Wednesday, July 7, 2010

FBI's New Cold War Targets Progressive Journalist

By LeiLani Dowell
New York
Published Jul 7, 2010 1:49 PM

Activists in the Latin American community here are rallying around Vicky Peláez, one of 11 people rounded up by the FBI for allegedly being paid by Russia to spy on the U.S. Many believe that the arrest of Peláez, a journalist who writes sympathetically of anti-imperialist causes, is an attempt to silence dissent and send a threat to the anti-imperialist movement within the U.S.

The 11 are charged with conspiracy to act as agents of a foreign government; some are also charged with money laundering. However, no evidence exists that the 11 — 10 of whom raised families in suburban U.S. communities — actually gathered any significant government information or secrets. Several corporate newspapers have even printed analyses of a so-called “KGB mindset” in Russia that would allow the funding of suburbanites to gather information that can easily be accessed over the Internet.

Progressives, however, are questioning the real motives of the U.S. government in making these arrests now — 10 years after the FBI surveillance of the suspects supposedly began. Conflicting media reports give different versions of the rationale. Some say that one of the 10 was planning to leave the country (the 11th was arrested in Cyprus). Others say that the FBI believed its cover had been blown by another of the 11.

The corporate media created a frenzy around the case that gave them, at least for a day, the ability to downplay news worthy of the front page — particularly the threat of war against Iran, but also the economic crisis, the war in Afghanistan and the BP oil spill. Although the 10 now in the U.S. have yet to even face a trial, the media interviewed incredulous neighbors in a way that implied the charge was true that these suburban residents could be spies.

More ominous in the sweep is the arrest of Peláez, a well-known Peruvian journalist who writes for El Diario La Prensa, the major Spanish-language daily newspaper in the Northeastern U.S. Peláez has long been respected in the Latin American community for her anti-imperialist stance, and has written articles ranging from defense of Cuba and Venezuela to denouncements of police brutality, corporate negligence in the BP oil spill and more. Peláez received loud cheers when she spoke at a rally in support of immigrant and worker rights on May 1 at Union Square in New York.

In a statement, the May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrant Rights denounced the attempt to put a chill on organizing: “The case has evoked memories of Cold War espionage and the dangers of the McCarthy period, where labor and other activists were rounded up for any progressive ideas. This period in U.S. history led to the devastation of many lives, ruining the careers of hundreds and the frame-up of innocent people all with the aim of quelling a progressive voice in this country.”

The coalition also takes note of the term “illegals” to refer to the 11: “The characterization of the 11 as ‘illegals’ — a formulation promoted by the government and picked up by all the media — further exacerbates the anti-immigrant climate in this country. It is part of the psychological warfare carried out by elements in the government, as well as in the media. It is an attempt to make the word ‘illegal’ synonymous with ‘immigrant.’ It is part of the continued drive to equate the immigration issue with the issue of homeland security, a concept we also reject.”

A newly formed Committee in Defense of Vicky Peláez reports, “In a conversation with her lawyer, Carlos Moreno, Ms. Peláez repeated her innocence and stated that this accusation against her and her husband, Juan Lázaro, is a political persecution based on the criticism that she made in her columns against the erroneous policies of the United States.” (July 1 email)

The committee held an emergency protest in support of Peláez on July 1 and will be holding a meeting July 10 in New York City. For more information, call 212-631-7555.

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