Modern Protests and Revolutions
An excerpt from the book manuscript in progress for “All The Times I Died”
by Ron Autrey
December 31st, 2021
Death and destruction never skips a year. In December of 1987, Iraqi planes dropped mustard gas on the civilian population of the Iranian Town of Sardasht. The deadly violence continued in Ireland when the Provisional Irish Republican Army attacked the barracks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The IRA forces were counter attacked in an ambush by the British SAS and all the IRA members were killed. More violent acts make the calendar when Iraq killed 37 American sailors onboard the Naval ship USS Stark with two French made Exocet AM39 missiles.
1987’s calendar of destruction is filled in month to month. The Country of Chad destroyed a Brigade of Libyan soldiers. In Lieyu, Kinmen in coastal China, the Republic of China army executed unarmed Vietnamese refugees. Basque terrorists killed 21 and injured 45 when they car-bombed the Hipercor Market in Barcelona, Spain. In Mecca, the Holiest city of Islam, four hundred Iranian pilgrims were killed in clashes with Saudi Arabian security forces. In a genocidal insurgency ordered by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Ba’athist Iraqi forces kicked off 1988 killing more than 150,000 Iranian Kurds. The viral plague of human violence continued throughout the entire 20th Century
On the upside of 1988, the eight-year Soviet- Afghan war came to an end with the withdrawal of Soviet troops in May. By August of that same year, the Iran-Iraq war ended. One million lives were lost in the Iranian-Iraqi conflict. The most remarkable step toward human advancement was made in the prior year by Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, when he responded positively to a challenge by President Ronald Reagan to tear down the Berlin Wall and allow the reunification of East and West Germany.
The wall was originally built to stop the enormous flow of East Germans fleeing to the West. In the twelve-year span between 1949 and 1961 the departure of 3.5 million East Germans destroyed the economy and productivity of East Germany. What started as a barbed wire barrier ended up as an 830-mile-long concrete and steel fence obstruction with land mines and armed guard stations. The wall represented a line between freedom and communism.
The wall and the East-West border were officially opened in November of 1989. Revolutions against Communist rule quickly followed and swept through the Eastern Bloc countries. Europe. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania revolted and turned away from Communist rule. On August 23rd, two million people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined hands and demanded freedom and independence from Soviet occupation. The continuous 600 km chain was called the Baltic Way and marked what was known as “The Singing Revolution”.
Earlier in 1989, thirty-five European nations met in Vienna and vowed to strengthen human rights and promote East-West trade. The year was a turning point for humanity in the Eastern hemisphere. Meanwhile back in the United States, calming forces prevailed and the FDA approved the drug Prozac as an anti-depressant treatment.
Iran’s evil and oppressive intolerance was internationally illustrated in 1989. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom and issued a fatwa against the British author Salman Rushdie. The Indian born author’s 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses” was the basis for the condemnation, and it angered the Muslim communities in several countries. The Quranic verses are believed to be Muhammad speaking the voice of the Devil and not the Islamic God Allah. The modern recreation of the ancient stories was considered blasphemous by the offended Iranians and other Muslims. Iran offered a $3,000,000 dollar bounty for the death of Rushdie. After a decade of hiding, Rushdie is now an award-winning author and Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. The fatwa was never rescinded, and he lives daily with the Iranian death threat.
Across the globe, misery continued to be the predominant theme. Argentina declared a nationwide state of siege in May of 1989 as rioters broke into stores and businesses. Riots and looting were the result of inflation and that had reached triple digits. The protests were not about a political ideology. It was about hunger and the prospect of things becoming worse. A picture of the rioters included working class people who were experiencing real poverty and hunger. The prices in stores were changed hourly. People were looting and demanding that supermarkets give away the food for free. The police were present but did little to stem the street violence and protests. The riots paused in June when domestic and international food assistance was provided. Hundreds of food stands were opened to distribute the food. The Argentine economy was overwhelmed by government debt and the living standards had been steadily declining for years.
The outgoing President Raul Alfonsin blamed the leftist parties for the collapse. In the prior year Alfonsin implemented price controls and wage freezes to try and stem the inflation. The plan failed and inflation soared. Interest rates rose sharply, and banks saw their deposits withdrawn or transferred abroad. Businesses lost confidence in the government and refused to pay their taxes. Schools and businesses were closed, and public transportation ceased to operate. The people wanted President-Elect Carlos Saul Menem to assume office immediately. Menem opposed the early inauguration and argued that he need time to prepare for a new government and allow the rioting to subside. In 1990 businesses slowly began to open, but with protective barriers and enhanced security. The rioting continued, but less frequently and in smaller groups that were more easily contained by police.
This brief but tumultuous interlude of desperation and violence was prefaced by decades governmental failings. It began thirty years earlier when Argentine President Juan Peron and his wife Eva began implementing their plans to create a better life for the poor working class. Their “Social Justice and Love “policies ignored economic reality. They bought the loyalty of the people with massive social spending programs and other union driven policies. Argentina became the most unionized country in Latin America. The Perons depleted all income from agricultural exports and shored up failing, inefficient government directed enterprises. The bureaucracy grew larger, and the governmental mismanagement and high taxes began making a tangible impact on the economy.
The ten years of rule by President Carlos Menem did not substantially change the inflationary path towards collapse. His programs privatized state owned utilities and the state-owned oil company, post office, and electric & water companies. The effort initially attracted international investments that temporarily helped to lower inflation, but as the money dried up and government spending continued to exceed income, the economic death spiral continued. The International Monetary fund (IMF) was partly to blame as their lending and payment postponements hid the underlying economic policy failures.
In the new millennium years that followed under the Presidency of Fernando de la Rua, large government spending cuts spurned a new wave of protests. The IMF continued its lending in a financial aid package that created new optimism, but the fiscal deficits and reduced exports income continued to negatively impact the value of Argentina’s currency. On December 1st, 2000, unemployment was up to 18.3 %. Labor unions were in a nationwide strike, and the government placed restrictive limits on personal and business cash withdrawals and foreign transfers of money. Unrest and rioting ultimately forced President de la Rua to escape his besieged residence by helicopter. He later resigned and was followed by three more presidents in the next year. The saga of Argentina’s economic and social challenges continues today with 40% of its 43 million people living in poverty. The IMF is still mothering Argentina’s economy as they restructure the country’s $43 billion debts.
The social and governmental problems presented in 1989, were represented in a historic way when one million Chinese protesters marched through Beijing demanding more economic freedom and democratic rule. The protests began on the evening of April 17th, 1989, when 4000 students marched to the square and joined others already encamped there. Reports of police brutality angered more students, prompting them to join the crowd of protesters. The students were demanding an open dialog with their government. They wanted increased funding for education and transparency regarding the excessive income for state leaders and their family members. The wanted to privatize the news media and end laws against freedom of speech and peaceful protesting.
Chinese General Secretary Hu Yaobang was initially sympathetic and tolerant of the student protests. His party blamed him and his lenient policies for the student protests and forced him to resign. When he died on April 15th, 1989, the student population blamed the party for his death and the protesters began more aggressively organizing. The student organizations consisted of members from 21 different universities. By April 22nd, the protests took a different turn and stores were ransacked by rioters. Houses and cars were damaged or destroyed. On April 27th 100,000 students marched to Tiananmen Square. On April 29th the Chinese government officials appointed representatives to meet with the students.
Like many organizations formed for change, there were conservative factions that wanted to escalate the protests, and more moderate components that wanted to extend the open dialog with the government. The students began a widely publicized hunger strike. As the news spread in the Country, more residents were mobilized in solidarity with the students. Labor unions and other non-communist political parties joined in the demonstrations. Protests were now staged in over 400 Chinese cites. In Hong Kong, 300,000 gathered in a “Concert for Democracy”. The next day 1.5 million people paraded and sang their way through Hong Kong in support of the protesting students.
Western countries urged China to show restraint, but the Chinese government declared martial law on May 20th and sent 30 divisions of soldiers to the capital city where they were met by tens of thousands of demonstrators that surrounded the military vehicles. The Army forces retreated to the outskirts of the city and planned for an assault on the Square. After failed efforts by moderate student groups and government officials to de-escalate the conflicts and retreat from the Square, the Chinese Army was ordered to clear the square.
After seven weeks of protests, a force of 300,000 soldiers and 180 military vehicles began the assault on 150,000 student protesters. The actual death and injury reports have conflicting numbers. The Chinese government downplayed the death toll and placed it at 200 students and residents. Press articles published in the United Kingdom place put the number at more than 10,000. We know at least 23 soldiers and 218 students were killed and 7000 students injured along with 5000 soldiers. The actual numbers are still not available. The days in the first week of June are chronicled and inscribed in world history with battle scenes that mirror the atrocities of warfare. Mention or discussion of the incident is still discouraged and restricted in China today. Parents avoid sharing knowledge of the massacre with children to protect them from governmental persecution.
Regardless of early governmental efforts to appease the student protesters and avoid violence, Chinese Premier Li Peng will be forever remembered as the leader who oversaw the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the two decades that followed, the Chinese people remained under communist rule without freedom of speech or press, and without the right to vote. Reforms would come slowly to the Chinese Communist Republic. Talk of the incident, or press editorials were banned. The government refers to the incident as a successful bloodless defeat of revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the Chinese government.