Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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Stolen Children: a tribute to Cristián Orrego

Cristián Orrego is in the final stages of a struggle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Based at the Human Rights Center, University of California in Berkeley, and more recently in El Salvador, as a forensic geneticist Cristián inspired and enabled me to write Stolen children.  It documents the deeply stirring birth and life of Pro-Búsqueda (For the search), a Salvadoran citizens’ organization that seeks to find and reunite children and relatives forcibly separated during the 1980s military assault on the people of that battered country.  Their story became a key chapter in my book Bold Scientists, about working scientists who question and defy a range of status quos

When I asked Cristián what motivates him in his often frustrating work, he replied: “I only have to think of the strength and determination of the families, who carry on this struggle for decades in the face of so much official indifference, greed, and laziness—the indifference of a state toward what happened in the past, ignoring that the future will be better by understanding the past, laziness in the sense of a society so indifferent to the loss of its children, and greed in the sense of not wishing to disrupt business as usual.”

I’m posting the Stolen children chapter here, as a tribute to Cristián Orrego, to forensic geneticist Patricia Vásquez Marías, his partner in life and work, and to the people of Pro-Búsqueda.

Stolen Children

In the autumn of 1982, a California couple, Jerry and Greta Fillingim, began the process of adopting a child from El Salvador. Their family story would be intertwined with the history of a people. Only a few months earlier, the Salvadoran army had launched a brutal incursion in the department (administrative region) of Chalatenango, in which forty-six to fifty-three children disappeared, including two young sisters, Erlinda (age three) and Ernestina Serrano Cruz (age seven). No one knows what happened to the sisters after that, or rather, the few who do know hide behind a wall of silence and immunity. One or both of the sisters could still be alive, now in their thirties, in El Salvador or elsewhere. Relatives continue to search.

This story begins a century and a half earlier.

1840: El Salvador, a small country in Central America, achieves independence from Spain.

1932, January: By now, fourteen wealthy families control 90 per cent of El Salvador’s land, mostly growing coffee for export. When prices drop, the lives of campesinos go from grim to desperate. Finally the campesinos rebel, led by Agustín Farabundo Martí. In reprisal, the army kills thirty- to forty-thousand Salvadorans.

1975, July: In the capital, San Salvador, soldiers open fire on unarmed antigovernment protesters.

1977, February: Another rigged Salvadoran election installs another general as president. More than two hundred unarmed protesters are killed.

1977, March: Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande García is assassinated, to silence his outspoken advocacy of liberation theology—interpreting the Christian gospels as a call to struggle for justice and equity. His murder is widely believed to have moved his friend Oscar Romero, the previously conservative archbishop of El Salvador, to embrace liberation theology.

1978–1979: Across El Salvador, popular protests intensify against rising military repression.

1979, November: U.S. president Jimmy Carter authorizes military aid to El Salvador, and American military “advisers” are sent to train Salvadoran security forces.

1980, March 23: In Archbishop Romero’s Sunday sermon, broadcast live on radio, he directly addresses soldiers: “Brothers, you are all killing your fellow countrymen. No soldier has to obey an order to kill. It is time to regain your conscience. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.” The next day, a military death squad assassinates Romero while he conducts mass in a small chapel.

1980, March 30: For  Archbishop Romero’s funeral, more than two hundred thousand Salvadorans fill la Plaza Libertad in San Salvador. Soldiers fire on the crowd from the National Palace. At least fifty people are killed.

1980, May 14: The military, national guard, and death squads massacre at least three hundred men, women, and children trying to flee across the Sumpul River from Chalatenango into Honduras. Honduran troops prevent the fleeing Salvadorans from coming ashore.

1980, October: Five revolutionary organizations join forces in the FMLN, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, named for the leader of the 1932 uprising. In 1980, according to the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador, army and security forces kill 11,895 people, most of them peasants, trade union members, students, journalists, priests, and human rights advocates.

1981, January: The FMLN launches its first major initiative, advancing swiftly in Chalatenango and Morazán.

1981, December: At the village of El Mozote in Morazán, more than a thousand civilians are massacred by the Atlacatl Battalion, armed and trained by “counterinsurgency” specialists from the U.S. army. That same month, the Reagan administration refuses the FMLN’s offer of peace negotiations, and increases aid to the military. In 1981, according to the Christian Legal Aid Office, army and security forces killed more than sixteen thousand Salvadorans, the vast majority of them civilians.

1982, May–June: Salvadoran army battalions attack northern Chalatenango. The army calls it Operación Limpieza (operation clean-up); the people of Chalatenango call it Guinda (running away) de Mayo. More than six hundred civilians are killed, and approximately fifty children, including the Serrano Cruz sisters, disappear.

1982, July: President Reagan “certifies” to the U.S. Congress that human rights standards have improved in El Salvador, so that new military aid can be authorized.

 

The horror in El Salvador continued for another ten years, until 1992 when the Chapultepec peace accords were signed in Mexico. By year-end, the UN Truth Commission concluded that seventy- to seventy-five-thousand Salvadorans were killed during the war, 95 per cent of them by government forces, 5 per cent by the FMLN. The commission called for perpetrators of human rights atrocities to be brought to justice. But within days, the right-wing Arena government decreed a blanket amnesty for all those implicated in such crimes. That immunity from prosecution still stands today.

International Adoption

The Fillingims Get the Call

I meet Jerry and Greta Fillingim with their daughter Angela in the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Continue reading


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Jerusalem bleeding

Al Quds.  Jerusalem.  Yerushalayim.  It is all of these, and it is bleeding.

President Trump performing at the western wall, Jerusalem

This week the US regime announced it would move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  In so doing it becomes the first country in the world to buy the Zionist claim that Jerusalem is the ‘real’ capital of Israel, and to break the long-held international and UN consensus that Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Israel because it is illegally occupied.

No matter.  In return for enough cash and votes in the US, the people who run that imperial country simply gave away Jerusalem to the Israeli regime.

Of course it was never theirs to give.  Neither was Palestine when the former imperial power, Britain, gave it away 100 years ago to the Zionist movement.

In a 1917 letter to Lord Rothschild, a British Zionist leader, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  And so it was done, at the stroke of an imperial pen.

This week’s equivalent assault by the US can only produce more of the same ‘benefits’ the British favour has been dispensing since 1917.  More lies, more ignorance, more hypocrisy, more hatred, more repression, more suffering, more violence, more death.

From western regimes, historically biased and/or fearful of the Israel lobby, the best we can expect are a few meek murmurings of ‘cause for concern,’ but no meaningful opposition.  As usual that will have to come from the rest of us.

As I see it, the most effective way to stand with the besieged Palestinians is through the international grassroots campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction the illegal occupier, Israel.  In short, BDS.

Here I offer impressions gleaned from my own travels in Palestine-Israel.  These generated a book, Our Way to Fight, about courageous Palestinians and Israelis fighting for a just peace in the battered land that many call holy.  From those same travels also emerged Deus Vult/God wills it, a short, pungent history of Jerusalem before, during and since the Crusades.

That article follows below.  A few fragments:

…Archeological findings suggest human habitation here for at least fifty centuries.  Some linguists believe the name Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in contemporary Hebrew, was derived from the Jebusite (a tribe of Canaan) Ur-Shalem, which translates loosely as ‘City of Peace.’  The Arabic name for the city, Al-Quds, means “the holy.”  The faithful of three religions consider it holy, with the result that peace here has tended to be rather elusive.  By one historian’s count, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times….

…..The European invasion known as The First Crusade occurred in the last decade of the 11th century.  It was sparked by Pope Urban II in 1095 with a series of ferocious sermons across Catholic Europe, in which he denounced Muslims – or Saracens, as they were called at the time, a term that evoked both contempt and fear – as pagans, rapists, defilers of Christian holy places, and all in all “a race absolutely alien to God.”  At the launch of this vicious campaign for an invasion of Jerusalem, it is reported that a great roar went up from the assembled crowd: Deus vult!  God wills it!

An estimated army of 40 – 60,000 volunteers started out on the long march from Europe to Palestine.  Along the way, many Jews were massacred by the Christian zealots.  Probably now the victims would be called collateral damage.  Also enroute, many foot-soldiers died from hunger, disease or in battle, and many defected.  Some 12 – 15,000 survivors reached Jerusalem in early June, in the roasting heat of deep summer, to besiege the thick-walled, well-defended city.  At about midday on July 15, 1099, the Crusaders managed to break through a section of the northern wall east of Herod’s Gate, a short walk from the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

According to Crusader eye-witness reports, within two days nearly all the Muslims in the city were killed.  The Jews, who had lived at peace with their Muslim neighbours, sought refuge in their synagogue; the Crusaders burned them alive.  Fulcher, a chaplain and chronicler from Chartres, wrote thus of the Christian invaders’ motives: “They desired that this place, so long contaminated by the superstition of pagan inhabitants, should be cleansed from their contagion.”  Several reports describe a triumphal procession of nobles and clergy to the Holy Sepulchre, through streets that ran with blood – some said as deep as the ankle, some the knee.  Deus vult!  the Crusaders chanted along the way. God wills it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Read on…. Continue reading


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In a tiny country far, far away…

Yemen.  It’s in the news, briefly.  But not enough, not nearly enough.

yemen-war-ruins

Ruling regimes in the US, UK and Saudi Arabia continue to rain down mass murder on this tiny country far, far away, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.  This is their favourite kind of war, one of many directed from above, with impunity, by one US president after another, along with their collaborators and apologists.

As usual the big media reliably pour out a relentless blur of effluent as to the perpetrators’ motives, goals, and actions.  But really it’s not so complicated.  As in so many vicious wars far, far away, this one is about oil and control.  All the horror is merely collateral damage, invisible to the willfully closed eye.

However, up-to-date insight can be gleaned from a few sources, including yesterday’s post by the remarkably well-informed blogger Moon of Alabama, here.


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You are what you exfoliate

This is not a joke.  It is not science fiction.  It may be a beauty tip.

Turns out one of the CIA’s countless tentacles, its venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, has a stake in a US company producing cosmetic products that claim to erase blemishes and soften skin.

Clearista adImage: Clearista.com

Why?  It’s not enough for Big Brother to watch and listen to everything we do, say, write, or think.  He also wants to know what we exfoliate.

All in a day’s work for the Central Intelligence Agency, which never rests in its mission of protecting The Free World from democracy.  As the heading on their website proclaims: The Work of a Nation.  The Center of Intelligence.

Here’s the skinny from investigative journalist Lee Fang at The Intercept: CIA Funds Skin Care Products That Collect DNA.


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Act now or get out of the way.

100 percent possible, the march

Ottawa, Canada, November 29, 2015.

On a grey, chilly day, 25,000 of us (give or take a few) took to the streets of the national capitol.  Beautifully diverse in race, origin, faith, age, gender, orientation, and politics, we sent one message to those in power: Climate solutions and climate justice = 100% Possible. 100% renewables by 2050 = 100% possible.  Act now or get out of the way.

If you ask me, 2050 is too far away. So easy for slippery politicians to say, “2050? Why not, whatever…” But that’s just me, quibbling.

I suspect there are few illusions among this crowd as to what we face: a towering, apparently seamless wall of greed, governments bought and sold, rampant corruption, fear and inertia.  By hook or by crook, the arrogant few inside the castle control the levers of power and will do whatever it takes to hold onto them.

One example: In France the government used the recent attacks in Paris as an excuse to ban all public demonstrations at COP21, the glamourous big stage where ‘world leaders’ aired their platitudes this week, while groveling to their corporate sponsors.  Citizens who defied the ban – public protest being one of the few levers we still have – were tear-gassed by police then truckloads of them were arrested.  The authorities also house-arrested climate justice activists, and then a lawyer who tried to appeal the protest ban in court.

This tyranny was imposed, and will continue to be imposed, in the name of anti-terrorism.  This is the “democracy” that the authorities claim to defend.

But: With the earth’s life support systems under sustained corporate assault and engineered wars, fully backed by virtually every government on the planet, as humanity and our neighbours sink into ever deepening harm and peril, it only takes open eyes to see who are the real terrorists.

Here in comfy Canada, our shiny, smiling new government is doing some good things, beginning to undo at least some of the wreckage perpetrated by the outgoing Northern Republicans (aka Conservatives).  At the same time, the newly elected Liberal government openly supports the atmosphere-killing tar sands, the pipelines and trains needed to deliver their toxic brew to ports and ships on both east and west coasts, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a catastrophic corporate-dictated trade agreement, negotiated in secret, that will make it virtually impossible for any signatory government to take effective action against climate collapse.

But despite all this, people everywhere will continue to find creative ways to express their love for the earth and for justice, and their refusal to comply with those who would trample both.

In Ottawa, November 29, 2015, the people’s march for climate justice culminated with the creation of a giant message to Parliament.  (Look for me about halfway up the right side of the second zero…)

In our thousands, we spelled it out for them: 100% possible.

Act now or get out of the way.

100 percent Possible, Nov 2015


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How low can we go?

October 19, 2015.  Election day in Canada.

Engineered illusions have fueled the Harper regime’s dangerous grip on power.  Here’s good insight into how some of these illusions are collapsing along with international crude oil prices.

Tar sands blight

Stephen Harper’s toxic legacy. (Photo: via PriceofOil.org)

The tar sands corporations and the Harper regime are hard to tell apart.  Both believe that plunder is their right, even their duty.  Both are obsessed with greed and power, their religion.  Both do harm on an almost numbing scale, and call it “good management.” Both depend on each other in myriad ways for their survival.  Both hate democracy.

In addition to the tar sands nightmare, the Harper regime has presided over a full spectrum of unnatural disasters, including: systematic assaults on environmental protections and honest science, starvation of the national health care system, massive surveillance, escalating military budgets and eager participation in criminal wars wherever US authorities choose to attack.

In a sane society, all of these would be considered major crimes.  In Canada, the current regime hopes they will be grounds for their re-election.

I have no illusions about elections as a solution to the enormous problems we face.  I know that once in power, none of the parties on offer will go nearly as far as I think they should to address these vital issues honestly, fairly, and adequately.  But:

By now we know from bitter experience that if the Harper regime can fool enough Canadians into voting for it in October, the disasters will only deepen and multiply.

Question is: How low can we go?

October 19, 2015.  A fateful day for Canada.


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First, do no harm

“I have seen what happens when standards of decency, human rights and ethics are thrown out in a wave of totalitarian or government zeal.” Steven Reisner, member of the Council, American Psychological Association, and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

Torture, Guantanamo

A shining moment: On Friday, August 7 in Toronto, Canada, the American Psychological Association voted to bar its 80,000 members from any further collaboration in ‘national security interrogations,’ ie torture by the American government and its agencies.

This historic shift was hard won, after a decade of grassroots organizing to counter APA executive deceit and collusion with the CIA.

Details here, in three short videos from Democracy Now!

A report on collusion between the CIA and the former executive of the APA, is here.

For a provocative critique of psychological/psychiatric abuse of power, see Bold ScientistsAn excerpt is here.  Scroll down to chapter 7, ODD.