Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Open Letter to US President Barak Obama

Dear US President Barak Obama:

We write to you as Barrio Nuevo, a young grassroots organization from the Latino community in Toronto. Much like many of the organizations you have worked for in the past, we are working to inspire social change and the development of our community by our community.

As first and second generation immigrants we understand the significance of your election to the Presidency of the United States not only for racialized people in your home country but also for all people around the world. Many in your country have chosen to express their desire for a different direction in your domestic and international policy by casting their votes and resting their hopes on you. It may not surprise you to know that many outside of the United States also have the hope that you will change the foreign policy of the US government and that the state of affairs countries impacted by US foreign policy will improve as a result.

We are concerned about the state of the Latino population in North America and our countries of origin in Latin America. Though we live here in Canada, we are very connected and informed of the state of Latin America and understand the impact of North American foreign policies on that region. This letter asks you to challenge yourself to reach beyond the traditional role that the United States has played in Latin America and to go past the propaganda that is still perpetuated about our region and people.

We ask you to act positively on 4 key matters pertaining to Latin Americans and Latin America:

1. Normalization of the immigrant Latino population working in the United States

There are literally millions of immigrant workers in the United States (primarily in areas that less than 200 years ago were part of Mexico). These people are supporting families and looking to build a future that was denied due to conflicts and problems in their own nations. They are crossing under perilous conditions which include not only recently constructed fences and walls but also the prospect of encountering armed militias that have been self appointed to ‘protect the border’.
As a humanitarian imperative, immigrant workers have to be given status so they can live without fear and without threat of having their families ripped apart or worse.

2. Ending the inhumane embargo against the sovereign Republic and people of Cuba

As seen from your presidential elections, the political tendencies and appetites in the most ardently anti-Castro segments on the United States are changing.
As called for by numerous United Nations resolutions and NGO’s you have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the World that the United States is no longer interested in playing imperial master by dropping the embargo against Cuba.
Both the US and Cuban economies, and more importantly Cuban people have suffered long enough under this callous project.

3. Respecting the democratic decisions and movements of Latin America

Never in recent memory has Latin America seen such thriving civil societies taking active part on deciding the future of their nations. To the dismay of some, many elections have produced victories for parties that have been labelled pariahs by certain circles and have produced policies which have brought discomfort to those who still worship ‘free markets’.
Whatever the economic and social policies, they are the concern of the people that are determining them. The elections and governments elected in Latin America over the last decade must be respected and US funding and support of opposition parties and fronts must immediately end.

4. Ending military and material support for the Colombian government

While governments and elections must be respected, it does not mean that government must be aided by the United States. The Colombian government, a top recipient of US military aid since before the Bush Administration has been flagrantly implicated in vote buying, drug trafficking and assassination and disappearances of trade unionists, journalists, community leaders and others.
Consistent with our previous point, we are asking you to NOT interfere with the internal situation of Colombia. We are asking you to remove your military aid to this government which is using these resources to commit the worst human rights violations in the hemisphere.

We encourage your will “to begin diplomatic conversations about how to improve relations” and applaud your recognition of “all countries in the region [having] something of importance to contribute” along with the role of your state being “not to dictate policies… but to find cooperation and mutual interest.” We believe that in order for this to happen successfully, each country must be respected equally with the right to political and economic sovereignty.

- Barrio Nuevo Canada

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cuban Revolution Turns 50

by Hassan Reyes (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

If revolution is a thing of the past, then the people of Cuba didn’t get the memo. On January 1st, Cuba celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the victory of the popular movements to overthrow US-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista.

On July 26th, 1953, the Castro brothers and others attacked the Moncada Police Barracks hoping to spark a revolt. Castro was one of a few who survived the unsuccessful attack and then went into exile in Mexico, where he organized and trained a small guerrilla army while the mass movement inside Cuba recruited members and organized urban resistance.

In 1957, Fidel, his brother Raul, and a young Argentine doctor named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara were among the 88 who set out to cross the Caribbean in a shoddy boat built to carry up to 25 purchased in Texas. Upon landing in Cuba, only 12 managed to evade capture or execution. Incredibly, within about two years the guerrilla forces and popular movements forced the dictator and his cronies to leave the country. On January 1st, 1959, the rebel forces from the July 26th Movement (named after the day in 1953 where the Castro brothers and others launched their rebellion) marched into Havana to be greeted by tens of thousands of jubilant Cubans.

Cuba has been under a constant barrage from their northern neighbour, the United States, which has never forgiven Cuba for taking its destiny in its own hands and for showing the world that a society based on solidarity is possible. Not only has the US funded and orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks against Cuban civilians, it also coordinated the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and has attempted to kill ex-President Fidel Castro more than 600 times. This says nothing of the inhuman trade embargo imposed over the tiny island and its population, which by the US State department’s own numbers has cost Cuba between $84 million to $167 million a year – between $4 billion and $8 billion since the embargo was imposed. The American Association on World Health described the embargo as violating “the most basic international charters and conventions governing human rights.”Despite these monumental obstacles and colossal enemies, what Cuba has been able to accomplish is nothing short of astounding given the few domestic resources at its disposal. The World Health Organization reports that Cuban males have a life expectancy at birth of 75 years and females 79 years, which equals that of developed nations including the US. In infant mortality, Cuba boasts a lower rate than the US, with 5 deaths per thousand in Cuba versus 7 per thousand in the US. Cuba also has 6 doctors to every 1000 people – more than double the amount in the US!

In the area of educational achievements, Cuba was recognized as the first country in the hemisphere to eradicate illiteracy following a massive literacy campaign in 1961. Before the revolution, literacy rates were at best 60%.

Cuba was instrumental in bringing down the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, by sending soldiers to assist Angolan freedom fighters against South Africa and their colonial allies. Cuba also sends thousands of doctors and educators all over the world in areas affected by disaster or poverty to assist those populations, including in Haiti, Bolivia and even Pakistan.

Due to the severe hurricanes that caused over $9 Billion in damages in August 2008, festivities on the island were relegated to concerts in major cities and a humble celebration in the birthplace of the revolution, Santiago de Cuba. Nonetheless, it was evident all over the island that Cubans remain proud of their achievements and are determined to not let them be reversed.

People all over the world should be proud of our Cuban brothers and sisters and work tirelessly to catch up with them in building a just society.

Three T.O. Youth Orgs. Launch, Uniting the People for Change

by Alok Premjee Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

On the evening of December 10th, 2008, the Toronto-based organizations Hood 2 Hood, Set-It-Off, and NO COPS (the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools) held a triple launch party for their organizations at the AnitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre, working in conjunction with Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), BASICS, and the Strictly Roots Project. The event consisted of music provided by two tenth grade DJ’s from Sir Sanford Fleming Collegiate, dinner, poetry, and dance performances by talented artists from around the Greater Toronto Area.

The purpose of the event was to bring together groups that focus on organizing working class communities, primarily racialized working class communities. The Hood-2-Hood group is organizing in a number of low-income areas in Toronto to bring an end to the horizontal (youth-on-youth) violence that divides our communities and to redirect the attention of the youth towards the real enemies of the community, such as TCHC and the big development corporations conspiring to destroy social housing, or incessant police terrorism.

The Set-It-Off group is a rapidly growing young women’s organization with over 50 members, which is serving as a space for young women’s social networking and fulfilling a self-help function by dealing with issues of teen pregnancy and misogyny; providing a positive space to learn about black history; and organizing cultural activities like dancing, singing, and skills-building like writing.

Set-It-Off is working out of Sir Sanford Fleming, Westview Centennial, & Vaughn Road Academy. One of the important social and political roles that the group has been serving has been to raise political awareness around the planned demolition of Lawrence Heights by the City of Toronto.

NO COPS is a coalition of parents, teachers, students, and other allies which formed as a response to the Toronto Police Service’s and Toronto District School Board’s decision to place armed police in almost 30 high-schools across Toronto. The stated goal of the organization is to mobilize communities opposed to the police occupation of schools with the goal of getting the cops out.

After dinner and a series of presentations from the organizations, the performers hit the stage. Performances were kicked off by the Hustle Boyz, who represented Vaughn & Oakwood and Jane & Tretheweys, followed by Vaughn & Oakwood’s own and T-Dots finest MC Quanche, who performed solo and did a rap duet with the Original Wasun. Following these performers the audience was blessed with some female talent, with reggae artist Rakaya, some beautiful vocal performances from Set-If-Off performers. D’bi Young, one of Toronto’s finest dub poets and the owner of the AnitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre, also mesmorized the audience with one of her poems. Next, the mic was passed onto D-Squad, representing Jane and Tretheweys, who performed a couple of banging tracks, just before the Phantom Dancers arrived straight out of Scarborough, who showcased some of the latest dancehall moves. That set the scene for a dance off and a dance jam that broke out to end off the hype night.

Much respect to the anitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre for providing their extraordinary venue for the grassroots community event.