April 17, 2008 - No. 58
Security and Prosperity Partnership
Summit, New Orleans, April 21-22
All Out to Support New Orleans:
No to SPP! Yes to Rights of All!
New Orleans residents
demand recognition of rights.
• All Out to
Support New Orleans: No to SPP! Yes to Rights of All! -
• Declaration Against the SPP Summit
- Second Continental Conference Against Free Trade
• Toronto Rally Demands Binding Referendum on
Canada's Participation in the SPP
• Spending for SPP Five Times Higher than $29
Million Quoted in Budget
• Governments Ask Monopolies to Wage Public
• April 19: Cross Canada Day of Action Against
• April 20: Second North
American Meeting of Energy Sector Organizations from the U.S., Canada
Mexico - Common Frontiers-Canada
• April 9-20: New Orleans
Film Festival Defends Rights, Opposes SPP -
• April 21-23: The People's
Summit - www.summitneworleans.org
• Half of Poor Permanently
Displaced: Failure or Success? - Bill Quigley, truthout.org
• Indian Shipyard Workers Accuse Employer of
Trafficking and Forced Labor - Damien Ramos and Robert
Caldwell Tuesday, New
Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice
Security and Prosperity Partnership
Summit, New Orleans, April 21-22
All Out to Support New Orleans:
No to SPP! Yes to Rights of All!
President George W. Bush is holding the
Summit of the
Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) in New
Orleans on April 21-22. In choosing New Orleans, Bush is showcasing it
as the model of "security and prosperity" people can expect from the
SPP. This is the height of arrogance by the
rich and shows the vicious attack on New Orleans today. Join the people
in New Orleans in defending rights and saying No to the SPP! All Out to
Support New Orleans!
The SPP Summit brings together the heads of state of the
U.S., Canada and Mexico to make decisions at the executive level to
integrate the three countries militarily, economically, and
politically. It is a weapon of U.S. empire and war and thoroughly
Use of the military against the peoples of all three
countries is a main feature of the SPP. In New Orleans the military
came at the time of the government-organized disaster during and after
Katrina and remains today. At the time of Katrina they were responsible
for leaving people on their roofs to
die and for forcing the large majority of the population out of the
city. Troops killed and brutalized civilians, mostly African Americans,
and fomented and permitted racist vigilante gangs to do the same. The
military continues to patrol the streets of the ninth ward and make
their presence felt.
The Summit will no doubt bring more military and
policing forces into New Orleans, potentially using Canadian troops as
well. A recent SPP agreement now allows both U.S. and Canadian troops
to operate against civilians in both countries. Previous Summits have
been used as an opportunity for
live joint police and military exercises. All out support for New
Orleans is needed to defend the right to protest and resist and reject
this model of security. Military out of New Orleans now and stay out!
Elimination of public housing is another example of
Bush's "prosperity." More than 12,000 people in New Orleans are already
homeless and low-rent housing is urgently needed. The people of New
Orleans struggled hard to prevent the government from destroying
thousands of public housing apartments,
home to more than 4,000 people. The government blocked the majority of
these families from returning after Katrina and blocked many that did
return from living in the buildings. Despite repeated demonstrations,
including occupations and blocking bulldozers, the government destroyed
the buildings. Football-field
size lots filled with rubble and people's crushed possessions remain to
remind everyone of the prosperity Bush is showcasing.
Large numbers of Mexican workers have also been brought
to the city and subjected to slave-like conditions, often forced to
work in dangerous conditions without pay and then be deported. This too
is Bush's prosperity.
While the U.S. federal government continually promises
reconstruction, it delivers broad attacks on the people. In addition to
eliminating housing, the public hospital, Charity, remains closed.
The New Orleans public school teachers were all fired following
Katrina, and the large majority of public schools
have been privatized or closed. The very conception that the government
has responsibility to provide housing, education and healthcare to all
is under brutal attack. In holding the Summit in New Orleans, the
U.S. government is trying to set the example that resistance is futile
will be answered with yet more brute
force. We say resistance is the heart of New Orleans and the heart of
us all and must be defended!
People are organizing numerous actions in New Orleans to
counter the SPP Summit and put forward the people's alternative. A
People's Summit is organized for April 21-22. The fifth annual New
Orleans International Human Rights film festival will also target the
SPP and its militarization.
Travel down by plane, bus or train. Contribute funds for
others to go. Call 716-602-8077 and join in to Support the people of
Declaration Against the SPP Summit
We, the participants of the Second Continental
Conference Against Free Trade and Privatizations, stand opposed to the
Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) Conference of the Americas
being convened by U.S. President George W. Bush in New Orleans,
Louisiana April 21st and 22nd.
This meeting is a heinous crime against the peoples of
North America, but particularly against the dispossessed and displaced
peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Calling this meeting in the
city of New Orleans, which remains largely unoccupied more than 30
months after Hurricane Katrina
and where more than half of its historic African American majority
remains displaced, only highlights the true intentions of this
undemocratic initiative and the neo-liberal agenda it seeks to
In the case of New Orleans, this neo-liberal agenda
advances the ethnic cleansing of the city's African American population
as a means to eliminate a strategic base of "Black Power" resistant to
the program of privatizations and retrenchments needed to maximize
profits for transnational corporations.
In the case of North America as a whole, the SPP seeks
to eliminate the national sovereignty of Mexico and Canada in the name
of U.S. national security and plunder their natural resources (oil,
gas, water, etc.) for U.S. consumption and the profit maximization of
We, the participants of the Second Continental
Conference Against Free Trade and Privatizations, stand in active
solidarity with the People's Summit being organized by the democratic
forces of resistance in New Orleans and throughout North America to
counter the neo-liberal program of state privatization
and working class dispossession being advanced by treaties like the
SPP, NAFTA, CAFTA, and other Free Trade Agreements.
We, the participants of the Second Continental
Conference Against Free Trade and Privatizations, support the
conclusions of the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and
Rita, held in New Orleans August 29th-September 2nd, 2007 and demand
the right of return for all displaced people from
New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the recognition of internally displaced
person (IDP) status for the displaced people, reparations for all those
displaced and a massive publicly funded reconstruction program,
beginning with the restoration of all public housing for the residents
of New Orleans.
We, the participants of the Second Continental
Conference Against Free Trade and Privatizations, call for the unity of
the peoples of the Americas for self-determination, national
sovereignty, and human rights against reactionary privatizations, free
trade agreements, and corporate driven dictatorships.
The people united will never be defeated!
Adopted Sunday, April 6, 2008 in Mexico City, Mexico
Toronto Rally Demands Binding Referendum on Canada's
Participation in the SPP
On February 16 a march and rally against the SPP was
organized in Toronto, starting at the Ontario Court building and
marching to Queen's Park. Hundreds of people participated in the rally
demanding an end to Canada's participation in the Security and
Prosperity Partnership (SPP), saying No! to a North American
Union and yes to Canadian sovereignty.
Rallies and actions took place the same day in cities
across Canada: Victoria, Vancouver, Vernon, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton,
Winnipeg, Windsor, Cornwall, Toronto, Ottawa, Moncton and Fredericton.
The specific demand put forward by the rally was for a
binding referendum of the Canadian people to decide whether or not
Canada would continue to participate in the SPP. The vast majority of
the participants in the rally were youth, and a number had participated
in the actions against the SPP summit
at Montebello in 2007. A large group of youth from Ajax attended, and
came from as far away as Kitchener and London to take their stand.
Vijay Sarma, a candidate for the Canadian Action Party,
MCed the rally. He denounced the government for
joining the SPP and carrying on its plans for North American Union in
secret and without the permission of the Canadian people. This is our
country, he stated, so why are
we letting them speak for us. We are the majority and we built the
country -- we are responsible for Canada's being and as such we are
responsible for the future of the country. If our representatives won't
represent us we will take them out of office, no matter what party they
are; and we will represent ourselves,
The Canadian Action Party, the Marxist-Leninist Party
of Canada, Green Party and Libertarian Party sent speakers to address
the rally. Throughout the rally, in addition to the invited speakers,
youth from the crowd addressed the rally expressing their determination
to take the future of the country in
their hands. Slogans and banners declared: Stop the SPP!; SPP is Part
of NAU; SPP= 9/11 in Canada; Stand Up 4 Your Rights!; We Will Win! Kill
the SPP! and many others. During the rally a shout out was given to the
First Nations of Turtle Island, the indigenous peoples of this land.
A number of speakers gave examples of the way in which
trade agreements compromise Canadian sovereignty and put control in the
hands of the international financiers. Dian Nicholson from Freedom in
Canadian Healthcare pointed out that on questions such as healthcare
the government has signed
away our sovereignty through trade agreements. This is treason she
stated. Sydney White, a lecturer at the
Free University of Toronto
presented in some detail the history of the Canadian banking system and
the debt which we continue to "pay down" but never pay off; a debt
which is used as the reason why we cannot
fund social progams.
The callout for the demonstration by the Toronto SPP
Protest Committee stated, "Since 2005 Canada's auto industry, pesticide
and health safety standards (among others) have been lowered to match
that of the US. In the latter instance, the HPV vaccine known as
Gardasil -- manufactured by Merck &
Co. (an American participant in the North American Competitiveness
Council) was approved by Health Canada
within 4 months of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Further, our federal government has spent $300 million on the
vaccination of 9-13 year old school girls who are not sexually active
even though Gardasil only prevents
4 out of 100 strains of HPV, which means infections and the risk of
cancer will continue regardless. There are already reports of 3700
severe adverse reactions and 11 deaths reported by countries
administering Gardasil. Merck & Co. had suffered billions of
dollars in losses when its arthritis drug Vioxx was pulled
because of cardiac-related patient deaths."
Wendy Forrest, who along with Karen Wittke organized
the Toronto action, spoke briefly about the organizing work. She said
it had begun with three people in Kelowna, Vernon and Saskatoon and
much of it had been organized through a Facebook group which now had
over 3400 members. It was
decided to hold the action on the occasion of Flag Day (February 15) --
the day on which the Canadian flag was adopted by parliament. She put
forward the main demand of the action which is a binding referendum on
Canada's participation in the SPP.
Pierre Chenier spoke on behalf of the Marxist-Leninist
Party of Canada. He forcefully stated that Canada must get out of
aggressive annexationist treaties such as the SPP, as well as NAFTA and
NATO and that these organizations should be dismantled. We make this
demand, he stated, because these
treaties violate Canada's sovereignty and are making us a base for
aggression against other peoples as an annexed mercenary force for the
U.S. He also denounced the arrogance of U.S. President Bush in calling
the next SPP meeting in New Orleans. After wrecking New Orleans in the
wake of Hurricane Katrina,
to parade New Orleans as an example of prosperity and security shows
exactly what the ruling elites of the three countries have in store for
the people, he said. Our Party will continue to go all out to build the
unity in action of Canadians to defeat the SPP and this North American
Union, he concluded.
President of the Libertarian Party of Canada Alan
Mercer which is against Canada's participation in the SPP says that his
party stands for individual liberty but that this cannot be protected
without protecting Canadian sovereignty. He spoke of how his family had
not left northern Ireland to come to
a security state that defends eternal war and attacks the liberties of
its own people as is happening in the U.S. now, and will happen to
Canada if it does not protect its sovereignty.
Speaking for the Green Party, Lou Carcasole said that
he was a simple guy who wanted to live a simple life but had come to
realize he could not and that he had to become involved in politics. He
pointed out that a change to how we vote in Ontario was the subject of
a referendum with a double 60
percent majority required. When it comes to the SPP no referendum is
called. On the contrary, the Harper government gives itself the right
to sell off our future in secret behind closed doors, he said.
The rally expressed determination to continue to
organize and mobilize and build a movement against the SPP and the
annexation of Canada into the North American Union.
Spending for SPP Five Times Higher
than $29 Million
Quoted in Budget
The budget tabled in the House of Commons on February 24
says Harper government will spend $29 million on the Security and
According to the budget, the money will go to the
following SPP priorities:
- Greater efficiency at the Canada-U.S. border through
better cross-border communication systems and improved wait-time
- The future elimination of duplicate baggage screening
on connecting flights in North America.
- Increased regulatory cooperation on projects in the
chemical, automotive and transportation sectors.
- Greater protection of the North American food supply
through vulnerability assessments.
- Improved trilateral cooperation on energy research
and achieving compatibility of energy efficiency standards for key
"These investments will address consumer needs,
increase business competitiveness and enhance North American security,"
says the budget report. "They will be sourced from the Security and
Prosperity Partnership allocation made in Budget 2006."
Undoubtedly many more millions of dollars are being
spent on the SPP this year, including, "providing $14 million over two
years to expand the joint Canada-United States NEXUS program for
low-risk frequent travelers across the border."
The exact figures were outlined in the 2008 federal
budget under the heading "Improving Canada's Borders" and include:
- Committing $75 million over two years to ensure the
Canada Border Services Agency has the resources it needs to effectively
manage the border.
- Introducing a higher-security electronic passport by
- Doubling the validity period of Canadian passports to
10 years when this electronic passport is launched.
- Providing $14 million over two years to expand the
joint Canada-United States NEXUS program for low-risk frequent
travellers across the border.
- Providing $6 million over two years for federal
activities to support provinces and territories planning to introduce
enhanced driver's licences.
- Allocating $26 million over two years to introduce
the use of biometric data into visas issued to foreign nationals
- Providing $15 million over two years to establish a
permanent facility to enhance the security of the Great Lakes/St.
Lawrence Seaway region.
- Allocating $29 million over two years to meet
priorities under the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North
That brings to $165 million the actual total being
spent on the SPP considering that all of the above, including the
enhanced passports, are SPP initiatives.
Governments Ask Monopolies to Wage
Offensive to Promote SPP
TML is posting below excerpts from a March 6
item by Jerome R. Corsi and published in WorldNetDaily entitled
"Leaders Push for PR Campaign to Promote SPP" regarding a recently
disclosed Canadian Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) memo
from the SPP summit in Montebello, Quebec about the relationship
of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) to the SPP. The
NACC is expected to meet annually with SPP ministers and will engage
with senior government officials on an ongoing basis. The memo
highlights how those advancing
the North American integration agenda are concerned about the exposure
and subsequent public backlash they have encountered recently.
The controversial Security and Prosperity Partnership of
North America, or SPP, continues closed-door meetings with business
leaders while the heads of state of the U.S., Mexico and Canada now
openly urge them to launch a public relations campaign to counter
growing criticism of the trilateral cooperative
some fear is a step toward a North American Union.
[...A]n internal memo from Canada's Foreign Affairs and
Internal Trade ministry, obtained by WND under an Access
to Information Act request [...] is an internal government summary
of the third SPP summit meeting held Aug. 20-21, 2007, in Montebello
The redacted memo does not disclose the author or the
date the memo was written.
The first sentence of the memo makes clear, as WND
previously reported, the North American Competitiveness Council, or
NACC, was the only participant invited to meet behind closed doors with
the SPP bureaucrats. The SPP consists of 20 working groups plus the
attending cabinet officers from
each country and the heads of state. [...]
The NACC is a largely secretive SPP advisory council of
representatives of 30 North American corporations selected by the
Chambers of Commerce in the three nations.
The NACC has issued no press releases disclosing
specific recommendations made to the SPP trilateral working groups
tasked with "integrating" and "harmonizing" administrative rules and
regulations into a North American format.
Nor have any minutes of SPP meetings with NACC
participants ever been made public.
The PR offensive is clearly discussed in the third
paragraph of the internal memo, where following an initial redacted
sentence, the paragraph discusses comments made by the three heads of
state in the closed door discussions, noting, "He also urged NACC
members to assist in confronting and refuting
critics of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America
The "He" in the sentence is not identified.
The fourth paragraph continues the PR theme: "In
closing, all leaders expressed a desire for the NACC to play a role in
articulating publicly the benefits of greater collaboration in North
Later, the memo admits, "Leaders discussed some of the
difficulties of the SPP, including the lack of popular support and the
failure of the public to understand the competitive challenges
confronting North America."
After a redacted sentence, the memo continues,
"Governments are faced with addressing the rapidly evolving competitive
environment without fueling protectionism, when industry sectors face
The memo then documents a comment made by President
Bush: "In terms of building public support, President Bush suggested
engaging the support of those who had benefited from NAFTA and from
North American integration (including small business owners) to tell
their stories and humanize the
The document says, regarding import safety, "President
Bush underlined the importance of tackling the issue more broadly and
showing that governments are ahead of this issue in order to prevent a
trade protectionist backlash, especially against China."
Toward the end, the memo reinforces the public relations
theme, emphasizing, "NACC members should have a role in communicating
the merits of North American collaboration, including by engaging their
employees and unions."
Meanwhile, the SPP ministers and trilateral working
groups continue to pursue a policy of secret, closed-door meetings,
where the press and the public is not invited to participate or observe
the process. [...]
Several other important points were disclosed in the
Foreign Affairs and Internal Trade document obtained under the Access
to Information Act request.
The document confirmed a much-rumored concern that the
Harper government intended to downplay the SPP summits, as part of a
strategy to defuse the intense criticism the effort has received from
the political left in Canada.
"Prime Minister Harper described the SPP as a worthwhile
project driving numerous low-profile, but important initiatives," the
documents noted under the heading, "SPP Management."
The document further disclosed Harper's recommendation
that each government appoint a single lead minister with overall
responsibility for managing the trilateral bureaucrats involved in the
20 SPP working groups.
The commerce minister in each country, or "prosperity
minister" as identified by the document, was tasked with this
Until the document had come to light, the three
governments had not given a clear explanation of the tasks or areas of
responsibilities of each of the three ministers assigned in the U.S.,
Canada and Mexico to SPP.
Now, it appears the foreign minister representative,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the United States and her
counterparts in Mexico and Canada, represent the top state-level
official among the three, a designation that clearly places the SPP
within the top foreign policy diplomatic level in each
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and his counterparts
be considered the "SPP Prosperity Ministers," while U.S. Homeland
Security Secretary Chertoff
and his counterparts would be considered the "SPP Security Ministers,"
with overall management of the SPP coming under the "Prosperity
Cross Canada Day of Action Against the SPP
For information or to
assist: sppprotestottawa.tripod.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
City Hall Square
Meet at Bonnycastle Park (Assiniboine Ave. & Main
St.) march to the Legislative Building.
Victoria Park Monument
Legislative Assembly of
Meet at the Legislature then march to City Hall
Kerry Park (Bernard Ave.)
For information: 717-1599
The event starts at 11:00 am
with booths from political
parties and other concerned groups sharing information and speaking to
the public. We will also have a picket sign making table and have
anti-SPP t-shirts for sale.
12:00 pm: There
will be a range of speakers from
political parties and concerned groups from the Okanagan. After the
speakers we will announce the winners of the petition competition and
1:30: pm: March
through downtown Kelowna to Richter and
Hwy 97, to hand out DVDs and fliers to cars stopped at the
intersection. We will head back to the park at 3:00 pm.
4:00-8:00 pm: Music
and between sets we will show video
Bridge Rallies -- 4:30-6:30 pm
Activists have put out a call "to pick a Vancouver
Bridge (Lions Gate, Burrard, Knight Street, Cambie Street, etc.)" to
organize leafletting of information on the SPP to motorists.
Rally in Conjunction with
Earth Walk Day -- 11:30
Centennial Square (Douglas
Second North American Meeting of Energy Sector
Organizations from the U.S., Canada and Mexico
The Security and Prosperity Partnership for North
America (SPP) was launched in March 2005 in Texas at the first Summit
of Heads of State from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The SPP represents
a new phase of neo-liberal integration in North America where the issue
of security is closely linked to economic
and trade relations. The SPP puts CEOs from the region's transnational
companies at the center of decision-making via SPP-sanctioned bodies
like the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) and the North
American Energy Working Group (NAEWG). This exclusive access to
governments for CEOs is
not only undemocratic; it also allows them to promote their
corporations' interests at the expense of the public's interest.
To challenge the SPP, four social multi-sectoral
networks in North America (ART-US, RMALC-Mexico, Common
Frontiers-Canada and RQIC-Quebec) in close collaboration with their
member unions, held the first tri-national energy sector meeting in
Montreal August 18, 2007. This gathering brought
together more than 60 energy worker unions and social sector delegates
from Mexico, U.S., Canada, and Quebec to share experiences and identify
common grounds for action.
A Second North American Meeting on Energy April 20th in
The Second North American Meeting of Organizations from
the Energy Sector will be held on April 20 in New Orleans. If your
union or organization has an interest in this 'energy sector'
discussion and is keen to connect
with others concerned about the SPP's secretive 'energy security'
agenda, please consider participating in this April 20 meeting. It will
be an all-day session at the International House Hotel, 221 Camp
Street, New Orleans. The United Steel Workers in the U.S. are hosting
New Orleans Film Festival Defends Rights,
We reprint below information on the Fifth Annual New
Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival. The festival
highlights films by and about New Orleans as well as those from the
international arena. As the organizers state, "Our festival exists to
support movements for social justice -- not to just show
problems, but to show solutions, to celebrate hope and resistance."
One highlight of this year's activity is a special
workshop on April 20, "NAFTA Gets Militarized: The Security and
Prosperity Partnership of North America." As the festival's webpage
brings out, "U.S. President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, and
Mexican President Calderón will gather in
New Orleans for the North American Leaders' Summit to discuss the
Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America -- the military
arm of NAFTA. How does this affect you, and what can you do about it?
Find out at the workshop."
The webpage www.nolahumanrights.org
outlines twelve days
of activity, more than fifty films, at least twenty directors
presenting their films, five world premieres, plus workshops,
performances, parties, and more. We reprint excerpts of their report
This year the festival welcomed Academy Award-winning
director Jonathan Demme, who presented his film Right to
Return: New Home Movies From the Lower Ninth Ward on April 9 at John
McDonogh High School, followed by an
afterparty for the screening at the Mother-In-Law Lounge, featuring Al
"Carnival Time" Johnson.
April 10, saw the New Orleans premiere of Taxi to the
Dark Side, the 2008 Academy
Award-winner for best documentary feature.
Also on April 10, Caramel,
a new romantic comedy from Lebanon, was shown. The film is the most
acclaimed film in Lebanon's history, selected for Director's Fortnight
at the Cannes Film Festival, and Lebanon's official submission to the
2008 Academy Awards for best foreign
"Many people think that human rights means
but this year we have comedies, action films, science fiction, and
more. In addition to Caramel, do not miss Waiting for Zigzigland, a
comedy about a Palestinian cab driver in Los Angeles; Eréndira
Ikikunari, an action film about indigenous
resistance to Spanish colonization; and the world premiere of The
Fullness of Time, an experimental science fiction film from the
director of Drylongso and the producers who brought Waiting For Godot
to the Lower Ninth Ward," the festival organizers wrote.
"This year's festival is filled with music and
performances. In addition to our opening night performances, we are
hosting a concert featuring New Orleans' best bounce music on Saturday,
April 19 at 11:30pm. We also have programmed some incredible musical
films. This year we continue to showcase
the best films from New Orleans and around the world.
"We always prioritize showcasing youth, and especially
young people from New Orleans. This year, do not miss new films from
the New Orleans program, Students at the Center (SAC). Among the
student-directed films this year, be sure to check out A Jazz Journey,
and Moving On, both by students
from SAC; and the world premiere screening of Wade in the Water, which
was made in collaboration with New Orleans students in Central City.
For other youth programming, catch Digital Resistance, made in
collaboration with Palestinian youth from refugee camps, and In
Solidarity, a film about a trip that six
Black high school students from Baltimore took to Nicaragua.
"In addition to beautiful and inspiring films,
performances, and fabulous parties, we have a wide range of other
special events, including workshops and discussions with filmmakers,
activists, and human rights workers. Katrina Browne, director of the
thought-provoking and powerful film about
the legacy of racism and slavery, Traces of the Trade, hosts a
discussion on the issues raised by her film. New Orleans grassroots and
activist filmmakers talk about their films and social justice in New
Orleans in Straight Out of New Orleans, a two-part series, Monday,
April 14 at the Craige Cultural Center, and
Tuesday, April 15 at Southern University of New Orleans. Each evening
features different filmmakers. Come for both!
"What do human rights internationally have to do with
issues we face in New Orleans? How can we build links with
international struggles? What lessons can we learn from movements in
other countries? How can the framework of international human rights
support the struggle for justice in New
Orleans? Hear discussions of these questions and much more from local
and international experts at the festival workshop Our Struggle Is Your
Struggle: A Discussion on Human Rights in New Orleans and Around the
World on Sunday April 13."
April 21-23, New Orleans Louisiana
The People's Summit
Linking the Gulf Coast struggle to the fight for the
survival of communities in Mexico, Canada and the rest of the United
States. For the latest information see www.summitneworleans.org.
Summit Workshops Set to Address 4 Major Themes
More than 20 proposals have been submitted for The
People's Summit. Venues have been confirmed and civil society
organizations, local and tri-national, have contributed to workshop
plans around four central themes. The summit will take place
both April 21st and 22nd, however the workshops will take place in the
morning and afternoon on Tuesday the 22nd. The three hour workshops
will speak to the ways in which free trade and security policy affect
everyday people, especially in relation to increased militarism,
privatization, forced immigration and
migration, and abuse of the environment.
There will also be workshops and panels discussing how
disaster capitalism has affected people in New Orleans and the rest of
the gulf coast, drawing parallels between the effects of free trade
policy and Katrina profiteering. These workshop proposals are in the
process of review, with workshops combined
to address similar topics. Groups or organizations, particularly in the
Gulf region, who are interested in submitting workshop proposals should
contact the local organizer, James Williams at email@example.com.
While several proposals address multiple themes the
ratio of proposals addressig the four major themes is as follows: 6
proposals discuss the environment, 2 focus militarization, 7 address
privatization, and 4 concern immigration. More proposals are expected.
Current presenters include the Peoples
Institute for Survival and beyond, The National Network for Immigrant
& Refugee Rights, Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, and Malcolm
X Grass Roots Association among many others. The sites of workshops on
Tuesday will be Loyola University, Craige Cultural Center, McKenna
Museum of African American
Art, and Little Zion Baptist Church. A more detailed schedual as well
as a complete list of workshops and presenters will be forthcoming in
the Program and Sessions section.
9am — 12pm: Community Tour of New Orleans & Story
Circles in Congo Square
12 — 1:30pm: Opening Ceremony & Lunch in
2pm — 5pm: Understanding Who Profits & How: NAFTA+ and
6pm — 9pm: Understanding Who Profits & How:
NAFTA+ and Katrina
9am — 12pm: Self-organized sessions by various
1pm — 4pm: Self-organized sessions by various
6pm — 9pm: Breaking Inferiority & Superiority to
Restore Ourselves & Our Communities
10am: Press Conference
To register a self-organized session and to get more
information contact James Williams, Organizer with the American Friends
Service Committee at 504-307-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Half of Poor Permanently Displaced:
Failure or Success?
December 15, 2007, New
Oleans, St. Bernard Parish
Government reports confirm that half of the working
poor, elderly and disabled who lived in New Orleans before Hurricane
Katrina have not returned. Because of critical shortages in low-cost
housing, few now expect tens of thousands of poor and working people to
ever be able to return home.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH)
reports Medicaid, medical assistance for aged, blind, disabled and
low-wage working families, is down 46 percent from pre-Katrina levels.
DHH reports before Katrina there were 134,249 people in New Orleans on
Medicaid. February 2008
reports show participation down to 72,211 (a drop of 62,038 since
Katrina). Medicaid is down dramatically in every category: by 50
percent for the aged, 53 percent for the blind, 48 percent for the
disabled and 52 percent for children.
The Social Security Administration documents that fewer
than half the elderly have returned. New Orleans was home to 37,805
retired workers who received Social Security before Katrina; now there
are 18,940 -- a 50 percent reduction. Before Katrina, there were 12,870
disabled workers receiving Social
Security disability benefits in New Orleans, now there are 5,350 --
that's 59 percent fewer. Before Katrina, there were 9,425 widowers in
New Orleans receiving Social Security survivors benefits; now there are
less than half that many -- 4,140.
Children of working-class families have not returned.
Public school enrollment in New Orleans was 66,372 before Katrina.
Latest figures are 32,149 -- a 52 percent reduction.
Public transit usage numbers are down 75 percent since
Katrina. Prior to Katrina, there were frequently over 3 million rides
per month. In January 2008, there were 732,000 rides. The Regional
Transit Authority says the reduction reflects that New Orleans now has
far fewer poorer, transit-dependent
Figures from the Louisiana Department of Social
Services show the number of families receiving food stamps in New
Orleans has dropped from 46,551 in June 2005 to 22,768 in January 2008.
Welfare numbers are also down. The Louisiana Families Independence
Temporary Assistance Program was
down from 5,764 recipients (mostly children) in July 2005 to 1,412 in
the latest report.
While there are no precise figures on the racial
breakdown of poor and working people who are still displaced,
indications strongly suggest they are overwhelmingly African-American.
The black population of New Orleans has plummeted by 57 percent, while
white population fell 36 percent, according
to census data. Areas that are fully recovering are more affluent and
predominately white. New Orleans, which was 67 percent black before
Katrina, is estimated to be no higher than 58 percent black now.
The reduction in poor and low-wage workers in New
Orleans is no surprise to social workers. Don Everard, director of
social service agency Hope House, says New Orleans is a much tougher
town for poor people than before Katrina. "Housing costs a lot more and
there is much less of it," says Everard.
"The job market is also very unstable. The rise in wages after Katrina
has mostly fallen backwards and people are not getting enough hours of
work on a regular basis."
The displacement of tens of thousands of people is now
expected to be permanent because there is both a current shortage of
affordable housing and no plan to create affordable rental housing for
tens of thousands of the displaced.
In the most blatant sign of government action to reduce
the numbers of poor people in New Orleans, the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is demolishing thousands of intact
public housing apartments. HUD is spending nearly $1 billion with
questionable developers to end
up with much less affordable housing. Right after Katrina, HUD
Secretary Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans was "not going to be
as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." He then worked to
make that prediction true.
According to Policy Link, a national research
institute, the crisis in affordable housing means barely two in five
renters in Louisiana can return to affordable homes. In New Orleans,
all the funds currently approved by HUD and other government agencies
(not spent, only approved) for housing for low-income
renters will only rebuild one-third of the pre-Katrina affordable
rental housing stock.
Hope House sees 400 to 500 needy people a month. "Most
of the people we see are working people facing eviction or utility
cutoffs, or they are already homeless," reports Everard. The New
Orleans homeless population has already doubled from pre-Katrina
numbers to approximately 12,000 people.
Everard noted that because of FEMA's recent announcement that it was
closing 35,000 still-occupied trailers across the Gulf Coast,
homelessness is likely to get a lot worse.
March 21, 2008.
Demonstrators protest against demolition public housing in St. Bernard
Parish. The Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD), led by
resigning Secretary Alfonso Jackson, decided against renovation
favour of unwritten agreements with developers for "mixed-income"
United Nations officials recently called for an
immediate halt to the demolition of public housing in New Orleans,
saying demolition is a violation of human rights and will force
predominately black residents into homelessness. "The spiraling costs
of private housing and rental units, and in particular
the demolition of public housing, puts these communities in further
distress, increasing poverty and homelessness," said a joint statement
by UN experts in housing and minority issues. "We therefore call on the
federal government and state and local authorities to immediately halt
the demolition of public housing
in New Orleans." Similar calls have been made by Senators Clinton and
Obama. Despite these calls, the demolitions continue.
The rebuilding has gone as many planned. Right after
Katrina, one wealthy businessman told The Wall Street Journal,
"Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a
completely different way: demographically, geographically and
politically." Elected officials, from national
officials like President Bush and HUD Secretary Jackson to local city
council members, who are presumably sleeping in their own beds,
apparently concur. Policies put in place so far do not appear overly
concerned about the tens of thousands of working poor, elderly and
disabled who are not able to come home.
The political implications of a dramatic reduction in
poor and working -- mostly African-American -- people in New Orleans
are straightforward. The reduction directly helps Republicans, who have
fought for years to reduce the impact of the overwhelmingly Democratic
New Orleans on statewide politics
in Louisiana. In the jargon of political experts, Louisiana, before
Katrina, was a "pink state." The state went for Clinton twice and then
for Bush twice, with U.S. senators from each party. The forced
relocation of hundreds of thousands, mostly lower-income and
African-American, could alter the balance between
the two major parties in Louisiana and also change the opportunities
for black elected officials in New Orleans.
Given the political and governmental officials and
policies in place now, one of the major casualties of Katrina will be
the permanent displacement of tens of thousands of African-Americans,
the working poor, their children, the elderly and the disabled.
Those who wanted a different New Orleans rebuilt
probably see the concentrated displacement as a success. However, if
the test of a society is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable
members, the aftermath of Katrina earns all of us a failing grade.
Indian Shipyard Workers Accuse Their Employer of Human
Trafficking and Forced Labor
New Orleans, March 10,
2008. Over 100 Indian guest workers demonstrate, holding copies of
they paid to U.S. and Indian recruiters for falsely promised green
and permanent residency. The workers paid $20,000 each, then were
trafficked to the US to work for Signal International in deplorable
conditions on temporary visas.
A year after the
Signal strike, guest worker
organizing continues in Mississippi and Louisiana
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, hundreds of
Indian welders and fitters were trafficked to the Gulf Coast. For a
hefty fee of $20,000, the recruiters promised the workers good jobs,
permanent residency, and a chance to bring their families to the U.S.
Workers sold their homes, took high-interest
loans, and plunged their families into debt to pay for the American
When they arrived they discovered that all of the
promises that had been made to them were false. They learned that in
fact there were no green cards for them: they would not receive
permanent status and they would remain separated from their families.
Surely this was better than the way they had
lived in India they were told, but many of the workers had worked in
several countries and the accommodations here were the worst of all.
When these workers decided that they needed to organize
for more humane treatment and to demand that the company make good on
the promises made to them, the company responded by sending armed
into the labor camps, pulling the organizers out of bed and holding
captive for six hours.
The pressure of being deported back to India with a $20,000 debt
waiting at home drove one of the organizers to attempt suicide.
Indian Shipyard Workers on Strike!
On May 9, 2007, 300 workers went on strike at Signal
International to demand the release of their organizers. The company
backed down, released them -- and fired them. The company then ran an
intimidation campaign on its employees, forcing the workers
to quiet down and accept the conditions of labor trafficking.
Indian Worker Congress continues to organize to fight
international labor trafficking.
On March 5, 89 workers -- members of the Indian Worker
Congress/Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity (housed in the New
Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice) walked out of labor camps
and packed a Pascagoula meeting hall for over four hours. They met with
other previously fired Signal
shipyard workers, activists, and advocates to discuss plans for the
next day's action. Workers spoke Hindi, Tamil, and Malayalam, which was
then translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese. There was no need
to translate the pain expressed as one of the workers stopped mid
sentence -- holding back the tears --
as he explained that the American Dream had cost far more than the
twenty thousand dollars the recruiters charged but ultimately his home
and his freedom. He realized that he couldn't go back home: he had sold
his house, he would be homeless.
The next morning, workers marched to the company gate,
singing and singing "We shall overcome" in Hindi and chanting in
Malyalam. At the perimeter fence workers held a short rally and left
their hard hats to call attention to their continued abuses under the
H2B visa program.
Workers then came to New Orleans, where the New Orleans
Workers' Center for Racial Justice held a festive event, celebrating
the workers' newfound freedom in a community gymnasium. The event was
attended by 200 people, including Mexican strawberry pickers, Brazilian
shipyard workers without
work in Mississippi, day laborers and community organizers working in
New Orleans and translated into five languages.
The Day Laborer Theater Troupe performed a moving play
about the Signal Workers and H2B program, followed by an emotional poem
and powerful testimonials. The event concluded with everyone singing
and dancing to Indian folk songs and a New Orleans brass band.
In the aftermath of Katrina and Rita gulf coast and
people from around the world experienced a man-made flood of false
promises, greed, racism, and exploitation as contractors, business
owners, and other opportunists sought to capitalize of some of the most
economically disadvantaged, desperate
and consequently most vulnerable citizens in the US and abroad. When
they arrived, many workers found themselves in a much worse situation
that they had been in.
Graphic from Hindustani Times showing working
conditions of temporary foreign workers along the Gulf Coast.
But when the storm pulled into the region, it offered an
opportunity to forge new alliances from these diverse communities into
a common fight for human and civil rights.
The Indian Worker Congress has filed lawsuits against
the labor recruiters and plans ongoing actions to highlight human
rights abuses and international labor trafficking in the U.S. and India.
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