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America’s Coup Machine: Destroying Democracy Since 1953 April 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Latin America, Ukraine.
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Roger’s note: this shameful report on how the United States government, via its military, the CIA, aided and abetted by the MIC and the corporate mainstream media, exports death and misery around the globe, comes as no big surprise to anyone who has taken the time to investigate and understand.  It is a useful compilation of its dirty work since the end of World War II, but of course it didn’t all begin there; in a sense it all began with Columbus, and in modern history U.S. imperial adventures took off with the Spanish American War, 1898, under President McKinley.  It also gives us a truer picture of the U.S. role of the coup in the Ukraine.

 

shutterstock_97739666Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Soon after the 2004 U.S. coup to depose President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, I heard Aristide’s lawyer Ira Kurzban speaking in Miami.  He began his talk with a riddle: “Why has there never been a coup in Washington D.C.?”  The answer: “Because there is no U.S. Embassy in Washington D.C.”  This introduction was greeted with wild applause by a mostly Haitian-American audience who understood it only too well.

Ukraine’s former security chief, Aleksandr Yakimenko, has reported that the coup-plotters who overthrew the elected government in Ukraine, “basically lived in the (U.S.) Embassy.  They were there every day.”  We also know from a leaked Russian intercept that they were in close contact with Ambassador Pyatt and the senior U.S. official in charge of the coup, former Dick Cheney aide Victoria Nuland, officially the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.  And we can assume that many of their days in the Embassy were spent in strategy and training sessions with their individual CIA case officers.

To place the coup in Ukraine in historical context, this is at least the 80th time the United States has organized a coup or a failed coup in a foreign country since 1953.  That was when President Eisenhower discovered in Iran that the CIA could overthrow elected governments who refused to sacrifice the future of their people to Western commercial and geopolitical interests.  Most U.S. coups have led to severe repression, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, corruption, extreme poverty and inequality, and prolonged setbacks for the democratic aspirations of people in the countries affected.  The plutocratic and ultra-conservative nature of the forces the U.S. has brought to power in Ukraine make it unlikely to be an exception.

Noam Chomsky calls William Blum’s classic, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, “Far and away the best book on the topic.”  If you’re looking for historical context for what you are reading or watching on TV about the coup in Ukraine, Killing Hope will provide it.  The title has never been more apt as we watch the hopes of people from all regions of Ukraine being sacrificed on the same altar as those of people in Iran (1953); Guatemala(1954); Thailand (1957); Laos (1958-60); the Congo (1960); Turkey (1960, 1971 & 1980); Ecuador (1961 & 1963); South Vietnam (1963); Brazil (1964); the Dominican Republic (1963); Argentina (1963); Honduras (1963 & 2009); Iraq (1963 & 2003); Bolivia (1964, 1971 & 1980); Indonesia (1965); Ghana (1966); Greece (1967); Panama (1968 & 1989); Cambodia (1970); Chile (1973); Bangladesh (1975); Pakistan (1977); Grenada (1983); Mauritania (1984); Guinea (1984); Burkina Faso (1987); Paraguay (1989); Haiti (1991 & 2004); Russia (1993); Uganda (1996);and Libya (2011).  This list does not include a roughly equal number of failed coups, nor coups in Africa and elsewhere in which a U.S. role is suspected but unproven.

The disquieting reality of the world we live in is that American efforts to destroy democracy, even as it pretends to champion it, have left the world less peaceful, less just and less hopeful.  When Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, at the height of the genocidal American war on Iraq, he devoted much of his acceptance speech to an analysis of this dichotomy.  He said of the U.S., “It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.  It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis… Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever.”

The basic framework of U.S. coups has hardly evolved since 1953.  The main variables between coups in different places and times have been the scale and openness of the U.S. role and the level of violence used.  There is a strong correlation between the extent of U.S. involvement and the level of violence.  At one extreme, the U.S. war on Iraq was a form of regime change that involved hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and killed hundreds of thousands of people.  On the other hand, the U.S. role in General Suharto’s coup in Indonesia in 1965 remained covert even as he killed almost as many people.  Only long after the fact didU.S. officials take credit for their role in Suharto’s campaign of mass murder, and it will be some time before they brag publicly about their roles in Ukraine.

But as Harold Pinter explained, the U.S. has always preferred “low-intensity conflict” to full-scale invasions and occupations.  The CIA and U.S. special forces use proxies and covert operations to overthrow governments and suppress movements that challenge America’s insatiable quest for global power.  A coup is the climax of such operations, and it is usually only when these “low-intensity” methods fail that a country becomes a target for direct U.S. military aggression.  Iraq only became a target for U.S. invasion and occupation after a failed CIA coup in June 1996.  The U.S. attacked Panama in 1989 only after five CIA coup attempts failed to remove General Noriega from power.  After long careers as CIA agents, both Hussein and Noriega had exceptional knowledge of U.S. operations and methods that enabled them to resist regime change by anything less than overwhelming U.S. military force.

But most U.S. coups follow a model that has hardly changed between 1953 and the latest coup in Ukraine in 2014.  This model has three stages:

1) Creating and strengthening opposition forces

In the early stages of a U.S. plan for regime change, there is little difference between the methods used to achieve it at the ballot box or by an anti-constitutional coup.  Many of these tools and methods were developed to install right-wing governments in occupied countries in Europe and Asia after World War II.  They include forming and funding conservative political parties, student groups, trade unions and media outlets, and running well-oiled propaganda campaigns both in the country being targeted and in regional, international and U.S. media.

Post-WWII Italy is a case in point.  At the end of the war, the U.S. used the American Federation of Labor’s agents in France and Italy to funnel money through non-communist trade unions to conservative candidates and political parties.  But socialists and communists won a plurality of votes in the 1946 election in Italy, and then joined forces to form the Popular Democratic Front for the next election in 1948.  The U.S. worked with the Catholic Church, conducted a massive propaganda campaign using Italian-American celebrities like Frank Sinatra, and printed 10 million letters for Italian-Americans to mail to their relatives in Italy.  The U.S. threatened a total cut-off of aid to the war-ravaged country, where allied bombing had killed 50,000 civilians and left much of the country in ruins.

The FDP was reduced from a combined 40% of the votes in 1946 to 31% in 1948, leaving Italy in the hands of increasingly corrupt U.S.-backed coalitions led by the Christian Democrats for the next 46 years.  Italy was saved from an imaginary communist dictatorship, but more importantly from an independent democratic socialist program committed to workers’ rights and to protecting small and medium-sized Italian businesses against competition from U.S. multinationals.

The U.S. employed similar tactics in Chile in the 1960s to prevent the election of Salvador Allende.  He came within 3% of winning the presidency in 1958, so the Kennedy administration sent a team of 100 State Department and CIA officers to Chile in what one of them later called a “blatant and almost obscene” effort to subvert the next election in 1964.  The CIA provided more than half the Christian Democrats’ campaign funds and launched a multimedia propaganda campaign on film, TV, radio, newspapers, posters and flyers.  This classic “red scare” campaign, dominated by images of firing squads and Soviet tanks, was designed mainly to terrify women.  The CIA produced 20 radio spots per day that were broadcast on at least 45 stations, as well as dozens of fabricated daily “news” broadcasts.  Thousands of posters depicted children with hammers and sickles stamped on their foreheads.  The Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei defeated Allende by 17%, with a huge majority among women.

But despite the U.S. propaganda campaign, Allende was finally elected in 1970.  When he consolidated his position in Congressional elections in 1973 despite a virtual U.S. economic embargo and an ever-escalating destabilization campaign, his fate was sealed, at the hands of the CIA and the U.S.-backed military, led by General Pinochet.

In Ukraine, the U.S. has worked since independence in 1991 to promote pro-Western parties and candidates, climaxing in the “Orange Revolution” in 2004.  But the Western-backed governments of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko became just as corrupt and unpopular as previous ones, and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich was elected President in 2010.

The U.S. employed all its traditional tactics leading up to the coup in 2014.  The U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has partially taken over the CIA’s role in grooming opposition candidates, parties and political movements, with an annual budget of $100 million to spend in countries around the world.  The NED made no secret of targeting Ukraine as a top priority, funding 65 projects there, more than in any other country.  The NED’s neoconservative president, Carl Gershman, called Ukraine “the biggest prize” in a Washington Post op-ed in September 2013, as the U.S. operation there prepared to move into its next phase.

2) Violent street demonstrations

In November 2013, the European Union presented President Yanukovich with a 1,500 page “free trade agreement,” similar to NAFTA or the TPP, but which withheld actual EU membership from Ukraine.  The agreement would have opened Ukraine’s borders to Western exports and investment without a reciprocal opening of the EU’s borders. Ukraine, a major producer of cheese and poultry, would have been allowed to export only 5% of its cheese and 1% of its poultry to the EU.  Meanwhile Western firms could have used Ukraine as a gateway to flood Russia with cheap products from Asia. This would have forced Russia to close its borders to Ukraine, shattering the industrial economy of Eastern Ukraine.

Understandably, and for perfectly sound reasons as a Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich rejected the EU agreement.  This was the signal for pro-Western and right-wing groups in Kiev to take to the street.  In the West, we tend to interpret street demonstrations as representing surges of populism and democracy.  But we should distinguish left-wing demonstrations against right-wing governments from the kind of violent right-wing demonstrations that have always been part of U.S. regime change strategy.

In Tehran in 1953, the CIA spent a million dollars to hire gangsters and “extremely competent professional organizers”, as the CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt called them, to stage increasingly violent demonstrations, until loyal and rebel army units were fighting in the streets of Tehran and at least 300 people were killed.  The CIA spent millions more to bribe members of parliament and other influential Iranians.  Mossadegh was forced to resign, and the Shah restored Western ownership of the oil industry.  BP divided the spoils with American firms, until the Shah was overthrown 26 years later by the Iranian Revolution and the oil industry was re-nationalized.  This pattern of short-term success followed by eventual independence from U.S. interests is a common result of CIA coups, most notably in Latin America, where they have led many of our closest neighbors to become increasingly committed to political and economic independence from the United States.

In Haiti in 2004, 200 U.S. special forces trained 600 FRAPH militiamen and other anti-Lavalas forces at a training camp across the border in the Dominican Republic.  These forces then invaded northern Haiti and gradually spread violence and chaos across the country to set the stage for the overthrow of President Aristide.

In Ukraine, street protests turned violent in January 2014 as the neo-NaziSvoboda Party and the Right Sector militia took charge of the crowds in the streets.  The Right Sector militia only appeared in Ukraine in the past 6 months, although it incorporated existing extreme-right groups and gangs.  It is partly funded by Ukrainian exiles in the U.S. and Europe, and may be a creation of the CIA.  After Right Sector seized government buildings, parliament outlawed the protests and the police reoccupied part of Independence Square, killing two protesters.

On February 7th, the Russians published an intercepted phone call betweenAssistant Secretary of State Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.  The intercept revealed that U.S. officials were preparing to seize the moment for a coup in Ukraine.  The transcript reads like a page from a John Le Carre novel: “I think we’re in play… we could land jelly-side up on this one if we move fast.”  Their main concern was to marginalize heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who had become the popular face of the “revolution” and was favored by the European Union, and to ensure that U.S. favorite Arseniy Yatsenyuk ended up in the Prime Minister’s office.

On the night of February 17th, Right Sector announced a march from Independence Square to the parliament building on the 18th.  This ignited several days of escalating violence in which the death toll rose to 110 people killed, including protesters, government supporters and 16 police officers.  More than a thousand people were wounded. Vyacheslav Veremyi, a well-known reporter for a pro-government newspaper, was dragged out of a taxi near Independence Square and shot to death in front of a crowd of onlookers.  Right Sector broke into an armory near Lviv and seized military weapons, and there is evidence of both sides using snipers to fire from buildings in Kiev at protesters and police in the streets and the square below.  Former security chief Yakimenko believes that snipers firing from the Philharmonic building were U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries, like the snipers from the former Yugoslavia who earn up to $2,000 per day shooting soldiers in Syria.

As violence raged in the streets, the government and opposition parties held emergency meetings and reached two truce agreements, one on the night of February 19th and another on the 21st, brokered by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland.  But Right Sector rejected both truces and called for the “people’s revolution” to continue until Yanukovich resigned and the government was completely removed from power.

3) The coup d’etat.

The creation and grooming of opposition forces and the spread of violence in the streets are deliberate strategies to create a state of emergency as a pretext for removing an elected or constitutional government and seizing power.  Once the coup leaders have been trained and prepared by their CIA case officers, U.S. officials have laid their plans and street violence has broken down law and order and the functioning of state institutions, all that remains is to strike decisively at the right moment to remove the government and install the coup leaders in its place.  In Iran, faced with hundreds of people being killed in the streets, Mohammad Mosaddegh resigned to end the bloodshed. In Chile, General Pinochet launched air strikes on the presidential palace.  In Haiti in 2004, U.S. forces landed to remove President Aristide and occupy the country.

In Ukraine, Vitaly Klitschko announced that parliament would open impeachment proceedings against Yanukovich, but, later that day, lacking the 338 votes required for impeachment, a smaller number of members simply approved a declaration that Yanukovich “withdrew from his duties in an unconstitutional manner,” and appointed Oleksandr Turchynov of the opposition Fatherland Party as Acting President.  Right Sector seized control of government buildings and patrolled the streets.  Yanukovich refused to resign, calling this an illegal coup d’etat.  The coup leaders vowed to prosecute him for the deaths of protesters, but he escaped to Russia.  Arseniy Yatsenyuk was appointed Prime Minister on February 27th, exactly as Nuland and Pyatt had planned.

The main thing that distinguishes the U.S. coup in Ukraine from the majority of previous U.S. coups was the minimal role played by the Ukrainian military.  Since 1953, most U.S. coups have involved using local senior military officers to deliver the final blow to remove the elected or ruling leader.  The officers have then been rewarded with presidencies, dictatorships or other senior positions in new U.S.-backed regimes. The U.S. military cultivates military-to-military relationships to identify and groom future coup leaders, and President Obama’s expansion of U.S. special forces operations to 134 countries around the world suggests that this process is ongoing and expanding, not contracting.

But the neutral or pro-Russian position of the Ukrainian military since it was separated from the Soviet Red Army in 1991 made it an impractical tool for an anti-Russian coup. So Nuland and Pyatt’s signal innovation in Ukraine was to use the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party and Right Sector as a strike force to unleash escalating violence and seize power. This also required managing Svoboda and Right Sector’s uneasy alliance with Fatherland and UDAR, the two pro-Western opposition parties who won 40% between them in the 2012 parliamentary election.

Historically, about half of all U.S. coups have failed, and success is never guaranteed.  But few Americans have ended up dead or destitute in the wake of a failed coup.  It is always the people of the target country who pay the price in violence, chaos, poverty and instability, while U.S. coup leaders like Nuland and Pyatt often get a second – or 3rd or 4th or 5th – bite at the apple, and will keep rising through the ranks of the State Department and the CIA.  Direct U.S. military intervention in Ukraine was not an option before the coup, but now the coup itself may destabilize the country and plunge it into economic collapse, regional disintegration or conflict with Russia, creating new and unpredictable conditions in which NATO intervention could become feasible.

Russia has proposed a reasonable solution to the crisis. To resolve the tensions between Eastern and Western Ukraine over their respective political and economic links with Russia and the West, the Russians have proposed a federal system in which both Eastern and Western Ukraine would have much greater autonomy.  This would be more stable that the present system in which each tries to dominate the other with the support of their external allies, turning Ukraine and all its people into pawns of Western-NATO expansion and Russia’s efforts to limit it.  The Russian proposal includes a binding commitment that Ukraine would remain neutral and not join NATO.  A few weeks ago, Obama and Kerry seemed to be ready to take this off-ramp from the crisis.  The delay in agreeing to Russia’s seemingly reasonable proposal may be only an effort to save face, or it may mean that theneocons who engineered the coupare still dictating policy in Washington and that Obama and Kerry may be ready to risk a further escalation of the crisis.

The U.S. coup machine has also been at work in Venezuela, where it already failed once in 2002.  Raul Capote, a former Cuban double agent who worked with the CIA in Cuba and Venezuela, recently described its long-term project to build right-wing opposition movements among upper- and middle-class students in Venezuelan universities, which are now bearing fruit in increasingly violent street protests and vigilantism.  Thirty-six people have been killed, including six police officers and at least 5 opposition protesters.  The protests began exactly a month after municipal elections in December, in which the government won the popular vote by almost 10%, far more than the 1.5% margin in the presidential election last April.  As in Chile in 1973, electoral success by an elected government is often the cue for the CIA to step up its efforts, moving beyond propaganda and right-wing politics to violence in the streets, and the popularity of the Venezuelan government seems to have provoked precisely that reaction.

Another feature of U.S. coups is the role of the Western media in publicizing official cover stories and suppressing factual journalism.  This role has also been consistent since 1953, but it has evolved as corporate media have consolidated their monopoly power.  By their very nature, coups are secret operations and U.S. media are prohibited from revealing “national security” secrets about them, such as the names of CIA officers involved.  By only reporting official cover stories, they become unwitting co conspirators in the critical propaganda component of these operations.  But the U.S. corporate media have turned vice into virtue, relishing their role in the demonization of America’s chosen enemies and cheerleading U.S. efforts to do them in.  They brush U.S. responsibility for violence and chaos under the carpet, and sympathetically present U.S. policy as a well-meaning effort to respond to the irrational and dangerous behavior of others.

This is far more than is required by strict observance of secrecy laws, and it reveals a great deal about the nature of the media environment we live in.  The Western media as it exists today under near-monopoly corporate ownership is a more sophisticated and total propaganda system than early 20th century propagandists ever dreamed of.  As media corporations profit from Western geopolitical and commercial expansion, the propaganda function that supports that expansion is an integrated part of their business model, not something exceptional they do under duress from the state.  But to expect factual journalism about U.S. coups from such firms is to misunderstand who and what they are.

Recent studies have found that people gain a better grasp of current affairs from John Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central than from watching “news” networks.  People who watch no “news” at all have more knowledge of international affairs than people who watch MSNBC or Fox News.  A previous survey conducted 3 months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq found that 52% of Americans believed that U.S. forces in Iraq had found clear evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.  Among Republicans who said they were following “news on Iraq very closely”, the figure was 78%, compared with only 68% among Republicans at large.

If the role of the corporate media was to provide factual journalism, these studies would be a terrible indictment of their performance.  But once we acknowledge their actual role as the propaganda arm of an expansionist political and economic system, then we can understand that promoting the myths and misinformation that sustain it are a central part of what they do.  In that light, they are doing a brilliant job on Ukraine as they did on Iraq, suppressing any mention of the U.S. role in the coup and pivoting swiftly away from the unfolding crisis in post-coup Ukraine to focus entirely on attacking President Putin for reclaiming Crimea.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for factual journalism about the U.S. coup machine, you should probably turn off your TV and keep reading reliable sources like Alternet,Consortium News and Venezuela Analysis.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He wrote the chapter on “Obama At War” for the book, Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Venezuelan government defends population April 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: this article is from the Answer coalition via Liberation News.  You will not find this kind of reporting in the mainstream media, which, for example, continues to refer to CIA torture as “enhanced interrogation.”

 

April 4, 2014

 

venezuelan-right-wing

 Right-wing street barricades are more than physical barricades; people in affected neighborhoods are virtually kidnapped, with food, fuel and services blockaded. It is a form of terrorism against the population

child-rescued-venezeula

Child being rescued from nursery set on fire by right-wing terrorists on April 1

While the U.S. government and media support the Venezuelan opposition to the Bolivarian Revolution and portray it as a peaceful movement, the violence of this movement is exposing the right wing’s true nature.

There have been dozens of violent actions by fascist organizations, intent on carrying out terrorist plots in several urban areas of Venezuela. While the attacks are not widespread through the country, they are nevertheless causing serious destruction where they hit.

Almost 40 people have died, with at least half of those killed through outright assassination by fascist gangs. Theses gangs have ambushed pro-government supporters and National Guard members.

In the past few days, the government of President Nicolás Maduro has launched an offensive to take back control of the barricaded neighborhoods and to arrest the leaders of the “guarimbas,” the name given to the violence.

The right-wing violence began on Feb. 12. Right-wing extremist leaders Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado had publicly called for street violence to “remove the government.”

They, the Venezuelan corporate elite and U.S. imperialism, are violently opposed to the ongoing radicalization of the Bolivarian Revolution. Recent government measures include restrictions on corporations’ profit-gouging of the population and widening expropriations.

Maduro has mobilized the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) to re-take the most entrenched areas of fascist operation, such as municipalities of eastern Caracas and the far western state of Táchira, bordering Colombia.

Táchira has been the most challenging area, where for several weeks the fascist groups maintained dozens of massive street barricades.

It is important to understand that these are more than just physical barricades that block streets and traffic. When anyone tries to cross them or remove the barricades, they are met with violent attack. People in affected neighborhoods are virtually kidnapped, with food, fuel and services blockaded. It is a means of terrorism on the population.

The mayor of San Cristóbal, Daniel Ceballos, openly supports the terrorist attacks and took active part in the violence, covering his face with a bandana. But he was identified because his eyes, nose and other parts of his face were sufficiently visible to identify him.

Ceballos was quickly arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 months in prison, along with the mayor of San Diego, Vicenzo Scarano, in Carabobo state, west of Caracas, for refusing to act against the violence or to support the police forces in quelling the attacks.

After a four-day operation that ended March 30, the PNB and National Guard restored order in neighborhoods of San Cristóbal, Táchira.

With the clearing of the fascist outposts, the people are also being mobilized to defend their neighborhoods with the help of the state’s forces.

U.S. media distorts reality

And yet, the international media led by the U.S. press claims the Venezuelan government is engaging in repression and “militarizing” Táchira. They say nothing about the fascist terror.

What has actually taken place is the liberation of more than 39,000 people in San Cristóbal’s neighborhoods who were held captive.

On April 2, after the barricade demolition in San Cristóbal, Gen. Miguel Vivas Landino of the FANB told a television interviewer, “First of all, a revolutionary, socialist, Bolivarian and Chavista greeting. … We have been more than three hours in a community gathering, in conversation with the barrios, among them Sucre, Pirineos, to hear the people’s concerns and address their needs. There are a great number of needs here. … We have distributed 12,000 tanks of cooking fuel, because trucks couldn’t travel here.

“We have dismantled 56 barricades and collected 18,000 tons of garbage from the barricades. … We are very committed to our people, following the instructions of our Commander-in-Chief Nicolás Maduro to bring peace and tranquility, through services, food and to guarantee them peace, and to keep them from being mistreated by the violent groups.”

Right-wing parties like Voluntad Popular, whose leader Leopoldo López is currently under arrest, have been exposed through government operations as directing and carrying out the violence. Aragua Governor Tareck el Aissami announced the discovery by authorities of 100 tons of fireworks and detonators in the state of Aragua, just to the west of Caracas. Materials of such mass quantity could easily be used as explosives.

The two men in possession of the materials, Willian Sánchez Ramos and Edward Tovar Vargas, are leaders of Voluntad Popular. They were stopped in their SUV packed with heavy arms and arrested. The armored vehicle was also equipped to spread gasoline in the streets. A 21-year-old woman was arrested with them who carried nail bombs.

El Aissami accused them of leading an attack days earlier in the neighborhood of San Isidro, Chacao municipality, which he described as a “terrorist attack, well-planned, premeditated, they began a series of violent attacks on the neighbors’ housing. … It coincides with the assassination of [National Guard] Captain José Guillén Araque, close to San Isidro, armed bands … when the Guard arrived, he was ambushed and assassinated.”

One critical incident was in Caracas’ eastern municipality of Chacao, state of Miranda. The headquarters of the Ministry of Housing and Habitat was firebombed on April 1 by the fascist gangs that set off destroying property in the area after following right-winger María Corina Machado’s staged procession to the National Assembly.

Machado was one of the 2002 coup leaders against then-President Hugo Chávez, and a signer of the order cancelling the Constitution at that time.

On March 31, Machado was removed by vote of the National Assembly delegates for accepting the post of Alternate Ambassador for Panama to the Organization of American States. The OAS is dominated by U.S. imperialism and its headquarters are based in Washington, D.C. Panama’s government is allied with Washington, and gave Machado the post to give her a platform to speak and denounce the Venezuelan government.

The National Assembly revoked her deputy status, declaring her in violation of articles 149 and 191 of the Bolivarian Constitution for accepting another country’s position.

After her exhortation to the youth in the crowd, they proceeded to carry out multiple acts of violence, the main one being the burning of the Ministry of Housing. It was burned extensively, and a nursery for 89 children was destroyed.

U.S. imperialism funding fascists

Ever since the victory of Hugo Chávez’s first presidency in 1998, the U.S. government has financed opposition groups within Venezuela. The stated objective is “promoting democracy and democratic civil society organizations.” But the real plan, a multi-faceted strategy, is to destabilize, discredit and overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution.

Washington had its fingerprints on the April 2002 coup, helped direct the oil-industry shutdown in 2002-2003 and fashioned the opposition’s election intervention in 2010 after the U.S.-inspired abstention by the right wing failed in 2005.

Today, U.S. officials admit at least $5 million has been funded annually for the right-wing opposition. On the ground in Venezuela, the U.S. Embassy has been exposed for encouraging youth and student organizations to conduct terror attacks.

Students who support the Venezuelan revolution have denounced a “silent strike” being enforced in the major private universities by right-wing professors and rectors. Those schools include Central University of Venezuela, University of the Andes, University of Carabobo, and others. Some 60,000 students alone in Carabobo are unable to attend school. When students and professors have tried to resume classes they are threatened by violent groups.

Venezuelan intelligence agencies and popular investigators have exposed the receiving end, with fascist youth being recorded, asking how much and when they will receive funds, etc.

Now, right-wing U.S. Congress members Robert Menéndez and Marco Rubio are sponsoring a bill, the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, to increase funding to $15 million.

The United States government is employing a range of tactics in its strategy of counterrevolution in Venezuela. A recent interview with Cuban revolutionary and double agent Raúl Capote shows not only the long-term plans of infiltration and destabilization that Washington employs against Cuba, but also Venezuela.

What is taking place in Venezuela since Feb. 12 is the tactic of terrorism that U.S. imperialism and its followers now feel compelled to unleash, because the vast majority of Venezuelans refuse to surrender the enormous gains they have won.

Our duty in the United States and worldwide progressive movement is to educate the people, to mobilize publicly to defend the Bolivarian revolutionary process and to fight for an end to the U.S. government’s strategy of counterrevolution.

Reprinted from Liberation News

Venezuela protests are sign that US wants our oil, says Nicolás Maduro April 8, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: the US government since the end of WWII, in a foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean basically defined and determined by the CIA, has used the same script for regime change, with success in Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil, Haiti Dominican Republic, Grenada … the list goes on.  Countless millions of dollars have been covertly channeled into pro-US “opposition” groups and mainstream corporate media  in order order to create disorder and instability leading to one form of coup or another.  In the cases of Panama, Grenada and the Dominican Republic, there was direct military intervention.  In Cuba (Bay of Pigs), Nicaragua, Honduras and Haiti, the preferred method of material and diplomatic support to local insurrectionists.  When things “stabalize,” such as in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, etc. the US goes on supporting repressive dictatorships or repressive democratically elected governments such as is the case today with Colombia and Mexico (you may have noticed by now that I have named nations that make up probably90% of the population of the southern half of the western hemisphere).

In all cases, the motive is to preserve, protect or restore US economic interests and access to natural resources.

This is Venezuela today.

The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.

Thank you, Mr. Obama.

 

 

 

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Venezuela’s president claims the Obama administration is fomenting unrest with the aim of provoking a Ukraine-style ‘slow-motion’ coup

(Click to see video: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/apr/08/venezuelan-president-nicolas-maduro-video-interview

Venezuela‘s president has accused the US of using continuing street protests to attempt a “slow-motion” Ukraine-style coup against his government and “get their hands on Venezuelan oil”.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Nicolás Maduro, elected last year after the death of Hugo Chávez, said what he described as a “revolt of the rich” would fail because the country’s “Bolivarian revolution” was more deeply rooted than when it had seen off an abortive US-backed coup against Chávez in 2002.

Venezuela, estimated to have the world’s largest oil reserves, has faced continuous violent street protests – focused on inflation, shortages and crime – since the beginning of February, after opposition leaders launched a campaign to oust Maduro and his socialist government under the slogan of “the exit”.

“They are trying to sell to the world the idea that the protests are some of sort of Arab spring,” he said. “But in Venezuela, we have already had our spring: our revolution that opened the door to the 21st century”.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Nicolás Maduro has remained defiant after months of protests against his government, which he describes as ‘a revolt of the rich’. Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images The conflict has claimed up to 39 lives and posed a significant challenge to Maduro’s government. On Monday, the Venezuelanpresident agreed to a proposal by the South American regional group Unasur for peace talks with opposition leaders, who have up to now refused to join a government-led dialogue.

The US denies involvement and says Venezuela is using the excuse of a coup threat to crack down on the opposition. Human Rights Watch and Venezuela’s Catholic hierarchy have also condemned the government’s handling of the protests, while Amnesty International has alleged human rights abuses by both sides.

Maduro claimed Venezuela was facing a type of “unconventional war that the US has perfected over the last decades”, citing a string of US-backed coups or attempted coups from 1960s Brazil to Honduras in 2009.

Speaking in the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, the former bus driver and trade union leader said Venezuela’s opposition had “the aim of paralysing the main cities of the country, copying badly what happened in Kiev, where the main roads in the cities were blocked off, until they made governability impossible, which led to the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine.” The Venezuelan opposition had, he said, a “similar plan”.

“They try to increase economic problems through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation”, Maduro said. “To create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention.”

Venezuelan police clash with demonstrators in Caracas Venezuelan police clash with demonstrators in Caracas last month. Photograph: Santi Donaire/EPA Pointing to the large increases in social provision and reduction in inequality over the past decade and a half, Maduro said: “When I was a union leader there wasn’t a single programme to protect the education, health, housing and salaries of the workers. It was the reign of savage capitalism. Today in Venezuela, the working class is in power: it’s the country where the rich protest and the poor celebrate their social wellbeing,” he said.

Venezuela’s protests have been fuelled by high inflation, which reached a peak of 57% but has now fallen to a monthly rate of 2.4%, and shortages of subsidised basic goods, a significant proportion of which are smuggled into Colombia and sold for far higher prices. Opposition leaders accuse the government of mismanagement.

Recent easing of currency controls appear to have had a positive impact, and the economy continues to grow and poverty rates fall. But Venezuela’s murder rate – a target of the protests – is among the highest in the world.

About 2,200 have been arrested (190 or so are still detained) during two months of unrest, which followed calls by opposition leaders to “light up the streets with struggle” and December’s municipal elections in which Maduro’s supporters’ lead over the opposition increased to 10%.

Responsibility for the deaths is strongly contested. Eight of the dead have been confirmed to be police or security forces; four opposition activists (and one government supporter) killed by police, for which several police officers have been arrested; seven were allegedly killed by pro-government colectivo activists and 13 by opposition supporters at street barricades.

Asked how much responsibility the government should take for the killings, Maduro responded that 95% of the deaths were the fault of “rightwing extremist groups” at the barricades, giving the example of three motorcyclists killed by wire strung across the road by protesters. He said he has set up a commission to investigate each case. The global media was being used to promote a “virtual reality” of a “student movement being repressed by an authoritarian government”, he argued. “What government in the world hasn’t committed political or economic mistakes? But does that justify the burning down of universities or the overthrow of an elected government?”The protests, often led by students and overwhelmingly in well-off areas, have included arson attacks on government buildings, universities and bus stations. From a peak of several hundred thousand people in February, most recent demonstrations have dwindled in size and are restricted to opposition strongholds, such as Tachira state on the Colombian border.

A hardline opposition leader, Leopoldo López, who participated in the 2002 coup, and two opposition mayors have been arrested and charged with inciting violence. Another backer of the protests, María Corina Machado, was stripped of her post in parliament.

This was not “criminalising dissent”, Maduro insisted. “The opposition has full guarantees and rights. We have an open democracy. But if a politician commits a crime, calls for the overthrow of the legitimate government and uses his position to block streets, burn universities and public transport, the courts act.” Critics, however, insist the courts are politicised.

Leopoldo Lopez Leopoldo López is escorted by Venezuela’s national guard after surrendering in Caracas. Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Last month, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, claimed Venezuela was waging a “terror campaign” against its own citizens. But the Organisation of American States and the South American Unasur and Mercosur blocs of states backed the Venezuelan government and called for political dialogue.

Asked for evidence of US intervention in the protests, the Venezuelan president replied: “Is 100 years of intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean not enough: against Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Brazil? Is the coup attempt against President Chávez by the Bush administration not enough? Why does the US have 2,000 military bases in the world? To dominate it. I have told President Obama: we are not your backyard anymore”.

Maduro pointed to evidence of past and present US intervention in Venezuela in Wikileaks cables, the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations and US state department documents. They include cables from the US ambassador outlining US plans to “divide”, “isolate” and “penetrate” the Chávez government, and extensive US government funding of Venezuelan opposition groups over the past decade (some via agencies such as USAid and the Office for Transitional Initiatives), including $5m (£3m) of overt support in the current fiscal year.

Maduro’s allegations follow last week’s revelation that USAid covertly funded a social media website to foment political unrest and encourage “flash mobs” in Venezuela’s ally Cuba under the cover of “development assistance”. White House officials acknowledged that such programmes were not “unique to Cuba”.

Maduro has called a national peace conference – though opposition parties have so far refused to participate, arguing it will be skewed to endorse the government.

Cuban Twitter USaid covertly funded a social media website to foment political unrest in Cuba. Photograph: Franklin Reyes/AP The president also says he will agree to Vatican conciliation if the opposition condemns violence. But he rejects criticism that he and the Chavista movement have been too polarising.”I don’t think polarisation in a democracy is something wrong. That seems to be trendy now, to try to turn polarisation into some sort of disease. I wish all democratic societies would polarise. A democracy can only truly function if its society is politicised.”

“Politics is not only for the elite, for centre-right and centre-left parties, while the elites distribute power and wealth among themselves”, Maduro said. “Venezuela has a positive polarisation because it is a politicised country where the large majority take sides over public policies. There is also negative polarisation that doesn’t accept the other and wants to eliminate the other – we must get over that with national dialogue.”Venezuela has been central to the radical political transformation of Latin America over the past decade, and Maduro insists that regional process will continue. When Chávez said “the 21st century is ours” in 1992, he says “it was a romantic idea. Today it is a reality and no one is going to take it away from us”.

Challenged over whether Venezuela’s 2009 referendum to abolish limits on the number of times presidents can stand for election meant he would like to continue indefinitely, Maduro countered that Venezuela had a right to recall elected officials, unlike in Europe. “In the UK, the prime minister can run as many times as he wants to, but not the royals. Who elected the queen?

“The people will decide until when I can be here. Be certain that if it is not me it will be another revolutionary. What will be indefinite is the popular power of the people”.

Towards another coup in Venezuela? February 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: here is more on the volatile situation in Venezuela that you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.  If you have the time to invest in reading an excellent analysis of recent pre and post Chavez Venezuela, go to the link for this article, which I am not posting here due to its length: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/venezuela-archives-35/4694-sabaneta-to-miraflores-afterlives-of-hugo-chavez-in-venezuela.

 

Protests are initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition in the hope of an eventual systemic overhaul.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2014 08:50
Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

Five days after violent anti-government incitement in Venezuela led to the deaths of three people, the US State Department issued a press statement declaring: “The allegations [by President Nicolas Maduro] that the United States is helping to organise protestors… is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world.”

Of course, US commitment to such freedoms is called into question by its own operating procedures, which have included police beatings of peaceful protesters and the incarceration and torture of whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Inside Story – Making choices after Chavez

Maduro might  - meanwhile –  be forgiven for associating the US with efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government given said country’s intimate involvement in the 2002 coup d’etat against Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez – not to mention its general history of fomenting opposition to less-than-obsequious Latin American regimes.

George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University and the author of “We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution”, remarked to me yesterday that, although “there’s no reason to think that the US is directly involved in organising or calling these protests… we need to bear in mind that [it] continues to fund the very same opposition groups that have participated in violent, anti-democratic actions before and that continue to do so”.

The great cake famine

The opposition cites insecurity, food shortages, and inflation as factors driving the protests.

However, pinning the blame for all of Venezuela’s ills on chavismo - the left-wing political ideology developed by Chavez and continued by Maduro – is transparently disingenuous. Or rather, it would be transparently disingenuous if the dominant international media were not intent on parroting opposition propaganda.

In 2010, for example, the New York Times horrified the world with the news that Venezuela under Chavez was deadlier than Iraq. As noted in Richard Gott’s Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, “much of the violence stemmed from the police itself (the highest crime rates were registered in the states of Miranda, Tachira and Zulia, where opposition governors ruled and controlled the local police forces)”.

Since such details complicate the vilification of Chavez and company, they’re often deemed unworthy of reporting. So is the fact that Honduras – neoliberal lap dog of the US – happens to be far deadlier than Venezuela, Iraq, and every other nation on earth.

As for the issue of food shortages, it’s instructive to take a look at a recent episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream featuring an appearance by elite right-wing Caracas blogger Emiliana Duarte. Asked to elaborate on the circumstances of daily existence in Venezuela, Duarte launches into a sob story about having to visit 10 different supermarkets the previous year during a quest to bake a cake.

In addition to highlighting the sort of absurd hysterics that typify the Venezuelan opposition, the cake-baking anecdote constitutes less than persuasive evidence of the supposedly brutal tyranny under which Duarte and her socioeconomic cohorts are forced to reside.

Perpetual opposition ruckus about the government’s alleged control of the media – which is said to be thwarting proper transmission of the protests  - meanwhile – fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of Venezuelan media is privately owned. In 2012, the BBC noted that a mere 4.58 percent of television and radio channels belonged to the state.

Regarding Maduro’s decision to indefinitely block the far-right Colombian news channel NTN24 from transmitting in Venezuela, Ciccariello-Maher commented that, “while we should be very concerned any time a media outlet is blocked, however briefly, we should also remember that the private media is far from neutral” and that “this is a government that has seen a coup d’etat led by the private media”.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of the chavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

Indeed, the narrative spun by anti-Chavez outlets during the 2002 coup wasinstrumental to its initial success.

Polarisation by whom?

On the occasion of Chavez’s last landslide victory in 2012, Keane Bhatt listed some aspects of the man’s legacy thus far in a blog post for the North American Congress on Latin America: “[In the pre-Chavez years of] 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14 percent, whereas since 2004, after the Chavez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5 percent each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of widely shared growth and government programmes cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70 percent – and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.”

Such improvements might be of more interest to the majority of Venezuelans than, say, Duarte’s cake saga. Although Chavez is relentlessly cast in the mainstream media as a “polarising” figure, the fact is that the late president laboured to reduce the already existing polarisation of Venezuelan society by reducing the income gap and offering the poor masses some acknowledgement as human beings.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of thechavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

As for the current opposition efforts against Maduro, it’s not difficult to see that US support for regime change in Venezuela is itself quite polarising – both domestically and continentally.

While the Mercosur member states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela – havecondemned the violent “attempts to destabilise [Venezuela's] democratic order”, US Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned “this senseless violence” and exhorted the Maduro government “to provide the political space necessary for meaningful dialogue with the Venezuelan people”.

To be sure, it’s more convenient to blame Maduro for the phenomenon of “senseless violence” than to ponder, say, the practice of assassinating civilians with US drones. That the anti-chavista crowd is cast in the role of “the Venezuelan people” also raises the question of what the millions of people who support the government qualify as.

Initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition, this bout of violence was far from “senseless”; it did, after all, have a point. And that point, as usual, was to agitate on behalf of an eventual systemic overhaul and the deliverance of Venezuela into the imperial embrace.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

US Support for Regime Change in Venezuela is a Mistake February 18, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: Only the wilfully naive can believe that the United States government is not providing all the support to the anti-Venezuelan government protests it can get away with.  As we have seen in the recent past with Honduras and Egypt, the U.S. government will set aside its sacred belief in democracy  in favor of military takeovers when it serves its geopolitical interests.  This is not to say that there aren’t serious problems in Venezuela or that Venezuelan government security forces have not on occassion reacted with undue force.  Violence begets violence.  But this does not alter our view of  the big picture.  Beginning with the era of Chavez, the Venezuelan government has been a serious thorn in the side of Uncle Sam, and the latter has acted as he always has, regardless of the party in power, which is to use whatever means necessary to maintain quasi and sometimes not that quasi client regimes south of the Rio Grande.

Oh, and by the way, don’t expect this kind of analysis to appear in the American mainstream media, quite the opposite.  No???

 

Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by The Guardian/UK

The US push to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro once again pits Washington against South America

 

by Mark Weisbrot

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela on 4 February 2014. (Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters)

When is it considered legitimate to try and overthrow a democratically-elected government? In Washington, the answer has always been simple: when the US government says it is. Not surprisingly, that’s not the way Latin American governments generally see it.

On Sunday, the Mercosur governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela)released a statement on the past week’s demonstrations in Venezuela. They described “the recent violent acts” in Venezuela as “attempts to destabilize the democratic order”. They made it abundantly clear where they stood.

The governments stated:

their firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and, in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.

We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That’s not because they didn’t love President Dilma Rousseff; it’s because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil’s democratically-elected government.

The Obama administration was a bit more subtle, but also made it clear where it stood. WhenSecretary of State John Kerry states that “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors,” he is taking a political position. Because there were many protestors who committed crimes: they attacked and injured police with chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails; they burned cars, trashed and sometimes set fire to government buildings; and committed other acts of violence and vandalism.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government’s “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela”, and said that there was an obligation for “government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens”. He was joining the opposition’s efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any “regime change” strategy.

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerry did the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Kerry’s recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition’s attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro’s party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56% and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Hugo Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry – have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded.

There were plenty of complaints about the government and the economy, but the rich, right-wing politicians who led the opposition did not reflect their values nor inspire their trust.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López – competing with Capriles for leadership –has portrayed the current demonstrations as something that could force Maduro from office. It was obvious that there was, and remains, no peaceful way that this could happen. As University of Georgia professorDavid Smilde has argued, the government has everything to lose from violence in the demonstrations, and the opposition has something to gain.

By the past weekend Capriles, who was initially wary of a potentially violent “regime change” strategy – was apparently down with program. According to Bloomberg News, he accused the government of “infiltrating the peaceful protests “to convert them into centers of violence and suppression”.

Meanwhile, López is taunting Maduro on Twitter after the government made the mistake of threatening to arrest him: “Don’t you have the guts to arrest me?” he tweeted on 14 February:

Hopefully the government will not take the bait. US support for regime change undoubtedly inflames the situation, since Washington has so much influence within the opposition and, of course, in the hemispheric media.

It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the US in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April’s presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington’s support for regime change in Venezuela.

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Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Venezuelan opposition shows its right-wing, racist and anti-working class character in the streets of Washington, D.C. February 17, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: it’s all about regime change, folks.  We are now seeing the mass media reports of the Venezuelan “opposition” and its “peaceful democratic” demonstrations against the “repressive” Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro.  What the mass media will forget to mention is the CIA backing and support for this attack on a democratically elected progressive regime that is not in the pocket, a la Colombia,  of the American government.  This is the 1973 Chile operation all over again.  The question is whether it will work again and bring a Venezuelan Pinochet to power.

A tale of two demonstrations: Eyewitness report

Yesterday (Sat., Feb. 15) at a demonstration in Washington, D.C., the racist, privileged and pampered character of the ultra-right-wing opponents of Venezuela’s revolutionary government revealed itself in a grotesque display.

Vividly unmasking the true class nature of the opposition to Venezuela’s progressive government, the enraged children of Venezuela’s upper classes, who live a coddled existence in Washington, D.C., yelled insults and racist slurs against a multi-racial group of demonstrators who rallied for six hours to condemn the U.S. government and the CIA for trying to carry out another coup against the progressive government led by Nicolas Maduro.

Standing in front of Venezuela’s Embassy in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., the demonstration was one of many taking place all over the United States in opposition to the CIA’s effort to carry out another sabotage and destabilization in Latin America.

“We, the people of the United States, are mobilizing around the country with a simple message: the government of the United States is trying to use the tactics of economic disruption and sabotage to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution. The U.S. government speaks in our name but we, the people, oppose this policy,” explained one of the demonstrators over a bullhorn.

The empowered children of Venezuela’s elite went nuts.

“You are Cuban mother****ers” they chanted. Pointing at Black demonstrators, they yelled: “Go back to your homeless shelter.”  Stylish, well dressed and chic, Venezuela’s elite arrived for several hours in expensive cars to conduct a counterdemonstration. They brought a team of four impeccably groomed, small, purebred dogs adorned in costumes, and proceeded to pose for pictures with them.

They reflected the typical arrogance of those who have lived with servants throughout life. They spent their entire time pouring out abuse and hatred toward the rally of working-class people who had come out because they oppose the U.S. government using its vast power in an attempt to derail a revolution that is so clearly benefiting Venezuela’s poor.

They called the multi-racial, progressive demonstrators “stupid” and “lazy” and, of course, “communists.” Americans fighting for civil rights or an end to the Vietnam War recognize these echoes from our own homegrown right-wing bigots. But the arrogance of Venezuela’s affluent community in Washington, D.C., seemed boundless.

These empowered rich kids from Venezuela – who go to Georgetown University, which costs over $58,000 a year to attend – screamed out at the demonstration that was attended mostly by working-people in Washington, D.C., “why don’t you get a job” and “who are you” and “go home.”

It was a bad showing for Venezuela’s upper classes. Even though they were in Washington, D.C., they acted like they owned the place. They are an owning class and they cannot conceal their arrogance. They are convinced that they should always own Venezuela’s vast wealth while the majority of the population lives in dire poverty. Why not own the streets of Georgetown too while yelling at working-class people in Washington, D.C., that they should “go home!”

They were dripping with class privilege. These coddled teenagers and twenty-somethings whipped themselves into a frenzy. They gave people the middle finger, and yelled and screamed things such as “Who’s paying you?” and “Come over to our side and we’ll pay you twice the minimum wage.”

They came in shifts so they wouldn’t have to stay out in the cold too long. But it was clear that the progressive demonstration was determined to stay. The temperatures were below freezing. There was a stiff wind, making it feel even colder, and snow for part of the time. The numbers of the right wing dwindled and dwindled. At 4:30 p.m., the last of them retreated and the progressive demonstrators raised their signs and banners, and chanted: “The people united will never be defeated.”

We encourage everyone to join these upcoming events:

Washington, D.C.: Counter the lies of the right wing at the OAS

Wed., Feb. 19, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Outside the OAS

Washington, D.C.-area organizations are calling a rally on Wednesday, Feb. 19 outside the Organization of American States (OAS) – where the right wing will be having a protest at the same time.

We urge you to join us to defend the Bolivarian Revolution, to denounce the right-wing attacks on the people, and to demand that the United States government stop funding the opposition groups, which are responsible for the violence

ANSWER COALITION

Left-Leaning Candidates Continue to Sweep Latin America February 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: this is good news, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt.  The reason that we celebrate left or left leaning governments is that it is an indication of popular sentiment.  But experience tells us that not only in Latin America but in Europe and elsewhere, self proclaimed leftist, populist and socialist political parties once in power more often than not fall prey to neo-Liberal economic policies, not to mention alliances with US, Russian or Chinese imperial adventures.  Unfortunately, the exceptions are few.  Nonetheless the victorious left parties in El Salvador and Costa Rica deserve our support unless or until they change colors.  The author of this article in her/his enthusiasm, forgets about right wing US allied governments in Mexico, Panama, Honduras and Colombia.

Published on Monday, February 3, 2014 by Common Dreams

Paraguay could be only country from the Rio Grande to Patagonia ‘where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power’

- Common Dreams staff

Supporters hold a poster of Salvador Sanchez Ceren, January 25, 2014 (Reuters/Ulises Rodriguez)

Celebrations broke out among left wing supporters across two Central American countries this weekend as elections in Costa Rica and El Salvador showed right wing candidates are increasingly loosing ground, Agence France-Presse reports.

“Left-leaning candidates dominated presidential elections in Central America on Sunday, with polls showing El Salvador’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis poised to claim victory in their respective runoffs,” according to AFP. Those elections will take place in the coming weeks.

Ceren, former guerrilla leader of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), won 48.9% of votes in the first round of a run-off election.

In what was considered a more surprising result, Solis, a former history professor, also finished with a strong lead in the first round of voting in Costa Rica.

As AFP reports:

Ceren and Solis are just the latest candidates to ride a wave of centre-left sympathy in Latin America, where right-wing parties are struggling to attract voters. [...]

If the former academic wins Costa Rica’s runoff on April 6, Paraguay will be the only country between the Rio Grande to Patagonia where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power.

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In Chiapas, A Revolution That Won’t Go Away January 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: William Blake coined the phrase “mind forged manacles,” the shackles we impose upon ourselves that prevent our imagination from envisioning a world other than the shitpot we live in.  When a skeptic alleges that human nature will never allow us to be free or to govern ourselves in a truly democratic way, we can and must point to the Paris Commune and the Zapatista Revolution as living proof that it can be done.  I have read some who insist that the Mexican government will inevitably one day wipe out the Zapatistas.  Maybe so, maybe not.  As Marx said, the lesson of the Paris Commune was its living breathing existence.  Unless we are ready to fall into cynicism and despair, we must never lose faith in these living examples of human freedom and dignity.

Published on Thursday, January 23, 2014 by TomDispatch.com

Now You See Me: A Glimpse into the Zapatista Movement, Two Decades Later

The mantra of ‘democracy, liberty, and justice’ has informed the Zapatista movement for more than twenty years. (Photo: Flickr/David Apellido/Falso Handala3)Growing up in a well-heeled suburban community, I absorbed our society’s distaste for dissent long before I was old enough to grasp just what was being dismissed. My understanding of so many people and concepts was tainted by this environment and the education that went with it: Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and Oscar Wilde and Noam Chomsky and Venezuela and Malcolm X and the Service Employees International Union and so, so many more. All of this is why, until recently, I knew almost nothing about the Mexican Zapatista movement except that the excessive number of “a”s looked vaguely suspicious to me. It’s also why I felt compelled to travel thousands of miles to a Zapatista “organizing school” in the heart of the Lacandon jungle in southeastern Mexico to try to sort out just what I’d been missing all these years.

Hurtling South

The fog is so thick that the revelers arrive like ghosts. Out of the mist they appear: men sporting wide-brimmed Zapata hats, women encased in the shaggy sheepskin skirts that are still common in the remote villages of Mexico. And then there are the outsiders like myself with our North Face jackets and camera bags, eyes wide with adventure. (“It’s like the Mexican Woodstock!” exclaims a student from the northern city of Tijuana.) The hill is lined with little restaurants selling tamales and arroz con leche and pozol, a ground-corn drink that can rip a foreigner’s stomach to shreds. There is no alcohol in sight. Sipping coffee as sugary as Alabama sweet tea, I realize that tonight will be my first sober New Year’s Eve since December 31, 1999, when I climbed into bed with my parents to await the Y2K Millennium bug and mourned that the whole world was going to end before I had even kissed a boy.

Thousands are clustered in this muddy field to mark the 20-year anniversary of January 1, 1994, when an army of impoverished farmers surged out of the jungle and launched the first post-modern revolution. Those forces, known as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, were the armed wing of a much larger movement of indigenous peoples in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, who were demanding full autonomy from their government and global liberation for all people.

“A popular uprising against government-backed globalization led by an all but forgotten people: it was an event that seemed unthinkable. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The market had triumphed. The treaties had been signed. And yet surging out of the jungles came a movement of people with no market value and the audacity to refuse to disappear.”

As the news swept across that emerging communication system known as the Internet, the world momentarily held its breath. A popular uprising against government-backed globalization led by an all but forgotten people: it was an event that seemed unthinkable. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The market had triumphed. The treaties had been signed. And yet surging out of the jungles came a movement of people with no market value and the audacity to refuse to disappear.

Now, 20 years later, villagers and sympathetic outsiders are pouring into one of the Zapatistas’ political centers, known as Oventic, to celebrate the fact that their rebellion has not been wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men.

The plane tickets from New York City to southern Mexico were so expensive that we traveled by land. We E-ZPassed down the eastern seaboard, ate catfish sandwiches in Louisiana, barreled past the refineries of Texas, and then crossed the border. We pulled into Mexico City during the pre-Christmas festivities. The streets were clogged with parents eating tamales and children swinging at piñatas. By daybreak the next morning, we were heading south again. Speed bumps scraped the bottom of our Volvo the entire way from Mexico City to Chiapas, where the Zapatistas control wide swathes of territory. The road skinned the car alive. Later I realized that those speed bumps were, in a way, the consequences of dissent — tiny traffic-controlling monuments to a culture far less resigned to following the rules.

“Up north,” I’d later tell Mexican friends, “we don’t have as many speed bumps, but neither do we have as much social resistance.”

After five days of driving, we reached La Universidad de la Tierra, a free Zapatista-run schoolin the touristy town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas. Most of the year, people from surrounding rural communities arrive here to learn trades like electrical wiring, artisanal crafts, and farming practices. This week, thousands of foreigners had traveled to the town to learn about something much more basic: autonomy.

Our first “class” was in the back of a covered pickup truck careening through the Lacandon jungle with orange trees in full bloom. As we passed, men and women raised peace signs in salute. Spray-painted road signs read (in translation):

“You are now entering Zapatista territory. Here the people order and the government obeys.”

I grew nauseous from the exhaust and the dizzying mountain views, and after six hours in that pickup on this, my sixth day of travel, two things occurred to me: first, I realized that I had traveled “across” Chiapas in what was actually a giant circle; second, I began to suspect that there was no Zapatista organizing school at all, that the lesson I was supposed to absorb was simply that life is a matter of perpetual, cyclical motion. The movement’s main symbol, after all, is a snail’s shell.

Finally, though, we arrived in a village where the houses had thatched roofs and the children spoke only the pre-Hispanic language Ch’ol.

¡Ya Basta!

Over the centuries, the indigenous communities of Chiapas survived Spanish conquistadors, slavery, and plantation-style sugar cane fields; Mexican independence and mestizo landowners; racism, railroads, and neoliberal economic reforms. Each passing year seemed to bring more threats to its way of life. As the father of my host family explained to me, the community began to organize itself in the early 1990s because people felt that the government was slowly but surely exterminating them.

The government was chingando, he said, which translates roughly as deceiving, cheating, and otherwise screwing someone over. It was, he said, stealing their lands. It was extracting the region’s natural resources, forcing people from the countryside into the cities. It was disappearing the indigenous languages through its version of public education. It was signing free trade agreements that threatened to devastate the region’s corn market and the community’s main subsistence crop.

So on January 1, 1994, the day the North America Free Trade Agreement went into effect, some residents of this village — along with those from hundreds of other villages — seized control of major cities across the state and declared war on the Mexican government. Under the name of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, they burned the army’s barracks and liberated the inmates in the prison at San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

In response, the Mexican army descended on Chiapas with such violence that the students of Mexico City rioted in the streets. In the end, the two sides sat down for peace talks that, to this day, have never been resolved.

The uprising itself lasted only 12 days; the response was a punishing decade of repression. First came the great betrayal. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who, in the wake of the uprising, had promised to enact greater protections for indigenous peoples, instead sent thousands of troops into the Zapatistas’ territory in search of Subcomandante Marcos, the world-renowned spokesperson for the movement. They didn’t find him. But the operation marked the beginning of a hush-hush war against the communities that supported the Zapatistas. The army, police, and hired thugs burned homes and fields and wrecked small, communally owned businesses. Some local leaders disappeared. Others were imprisoned. In one region of Chiapas, the entire population was displaced for so long that the Red Cross set up a refugee camp for them. (In the end, the community rejected the Red Cross aid, in the same way that it also rejects all government aid.)

Since 1994, the movement has largely worked without arms. Villagers resisted government attacks and encroachments with road blockades, silent marches, and even, in one famous case, an aerial attack comprised entirely of paper airplanes.

The Boy Who Is Free

Fifteen years after the uprising, a child named Diego was born in Zapatista territory. He was the youngest member of the household where I was staying, and during my week with the family, he was always up to something. He agitated the chickens, peeked his head through the window to surprise his father at the breakfast table, and amused the family by telling me long stories in Ch’ol that I couldn’t possibly understand.

He also, unknowingly, defied the government’s claim that he does not exist.

Diego is part of the first generation of Zapatista children whose births are registered by one of the organization’s own civil judges. In the eyes of his father, he is one of the first fully independent human beings. He was born in Zapatista territory, attends a Zapatista school, lives on unregistered land, and his body is free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Adding to his autonomy is the fact that nothing about him — not his name, weight, eye color, or birth date — is officially registered with the Mexican government. His family does not receive a peso of government aid, nor does it pay a peso worth of taxes. Not even the name of Diego’s town appears on any official map.

By first-world standards, this autonomy comes at a steep price: some serious poverty. Diego’s home has electricity but no running water or indoor plumbing. The outhouse is a hole in the ground concealed by waist-high tarp walls. The bathtub is the small stream in the backyard. Their chickens often free-range it right through their one-room, dirt-floor house. Eating them is considered a luxury.

The population of the town is split between Zapatistas and government loyalists, whom the Zapatistas call “priistas” in reference to Mexico’s ruling political party, the PRI. To discern who is who, all you have to do is check whether or not a family’s roof sports a satellite dish.

Then again, the Zapatistas aren’t focused on accumulating wealth, but on living with dignity. Most of the movement’s work over the last two decades has involved patiently building autonomous structures for Diego and his generation. Today, children like him grow up in a community with its own Zapatista schools; communal businesses; banks; hospitals; clinics; judicial processes; birth, death, and marriage certificates; annual censuses; transportation systems; sports teams; musical bands; art collectives; and a three-tiered system of government. There are no prisons. Students learn both Spanish and their own indigenous language in school. An operation in the autonomous hospital can cost one-tenth that in an official hospital. Members of the Zapatista government, elected through town assemblies, serve without receiving any monetary compensation.

Economic independence is considered the cornerstone of autonomy — especially for a movement that opposes the dominant global model of neoliberal capitalism. In Diego’s town, the Zapatista families have organized a handful of small collectives: a pig-raising operation, a bakery, a shared field for farming, and a chicken coop. The 20-odd chickens had all been sold just before Christmas, so the coop was empty when we visited. The three women who ran the collective explained, somewhat bashfully, that they would soon purchase more chicks to raise.

As they spoke in the outdoor chicken coop, there were squealing noises beneath a nearby table. A tangled cluster of four newly born puppies, eyes still crusted shut against the light, were squirming to stay warm. Their mother was nowhere in sight, and the whole world was new and cold, and everything was unknown. I watched them for a moment and thought about how, although it seemed impossible, they would undoubtedly survive and grow.

Unlike Diego, the majority of young children on the planet today are born into densely packed cities without access to land, animals, crops, or almost any of the natural resources that are required to sustain human life. Instead, we city dwellers often need a ridiculous amount of money simply to meet our basic needs. My first apartment in New York City, a studio smaller than my host family’s thatched-roof house, cost more per month than the family has likely spent in Diego’s entire lifetime.

As a result, many wonder if the example of the Zapatistas has anything to offer an urbanized planet in search of change. Then again, this movement resisted defeat by the military of a modern state and built its own school, medical, and governmental systems for the next generation without even having the convenience of running water. So perhaps a more appropriate question is: What’s the rest of the world waiting for?

Celebrating Dissent

Around six o’clock, when night falls in Oventic, the music for the celebration begins. On stage, a band of guitar-strumming men wear hats that look like lampshades with brightly colored tassels. Younger boys perform Spanish rap. Women, probably from the nearby state of Veracruz, play son jarocho, a type of folk music featuring miniature guitar-like instruments.

It’s raining gently in the open field. The mist clings to shawls and skirts and pasamontañas,the face-covering ski masks that have become iconic imagery for the Zapatistas. “We cover our faces so that you can see us” is a famous Zapatista saying. And it’s true: For a group of people often erased by politicians and exploited by global economies, the ski-masks have the curious effect of making previously invisible faces visible.

Still, there are many strategies to make dissent disappear, of which the least effective may be violence. The most ingenious is undoubtedly to make the rest of the world — and even the dissenter herself — dismissive of what’s being accomplished. Since curtailing its military offensive, the government has waged a propaganda war focused on convincing the rest of Mexico, the world, and even Zapatista communities themselves that the movement and its vision no longer exists.

But there are just as many strategies for keeping dissent and dissenters going. One way is certainly to invite thousands of outsiders to visit your communities and see firsthand that they are real, that in every way that matters they are thriving, and that they have something to teach the rest of us. As Diego’s father said in an uncharacteristic moment of boastfulness, “I think by now that the whole world has heard of our organization.”

Writing is another way to prevent an idea and a movement from disappearing, especially when one is hurtling down the highway in Texas headed back to New York City, already surrounded by a reality so different as to instantly make the Zapatistas hard to remember.

The most joyous way to assert one’s existence, however, is through celebration.

The New Year arrived early in Oventic. One of the subcomandantes had just read a communique issued by the organization’s leadership, first in Spanish, then in the indigenous languages Tzotzil and Tzeltal. The latter translations took her nearly twice as long to deliver, as if to remind us of all the knowledge that was lost with the imposition of a colonial language centuries ago. Then, a low hiss like a cracked soda can, and two fireworks exploded into the air.

“Long live the insurgents!” a masked man on stage cried.

“Viva!” we shouted. The band burst into song, and two more fireworks shot into the sky, their explosions well timed drumbeats of color and sound. The coordination was impeccable. As the chants continued, the air grew so smoky that we could barely see the fireworks exploding, but in that moment, I could still feel their brilliance and the illumination, 20 years old, of the movement releasing them.

© 2014 Laura Gottesdiener
Laura Gottesdiener

Laura Gottesdiener is an organizer with Occupy Wall Street and a freelance journalist in New York City.

Zapatistas at Twenty January 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: In my opinion the Zapatistas are the most important humanist revolutionaries our time.  They have shown us that the notions of individual dignity and communal responsibility are not in opposition to one another.  As revolutionaries they have avoided the pitfall of vanguard-ism and dogmatism.  From the beginning Zapatista women have struggled for and won equality within the movement.  By all traditional logic they should have been wiped out by the U.S. supported democratically elected undemocratic Mexican governments.  But through determination and having captured the imagination and support of  freedom loving peoples around the globe, they not only have survived but continue to maintain authority over various Chiapas regions.  They are a revolutionary example and inspiration for all of us.

 

By January 14, 2014.  Foreign Policy In Focus

There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.

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Mexico’s Zapatistas, one of the world’s most unclassifiable revolutionary movements, celebrated the 20th anniversary of their movement with high hopes for passing it on to the next generation. (Photo: Void Network / Flickr)

There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.

Thousands of Zapatistas turned out this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). At the New Year festivities in the five Caracoles, or regional centers of Zapatista autonomous government, veterans and adolescents not yet born at the time of the insurrection danced, flirted, shot off rockets, and celebrated “autonomy” — the ideal of self-government that lies at the heart of the Zapatista experience.

Public Re-Emergence

The Zapatistas came out by the thousands for their anniversary parties, surprising some. Their death, it turns out, had been greatly exaggerated. Accustomed to the face of politics as a white man talking, the press and the political class began writing obituaries for the movement when Subcomandante Marcos retired from public view in 2006.

Although Zapatista communities have continued to emit a steady stream of communiqués denouncing military and political attacks, land grabs, and the presence of paramilitary forces in Zapatista communities, the media has ignored them. It smugly predicted that the movement was moribund and would soon merit nothing more than a folkloric footnote in the history of the inexorable advance of global capitalism. The return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power in 2012 seemed to reaffirm the idea that Mexico was “back to normal.”

When nearly 50,000 Zapatistas marched in silence on December 21, 2012, they challenged the official line that their movement had all but died. The EZLN communiqué was brief and to the point: “Did you hear that? It is the sound of your world crumbling. It is the sound of ours resurging.”

The 20th anniversary and New Year celebrations this month marked a second moment in that resurgence. The festivities were a family affair. Press was banned, and although a series of articles by Subcomandante Marcos came out before the events, the organization put out no public documents on January 1st, the day of the anniversary itself. It was a time for Zapatistas to pat themselves on the back, an internal affirmation more than a political statement.

It may have been “just family,” but the Zapatistas have a wide extended family. Thousands of supporters and students, mostly youth from Mexico and abroad attending La Escuelita (the Little School), fanned out to theCarcacoles to join in ceremonies and all-night dancing.

The Little School was launched in August to teach “freedom according to the Zapatistas.” Students paired up with tutors from among movement members and were placed in families throughout Zapatista territory. Classes consist mostly of accompanying Zapatista families during their daily chores and long talks over beans and tortillas.

The experience opened up the Zapatista experience to outsiders, who were encouraged to ask questions of their host families. It also enabled the organization to hold up a mirror to itself — to see itself through the eyes of the students, reflect on the ground covered, and get to know other communities.

On New Year’s Eve, many of the 4,000 students attending the school’s winter sessions went out to Oventic, a foggy village in the highlands close to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, or remained in more remote communities with their host families to join in the sports competitions, music, speeches, and dancing.

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(Photo: Clayton Conn)

The anniversary sparked a debate on the movement, two decades after thousands of masked Mayans came out of the jungles and mountains in military formation to take over municipal seats in the southeastern state of Chiapas.

Subcomandante Marcos published a series of his characteristic communiqués, weaving meditations on death(“it’s not death that worries us and keeps us occupied, but life”) and biography (“historiography feeds on individualities; history learns from peoples“) with reflections on the organization and a story from a beetle named Durito.

Critics rushed to point out that poverty still exists in Zapatista communities — a fact not denied by the organization and obvious to the many visitors. Journalists and pundits invented and then passed around statistics on the number of Zapatista adherents, or lack thereof, as well as on the extension of Zapatista territory and on living conditions in autonomous regions. Many pronounced the world-famous uprising dead or dying for failing to resolve problems or maintain its high profile.

What reporters missed as they snuck into celebrations closed to the press is the significance of “autonomy.”

Zapatistas say the word with pride, much as you’d talk about your children or grandchildren. These communities have moved steadily off the traditional power grid. Disappointment at the Mexican government’s betrayal in rejecting its own signature on the San Andres Accords of 1996 led to a decision to de-prioritize pressuring institutions and instead build from below.

Imagine communities where local officials rotate to avoid accumulating power, political parties have no role or presence, and state and government programs — long used to buy off advocates for a more equal society — are banned. Much of the food is produced by the community, cooperatives do buying and marketing, and decisions are made collectively rather than being imposed by a state. The Zapatistas have attempted to resurrect this model, practiced for centuries in indigenous Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest.

Comandante Hortensia addressed the crowd in Oventic. “We’re learning to govern ourselves according to our own ways of thinking and living,” she said. “We’re trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen ourselves — men, women, youth, children, and old people.”

She added that 20 years ago, when the Zapatistas first said ¡Ya basta!(“Enough!”), “there wasn’t a single authority that was of the people. Now we have our own autonomous governments. It may have be good or bad, but it’s the will of the people.”

The Zapatistas acknowledge that progress in improving material conditions has been slow and hampered by obstacles and errors. But they express deep pride in what has been built, in “their” organization. Local health clinics — often poorly stocked and precariously staffed — use natural medicines made by community cooperatives and have special areas where trained midwives attend childbirth. Schools with rudimentary equipment teach in the indigenous languages of the communities, focusing on understanding the world the children live in and basic concepts of freedom, equality, and cooperation. The organization of defense and production in the communities shows discipline and commitment.

The anniversary revealed that at 20 years old, this military-political organization that defies easy categorization is what a democracy should be: an ongoing effort at building a better life collectively. When Zapatistas came together from communities throughout their lands to celebrate, the main achievement they marked was the survival of the organization itself — after 20 years of attacks, they’re still there, running their own communities, raising new generations of Zapatistas, and carrying on the dialogue with the outside world that has enriched both sides.

Communities have survived the moment in a long distance race when the runners pass the baton. Youths make up a large part of the Zapatistas’ base, representation, and more and more, leadership. Educated in the Zapatista school system and raised in Zapatista communities, a new generation is beginning to take on positions of authority. Their eagerness to assume the collective identity of their organization is another mark of the staying power of the autonomy experiment.

The role of women has also transformed visibly — not just in the number of women in leadership positions, but also in aspects of daily life, such as increased male participation in housework and childcare, and sanctions against violence towards women. The shift from downtrodden alienation to indigenous self-government makes a huge difference in their lives, even as poverty remains.

In evaluating the two-decade experience, most criteria ignore these subjective factors. By opening up the communities to participants in La Escuelita, the Zapatistas did something governments almost never do: let the people publicly evaluate the experience themselves. Returning studentsrecounted the experience enthusiastically, describing how their hosts revealed a world that wasn’t perfect by a long shot, but a world where each person mattered and each effort, each achievement, and each mistake was their own.

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(Photo: Clayton Conn)

As the Zapatistas celebrated their accomplishments, vowed to correct their mistakes, and honored their dead, they also enjoyed more traditional New Year’s activities like setting off bottle rockets and dressing up in their finest. The solid continuity of Zapatismo was joined by a portent of change, the sense that yet another phase of one of history’s most unclassifiable revolutionary movements had begun.

As visiting students from all over the world joined together with veterans of the movement and younger members of the community, new possibilities shimmered under the moon of a new year. Contact with a new generation of supporters proved that the indigenous autonomy movement continues to attract people from all over. For now, the schools will continue. The Zapatistas have also jump-started the dormant National Indigenous Congress, holding an event in August where hundreds of indigenous representatives described the situation in their lands.

Amid mud, guitars, vivas, fireworks, and embraces, thousands of Zapatistas welcomed 2014. The debate on whether the movement is dead or alive, victorious or defeated, was left behind along with 2013. It wasn’t just the alcohol-free festivities that made people optimistic; it was a feeling of collective accomplishment, under tough conditions. A feeling of finally having a future.

“I know you don’t care,” Subcomandante Marcos noted in a missive to his critics, “but for the masked men and women from around here, the battle that matters isn’t the one that’s been won or lost. It’s the next one, and for that one, new calendars and grounds are being prepared.”

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen directs the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

Urge Your Members of Congress to Call on State Department to Denounce Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders December 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=Mjhd6VdCQAq++QxWxWp8CdgKpt6q9vfW Last week, School of the Americas (SOA) graduate and Honduran military Colonel German Alfaro made outrageous accusations against a leading U.S. human rights defender, Annie Bird, Co-Director of Rights Action, which is based in Washington, DC. Alfaro declared that the military is investigating Annie for alleged subversive activities with campesinos, including filing false reports about military abuses of human rights. One of the Honduran newspapers, La Tribuna, picked up the story and even ran a picture of Annie, putting her at further risk.* The allegations are completely trumped-up and dangerous given the pattern of violence in Honduras, of which Alfaro himself is a propagator. Please email your Members of Congress and the State Department to demand that they forcefully denounce this attack on Annie Bird and other human rights defenders.

Honduras is in crisis right now, as rampant fraud in their recent elections has allowed the current regime to continue the violence and intimidation against Honduran and U.S. human rights defenders. The Aguan Valley is an area where well over 100 campesino activists have been murdered by the military, police, paramilitary, and private security guards. These attacks on Annie are part of a growing strategy of intimidating and trying to silence international human rights advocates whom report on the state sanctioned violence. It is especially vital that the State Department speak out given that this attack on a U.S. citizen was carried out by a leading member of the US-funded and trained Honduran military, who himself received training at the School of the Americas. Ask your Congressperson and Senator to contact the State Department and U.S. Embassy now.

Information on the recent attack on the SOA Watch election observation delegation can be found here.

*La Tribuna, “Estamos investigando denuncia que una norteamericana desestabiliza en el Aguán”: http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/12/12/estamos-investigando-denuncia-que-una-norteamericana-desestabiliza-en-el-aguan/

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