Syria: Too many questions

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Next week, the powers that be in Washington DC will decide whether or not to instruct their Congress people on payroll to support Obama’s request to bomb Syria “because they crossed a red line.”  There are already signs which would point towards the fact that POTUS will get enough legislative support to initiate what is grotesquely referred to as “surgical strikes”, as long as he doesn’t put boots on the ground.

There is no honor or moral ground for this American trigger-happy strike. Let me be clear that by saying this I am not establishing a supportive position towards the Bashar Al Assad government nor justifying the alleged use of chemical warfare in the civil conflict in Syria. Having said this, here is a list of reasons for which the U.S. should not unilaterally attack Syria.

  • First and foremost, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against combatants and/or civilians has not been (yet) verified or “evidenced” by anyone except the U.S. government. John Kerry’s recent declaration on the subject does not present any evidence whatsoever. He references that this needs to be “discussed directly with the American people” but creates a case for buy-in based on questionable data. Of course, he references the already famous Syria YouTube videos because it is easier to shock and awe via video than presenting actual research and showing real proof… but these videos’ authenticity has been more than questioned even by mainstream U.S. media. Allegations of actors being used to stage attacks and crisis scenes, videos showing staged gun shots to enhance dramatic effect, etc. are flooding the internet and putting huge question marks on how the propaganda war is being fought vs. the war on the ground.
  • The 9-page report that has been declassified in order to generate public support on the attack provides as much real PROOF as that Powerpoint presentation Powell showed the world with Iraq’s WMDs. See the document for yourself… hell, they didn’t even bother to use little fun graphics this time!
  • In that same declaration, Kerry states that Syria should respect the U.N.’s mandate and allow its’ inspection team to draw effective conclusions on the alleged chemical warfare program (min. 7:40) . The level of irony in that is just off the charts! If the U.S. respects the U.N. mandate and the inspection team’s research so much, they should not act preemptively. They should wait for the U.N. inspection team’s report to be published before drawing conclusions on whether or not a strike would be justified (in their own eyes, let alone those of the international community). The report is due to come out within the next three weeks.
  • THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “SURGICAL STRIKE.” There is nothing “surgical” about bombing another country with questionable evidence and questionable intelligence. If we’ve learned ANYTHING from recent incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that this “surgical strike” rhetoric is just that. Rhetoric.
  • Today, there is no international community support for a strike against Syria. This is not just a U.S. vs Russia and China in the Security Council discussion. The only relevant country willing to stand by the U.S. on this one, with very questionable motives, is France. The world is sending the U.S. a clear signal: WAIT for the U.N. report and THEN let’s have a real discussion based on FACTS as to how to deal with the Syrian crisis.
  • The “red line” argument has no real bearing in international law. Obama set this standard in order to later justify the incursion by saying “we told them not to cross the line, now they’ve done it and if we don’t attack, we lose face and credibility.” No, Mr. President, a faster way to lose face and credibility is to act irresponsibly and take unilateral decisions in order to look like a badass. Leave that type of behaviour for fourthgraders. You are the leader of the free world. Start acting like it.
  • Whodunnit and who has the authority to respond? If in the end, the conclusion is that chemical warfare was used by insurgents and not the government, then this continues to be a domestic issue, another chapter in a horrible and tragic civil war and the U.S. has no authority to intervene. If it is proven that it was Bashar Al Assad who used chemical weapons, this action needs to be denounced by the international community in international forums within and outside of the UN system but the only one empowered to authorize the use of force, per Chapter VII of the UN Charter, is the United Nations Security Council. I know that the excuse now is that you will never be able to circumvent Russia and China’s veto power BUT if the UN inspection team (and not the U.S.) provides sufficient proof of state use of chemical weapons, enough pressure COULD be put on the superpowers in order to react responsively and responsibly. The U.N. system was created with complex checks and balances for a reason. It SHOULD be hard for countries to attack other countries. That’s the only way to keep hope for peace alive.
  • What’s the hurry, Mr. President? Use of chemical weapons or no use of them, people have been dying and suffering because of this conflict for more than two years. Now that the U.N. says they will publish a report on their inspection you’re in a hurry to bomb before they do? I’m sure your real constituents, those who voted for you, would want you to wait. Hell, I don’t have to say it, Americans are saying it themselves! Congress, THESE are the people you are supposed to work for, not the handful that pour millions of dollars into your campaigns or the Saudi government. Listen to your constituency.      

THERE IS NO INTERNATIONAL WAR SOLUTION FOR THE SYRIAN CONFLICT. A road to peace in the country and the region NEEDS to be political. Mr. Obama: DO NOT UNILATERALLY BOMB SYRIA. There are too many questions unanswered and you’re in too much of a hurry to push the red button.

Dear reader: unfortunately most of us do not have access to make a direct impact or difference in the matter but if you agree with the points herein stated, please circulate this post. Share it with friends and contacts and maybe, just maybe, it will reach the hands of someone with more influence than a concerned citizen of the world and a member of the majority of us who side with the ideal of peace. 

The Path of #YoSoy132

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Path of #YoSoy132“, published on June. 27th, 2012. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

#YoSoy132 has been called many things: “the voice of a new generation;” “the Mexican Spring;” and “young people manipulated by the PRD [Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution]” are just a few. Whatever its true nature, this youth movement has left a new mark on electoral processes in Mexico—one which could shape not only the outcome but the aftermath of the 2012 Mexican elections next Sunday.

It all began on May 11 when Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), belittled a group of student protesters that had gathered at the Universidad Iberoamericana to repudiate his presence there. Peña Nieto called them a small group of rabble-rousers, accused them of not being actual students and minimized their protest to opposition made up of only 131 people.

This led to the students uploading a YouTube video showing their university IDs and claiming that their cause was shared by many more young people. The video went viral and the story spiraled into Twitter via the hashtag #YoSoy132 (“I Am 132”). Without a cohesive agenda or clarity with regards to what “being 132” really meant, people sympathized with the students and began retweeting that they too were 132.

A series of strange events followed, making the nature of the movement even less clear and more confusing. Initially, it seemed that the movement’s sole purpose was to demand objective coverage from the largest television news outlet in the country, which allegedly has given favorable coverage to Peña Nieto’s candidacy. However, allegiance to PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) from some of the movement’s leaders despite being a nonpartisan movement, an inconsistent rhetoric of formally campaigning against Peña Nieto while calling for media objectivity, and conflicting messages from its members have left most Mexicans wondering what it actually means to state that Yo Soy 132

Students attempted to organize; they took to the streets and demanded that the second presidential debate be broadcast over the main TV channels; they held an assembly in order to look for an aligned, common vision. Judging from their concluding declaration and the following fallout of rogue mini-groups, they failed at this objective—but the movement continued to grow in a somewhat chaotic manner. #YoSoy132 was even able to hold a presidential debate on June 19 with an innovative format and the use of internet to connect different students from their homes to pitch questions to candidates. Playing it safe, Peña Nieto declined the invitation to participate.

Recently, the hacktivist group Anonymous, through its Mexico branch, published a video which calls out the federal electoral authority—Institudo Federal Electoral (IFE)—of apparent intention to manipulate the final voting tally in favor of Peña Nieto.

The “preparation for fraud” discourse has been heightened not only by Anonymous, but coincidentally by #YoSoy132 and by AMLO himself. While #YoSoy132 has been threatening that “Si hay imposición habrá revolución” (if there is imposition there will be a revolution), López Obrador has stated that he knows that the PRI is preparing a fraud but his team will be more vigilant to prevent it, similar to his accusations six years ago when he was the presidential runner-up to Felipe Calderón. To make matters more worrisome, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (Popular Revolutionary Army—EPR) guerrilla group has recently applauded #YoSoy132 and stated that they would take AMLO at his word and support taking arms in order to avoid “a neoliberal candidate” seizing power.

For the sake of any functional democratic state, electoral fraud must be avoided. A system of checks and balances which is actually built in to the Mexican democratic system—including observers and scrutinizers, exit polls, citizen participation in the actual vote counting, and other mechanisms—seems to be insufficient. And while one should not be disingenuous and think that that these mechanisms fully prevent fraudulent practices from taking place from any candidate, a bigger danger is now present: What if #YoSoy132, Anonymous, EPR and others simply don’t like the outcome of the election because their choice did not come out on top, fraud or no fraud? What if Peña Nieto actually and fairly wins but AMLO, as in 2006, does not recognize defeat?

In the first weeks of #YoSoy132 emerging, people started comparing the movement to the Arab Spring and specifically the Egyptian deposition of Hosni Mubarak. While there is simply no comparison between the Mubarak regime and Mexico’s current political and institutional reality, there is one thing in common: Whenever a grassroots movement with no clear agenda, vision, values, or follow-through plan is able to cluster different groups together in order to eliminate or threaten a common enemy, it may be effective in damaging or removing the unwanted player from the mix—but dangerously ineffective in providing a long-term outcome which benefits all those who pulled together. Given the current state of Egypt, Mexicans should learn from this example.

Today, apparently #YoSoy132 means “I don’t want Peña Nieto to win”—but for different reasons. Some support the group because they feel traditional media should not be biased. Others like it because they want AMLO to be the next president. A few think that they support Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) by saying they are 132. Anonymous seems to want the IFE to be impartial and EPR says that being 132 means taking arms and not supporting the world’s predominant economic model. Some consider being 132 good and active citizenship; others a call to arms against the establishment.

While I applaud the awakened spirit of youth taking a more active role in this election and hope this will mean a larger young voter turnout than what was projected prior to the movement, as long as there is no consensus about what being 132 means, Yo No Soy 132 and I hope for avoidance of post-electoral violence, no matter who Mexico elects as its president this Sunday.

As Gabby Giffords steps down…

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As Gabby Giffords steps down from Congress, I would like to honor her decision by exposing and remembering that religious extremist fanaticism is behind much of the hatred that is ruining civil society not only in the US, but worldwide.

We have made great progress in spreading tolerance among much of our youth. Technology has actually helped bring people together and one would think this would mean it has allowed us to create a more peaceful, worldview. Unfortunately, technology  has also given the crazies a soundboard and allowed them to congregate and cluster.

This creates a hard but necessary decision. While I am all for tolerance and free speech, I have to conclude that tolerance must have its limits. Paradoxically, we cannot be tolerant towards intolerance. When I see something like the following video, I can’t bring myself to saying “it is Mr. Phelps’ right to spread hatred like this.”

Maybe it is his right. Maybe there’s no legal way to stop these nutjobs from saying their crap. Maybe the only resource we have against them is the same free speech that allows him to reach an audience with such stupid remarks. If that is the case, then let me go ahead and exercise my free speech: SCREW YOU WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH. Thanks for listening.

Hacking for Freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement #OpCartel

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Hacking for freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement” , published on Nov 4th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

PS. I posted an earlier version of this article on this blog yesterday. This is the up to date version given the fact that the story has evolved since I first wrote  it.

—–

On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.

Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hacker’s intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free.

Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous globally. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.

Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network who had been abducted. But it quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel.

But according to a Brown, a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonetheless to go ahead with the operation.” This is why, even after the release of the victim, Brown plans to move forward on the canceled operation. Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown. It is a catalyst for widespread outcry; however, it is a weak means to organize a movement that can actually follow through after reaching its objective. Thus, the fallout of Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis, but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system. Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience. Does Anonymous have the moral and role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see what Barret Brown will do. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember the 5th of November.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

History occurs faster than publishing… #OpCartel

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I was going to get a story on Anonymous’ #OpCartel published at AQBlog, most likely tomorrow, but I just learned that the hacker group’s operation has been cancelled due to the fact that the drug cartel released the kidnapped hacker. An independent journalist abroad has stated that he will carry out the operation but independently from Anonymous, as the group has been threatened by the cartel with dire repercussions and retaliation if they follow through on their threats to publish the names of government officials linked to organized crime…

Anyways, I will probably end up editing the story in order to update it before it goes online at the Americas Quarterly blog but I wanted to share with you the original story, as it was written and intended. I’ll let you know when the updated story also goes online.

I hope you like it:
Hacking for freedom in Mexico

 On November 5th, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that on said date they will unleash “Operation Cartel” informing the world of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country. If Anonymous is successful, their actions could lead to a nation-wide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

 In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by a rogue hacker group who threatens to open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

 It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free. 

 Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it on. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

 According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous world-wide. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.   

 Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network which had been abducted, but quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2nd, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel but according to a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonethless to go ahead with the operation.” Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

 In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown, a catalyst for widespread outcry though a weak means to organize a movement which can follow through after reaching their objective. Thus, Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system.  Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience.  The question is, does Anonymous have the role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

 A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

 For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see the development of Operation Cartel. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember, remember the 5th of November.

A friday message, via @rtarrats

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I watched this video on a friend’s YouTube channel and it got me thinking. Guys, really… when you get home today from the office and you’ve got time to spend with friends and family, leave the damn iPhone/BlackBerry/Android or whatever “smart” phone you have on the table. I’m gonna start doing that a lot more and more often.

The world is not going to end if you don’t answer that BBChat notice, return a poke or retweet something.

Disconnect to connect. Enjoy your weekend and thanks for stopping by.

Shoutouts go to @rtarrats for this one. Excelente selección, Presi.

Please share this link

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Ok, this one is serious you guys. I don’t normally do this, but I think this one is worth it. Please do forward, re-post, retweet, post on your facebook or just talk about this with your friends and family. As the video says, it takes 10 minutes.

Thank you for visiting.