Saturday, April 07, 2012

Louisa Hanoune, Former Presidential Candidate, Leader of the Workers Party of Algeria, on the 50th Anniversary of Independence

[Note: The following interview was conducted by the editors of the ILC International Newsletter and is reprinted from Issue No. 66 (435 Old Series, March 23, 2012) of this newsletter.]

"Celebrating Algeria's 50 Years of Independence Means Defending our Sovereignty" -- Interview with Louisa Hanoune, Secretary General of the Algerian Workers Party (PT)

What do these 50 years of Algerian independence represent for an Algerian political leader such as yourself?

I was born on April 7, 1954, a few months before the armed struggle broke out. My first memory is from late 1959, when I was five years old. It is the picture of a house in flames, and my mother weeping in front of her burned olive harvest and her killed cow. She had just lost everything; our house had been blasted for the second time, because it was a place of welcome to the mudjahedeen (the Resistance fighters). I was born in the mountains of the Jejel region; our mountains were a good hiding place for the Resistance fighters. We had to leave there and go to Annaba.

And there you discovered city life ...

I was five years old. I had never seen a car or even a road. I didn't know what a railroad was. My big brother had already seen a car, it was when an armored car of the French Army had rolled into our village. Life in town was a whole different world for us. My father worked as a baker for a pied noir ["pied noir," literally, "black foot," was the name given to the Algerian-born French settlers -- translator's note]. All my family was involved in the fight for national independence.

What was the life of an Algerian family like on the eve of independence?

In 1961 in Annaba, we shared a three-room flat with another family in a very poor neighborhood, a squalid neighborhood, in fact. The school was very far away. Thanks to a cousin passing through, I was able to get enrolled in school. As a school it wasn't much, rather a place to keep the kids off the streets and give them a glass of milk and a chocolate bar. That was where I got my first pair of shoes, at the age of seven!

And on the day of independence?

One day, there was a lot of noise, the traditional hooting shouts of Arab women, cries of joy, horn-honking and everyone running in the streets. I didn't understand it all, but I could see that those who were demonstrating were Algerians: men and women, old and young. A man carried me on his shoulders all across the delirious and ecstatic town, but for once my mother was not afraid, after all the times she had been frightened to death when I got stopped by the French as they were combing the streets.

What did independence mean at first?

For us, the first change was getting a flat very quickly. We were in downtown Annaba, near the parade grounds, and not in the slums anymore. The school was only a short walk, facing the seafront. The fear was gone and we could go about freely. My father said that we were at last going to be able to get health care from the newly established national Social Security system. He was very much for Social Security. We were going to be able to come and go as we liked. The majority of my cousins came back from the Resistance alive, but my only uncle on my mother's side, who had been arrested by the French Army, had died after being brutally tortured. All the Algerian families had lost one or several members in that horrifying war, waged by French colonialism. One million five hundred thousand Algerians died so that Algeria could live.

And for the generation born in the 1950s, what were the real changes?

Huge numbers of people liked being able to declare ourselves as Algerians in our free and independent country. But the most spectacular change for the children of the independence was having free access to schooling and to healthcare. I was the first woman of my family to have gone to school, because mandatory education was only enacted after the independence of 1962. It was as if we had changed planets.

Fifty years later, what is the situation?

Algeria has been independent for 50 years now, after 132 years of colonization. Of course, we have been through many difficulties during these 50 years. We've had the single-party regime, then the 10 years of a war of attrition, where 200,000 Algerians died, the "black decade."

Today there still remain a lot of difficulties for the people, especially for our young people. But at the same time, in spite of all these difficulties, we have eradicated illiteracy, which reigned under the yoke of the colonial masters. We have eradicated the diseases which had stricken our population. We have built public schools throughout the land, and universities in all the big cities and towns. We have built a national industry. In short, we have created the conditions necessary for independence and sovereignty.

The problems and the difficulties can only be settled in the framework of the Algerian Republic, by the people themselves, with no external interference. We are the heirs to a long combat, the fight of the international workers' movement which has asserted for over a century and a half that the emancipation of the workers can only be achieved by the workers themselves, and of the national Algerian movement which, with Messali Hadj in the 1920s, began fighting for independence.

Is it independence vs. intervention?

Yes, it is. The Algerian people have the means to settle themselves all the problems that they are facing. Moreover, they proved as much in the fundamental question of restoring the peace. In the Workers Party (PT), for years and years now, we have maintained that the solution is Algerian and that the interference of the super powers should never be accepted.

The Workers Party has been fighting for a long time now for a sovereign Constituent Assembly, to get rid of the remains of the single-party regime. We have maintained for a long time now that the State should be in control of the economy. Over these last years, the significant mobilizations of workers, along with their trade union federation, the UGTA, have obtained success in their demands: salary increases, permanent status on the job with binding contracts, the reopening of closed factories, etc. In 2009, the Algerian government made a step towards taking the control of the economy back in hand by deciding, among other measures, that, for any company, including foreign capital, the foreign capital could not exceed 49% of the total, with 51% remaining Algerian.

Voices have been being raised in France and elsewhere calling for a "revolution" in Algeria.

Concerning those people connected to the super powers who are talking of revolution, we know what that means. The result is Libya where, under the cover of "revolution" the breaking up of the country was set into motion, and the direct control of imperialism over Libyan wealth was imposed.

What bothers the super powers is that Algeria is seeking to keep its sovereignty. For them, sovereignty needs to be challenged, in order to be able to loot Algeria of its wealth, and for subjecting its people to total exploitation. We have already made the revolution to throw French colonialism out 50 years ago, and we will never accept the return of French colonialists, or American ones, or others.

Since the war in Libya, an appalling number of weapons and armed groups have been circulating throughout all the Sahel. Repeated confrontations have been taking place on the borders of Libya and Tunisia, and also on the borders of Algeria and Libya. Mali, after the return of the mercenaries, has been abandoned to war. U.S. war planes have bombed the north of Mali, under the pretext of the fight against terrorism. The risks of military intervention in Syria and in Iran threaten not only the region, but the whole planet.

For the super powers and their hangers-on, it is not a question of "revolution", it is not a question of the "liberation of peoples", it is a question of the breaking up of nations, for the profit of the super powers. All the countries of the world are under threat. Is is enough to see what has happened in Greece, subjected to the dictatorship of the Troika [IMF, European Union, European Central Bank -- translator's note], which is massacring the Greek people.

A few months ago, in November 2011, we held in Algiers at the call of the Workers Party and the UGTA an Emergency Conference against war, against interference and against the breaking up of nations. Delegations came from more than 40 countries around the world and from practically all the countries of Africa -- countries already largely victims to this assault. We know that all the peoples throughout all the world want neither war nor the breaking up of their nations.

Any last words?

Celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the independence of Algeria means defending the independence and the sovereignty of Algeria today. And we are aware that by defending the independence of Algeria today, we are contributing to the fight for the defense of the peoples and the nations of all countries, on all continents.

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