayo 2006. p. 8-9

Büttner Limprich J (s.f). La REAF como instrumento de participación social en la institucionalidad del MERCOUSR, [en línea]. . Disponible en:

De la Cal J. (2006). El norte robó sus semillas, [en línea]. Diario El Mundo. España. 2 de Abril de 2006, número 544. Disponible en:

EFE (2008). Productos de la agricultura familiar del Mercosur tendrán un sello especial, [en línea]. Agencia EFE de noticias. España. 22-11-08. Disponible en:

EFE (2007).. Reunión sobre la agricultura familiar instaló hoy el Mercosur en Uruguay, [en línea]. Mercosur- Agricultura. 24-10-07 . Disponible en:

Escobar A. (1996). La invención del tercer mundo. Construcción y desconstrucción del desarrollo. Traducción de Diana Ochoa. 1ª edición para AL. Grupo editorial Norma. Bogotá, Colombia. 474 pp.

ODEPA. (2007). E spacios de formulación y concertación de políticas de integración y facilitación de comercio para los trabajadores rurales, cooperativas y la agricultura familiar campesina e indígenas. Perspectivas desde la REAF Mercosur y de la COPROFAM , [en línea]. ODEPA-Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias, Gobierno de Chile. Disponible en:

Ramos A. (s.f). Creación y Evolución de la Reunión Especializada de Agricultura Familiar en el MERCOSUR (REAF) , [en línea]. Programa Regional del FIDA para el MERCOSUR. Disponible en:


1) El título pertenece a una frase de la canción ‘Campesino que amaneces’ de Albita Rodríguez en producción titulada: ‘Habrá música guajira’ (CD-Rom). Cuba. Por otro lado, nos interesa dejar claro que por revolución asumimos, la acepción de insurgir y transformar el orden hegemónico.

2) La primera entrega, titulada ‘Campesinos, mercado climático y FAO’, la puede ubicar en:

3) La declaración final de esa cumbre fue aprobada por 183 países sin el apoyo de Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Bolivia. La delegación argentina afirmó que la declaración ignora la responsabilidad de las políticas agrícolas distorsionadas aplicadas en los últimos 60 años en los países desarrollados. Venezuela lamentó que el texto final caracterice el problema del hambre como una crisis coyuntural y no como un problema estructural relacionado con el sistema capitalista y su modo de producción y consumo. Los delegados cubanos dijeron que la declaración es el resultado de la falta de voluntad política de los países del Norte para promover una solución justa y duradera a la crisis. Los otros países también siguieron la misma línea de críticas (Adital, 2008).

4) El Proyecto de Decreto Legislativo que contiene el Protocolo de Adhesión de Venezuela al Mercosur, fue firmado en Caracas el 4 de julio de 2006, y cuenta con la aprobación de dos de los miembros plenos del bloque: Argentina y Uruguay. Sólo falta que el Senado de Brasil emita su voto definitivo, al igual que Paraguay. El 18-12-08 la Cámara de Diputados de Brasil aprobó el ingreso, ahora falta ser votado a principios del 2009 por el Senado Federal de ese país, mientras que la comisión de relaciones exteriores del Senado paraguayo reunido el 4 de marzo 2009, dejó pendiente este asunto por falta de acuerdo.

5) En 14 años de existencia de la REAF ha realizado 10 Secciones plenarias con los países miembros y organizaciones sociales; Secciones Nacionales por cada uno de los estados parte y asociados, en las cuales se reúnen las delegaciones de los gobiernos y de las organizaciones sociales, las veces que se considere necesario, durante el semestre, para el tratamiento de la Agenda REAF y a su vez profundizar el diálogo político a la interna de cada país, en relación a las políticas diferenciadas nacionales; Grupos Temáticos con delegados oficiales y de las organizaciones sociales que abordan temas de la agenda especializada, procurando arribar a recomendaciones y/o el diseño de instrumentos concretos de política pública a nivel nacional o regional.

6) La AF aporta el 10% de la renta en Brasil; el 26% en Uruguay y 23% en Paraguay, y 53% en Argentina (EFE, 2007). La producción equivale al 9% del PIB del bloque con 20 millones de personas dedicadas a la AF (EFE, 2008).

7) Vale recordar el historial de las engañosas cooperaciones de los países ricos después de la segunda guerra mundial, a los mal llamados países en vías de desarrollo, que al darse cuenta que las materias primas se quedaban en las ex – colonias, buscaron la forma de continuar con el control de las mismas, “mediante asistencia técnica (desinteresada), desembarcaron, […] ejércitos pacíficos de expertos europeos y norteamericanos (peleaban entre sí para ver quiénes eran los más generosos). Era una fauna impresionante de expertos agrícolas, especialistas en educación liberadora, peritos en reformas agrarias, curas izquierdistas, agentes de la CIA disfrazados de monjitas, jóvenes de Peace Corp, voluntarios de Alianza para el Progreso, y miembros de las ONGs, enviados allá para velar por los Derechos Humanos, la libertad de prensa y la transparencia de las elecciones. Estos ejércitos de misioneros armaron escuelas para alfabetizar (a su manera) a lo sub-desarrollados (ahora promovidos a en vías de desarrollo) y para que entendieran correctamente las complicadas leyes del mercado, el pensamiento único y las reglas de buena conducta política” (Bansart, 2006:8).

8) La profesionalización en este caso se refiere al ‘apoderamiento’ de la academia, la ciencia, instituciones, técnicos, de los saberes y quehaceres de los sistemas alimenticios ancestrales, así como de las adaptaciones realizados por la agricultura familiar campesina de su modo de vida y producción. Por ejemplo, a su selección autóctona de semilla, se les denomina ‘bancos comunitarios o sociales de semillas’, sus sistemas de gestión de agua, ‘cosecha de agua’; a su modo de producción, se les adjudica ‘granjas integrales’ o agricultura sustentable o agroecológica’ orgánica, entre otros; a sus prácticas para la producción de alimentos, se les conoce como ‘buenas prácticas agrícolas’; a la protección contra factores bióticos, ‘control biológico’. De tal manera, que ya tienen conocimientos especializados sobre el tema (técnicos, diplomados, maestrías, otros). Esta percepción no menosprecia el invaluable aporte y mejoras para la continuidad de estos sistemas alimenticios, -imperiosa necesidad de su concreción a escala planetaria-, sin embargo, ello ha estado acompañado de la perversidad del mercado, el cual a través de ‘biopiratería’ (ver De la Cal, 2006), y complicidad de las instituciones y gobiernos, ha permitido que se patenten, -léase, ‘se roben’-, esos saberes, quehaceres e insumos. Agregarle, que los productos de la ‘agricultura biodinámica’ e ‘orgánica’ son los de mayor costo en el mercado, inaccesibles para las personas de escasos recursos.

9) El asesor de Promoción Comercial del Ministerio de Desarrollo Agrario de Brasil, Laudemir Müller, señaló que para el 2009 se tendrá el sello que identifique la agricultura familiar campesina de los países del Mercosur: “con el sello habrá una identidad para la agricultura familiar, se identificará fácilmente a esa producción y se facilitará además la comercialización, con el objeto de mejorar la renta de los agricultores" (EFE, 2008).

10) “La agricultura familiar posee un inmenso potencial humano, cultural y productivo. Controla importantes recursos de tierra y agua, posee experiencias productivas, que constituyen sus activos más valiosos” (ODEPA, 2007). Una meridiana percepción taylorista de que el conocimiento y recursos naturales están en manos de los productores y productoras. Así que van por ellos y ellas.

Torture Used to Try to Link Saddam with 9/11

What They Craved



When I testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties about Bush interrogation policies, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz) stated that former CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed that the Bush administration only waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zabaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashirit for one minute each. I told Franks that I didn’t believe that. Sure enough, one of the newly released torture memos reveals that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. One of Stephen Bradbury’s 2005 memos asserted that “enhanced techniques” on Zubaydah yielded the identification of Mohammed and an alleged radioactive bomb plot by Jose Padilla. But FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah from March to June 2002, wrote in the New York Times that Zubaydah produced that information under traditional interrogation methods, before the harsh techniques were ever used.

Why, then, the relentless waterboarding of these two men? It turns out that high Bush officials put heavy pressure on Pentagon interrogators to get Mohammed and Zubaydah to reveal a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 hijackers, in order to justify Bush’s illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003. That link was never established.

President Obama released the four memos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. They describe unimaginably brutal techniques and provide “legal” justification for clearly illegal acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the face of monumental pressure from the CIA to keep them secret, Obama demonstrated great courage in deciding to make the grotesque memos public. At the same time, however, in an attempt to pacify the intelligence establishment, Obama said, “it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

In startlingly clinical and dispassionate terms, the authors of the newly-released torture memos describe and then rationalize why the devastating techniques the CIA sought to employ on human beings do not violate the Torture Statute (18 U.S.C. sec. 2340).

The memos justify 10 techniques, including banging heads into walls 30 times in a row, prolonged nudity, repeated slapping, dietary manipulation, and dousing with cold water as low as 41 degrees. They allow shackling in a standing position for 180 hours, sleep deprivation for 11 days, confinement of people in small dark boxes with insects for hours, and waterboarding to create the perception they are drowning. Moreover, the memos permit many of these techniques to be used in combination for a 30-day period. They find that none of these techniques constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Waterboarding, admittedly the most serious of the methods, is designed, according to Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of “suffocation and incipient panic, i.e. the perception of drowning.” But although Bybee finds that “the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death,” he accepts the CIA’s claim that it does “not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard.” One of Bradbury’s memos requires that a physician be on duty during waterboarding to perform a tracheotomy in case the victim doesn’t recover after being returned to an upright position.

As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye points out, the CIA and the Justice Department “ignored a wealth of other published information” that indicates dissociative symptoms, changes greater than those in patients undergoing heart surgery, and drops in testosterone to castration levels after acute stress associated with techniques that the memos sanction.

The Torture Statute punishes conduct, or conspiracy to engage in conduct, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. “Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from either the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, or from the threat of imminent death.

Bybee asserts that “if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” He makes the novel claim that the presence of personnel with medical training who can stop the interrogation if medically necessary “indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain.”

Now a federal judge with lifetime appointment, Bybee concludes that waterboarding does not constitute torture under the Torture Statute. However, he writes, “we cannot predict with confidence whether a court would agree with this conclusion.”

Bybee’s memo explains why the 10 techniques could be used on Abu Zubaydah, who was considered to be a top Al Qaeda operative. “Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from [the CIA’s] proposed interrogation methods,” the CIA told Bybee. But Zubaydah was a low-ranking Al Qaeda operative, according to leading FBI counter-terrorism expert Dan Coleman, who advised a top FBI official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” This was reported by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine.

The CIA’s request to confine Zubaydah in a cramped box with an insect was granted by Bybee, who told the CIA it could place a harmless insect in the box and tell Zubaydah that it will sting him but it won’t kill him. Even though the CIA knew that Zubaydah had an irrational fear of insects, Bybee found there would be no threat of severe physical pain or suffering if it followed this procedure.

Obama’s intent to immunize those who violated our laws banning torture and cruel treatment violates the President’s constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

U.S. law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and requires that those who subject people to such treatment be prosecuted. The Convention against Torture compels us to refer all torture cases for prosecution or extradite the suspect to a country that will undertake a criminal investigation.

Obama has made a political calculation to seek amnesty for the CIA torturers. However, good faith reliance on superior orders was rejected as a defense at Nuremberg and in Lt. Calley’s Vietnam-era trial for the My Lai Massacre. The Torture Convention provides unequivocally, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture.”

There is evidence that the CIA was using the illegal techniques as early as April 2002, three to four months before the August memo was written. That would eliminate “good faith” reliance on Justice Department advice as a “defense” to prosecution.

The Senate IntelligenceCommittee revealed that Condoleezza Rice approved waterboarding in July 17, 2002 “subject to a determination of legality by the OLC.” She got it two weeks later from Bybee and John Yoo. Rice, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and George Tenet reassured the CIA in spring 2003 that the abusive methods were legal.

Obama told AP’s Jennifer Loven in the Oval Office: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that.” If Holder continues to carry out Obama’s political agenda by resisting investigations and prosecution, Congress can, and should, authorize the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to do what the law requires.

The President must fulfill his constitutional duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Obama said that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” He is wrong. There is more to gain from upholding the rule of law. It will make future leaders think twice before they authorize the cruel, illegal treatment of other human beings.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic. and co-author of the new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her articles are archived at


“La mujer con su lucha protagoniza el cambio”

Avances en los derechos de las mujeres en Latinoamérica

Rubén H.


Charlamos con Esther Morales, política boliviana y hermana de Evo Morales, Rosario Panoso, de la Federación de Mujeres de El Alto (Bolivia) y la peruana Leddy Mozombite, de las Trabajadoras del Hogar.

DIAGONAL: Perú (Alan García) y Bolivia (Evo Morales) tienen gobiernos muy diferentes. ¿Cómo se refleja esa diferencia en el día a día de la lucha por la igualdad de las mujeres?

La situación de las mujeres en Perú es que todos sus derechos son vulnerados. Por eso cada día nos organizamos. Por ejemplo, en la Campaña del Vaso de Leche, más de 5.000 mujeres se manifestaron y pararon la ciudad [Lima].

Según el Gobierno no hay crisis en el Perú. Lo que estará bien son los empresarios y el Gobierno. De hecho, Alan García está tan gordo que cuando salimos a las calles gritamos: “No hay leche, no hay pan, no hay azúcar, Alan a la olla”.

D.: ¿Cómo ha afectado el cambio de Gobierno a la situación de la mujer en Bolivia?

En nuestra nueva Constitución se han aprobado artículos a favor de la mujer, derechos demandados a lo largo de nuestra historia. Antes las mujeres no tenían derecho a títulos de propiedad de tierras. Tenemos derecho a un seguro social todos, hombres y mujeres. El artículo 138 es fundamental a la hora de reconocer el trabajo del hogar. Se pretende erradicar la violencia de género: violaciones, torturas, discriminación, y todo tipo de abusos psicológicos y físicos.

D.: ¿Cuál es la postura de la oposición boliviana respecto a la mujer?

R. P.:
La oposición en mi país ha estado buscando todo tipo de alianzas para reforzarse sin interesarle el tema de género. Algunas mujeres han sido utilizadas. Es lamentable decir que la oposición usó a la indígena Sabina Cuellar, una prefecta de Sucre que no sabía leer y aprendió con el proyecto de alfabetización Yo Sí Puedo. Fue elegida asambleísta de la Constituyente por el partido oficial, pero sirviéndose de esta señora ahora de repente la oposición dice: “Nosotros tampoco discriminamos a los indígenas, les damos espacio”.

D.: ¿Cómo ha sido la experiencia de Esther Morales como mujer indígena al estar tan cerca de las estructuras del poder, de un Gobierno del que fue nombrada primera dama?

En primer lugar no soy ninguna dama, simplemente soy la hermana de Evo Morales. Las mujeres que venimos del medio rural hemos sido explotadas por los patrones. Yo, para llevar mi vida adelante he trabajado y en la noche estudiaba corte y confección. Esto sigue ocurriendo pero ahora estamos en ese proceso de cambio en que mi hermano sirve a su pueblo. Antes los gobernantes para conseguir el voto caminaban con un kilo de arroz, con un litro de aceite, regalándolo a los votantes. Eso ha acabado.

D.: ¿Qué papel puede jugar la mujer en el nuevo orden mundial que se está formando con potencias emergentes como China o India o los profundos cambios en Latinoamérica?

Ese cambio también lo hemos hecho las mujeres. Nuestro grito va a ser escuchado. Se dice que la pobreza tiene rostro de mujer. La mayoría de las víctimas de la guerra de Iraq son mujeres y niños. Hemos sido discriminadas durante siglos. Yo creo que la mujer con su lucha está protagonizando el cambio.

E.M.A.:En aymara chachawarma significa hombre y mujer a la lucha. La mujer tiene un trabajo doble, trabajar, traer el pan a casa, cuidar a los niños... Antes había machismo, pero todo eso lo hemos vencido. Ahora luchan marido y mujer, juntos.

Quizá un poquito de compasión tienen por nosotras. Mientras nos gasifican adelante, los hombres por detrás están preparándose con hondas. Las mujeres solas tampoco vamos a conseguir nada. La lucha es hombre y mujer por eso decimos la palabra chachawarma.

R.P.: Vemos que muchos gobiernos están girando a la izquierda. Antes era sólo un gobierno, ahora no sólo podemos decir que hay apenas dos países gobernados por la derecha sino que, además, sus movimientos sociales están ya promoviendo un cambio. Eso se ha visto en Colombia con la Minga [trabajo comunitario] de los campesinos. En Perú también se ha visto en el norte o en la selva cuando les quitaron sus tierras a los campesinos y se las dieron a las transnacionales. Las mujeres vemos desde la óptica de la alimentación, que es crucial para la supervivencia social. Es lo que nos preocupa, tanta hambre, tanta pobreza, por el simple hecho de que alguien tiene que tener la hegemonía.