Heroes of the 21st Century

January 15, 2010 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

As the second decade of the 21st century dawns, there are few around the world who are unaware of, or who have been unaffected by, the events of these tumultuous first years of the third millennium. The first years of the Age of Aquarius have seen the world’s richest countries, and some of the world’s poorest people, become embroiled in two resources wars disguised by a cloak of supposed humanitarianism. At the same time, the world is spending more money on arming itself, in an endeavour perhaps to try to bomb the world into peace. We have seen too the ever-encroaching threat of climate change loom closer whilst world leaders dither in its impending shadow. Recent global economic developments have again put paid to the idea of a free market panacea.

However, the events of the past ten years have by no means been an altogether dismal affair. Within Latin America, for example, a group of progressive governments have risen to power buoyed on by the democratic mandates bestowed upon them by their peoples. These administrations have sought, much to the chagrin of the old ruling elites, their multinational allies and their US backers, to reverse the long standing inequalities that exist across South America. Leaders like Chavez, Morales and Correa have shown their commitments to building a fairer society where all peoples can benefit from their continent’s prosperity.

Whilst many are aware of the laudable actions of such leaders, far less known are some of the individuals who have been on the front line of the fight to make a better world possible. Some, such as the 2700 or more Columbian trade unionists murdered in the past 23 years, have paid with their lives in the fight. There were at least 37 confirmed cases of trade unionist killings in 2009 and Columbia remains the most dangerous place in the world for members of a trade union.

A report produced by the National Trade Union School in Colombia in November 2009, titled ‘Death Isn’t mute’ catalogues the various abuses of trade unionists committed in the period 1983-2009. The report reveals that out of the more than 2700 murders that have occurred since 1983, there was no conviction in 95.6% cases.

Others like the Guantanamo Bay detainees -both past and present- languish in prisons, victims of a system which, without proof or jurisdiction, proclaimed them to be terrorists, having decided on who plays the roles of good and evil in the war on terror.

The Miami Five are still in prison despite a worldwide network of supporters calling for their release. These Cubans bravely infiltrated paramilitary organisations that were planning and perpetrating attacks against Cuba. Despite the fact that the Miami Five shared the information about these terrorist organisations with the FBI, no action was taken against the terrorists whilst these five Cubans were arrested and received sentences ranging from 15 years to double life. The trial took place in Miami, the heartland of anti-Castro sentiment and, with the pressure exerted by wealthy Cuban exiles it was impossible that a fair trial could have taken place. In a widely criticised move, two of the men’s wives have repeatedly been denied the visas they require for travel to the US. They have not seen their husbands for several years. Despite supplying information about terrorists to the ‘world leader’ in the ‘war on terror’, true patriots and fighters of terrorism remain unjustly detained.

The people of Honduras continue to take to the streets demanding the re-instatement of Manuel Zelaya, their democratically elected president who was removed in an illegal military coup in June 2009. The coup had the backing of the country’s wealthy class who, like in much of the rest of Latin America, do not tend to take kindly to a President threatening to improve the lot of the common people at the expense of their long held privileges.

Here at home, a man languishes in detention, his crime – refusing to be a cog in an imperialist war machine, a machine that is not even being driven by our own country. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton was the first member of the armed forces to take part in an anti-war demonstration since the beginning of the current Afghan war. On 24th October last year, in defiance of military restrictions, he led an anti-war march before addressing the more than 10,000 strong crowd in Trafalgar Square, speaking out against a conflict both unjustifiable and against British interests.

Earlier in 2009, Lance Corporal Glenton had written a letter to Gordon Brown urging him to bring the troops home and stating that ‘[his] primary concern [was] that the courage and tenacity of [his] fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy.’ Later in the letter Lance Corporal Glenton added that ‘the war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk. Far from improving Afghan lives, it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there.’

Three weeks later Lance Corporal Glenton was arrested. This man of peace is facing ten years in prison for putting the callings of his human conscience before that of faceless military directives. Lance Corporal Glenton is currently being held in military detention and his trial, before a military court, is due to begin on 29th January.

Since 2001, 246 UK servicemen and women have lost their lives in the Afghan conflict. 108 of these deaths, almost half the total number, have occurred in 2009 alone.

One very brave woman from Afghanistan has sent her support to Lance Corporal Glenton. Malalai Joya, a member of the Afghan parliament and the youngest individual to be elected to the new Afghan parliament, has been steadfast in portraying the reality of the situation in Afghanistan – a reality that rarely graces the front pages of British newspapers. Ms Joya has spoken out against both the former warlords who have taken up positions in the Afghan government as well as the nations occupying Afghanistan. She is also an ardent supporter of women’s rights in Afghanistan and has stated that in reality there has been no improvement in women’s rights since the Taliban were overthrown. She has survived 4 attempts on her life and was thrown out of parliament for her outspoken views. Despite the great risk that overshadow Ms Joya’s work, she states ‘But I don’t fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice.’

There are countless other unnamed individuals, living in all countries, who struggle everyday to fight for their rights, the rights of others and to end injustice everywhere. The vast majority of them are unknown to us and often live and die without an acknowledgement of their labours. However, when we look at some of the world leaders who have received medals, titles and other honours for their supposed good works, perhaps we can conclude, as American writer Mark Twain put it: ‘It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.’

Tomasz Pierscionek is co-editor of the London Progressive Journal.

Those wishing to express solidarity with the Miami Five can do the following:

Write a letter to the Miami Five to show your support and solidarity. The addresses can be found on this website: Write to the Miami Five @ UniteTheUnion.com

Sign a petition calling for visiting rights to be granted to the families of the Five: Petition PDF Link

Those wishing to acknowledge Lance Corporal Glenton’s moral stance and to send him wishes of support can send e-mails to defendjoeglenton@googlemail.com and they can write to Lance Corporal Glenton directly at the following address: Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, Military Corrective training Centre, Berechurch Hall Camp, Colchester, Essex CO2 9NU

The report of the National Trade Union School in Colombia can be found at Viva.Org PDF link

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This post was written by Tomasz Pierscionek

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