Saturday, January 28, 2012

The astounding thing about American slavery is not that it existed but that it persisted (not hardly - slave labor is the cheapest labor of all, and the wealthy plantation owners were all too happy to persist in their slavery ways, plus, slaves were never "human," were they? We are quite capable of justifying anything to ourselves that suits or justifies our self interests!

January 26, 2012

Life, Liberty and the Fact of Slavery

WASHINGTON — The astounding thing about American slavery is not that it existed — the enslavement of one people by another may be one of history’s universals — but that it persisted. It lasted into an era when its absence could be imagined and its presence could become an outrage.
That was one of the chilling peculiarities of slavery in the United States: As revolutionary ideas of human rights and liberty were being formulated, slavery was so widely accepted that contradictions between the evolving ideals and the brutish reality of enslavement were overlooked or tolerated.
We look back now, shocked at the cognitive and moral perversity. And that is one reason why a prevalent reaction has been to assert that the champions of those revolutionary ideals were hypocrites, including 12 of the first 18 American presidents, who were slave owners.
But that too-familiar judgment brings us to the most challenging example of all: Thomas Jefferson. And two new exhibitions come to a far more subtle and illuminating assessment of the past. Jefferson’s relationship to slavery is the subject of an important exhibition opening on Friday at the National Museum of American History here, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.” It was created by the nascent National Museum of African American History and Culture in conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which runs Jefferson’s extraordinary plantation, Monticello, as a historical home and museum in Charlottesville, Va.
The Washington exhibition will have a permanent counterpart opening next month at Monticello itself, where Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, kept as many as 130 slaves. Expanding the already significant examination of slavery at the estate, “Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello,” will consist of outdoor displays mounted alongside sites of labor uncovered through archeological digs.
Such research has been going on for two generations, disclosing the material lives of both hired and enslaved workers: their demolished dwellings and work houses are revealed through Jefferson’s notes, stone foundations, kitchen utensils, shattered pottery, belt buckles and other artifacts. Monticello’s outdoor exhibition is also part of a major transformation over the past two generations; once a sacral architectural monument to Jefferson’s genius, Monticello has evolved into a more complex reflection of the man and the 5,000-acre plantation that he owned.
These projects are difficult and ambitious, not just for Monticello but also for the African-American museum, which is scheduled to open in 2015. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s director, emphasized in a conversation that the Washington show is part of the institution’s attempt to explore how slavery might ultimately be presented.
Could any example pose a greater challenge? Jefferson didn’t just embrace the new nation’s ideals; he gave voice to our conception of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What does it mean that such a man not only held slaves but also devoted considerable attention to their status, their mode of life and, yes, their profitability? What was the connection between his ideals and the blunt reality? These are not just biographical questions; they are national ones.
It is to the credit of the Washington exhibition’s creators — Rex Ellis, associate director of the African-American museum and Elizabeth Chew, a curator at Monticello — that we are not given the answers but are given enough information and perspective to begin to think about the issues, helped along by objects from Monticello as well as the new museum’s growing collection.
We enter the show’s 3,000-square-foot space seeing a life-size statue of Jefferson (created by StudioEIS in Brooklyn), standing in front of a red panel on which are inscribed the names (when known) of some 600 slaves who worked on his estates during his lifetime. In front of the display is the lap desk on which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, a desk that was probably constructed by John Hemmings, Jefferson’s enslaved cabinetmaker (who used that spelling of his name), part of the now-renowned Hemings family (one of whom, Sally, is thought by many historians to have had a special relationship with Jefferson and borne him children).
The contradictions in notions of liberty could not be more graphically presented. The intention is not to turn a great man into a villain but rather to examine just how those contradictions expressed themselves. Jefferson called slavery an “abominable crime,” we are told, but also felt unable to extricate himself from what he called its “deplorable entanglement.”
We learn of his practical efforts to restrict slavery, including his introduction of a Virginia law in 1778 prohibiting the importation of slaves, and signing, as president, a national version of that law in 1807, just weeks before Britain outlawed the slave trade. We read too that in 1788, he wrote, “Nobody will be more willing to encounter every sacrifice” in order to abolish slavery.
Clearly, though, he was not so willing. He also harbored some condescending racial views (partly contradicted by other writings). And Jefferson inherited his father’s plantation and slaves; at one point he was one of the wealthiest men in Virginia (though to pay his enormous debts after his death, Monticello and “130 valuable negroes” — as the advertisement put it — were auctioned).
As the exhibition also emphasizes, he was a man of the Enlightenment represented by his books (Homer, Livy, Shakespeare), his scientific apparatus (including a telescope) and his devotion to the powers of reason and the value of skepticism (his inkwell here is in the shape of Voltaire’s head).
But we do not learn of these passions in order to have them dismissed. Gradually, as we work through the central gallery, we see them haltingly, falteringly applied, affecting the enslaved communities at Monticello. Displays are organized around a series of slave families, many of whom were at the estate for generations — the Hemingses, of course (as many as 70 family members were at Monticello), but also the Fossett family, the Grangers and the Hubbard brothers. (Perhaps no other plantation has such extensive documentation of its slaves.)
As the historian Lucia Stanton points out in an invaluable new companion book (“  ‘Those Who Labor for My Happiness’: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”), Jefferson paternalistically referred to the slave community as part of his family. He encouraged marriages within the Monticello world and tried to keep families together; the exhibition points out that “slave marriage was illegal in Virginia,” but that at Monticello “enduring unions were the norm.” Some slaves were also taught to read and write by the Jeffersons.
There is no idealization here of course. Each family became associated with particular kinds of labor, represented here by archeological artifacts. We see the products, for example, of the “nailery” that Jefferson had set up in order to turn a profit on the manufacture of nails. There is acknowledgment too of cruelty, of overseers who overstepped, of ideals put aside.
But there is also a growing sense that within a system of corrupting ideas and Jefferson’s crippling self-interest a struggle was going on for some other vision of humanity, not just within Jefferson but also among the enslaved.
The most remarkable phenomenon is evident in the last gallery: Many descendants of Monticello slaves became community leaders. A project interviewing them began at Monticello in 1993; it discovered, we are told, a tradition of dedication to education, faith, family and freedom.
Peter Fossett, a descendant of the blacksmith Joseph Fossett , for example, became a minister active in the Underground Railroad and founded the First Baptist Church in Cumminsville, Ohio, in 1870. Another Fossett descendant, William Monroe Trotter, founded the Niagara Movement with W. E. B. Dubois in 1905, declaring that “all men were created free and equal, with certain inalienable rights.” One of the Hemings descendants, Frederick Madison Roberts, became the first black member of the California legislature.
This suggests that there was something distinctive about this community, but also that Jefferson’s own ideals must have had an impact, surviving even the debilitating and humiliating institution of slavery.
This is something that comes through at Monticello as well. Its senior curator Susan R. Stein has made it clear that in Jefferson’s day, Monticello wasn’t a temple on a hill (though it is so beautiful, one warms to worship) but a miniature city in the countryside with its central home just yards from Mulberry Row, where the sounds of small industry — textile making, blacksmithing, woodworking — must have mixed with voices of laborers in the fields and where the lives of the enslaved were enmeshed with the life of their master. But this does not undercut our sense of Jefferson’s genius.
Yes, there are times when the balance teeters a bit. Just as Monticello must be seen whole so too must Jefferson’s achievements, and right now the exhibitions need a more deliberate elaboration of his ideas and life. There are times when the Washington exhibition also seems to push too far; it begins by observing that Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence “did not extend ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’ to African-Americans, Native Americans, indentured servants, or women.” This is political boilerplate; each of those cases needs different qualifications and examinations. They distract from the subject.
But the fates of Monticello descendants suggest that alongside the tragic consequences of American slavery there is something else: a growing belief in clearly defined rights and promised possibilities. If slavery was, throughout global history, the rule, the exception was the last 200 years of gradual worldwide abolition. And Jefferson, for all his “deplorable entanglement,” helped make it possible.
Where Jefferson’s Practices Fought With His Ideals
In Washington:
SLAVERY AT JEFFERSON’S MONTICELLO: PARADOX OF LIBERTY Through Oct. 14, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery, on the National Mall, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW; (202) 633-1000,
In Virginia:
MONTICELLO 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 984-9822,
A two-hour tour, “Waiting on Liberty: Slavery in Jefferson’s ‘Great House,’ ” will run on Saturdays and Sundays in February at 1 p.m.; meet at the Woodland Pavilion next to the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center.
ASH LAWN-HIGHLAND Home of Jefferson’s neighbor and friend James Monroe, also aslave-holding president, at 2050 James Monroe Parkway, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 293-8000,
POPLAR FOREST, Another home of Jefferson’s, at 1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, Va.; opens on March 15 for the season; (434) 525-1806,
Boar’s Head Inn, 200 Ednam Drive; (434) 296-2181,
Dinsmore House, 1211 West Main Street; (434) 974-4663,
Keswick Hall, 701 Club Drive, Keswick, Va.; (434) 979-3440,
Bashir’s Taverna, 507 East Main Street, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 923-0927,’étoile, 817 West Main Street, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 979-7957,
Miller’s Downtown, 109 West Main Street, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 971-8511,

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The so-called "Land of the free and the home of the brave" is looking not so free, and not so brave, at the present moment

Sending the Military to Put Down Workers:

Is This America, or What?

Solidarity America

By John Funiciello Columnist

The U.S. government is prepared to send a fully armed Coast Guard ship to escort an empty grain ship owned by a transnational corporation up the Columbia River to the port in Longview, Wash., where it will be loaded with grain by non-union labor in the next several days or weeks.

The ship, owned by EGT, a company owned by several other companies, including Bunge, is aiming to show members of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 21 that their agreement with the port means nothing to the corporation. The ILWU agreement, like that of other West Coast ports, requires that the work done in those ports be by union labor.

It’s not the first time in American history that the military has been called out to protect the interests of capital. It has rarely, if ever, been called out to protect the interests of trade unionists, other workers, or the poor. In today’s climate, however, ordering a Coast Guard escort for a scab multinational ship is another matter.

There are many examples of presidents calling out the military to protect Corporate America, but in 2012, rank-and-file citizens should be alarmed and wary. Since September 11, 2001, it has become easier for the powers that be to demonize workers and other citizens who are expressing their rights under the First Amendment.

During the Bush-Cheney Administration, the use of “free speech pens” was honed to perfection. These were chain-link-fenced enclosures near likely protest areas, which effectively prevented the objects of the protest from having to encounter the protesters. In fact, often, they were so far away that they neither could be seen nor heard. If that was ever found to be legal, it surely violated the spirit and heart of the First Amendment.

A little background is in order. EGT is a joint venture, but a principal “owner” is Bunge, a giant transnational corporation that was founded in 1818 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. It is now headquartered in White Plains, N.Y. Bunge competes with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, and so it is among the big names in the shipping of food and feed. The cargo that would be loaded by scabs in Longview would be destined for Asian markets.

Police in Longview have engaged in what appears to be a massive assault on the picket lines and demonstrations of the 225 members of ILWU Local 21, who have tried to maintain the integrity of their agreement with the port by demanding that grain be loaded by union labor. In that process in recent months, there have been 220 arrests of Local 21 members. The objective of EGT has been, simply, to break the union.

The San Francisco Labor Council has condemned the use of the military to escort the grain ship and, in a resolution adopted on Jan. 9, said, “…this is the first known use of the U.S. military to intervene in a labor dispute on the side of management in 40 years, not since the great 1970 postal strike when President Nixon called out the Army and National Guard in an (unsuccessful) attempt to break the strike. The use of the Armed Forces against labor unions is something you expect to see in a police state. This is part of a disturbing trend where the U.S. military, acting as enforcers for the 1 percent, is poised to be used against our own people, as exemplified by the new law allowing the military to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely without trial…”

San Francisco’s council refers to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which many see as the opening to the military to replace the police in certain situations and to hold indefinitely, without charge, those who would be charged with threats to the national security. President Obama has added a statement to his signing of the NDAA of 2012, saying that he would not use such power against American citizens, but his “signing statement” (shades of George W. Bush) will mean nothing to other presidents who choose to hold people without charge and even send them to Guantanamo Bay. The law will be there, to be used by anyone who has little respect for the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

The problem for American citizens, of course, is that, in the national security state that the U.S. has become, anyone can be judged to be a “terrorist,” and can be dealt with in the manner in which one deals with terrorists. One could be a terrorist on a union (or non-union) picket line, or in an “Occupy” encampment, or in a civil rights demonstration. It depends on who is looking and determining who the terrorist is. That’s arbitrary and that’s not what a country based on law should ever be.

Precedent for use of the military against American citizens was set long ago, but here are a few examples: the Bonus Army Marchers of 1932, when about 15,000 veterans marched (hitchhiked, hopped freight trains, or walked) to Washington, D.C., to protest the government in its failure to pay their $1,000 bonuses, a promise which they had waited since 1924 for the U.S. to fulfill, and the Battle of Blair Mountain that took place in 1921 in Logan County, West Virginia, between thousands of coal miners and an array of representatives of the coal operators (deputy sheriffs; coal company “detectives,” whom the miners called “gun thugs,” and the Army, including airplanes).

Congress had rewarded the World War I service of the veterans with certificates that would give them the $1,000 in 1945, but the Great Depression, which had impoverished most of the veterans by 1932, asked the government to pay the money earlier and that’s what they were doing in Washington. They built an encampment (think the “Occupy” movement) and, in keeping order, the police killed two of the marchers. There were other deaths, as well. President Hoover, fearing the influence of communists and anarchists, sent in a regiment under General Douglas MacArthur, who entered the scene with troops and tanks, and the marchers fled.

At Blair Mountain, the coal miners and their families and communities were under the control of the coal companies, which owned company stores, as well as much of the housing, and they used that power to control the workers and to keep out union organizers. Labor strife brought on by maltreatment of the miners and all of the grievances that such power brings to the situation, ended with armed confrontation. In the wake of widespread union organizing efforts through West Virginia coal country for several years, the fight between the coal operators and the miners and their supporters broke out in open battle for a few weeks in August and September of 1921.

Tens of thousands of armed miners came to defend the miners of Matewan and Logan County and the battle of Blair Mountain was said to have been the biggest shooting confrontation in America since the Civil War. The Army was dispatched by presidential order and there were even military reconnaissance aircraft sent in to give the miners’ positions to the strikebreakers, police, and the “detective” agencies. The confrontation ended before any massive casualties could result.

Members of other ILWU locals and many other supporters, including “Occupy” groups from other West Coast cities, are prepared to travel to Longview to protest the military escort of EGT grain ship. It won’t be anything like Blair Mountain and it won’t be like the Bonus Army, but it will be a fight for the living standards of those who work in the Port of Longview and all other West Coast ports.

Over a long history, the ILWU has been one of the strongest unions for its solidarity with other unions, but also solidarity with others around the world struggling for social and economic justice. Now, they are fighting for their own way of life and that of their families and communities.

The EGT effort is clear and it is simple: It will try to break the union contract by force at Longview and, in doing so, it would pave the way for similar union busting in other ports. The company is doing what Occupiers all across the country have said of the actions of Corporate America. EGT, like other corporations, is paving the way for the 1 percent to further exploit the 99 percent and drive them into a low-wage existence, if not into penury.

America has wandered far from the path set forth by the founders, who designed the structure of the country to be a “nation of laws, not men.” EGT is going to try to show that men, not laws, rule America. They are trying to show that wealth and power rule America, not the people, under law. EGT must be proven wrong. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

Revolutionary Jose Maria Sison on US Imperialism and a Way Forward for the Philippines

The African World

By Bill Fletcher, Jr. Editorial Board

In 2002, seemingly out of nowhere, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the USA henceforth considered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and their armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to be terrorist organizations. Additionally, they labeled a long-time Philippine revolutionary leader and theorist - Jose Maria Sison - to be a supporter of terrorism. Sison had been living in exile in the Netherlands. This labeling, denounced immediately by civil liberties advocates in the USA, the Philippines and other parts of the world, has resulted in myriad of legal ramblings and complications for all those associated with the NDFP and CPP. What made this announcement by Powell so odd was that the conflict in the Philippines represented a long-running - and internationally recognized - civil war and the NDFP (and Sison) had been engaged in peace negotiations, a process that was certainly harmed by the Bush administration’s allegations. These allegations also emerged at a time of increasing usage by the US government of the label of “terrorist” or “supporter of terrorism” to describe opponents.

The following is drawn from a longer interview with Professor Sison. This component focuses upon his analysis of the current situation in the Philippines, negotiations with the Philippine government and the question of the terrorist label used by the US government against various forces.

If you apply your search engine to research Professor Sison you will find a considerable number of references, including his own website which provides biographical background.

Sison, born in 1939, has been a major leader in Philippine radical politics since the 1960s. He served as the founding chair of the revamped Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 and helped in the creation of the New People’s Army the following year. He was captured by the government forces of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos at which time he was both imprisoned and tortured. He gained release in 1986 when Marcos was overthrown in the famous “People Power” uprising. He then attempted to assist in negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (the broad umbrella group coordinating the insurrection in which the CPP and NPA can be found) and the government of President Corazon Aquino, but these came to nothing as the government moved more to the Right and repression was imposed on opponents of the government. Sison found himself in exile when he was traveling and his passport was cancelled.

Though in exile, Sison was tapped to serve as the chief political consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. As a result he has been very much in touch with the unfolding of the struggle on that archipelago, a struggle that includes the armed insurrection led by the CPP/NPA, as well as a secessionist movement on the southern island of Mindanao among the largely Muslim Moro people (a movement supported by the NDFP).

Despite the length of the immediate insurrection, and the long-term struggle that the Philippine people have conducted to achieve genuine freedom from US domination - a struggle dating back to the Spanish-American War - the Philippines rarely receives much attention except when the US government discusses alleged Muslim terrorism on Mindanao. For that reason it is useful for US audiences to understand the point of view of the insurrectionists irrespective of whether one agrees with their objectives and/or means.

1. You have described the Philippines as semi-colonial/semi-feudal. Please explain what this means in practical terms. We are in the early years of the 21st century. How could there be a semi-feudal situation in the Philippines? The Philippines seems, for all intents and purposes, to be tied into global capitalism.

You can say bluntly that the Philippines is capitalist and has long been capitalist since the 19th century if you mean that the commodity system of production and exchange through money has come on top of the natural economy of feudalism when local communities could subsist on a diversified agriculture and engage mainly in barter. The specialization in crops for domestic food (rice and corn) and for export (tobacco, hemp and sugar) and the import of a certain amount of manufactures from Europe for consumption pushed the domestic commodity system of production as well as integration with global capitalism through colonialism as a part of the primitive accumulation of capital in Europe and subsequently under the banner of colonial free trade.

But it is utterly wrong to say that the Philippines is industrial capitalist or even semi-industrial capitalist. The Philippines does not have an industrial foundation. Its floating kind of industry consists of imported equipment paid for by the export of raw materials and by foreign loans necessitated by the chronic trade deficits. It is most precise to describe the Philippine economy as semi-feudal to denote the persistence of the large vestiges of feudalism in the form of disguised and undisguised landlord- tenant relations and usury at the base of the economy, the peasant class constituting 75 per cent of the population and the combination of the big compradors and landlords as the main exploiting classes. The big compradors are the chief financial and trading agents of the foreign monopolies and are often big landlords themselves, especially on land producing crops for export.

Global capitalism under the neoliberal policy of "free trade" globalization has not changed but has aggravated and deepened the pre-industrial and underdeveloped semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy. The share of manufacturing with the use of imported equipment and raw materials under the policy of low-value added export-oriented manufacturing in the last three decades has decreased in comparison to that share under the previous policy of import substitution. The illusion of industrial development has been conjured by excessive foreign borrowing for consumption of foreign manufactures, by conspicuous private construction projects and by the sweat shops that engage in the fringe-processing of imported manufactured components and yield little net export income.

Neither the series of bogus land reform programs since decades ago nor the neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization has broken up feudalism completely and given way to a well-founded industrialization. The backward agrarian and semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy is now increasingly exposed by its depression and ruination due to the decreasing demand for its type of exports, the closure of many sweatshops of semi-manufacturing for export, the tightening of international credit and the decrease of remittances by overseas contract workers in the current prolonged global economic and financial crisis in this 21st century of desperate, barbaric and imploding global capitalism. The conditions have become more fertile for people's war in the Philippines.

In the 1980s,certain elements in the Philippines pushed the notion that the Philippine economy was no longer semi-feudal but semi-capitalist or semi-industrial capitalist in order to glorify the Marcos fascist dictatorship as having industrialized the Philippines. This notion also aimed to undercut the Communist Party's strategic line of protracted people’s war involving the encirclement of the cities from the countryside by the armed revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants until such time that they have accumulated enough politico-military strength to seize the cities on a nationwide scale in a strategic offensive.

The bureaucratic big comprador Ferdinand Marcos conjured the illusion of industrial development by borrowing heavily from abroad and by importing consumption goods and luxuries and construction equipment and structural steel in order to build roads, bridges, hotels and other tourist facilities. The profligate spending of foreign loans only served to maintain the agrarian and pre-industrial character of the Philippine economy. Cognizant of the persistent semi-feudal reality, the New People's Army under CPP leadership has been able to wage people's war successfully with the main support of the peasantry and under the class leadership of the working class.

2. When one talks of the Philippine working class, what are the main sectors in which it is found and how is neo-liberalism affecting it?

The Philippine working class is found in such main sectors as the following: food and beverages, hotels and restaurants, public utilities (power generation, water and sewage system), mining and quarrying, metal fabrication (imported metals), car assembly, ship assembly, transportation, communications, mass media, assembly of electronic and electrical products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil refining, construction, construction materials (cement and wood), banks and other financial institutions and public sector services (education, health, etc.).

In the Philippines, the neoliberal policy has favored certain enterprises away from industrial development and has expanded employment in such enterprises during boom periods. The favored enterprises include those in mining and export-crop plantations, the assembly of electronic and electrical products, the semi-manufacturing of garments, shoes and other low-value added products for re-export, car assembly, construction of office and residential towers, cement production, hotels and restaurants, business call centers and financial services. They are vulnerable to the ups and downs characteristic of global capitalism under neoliberal policy and now to the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Closures and reduction of production have resulted in a high rate of unemployment and the further immiseration of the people.

Under the neoliberal policy, the working class has been subjected to wage freezes and reductions, loss of job security, flexibilization or casualization (reducing the number of regular employees and increasing the number of temporaries or casuals), systematic prevention or break up of workers' unions and ceaseless attack on union rights and other democratic rights. The kinds of enterprises generated by the neoliberal policy involve cheap labor and the most tiring and health-damaging processes and conditions. They also limit the number of regular employees and expand the ranks of the casuals subjected to a series of short-term employment contracts in order to circumvent the law on regular employment. The scarcity of employment opportunities in the Philippines has compelled nearly 10 per cent of the population to seek employment abroad as overseas contract workers and undocumented workers with practically no rights. This fact proves the lack of national industrial development.

3. Would you sum-up the situation in the Philippines, particularly the state of negotiations between the NDFP and the government; the situation facing workers and farmers; the overall economy; and fighting that may be taking place?

The Philippines is severely stricken by crisis because of the rotting semi-colonial and semi-feudal ruling system and the growing impact of the crisis of the US and global capitalist system. The prices of the raw materials and semi-manufactures produced for export by the Philippines are depressed and foreign loans to cover the trade deficits and debt service are becoming more onerous than before. There is now less demand for overseas contract workers and thus their remittances are decreasing. The global economic and financial crisis is hitting hard the Philippines. The growing public deficits (budgetary and trade) and the public debt are growing and exposing the bankruptcy of the big comprador-landlord state.

Various forms of popular resistance, including people’s war, are ever growing because of the extreme and ever worsening conditions of exploitation and oppression of more than 90 per cent of the people, the toiling masses of workers and peasants. Like preceding regimes, the Aquino regime wants to destroy the armed revolutionary movement. It is implementing the US-designed Oplan Bayanihan, which is the same dog as Arroyo's Oplan Bantay Laya but which tries to be different by dressing up brutal military operations as peace and development operations and maintaining human rights desks in the reactionary army and national police for the purpose of shifting the blame for human rights violations to the revolutionaries. On the other hand, the New People's Army led by the Communist Party of the Party is carrying out a five-year plan to advance from the strategic defensive to strategic stalemate in the people's war, increasing the number of guerrilla fronts from 120 to 180.

While their respective armed forces continue to fight, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are supposed to engage in peace negotiations in order to address the roots of the armed conflict by forging agreements on social, economic and political reforms. But the GPH has paralyzed the peace negotiations by refusing to release a few political prisoners who are NDFP consultants in the negotiations and thus violating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The GPH is also grossly violating the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIL) by refusing to release more than 350 political prisoners who are imprisoned on false charges of common crimes.

4. What have been the chief obstacles to a negotiated settlement between the NDFP and the government?

The Manila government and NDFP have their respective constitutions, governments and armies. To lay the ground for peace negotiations, they issued The Hague Joint Declaration to define the framework for peace negotiations. They agreed to address the roots of the armed conflict or the civil war by negotiating and forging agreements on human rights and international humanitarian law and on social, economic and political reforms. They also agreed that they are guided by the mutually acceptable principles of national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and that no precondition shall be made by any side to negate the inherent character and purpose of peace negotiations, i.e. no side can demand the surrender of the other side.

Under the current Aquino régime, his presidential adviser and his negotiating panel want to undermine and nullify the aforesaid declaration by asserting that it is a document of perpetual division. They are practically demanding the immediate surrender of the revolutionary movement. They do not respect the agreement on the sequence, formation and operationalization of the reciprocal working committees that are to negotiate and work out the agreements on reforms. The question of what kind of authority will be formed to implement the comprehensive agreements on reforms shall be settled when the time comes for negotiating the political and constitutional reforms.

The Benigno Aquino III regime has shown no respect for and has in fact violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) by refusing to release some 14 political prisoners who are NDFP negotiating personnel and are therefore JASIG-protected. It has not called to account those military and police personnel who have abducted, tortured and murdered NDFP consultants who are JASIG-protected. Also, it has violated the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law by condoning violations of human rights of suspected revolutionaries and sympathizers by the Arroyo regime and by his own troops and by refusing to release 350 political prisoners who are unjustly imprisoned on trumped up charges of common crimes.

The regime keeps on demanding ceasefire in order to distract public attention from the agreement to address the roots of the civil war though basic reforms. The NDFP has offered truce and alliance on the basis of a general declaration on common intent on ten points, including the assertion of national independence, empowerment of the working people, land reform and national industrialization, immediate assistance and employment for the impoverished and unemployed, promotion of a patriotic, scientific and popular culture, self-determination of national minorities and independent foreign policy for peace and development.

The biggest obstacle to the peace negotiations is US political and military intervention. The US has upset the peace negotiations by unjustly designating the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant as terrorists. It has dictated upon the Aquino regime to draw up Oplan Bayanihan under the US Counterinsurgency Guide, which considers peace negotiations as a mere psy-war2device for outwitting, isolating and destroying the revolutionary movement. Oplan Bayanihan is a campaign plan of military suppression. But it masquerades as a peace and development plan. It regards peace negotiations only as a means to enhance the triad of psy-war, intelligence-gathering and combat operations. Many people think that the US does not allow the puppet regime to make the overall agreement for a just and lasting peace with the NDFP.

5. Are you optimistic that negotiations can result in a just settlement?

Frankly speaking, I am not optimistic that negotiations can result in a just settlement. Like its predecessors, the Aquino regime is too servile to US imperialism and stands as the current chief representative of the local exploiting classes, the comprador big bourgeoisie and landlord class. It has shown no inclination to assert national independence and undo unequal treaties, agreements and arrangements that keep the Philippines semi-colonial. It also has shown no inclination to realize democracy through significant representation of workers and peasants in government and through land reform and national industrialization.

It has become clear that the reactionary government is not seriously interested in peace negotiations as a way of addressing the roots of the armed conflict through agreements on basic reforms. Especially under the Aquino regime, the negotiators are always trying to lay aside the substantive agenda and to push the NDFP towards capitulation and pacification. Failing to accomplish their vile objective, they paralyze the peace negotiations by refusing to comply with obligations under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

6. What has been the role of the USA? And, have US policies towards the Philippines changed under President Obama? If so, how? What is your overall assessment of the Obama administration?

The USA has not been helpful to the peace negotiations. In fact, it has obstructed these. The US designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and myself (the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ chief political consultant) as terrorists is meant to intimidate and put pressure on the NDFP in the peace negotiations. The US Counterinsurgency Guide actually tells the Philippine reactionary government that peace negotiations are dispensable but are useful only for purposes of psy-war to mislead the people, possibly split the revolutionary forces and make the reactionary killing machine more efficient. But the US policy against peace negotiations with the NDFP has served to make the revolutionary force and people more vigilant and more resolute in opposing US intervention in the internal affairs of the Philippines.

From the Bush II to the Obama regime, there has been no change in US policy towards the Philippines. Obama continues the policy of serving the interests of the US imperialists in the economic, political, military and cultural fields, collaborating with the big compradors and landlords, manipulating the puppet regime and its military forces, preventing land reform and national industrialization, controlling the fundamentals and direction of the Philippine cultural and educational system and stationing US troops in the Philippines and maintaining a permanent relay of US military forces under the US-RP3Mutual Defense Pact and the Visiting Forces Agreement. Obama is a good servant of US imperialism. He used his glibness to make himself look better than the brazenly brutal Bush. But he is using the same glibness to cover many acts as bad as or even worse than those that made Bush infamous.

7. How did the CPP and NPA end up on a list of terrorist organizations? How did you end up on a list of supporters of terrorism? What steps are being taken to remove this label from you, the CPP and the NPA?

During the November 2001 visit of then Philippine president Gloria M. Arroyo to Washington, she requested then US President Bush to have the US agencies(State Department and the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the Treasury Department)designate the CPP, NPA and myself as "terrorists". When US state secretary Colin Powell visited the Philippines in the early days of August 2002, he was reminded of the request and he assured Arroyo that he would act on it immediately upon his return to the US. Indeed, within August 2002 the CPP, NPA and I were designated as "terrorists."

The Philippine and U.S. governments connived to take advantage of the terrorism scare that followed 9-11. They themselves engaged in terrorism by deciding to undertake harmful actions against the CPP, NPA and myself. The designation of the CPP and NPA as "terrorist" is absolutely absurd because they [the NPA - interviewer] have carried out revolutionary actions strictly within the Philippines, have not engaged in any cross-border attacks against the US and up to now have not been discovered to keep bank accounts in the US or anywhere else outside of the Philippines.

In my case, I have been falsely accused of being the current CPP chairman and being responsible for the alleged terrorist acts, in fact the revolutionary actions, of the NPA despite the fact that I have been out of the Philippines since 1986 when I was released from nearly a decade of detention under the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The malicious intention of the US and Philippine governments is to pressure the entire NDFP negotiating panel and me as its chief political consultant. Like the Arroyo regime, the Aquino regime uses the terrorist designation as a kind of lever against the NDFP in the peace negotiations.

It is impossible for the CPP, NPA or myself to begin any legal process for undoing the terrorist designation in the US or in any other country tailing after the US in the so-called war on terror, without proving first the legal personality and material interest of the plaintiff. In my case, I could take legal action against the Dutch government for putting me in the terrorist list because I live in The Netherlands. After my administrative complaint, the Dutch government repealed its decision to put me in its terrorist list but took the initiative in having me put in the terrorist list of the European Union in October 2002. I went to the European Court of Justice and I succeeded in having my name removed from the EU terrorist list in December 2010 after eight years of legal struggle.

8. Do you think that the US media has consciously mischaracterized the situation in the Philippines by focusing on groups like Abu Sayyaf4?

Yes, the US media drum up US policy and corporate interests and consciously misrepresent the Philippine situation, as in the focusing on the Abu Sayyaf. This small bandit gang, whose origin can be traced to the CIA and intelligence operatives of the Philippine army who organized and used it against the Moro revolutionaries (MNLF and then MILF),is magnified as an extension of Al Qaeda in order to serve the false claim of [President] Bush that the Philippines is the second front of a global war on terror as well as to rationalize state terrorism and US military intervention in the Philippines.

Through the mass media, the US has spread the scare about terrorism in order to justify a whole range of actions: the curtailment of democratic rights in the US and on a global scale, the stepping up of war production to please the military-industrial complex and the unleashing of wars of aggression.

9. Has the "terrorism" designation made it difficult for NDFP supporters in the Philippines and in other parts of the world? If so, how? Have civilian political activists faced increased government-inspired violence as a result of this terrorism designation?

The "terrorism" designation is an incitation to hatred and violence and various forms of discrimination and harassment against known or suspected NDFP supporters in the Philippines and other parts of the world. Although the NDFP is not designated as terrorist, everyone knows that the CPP and NPA are the most important components of the NDFP. In the Philippines, the incitation to hatred and violence is quite deadly because the military, police and their death squads are emboldened to go on terrorist-hunting and are assured that they can abduct, torture and kill people with impunity…

The Dutch authorities have advised the Norwegian government not to give any assistance to the NDFP negotiating panel for maintaining office and staff in The Netherlands on the claim that such assistance would be for building the infrastructure of "terrorists". They have also raided the NDFP office and houses of NDFP panelists and consultants and seized documents and equipment needed in the peace negotiations.

10. Periodically the US media discuss alleged Muslim fundamentalist terrorism in the Philippines. What is the situation? In Mindanao there have been efforts at autonomy and self-determination. What has been the stand of the NDFP on these efforts? What is your take on allegations of Muslim terrorism?

The NDFP supports the Moro people's struggle for self-determination, including the right to secede from an oppressive state or opt for regional autonomy in a non-oppressive political system. The Moro people have long been oppressed by the Manila government and by local reactionary agents. They are not free in their own homeland and are victims of Christian chauvinism and discrimination. They have been deprived of their ancestral domain. They have been robbed of agricultural land as well as forest, mineral and marine resources.

The Moro people have all the right to fight for national and social liberation. The NDFP has therefore found common ground for alliance with the Moro National Liberation Front(MNLF) and subsequently with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the MNLF capitulated to the Ramos regime in 1996. By fighting well against their common enemy, the NDFP and the MILF gain better conditions for growing in strength and advancing in their respective struggles.

The US government and the US media exaggerate the threat of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism because they wish to promote the entry of US corporations for the purpose of plundering the rich natural resources of Mindanao, especially oil, gold and deuterium. They also wish to justify the current stationing of US military forces and eventually the basing of larger US military forces for the purpose of strategic control over Islamic countries in Southeast Asia and strategic countervailing of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] in Northeast Asia.

Like Al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf was originally a creature of CIA and the intelligence agency of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to counteract the MNLF. It has become a bandit gang since the capitulation of MNLF. It has also been convenient for the US and Manila government to depict the Abu Sayyaf as a Muslim fundamentalist group and as an extension of the Al Qaeda, since 2001 when Bush declared Moro land as the second front in the so-called global war on terror. There are indications that the US and Philippine governments continue to arm and finance the Abu Sayyaf in order to block the advance of the MILF in Sulu and to provide the pretext for US military intervention in the Philippines.

This commentary was originally published on Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.