Shawn Brant, Mohawk activist, Released from Custody

Leading Activist Was Held on Trumped up Charges

After 62 days in jail, Shawn Brant has finally been released from custody! Shawn was being held on trumped up charges alleging he had assaulted a white local businessman during recent road blockades aimed at stopping a development planned on stolen Mohawk land. The blockades succeeded in convincing the developer to back off.

Charges arose when eager OPP officers learned that Shawn had challenged two racist locals (the LaLondes) when they attacked a small group of mainly Mohawk women and children. LaLonde flew into a rage when he was turned back at the roadblock, wielding a bat at protesters, and hitting a woman with his car. Although Mohawks called 911 the police never laid any charges against Lalonde.

Instead they focused in on Shawn, who had come upon the scene and demanded that the attackers leave. Shawn was arrested and held in pre-trial custody. His trial began yesterday when he was released as part of a plea bargain.

The trial was proceeding extremely well and a plea was brokered. Shawn pled guilty to possession of a dangerous weapon and breaching the conditions of his previous release. He was cleared of the assault charge. If the trial had proceeded he may well have been found innocent of all charges--however, given that the courts can't be trusted to do justice and Shawn has already served over two months away from his children including his infant son he decided to take the plea.

Shawn was released on time served. The Crown will not seek to revoke his previous bail. He will also serve 12 months probation on terms similar to his already existing conditions.

Resistance continues in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, despite the repression. The quarry reclamation is holding strong and people continue to meet and organize around the Longhouse, the traditional site of Mohawk governance.

Co-operatives Turn Idle Landed Estates Green

The support of the revolutionary government: That's good, but what will happen tomorrow if the government changes?

Humberto Márquez* - Tierramérica

BARINAS, Venezuela, Jun 14 (IPS) - "As far as you can see, there was not one litre of milk produced, not even an ear of corn," says José Tapia Coirán, turning with his arms outstretched, pointing to the horizon of the Venezuelan savannah dotted by trees. "Now we produce 500 litres of milk per day and we harvested one million kilos of maize."

He is referring to the achievements of the Brisas del Masparro co-operative, set in the plains of Barinas, in southwest Venezuela. Coirán, as he is known by everyone, is a former day labourer and tractor driver for large farms in the area, and is now the co-operative's president."Once there was a forest here, but the large estate owners took all the lumber. They left a few trees and thousands of hectares of stubble that we are cleaning up little by little and planting with forage grass and maize," says Coirán, adding "they had abandoned this, left it lying fallow, and that is why we took it over."

He and his fellow co-operative members show this reporter vast stretches of plains that are as flat as a billiard table amidst weeds, a marsh here and there, pastures and fields being ploughed for planting, underscoring the co-operative’s explanation that what they had occupied was unproductive land.

We come across flocks of herons, scarlet ibis, and some flickers. "We want to conserve all that we can. We decided not to take down any trees, but rather get rid of weeds and pests as we progress," says Miguel Méndez, another co-operative member.

President Hugo Chávez launched a "war" against large estates with a 2001 land act that laid the groundwork for a government "recovery" of rural land whose private ownership and productivity could not be proved. There continue to be clashes over land between large landowners and small farmers.

In 1999, large rural estates covered six million hectares in Venezuela. Two million hectares have been confiscated by the government, which handed over 60 percent of that to more than 100,000 rural families, according to official figures.

Furthermore, 98,500 farms that cover 4.3 million hectares have been regularised through the agrarian charter, which grants possession, but not ownership, of the land, which belongs to the government.The Santa Rita "hacienda", or rural estate, on the banks of the Masparro river, extends across 31,000 hectares but has no more than 1,800 head of cattle, according to the co-operative. Peasant groups occupied it in 2002 and 2003, and the government assigned them some 16,000 hectares, leaving the rest to the former owners.

The co-operative that has made the most progress is Brisas del Masparro, with 56 members on 803 hectares. Five years ago they received a loan of 156,000 dollars that was invested in cattle, horses, equipment and inputs, and in the first crops.

They now have a double-purpose herd, for meat and milk, based on crosses between Cebú and Holstein breeds acclimated to the tropical plains.


A large house once used as a bunkhouse for labourers and as a storage facility by the former estate has been turned into a community centre. The first impression is one of disorder. A pile of tractor parts in the yard marks the only point in the area where there is a signal for the satellite phone.

Pigs and chickens follow a young man as he rubs the kernels off corn cobs. Another man cleans the floor of the corridor, which is also the site of co-operative assemblies. It has been a while since the walls have received a fresh coat of paint.

In the back are a kitchen and a large dining table for those who are working on a given day and the families that have settled in improvised homes in the surrounding area. On one wall there are faded posters of Chávez and of the Salvadoran revolutionary Farabundo Martí (1893-1932).

"We are socialists. We work as a community, according to the abilities of each, and we take turns so that we aren't always doing the same thing, and to learn about everything. We realised that if we were each on our own it would be very difficult to get ahead and leave behind our days as labourers, as employees enriching someone else," says Neptalí Quintana, who for many years worked in artificial insemination of cows on the region's large ranches.

He is leaning against a fence of the dairy, where children are milking cows for the second time today. "We get about five litres of milk per animal per day -- above the average" in the area, which is less than four litres per cow, says Quintana.

Every day, the co-operative donates 20 litres of milk to the two small schools nearby. "We provide the cup of milk that each child needs," says Méndez proudly.

"But if in addition to communally owned animals one of us has a cow or a horse, or gets a pig, it can be raised with the others and sold by the individual owner. Some portion will be given to the co-operative, but we don't oppose that sort of ownership. What we do want is the land and other life-sustaining projects," says Coirán.

The income "is used for the expenses that are also shared, for production or for food, and each member receives an additional 400 bolívares (186 dollars) per month as an advance of what would be due for their role in managing the co-operative at the end of the year," explains Iraima Benaventa, a young mother of two who is in charge of logistics.

Benaventa, who is taking part in a secondary-level distance learning programme, records the purchases that another member has brought from the city -- pasta, rice, cattle vaccines -- and supervises the younger members in clean-up and kitchen activities. The meal today is rice and beef.

Brisas del Masparro will begin construction this year of housing units for 56 families, with a self-construction plan backed by the government. "We will build them together in the style of a little town in order to facilitate and reduce costs of services like water, electricity and gas, with a sports field, a town square and a community centre, and perhaps even a pool," says one member.


Las Piedras, one corner of the Masparro co-operative, is an hour's drive from Barinas, the regional capital, passing by Sabaneta, President Chávez's birthplace. Then comes another hour of driving over open land and gravel that the co-operative members are requesting to be paved in benefit of the entire community.

"The farms in this sector were very unproductive five years ago. But with our efforts, the government programmes arrived. The road was opened up, a land plan was begun, possession papers were given to individual farmers or co-operativists, and credits were granted," says Coirán.

In Las Piedras "we went from nearly zero to 21,000 litres of milk per day (national output is 1.3 to 1.7 million litres daily, according to different sources). Now there are people raising more cattle, planting maize, fruit trees and pastures," says the co-op president.

Caracciolo Ramírez, an independent farmer, has around 40 hectares near the co-operative’s land.

"The government has helped with agrarian charters, with some financing, and with the road. I will do some home improvements, my oldest daughter began university -- I am seeing the results," says Ramírez, offering this reporter a cool oat drink with ice under the porch roof at his brick home.Meanwhile, the co-operative is preparing a larger area than last year to plant maize, building a new cow barn and refurbishing the old one for mechanised milking, and seeking financing to install some cooling tanks that will help them benefit more from each litre of milk.

"All around the world there is a food crisis. They want to take food and make it into fuel. We don't agree with that and we pay back the government's support by producing more food. This country can't continue feeding the people based on imports when there is so much land waiting to be worked," says Coirán.

In the 2004-2007 period, Venezuela's food production grew 3.4 percent, from 18.9 to 19.6 tonnes annually, according to government figures.

But former agriculture minister Hiram Gaviria points to how much is still lacking: in per capita terms, Venezuela today produces 88 percent of the food it generated in 1998, he told Tierramérica.

A long way from Barinas, across the Atlantic in Rome, world leaders gathered Jun. 3-5 at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit to debate ways to overcome the current food crisis.At the former Santa Rita hacienda, thousands of hectares "recovered" by the government were handed over to other co-operatives or small farmers' associations that have not had the same success as Brisas del Masparro.

"We hold assemblies for the zone and we offer support. Even farther away, to Apure (in the country's far southwest) we have taken our experience and the young milk cows we have produced, which we sell them at low prices, but the individualism of many people means that what they are looking for is their own land," says Coirán.

Back in Barinas, one such individual, Alejandro, accompanies Tierramérica through the countryside. "We want to form a co-operative to work, but each one has his parcel of land that is free to be sold. With the agrarian charter, the land can't be transferred and will always belong to the government."

But Alejandro says that the neighbours of Brisas del Masparro are sympathetic to the experiment of the co-operative, and would like to take it as testimony of what can be achieved when working together.

"They have their reasons, the support of the revolutionary government, and that's good, but what will happen tomorrow if the government changes? One wants a piece of land to work, but also to leave to one's children," he says, as the orange sun sets over the plains of southwest Venezuela.

(*Humberto Márquez is an IPS correspondent. Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) (END/2008)

The Penobscots Find a Friend in Venezuela

A Visit With a Courageous and Militant U.S. Indigenous Nation

Dear Friends,

Two our activists were recently fortunate to meet people from the Penobscot Nation in the U.S.-occupied part of Turtle Island. This is a summary of what was learned.
“The Penobscot Nation is committed to continue our efforts until the fish, wildlife and plants are safe to eat, and the sacredness is restored to the river. Only then will our culture be whole again. Only then will harmony be restored within the Sacred Circle of Life.” – Butch Phillips, Penobscot Tribal Elder, 2006.

Amid all the conflict and struggle regarding Indigenous rights in the north half of Turtle Island, little is heard of Native peoples south of the border. So during our recent vacation, which took us to New England, we seized the opportunity to pay a short visit to the Penobscot Nation, which has recently been in the news in that region. Here is some of what we learned.

There are today about 3,000 Penobscots, of whom about 700 Penobscot live on their island in the Penobscot River, close to Bangor, Maine. This is all that is left of their ancestral territories, which once embraced most of that state. They are one of the historically allied Wabanaki peoples, along with the Mi’kmaqs now living on both sides of the border.The Penobscots maintain a small and well-organized museum, which tells something of their history. They have reprinted a decree issued in 1755 by the local representative of King George. It declares war on the “perfidious” Penobscots for unexplained reasons, orders the
“killing and destroying [of] all and every of the aforesaid Indians,” and promising bounties in payment for every Penobscot scalp, including 20 pounds for scalps of children under 12 years of age.

Their problems continued under the republic. The museum displays their indignant declaration of sovereignty, issued In 1957, which pointed out that they had never surrendered to settler authority and that every treaty they signed in the interests of peaceful co-existence had been ignored and violated by settler authorities.

In 1980 the Penobscots achieved an $80 million settlement from the U.S. settler government in return for ceding the majority of the state of Maine.

Since then the Penobscots have put much effort into campaigns to save their natural environment from further devastation. We viewed a video of their struggle to save the river on which they live – a river that is the heart of their culture. Suzanne and I were struck by how closely their belief system and attitude to the environment resembled that of the indigenous Andean peoples who we have come to know in our
Bolivia defense work. The once-rich river fishery has been devastated by a system of dams, which block spawning runs, and by pulp mills, which poison the water.

The Penobscots were recently successful, in alliance with other forces, in blocking a proposal for a harmful new dam. The alliance has secured an agreement for river restoration, which has however not been implemented. The Penobscots have demanded that the Maine state government force pulp mills to remove the poisons from their
discharges into the river, pointing out that technology is readily available for such an upgrade. The state government has refused, citing the need to “protect jobs” – a settler-government term for increasing corporate profits. As a result, fish in the river are judged unsafe for consumption.

The Penobscots are basket weavers, whose exquisite and original basket designs are widely admired. They use the wood of the Brown Ash, a tree that is now endangered by environmental degradation, global warming, and a deadly parasite, the ash borer. Threatened by the loss of yet another central element of their culture, the
Penobscots have formed a Brown Ash task force and tried to work with the state government to find solutions – so far, with little success.

Native peoples living under U.S. jurisdiction have been encouraged by the settler government to become deeply involved in gambling, and this now represents an important source of Indigenous revenue. The Penobscots run a high-stakes bingo hall—the largest structure on their island.

Recently, they asked permission to replace it with a casino. The state government turned them down, hypocritically preaching to them about the dangers of gambling – only to license a capitalist concern for a much bigger casino a few miles away in Bangor. The Penobscots denounced this cynical move and said they were initiating steps to break off relations with the state government. We ran across an editorial in the local daily that was sympathetic to their cause.But on another front, the Penobscots have succeeded in establishing good governmental relations with Venezuela. The director of the Penobscot museum told us that the community had met Hugo Chávez this year, who had paid their island nation a visit during a trip to the U.S. The Penobscots have been strong supporters and beneficiaries of the Bolivarian government’s project to provide low-cost heating oil
to Indigenous peoples.

This spring a proposal was made in the U.S. House of Representatives to officially label Venezuela as a supporter of “terrorist” organizations, which would mean among other things an end to the Venezuelan petroleum aid project in the U.S. The Venezuelan program provides 100,000,000 gallons a year of free heating oil to the
Indigenous and the poor. There is no other comparable program in the U.S. – the oil tycoons do nothing but rake in the profits; the government folds its hands.

“Why would Congress do this?” asks James Sappier, Penobscot Indian Nation spokesperson and former chief. “The program has provided a donation to the U.S. low-income and poor people of almost a billion dollars.” He has alerted all the 200 Native tribes involved in the program to protest to their congressmen. “We’re worried sick that we’re going to lose this program because of this kind of frivolous
attitude of some congressmen.”

John Riddell and Suzanne Weiss
June 7, 2008

Court Upholds Convictions of Cuban Five

Breaking News -- A long-awaited Decision of a U.S. Appeals Court

Wed Jun 4, 6:42 PM
by Tom Brown; Edited by Anthony Boadle

MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. court on Wednesday upheld the convictions of five Cubans serving long prison sentences for spying and conspiracy to commit murder but opened the door to new and possibly lighter sentences for three of the men.

FBI agents arrested the five in 1998 and they were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on the Cuban exile community in Miami on behalf of Fidel Castro's government.

Lawyers for the men, in an August 2007 filing with the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, said they deserved a new trial because the prosecution made statements in closing arguments that violated court rules and because the sentences were harsher than the crimes deserved.

The appeals court rejected arguments that the convictions should be overturned but said the federal court in Miami may have erred when it imposed the sentences against three of the men in 2001.The so-called "Cuban Five" are celebrated by many in Cuba as national heroes who were spying on armed exile groups in Miami to prevent attacks on their country and are victims of Washington's campaign against the communist-run island.

To hard-line, anti-Castro members of the Cuban exile community the five agents were justly convicted, however, and Havana's support for them is seen as an example of an anti-U.S. agenda in Cuba dating back to Castro's 1959 revolution.

In Wednesday's ruling, the appellate court affirmed a sentence of two life terms for Gerardo Hernandez, who was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder based on charges he passed information to Havana that led to the 1996 downing by a Cuban MiG fighter jet of two small planes operated by a Miami-based exile group that were flying near Cuba. Four people were killed.

The court also affirmed the 15-year sentence of Rene Gonzalez, who was convicted of acting as an agent for a foreign government and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The sentences of the three other men, two of whom were serving life terms, were vacated and remanded for re-sentencing proceedings in district court.

BOLIVIA: Ominous and Violent Right-wing Attack on Indigenous

BOLIVIA: Referendums of Reaction
By Paul Kellogg, June 2

To understand the recent “autonomy” referendums in Bolivia, don’t count the ballots –travel to the south-central city of Sucre. On May 24 a horrific scene of racism and violence played out that exposed the reactionary nature of the forces fighting for “autonomy.”

Saturday May 24, Bolivian president Evo Morales was scheduled to appear in the town to announce some the delivery of some new ambulances and some government funding for local projects.

“But in the early hours of Saturday morning, organized groups opposed to Morales began to surround the stadium where he was to appear a few hours later. Confronting the police and soldiers with sticks, stones and dynamite, they managed to occupy the stadium.”[1]

It was a racist occupation. Morales cancelled his visit, but the mob wasn’t satisfied. They surrounded several dozen Morales supporters – many of them Quechua Indians – robbed them, forced them to walk several kilometres, and then “to kneel, shirtless, and apologize for coming to Sucre.”[2]Morales is an Aymara Indian, the first indigenous president in Bolivia’s history. Bolivia’s population is two-thirds indigenous, mainly Quechua and Aymara. The people of the western highlands, who are in the main indigenous, were the key to the surprise election victory of his party Movement to Socialism (MAS) in 2004. The racist mob which attacked his supporters in Sucre, are part of a movement rooted in the European minority of Bolivia, resentful of Morales’ attempt to redistribute wealth in the country.

Central to that redistribution is a new constitution that will allow greater access to the land for the indigenous majority. This majority has been fighting for equality for centuries. It took a revolution in 1952 to abolish a system called “pongaje” that was a kind of feudalism, in which the indigenous people had few rights, and were virtually slaves to European landowners.

This is the necessary background to the “autonomy” referendums taking place in Bolivia. May 4, the voters in Santa Cruz were said to have voted “with a majority of no less than 85 per cent” to have greater autonomy. June 1, the departments of Beni and Pando also voted for autonomy, “with a majority of nearly half a million.”[3]

But these claims are quite dubious. First, these referendums do not have legal status, and Morales’ instructions to his supporters were to refuse to participate. The “high rate of abstention in various provinces in Santa Cruz such as Camiri (42%), Puerto Suárez (31%), Montero (62%), Portachuelo (19%), San Ignacio de Velasco (17.8%), Charagua (40%) and Saipina (60%), indicate an overall abstention rate of between 40-45%, according to the Bolivian Information Agency.”[4] And as British-based Latin American expert Mike Gonzalez has pointed out, those who did vote, often did so out of fear, voting “under the watchful eye of the thugs of the UJC – the neo-fascist youth organization of Santa Cruz.”[5]

The referendums all are couched in demands for “autonomy.” These demands are accepted uncritically in most of the western media. More balanced coverage is available from Al Jazeera.

“Statutes passed in Santa Cruz and on the ballot in Beni and Pando would protect huge cattle ranches and soya plantations from expropriation under Morales’ ambitious land reform. Santa Cruz also voted to withhold a bigger share of its natural gas reserves, which Morales needs to finance his reforms, although the state has yet to enforce the rule.”[6]The threat of withholding the natural gas reserves is now a central issue. The next referendum will take place June 21 in natural gas rich Tarija – centre of most of Bolivia’s gas reserves.

It is critically important that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has rejected the results of these “autonomy” referendums. That country’s representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Jorge Valero, said he was certain that a majority of Bolivians rejected the results in Santa Cruz, “despite the media terrorism which aimed to persuade them of the suicidal policy of dividing their country.”[7]

The support of Venezuela will be crucial in the coming months. These referendums are not just a cover for the European elite in Bolivia – they are seen by US imperialism as a vehicle for undermining the new sovereignty movements that are challenging its hegemony everywhere in Latin America.

Respected analyst Eva Golinger has convincingly documented that two agencies notorious for undermining popular movements in Latin America – USAID and the so-called “National Endowment for Democracy” – are deeply involved in supporting the “autonomy” movement.

“In Bolivia,” she wrote last year, USAID “is openly supporting the autonomy of certain regions, such as Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, and therefore promoting separatism and the destabilization of the country and the government of Evo Morales. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), another one of Washington’s financial organs, which promotes subversion and intervention in more than 70 countries across the world, including Venezuela, is also funding groups in regions such as Santa Cruz, which fight for separatism.”[8]We all have a stake in the desperate struggle underway in this, the poorest country in South America. It was in Bolivia in 1999, that the poor rose up and delivered a central blow against neoliberalism, when a mass movement in Cochabamba stopped the privatization of water. If the forces of neoliberalism and imperialism succeed in reversing this movement, all the people of the Americas will suffer, not just the poor and the oppressed in Bolivia.

Republished from PolEconAnalysis blog
[1] Franz Chávez, “Bolivia: Local Indigenous Leaders Beaten and Publicly Humiliated,” Inter Press Service News Agency, May 27, 2008,
[2] Chávez, “Bolivia: Local Indigenous Leaders Beaten and Publicly Humiliated”
[3] Cees Zoon, “Bolivia: mutiny in the provinces,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, June 2, 2008
[4] Kiraz Janicke, “Venezuela Rejects Bolivian Province’s Autonomy Vote,” May 5, 2008,
[5] Mike Gonzalez, “Fight for Bolivia’s future lies behind referendum,” Socialist Worker (U.K.), May 10, 2008,
[6] “Bolivian states vote for autonomy,” All Jazeera English, June 2, 2008,
[7] Janicke, “Venezuela Rejects Bolivian Province’s Autonomy Vote”
[8] Eva Golinger, “USAID in Bolivia and Venezuela: The Silent Subversion,” September 12, 2007,