Lair Of A Squirrel Red


Capital Inferno. Wildfires in Greece by korakious
September 2, 2007, 2:00 pm
Filed under: environment, Greece, Guest posts, Imperialism

The Lair is now open. The Squirrel Vanguard decided to bring you quite a bombastic opener for this year; we hope you will appreciate it.

The following article I found somewhere in the endless dusty corridors of the world wide web. It deals with the recent wildfires that ravaged (and are still ravaging) a great part of Greece, burning villages and killing more than 65 people. The author used a number of sources to put together the puzzle of what can only be described as a coordinated offensive by capital, foreign and domestic. References are to articles in Greek. Remember folks, the Lair never lies to you.

Greece under attack by tourist-developer cartels

In the last week of August of 2007, Greece underwent the most enormous catastrophe in her history since the restoration of Parliamentary Democracy in 1974. Western and Southern Peloponnese, the “heart” of both ancient and modern Greece, as well as other places like Athens’ suburbs and Evia Island, have been totally destroyed by wildfires. 65 people have been killed (among them was a mother with her four young children), several more are missing, numerous villages have been wiped off the map and millions of acres of forest or agricultural land have been converted into ashes.

Apart from the loss of human lives, the destruction wrought by the arsonists will have far reaching effects that will surface in due time. The devastation of forests will result in an overall rise of temperature, floods in the winter, corrosion of the ground and landslides. Furthermore, the razed areas will be affected economically by a tremendous rise of unemployment, a huge emigration of their native population to Athens or other big cities, while the whole of Greece will face an overall decline in agricultural output, since those areas were key producers of vegetables, fruits and, most importantly, olive oil.

Undoubtedly, a major crime has been committed. A crime, however, that is not spontaneous, but premeditated. The 290 different centers of fires that broke out in Peloponnese definitely point to arson.

In order to locate the arsonists, one has to look at the strong financial interests which have been pressuring for the “development” of the destroyed areas for several years up to now.

The Ionian Road

The construction of a national highway in Peloponnese under the name “Ionian Road” – specifically the south part of Ionian Road, as Ionian Road is extended in Central and Northern Greece too – connecting her four major cities, Korinthos, Patra, Pirgos, and Kalamata, was conceived as an idea in 1996, but it was postponed mainly due to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens which absorbed most of the state’s resources. The new right-wing government of Nea Dimokratia promised in 2004 to start building the highway soon. At last, its construction was auctioned in July of 2007 to the native and multinational construction companies Vinci–El.Technodomiki–TEV, Aktor, J&P Avax, Hochtief and Athina, and it was supposed to start right away, with the prospect of being completed in 2011[1].

The Ionian Road would secure road access to the enormous tourist facilities that were being built in Western Peloponnese, and those that were still being planned at the time. The completion of the Ionian Road ought obviously not to take more than the required time; therefore, its construction shouldn’t be interrupted by “aggravating” forests, biotopes and ecosystems as well as environmental and community activists. the Nea Dimokratia MP for the Elea region of Western Peloponese G. Kontogiannis, had stated clearly, as early as 2004: “The political leadership of the Ministry of Public Works believes that the Ionian Road has to proceed rapidly so as to make up for the delays of the last few years…”[2].

Ionian Road was originally scheduled to cross over places of high environmental significance, such as Lake Kaiafa in Zaharo area, which had been included in the Natura 2000 European catalogue. As the chairman of Zaharo’s Environmental Protection League, Mr. Agrapidas said in July, “The combination of ground and lacustrine ecosystems as well as their co-existence with antiquities, mythological places and the thermal fountain renders Lake Kaiafa ecosystem a unique cluster that has been declared an archaeological site and a landscape of special natural beauty”.

The prefectorial council of Elea, in which the aforementioned area falls under, refused to cede Lake Kaiafa for the construction of Ionian Road, despite the strong pressure by the Ministry of Public Works. According to Mr. Agrapidas’s claims, there was an alternative route for the highway, not crossing the area; nevertheless it might have been longer and of higher cost[3]. At last, the Ministry succumbed to the demands of the locals and decided on the 24th of July to divert Ionian Road towards another direction, far away from the lake, so that its fragile ecosystem would not be harmed[4]. However, a mere month later, the area around Lake Kaiafa was burned to the ground. The constructors of the highway will now face little resistance in their exploitation of the devastated area.

Strangely enough, the centers of most of the fires that broke out there coincide perfectly with the original plan for the Ionian Road! Compare the NASA satellite photograph of the Peloponese burning to the Ionian Road plan.

Other Interests in the Western Peloponese

Lake Kaiafa had also attracted the attention of other benevolent investors and developers. In 2003, the former Deputy Minister of Economics D. Georgakopoulos of the former government of the “socialist” PASOK, was charged with pressuring the Domanial Service of Elea, the region that he was elected in, to declassify Lake Kaiafa as a protected territory in order for it to be granted to big tourist corporations for the development of hotel complexes and golf courses. He had also presented a relevant report according to which an investment of 150 million euros would be made on Lake Kaiafa for the “modernization” of spas and other facilities of the area[5], which referred to the ecologists who protested against the plans as “ecoterrorists”[6]. Now that the beautiful biotope around the lake has been burnt up, the “investors” and their political agents won’t need to counter any bureaucratic barrier or “ecoterrorism” in order to declassify it.

Apart from Lake Kaiafa, many other places in Western Peloponnese through which the Ionian Road will pass, are also considered to be “ideal” for the development of tourist businesses. For instance, in the Messinia region in the South-West of Peloponnese more than one billion euros are going to be invested in 11 big hotel blocks of 5 stars, luxurious summerhouses, sea therapy and spa facilities, a seasonal center as well as 4 huge golf courses. The major investor in this area seems to be a notorious Greek ship-owner, V. Konstantakopoulos, who runs Costamare Shipping SA, based in Panama, but strong multinational corporations seem to operate alongside him; Kempinski multinational corporation which is mostly active in South-Eastern Asia is going to exploit the sea therapy and spa facilities and a famous American company has undertaken the exploitation of the golf courses[7]. Konstantakopoulos has appropriated enormous areas of agricultural land with olive trees, some times without the consent of their owners, as well as land in areas alongside the Navarino lagoon (also protected by NATURA 2000) openly defying the law. The few “bureaucratic” problems considering the permissions of Archeological and Forest Service that had remained were overcome after his visit to the presidential palace and his meeting with the Prime Minister K. Karamanlis, in 2005. He also secured 45% subsidization by the state for his investments[8]! And now, that much of the Messinia district has been consumed by the (not so) wildfires, he definitely feels even luckier as he can extend his business to the devastated area expropriating the land he needs in depreciated prices.

Another place in Western Peloponnese that is considered by the “investors” to be a bargain is Katakolo in Elea district. In late August, the famous international business association World Trade Center Group sent their representative, David H. Lee, to Katakolo and ratified an agreement with state officials for the “development” of the area[9].

The region around ancient Olympia has also been the subject of potentional exploitation. Many domestic and foreign “investors” have proposed deploying the surrounding area by building modern stadiums, hotels and other facilities and even use this place for organizing the Olympic Games[10]! One of the reasons that they were not permitted to implement their plan was that this surrounding area was forestland. After the fire though, there is no more forest surrounding Olympia so that barrier is no longer present.

Most people in Greece know that Western Peloponnese has the most magnificent coasts and beaches in the whole country. Nevertheless, her people were very traditional and closely linked to their land and property and with the agricultural sector of the area being particularly strong, they had never desired to exploit their region in a tourists-industry fashion. The tourist “investors” had good knowledge of this fact and in order to successfully exploit the area, they first needed to preemptively destroy any popular resistance to their plans and they couldn’t care less if then of people there died in flames. As for the people who survived, most of them will move to Athens to seek a job, while the few remaining there, will apparently work as waiters or security guards to the huge hotel block that will spring soon. The investors seem to have achieved what they had intended.

The Germans’ special role

Mountain Taygetos and Parnonas in Central and Southern Peloponnese respectively, were also burned. It was common knowledge among those local communities that powerful German interest groups desired avidly to transform the mountains into ski resorts and chalets. The Germans had in the past been interested in exploiting Mountain Grammos in Northern Greece, which was partially burned this summer in July. German capital has also been active in Western Peloponnese and Evia buying enormous pieces of land, either as private investors or under the cover of offshore companies. Not surprisingly, one of the contractors that will participate in the construction of Ionian Road in Peloponnese, Hochtief, is German and interestingly enough it is owned by Kaitel, the son of the homonymic notorious Nazi general. It seems that while German imperialism failed to occupy Greece in World War II having been beaten and humiliated by her strong resistance movement, it succeeds in 2007 without military invasion, just with some fires and the help of their modern collaborators; not the security battalions, but the regional and central bureaucrats ruling the Greek state.

Yet, the similarly crucial role of British and American interests should not be ignored. Having almost fully “occupied” Corfu and Crete Island with their hotels and golf courses, they coveted Peloponnese as well, buying huge swathes of land to be used for tourist developments. Indeed, they are very loyal to their colonialist traditions of 1944 when the British bombed Athens and killed 40.000 civilians in order to crash the resistance movement, which had achieved to liberate Greece before they came in, and of 1967, when the U.S. imposed a seven-year fascist dictatorship, which totally destroyed the country.

The golf lobby

One of the strongest blocks of interests, if not the strongest, which desire the “resortisation”, so to speak, of the Greek coasts are the prospective constructors of golf courses. The huge level of environmental destruction that the construction of golf courses will lead to, such as waste of water, use of enormous quantities of artificial fertilizers and disruption of the nearby ecosystems doesn’t seem to concern the Greek government which does everything possible to grant large areas in the countryside to golf investors. The Minister of Public Works, G. Souflias, claimed in May of 2007 that “considering the golf issue there are many deficiencies, as Greece has just 6 golf courses whereas France has more than 500, Italy more than 200, Spain more than 300 and Portugal 36”. Moreover, another high-rank officer of the ruling party, the Deputy Minister of Economics, P. Doukas, is at the same time the president of the Greek Golf Association, and had publicly declared in 2005 that even more golf courses are necessary. It should be noted however that the main opposition party, PASOK, before the elections of 2004, had promoted the support and the expansion of the golf industry in Greece, and after the elections, which it lost, it hasn’t been opposed to golf policy of the Nea Dimokratia government at all[11].

As expected, all the environmental studies and reports that warn about the destruction that golf courses will cause have been deliberately ignored. “Who passes by those studies in favor of tourist development?” wanders Mrs. E. Mpriasouli, professor in the Department of Geography in the Aegean University. “They think that this way they are going to get the hotels full of people. 70% of global tourism is manipulated by a single organization (i.e. Global Tourist Organization). They promote the golfer cluster and they blackmail us to accept this model. The same happened with the pools. […] This model of tourism concerns the foreigners who stay and do everything inside the tourist facility. They don’t go outside of it, they don’t consume any domestic products, and of course everything is produced and constructed by big companies”[12].

Western Peloponnese’s long coastline was ideal for the golf industry to construct several golf courses. By 2005, the International Golf Association was very optimistic that in 2006 and 2007 there would be a very big golf ‘boom’[13]. However, so far the locals and the environmentalists struggled hard against this prospect. Now that there is no environmental value in the devastated areas, that ‘boom’ will face little resistance. In confirmation of that, the aforementioned Deputy Minister of Economics, who is renowned in Greece for his cynicism, appeared on national TV two days after the disaster, and he attempted to soothe the pain of the people living in the disaster areas by promising that a development plan, considering tourism and especially golf courses, will start being implemented there right away! Of course, the sold out Greek Mass Media, both public and private, branded the plan as a great benefaction.

Government’s and main opposition’s complicity

The government of Nea Dimokratia, which has been ruling from March 2004, has devoted itself in the tourist development of the countryside and coasts in order to increase the annual influx of tourists. “There are one million Europeans who are interested in buying a summerhouse in Greece” was one of the main arguments of government officials, who used to refer to tourism as Greece’s heavy industry[14]! Thus, the Ministries of Civil Works and Tourism put up a plan of tourist “development”, under the name of New Zoning Framework for Tourism, which blatantly offered land and water to the tourist cartels.

According to the abovementioned framework, an “investor” can buy land everywhere, and simply by naming the investment as a “tourist” one, get a big subsidization and build four times more than a privateer, as long as they sell the 70% of the houses to privateers and run the rest 30% as a hotel. They have also the right to build in environmentally protected areas or skerries provided they name them “tourist”! This situation is aggravated by the inexistence of a National Cadastral Register, which would at least classify some forestlands or biotopes as such and might prevent them from being built[15].

However, for this plan to be successful an overall reconsideration of zoning in the country needed to take place, that is to say, permissions for appropriating forestland should be awarded. Therefore, in early 2007, the government tabled a constitutional amendment according to which, article 24, stating that construction in forestland is strictly forbidden, would be practically abolished. The official opposition, PASOK strongly condemned the amendment and blocked the ratification of it by withdrawing from the voting – the funny thing is that, in 2003, when PASOK was in power, it tried to pass an identical amendment, but Nea Dimokratia, then the official opposition, refused to support it. Although, finally, article 24 was not abolished, the prospective arsonists were encouraged to hasten their plans, and consequently, in the summer of 2007, Greece suffered the greatest number of wildfires in her modern history.

Furthermore, the Sub-Ministry of Environment, which happens to fall under the Ministry of Public Works and is responsible for using the state funds provided to the latter for the protection of the forests and biotopes, did very little on this. Most of the, already few, resources for environmental protection were transferred back to the Ministry of Public Works in order to support works already under way, using the ridiculous excuse that the Sub-Ministry of Environment was unable to spend it all[16].

Another way in which the government is responsible for the holocaust is that it caused the collapse of the Fire Brigade. The Ministry of Public Order, under whose jurisdiction the Fire Brigade falls, hadn’t recruited the required number of firemen, preferring instead to hire thousands of policemen! In addition to this, the virulently right wing Minister of Public Order, V. Polidoras, transferred incompetent officers, who were eventually proven to be completely incapable to combat the numerous wildfires, to key positions simply because they were members of the ruling party[17].

The tourist-developer cartels soon realized the incapacity of the Fire Brigade and the insufficient measures for the protection of the forests, and therefore, aided by the high temperatures and the strong winds in this area, obviously decided it was a very convenient time for them to put their plan into action.

The scapegoats

When the first fires in the Peloponnese broke out, everybody thought it would be the ordinary land developers who casually burn pieces of forestland every year in order to build on them. Yet, when several new fires broke out which, unprecedentedly, burned whole villages to the ground, killing tens of people, the public started suspecting an organized plot by strong native entrepreneurs or even multinational companies. Greece was apparently under attack, and since the fire brigade and their political chiefs in the Ministry of Public Order were proved to be totally incapable to put down the fires, the government tried to spin the mayhem unleashed by global capital and its domestic lackeys to its own advantage. Two days after the first fires, the Prime Minister, following the advice of his image-makers, appeared on National Television wearing an ordinary jacket, like George Bush did right after September 11th, and stated that Greece faces an asymmetric threat. Nevertheless, he obviously didn’t name those actually responsible for the fires, whose identities he most definitely knows. On the contrary, his colleagues in the government secretly or even openly blamed anarchists and political extremists for the arsons claiming that “they want to destabilize democracy”!

The mass media which support the government invented new imaginary enemies like the Turks, the Albanians or even PASOK, blaming them for the wildfires! PASOK, of course, condemned these scenarios as conspiracy theories, but on the other hand, it just put the blame on the government accusing it of incompetence. It is more than obvious that PASOK knew that the arsonists were the tourist-industry cartels, but it didn’t want to stand up to them, as, when in government, it was (and will be) tightly intertwined with them.

The police and its dependent secret services, all of them being famous on a world scale for their incompetence and stupidity, but very effective at beating up defenceless immigrants and protestors, did their best to find the perpetrators of the terrible crime. The result was the arrest of an old woman in Zaharo for causing the fire by negligence while she was cooking in her backyard, an Albanian immigrant who was misleadingly presented as the one having put some fires in order to take revenge from his Greeks employers for mistreating him, and a 62 year old pensioner arrested in Aeropoli of Lakonia who was a former member of PASOK and was forced to admit that he was one of the arsonists[18]. Yet, in this case the police needn’t have necessarily acted as stupidly as always; the mission surely assigned to them by the government was to cover up the actual arsonists.

Conclusion

As days pass and more evidence comes to the surface, it becomes more and more obvious that the instigators of this recent destruction in Greece are the multinational tourist-sector cartels. Nevertheless, the implementation of that arson attack was not something that ordinary arsonists (usually foreigners hired by petty developers) could have done; on the contrary, it required perfect organization, planning and coordination. Thus, the perpetrators of it are definitely the cartels’ instruments, that is to say foreign secret services.

It is widely accepted that tourist cartels of Western Europe and America with the collaboration of their Greek business representatives, and the tolerance of the corrupted local politicians, have been trying to convert Greece into a huge tourist resort for well-off Europeans and Americans and her people into waiters. For decades, the E.U. has been using economic violence, forbidding Greece to subsidize her own industry and agricultural production or to impose import duties to their products while the U.S. have been blackmailing her to buy their weapons exploiting and inflaming the tension between her and neighbouring Turkey (also a great customer of the US weapons industry), in a manner reminiscent of Italian mafia “protection”. However, this kind of violence didn’t bring swift results and they decided to resort to physical violence, like the one that they regularly used to exert in their colonies.

So far, the Euro-American cartels seem to have achieved their target to devastate a big part of Greece. But her people have not said their last world yet. They will definitely claim their land back.

[1] Corinth, Patra, Pirgos, Motorway to be ready by summer 2011, GoWest.Gr, 24/7/07, http://www.gowest.gr/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9777&pop=1&page=0&Itemid=1585

[2] ND will end PASOK’s fiasco over the Ionian motorway, Indymedia Athens, 27/8/07, http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_id=752934

[3] The road can be moved, the lake, not quite, Kathimerini, 08/07/2007.

[4] Statement of Public Works Minister, Mr Yeorgios Souflias, on the signing of the contract re the North-West Road of the Peloponese, 24/7/07, http://www.minenv.gr/download/2007-07-24.dilosis.g.souflia.gia.ypografi.symbasis.elefsina-korinthos-patra-pyrgos-tsakona.doc

[5] Kayafa healing springs; investors needed, Rizospastis, 15/4/2003.

[6] 18- hole crime, Golf construction hysteria in Greece, Eleutherotypia, 3/4/2005.

[7]Tourism for Global Capital,Aristera! http://www.koel.gr/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=964&pop=1&page=0&Itemid=34

[8] 18 holes in a forest, Apiganias: Development or Destruction? Eleftherotypia, 1/5/2005

[9] Meeting of Sp. Spyridonas with International Entrepreneurial Delegation. Press release, 21/08/2005.

[10] Olympia is Reborn, Kathimerini, 6/8/05.

[11] 18- hole crime, Golf construction hysteria in Greece, Eleftherotypia, 3/4/2005.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Their country? Sold. Eleftherotypia, 17/6/2007.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hypocrisy – Environment and Public Works Ministry tried to cut back 30 million euros on “protected areas”. Eleftherotypia, 21/7/2007.

[17] From Karamanlis’s promises to… Souflias’s palpitations, Eleftherotypia, 28/7/07.

[18] Questions over 62 y.o.’s arrest in Aeropoli for arson. In.gr, 30/8/07, http://www.in.gr/news/article.asp?lngEntityID=827585&lngDtrID=244

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SNP and the abolition of endowment by korakious
June 18, 2007, 12:23 am
Filed under: Education, Guest posts, Scottish politics

Comrade Neil Bennet comments on the recent decision by the SNP to abolish the £2200 endowment fee for students in Scotland.

Students and socialists were (quite rightly) celebrating this week, with the news that the SNP executive is going to fulfil its election promise to scrap the £2,289 ‘graduate endowment’ fee levied by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the first term of the Scottish Parliament.

The system, set up in 2001, was essentially a compromise – put in place to allow the Lib Dems to claim they had fulfilled their own election commitment to scrap student fees – when really they had done nothing of the sort. Rather they had simply reduced them and altered the timing of their payment. Oh, and they changed the name!

While we should welcome the SNP move to drop the ‘graduate tax’, as it has come to be known by some – we should be a little bit more concerned about the quiet dropping of the nationalist’s more radical policies on student finance. Only two months ago, during the election campaign, the SNP were loudly proclaiming not only their promise to get rid of the endowment – but also to scrap all outstanding student debt and replace student loans with maintenance grants. In other words they were close to promising free university education – precisely what the student movement and the left have long campaigned for. It is undoubtedly policies like this – as well as anti-war posturing and the framing of the election debate around independence – that drew so many left-wing voters to the SNP in May. As Labour education spokesperson Hugh Henry (correctly, but with astonishing hypocrisy) described the move – “[It is] meagre and disingenuous” and “tinkers at the edge of what the SNP promised to students”.

Average student debt in Scotland upon graduation in 2005 was £7,561, before taking into account the endowment, and over a quarter owed more than £12,000 on top of the back-ended fee payment. These figures will be likely to have increased over the subsequent two years. So while the reduction in student debts by just over £2000 is very good news indeed for current and future students in Scotland , those graduating before 2008 are left out in the cold. What’s more the promise of free education is once again a long way off – and the spectre of debt will continue to hang over all but the wealthiest of potential students for a long time to come.

Ostensibly the more radical policies are being put to the side because the SNP – as a minority government – couldn’t hope to push such expensive policies through parliament – they would need the Lib Dem’s support, and they are only willing to go so far. However it is very telling that the nationalist administration aren’t even willing to have the battle – that they value proving themselves capable of maintaining a stable government far more than they value any of their policies – from student finance to independence.

What is interesting however is that they would choose to push for a popular, ‘left-wing’ policy so early in the life of the new parliament. It could be a promising sign – or it could be a little respite before a neo-liberal storm is unleashed – think New Labour and the National Minimum Wage in 1999 – a token progressive gesture to the – and we all know what was to follow.

In the meantime the left and the students’ movement in Scotland have been given an opportunity – we have been given an aim and a target. The government has made us promises that it doesn’t intend to keep. Now it’s up to us to force them to change their minds.



Guest post. by korakious
June 12, 2007, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Guest posts, independence, Scottish politics, UK politics

The Lair is excited to host its first guest post. Charlie Marks, from Rebellion Sucks! made an excellent post about the growing tension between Holyrood and Westminster, with Alex Salmond seizing every chance to pick up a fight with the central government and asserting the authority of the devolved parliament. The post is reproduced here in its entirety.

We return to the national question in Scotland, as materialised in this instance by the Cheshire cat grin of Alex Salmond; victims of the Lockerbie disaster are put through more anguish; Tony Blair visits Muammar Gaddafi and agreements are reached, but not all of them disclosed; and light is cast on the murky world of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” flights and a variety of people find the whole thing disagreeable.

Calm before a storm
The SNP/Green minority administration in Scotland has got off to a steady start, cutting tolls and halting cuts in the NHS – not that this makes it any less of a bosses’ government. For sure, the SNP is financially backed by, and serves the interests of, sections of the national bourgeoisie in Scotland. (And as for the Scottish Greens…)

On the international side of things, First Minister Alex Salmond made the headlines – and the London Newsnight programme – by exposing a deal planned by the British government to hand over the man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing to the Libyan authorities. This was all without consultation with the Scottish administration or disclosure to the Scottish Parliament.

Yet Kirsty Wark, who was presenting Newsnight on Thursday, gave Salmond a hard time. Wark’s hostility is perhaps indicative of her political views; she has holidayed with Jack McConnell in the past and she could easily present the Scottish edition, but instead flies down to London each week to present the English and Welsh version.

Salmond had made an emergency announcement in the Scottish parliament on Thursday, disclosing all he knew and making a great play of his party’s openness as against the secrecy of New Labour: details of possible agreements made by the British government have not been disclosed. So it’s true that he’s milking it for all it’s worth, but the focus should be on the issues raised by the matter.

The first of many?
All of the parties in the Scottish parliament were united behind Salmond in denouncing any deal to return the prisoner, Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, currently held in Greenock jail, to his country of origin. New Labour’s Jack McConnell, who was the previous First Minister, admitted that the issue had come up while he was in power and Tony Blair was apparently warned that he should notify Scotland by the Foreign Office of the content of his talks with Gaddafi during a recent visit to Libya.

The row over the Lockerbie bomber marks the first outbreak of discord between Edinburgh and London. Outgoing Prime Minister Blair has yet to congratulate Salmond on his party’s electoral victory and assumption of the role of First Minister for the devolved parliament – though we are told that Prime Minister in-waiting, Gordon Brown, has contacted Salmond.

Previous Labour/Liberal coalitions were more closely tied to Westminster, and there were no formal channels through which Scotland and the UK government conducted affairs. The SNP are pushing for a formalisation of relations between central government and the devolved parliament: now that there is truly a Scottish government, political independence seems a step closer.

The bomb, the bomber, Blair, and BP
PanAm flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 270 people, half of them Americans. The US initially fingered a Palestinian group called the PFLP-GC, based in Syria but after the first Gulf War, in which the Syrians backed the invasion of Iraq, the focus switched to Libya.

Two men were tried at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands under Scots law in 2001, but only al-Megrahi was found guilty – the other defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was returned to Libya. The trial was farcical and the verdict doubtful: the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has been investigating al-Megrahi’s case for the last four years. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing, whilst denying it had commissioned it – in the hope that sanctions against the country would be lifted.

Blair visited the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” for a second time as part of his farewell tour and met with its leader Colonel Gaddafi, now one of the good guys. The meeting was not merely to remind us of Blair’s foreign policy “achievements” – Gadaffi shook hands on a £900 million deal to allow British Petroleum back into Libya. For BP, the deal could be worth tens of billions, and it is something of a coup for Blair as big oil has been barred from Libya since the seventies when foreign capital was expelled the economy was taken into public ownership.

The visit was a reminder that all will be forgiven of wayward Third World leaders if they follow the neo-liberal agenda. (Take note Robert Mugabe: you can get your honorary degree back, if you want it.) The deal made between the Libyan government and BP was also a reminder of that British foreign policy is completely enmeshed with British capitalism. Like we needed reminding…

It had to be Blair meeting Gaddafi, both in 2004 and 2007: a meeting of Bush and Gaddafi would be to confusing for both the American and Libyan masses. Libya had been presented as the archetypal “rogue state” and Gaddafi the original Muslim bad boy, supposedly sponsoring terrorist groups around the world – and in 1986, the US carried out a bombing raid on Libya which was timed to make the evening news back home.

21st century gulag archipelago
Human rights groups have been invited to meet with the SNP’s Justice Secretary to discuss the issue of CIA rendition flights through Scottish airports, something else for Salmond to use to argue for independence. It is good that the Scottish government is taking the matter seriously, though the reasons for doing so are probably opportunistic.

A European Commission inquiry concluded with the assertion that the US had operated secret prisons in Romania and Poland to which they had transported terror suspects to be interrogated and tortured. A report instigated by the Association of Chief Police Officers – and revealed on the same day as Marty’s findings were announced – has pooh-poohed suggestions that CIA flights might have passed through England, but did not look into the situation in Scotland.

Members of the British government had previously denied knowledge of such an unlawful programme and suggested that it was a little far fetched; now Harriet Harman, minister for Constitutional Affairs, and contender for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, is making noises about the scandal.

On a related matter, former US Defense Secretary Colin Powell has said that the illegal detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be shut down and the “detainees” moved into to the federal legal system in an effort to regain international faith in American justice. (This is somewhat far-fetched, especially when you consider that when the American legal system was established, black people were regarded as being three-fifths human, and now people of colour make up a majority of the States’ vast prison population. By the way, Powell is not arguing that the US armed forces exit Cuba, only that the military prison is closed.)

Turning to the British tabloid press, the matter of rendition flights has been viewed negatively by right-wing Daily Mail, which has condemned the CIA’s programme and the UK government’s collusion. Everyone will use it to their own ends, I suppose. But if the boot was on the other foot and a Tory government had been complicit in US breaches of the law, it would be a different story for the Mail.