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Today’s Old News: Special Power Edition

Nov. 10 in History: the fall of the wall, murders and fruit company backed dictators. Read more of today’s old news.

Nov 9, 2019

The Power of Protest
Early in the morning on Nov. 10, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Nigerian activists, framed for the murder of four political leaders who had been assassinated by Nigeria’s military dictatorship, were led to the gallows for their execution. In 1993, General Sani Abacha came to power in Nigeria following a military coup and, like many of his predecessors, immediately established close and personal ties with the Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Abacha and Shell had the primary objective of removing the Ogoni people from their territory in order to exploit the oil reserves present below that land. In order to do this, they needed to dismount the considerable resistance they faced from Ogoni activists, of which Saro-Wiwa was among the most prominent. Saro-Wiwia was a writer and television producer who co-founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, and had long been an advocate for the preservation of his people’s land and of its environment. Thanks to his leadership, the Ogoni were able to prevent Shell from drilling on their land, and for this Saro-Wiwa was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. Unfortunately, it was this same success that made Saro-Wiwa a threat to the stability of Abacha’s dictatorship, and when the opportunity made itself apparent, the general had the activist arrested and hanged. Yet, whilst Abacha hoped that this execution would help secure, it ultimately did the opposite, as Saro-Wiwa became a martyr and his death led to international condemnation of Abacha’s regime and brought it to its end by 1998.
The Power of the People
When the Berlin wall was first erected in 1961, it was seen as the physical manifestation of the iron curtain that Winston Churchill spoke of in 1946, as it seemed that a literally concrete divide had emerged between east and west, between democracy and socialism. Built almost overnight, the wall was a response to increased migration from the eastern section of the city, administered by the German Democratic Republic, to the western section of the city administered by the Federal Republic of Germany, and it served to seperate families, disrupt infrastructure and mark rising tensions in the Cold War. Over the years, the Berlin Wall would serve as a point of conflict and tension, from the controversy that emerged everytime a crossing was attempted, to the very real risk of war that was posed by the Check-point Charlie Crisis. This all changed in the 1980s. As the Soviet Union was facing mounting economic problems from prolonged involvement in Afghanistan as well as from the era of stagnation brought on by the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, the new General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev began to implement new policies across the USSR and Eastern Bloc, one of which was a commitment to non-involvement in foreign countries. Consequently, revolutions began to emerge all over eastern Europe, first in Hungary, then in Romania, the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine and then in Germany. As the process of German reunification would begin to become fully realized in 1989, it was clear to the people that action had to be taken against the symbol of division: the wall. Thus, on Nov. 10, 1989, thousands of civilians - from both sides - arrived to the wall with sledgehammers, crowbars, and other tools, with the explicit purpose of tearing it down.
The Power of a Resolution
One year after Yasser Arafat became the first representative of a [non-member organization] ( to speak at the United Nations, its general assembly would adopt Resolution 3379 on Nov. 10, 1975. In making this decision, the UN would actively amend its Declaration for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to include the explicit caveat that zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. 72 nations voted in favor of the motion, 32 abstained, and 35 - including the United States and Israel - would vote against the decision. The former responded by choosing to publicly condemn the action, whilst the latter would not only deny the accusation of racism, but also attempt to propose its own definition of the concept, and continually push for the resolution to be overturned. On Dec. 1991, Israel got its wish. After numerous petitions by President George H.W. Bush, the UN held an election to revoke the resolution, one that resulted in 111 nations - many of which had voted for the original resolution - voting in favor of the motion, with 13 nations abstaining, and only 25 deciding to [vote against it.] ( Today, Resolution 3379 still remains overturned, and Palestine continues to suffer as a result of Zionist policies.
The Power of Fear
On Nov. 10, 1950, the Presidential Election in Guatemala would begin. Two days later, the clear front-runner defense minister and National Integrity party candidate Jacobo Arbenz would be elected with a whopping 71.62 percent of the national vote. Widely popular, Arbenz advocated for a mass reorganization of the Guatemalan economy based off the nationalization of industry, the redistribution of land and the development of infrastructure, all without any aid from foreign, especially American, capital. Arbenz’s policies quickly began to be implemented, and many saw immediate successes that may have gone on to modernize and benefit a nation sorely in need of reform after decades of military dictatorship. This was not to be, because these policies also happened to directly combat the interests of the United Fruit Company, whose influence Arbenz sought to dismantle. The company had long had a hand in determining Guatemalan policy as it had economically maintained many of the nation’s dictatorial regimes, yet Arbenz was not interested in foreign loans or bribery, and thus the company sought a solution to its issue through a newly formed organization, the Central Intelligence Agency. As United Fruit were massive contributors to the U.S. Economy, they wielded considerable influence which they used to forward the idea that Arbenz was a communist who was aiming to establish a foothold for the Soviet Union in the western hemisphere. Whilst there was no actual evidence of this, the notion in itself was enough to scare the Eisenhower administration into action, as they would launch the first U.S backed coup in Latin America in [1954]. ( This coup would see Arbenz overthrown and exiled, with Colonel Castillo Armas being placed in power instead. This was a man who would serve as equal parts a selfish and brutal dictator in his own right, and a puppet for the United Fruit Company, and his reign as well as those of this successors would lead Guatemala to suffer for many more years.
Toby Le is a columnist. Email him at
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