Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: Economic Crisis, Latin America, mark weisbrot, poverty, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela economy, venezuela inflation, venezuela poverty
Roger’s note: As a fact checking exercise I went to the web site of the World Bank cited at the end of this article. On its page for Venezuela I was unable to find data to confirm the statement that poverty has dropped by 20% in the past year. What I did find was a chart that showed that poverty as a percentage of population dropped to 25.4% in 2012 from 31.6% in 2011, which does mean a drop of 6.2%, which indeed is approximately a 20% drop for the previous year. This is the World Bank, folks, you can’t go wrong.
Women queue to buy toilet paper at a supermarket in Caracas as a result of the shortage of basic goods. (Photograph: Reuters/Jorge Silva)
For more than a decade people opposed to the government of Venezuela have argued that its economy would implode. Like communists in the 1930s rooting for the final crisis of capitalism, they saw economic collapse just around the corner. How frustrating it has been for them to witness only two recessions: one directly caused by the opposition’s oil strike (December 2002-May 2003) and one brought on by the world recession (2009 and the first half of 2010). However, the government got control of the national oil company in 2003, and the whole decade’s economic performance turned out quite well, with average annual growth of real income per person of 2.7% and poverty reduced by over half, and large gains for the majority in employment, access to health care, pensions and education.
Now Venezuela is facing economic problems that are warming the cockles of the haters’ hearts. We see the bad news every day: consumer prices up 49% over the last year; a black market where the dollar fetches seven times the official rate; shortages of consumer goods from milk to toilet paper; the economy slowing; central bank reserves falling. Will those who cried wolf for so long finally see their dreams come true?
Not likely. In the opposition’s analysis Venezuela is caught in an inflation-devaluation spiral, where rising prices domestically undermine confidence in the economy and currency, causing capital flight and driving up the black market price of the dollar. This adds to inflation, as does – in their theory – money creation by the government. And its price controls, nationalisations and other interventions have caused more structural problems. Hyperinflation, rising foreign debt and a balance-of-payments crisis will mark the end of this economic experiment.
But how can a government with more than $90bn in oil revenue end up with a balance-of-payments crisis? Well, the answer is: it can’t, and won’t. In 2012 Venezuela had $93.6bn in oil revenues, and total imports in the economy were $59.3bn. The current account was in surplus to the tune of $11bn, or 2.9% of GDP. Interest payments on the public foreign debt, the most important measure of public indebtedness, were just $3.7bn. This government is not going to run out of dollars. The Bank of America’s analysis of Venezuela last month recognised this, and decided as a result that Venezuelan government bonds were a good buy.
The central bank currently holds $21.7bn in reserves, and opposition economists estimate that there is another $15bn held by other government agencies, for a total of $36.7bn. Normally, reserves that can cover three months of imports are considered sufficient; Venezuela has enough to cover at least eight months, and possibly more. And it has the capacity to borrow more internationally.
One problem is that most of the central bank’s reserves are in gold. But gold can be sold, even if it is much less liquid than assets such as US treasury securities. It seems far-fetched that the government would suffer through a balance-of-payments crisis rather than sell its gold.
Hyperinflation is also a very remote possibility. For the first two years of the economic recovery that began in June 2010, inflation was falling even as economic growth accelerated to 5.7% for 2012. In the first quarter of 2012, it reached a monthly low of just 2.9%. This shows that the Venezuelan economy – despite its problems – is very capable of providing healthy growth even while bringing down inflation.
What really drove inflation up, beginning a year ago, was a cut in the supply of dollars to the foreign exchange market. These were reduced by half in October of 2012 and practically eliminated in February. This meant more importers had to purchase increasingly expensive dollars on the black market. This is where the burst of inflation came from.
Inflation peaked at a monthly rate of 6.2% in May, then fell steadily to 3% in August as the government began to provide more dollars to the market. It jumped to 4.4% monthly in September, but the government has since increased its auctions of dollars and announced a planned increase of food and other imports, which is likely to put some downward pressure on prices.
Of course Venezuela is facing serious economic problems. But they are not the kind suffered by Greece or Spain, trapped in an arrangement in which macroeconomic policy is determined by people who have objectives that conflict with the country’s economic recovery. Venezuela has sufficient reserves and foreign exchange earnings to do whatever it wants, including driving down the black market value of the dollar and eliminating most shortages. These are problems that can be resolved relatively quickly with policy changes. Venezuela – like most economies in the world – also has long-term structural problems such as overdependence on oil, inadequate infrastructure, and limited administrative capacity. But these are not the cause of its current predicament.
Meanwhile, the poverty rate dropped by 20% in Venezuela last year – almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world. The numbers are available on the website of the World Bank, but almost no journalists have made the arduous journey through cyberspace to find and report them. Ask them why they missed it.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media
Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: Caracazo, Hugo Chavez, Jimmy Carter, Latin America, nicolas maduro, roger hollander, UNASUR, Venezuela, venezuela coup, venezuela democracy, venezuela eleccion, venezuela election, venezuela government, venezuela poverty
A month ago Venezuela lost a historic leader who spearheaded the transformation of his country, and spurred a wave of change throughout Latin America. In Sunday’s election Venezuelans will choose whether to pursue the revolution initiated under Hugo Chávez – or return to the past. I worked closely with President Chávez for many years, and am now running to succeed him. Polls indicate that most Venezuelans support our peaceful revolution
.Supporters cheer Nicolás Maduro as he brings his election campaign to a close at a rally in Caracas. Photograph: Santi Donaire/ Santi Donaire/Demotix/Corbis
Chávez’s legacy is so profound that opposition leaders, who vilified him only months ago, now insist they will defend his achievements. But Venezuelans remember how many of these same figures supported an ill-fated coup against Chávez in 2002 and sought to reverse policies that have dramatically reduced poverty and inequality.
To grasp the scale of what has been achieved, it’s necessary to recall the state of my country when Chávez took office in 1999. In the previous 20 years Venezuela had suffered one of the sharpest economic declines in the world. As a result of neoliberal policies that favoured transnational capital at the expense of people’s basic needs, poverty soared. A draconian market-oriented agenda was imposed through massive repression, including the 1989 massacre of thousands in what is known as the Caracazo.
This disastrous trend was reversed under Chávez. Once the government was able to assert effective control over the state oil company in 2003, we began investing oil revenue in social programmes that now provide free healthcare and education throughout the country. The economic situation vastly improved. Poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced dramatically. Today Venezuela has the lowest rate of income inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As a result our government has won almost every election or referendum since 1998 – 16 in all – in a democratic process the former US president Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world“. If you haven’t heard much about these accomplishments, it may have something to do with the influence of Washington and its allies on the international media. They have been trying to de-legitimise and get rid of our government for more than a decade, ever since they supported the 2002 coup.
We have also worked to transform the region: to unite the countries of Latin America and work together to address the causes and symptoms of poverty. Venezuela was central to the creation of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), aimed at promoting social and economic development and political co-operation.
The media myth that our political project would fall apart without Chávez was a fundamental misreading of Venezuela’s revolution. Chávez has left a solid edifice, its foundation a broad, united movement that supports the process of transformation. We’ve lost our extraordinary leader, but his project – built collectively by workers, farmers, women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, and the young – is more alive than ever.
The media often portray Venezuela as on the brink of economic collapse – but our economy is stronger than ever. We have a low debt burden and a significant trade surplus, and have accumulated close to $30bn in international reserves.
There are of course many challenges still to overcome, as Chávez himself acknowledged. Among my primary objectives is the need to intensify our efforts to curb crime and aggressively confront inefficiency and corruption in a nationwide campaign.
Internationally, we will continue to work with our neighbours to deepen regional integration and fight poverty and social injustice. It’s a vision now shared across the region, which is why my candidacy has received strong support from figures such as the former Brazilian president Lula da Silva and many Latin American social movements. We also remain committed to promoting regional peace and stability, and this is why we will continue our energetic support of the peace talks in Colombia.
Latin America today is experiencing a profound political and social renaissance – a second independence – after decades of surrendering its sovereignty and freedom to global powers and transnational interests. Under my presidency, Venezuela will continue supporting this regional transformation and building a new form of socialism for our times. With the support of progressive people from every continent, we’re confident Venezuela can give a new impetus to the struggle for a more equitable, just and peaceful world.
© 2013 The Guardian
Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: bolivarian revolution, chavez death, economic justice, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, lisa sullivan, poverty, revolucion bolivianiana, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, soa, soa watch, Venezuela
Greetings friends and thanks for so many lovely messages from so many of you. We are living through such a painful moment here in Venezuela, but an extraordinary moment as well: the passion, conviction and hope of my friends and neighbors is inspiring.
So many have asked how we are doing, and so I took a few moments to put together some thoughts, which you will find below. Feel free to share, especially with folks whose only news source is the mainstream press. Best to all, abrazos, Lisa
YO SOY CHAVEZ , TU ERES CHAVEZ, TODOS SOMOS CHAVEZ
Reflections by Lisa Sullivan on the death of President Chavez
Barquisimeto, Venezuela May 5, 2013
In the past hours my inbox is bursting with messages of condolences from El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, California, Oregon, Spain, Michigan, Italy, North Carolina, Costa Rica, Miami, Nicaragua, Japan, Honduras, and just about everywhere in between, expressing solidarity with my loss. The notes are profound and personal. It’s as though Chavez were my father.
The truth is, Chavez is my father, and he is the father of all of my Venezuelan compatriotas with whom I have had the immense privilege of sharing my life and raising my children for so many years in this beautiful and generous land. Twenty of those twenty-eight years have been defined, in great part by Chavez.
When I received the news of Chavez’s passing yesterday, the only feeling I can describe is that of being suddenly left an orphan. I immediately called my daughter in Virginia, as I knew she would understand. Several years ago when we went to live in the US for her high school senior year, Maia would tell me: I miss papa so much. And, I miss Chavez. I miss hearing his voice on tv as I go to sleep. I felt so safe. as though nothing could happen to me, nothing could happen to Venezuela.
Indeed, the people of Venezuela, the people of Latin America, the people of the Caribbean, feel suddenly orphaned from those strong and powerful arms that held us to his heart like a man defending his most vulnerable child against a raging storm. He believed in us. He told us stories and sang us songs and reminded us of our unique and dignified history. He affirmed and upheld our best qualities, he told us that we were as lovely as the stars as bright the sun, as free as the wind, as deep as the ocean and as powerful as all the forces of the universe.
And now, he is gone. But as I took the streets last night and this morning, like millions of other Venezuelans, to embrace strangers and cry in their arms, I found too that we had grown up. In those two decades on the Venezuelan public scene and 14 years at the helm, Chavez had given the most precious gift a surrogate parent can offer: the gift of adulthood. Let there be no doubt: the Venezuelan people have come of age. Chavez is gone, but this what resonates on every street and every plaza today: yo soy Chavez. I am Chavez .I am the leader, the dreamer, the visionary, the teacher, the defender of justice, the weaver of a another world that is possible.
That phrase brought me back to 2005, when I was visiting a nun on a hillside barrio in Caracas, one of those of thousands of barrios where Venzeuelans had been relegated like unwanted trash. No water, no sewage, no schools, no streets. Her name was Begonia , and she was telling me how she had walked for hours to see Chavez pass by. When teased by other nuns for being a “Chavista” she said. no, I’m not a Chavista, it’s that Chavez is a “Begonista”. He believes in all the things I have held dear for decades: the dignity of the poor, the right of the blind to see and those in chains to be freed.
Two days after I heard Begonia’s story, Chavez himself invited me to talk to him, along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois. He had heard us speak on tv about the grassroots movement to close the SOA and wanted to learn more. Thus, I found myself in the presidential office with a man noted for his long discourses, talking to the best listener I have ever encountered. Chavez was fascinated by Roy’s story of believing so much in his cause that he was willing to go to jail, enthralled by Venezuelan accent in Spanish, and my decision to raise my kids in a barrio. He asked about each of my children’s interests, and made sure that he spelled their names correctly as he signed a poster for each.
Oh, and he ordered Venezuelan troops to stop training at the SOA. Defiantly opening the door for five other countries to follow suit.
That’s who Chavez was. Deeply personal, celebratory, affectionate, and willing to muscle his way to the farthest limb to take a stand for justice, indifferent to the consequences. That powerful muscling was what had turned me off to him at first. Having spent a lifetime taking a stand for peace, I couldn’t fathom looking to a military man for leadership, much less for inspiration. It took family and neighbors to change my thinking: look, Chavez is like the pilot at the helm of a boat. We’re in that boat, and we’re going UP stream. (i.e. against the neo-liberal tide) Not downstream. Who do you want at the helm? a polite weakling? Or someone with muscles?
Fourteen years later, Chavez has guided that boat so powerfully and masterfully that not only are other boats following in its wake, but his power was so great, he seems to have literally reversed the river’s current. We’re floating downstream, on a river of independence, sovereignty, dignity,Latin American unity, in a nation that has the least gap between rich and poor, a nation whose college enrollment rivals several European countries, a nation whose oil now funds schools and hospitals instead of personal bank accounts in Miami.
Fourteen years ago my barrio neighbors didn’t dream of going to college, much less becoming doctors in their communities. Fourteen years ago my neighbors could barely fit in their tin or mud homes, much less envision living in a spacious three bedroom house with indoor bathrooms that cost almost nothing . Fourteen years ago, only those on the wealthy east side of my city felt they were citizens. Now we know we all are (State Department and Pentagon be forewarned).
When Chavez first announced his cancer almost two years ago, I awoke after another sleepless night and listened again and again to his speech. He referred to a song by our beloved singer/songwriter Ali Primera, who also died too young. Chavez repeated the lines: hay semerucos alla en el cerro y una canto hermoso para cantar. (there are cherry trees on the hillside and lovely song to sing). So much beauty around us, so much to do. As someone who spends every free hour planting trees on a mountain and singing with children, that felt like a personal mandate.
Actually, I do believe this is Chavez’s true mandate: Embrace your passion,and then share it with others. If you can play the guitar, teach a kid to strum, if you love basketball, shoot hoops with a teen. If you can fix a bike, teach the skill to an unemployed friend. If you have oil, share it with those who can’t afford their heating oil in Maine, if you have doctors, send them where there are none. Celebrate your beauty, your history, your dignity, and honor those qualities others: as family, as neighbors, as nations, as global citizens.
Today in Venezuela our sadness is deeper than Lake Titicaca, colder than Patagonia, larger than the Amazonia and harsher than the Atacama. But, we also know that together -as Venezuelans, as Americans and Caribeños, we are invincible.
That is Chavez’s legacy. Yo soy Chavez. Tu eres Chavez. Todos somos Chavez.
Latin America Liason
School of the Americas Watch
Apartado Postal 437 Barquisimeto, Lara
Posted by rogerhollander in About Hugo Chávez, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: chavez death, Hugo Chavez, injustice, Latin America, poverty, Venezuela
Roger Hollander, March 6, 2013
I have lived for short periods of time amongst Cubans, for many years in Latin America, and most of my life in the United States and Canada. I have lived as one of and in the middle classes, with very occasional personal contacts with social and economic elites, and with a lifetime of close association and solidarity with the various classes of dispossessed. I think I understand the difference between capital and labor, between rich and poor, between oppressors and oppressed, between truth and lies. And I think that I can understand both the trite and misinformed responses coming out of the North American corporate media as well as the overwhelming reaction of sadness and loss that the great majority of ordinary Latin Americans are experiencing over the death of Hugo Chávez.
Perhaps it is instructive to compare the two rivals: Chávez and Obama. Whereas one loses count of the number of sides of the mouth out of which Obama speaks, and marvels at the capacity to lie with a straight face; Chávez was transparency and forthrightness incarnate, what you saw was what you got. While the North American corporate media and political punditry demonized Chávez as dictatorial and rabidly anti-American (the man who gave free heating oil to poor New Englanders), apart from the Fox news and hypocritically tea partied and toxically neo-Fascist led religious right, Obama gets pretty much a free pass.
Consider that Hugo Chávez never killed hundreds of innocent civilians with drone missiles, never violated the very essence of international law by committing and enabling torture, never violated the most fundamental legal right of habeas corpus, never spied on his countrymen in direct violation of law, never drew and implemented up a list of targets for presidential assassination, never joined with the financial and corporate elites to privatize education, protect Wall Street white collar criminals and banksters, and give in entirely to the corrupt and blood-thirsty private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in setting back a public universal health care plan for years if not decades.
But this is not about what Hugo Chávez didn’t do (or to vent my disgust with Obama), it is about what he did do and what that means to the oppressed of Latin America. Although it is what most North Americans hear and think about him, his standing up to and developing independence from the political and economic hegemony of the United States may not be his most important achievement. What he did that was most needed to be done was to stand up to the poisonous and inhuman rule of capital. That he did this more rhetorically than in actual practice to me is not that important. It is a rhetoric that strikes a chord with the vast majority of Latinos who suffer from poverty, hunger, lack of fresh water, health care, decent housing, and quality education. In practice, as in Ecuador and Bolivia, he lead a government that for the first time in recent history was not in the back pocket of the moneyed elites, a government that took serious investment in health, education, infrastructure, housing and other social programs. That the financing of social programs depended to a large degree on revenue from petroleum is a factor that does not negate the successes achieved in these areas.
What North Americans are not for the most part going to hear or understand are the emotional reactions that I am witnessing here in Ecuador. When you are poor and struggling to survive on a day to day basis, when you are aware to some degree or another the injustices that are responsible for your daily suffering; then when there arises a person of influence and power and charisma and fluency who shines light and gives credibility to your deepest concerns, you are given the precious gift of hope, dignity and pride.
Hugo Chávez delivered such to not only the people of Venezuela, but to all of Latin America and throughout the world who suffer from the heartless hand of either national or international capital and the imperial governments who back them up with overwhelming economic and military power.
Hugo Chávez was not in my mind a genuine Marxist revolutionary. I don’t think it is possible to be both genuinely revolutionary and at the same time administer a government in a world where the rule of capital is universal. But to denigrate his achievements on that basis would be a case of unfairly splitting hairs. Like Chile’s Allende his government was as revolutionary as could be expected, and like Allende he engendered the hatred of the owning classes and the cowardly and sycophantic media and political classes that serve them.
In death Hugo Chávez will become bigger even than he was in life; and that is both just and understandable. For his greatest contribution, beyond the social achievements of his government and his courage in standing up to the Goliath Uncle Sam, is the honesty, humility and transparency he radiated as a human being and the hope and inspiration that his words and actions have given and will continue to give to those around the globe who struggle for justice, equality and dignity.
As millions of Latin Americans are saying today: “RIP, Comandante!”
Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: brett wilkins, citgo, energy assistance, heating oil, Hugo Chavez, joseph p. keenedy, liheap, roger hollander, Venezuela
By Brett Wilkins, Digital Journal
09 February 13
altimore – For the eighth straight year, Venezuela’s state oil company is donating free heating oil to hundreds of thousands of needy Americans.
The CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program has helped more than 1.7 million Americans in 25 states and the District of Columbia keep warm since it was launched back in 2005. The program is a partnership between the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), its subsidiary CITGO and Citizens Energy Corporation, a nonprofit organization founded by former US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II that provides discounted and free home heating services and supplies to needy households in the United States and abroad. It has been supported from the beginning by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
In 2005, a pair of devastating hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, led to dwindling oil supplies and skyrocketing fuel costs. Some of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including many elderly people on fixed incomes, found themselves having to choose between heating their homes or providing food, clothing or medicine for themselves and their families. Since that first winter, CITGO has provided 227 million gallons of free heating oil worth an estimated $465 million to an average of 153,000 US households each year. Some 252 Native American communities and 245 homeless shelters have also benefited from the program. This winter, more than 100,000 American families will receive Venezuelan aid. With the US government estimating that households heating primarily with oil will pay $407 (19 percent) more this year than last, the program remains an invaluable helping hand to many needy Americans.
“The CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program has been one of the most important energy assistance efforts in the United States,” CITGO CEO Alejandro Granado said at the Night of Peace Family Shelter in Baltimore, Maryland, where he and Citizens Energy Corporation Chairman Kennedy launched the 2013 program. “This year, as families across the Eastern Seaboard struggle to recover from the losses caused by Hurricane Sandy, this donation becomes even more significant.”
Last year, President Barack Obama and Congress reduced Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding by 25 percent, cutting off an estimated one million US households from desperately needed assistance just as winter’s worst chill, accompanied by record heating oil prices, set in. Fortunately, the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program was able to assist an estimated 400,000 Americanslast year.
“The federal fuel assistance program reaches only one-fifth of all the eligible households in the US,” Kennedy said in Baltimore. “Millions of families just go cold at night in their own homes.”
US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who was on hand at the Baltimore launch, expressed his gratitude to CITGO.
“The demand is greater and the resources are shorter,” Cummings said to widespread “amens” from the packed house. “We must not turn our heads away from the working poor– remember, we could be in the same position. The help you provide to families is bigger than just the oil. It’s about helping children lead stable lives.”
The people gathered at the shelter prayed for the recovery of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose condition is reportedly improving following cancer surgery in Havana, Cuba.
Chávez is often demonized as a dictator by many US politicians and by the US corporate mainstream media. But he remains wildly popular in Venezuela, where he has won four straight presidential elections. He was reelected last October with 54.4 percent of the vote. Although his leadership style is increasingly authoritarian, his Bolivarian Revolution – characterized by popular democracy, economic independence, equitable distribution of national wealth and reduced corruption – has improved the lives of millions of Venezuela’s poorest citizens and inspired tens of millions of Latin Americans seeking more just societies to vote in leftist governments throughout the region.
US critics claim that Chávez is anti-American. This oversimplifies matters – while he is an ardent anti-imperialist who raised eyebrows and ire in Washington and on Wall Street by nationalizing the assets of foreign petroleum companies which many Venezuelans asserted were exploiting the country’s natural resources, the US remains Venezuela’s most important trading partner. And while Chávez is highly critical of US policies and actions around the globe, he is far from alone in his opposition. His distaste for Washington has also no doubt been influenced by the fact that senior officials in the George W. Bush administration were deeply involved in an attempted 2002 coup d’état against his popular regime.
All of this matters little to most of the 1.7 million Americans who have received free fuel from the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program.
“All I know is he was kind to the people of the United States,” program recipient Alice Maniotis, a New York grandmother on a fixed income, said of Chávez. “He rules differently, like Obama rules differently,” Maniotis told RT last year. “Who are we to tell these people how to live? Are they invading our country? They’re not. They’re being generous to give us what comes out of their earth at no charge. So could you really have ill feelings against them?”
Kennedy thanked CITGO, Venezuela and Chávez for “help[ing] more than 400,000 people stay warm and safe this winter,” adding that he has approached numerous major oil-producing nations as well as some of the largest US oil companies and asked them if they were interested in helping the poor heat their homes.
“I don’t see Exxon responding,” he told the crowd in Baltimore. “I don’t see other major oil companies heating the homes of the poor.”
“They all said no,” Kennedy added, “except for CITGO, President Chávez and the people of Venezuela.”
Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
Tags: corporate media, el pais, Hugo Chavez, john lee anderson, Latin America, mark weisbrot, Media, new yorker, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela economy, venezuela education, venezuela health, venezuela poverty, yellow journalism
Published on Friday, February 1, 2013 by Al-Jazeera
Last week there was a real media hate-fest for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, with some of the more influential publications on both sides of the Atlantic really hating on the guy. Even by the hate-filled standards to which we have become accustomed, it was impressive.
Spanish flagship newspaper El Pais – known to be hostile to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – retracted its online and print editions after publishing on its front page a fake photo of Chavez using a breathing tube. (Reuters)
It’s interesting, since this is one of the only countries in the world where the reporting of the more liberal media – NPR or even the New Yorker - is hardly different from that of Fox News or other right-wing media (more on that below).
The funniest episode came from El País, which on Thursday ran a front page picture of a man that they claimed was Chavez, lying on his back in a hospital bed, looking pretty messed-up with tubes in his mouth. The picture was soon revealed as completely fake. Oops! The paper, which is Spain’s most influential publication (and with a lot of clout in Latin America, too), had to pull its newspapers off the stands and issue a public apology. Although, as the Venezuelans complained, there was no apology to Chavez or his family. Not surprisingly, since El Pais really hates Chavez. For a really funny pictorial response to El Pais, click here.
The New York Times, for its part, ran yet another hate piece on its op-ed page. Dog bites man. Nothing new here, they have doing this for almost 14 years - most recently just three months ago. This one was remarkably unoriginal, comparing the Chavez government to a Latin American magical realist novel. It contained very little information – but being fact-free allowed the authors to claim that the country had “dwindling productivity” and “an enormous foreign debt load”. Productivity has not “dwindled” under Chavez; in fact real GDP per capita, which is mostly driven by productivity growth, expanded by 24 percent since 2004 (for an explanation of why 2004 is a reasonable starting point, see here). In the 20 years prior to Chavez, real GDP per person actually fell. As for the “enormous foreign debt load”, Venezuela’s foreign public debt is about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is about 2 percent of GDP. If this is enormous – well let’s just say these people don’t have a good sense of quantity.
The authors were probably just following a general rule, which is that you can say almost anything you want about Venezuela, so long as it is bad – and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for very little when the media is presenting its ugly picture.
This is especially true for Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the January 28 issue of the New Yorker (“Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela?“). He mentions in passing that “the poorest Venezuelans are marginally better off these days”. Marginally? From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half. And this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chavez took office.
I shouldn’t have to emphasise that Venezuela’s poverty reduction, real (inflation-adjusted) income growth, and other basic data in the Chavez era are not in dispute among experts, including international statistical agencies such as the World Bank or UN. Even opposition economists use the same data in making their case against the government. It is only journalists like Anderson who avoid letting commonly agreed upon facts and numbers get in the way of their story.
Anderson devotes many thousands of words, in one of America’s leading literary magazines, to portraying the dark underside of life in Venezuela – ex-cons and squatters, horrible prisons: “A thick black line of human excrement ran down an exterior wall, and in the yard below was a sea of sludge and garbage several feet deep.” He draws on more than a decade of visits to Venezuela to shower the reader with his most foul memories of the society and the government. The article is accompanied by a series of grim, depressing black-and-white photos of unhappy-looking people in ugly surroundings (I couldn’t help thinking of all those international surveys that keep finding Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in Latin America and the world – did Anderson never meet even one of these Venezuelans?).
I am all in favour of journalism that exposes the worst aspects of any society. But what makes this piece just another cheap political hack job is the conclusions that the author draws from his narrow, intentionally chosen slice of Venezuelan reality. For example:
They [Venezuelans] are the victims of their affection for a charismatic man… After nearly a generation, Chavez leaves his countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It began with Chavez, and with him, most likely it will end.
Really? It sure doesn’t look that way. Even Chavez’s opponent in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, had to promise voters [SP] that he would preserve and actually expand the Chavez-era social programmes that had increased Venezuelans’ access to health care and education. And after Chavez beat him by a wide margin of eleven percentage points, Chavez’s party increased its share of governorships from 15 to 20 of 23 states, in the December elections that followed. In those elections, Chavez was not even in the country.
But it’s the one-sidedness of the New Yorker‘s reporting that is most overwhelming. Imagine, for example, writing an article about the United States at the end of President Clinton’s eight years – interviewing the homeless and the destitute, the people tortured in our prisons, the unemployed and the poor single mothers struggling to feed their children. Could you get away with pretending that this is all of “What Clinton has wrought in America?” Without mentioning that unemployment hit record lows not seen since the 1960s, that poverty was sharply reduced, that it was the longest-running business cycle expansion in US history?
This is an imperfect analogy, since many people outside the US know something about the country, and wouldn’t buy such a one-sided story line. And also because the improvements of the Clinton years didn’t last that long: the stock market bubble burst and caused a recession in 2001; the gains from the recovery that followed went mostly to the richest one percent of the population; and then the housing bubble burst, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression – from which we are still recovering. Unemployment today is considerably above the level of Clinton’s first year in office, and poverty has rebounded dramatically; and we could take another decade to get back to full employment. Whereas in Venezuela, progress has not been reversed; there really is no going back now that the majority of the country has gotten used to sharing in the country’s oil wealth – not just through government programmes but primarily through a higher level of employment and income in the private sector. Maybe that’s not “revolutionary” enough for Anderson, but it’s enough for Venezuelans to keep re-electing their president and his party.
As for the media, it is a remarkable phenomenon, this outpouring of animosity towards Chavez and his government, from across the western media spectrum. How is it that this democratically elected president who hasn’t killed anyone or invaded any countries gets more bad press than Saddam Hussein did (aside from the months immediately preceding invasions of Iraq)? Even when he is fighting for his own life?
The western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it. Fortunately for Venezuelans, they have access to more information about their country than the foreigners who are relying on one-sided and often inaccurate media. So they keep re-electing the president and the party that has improved their lives – much to the annoyance of the major media and its friends.
© 2012 Al-Jazeera
Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: afro-venezuelan, chavez government, danny glover, democracy, economic justice, henrique capriles, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, poverty, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela democracy, venezuela election, venezuela government
I had the privilege of traveling to Venezuela and witnessing the country’s October 7 presidential election and watching the South American country’s extraordinarily active and engaged citizenry in action. An impressive 81 percent of the electorate participated in a transparent and secure electoral process that former president Jimmy Carter reportedly referred to as the best in the world.
President Hugo Chavez’s 10-point margin of victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles stands as a testament to the enduring popularity of his participatory democracy programs and his government’s focus on addressing the needs of the poor.
Capriles campaigned on a platform that supported the government’s social programs, while criticizing inefficiencies in many government sectors and capitalizing on fears over high rates of violence and unchecked corruption. In reality, as former key supporters revealed, and the majority of voters affirmed at the ballot box, Capriles and his allies backed a sweeping neo-liberal program fundamentally opposed to the current government’s state-led, pro-social economic policies and support for direct collaboration with citizens in improving their wellbeing.
In contrast to his prior contempt for the democratic decisions of Venezeulans—including a failed coup in 2002—Capriles formally conceded defeat shortly after the election results were announced. Although media coverage of Venezuelan politics might have led one to think otherwise, these presidential elections were about much more than Chavez, as significant as he may be as torch-bearer of the poor and marginalized.
I began to get a sense of the bigger picture when I visited the country for the first time nine years ago at the invitation of the Afro-Venezuelan Network. I saw how Venezuela’s Afro-descendents—among the most under-educated, marginalized, and impoverished people in the country—were becoming proactive as full citizens under the Chavez government, increasingly participating in political decision-making at the local level and claiming a voice in regional, national, and even international affairs. And I became increasingly aware of the growing political collaboration among Afro-Venezuelans, the Chavez government, and the approximately 150 million people of African descent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
My initial impressions, informed by my university studies in economics and my professional experience in community development in San Francisco, were confirmed on each of my subsequent visits. I observed numerous social, educational, cultural, and economic development projects that were improving the lives of marginalized communities and facilitating direct citizen participation and critical engagement in broader national, regional, and global affairs.
The Chavez government has also helped raise awareness about the historical links between racial exploitation and disempowerment and the socio-cultural relationship between wealth and luxury versus inequality and misery. The government’s policies, for which the majority of Venezuelan citizens of all backgrounds have voted for the last 13 years, are addressing the legacy of slavery and helping expose and overcome generations of discrimination based on race, class, and gender.
On my most recent trip to witness the elections, I was greatly moved by the extraordinary civility and enthusiasm of voters from across the political spectrum, despite the fact that the opposing campaign agendas clearly represent radically different visions for the people and the country. Though media accounts create the impression that extreme political polarization is pervasive throughout Venezuela, I witnessed an atmosphere of respect and tranquility at the voting centers. At every voting booth, volunteers from both campaigns were present to ensure that citizens had access to the ballot box and could freely exercise their choice for president.
But the most important moment of my trip was the day after the election when I met with local leaders and activists from the Afro-Venezuela community of San Jose in Barlovento, on the northern coast of Venezuela. I conversed with community leaders descended from the “maroons”—Venezuelans who had escaped slavery and created self-sustaining communities over 400 years ago.
Youth leaders described the educational missions and government programs that provided them with unprecedented access to higher education. Members of workers’ cooperatives discussed new state cacao processing factories co-managed by managers and workers that had helped lift the local economy and offered fair prices and social support to poor farmers. Other representatives of the community explained how new health and education missions were addressing the needs of communities that had had little or no access to basic services. In the small, poor community I visited, I learned about a state-run clinic focused exclusively on women’s health issues. Though local leaders by and large expressed admiration for President Chavez and his policies, they also noted unresolved issues that they wanted to see addressed.
A Better Life
More generally, life has improved for a great number of Venezuelans over the last decade. Poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty cut by 70 percent. Free health care, education, and public pension programs have been greatly expanded, the minimum wage has steadily increased, and unemployment has dropped below 8 percent.
The most promising aspect of the Venezuelan government’s social development agenda is the proactive effort to promote democratic engagement and citizen control over local conditions and possibilities. We should all take note that these efforts are taking place in the middle of a global financial, economic, and ethical meltdown, when many countries are sharply scaling back social policies and embracing the neoliberal polices Venezuela has repeatedly rejected.
A great deal of the foreign media coverage of Venezuela gives the impression that Chavez’s social and economic policies are incoherent, unsustainable, and based on short-term electoral considerations. For years, the financial press has predicted an imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy. But, in fact, Venezuela enjoys a large trade surplus and has relatively little public debt. That provides the government with lots of room for continued expansionary fiscal, monetary, and social development policies.
The press also often vilifies Chavez and portrays his supporters—a strong majority of the country—as poor, reverent masses who are blindly manipulated by populist rhetoric and occasional cash handouts. This portrayal is not only false, it is denigrating and injurious to the basic workings of democracy: ordinary people expressing their desires with visions of an improved quality of life, development projects, and a choice of political stewards to achieve their goals. Yet, nearly 14 years after Chavez was first elected, misrepresentations and outright fabrications still prevail in mainstream U.S. papers, television news programs, and in the statements of politicians from both major parties.
If you want to understand how the Chavez administration continues to win free and fair elections, you need only hear the stories of formerly marginalized communities and look more carefully at the country’s social and economic indicators. As I spoke with Afro-Venezuelans about their support for President Chavez and his agenda, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that we as a nation must undergo a “true revolution of values.” As King explained, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say, ‘This is not just.’”
In the Oct. 7 elections, as in more than a dozen previous electoral cycles, Venezuela has shown that the majority of its people have a clear notion of justice and how it can be achieved. It is now time for those of us in the United States to look at our alliance with the elites of Latin America and say: This is not just.
© 2012 Foreign Policy in Focus
Danny Glover is an actor and political activist.
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, War.
Tags: bradley manning, chris floyd, collateral murder, cuban five, dyncorp, geneva conventions, good corporal, Guantanamo, Hugo Chavez, Iraq war, julian assange, mahmour abbas, nuremberg, Obama, Petraeus, roger hollander, torture, Venezuela, War Crimes, wikileaks, william blum
Chris Floyd (about the author)
If any one person can be said to have ended the direct involvement of the United States military in Iraq, it is not the man whose champions claim this deed as one of his glorious accomplishments: Barack Obama. As we all know (and 99 percent of us have forgotten), Obama fought doggedly to extend the murderous occupation of Iraq into the indefinite future.
No, if you had to choose one person whose actions were the most instrumental in ending the overt phase of the war, it would not the commander-in-chief of the most powerful war machine in world history, but a lowly foot-soldier — mocked, shackled, tortured, defenseless — Bradley Manning
William Blum points this out in his latest “Anti-Empire Report,” as he recaps the impact of the revelations made by Manning and Wikileaks. He begins by noting a painful irony: Manning’s own defense team is playing down the heroic nature of this act and instead insisting that such a “sexually troubled” young man should never have been sent to the homophobic environment of the American occupation force in the first place. He was under too much stress, acting irrationally, they say, and thus should not be held accountable for his actions.
As Blum notes, this defense — though doubtless well-intentioned, a desperate bid to keep Obama’s massive war machine from crushing Manning completely under its wheels — partakes of the same deceitful twisting of reality that has characterized the entire war crime from the beginning. Blum:
“It’s unfortunate and disturbing that Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of classified government files to Wikileaks. They should not be presenting him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or traitor. He should be hailed as a national hero. Yes, even when the lawyers are talking to the military mind. May as well try to penetrate that mind and find the freest and best person living there. Bradley also wears a military uniform.
“Here are Manning’s own words from an online chat: ‘If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.’
Is the world to believe that these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person? Do not the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes of that government?”
Every scrap of evidence presented about Manning’s alleged crimes makes it clear that he was acting from rational, well-considered motives, based on the highest ideals. Indeed, wasn’t Manning simply following the words of Jesus Christ — words carved in stone, with the most bitter irony, in the entranceway of the original headquarters of the CIA: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
In any case, as Blum points out, the effects of Manning’s actions were far-reaching:
“It was after seeing American war crimes such as those depicted in the video ‘Collateral Murder’ and documented in the ‘Iraq War Logs,’ made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes. The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
“The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law – something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.
“If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today …”
But he is not a free man, of course. It is very likely that he will never be free again. He will spend the rest of his life in a federal prison for the unforgivable crime of telling the truth to people who don’t want to hear it.
NOTE: A tribute to Bradley and his fellow truth-tellers can be found here: The Good Corporal: To the Exposers of Power and the Troublers of Dreams.
This one goes out to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds, and “all those who speak the hard truth to the state.”
The Good Corporal
Good corporal, good corporal, now what have you done?
You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.
You’ve opened the door where the dark deeds go on,
Where the fine words of freedom are broken like bones.
Good corporal, good corporal, you tell us of crime
Done in the name of your country and mine.
Of torture and murder, corruption and lies,
In a land where no echo will carry the cries.
Good corporal, good corporal, now who do we blame
For the horrors you bring us, for this undying shame?
Should we lay all the guilt on the grunts with no name,
Or the high and the mighty who rigged up this game?
Good corporal, good corporal, don’t you know the fate
Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State
And all who trouble the people’s sweet dreams?
They’re mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams.
Good corporal, good corporal, what have you done?
You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.
© 2010 by Chris Floyd
The Anti-Empire Report
March 5th, 2012 by William Blum www.killinghope.org
The Saga of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks, to be put to ballad and film
“Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there … They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.” (Associated Press, February 3)
It’s unfortunate and disturbing that Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of classified government files to Wikileaks. They should not be presenting him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or traitor. He should be hailed as a national hero. Yes, even when the lawyers are talking to the military mind. May as well try to penetrate that mind and find the freest and best person living there. Bradley also wears a military uniform.
Here are Manning’s own words from an online chat: “If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
Is the world to believe that these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person? Do not the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes of that government?
Below is a listing of some of the things revealed in the State Department cables and Defense Department files and videos. For exposing such embarrassing and less-than-honorable behavior, Bradley Manning of the United States Army and Julian Assange of Wikileaks may spend most of their remaining days in a modern dungeon, much of it while undergoing that particular form of torture known as “solitary confinement”. Indeed, it has been suggested that the mistreatment of Manning has been for the purpose of making him testify against and implicating Assange. Dozens of members of the American media and public officials have called for Julian Assange’s execution or assassination. Under the new National Defense Authorization Act, Assange could well be kidnaped or assassinated. What century are we living in? What world?
It was after seeing American war crimes such as those depicted in the video “Collateral Murder” and documented in the “Iraq War Logs,” made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes. The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law — something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.
If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today, as are the many hundreds/thousands of American soldiers guilty of truly loathsome crimes in cities like Haditha, Fallujah, and other places whose names will live in infamy in the land of ancient Mesopotamia.
Besides playing a role in writing finis to the awful Iraq war, the Wikileaks disclosures helped to spark the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia.
When people in Tunisia read or heard of US Embassy cables revealing the extensive corruption and decadence of the extended ruling family there — one long and detailed cable being titled: “CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA: WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE” — how Washington’s support of Tunisian President Ben Ali was not really strong, and that the US would not support the regime in the event of a popular uprising, they took to the streets.
Here is a sample of some of the other Wikileaks revelations that make the people of the world wiser:
- In 2009 Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano became the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays the leading role in the investigation of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons or is working only on peaceful civilian nuclear energy projects. A US embassy cable of October 2009 said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded the [American] ambassador on several occasions that … he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
- Russia refuted US claims that Iran has missiles that could target Europe.
- The British government’s official inquiry into how it got involved in the Iraq War was deeply compromised by the government’s pledge to protect the Bush administration in the course of the inquiry.
- A discussion between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and American Gen. David H. Petraeus in which Saleh indicated he would cover up the US role in missile strikes against al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Petraeus.
- The US embassy in Madrid has had serious points of friction with the Spanish government and civil society: a) trying to get the criminal case dropped against three US soldiers accused of killing a Spanish television cameraman in Baghdad during a 2003 unprovoked US tank shelling of the hotel where he and other journalists were staying; b )torture cases brought by a Spanish NGO against six senior Bush administration officials, including former attorney general Alberto Gonzales; c) a Spanish government investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; d) a probe by a Spanish court into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for American extraordinary rendition (= torture) flights; e )continual criticism of the Iraq war by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, who eventually withdrew Spanish troops.
- State Department officials at the United Nations, as well as US diplomats in various embassies, were assigned to gather as much of the following information as possible about UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, permanent security council representatives, senior UN staff, and foreign diplomats: e-mail and website addresses, internet user names and passwords, personal encryption keys, credit card numbers, frequent flyer account numbers, work schedules, and biometric data. US diplomats at the embassy in Asunción, Paraguay were asked to obtain dates, times and telephone numbers of calls received and placed by foreign diplomats from China, Iran and the Latin American leftist states of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. US diplomats in Romania, Hungary and Slovenia were instructed to provide biometric information on “current and emerging leaders and advisers” as well as information about “corruption” and information about leaders’ health and “vulnerability”. The UN directive also specifically asked for “biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats”. A similar cable to embassies in the Great Lakes region of Africa said biometric data included DNA, as well as iris scans and fingerprints.
- A special “Iran observer” in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku reported on a dispute that played out during a meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. An enraged Revolutionary Guard Chief of Staff, Mohammed Ali Jafari, allegedly got into a heated argument with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and slapped him in the face because the generally conservative president had, surprisingly, advocated freedom of the press.
- The State Department, virtually alone in the Western Hemisphere, did not unequivocally condemn a June 28, 2009 military coup in Honduras, even though an embassy cable declared: “there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch”. US support of the coup government has been unwavering ever since.
- The leadership of the Swedish Social Democratic Party — neutral, pacifist, and liberal Sweden, so the long-standing myth goes — visited the US embassy in Stockholm and asked for advice on how best to sell the war in Afghanistan to a skeptical Swedish public, asking if the US could arrange for a member of the Afghan government to come visit Sweden and talk up NATO’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of Afghan children, and so forth. [For some years now Sweden has been, in all but name, a member of NATO and the persecutor of Julian Assange, the latter to please a certain Western power.]
- The US pushed to influence Swedish wiretapping laws so communication passing through the Scandinavian country could be intercepted. The American interest was clear: Eighty per cent of all the internet traffic from Russia travels through Sweden.
- President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy told US embassy officials in Brussels in January 2010 that no one in Europe believed in Afghanistan anymore. He said Europe was going along in deference to the United States and that there must be results in 2010, or “Afghanistan is over for Europe.”
- Iraqi officials saw Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to the integrity and cohesion of their fledgling democratic state. The Iraqi leaders were keen to assure their American patrons that they could easily “manage” the Iranians, who wanted stability; but that the Saudis wanted a “weak and fractured” Iraq, and were even “fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government”. The Saudi King, moreover, wanted a US military strike on Iran.
- Saudi Arabia in 2007 threatened to pull out of a Texas oil refinery investment unless the US government intervened to stop Saudi Aramco from being sued in US courts for alleged oil price fixing. The deputy Saudi oil minister said that he wanted the US to grant Saudi Arabia sovereign immunity from lawsuits
- Saudi donors were the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
- Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial 1996 drug trial involving children with meningitis.
- Oil giant Shell claimed to have “inserted staff” and fully infiltrated Nigeria’s government.
- The Obama administration renewed military ties with Indonesia in spite of serious concerns expressed by American diplomats about the Indonesian military’s activities in the province of West Papua, expressing fears that the Indonesian government’s neglect, rampant corruption and human rights abuses were stoking unrest in the region.
- US officials collaborated with Lebanon’s defense minister to spy on, and allow Israel to potentially attack, Hezbollah in the weeks that preceded a violent May 2008 military confrontation in Beirut.
- Gabon president Omar Bongo allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds from central African states, channeling some of it to French political parties in support of Nicolas Sarkozy.
- Cables from the US embassy in Caracas in 2006 asked the US Secretary of State to warn President Hugo Chávez against a Venezuelan military intervention to defend the Cuban revolution in the eventuality of an American invasion after Castro’s death.
- The United States was concerned that the leftist Latin American television network, Telesur, headquartered in Venezuela, would collaborate with al Jazeera of Qatar, whose coverage of the Iraq War had gotten under the skin of the Bush administration.
- The Vatican told the United States it wanted to undermine the influence of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in Latin America because of concerns about the deterioration of Catholic power there. It feared that Chávez was seriously damaging relations between the Catholic church and the state by identifying the church hierarchy in Venezuela as part of the privileged class.
- The Holy See welcomed President Obama’s new outreach to Cuba and hoped for further steps soon, perhaps to include prison visits for the wives of the Cuban Five. Better US-Cuba ties would deprive Hugo Chávez of one of his favorite screeds and could help restrain him in the region.
- The wonderful world of diplomats: In 2010, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the question of visas for two wives of members of the “Cuban Five”. “Brown requested that the wives (who have previously been refused visas to visit the U.S.) be granted visas so that they could visit their husbands in prison. … Our subsequent queries to Number 10 indicate that Brown made this request as a result of a commitment that he had made to UK trade unionists, who form part of the Labour Party’s core constituency. Now that the request has been made, Brown does not intend to pursue this matter further. There is no USG action required.”
- UK Officials concealed from Parliament how the US was allowed to bring cluster bombs onto British soil in defiance of a treaty banning the housing of such weapons.
- A cable was sent by an official at the US Interests Section in Havana in July 2006, during the runup to the Non-Aligned Movement conference. He noted that he was actively looking for “human interest stories and other news that shatters the myth of Cuban medical prowess”. [Presumably to be used to weaken support for Cuba amongst the member nations at the conference.]
- Most of the men sent to Guantánamo prison were innocent people or low-level operatives; many of the innocent individuals were sold to the US for bounty.
- DynCorp, a powerful American defense contracting firm that claims almost $2 billion per year in revenue from US tax dollars, threw a “boy-play” party for Afghan police recruits. (Yes, it’s what you think.)
- Even though the Bush and Obama Administrations repeatedly maintained publicly that there was no official count of civilian casualties, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs showed that this claim was untrue.
- Known Egyptian torturers received training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
- The United States put great pressure on the Haitian government to not go ahead with various projects, with no regard for the welfare of the Haitian people. A 2005 cable stressed continued US insistence that all efforts must be made to keep former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the United States had overthrown the previous year, from returning to Haiti or influencing the political process. In 2006, Washington’s target was President René Préval for his agreeing to a deal with Venezuela to join Caracas’s Caribbean oil alliance, PetroCaribe, under which Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60 percent up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 percent interest. And in 2009, the State Department backed American corporate opposition to an increase in the minimum wage for Haitian workers, the poorest paid in the Western Hemisphere.
- The United States used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at the crucial 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.
- Mahmoud Abbas, president of The Palestinian National Authority, and head of the Fatah movement, turned to Israel for help in attacking Hamas in Gaza in 2007.
- The British government trained a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”.
- A US military order directed American forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis.
- The US was involved in the Australian government’s 2006 campaign to oust Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
- A 2009 US cable said that police brutality in Egypt against common criminals was routine and pervasive, the police using force to extract confessions from criminals on a daily basis.
- US diplomats pressured the German government to stifle the prosecution of CIA operatives who abducted and tortured Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen. [El-Masri was kidnaped by the CIA while on vacation in Macedonia on December 31, 2003. He was flown to a torture center in Afghanistan, where he was beaten, starved, and sodomized. The US government released him on a hilltop in Albania five months later without money or the means to go home.]
- 2005 cable re “widespread severe torture” by India, the widely-renowned “world’s largest democracy”: The International Committee of the Red Cross reported: “The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-GOI [Government of India] dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that New Delhi condones torture.” Washington was briefed on this matter by the ICRC years ago. What did the United States, one of the world’s leading practitioners and teachers of torture in the past century, do about it? American leaders, including the present ones, continued to speak warmly of “the world’s largest democracy”; as if torture and one of the worst rates of poverty and child malnutrition in the world do not contradict the very idea of democracy.
- The United States overturned a ban on training the Indonesian Kopassus army special forces — despite the Kopassus’s long history of arbitrary detention, torture and murder — after the Indonesian President threatened to derail President Obama’s trip to the country in November 2010.
- Since at least 2006 the United States has been funding political opposition groups in Syria, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country.
William Blum is the author of:
- Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
- Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
- West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
- Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org
Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: alexander main, hondruas resistance, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras democracy, Hugo Chavez, human rights, imperialism, insulza, jose manuel santos, Latin America, latin america diplomacy, latin america politics, monroe doctrine, oas, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, Venezuela, zelaya
Roger’s note: this appears to me to be a well balanced analysis of the political situation with respect to Honduras. My personal opinion is that at the end of the day, the US will not allow any settlement that in any way could lead to the restoration of any semblance of democracy or improvement in the human rights situation in Honduras. I hope that I am wrong.
Will the Cartagena mediation process help resolve the crisis in Honduras?
Many Latin America watchers were thrown for a loop last month when a bilateral meeting in Cartagena, Colombia between Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia suddenly metamorphosed into a trilateral encounter that included Porfirio Lobo, the controversial president of Honduras. It was hard enough grappling with the image of Chavez and Santos, considered to be arch-enemies only a year ago, slapping one another on the back and heralding warm relations between their countries. Now it appeared that Chavez had also warmed up to Lobo, the leader of a government that Venezuela and many other South American countries had refused to recognize since the coup of June 28, 2009 that toppled democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.
Various media outlets were quick to suggest that, as a result of the friendly meeting, Chavez was prepared to back the return of Honduras to the Organization of American States (OAS). Since Venezuela had been the most outspoken critic of Honduras’ post-coup governments, it seemed conceivable that in no time the country would recover the seat that it had lost by unanimous decision of the OAS’ thirty-three members following the 2009 coup.
But soon more details emerged from the meeting that suggested that there were still significant hurdles ahead for Lobo. Chávez had not in fact agreed to support Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS. Instead the three leaders had drawn up a road map for Honduras’ possible return with the direct input of exiled former president Mel Zelaya, who was reached by phone during the meeting. As had occurred in previous negotiations, a series of conditions were put forward with the understanding that their fulfillment would open the door to OAS re-entry.
According to the Venezuelan government, four basic conditions, formulated primarily by Zelaya, were discussed during the closed-door meeting: the secure return of Zelaya and other officials exiled during and after the 2009 coup; an end to the persecution of members of the anti-coup National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP, by its Spanish initials); human rights guarantees and the investigation of human rights violations since the coup; guarantees for the holding of a future constituent assembly; and the recognition of the FNRP as a political organization. This set of conditions went further politically than the recommendations made in a July 2010 report by a High-Level OAS Commission in which Venezuela was notably absent and the U.S. and a number of right-wing Latin American countries played a dominant role. The report’s recommendations were meant to pave the way for Honduras’ return to the OAS, but appeared to be unacceptable to both Zelaya and the Lobo regime (see “Will new report pave the way for Honduras’ reincorporation into the OAS”.)
Though the trilateral meeting caused surprise and consternation – indeed, some groups in the FNRP expressed deep suspicions regarding the negotiations – it seems that it had been in the works for weeks and that President Zelaya had been consulted early on by representatives of the Colombian government. The fact that the sponsors of this new round of negotiations were the pro-Lobo government of Colombia and pro-Zelaya government of Venezuela generated optimism throughout the region. On April 27th, the foreign ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean, convened in Caracas for a preparatory meeting of the new CELAC regional group, issued a statement of support for the Cartagena mediation process.
No such statement was made by the U.S., however. Although the Obama administration has been heavily invested in a regional lobbying effort to try to secure Honduras’ return to the OAS before the organization’s June 5th General Assembly in El Salvador, it has refrained from showing any public support for the Cartagena process.
Soon after Lobo’s return from Cartagena the media began reporting on his efforts to have various criminal charges against Zelaya lifted by the Honduran judiciary. Charges of corruption had been filed against Zelaya and other exiled government officials following the coup and were considered by many to be politically motivated and designed to keep the former president and his closest allies out of the nation’s politics and out of the country period.
On May 2nd, Honduran officals triumphantly announced that an appeals court had dismissed all of the remaining criminal charges against Zelaya. Honduran law experts, however, including the widely respected former Attorney General Edmundo Orellana, were quick to point out that, as Zelaya had not been exonerated of the crimes for which he stood accused, nothing prevented the charges from being reintroduced at a later date. Zelaya himself made the same point and was subsequently accused of being a victim of “mental persecution” by Lobo.
These legal nuances failed to dampen the enthusiasm of either the U.S. administration or OAS Secretary General Jozasé Miulguel Insulza. In fact, on the very day that the charges were dropped, Insulza announced that the “principal condition for Honduras’ return to the OAS has been met” and that he would proceed with consultations of member states to see whether to hold an extraordinary session of the OAS General Assembly in which to deliberate on the issue of Honduras’ return. Though none of the four conditions outlined in Cartagena had actually been met by the Honduran government, the Secretary General seemed confident that the situation was ripe for Honduras’ re-entry.
The State Department concurred with an exuberant statement issued the following day: “the United States believes the suspension of Honduras should be immediately lifted and supports OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s intention to initiate consultations with member states on this issue.” For good measure, the statement noted that “since his inauguration, President Lobo has moved swiftly to pursue national reconciliation, strengthen governance, stabilize the economy, and improve human rights conditions.” Human rights groups and the FNRP have argued that, on the contrary, Lobo has made little concrete effort to advance these objectives and that the human rights situation remains as bad as ever. As Santa Cruz professor Dana Frank points out in the Nation: “to this day no one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of the politically-motivated killings of 34 members of the opposition and 10 journalists since Lobo took office, let alone for the over 300 killings by state security forces since the coup, according to COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras), the leading independent human rights group.”
While Insulza, the U.S. administration and some Central American countries like Panama and El Salvador have insisted that there are no more obstacles to Honduras’ OAS reincorporation, the tone has been much more cautious in South America. Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro has continued to declare that “there are four points” that are at the center of the negociation, and that “more work is needed on each of these points.” His Brazilian colleague, Antonio Patriota echoed the Venezuelan position, stating that “there should be no rush” and that it was important “to take the necessary time to reach a firm agreement.”
It is clear that regional divisions that have emerged around the Honduras question remain deep. On the one hand, the U.S., right-wing Latin American governments and smaller countries more dependent on the U.S. are strongly backing Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS. Meanwhile, most governments of South America – a continent that has grown much more politically independent over the past decade – continue to consider that more needs to be done to restore democracy and protect the rights of opposition activists.
In mid-May these divisions came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS. Early on May 13th, the media reported that Insulza had convened a private meeting of the OAS Permanent Council (where representatives of all member countries participate) in which Honduras would be discussed. El Salvador, with backing from the U.S. and Central American countries, intended to use the meeting to press for the holding of an extraordinary session of the General Assembly which would vote on lifting Honduras’ OAS suspension. Within hours, however, the media announced that the meeting convened by Insulza had been unexpectedly canceled.
According to a reliable source at the OAS, several Latin American countries had asked for the Permanent Council meeting to be called off on the grounds that it was “premature.” These countries – which apparently included Colombia – felt that it was necessary to give more time to the mediation effort being led by Colombia and Venezuela.
As this diplomatic wrangling was unfolding, Zelaya issued a communiqué that appeared to echo the sentiment of many South American nations. The United States, he said, had made “diplomatic statements that undermined the possibilities of success of the [Cartagena] process…” He called on the U.S. to revise its position and acknowledge and support the mediation process, in order “to achieve a real and viable solution to the Honduran political situation.”
Indeed, why has the U.S. administration refused to back or even acknowledge the Santos-Chavez mediation process? And why does it seem to be intent on bypassing the process altogether in favor of deliberations carried out strictly within the framework of the OAS, a venue that has so far shown itself incapable of resolving Honduras’ political crisis?
One of the primary reasons, no doubt, is the fact that the Chavez government has a starring role in the mediation effort. Ever since George W. Bush’s administration, one of the U.S. government’s key priorities in the region has been to try to isolate and undermine Venezuela’s international influence at every opportunity. This re-baked containment strategy has backfired and, if anything, generated solidarity for Venezuela in the region; yet, there is no sign that the administration is prepared to reassess its policy.
Perhaps more than anything, the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation in Honduras in which it doesn’t play a leading role. The U.S. has traditionally been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Honduras, a country once dubbed the USS Honduras because of the important US military presence there and because the tiny nation served as a springboard for U.S intervention in other Central American countries. As the recent bilateral agreements to expand the U.S. military presence in Honduras show, the country continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.
It’s interesting to note that, back in July of 2009, it was the Obama administration which took the key discussions on Honduras out of the OAS by initiating its own mediation process together with then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The outcome of the process – known as the San Jose-Tegucigalpa agreement – satisfied the U.S. despite the fact that it failed to restore democracy in Honduras. It didn’t, however, satisfy the majority of the hemisphere’s governments, who refused to recognize the elections which brought Lobo to power; and it failed to satisfy Zelaya and the FNRP, who remained politically marginalized and were confronted with constant intimidation and attacks.
This is not to suggest that the Colombia/Venezuela mediation is necessarily destined to bring a just, peaceful solution to Honduras’ political and social crisis. There are fears that if Zelaya does return soon to Honduras, as has been announced, the other prerequisites involving human rights and a possible revision of the country’s profoundly conservative and non-inclusive political system will be swept aside.
As a response to these fears, a joint Colombian/Venezuelan verification commission has been proposed as a mechanism of enforcement to ensure that the Lobo government would follow through on the conditions outlined in Cartagena. But given the short shrift that popular demands have received in Honduras in the past, there is understandable skepticism regarding the likelihood of real follow-up from Lobo once Honduras is back in the OAS.
Both human rights groups and Honduran social movements argue that once the suspension of Honduras’ OAS membership is lifted, there will be little to no incentive for the Lobo government – already under enormous pressure from ultra rightwing sectors – to address the grave human rights situation or work to bring the country back on the path of democracy and the rule of law. Unfortunately, though dozens of members of Congress and international human rights organizations have sought to bring this issue to the attention of the Obama administration, the U.S. and an increasing number of other governments in the region continue to disregard the dire situation in Honduras and push for the country’s immediate reincorporation into the OAS.
Alexander Main is a policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (www.cepr.net).
Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Venezuela.
Tags: democracy, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, Latin American politics, mark weisbrot, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela economy, venezuela election, venezuela government, venezuela opposition
Last weekend’s election for 165 representatives in Venezuela’s national assembly is significant but unlikely to bring about major change, despite the opposition having done better than expected. On the latest count the pro-government United Socialist party has 94 seats, with 60 for the opposition Democratic Unity, five for other parties and the rest undecided. The opposition claims it won a majority of the popular vote, but apparently it was very close between the two main parties.
As expected, most of the international press and its sources hailed the results as a “major blow” to Hugo Chávez, paving the way for his possible removal in the presidential election in 2012. But this is exaggerated.
The vote was widely seen as a referendum on Chávez, and it would be an anomaly in electoral politics if the government did not lose support after a recession last year that continued into the first quarter of this year. Chávez’s popularity has always reflected the economy, reaching a low during the recession of 2002-03 – regardless of the fact that it was caused by an opposition oil strike. His approval rating has fallen from 60% in early 2009 to 46% last month.
For comparison President Obama’s approval rating has fallen from 68% last April to 45% this month, and his party is expected to take big losses in the congressional elections. This is despite him having clearly inherited economic problems from his predecessor.
It is not clear why anyone would expect Venezuela to be exempt from the workings of electoral politics. The opposition has most of the wealth of the country – and most of its media. They have no problem getting their message out. Obama also faces a strong rightwing media, with Fox News now one of the most popular sources for coverage of the autumn elections, but there is much less of an opposition media in the US.
Much has been made of the opposition getting more than a third of the national assembly, thus being able to block legislation that would “deepen the revolution”. Again, the importance of this is greatly exaggerated.
In reality it is unlikely to make much difference. The pace at which it adopts reforms has been limited more by administrative capacity than by politics. The Financial Times recently added up the value of industries nationalised by the Chávez government. Outside oil, it came to less than 8% of GDP over the last five years. Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state has as much a role in the economy as it does in, for instance, France.
On the positive side, the most interesting result of this election is that the opposition participated, has accepted the results, and now has a bloc of representatives that can participate in a parliamentary democracy.
This could be an advance for Venezuelan democracy, which has been undermined by an anti-democratic opposition for more than a decade. As opposition leader Teodoro Petkoff has noted, the opposition pursued a strategy of “military takeover” for the first four years, which included a military coup and a devastating oil strike that crippled the economy. In 2004 the opposition tried to remove Chávez through a referendum; they failed, and then promptly refused to recognise the result – despite its certification by international observers such as the Carter Center and the Organisation of American States.
They then boycotted the last election in 2005, hoping to portray the government as a “dictatorship” and leaving them without representation. This newly elected bloc could potentially draw the opposition into real political participation. If that happens, it would be a significant advance for a country that has been too polarised for too long.
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