Editor’s Note: Members of Toward Freedom‘s Board of Directors are involved in struggles while they serve on TF‘s working board. Board President Rebecca Kemble spent the summer in central Minnesota, where a struggle against pipelines carrying oil derived from Canadian tar sands has taken place. Enbridge Energy is a Canadian multinational corporation running tar sands pipelines through the United States for export because it has not been able to get permission to build them in Canada. However, all of the land through which Enbridge’s Pipeline 3, known as “Line 3,” passes either is 1854 or 1855 Treaty Territory. The Obijwe people ceded the territory to the U.S. government in exchange for the rights to hunt, fish and gather on those lands in perpetuity. Line 3 also plows through hundreds of wild-rice beds. Northern and central Minnesota, as well as northern Wisconsin, are the only places where wild rice grows. The plant is sacred to the Anishinaabe peoples (made up of the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Pottowotami nations) of the Great Lakes region. The U.S. government initiated the 1854 and 1855 treaties to avoid costly military campaigns for land conquest. Since they were written, these treaties have been broken multiple times. In the last several decades, the Ojibwe people have been successfully asserting their treaty rights in federal courts. The White Earth Band of Ojibwe recently sued Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources for permitting Line 3 and, in so doing, failing to protect the state’s fresh water. Manoomin (wild rice) is named as a plaintiff in that case. (In Ecuador and New Zealand, rivers have been named plaintiffs.) At least 6 active and autonomous “No Line 3” camps have occupied central Minnesota over the past summer. Some have been established as direct-action camps, while others are cultural and educational camps.
Monday, October 12, marked Indigenous People’s Day, which kicked off a series of daily protest actions in Washington, D.C. While U.S. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation Monday affirming Indigenous sovereignty, the federal government continues to allow violations of Indigenous sovereignty, such as in the form of pipeline projects.
For the first time since the 1970s, Indigenous people occupied the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs this week in Washington. A group called People vs. Fossil Fuels stated in a press release 130 people were arrested.
Restoration of 110 million acres (450,000 km2) of land taken away from Native Nations
Bring Home Our Children Buried At Your Residential Schools
Restoration of treaty-making (ended by Congress in 1871)
Establishment of a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native Nations)
Honor the Treaties
No new leases for oil and gas or extractive industry on public lands
Free, Prior, and Informed Consent
Reclaim and affirm health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indigenous people
Restoration of terminated rights
Repeal of state jurisdiction on Native Nations
Federal protection for offenses against Indians
Below is a series of photos Rebecca Kemble captured over the summer.
Visitors arriving at Shell City Campground learned about 1855 Treaty Territory and their responsibilities under those treaties. Treaties are not just about Indigenous people—they are agreements between sovereign nations and must be upheld on both sides. The U.S. Constitution calls treaties “the supreme law of the land” and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the rights of Indigenous people to hunt, fish and gather in territories where treaties have reserved those rights, including 1855 Treaty Territory in central Minnesota. What good is a right to hunt, fish or gather if there is no game, fish or plant food to harvest? This is the basis for opposing extractive industries in Tribal territories: It destroys the basis for practicing Indigenous ways of living.
Honor the Earth delegation joins a Fourth of July parade in Park Rapids, Minnesota, as police and sheriff cars follow.
Now that my Toward Freedom guest editorship has come to an end, I am reflecting back on the stories we ran for the past 6+ months and the writers who wrote them.
The scenes coming out of Modi’s India and its pandemic nightmare have been particularly horrific, causing me to inquire about the health of Toward Freedom contributor Sanket Jain. Sanket is a freelance journalist based in western India. TF ran two of his stories in December and February about how India’s poorest citizens were barely coping with Covid. He emailed me back: “Fortunately, I am safe. For the past few weeks, I have been on the field documenting the disaster that’s unfolding in remote villages of India. Last week, I was shooting photos at the crematorium to see how many people have died of COVID because the Government is hiding official numbers. It’s a nightmare to see a human disaster unfolding at such a massive scale. From lack of oxygen, improper vaccination policy, COVID patients facing ostracism in the village, to frontline healthcare workers facing verbal abuse and even physical assault, India is witnessing a humanitarian crisis. I hope we come out of this disaster soon.”
Stay safe, Sanket, and keep sending us your stories.
Another writer who moved me deeply is Charles Wachira. His recent story on what’s happening in Uganda opened my eyes to what’s happening throughout much of Africa; the maintenance of dictatorial rule [e.g through the (truly) rigged election of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda] to ensure “stability” for resource extraction by foreign corporations. With remarkable patience in responding to my queries, Charles produced evidence that the Great Game for Oil is now on steroids in East Africa (much of which lies opposite the Red Sea – and Saudi Arabia.)
Fascinatingly, a similar situation is playing out in West Africa, as explained by Eric Agnero in his story on how President Alassane Ouattara was able to extend his unconstitutional rule over Cote d’Ivoire, aided and abetted by France and the United States.
I admit: I came into this job with a geopolitical perspective, one which is followed by most world powers as they survey entire regions for riches. I discovered it during decades of researching my new book on endless wars. You’ll find a geopolitical analysis reflected in my article on Afghanistan: If you want to understand the many wars that have swept through the Middle East, Central Asia, and now Africa, you need only to follow the pipelines and the oil schemes taking place right now. All this, despite promises by Big Oil to invest in alternative energy to slow down climate change.
Trend Lines in the TF Stories
Looking back, it was a privilege to be able to choose stories that reflected extraordinary, indeed history-making events between October 2020 and early May. Below, I will highlight some of those stories, as certain trends begin to emerge. Call them patterns of history. Ten years from now, you may want to look back on them as if they were diary entries of an unforgettable period in your life, featuring Covid 19, Trump’s defeat, the January 6 assault on the capitol; the re-invigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd; the rise of the right wing in the United States based on claims of voter fraud, the similar tactics used by Trump’s fascist allies abroad. Democracy v Racist Authoritarianism is one overriding theme. Look for others:
In October 2020, Toward Freedom ran stories on two historic elections. Olivia Arigho-Stiles’s article on the elections in Bolivia, which returned the MAS party to power, gave us some hope that massive turnouts could turn the table on authoritarian regimes. Meanwhile, in the leadup to the November elections in the United States, Harvey Wasserman and Greg Palast sounded warnings that voter fraud mechanisms were in place in Florida and Wisconsin. Who could have guessed that Secretary of State Raffensperger (or, as Palast calls him, Raffens-purger) would later emerge as a hero for upholding the integrity of Georgia’s vote for Biden, when in 2020 he was responsible for purging 198,000 names from the voter roles!
The big news in November 2020, was the defeat of Donald Trump thanks to the commitment of black and brown voters, who ensured “the largest turnout ever by U.S. voters in a presidential election.” We were so hopeful, I wrote back then. noting that Trump’s “multiple lawsuits claiming ‘voter fraud’ have been rejected so far by U.S. courts for lack of evidence.” As It turned out, Trump continued to use voter fraud to enrage his base…even against fellow Republicans. The fight against a fascist movement in America is far from over.
We also witnessed through the reporting of Serbian journalist Nicolas Micovec some tense super-power standoffs. In Belarus, a proxy battle by “the Western-backed Belarusian opposition” failed to topple President Alexander Lukashenko, who is still firmly supported by Russia.” In Nagorno-Karabakh, more deadly proxy battles were raging between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, where “the conflict is being carefully watched for two reasons: 1) its potential to spread beyond its borders, and 2) an underlying energy war between Russia, the US, and the European Union.”
In December 2020, we began to take stock of what the world would soon face with the new Biden administration. Climate change was high on the agenda, especially since the Trump administration in November officially withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. Rashika Pardikar, an Indian journalist, wrote of the “responsibility to both undo the damage done by the Trump administration and do more to address climate vulnerability concerns, especially in the developing world.’ Especially, she notes, because “the US is responsible for 25% of global emissions.” And what could provide better evidence of the dangers of climate change than two horrific Category 4 hurricanes which slammed into Nicaragua and Honduras in November, two weeks apart? Toward Freedom contacted Dan Higgins of the Burlington-Puerto Cabezas Sister City program. His and others’ reporting helped raise aid for the people of Puerto Cabezas, where roughly 2,000 homes were destroyed, and another 9,000 properties were damaged. The article turned into a good opportunity for Higgins to reflect on the history of “Port,” whose “peoples, languages, culture and history [on the Atlantic Coast} are very different from the Spanish-speaking side of Nicaragua.” He writes that the issue of autonomy “continues to be a flash point in Nicaraguan politics, with differing interpretations of what autonomy means.”
Elections in Venezuela, another hot point in international affairs (due in large part to the Trump administration’s economic sanctions to bring about regime change), came into focus as CodePink sent reporter Teri Mattison to observe the country’s December 6 legislative elections. “The sanctions imposed on Venezuela are a form of economic warfare… meant to create hardship and unrest,” Teri reported. (The elections resulted in a victory for President Nicolas Maduro and his allies. The opposition, which boycotted the elections, claimed “election fraud!” Thanks to reporting from Peter Lacowski, “Cries of election fraud by Donald Trump and his followers are familiar to Venezuelans; their right-wing opposition has been doing the same thing for years.”
In January 2021, we focused on Trump’s lies about a “stolen election,” which triggered the right wing assault on the Capitol on January 6, causing TF to immediately probe for details. Jonathan Ben Menachem provided some shocking details in “Cops at the Capitol,” which revealed, “at least 26 sworn members of U.S. law enforcement agencies from at least 11 states have been identified by law enforcement agencies and local reporting as attendees of the Jan. 6 rally.” Alexander Hinton, in his evaluation of the raid, warned us –correctly as it turned out – not to underestimate far right extremists in the US.
The other big news of January, of course, was the Inauguration of Joe Biden, and “Why Poet Amanda Gorman Stole the Inaugural Show” with her reading of her newest poem, “The Hill We Climb.” We published her poem in full, noting that Gorman was about halfway through the poem on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed into the halls of Congress, some bearing weapons and Confederate flags. She stayed awake late into the night and finished the poem, adding verses about the apocalyptic scene that unfolded at the Capitol that day.” Her eloquent performance was a source of pride for the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters.
By February 2021, Toward Freedom reported that Trump’s voter fraud allegations seem to have found a receptive audience with generals in Myanmar.Emily Blumenthalobserved “glaring similarities between the attempted coup in the US and the successful coup in Myanmar.” She quotes from the rightwing US group QAnon, which supported the coup: “The Burmese military has arrested the country’s leaders after credible evidence of widespread voter fraud became impossible to ignore…Sounds like the controlled media and Biden admin are scared this might happen here. “ An expert on Myanmar concluded, “Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions.”
If this weren’t unsettling news in the post-Trump era, our apprehension about Biden’s foreign policy turned to alarm after US forces bombed Syria in February. In their piece, Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies remind us that “the airstrikes were supposedly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation that Rep. Barbara Lee has been trying for years to repeal since it has been misused, ‘to justify waging war in at least seven different countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries.’
In March 2021, Toward Freedom observed the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring with disturbing reportage about the least known revolts in Bahrain. Finian Cunningham reveals that “Western powers played a nefarious role to ensure that the Arab Spring was kneecapped in order to cripple any progressive potential.” In Tunisia, where popular revolts launched the Arab Spring, Alessandra Bajek provides an in-depth report, noting that “Tunisia has failed to make any substantial progress in the daily lives of its citizens as the country’s democratization is not accompanied by a socio-economic transition. Nor should we forget that it was the Obama-Biden administration that oversaw the Arab Spring, as well as the regime change in Libya, which devolved into a disastrous civil (read proxy) war, killing thousands with many more displaced. According to Mathew Cole, Blackwater mercenaries poured into Libya, portraying themselves as “unarmed logistical personnel being sent in to support oil and gas companies.”
In April 2021, Toward Freedom reported on escalated tensions between Israel and Iran, after Israel bombed Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Kim Zeterreports, “The sabotage seemed timed to send a message — both to Iran and to the U.S. and Europe. It occurred just days after talks began in Vienna to revive the Obama-instigated 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran to control its uranium enrichment production.” Fortunately, cooler heads once again prevailed, and the negotiations are continuing. There is even talk that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been holding secret talks.
The situation in Yemen, as revealed by William Boardman, is not as rosy as the Biden administration would have us believe. “Biden,” he writes, “promised that the US would be ‘ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen.’ Biden gave no specific details. The six-year bombing continues. The six-year naval blockade of Yemen continues. The humanitarian crisis continues, with the threat of famine looming. In effect, Biden has participated in war crimes since January 20, with no policy in sight to end the killing.” Long-time activist Kathy Kelley, worried that the American people were becoming desensitized to the killings in Yemen, reporting on a hunger strike taking place in Washington, DC. demanding an end to the war in Yemen.
Concluding Thoughts: The pandemic brought us many challenges. I, for one, was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to connect with writers from around the world from the safety of my own home.
Now that the pandemic is gradually lifting, I hope to spend more time promoting my book, which suffered greatly from being published during the lockdown. I wish all readers well as they hopefully recalibrate their lives toward a better future. Maybe a new Renaissance will be born out of COVID-19, just as the Renaissance emerged out of Italy’s Black Death in the 15th century. Let history—and science—be our guide, and may today’s movements –for democracy, justice and true equality—be our inspiration!
After more than a decade of grassroots organizing, agitation and tireless opposition by the international climate movement, the final nail was slammed into the Keystone XL’s coffin Wednesday afternoon when the company behind the transnational tar sands pipeline officially pulled the plug on its plans.
Following consultation with Canadian officials and regulators—including “its partner, the Government of Alberta”—TC Energy confirmed its “termination” of the project in a statement citing the revocation of a federal U.S. permit by President Joe Biden on his first day in office on January 20 as the leading reason.
Climate campaigners, however, were immediate in claiming a final victory after years of struggle against the company and its backers both in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa.
“TC Energy just confirmed what we already knew but it’s a thrilling reality all the same—the Keystone XL pipeline is no more and never will be,” said David Turnbull, strategic communications director with Oil Change International (OCI).
OMG! It’s official. We took on a multi-billion dollar corporation and we won!!
“After more than 10 years of organizing we have finally defeated an oil giant, Keystone XL is dead!” declared the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in reaction. “We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory! From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated.”
IEN said that the win over TC Energy and its supporters was “not the end—but merely the beginning of further victories,” and also reminded the world that there are “still frontline Indigenous water protectors like Oscar High Elk who face charges for standing against the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Calling the news “yet another huge moment in an historic effort,” Turnbull at OCI said that while the Canadian company’s press statement failed to admit it, “this project is finally being abandoned thanks to more than a decade of resistance from Indigenous communities, landowners, farmers, ranchers, and climate activists along its route and around the world.”
Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, declared the victory in the drawn-out battle—which largely took place under the Democratic administration of former President Barack Obama—”a landmark moment in the fight against the climate crisis.”
“We need to keep moving away from dirty, dangerous pipelines that lock us into an unsustainable future,” added Margolis, who said he now hopes President Joe Biden will take this lesson and apply to other polluting fossil projects. “We’re hopeful that the Biden administration will continue to shift this country in the right direction by opposing fossil fuel projects that threaten our climate, our waters and imperiled wildlife,” he said. “Good riddance to Keystone XL!”
Jamie Henn and Bill McKibben, both co-founders of 350.org and key architects of the decision to make the Keystone XL pipeline a target and symbol of the global climate movement, also heralded the news.
“When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn’t be beat,” said McKibben, who was among those arrested outside the White House in 2011 protesting the pipeline.
“Keystone XL is now the most famous fossil fuel project killed by the climate movement, but it won’t be the last,” said Henn. “The same coalition that stopped this pipeline is now battling Line 3 and dozens of other fossil fuel projects across the country. Biden did the right thing on KXL, now it’s time to go a step further and say no to all new fossil fuel projects everywhere.”
Clayton Thomas Muller, another longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada, said: “This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it’s time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines.”
McKibben also made the direct connection to KXL and the decision now looming before Biden when it comes to Line 3 in northern Minnesota. “When enough people rise up we’re stronger even than the richest fossil fuel companies,” he said. “And by the way, the same climate test that ruled out Keystone should do the same for Line 3.”
On July 9, the government of Rwanda said that it had deployed 1,000 troops to Mozambique to battle al-Shabaab fighters, who had seized the northern province of Cabo Delgado. A month later, on August 8, Rwandan troops captured the port city of Mocímboa da Praia, where just off the coast sits a massive natural gas concession held by French energy company TotalEnergies SE and U.S. energy company ExxonMobil. These new developments in the region led to the African Development Bank’s President M. Akinwumi Adesina announcing on August 27 that TotalEnergies SE will restart the Cabo Delgado liquefied natural gas project by the end of 2022.
Militants from al-Shabaab (or ISIS-Mozambique, as the U.S. State Department prefers to call it) did not fight to the last man; they disappeared across the border into Tanzania or into their villages in the hinterland. The energy companies will, meanwhile, soon start to recoup their investments and profit handsomely, thanks in large part to the Rwandan military intervention.
Why did Rwanda intervene in Mozambique in July 2021 to defend, essentially, two major energy companies? The answer lies in a very peculiar set of events that took place in the months before the troops left Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
Billions Stuck Underwater
Al-Shabaab fighters first made their appearance in Cabo Delgado in October 2017. For three years, the group played a cat-and-mouse game with Mozambique’s army before taking control of Mocímboa da Praia in August 2020. At no point did it seem possible for Mozambique’s army to thwart al-Shabaab and allow TotalEnergies SE and ExxonMobil to restart operations in the Rovuma Basin, off the coast of northern Mozambique, where a massive natural gas field was discovered in February 2010.
The Mozambican Ministry of Interior had hired a range of mercenaries such as Dyck Advisory Group (South Africa), Frontier Services Group (Hong Kong), and the Wagner Group (Russia). In late August 2020, TotalEnergies SE and the government of Mozambique signed an agreement to create a joint security force to defend the company’s investments against al-Shabaab. None of these armed groups succeeded. The investments were stuck underwater.
At this point, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi indicated, as I was told by a source in Maputo, that TotalEnergies SE might ask the French government to send a detachment to assist in securing the area. This discussion went on into 2021. On January 18, 2021, French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her counterpart in Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho, talked on the phone, during which—it is suggested in Maputo—they discussed the possibility of a Western intervention in Cabo Delgado. On that day, TotalEnergies SE CEO Patrick Pouyanné met with President Nyusi and his ministers of defense (Jaime Bessa Neto) and interior (Amade Miquidade) to discuss the joint “action plan to strengthen security of the area.” Nothing came of it. The French government was not interested in a direct intervention.
A senior official in Maputo told me that it is strongly believed in Mozambique that French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the Rwandan force, rather than French forces, be deployed to secure Cabo Delgado. Indeed, Rwanda’s armies—highly trained, well-armed by the Western countries, and given impunity to act outside the bounds of international law—have proved their mettle in the interventions carried out in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
What Kagame Got for the Intervention
Paul Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994, first as vice president and minister of defense and then since 2000 as the president. Under Kagame, democratic norms have been flouted within Rwanda, while Rwandan troops have operated ruthlessly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A 2010 UN Mapping Project report on serious human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed that the Rwandan troops killed “hundreds of thousands if not millions” of Congolese civilians and Rwandan refugees between 1993 and 2003. Kagame rejected the UN report, suggesting that this “double genocide” theory denied the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He has wanted the French to accept responsibility for the genocide of 1994 and has hoped that the international community will ignore the massacres in the eastern Congo.
On March 26, 2021, historian Vincent Duclert submitted a 992-page report on France’s role in the Rwandan genocide. The report makes it clear that France should accept—as Médecins Sans Frontières put it—“overwhelming responsibility” for the genocide. But the report does not say that the French state was complicit in the violence. Duclert traveled to Kigali on April 9 to deliver the report in person to Kagame, who said that the report’s publication “marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place.”
On April 19, the Rwandan government released a report that it had commissioned from the U.S. law firm Levy Firestone Muse. This report’s title says it all: “A Foreseeable Genocide: The Role of the French Government in Connection with the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda.” The French did not deny the strong words in this document, which argues that France armed the génocidaires and then hastened to protect them from international scrutiny. Macron, who has been loath to accept France’s brutality in the Algerian liberation war, did not dispute Kagame’s version of history. This was a price he was willing to pay.
What France Wants
On April 28, 2021, Mozambique’s President Nyusi visited Kagame in Rwanda. Nyusi told Mozambique’s news broadcasters that he had come to learn about Rwanda’s interventions in the Central African Republic and to ascertain Rwanda’s willingness to assist Mozambique in Cabo Delgado.
On May 18, Macron hosted a summit in Paris, “seeking to boost financing in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” which was attended by several heads of government, including Kagame and Nyusi, the president of the African Union (Moussa Faki Mahamat), the president of the African Development Bank (Akinwumi Adesina), the president of the West African Development Bank (Serge Ekué), and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (Kristalina Georgieva). Exit from “financial asphyxiation” was at the top of the agenda, although in private meetings there were discussions about Rwandan intervention in Mozambique.
A week later, Macron left for a visit to Rwanda and South Africa, spending two days (May 26 and 27) in Kigali. He repeated the broad findings of the Duclert report, brought along 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda (where only around 4 percent of the population had received the first dose by the time of his visit), and spent time in private talking to Kagame. On May 28, alongside South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron talked about Mozambique, saying that France was prepared to “take part in operations on the maritime side,” but would otherwise defer to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and to other regional powers. He did not mention Rwanda specifically.
Rwanda entered Mozambique in July, followed by SADC forces, which included South African troops. France got what it wanted: Its energy giant can now recoup its investment.