All posts by Alex Anfruns

In Nicaragua, is Operation “Contra bis” failing?

Thrown under the spotlight since mid-April, the homeland of Sandino is still facing an intense political crisis. From now on, the crisis seems to be approaching its final resolution. On the one hand, the Nicaraguan people are mobilizing more and more alongside the authorities to help them dismantle barricades in insurgent spots. And on the other hand, in one week two big demonstrations for peace took place. Against the wishes of an opposition camp and spokespersons of the US administration, the message of Daniel Ortega during the march for peace of July 7 in Managua was crystal clear: “Here it is the people who set the rules in the Constitution of the Republic. They will not change overnight by the will of some coup leaders. If the putschists want to come to the government, let them seek the people’s vote in the next elections. With all the destruction they have provoked, we will see what support they will have.” But these facts are minimized by the private media and major news agencies, which continue to hide the evolution on the ground and blow on the embers of the dispute. Which side will tip the scales?

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A dreadful propaganda scheme

In a recent article, I examined a number of contradictions in the treatment by international media of Nicaragua. Notably, one can recognize one of the principles of war propaganda which is to reverse the aggressor and the victim. The scheme works as follows: first, an opposition sector, one that refuses dialogue with the government, plans to control some parts of the capital and other cities by means of barricades. These areas are then considered “liberated from tyranny”, and thus represent the hearth of insurgency that must recur throughout the country, to defeat the operations of “repression” of police forces. This tactic of deploying barricades has been theorized as an effective means of preventing the authorities from gaining control over the national territory, because it is “impossible for the government to have enough personnel to control every inch of the country”. The first obvious thing to emphasize is that this is not a completely spontaneous crisis that emerges from a massive popular mobilization, but that there is indeed an insurrectional plan in place capable of standing up to the authorities for months. We are witnessing the first phase in the development of an unconventional war to overthrow a democratically elected government.

Then, a number of clashes take place in these areas “liberated” by the opposition. At this point, it is not trivial to note that the activists who defend these barricades are no longer peaceful protesters that the mainstream media has portrayed. Images of hooded youths handling homemade mortars and other explosive devices are impossible to conceal. In fact, they even contribute to the creation of a “romantic” dimension of popular resistance in the context of face-to-face contact with the professional police corps. This is where the second phase of the unconventional war comes in, namely, the decisive role of media corporations that contribute to the production of a dominant and one-sided narrative of the crisis. It is easier to identify with a young demonstrator who is rebelling than a young police officer compelled to use force to enforce the law. Thus, when there have been deaths around the barricades, it becomes complicated for an outside observer to know the truth.

Who is not concerned with these victims?

A simple and quick tour of private media news will make anyone realize that the idealized dimension mentioned above serves only to delegitimize government action. No one is asking themselves this simple question: “Was the victim a pro-government Sandinista helping the police dismantle the barricades, or an opponent who defended them?” Many testimonies in favor of the first version have been systematically dismissed! Indeed, the role of the private media is fundamental in order to give maximum credibility to the opposition’s side of the story. Would the latter be manipulating the victims’ memory with the complicity of some private media in Nicaragua? This is quite a strong point for us: what about the many cases of victims whose membership in the pro-government camp has been proven?

In the framework of the peace talks, the Nicaraguan government first accepted that the IACHR (Note: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, organ of the Organization of American States (OAS)) lead a human rights observation mission. But it went on to denounce that its report does not include the description of many cases of attacks against civilian victims, including public officials, as a result of the violence unleashed by the opposition. Are the dice loaded? Here are some recent examples that illustrate a much more nuanced situation than that described by some media:

– On June 19, the authorities launch an operation in Masaya to release the Deputy Director of the National Police Ramon Avellan and his agents, who were entrenched in the police station, surrounded by barricades since June 2. Every night, protesters fired mortar at the police station, accompanied by threats: “What do you think? That there were only “güevones” (rascals) in this fight? Here again, here is my little sister… ” Then, the mortar fire would start again near the police station… Under the pretext of playful action, a video shows how protesters positioned behind a barricade sing menacing songs against General Avellan, accompanied by shots. According to the Pro-Human Rights Nicaraguan Association ANPDH organization, as a result of the police rescue operation, six people – including three whose identity remains to be verified – were murdered in several surrounding neighborhoods.

– On June 30, in the context of an opposition march, a protester was shot dead. Recorded a few minutes before the tragedy by a journalist who was there, a video shows how opposition members surround a private security officer and ask him to hand over his weapon, simulating a hostage situation in order to justify their action. Then, the images show a person who stands behind the agent, points a pistol at his temple and steals his rifle. Later, the protesters will attribute the death to government repression.

– On July 3, two people were kidnapped in Jinotepe by a group of armed hooded men: police major Erlin García Cortez and Enacal worker Erasmo Palacios. Three days later, Bismarck de Jesús Martínez Sánchez, a worker from the Managua City Hall, was also kidnapped. A week later, relatives had still not received any sign of life from them.

– On July 5, the lifeless body of National Police officer Yadira Ramos was found in Jinotepe. She had been kidnapped, raped and tortured. She had been forced to get off her vehicle and her husband had been killed on the spot.

– On July 6, FSLN member Roberto Castillo Cruz was killed by opposition hoodlums who held barricades in Jinotepe. His son, Christopher Castillo Rosales had been killed just a week before him. In a video published shortly before his own murder, Castillo Cruz denounced the murderers: “This criminal gang of the right has killed my son, I only ask for justice and that peace prevails so that our children do not lose their lives!”

– On July 8, during a nighttime clash in Matagalpa, a 55-year-old man named Aran Molina was killed while rescuing Lalo Soza, a Sandinista activist who was under attack. The following day, Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) paid tribute to him through a procession. The same day, two other people were killed: social worker Tirzo Ramón Mendoza, executed by hooded people after being kidnapped, and a third victim whose identity remains unknown.

– On 9 July, the authorities dismantled the barricades that prevented free movement in the towns of Diriamba and Jinotepe. Many residents then testified about the many violent actions of the opposition, including torture against the Sandinistas. At the same time, representatives of the Episcopal Conference arrived. Citizens of Jinotepe then entered the church, where they found opposition members disguised as members of the clergy. Residents accused church officials of protecting them and not saying anything or doing anything to stop the violence unleashed in the last two months. In Diriamba, the inhabitants also discovered an arsenal of mortars hidden in the church of San Sebastian.

– On July 12, a criminal gang attacked the Morrito Town Hall in Rio San Juan. A historical Sandinista fighter, Carlos Hernandez, was kidnapped there. Seriously wounded and unable to escape, a youth Sandinista activist, two police officers and their superiors are murdered. A Sandinista activist received a bullet in the abdomen. Later, schoolmaster Marvin Ugarte Campos would succumb to his injuries. The version of the opposition? It says the massacre was … a “self-attack by paramilitaries”!

It seems that some deaths and violent acts have no value, while others are erected as martyrs for a sacred cause. In the end, does everything depend on the prism through which we look at reality? Are we already placed in a camp in a conflict without knowing it or even suspecting it? In this case, would it be a waste of time to try to form one’s own opinion from fact analysis? The search for peace and truth prevents us from succumbing to such resignation.

In a remarkable 46-page work entitled “The monopoly of death – how to inflate figures to assign them to the government”, Enrique Hendrix identified the numerous inconsistencies in the various reports presented by the three main human rights organizations, the CENIDH (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights), the IACHR and the ANPDH. Comparing the various reports from the beginning of the crisis to the date of the last reports presented (from April 18 to June 25), he concluded that the three organizations recorded a total of 293 deaths. In 26% of cases (77 citizens), information on the deaths is incomplete and remains to be verified. In 21% of cases (60 citizens), the dead are persons murdered by the opposition, either public officials or Sandinista militants who were murdered for helping the authorities dismantle the barricades. In 20% of the cases (59 citizens), the dead were protesters, opposition members or people who erected barricades. In 17% of cases (51 citizens), the dead do not have a direct relationship with the demonstrations. Finally in 16% of the cases (46 citizens), the dead were passers-by who did not take part in the clashes.

As can be seen in this study, the balance sheets of these organizations are sorely lacking in rigor and mix all sorts of victims (fights between gangs, road accidents, murders in the context of vehicle theft, conflict between land owners, police officers, a pregnant woman in an ambulance blocked by barricades …). Conclusion: if we take into account the exact circumstances of each death, it is obvious that we cannot attribute the responsibility to the government alone. In light of these elements, we have the right to challenge the international media about their lack of objectivity. Why such an alignment with a sector of the opposition who has declared itself fiercely hostile to any dialogue?

Who is not interested in dialogue?

This propaganda mechanism is completed by the “blackout” of other information that is not considered relevant. However, while the media focuses on the clashes, other sectors of the opposition continue to participate in the various sessions of the “dialogue tables for truth, peace and justice”, organized to listen to different points of view and seek to establish responsibility in the wave of violence ravaging the country. Moreover, the final conclusions of the various human rights observation missions in the country had not yet been made. They were to be discussed and include new elements. But what can we expect from the dialogue between the two parties, when a number of observers have already decided in advance that the government alone is responsible for the violence?

All over the world, the role of the police is to repress in case of “disturbance of public order”. But we struggle to understand why the authorities would order it to attack civilians wildly and arbitrarily at the same time as the peace dialogue is taking place. On the other hand, one could expect such an attitude from those who, refusing to participate in the dialogues, would seek to sabotage it, having an interest in the derailment of this process. In this case, it is not unlikely that hooded thugs have been posing as police forces on several occasions.

In any case, it is no less credible than the version of these same hooded thugs, who say that the government of Daniel Ortega would have given the green light to disguised civilians to destroy infrastructure and kill other civilians! Still, the government did not deny that at the beginning of the crisis some police officers sometimes acted using disproportionate violence, and it responded that justice will have to determine their responsibility in actions punishable by law. The National Assembly, for its part, has launched an initiative to create a “Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace” with the aim of reporting on the responsibilities of human rights violations within three months.

But in the fairy tale that the mainstream media is manufacturing from dawn to dusk, and on the internet 24 hours a day, it is not even conceivable that the government of Nicaragua is facing difficulties whose causes would be complex and numerous. The media hype and the positions of foreign political figures serve as irrefutable proof! As has been the case in Venezuela in recent years, taking the public hostage in this way is an insult to its intelligence. Of course, not everything is explained by the tentacles of the imperialist octopus. But for those who are interested in the history of inter-American relations for the last two centuries, it is not serious to forget about its weight and consider that this influence is a thing of the past.

How to export democracy in dollars

It seems that few observers are really shocked by the rapid progression of these events, which are shaped like a breadcrumb trail towards a single objective: condemning the Ortega government and demanding early elections. That’s where the hiccup is: Latin American countries where assassinations of trade unionists, peasants and social leaders have been a common thing for years, where the peace efforts of governments are considered, at best, as totally ineffective, and at worst as non-existent, such as Colombia, Honduras or Mexico, are not at all worried about the image of their “democracies”. There is something wrong, isn’t it? To shed some light on this mystery, a reminder of the history of the twentieth century is worth the detour.

The coups and destabilizations fomented from abroad, such as in the Dominican Republic or in Guatemala, show that in the second half of the 20th century the Latin-American context was still marked by the military interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine and the “manifest destiny” of the United States. It was nothing more than an imperialist policy of controlling the resources and raw materials of Latin America, now presented as an anticommunist “crusade” in the context of the Cold War. On the other hand, the dominance of the United States would not be limited to a demonstration of force based on the “regime change” and the sending of troops on the ground, but it would also take forms of cultural domination, in particular through the so-called “development aid” policies.

In his speech in January 1949, US President Harry Truman described non-industrialized countries as “underdeveloped” countries. Thus, in 1950, the American Congress passed an Act for International Development (AID). On September 4, 1961, a US Congress law replaced the AID by USAID, which was to implement a new, more comprehensive vision of “development assistance” directed anywhere in the planet. As can be seen in the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the anti-communist struggle was only a pretext. The main concern of the US government was to prevent the development of national consciousness within the armies and police of “underdeveloped countries”. That is why, from 1950 to 1967, “the United States government spent more than $1,500 million on military aid to Latin American countries.”1

After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, John Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress in 1961. It was a similar initiative to the Marshall Plan in Europe. Between 1961 and 1970, the Alliance for Progress provided $20 billion in economic assistance to Latin America. One of the objectives was the stabilization of the regimes that fought against communism and the influence of Cuba.

John F. Kennedy and his advisers are developing an action plan for the region, the Alliance for Progress, consisting of a $ 20 billion investments for economic development and massive military assistance. The decade of the sixties is marked by the formation of a new generation of Latin American military and the transfer of capital and technology from the US military to Latin America. The Pentagon and the CIA draw their strategy to halt the advance of socialism: the US Army-run Panama School trains the cadres of the Latin American armed forces.2

Under the fallacious concept of “development aid policies”, the “creation of strong armies and police” and “military aid to reactionary and pro-imperialist regimes” served to offer to the monopolies “the most favorable conditions of exploitation of underdeveloped countries “.3 In other words, this “aid” represented above all a political weapon in favor of the economic interests of the countries of the Global North. These were represented in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), founded in 1961 and also known as the “Rich Country Club”. It consisted of 27 countries, mostly those of North America, Western Europe and Japan.

Resistance emerges sooner or later

But the new reality resulting from decolonization in Asia and Africa also represented an awareness: the strength of the liberated countries now resided in their unity. This would enable them to exercise some orientation on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, and to defend the autonomous “right to development”. Thus, in the 1970s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would play an important role in defending the interests of the Group 77. Created in 1964, UNCTAD was characterized by the Common Declaration of the 77 countries as a “historic turning point”.

The invasion and the military occupation of Nicaragua by the United States makes it possible to better appreciate the historical value of the Sandinista Popular Revolution and the resistance to the interferences which it showed in the 1980s. The scandal of the financing of Contras by the CIA through the drug trade in Central America was proof that these plans are not infallible. Despite the many interferences and destabilizations suffered throughout history, the peoples of the South have an advantage over the powerful: collective memory and intelligence.

After the dictatorships’ repression, the debt crisis and the rule of the IMF in the 1970s and 1980s, Latin America was to experience many social revolts in the 1990s, paving the way for the arrival of new progressive governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela or Bolivia. The next step was to launch the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a regional cooperation body created in 2004 to defeat the proposed Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas (ALCA in Spanish) by the United States.

What remains today of yesterday’s meddling?

Since the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, US aid no longer had the pretext of restraining communism. It then took the form of “counter-terrorism” or “security and anti-drug policies”. Here are the main recipients of US aid in Latin America: $9.5 billion for Colombia; $2.9 billion for Mexico; and since 2016, aid to all countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) has exceeded that of the first two. Which explains why we systematically condemn some countries and not others… regardless of reality and the degree of violence.

Yet the Cold War is not over in the minds of some. Thus, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro believes it is necessary in 2018 to comply with White House requirements, and to harass night and day countries such as Nicaragua or Venezuela at the risk of being ridiculed. Indeed, when in a special session of the OAS the US spokesperson has just criticized the violence in Nicaragua and attributed it exclusively to the government, can we take his word for it? It would be better to remind him that his country does not have the slightest legitimacy to talk about Nicaragua, because it invaded and occupied it militarily for 21 years, then went on to support the clan of the dictator Somoza for another 43 years!

The “conservative restoration” of recent years, with the “soft coups” to overthrow Lugo in Paraguay, Zelaya in Honduras, Rousseff in Brazil; the failure of the peace process in Colombia, the judicial persecution against Jorge Glas, Lula Da Silva and now Rafael Correa, is the ideal context for the OAS, this obsolete organization, to try to put an end to the memory of the social achievements of recent years.

Since the US did not invent hot water, to reach their ends they must use the means at hand. Unsurprisingly, Freedom House, funded among others by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), decided to create a special task force to fight the FSLN in Nicaragua in 1988. It is always opportune to hear NED Co-Founder Allen Weinstein: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA. The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential is close to zero. Openness is its own protection.”4

Today, the interference keeps going through the financing of opposition movements, framed by training programs for “young leaders” ready to defend tooth and nail the values ​​of the sacrosanct “democracy” and to overthrow “dictatorships” from their countries of origin. From 2014 to 2017, the NED has dedicated up to $4.2 million to Nicaraguan organizations such as IEEPP (Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy), CPDHN (Human Rights Permanent Commission in Nicaragua), Invermedia, Hagamos Democracia and Fundacion Nicaraguense para el Desarrollo Economico y Social. When we remind this to young opponents and their sympathisers, they pretend not to understand…

While it may have been extremely effective in some countries like Ukraine in 2014, the pattern we have described must be confronted with the reality and political traditions of each country. In Nicaragua, the FSLN is the dominant political force that has won democratically in the last three elections. It is significant that opposition sectors that rely on the support of the US, the right wing, and local employers are forced to use references to Sandinismo in an attempt to gain credibility. However, this practice goes too far when it tries to compare the Sandinista government and the dictatorship of Somoza, thus demonizing Daniel Ortega.

The march for peace convened by the FSLN on July 13, in tribute to the 39th anniversary of the historic “tactical retreat” of Sandinism in Masaya, was a new show of strength of the Nicaraguan people and its willingness to defeat the violent strategy of the opposition. Will the peoples of the world live up to the solidarity that this moment demands?

• First published at Investig’Action

  1. Yves Fuchs; La coopération. Aide ou néo-colonialisme ? Editions Sociales. Paris, 1973, pp. 55 (Cooperation. Help or neo-colonialism?).
  2. Claude Lacaille; En Mission dans la Tourmente des Dictatures. Haïti, Equateur, Chili : 1965-1986. Novalis, Montreal, 2014. p 23. (In Mission in the Torment of Dictators. Haiti, Ecuador, Chile: 1965-1986).
  3. Gustavo Esteva, “Desarrollo” in SachsWolfgang (coord.) Diccionario del Desarrollo, Lima, PRATEC, 1996. p. 52.
  4. Washington Post, 22 September 1991.

Nicaragua: Terrorism as an Art of Demonstrating

For two months, Nicaragua has been through a major political crisis, fueled by clashes between law enforcement and an insurgency. Humanitarian organizations report a terrifying record of nearly 200 deaths. This violence, compromising the attempts of political negotiations, makes it necessary to understand who has interest in paralyzing this Central America country. What are the motivations of protesters and opposition forces? Is the Nicaraguan government the symbol of absolute tyranny?

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It was a pension reform project that started the fire. To avoid privatizing social security as recommended by the IMF, the government wanted to increase contributions for both workers and employers. Faced with a public outcry, the government backtracked and withdrew its reform plan. But the protests continued without anyone being able to understand what was their objective. In order to stop the cycle of violence, government spokesmen called on the protesters to participate in peace commissions. They insisted on their willingness to listen to the various demands and to promote the expression of political opposition. To no avail. Calls for dialogue from the government have been shunned.

They were even perceived as a sign of weakness, galvanizing the young protesters of the M-19 movement. With no program, this movement simply calls for overthrowing the “dictatorship” accused of being at the origin of the “repression”. Moreover, the international media aligned themselves without reserve with these demonstrators, regarded as the quintessence of the civil society, in spite of their nihilism and extremism. But the attitude of the M-19 raises questions. By refusing any political solution and promoting violence, the movement offers an ideal motive for the proponents of “regime change” and “constructive chaos” already applied in countries like Libya, Iraq or Ukraine

On 14 June, the M-19 operation consisting of deploying “tranques” (barricades) in certain areas of the capital Managua, as well as in nearby cities such as Masaya or Granada, was supported by a “national strike” of 24 hours. This strike was convened by COSEP, the main employers’ organization. Yes, in Nicaragua, it is the bosses who call to strike! The world upside down? The fact remains that neither the majority of workers, nor the small and medium-sized enterprises followed suit. But it allowed an evaluation of the balance of power as well as maintaining the pressure until the next phase. On June 16, the day when the peace dialogue between the opposition and the government was to be revived, a new episode of extreme violence made the front pages of the international media.

The macabre fire of the Velasquez house

First, the facts. On June 16, a group of hooded people set fire to a building in Managua using Molotov cocktails, causing seven deaths, including a two-year-old child and a five-month-old baby. A mattress store occupied the ground floor of the building while the owner and his family lived on the first floor. Neighbors said they saw hoodlums throw their cocktails at the building, and said some shooters would have prevented the family from escaping. Accident as a possible cause was therefore immediately rejected.

But private media like Televisa or BBC immediately seized the case to blame the authorities for the crime. According to their information, paramilitaries on government payroll wanted to use the roof of the building to post snipers; the paramilitaries, having been denied access by the homeowner, would have locked him up in his residence with his family before setting it on fire. This is the same thesis defended by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which pointed out “their complicity with the national police”. For other governments, this argument would appear simplistic, implausible and irrational. Who would have defended the idea that the British government was behind the fire of the Grenfell tower for example? But in the case of Nicaragua, the complicity or even the responsibility of the government is put forth as a matter of fact.

To give credit to the story, the BBC used the testimony of the only survivor in the family: “Hooded people came with police officers and locked up nine people in a room on the second floor and burned us alive.” According to the same testimony, the offenders carried “mortars, weapons, and Molotov bombs”. We can only respect the bereavement of the survivor. But it cannot be dismissed that under shock, and calling for divine justice, she felt the need to find an immediate culprit. This is why it cannot be excluded that her testimony has been influenced in any way so as to channel her anger and to politically exploit it. In an effort to get closer to the truth, it is necessary to look for additional information and to cross-check them with other testimonies and documents.

The problem is that observers are facing a real war of images. Filmed from the balcony of the house burned, an amateur video was immediately relayed on social media. It aims at reinforcing the thesis of police forces and para-police organizations participation. Filmed by the eldest son of the family, Alfredo Pavon, one of the victims of the fire, this video is certainly interesting. But we see only a convoy of five police vans stopping near the house after a motorcycle chase, after which the police fires some warning shots and arrests a young biker. Hard to turn this into evidence. This document is nevertheless used to sow doubt, or even to point at the authorities as being responsible for the crime. Widely shared by the media in the aftermath of the crime, the video continues to be broadcast in a loop and feed hate comments…

However, these images have, in fact, been taken out of context: the recording was made on April 21, that is, at the very beginning of this crisis. What it reveals above all is that this precise area had been the scene of clashes between the two camps since the beginning of the crisis. This corresponds to information sent by Nicaraguan citizens, which indicates that the Carlos Marx district is controlled by the opposition. Indeed, it is hard to believe, as the opposition says, that police forces have surrounded the same neighborhood for two months, without being able to quell the protest movement until June 16, when they finally decided to use the roof of the Velasquez family to post snipers. And that’s not all. According to the same version, short of obtaining the family’s approval, the authorities acted brutally by setting the house on fire, without anticipating that it would cause a resurgence of tensions instead of calming them down.

Not really intimidated by the crime in the Velasquez house, four members of the M-19 were present on the scene the same day, to record a video where they accuse the government of “state terrorism” and call to support their movement. They take the opportunity to send a message to the negotiation table: “We are not going to remove the barricades, they are in our hands and those of the people, and we will not take them off. I want you to know: if the people do not unite, it will end up in new massacres like this one”. But have their accusations, carried by certain media and Internet users on social media, been the subject of a real inquiry gathering enough facts?

Retaliation against the right to work?

A journalist at TeleSur, Madelein Garcia reports a completely different version: the people responsible for the fire are “delinquents recruited by the opposition”, “hooded men who attacked with mortars and Molotov cocktails the family home, after reading in a media that snipers of the police were hiding there.” Garcia explains that according to a friend of the family, “the hooded men asked for mattresses, the owner refused and that’s when they burned the house for revenge.”

Moreover, a disturbing screen shot of the April 19 movement was relayed via social media, including several photos of the owner of the premises, the father Velasquez Pavon, accompanied by explicit threats against him. The document dates from 2 days before the fire, that is to say at the time of the strike organized by COSEP. The commentary indicates that he did not respect the strike directive, preferring to continue working. In the eyes of his attackers, that would have been enough to make him automatically suspicious of sympathy with the government. The M-19 would have then relayed the identity and address of one of the future victims, threatening to “disappear” these “infiltrated” Sandinistas who “refuse to strike by pretending to support the people”.

Since the release of this document, it appears that the text and photos have been removed from the account, the group administrators explaining that it could be a forgery. An explanation that did not convince everyone: some remember seeing these photos before the day of the fire, and point out that the area was under the control of the opposition, including through the “tranques” (barricades).

Who to believe? We only have amateur videos published by Velasquez Pavon on his Facebook account in recent months. He proudly presents his mattress making workshop and says he works tirelessly. Would the small business owner Velasquez Pavon have been the target of opposition or paramilitary forces? Two days after the employers’ strike, would there have been any reprisals against the right to work of the Nicaraguan people? The dead do not speak; it is difficult to answer these questions. But respect for the victims requires a real independent investigation, which is incompatible with political and media manipulation.

Who wants to eliminate the Sandinistas?

Without the same outrage from the media, other killings and attacks have clearly targeted citizens and buildings associated with Sandinismo.

On the same day that the Velasquez house was burned, a funeral home located a few meters from the house was also ransacked and set on fire.

Still near the scene of the incident, two men were spotted in the street dismantling the barricades of the opposition. They were shot dead on the spot. The killers sprinkled gasoline on one of the corpses and set it on fire. Before leaving, they put objects on the burned body to create a macabre scene. It was Francisco Aráuz Pineda, from a historical family of the Sandinista Revolution.

Here is a non-exhaustive timeline sequence of violent actions that took place in just three weeks:

  • On May 28, the public prosecutor’s office in Masaya was subjected to arson, while the police reported an attack on their offices.
  • On May 29 protesters set fire to the offices of Tu Nueva Radio Ya, considered a pro-government media.
  • On May 31, the offices of Caruna, a financial services cooperative, were set on fire.
  • On June 9 it was Radio Nicaragua’s turn, destroyed by the flames. That same day, a young Sandinista activist died in a motorcycle accident while trying to dodge a trap in a barricade in San José de Jinotepe, Carazo.
  • On June 12, a gang kidnapped and brutally tortured 3 workers at San José College in Jinotepe. In the context of the clashes, 2 historic Sandinista militants were murdered. Also that day, the mayor’s house was ransacked and burned.
  • On June 13, another group held captive and brutally tortured Leonel Morales, a leader of the National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN). The emergency doctors at Bautista Hospital treated serious wounds caused by a bullet lodged in the young man’s abdomen, which would indicate a clear intention to kill. The authors of this attack had come from the vicinity of the Polytechnic University of Managua.
  • On June 15, the day after the employers strike, Sandinista lawyer and activist Marlon Medina Tobal was shot dead while walking beside a barricade in the city of Leon. On the same day, demonstrators armed with mortars were spotted in Jinotepe town.
  • On June 18, criminals threw a burning tire inside the house of Rosa Argentina Solís, a 60-year-old communal leader … for “totally supporting the government of the constitutional president Daniel Ortega and reminded that he had won the elections by a majority of votes.” The same day, the house of the mother of Sandinista MP José Ramón Sarria Morales was the subject of arson. Then nine members of his family were held captive and tortured.
  • On June 18, Sandinista activist Yosep Joel Mendoza Sequeira, a resident of Simón Bolivar Matagalpa neighborhood, was held captive and savagely tortured. The same day, a video was relayed via social media, where a young woman accused of sympathy with the government is humiliated and tortured during an interrogation.
  • On June 21, after being held by men manning barricades in Zaragoza, Stiaba, a young Sandinista youth activist named Sander Bonilla was savagely tortured under the impassive gaze of a priest.
  • On June 22, an anti-Sandinist group fired at the house of the teacher Mayra Garmendia in Jinotega and burned the building where her family was, who managed to escape.

The similarities with the crimes perpetrated in Venezuela by the anti-Chavista opposition a year ago suggest that this wave of violence is primarily motivated by a deep ideological hatred that goes beyond the framework of ordinary crime.

When the dead are brought back to life

To these brutal attacks that speak for themselves, we can add the confusion maintained by the protesters themselves with the complicity of the private media.

  • Thus, on April 23, at the very beginning of the protests, motorcyclists carrying Molotov cocktails shot at point blank range Roberto Carlos Garcia Paladino, a 40-year-old man who died on the spot. His mother, Janeth Garcia, denounced the opposition for using his image by making him a student victim of repression. “They are carrying the flag with his image, as if it were a flag of struggle, but he was not a student, you can verify it without problems.”
  • On May 4 a video with the testimony of José Daniel García is broadcast. He denounces the use of his own photo in a demonstration, looking as if he was killed in the clashes. Alerted by his mother, García demands that his photo be removed. According to him, this “manipulation is intended to deceive the people”. Similar cases where the dead are resurrected have been identified:
  • On May 13, a Frente Sandinista activist, Heriberto Rodríguez, was shot dead in the head near a cinema in Masaya. The private media say he was murdered during a protest, portraying him as a martyr of the anti-government struggle, while Sandinismo’s Voice media claims he was killed by gangs of criminals allied with the right.
  • On May 16, a group of demonstrators near the Metrocentro Mall in Managua threw down a metal art installation called “The Tree of Life”. After demolishing it, they stomped on it. The filmmaker of Guatemalan origin Eduardo Spiegler, who was there at the time of the incident, was crushed by the weight of the metal construction and died on the spot. His picture will be used to make it look as if he was a student victim of the repression, which some will denounce as manipulation.
  • On May 30, the 18-year-old Mario Alberto Medina’s family, who died in September 2017, condemns the “unscrupulous actions of people who are using the young man’s photographs to add them to the list of dead”.

Other people also discovered the presence of their name or photo in a list of dead claimed by the protesters: Christomar Baltodano, Karla Sotelo, Marlon Joshua Martinez, Marlon Jose Davila, William Daniel Gonzalez … Much like in Venezuela in 2014, the public was intoxicated by a massive campaign of fake news via social media.

Observers on the “good side” of the barricade

If we want to broaden the perspective, short of exposing the long history, it is necessary to return to the chronology of the facts. On June 15, the Catholic Church’s peace dialogue had just resumed after the talks had been interrupted since May 23. The new agenda between the government and the opposition renewed the authorization granted to a list of international organizations to participate in observation missions in the country, in order to identify all murders and acts of violence as well as their leaders, with an integral plan of care for victims in order to achieve effective justice. They included observers from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the EU.

An organization dependent of the Organization of American States (aligned with Washington), the IACHR had already carried out a mission between May 17 and May 21. Then it continued to issue reports, the last of which coincided with the day of the strike. Its record attributed to the government of Daniel Ortega the central responsibility in this crisis, while recognizing the presence of armed groups with “homemade mortars filled with gunpowder” in the ranks of the demonstrators. The wording is not very eloquent: the reader of the release is unlikely to imagine the scenes of horror that these groups were responsible of.

On June 14, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry replied in a letter that the work of the IACHR had still not taken into account “evidence of atrocious crimes, cruel and degrading treatment, kidnapping and other acts of violence committed against the population and especially against public officials and persons known to be Sandinistas “. Given the biased stance it is accused of, the authorization to visit the premises that the Ortega government granted to the IACHR on June 26, must be considered as a concession in the framework of peace negotiations between the two parties. Especially since institutions like Amnesty International have clearly shown that they are on the other side of the barricade, turning a deaf ear to the testimonies that are not aligned with the dominant narrative.

Caution is therefore required. If we assume the hypothesis of a political motive behind the frightening crime of the Velasquez house, the arrival of the investigators of the IACHR could have constituted a special motivation, in order to attract the international public opinion’s attention. Be that as it may, it did not take long to happen.

First, on June 18 the Civic Alliance, the political opposition movement engaged in dialogue with the government, announced its withdrawal from the negotiation table and demanded the presence of external observers. The reactions were immediate, notably that of the representative of the OAS Luis Almagro and the IACHR… and finally the unavoidable press release of the spokesperson of the US Department of State Heather Nauert, condemning the ‘current violence sponsored by the government, including the attack on June 16 against the residence and trade of a family…”. Nauert recommended that the government should carry on according to the points on the peace agenda, including the planned visit of observers of the IACHR. Her conclusion is quite significant: the United States “takes note of the general appeal of Nicaraguans for new presidential elections” and “considers that the elections would be a constructive way forward”!

This statement contains a thinly veiled threat: it is an interference with the sovereignty of Nicaragua. It relies on a new balance of power, starting from the mid-June sequence – the strike and the peace agreement, undermined by the new violence of the weekend, which has had as a result the opposition leaving the negotiation table. Nauert therefore puts pressure on the Ortega government, which is now confronted on the one hand with increased street violence and lack of dialogue with the political opposition, and on the other hand with the arrival of the observation missions – who have probably already decided in advance the conclusion of their report.

Is “regime change” a thing of the past?

Unless one is uncontrollably naive, everyone will have noticed that the United States continues to regard Latin America as its backyard. For we cannot dismiss the role played in Nicaragua by a certain international activism, which is centered on the United States Congress, where the Nica Act was approved last November. Under the initiative of Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban anti-Castro elected member of the Republican party, this law aims to stifle the Nicaraguan economy, blocking international loans. The reason? “Human rights violations, the regression of democracy in Nicaragua, and the dismantling of the free elections system in this country”.

When the United States presents itself as the defender of human rights and the champion of democracy in the world, it should be remembered that in recent years bodies dedicated to “promoting democracy”, such as USAID or the NED, showered opposition movements with dollars (support that the protesters do not hide). Simultaneously, Senator Marco Rubio proposed to use the Magnitsky Act as a weapon of financial sanctions against the Vice-President of the mixed enterprise Albanisa. What was Rubio’s aim? “Not only to support the desire for new elections as soon as possible to change the government, but also change the constitution, because a new government on the basis of corruption and dictatorship is more or less the same thing.” Helping to overthrow the government elected by the Nicaraguan people is not enough, so you have to write directly a new constitution in its place, to prevent these latinos from returning to bad habits!

All these mechanisms of destabilization correspond to the different phases of a real hybrid war. In the view of the neoconservative strategists, “constructive chaos” is far better than the loss of the areas of direct influence of yesteryear. If Nicaragua is again in the line of sight of US imperialism, the real reasons are mostly economic.

Nicaragua, theater of a long US strategic war

As early as 1825, the Federal Republic of Central America, a political entity stemming from the wars of independence, had commissioned a study on the creation of a canal on the Lake Nicaragua Canal route. It was a strategic project for the economic development and survival of the young republic. But following the creation of the Independent State of Nicaragua in 1838, the Central American Federation broke out, dividing it into six different political entities (Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). What about the economic integration project in the region? It fell into oblivion.

For the United States, the break-up of Central America was therefore very advantageous from a strategic point of view. In 1846, the Colombian government signed with the United States the Mallarino-Bidlak Treaty, by which Colombia was to ensure free circulation in this region, where the United States planned to create an inter-oceanic canal. Following the vision of US Marine Corps Captain Alfred Thayer, the goal was to better control maritime trade. The new agreement offered US troops the pretext to intervene militarily 14 times, relying on the legal foundations of the treaty. Thus the United States played a decisive role in the separation of Colombia and the Department of Panama on November 3, 1903.

As a reminder, as early as 1823, the United States had issued a warning to the European powers who would be tempted to regain control over the young emerging republics. It was the famous Monroe Doctrine: “America for Americans”. Translation: The United States were keeping a “right of interference” on its southern neighbors. Well, in 1850 the United States signed a similar treaty with England, which since 1661 had established a protectorate over the coastal region of Mosquitia, allying itself with the indigenous Mosquito people against the Spaniards. The agreement between the two powers provided for the shared control of the coast and the circulation of goods in the future canal. But in 1860, Nicaragua signed another agreement with England, by which it formally renounced the protectorate. In its place, the Kingdom of Mosquitia was created, with a constitution based on English laws. In 1904, Mosquitia was finally incorporated in Nicaragua.

On December 6, 1904, facing the US Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the “Big Stick” doctrine, also known as the “Roosevelt Corollary.” This foreign policy was practiced in the period between 1898 and 1934 where, in order to protect its commercial interests, the United States occupied several Latin American countries, in what would become known as the “banana wars”. William Howard Taft, who had been appointed Secretary of War in the Roosevelt administration, did not hesitate to use force in several countries. Significantly, the same Taft was responsible for overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which was finally inaugurated in 1914.

It must be remembered that the initial project for the construction of the Panama Canal was first granted by Colombia to France thanks to the signing of the Salgar-Wyse agreement. The works, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer responsible for the Suez Canal in Egypt, began in 1878 and lasted ten years, but was abandoned in 1888. The abandonment of the project by the French led to the United States resuming the idea of the canal and commissioned a study of the American Congress at the Walker Commission. Finally, the choice was on Nicaragua and a construction treaty was signed. But this country opposed the granting of a route planned by the United States, and envisaged the possibility of granting it to Germany. In retaliation, in August 1912, the United States sent troops to Nicaragua. They would only return home after 21 years of occupation, turning the country into some sort of protectorate. The invasion served the purpose of preventing another country from building a canal in the area. In 1916, the newly elected Adolfo Diaz government, with the kind support of the US Marines, signed with the United States the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, through which that country obtained the concession for the canal for a period of 99 years and the authorization to install a naval base.

The success of the Panama Canal and the long invasion of Nicaragua by the United States threw the other canal project into the dustbin of history. But not forever. Daniel Ortega, the historical leader of the Sandinista Revolution who was president of Nicaragua in the 1980s and re-elected in 2006, brought back the project. In 2013, the National Assembly approved a law granting the concession of the new Transoceanic Canal to the private Chinese company HKND. If it saw the light of day, it would be three times the size of the Panama Canal. In other words, there would be a serious competition issue.

• Translated from French by Tamarvlad

• First published in Investig’Action

Silvia Glas: “In Ecuador there is no justice for Jorge Glas”

Jorge Glas

With a positive balance after 10 years as president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa helped Alianza País emerge victorious in the second round of the presidential elections in early 2017. But a complete turnaround was soon on the cards: newly elected president Lenín Moreno started to attack the legacy of the Citizens Revolution that had gotten him elected. An important part of Alianza País, faithful to the social policies of “Buen Vivir” (“Good Living”), disapproved of this. Then, vice-president Jorge Glas, who could be counted among these critical voices, was removed from his post and again put in the media spotlight, accused of corruption amidst the Odebrecht affair. A mere coincidence or fate? After four months of pre-trial detention, in January 2018 Jorge Glas was sentenced to six years in prison. Silvia Glas, economist and sister of Jorge Glas, granted an exclusive interview to Investig’Action, in which she exposes the “lack of evidence” for the verdict and calls for breaking the media blockade surrounding this case.

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Alex Anfrons: On May 24, 2017, a new government took office in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno as president and Jorge Glas as vice-president. When does this winning partnership sour?

Silvia Glas: We can point to two important moments: on August 2nd, 2017, in a public letter, Jorge Glas denounces alleged irregularities in the governance of Lenín Moreno. Moreno then relieved Glas of all his legally mandated duties on August 4th, as a consequence of this “disrespectful letter”.

From this point onward the plot thickens. At the end of September, after Jorge Glas held a press briefing in which he denounced the harassment against him and pleaded his innocence, the following day, a Friday afternoon, there was an announcement that his legal status was being reviewed. In other words, he could go to jail immediately the following Monday.

These things always occur in circumstances where the ability to react and defend oneself are impossible. Then there was the arrest on October 2 based on new and “damning” evidence. In the trial it was revealed that this consisted of criminal assistance from the United States and Brazil, in which the name and post of Jorge Glas are never mentioned. Not only that, the source of both documents is the company itself which is guilty but was acquitted in Ecuador. Since then, there has been a growing number of human rights abuses against the former vice-president.

AA: A vice-president forbidden to exercise his mandate… How do you explain it?

SG: With his illegal removal, the will of the Ecuadorian people, which had elected a vice-president at the polls, has been betrayed. The proven irregularities during the breaches of due process and in the very short process of finding a new vice-president show a clear intention of getting rid of someone who had been elected by the people. We hope that international instances will scrutinise these irregularities soon.

Just to mention some of these irregularities: 1. The decision to impose pre-trial detention was arbitrary, it met none of the requirements stipulated by international agreements on people’s rights. 2. An alleged absence of the letter in which the vice-president gave notice of using his legally allowed holidays to have the necessary time for his defence, and using this he was declared as being absent. 3. The remarkable rush to get to trial in less than 3 months with some 470 documents of 200 pages each. 4. The questions surrounding his post and his replacement in the Vice-Presidency, who has been put in charge of key issues in a referendum that could change the governance of the country.

All these are issues that the Ecuadorians would like to see subjected to international oversight. There is an innocent man who has no assurances surrounding his safety and that of his family because of a process in which absolutely nothing was proven.

It is important to recall that it was Jorge Glas himself who took the initiative before the National Assembly to be relieved of the immunity that his post would allow, in order to face the accusations and the harassment that he was being subjected to, trusting the judicial system of a country which he had served for so many years.

AA: Is there a political motivation behind the case of Jorge Glas?

SG: You will have heard the term “Lawfare”, which unfortunately has become a trend in Latin America. It corresponds to using and abusing the law to achieve a political goal of removing influential people who might be opposed to certain projects. In other words, the politicisation of justice. It does not take an expert to see that in this case the script fits perfectly.

The persecution dates back to when Jorge Glas was considered as a presidential candidate and later when he ran alongside Lenín Moreno. The media promoted on several occasions a number of allegations later proven to be baseless; media fanfare especially surrounding important electoral dates, activities that, through campaigns with a massive reach and frequency, were meant to smear a man who was key in the transformation and reconstruction of several sectors in the country during the last decade. Not only that, it also challenged the interests of traditional economic and political groups in Ecuador.

The goal is clear, to make the “target” vulnerable in the public opinion for future accusations, even if they have no evidence. In this context the judicial abuses and aberrations become irrelevant in the perception of the people. In spite of said campaigns, the contribution of Jorge Glas as part of the electoral ticket was very important for the electoral triumph.

AA: What was the result of the recent trial against your brother?

SG: On December 13, with all the media present to make as much of a show out of it as possible, an oral ruling was produced sentencing him to six years in prison. However, this sentence is longer than the five years stipulated as the maximum under the current legal code. The judge made use of a penal code which is no longer in use. This, according to legal experts, is a blatant violation of “due process”.

My brother found himself defenceless once more, like in many other occasions since his illegal arrest in October. Without a written ruling, there was no possible appeal for 40 days. Finally, the ruling was published in writing on January 23, more than 40 days since the end of the trial. On January 26 then an appeal was filed.

AA: What does this ruling reveal in your opinion?

SG: That the outcome was predetermined. The statement from José Santos de Odebrecht was transcribed to corroborate the previous allegation against Jorge Glas. In other words, the sentence was already there before the trial. Is the statement from a self-confessed criminal who is providing, in exchange for his freedom, a key piece to ruin the life of an innocent person, without any proof, any sort of evidence? The former Odebrecht attorney, Tacla Durán, denounced from Madrid that there were deals with Latin American governments in order for the Odebrecht people who had confessed to crimes to produce denunciations “à la carte” to serve certain political goals, all in exchange for rewards in terms of their own sentences.

Up to now there has been no reaction from judicial systems. In the meantime, a political prisoner in Ecuador is being persecuted with new charges, his life and that his family are in danger. The ruling document, which is public and available to the media, shows a countless number of inconsistencies that anyone can spot, even without being a legal expert. For example, the ruling mentions a crime which is not the one that is being tried as the justification for a longer sentence than what the law stipulates.

AA: On what offences is the ruling based on?

SG: In the written ruling Jorge Glas is considered guilty of interfering in the concession of contracts, while in the trial the witnesses and defendants made it very clear that he was never part of any commission in charge of any contest or bidding. He never took part in the adjudication of contracts, and moreover other people at different levels are the ones who had those responsibilities…

In truth the only source and support to declare him guilty is the self-confessed criminal Odebrecht, who ended up being rewarded. The criminal assistances are based on archives coming from this company, in the case of the criminal assistance from the United States, and in the criminal assistance from Brazil it is based on José Santos’ denunciations. All of it is based on the allegations of the guilty company. In no case was any evidence presented.

Take one of the supposed key pieces of evidence, a flash-drive that would demonstrate the involvement of the vice-president’s uncle. First of all, the device had no information related to Odebrecht, and in the end a court-appointed expert testified in the trial that, with no connection to the original source, this USB drive does not constitute any evidence. The expert was immediately sanctioned by the court for publicly voicing these positions. Any argument that favours the defence is treated as illegal…

AA: What is the key point of Jorge Glas’ defence?

SG: The absolute absence of evidence. An irregular trial is looking, at all costs, to mask the fact that an innocent man is to be made guilty. I will try to be more graphic: during the trial the prosecution presented around seventy supposed witness, the majority of them being technical experts, in charge of translating, transcribing, requisitioning and confirming the existence of places. In other words, the majority are not even experts. None mentioned Jorge Glas or referred his name as appearing somewhere.

The other defendants, including three who confessed, denied having had contact with Jorge Glas or any participation from his part in their activities. If the main guilty party, José Santos, sees his charges dismissed and the other accused parties do not know the vice-president and even state that they are being used to implicate him, then what kind of criminal association are we talking about?

Each piece of supposed evidence was picked apart during the trial. However, there is a media dimension which makes it irrelevant in the justice system. There is a blockade surrounding information in Jorge Glas’ case in the main media outlets in Ecuador. That is why it is urgent to make this known internationally.

• First published in Investig’Action

Honduras: the Coup has the “Seal” of the United States

For over two months, the Opposition Alliance has claimed that their candidate, Salvador Nasralla, was the winner of the presidential elections of November 26. Gilberto Ríos Grillo is a national leader from the LIBRE party, one of the parties that makes up the Alliance, whose secretary-general is Manuel Zelaya, the former Honduran president who was deposed in a coup in July 2009. After the announcement of further mobilisations from the Honduran society to protest against the government, Ríos Grillo tells us about the recent developments in this social and political crisis that has already generated 34 casualties. He also stresses the international dimension to this crisis that Honduras is currently facing.

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Alex Anfruns: In late December we saw these controversial statements from the US State Department, legitimising the fraud that had taken place in your country. How do you evaluate the situation from an international perspective?

Gilberto Ríos Grillo: In general, the international situation we are witnessing is of struggle. Even though Honduras is a small country, it is quite important to the United States. So in this fight for hegemony Honduras is not allowed to join the struggle.

After the almost total loss of legitimacy by the Honduran institutions, especially after the 2009 coup, the 2013 fraud and the most recent fraud which is even more blatant than the previous one, the “seal” of approval for the elections came from the US Embassy itself through Mrs. Fulton, the chargé d’affaires.

The picture is very clear at the moment when she recognises the electoral triumph of Juan Orlando Hernández, because the president of the Supreme Electoral Court, David Matamoros Batson, appears on television with his hands in his pockets, standing behind the US official, as if assuming that she is the one who needs to certify or rubber-stamp the electoral process. The American meddling right in the face of the international community and the need for them to directly intervene in Honduras is plainly evident.

AA: What is this struggle that you were mentioning?

GRG: In the past ten years there was clear progress for the left in Central America, with the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador, even the left in Costa Rica. Also with the out of control situation seen in Guatemala, because even though the American will was to remove the president, there was a considerable popular mobilisation.

In Honduras, if a leftist coalition became the main political force, this would mean a further loss of control for the United States in the region. What took place in Honduras should be seen in this context, and also in the context of the aggression against Venezuela and Cuba. These are countries with a clear positioning of national liberation which is articulated at a Latin American level. This explains why the US cannot afford to lose even the smallest of territories. Hence the current situation in Honduras.

March by the Opposition Alliance, 13 January 2018, Tegucigalpa

AA: What was the position of the observers from the European Union and the Organisation of American States (OAS), who were present during the election?

GRG: In the beginning, after the elections, they had to recognise that Salvador Nasralla, the Alliance candidate, was the winner by a margin of more than five points, since given the amount of votes tallied this tendency was practically irreversible. They had to issue these statements because of the international presence.

Then, two days later, when the vote counting system crashed and the tendency was reversed, both the OAS and the EU had to produce reports saying that the situation was not clear. Even OAS secretary Luis Almagro had to say that the elections ought to be held again because the results were not transparent. That was the last we heard from the OAS.

Recall that the OAS has to supervise or play a legitimising role in more than 18 electoral processes in Latin America in 2018. So it could not afford to start the year by losing credibility, although it had already lost a lot of it… But the fraud was so blatant that it could not go along with it.

Both the EU and the OAS have purely formal positions, and they have no way of helping change come about in Honduras.

AA: When Salvador Nasralla’s victory was not recognised there were attempts to divide the Opposition Alliance. After a visit to the OAS headquarters in Washington, Nasralla even went along with it…

GRG: This reveals Salvador’s naivete when it comes to politics; in fact, even he recognises that. It is similar to what happened seven years ago to president Zelaya when he went to the Brazilian embassy two months after the coup. There he was visited by Thomas Shannon, a representative from the US State Department, and was also communicating with Hillary Clinton. Both told Zelaya that he would be returned to power, and he believed it.

In the case of Nasralla, he went to the United States after the fraud, to visit the State Department and congressmen and show them the evidence proving that we won the elections… And, of course, they told him they would do everything possible to recognise his victory and not support Hernández…

But the United States always play a duplicitous game: they say one thing and then do something else. This always takes into account their interests and naturally the people that best serve their interests in other countries. In this case, Hernández is the best representative for the interests of the multinational corporations and the neoliberal/privatising rationale that the US has in Honduras. I think Nasralla’s naivete stems from his own lack of knowledge about the nature of imperialism.

AA: During the holidays we saw the Alliance appeal to the Honduran society to resist in the streets. COPINH, for example, is well known abroad. What role have social movements played in the Opposition Alliance’s mobilisations?

GRG: After the coup, all the social movements, leftist movements, and a sector of president Zelaya’s party, formed the National Front of Popular Resistance. This then made way for the creation of the Liberty and Refoundation party (LIBRE), which stood in the 2013 elections and won them. After the coup there was also another party, formed by Salvador Nasralla, which was a centre-right party. These groups, alongside other smaller parties, such as the social-democratic party Innovation and Unity (PINU), decided to join forces and create the Opposition Alliance.

In the Opposition Alliance you can find all the national classes represented. In other words, even the national bourgeoisie, retail sectors, workers, social movements… nothing falls outside of the Alliance.
In what concerns COPINH, they were very important at a certain stage as a social movement but then moved more towards an NGO rationale. They also support the struggle against the dictatorship and have thrown their weight, but they are not important in terms of mobilisation. Especially after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, COPINH does not have the same militancy as before, and the same applies to other groups close to them.

The social sectors that have always been important here have been teachers, public sector workers, students, who had a very important surge in the past two years. All of these are in the Alliance and coordinate with the Alliance, under the leadership of Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Former president Manuel Zelaya leading a protest in the midst of tear gas thrown by the police. 13 January, Tegucigalpa

AA: A general strike was held on January 20. How do you foresee the upcoming mobilisations?

GRG: I stood as a candidate for these elections and I find that the support is bigger now than it was during the electoral process. And we should take into account that we won the election! There are more sectors of the population who wish to see Juan Orlando Hernández out of power.

The civic strike called for the period 20-27 of January is meant to be a full week of highway occupations, blocking streets, consumer boycotts, etc. We believe that it will have a much bigger impact than any previous demonstrations.

We can see that the people are mobilised and even demanding more radical action, although we wish to continue with a peaceful insurrection and civil disobedience, without ever calling for nor supporting violent action.

• First published in The Journal of Our Americas/Investig’Action

From One Coup to Another: Honduras Under Siege

What happened to the democratic rights of the Hondurans who voted in the presidential elections on November 26th? The country is now in the hands of the armed forces. Human rights groups on the ground speak of murders, disappearances and many wounded as a result of the brutal repression at the hands of the police and the military.

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The first results published by the Electoral Court on Monday, November 27, gave a clear lead to opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla. Then a second count radically inverted this tendency, putting incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández as the victor. With protests of fraud, the court decided to suspend the final publication of the results. Both candidates called on their supporters to defend victory on the streets.

Voting tendency change: the plot shows Nasralla’s lead as the votes were being tallied

But in the following days, Nasralla denounced that opposition protests were being infiltrated by outside elements, thus creating an image of a country in chaos. It was the perfect excuse for minister Jorge Ramón Hernández, who took no time in announcing the suspension of constitutional rights on Friday night, for a period of 10 days. However, as constitutional law experts have stressed, this decree could only be approved by the President in a cabinet meeting.

The curfew specifically forbids people from going out on the streets between 6PM and 6AM. Soon after the images of the first dead people started circulating on social media. But that is not enough for some people to lose sleep…

The long road towards democracy

As soon as the Electoral Court announced the vote swing favouring Juan Orlando Hernández, Nasralla announced that the elections were “being stolen” and that this time he would not allow it, referring to the 2013 elections in which he also ran, garnering 13% of the vote. Nasralla was then the candidate for the Anti-Corruption party that he had co-founded.

In September 2014, the director of the Honduran Institute for Social Security was seized by the police for a theft estimated at 335 million dollars. The government of Juan Orlando Hernández declared that fighting corruption was to become a priority and signed agreements with several international organisations dedicated to transparency.

Meanwhile, the period after the 2009 coup has been extremely hard on Hondurans, who have valiantly resisted against the repression and the impunity of state agents. In 2015, the Honduran people marched every week with torches to protest against the dictatorship they faced, but the state carried on assassinating social leaders. The Honduran people have been subjected by the system to extreme violence, but there seem to be no alternative sight, as an opposition movement had yet to be unified.

Nasralla next to Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted after a coup in 2009

In early July 2017, after months of waiting and only a day before the deadline, the Electoral Court registered the candidacy from the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship. This coalition, coordinated by the ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, rallies multiple political forces around a social and democratic program: transparency and rooting out corruption; an alternative economic system with restructured productive sectors; investment in public services such as education, healthcare and housing; environmental protection, etc.

In the elections inside the Anticorruption Party earlier this year, the party did not choose its co-founder Salvador Nasralla as general secretary. Then Nasralla became the candidate for the Opposition Alliance due to his popularity as a former sports journalist.

Are democracy and impunity compatible?

It is important to take into account the difficulty in mobilising voters in a country immersed in extreme, structural violence. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Its murder rate is only comparable to the situation of countries during wars, such as Iraq! In the run-up to the elections there has been an escalation of violence. In the weeks leading to the November 26 poll, activists from both Opposition Alliance and the governing party were attacked.

The murder of activist Berta Cáceres in March 2015 became engraved in the minds of an entire generation. Since then, banners, murals and posters have multiplied to commemorate the courage she showed in her struggle against all odds. The slogan “Berta lives, she has multiplied” has spread beyond the borders of this small country. Berta had become renowned around the world for her role in the struggles of her organisation, COPINH. Her case is far from unique: for years, environmental activists have been harassed and attacked with impunity.

In this context, the daughters of Cáceres, Laura and Bertha Zúñiga, quickly moved to the spotlight and denounced the responsibility of Juan Orlando Hernández’s government: “the oligarchic groups have great influence, they mobilize the army to repress people. We should point out that since the 2009 coup many military people have become shareholders in extractive industry projects (hydroelectric, mining, and others). But the corrupt mafias also allow for the organization of criminal groups that work in coordination with major corporations…

In early November, an independent report rattled a lot of cages. Finally the complicity of the state in Berta Cáceres’ assassination was confirmed, in line with the strong suspicions held by relatives and friends from the very beginning. The report’s authors are adamant:

Among the chat exchanges between DESA staff members, the experts could detect that there was permanent contact between the company and state security forces, such as the Seguridad y Policía Preventiva. For example, only 14 hours after Berta’s murder, there were messages between DESA managers and staff members revealing that they had asked public officials for help in being shielded from any investigation.

Consequently Juan Orlando Hernández had every interest in hiding the incestuous links between the state and multinational corporations. It is no coincidence that during his term the security budget was increased and special military forces were created. The $17.3 million provided in security aid by the United States seem to pose no problem to our democracies.

But the plot thickens: the president of the Constitutional Court, David Matamoros, is a relative of Dennis Matamoros Batson, a legal counsel of a company that provides services for DESA, the company accused of playing a role in the assassination of Berta Cáceres.

One of the things at stake in the current Honduran elections is to get rid, once and for all, of this culture of political impunity.

Venezuela, an ever present scarecrow in elections all over the world

The media campaign for the Honduran elections was another opportunity to attack Venezuela. The Spanish CNN channel posed the crucial question of our time to Nasralla: “What is your position concerning Venezuela?”. And he responded “the Venezuelan problems should be solved by Venezuelans, just like Honduran problems should be solved by Hondurans” … and adding that should Venezuela sell oil at low prices Honduras would not complain…

To prove Venezuelan interference in the electoral process, secretary of the right-wing National Party Juan Diego Zelaya showed in the same program a photo of Manuel Zelaya, now coordinator of the Opposition Alliance, in a car next to Nicolás Maduro. But he did not mention the context of said photo, which is almost 10 years old! After the coup against Zelaya in 2009, Maduro was one of the few Latin American foreign ministers who committed personally to taking Zelaya to the Honduran border and risking his life to defend democracy in Honduras. But this is about taking advantage of the media propaganda of him being a dictator to demonise the Opposition Alliance…

The National Party tried to use Venezuela as a scarecrow

For the dominant ideology, raising the Venezuelan scarecrow is a tactic to draw attention away from the shortcomings of governments that embrace economic policies that hinge on the almighty “free market”. Cultivating amnesia and distorting the historical examples of social achievements that challenge powerful elites is a tried and tested propaganda technique, which in this case has the virtue of ignoring the needs of the Honduran population! The most surreal moment happened when the government of Juan Orlando Hernández expelled the Venezuelan band Los Guaragaos, who were going to play at an opposition rally. Has Latin American folk music become a weapon of mass destruction against elites in power?1

The lesson of the Honduran people

The Opposition Alliance had demanded total transparency in the special tallying process announced by the Electoral Court, and sent a letter detailing 11 necessary conditions for them to accept the result. But the Court did not respect these conditions, and the Alliance has called on people to defy the curfew and defend the victory stolen via electoral fraud. Nasralla has pointed the finger at president Juan Orlando Hernández and Electoral Court president David Matamoros as the ones responsible for the situation.

It is true that elections are just a single moment in people’s lives. But in Central America, where institutions have done nothing to defend quality public services, representatives have destroyed whatever was left by raiding social security funds, there are crucial matters at stake. People would have plenty of reasons to adhere to fatalist ideas of “all politicians are the same”. If we add to this the trivialisation of violence and judicial impunity, we would believe that nothing could be done. But this is a vision that underestimates people.

History has shown, in contrast, that resistance is necessary and inevitable. The day after the 2009 coup, in spite of their suffering, the Honduran people did not sit idly by. First it created a Resistance Front against the coup government. Then it focused efforts in the struggle against corruption and continuity, especially since Juan Orlando Hernández bypassed the law to run for re-election, something that is illegal under the current Constitution. Finally, it is equally important to emphasise that these movements have understood that struggles, in order to be effective, also should bring about a change of government, even if that is not the final goal. As such, they have formed an Opposition Alliance to take on the current political opponent, and not shying away from openly describing the government of Juan Orlando Hernández as a dictatorship.

Hondurans protesting against fraud and the imposed curfew

From Saturday, December 3rd, to Sunday, Hondurans again protested against electoral fraud, the curfew and repression by banging pots and pans. In this context, the announcement of new results by an Electoral Court which is suspected of colluding with the government offers no prospects of exiting this deep political and institutional crisis. Only adhering to the conditions demanded by the main opposition party and putting a stop to repression will do.

In light of the challenges posed by Honduran events, the reactions from international bodies such as the OAS (whose president Almagro is obsessed exclusively with Venezuela) and the media have been timid or non-existent. This shows that the big powers are more than comfortable with failed states so long as they help advance their geopolitical interests.

The Honduran people are providing a brave lesson of hope for the oppressed peoples of the world. Let us join them in their struggle.

• Photos: La Prensa de Honduras, El Tiempo de Honduras

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. The group Los Guaragaos became known by their rendition of Ali Primera’s “Casas de Cartón”, a song that denounces structural poverty in Latin America.

From One Coup to Another: Honduras Under Siege

The first results published by the Electoral Court on Monday, November 27, gave a clear lead to opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla. Then a second count radically inverted this tendency, putting incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández as the victor. With protests of fraud, the court decided to suspend the final publication of the results. Both candidates called on their supporters to defend victory on the streets.

But in the following days, Nasralla denounced that opposition protests were being infiltrated by outside elements, thus creating an image of a country in chaos. It was the perfect excuse for minister Jorge Ramón Hernández, who took no time in announcing the suspension of constitutional rights on Friday night, for a period of 10 days. However, as constitutional law experts have stressed, this decree could only be approved by the President in a cabinet meeting.

The curfew specifically forbids people from going out on the streets between 6PM and 6AM. Soon after the images of the first dead people started circulating on social media. But that is not enough for some people to lose sleep…

The long road towards democracy

As soon as the Electoral Court announced the vote swing favouring Juan Orlando Hernández, Nasralla announced that the elections were “being stolen” and that this time he would not allow it, referring to the 2013 elections in which he also ran, garnering 13% of the vote. Nasralla was then the candidate for the Anti-Corruption party that he had co-founded.

In September 2014, the director of the Honduran Institute for Social Security was seized by the police for a theft estimated at 335 million dollars. The government of Juan Orlando Hernández declared that fighting corruption was to become a priority and signed agreements with several international organisations dedicated to transparency.

Meanwhile, the period after the 2009 coup has been extremely hard on Hondurans, who have valiantly resisted against the repression and the impunity of state agents. In 2015, the Honduran people marched every week with torches to protest against the dictatorship they faced, but the state carried on assassinating social leaders. The Honduran people have been subjected by the system to extreme violence, but there seem to be no alternative sight, as an opposition movement had yet to be unified.

In early July 2017, after months of waiting and only a day before the deadline, the Electoral Court registered the candidacy from the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship. This coalition, coordinated by the ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, rallies multiple political forces around a social and democratic program: transparency and rooting out corruption; an alternative economic system with restructured productive sectors; investment in public services such as education, healthcare and housing; environmental protection, etc.

In the elections inside the Anticorruption Party earlier this year, the party did not choose its co-founder Salvador Nasralla as general secretary. Then Nasralla became the candidate for the Opposition Alliance due to his popularity as a former sports journalist.

Are democracy and impunity compatible?

It is important to take into account the difficulty in mobilising voters in a country immersed in extreme, structural violence. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Its murder rate is only comparable to the situation of countries during wars, such as Iraq! In the run-up to the elections there has been an escalation of violence. In the weeks leading to the November 26 poll, activists from both Opposition Alliance and the governing party were attacked.

The murder of activist Berta Cáceres in March 2015 became engraved in the minds of an entire generation. Since then, banners, murals and posters have multiplied to commemorate the courage she showed in her struggle against all odds. The slogan “Berta lives, she has multiplied” has spread beyond the borders of this small country. Berta had become renowned around the world for her role in the struggles of her organisation, COPINH. Her case is far from unique: for years, environmental activists have been harassed and attacked with impunity.

In this context, the daughters of Cáceres, Laura and Bertha Zúñiga, quickly moved to the spotlight and denounced the responsibility of Juan Orlando Hernández’s government:

the oligarchic groups have great influence, they mobilize the army to repress people. We should point out that since the 2009 coup many military people have become shareholders in extractive industry projects (hydroelectric, mining, and others). But the corrupt mafias also allow for the organization of criminal groups that work in coordination with major corporations.

In early November, an independent report rattled a lot of cages. Finally the complicity of the state in Berta Cáceres’ assassination was confirmed, in line with the strong suspicions held by relatives and friends from the very beginning. The report’s authors are adamant:

Among the chat exchanges between DESA staff members, the experts could detect that there was permanent contact between the company and state security forces, such as the Seguridad y Policía Preventiva. For example, only 14 hours after Berta’s murder, there were messages between DESA managers and staff members revealing that they had asked public officials for help in being shielded from any investigation.

Consequently Juan Orlando Hernández had every interest in hiding the incestuous links between the state and multinational corporations. It is no coincidence that during his term the security budget was increased and special military forces were created. The $17.3 million provided in security aid by the United States seem to pose no problem to our democracies.

But the plot thickens: the president of the Constitutional Court, David Matamoros, is a relative of Dennis Matamoros Batson, a legal counsel of a company that provides services for DESA, the company accused of playing a role in the assassination of Berta Cáceres.

One of the things at stake in the current Honduran elections is to get rid, once and for all, of this culture of political impunity.

Venezuela, an ever present scarecrow in elections all over the world

The media campaign for the Honduran elections was another opportunity to attack Venezuela. The Spanish CNN channel posed the crucial question of our time to Nasralla: “What is your position concerning Venezuela?”. And he responded “the Venezuelan problems should be solved by Venezuelans, just like Honduran problems should be solved by Hondurans” … and adding that should Venezuela sell oil at low prices Honduras would not complain…

To prove Venezuelan interference in the electoral process, secretary of the right-wing National Party Juan Diego Zelaya showed in the same program a photo of Manuel Zelaya, now coordinator of the Opposition Alliance, in a car next to Nicolás Maduro. But he did not mention the context of said photo, which is almost 10 years old! After the coup against Zelaya in 2009, Maduro was one of the few Latin American foreign ministers who committed personally to taking Zelaya to the Honduran border and risking his life to defend democracy in Honduras. But this is about taking advantage of the media propaganda of him being a dictator to demonise the Opposition Alliance…

For the dominant ideology, raising the Venezuelan scarecrow is a tactic to draw attention away from the shortcomings of governments that embrace economic policies that hinge on the almighty “free market”. Cultivating amnesia and distorting the historical examples of social achievements that challenge powerful elites is a tried and tested propaganda technique, which in this case has the virtue of ignoring the needs of the Honduran population! The most surreal moment happened when the government of Juan Orlando Hernández expelled the Venezuelan band Los Guaragaos, who were going to play at an opposition rally. Has Latin American folk music become a weapon of mass destruction against elites in power? (1)

The lesson of the Honduran people

The Opposition Alliance had demanded total transparency in the special tallying process announced by the Electoral Court, and sent a letter detailing 11 necessary conditions for them to accept the result. But the Court did not respect these conditions, and the Alliance has called on people to defy the curfew and defend the victory stolen via electoral fraud. Nasralla has pointed the finger at president Juan Orlando Hernández and Electoral Court president David Matamoros as the ones responsible for the situation.

It is true that elections are just a single moment in people’s lives. But in Central America, where institutions have done nothing to defend quality public services, representatives have destroyed whatever was left by raiding social security funds, there are crucial matters at stake. People would have plenty of reasons to adhere to fatalist ideas of “all politicians are the same”. If we add to this the trivialisation of violence and judicial impunity, we would believe that nothing could be done. But this is a vision that underestimates people.

History has shown, in contrast, that resistance is necessary and inevitable. The day after the 2009 coup, in spite of their suffering, the Honduran people did not sit idly by. First it created a Resistance Front against the coup government. Then it focused efforts in the struggle against corruption and continuity, especially since Juan Orlando Hernández bypassed the law to run for re-election, something that is illegal under the current Constitution. Finally, it is equally important to emphasise that these movements have understood that struggles, in order to be effective, also should bring about a change of government, even if that is not the final goal. As such, they have formed an Opposition Alliance to take on the current political opponent, and not shying away from openly describing the government of Juan Orlando Hernández as a dictatorship.

From Saturday, December 3rd, to Sunday, Hondurans again protested against electoral fraud, the curfew and repression by banging pots and pans. In this context, the announcement of new results by an Electoral Court which is suspected of colluding with the government offers no prospects of exiting this deep political and institutional crisis. Only adhering to the conditions demanded by the main opposition party and putting a stop to repression will do.

In light of the challenges posed by Honduran events, the reactions from international bodies such as the OAS (whose president Almagro is obsessed exclusively with Venezuela) and the media have been timid or non-existent. This shows that the big powers are more than comfortable with failed states so long as they help advance their geopolitical interests.

The Honduran people are providing a brave lesson of hope for the oppressed peoples of the world. Let us join them in their struggle.

Note:

(1) The group Los Guaragaos became known by their rendition of Ali Primera’s “Casas de Cartón”, a song that denounces structural poverty in Latin America.

Source: The Journal of Our Americas (to appear) / Investig’Action.

Joan Tafalla: “In Catalonia, it is all in the hands of the popular initiative”

The recent years of economic crisis in Spain have had two major consequences in the political landscape: the arrival of progressive political movements and the collapse of the two-party system. At the same time, a sovereignty movement, with the ability to mobilise large sectors of society, has emerged in Catalonia. As the referendum approaches, the central government has multiplied its efforts to stop it from taking place, raising again the spectre of franquismo in the collective memory. This has been met with widespread opposition and paradoxically a growing wave of solidarity with the right to self-determination has been seen. In light of all this, the holding of the referendum will take place in very uncertain circumstances, besieged on one hand by denouncements, seizing of electoral material and arrests from the central government, and on the other with large mobilisations and calls for disobedience from the Generalitat (the Catalan government). What is at stake on October 1st in Catalonia? To address this we have interviewed Joan Tafalla, History professor and member of Espacio Marx.

*****

Alex Anfruns: The Spanish government has reinforced the police presence in Catalonia. Do you think this may put a stop to the referendum? In which way?

Joan Tafalla: I think the strong police presence in Catalonia will be overwhelmed by the large masses that are participating in the process, organising in this moment, occupying schools and keeping them open until Sunday. The Mossos (police force of Catalonia) have been ordered to shut down schools and keep them closed, and the remaining police forces from the state are deployed in Catalonia to maintain law and order. But this deployment will not be able to contain or dissuade people from their expressed will to vote.

AA: How would the Catalan society react if faced with the impossibility of casting a vote?

JT: Catalan society is something larger and more complex than the popular movement for independence. In what concerns the latter, I have said: it will overwhelm any effort from the repressive forces of the state to contain it. There is the possibility that the local Catalan police will act in a way that is not too forceful and even somewhat permissive, at least until Sunday at 6 in the morning.

With respect to the sector of Catalan society which, for multiple reasons, does not take part in the popular independence movement we are yet to see their reaction after almost seven years of this independence process. It is still early to know which attitude this segment of the population will adopt. We only have the data from a recent poll from the Centro de Estudios de Opinión: the sectors which are economically weaker and most recently arrived in Catalonia show a high level of rejection towards the goal of independence, but not towards settling the matter through a vote.

AA: What consequences could the referendum have for the other peoples in the Spanish state?

JT: I think that, as an essentially democratic movement, the movement for self-determination is now causing a certain breach in the regime created by the transition of 1978. It is probable that its example will allow for a reactivation of the independence movements in Galicia and the Basque Country. Now, in the remaining regions of Spain it may generate a certain resurgence of Spanish nationalism, that may allow the PP (Popular Party, currently in government) and the PSOE (Socialist Party, main opposition party) to hide their corruption and their inability to present any future prospects for Spain.

In any case if Spain wants to preserve its unity as a political country (formed in turn by various countries and peoples) it can only do it if it manages, in a democratic way, to remove the Popular Party from power and open a constituent process that gives the peoples the right to self-determination. And once their will is heard, a free union in a Federal Republic can happen. The future of Spain, as a political entity, can only happen through a radical, democratic and de-centralising constituent process.

AA: What is the social composition of the independence movement?

JT: I have talked about a popular independence movement. But this description does not describe the independence movement in its entirety. Along with popular and working class sectors in the independence movement there are bourgeois sectors (essentially petty and medium-scale bourgeoisie), which have been leading the process up to now, and as such imprint their ideological and cultural orientation.

Certainly the big Catalan bourgeoisie is not for independence and is looking for a pact between elites that will re-establish the balance of power between the multiple fractions of the Spanish bourgeoisie, which has been broken.

AA: What are the economic interests at stake?

JT: The reasons for the break among the dominant classes are various: the unbalances in the commercial and fiscal balances, or the intensification of the industrial/commercial competition between different Spanish territories. For example, the competition between the Madrid and Barcelona airports, the issue of the Mediterranean corridor or the management of the Barcelona and Tarragona ports… at a time when Catalonia has ceased to be an industrial locomotive in Spain.

All of this suggests a number of conflicts and complex interests that make it so that the solution of the conflict is resting on corporate interests that are very contradictory. In summary, the globalisation of the economy leaves little room for a pact among the elites.

If on top of this we add the clumsiness with which this process has been handled, from a political standpoint, the situation becomes even worse. Add to that the mobilisation of popular sectors, which will not be easily brought back down… and we realise that we have an uncertain scenario in front of us.

AA: Is there a lesson from history that might be useful to recall in this context?

JT: The modern political nations are imagined communities created on the back of bourgeois revolutions. In Spain the creation of the political nation was flawed, in complete opposition to what happened in France or Germany. It has often relied more on coercion than on hegemony.

If Spain is to survive it needs a radical change, a democratic break that the elites are unwilling to stomach. It is all in the hands of the popular initiative.

• First published in Investig’Action

Universal Basic Income: A Fast Track to Precariousness

Would the universal basic income (or universal allowance) be the miracle reform that reduces social inequalities and relieves millions of people from the threat of poverty? Both the right and left find things to like about the idea. Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon made the universal basic income a flagship proposal for his program for the upcoming presidential elections. Manuel Valls (ex-Prime Minister) and Marine Le Pen (extreme right and National Front candidate) are also in favor. Surprising? To better understand what the stakes of this apparently progressive proposal hide, we spoke with Mateo Alaluf, author of the book Universal Basic Income. New Label of Precariousness (Allocation Universelle. Nouveau label de précarité), and co-editor of the anthology Against the Universal Basic Income (Contre l’allocation universelle).

*****

Alex Anfruns: According to you, the universal basic income, as presented by Hamon, represents a real alternative for the left. What are its historical origins?

Mateo Alaluf: It presents an alternative not for the left but an alternative to the left. First, if one sets aside the idealized mythology that it has retroactively given itself, Thomas More, Charles Fourier, etc., the idea of the universal basic income is more recent and is connected to the emergence of neo-liberal thinking and in particular that of Milton Friedman in the 1960s. However, later critics of neo-liberalism, such as James Tobin, and right-wing and left-wing thinkers, rallied to the idea of an unconditional income.

Secondly, the concept of social justice embodied in the universal income is based on the principle that each individual unconditionally receives the same monetary income that he or she is responsible for making use of. The universal basic income is therefore based on the principle of equal opportunity, which characterizes liberal thinking. This idea differs from the principle of equality founded on the redistribution of wealth and the assumption that everyone contributes according to his possibilities and benefits according to his needs.

Equality, not equality of opportunity, is, in my opinion, the main marker of the left. This vision of equality has permeated our social protection systems. For example, we pay health insurance based on our income and benefit from it depending on whether we are sick or not. From this point of view Benoît Hamon’s proposal for a universal income corresponds to an abandonment of the principle of equality in favor of that of equal opportunities.

AA: In theory we are presented with this idea as being almost miraculous. In reality, has it already been implemented in any other country? If so, what were the results?

MA: The idea of a universal allocation has not been implemented anywhere, unless we consider the case of Alaska in the United States, where an oil annuity is granted to the inhabitants of the State. Otherwise, the commonly mentioned “experiments” have been to provide income to poor people in India or Namibia, for example, and find as a result that their situations are improving. Or to observe that unemployed people who receive income without undergoing the controls to which they are usually forced, nevertheless actively seek employment without being incited as far as we know. It is therefore not an unconditional income paid to the poor as well as to the rich.

The experimentation of a basic income of €560 per month granted to a population of 2000 unemployed people in Finland is currently very discussed. It has been implemented by a right-wing government made up of three parties, Kesk (center), True Finns (extreme right) and Kok (conservative nationalist), as part of an austerity policy aimed at reducing public spending and containing wages.

The main motivation for this initiative is that an unemployed person currently receives a large number of benefits (unemployment, housing, child, etc.) and that a job, in order to reach the level of the unemployment benefits collected by an unemployed person, must correspond to a monthly gross income of €2,300. The goal of granting this basic income is therefore to reduce unemployment spending, to contain wage costs and to reduce the current 9% unemployment. We are far from the promise of a universal income.

AA: Within this idea, there could be several options, each with their own political slants: basic income, universal allowance, lifetime wage … With the voter is facing “buyer beware”. How can we make sense of them?

MA: There are as many types of universal income as there are people promoting them. They differ mainly by their degree of unconditionality, their amounts, their degree of substitution for social security and their method of financing.

Some argue that a left-wing formulation of universal basic income would be characterized mainly by the “sufficient”, that is to say, high income, with the continuation of social security benefits. Yet, the higher the income, the more social benefits would be undermined. For example, in Belgium, Georges-Louis Boucher (MR) proposes a €1000 allowance instead of all other allowances and healthcare insurance limited to major risks only. On the other hand Philippe Defeyt (Green Party) is in favor of €600, which Philippe Van Parijs suggests should be reached in stages to try to preserve Social Security.

The paradox thus consists in either advocating a high-cost universal basic income, the feasibility of which implies questioning social security and public services and thereby accepting a considerable social regression; or being satisfied with a modest allocation which could be conciliated in whole or in part with the social protection system. In the latter case, the modest amount of the allowance would require the use of complementary jobs to live or survive, thus condemning the beneficiaries to accept precarious and low-paid jobs.

Instead of letting people choose whether or not to be employed and enabling them to devote themselves to a chosen occupation, the beneficiaries of a universal basic income would be reduced to accepting any part time job. Such a system, therefore, constitutes a powerful incentive to accept a job and leads to the institutionalization of precarious employment.

AA:  In concrete terms, what is the offer proposed by the French candidate for the Socialist Party, Benoît Hamon?

MA: The universal income scheme proposed by Benoît Hamon seems very imprecise at the moment. He has proposed many versions and even evoked the idea that his system could (sic) under low income condition and would only concern wages under €2000. It is, in fact, in its formulations an income for young people from 18 to 25 resulting from a merger of social minimums and an expansion of the RSA-base1 to the whole age group.

We are actually far from principles that usually constitute unconditional income. Such a system, even if watered down, entails the risk of lower wages and a subsidy to employers. Assuming that a young person receives an allowance of €750 for example, can one assume that his employer will not take it into account to define his salary? The door would in any case be opened in France to the youth SMIC2 that had been up to now fought by the youth and by all the left.

One can certainly devise unconditional income formulas that, by departing from the principle of hard unconditionality advocated by its promoters, can be conceived without affecting social protections too much. But when the left subscribes to this perspective, it loses its compass, which is not equality of opportunity but equality, and deserts the battlefield of the conflict between capital and labor.

AA:  You categorically state that the defense of a universal allowance is tantamount to abandoning the fight against inequalities. Why?

MA: By adhering to the principle of a universal income, the left shows its impotence. Under his presidency, François Hollande capitulated before his “enemy, finance”. His government has forced through Parliament the “Macron” law of “growth and enterprise”, which largely subsidizes companies and the “labor law” that progressively guts the labor protections.

The universal income then appears like a lure under the appearances of the renewal that conceals its impotence in front of the politics of austerity. It consists of taking a step aside instead of rethinking the social protection system, stemming the under-investment of public services and, above all, concealing the central issue of wages.

AA:  Yet this notion has the advantage of shifting the focus of political debates from the standpoint of social emancipation, in place and lieu of the strategy of fear and the regression promised by Valls, François Fillon (Right candidate) and Le Pen. Could the application of this measure be considered in addition to other benefits?

MA: It is better to discuss universal income rather than exacerbating identity struggles and stigmatizing Muslims like Valls, Fillon and Le Pen. Moreover, this debate has the merit of highlighting the need for a minimum income—different from universal income—which I fully share.

It is also possible, insofar as it is modest, to consider it in addition to other social security benefits. But I think we have to be more ambitious. Instead of a derisory amount granted to all, isn’t it better to devote all the resources that could be made available for proper welfare benefits and to restore autonomy to young people by the granting of an allowance to finance their education and higher studies?

AA: Faced with the neoliberal offensive still in force on a European scale, and within the framework of the construction of a progressive alternative, what actions are within our reach to move towards a dynamic of social conquests3?

MA: On the basis of all the above, it is clear that a new dynamic of social conquest must break with the politics of austerity and focus on wages and the increase of social minimums. The Left, in the tradition of its own, should now imagine the social State in a new globalized context.

The elimination of the notion of cohabitant4 in the regulation of unemployment, the individualisation and universalisation of social security schemes must be part of the broadening of social rights. Investment in public services and fairer taxation are also essential elements.

However, the main question remains the collective reduction of working time. In a small book written in 1930 and entitled “Letter to Our Little Children,” John Meynard Keynes advocated that full employment should be 15 hours per week. In my opinion, this is the prospect that should mobilize us.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. RSA – Revenu de Solidarité Active (Active Solidarity Income) is a welfare benefit aimed at encouraging unemployed people to find work or providing support for low-paid workers. Its current value is of 499€.
  2. SMIC – Salaire Minimum Interprofessionel de Croissance is the minimum hourly wage in France, currently corresponding to a 1480€ monthly wage (before taxes).
  3. The term “social conquest” is used to refer to achievements won by the social class, for example unemployment benefits, maternity leave, the 35-hour week, etc.
  4. The unemployment benefits are higher for people who need to support a family; i.e., when there they were the sole wage-earners in the family.