Chile’s Social Earthquake March 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Latin America.
Tags: Allende, bachelet, Chile, chile earthquake, chile economy, chile government, hillary clinton, Latin America, milton friedman, pinochet, roger burback, roger hollander, sebastiian pinera
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Chile is experiencing a social earthquake in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck the country on February 27. “The fault lines of the Chilean Economic Miracle have been exposed,” says Elias Padilla, an anthropology professor at the Academic University of Christian Humanism in Santiago. “The free market, neo-liberal economic model that Chile has followed since the Pinochet dictatorship has feet of mud.”
Chile is one of the most inequitable societies in the world. Today, 14 percent of the population lives in abject poverty. The top 20 percent captures 50 percent of the national income, while the bottom 20 percent earns only 5 percent. In a 2005 World Bank survey of 124 countries, Chile ranked twelfth in the list of countries with the worst distribution of income.
The rampant ideology of the free market has produced a deep sense of alienation among much of the population. Although a coalition of center left parties replaced the Pinochet regime twenty years ago, it opted to depoliticize the country, to rule from the top down, allowing controlled elections every few years, shunting aside the popular organizations and social movements that had brought down the dictatorship.
This explains the scenes of looting and social chaos in the southern part of the country that were transmitted round the world on the third day after the earthquake. In Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city, which was virtually leveled by the earthquake, the population received absolutely no assistance from the central government for two days. The chain supermarkets and malls that had come to replace the local stores and shops over the years remained firmly shuttered.
Popular frustration exploded as mobs descended on the commercial center, carting off everything, not just food from the supermarkets but also shoes, clothing, plasma TVs, and cell phones. This wasn’t simple looting, but the settling accounts with an economic system that dictates that only possessions and commodities matter. The “gente decente” the decent people and the big media began referring to them as lumpen, vandals and delinquents. “The greater the social inequities, the greater the delinquency,” explains Hugo Fruhling of the Center for the Study of Citizen Security at the University of Chile.
In the two days leading up to the riots, the government of Michele Bachelet revealed its incapacity to understand and deal with the human tragedy wrecked on the country. Many of the ministers were gone on summer vacation or licking their wounds as they prepared to turn over their offices to the incoming right wing government of billionaire Sebastian Piñera, who will be sworn in this Thursday. Bachelet declared that the country’s needs had to be studied and surveyed before any assistance could be sent. On Saturday morning the day of the quake, she ordered the military to place a helicopter at her disposal to fly over Concepcion to assess the damage. As of Sunday morning, no helicopter had appeared and the trip was abandoned.
As an anonymous Carlos L. wrote in an email widely circulated in Chile: “It would be very difficult in the history of the country to find a government with so many powerful resources-technological, economic, political, organizational-that has been unable to provide any response to the urgent social demands of entire regions gripped by fear, needs of shelter, water, food and hope.”
What arrived in Concepcion on Monday was not relief or assistance, but several thousand soldiers and police transported in trucks and planes, as people were ordered to stay in their homes. Pitched battles were fought in the streets of Concepcion as buildings were set afire. Other citizens took up arms to protect their homes and barrios as the city appeared to be on the brink of an urban war. On Tuesday relief assistance finally began to arrive in quantity, along with more troops and the militarization of the southern region.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on part of a Latin American tour that was scheduled before the quake, flew into Santiago on Tuesday to meet with Bachelet and Piñera. She brought 20 satellite phones and a technician on her plane, saying one of the “biggest problems has been communications as we found in Haiti in those days after the quake.” It went unsaid that just as inChile, the US sent in the military to take control of Porte au Prince before any significant relief assistance was distributed.
Milton Friedman’s Legacy
The Wall Street Journal joined in the fray to uphold the neoliberal model, running an article by Bret Stephens, “How Milton Friedman Saved Chile.” He asserted that Friedman’s “spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday. Thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse.” He went on to declare, “it’s not by chance that Chilean’s were living in houses of brick-and Haitians in houses of straw-when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down.” Chile had adopted “some of the world strictest building codes,” as the economy boomed due to Pinochet’s appointment of Friedman-trained economists to cabinet ministries and the subsequent civilian government’s commitment to neoliberalism.
There are two problems with this view. First, as Naomi Klein points out in “Chile’s Socialist Rebar” on the Huffington Post, it was the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1972 that established the first earthquake building codes. They were later strengthened, not by Pinochet, but by the restored civilian government in the 1990′s.
Secondly as CIPER, the Center of Journalistic Investigation and Information reported on March 6, greater Santiago has twenty-three residential complexes and high rises built over the last fifteen years that suffered severe quake damage. Building codes had been skirted, and “the responsibility of the construction and real estate enterprises is now the subject of public debate.” In the country at large, two million people out of a population of seventeen million are homeless. Most of the houses destroyed by the earthquake were built of adobe or other improvised materials, many in the shanty towns that have sprung up to provide a cheap, informal work force for the country’s big businesses and industries.
There is little hope that the incoming government of Sebastian Piñera will rectify the social inequities that the quake exposed. The richest person in Chile, he and several of his advisers and ministers are implicated as major shareholders in construction projects that were severely damaged by the quake because building codes were ignored. Having campaigned on a platform of bringing security to the cities and moving against vandalism and crime, he criticized Bachelet’s for not deploying the military sooner in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Signs of Resistance
There are signs that the historic Chile of popular organizations and grass roots mobilizing may be reawakening. A coalition of over sixty social and nongovernmental organizations released a letter stating: “In these dramatic circumstances, organized citizens have proven capable of providing urgent, rapid and creative responses to the social crisis that millions of families are experiencing. The most diverse organizations–neighborhood associations, housing and homeless committees, trade unions, university federations and student centers, cultural organizations, environmental groups-are mobilizing, demonstrating the imaginative potential and solidarity of communities.” The declaration concluded by demanding of the Piñera government the right to “monitor the plans and models of reconstruction so that they include the full participation of the communities.”*
*See Asociacion Chilena de ONGs Accion, La Ciudadania, Protagonista de la Reconstruccion del Pais. March 7, 2010, Published in Clarin, http://www.elclarin.cl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20384&Itemid=48
Canada’s star left-winger February 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Canada, Economic Crisis, Political Commentary.
Tags: AIG, Alan Greenspan, american left, bailout, banks, banks bankrupt, banks nationalized, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bush, Canada, cheney, clinton foreign policy, deregulation, disaster capitalism, Economic Crisis, economic recovery, fannie may, franklin roosevelt, Freddie Mac, haroon siddiqui, Iraq, iraq economic sanctions, Larry Summers, left wing politics, milton friedman, naomi klein, neo-conservative, New Deal, no logo, privatization, roger hollander, ronald reagan, shock doctrine, tax cuts, university of chicago, Wall Street
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Toronto Star, Feb 15, 2009
She fits the cliché of the Canadian who is a celebrity abroad but is mostly ignored at home.
Naomi Klein shot to international fame eight years ago with her book No Logo, which has since sold 1 million copies.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published 15 months ago, has already sold 800,000 copies and been translated into 26 languages. Last week, a documentary based on the book was released at the Berlin Film Festival.
Her speaking engagements and political activism keep her on the road, around the world. Her newsletter goes to 30,000 subscribers.
No Logo charted the corporate commodification of youth pop culture and the casualization of labour (what’s sold in the West are expensive brands, not products, which can be manufactured cheaply in the East).
The Shock Doctrine is about the globalization of the neo-conservative ideas pioneered by Chicago economist Milton Friedman and popularized by Ronald Reagan. There was the massive privatization – not only of public services at home but wars abroad (private security forces and contractors galore in Iraq and Afghanistan) and even disaster relief (post-tsunami and Katrina). There was the deregulation of the markets, which led, inevitably, to the current economic meltdown.
Critics attack her for seeing corporate conspiracies. They particularly sneer at her hypothesis, announced in the book’s subtitle, that right-wing economic policies have faced such popular resistance that they can only be introduced in the jet stream of shock-and-awe wars and natural disasters (laying off tens of thousands of Iraqis in order to sell state enterprises; building tourist beach hotels in Southeast Asian fishing villages washed away by the tsunami).
Her admirers see the economic crisis as proof of her prescience.
The New Yorker magazine recently ran a 12-page profile: “She has become the most visible and influential figure on the American left – what Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were 30 years ago.”
She has campaigned against the University of Chicago’s plan to build a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute to honour its former professor, who died in 2006. “The crash on Wall St. should be for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian communism, an indictment of an ideology,” she has said.
In a twist of fate, the economic crisis has dried up funding for the institute, and it has been put on hold – much to her delight.
In an interview Tuesday, Klein, 38, said she welcomes the election of Barack Obama. But she has two problems: his refusal to insist on accountability for recent American misdemeanours abroad and at home; and his “narrative that everything went wrong only eight years ago” with the election of George W. Bush.
It was Bill Clinton who periodically bombed Iraq and tightened the economic sanctions that killed 1 million Iraqis, including 500,000 children, according to UNICEF. It was he who axed the Depression-era restrictions that had prevented investment banks from also being commercial banks. He and Alan Greenspan resisted the regulation of the huge derivatives industry.
If you develop amnesia about all that, “then you do exactly what Obama is doing. You resurrect the Clinton economic and foreign policy apparatus, and you appoint Larry Summers, the key architect of the economic policy that has imploded at this moment.”
Obama’s economic recovery plan, especially the bank bailout, is a disaster.
It is “layering complexity over complexity. What got us into this mess in the first place were these complex financial instruments that nobody understood. Now they have a bailout that nobody understands.
“The facts are easy to understand, namely, that these banks are bankrupt and they should be allowed to go under or be nationalized because there also needs to be a workable financial sector.
“The amount of money that’s at stake in the bailout – if you include everything, the deposit guarantees, the loans, Fannie May and Freddie Mac and AIG – is now up to $9 trillion. The American GDP is only $14 trillion. So they’ve put more than half the American economy on the line to try to fix a mess that actually cannot be fixed in this way. Just look at what happened to Iceland. The debt that their three top banks held was 10 times their GDP. You can bankrupt the country this way.”
Obama’s stimulus package is not big enough. Almost 40 per cent goes to tax cuts. “And to pay for the cuts, they had to drastically scale back much more important and stimulative spending, on such things as public transit.”
Among the many parallels to the 1930s, the one Klein finds most useful is that president Franklin Roosevelt was under constant public pressure to improve the New Deal. That “history of resistance, struggle and community organizing” needs to be replicated to keep Obama honest.
“Obama is an important change from Bush, and the reason why he is important is that he is susceptible to pressure from everyone. He is susceptible to pressure from Wall Street, to pressure from the weapons companies, from the Washington establishment. But unlike Bush and (Dick) Cheney, I don’t think he’d ignore mass protest.
“The irony is that just at the very moment when that kind of grassroots organizing and mobilization could have an impact, we are demobilizing and waiting for the good acts to be handed down from on high, whether it is the withdrawal from Iraq or the perfect economic stimulus package.”
It is equally important that America come to terms with its recent past.
“So much of this moment for me comes down to whether there’s going to be any accountability for what happened – whether it’s the illegal occupation of Iraq or torture or the economic crimes that led to this disaster.
“The FBI believes that there’s a huge criminality at the heart of the economic meltdown but they’ve made a decision not to prosecute because they were afraid that might send panic through the market.
“All this argument for impunity, amnesia is really corrosive.”
Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears Thursday and Sunday. email@example.com
Ecuador: The Siege Goes On December 23, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: The Siege Goes On.
Tags: Chile, Ecuador, Ecuador history, Ecuador politics, eucador government, g7, gustavo noboa, IMF, indigenous, Latin America, lucio gutierrez, mahuad, milton friedman, neoliberal, pinochet, privatization, quito, roger hollander
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(After Mahuad was ousted and Noboa took over, a period of stunned silence over the betrayed near-revolution ensued. However, with the same economic policies in place, protest was sure to break out soon; and when it did, I was “on the spot” to report to family and friends. Maybe here is a good place for me to define what is meant by neo-Liberal economic policies. We can trace modern day neo-Liberalism back to the 1973 (Sept. 11!) U.S. (CIA) supported, Pinochet led, military coup against the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Pinochet brought in Chicago Economist Milton Friedman to restructure the country’s economy. It was what is usually and euphemistically referred to as “belt-tightening,” when a more apt metaphor, in my opinion, would be “neck strangulation.” I compare it to that era in medicine when it was thought that cures could be achieved through blood-letting. The major elements of neo-Liberal economics are threefold: privatization of utilities, natural resources and whatever else the government can get away with selling to the private sector; reduction in government funded social programs (health, welfare, education) and employee benefits; and the elimination of barriers to capital crossing national boundaries (i.e., free trade) with a concomitant bolstering of the barriers that prevent human beings from crossing from one border to another. These policies are usually accompanied by bank “reforms” that usually end up in major scandals where national treasuries are looted and monetary policies that serve a similar function.
We are now almost exactly one year past the failed near revolution of 2000. New protests have broken out.)
Quito, 03 February 2001
Ecuadorian government tries to intimidate Indigenous groups
On the night of Wednesday the 31st of January, a truck full of food draws up to the gates of the
Salesian University in Quito. After a short discussion with two members of Congress, who press the police to let the truck pass, the captain commanding the 30 or so officers blocking the road sends the truck away from the university, and the 7,000 Indigenous men, women, and children lodged there. I only obey order he says, apparently oblivious to the historical implications of the phrase. A European bystander asks the officer if he has ever heard of Adolph Eichmann, the second world war, or the Nazis. The captain shrugs.
In reality, the government strategy has more in common with the middle ages than the Nazis. There are elements of the classic siege. Cut off the water, the food supply, communications, and anything else you can think of. Starve them out. And if they do manage to get out then tear gas them until they run back inside. Fortunately a siege has its lapses, and in this case, before the police can counter, the truck finds another entrance where scores of volunteers speedily unload the cargo of hundred pound sacks of potatoes.
This is the almost warlike state of affairs in Quito, Ecuador, where the Indigenous movement has taken the lead in protesting the harshness of the economic measures imposed by President Noboa; measures which lead an incredible 49% of the work force to leave the country in 2000, at least temporarily, and to look for work in other parts of the world. Generally speaking, the Indigenous communities are the poorest in the country and the recent doubling of the price of cooking gas, and gasoline (which affects the price of everything else) has had a major effect on them. Not that they are alone. The urban poor who have no access to land are even worse off. The only thing saving them is the increased number of jobs available due to the huge migration under way. This is small comfort however, as unemployment rates are still high and even with a job there is no guarantee of sufficient money to cover the basic food and health needs. The latest figures from the National Statistics Institute show that an average family of four has 25% less income than it needs in order to cover its basic needs.
The government, on the other hand, is determined to show the native people a firm hand, by shooting them if need be, and by imprisoning their leaders. But up to now the strategy hasn’t worked. The shootings and the events in the capital have simply sharpened the resolve of the protesters. Primary roads have been closed in all the major mountain and Amazon provinces, and after a week there are no signs of slacking. Quite the opposite. The closures have now been extended to the secondary and tertiary roads. The army simply doesn’t have the capacity to manage the huge number of people involved in the closings and as Admiral Donoso, the spokesperson for the Military command admits, it’s a war of attrition. The roads are closed, the army opens them up, the native people close them again, etc, etc. It’s not difficult to understand the magnitude of the job; in only one stretch of ten kilometres for instance, one can encounter 15 barricades, always being rebuilt, re-dug, re-lit with burning tires.
Apart from the Chamber of Commerce of the Coastal Provinces (read: power groups from Guayaquil, the principal port) who demand even harsher measures (the “iron fist”) for those who block roads, almost everyone is calling for dialogue. The problem is that it’s not readily apparent how the two sides can talk on the principal issue of economic policy, which the government sees as its (and the IMF’s) sole reserve. While commissions have been formed to broker the talks, it seems unlikely that the native people will accept dismantling the barricades and settling for a series of talks. They’ve been taken in before (amongst others, by ex president Mahuad who never complied with his promises), and will therefore be extremely wary of abandoning the uprising without firm and controllable promises.
President Noboa, on the other hand, has virtually no room to move. Not applying the economic measures means not receiving the money from the IMF and other multilateral agencies (or debt swaps from the G7) that according to standard economic theory the country needs. Money which will serve to maintain, if not solvency (which is impossible) at least the fiction of solvency, thereby keeping the doors open for new credits with which to pay the old, and thus helping maintain another fiction, that of a healthy global financial system.
Although the government has backed off somewhat in the last few days (food and water are now entering the university) the two sides are still far apart. Given the context, the most likely outcome is that the government will keep on denying the position that it’s in, hoping that by maintaining a firm stance, or by praying to the virgin of Guadalupe, they can pull themselves out of the fire. Failing this, or a sudden about face in policy, the regime will probably collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Its allies do not appear to be too solid. The army is apparently divided; the Air force Chief has told the president that he should negotiate. Only the navy and the police are firmly on side. How long this can continue is anyone’s guess.
(The Noboa government did survive to serve out the full term of ex President Mahuad. In the 2002 presidential elections, Colonel Gutiérrez, the hero of the 2000 uprisings, came out of nowhere to soundly defeat banana magnate Alvaro Noboa. He had formed a new political party and was supported by the Indigenous community and the traditional left. His election raised high hopes. We shall see if those hopes came to fruition.)