Friday, December 19, 2014

Ghana Government Urged to Rename School After Nkrumah’s Mother
DECEMBER 18, 2014

Mrs Josephine Yankson Amo, Western Regional Director of the Department of Gender, has called on the government to reconsider naming the Nkroful Agricultural Senior High School after Madam Nyaniba, mother of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana.

She told the Ghana News Agency that the school begun as Nyaniba Midddle Boarding School but was changed to Nkroful Middle Boarding School after the overthrow of Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 and wondered why the name of such a great personality should be missing from the records of the educational system.

Mrs Yankson Amo said Nyaniba had paid her due and, therefore, deserved to be recognised adding; “there is no single monument in Nkroful which bears the name of the mother of Kwame Nkrumah, I think as a people, we can no longer relegate the name to the background”.

She said the school, which was her alma mater, had produced individuals such as Dr Sipa-YAnkey and Madam Afiba Dadzie, former Education Director among other great personalities and, therefore, called on stakeholders to revive the name “Nyaniba” in the Nzemaland and Ghana as a whole.

Source: GNA

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robert Seth Hayes Medical Days of Action
Thursday, December 4th and Friday December 5, 2014

Robert Seth Hayes Needs Diabetes Treatment Now!

In 1973, without warning, the NYPD opened fire on Robert Seth Hayes, his wife and children in their apartment! Seth fired back in self-defense for his family and has been in prison for this non-crime over 41 years.

Currently Seth suffers from poorly-controlled Hepatitis C and Type II diabetes. He has had serious episodes of seizures and unconsciousness and needs to be able to carry glucose tablets and snacks to prevent these. He also needs a doctor to re-evaluate his insulin regime. These are easy requests for the prison to fulfill but Seth is being discriminated against as a political prisoner.

Only public pressure can obtain appropriate, life-saving medical treatment for Robert "Seth" Hayes (prisoner # 74-A-2280). Please call Sullivan Correctional Facility to:

(a) Dr. Sidorowicz, Health Services Facility Director at Sullivan Correctional Facility at (845) 434-2080 ext 6126 – if that extension doesn't work you can also try ext 6124 and ext 6117 (these go to the nurse's station), and

(b) Dr. Carl J. Koenigsmann, Chief Medical Officer, DOCCS Division of Health Services at (518) 457-7073

c) Health Services Administrator at Phone: 518-445-6176

Please fax a letter on Seth's behalf (sample letter below which can be edited and signed by either a medical advocate or a non-medical advocate) to:

a) Dr. Sidorowicz at Fax: 845-434-2462 and

b) Dr. Carl J. Koenigsmann at Fax: 518-457-2115

****Sample letter****

Carl J. Koenigsmann M.D.
Deputy Commissioner/Chief Medical Officer
NYS DOCCS Division of Health Services
Harriman State Campus,
Building #2
1220 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12226-2050
Phone: 518-457-7073
Fax: 518-457-2115

Dear Dr. Koenigsmann,

My name is ***** and I am writing on behalf of Robert Seth Hayes, #74-A-2280, DOB 10-15-48, who is currently a prisoner at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, NY. Mr. Hayes suffers from diabetes mellitis, as well as hepatitis C. I am writing because Mr. Hayes has lost weight and had seizures, dizzyness, seizures and spells of unconsciousness due to the simple lack of glucose tablet and snacks. This is an outrageous human right violation and incredibly cost ineffective for your facility.

DOCCS is mandated to provide appropriate medical care to incarcerated persons pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appropriate medical care, in this case, requires provision of glucose tablets, blood-sugar-raising snacks and a re-evaluation of his insulin regime.

I thank you for your attention to these medical matters. I can be reached at ***** for any questions.

Sincerely, **********

cc: Dr. Sidorowicz, Health Services Facility Director at Sullivan Correctional Facility 
Pardon Assata Shakur
Assata Shakur in captivity during the 1970s. She was granted
political asylum by revolutionary Cuba during the 1980s.
Ayanna Smith
Washington, DC

In 1973, Shakur was arrested during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.  A shootout left Assata injured with multiple wounds, the driver, Zayd Shakur, dead, and a state trooper dead.  In 1977, after numerous trials, she was convicted of first degree murder of the officer.  And in 1979, Shakur escaped and fled to Cuba, where Fidel Castro granted her asylum.

“Assata was falsely charged on numerous occasions in the United States during the early 1970s and vilified by the media,” said scholar and activist Angela Davis in a recent commentary in The Guardian.  Davis added Shakur “was charged with armed robbery, bank robbery, kidnap, murder, and attempted murder of a policeman. Although she faced 10 separate legal proceedings, and had already been pronounced guilty by the media, all except one of these trials – the case resulting from her capture – concluded in acquittal, hung jury, or dismissal.”

“Under highly questionable circumstances, she was finally convicted of being an accomplice to the murder of a New Jersey state trooper,” she added.

According to the National Lawyers Guild, who represented Shakur in her final trial, the proceedings were plagued with constitutional violations, including an all-white jury of 15 people, including five jurors who had personal connections to state troopers.  A state Assemblyman spoke to jurors while they were sequestered, urging them to convict.

“The judge cut funding for additional expert defense testimony after medical testimony demonstrated that Ms. Shakur—who had no gunpowder residues on her fingers, and whose fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the crime scene—was shot with her hands up and suffered injury to a critical nerve in her right arm, making it anatomically impossible for her to fire a weapon,” the Guild said in a statement.

Moreover, evidence proved Shakur was targeted and framed by the covert and illegal FBI COINTELPRO program.  The baby of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to monitor, infiltrate and destroy social justice movements seen as a threat to national security, including civil rights and antiwar groups, the Black Power movement and the Young Lords.  Some of the stated goals of the program in an FBI memo were to “prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups,” to “Prevent the RISE OF A ‘MESSIAH’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement,” to “Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…,” and to “prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth.”

As a result, black leadership was decimated, either assassinated—as in the case of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton—or thrown in prison with the key thrown away.  Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, was the last woman standing, so to speak.  And apparently that is embarrassing to someone in the FBI, so they want to make an example of her as a so-called “domestic terrorist.”  That is why last year, 40 years after the shooting, the FBI made the politically-motivated move of placing Shakur on their Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, making her the first woman and second U.S. citizen on that list.  If you listen to the FBI, you’d think the ten most dangerous people on Earth are essentially nine Al Qaeda operatives and—Assata Shakur.

...as the U.S. removes Cuba from the terrorist list, it needs to remove Shakur from the list as well.

Source: http://thegrio.com/2014/12/18/assata-shakur-us-cuba/
Seventy Years Later, South Carolina Judge Exonerates Black Teen Who Was Executed
George Stinney, Jr. was executed at the age of 14 in South Carolina
during 1944. His conviction was recently vacated.
George Stinney, 14, was electrocuted in 1944 after a 3-hour trial for the murders of two white girls

There was no physical evidence, no witnesses and no appeal

BY DEBORAH HASTINGS
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 1:59 PM

George Junius Stinney Jr., was 14 years old when he was sent to the electric chair in South Carolina for the 1944 murders of two white girls. His name was legally cleared on Tuesday.

Legal justice was a long time coming in the case of George Stinney, a 14-year-old black boy in rural South Carolina who became the youngest person executed in modern times when he was electrocuted 70 years ago for the murders of two white girls.

On Tuesday, Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the boy's conviction and cleared his name for the beating deaths of Mary Emma Thames, 7, and Betty June Binnicker, 11, in segregated Alcolu, S.C. The girls had been riding their bicycles when they disappeared in 1944. Their bodies were found in a watery ditch in the black side of town. Both had been attacked with a railroad spike.

Mullins found "fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process," the judge said. She noted the lack of a credible defense during trial, and said the boy's confession, of which there were two versions, appeared to have been coerced. There were no witnesses and no physical evidence in the case.

Amie Ruffner, the sister of George Stinney, is seen with her family during January hearing in South Carolina to vacate the murder conviction of her brother, who was executed at age 14 for the murders of two white girls in 1944.

Stinney's sisters and a brother testified earlier this year at hearings on whether to overturn the conviction. "They took my brother away and I never saw my mother laugh again," said Amie Ruffner, 78. "I would love his name to be cleared."

Geroge Stinney Jr., third from left, is seen in this 1944 newspaper photo entering South Carolina’s death house at the state prison in Columbia.

His 83-year-old brother, Charles, lives in Brooklyn. There was no answer when the Daily News phoned his home.

The victims' families opposed vacating the conviction, saying very little remained in the way of physical records from the trial, and that it would be impossible to determine exactly what happened decades ago in the Deep South courtroom.

The trial lasted only three hours. It took only 10 minutes for an all-white, all-male jury to convict Stinney. He was sent to the electric chair not quite three months later.
African American Teen Cleared of Murder 70 Years After He Was Executed
George Stinney, Jr., 14, entering death chamber in South
Carolina in 1944. The state legislature recently vacated his
unjust conviction and death sentence.
George Stinney became the youngest person executed in the United States when he was electrocuted in 1944

Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:49PM GMT
presstv.ir

More than 70 years after a 14-year-old African American boy was executed by the electric chair in South Carolina, a judge threw out his murder conviction.

George Stinney was found guilty in 1944 of killing two white girls, in a one-day trial before an all-white jury.

Stinney was subsequently electrocuted in the same year, becoming the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. The 95-pound boy was so small he had to sit on a book when he was strapped to the electric chair.

The only evidence against the boy was a confession he allegedly made to police officers after hours of questioning, away from his parents and without a lawyer.

Stinney’s parents had been threatened that they would be lynched if they remained in the segregated mill town of Acolu, where their son was arrested.

The girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames, disappeared on March 23, 1944, when they went for a bike ride together in search of flowers. The girls’ bodies were found the following morning behind a church, badly beaten with their skulls crushed in.

Stinney was arrested after witnesses said they saw him picking flowers with the girls.

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen found "fundamental, constitutional violations of due process" in Stinney's speedy trial.

"Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney's case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the defendant's procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution," Mullen said.

The ruling gave relief to Stinney's brother, sisters and civil rights activists, who have been trying to reopen the case for years.
Rev. Edward Pinkney is Latest African-American Green Leader Targeted for Political Prosecution
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW editor, Rev. Edward Pinkney and
Ralph Poynter outside the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph,
Michigan on the  day of sentencing Dec. 15, 2014. Pinkney was
sentenced to 30-120 months in prison. He is currently being held in
Jackson state prison. 
By Green Party Watch

Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan is a long-time community organizer who has led resistance in this predominantly African-American community to a government subservient to the Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool corporation. Benton Harbor is among the Michigan cities, including Detroit, where democratic self-governance has been replaced by “emergency financial management”.

After Pinkney led a petition effort to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, he was arrested, charged with election fraud, and eventually sentenced to up to 10 years in prison despite a distinct lack of evidence (as explained below). Rev. Pinkney is a prominent member of the Michigan Green Party and has run for Congress on the Green line.

The overt targeting of an African-American activist for a politically-motivated prosecution is reminiscent of recent episodes involving Chuck Turner and Elston McCowan, both Greens who challenged the power structures in their communities. In a system where police officers regularly kill unarmed African-American men without facing trial, it is especially galling that the same system sentences an African-American activist to up to 10 years imprisonment on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges.

Truthout.org has the details on the trial and sentencing of Rev. Edward Pinkney:

On December 15, Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader in the struggle for social and economic justice for the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison, on the basis of thin circumstantial evidence that a few dates had been altered on a recall petition against the city’s mayor, James Hightower. The recall was prompted by the mayor’s continued support for tax evasion by the Whirlpool Corporation, the Fortune 500 company and $19 billion global appliance manufacturer, headquartered in Benton Harbor.

As we wrote last week in depth, the politically motivated prosecution against Pinkney killed the petition to recall Hightower, who many believe would have been ousted due to his ongoing protection of Whirlpool’s interests at the expense of impoverished Benton Harbor, which is over 90 percent African-American.

There was absolutely no evidence to convict Pinkney, and, legally, the altering of a petition document should have been a misdemeanor offense. Instead, they charged him with felony forgery – though no signatures were forged and all signatories testified that they signed willingly on the correct day. A forensics expert for the prosecution testified that there was no way to determine who changed the handful of dates. Incredibly, the all-white jury was urged by the prosecutor to believe that direct evidence was not required; they only had to “believe” that Pinkney was motivated to cheat and that he “could” have changed the dates while circulating the petitions.

Mary Alice Adams, a Benton Harbor commissioner stated, “Rev. Pinkney was accused of writing and changing my date on a petition when, in fact, I wrote my own date and changed it after realizing I had put the wrong date down.” The jury at Pinkney’s trial rejected Adams’ testimony.

Witness after witness stood up to the prosecutor who put not only Pinkney on trial, but also his community organization, BANCO. The prosecutor hounded the witnesses to “confess” that somehow the dates were altered, and questioned if they were card-holding members of the BANCO organization. The scene held shadows of a McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee witch-hunt.

Rev. Edward Pinkney had helped organize the petition to unseat Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower, who residents consider a “yes-man” for Whirlpool. Instead of supporting a tax that would make Whirlpool pay its fair share for city services and employees, the mayor signed a $3.2 million loan that the residents of Benton Harbor, one of the poorest cities per capita in the United States, would now have to pay. Meanwhile,

Whirlpool pays absolutely no income taxes to the federal government or to Michigan.

Pinkney was also a leader in the fight against what he called an “illegal” ceding of a Benton Harbor public park to Whirlpool and a development firm which privatized the park and gentrified that prime real estate into a golf course and wealthy gated community on Lake Michigan – excluding the people that the property was deeded to serve. Pinkney led a protest against the PGA Senior golf tournament at the private new golf course, sponsored by Kitchen-Aid, a division of Whirlpool.

And so, with the complicity of a white, “highly political” right-wing prosecutor, Whirlpool reached into the court system and publicly “lynched” the town’s most prominent and outspoken black community activist who dared to stand up to the powerful company and the state’s elite. Pinkney’s sentencing is as blatant a kangaroo court as seen since Hurricane Carter, a black power advocate, was framed by New Jersey prosecutors decades ago – a typical case of the white power structure icing an “uppity Negro” with trumped up charges. In Carter’s case, the witnesses were two men facing charges for burglary, who were enticed to provide false testimony with reduced charges.

Pinkney says he was similarly set up to take a fall for a paltry smattering of election fraud charges in 2006 during an attempt to recall a city commissioner. He was finally convicted of possessing four absentee ballots, but pointed out that the women who fingered him – all members of a family – mysteriously avoided jail time for the multiple criminal charges they were facing, including a drive-by shooting and kidnapping.

“I’m not angry with them for doing that,” Pinkney said. “It’s a deal that’s hard to pass up.”

Pinkney was put on probation at the time, until he had the audacity to quote a particularly scathing section of Deuteronomy to the judge, who then sentenced him to three to 10 years in prison. During his seven months in the county jail and four months in prison, Pinkney ran for a seat in the US House and received more than 3,500 votes as a Green Party candidate. The American Civil Liberties Union finally got him released on an appeal bond, and he was allowed to return home under house arrest.

Later the appeal court overturned Pinkney’s conviction, and reversed his sentence of 3-10 for quoting verse 28:15 of the Fifth Book of Moses.

But if Pinkney is a man who’s hard to keep down, his enemies are just as determined to put him away for good.

“It’s a modern day lynching,” said Adams, the Benton Harbor commissioner, of Pinkney’s latest conviction. “After hearing the ‘evidence’ it would seem that the decision was made before the trial began. They are looking at Michigan as a glove for dictatorship. And the predominantly black communities are the test tubes. When you stand up against the largest manufacturer of appliances in the world, of course there will be a backlash.”

Pinkney was straightforward in his description of his conviction:

Here, Whirlpool controls not only Benton Harbor and the residents, but also the court system itself.

They will do anything to crush you if you stand up to them. That’s why it’s so important to fight this.

I’m going to fight them until the end. This is not just an attack on Rev. Pinkney. It’s an attack on every single person that lives in Benton Harbor, in the state and around the country. We got to fix this jury system. There was not one person from Benton Harbor, not one person from Benton Township on the jury. Anytime a Black man is sitting inside that courtroom and the jury is all white, that is a major problem.

Michigan is a state where virulent racism followed the Great Migration of southern blacks into northern industrial states in the 20th century. With more than two dozen racist hate groups still active in the state, Michigan has essentially turned into the Mississippi of the North. In fact, Pinkney organized his community against the KKK when they began to hold rallies in Benton Harbor in the 1990s.

Pinkney points out how class intersects with race, when it comes to the oppression of the people of Benton Harbor. “It’s a class war,” he said. “It’s us against them. Rich against poor. That’s what it adds up to. The point is we have to take a stand. It’s about you, your children, and your grandchildren. I never thought for a minute that the system could be this broken and would go to this extreme. They could care less about you, me or anybody else. They only have one thing in mind. That is to make sure they protect the rich.”

Judge Schrock denied Pinkney’s lawyer’s request for release pending his appeal. Pinkney was handcuffed and hauled off to jail from the county courthouse as his wife, Dorothy, and supporters stood aghast, having witnessed US justice for an African-American minister at its racist best.

Concerned activists and clergy associated with People Demanding Action, a national social justice organization, are circulating a petition to ministers and various organizations. The petition is to be forwarded to the US Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for an investigation into the circumstances of Pinkney’s trial and sentencing.

Support for Rev. Edward Pinkney’s appeal should be sent to his organization: BANCO, 1940 Union Street Benton Harbor MI 49022
Repatriation of M23 Rebels in Uganda Turns Violent
M23 rebels before their surrender in the eastern DRC during 2012.
A bid by Ugandan authorities to repatriate former M23 rebels back to the Democratic Republic of Congo has turned violent. Dozens escaped en route to the airport. Ugandan troops were accused of wounding some ex-rebels.

The UN refugee agency said escaped M23 detainees, including some subject to war crimes probes, tried to find alternative refuge in Uganda on Tuesday, saying they feared retribution on return to eastern Congo.

Ugandan military spokesman Ronald Kakurunga said dozens fled into the bush as 120 ex-rebels were being taken by truck to Entebbe airport on Tuesday.

They had belonged to a group of 1,300 March 23 Movement followers kept at a camp at Bihanga in southwest Uganda since Congolese and UN soldiers put an end to 20 months of insurgency in eastern Congo in 2012 and 2013.

At the time, hundreds of people were killed and 800,000 displaced. A regional accord stipulates that fighters suspected of war crimes could still be put on trial.

Protection guarantees lacking?

M23 spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said Uganda's repatriation move on Tuesday was in "violation of international law."

He said M23 ex-rebels first wanted firm protection guarantees from the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) based in Kinshasa.

Killings in Beni region

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch urged the International Criminal Court to probe more recent killings of scores of villagers in DRC's northeastern Beni region.

The UN mission MONUSCO and the Congolese army said since Saturday they had begun a joint operation against the mainly Muslim rebel movement from neighboring Uganda, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

MUNUSCO has a mandate to protect civilians and neutralize armed groups.

ipj/xx (AFP, dpa, AP)
Author Ian Johnson
Congo-Kinshasa: Looming DRC Offensive Prompts 'Humanitarian Fallout' Fears
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.
ANALYSIS
IRIN

Kampala — Plans by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) army and UN peacekeepers to again take on one of the oldest insurgencies in the country have sparked concern for civilian populations and raised questions about the wisdom of the operation, set to take place in early 2015.

Only a couple of hundred members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) have so far complied with an ultimatum to disarm by 2 January and take part in a demobilization and reintegration programme.

"Upon the expiry of the ultimatum, there will be no more time to talk. Our armed forces [FARDC] and partners [MONUSCO, the UN mission] will launch a military offensive to forcefully disarm the FDLR," DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende told IRIN.

MONUSCO's military spokesman, Lt-Col Felix Prosper Basse, confirmed that the UN force would "take part in operations against the FDLR rebels with the FARDC when the deadline of 2 January 2015 is reached. Preparations and planning are ongoing in order to fulfil our mandate given by the UN Security Council.

"We reiterate our calls to the FDLR to peacefully surrender to MONUSCO, FARDC, PNC [National Police] and engage themselves in the DDRRR [Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement] process in order to avoid being disarmed by force and unnecessary losses of lives."

Reported to have some 1,400 fighters, FDLR was formed by leaders of the Interahamwe Hutu militia which fled to eastern DRC after carrying out much of the killing in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Its ranks now include many DRC nationals.

"Any military action should bear the following in mind," warned Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.

"When the UN and the Congolese army launched an offensive against the FDLR in 2009, it displaced a million people and led to the deaths of thousands.

"So any military action should only take place after political options have been exhausted and should be proportional to the threat," he said.

Aid workers in eastern DRC shared Stearns' concerns.

"Any military operation risks creating humanitarian fallout. In eastern Congo one of our biggest concerns is increased displacement, in areas which are already overwhelmed by the needs of displaced people on a massive scale," Frances Charles, advocacy manager with World Vision, DRC, told IRIN.

Some 1.4 million people are currently displaced in North and South Kivu provinces.

Risks to civilian population

"This planned offensive comes with a high level of risk, in particular to the civilian population. Measures must be put in place by MONUSCO and the FARDC to ensure that planning and conduct of operations mitigate harm to civilians. Every effort must be made to reduce and monitor human rights violations related to operations," he said.

Florent MÈhaule, head of the sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Kivu, said aid workers in that province were "convinced that the planned military operations against FDLR will likely have humanitarian consequences in terms of protection of civilians and forced displacements with its impacts on humanitarian needs.

"One of the key issues in South Kivu could be humanitarian access due to both physical constraints and security. Regarding the latter, such an offensive will probably hamper any kind of access negotiations with armed groups. In addition to difficult access, the weak humanitarian presence in the potential military operations' areas will make it harder to quickly scale up large humanitarian operations if required," he added.

His counterpart in neighbouring North Kivu, Annarita Marcantonio warned of the risk of "a possible increase in attacks, looting and reprisals by the FDLR, as well as civilians potentially getting caught up in hostilities".

OCHA and aid agencies in eastern DRC are reportedly working with MONUSCO to develop a contingency plan for the protection of civilians in the event of a military assault against FDLR.

Mende, the government spokesman, said: "Our people are aware. We have made announcements [on radio] urging them to move away from the places where FDLR are, as we plan to launch this offensive."

For Charles, "the need to better protect the population is clear, but a military approach on its own is not the answer. We need to focus more on a broader, more comprehensive approach for the long-term peace and stability desperately needed here."

Asked whether the combined forces of DRC and MONUSCU would prevail against the FDLR, Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director with the International Crisis Group, told IRIN: "I think the question is not, 'Will it fail or succeed?' but 'Are the political and military conditions for such an operation met, and what kind of operation is needed against the FDLR?'

"I am saying this because from the UNSC [UN Security Council] viewpoint it seems that the same type of operation [as was mounted in November 2013] against the M23 should be repeated. This would be a terrible mistake," he said.

"From a military perspective, FDLR is quite a different problem than M23 and it seems that the main thinking is to apply the same strategy. One military offensive will not be enough to knock out FDLR because this group is scattered from North to South Kivu and made of small units of fighters who can easily withdraw further into the bush," he said.

"So the tactical configuration is completely different from the M23. In addition, as FDLR is embedded within the communities, those ones can get involved into the fighting, and brutal retaliations by FDLR against civilians will follow the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] example.

"Those who are planning an operation against FDLR should ask whether running after FDLR in the bush will put an end to this threat. Even if this operation is a success, will it end FDLR? Certainly not, if this is a one-shot operation," he warned.

On the political perspective, Vircoulon said, "there is no strong consensus yet about such an operation. Tanzania remains opposed to it and it provides the bulk of the Force Intervention Brigade. In addition, if Tanzania does not want to do such an operation, South Africa does not want to go alone and take the full responsibility. Everybody knows that in a peacekeeping mission the troop contributing countries call the shots at the end of the day, whatever the UNSC says. Therefore, the whole political environment of the operation is problematic, unlike against the M23."

Building alliances

Despite facing the deadline, FDLR is reportedly regrouping, recruiting, mobilizing political support and building military alliances with Congolese armed groups, and continuing to pose a regional security threat, according to the US Enough Project report published on 18 November. [ http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/how-dismantle-deadly-militia ]

The evidence from UN experts and findings from six months of Enough Project field research in DRC suggest that FDLR is focusing on reorganizing itself in three main areas: generating more income to trade for ammunition and weapons, mobilizing political support in an attempt to gain greater legitimacy, and preparing to avoid military defeat through military alliance-building and recruitment.

The report notes that this militia - responsible for grave human rights abuses, serious violations and the subject of UN sanctions - continues to generate revenue mainly by trading gold through North Kivu and Uganda and by illegally producing and trading charcoal from Virunga National Park, a trade worth an estimated US$32 million per year.

"The group is using part of that revenue to purchase ammunition and arms from Congolese army [FARDC] officers, with whom it continues to collaborate and share intelligence," says the report. Mende denied these allegations.

Tactics

The report noted that FDLR's current strategy is consistent with its long-time pattern of responding to military pressure.

"In this pattern, the group promises to disarm and reiterates its political aspirations for recognition as a Rwandan opposition group. FDLR then uses any reprieve to regroup by building military alliances and increasing economic activity and recruitment," said the report.

FARDC and FDLR have on occasion in recent years worked in alliance with each other against common enemies.

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.
Congo-Kinshasa: Shadowy Rebel Group Suspected in Village Slaughter
By Philipp Sandner

More than 250 villagers have been massacred in eastern DR Congo over the last three months. Civil society is calling for international aid in the fight against the culprits - rebels of nebulous identity.

There have been multiple reports of civilians being slain in the district of Beni in the strife-ridden province of Nord Kivu in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the most recent incidents, 50 people were killed when unknown assailants armed with machetes attacked several villages to the northeast of the city of Beni.

One resident, who asked not to be named, told DW the assailants set fire to his village, Ahili, on Saturday (06.12.2014). "Some of the dead bodies were burnt to cinders," he said. Residents of neighboring villages have fled, fearing that they would be next. "I also don't know if I will be alive tomorrow," he said.

An alliance of civil society organizations in Nord Kivu expressed shock at these attacks and declared two days of mourning starting Sunday. They said they wanted to draw the attention of the international community to the "deadly war and terrorism" in their midst. The alliance also called on the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, to mount a combat operation against the culprits in conjunction with the Congolese armed forces.

ADF-NALU blamed

The killings are the latest in a string of raids which have been terrorizing Beni district since October. Civil society activists say more than 250 people have been killed. It is still unclear who is to blame for the slaughter, but many suspect the raids are the work of the Islamist group Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) and its allies. The rebel group, which is opposed to the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni, withdrew to the DRC in 1995. Analysts suspect that the ADF-NALU is collaborating with other militant Islamist groups such Somalia's al-Shabab.

Martin Kobler, head of MONUSCO, strongly condemned the latest attacks saying they were intended to "perpetuate a climate of terror in the region." The UN official also backed calls for a joint military operation against the rebels.

MONUSCO has been carrying out targeted incursions against ADF-NALU since the start of the year. In March 2014 they even announced that they had defeated them; a claim that would hardly appear tenable in the wake of the recent raids. Kobler admitted as much in an interview with DW in October. "The ADF-NALU has been isolated, but there are still splinter groups in existence and any of them could carry out a massacre," he said.

Rebel identity

A lack of clarity over the rebels' identity adds to the difficulties of mounting military operations against them. DRC parliamentary deputy Claudel Lubaya, speaking on DW's French for Africa service, said it needed to be established first of all whether ADF-NALU was essentially a Congolese or a Ugandan rebel group."If they are a Ugandan group, then why do they never attack the Ugandan state, but always target Congolese institutions and in particular the Congolese population instead," he said.

It is difficult to assess the strengths and weaknesses of rebel groups in eastern DRC, even after initial success in overcoming M23, one of the more powerful groups in the region. As well as remnants of the ADF-NALU, there are also a number of other militias, many of whom originated in neighboring countries. Kobler says there are as many as 50 rebel groups in existence, often loosely referred to as the Mai Mai.

Leonard Santedi, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference in the DRC, believes it is far from clear who is responsible for the attacks. "The situation is too complicated to place immediate blame on ADF-NALU. We need a thorough analysis" he told Deutsche Welle and called on the government in Kinshasa to launch an investigation.

But in the DRC's capital, the chronic insecurity in the east is not the only item on the policy makers' agenda. Their minds are currently focused on ministerial posts. On Monday President Kabila announced he had reshuffled his cabinet. Some opposition figures were among the new appointees. Kabila was seeking to keep the promise he made last year that he would create a government of national unity. The concessions come as he weighs up the possibility of running for a third term.
Ousted ZANU-PF Officials Appeal to SADC, AU, Says Regrouping
Ousted ZANU-PF official Didymus Mutasa has appealed to the AU.
THE Zanu PF faction headed by ousted vice president Joice Mujuru has vowed to remain in the ruling party and "re-strategize" from within.

An MP belonging to the faction who asked not to be named fearing further victimisation also revealed that the group had dispatched a petition to SADC and the African Union asking them to intervene and help stop the chaos in Zanu PF.

A ruthless purge of the group over unproven charges of plotting a coup against President Robert Mugabe saw provincial party chairmen being removed, cabinet ministers being fired and Mujuru reduced to an ordinary party member.

Harare-based political analyst and seasoned Zanu PF observer, Ibbo Mandaza said the brutal cull effectively side-lined up to 100 of the ruling party's 160 or so members of parliament.

There had been speculation that the disgruntled group would either seek a coalition with the Morgan Tsavangirai-led MDC or form a separate political party. The MDC has however, said it has no appetite for an alliance with Mujuru.

The former VP also indicated in an interview that she would "die in Zanu PF" and, in line with that, a top member of the group said Wednesday that they would seek to regroup within the ruling party.

"Once you do that (leaving Zanu PF) you are finished," said the legislator, asking not to be named.

"We will stay in the party and re-strategize. After all we were not ejected from the party but from the central committee and politburo. It's only one or two of us (Rugare Gumbo and Jabulani Sibanda) who were expelled.

"People should understand that the votes of no confidence against provincial party chairmen only meant that the people were no longer interested in working with us.

"In fact, it meant that they were no longer confident with our leadership and did not mean to say that we were expelled."

The legislator also said, contrary to media reports suggesting former presidential affairs minister Didymus Mutasa appealed to ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki to help reverse his ouster, the whole faction had dispatched a petition to SADC and the African Union (AU).

The petition, according to MP, was signed by a number of the Mujuru allies and urges SADC and AU leaders to intervene and help reverse the outcome of the just ended 6th Zanu PF people's congress.

The congress saw the party's constitution being amended at the eleventh hour to allow Mugabe to choose his deputies and members of the politburo in a move designed to facilitate the elimination of Mujuru and her group.

"It's a petition which was signed by a number of the ousted cadres who are not happy with the treatment which we got," said the legislator.

"We want to the continent and the region to see that the current SADC chairperson (President Robert Mugabe) is not a proponent of democracy. He is a hypocrite."


Zimbabwe: Chombo Blasts Mutasa Over Zuma Appeal

NEWLY appointed Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo has blasted Didymus Mutasa saying his predecessor was trying to reverse the resolutions of the just ended Zanu PF congress.

Mutasa, the former Zimbabwe presidential affairs minister, called on South African President Jacob Zuma to alert regional governments to what he said was the undemocratic sacking of former VP Joice Mujuru and her allies.

Chombo however dismissed Mutasa saying he cannot reverse the resolutions of the congress. In an interview with NewZimbabwe.com Wednesday Chombo said Mutasa's views were not worth worrying about.

"That is wishful thinking and nothing to lose sleep over. The congress was duly constituted and there were more than 12 000 people; now who is Mutasa to dismiss the resolutions," Chombo said.

Mutasa is one of the victims of the purges which came soon after the ruling party's congress last week claiming a number of top party and government officials including Mujuru.

The hurt veteran nationalist responded to the sack last weekend.

Speaking from India where his wife is having medical treatment Mutasa said: "We refuse to be chucked out of Zanu PF which some of us have been in for 57 years."

"We fought for 'one man, one vote' majority rule, which is not provided for in the current Zanu PF constitution adopted at the last congress," Mutasa said. "It gives all votes to the president alone and violates the supreme law of the country. It is therefore null and void, all that transpired at the 6th congress."

He added: "We call on Zanu PF to work as it was before the 6th congress which was itself unlawful." Mutasa was referring to the fact that loyalists of President Robert Mugabe and opponents of Mujuru had unilaterally changed the procedures for electing top party officials just before the congress.

Mutasa who was also among those accused of plotting to oust or assassinate Mugabe was replaced by Chombo as secretary for administration.
Zimbabwe MPs Clash in Parliament
December 18, 2014
Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe Herald

Debate on the 2015 National Budget briefly came to a halt amid chaos after zanu-pf Buhera Central representative Cde Ronald Muderedzwa, labelled some opposition parties in the country “a security threat” after legislators from the MDC factions objected to the funds allocated to the Ministry of Defence. The disturbances arose when the House was in Committee stage debating funds allocated to the various ministries by Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

The Ministry of Defence was allocated US$309 105 000 in the 2015 Budget, a sum the MDC formations legislators argued was too high.

“We are not in a war. Our defence budget is too big. Some of the money should have been allocated to the ministries of education and health,” said Mr Thamsanqa Mahlangu MDC-T representative for Nkulumane.

He was immediately supported by other legislators among them Mr Innocent Gonese (MDC-T Chief Whip), Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC -T).

In his debate, Cde Muderedzwa, however, defended the allocation saying it was actually low considering the military needs. This raised the ire of the MDC formations with Bulawayo East legislator Ms Dorcas Sibanda (MDC-T) raising a point of order that Cde Muderedzwa had used unparliamentary language.

However, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Cde Mabel Chinomona, overruled the objection.

This resulted in chaotic scenes as the MDC formations legislators led by Mr Chikwinya attempted to leave the House.

They were encouraged to leave by the zanu-pf legislators who resorted to shouting, “Go! Go!”

The MDC legislators then broke into song for a few minutes before order was eventually restored and debate continued.

In his response Minister Chinamasa, refuted the allegations that the defence budget was too high saying he had actually left out most of the military requirements.

“I have cut to the bone on the defence budget where I have not provided for purchase of new equipment. In fact, what cost more is not paying salaries but equipment.

“There is no uniformed forces in the whole world which don’t recruit on a planned basis otherwise you will have an army of old people which can’t go to the front.

“An army which doesn’t train becomes even a danger to itself and I haven’t provided for training in the Budget because when they train, they use live ammunition and real guns,” Minister Chinamasa said.

Turning to the other issues Minister Chinamasa reiterated that the fiscal space was tight resulting in low allocations to all ministries.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly adopted the various appropriations to the various ministries as contained in the Estimates of Expenditure while the Finance Bill that will effect the various policy measures announced in the Budget was referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee yesterday.

Debate on the Budget resumes today.
Top Zanu-PF Officials Arrested
Ignatius Chombo is the secretary for information in ZANU-PF.
Dec 18 2014 - 9:00am

HARARE – Top Zanu-PF officials were yesterday arrested for allegedly defrauding more than 15,000 farmers of their hard-earned cash through a dubious input scheme.

Police arrested Zanu-PF national youth league director Tapiwa Zengeya and Patience Chipere — one of the directors of Lasch Investments — a company engaged to supply farmers with some inputs.

Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, yesterday confirmed the arrests saying two other people wanted in connection with the case were on the run.

“We’ve arrested two officials and police are keen to investigate Nelson and Sylvester Mahupete,” she said.

Zanu-PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo, condemned the corrupt conduct of the officials saying the party would take necessary disciplinary measures.

Addressing journalists at Zanu-PF headquarters yesterday, Chombo said the party would take necessary disciplinary measures against the accused officials and that police already had been briefed about the matter.

“As a party, we condemn the abuse of hard earned resources of our populace. Any empowerment initiatives must be in the interest of the majority and not for the benefit of a selected few and must be clear, transparent, fair, legal and above board,” said Chombo.

Chombo deplored Lasch Investments for failing to meet their obligations, leaving farmers stranded with no recourse against a background of the commencement of a promising rainy season.

He said Lasch Investments Company had approached the party’s Youth League to enter into a joint venture support with farmers so as to increase production and productivity through an input support scheme.

It was envisaged that farmers would make contributions and in turn get agricultural inputs.

But Chombo talking about dealing with corruption will make many people laugh at the hypocrisy. There have been long running calls for the Minister himself to be investigated for alleged corruption.

As reported by Nehanda Radio previously, Chombo’s wealth was exposed in 2010 during a messy divorce involving his wife of 25 years, Marian. Court documents exposed the fact that Chombo, a former teacher, had tentacles in virtually all sectors of the economy.

The minister has interests in several farms, mines, hunting safari lodges in Chiredzi, Hwange, Magunje and Chirundu, as well as properties in South Africa. Local properties included 75 residential and commercial stands plus 14 houses and 5 flats, all dotted around the country. Not to mention 15 vehicles.

When a probe team of Harare City Councillors produced a report implicating Chombo and businessman Philip Chiyangwa in the illegal acquisition of council land on the cheap, the police refused to investigate the matter. Instead the councillors and journalists who covered the saga were arrested.

Nehanda Radio/The Herald
- See more at: http://nehandaradio.com/2014/12/18/top-zanu-pf-officials-arrested/#sthash.01Pkywem.dpuf
Chinamasa Risks Zanu PF Backlash
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
by Staff Reporter

FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa has said government will carry out “a productivity audit in the civil service to see if the right people are in the right places” as he battles to control the administration’s runaway wage bill.

Political analysts however warned that the minister was assigning himself a mission impossible since most of the so-called “ghost workers” were Zanu PF activists put on the government payroll since the ruling party is broke and, recently, admitted owing creditors about US$11 million.

When presenting his 2015 national budget, Chinamasa said over 80 percent of government revenues would go to the administration’s wage bill, adding that most of the workers were being paid for doing nothing.

"What this means … basically is we are paying people to sit in their offices and not to undertake the operations," he said then.

And addressing visiting World Bank officials in Harare Wednesday, Chinamasa said the planned staff audit will seek to ensure that government employs the right people for the right posts.

“The last audit carried out by former finance minister Tendai Biti was done in a poisoned political environment,” he said.

“The new audit will be carried out in a manner that is not threatening, people should justify why they are where they are.”

Commentators however, warned that the minister was likely to stir a hornet’s nest since most of those occupying government offices were political appointees.

“It will be good to see how Chinamasa will strike a balance between political interests and government’s need to cut the wage bill,” said political analysts Godwin Phiri.

“Almost everyone in government was employed based on political connections, so it will be difficult for him to flush out unwanted people. This is the reason why we have ghost workers everywhere.”

Chinamasa plans to cut the civil service next year as it emerged the cash-strapped government employs half a million workers, contrary to earlier estimates of about half that figure.

The audit will also come at a time when government has been urged by the International Monetary Fund to weed out "ghost workers" from their public sector in order free up money for capital expenditure.

Chinamasa could also run afoul of Zanu PF policies after the ruling party declared at its recent congress that more of its cadres would be deployed into government.

“To revive and strengthen its cadreship development policy, including structured and compulsory ideological programmes, for nurturing a broad human resources-base for deployment by the party into critical, strategic positions in both the party and Government,” the party said in resolutions at the end of the congress.

This is not the first time Zanu PF has pushed deployments on patronage basis.

Since the introduction of the national youth service, the ruling party has been deploying its members in all strategic positions like ZRP and the Zimbabwe national army as well as other institutions such as Zesa, Ziscosteel and Zupco.

And during the inclusive government era, Zanu PF deployed its supporters with military background in all state parastatals which however led to the rundown of these state institutions as a result of incompetent people managing them.

Former senior security personnel have also been deployed to parastatals and key state institutions in a move largely seen as an attempt by President Robert Mugabe to entrench patronage and loyalty, given the military’s often crucial interventions in propping him and his party up during elections.

Story from : NEWZIMBABWE.COM NEWS:
Published On: Wednesday, December 17, 2014 8:08 PM GMT
http://www.newzimbabwe.com/news/news.aspx?newsID=19517
© New Zimbabwe News
Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa Camp Fights Over Spoils
Posted on Dec 17 2014 - 8:51pm
By Lloyd Mbiba

HARARE – With former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies now brutally shunted out of the way, supporters of new VP Emmerson Mnangagwa are now turning on each other viciously as the mindless bloodletting within Zanu PF refuses to go away.

The Daily News is reliably informed that the faction aligned to Mnangagwa  is now locked in a nasty and escalating fight for the spoils of their thuggish victory over Mujuru, with many hardliners in the camp apparently feeling that they have not been rewarded sufficiently for their role in annihilating the former VP’s camp.

So bad have relations become in the Mnangagwa camp that some of its members are even begrudging the fact that Mugabe rewarded Ngwena (Mnangagwa’s nickname) with the VP post despite the fact that he allegedly “played a lesser role in the ousting of Mai Mujuru”.

Well-placed sources alleged yesterday that the so-called “Gang of Four” — comprising senior party bigwigs Oppah Muchinguri, Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwao and Saviour Kasukuwere — were allegedly deeply mired in the intra-faction brawls, amid suggestions that they were looking to grab more power in the party.

This group, the sources alleged, was working closely with controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe, and at times operated as the brains trust of the Gushungo (Mugabe’s totem) clan — that looked after the interests of the nonagenarian and his family.

It is further alleged that this group has worked very hard to try and get Senate President Edna Madzongwe, or even Grace herself, to become vice president, and not Mnangagwa — whom they allegedly believed had not done enough in the lead-up to Zanu PF’s damp squib “elective” congress earlier this month to deserve the post.

One of the senior party officials who spoke to the Daily News yesterday likened the fight for power in the divided party as that of “baboons fighting to the death for a single cob of maize”.

Another official in the Mnangagwa camp pointed to the vicious assault yesterday in lapdog State media on one of Mnangagwa’s allies as yet another clear indication that temperatures were heating up within the faction.

“Things are very bad within the camp my friend and my own worry is that we may be reaching another point of no return soon,” the official said.

In a surprising turn of events, The Herald panned politburo member and Psychomotor minister Josaya Hungwe, bluntly criticising the fact that he had likened Mnangagwa to Jesus Christ.

The normally pliant daily quoted “analysts” saying “such slavish hero-worshipping (of Mnangagwa) had the danger of creating an alternative centre of power in Zanu-PF which the party’s just-ended 6th National People’s Congress rectified by killing factionalism”.

Hungwe had uttered the offending words at the weekend while praising Mnangagwa at the new VP’s celebration party at his rural home in Zvishavane.

Another party official said it had not escaped many in the camp that lickspittle State media had been used to decimate Mujuru and relentlessly erode both her legitimacy and standing in the party and within the broader Zimbabwean society.

“The fact of the matter is that our (State) media only attacks people when you are no longer wanted by those who wield power. You can say the most outrageous things and do the most despicable things but you won’t be attacked if all is well.

“What many people are not sure about now is whether the attack on Hungwe is on him per se or it is directed at Ngwena. But whatever it is, everyone is advised to hold on tightly to their chairs because it is getting rough again,” he said.

A senior Zanu PF official suggested that Moyo did not “entirely trust Mnangagwa” since the 2004 Tsholotsho Declaration fallout in which the new VP seemingly dumped his followers who were savagely dealt with by Mugabe for allegedly plotting a coup against the 90-year-old leader.

Moyo, Kusukuwere, Muchinguri and Zhuwawo reportedly wanted to be rewarded with more senior posts in the politburo but were disappointed by Mugabe’s choices.

“Moyo at the very least thought that after orchestrating the downfall of Rugare Gumbo, he would land the post of secretary for information but he was given the portfolio of science and technology.

Moyo also thought that after savaging Transport Minister Obert Mpofu, the filthy rich minister would be dropped but President Mugabe had other ideas.In terms of hierarchy, Moyo is effectively third from bottom in the politburo.

Mugabe trusts Mpofu to an extent of giving him the powerful post of finance in the politburo and this has infuriated the Gang of Four.

“Muchinguri is also livid that she was given the portfolio of secretary for transport after donating the women’s league portfolio to Grace and again this did not go down well with the gang which wanted her to be at least the party chairperson or even VP to replace Mujuru. The fight will be more brutal and dirtier than the war against Mujuru,” said another top politburo source.

He also claimed that Kasukuwere “has never liked Mnangagwa” to lead Zanu PF.

“All these people had one common enemy and that was Mujuru, who made it appear as if they were working together. But the truth of the matter is that Moyo and Kasukuwere are pushing their own agenda and it’s no surprise that the State media has now openly attacked Mnangagwa indirectly through one of his loyalists (Hungwe).

“To even suggest that Hungwe was trying to push for the creation of another centre of power in Mnangagwa is not only a clear fabrication, it is also testimony that all is not well in the party,” he added.

Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, said there were now two main factions in Zanu PF — namely the Gushungo and Mnangagwa factions.

He said the two factions had operated as one to destroy the Mujuru camp and it now remained to be seen if they could work together.

“The other two factions coalesced against Mujuru and now that they have decimated that faction, the question is, which one remains the most dominant?” Masunungure asked.

“To me the Gushungo faction is now in control of the party because Mugabe knows that real power lies in the party not in the government, so Mnangagwa may not be the winner after all.”

But Pedzisai Ruhanya, a media and democracy scholar, said the Mnangagwa camp had to rein in Hungwe because his statements were way off the mark.

“The thinking behind the powers that control State media and Mnangagwa himself is that Hungwe erred in likening Mnangagwa to Jesus,” Ruhanya said.

“This would have implied that Mnangagwa is greater than any person in the whole of Zimbabwe and this includes Mugabe. As you know Mugabe would not take this lightly, so the Mnangagwa camp felt that Hungwe had to be reined in,” he added.

Maxwell Saungweme, another Harare-based political analyst, said the savage attack on Hungwe was a clear testimony that Mnangagwa’s camp was made up of power-hungry individuals.

“It could be a sign of simmering divisions within the Mnangagwa faction which is expected as their marriage as a faction was one of people who are power hungry and whose immediate objective was to get rid of Mujuru, before coming back to their old selves,” he said.

“But the fact also remains that you cannot liken a mere mortal like Mnangagwa to Jesus. That is the worst form of blasphemy,” he added. Daily News

- See more at: http://nehandaradio.com/2014/12/17/mnangagwa-camp-fights-spoils/#sthash.nscgGWLO.dpuf
How Martin Luther King Film Selma is Joining Protests Against Racial Inequality
Selma march on March 7, 1965.
Selma, the big-screen story of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights marches, resonates so loudly in the US that the team behind the film are harnessing its release to the ongoing protests over policing and racial inequality, says Edward Helmore

EDWARD HELMORE
Published: 17 December 2014

Hollywood is rarely shy when it comes to a cause, but it has never made a film about Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The oversight is about to be corrected by Selma, a $20 million feature film from a black female director and launched into a festive season already convulsing with racial tension.

The film follows the historic marches led by King from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965, a demonstration against black-voter intimidation that pushed President Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act that year. But unusually for Hollywood, the film’s director Ava DuVernay and cast — including British star David Oyelowo (The Butler, Spooks) — are harnessing the American release of the film to ongoing public protests over policing and racial inequality in the US.

Along with Oprah Winfrey (who has a role in the film made by Brad Pitt’s B Plan company that she also co-produced), they have become increasingly vociferous in the past week’s round of US publicity interviews, culminating in Sunday’s New York premiere and the “I can’t breathe” photograph they posed for. The T-shirts bearing the legend were first seen worn by professional basketball players in protest at the grand jury decision earlier this month not to prosecute NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, who shouted the phrase repeatedly as he was held on the ground. On Saturday, the T-shirts were also seen worn by some of the 25,000 who joined the march in the city over fairer police treatment of suspects. There were more demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington DC, and a campaign song called I Can’t Breathe launched by Samuel L Jackson went viral. Outspoken stand-up Chris Rock has tweeted support for the campaign and the film, adding that he’s come to accept the racial character of the film industry (“It’s a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is”).

Oyelowo, who plays Dr King, has called the release of the film an act of “divine timing”. He said: “We couldn’t have predicted what would happen in terms of what’s going on, race relations-wise. We finished shooting in early July and by early August Michael Brown [the 18-year-old black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri] had been murdered and now we’re in the middle of the Eric Garner situation. I just think it shows ... we do not live in a post-racial America.”

One of his co-stars, Lorraine Toussaint, said she took her 10-year-old daughter on the New York march the day before the film’s premiere because she “wanted to make sure that she knows that she can make a difference; that it is important to stand up and speak out when there is wrong, when there is injustice. Evil only propagates when we are silent and so you know it’s a difficult time but our voices matter and I wanted my daughter to know that her voice matters.”

In a third racially explosive incident, in Cleveland, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police officers in circumstances that could be said to echo the death of a young black boy, Jimmie Lee Jackson, in Selma. DuVernay, 42, who in 2012 became the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s director award (for her prison-based relationship film, Middle of Nowhere, which also starred Oyelowo), is under no misapprehension about the similarities. She was still editing Selma when news broke of the Brown shooting. “You’re cutting a sequence where state troopers are lining up citizens and drawing guns on housewives, and you go home and watch Ferguson and see the same thing on television,” she told the Washington Post.

DuVernay made further movie history last week when she became the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe director’s award, one of four nods for the film, which include one for Oyelowo and have ignited Oscar speculation. But with the film’s award season direction established, the film’s creators are becoming enmeshed in the real-life political drama that is unfolding.

After viewing Selma, former President George HW Bush, who opposed the original 1964 Civil Rights Act, says it should remind Americans “how far we have come as a society”. John Lewis, the Democrat congressman who served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was beaten by police in the King marches and described Ferguson as “the modern-day Selma”.

That drew a swift response from President Obama, who said the problems between police and racial minorities can be solved if law enforcement agencies are open to retraining. “We’re not talking about systematic segregation or discrimination,” he corrected.

Polls, all the same, show that black and white Americans believe race relations are strained. Last week, CBS News found just 45 per cent think race relations are generally good, a 10 per cent drop since the spring and the lowest figure polled by the broadcaster since 1997.

Selma has certainly arrived as a timely reminder of the principles of the Civil Rights movement. In places an arduous watch, it has not received endorsements from King’s three surviving children. In DuVernay’s telling, the Civil Rights leader was a complex character. She calls him a “badass” and the film does not overlook his philandering. “I feel like there should be a dozen movies about Dr King,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “But why not start with the one that feels vitally representative of what he stood for?”

She says that she directs specifically with the gaze of a black woman, a perspective in keeping with Winfrey, who plays Annie Lee Cooper, one of the few women in an organisational role in the effort to overturn voting restrictions in a county where just 130 of 15,000 black residents were registered. US reviewers have noted the preponderance of British actors playing Southerners, among them Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as racist Alabama governor George Wallace.

DuVernay grew up in South Central Los Angeles and worked as a journalist before turning first to documentaries and then film publicity, and made her first feature just four years ago. Over eight years, the Selma project was linked to directors Michael Mann, Stephen Frears, Spike Lee and Lee Daniels, who made The Butler, which featured Oyelowo, now 38. The actor says he long dreamed of playing King. “I can genuinely say there was an overriding feeling of service ...”

For DuVernay, whose family on her father’s side live between Selma and Montgomery, the subject of King took her by surprise. “When this story, set in the past, came into my life, it really took over my imagination in a very unexpected way. And I’m happy it did. It honours the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.”

How far her film can go in the award season is still too early to call but she clearly agrees with Oyelowo when he says: “This struggle continues and we all have to participate.”

Selma is released in the UK on February 6, 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speech by President Raul Castro on Re-establishing U.S.-Cuba Relations
President Raul Castro announces the normalization of relations
with the United States on Dec. 17, 2014 in Havana.
By Foreign Staff
December 17 at 1:03 PM

PANW Editor's Note: Watch the statement by Republic of Cuba President Raul Castro on the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington by click on the website below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtf1YF6tdMU

The following is the translation of the statement made by Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17, 2014. The text of the original speech in Spanish follows below:

Fellow countrymen,

Since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers I have reiterated on many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national Independence and self-determination of our people.

This stance was conveyed to the U.S. Government both publicly and privately by Comrade Fidel on several occasions during our long-standing struggle, stating the willingness to discuss and solve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.

The heroic Cuban people, in the wake of serious dangers, aggressions, adversities and sacrifices, has proven to be faithful and will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice. Strongly united throughout these 56 years of Revolution, we have kept our unswerving loyalty to those who died in defense of our principles since the beginning of our independence wars in 1868.

Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism.

As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations.

As Fidel promised on June 2001, when he said: “They shall return!” Gerardo, Ramon, and Antonio have arrived today to our homeland.

The enormous joy of their families and of all our people, who have relentlessly fought for this goal, is shared by hundreds of solidarity committees and groups, governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions, and personalities, who for the last sixteen years have made tireless efforts demanding their release. We convey our deepest gratitude and commitment to all of them.

President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.

I wish to thank and acknowledge the support of the Vatican, most particularly the support of Pope Francisco in the efforts for improving relations between Cuba and the United States. I also want to thank the Government of Canada for facilitating the high-level dialogue between the two countries.

In turn, we have decided to release and send back to the United States a spy of Cuban origin who was working for that nation.

On the other hand, and for humanitarian reasons, today we have also sent the American citizen Alan Gross back to his country.

Unilaterally, as has always been our practice, and in strict compliance with the provisions of our legal system, the concerned prisoners have received legal benefits, including the release of those persons that the Government of the United States had conveyed their interest in.

We have also agreed to renew diplomatic relations.

This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been solved. The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.

Though the blockade has been codified into law, the President of the United States has the executive authority to modify its implementation.

We propose to the Government of the United States the adoption of mutual steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and advance towards normalization of relations between our two countries, based on the principles of International Law and the United Nations Charter.

Cuba reiterates its willingness to cooperate in multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations.

While acknowledging our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these issues.

I call upon the Government of the United States to remove the obstacles hindering or restricting ties between peoples, families, and citizens of both countries, particularly restrictions on travelling, direct post services, and telecommunications.


The progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.

As we have reiterated, we must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner.

We will continue talking about these important issues at a later date

Thank you.
Remaining Cuban Political Prisoners Released in the United States
Detroit demonstration to free the Cuban Five on June 8, 2008.
(Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe)
¡VOLVIERON!

Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio were released today and messages of joy and congratulations are streaming in from all over the world.  They are finally back in their homeland with their families and the people of Cuba. Today they received the much waited embrace from Rene and Fernando after so many years of unjust imprisonment.

Today we are reminded more than ever what Fidel said in June 2001..."The Five are a quintet of giants... I only say one thing, they will return!"

This day is a triumph of truth and the fruit of the heroic resistance of each of them, of the Government of Cuba, of the Cuban people and the international solidarity movement.

Not only has 16 years of imprisonment ended but their release opens the real possibility of initiating a new era in U.S. Cuba relations. The solution today was arrived at with the mediation of Pope Francisco and the political will of both governments.

As today's release was happening a letter put together by the European Coordination of the Free the Five Campaign, the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 in the Arab World and the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 was in its final preparations calling for Obama to allow the remaining 3 to return to Cuba to be with their families for the holidays.

The letter is signed by well-known men and women from all over the world including 9 Nobel laureates, the President of El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén together with parliamentarians, religious and labor leaders, lawyers, intellectuals and actors and more. (See the letter).

Fortunately this is the first time, in this long battle that has spanned 16 years, that it is not necessary to send a letter of this kind but we are sending it along to you as part of the testimony and beauty that the international solidarity movement has with the Cuban 5.

We embrace all the committees and friends of the Five who in unity fought tirelessly through all these years.

Our work is not over and we urge everyone to channel all that energy that was used to push for the release of the Cuban 5 into the effort to end the genocidal blockade against Cuba in its entirety. We must remain united to continue in our quest for a better world filled with dignity and justice.

We embrace you all with joy and love on this historic day,

International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
U.S. and Cuba, in Breakthrough, Will Resume Diplomatic Relations

By PETER BAKER
New York Times
DEC. 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.

The contractor, Alan P. Gross, traveled on an American government plane to the United States late Wednesday morning, and the United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”

He has two children and worked as a social worker in the Washington suburbs.

Mr. Gross was in Cuba as a government contractor for the United States Agency for International Development delivering communications equipment to religious groups.

Cuba sentenced Mr. Gross to 15 years for participating in a plot to "destroy the revolution."

His wife, Judy, appealed to the Cuban government to release her husband, who is in poor health.

In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to.

“Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people,” the White House said in a written statement.

President Obama plans to make a televised statement from the White House at noon to discuss the breakthrough, which could shape his legacy after he leaves office in two years.

Mr. Gross’s sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, was “beyond ecstatic” at the news of his release, according to her husband, Harold. “We are extremely grateful that he’s on his way home,” Mr. Rubinstein said by telephone from Dallas. “It’s been a long ordeal.”

Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to finalize the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years, American officials said.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist government. Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982, the White House said.

Officials said they would re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments within months. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month to lead an American delegation to the next round of talks on Cuban-American migration. The United States will also begin working with Cuba on issues like counternarcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking.

The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12 categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances in American law, including family visits, official visits and journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, public performances, officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited.

Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties and raise the level of remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding remittances will no longer require a specific license from the government. American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.

“This is being done because we believe the policy of the past has not worked and we believe the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to Cuba is through a different kind of policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call under White House ground rules that did not permit the official to be identified.

But the official said the shift would not diminish the American focus on human rights in Cuba. “Our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy,” the official said. “We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

Mr. Gross’s health has been failing. He has reportedly lost more than 100 pounds in prison and is losing vision in his right eye. He went on a nine-day hunger strike in April. After turning 65 in May, he told relatives that he might try to kill himself if not released soon.

Three members of Congress were on the plane that picked up Mr. Gross in Cuba on Wednesday and accompanied him back to the United States, officials said: Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

Other Democratic and Republican lawmakers were sharply critical of the deal. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, considered a prospect for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, told The Associated Press: “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba. But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”

Mr. Gross was in Cuba to deliver satellite telephone equipment that was capable of cloaking connections to the Internet when he was arrested in 2009. The Cuban authorities, who tightly control access to the Internet in their country, initially said he was a spy, and a court there convicted him of bringing in the devices without a permit as part of a subversive plot to “destroy the revolution.”

Mr. Gross’s case drew increasing attention as his health deteriorated. He grew despondent and talked of suicide, and his wife, Judy Gross, and other supporters made urgent pleas for his release, but off-and-on diplomatic talks seemed to go nowhere.

Cuba has often raised the case of three of its spies serving federal prison time in Florida, saying they had been prosecuted unjustly and urging that they be released on humanitarian grounds. State Department officials insisted that the cases were not comparable and that Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent.

Mr. Gross worked for Development Alternatives, of Bethesda, Md., and had traveled to more than 50 countries as an international development worker. The company had a $6 million contract with the United States Agency for International Development to distribute equipment that could get around Cuba’s Internet blockade, and Mr. Gross had made four previous trips to Cuba in 2009.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former New Mexico governor and cabinet secretary Bill Richardson and several members of Congress appealed for Mr. Gross’s release, along with Jewish advocacy groups in the United States.

After visiting Mr. Gross in November, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a longtime advocate of loosening the 50-year-old American trade embargo with Cuba, said he was optimistic that the case would be resolved.

American lawmakers who have drawn attention to Mr. Gross’s case celebrated his departure from Cuba. “Today, news of Alan’s release brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has called for his freedom,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. “I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”

The American government has spent $264 million over the last 18 years, much of it through the development agency, in an effort to spur democratic change in Cuba. The agency said in November that it would cease the kinds of operations that Mr. Gross was involved in when he was arrested, as well as those, disclosed by The Associated Press, that allowed a contractor to set up a Twitter-like social network that hid its ties to the United States government.

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.