The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 680 — May 13 - June 3, 2002

Editorial:
They are killing the world’s children

May 13, 2002

Every single day, 5,500 of the world’s children die from diseases coming from polluted air, unclean water and tainted food. This is only one tiny corner of the horrifying picture painted in a report the U.N. issued for its Special Session on Children.

Figures like this should come as no surprise, since one billion people in the world have no access to clean drinking water. Almost half the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – do not have even a simple latrine, not to speak about indoor plumbing.

All told, 11 million children under the age of five died in the year 2000; 150 million suffered from malnutrition.

120 million children of primary age were not in school – many of them because they were working. Two-fifths of the world’s children age 10 to 14 were working, many under slave labor conditions. Even the youngest children were put out to work just to help their families survive: over one-fifth of all the world’s children aged five to nine were working.

The well-fed delegates to the U.N. met in session to hear this report and then wrangle among themselves about what, if anything, could be done about the situation.

And the chief wranglers were delegates sent by the U.S., who didn’t even pretend they were interested in discussing the real problems that such figures represent. Instead, the U.S. delegation continued, for the three days of the U.N. special session, to raise, and raise again, and raise again the issue of abortion. Under Bush’s instructions, they insisted that there should be a prohibition preventing any country from offering women the option of abortion in any health services funded by the U.N., and they wanted to talk about prohibiting pornography. On these two issues, U.S. delegates were joined by only a few other delegations: one from the Catholic Church, whose priests have been giving us all such a lesson in moral concern for the well-being of children; and several delegations from the most reactionary Islamic countries, whose opposition to any rights for women are well known.

It’s obvious that Bush is doing what U.S. presidents before him have done: playing on the abortion issue to line up an extreme-right electorate behind him for the next election. In this, he shows himself for the cynical human specimen he is: confronted by a desperate situation facing the majority of the world’s children, Bush is thinking about making a little political hay. Shame!

Certainly, the U.N. – where talk is cheap but action rare – has never been a model of concern for the rights of children, even if it issues regular reports. But even in this forum, U.S. actions stood out as abhorrent.

Children are dying from diseases which are preventable, dying from malnutrition in a world overstocked with food, forced to work instead of gaining any education. But the tactics of the U.S. delegation openly served to block even discussion about such problems.

Whatever electoral reasons pushed Bush in this direction, there were other more basic reasons for this despicable behavior. The terrible conditions faced by the majority of the world’s children are a direct result of the exploitation of the planet’s wealth by a few wealthy countries, with the U.S. in the lead. A few dozen big U.S. corporations drain wealth from vast areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa. They employ child labor in textile plants, enabling them to shut down almost all of their operations in this country. They do not establish sanitary conditions in their plants or their plantations. They crowd people into ever bigger cities to work in their factories, at the same time, they pay no taxes, depriving the cities of the funds to put a sanitary infrastructure into these cities.

To really address the situation facing the world’s children means to address the hold that these monster corporations have on the world, a hold which is reinforced by the U.S. military and by military dictatorships, which could not last a day without the vast sums of money, weapons and military aid they get from the U.S. government.

If the problems facing the world’s children are to be addressed, that will happen only through the activity of the laboring population itself – in the countries most directly affected, but in this country also. The capitalists – who take our jobs, cut our wages and reduce public services here – are the same ones who are killing the world’s children.

Pages 2-3

The CPI says DOWN when prices are going UP!

May 13, 2002

Many workers who have Cost of Living Adjustments, or COLA, in their union contracts were shocked to see that they suffered a wage cut recently. COLAs, as used in contracts and for certain pensions, depend on the government’s CPI (Consumer Price Index). And the CPI reports that prices went down by one% during the second half of 2001.

What nonsense! Every time we go to the grocery or pump gas for our cars, or pay a medical bill, we see that prices are going UP! So how can the CPI say DOWN?

Take one look at the way that government statistics deal with the price of cars. In 1969, the average price was almost $3,600. Since then, according to the CPI, the price of new cars has gone up a little more than 2 ½ times. That would bring it up to $9,500. But today, the average car sells for $20,000 – more than double what the government figures tell us it should be. The difference is supposedly made up by improvements in quality and gadgets.

Cars are one of the biggest things workers buy. The government uses the same method to grossly underestimate the rise in housing prices, which are the biggest expenditure workers make.

The CPI is just another way that government has of lying. And a COLA based on the CPI is only another way to cut our real wages and our standard of living.

The “Clear Skies” are dirty

May 13, 2002

The Bush administration announced its new “Clear Skies” program – supposedly aimed at reducing power plant emissions. The plan proposes a reduction in the amount of nitrogen oxide in the air (which leads to smog) and the amount of sulfur dioxide (which leads to acid rain.) Whatever this plan may or may not do about power plant pollution, the Bush administration and Congress are glad to push anything that improves their “environmental” image. Their reputations were a little tarnished by their refusal to cut down on pollution from vehicles, the other big cause of pollution along with power plants.

In any case, there certainly is every reason to reduce pollution from electric power utilities. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported more than 4,000 times when states exceeded the allowed amount of smog in the air. The EPA also collected figures in the Toxic Release Inventory which show that electric utilities throw more pollutants into the air than all other industries. Power plants released twice as many pounds of pollutants as the chemical industry, for example, 300,000 tons of hydrochloric acid.

“Clear Skies” pretends it will deal with this pollution. In fact, it is mainly a method for allowing the utility industry to pollute more. Utilities are allowed to use older and less strict standards for pollution control, according to the age of the plant in question. Whatever Clean Air Acts have been passed, each one has allowed this escape clause for older plants. Utility companies have even brought older plants back into production instead of building new ones – even shutting down more modern plants. And they certainly don’t upgrade the oldest plant. Why? Because polluting power plants are more profitable than the ones using the best technology to cut down pollution.

An environmental coalition called “Clear the Air” argues that the administration’s plan will increase nitrogen oxide by a third more than current levels and sulfur dioxide by half again as much. That’s very possible.

There was a similar increase after Bush’s father signed the Clean Air Act in 1990: air pollution increased by at least 15%. Obviously, nothing changed during the eight years under the Clinton administration.

Politicians don’t listen to us cough or choke with asthma. They are too busy listening to their pals among the polluters – auto, oil and utility industries – pushing for still more handouts.

Enron memos reveal how it manipulated the electric market

May 13, 2002

A number of Enron’s internal memos surfaced at a Senate subcommittee on May 7. They show how Enron consciously manipulated California’s energy markets during the winter of 2000 and reaped large profits in the process.

Interestingly enough, the politicians didn’t bother to extract these memos when electric prices were driven sky high in the winter of 2000. No, they woke up only because rich speculators – and particularly some of the biggest banks – lost money in the Enron collapse.

Enron executives certainly knew full well what they were doing – they even gloried in the scam they played on California. Look at the names they cynically gave their schemes: Death Star, Get Shorty, Ricochet and Fat Boy.

In Death Star, Enron arranged to deliver more power than the state’s grid could handle. The State of California then paid Enron to move power out of the grid. While power normally sells at $40 or $50 per megawatt, the state was willing to pay Enron congestion charges as high as $750 per megawatt. As an Enron memo put it, “Enron gets paid for moving energy to relieve congestion without actually moving any energy or relieving congestion.”

In operation Ricochet, Enron bought energy in California with the expressed purpose of sending it to another state where it sold it to another state for a small profit. Then Enron bought the same power back and sold it in California at a still higher profit. This is what energy traders call “megawatt laundering.” In fact, this was all on paper – Enron was simply buying and selling the right to a certain amount of energy to be delivered at a later date.

A December 5, 2000 Enron memo said, “Traders could buy power at $250 and sell it for $1,200.” Enron added, “It appears not to present any problems, other than a public relations risk arising from the fact that such exports may have contributed to California’s declaration of a State 2 Emergency yesterday,” where consumers were asked to cut back on energy use.

As a consequence of this market manipulation, in 2000 Californians paid four times as much for electricity as they paid in 1999. They spent an extra 30 billion dollars which went to companies like Enron, the power companies and speculators.

Jim Battin, a Republican state senator from California who took part in the investigation of the crisis there said, “The bogeyman here is not just Enron and the power companies, but the system itself.” He is right. In 1996, the lobbyist for Southern California Edison was loaned to the office of the Democratic state senator who wrote the electric deregulation bill. Both Democrats and Republicans unanimously passed this deregulation. Later during the 2000 energy crisis George W. Bush ordered federal regulators not to put in price restrictions.

Enron said in its memos that the tactics that it used were also used by other energy companies doing business in California. This is undoubtedly true. The energy companies and speculators saw their opportunities with deregulation and they took them. This is market capitalism at work. It’s the workers and poor consumers who paid massively for this speculation and the politicians’ connivance in it.

Is there gold in the gasoline?

May 13, 2002

Stinging from criticism about its refusal to make the auto industry improve fuel efficiency the Bush administration has now offered its plan to improve fuel efficiency, and thus improve air quality: add ethanol to gasoline.

Ethanol is supposed to lower the amount of pollution resulting from burning fuel in vehicles. And it is supposed to be an improvement on another additive currently used in gasoline, called MTBE. It turns out that MTBE contaminates the ground water in areas where it is produced, causing 14 states to ban its use.

But ethanol, which is just getting up to speed with production due to double in the next two years, has its own environmental problems. On April 24, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the trade group for the ethanol industry. It criticized ethanol manufacturers because their plants have been releasing carbon monoxide and some cancer-causing pollutants into the air. There are currently 61 ethanol plants in the country, with 14 more under construction, and at least half of them exceed the rules for releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. Some ethanol plants are as much as a thousand tons per year over the limit.

So what’s the real value of ethanol in the gasoline? Well – it’s difficult to say. One this is true: ethanol is derived from corn, although not corn like a little farmer grows on 50 acres. The corn for ethanol is grown agri-business style and its increased use will benefit the biggest agricultural corporations. Archer-Daniels-Midland, a contributor to Republican and Democrat alike, loves this newest administration plan.

More money down the Enron sinkhole

May 13, 2002

A Senate Finance Committee revealed the many loans from the government’s Export-Import Bank to Enron. The purpose of Ex-Im – supposedly – is to help U.S. corporations compete against foreign corporations that get subsidies from their governments. So Ex-Im gives the U.S. corporations loans and the taxpayers pay the price if the corporations default on their loans. No doubt the foreign governments justify the subsidies to their companies on the grounds that the U.S. subsidizes corporations here – but that’s how the corporate give-away game is played.

Ex-Im’s loans to Enron began under the Clinton administration and continue under the Bush administration – even still today. During the whole period there was a top Enron executive on the Advisory Committee of the Ex-Im. The Bank loaned 650 million dollars to Dabhol Power Co. in India, which was 80% owned by Enron. Today 175 million dollars remains unpaid on the loan, and Dabhol is bankrupt. In other words, Enron got a handout-out of 175 million. Ex-Im loaned 135 million dollars to the Accroven partnership, a natural gas plant in Venezuela, of which Enron owned nearly half. Only four million dollars has been repaid, so add another 131 million dollars that went down the Enron sinkhole. Etcetera.

Enron certainly isn’t the only one to have scarfed up millions and billions of dollars in government subsidies – under the guise of “foreign competition.”

It’s simply the one we’ve heard about because of the scandal.

Productivity gains show us the money

May 13, 2002

Productivity of factory workers is rising enormously. Today it takes only three workers to produce what four workers did six years ago. This fantastic increase would open up all kinds of ways to improve our lives – IF capitalism divided out the fruits of labor according to what we all contribute as its apologists claim.

Each worker could have another day off from work each week, for example, even while our weekly pay could be increased enough to improve our standard of living. Why not?

Technically, it’s possible. We produce the wealth that could let it happen. What holds it back is the grip the bosses have today on everything we produce.

Their hands need to be forced open.

Pages 4-5

What capitalism calls progress

May 13, 2002

The latest report presented by the International Labor Organization to the United Nations indicates that 80% of the world’s population lives – in reality, just survives – without any social protection at all. Furthermore, 90% of the workers do not have anything approaching what the ILO calls an “adequate” retirement program.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there are very few places in the world where social programs and retirement programs exist. And even where they do, for example in the U.S. and in Western Europe, governments are in the process of pushing up the age of retirement and reducing pension amounts.

Despite all this, we are told about the virtues of capitalism, and despite all the speeches about what they call “progress,” this 21st century looks more like the 19th century and the early days of capitalism. But there is this difference: Over the last two centuries, with the development of all the technical and other means, the productivity of labor has grown immensely. There has been a tremendous growth in the wealth produced by the labor of workers all over the world. Yet most workers do not have access to this wealth even on the most elementary level. What appears ever more evident is the parasitism of this capitalist system and of the few who are its sole beneficiaries.

To fight the National Front, a militant force is needed in the factories and neighborhoods

May 13, 2002

The first electoral successes of the National Front date back to the beginning of the 1980s. Before then it never polled more than three% of the vote, even though it had existed under the name of the National Front since 1972.

But in 1983, the National Front obtained 16% of the vote in municipal elections in Dreux and close to 10% in Aulnay-sous-Bois. In June of 1984, this electoral breakthrough on the local level was repeated on the national level in the European elections. The National Front gained 11% of the votes or 2.2 million voters. In the presidential election of 1988, Le Pen got 4.3 million votes and then 4.5 million in 1995. The National Front got similar results in the municipal elections which followed.

It is a serious problem when a fraction of the right wing population, which has always existed in France, slides to the extreme right. But it is an even more serious sign when a fraction of the working class voters turn to the extreme right. Today, this vote is becoming stronger, as is shown by the electoral vote in the more modest and poor neighborhoods.

The first increase in votes for the National Front in 1983 came two years after the Union of the Left became the government. The vote reflects the disillusionment of a fraction of the working and poor classes, which had put their hopes in the left government. Mitterrand, President of the Republic, and the Socialist Party government of Mauroy (which included four Communist Party ministers) decided to freeze wages and to institute huge layoffs in state jobs. This government even renounced its support for the right of immigrants to vote in local elections – which had been the one point distinguishing the views of the left and the right wing parties. Mitterrand played on racist prejudices when he made speeches about the “limits of tolerance” for the immigrant workers arriving in France.

At the same time, layoffs and unemployment grew, but there was no response against them as might have been expected from a government which claimed to be left wing. On the contrary, Mauroy became the chief architect of the steel plan, which threw thousands of steel workers in the Lorraine area out on the street.

Today, to confront the dangers represented by the increased support for Le Pen in the working and poor classes, the only thing the traditional left parties propose is to vote for Chirac.

The influence of the extreme right is linked to the demoralization of a large part of the working class. The organizations which claim to stand on its side and to represent its interests have given in and express the politics of the bosses.

In this situation, there are no quick and easy solutions. Calling on people to vote for a right wing politician, claiming that this is the only way to block the extreme right, means only to dupe the workers.

But workers are not powerless and do not have to resign themselves to put down their arms.

The class struggle will not disappear the day after this election: the bosses won’t disarm themselves.

It will become even more necessary to carry out a struggle, in full consciousness, drawing upon all the experience learned from what we are living though. Above all, we have to clearly understand who is on the side of the exploited, the laboring people, and who is in the camp of their enemies. That is, who one can count on and who one must distrust.

There remain, in the heart of the world of labor tens of thousands of militants. The same is true in working class neighborhoods. There are those who have not let down their guard and who, we can hope, have become more clear – they can be the real means to block the extreme right.

Opium production flourishes once again in “liberated” Afghanistan

May 13, 2002

U.S. government officials expect a high level of opium production in Afghanistan this year, which in turn will flood the world’s opium and heroin markets with cheap drugs. This marks a reversal from the previous year when opium production in Afghanistan fell almost to zero as the result of a Taliban program to eradicate the growing of poppies and the production of opium.

Does this mean that the U.S. government is losing its declared “war on drugs” in Afghanistan? And, who is it that produces and sells the opium there? Who are these “bad guys,” to use a phrase that’s popular these days with U.S. officials?

The problem is that “the bad guys” in the “war on drugs” happen to be “the good guys” in another war the U.S. claims to be fighting, the “war on terrorism.” The local opium bosses are the same warlords on which the current government of Afghanistan rests.

The Afghan government of Hamid Karzai formally banned the cultivation of poppies, from which opium is made, but it did nothing to enforce the ban. This would have required Karzai to confront his own allies. The U.S. and Britain announced that they have started paying local chiefs and farmers to destroy their crops. But U.S. officials themselves admit that this doesn’t stop opium production – it just gives the opium-producing warlords more money.

But why don’t the U.S. and Britain do something about this? Don’t they have all those troops in Afghanistan? That’s because, a British official answered, “the fight against terrorism takes priority; the fight against narcotics comes in second.” In other words, they pretend that we have to rely on drug dealers to defend ourselves against terrorist attacks!

The Bush administration, just like administrations before it, has declared a number of wars against a variety of “evils,” all in the name of protecting us. But its actions only endanger us further.

This is not at all surprising. Throughout the 1980s, Osama bin Laden himself was one of the “good guys.” He was no less a religious fanatic, and certainly no less a terrorist then, when the U.S. government actively supported him and helped him train his followers, than he is now. Today’s “good guys,” the drug-dealing warlords, are no different than bin Laden. They are the same warlords who, fighting each other for power, attacked, plundered and oppressed the population of Afghanistan in the early 1990s. And, sure enough, they have started to fight each other again, while resuming their major source of income, the opium trade – all under U.S. supervision, and with U.S. money.

After the second round of the French presidential election

May 13, 2002

On May 5 the French voters had a choice between Jacques Chirac, the current president of France and candidate of the major right wing party, versus Jean-Marie Le Pen, the candidate of what’s known as the extreme right. This run-off – or second round – was highly unusual in that Le Pen had squeezed into it past Lionel Jospin, the expected finalist. Le Pen had scored 17.2%, only one% more than Jospin registered in the first round. Le Pen had never before made it into the final round, and this triggered a call for support for Chirac, encouraged by the the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. In the second round, the vote was 77.8% for Chirac, 16.8% for Le Pen, while 5.4% cast a blank or void ballot.

The following is a translation of the May 6 editorial appearing in workplace newsletters of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle) our comrades in France.

As was absolutely foreseeable, Le Pen didn’t get more votes on the second round (the run-off election) than he and the other extreme rightist Mégret got on the first round.

This means, first of all, that Le Pen would have very easily been defeated with the votes of the right wing alone, which had received double Le Pen’s vote on the first round.

In fact, Le Pen made it into the second round, not – as has been said – because he got many more votes this year on the first round. He received only two hundred thousand more votes than in 1995. He made it into the second round because Jospin’s policy as head of the government caused Jospin, the Socialist Party candidate, to lose two-and-a-half million votes since 1995.

The leaders of the left have prostituted themselves for nothing, voluntarily helping Chirac to be elected president with by far the highestpercentage of any president of the Fifth Republic. Even Charles De Gaulle’spercentage was never this high. It’s sad that the leaders of the left elected by a landslide a man of the right like Chirac.

The leaders of the left thus demonstrated that the governmental left and the governmental right resemble each other much more than they differ from one another.

The leaders of the left inflated the Le Pen balloon, knowing perfectly well that Le Pen had no chance of winning on the second round – far from it. They waved the scarecrow of Le Pen, making people believe that he might be elected. They raised the specter of a fascist victory, though in the present situation it was only a phantom, even if the ideas of Le Pen carry over from fascism.

Shamelessly lying about the reality of seeing Le Pen elected, the leaders of the left tried to appear at the front of popular combat, hiding the fact that there were no stakes to this battle. Above all, they hid the fact that they were going to elect by a landslide a man who defended and perhaps would apply all or part of the ideas and the program of Le Pen.

The campaign that they led in favor of Chirac was as disgraceful as it was useless and artificial, which of course they well knew.

For our part, we refused to go along with this campaign and refused to lower ourselves to call for a vote for Chirac. We are often accused of always defending the same program, but we are proud of being firm in our ideas and of not changing sides when the first occasion arises.

What the world of labor lacks is a party which defends the political and social interests of the workers, and which therefore combats the ideas and the lies of capitalism’s defenders, whether they be on the right or the left. That means a party which at every instance tells the truth.

Chirac is an enemy of the workers. Those who called on the workers to vote for him betrayed the world of labor, to the profit of a man who will carry out the policy of big capital, that is to say, who will further impoverish the popular classes.

Abandoning the interest of the popular classes, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party will not recover the four million votes that they lost between 1995 and 2002 when they were in the government.

This article was signed by Arlette Laguiller, the Presidential candidate of Lutte Ouvrière

Pages 6-7

Fines for ATOFINA don’t make up for deaths and injuries

May 13, 2002

ATOFINA has reached an agreement to pay the state of Michigan 6.2 million dollars for safety programs, training and fines. This concludes a state investigation into the chemical explosion and fire which killed three workers at the ATOFINA Chemicals plant in Riverview, Michigan, near Detroit. According to a report recently released by the state, the tragedy could have been prevented had the company followed routine safety regulations.

On July 14th, 2001, a 25,000-gallon railroad tank car leaking methyl mercaptan erupted into a 200 foot fireball at the plant. Not only did the fire and explosion kill the three workers – it led to the evacuation of 2500 people in the area due to the toxic fumes released into the environment. Many people sustained injuries, ranging from throat, lung and stomach burns, to chronic headaches and stomach aches.

The agreement with ATOFINA is similar to an earlier agreement that the state had made with Ford Motor Company, effectively absolving Ford of responsibility for a February, 1999 explosion that killed six workers and seriously injured dozens more.

In both cases, the state investigators clearly uncovered conscious decisions made by each company which not only violated standard safety procedures, but did so in a way that made executives of the company criminally liable. Nonetheless, the state wrote an agreement which let the corporations escape liability and criminal prosecution by the state in exchange for paying sizeable fines. What’s a few million dollars to corporate giants? ATOFINA is the sixth-largest chemical company in the world; and Ford Motor Company is the fourth-largest company, period, in the world.

In both cases, the state officials said they did this in order to settle claims for the survivors as soon as possible. No, the state was simply settling vexing problems for both corporations, sweeping them under the rug as quickly as possible.

The survivors – workers and residents who paid the high price of death, permanent injury and chronic illness – are not served by an agreement that is nothing but a license for each corporation to go out and do it again.

Executive pay cut:
The crocodiles pull out their Kleenex

May 13, 2002

Business Week published its listing of executive pay for the 350 largest corporations in the U.S. last month. These chief execs didn’t find 2001 as good for their pocketbooks as 2000 was. Their salaries, bonuses and long-term compensation consisting of stocks and stock options fell so that their average was only ... nine million dollars!

An average worker’s pay is about $30,000 per year. These “suffering” bosses still make three hundred times what we make! So don’t come crying on our shoulders.

Haiti:
The terror continues in Cité Soleil

May 13, 2002

Translated from the March 22 issue of La Voix des Travailleurs (The Voice of the Workers), the paper of the Organization of Revolutionary Workers in Haiti, with whom we are in political solidarity

Three weeks after a meeting between the leaders of the gangs and President Aristide in the national palace, the situation in Cité Soleil has hardly changed. Certainly there are fewer gun shots heard throughout the day, there are fewer dead and wounded by bullets, but the population is far from breathing safely. Hoodlums still extort “insurance” money widely.

A worker family which lives right next to the hang-out of a group of bandits can testify to the situation. In the course of a day, the members of the gang go canvassing. They look over the neighborhood, they seek people and houses as targets, that is to say houses where there might be a television or radio. Toward two in the morning, the family hears them divide the booty. They recount their enterprises carried out during the night, recalling how many women they raped and how many people they killed. Sometimes the discussions become fights

Seized by fear, the population hides in their homes, pretending that they understand nothing. Some people seek refuge elsewhere in other neighborhoods, others put in a safe place the little that they have, a television, a radio, a chair, a bed or a table. There are those who sleep on the ground itself from fear that they will be attacked in their beds. Everything that can make the home nicer, make it a bit agreeable to live in, is sent to friends, a family in another neighborhood.

Besides the drug traffic and all types of plundering, electric current is one of the principal sources of revenue of these criminals. As everyone knows, it’s difficult for those who have an average income to have an electric meter in Haiti, much less for workers’ families whose daily wage is 36 gourdes ($1.33).

In the popular neighborhoods, most often it’s the gangs which distribute electric outlets, and then demand high prices from the inhabitants. Each time that these bandits want to extract some more money, they organize power blackouts. Sometimes they remove the electric wires and collect funds to buy new wires, but in reality, they only put back the wire they themselves removed.

The little merchants are in desperate straits in the small stores which serve the area. Before, thieves used to take them by surprise. Now they are forced to give money to different gangs who come during the day – just to prevent their merchandise from being taken. So the merchants flee, going from market to market just to find out that the situation is the same.

Fear conquers the people. They speak little or not at all when they refer to this situation. We could believe we’re in the worst moments of Duvalier when the Tonton Macoutes (gangsters attached to the government) called the shots. But no. We’re under the reign of the Lavalassiens, the reign of Aristide, who says he’s the defender of the weakest people.

Those who resemble each other get together

While the population of Cité Soleil continues to be the favorite target of the different gangs operating in this shanty town, Aristide has received their respective leaders in the national palace. The aim was to obtain the end of hostilities between the bandit gangs.

This meeting which was widely broadcast by the state televison raised the indignation of much of the population of Cité Soleil, who thought that the hoodlums, far from being pampered and honored by the president in the national palace, should be locked up.

They don’t understand why these men who kill, who rob and who rape women are received with fanfare in the national palace by the chief of state. Responding to these criticisms, Aristide made a long plea to justify his position, arguing that “the national palace is the house of the people, it’s proper to receive not only the rich, but also the poor.” He castigated “the behavior of those who always have the tendency to marginalize the poor while holding them apart form the state.”

We can’t expect anything else from this demagogue – he has shown who he considers to be the “people, the poor,” a handful of strongmen whom he can call upon to mobilize inside the poor neighborhoods for his purposes.

In fact, it isn’t a secret to anyone that these criminal groups operate with the connivance of Lafanmi Lavalas (Aristide’s party). When they aren’t at the national palace, they are received in the private residence of the president at Tabarre. They carry out the dirty jobs of the regime and profit also from the arms which are in their possession to extort, rape, and rob the population.

In the course of this meeting, Aristide proposed that they make a truce, and invited them to turn their arms over to the police. At the moment we can’t say if this appeal of the president will be heard and carried out. In any event, the gangs aren’t worried about it, and might even turn over some arms to the police, for they have the power’s guarantee that they can get them back at an appropriate moment.

When the police speak of disarming the gangs

The police announced through their spokesman, Jean Dardy Siméon, that soon they’ll start a big disarmament campaign throughout the country. Questioned on the weapons which officials like deputies, senators, and magistrates have, and the heavily armed bands who assure their safety as they move around, Mr. Siméon replied that “no one is above the law.”

The task of disarmament shouldn’t be difficult for the police and the government who are hand-in-glove with the armed gangs in the country. Didn’t we see agents of the CIMO (Intervention Campaign and Maintenance of Order) distribute arms in Cité Soleil December 17, 2001 to individuals to resist what they called a “coup d’etat?” How many times haven’t the leaders of the gangs been received either at Tabarre or in the national palace by Aristide himself? The leaders of these gangs – aren’t they the heads of those same organizations which strong arm for the regime, carrying out its dirty tasks?

If the heads of the police today, perhaps through fear of being overwhelmed, want to take back some of the arms which the bandits, their allies, have gotten hold of, it’s rather to protect the safety of the cops.

But the population mustn’t be duped or trust the verbiage of the police or the government on their intention to assure the safety of the population. The police have no intention of doing it. The working population can count only on itself for its protection!

Frequent sewage spills:
NOT down the drain

May 13, 2002

On April 28, five million gallons of raw sewage began discharging into the Gunpowder Falls in eastern Baltimore County. Workers needed 32 hours to contain the spill. The same day in another part of Baltimore County, 190,000 gallons of raw sewage began spilling into the water. Officials posted warnings prohibiting all fishing and boating for at least a week.

In just the last year, Baltimore County has had 100 sewage spills, revealing big problems with the entire water infrastructure. Nor is the county alone in its problems. Another county just south of Baltimore City had a 50,000 gallon spill that same week and a western Maryland county spilled 20 million gallons of sewage into Antietam Creek this past February.

Baltimore City had so many sewage spills that it was forced to pay a fine and to agree to spend almost a billion dollars in sewage and water repairs over the next decade. The city may be the worse offender because much of its water infrastructure dates back to 1904, but the counties don’t seem to be doing much better. Since World War II, all the counties which surround cities have experienced huge growth, putting big demands on their water and sewage systems.

Clearly, local governments are not spending the funds needed to keep up with water and sewage use. In the case of Baltimore City, the money will come out of residents’ pockets. The mayor has already announced that water and sewer rates will double.

Government pretends that its primary function is to construct and manage the infrastructure the population needs. Individuals cannot build the roads or dig the sewers or pay for fire equipment or hospitals.

Government does these things, it’s true, but often in ways that don’t serve the population. When roads, lighting, bridges, water and sewage are crumbling, the politicians give contracts fat with profit to their friends. Roads are built that don’t last, using methods that leave us fuming in traffic jams. Water and sewage money is not put aside to constantly upgrade the structures which are getting old before it’s too late. Big water users, that is, industry, get out of the real cost of the water or roads or tunnels they use. And politicians also find money for their pet projects: tax breaks for big corporations, new stadiums and hotels and tourist facilities using our taxes to bribe developers to build they already planned to do anyhow.

Government spending shows actually whose interests they really serve.

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