Freedom Flotilla III…we are back.

It’s been a busy month. In early March I got an email from my Swedish friend Charlie, who I worked with in Gaza in 2013 on the Gaza Ark. All he said was “Do you want a job?”. Trusting soul that I am, I replied “yes, where do I go.” Four days later I found myself in Greece, working on repairing a ship called the Juliano for the next flotilla to Gaza, Freedom Flotilla III.

The Juliano, ready to sail to Gaza.

The Juliano, ready to sail to Gaza.

After spending a few weeks crawling around her engine room, fixing machinery, and enjoying the Greek hospitality, Charlie asked “Do you want to go to Sweden and see the Swedish Ship to Gaza, the Marianne av Goteborg? Sure I said. And now I’ve spent another few weeks crawling around her engine room, fixing machinery and enjoying Swedish hospitality.

The Marianne av Goteborg, named for a well loved and recently passed local activist.

The Marianne av Goteborg, named for a well loved and recently passed local activist.

Now the Swedes have asked if I would be their engineer on the Marianne av Goteborg, when she sails to Gaza in early May. I said sure, it would be an honour. So in a few weeks we will steam out of Gothenburg Sweden, and head to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. On the way we will visit Denmark, France, Basque Country, Spain, Italy and other ports to publicize the illegal Israeli blockade of Palestine and pick up donations for Gaza.
The ship is a wooden 1977 Danish side trawler fish boat. But in a matter of days it has been miraculously converted into a passenger and cargo ship, with many new bunks, cargo space, new galley, new heads and showers, all done with volunteer labour and much donated material.
We are tied up at the Klippen vintage ship dock,in the middle of Gothenburg harbour, so masses of tourists and sightseers have been stopping and wishing us good luck and making donations to the cause. When we buy materials there is often a discount offered after we say it is for Ship to Gaza Sweden.
A Swedish communist comrade spotted my Lenin looks, and suggested I visit the Gastis Hotel in Varberg, where the owner has turned it into a memorial to Lenin. I called the hotel and asked if they would mind if a Lenin impersonator visited their hotel (for some strange reason I packed my Lenin costume). It turns out that tomorrow is the annual Lenin literary award night at the Gastis Hotel, so Lenin was more then welcome, and may get a free night of accommodation and a dip in the world famous Gastis Hotel Leninbath.

Who says Communism is dead, I feel just fine.

Who says Communism is dead, I feel just fine.

Lefty troubadour David Rovics, also happens to be touring Sweden, so on the 22nd my alter ego Lenin will again return to life, to attend Davids, Joe Hill 100th anniversary memorial concert here in Gothenburg, at the local Communist Party HQ. I better brush up on the entire Internationale…Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth…
As I said, it has been a busy month, with more to come.
Goodnight from Gothenburg

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Mavi Marmara photo access

I was one of the only persons to manage to smuggle a camera chip off the Mavi Marmara and past the Israeli security.  Since then I have personally given digital copies of the photos to hundreds of people.  To help distribute them, I put a Photobucket link at the top of this website, but I find that it is not a smooth nor easy link.  So I have attached a “widget” link on the right lower sidebar of this website, which connects to a Flickr site, so anyone can easily view and copy my Mavi photos.  I’ve also added some basic text information to describe the photos.  If anyone wants to read my Mavi story, check out my May 25th 2012 blog post, “Mavi Marmara Attack”.  Another good info source is a free on-line book entitled “Witnesses of the Freedom Flotilla”.

Mavi Marmara justice grinds slowly, but grinds exceedingly fine.

I am in Istanbul and tomorrow, Dec. 9th, I will attend the on-going trial of the 4 Israeli generals who were responsible for the May 2010 attack on the Mavi Marmara and the Freedom Flotilla.  They are being tried for the murder of 10, wounding of 155, and the kidnapping, brutalization and torture of over 700 civilian aid workers, while they were in international waters, trying to take humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Turkish court has already issued arrest warrants for the generals, and will eventually ask the worldwide Interpol police force to find them and extradite them to Turkey to stand trial for murder, kidnapping and torture. Then these war criminals will have to be constantly looking over their shoulders when ever they travel.  The time is coming when they, and Israel, will have to face justice for all the crimes they have committed. When I complained to my Canadian government about what the Israelis did to me on the Mavi, (assault, attempted murder, kidnapping and theft of $4000 cash etc etc), the Federal Foreign Affairs department told me to fly to Israel, go to the nearest Israeli police station and file a complaint report with them!  Not very helpful advice to say the least, especially as I am banned for life from Israel by their wonderfully democratic government.

Below is a “wanted” poster from the streets of Istanbul, for Israeli General Ashkenazi (the Hebrew name is for the wrong general and it’s reversed…printer error!).  I guess with a reward of only 1 lira, they feel that they don’t need to offer much of an incentive to get them all captured and sentenced.

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Liliany Obando is free again (for now)

Last evening I was in the Obando family Bogota apartment, busy preparing for a morning meeting with the judge in charge of Liliany Obando’s case, when the door bell rang.  Upon openning the door there stood Liliany, next to a huge bodyguard and two lawyers.  It seems that in the midst of a meeting that the lawyers were having with the prison authorities, trying to get medical attention and legal aid for Liliany, the prison director said, “If you have a car, then just take her away!”.  It would appear that all the emails and phone calls from all over the world, demanding Liliany’s release, had finally had an effect. For more info see – http://www.inspp.org/

She is still under house arrest, unable to work or go to school, with no income, and, as always, under threat from death squads.   But at least she is home with her family.  I was fortunate to have also been present when she was first released from prison in 2012.  And just like that time, after all the hugging and kissing was done, she immediately set to work on press releases and communications with supporters and the media.  She may be out of prison, but she has not forgotten that 9500 other poitical prisoners are still languishing in Colombian prisons, and we should not forget them either.

So for the next 2 weeks of my visit, I will be sharing Liliany’s house arrest with her and her family, and for good reason. On July 24th, Reinel de Jesus Cano, the president of a farmers’ union, ANUC, was murdered, immediatey after attending the funeral of the recenty executed ANUC union manager, Pablo Garcia Liano.  These are just two of dozens of attacks and executions of unionists this year (http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Colombia.html?lang=en).  Why are Liliany Obando, and all other Colombian labour leaders, living in fear of execution by death squads, who are protecting Canadian companies making billions from the resources and cheap labour of Colombia?  Where is the protection for Colombian labour activists, that Mr. Harper’s Canada/Colombia Free Trade agreement, was supposed to guarantee?  

In Colombia, and in Canada’s corporate board rooms, profits come before justice.  Canada’s economy is being supported by Colombian blood.

Liliany, her family, myself and the lawyers who got her released.

Liliany (center), with her children, mother, myself and the two lawyers who just got her released.

Sudden Return to Bogota

A few days ago, Colombian union activist and friend Ms. Liliany Obando, was rearrested and thrown back into prison.  In some of my earlier blog posts, between 2008 and 2012, I documented the long and torturous path Ms. Obando had gone through. A single mother of two young children she had been jailed in a hell hole prison for over three and a half years on trumpted up charges of supporting “terrorism”.   Finally released two years ago to house arrest and a $400,000 US fine, she has now been rearrested.  Just days ago she was asked by a judicial officer of some sort to accompany him to an “interview”.  Once she had involuntarily left her apartment, she was thrown into a solitary confinement jail cell, and charged with breaking her house arrest conditions by leaving her apartment.  She feels she is being blatantly revictimised because of her unflagging opposition to the prison and government authorities.  She is a very brave women, who deserves our support.  

On Wednesday I received an urgent email from her support group, the International Network in Solidarity with Colombia’s Political Prisoners (INSPP), asking that I go to Bogota immediatey to act as a human rights observer/shield for her and her family. So 24 hours later I was in Bogota with her family, and visited Ms. Obando in a former Colombian secret service (DAS) jail and torture center. She was on a hunger strike, but ended it today after she fell due to weakness, striking and injuring her head.  We are now trying to get her medical attention and legal assistance. There seems to be a jurisdictional tug of war going on between some court authorities, who want to release her, and the prison authorities and government, who want to hold on to her.  If any of my Spanish speaking friends would like to help, please feel free to phone Ms. Obando’s judge, Madam Martha Jahel Amezquita, at 011-57-2846527, and  politely ask in Spanish, that she release Ms. Obando back to her family.

To follow her situation please check out the INSPP’s website at http://www.inspp.org/ or her Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Freedom-for-Liliany-Obando/670291979732741

Liliany Obando

Liliany Obando, one of Colombia’s 9500 political priosners

Whlie I was here I took the opportunity to attend the Communist Party of Colombia’s annual La Voz fiesta.

"The Left Lives!" and is alive and well in Bogota.

“The Left Lives!” and is alive and well in Bogota.

I brought along my Lenin cap and shaved accordingly, so I was very well received by the Colombian comrades.

"Lenin" with Colombian comrades.

“Lenin” with Colombian comrades.

 I am often attacked and harassed by rabid Zionists because I am supposedly anti-Semetic, because they say that I am only concerned with attacking Israel, which obviously is not true.  But even in far off Bogota, I can not avoid remembering Palestine, as the main banner at this event called for Palestine’s freedom.  

True internationalist spirit in Bogota for Palestine

True internationalist spirit in Bogota for Palestine

A Bogota tee shirt, reminding us that Che stood with Palestine

A Bogota tee shirt, reminding us that Che stood with Palestine

It was a grand fiesta, and if you look to the left of the stage, you can see the guard towers, wall and cell  blocks of Bogota's main men's prison, so  some of Colombia's 9500 political prisoners could also enjoy the music and speeches.

It was a grand fiesta, and if you look to the left of the stage, you can see the guard towers, barb wired wall and cell blocks of Bogota’s main mens’ prison. The festival organisers brazenly held it next door to the prison, so some of Colombia’s 9500 political prisoners could also enjoy the music and speeches.

Stateless Canadian citizens

Mohammed Fahmy’s situation of being abandoned by the Canadian (Harper) government, is similar to my situation after the Israelis jailed me after the 2010 Mavi Marmara hijacking. The Canadian embassy told me “There is nothing we can do for you.”, and then “You can expect to be in here for a long time”. The Turkish government got me out, not my government. John Greyson and Tarek Loubani also suffered the same treatment, languishing for 4 months in 2013 in the same Egyptian prison as Mr. Fahmy, with little or no help from the Canadian government. As I said in a blog back in 2010, the Harper regime will make his political/ideological opponents suffer in foreign jails, in order to punish them and so dissuade others from doing activist work overseas. Any Canadian heading to Gaza, via Egypt, to join the Gaza Ark project, will be up against the Israeli, Egyptian and sadly our own government.  When political activists leave Canada, they are now, for all intents and purposes, stateless citizens.  

 

Of course, the much more important case, of the 1000+ Egyptians who have been condemned to death by the Egyptian coup generals, has not even been worthy of comment, let alone condemnation by our government.  Shame!

Lying and cheating in El Salvador’s election

I was an official election observer for both the 1st and 2nd rounds of El Salvador’s 2014 presidential election.  The March 9th second round of the Salvadoran election was a close one, with the FMLN winning by only 0.22%, a 6,300 vote lead out of 3 million votes, a record turnout. So how did the right wing ARENA party, with only 39% in the 1st round, come so close to over taking the FMLN, which had 49% in the 1st round?  Well, basically by using lies, threats, intimidation and cheating.  In its 2nd round campaign, ARENA simply promised to do everything that the FMLN had already promised or done, usurping their campaign.  For example, the FMLN government gave free education, school books, back packs, uniforms, shoes and a daily meal with a glass of milk to every Salvadoran school child. 

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As can be seen in this photo, ARENA blatantly steals the FMLN program victory, by proclaiming on its ARENA billboards that “We Eat Well in School”, showing healthy kids in new uniforms and backpacks, with glasses of milk in their hands, all of which was provided by the FMLN not ARENA.

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As part of the intimidation campaign, the pro ARENA media, ran a daily stream of lurid anti-Chavista, Venezuela articles, suggesting that the same fascist violence was in store for El Salvador, if the FMLN won the election.

On election day I saw wholesale cheating and intimidation by ARENA, at the “Feria Internacional” polling station in San Salvador. 

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Election rules state that there can be no campaigning within 300 meters of the polling station entrance, but here you cannot even see the poll entrance, behind all the ARENA campaign propaganda.

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Voters had to line up amongst intimidating ARENA propaganda, activists and huge speakers blaring out ARENA songs, just to enter the polling station yard.

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To enter the outer polling station yard, voters had to literally push their way through crowds of ARENA activists and goons, many illegally handing out propaganda.
 
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Here over 32 ARENA activists jam the entrance to the inner polling station hall at the bottom of the photo, again intimidating voters and handing out illegal propaganda.
 
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Some of the masses of ARENA propaganda being illegally handed out inside the polling station.
 
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But with the support of the majority of Salvadorans, like this vote being counted, the FMLN won, despite ARENA’s cheating, intimidation and lies. 
Now we have to do whatever we can to support the new FMLN government against the expected attacks of ARENA and the US government.  Perhaps consider being an election observer at the March 2015 El Salvadoran legislative elections.  If so, contact the FMLN or the fine Salvadoran NGO CIS.
Thanks for your time and interest.
Kevin Neish
Official election observer for both 2014 presidential elections and the 2000, 2009 and 2012 elections.