Category Archives: Brazil

Russian “Collusion” is a Red Herring While a Fourth Reich Rises

As the 2018 U.S. midterm elections approach, there is still no evidence of ‘collusion’ between the campaign of President Donald J. Trump and the Russian government after nearly two years of inquiry. Thus far in the Department of Justice’s investigation led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, only a trail of corruption involving Trump associates has been discovered. None of their wrongdoings connect to the Russian nationals also indicted in the probe, including the illicit lobbying by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine which actually went against Russia’s interests on behalf of the EU. One can anticipate that more misdeeds by his cronies will be uncovered given that corruption in Washington grows on trees, some of which may even implicate Trump himself. However, if there were anything incriminating at the level of high treason, the likelihood that it wouldn’t have been unearthed already after such an exhaustive inquest relying on splitting hairs for indictments is slim.

The Kremlin has also fulfilled the need of a scapegoat across the Atlantic for the UK’s Brexit referendum. Mueller has examined emails from the shadowy British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, but seemingly only to scrutinize whether they contain evidence of intrigue between Trump and Russia. The UK-based voter profiling company, chaired by former Trump campaign and Breitbart CEO Stephen K. Bannon and owned by the mysterious right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, provided services for both the Trump and Brexit campaigns using the collected data of more than 80 million Facebook users for ‘electoral engineering.’ After the scandal broke, the firm was suspended by Facebook and then reported to have shut its doors. It quickly came to light that the company had merely re-branded itself under the handle Emerdata Ltd., now under the management of Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer. It is even operating out of the same headquarters in London and although it is still under federal investigation, no criminal charges appear imminent against its previous incarnation. Cambridge Analytica denies breaking any laws but it is widely believed to have done so by electoral watchdog groups. Have there been no legal proceedings because the DOJ is prioritizing finding connections between Trump and Moscow?

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie made several admissions about its activities. One significant disclosure was that its database building of social media users was assisted by employees of Palantir Technologies, the nebulous software company owned by another pro-Trump billionaire, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel. A GOP mega-donor and Silicon Valley venture capitalist with close ties to Robert Mercer, Thiel was rewarded with a spot on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after his surprising victory. The Palantir moniker eerily derives from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after a crystal ball used by a wizard to see into far off places and the past. Palintir employees aided the firm in constructing ‘psychographs’ of voters based on their preferences, behavior, and internet activity in order to target them with advertising. Why on earth is Russia the center of the investigation and not the multiple private intelligence and data mining firms hired to stage-manage the election?

One possibility is because Palintir’s expertise has previously been employed for data scraping services by a range of powerful clients, including predictive-policing software for law enforcement and even the National Security Agency for developing its XKEYSCORE internet surveillance database. If election manipulation by the Trump campaign was facilitated by a company previously contracted by the Pentagon to weaponize data using social media as a global spy tool, it is easy to conclude why Russia would be a preferred suspect in the investigation. Only the naive could believe the Mueller inquiry represents anything other than the interests of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. After all, it is their unsubstantiated word alone that has been the entire source for the claims of Russia’s alleged interference. If the investigation findings were to implicate Palintir which is funded by the CIA’s venture capital fund In-Q-Tel, we are really expected to believe a career spook like Mueller would be impartial?

Palintir also has an outpost in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of Trump’s most controversial foreign policy moves has been the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal accord and it just so happens that the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency used Palintir’s Mosaic software to ensure Tehran was in compliance. If the President of the United States is openly supported by the billionaire supplying the technology to verify Iran is in accordance with the agreement and has campaigned vowing to sabotage it, how in the world is this ethical and not a conflict of interest? Shortly before the U.S. withdrawal, Trump even met with Thiel just hours after speaking with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran. Cambridge Analytica is also tied to Israel through private intelligence firm Wikistrat Inc. which offered the Trump campaign social media election manipulation services in a partnership. It is clear that any loose associations between the Kremlin and Trump have been overplayed in order to soft pedal the overwhelming influence by Israel. Meanwhile, Putin cannot even appear to rig the vote in his own country, as following Russia’s recent unpopular pension reforms his political party suffered losses in regional elections.

Christopher Wylie indeed testified that it was a Russian data scientist who authored the survey app which gathered the information used by Cambridge Analytica from millions of Facebook profiles. The psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, provided the data to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). Evidently, his research for the app through the University of St. Petersburg was funded using Russian government grants but Kogan, who is actually a Moldovan-born U.S. citizen, has done academic studies subsidized by the U.S., UK, Chinese and Canadian governments as well. The dots that have been connected to Russian intelligence possessing access to Kogan’s data are pure speculation, as are the claims that Kogan is a spy, a highly unlikely possibility considering he is still currently employed by the University of Cambridge. What is more certain is Cambridge Analytica’s nefarious use of private information to target voters for the Trump and Leave EU campaigns, but the Mueller team remains fixated on Moscow.

What are the consequences of this smokescreen? Steve Bannon has been free to move on from his ouster in the Trump administration to offer his prowess to far rightists around the world with the formation of a organization dubbed “The Movement.” Based in Belgium and co-founded with the country’s populist demagogue Mischaël Modrikamen, its stated aim is to prop up ultra nationalism across the EU before next year’s European Parliament elections. The shady organization is intended to be a right-wing equivalent of the Open Society Foundation by bolstering far right political movements from behind the scenes. Bannon’s modus operandi is in giving a businesslike and accessible polish to right-wing populism while placing greater emphasis on anti-immigration, the refugee crisis and Islamophobia. The Movement is consulting parties such as:

  • Fidesz, party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
  • The Italian League, party of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini
  • Alternative for Germany/Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
  • Sweden Democrats, third place in last month’s general election
  • Dutch Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and is the second largest party in the Netherlands House of Representatives
  • Freedom Party of Austria
  • Swiss People’s Party
  • UK Independence Party (Ukip); Bannon is close colleagues with leader Nigel Farage
  • National Front/National Rally (France) led by Marine Le Pen
  • Belgium People’s Party
  • VOX (Spain)

Prior to the Great Recession, far right political organizations had remained on the periphery for decades following the Second World War until the 2008 financial crash reintroduced the economic circumstances that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Suddenly, the far right began to flourish in countries hit hardest by the Eurozone’s debts. This development was simultaneous with the emergence of the Tea Party in the U.S. resurrecting the Gadsden banner. Golden Dawn made notable gains in the Greek parliament but their brand still resembled the anti-Semitic nationalists of Eastern Europe, a hard sell in the rest of the continent. When a further destabilized Middle East facilitated by Western interventionism led to a flux of migrants seeking refugee status in the EU, an opportunity arose for transformation of nationalism in Western and Southern Europe to an ‘accessible’ Islamophobic variety.

The distinguishing characteristic of this new wave of fascism is not just jettisoning of anti-Semitism, but strong support of the state of Israel. For instance, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag is bankrolled by the pro-Israel Gatestone Institute and closely aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (now known as National Rally) is historically anti-Semitic but has gradually shifted its agenda toward attacking Islam in recent decades as well. Steve Bannon himself even boasted he is an avowed “Judeo-Christian Zionist.” On the surface this disturbing alliance between Holocaust-denying figures like Viktor Orban and Israel may seem unlikely, it also makes perfect sense considering both Zionists and the extreme right hold the historical view that Jews are fundamentally non-native to Europe and they have a common civilizational ‘enemy’ in Islam.

Bannon isn’t limiting his enterprise to the Northern Hemisphere either and has already exported it to the global south. It was recently reported that the former White House Chief Strategist is advising the campaign of the runoff winner for Brazil’s presidency, Jair Bolsanaro, who has been described as a “Brazilian Trump” and “Tropical Hitler” for his disparaging statements about women, gays, blacks and the country’s indigenous minority. Bolsanaro has also expressed nostalgia for the military dictatorship that lasted more than two decades in Brazil after a 1964 U.S.-backed coup. Bolsanaro has been such a paralyzing figure in Brazilian politics, he was hospitalized after a knife stabbing at a campaign event last month. Historically, fascism and South America are no strangers — following WWII, it was Argentina under Juan Perón which provided secret safe harbor to Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele.

With no end or likely impeachment in sight, it is clear that the media and public have been diverted toward a ruse contrived by the U.S. intelligence community. The entire premise of the Russia investigation ostensibly presumes its own conclusion, searching for the missing pieces to a preconstructed narrative rather than determining what actually transpired. It has all the hallmarks of a counterintelligence PSY-OP, designed to commandeer public disapproval of Trump into serving the State Department’s objective of undermining Russia and sabotaging even the most modest efforts to be diplomatic with Moscow. The media and establishment can hardly contain their contempt for the working class in the theft of their agency, as if none of their grievances which the extreme right has capitalized on could be legitimate. Still, if it were to be determined that the election was compromised by the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Palintir instead of the Kremlin, it would remain a distraction from underlying causes.

The global economic downturn is what has nurtured the far right, but its rebirth in Europe truly originates with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously hypothesized in The End of History and the Last Man that Karl Marx had been proven wrong that communism would replace capitalism with the advent of liberal democracy. Fukuyama wrote:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

If socialism failed, almost thirty years later it appears that so too are capitalism and liberal democracy. We were told the fall of communism was the ‘end of history’, and there were no longer any further steps in humanity’s evolutionary process. Once a celebrated figure, what Fukuyama wrote then can only be interpreted today as a colossally failed prediction by an intellectual charlatan. Both a resurgence of socialism as well as a potential descent into fascist barbarism are back on the table in our present historical moment.

Last month, the media was enthralled by the collective laughter of the international community at Trump’s embarrassing speech to the United Nations General Assembly that seemed to all but confirm the dismantling of U.S. hegemony. While Trump made clear his ultra-nationalist departure from his predecessors in denouncing “the ideology of globalism”, per usual the presstitutes overlooked one of the address’s most significant moments when he stated:

Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism.

That Trump devoted a portion of his tirade to denounce socialism is remarkable and a virtual admittance that the ruling classes are trembling that it is no longer a dirty word in the Western lexicon. On the one hand, because capitalism is in a crisis large sections of the working class are desperately turning to a far-right appealing to their popular anger at the elite and prejudices against migrants. Capitalism has historically kept the far right on life support in reserve for absorbing revolt in its periods of crisis to be misdirected into jingoism and scapegoating, an opposition much easier to control. If the far right today is ascendant, so too is socialism which must seize upon the class struggle that has once again returned to the forefront determining political life. If liberal democracy speaks of the ‘end of history’, fascism represents the end of humanism in its hostility to culture and civilization, no matter how new and improved its image. History is indeed repeating itself. As the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once said in what could have been a rebuttal to Fukuyama’s thesis —“History never really says goodbye. It says, ‘see you later.’”

Order and Progress was Never a Civilian Slogan

The apparent victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections has been analysed as the return of some kind of fascism to Brazil: electing dictators where they previously had to enter office in tanks. However, Brazilians, unlike Portuguese, did not remove their dictators from power. The Brazilian military gave way to its civilian counterparts. A governing structure was created in 1986, which permitted the discrete withdrawal of uniformed personnel from public offices and public liability for the consequences of their acts. However, it did not end the role of the military in ruling Brazil. For both historical and ideological reasons this was not necessary.

The military-technocratic tradition in Brazil is as old as the founding of the republic.1 That was one reason why the Brazilian military so readily accepted the same “national security ideology” that the US propagated in its cadre institutions like the National Defence College/University, the curriculum of which was largely imitated by the Superior War College in Brazil. The “military” in Brazil is best understood as the elite managers of the republic’s military – industrial – technological complex, one of the products to survive the dictatorship.

Although certainly not an accident, the anointment of Bolsonaro as a saviour in Brazil’s time of troubles, is incidental. His appearance and election (unless something utterly unexpected happens on 28 October) should be understood within Brazil’s ancient domestic political culture and the subordination of the Brazilian military in the widest sense of the term to the hemispheric national security ideology that has prevailed since its formulation in the late 1940s.

Comparisons with Trump are distractions, like the attacks on Trump. They draw attention away from the actual power issues involved and who actually wields power.

Bolsonaro’s election cannot be fully understood without an international perspective. Brazil, although a very large country with an enormous economy, is a very closely held property dominated by a tiny elite with more loyalty to the North American elite than to its own national interests. It has always been a subordinate country in the hemisphere although the mechanisms of subordination have changed over time. Unlike in the US, Brazilian elections are actively manipulated by foreign governments. Brazilian media are even more concentrated than in the US, with Globo occupying virtual monopoly control over every media outlet in Brazil not controlled by a US conglomerate.

Yet there has always been a tension between pro-US and nationalistic factions in Brazil’s elite. The only mass political base ever established in Brazil — prior to the PT — was the Vargas regime, which was vigorously opposed by those in Brazil who hate anything resembling democracy, nationalism or mass-based politics. The PT emerged despite repression to become Brazil’s first mass democratic party. When it was allowed to govern after the long-forgotten corruption of the Collor de Melo presidency, it was because it had attained this broad democratic base capable of winning elections.

Winning elections was considered in the early period after the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the sine qua non of the “victory” of capitalism. The PT then started to create its own political base in the Brazilian context– a combination of local clientelism and organised labour, but including sectors that had previously been excluded from this formula. In Brazil’s federal system it was necessary to establish a serious social budget at federal level to compensate for the intransigence at state level. To do this the PT needed a public budget to finance that expenditure. And here is where international banking– a historical force in suppressing Brazilian national development– applied the brakes. The PT had to commit itself to servicing the extortion aka foreign debt. Like in every other country held down by “debt”, Brazil could not fulfill any but the most superficial social promises and pay the extortion to banks.

So what happened was surely this: the PT political engineers decided to covertly subsidise their political consolidation and some of the social budget by siphoning funds from the parastatal oil company, Petrobras. This had to be done covertly to prevent the extortion ring (international banking and monetary agencies) from manipulating the Brazilian credit ratings and exchange rate to prevent it. So a lot of people got on the gravy train to keep this scheme working. Of course, the drain of paying all those whose cooperation was necessary to maintain this finance mechanism became parasitical so that more money was reaching the facilitators than the intended beneficiaries of the policy.

The idea of draining funds from a corporation through covert means is not new. (Enron was essentially a banking-led investor scheme for laundering money and exporting it to off shore banks. It would have continued had it not been for some personnel problems and a few accidents– biggest of which that it threatened to implicate POTUS G W Bush.) It is entirely excusable as greed when the funds are transferred to the wealthy. However, it becomes a horrible crime if the money benefits masses of ordinary people. The multilateral (US) debt enforcers have always upheld the claims against sovereign states by those who made official loans to corrupt dictators where the money was transferred to private Swiss accounts.

Hence, given the number of people on the Petrobras gravy train, this policy might have continued with relative impunity were it not for two very important international issues where the US regime has a direct interest: BRICS and Venezuela.

It is worth viewing a small segment in the late Allan Frankovich’s 1980 documentary On Company Business. There is an interview with a labour organizer from the US who is recruited by the AIFLD to go to Brazil and organise “anti-communist unions”. He explains what he thought he was doing and what he found to be his actual mission. But his most striking realisation was that he had been sent to Brazil for this work in 1962– a full two years before the “crisis” that officially led to the Brazilian military coup removing João Goulart.

Bolsonaro is discussed as a product of the “anti-corruption” crusade. “Anti-corruption” has merely replaced “anti-communism” since the latter is deemed extinct. In fact, the case for disrupting Brazil’s BRICS policy and isolating it from the Venezuela – Cuba “axis”, was given almost immediately after Lula’s first election. However, it would have taken some time to place everyone and everything in the best position to depose the PT. This was certainly ready by the time Lula’s second term expired. The death of Chavez and recently the death of Castro (at least of natural causes) have made it imperative to close the Brazil-Venezuelan border in every sense. The escalating war against Russia and China had already made it imperative to take the “B” out of BRICS.

The success of the “anti-corruption” strategy in legitimating the overthrow of heads of state had been proven along with the capabilities to generate synthetic social support for such exercises as elections and street demonstrations. Anti-corruption campaigns are directed against public officials and civil servants but not against the military (although the corruption of the arms trade is endemic and apparently incurable) or corporations who initiate the corrupt acts and/or benefit from them. There is a conspicuous reluctance to attack fundamentally anti-democratic institutions: Business and the military. “Anti-corruption” is really a euphemism for a broad attack on all democratic institutions since 1989-90.

It is one of the failures of the Left and faux gauche to grasp these fundamental issues. This is in part because they share the same “moral language” and progressive technocratic ideas about how the State should be constituted and operated. There has been a distinct inability or reluctance to retool, to defend fiscal independence, to recognise and call foreign debt (or in many countries all public borrowing) what it, in fact, is: a deliberate conversion of community resources into private cash streams for the ruling class compulsory debt financing of public expenditure by private banks. This is the main reason why the central banking system adopted by the US regime in 1913 and internationalised at Bretton Woods and in the EU, impoverishes all attempts at socialism. It is impossible to remedy the corrupt system of public finance and government operations without a radical change in the anti-democratic control over money. As long as economics is treated as a science when it is, in fact, a theology, every Left government will have its Luthers praising the slaughter of revolting peasants, while claiming the privileges of their own particular liberties.

The PT attempted to evade this criminal constraint on the democratic government by using a parastatal for social purposes– this was a capital crime and will be punished as such. It makes little difference that Petrobras could never have funded all the activities that the PT government would have implemented were it not constrained by compulsory “debt” service. The scandal effect of a rather thinly disguised evasive tactic by a slightly socialist government was a necessary catalyst to break the electoral majority that had delivered the PT solid election results.

The strategies of Langley have also matured with the years. In 1964 there was no hesitation to use direct military force to seize control. But now this is unnecessary and undesirable. No amount of protest prevented Temer exercising the office of President, despite massive corruption charges pending against him. No one can defend notorious criminal acts if they are made notorious even before trial has established whether a crime was committed. In the 60s and 70s no one in the Western hemisphere or Africa could be “for” a government notorious as socialist/communist, even if it was neither; in fact, (Goulart was no communist but there are people from Brazil who still say that he was. There are also people in Portugal who think that the 1974 revolution was directed from Moscow, although it was clearly the director of the counter-revolution, Frank Carlucci, who died this year.)

Another innovation has gone largely without comment: that is the refinement of the Phoenix programme. The so-called “war on drugs” and its various theatres provide cover throughout Central and South America for counter-insurgency or political warfare against the poor. When Temer ordered the military into Rio the attention was given to the extreme criminality and danger to normal inhabitants, which the military was needed to suppress. Aside from the fact that the military and police in all countries are integral components of the trade in drugs and other contraband, law enforcement militarisation is a classic cover for death squads and similar terror instruments. Placing the poor under martial law is something the Brazilian military actively practiced together with US Forces while deployed in Haiti under UN cover. No serious commentator on Haiti doubts that the “crime” in Haiti is any kind of base organisation against the owners of the neo-slave state.

Bolsonaro’s election result has to be seen, together with the combined operations to demobilise those sectors of the Brazilian electorate that provided the support and legitimacy for the PT, leaving only the historically unreliable and proportionately insignificant middle class to be disaffected (not unlike the anti-Chavista middle in Venezuela) to vote for the mythical “clean broom”. Here we return to the fact that the military never really left the stage. The military can be better grasped in a “cultural” sense — all those people in the elite and supporting classes who think with the military whether members of the armed forces or not. This includes the technocratic strata and those who naively believe in “military rationality” as a pure and national virtue. But one thing should be remembered about modern politics and “independent” candidates. Bolsonaro is expendable. He can be seen as a placeholder for the wider institutional force that combines actively to frustrate any democratisation of Brazil, most importantly by preventing any meaningful self-confident lower class political organisation and obstructing anything but the most meagre attempt to remedy Brazil’s grotesque economic inequalities.

The resistance to political and economic equity, let alone equality, is a centuries-old tradition in the two largest slaveholder republics of the Western hemisphere. This commitment to enrichment by forced labour and plunder has always been the driving force in the US and in Brazil. It makes little difference that chattel slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Democratic allocation of a country’s resources by whatever formula violates the very essence of the economic system slavery made possible. Facing that deep corruption in the Brazilian and US regimes will help in the appraisal of measures and movements to create genuine democracy and maybe even socialism in the majority of countries of the Americas, which have had neither.

  1. Ordem e Progresso (order and progress), the Brazilian national motto is a slogan from the 19th century Positivist Church. The leading figures of the Brazilian military, e.g. Benjamin Constant, who overthrew the monarchy to establish the republic were members. The Positive Church was based on the teachings of Auguste Comte, credited as the founder of positivism and sociology. It was conceived as a “religion of humanity”, emphasising science and progress. This coincided with the development of modern militaries in Latin America based on science and engineering as the foundations of military education. The military’s “modernising” role and its supposed rational objectivity originate in this tradition.

Brazil’s Neo-Liberal Fascist Road to Power

The decisive electoral victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro startled politicians and analysts of the traditional parties of the left and right.

The possible implications for the present and near future raises a number of fundamental questions whether it represents a ‘model’ for other countries or is the result of the specific circumstances of Brazil.

We shall proceed by outlining the socio-economic events and policies of Brazil which led up to rise of the highly authoritarian, neo-liberal Bolsonaro regime. We will then discuss if similar circumstances are emerging elsewhere and whether anti-authoritarian popular-democratic politics challenge the threat. We will conclude by evaluating the future of far-right regimes and their enemies.

Brazil :Two Decades of Military Rule and the Legacy of Impunity

Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship between April 1964 and March 15, 1985. Though the military formally withdrew from the regime it retained many powers and prerogatives, including impunity for the thousands of cases of arbitrary violations of human rights, including torture and assassinations.

However, during the height of the so-called ‘economic miracle’ during the 1970s, sectors of the middle class supported the rule by the triple alliance of private business, state enterprise elites, and the military. Only when the regime faced a major crisis in the early 1980’s did the military give way to electoral politics. The authoritarian legacy remained embedded in the political culture of the military and its followers. With the deepening economic crises of neo-liberalism, the corruption of civic culture and the increase of crime during the second decade of the 21st century, a militarized political movement headed by Jair Bolsonaro came to the fore.

The Social Bases of the Authoritarian regime

Most commentators have emphasized the amorphous mass of voters’ discontent with political corruption as the basis for the rise of the right. Moralism and insecurity with street crime were cited as the driving force of right-wing extremism.

Yet powerful economic power elites played a decisive role in propelling Bolsonaro to power. While masses were in the street, the Brazilian National Agricultural Confederation, the Federation of Banks and other prominent elite associations provided the funds, the legitimacy and legislative muscle. Over 40% of the Senate and Congress was controlled by the ‘ruralist bloc’, which came out in favor of Bolsonaro. Many of the voters who previously supported ex-President Cardoso’s center-right candidate Geraldo Alickman defected to the authoritarian right reducing his estimated vote by half.

The judiciary, under the influence of the agro-business and banking elite exploited political corruption to discredit and prosecute the center-left and the traditional political parties, leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest and prosecution of the leading left candidate Lula Da Silva.

From Authoritarianism to Fascism

Bolsonaro’s appeal to the elite is grounded in his program of savaging the working class: he promises to freeze public salaries for twenty years; lower pensions and increase retirement age up to twenty years; increase the role of the military and police in repressing strikes and land reform movements; end all restraints on pillaging the Amazon forest; lower taxes for the rich, deregulate the private economy and privatize the public sector.

In effect the Bolsonaro’s policies follow the script of a corporatist-neoliberal state: fascism with ‘free markets’. The pro-military policies are code words for mass repression; his pro-business strategy is disguised by an embrace of ‘family values’ and virulent hostility to working women, Afro-Brazilians, gays and indigenous people. His crusade against crime excludes bankers, landowners and industrialists who bribed politicians and congress-people – only the latter were prosecuted.

The Future of Neo-Liberal Fascism; Wave of the Future?

Will Bolsonaro’s version of neo-liberal fascism set the mark for other Latin American countries? Will his regime intervene and overthrow progressive countries? Will his victory in Brazil spur similar developments throughout the world?

In the aftermath of Bolsonaro’s first round electoral rout, the real (Brazilian currency) rose 3% against the dollar and the stock market jumped 4.5% in expectations of the total de-regulation of markets, and the privatization of the entire public sector.

Though Bolsonaro is compared to President Trump, there are both similarities and differences. Both share hostility to minorities, flaunt a rabidly chauvinist ideology and embrace ‘nationalist’ slogans. Yet Bolsonaro cannot embrace Trump’s protectionist policies and trade war with China. The agro-business elite in Brazil, which is an essential social bloc, would not permit him to undercut their vital export markets.

Bolsonaro’s neo-liberal fascist policy resonates with several regimes in Latin America, namely Colombia and Argentina. In Colombia large scale militarization and death squads’ collaboration in support of neo-liberalism have been in place for decades prior to Bolsonaro’s rise to power. Moreover, Colombia’s oligarchic regime does not depend on the mass base and charismatic leadership of a ‘fascism’ regime.

Argentina under President Mauricio Macri might like to imitate Bolsonaro, but his dependence on the IMF and its austerity program precludes any ‘mass base’ which might have been mobilized at the start of his neo-liberal regime.

This takes us to consider the stability and duration of the Brazilian experience of neo-liberal fascism. Several considerations are foremost.

Bolsonaro’s embrace of radical attacks of wage earners, salary employees, pensioners, debtors, small farmers and business-people may erode his ‘mass appeal’ and charisma.

The mass electoral fervor may not withstand the deterioration of basic socio-economic living standards.

Bolsonaro’s regime lack a congressional majority will obligate him to form alliances with the same corrupt parties and politicians which he denounced. The post-election political deal making may disillusion many of his ‘moral’ supporters.

If his free market program deepens social polarization and the class struggle, general strikes may result – though Brazil lacks the Argentine working-class tradition.

The agro-mineral elite, the military and the bankers will back Bolsonaro’s ‘war on crime’, and even benefit from the war in the slums, but unless he can stimulate investments, export markets and incorporate skilled workers and innovative technology, Brazil would be reduced to becoming merely an agro-mineral economy run by oligarchs and warmed over corrupt politicians.

Bolsonaro’s hostility to blacks, women, gays, trade unions and urban and rural social movements may win votes, but it does not increase profits and growth. Reactionary policies may attract amorphous middle-class voters, but it is not a program for governing nor does it serve as a coherent economic strategy.

There is no doubt that the explosive appeal of the ‘anti-establishment rhetoric has initially successful. There is no doubt that the military-regime alliance can withstand and repress a popular backlash, but can the regime rule sitting on bayonets?

The defeat of neo-liberal fascism in Brazil and its possible imitators elsewhere depends on the scope and depth of organized resistance. Bolsonaro’s ability to implement his assault on the living standards of the popular classes will depend on the scope and intensity of the class struggle. For starters Bolsonaro has won an election – but it has yet to be determined whether neo-liberal fascism is a viable, durable alternative to populist nationalism and social democracy. Likewise, it is not yet evident that the declining Left, fragmented and discredited can regroup and offer an alternative road to power.

Rocinha Favela and the Future of Urbanism

During a recent tour in Brazil, I visited the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil and runs up a very steep hill near the centre of Rio. It is believed at least 70,000 people live in Rocinha (some estimates suggest more than double that number), living in houses made from concrete and brick. It is officially described as a neighbourhood and has very basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity. Rocinha also has shops, hairdressers, banks, art galleries and many other businesses. The word favela itself is derived from a skin-irritating plant of the spurge family: removing these plants to live in these areas was not easy so the people called the hills after the plant.

View of sea from top of Rocinha favela (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

History

The favelas go back to the late 1800s when soldiers, brought in for a local war, had no place to live and so settled in the hills. After the end of slavery and the growth of city life many people moved to the cities and the favelas spread. A later industrialisation drive in the 1940s brought many more people to the cities and the favelas expanded dramatically. In the 1970s there were public housing projects but these too disintegrated into new favelas. As the drugs trade increased in the 1980s so too did the growth of gangs and gang warfare. In Rocinha, like many slums, it also has an ongoing conflict between police and drug dealers.

Locals perform samba drumming, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

UPP and BOPE

The state began a war on the drug gangs in 2008 with the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) moving in, usually after an initial operation by BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) who scour the area for heavy weapons and drug caches. The main purpose of the UPP is to stop armed men from ruling the streets and end drug trafficking. However, there seems to be an uneasy peace between the UPP and the drug gangs. While walking through the narrow ‘streets’ of Rocinha, a man with a revolver pointed in the air walked through our group and twice we were asked to refrain from taking photographs as we walked past armed groups of men.

Cemented-over bullet holes, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Cinema

If you look at any listicle of Brazil’s best films you will probably see two films, Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) contained within. These films follow the actions of a BOPE squad in a favelas and does so without pulling any punches. Different, conflicting elements of society are portrayed in both Elite Squad films. The BOPE and police are shown to have corrupt elements, ultimately manipulated by political figures. The middle class are shown in the discussions about the nature of power in university lectures (with particular emphasis on Michel Foucault) and the students are shown working in charitable organisations in the favelas with the nod from drug gang leaders. The main narrative of the films is the idea of corrupt police making financial deals with the drugs gangs – Elite Squad (2007), and changing to corrupt politicians making money by taxing the whole community after the drug gangs have been pushed out – Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010).

Overhanging wires on telegraph poles, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Tourism

The global success of these two films has probably been one of the factors in encouraging tourism in the favelas While the drug gangs generally do not appear to target tourists there have been incidents where tourists have been injured or killed by both the police and the drug gangs usually as the result of some accident or misunderstanding. In general, tourism, like in many other places, is a quick-fix solution for local businesses but does little in the way of any real social or economic development of the favela neighbourhoods.

Local store, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Whither the favelas?

While slums became common in Europe and the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries they are predominantly found in developing countries today. The Little Ireland slum in Manchester, for example, became a source for social scientist Friedrich Engels’ book titled The Condition of the Working Class in England published in Germany in 1845. According to the UN World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures:

The percentage of slum dwellers in urban areas across all developing regions has reduced considerably since 1990, but the numbers have increased gradually since 2000 except for a steep rise of 72 million new slum dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Also, according to one article on the world’s five biggest slums:

Around a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums. And this figure is rising fast. The number of slum dwellers in developing countries increased from 689 million in 1990 to 880 million in 2014, according to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016.

The biggest slums in the world today are: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa (Population: 400,000); Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya (Population: 700,000); Dharavi, Mumbai, India (Population: 1 million); Ciudad Neza, Mexico City, Mexico (Population: 12 million); and Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan (Population: 2.4 million).

Favela mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Urbanisation and the flight from the land

The development of industrialised farming has been one of the major reasons for the the flight from the land.  There is also the perceived view that economic opportunities are greater in the cities. Governments invest less in rural communities because of lower population densities and this creates a vicious cycle. In Ireland today, for example, friends of mine in rural areas still can’t get broadband speeds fast enough to play video clips on their computers and in August the government announced the closure of over 160 post offices nationwide. Meanwhile the urbanisation of Dublin has extended into neighbouring counties while pubs and shops in the rural areas close due to a lack of footfall. While the pressure on Dublin has not produced slums it has created huge increases in rents and a growing homelessness problem.

So what can be done about slums? There appears to be three main approaches to the question of the future of slums around the world today: (1) Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches, (2) Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding, and (3) Demolition for parkland.

Local bakery, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches

Around the world slum upgrading has consisted of concrete paths, sanitation, safe drinking water, water drainage systems and public transport. The Brazilian state has done some top-down upgrading in the favelas, putting in basic sanitation and social services but much more needs to be done with masses of wires on telegraph poles and cabling bundled along the side of the paths. However, with the global neo-liberal move towards privatisation of public housing there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governments doing serious renovation of slums in the near future. More importantly, in my opinion, has been the bottom-up slum upgrading, for example, in Orangi Town, Karachi in Pakistan where the residents installed sewers in 90% of 8,000 streets and lanes, digging them by hand themselves. This kind of community spirit builds solidarity which is more important for the residents in the long run in their struggle against uncaring states:

In 1980, the development expert and entrepreneur, Akhtar Hameed Khan, observed how many communities were self-organising to fill the gap in services – from building homes and schools to water delivery – and launched the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). Now globally renowned, the project has not only led the DIY sewerage projects which continue to expand to this day, but has built a network to manage a plethora of programmes that range from micro credit to water supply, to women’s savings schemes. OPP’s director Saleem Aleemuddin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that when activists began working in the area in 1980, the lack of sanitation was the most “obvious” and “problematic” area for residents. While it took the OPP around six months to convince local residents to invest and pay for the installation of the first sewerage line on their street, it was not long before people were taking their lead and organising themselves. “Since the government gets almost nothing in revenue from the slum, it therefore pays the least interest to its [slum] developments too,” Aleemuddin said. “In fact, people in the town now consider the streets as part of their homes because they have invested in them and that’s why they maintain and clean the sewers too.”

Favela houses, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Others argue that the slums should be seen as similar to the medieval towns and parts of cities preserved all over Europe:

The tight-knit structure of settlements built in the Middle Ages serves as an important lesson on making modern developments compact and keeping key services easily accessible to the people using them.

Thus, they argue, slums could be converted into a form of green, eco-friendly living areas such as Cambridge where people walk everywhere now instead of driving. However, it is more likely to become a form of gentrification as usually it is wealthier people who can afford to do the extensive and detailed building and repairs (not to mention the demands of state preservation policies in the case of medieval buildings).

Government plans for Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding

The demolition of slums for rehousing projects does not have a great history. It tended to shift the social problems of the slums to other parts of the city. In Ireland in the 1960s, Dublin’s slums had reached a breaking point as urbanisation and the collapse of slum houses put pressure on the government to move people out to suburban Ballymun into high-rise 15-storey flat complexes. However, by the 1980s Ballymun was seen as a social sink and had to be regenerated itself in the 2000s and the blocks demolished. Also, this strategy can be a cynical ploy as the flats built on the sites of the former slums are sold as properties on high-value city-centre land

Local kindergarten, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for parkland

A prime example of a slum demolition is the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong which eventually became the Kowloon Walled City Park. What started off as a Chinese military fort in the 1800s became one of the most densely populated slums in the world. It was extended upwards in the 1960s to become a city of over 30,000 people in 300 buildings occupying little more than 7 acres (2.8 ha). The residents were compensated (with some being forcibly evicted) and demolition was concluded in 1994. Today it is a 31,000 m2 (330,000 sq ft) park which was completed in August 1995.

In Brazil, this is always a possible future for the favelas in Rio. Not many realise that the sculpture of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain is in the middle of the Tijuca Forest – a massive reclamation project of land which had suffered from erosion and deforestation caused by intensive farming of sugar and coffee in the nineteenth century. The whole area was replanted with plants and trees of the rainforest and is one of the biggest urban forests in the world today.

Cabling on streets, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Climate change and the future of urbanism

The future of slums around the world seems tied to a kind of trendy belief in the necessity of planning for an urban future. However, there are those that believe that an alternative to the constant growing urbanisation is to create a model that would attract a part of the urban population back to the rural environment. The potential for creating jobs in the agricultural sector in the future must be seen in the context of sustainable soil management and the difficulties that will be facing food production in future projected changes in temperature, ultraviolet radiation, soil moisture and pests which are expected to decrease food production.

Governments would be better off to develop projects to modernise the rural areas with the type of facilities and services that can be obtained in the cities to attract people back to the land. Collapses in various crops or crop destruction around the world due to unexpected frosts, drought, hurricanes, floods, etc can only be expected to increase, leading to food insecurity and the potential for global food price increases and food riots.

Malcolm X mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

The very existence of a slum shows a government’s inability or reluctance to deal with mass population shifts. It reveals a fundamental structural problem in democratic processes and redistribution of tax wealth. For a government to allow a section its own citizens to live a Hobbesian existence exposes the rhetoric of a government for all. How can this be changed and slum issues be resolved? As the Orangi Town example above shows, solidarity and activism can solve practical problems efficiently even if it is letting the government off the hook of responsibility. As has been seen in the past, the social contract only operates when both government and people keep their sides of the bargain. When, or if, it breaks down the anger constantly bubbling underneath can spill over. While revolutionary changes around the world in the past, in general, are often attributed to their great leaders, the fact is that it is usually down to the most expropriated and alienated people in society to get the great social change juggernaut moving in the first place.

• All images in this article are from the author.

Why Venezuela and Syria Cannot Fall

Despite tremendous hardship which the Venezuelan people are having to face, despite the sanctions and intimidation from abroad, President Nicolás Maduro has won a second six-year term.

Two weeks ago, at the Venezuelan embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where I addressed several leaders of East African left-wing opposition, an acting Charge d’ Affaires, Jose Avila Torres, declared: “People of Venezuela are now facing similar situation as the Syrian people.”

True. Both nations, Venezuela and Syria, are separated by a tremendous geographical distance, but they are united by the same fate, same determination and courage.

During the Spanish Civil War, Czech anti-fascist fighters, volunteers in the International Brigades, used to say: “In Madrid we are fighting for Prague”. Madrid fell to Franco’s fascists in October 1939. Prague had been occupied by German troops several months earlier, in March 1939. It was the blindness and cowardice of the European leaders, as well as the support which the murderous fascist hordes received from populations of all corners of the continent, which led to one of the greatest tragedies in modern history – a tragedy which only ended on May 9, 1945, when the Soviet troops liberated Prague, defeating Nazi Germany and de facto saving the world.

More than 70 years later, the world is facing another calamity. The West, mentally unfit to peacefully end its several centuries long murderous reign over the planet – a reign that has already taken several hundreds of millions of human lives – is flexing its muscle and madly snapping in all directions, provoking, antagonizing and even directly attacking countries as far apart as North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

What is happening now is not called fascism or Nazism, but it clearly is precisely that, as the barbaric rule is based on a profound spite for non-Western human lives, on fanatical right-wing dogmas which are stinking of exceptionalism, and on the unbridled desire to control the world.

Many countries that refused to yield to brutal Western force were recently literally leveled with the ground, including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. In many other ones, the governments were overthrown by direct and indirect interventions, as well as deceit, as was the case in the mightiest country in Latin America – Brazil. Countless “color”, “umbrella” and other “revolutions” as well as “springs” have been sponsored by Washington, London and other Western capitals.

But the world is waking up, slowly but irreversibly, and the fight for survival of our human race has already begun.

Venezuela and Syria are, unquestionably, at the front line of the struggle.

Against all odds, bleeding but heroically erect, they stand against the overwhelmingly mightier force, and refuse to give up.

President Hugo Chavez

“Here no one surrenders!” shouted Hugo Chavez, already balding from chemotherapy, dying of cancer which many in Latin America believe, was administered to him from the United States. His fist was clenched and heavy rain was falling on his face. Like this, died one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time. But his revolution survived, and is marching on!

I am well aware of the fact that many of my readers are from the West. Somehow, particularly in Europe, I cannot explain, anymore, what it really is to be a revolutionary. Recently I spoke at a big gathering of ‘progressive’ teachers, which took place in Scandinavia. I tried to fire them up, to explain to them what monstrous crimes the West has been committing all over the world, for centuries.

I tried and I failed. When the lights went on, I was drilled by hundreds of eyes. Yes, there was an applause, and many stood up in that fake cliché – a standing ovation. But I knew that our worlds were far apart.

What followed were pre-fabricated and shallow questions about human rights in China, about “Assad’s regime”, but nothing about the collective responsibility of people of the West.

To understand what goes on in Syria and in Venezuela, requires stepping out of the Western mindset. It cannot be understood by selfish minds that are only obsessed with sexuality and sexual orientation, and with self-interest.

There is something essential, something very basic and human that is taking place in both Syria and Venezuela. It is about human pride, about motherland, about love for justice and dreams, about a much better arrangement for the world. It is not petty; in fact, it is huge, and even worth fighting and dying for.

In both places, the West miscalculated, as it clearly miscalculated in such ‘cases’ as Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, DPRK.

Patria no se vende!”, they have been saying in Cuba, for decades – “Fatherland is not for sale!”

Profit is not everything. Personal gain is not everything. Selfishness and tiny but inflated egos are not everything. Justice and dignity are much more. Human ideals are much more. To some people they are. Really, they are, trust me – no matter how unreal it may appear in the West.

Syria is bleeding, but it refused to surrender to the terrorism injected by the West and its allies. Aleppo was turned into a modern-day Stalingrad. At a tremendous cost, the city withstood all vicious assaults, it managed to reverse the course of the war, and as a result, it saved the country.

Venezuela, like Cuba in the early 90’s, found itself alone, abandoned, spat at and demonized. But it did not fall on its knees.

In Europe and North America, analyses of what is happening there have been made “logically” and “rationally”. Or have they, really?

Do people in the West really know what it is like to be colonized? Do they know what the “Venezuelan opposition is”?

Do they know about the consistency of the terror being spread by the West, for centuries and all over Latin America, from such places like the Dominican Republic and Honduras, all the way down to Chile and Argentina?

No, they know nothing, or they know very little, like those Germans who were living right next to the extermination camps and after the war they claimed that they had no idea what that smoke coming up from the chimneys was all about.

There is hardly any country in Central or South America, whose government has not at least been overthrown once by the North, whenever it decided to work on behalf of its people.

And Brazil, last year, became the ‘latest edition’ of the nightmares, disinformation campaigns, ‘fake news’ and coups – being spread with ‘compliments’ from the North, through local ‘elites’.

You see, there is really no point of discussing too many issues with the ‘opposition’ in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba or Bolivia. What has to be said was already pronounced.

What goes on is not some academic discussion club, but a war; a real and brutal civil war.

I know the ‘opposition’ in South American countries, and I know the ‘elites’ there. Yes, of course, I know many of my comrades, the revolutionaries, but I am also familiar with the ‘elites’.

Just to illustrate, let me recall a conversation I once had in Bolivia, with the son of a powerful right-wing senator, who doubled as a media magnate. In a slightly drunken state he kept repeating to me:

We will soon kick the ass of that Indian shit [president of Bolivia, Evo Morales] … You think we care about money? We have plenty of money! We don’t care if we lose millions of dollars, even tens of millions! We will spread insecurity, uncertainty, fear, deficits and if we have to, even hunger… We’ll bleed those Indians to death!

All this may sound ‘irrational’, even directly against their own capitalist gospel. But they don’t care about rationality, only about power. And their handlers from the North will compensate their losses, anyway.

There is no way to negotiate, to debate with these kinds of people. They are traitors, thieves and murderers.

For years and decades, they used the same strategy, betting on the soft-heartedness and humanism of their socialist opponents. They dragged progressive governments into endless and futile debates, then used their own as well as Western media to smear them. If it did not work, they choked their own economies, creating deficits, like in Chile before the 1973 Pinochet’s coup. If that did not work, they’d used terror – naked and merciless. And finally, as the last resort – direct Western interventions.

They are not in it for ‘democracy’ or even for some ‘free market’. They are serving their Western masters and their own feudalist interests.

To negotiate with them is to lose. It is identical with playing the game by their own rules. Because behind them is the entire Western propaganda, as well as financial and military machinery.

The only way to survive is to toughen up, to clench teeth, and to fight. As Cuba has been doing for decades, and yes, as Venezuela is doing now.

This approach does not look ‘lovely’; it is not always ‘neat’, but it is the only way forward, the only way for progress and revolution to survive.

Before Dilma got ‘impeached’ by the pro-Western bunch of corrupt freaks, I suggested in my essay that was censored by Counterpunch but published by dozens of other outlets world-wide, in many languages, that she should send tanks into the streets of Brasilia. I suggested that it was her duty, in the name of the people of Brazil, who voted for her, and who benefited greatly from the rule of her PT.

She did not do it, and I am almost certain that now she is regretting so. Her people are once again getting robbed; they are suffering. And the entire South America is, as a result, in disarray!

Corruption? Mismanagement? For decades and centuries, the people of Latin America were ruled and robbed by the corrupt bandits, who were using their continent as a milking cow, while living in the repulsive opulence of the Western aristocracy. All that was done, naturally, in the name of ‘democracy’, a total charade.

Venezuela is still there – people are rallying behind the government – in terrible pain and half-starving but rallying nevertheless. It is because for many people there, personal interests are secondary. What matters is their country, socialist ideology and the great South American fatherland. Patria grande.

It is impossible to explain. It is not rational, it is intuitive, deep, essential and human.

Those who have no ideology and ability to commit, will not understand. And, frankly, who cares if they will or not.

Hopefully, soon, both Brazil and Mexico – the two most populous nations in Latin America – will vote in new left-wing governments. Things will then change, will become much better, for Venezuela.

Until then, Caracas has to rely on its far-away but close comrades and friends, China, Iran and Russia, but also on its beautiful and brave sister – Cuba.

Evo Morales recently warned that the West is plotting a coup in Venezuela.

Maduro’s government has to survive another few months. Before Brazil is back, before Mexico joins.

It will be a tough, perhaps even bloody fight. But history is not made by weak compromises and capitulations. One cannot negotiate with Fascism. France tried, before WWII, and we all know the results.

The West and its fascism can only be fought, never appeased

When one defends his country, things can never be tidy and neat. There are no saints. Sainthood leads to defeat. Saints are born later, when victory is won and the nation can afford it.

Venezuela and Syria have to be supported and defended, by all means.

These wonderful people, Venezuelans and Syrians, are now bleeding, fighting for the entire non-Western and oppressed world. In Caracas and Damascus, people are struggling, battling and dying for Honduras and Iran, for Afghanistan and West Africa.

Their enemies can only be stopped by force.

In Scandinavia, a Syrian gusano, who lives in the West, who smears president Assad and gets fully compensated for it, challenged me, as well as the Syrian ‘regime’ and Iran, during the Q/A session. I said I refuse to discuss this with him, as even if we were to spend two hours shouting at each other, in public, we would never find any common ground. People like him began the war, and war they should get. I told him that he is definitely paid for his efforts and that the only way for us to settle this is ‘outside’, on the street.

Venezuela and Syria cannot fall. Too much is now at stake. Both countries are presently fighting something enormous and sinister – they are fighting against the entire Western imperialism. It is not just about some ‘opposition’, or even the treasonous elements in their societies.

This is much bigger. This is about the future, about the survival of humanity.

Billions of people in all parts of the world have been closely following the elections in the Bolivarian Republic. There, the people have voted. President Maduro won. He won again. Scarred, bruised, but he won. Once again, socialism defeated fascism. And long live Venezuela, damn it!

Originally published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Canada’s Indifference to Brazilian Democracy

New revelations about Brazilian military violence offer an opportunity to reflect on Canadian support for that country’s 1964 coup and how Ottawa’s policy towards our South American neighbour is similar today.

A spate of international and Brazilian media have reported on a recently uncovered memo from CIA director William Colby to then US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, detailing a meeting between president Ernesto Geisel and three Brazilian generals. At the 1974 meeting the new Brazilian president is reported to have supported extending “summary executions” of enemies of the military dictatorship. An army officer, Geisel ordered National Information Service head João Baptista Figueiredo — who would replace him as president — to authorize the executions.

While it has long been accepted that the military dictatorship was responsible for hundreds of murders — a 2014 national truth commission blamed it for 191 killings and 210 disappearances — military backers have sought to put the blame on lower level officers. But the uncovered memo clearly reveals Geisel, who was considered more moderate than other top military leaders, was directly responsible for some deaths.

Ottawa passively supported the military coup against elected President João Goulart that instituted the 1964–85 military dictatorship. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notes Brazil and Canada in the Americas. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn the ouster of Goulart.

Washington played a pivotal role in the overthrow of Brazilian democracy. At one point President Lyndon Johnson urged ambassador Lincoln Gordon to take “every step that we can” to support Goulart’s removal. In a declassified cable between Gordon and Washington, the ambassador acknowledged US involvement in “covert support for pro-democracy street rallies … and encouragement [of] democratic and anti-communist sentiment in Congress, armed forces, friendly labor and student groups, church, and business.”

Washington, Ottawa and leading segments of Brazil’s business community opposed Goulart’s Reformas de Base (basic reforms). Goulart wanted to expand suffrage by giving illiterates and low ranking military officers the vote. He also wanted to put 15% of the national income into education and to implement land reform. To pay for this the government planned to introduce a proportional income tax and greater controls on the profit transfers of multinational corporations.

As important as following Washington’s lead, Pearson’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. A study of the Toronto-based company that began operating in Brazil in 1899 noted, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’état against Goulart in 1964.” After the elected government was overthrown, Brazilian Traction president Grant Glassco stated, “the new government of Brazil is … made up of men of proven competence and integrity. The President, Humberto Castello Branco, commands the respect of the entire nation.”

Overthrowing the Goulart government, which had made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.60.” Between 1965 and 1974, Brascan drained Brazil of $342 million ($2 billion today). When Brascan’s Canadian president, Robert Winters, was asked why the company’s profits grew so rapidly in the late 1960s his response was simple: “The Revolution.”

As opposition to the Brazilian military regime’s rights violations grew in Canada, Ottawa downplayed the gravity of the human rights situation. In a June 1972 memo to the Canadian embassy, the Director of the Latin American Division at Foreign Affairs stated: “We have, however, done our best to avoid drawing attention to this problem [human rights violations] because we are anxious to build a vigorous and healthy relationship with Brazil. We hope that in the future these unfortunate events and publicity, which damages the Brazilian image in Canada, can be avoided.”

The military dictatorship’s assassination program has contemporary relevance. In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup” and the social democratic party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election, Lula da Silva, was recently jailed. The night before the Supreme Court was set to determine Lula’s fate the general in charge of the army hinted at military intervention if the judges ruled in favour of the former president and election frontrunner.

While they’ve made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past two years, the Justin Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster, Lula’s imprisonment and persecution of the left. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. Since that time Canada has begun negotiating to join the Brazilian led MERCOSUR trade block (just after Venezuela was expelled).

As many Brazilians worry about their country returning to military rule, Canadians should demand their government doesn’t contribute to weakening the country’s fragile democracy.

American Anti-Soviet Union morphs into American Anti-Russia

Unpersons

One reason it’s so easy to get an American administration, the mainstream media, and the American people to jump on an anti-Russian bandwagon is, of course, the legacy of the Soviet Union. To all the real crimes and shortcomings of that period the US regularly added many fictitious claims to agitate the American public against Moscow. That has not come to a halt. During a debate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, candidate Ben Carson (now the head of the US Housing and Urban Development agency) allowed the following to pass his lips: “Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down, you have to undermine three things: Our spiritual life, our patriotism, and our morality.” This is a variation on many Stalinist “quotes” over the years designed to deprecate both the Soviet leader and any American who can be made to sound like him. The quote was quite false, but the debate moderators and the other candidates didn’t raise any question about its accuracy. Of course not.

Another feature of Stalinism that was routinely hammered into our heads was that of the “non-person” or “unperson” – the former well-known official or writer, for example, who fell out of favor with the Stalinist regime for something he said or did, and was thereafter doomed to a life of obscurity, if not worse. In his classic 1984 George Orwell speaks of a character who “was already an unperson. He did not exist: he had never existed.” I was reminded of this by the recent sudden firing of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Matthew Lee, the courageous Associated Press reporter who has been challenging State Department propaganda for years, had this to say in an April 1 article:

Rex Tillerson has all but vanished from the State Department’s website as his unceremonious firing by tweet took effect over the weekend.

The “Secretary of State Tillerson” link at the top of the department’s homepage disappeared overnight Saturday and was replaced with a generic “Secretary of State” tab. When clicked, it leads to a page that informs visitors in a brief statement that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “became acting Secretary of State on April 1, 2018.” It shows a photo of Sullivan signing his appointment papers as deputy in June 2017 but offers no explanation for the change in leadership.

In addition to that change, links that had connected to Tillerson’s speeches, travels and other events now display those of Sullivan. The link to Tillerson’s biography as the 69th secretary of state briefly returned a “We’re sorry, that page can’t be found” message. After being notified of the message, the State Department restored the link and an archive page for Tillerson’s tenure was enabled.

The most repeated Cold War anti-Communist myth was, of course, Nikita Khrushchev’s much quoted – No, eternally quoted! – line: “We will bury you.” On November 20 1956 the New York Times had reported: “In commenting on coexistence last night Mr. Khrushchev said communism did not have to resort to war to defeat capitalism. “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side,” he said. “We will bury you.”

Obviously, it was not a military threat of any kind. But tell that to the countless individuals who have cited it as such forever.1 So, as matters turned out, did communism, or call it socialism, bury capitalism? No. But not for the reason the capitalists would like to think – their superior socio-economic system. Capitalism remains the world’s pre-eminent system primarily because of military power combined with CIA covert actions. It’s that combination that irredeemably crippled socialist forces in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Ecuador, the Congo, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Chile, Angola, Grenada, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Albania, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, etc., etc., etc.

We’ll never know what kind of societies would have resulted if these movements had been allowed to develop without US interference; which, of course, was the idea behind the interference.

Political assassination. Political propaganda.

In the Cold War struggles against the Soviets/Russians the United States has long had the upper hand when it comes to political propaganda. What do the Russkis know about sales campaigns, advertising, psychological manipulation of the public, bait-and-switch, and a host of other Madison Avenue innovations. Just look at what the American media and their Western partners have done with the poisoning of the two Russians, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the UK. How many in the West doubt Russia’s guilt?

Then consider the case of Hugo Chávez. When he died in 2013 I wrote the following:

[W]hen someone like Chávez dies at the young age of 58 I have to wonder about the circumstances. Unremitting cancer, intractable respiratory infections, massive heart attack, one after the other … It is well known that during the Cold War, the CIA worked diligently to develop substances that could kill without leaving a trace. I would like to see the Venezuelan government pursue every avenue of investigation in having an autopsy performed. (None was performed apparently.)

Back in December 2011, Chávez, already under treatment for cancer, wondered out loud: “Would it be so strange that they’ve invented the technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years?” The Venezuelan president was speaking a day after Argentina’s leftist president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This was after three other prominent leftist Latin America leaders had been diagnosed with cancer: Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff; Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo; and the former Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“Evo take care of yourself. Correa, be careful. We just don’t know,” Chávez said, referring to Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, both leading leftists.

Chávez said he had received words of warning from Fidel Castro, himself the target of hundreds of failed and often bizarre CIA assassination plots. “Fidel always told me: ‘Chávez take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat … a little needle and they inject you with I don’t know what.”2

When the new Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, suggested possible American involvement in Chávez’s death, the US State Department called the allegation “absurd” even though the United States had already played a key role in the short-lived overthrow of Chávez in 2002. I don’t know of any American mainstream media that has raised the possibility that Chávez was murdered.

I personally believe, without any proof to offer, (although no less than is offered re Russia’s guilt in the UK poisoning) that Hugo Chávez was indeed murdered by the United States. But unlike the UK case, I do have a motivation to offer: Given Chávez’s unremitting hostility towards American imperialism and the CIA’s record of more than 50 assassination attempts against such world political leaders, if his illness and death were NOT induced, the CIA was not doing its job. The world’s media, however, did its job by overwhelmingly ignoring such “conspiracy” talk, saving it for a more “appropriate” occasion, one involving their favorite bad guy, Russia.

If I could speak to British prime-minister Theresa May and her boorish foreign minister Boris Johnson I’d like to ask them: “What are you going to say when it turns out that it wasn’t Russia behind the Skripal poisonings?” Stay tuned.

Another of the many charming examples of Cold War anti-communism

Nostalgia is on the march in Brazil, a longing for a return to the military dictatorship of 1964-1985, during which nearly 500 people were killed by the authorities or simply disappeared. It was a time when the ruling generals used systemic brutality, including electric shocks, as well as psychological torture in their effort to cement power and ward off what they called “communism”. They also stole many of the very young children of their victims and gave them to their followers, whom the children then believed to be their parents.

Crime is the main problem in Brazil today, the leading reason for the desire to return to the good old days of dictatorial rule. An estimated 43 percent of the Brazilian population supports at least a temporary revival of military control, according to a 2017 poll, up from 35 percent in 2016. Fear of violence, whether it be terrorism or street crime, has fueled support for authoritarian parties and bolstered populist leaders with tough-on-crime, anti-immigrant platforms around the world, from President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Austria to a fellow named Trump in the good ol’ US of A.

“Thanks to you, Brazil did not become Cuba!” the crowd chanted at a recent demonstration in Brazil, some snapping salutes.3

This is indeed the height of irony. In all likelihood many of those people were not strangers to hunger, struggling to pay their rent, could not afford needed medical care, or education; yet, they shouted against a country where such deprivations are virtually non-existent.

The United States, of course, played a significant role in the 1964 overthrow of the Brazilian democracy. How could it be otherwise in this world? Here is a phone conversation between US President Lyndon B. Johnson and Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, April 3, 1964, two days after the coup:

Mann: I hope you’re as happy about Brazil as I am.

LBJ: I am.

Mann: I think that’s the most important thing that’s happened in the hemisphere in three years.

LBJ: I hope they give us some credit instead of hell.4

Does the man ever feel embarrassed?

In his desperation for approval, our dear president has jumped on the back of increased military spending. Speaking to the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania he said that he should be given “credit” for pressuring countries like theirs to give more money to NATO. None of presidents had the nerve to ask Mr. Trump why that is a good thing; perhaps pointing out that some of the millions of dollars could have been used to improve the quality of their people’s lives.

A few days later, at the White House Easter Egg Roll the president “bragged to a crowd of children about increasing military spending to $700 billion.” One can imagine what their young minds made of this. Will they one day realize that this man called “The President” was telling them that large amounts of money which could have been spent on their health and education, on their transportation and environment, was instead spent on various weapons used to kill people?

The size of the man’s ego needs can not be exaggerated. The Washington Post observed that Trump instructed the Lithuanian president

to praise him on camera, just as he said she had done privately in the Oval Office. She obliged, saying changes to NATO would not be possible without the United States and that its ‘vital voice and vital leadership’ are important. Trump pressed her: ‘And has Donald Trump made a difference on NATO?’ Those in the room laughed, as she confirmed he has made a difference.5

Thank God some of those in the room laughed. I was beginning to think that all hope was lost.

The stars we honor

Is it a sign of America’s moral maturation that numerous celebrities have been forced to resign or retire because of being exposed as sexual predators?

Maybe. To some extent. I hope so.

But I’d be much more impressed if talk shows and other media stopped inviting and honoring much worse people as guests – war criminals, torturers, serial liars, and mass murderers; people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and many military officials.

  1. For a book-length discussion of cold-war anti-communist propaganda see Morris Kominsky, The Hoaxers (1970).
  2. The Guardian (London), December 29, 2011.
  3. Washington Post, March 16, 2018.
  4. Michael Beschloss, Taking Charge: The White House Tapes 1963-1964 (1997), p.306.
  5. Washington Post, April 5, 2018.

Brazil’s Popular Ex-President Lula Ordered to Prison after Politically Motivated Trial and Conviction

A judge on Thursday ordered former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to turn himself in to police within 24 hours and begin serving a 12-year sentence for a controversial corruption conviction, effectively removing him from Brazil’s presidential election later this year, where he was the front-runner. Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. His supporters say the ruling against him is a continuation of the coup that ousted Lula’s ally Dilma Rousseff from power last year. We play excerpts from our recent interview with Lula and get an update from Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, who argues “the investigation is political, and that everything [Judge Moro is] trying to do is political, including the latest order that Lula surrender today.”