Sunday, August 19, 2007

i put this article on here about venezuelas constitution because i didnt want to lose it. it contains perhaps some of the most progressive ideas i have seen in moving towards libertarian socialism, or socialism with popular power. any comments about chavez being dictatorial should be lost when seen how much power he is intending to transfer from the state to the people through the changes to the new constitution

Chavez Proposes Changes to Venezuela’s Constitution to Pave Way for Socialism
Friday, Aug 17, 2007
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By: Kiraz Janicke –
Caracas, August 17, 2007 ( – On August 15, the third anniversary of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s victory in the recall referendum of 2004, and the 202nd anniversary of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar’s famous oath of Monte Sacro, where he swore not to rest “until the chains of oppression are lifted from my people,” tens of thousands of Venezuelans turned out to an extraordinary session of National Assembly to hear the president’s proposed constitutional reform.
Recounting the experiences and achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution over the last eight years, including the Constituent Assembly and referendum of 1999, which founded the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the opposition military coup on April 11th, 2002 and its “victorious defeat” on April 13th and the oil industry lockout which nearly crippled the Venezuelan economy in early 2003, Chavez confessed, “I am emotional today, because I believe this proposal will open doors to a new era.”
The 1999 constitution was “ambiguous” he said “a product of that moment. The world is very different today than 1999.” The new constitutional reforms are “essential for continuing the process of revolutionary transition,” he assured.New Geometry of Power
Outlining his far-reaching proposal for transforming the Venezuelan state, Chavez called for “a new geometry of power.” Key to this is an amendment to article 16 in the constitution, which states; “The national territory is divided into states, the Capital District, federal dependencies and federal territories. The territory is organized in Municipalities” to be replaced by; “The territorial political division will be determined by the organic law that guarantees municipal autonomy and political decentralization.”
Declaring that, “regionalism, is dogma, that impedes change, [and] we can not accept situations that create Caudillos,” he said the new law would allow for the creation, through popular referendum, of “federal districts” in specific areas, which could then be categorized as states and assigned all or part of the respective territory.
This proposal, he maintained, is “profoundly revolutionary,” and necessary “to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony, the old society, and, in the words of Gramsci, to weaken the old “historic block.” “If we don’t change the superstructure, the old superstructure will defeat us,” he continued.
The proposal also allows municipalities, “with the acceptance of the people within the municipality,” to create territory or land in common, which would be under the direct government of the community and, according to Chavez, would constitute “the basic nucleus of the socialist state.”
Chavez also said unions or federations of self-governing communes, could be created through popular referendum, through the communal councils, and aggregations of communal councils.
Additionally, through the incorporation of the social missions into the constitution, “functional districts,” could be also be created by one or more municipalities, where the social missions would function as alternative administrations to the traditional bureaucratic institutions.
Chavez declared it was necessary to re-order the country in view of increasing population growth, saying, “one day Venezuela will have 40-50 million people.”
In light of this, he argued it was also necessary to “restructure Caracas,” in terms of urban development, construction of roads, environmental recuperation and measures to achieve the optimal levels of public and personal security, strengthen systems of health, education, sport and culture, as well as the formation of small and medium satellite cities.
Another key aspect of the “new geometry of power” would be the ability of the president to declare special military zones in any part of the country with the strategic aim of defense, and decree special authorities in situations of contingency such as natural disasters.Popular Power
In addition to the previously existing “public powers” recognized in the constitution such as the judiciary, legislative, executive and so on, Chavez also called for the incorporation of “popular power” into article 70, saying there was a need to decentralize and transfer power to the organized communities to create the best conditions for socialist democracy.
Article 70, Chavez assured, would also “reaffirm means of participation and protagonism of the people in direct exercise of their sovereignty for the construction of socialism,” through election to public positions, referendums, popular consultation, recall of elected officials (including the president), constitutional legislative initiatives, and open assemblies.
“Sovereignty rests with the people,” Chavez continued, “and should be exercised directly through the organs of popular power.” According to Chavez, popular power would be expressed through “the organized communities,” in various forms such as the communes, self-government of the towns and cities, the communal councils, workers councils, campesino councils, student councils, and others councils indicated in the law.Political Sphere
In a move vehemently opposed by Venezuelan opposition parties, Chavez also proposed an amendment to article 203, which would allow for unlimited presidential re-elections, (countries such as France, Australia, Germany, and England allow for unlimited reelection), a move the opposition claims would lead to ‘dictatorship’. The proposed change would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years.
According Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez, the opposition campaign against unlimited reelections is not out of concern for ‘democracy’, given that they supported a military coup against Chavez’s democratically elected government in 2002, but rather a tacit recognition of their inability to compete with Chavez in the electoral sphere.
However, as with all other aspects of the constitutional reform, which are required to be ratified through a popular referendum, Chavez affirmed that “reelection is the sovereign decision of the constituent people of Venezuela.”Social and Cultural Rights
Chavez also called for the revision of article 100, to recognize Venezuela as a product of a diverse historical confluence of cultures and recommended the implementation of programs to promote equality for indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent. Additionally, proposed alterations to article 87 (which relates to social rights and rights of the family), would guarantee the right to work and promote the development of policies to generate productive employment. The state would also create a Social Stability Fund for ‘non-dependent’ or self employed workers such as taxi drivers, fishermen, and artisans, among others, to guarantee them the same fundamental rights as other workers such as retirement pensions, paid vacations and prenatal and postnatal leave entitlements.Economy
The proposal calls for the constitution to promote a diverse and independent mixed economy to guarantee the social necessities of the people. While article 115 would continue to recognize and guarantee different forms of property, including private property, it would promote the development of social production and social property including direct/communal social property and indirect/state managed social property.
Chavez also called for the promotion and self-management of communal property, communal micro-financing organizations, cooperatives of communal property (which he distinguished from capitalist cooperatives) communal savings banks, networks of free associated producers, voluntary work, and community businesses as mechanisms toward the implementation of a new social system.
While monopolies would be banned under article 102, the following modification of article 302 would guarantee state control over the oil industry, closing off any potential loophole that would allow privatization of this resource; “The State reserves, for reasons of sovereignty, development and the national interest, the activity of exploitation of liquid, solid, and gaseous hydrocarbons as well as the exploitation of goods and services of public interest and strategic character.”
Other key changes in the economic sphere include the removal of “any vestige of autonomy” for the Central Bank of Venezuela and the elimination of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund under articles 318 and 321. Chavez has previously described the autonomy of the BCV as “a neoliberal idea.”
Chavez also plans to modify article 90 of the constitution to reduce the workday from eight hours to six, saying, the objective is that workers have sufficient time for integral and moral development of their personality, for participation, education, spiritual and recreational pursuits.
The reduction of the workday, he argued, would oblige businesses to open new shifts and therefore increase levels of permanent and productive employment, allowing time for volunteer work and contribute to the reduction of the informal economy and unemployment currently at 8 per cent.
Redefining the Military
Chavez also proposed a redefinition of the role of the military through a modification of article 328, which currently states “The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, politically unaligned, organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”
This would be replaced by, “The Bolivarian Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation” and the “application of principles of integral military defense and popular resistance war”
Declaring that “the old structure of the Reserves had many legal, structural and financial limitations,” Chavez proposed the amendment of article 329 to transform the Reserves into the Popular Bolivarian Militia constituted as the fifth official component of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, alongside the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, and the Bolivarian Territorial Guard (currently the National Guard). The role of the Territorial Guard would be integrated with other components of the armed forces. “The said bodies would be structured in combined garrison units, combined training units and combined units for joint operations,” signifying the “fusion” of the Armed Forces, he explained.
Summarizing his proposal as follows, “In the political terrain, the deepening of popular Bolivarian democracy; in the economy, the preparation for the best conditions for the construction of a socialist production model; in the field of public administration; incorporation of new structures to leave behind bureaucracy; in social matters, to increase the rights of workers in all imaginable spheres, and in the cultural the inclusion of our peoples of indigenous and African descent, the deepening of our anti-imperialist and patriotic consciousness,” Chavez called for a “grand debate in all areas of society.”
“Some pollsters try to manipulate public opinion, formulating questions such as “do you support democracy or socialism?” “But the people aren’t stupid. Only through socialism can you construct true democracy,” added Chavez.
The proposed constitutional reform, which aims to change 33 articles, or approximately 10% of the 1999 constitution, is set to be debated in three extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly over the next two-three months before going to a popular referendum.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Two events of the last week of my life have shown me the sad condition that our world has grown arrived to: the condition where those with wealth and power are given the privilege of the protection of their ludicrously consumeristic, materialistic life while the 80% majority of people who struggle to survive are not only not protected, but constantly fought to be kept in their position of subordination, poverty, and hopelessness.
I found myself in the center of San Salvador, all the streets leading to the center of the city were blocked off by the police as an association of vendors in the central of the city took control of the streets to protest an action taken by the police and the government to kick them out of their places in the street where they sell their products. The police and the government try to justify their action by saying that the vendors in the streets don´t allow cars to pass by and creates a mess in the city. But really, it results that the police and the government are carrying out an order to get rid of the 60,000 people in El Salvador who sell pirated DVDs and CDs and shoes because after having signed CAFTA, the free trade agreement between the US and central America, one of the main stipulations is that the governments of Central America had to gurantee that they would protect property rights of the rich and powerful in the United States. And thus, the 60,000 poor vendors who quite inspiringly have struggled to find a way of life to provide for their families in an economy where 30% of the GDP comes from money sent back from the US and where corruption in the government runs rampid, are told that their lives are less important than the extreme wealth of the rich and the multinational corporations based in the US. So the police violently kicked them out of their spots where they struggle day after day in the heat and noise and gas fumes of the central of the city, and they began a riot, justifiably so.
The next day I was in a bus, going to a funeral of another woman in our program who died from AIDS and from the state of the rich who don´t give a shit about her life, and I got robbed by a few young kids. So how are the two events related? Well the government here wants us to believe that all the problems in this society are related to the gangs and the violence represented in this case by these two young kids. Yet, the 60,000 people who have struggled to find an alternative are being told by the government that they should return to the streets. The government can´t possibly be telling them to find another job, because they as well as the rest of the population know that there is no work, so pretty much they´re telling them that we dont want you stealing from the rich in other countries, we wnat you instead to steal from the poor in this country. Oh yeah, and then we´re going to blame all the social ills in our country on you. Injustice lives on....

Monday, April 09, 2007

i believe that i have learned what true community is...
i believe that true community is a group of people,
simple people, who have gifts, talents, abilities,
as all of us have..
perhaps they have learned these gifts,
perhaps they were born with them..
but that´s not important.
what is important is that these simple people
with these simple gifts,
use them for the good of their community..
its that simple...
yet that revolutionary,
because it goes against the entire
capitalistm, western ethic
which fools us into believing
that our gifts
are for us...
and us alone...
for our wellbeing, for our security,
for our wealth, and our benefit..
but NO!
community is not this...
community, as i have said before,
is like simple people sharing
these gifts for the community..

an example...
it is like oswaldo,
who left his community for 4 years
to study psychology at a big university
filled with professional looking people
in suits and ties and big pay checks,
and then after those 4 years
left those big important people
and the possibility to be like them,
and returned,
in sandals, shorts and cheguevara t-shirt
to the community..
his community...
and he shared with his community
all he learned.
and he wasnt paid much
just enough to be sustained
as a member of a community of equals...
he served them and helped them
and was served and helped in return...

or perhaps community is like
yeli gonzalez
who after 4 years of studying her GED
at the same time of taking care of her family
is studying to become a nurse
and after 3 more years
will be a nurse,
a good nurse...
who will not work in a faceless hospital
but will return to the tin shacks
of the community...
her community
to serve those who are sick
and she will not make much money.,
she will not have a fancy nurse uniform
but she will be a part of her community....

and true community would be made
if all members of a community did the same.
if we all used our knowledge and skills,
for the betterment of community
and not our personal benefit..
and PLEASE dont think that those knowledge and skills
can only be learned at what they call
an institution of higher learning..
no! because a community needs a baker,
a fishermen, a grave-digger...
even a crazy person and maybe even a town drunk...
when we all learn that we have gifts and talents,
and when we all learn that the purpose of these gifts and talents
is to share them with our community
then we will build the reign of god in our community...
and when we learn to do so in our world,
amongst nations and peoples of different colors and tongues
then we will build the reign of god in our world....
and when we learn to do so even amongst
the flowers and atoms, the stars and the trees and the animals and the most distant galaxy,
then, and only then,
will we have built the reign of god in all the cosmos...
and in our hearts....
well, it has been about three months since i last wrote and so much has happened. i suppose one of the first things that i have learned, is the pain of death...
blanca ticas, a woman of about 28 or 29 with 3 young children who was in our hiv program, died last week from aids. it was the first person that has been in our program who has died. and in her death i learned to hate even more the reality of HIV-AIDS. AIDS isn´t like any normal disease. i guess one could say that cancer is like a playground bully that comes up to a small, defenseless child and kicks that child´s ass... unfair? yes. wrong? but of course...
but aids is like a childground bully that takes that same defenseless child and carries to a corner of the playground where there is a hill of ravenous ants and ties that poor child up and leaves it there for the ants to slowly eat away. perhaps that sounds a bit gruesome, but i dont really know of any other analgoy after having watched blanca suffer a slow and painful death of 5 months. where first she went blind and death and then had her face and skull eaten away and grossly disfigured by a horrible fungus, and then to have kidney stones and cancer, and migraines...and to suffer all that for 5 months untill she could atlast take no more and finally passed into death, the only justice in her situation.
and it hurt me to think that all that pain and suffering was due most likely to her husband, a man i never met due to his death to aids as well, who one night, or various nights, found some other women, or maybe man, to have sex with, and then to lie about it to his wife, and infect her and leave their three children orphans. that has made me see how horrible the reality of machismo is in this world. the reality that men are more important than women. since blancas death, my eyes have been opened to the reality of machismo in all aspects of life. it hurts me to have to watch a man who hasnt done shit all day laying in his hammock and telling his sister: "hey, get me some food." that type of stuff was what before made me cringe and feel a little uncomfortable, but now, after reflecting on blancas death, it really, really pisses me off, because i now have seen first hand and experienced how this machismo can lead to so many other things, how it can create so much suffereing, injustice, inequality in the lives of so many people.
another lesson that blanca´s death taught me, was the difficulty of the lives of the other women and men living with hiv in our program. i went to her funeral with lidia, another woman in our program, and when they began to throw dirt on her grave with her son crying as he watched his mother being buried forever into the heart of the earth, lidia cried but with tears of knowing...of knowign that soon that would be her destiny as well...that soon she too would leave her 4 children orphaned to a cruel world...that soon she too would be but a memory to this world. and that was hard for her...hard for me to hold her while she cried. but yet, it ultimately made me respect her and the other people living with HIV so much...
i cant imagine living with a disease knowing that one could die any day yet still living life for the future. its not like cancer where the doctor gives you 2 months to do what youve always wanted to do in life...its like the doctor saying, could die tommorow, or maybe in 15 years, good luck... and then these amazing courageous people live with that knowledge, with that understanding. there is suris, who is taking her GED classes. there is fermin who is planting fruit trees that he may never even see them germinate. there is robert living with his dying wife yet reaffirming everyday the beauty of his life and his responsibility to his 5 year old daughter. there is francisco who has dedicated his life, despite all his pain to working with people to help them see beyond their pain and depression and make their lives better. and then there is nancy, michael, reina, elizabeth, and karla...children who play and live life while their parents must look everyday upon them knowing that one day they may wake up and no more hear their laughter and joy...
yes...this disease is unfair, it is wrong, and it hurts me even to think about an article i read in a newspaper a few months ago saying that the big pharmaceutical companies werent searching as hard as they could for a cure becasue there isn´t any money in finding a cure, there arent enough people who can pay for the medicine they might be able to they say fuck it, they say by their inaction that the only lives of worth are those who have $ to pay for medicine, and all those millions who dont have money to support their luxurious lives...they may as well just become a statistic...they can die.
but i know that that logic is wrong...its the antithesis of the reign of god, of justice, of what was once perhaps common sense (in a world not dominated by capitalism, greed, and gross inequality). and i know that because i have as my friends suris, and lidia and roberto and francisco and all the rest, and i know that they do matter, i know in fact that they matter much much more than the rich and the powerful who by their silence sentence them to death. i know that they are important and that anyone who says otherwise is blind...blinded by a system that has covered truth...gods truth..

Saturday, January 06, 2007

So Gerald Ford died the other day, and after reading a little bit about his life and remembering what I had learned about his brief presidency, I have found that many people in the United States consider him to be one of the greatest presidents. Talking with some friends, they told me that he came into a situation after Nixon with a country completely broken by war and suspicion. But moreso, he came into that situation surrounded by cabinet members and aides and informants whose sole purpose was to persuade him to continue these disasterous policies that were tearing apart the United States and decimating the world.
And in this situation, he came and did not heed the advice of those hawks who wanted more destruction. He finished the withdrawal from Vietnam and untill he lost to Carter he pretty much didn´t do anything bad. And I think that sadly enough, that is how one must look at the quality of politicians in the United States. Their greatness or poorness is not seen on what they do, but rather on what they manage NOT to do. That´s almost funny. Perhaps the worst presidents are those who do a lot of things, especially in the age of America as Empire. And I hate that people are afraid of that word, empire. America is an Empire, one of the strongest our world has ever known. And its leaders by fault inherit a country completely wrapped in the claws of Empire. I have always believed that Empire exists in the United States for many reasons, one of which being that it is necessary to have Empire in order to maintain the consumer, lavish, wealthy lifestyle we suffer in the United States. (Oftentimes people say the lifestyle we "enjoy" in the United States, but I cannot bring myself to say that we should "enjoy" a lifestyle that brings so much pain and hurt to this world). And thus, with Empire as a reality, all policies reflect its influence. And thus for our politicians and our leaders who are supposed to lead our country, the best thing they can do is to do nothing at all. The least possible amount of damage. And perhaps Ford achieved that in some manner or other. I guess that taking into account and accepting the fact that the United States is an Empire, there are two ways anyone can see the situation. 1) Accept that we are an Empire, but believe that Empire is neccesary for our world and that the United States plays the role of the benevolent empire bringing democracy, peace, etc... to the world. This belief system obviously has different levels. There are the Neo-cons on one extreme and perhaps more sane people who see things a little more reservedly. But ultimately I think that this way of seeing things is wrong. A Roman writer many years ago wrote that "they have created a wasteland and called it peace," referring to the Roman Empire. The same could be said of the united states empire. And thus, for those who seek to go a bit deeper into the causes of Empire will probably see things as 2) We are an Empire as all other Empires and our policies and way of life bring damage and pain and inequality and injustice and poverty to our world. And thus our politicians and public leaders, in the present state of things, are best when they do nothing, cause no damage, do not follow the mandates of Empire in the foreign policy arena. This made Ford great. He did the least amount of damage. Because perhaps, if we give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, he is doing what he is doing, creating a "wasteland" out of sincere desires for a better world. The same could be said for Kennedy, he was supposedly interested in creating a better, more humane policy for relations with Latin America as well as creating the idealistic Peace Corps. But with both presidents, assuming they wanted to work for good, the influence of Empire corrupted their policies. I think that is painfully obvious in Bush´s policies. And with Kennedy, his new Latin America policy as well as the Peace Corps were spring boards for CIA involvement in Latin American affairs which generally led to violence, coups, blood, and all sorts of other injustices.
So congratualtions President Ford for doing the least amount of damage.
An extremely interesting article by Noam Chomsky about Latin American affairs.

Creating Another World in a Time of War, Empire and Devastation
Wednesday, Jan 03, 2007

By: Noam Chomsky - Democracy Now
World-renowned scholar and linguist Noam Chomsky recently spoke an event titled, "What's Next? Creating Another World in a Time of War, Empire and Devastation." It was held at the Emmanuel Church in Boston and sponsored by sponsored by Massachusetts Global Action. Chomsky, who is a professor of Linguistics at MIT, returned from Latin America in October. He talked about the recent elections in the region, which have brought leftist, governments to power that are challenging U.S foreign policy. Chomsky also spoke about Iraq and Iran in the context of Latin America.

There was a meeting last weekend in Cochabamba in Bolivia of all the South American leaders. It was a very important meeting. One index of its importance is that it was unreported, virtually unreported apart from the wire services. So every editor knew about it. Since I suspect you didn't read that wire service report, I’ll read you a few things from it to indicate why it was so important.
In last Saturday, the South American leaders agreed to create a high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union. This is the presidents and envoys of all the nations, and there was the two-day summit of what's called the South American Community of Nations, hosted by Evo Morales in Cochabamba, the president of Bolivia. The leaders -- reading just now -- agreed to form a study group to look at the possibility of creating a continent-wide union and even a South American parliament. The result, according to the -- I’m reading from the AP report -- the result left fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, long an agitator for the region, taking a greater role on the world stage, pleased, but impatient -- normal stance. They went on. It goes on to say that the discussion over South American unity will continue later this month, when MERCOSUR, South American trading bloc, has its regular meeting that will include leaders from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.
There is one -- has been one point of hostility in South America. That's Peru, Venezuela. But it points out that Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia took advantage of the summit to bury the hatchet, after having exchanged insults earlier in the year. And that was the only real conflict in South America. So that seems to have been smoothed over.
The new Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed a land and river trade route linking the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest to Ecuador's Pacific Coast, suggesting that for South America, it could be kind of like an alternative to the Panama Canal.
Chavez and Morales celebrated a new joint project, the gas separation plant in Bolivia's rich gas-rich region. It’s a joint venture with Petrovesa, the Venezuelan oil company, and the Bolivian state energy company. And it continues. Venezuela, as I’m sure you know, is the only -- it which points out -- is the only Latin American member of OPEC and has by far the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East, by some measures maybe even comparable to Saudi Arabia. Well, that’s very important in the general global context. I’ll return to a couple of words about that.
There were also contributions, constructive, interesting contributions by Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, Bachelet of Chile, and others. All of this is extremely important.
This is the first time since the Spanish conquests, 500 years, that there has been real moves towards integration in South America. The countries have been very separated from one another. And integration is going to be a prerequisite for authentic independence. I mean, there have been -- I’m sure you know -- attempts at independence, but they've been crushed, often very violently, partly because of lack of regional support, because there was very little regional cooperation, so you can pick them off one by one.
That’s what happened since the 1960s. The Kennedy administration orchestrated a coup in Brazil, the first of which happened right after the assassination was already planned. It was the first of a series of falling dominoes. Neo-Nazi-style national security states spread across the hemisphere. Chile was one of them, but only one finally ended up with reaching Central America, with Reagan's terrorist wars in the 1980s, which devastated Central America, similar things happening in the Caribbean. But that was sort of a one-by-one operation of destroying one country after another. And it had the expected domino effect. It’s the worst plague of repression in the history of Latin America since the original conquests, which were horrendous. It’s only beginning to be understood how horrendous they were.
But integration does lay the basis for potential independence, and that's of extreme significance. The colonial history -- Spain, Europe, the United States -- not only divided countries from one another, but it also left a sharp internal division within the countries, every one, between a very wealthy small elite and a huge mass of impoverished people. The correlation to race is fairly close. Typically, the rich elite was white, European, westernized; and the poor mass of the population was indigenous, Indian, black, intermingled, and so on. It's a fairly close correlation, and it continues right ‘til the present.
The white, mostly white, elites were not -- who ran the countries -- were not integrated with -- had very few interrelations with the other countries of the region. They were Western-oriented. You can see that in all sorts of ways. That's where the capital was exported. That's where the second homes were, where the children went to the universities, where their cultural connections were, and so on. And they had very little responsibility in their own societies. So there’s very sharp division.
They were also very support-- you can see it, for example, in imports. Imports are mostly luxury goods, overwhelmingly. Development, such as it was, was mostly foreign. It was much more open, Latin America, much more open to foreign investment than, say, East Asia. It’s part of the reason for their different paths of development in the past -- radically different paths of development in the last couple of decades.
And, of course, the elite elements were very strongly sympathetic to the neoliberal programs of the last 25 years, which enriched them -- destroyed the countries, but enriched them. Latin America, more than any region in the world, outside of southern Africa, adhered rigorously to the so-called Washington Consensus, what's called outside the United States the neoliberal programs of roughly the past 25, 30 years. And everywhere where they were rigorously applied, they led to disaster. There’s scarcely an exception. Very striking correlation. Sharp reduction in rates of growth, other macroeconomic indices, all the social effects that go along with that.
Actually, the comparison to East Asia is very striking. Latin America is a much -- potentially much richer area. I mean, a century ago, it was taken for granted that Brazil would be what was called the “Colossus of the South,” comparable to the Colossus of the North. Haiti, now one of the poorest countries in the world, was the richest colony in the world, a source of much of France’s wealth, now devastated, first by France, then by the United States. And Venezuela -- enormous wealth -- was taken over by the United States around 1920, right at the beginning of the oil age, had been a British dependency, but Woodrow Wilson kicked the British out, recognizing that control of oil was going to be important, and supported a vicious dictator. And then, more or less, it goes on until the present. So the resources and the potential were always there. Very rich.
In contrast, East Asia had almost no resources, but they followed a different developmental path. In Latin America, imports were luxury goods for the rich. In East Asia, it's capital goods for development. They had state-coordinated development programs. They disregarded the Washington Consensus almost totally. Capital controls, controls on export of capital, harsh punishments for it, pretty egalitarian societies, a lot of -- authoritarian, sometimes, pretty harsh -- but educational programs, health programs, and so on. In fact, they followed pretty much the developmental paths of the currently wealthy countries, which are radically different from the rules that are being imposed on the South.
And that goes way back in history. You go back to the 17th century, the commercial and industrial centers of the world were China and India. Life expectancy in Japan was greater than in Europe. Europe was kind of like a barbarian outpost, but it had advantages, mainly in savagery, conquered the world, imposed something like the neoliberal rules on the conquered regions, and itself, very high protectionism, a lot of state intervention and so on. So Europe developed.
The United States, as a typical case, had the highest tariffs in the world, most protectionist country in the world during the period of its great development. In fact, as late as 1950, when the United States literally had half the world's wealth, its tariffs were higher than the Latin American countries today, which are being ordered to reduce them.
Massive state intervention in the economy. Economists don't talk about it much, but the current economy in the United States relies very heavily on the state sector. That's where you get your computers and the internet and your airplane traffic and transit of goods, container ships and so on, almost entirely comes out of the state sector, including pharmaceuticals, management techniques, and so on. I won’t go on into that, but it’s a strong correlation right through history. Those are the methods of development.
The neoliberal methods created a third world, and in the past 30 years, they have led to disasters in Latin America and southern Africa, the places that most rigorously adhered to them. But whereas there was growth and development in East Asia, which disregarded them, following the rules, following pretty much the model of the currently rich countries.
Well, there’s a chance that that will begin to change. There are finally efforts inside South America -- unfortunately not in Central America, which has just been pretty much devastated by the terror of the last -- of the ’80s particularly. But in South America, from Venezuela to Argentina, it’s, I think, the most exciting place in the world. There’s reactions to this. After 500 years, there’s a beginning of efforts to overcome these overwhelming problems. The integration that's taking place, that I just read about, is one example.
There's efforts of the Indian population. The indigenous population is, for the first time in hundreds of years, taking a -- really beginning in some of the countries, take a very active role in their own affairs. In Bolivia, they succeeded in taking over the country, controlling their resources. Bolivia -- and it’s also leading to significant democratization, real democracy, in which the population participates. So it takes a Bolivia -- it’s the poorest country in the hemisphere in South America -- Haiti is poorer -- it had a real democratic election last year, of a kind that you can't imagine in the United States, or in Europe, for that matter. There was mass popular participation, and people knew what the issues were. The issues were crystal clear and very important. And people didn't just participate on election day. These are the things they had been struggling about for years. Actually, Cochabamba is a symbol of it. I’ll come back to that. So, clear issues, popular participation, ongoing efforts, elected someone from their own ranks. I won't bother to compare it to the United States. You can work it out for yourselves, but that's a real democratic election of the kind we can't imagine.
In fact, in our elections, the issues are unknown. There’s careful efforts to make sure that the issues are unknown to the public, for good reasons. There's a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy. So you have to keep away from issues and concentrate on imagery and delusions and so on. The elections are run by the same industries that sell toothpaste on television. You don't expect to get information from a television ad. You don't expect to get information about a candidate from debates, advertisements and the other paraphernalia that goes along with what are called elections here.
There's a lot of fuss on the left about election irregularities, like, you know, the voting machines were tampered with, they didn't count the votes right, and so on. That’s all accurate and of some importance, but of far more importance is the fact that elections just don't take place, not in any meaningful sense of the term “election.” And so, it doesn't matter all that much, if there was some tampering. I suspect that's why the population doesn't get much exercised over it. The concern over stolen elections and vote tampering, and so on, is mostly an elite affair. Most of the country didn’t seem to care very much. “OK, so the election was stolen.” I mean, if you’re flipping a coin to select a king or something, it doesn’t matter much if the coin is biased. That seems to be the way most people feel about it. And there’s some justification.
In fact, the attitude of the public here towards the political system is very dramatic. I mean, about a third of the population in the United States, according to recent polls, believes that the Bush administration was responsible for 9/11. But they don't think it's a problem, like they don’t think that’s anything to worry about it. Yeah, of course, they’re all crooks and gangsters and murderers, tell us something new, you know. It doesn't have much to do with us. That's a shocking commentary on the state of American democracy.
There's a lot of talk here about, you know, we have a divided country. We have to unify. We need a unifier, somebody who will bring it back together. Red and blue, and so on. That's pretty marginal. It is a divided country. It's divided between public opinion and public policy. A very sharp divide. And on issue after issue, the whole political system is well to the right of the public and public attitudes. And we know a lot about these, because it’s a very well studied topic in the United States.
Just to give one last illustration, I was driving home from work the other day and torturing myself by listening to NPR, and -- I have kind of a masochistic streak I can’t get over. Actually, some day I’m going to sue them. Sometime -- once they got me so angry that I started speeding. I lost control of what I was doing, and I was stopped by a cop, and I was going like 60 miles an hour in a 30 mile zone. Maybe a basis for a civil suit, if there are any lawyers around here. But they had a section on Barack Obama, the great new hope. And it was very exuberant: what a fantastic personality he is and a great candidate, thousands of people coming out. And it went on for about 15 minutes of excited rhetoric. There's only one thing missing. They didn’t say a word about what his policies were on anything. It’s kind of not -- doesn't matter, you know. He’s a unifier. He looks at you when he talks to you. He’s a really decent guy. Great background. OK, that's an election. Bolivia was radically different, and that's a very striking comparison, and it in fact generalizes.
One of the things that’s happened in Latin America in the past several decades is there has been a wave of authentic democratization. Despite US efforts to impede it, it's taken place. However, an unfortunate side effect of it is that as the wave of democratization increased, while support for democracy remained strong in Latin America, support for the elected governments has been declining, steadily declining.
There’s a reasonable explanation for that that was given by an Argentine political scientist, Atilio Boron. He pointed out that the wave of democratization correlated with the neoliberal programs, which are designed to undermine democracy. I don’t have time to talk about it, but every element of them is specifically designed to undermine democracy, to restrict the public arena and participation and so on. So he concludes -- I think plausibly -- that it's not surprising that while a desire to have democracies remains very high, support for the elected government declines, insofar as they follow the programs that are undermining democracy.
Now, there are a few exceptions. The leading exception -- again, Latin American opinion is also pretty carefully polled and studied, so we know a lot about it -- the leading exception is Venezuela. From 1998 to the present, support for the elected government has increased sharply, in pretty dramatic contrast to almost all of Latin America. There are some increases elsewhere. And, in fact, Venezuela leads the continent in support for the elected government. That’s probably why it's called anti-democratic and authoritarian and, you know, dictator, and so on and so forth.
The rhetoric here is kind of interesting. There are authoritarian tendencies, undoubtedly, but depicture of Chavez as a tin-pot dictator -- has destroyed freedom of press and so on -- that's the standard line also in the rightwing press in South America, and believed, in fact, completely inconsistent with the facts.
I mean, take, say, freedom of the press. As you know, there was a coup in Venezuela in the year 2002, supported by the United States. The government was overthrown. It was taken over by Pedro Carmona, a rich businessman, who immediately dissolved parliament, destroyed the supreme court, got rid of the attorney general's office, the public defender. Every vestige of democracy was instantly demolished.
US strongly supported it. The Venezuelan private press, the press, strongly supported it. One of the people who supported the coup was the opposition candidate in the last election. Just another -- other supporters of the coup were a group called Sumate, the group that the US provides aid to for what's called “democracy building.” So the coup was supported by a substantial part of the elite in the society that was backed by the United States, destroyed the democratic system.
It was quickly overthrown by a popular uprising. US had to back off. But what's striking is that the newspapers continue to publish, still continue to attack the government. Rosales, who supported the coup, ran in the election. Sumate, which supported the coup, is functioning, the main recipient of US democracy promotion funds.
Just imagine that that had happened in the United States. Suppose there was a coup that overthrew the government, supported by the leading press, you know, by political figures and so on. Would the press continue to function? I mean, would the supporter of the coup be the opposition candidate in the next election. I mean, it’s unimaginable. They’d all be lined up in front of firing squads. But this is the tin-pot dictator who’s destroying freedom of press, not the first time. But these are quite important developments.
And what they illustrate is a decline in the -- first of all, a move towards integration, independence and authentic democracy with mass popular movements and participation and so on, all extremely important, but also along with it goes a decline in the methods of domination and control. I mean, the US has dominated the region for a long time with two major methods: one of them, violence, and the other, economic strangulation, economic controls. And both of those methods are declining in efficacy.
2002 was the last effort of the United States to overthrow a government. In earlier years, it was routine. And in fact, the governments that the US is now supporting -- say, Lula -- probably would have been overthrown 40 years ago. There's not that much difference between Lula and Goulart, the Brazilian president who was overthrown by the Kennedy-instigated coup. There is a notable decline in the efficacy of violence for control.
And the same is true of economic controls. The main economic controls in recent years have been the IMF, which is virtually a branch of the US Treasury Department. But the countries are freeing themselves of its controls. Argentina basically told the -- Argentina was the poster boy of the IMF. It was a great success story, except that it led to a total complete crash, a terrible crash. Argentina did recover, but by violating IMF rules, refusing to pay its debts, buying up what remained of the debt and “ridding ourselves of the IMF,” as the president put it. They were able to do that, partly with the help of Venezuela, which bought up about a third of the debt, another form of cooperation. Brazil, in its own way, moved in the same direction, freeing itself from the IMF.
Bolivia is now doing it. Bolivia had been, again, a rigorous obedient student of the IMF for about 25 years. It ended up with per capita income lower than when it started. Well, now they’re getting rid of the IMF, too, again with Venezuelan support. And as this proceeds through the -- in fact, the IMF itself is in serious trouble. If you look at the business pages, you’ll notice that its viability is in question, because it's not getting the kinds of funds it used to get from the role it played in what one -- the US executive director of the IMF once called it the credit community’s enforcer. It's like the Mafia. They’re the goons who were sent in to get the payments, the default, and so on. But they're not getting it anymore, and their own funds are running low. They may not survive.
Well, all of this is just one aspect of the weakening of the economic controls, alongside the weakening of the controls of violence, and that's going hand-in-hand with the steps towards integration and independence.
The US has had to have a policy change. There's still a distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys happen to be governments the US probably would have overthrown 40 years ago, like Lula’s Brazil That’s one of the good guys. Morales and Chavez, they’re the bad guys. Well, that's the party line. You’ve read it over and over.
In order to maintain it, it's necessary to finesse some of the facts, like, for example, the fact that when Lula was re-elected in October -- the good guy -- his first act was to fly to Caracas to support Chavez's electoral campaign -- that’s the bad guy. Now, that wasn’t reported in the United States, too remote from the party line. Also, Lula dedicated a Brazilian project in Venezuela, a bridge over the Orinoco River, new development projects, and so on. That’s all the wrong story.
And as I mentioned, as the AP reported, Venezuela has been in the lead of trying to move towards regional integration. That's what Chavez's [Bolivarian] Alternatives for the America is all about -- is supposed to be about, that involves efforts to develop institutions for an integrated South America. Petroamerica is kind of an integrated plan for an integrated energy system of the kind that China is trying to initiate in Asia, also very worrisome to the United States. Telesur is an effort to break through the closely guarded Western media monopoly. It’s a big story in itself. The University of the South, if it takes off, would be an academic center for the Americas, and so on.
Well, the US is kind of losing control. It's not that US policy is changing. The policy has to be adjusted. The US has not given up on means of violence and economic control, but they’re taking new forms. So the training of Latin American officers has, by the US, has gone way up, very sharply in the last few years. And they're being trained differently. The training is being shifted. It's being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon. That's of some significance. When training of Latin American officers is under State Department controls, there's at least theoretically congressional supervision of human rights violations and so on. Not very many teeth in it, but at least it's sort of there.
When training is shifted to the Pentagon, there’s no supervision. You can do anything you want. The missions have been shifted. The current mission is training Latin American officers to deal with what’s called “radical populism.” Anybody who knows the history of Latin America knows what that phrase means. It means priests organizing peasants, union activists, human rights workers, and so on. But that’s familiar in the history, but that’s now the official mission. The US had -- there were restrictions against giving military training and aid to Latin American – any countries, Latin American, in particular – if they didn’t pass legislation exempting US soldiers, US trainers, from trials for crimes. They’ve got to be immune to prosecution. Bush just recently cancelled that, which is pretty significant, because that’s a high priority for the US. But a higher priority – I’ll quote USA Today -- is concern about “leftist victories” in Latin America, proper concern, strong enough to overrule that. So in many respects, the policies are – the fundamental policies are being pursued, but in quite different ways.
With regard to the economic controls, there’s a word for that. It’s now called “free trade agreements.” It’s a term that nobody should use. It’s not a matter of whether you like them or not, but they’re not free trade agreements. They’re certainly not about free trade. When you look at the nature of the agreements, that’s obvious. In fact, to a large extent they’re not about trade at all. They’re about investor rights protection. And they’re certainly not agreements, at least if people are part of their societies, because the people generally overwhelmingly oppose them. But if you look at the nature of those agreements, that’s an effort to reinstitute the economic controls that are being weakened. And that’s understood.
The chief economist of UNCTAD, the major UN development agency -- it’s kind of third world-oriented, which is why it’s marginalized, but it’s a serious agency – the chief economist just called for preventing the next round of so-called trade agreements to be implemented, the Doha Round, came out against it. In the Western press it’s considered a no-brainer: of course you have to institute it. He came out against it, because he said it will lock poorer countries into their state of underdevelopment. Yeah, that’s exactly the point. That’s the new technique for economic control.
Now, for the US, this is all extremely serious, both ideologically and materially. From sort of an ideological point of view – you go back through US planners, US internal documents – always been understood that, as they sometimes put it, if we can’t control Latin America, how are we going to control the rest of the world? You know, Latin America is the easy case. If that gets out of control, the world gets out of control. Serious.
Also, just there’s plain material reasons. Latin America is a major resource base. Its markets – actually it’s the source of a fair amount of American wealth and, in fact, the wealth of some of the richest families. But that’s all uncertain. It’s not certain how that’s going to proceed.
Even the military bases. Correa’s – I don’t know if he’ll do this, but in his electoral campaign, one of his planks was to close down the Manta military base, the last major US military base in South America. Actually, he put it rather nicely. He was asked by the press whether he would close down the base, and he said, well, he would allow it to remain open if the United States allowed Ecuador to put a military base near Miami. But that’s – whether they’ll do it, I don’t know, but that’s what’s going on. That’s part of what’s going on, unreported for the most part.
Well, let’s go back a month earlier: November 1st, 2006. Here, I can’t even quote wire services. I’m just quoting Inter Press Service, which is one of the few services that even reported it. It had to do with Uruguay. Uruguay is also supposed to be one of the good guys. On November 1st, they were preparing for a summit, which took place, “a summit of” – I’m reading now – “high-level delegations from all of the Ibero-American countries.” That means Spain and all of Latin America, then goes through the list, including people like Kofi Annan and others, so not a small meeting. There were several conferences ahead of the summit. One of them, Uruguay hosted a meeting of Ibero-American members of parliament a month earlier, and a conference of ministers responsible for children and youth affairs, also another conference of mayors of major cities in Latin America and Spain.
And they had some interesting themes that they were discussing. One of them was an effort to create a coalition of Latin American and Caribbean cities against racism, discrimination and xenophobia, so extremely significant for all of these regions, as it is for us. There was a debate in Uruguay, sponsored by Uruguayan government, and along with the United Nations and the European Union. It was about the hidden face of migration, 21st century slavery, which turned out to be a major theme of the summit when it was finally held. One of the themes was – I’ll quote it – “down with the walls: migration for the development of all people.” That was a meeting convened by the Uruguayan foreign minister and the Ibero-American general secretariat. And then there was a forum on memory and identity organized by indigenous people, Afro-descendant’s organizations, academics, leaders of social movements, cultural institutions. Its theme was the same: the issue of migration. Well, that was what was going on in October and November in Uruguay, one of the good guys, again, remember.
There was an outcome, but it was watered down. The summit did not pass a strong resolution about these things. The reason is that there’s a conflict between Europe and Latin America. Europe was represented there by Spain. Europe wants to regulate immigration flows and put the burden of regulating them on the countries of origin, forgetting a couple centuries of history that explain why the migration is in one direction and not the other. Latin America doesn’t agree with that. The Latin American position is that there should be – that immigration has to – that the focus should be on human rights of migrants and families and should be separate – these are just a human right, to go wherever you want, and separate it from issues that are brought up to try to justify prevention of immigration, like security issues and drugs, and so on, mostly fabricated. So there is a difference between Europe and Latin America on this, so they could only come out with a weak resolution.
Well, the US position, you know: build a wall, huge wall. Actually, that’s partially -- the issue of controlling movement across borders is partially a response to the 9/11 Commission. As you know, the Bush administration, over great – tried very hard to prevent a governmental commission from being established to investigate what happened and led to 9/11 and what to do about it, but it was finally established. And one of their proposals was, in fact, to improve control over borders. However, they were talking about the Canadian border. They said there is a terrorist threat across the Canadian border. You take a look at a map, you can see why. It’s a huge border, mostly unpatrolled. You know, a couple of us could get together with our meager talents and cross it with a suitcase with a small nuclear bomb in it or something. So they proposed strengthening the Canadian border. They didn’t say anything about the Mexican border, which is not considered a terrorist threat.
The Bush administration reaction was interesting. It was to reduce the growth of border patrol on the Canadian border, where there is a terrorist threat, and to shift it to the Mexican border, where there’s no terrorist threat. Well, another of many indications of what a high priority prevention of terror is. The building of the wall is going on right now, with the Minutemen and everything you read about, but it has a history. The border between the US and Mexico, like most borders, was established by conquest. US conquered half of Mexico. The Mexican – the wealth of the Southwest derives very substantially from Mexicans. If you haven’t read it, Juan Gonzalez has a wonderful book about this. The cattle industry, the sheep industry, the mines, which are very rich in New Mexico and Arizona, it’s all Mexican and Mexican workers. In fact, when the John Wayne and, you know, Ronald Reagan pretend to be cowboys, they’re imitating Mexicans, along with the culture and the wealth. And the border was kind of open, porous. Pretty much the same people lived on both sides. They were visiting their friends and relatives. And it stayed porous, a porous border until 1994.
In 1994, Clinton militarized the border. It was called Operation Gatekeeper, first time it was really militarized. In 1994, something else happened. That’s when NAFTA was passed, was implemented. And there’s a connection. The reasons behind NAFTA were pretty clearly articulated. The main reason was, as they put it, to lock Mexico into the reforms. The reforms are the neoliberal policies that had enriched Mexican elites but devastated Mexico in the 1980s. And you had to lock them in.
And there’s a background to that, too. There was a high-level strategy conference in the Pentagon in 1990, Latin American specialists, government officials, and so on, talking about Mexican-US relations, and concluded the relations were fine. You know, no problem about stolen elections and torture and that sort of marginal thing. But there was a cloud on the horizon: namely, they were concerned that what they called a democracy opening might bring into office a government in Mexico that would challenge the United States on economic and nationalist grounds. And that would be a real threat.
So in order to block the threat of a democracy opening, which might have these consequences, you can impose NAFTA, which will lock Mexico into the programs that Mexican elites and the US had instituted, the neoliberal programs, and then, in case you have the danger of a democratic election, they’ll be locked in by treaty, so there won’t be much they could do about it. That’s part of the structure of the whole neoliberal framework.
Well, Operation Gatekeeper anticipated – not only was it based on past, recent, you know, the immediate analyses that had just been given, but it also was based on what was anticipated. It was anticipated that NAFTA would have the effect of undermining Mexican agriculture and Mexican business. Mexican peasants may be very efficient, but they’re not going to be able to compete with US agribusiness, which is getting huge, maybe 40% of its profit from state subsidies. The US talks free markets, but doesn’t observe them, just like all of its predecessors. And Mexican small businesses are not going to be able to compete with, say, General Motors, which by these mislabeled trade treaties has to be given what’s called “national treatment” in Mexico, like Mexicans don’t get national treatment in the United States, obviously. But the corporations have to be treated like Mexican businesses.
OK, you can predict what the effects of that are going to be. So, one predicted effect is there will be a huge flight from the farms to the cities. There won’t be any work in the cities. People will leave, and they’ll end up trying to come to the rich country upstairs, you know, along with them the many people who are fleeing from the wreckage of Central America after the terrorist wars. So those were pretty good reasons for militarizing the border, which in fact Clinton did the year that NAFTA was implemented.
Venezuela has been a major source of oil for the United States for the last 30 years, ever since the US stopped being the major producer and exporter. And it remains so. The Clinton administration, in its last intelligence projection, year 2000, the proposal they made, the analysis they gave was that the United States should maintain control over Middle East oil for the traditional reasons. It’s a huge source of strategic power. But the United States itself should rely on more reliable Atlantic basin resources. Means West Africa and Latin America, because they’re safer. Make sure we have easy access to them.
Well, you know, when you look back at what’s happening – and it seems true for other resources, but oil’s the primary one – you look back at the global context, it’s not so simple. Right now, the Bush administration, which is pretty remarkable in its capacity to injure seriously even their own interests, let alone others -- it’s a pretty astonishing achievement – has created a situation in which the US might lose control of the world’s major resource, namely Middle East oil, Saudi Arabian, the Gulf, and so on. That’s a serious threat now, thanks to the Iraq catastrophe and other actions. If they also lose control of hemispheric resources, it’s a multiple disaster. And that could be happening.
The Latin American countries, along with their integration and moves towards independence, are also moving towards diversification of their international relations. So the main resource exporters, like Chile and Brazil, are increasingly exporting to China, which is returning the favor by investing in Latin America. And the most serious one is Venezuela, the richest and most important one, because of the oil. It is diversifying its exports, because -- in the face of a very hostile US administration, which is trying to overthrow the government. And China is very happy to step in with investments and purchase of Venezuelan resources, and so on, which undermines further the US domination. Same is happening in the Middle East.
The Bush administration, in its brilliance, decided last spring to insult China. The president of China was here for a state visit, and you may remember that the Bush administration, in order to insult him, arranged for him to have a state lunch, but not a state dinner. Very serious. So he apparently took it kind of quietly, and he went on immediately to return the insult in spades. He flew from Washington to Riyadh, Saudi Arabian capital, where he was welcomed royally, made new trade deals, new investments, plans for taking over more of Saudi Arabian oil, investing there, and even military aid, and so on. Now that’s serious, not like the difference between a state lunch a state dinner.
Well, all of these things are going on, and there are efforts to try to extricate the US from the US power -- doesn’t matter much to the people, but US power -- from the catastrophes it’s created for itself. The most recent such effort, right on the front pages now -- so I’ll keep to that one -- is the Baker-Hamilton report, the Iraq Study Group report, which has some interesting features. Very interesting.
For example, one of its -- it doesn’t have much in the way of proposals -- but the thinking is interesting. So here's one paragraph, refers to recent polls in Iraq. The US government and polling agencies here take regular polls in Iraq. They care a lot about Iraqi opinion. And this points out that recent polling indicates that 79% of Iraqis have a mostly negative view of the influence that the United States has in their country, and 61% of Iraqis -- includes Kurds -- approve of attacks on US-led forces. Well, that's clearly a problem. And we have to deal with that problem by changing tactics, so they'll understand that we really love them and we’re trying to help them and they'll stop thinking they ought to attack us and hating us, and so on. OK, that was the proposal.
There's something missing. The same polls that they cited have some other information, for example, that two-thirds of the people of Baghdad want US troops out immediately, and about over three-quarters of the whole population, including Kurds, again, wants a firm timetable for withdrawal within a year or less. Well, that isn’t mentioned, because in our mission to bring democracy to the world, we don’t care about the opinions of people. They’re kind of irrelevant, so that isn't mentioned. And, of course, there's no timetable for withdrawal. That’s one of the options they rejected.
Also interesting is that the American people are treated the same way. A majority of people here are in favor of a firm timetable for withdrawal. But that's irrelevant, too. In fact, back as far as April 2003, considerable majority of people here in the United States were in favor of keeping US troops there only if they were under UN supervision. The UN ought to take responsibility for security, for economic development, reconstruction, for democratic development, and so on. But that opinion was, of course, totally ignored and, to my knowledge, not even reported.
Now, that continues, if that attitude continues, the next big problem, next to Iraq, is Iran. And the Baker-Hamilton Commission, as you know, gave a recommendation about that. It said the US must somehow engage Iran, but they said that that’s going to be problematic given the state of US-Iranian relationships. Well, the US population has an opinion about that, too. 75% of the population here, including a majority of Republicans, think that the United States ought to keep to diplomatic peaceful measures in engagement with Iran, which they approve of, and not use military threats -- exact opposite of the policy.
The same attitudes are true of the people of the region. They don't like Iran, and they don’t certainly want a nuclear-armed Iran, but a majority of the population of the regional states favors a nuclear-armed Iran to any form of military intervention, just as people here do. Well, that's kind of irrelevant, so that’s also not mentioned in the report.
A third interesting fact about the report is that it says the United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East -- of course, taken for granted they must achieve those goals. It doesn't mean the people of the United States, it means the government and their constituency. The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. And then goes on to say that the US must encourage discussions and so on, but restricting and allowing Palestinians to participate, but only those who accept Israel's right to exist. OK, those are the only Palestinians who can participate. What about Israelis who accept Palestine's right to exist? Well, no point in mentioning them, because there probably aren't any.
And, in fact, there shouldn't be any. No state has a right to exist. It's obvious. In fact, the whole concept, right to exist, as far as I’m aware -- somebody should -- it’s a good research project for someone -- to my knowledge, that concept was created in the 1970s when the Arab States and the PLO accepted, formally accepted -- PLO tacitly, the Arab States formally, the major ones -- formally accepted Israel's right to exist within secure and recognized borders, borrowing the wording of the major UN resolution, UN 242. So it became necessary to raise the barrier to prevent negotiations diplomacy and to allow expansion instead.
And here comes right to exist, which, of course, nobody is going to accept. It means accepting not only the fact of the expulsion of Palestinians, but also its legitimacy. No state in the world is ever going to accept that, any more than Mexico accepts the -- it recognizes the United States, but it does not recognize the legitimacy of the US conquest of half of Mexico -- outlandish.
But even if we reduce it from the crazy notion of right to exist to just recognizing Palestine, how many -- who -- recognizing Israel, suppose we limit Palestinians to those who recognize Israel, which Israelis recognize Palestine? Does the United States recognize Palestine? I mean, I won’t run through the history here, but for 30 years, the US and Israel have, with rare exceptions, been unilaterally preventing the establishment of a broad international consensus on a two-state settlement. I mean, they're willing now, in the last couple of years, only the last couple of years, to accept a very truncated Palestine that’s dismembered, surrounded -- no chance of viable existence. Maybe they'll recognize that. A couple of Bantustans, but not any viable state. But that doesn’t enter into discussion. We’re not concerned with such things.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I was told the other day by my mother that many of my blog entries were rather dark and depressing and I felt that maybe I was giving the wrong impression about my time here in El Salvador. I am having a great time. There is no doubt that many of the things I experience here are hard. The injustice, the lingering effects of the war in the minds of people, the harsh reality of people living with HIV-AIDS. The other day, in fact, I went to visit a woman named Blanca living with HIV-AIDS. And when I looked into her blind, bloody eyes and tried to speak into her deaf ears and listened to her slurred speech coming from her blistered, painful lips, I felt that I was looking at death itself. But not just death like the peaceful type that many old people go through, but the death that results from injustice and from inequality. That woman, as every other women in our HIV program and probably the vast majority of women with HIV in the world, was a loving, faithful wife who was given AIDS by her machista, unfaithful husband. And though AIDS is a controllable disease, because she is poor and dark skinned she is denied right to the drugs that could prolong her life and give her hope to see her three children grow old...
But alas, not all is dreary and sad. Because as I touched her hand, she squeezed it in friendship. And I played with her children and I met her father who is an example of a truly good man who loves his family and cares for them.
What is hope? I don´t like to have some false hope that my vision of what I want the world to be will come true. That type of hope leads to deception and depression because in the end this world is so fucked up that all the dark and hateful things that I want to see ended will never all come true. So, I don´t hope to change the world. Thus, I have two ideas of what hope is for me. One, as a person who believes in Jesus of Nazareth, I believe that he was killed by all the powers of evil who were threatened by his message. But his resurrection signalled the begining of the new Reign of God amongst the people. It is hope for the poor, oppressed, sad, and the rest of the Beatitudes. Thus, without being to ignorant, I do believe that the Reign of God is among us who choose to live it and that should bring us hope because the Reign of God is a future promise and a present reality. Two, I really like the Hindu-Buddhist idea of not being attached to the fruit of one´s actions. What I do, I do not do in order to see results. I am not working with people who have HIV because I believe that one day pharmaceutical companies will get their shit together and see that the lives of people are more important than their profit and make ARVs available to all. Thus, I am not set up for disappointment. And thus what is left is the day to day experiences filled with joys and sadnesses, relationships and struggles. And always, in this I find so much more joy and relationships amongst the poor. So thus, though I write about many dark things perhaps, I do so because it is my way of letting go of those things that I alone cannot change and accepting the little joys of building relationships amongst the poorest of the poor who every day I struggle to see the face of Christ in them.
So yes mother, despite all the struggles, I am happy....
Last weekend I had the privilege of being amongst a group of people dedicated to remembering the past. Perhaps I have commented before, or maybe not, I forget, but here in El Salvador people remember. They remember the war, they remember their lost ones, they remember their triumphs and their defeats. And most of all, they make it a case to remember those who the rest of the world want us to forget. Or better yet, they remember those who the powerful and the rich and the oppresors want us to never even believed existed.
Last weekend I went with a group from work to Mozote, El Salvador--a small, peaceful town nestled within the mountains near the Honduras border. Beautiful, yet tainted with blood. We were there to celebrate (or perhaps that is not the right word) the 25th aniversary of the massacre committed by the El Salvadoran armed forces in 1981 against the campesino population. 1,000 people, the majority women and children, were corralled into their houses and then all killed. The army was working under the stategy that if you get rid of the water, then the fish can´t live. Meaning to say that since the guerilla survived amongst the rural campesinos, if they could kill off all the campesinos, then the guerillas would be rendered impotent. An interesting strategy no doubt, learned by the army leaders taught at the School of Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia and trained and counseled by the U.S. army commanders in El Salvador at the time as purely ¨logistical¨help.
And obviously it should be found by all of as evil and sickening that people could do such a thing. But what brings me the most sadness is that 25 years later neither the government of the U.S. nor the government of El Salvador have admitted to the massacre ever taking place. One woman survived, and she was there last weekend as a lone voice trying to convince the world of what her eyes saw and of what so many want her to deny ever happening.
I always thought it was rather useless when I hear of governments this day in age apologizing for what they committed in the past. For example, when the U.S. government apologizes to the Native Americans for the largest genocide ever to take place or when any number of European governments apologize to the Jews, it seems so symbolic and useless. But I am realizing now that it is a first step. If one refuses to realize and admit to the reality of the past, then nothing changes. Santanya once wrote that those who don´t know history are condemned to repeat it. And I look at El Salvador, and I know that it is true because it continues to happen to this day. Perhaps the violence has changed. Perhaps now there is no opèn civil war for the whole world to see, but the government continues to oppress a large part of the population through economic, political, and social policies where the millions of dollars of the rich are seen as more important than the bread on the table of a poor campesino family. And the same thing is happening today. The government is refusing to acknowledge that their policies are bringing millions of people into the violence of poverty. Rather, they proudly announce that El Salvador and it´s new economy has lifted it out of the status of the Third World. And that does not only deny the reality that so many live, but it also directly hurts them. The Global Fund for HIV-AIDS is denying El Salvador needed funds to combat the growing HIV pandemic because of the government´s self published statistics as a modern country.
But within this country, the people refuse to forget. They refuse to let the powerful and the rich erase their history, and thus it is them and them alone who have the ability to not continue repeating the sad history that this country has lived. With them, hope resides, because they refuse to forget.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

From Norman Morrison to Malachi Ritscher
Self-Immolation as Anti-War Protest
"When you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, dead babies just come with the scenery"
Chrissie Hynde, from "Middle of the Road", by The Pretenders
In November of 2005, the United States used white phosphorus munitions against the people of Fallujah, Iraq. Jeff Englehart, a former marine who spent two days in Fallujah during the battle, said he heard the order go out over military communication that WP was to be dropped. Mr Englehart, now an outspoken critic of the war, says: "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it's known as Willy Pete ... Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children." (as reported by Andrew Buncombe and Solomon Hughes: 15 November 2005, The Independent)
On November 3, 2006, on an off-ramp during rush hour in Chicago, Malachi Ritscher immolated himself. News reports have made much of the fact that his death had no immediate impact, since he was not identified for many days, and because the national news did not pick it up for several weeks. He is characterized as a troubled man. These are the words he left behind in his suicide note: "Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country... If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."
In March of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the use of napalm against the people of Vietnam. Napalm is a burning gel that sticks to the skin, and made flame throwers and incendiary explosives a staple of the US arsenal against Vietnam. A Business Week article (February 10, 1969) termed the chemical "the fiery essence of all that is horrible about the war in Vietnam."
On November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison immolated himself within sight of Robert McNamara's window at the Pentagon, to protest the war in Vietnam. Norman did not leave a suicide note. His friend John Roemer described his action as follows, "I don't know. I don't know. He fought the war more and more deeply. I mean, when are you one of the Germans?...You have to be mentally different to fly in the face of received wisdom in this country. He played it out in his mind, I think, in terms of being a moral witness", and, "In a society where it is normal for human beings to drop bombs on human targets, where it is normal to spend 50 percent of the individual's tax dollar on war, where it is have twelve times overkill capacity, Norman Morrison was not normal. He said, 'Let it stop' ".
The Vietnamese canonized Norman Morrison. Streets were named after him, a postage stamp was printed with his image, poems were written in his memory. The most quoted, by To Huu, includes this stanza:
McNamara!Where are you hiding? In the graveyardOf your five-cornered houseEach corner a continent.You hide yourselfFrom the flaming worldAs an ostrich hides its head in theburning sand.
Norman was one of several people who chose to become a victim of the fire of the Vietnam War. Others include Vietnamese Buddhist monks, Quang Duc, June 1963, in Saigon; an unnamed monk in Phanthiet, August, 1963; Thich Nu Thanh Quang, in Hue, 1966. Each death galvanized opinion and resistance to the war within Vietnam. On March 16, 1965, Alice Herz, an 82 year old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner. She stated in her suicide note, that she was protesting "the use of high office by our President, L.B.J., in trying to wipe out small nations." And "I wanted to call attention to this problem by choosing the illuminating death of a Buddhist." A week after Norman Morrison's death, Roger LaPorte burned himself in protest in front of the United Nations in New York. In May of 1970, George Winne, Jr., burned himself in protest of the Vietnam War on the University of California campus in San Diego. (See Frances Farmer's Revenge.)
Coverage of the sacrifice of Malachi Ritscher has been obsessively concerned with his sanity. The AP article on his death includes this conclusion, "Mental health experts say virtually no suicides occur without some kind of a diagnosable mental illness." Our government and its experts expect that rational citizens living rational United States lives understand that the burning of civilians is just part of the scenery, a necessary element of foreign policy. A person who actually takes responsibility for the purposes to which his/her tax monies are being devoted is by definition insane. It is a world turned upside down, in which torture, napalm and white phosphorus are "legal", and peaceful protest criminal. It is no mystery to me that there are human souls who cannot bear the light of truth, and choose to join the victims of our culture's madness.
She is in the horizon
I encroach two steps forward,
She recedes two more steps back,
I walk ten steps and
The horizon runs
Ten steps further.
For all that I walk
I never can reach her.
For what purpose then does Utopia exist?
This is it's purpose:
To walk

Eduardo Galeano

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving day was spent amongst a group of about 30 Guatemalan youth in the highlands of AltaVerapaz, Guatemala. In that group of 30 youth, 4 languages and 3 countries were represented. I wonder if anyone reading this has caught on to the irony of that. Thanksgiving Day is historically the day when we white people try to calm our historical consciences by lying to ourselves. We try to forget the worst genocide in history by creating a day of giving thanks for our blessings, instead of understanding the history and how it´s effects ripple into contemporary life amongst indigenous peoples in this hemisphere. Thus this is the irony that I see and that I feel privileged to have experienced: Whereas Thanksgiving historically has meant to me to be a marker of the beginning of indigenous genocide and our justification of such through distortions of historically reality, this Thanksgiving Day I was able to spend amongst a group of indigenous youth where the prescence of their faces and their existence could not be overlooked. Their simple prescence made the Thanksgiving story that we teach our children in kindergarten come true. But this time, that story was told to me in its harsh truth.
I woke up every morning these last couple of days to an ensemble of three indigenous languages laughing and blending with the tones of Spanish as well. I saw a group of Ke´chi girls who were to timid to even look in the face of a stranger because life and the history of life had taught them and their ancestors to be submissive. But I also groups of Su´tuil and Ixiil youth be bold enough to be challenged and to learn about how to be agents of service amongst their communities. And for that, I give so much thanks......