Category Archives: Elections

Coherence in Trump’s Iran and North Korea Policy?

What’s at work in Donald Trump’s reneging on the Iran Deal and his cancelling/tentative rescheduling of the June Singapore summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un? Is there any coherence in these policies? Does his blunderous waffling on the Singapore summit reflect the spinelessness of an empty corpse that’s been infested with parasites? Or, simply put, does it reflect someone who is morbidly indecisive and gutless, and is unduly influenced by the new war-loving National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?

In a Truthout interview with Noam Chomsky, Chomsky maintains that both cancelling the summit (though its status is now up in the air) and leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) benefits Trump’s “actual constituency,” consisting of  “corporate power” and “private wealth.”

Prior to canceling the Singapore summit, Lawrence Wilkerson cited internal U.S. politics as the motivator for Trump’s “Libya model” threat against the Kim Jong-Un regime and for pulling out of the JCPOA. He argues that, since World War II, no other U.S. president has been driven so significantly by domestic politics.

These are both interesting, albeit, unsurprising conclusions. The mid-terms are coming up and Trump seems to be too lazy to go on the campaign trail for Republicans. An easier way to campaign is to manufacture news that rallies the base and, consequently, gets them to turn out in large numbers for his Republican allies…as most of Trump’s base salivates on a ‘tough’, hardline policy towards perceived foreign adversaries.

The corporate power and wealth that Chomsky cites are certainly part of the equation. The stocks of military industrial companies have soared to record highs under Trump. The perpetual threat of war drives the military industry to continuously fill new orders, thus satisfying stockholders. One slight anomaly occurred when the summit with North Korea was planned in early May; this briefly had caused military industrial stocks to plummet. Perhaps, as a response to Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s fears of a long-term peace with North Korea, Trump and his team reacted appropriately: with belligerent U.S.-South Korea military drills and warning that Kim Jong-Un’s overthrow would be something akin to the disastrous regime change of Gaddafi if the talks don’t work out. And who to help ensure military industrial stocks would rise back up, other than pro-war advocate John Bolton?

This was all after North Korea dismantled its nuclear weapons testing site. Such a major concession, prior to an important diplomatic conference, was met with antagonism from the Trump administration. Reacting to intense hostility, a North Korean government statement was issued critical of Mike Pence. And then, unsurprisingly, Trump cancelled the meeting.

We can only assume that if the Singapore conference ever happens, Trump’s complete lack of diplomatic skills will prevent the U.S. from successfully negotiating a peace agreement with North Korea. Even if the parasitic moneyed interests in Trump’s empty corpse, now dominated by neoconservatives, pushed him towards diplomacy, he lacks the ability, patience and intelligence that is necessary to broker a complex peace treaty.

Canceling the North Korea summit, reneging on the JCPOA and threatening the ‘strongest sanctions in history’ against Iran has crystalized the Trump administration’s overall strategy: provocation.

On a school bus, the bigger kid taunts and pushes the smaller one around every day. Eventually, the bullied child finds an opportunity to retaliate.

In the sphere of international relations, this equates with pushing an adversary towards first strike, whether on U.S. forces in Syria, Guam or South Korea, or a strong retaliatory strike against Israel by Iran. When this happens, the mainstream media will play along, as it usually does. Their framing will implicitly go something like: ‘Innocent’ U.S. forces in Syria were attacked or ‘irreproachable’ Israel was attacked by Iranian forces. This occurred a couple weeks ago when Iranian forces struck Israel after over 250 Israeli attacks on Iran’s forces in Syria. In short, the Trumpian goal may be to push the adversary to take ‘preemptive’ military action and, thereby, contrive justification for commencing full-scale war and regime change.

If Trump’s belligerence towards Iran and North Korea is largely theatrics for a domestic audience, then the war-potential consequence may come as a rude awakening. But, if the Trump administration has a more coherent policy of conning either North Korea or Iran into war, then it appears of Machiavellian design.

Yet, we should not really blame Niccolò Machiavelli for superpower machinations of goading smaller states into war. Not only was Machiavelli a tireless advocate for warding off the Florentine city state’s behemoth neighbors, including the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain, from subjugation, but he sought to preserve Florence’s autonomy to develop a more democratic republic. According to German historian Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavelli’s ragione di stato or raison d’état helped implement the power of the state (which inevitability has its own problems) against the “corporate state of Ancient Régime” to change the law on behalf of the public good (p. 126-127). Ultimately, this allowed for creation of the modern state, which, in theory, holds the state to be responsible to its citizens, rather than the other way around.

It is difficult to discern to what degree there is coherence in Trump’s bellicose policies towards Iran and North Korea. Both policies serve military industrial stocks, as did April’s airstrikes on Syria – in this, there is clear consistency. However, what is not clear, is if the Trump administration is trying to goad North Korea and/or Iran into ‘preemptive’ attack, so it can justify an all-out war. For John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, it would seem that the sooner war occurs, the better. But for Trump, a war now may be too early – it may only benefit his Republican allies up for reelection in November. Meanwhile, any increased popularity Trump would gain from a war now would invariably diminish by the time he’s up for reelection. Thus, for Trump, commencing war two years later, just before the presidential election, would make far more sense. Republicans, independents and even some Democrats would rally to the flag and be more likely to vote him back into office.

This may be why we see Trump floundering, like a befuddled invertebrate, on the Singapore summit. He may have acquiesced to Bolton and Pompeo on cancelling the summit and leaving the JCPOA, but realizes that the timing is not right for the acquisition of political capital that would derive from a new war. However, as Wilkerson noted, Trump’s hostile actions play to domestic politics by firing up his base – but perhaps Trump fears that this could go too far, at least right now. Hence, the summit with Kim Jong-Un still remains up in the air.

Ultimately, a search for full coherence and intelligent life in Trump’s foreign policy may simply be an act of futility. Instead, Trump’s Iran and North Korea policy is reminiscent of a scene from the 1990 movie Ghost. In this scene, various spirits struggle within Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic character ‘Old Mae Brown’ to gain control of the character’s body and will.

In Trump’s case, his reality tv star empty corpse is where moneyed interests fight it out. Inevitably, the result will be antithetical to the public good. And, consequently, war with Iran and/or North Korea looms as a future likelihood.

Venezuela: Vanguard of a New World

Venezuela is a champion in democracy, in democratic elections, as proven twice within the last twelve months and more than a dozen times since 1999. Never mind that the lunatic west doesn’t want to accept it simply because the west – the US and her handlers – and her European vassals, cannot tolerate a socialist country prospering, one that is so close to the empire’s border and on top of it, loaded with natural riches, like oil and minerals. Venezuela’s economic success could send intellectual “left-wing” shock waves to the dumbed and numbed American populace, with shrapnel ricocheting all the way to blindfolded Europe.

That would be terrible. That’s why Venezuela must be economically strangled, literally, by illegal sanctions, by totally unlawful outside interventions within sovereign Venezuela, by corrupting internal food and medicine distribution, literally buying off bus drivers to stay home rather than driving their assigned routes to take people from home to work and vice-versa; and corrupting truck drivers not to deliver the merchandise, so that supermarket shelves are empty. They can be photographed, to make the world believe that Venezuela is at the brink of collapse. Those who are not too young may recall exactly the same pattern of outside (CIA) interference on the Chilean system in 1973, leading up to the CIA instigated coup that killed the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and put hard-core neonazi Augusto Pinochet in power. Outside interference, CIA and other State Department funded secret services, was also widely responsible for trying boycotting and influencing the Venezuelan democratic election process. To no avail. They did not succeed.

A similar situation exists with Iran, a mighty powerful nation with a high level of intellect, research, industrial and agricultural potential and – foremost – with a collective mindset that does not want to be trampled by the west, let alone by Washington. Iran is the leader in the Middle East and eventually will be the pillar of stability of the region. No Israel Government would dare to mess with Iran. Netanyahu’s threats are just empty saber-rattling. Iran has also strong and reliable allies, like China and Russia. China is buying the bulk of Iran’s hydrocarbon production and would not stand idle in an Israel-US confrontation with Iran. Hence, Iran doesn’t need to submit to the dictate of Washington. Iran is a sovereign nation, having already embarked on a path of ‘Resistance Economy’, meaning, a gradual decoupling from the western fraudulent dollar-based monetary system. Iran is considering launching a government-owned and managed cryptocurrency which would be immune from western sanctions – same as is the Venezuelan oil-backed Petro.

If Venezuela was allowed by the west to prosper, the people of North America could wake up. And, for example, demand explanations why their government is actually so undemocratic as to interfering in other countries affairs around the world, overthrowing other sovereign governments – killing millions, who do not want to bend to the rules of the US dictator; and at home planting fear through false flags and staged terror acts; i.e., multiple school shootings, sidewalk car rampages (Manhattan) and Marathon bomb attacks (Boston).

Never mind whether the US Presidents behind such terror are called Trump, Obama, Bush, or Clinton – and the list doesn’t end there. One could go way back to find the same pattern of attempted submission through fear, propaganda, acts of terror. They are all pursuing the same sinister agenda, world hegemony at any price.

Venezuela – and Iran for that matter – are in a totally different league. Venezuela voted on 29 July 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly, an elaborate, transparent process to establish a true People’s Parliament. The idea is brilliant, but was, of course, condemned by the west as fraud – because the reigning elite of the west could and will not allow the people to be in power.

When Iran’s President Rouhani was re-elected in May 2017, Washington was happy, believing Rouhani would bend to the rules of the west. He didn’t. In fact, he stood his course, though trying to maintain friendly – and business – relations with the west, but at Iran’s terms. As this doesn’t seem to be possible, specially after Trump’s unilateral stepping out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also called the Nuclear Deal, and re-imposing “the strongest sanctions the world has ever seen”, what is there left, other than decisively detaching from the west and joining the eastern alliances, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This is precisely what Venezuela is doing, calling her losses, but moving on to more friendly pastures – and to certainly a more prosperous future.

Western parliaments have become smoke screens for hiding financial dictatorships, and lately worse, police and military oppression for fear people might stand up — which they actually do, right now in France against Macron’s new labor law, intent of stripping workers of their benefits acquired through decades of hard work. Basically, since last February, people take to the streets of Paris, fearless, despite France being the most militarized country of Europe. They are exposed to tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, but do not give up defending not only their labor rights but also defending theirs and the peoples of France’s democratic right of freedom of expression which in most EU countries has died a silent death.

On 20 May 2018 Venezuela held another peaceful and absolutely democratic Presidential Elections, witnessed by international observers from more than 40 countries, including former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and former President of Spain, José Luis Zapatero. They all have confirmed the transparency of the Venezuelan electoral system and called upon the international community to respect the election results. Indeed, the United States as well as Europe could learn a lot from the Venezuelan electoral process and from Venezuelan democracy.

Washington, its European Union vassals and the Organization of American States (OAS), again – what else – condemned the elections as a fraud before they actually took place, urging President Maduro to cancel them (what an abject arrogance!). Similarly, the so-called Lima Group – a collective of 14 Latin American nations – has accused the Maduro Administration of manipulating the elections, declaring the results “illegitimate, also before the ballots were cast. But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center, said: “Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Zapatero said at a press conference that the EU, who was invited directly by President Nicolas Maduro to join international election observers, didn’t send delegations because of “prejudice”. Zapatero said, “There is prejudice, and life and political experience consists of banishing prejudices and getting to know the truth firsthand.” He also pointed to the OAS’s double standards against Venezuela: “What are they saying about what’s happening in Brazil and Honduras?” – And allow me to add, “and currently in Nicaragua”?

Correa doubled up, saying, “No one can question the Venezuelan elections… in the world there is no election as monitored as Venezuelan elections.” – The absolute correctness of the Venezuelan election was further confirmed by CEELA, the Latin American Council on Electoral Experts. Mr. Moscoso, the head of CEELA, stated that the CEELA delegation has met with experts and candidates ahead of last Sunday’s [20 May 2018] elections and confirmed “harmony in the electoral process.”

There is no doubt by any member of the high-powered and professional electoral observation delegations that the Venezuelan elections were correct and that Nicolas Maduro has legitimately been re-elected with 68% of the votes for the next 6 years – 2019 to 2025. The “low” turn-out of 54% is blamed by the west on Venezuela for barring the opposition candidates and opposition parties from voting. In fact, the turn-out is “low”, because of the west (EU and US) instigating the opposition to boycotting the elections. Under these circumstances, 54% is a great turnout, especially when compared to the only slightly higher numbers – 55.7% – of   Americans who went to the polls in 2016, when Trump was elected; and 58% in 2012, for Obama’s second term.

It is actually a horrendous shame that we, independent journalists and geopolitical analysts, have to spend time defending the transparency and correctness of the Venezuelan elections and democratic system – the best in the world – in the face of governments where fraud and lies are on their every-day menu and where initiation of conflict and wars – mass killings – is their bread and butter. Yes, bread and butter, because the economy of the United States could not survive without war, and the elite puppets in Europe might be trampled to mulch, if they had not become militarized oppressive police states.

That’s the state of the neoliberal/neofascist world of the 21st Century – defending the honest and correct from accusations by the criminal lying hooligans – is what the west has become, a bunch of mafia states without ethics, where laws are made by white collard criminals for their corporate dominated governments.

There are other reasons why Venezuela has become a vanguard of a new emerging world – a world that is separating itself gradually from the west. Other than China and Russia, Venezuela is among the first countries to abandon the US dollar as trading currency. Caracas has been selling its hydrocarbons to China for gold-convertible Yuan. Venezuela is also the world’s first country to introduce a government controlled, petrol backed cryptocurrency, the Petro which will soon be enhanced by the Petro-Oro, another government-controlled cryptocurrency, based on gold and other minerals.

None of the other privately launched block chain currencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero, Ripplel, and literally more than 3,000 digital blockchain currencies, have any backing. They can be considered similar to fiat money, highly speculative, lending themselves to money-laundering and other fraud.

When the Petro was launched in March 2018 it attracted presale interests from 133 countries of US$ 5 billion equivalent. The first day presale raised US$ 735 equivalent; impressive record figures indicating a huge interest of the world at large to find an alternative to the US currency dominated western monetary system – the one and only tailored to hand out sanctions, block international monetary transfers and confiscate foreign funds abroad. And this is because all international dollar transactions have to transit through a US bank either in London or in New York.

Without divulging many details about the Petro – for good reasons – President Maduro has praised the Petro as a key weapon in his fight against what he describes as an “economic war” led by the United States. The oil-backed digital cryptocurrency is convertible into: yuan, rubles, Turkish liras and euro – all of which is indicative that the world wants an alternative – and Venezuela has initiated this alternative.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran have also announced the introduction of a government-owned cryptocurrency. They are formidable shields against US-dollar intrusion and interference. Government-owned and managed cryptocurrencies are, in fact, master tools for an approach of “Economic Resistance” against economic sanctions. Russia is way ahead of the pack. As President Putin said already two years ago, the sanctions were the best thing that could have happened to Russia, which was economically devastated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sanctions allowed Russia to promote self-sufficiency, rebuild agriculture and her outdated industrial park, put new energy and savvy into research and development, and actually become in the last three years the world’s first wheat exporter.

Similar approaches are already happening large-scale by other nations, subject to Washington’s sanctions regime; i.e., Iran, Cuba, North Korea and, of course, China. Independence from the western economy also means moving away from globalization and especially the globalized US-dollar hegemony. Venezuela is the vanguard of a slowly growing movement of countries that have already abandoned the use of the US-dollar for international trade, like India, Pakistan, Iran. This growing trend may become a groundswell of independent nations, that may bring the US economy to its knees. It is a war without aggression, but with alternatives for circumventing economic hostilities from Washington, from the US led attempts to subjugate the world to the dollar dictate; i.e., to US-dollar hegemony. The resistance movement shall overcome.

First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Venezuelan Elections: Chavismo Still in Power, US Still Belligerent, Media Still Dishonest

Voters waiting in line in Catia, a popular neighbourhood in Western Caracas (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

In a climate of dire economic war/crisis and foreign aggression, Venezuelans took to the polls to elect their president and regional legislative councils. Chavismo won big in both contests, with president Maduro securing a second term until 2025. The international reaction from the US and its allies was already pre-scripted, and the dishonest coverage from the mainstream media was also to be expected. We take a look at the election, how the electoral system works, these reactions, and also share some observations after witnessing events on the ground.

*****

Incumbent president Nicolás Maduro won in a landslide, taking nearly 68% of the vote, while his closest rival Henry Falcón could only muster 21%. With all the votes tallied, Maduro totalled a little over 6.2M votes. Amidst a devastating economic crisis and increasing imperialist aggression this is a very significant victory, but it nevertheless falls very short of previous totals in chavista victories, and very short of the 10M votes that Maduro “demanded” during the campaign.1 Falcón had distinguished himself by defying the mainstream opposition’s call for boycotting the elections, only to fall back to the familiar tune of not recognising the results after losing.

Participation in these elections was just 46%. This number was historically low… for Venezuela! In the most recent presidential elections in Chile and Colombia, to name just two examples, participation was respectively of 49 and 48%, and nobody even floated the possibility of questioning their legitimacy. So if the low turnout is going to be mentioned, it should only be because Venezuela is (rightly) held to a higher standard than the regional US allies.

We had the chance to witness the electoral process on the ground as a member of the international accompaniment mission (acompañante electoral), alongside the Venezuelanalysis team. Our observations pretty much mirrored what the results would later show. Popular and working-class neighbourhoods (barrios), such as Catia, El Valle or Petare, had a very decent turnout, starting from the early morning hours. By contrast, voting centres in middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods such as El Paraiso and Chacao, traditional opposition strongholds, had very few people.

Maduro giving his victory speech in Miraflores palace (Photo: Prensa Presidencial)

The electoral system

Given the amount of attention dedicated to Venezuela’s voting system, you would think that the media would be compelled to at least explain how it works, but, of course, that would undermine all the half-truths and outright lies that are published. So, for the umpteenth time, here is how it works:

  • The voter goes into the polling station (each voting centre can have several polling stations (mesas electorales)) and hands their ID to the station president, who enters it into the authentication system. The voter then introduces their fingerprint to verify. Should they be at the wrong voting centre, or have already voted, an error message will appear and they cannot proceed. (Step 1, lower left corner, in the picture below)
  • The next step is the voting booth. The voter will pick their preference on a touchscreen display, and the choice will appear on the voting machine screen. If this is correct, they confirm the vote. The machine then prints a paper receipt with the vote, and if this matches the vote just entered, the voter deposits it in a box. (Steps 2 and 3 in the picture)
  • Finally the voter goes to another member of the polling station who hands them back their ID, and then signs and introduces their fingerprint in the appropriate spot in the electoral roll. (Step 4 in the picture)
  • Once the voting closes the voting machine prints an act (acta) with the final tally of results, to be signed by all members of the polling station and electoral witnesses. The number of voters, for example, can be immediately checked against the number of signatures in the electoral roll or the number of fingerprints registered in the authentication machine. Then 54% of polling stations are randomly chosen for a “hot audit”, which is open to the public and members of the international accompaniment mission (acompañantes electorales), whereby the paper ballots are manually checked against the electronic result. And once all this is done, the data is transmitted to the CNE headquarters.

Depiction of the voting process, called the “electoral horseshoe” in the CNE logistics and production centre in Mariches. See above for a detailed description. Step 5 (indeleble ink) is no longer used since the authentication system prevents multiple voting. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

This is not the whole story, as there are also plenty of audits (14 in this case) done before the elections, with members of all political parties of the international accompaniment mission present, and after the election. But just this short explanation shows you why you cannot just stuff ballots (the vote is electronic), you cannot vote more than once (authentication system will not let you and the electoral roll total will not match), you cannot just enter more votes into the machine remotely (the machines are offline except for the final transmission of results, plus the match against the paper ballots would fail), etc.

More than that, members of the hundreds-strong international accompaniment mission on the ground have praised the Venezuelan electoral process as free and fair. Nicanor Moncoso, president of the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (Ceela), insisted that the results must be recognised because they reflect the will of the people.

Ridiculous claims of fraud and irregularities

The existence of all these checks and audits is the reason why in over 20 elections, with constant cries of fraud whenever the opposition loses, no one has produced a single shred of evidence of fraud2,3, although that has not stopped the media from repeating these claims uncritically over and over. Given that in each of the thousands of voting centres the polling station members are chosen randomly and opposition witnesses are present, and they all sign an act at the end confirming that everything is in order, to claim there was fraud without anything to back it up is to take your supporters/listeners/readers for idiots.

One of the most widespread allegations meant to undermine the legitimacy of the process was that someone from the CNE told Reuters that by 6 PM participation was just 32.3%. This is a pure fabrication, as any of the hundreds of acompañantes who were on the ground could have told any of these outlets if asked. Simply put, the CNE does not publish preliminary data because it does not have access to it. Only when when all the audits (to 54% of voting centres) have been completed and a sizeable number of voting centres have transmitted their numbers, so as to make the results irreversible, are the figures made available.

So this claim might as well have been made by the Queen of England. It is akin to writing a headline “caveman source claims that the Earth is flat” when the Earth’s curvature has been measured. It is giving credence to random allegations about a number that has actually been measured and audited. And going back to what we said before, given such a large discrepancy and the large number of people involved, surely there would be ONE piece of evidence about ONE voting centre where the final tally had supposedly been inflated.

In the absence of hard evidence to back up fraud claims, the discourse is shifted towards other “irregularities”. While this is just small sample hearsay, opposition electoral witnesses did not report any irregularities when talking to us, although they did expect a low turnout from opposition voters. Some did complain that the puntos rojos were closer than the stipulated 200m, but laughed at the notion that voters would change their mind or be turned into zombies by the sight of red canopies. In fact, these puntos rojos have been present in elections for the past 20 years, and used to have their opposition-coloured counterparts across the street.

These places mostly serve as gathering points as people wait for the voting to unfold, and more importantly to track participation from their ranks, to see if further mobilising is necessary or not. The notion that these were a factor in the results, embraced hysterically by Falcón and his team and then echoed by the media, reeks of desperation. Other complaints, such as assisted voting (people helping elderly voters) irregularities were also insignificant in terms of their relevance for the final numbers.

A menacing punto rojo/red point in Petare! (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

International reaction

The international reaction was no surprise because it was already pre-determined before the elections. Such is the absurdity and dishonesty when it comes to Venezuela. And at this point it makes no sense to distinguish the reaction of the US State Department and the ones from its multiple echo chambers, be they spineless allies like the self-appointed Lima Group and the EU or the propaganda outlets of the mainstream media.

After the opposition MUD delegation walked away from the negotiating table with a deal already hammered out (according to former Spanish PM and mediator Zapatero), allegedly under US orders, the US quickly moved to announce that the elections would be fraudulent and illegitimate, its results not recognised, and all the usual suspects followed suit. And that is precisely what happened after Maduro’s victory, with people who claim to be champions of democracy vowing to punish Venezuela for the unforgivable crime of holding elections.

We have dedicated plenty of efforts to deconstructing the mainstream media propaganda surrounding Venezuela, and elections in particular, but it feels more and more like a waste of time. People that truly want to be informed about Venezuela should simply look for sources that do more than repeat the State Department talking points or uncritically echo the allegations of the Venezuelan opposition. FAIR did an excellent job of pointing out how even the MSM headlines have become unanimous, with “amid” their new favourite preposition. It is fair to say that amid so much propaganda, there is very little actual journalism left.

It would serve us well to go back a few months to the Honduran elections. Here there was actually plenty of evidence of fraud, which allowed for an irreversible trend to be reversed in order for the US-backed incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández to secure victory. Despite a few protests and some tame calls for holding new elections, the fraudulent winner was eventually recognised and it is now business as usual. Believe it or not, Honduras is part of this Lima Group that has the nerve to question the legitimacy of the Venezuelan elections.

Had the reaction been just this shameful bombast it would not be much of a problem. But it came followed by the tightening of the economic noose around Venezuela; i.e., new sanctions. The latest round of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration again fell short of an oil embargo, which has been increasingly floated by US officials, but targeted Venezuela’s and PDVSA’s ability to collect and re-finance debt.

After the sanctions and all the meddling, Maduro reacted by expelling the two top US diplomats in Caracas. Nevertheless we can expect the screws to be further tightened as the US and its followers show no signs of backing down from their regime-change crusade, and imposing as much suffering on the Venezuelan people as possible is their way to go. For all the sanctimonious claims that sanctions are only meant to hurt those-corrupt-officials-who-have-hijacked-democracy, we can thank British FM Boris Johnson for his clumsy honesty:

The feeling I get from talking to my counterparts is that they see no alternative to economic pressure – and it’s very sad because obviously the downside of sanctions is that they can affect the population that you don’t want to suffer.

So from an international perspective the elections did not change much, perhaps accelerating the aggression we had been seeing. But on the inside the picture is different. There were very clear signs, whether the loud cries from those who voted or the loud silence from those who did not, that the current economic situation needs to be dealt with, and fast. We already know what the solution would be if the right-wing returned to power, electorally or otherwise. The question is whether amidst this international siege the Bolivarian government has enough resources and political will to radicalise their path.

  1. We hope to go into a more detailed analysis of the political situation and the challenges ahead in an upcoming article.
  2. Perhaps we should clarify that no credible evidence has been produced. After the 2013 elections defeated candidate Capriles produced a dossier of “evidence” that was mercilessly torn to shreds, because none of it held any water.
  3. A possible notable exception was the gubernatorial election in the State of Bolívar this past October. Defeated candidate Andrés Velázquez published alleged acts that differed from the results on the CNE website, but this matter was not pressed further, perhaps because it undermined all the other unproven fraud claims.

Venezuela Defeats US In Election, Now Must Build Independent Economy

Upon returning to the United States from Venezuela and reading the terrible media reporting of the election, it was evident that the people of the United States are being lied to. The Intrepid News Fund and Venezuela Analysis invited me and others to come to Venezuela for the election to see first hand what actually happened so we could report what we saw and break the media blockade against Venezuela.

The US is leading an economic war against Venezuela that is causing tremendous damage, but there is also a media blockade preventing the truth from being told. Mayor Carlos Alcala Cordones of Vargas, speaking to foreign delegations, told us the media blockade was more damaging than the economic blockade.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) summarized the biased and inaccurate media coverage, writing,

‘Western media have taken an entirely different outlook to the [elections], unanimously presenting them as seriously flawed, at best, and at worst a complete sham presided over by a dictator. The New York Times (5/20/18) presented the election as ‘a contest that critics said was heavily rigged in his favor,’ Huffington Post (5/21/18) christened it ‘a vote denounced as a farce cementing autocracy in the crisis-stricken OPEC nation,’ while NPR (5/21/18) stated: ‘Nicholas [sic] Maduro has easily won a second term, but his main rivals have refused to accept the results, calling the polling fraudulent—a view shared by the United States and many independent observers.’ [Emphasis in original]

In reality, Venezuela had free, fair and transparent elections and manages the most sophisticated and accurate voting system in the world. Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center has a Democracy Program, said, “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” This is consistent with others who have monitored Venezuelan elections. In the recent election, there were 150 international observers from over 30 countries who also noted the advanced nature of the election system and validated the results.

The opposition and the United States faced two choices in this election: (1) run against President Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, or (2) seek to undermine the election by not participating. The US decided the latter approach was the best alternative and directed its vassals in Venezuela to boycott. Henri Falcon, the leading opposition candidate, did poorly, falsely declaring the election a fraud. Not only did the boycott hurt him, but he also advocated succumbing to the United States; e.g., dollarize the economy and seek loans from the IMF and western financiers. This was not popular because such loans end up being a disaster for national sovereignty as the financiers dictate neoliberal policies that send money to the capitalists while cutting essential services for the people

Despite the boycott, Maduro received the vote of 28% of the eligible electorate, around the same as Barack Obama received in 2008 and more than he got in 2012 or Trump in 2016. The 46% turnout is similar to US turnout and much higher than countries like Chile and Switzerland.

The economic punishment is not related to democracy. There is no economic blockade of Honduras, where a coup was followed by questionable elections, or Brazil, where there was a coup, or Saudi Arabia, a monarchy without national elections. Granma, the official voice of Cuba, which has a lot of experience with US economic war, describes ten examples of efforts to destabilize the government since the election.

Graffiti opposing US imperialism in Venezuela. Photo credit: Aljazeera.com

Why Maduro was supported by the electorate in the midst of an economic crisis

The people of Venezuela are suffering from serious impacts of the economic war being fought against them. The US sanctions combined with the drop in oil prices has sent the Venezuelan economy reeling. This election was important because Venezuela withstood the attack of the US and western powers, who refused to accept the election and tried to oust Maduro.

The Venezuelan people are well aware of who is causing their problems. When we took a tour of the Metro Cable, a Chavez-built gondola that brings people in poor neighborhoods down the hillside, we were stopped by a grandmother who had a message she wanted us to share with people in the United States. She said, “We know you want our oil, but stop punishing the people of Venezuela.”

When the Bolivarian Revolution had money from high oil prices, it was used to improve the lives of the poor. The results were marked decreases in poverty and illiteracy and increased access to health care and housing. The economic war has put stress on all of these programs, but Maduro persists despite it.

One of the great successes of the Maduro era is the Housing Mission which built two million homes for the poor. Each home houses four to five people, meaning eight to ten million people received housing, which included furniture. This is quite an accomplishment in a nation of 32 million people. The program began in 2011 after there were devastating mudslides and hopes to reach 3 million homes by 2019.

Compare this to the United States, which is in a housing crisis, where 2,461 people are evicted every day, and poor and middle-class families are housing-insecure. Consider the US response to the storms in Puerto Rico, where nine months later the island is still in crisis, or cities like my hometown of Baltimore, where we have thousands of homeless and 16,000 abandoned homes.

The economic sanctions are creating food shortages in Venezuela with blockades of food and medicine purchases and with some wealthy Venezuelans adding to the problem by hiding food or sending it to Colombia.  In response, Maduro announced an expansion of the Local Provision and Production Committees (CLAPs), to distribute food to six million people.

The Bolivarian Revolution is seeking food sovereignty in response to the injustices of the global food supply system, a goal made more difficult but also more essential due to the economic war. Food production is a long-term problem in Venezuela due to its oil-based economy, which caused farmers to move to urban areas in the 20th Century.

Maduro has also fought off agribusiness by banning GMO’s and the privatizing of seeds, protecting indigenous food knowledge from corporate capture and seeking to create a democratic food system.  Venezuela is an example of ecosocialism, where food systems are socialized and developed in an economically sensible and sustainable way.

These are just some of the social programs that Venezuela has sought to expand under Maduro. Maduro has also tried to break the financial blockade with oil-backed cryptocurrency.

US sanctions have had the effect of causing the people to blame the United States and unify around Maduro and the current government.

Maduro speaking to crowd. Source AFP

Deep Democracy Not Dictatorship

US leaders and the media describe Maduro as a dictator. It is absurd on its face when the election history of Venezuela is examined. Not only does Venezuela have lots of elections, but it is seeking to develop participatory democracy at the local level.

The Chavistas have won almost all elections since 1998, but lost two national elections. In 2007, the opposition defeated Chavez-supported constitutional amendments. In 2015, the opposition won the national assembly. In the last presidential election, Maduro narrowly defeated Henrique Capriles by 1.49%. This history shows consistently free and fair elections, not a dictatorship.

The National Constituent Assembly is pointed to as an example of dictatorship. When the opposition won a large majority, they showed their true colors by removing portraits of Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar. Then they passed an amnesty law for themselves where they listed all 17 years of crimes in seeking to overthrow the government. This law was found unconstitutional by the court.

The opposition promised removal of Maduro within six months and incarceration of Chavista leaders when they took power. Violent opposition protests followed that led to over 125 deaths. The Supreme Court found that three of the right wing legislators were elected by fraud and until they left, the Assembly could not act. The Assembly refused the court’s decision and in the midst of a stalemate, Maduro used his constitutional power to activate the National Constituent Assembly. The opposition tried to block the vote and 200 polling stations were besieged on election day, but it went forward. Chavistas were elected but the opposition claimed the turnout of over eight million voters was “too high” to be credible.

The National Constituent Assembly has an interesting democratic makeup. Two-thirds of the members are geographically based and one-third represent different constituencies, including trade unions, communal councils, indigenous groups, farmers, students, disabled people, and pensioners. They are currently writing amendments to the constitution, which will be voted on.

The communal councils show the participatory nature of Venezuelan democracy. The 2006 law on Community Councils allowed groups of citizens to form Citizen Assemblies that represent 150 to 400 families in urban areas, 20 families in rural areas, and 10 in indigenous communities. More than 19,000 councils have been registered. They elect their leadership, meet and decide on projects needed for the community.  They have received $1 billion in funding for various projects and have established nearly 300 communal banks, which provide micro-loans. Communes are combinations of local councils that work on larger projects.

These councils are the frontline of participatory democracy, but are ignored by the western media, as they are inconsistent with the claims of ‘dictatorship.’ For the Bolivarian Revolution, the councils are intended to ultimately replace the democratic liberal state by bringing together citizens, social movements, and community organizations, to practice direct participatory self-governance. They are a main pillar in the transition to an ecosocialist, communal state. They are a work in progress, striving toward these goals based on a belief in the sovereignty of the people, which take on more functions of the public sector as they demonstrate competence. Maduro recognizes Venezuela is still a capitalist-based economy and has identified the commune as the centerpiece of democratic socialist governance.

The example of creating real democracy, working to break from capitalism and moving to a socialized economy by and for the people, is what the United States and oligarchs fear. That is why Maduro is called a dictator and the US calls for a military coup “to restore democracy”, which really means restore the pre-1998 oligarchy and protect capitalism.

The presidential election, originally scheduled for the end of 2018, was moved up to April when the US State Department, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, other regional conservative governments and opposition parties called for 2018 presidential elections to be brought forward. Then, they claimed April was too soon. To appease the opposition, the government agreed to move the elections to May 20, signing an agreement with right-wing candidates Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci that included a host of electoral guarantees. Despite this, the US and its allies said the elections were illegitimate. In the end, the elections went forward and Maduro won an easy victory.

Source ANSWER Coalition

Maduro Takes First Steps After Election

While Maduro won the election against Venezuelan candidates, he was really running against US imperialsim. Maduro overcame great challenges to win a mandate to continue the Bolivarian Revolution. After the election, he urged dialogue with the opposition, seeking to move Venezuela to peace. Maduro also ordered the US Charge d’Affaires Todd Robinson and head of political affairs (who he described as the head of the CIA), Brian Naranjo, to leave Venezuela.  He accused them of being involved in “a military conspiracy” against Venezuela. This is consistent with calls for a military coup by former Secretary of State Tillerson and Senator Rubio as well as Trump’s claims of a military option for Venezuela.

Maduro must confront the economic war and build an independent economy, alongside and often led by the communes. Grassroots activists are calling for a National Emergency Plan on food, the electric system and Internet, health care and education. China and Russia recognized Maduro’s victory. He needs their support for major projects.

Maduro and the Venezuelans still face significant obstacles. The internal traitors, who seek a return to the pre-Chavez era, have been exposed as more loyal to the US and international finance than to Venezuela will need to be held accountable. The problems of corruption and crime will continue. And, Maduro will be under threat of attacks from US-allied Colombia and Brazil.

To show solidarity, people in the US should call for an end to sanctions and threats of regime change in Venezuela. Let Venezuela be independent and pursue its Bolivarian revolutionary path. We may learn something about democracy from them.

Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize

On the progressive website OpEdNews (OEN), I recently posted a QuickLink to an article published in Black Agenda Report by its managing editor Bruce Dixon. Seeking to get Dixon’s piece maximal attention, I titled my framing introduction to it “The Most Important Political Article in Ages.” Despite the appearance of advertising puffery, I was not exaggerating.

To grasp why I find Dixon’s timely piece so hefty, readers must understand my constant political perspective—as an activist analyst intensely focused on strategy and organizing. Like Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach, I’m inclined to say, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” If the world we desperately wish to change is the hellhole of U.S. politics, nothing remotely rivals in importance the current attempt to revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign (PPC).

But as we support that campaign, nothing is more crucial than keeping it true to the spirit—and depth of underlying political analysis—of Dr. King. Rightly conducted, today’s PPC could be (pun intended) just what the doctor ordered. This is why principled PPC critics like Dixon (who shares King’s race and radical socialist leanings, if not his religion) deserve our close and serious attention.

PPC’s Enormous Potential: To Lead Us from Our Political Desert

For a movement having, in King’s day and now, roots in U.S. black churches, religious allusions and metaphors are, of course, highly appropriate. So in saying today’s PPC could lead us out of our political desert, I am implying it could lead us into the Promised Land. Not, of course, that anyone acquainted with the nightmare of human history should expect the PPC to establish the millennium. But as a climate justice activist deeply influenced by Naomi Klein, I do think addressing humanity’s climate emergency will require a level of rapid-fire moral maturation unprecedented in human history. Our stark choice is between maturation and climate catastrophe, perhaps even between maturation and climate Armageddon. As a broad movement crying out for moral maturation—across an interrelated spectrum of issues including climate—today’s PPC is the closest approach anyone has made to a viable climate justice movement. It’s also the first movement—unlike Democrats’ pussy-hatted, Russophobic “McResistance”—offering a potentially deep response to the ghastly symptom of bipartisan disease known as Trump.

Provided, of course, today’s PPC attacks the bipartisan disease. Since doubts on that score are what I find most compelling in Dixon’s critique, I’ll say much more on that soon. But first I must dispose of the points—few but crucial—where I disagree with Dixon.

Religion and Morality: Where Dixon Seems Off Base

Any close reader of Dixon’s piece, and of my words so far, might have guessed (correctly) that my differences with him relate to religion and morality. Indeed, my previous section strongly hints that I’m comfortable with the PPC’s religious origins and morality-based language in ways that Dixon is not. In fact, I find in the PPC’s religious origins and moral language unique sources of effectiveness where Dixon sees only defects. But before elaborating on my two chief differences with Dixon, I wish to emphasize that they’re far outweighed by debt we owe him for his gutsiness in criticizing the PPC. I imagine that for many supporters, today’s PPC has already reached such iconic status that its critics must seem as perverse as detractors of Mom and apple pie would have seemed to characters in early 1960s sitcoms. Dixon honestly stuck his neck out for urgent public purposes, and even where his critiques seem mistaken, they’re hardly shallow or ill-willed, but instead rooted in realities clear-sighted people must acknowledge.

Now, anyone reading Dixon’s piece will instantly notice its snarky tone toward religion. As a frequent reader of Black Agenda Report (a black leftist publication, after all), I find this par for the course and hardly unjustified; how often, after all, has religion—especially U.S. Christianity—been used to buttress the powers that be? Or, in other words, to provide respectable support—even God’s sanction—for a ruthless capitalist or militarist establishment or even Nazis? Much more often, I’d venture, than it’s been used for the vastly more Christian purpose of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”  And that’s above all true when the comfort and affliction were to be offered in this-worldly terms; religion’s notorious postponement of any reckoning to the afterlife, of course, underlies Marx’s famous jibe at religion as “the opiate of the masses“.

For those who know Marx’s context (see the link just provided), not even Marx is as purely hostile toward religion as he’s typically portrayed. But given humanity’s vastly improved capacity to alleviate human misery via science, technology, and democratic institutions—resources that didn’t exist when religions like Christianity were founded—no religious voice should now be trusted that hasn’t come to terms with Marx. Dixon’s snarkiness is totally appropriate to shallow religion, whereas the religion behind the PPC, in its vigilance about universal human sinfulness, is capable of critiquing shallow establishment religion in terms as scathing as anything found on the Marxist left. A fact driven home for me by recent readings in The Radical King and some works by prominent Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, a significant influence on King.  Given the scholar-activist backgrounds of Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis (Theoharis is actually on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary, Niebuhr’s long-time home), leadership of today’s PPC seems in good, uncompromising hands.

And no one cognizant of the role churches played in the civil rights movement, as well as earlier social movements like abolitionism and woman’s suffrage, should doubt their immense value as community bases for political organizing. This seems especially true in a society that increasingly isolates individuals, and where labor unions, formerly powerful resources for organizing, have been decimated by successful political attacks. Now embracing Unitarian Universalism, that least dogmatic of religious faiths, I personally can (from an organizing standpoint) only regret I hadn’t been “churched” in my incarnations as an anti-fracking, and later Bernie or Bust, organizer.  Belonging to a church gives one special access not only to members of one’s own church, but to interfaith political organizing—a powerful weapon wielded by today’s PPC.

To close (very willingly) my criticisms of Dixon, morality seems the area where he’s most off base. To berate the PPC for its emphasis on political issues as moral ones is probably to attack its greatest strength—a strength quite evident in King. Dixon rather amazingly overlooks the crucial role moral appeals played in eliminating such societal horrors as slavery, dueling, public torture, family vendettas, child labor—and in the civil rights movement itself. What’s more, he flies in the face of cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s important advice to liberals and progressives: that we need to start articulating the moral foundations of our political positions with the same dedication that conservatives, through their well-funded foundations and think tanks, have.

But even in his biggest misstep, Dixon is neither shallow nor ill-willed; his mistake is intertwined with valid, important concerns. On the one hand, Dixon contrasts the PPC’s insistence on morality with a class struggle analysis he (unsurprisingly for a leftist) rightly finds missing. In its efforts at broad-based coalition building, the PPC, which never hesitates to give moral criticism, is unduly chary of giving political criticism based on unjust imbalances of economic (and thereby, of political) power. A strange stance indeed for a movement seeking to eliminate poverty and racism—and a radical neglect of crucial insight from Niebuhr, who saw such unjust imbalances as brutal instances of collective immorality. Class and power balance issues are moral issues, and Niebuhr saw collective immorality as even more pernicious for societies than the individual kind.

Finally, even Dixon’s off-kilter criticism of PPC’s moral language veils an extremely valid related concern. When Dixon (mistakenly) says “labeling your political opponents, their leaders, their misguided values and their persons as ‘immoral’ is never a persuasive political tactic” (ignoring the numerous social evils defeated by precisely moral critiques), his words do suggest a totally legitimate concern about the targets of such critiques. The powerful are in a radically different position of responsibility from the powerless; almost needless to say, Trump supporters—generally victims of propaganda in a system that offers few valid choices (Clinton was hardly a good alternative)—bear considerably less moral responsibility than Trump and the staffers of his thuggish regime. In politics, we should always fire our moral weaponry at the powerful; the powerless, rather like bystanders of armed conflict, should be left to infer the implications of associating closely with parties rightly under moral assault. Creating shame by proxy, without the resentment provoked by personal blame, is the needed moral tactic.

Democrats, Russiagate, and Third-Party Voices: What Dixon Gets Crucially Right

Given the great value I find in Dixon’s courageous article, I regret the amount of space I had to use for specifying my criticisms; if anything, that was because I had to disentangle even his weaknesses from intimately related strengths. Praising his unalloyed merits is a much more gratifying task.

Now, in splitting claims of merit between the PPC and Dixon, I’m inclined to say the PPC (as a movement with religious roots making moral criticisms) has a better toolkit for doing the needed political job than Dixon actually realizes. But on the existing evidence, I’d credit Dixon with a better understanding of what the job actually is. So I’d strongly urge the PPC to enlist Dixon (or someone with a similar perspective) as an adviser on its project, lest it botch that project by misapplying its powerful tools—or failing to use others it may need.

Setting tool and job metaphors aside, the existing evidence suggests Dixon’s diagnosis of our political woes is nearly identical to mine: the deep corruption, by plutocratic and militarist interests, of both parties in a structurally two-party system, with Republicans as the more straightforwardly extremist party and Democrats as their insincere, ineffective, and, in fact, enabling “opposition.” If it’s true, as Noam Chomsky states, that U.S. Republicans are “the most dangerous organization in human history“, it’s likewise true that Democrats like it that way, for only contrast with such a vile party could justify to voters corruption as deep as Democrats’ own. Dixon obviously prefers the Green Party to either (as do I), and if we face simple facts, Greens are almost infinitely closer to Dr. King’s values—and almost infinitely more willing to fight the PPC’s “four evils”—than either party with a prospect of actually holding power. Finally, any accurate diagnosis of our political woes must acknowledge that both major parties use every dirty trick in the book to keep intraparty reformers, let alone reformist third parties, from ever gaining power; and that both command vast media resources, likewise corrupted by plutocratic and militarist interests, that serve as propaganda organs to keep legitimate criticisms and political issues inconvenient to both parties from ever being aired.

While the PPC is quite willing to denounce the vile moral consequences stemming from this diagnosis—and to use civil disobedience to spread the message that those consequences are intolerable—they seem utterly unwilling to spread (by civil disobedience or any other means) the message of the underlying diagnosis.

If my political instincts (and Dixon’s) are correct, the PPC’s denouncing of the consequences of the diagnosis—without daring to pronounce the diagnosis itself—risks reducing the PPC to the role of ineffectual moral scolds, no matter how much civil disobedience they engage in. Why this is so is tellingly explained in terms of one of Dixon’s most spot-on criticisms: the PPC’s unlikelihood ever to denounce Democrats’ pernicious Russiagate narrative.

Taking matters at face value, the PPC would have more stake than anyone in being skeptical of Russiagate. After all, if Russia really is a dangerous enemy hellbent on destroying U.S. democracy, a considerable portion of U.S. military expenditure—such as updating our nuclear arsenal—is fully justified. Ditto for whatever vast new expenditures are required to ward off Russian cyberattacks. And since nuclear weapons are unusable (having value only as deterrence), countering Russian global aggression will likewise require vast spending on conventional defense. So, accepting the premise that Russia is our determined enemy means kissing goodbye to the domestic spending required for the PPC’s cherished aims, such as fighting poverty or rebuilding our infrastructure to address climate change. And speaking of addressing climate change, we can likewise kiss goodbye to cooperation with Russia—a petrostate whose close collaboration we desperately need—in arresting climate catastrophe.  And beyond all this, the clampdown on civil liberties that comes with an active state of war merits mentioning; in a wartime state, the civil liberties of a dissenting movement advocating peace (like the PPC) are most apt to be curtailed.

All in all, a pretty chilling blow to the PPC’s aspirations. Unless Russiagate is the overblown hysteria narrative—the self-serving Democratic propaganda narrative—Bruce Dixon and numerous other principled progressives are virtually certain it is. It’s curious—to say the least—that the PPC doesn’t amplify their voices (as only a movement can) in denouncing a narrative that thwarts its every aim.

But for fear of offending its Democratic Party supporters, the PPC seems content to let stand Democratic propaganda narratives—lies of fact or omission—that sabotage its own noble aims.  So again, Dixon is totally justified in criticizing the PPC for accepting Greens and other left-of-Democrats progressives in its ranks provided they’re kept off stage and placed under a gag order about uttering certain “inconvenient truths.” Like, say, that Green Party principles and policies are infinitely closer to Dr. King’s than those of Democrats. Or, say, that the Democratic National Committee defended its right to rig primaries in court and has subsequently shown its determination to continue suppressing party progressives (see here and here).

Perhaps, ultimately, the PPC shares Chomsky’s view of Republicans as “the most dangerous organization in human history” and fears telling the ugly truth about Democrats will cause the election of Republicans.  But can’t a disciplined, tightly knit movement simultaneously tell the truth about Democrats while imposing the view that Republicans are worse and are under no circumstances to be voted for? I think of Adolph Reed’s “support” for Hillary Clinton in his superb piece “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important”; this piece seems especially appropriate, since “lying neoliberal warmonger” seems to fit Democrats’ controlling leadership and not just Hillary Clinton. Thus portraying the Democratic Party seems much better preparation for practicing civil disobedience against—or issuing ultimatums to—corrupt Democrats the PPC had elected for purely defensive reasons. Like, say, the ultimatum of having its vast membership work to build the Green Party for 2020 if Democrats don’t seize the chance to shape up the PPC offered them in 2018.

If the PPC refuses to use its movement bully pulpit to tell hard truths about Democrats, Dixon’s words about its “lack of any political endgame” will prove prophetic: what good does it do to “vote like never before” when there’s no candidate in either major party worth voting for?

Amidst Threats and Defiance, Venezuelans head to the Polls

Closing rally of the Maduro campaign (Photo: Presidential Press)

May 17 marked the end of the political campaign for the upcoming presidential and legislative council elections that will take place on Sunday May 20. In Caracas, in the traditional rally-holding place in Avenida Bolívar, Nicolás Maduro gave his closing campaign speech, surrounded by a large crowd that had mobilised in the early hours of the morning and converged from multiple locations in Caracas.

In his speech, Maduro reiterated some of the main tenets of his campaign: the promise to take on the economic “mafias” and to bring forth an “economic revolution”1, the rejection of foreign interference in Venezuelan affairs, and a call for participation in the upcoming elections. He also renewed a call for dialogue addressed to all sectors of Venezuelan society.

This final rally brought the curtain on a campaign that saw Maduro all over the country, supported by what has become an impressive electoral machine, with a big ability to mobilise people. Multiple sectors inside the heterogeneous chavismo also voiced their support for Maduro. Even groups that have kept a critical line with regard to government policy in recent times have it clear that only a Maduro victory can guarantee the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution and the possibility to continue the struggle for socialism.

Maduro delivering his final campaign speech (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The two main opposition candidates on 20M are Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci (out of the other two initially running, Reinaldo Quijada is expected to have a very small showing and Luis Ratti joined Falcón). For a while the possibility of a unified front with a single candidate hung in the air, but did not materialise in the end, which makes Maduro the favourite for the upcoming vote.

Henry Falcón “disobeyed” instructions and threats from the US and the main opposition parties of the MUD, stepping forward as a candidate. His main proposal is to dollarise the economy, as well as appeal to instances such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for support. However, with the main anti-chavista figures and parties insisting in their non-recognition of the elections and calling on people to stay away, he will find it hard to mobilise the middle class, which historically has been the core anti-chavista vote.

While Falcón focused mainly on holding meetings and press events, evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci made use of his experience and mobilising capacity to hold a few massive events on the streets. Bertucci refused to step out of the race in favour of Falcón, believing (or having us believe) that he is in a better position than his rival. In any case, his arrival on the political scene is surely with a view beyond these elections, looking to capitalise on the disastrous decisions of the opposition in the recent past to present himself as a political alternative in the future, in a similar fashion to what has been seen with evangelical movements in other Latin American countries.

Main opposition candidates Henri Falcón (left) and Javier Bertucci (right) (Photos from respective twitter accounts)

These elections arrive with Venezuela suffering from a deep crisis and growing economic war. Prices have skyrocketed in recent months, and the government response through salary increases and bonuses has failed to keep up with inflation, resulting in a very difficult reality for ordinary Venezuelans. There is also an important international dimension to this. The US empire, and its loyal allies, have been ramping up the attacks against Venezuela, for example, barring all access to credit or making it more difficult to pay for imports.

Along these lines, the US and its echo chamber, the Lima Group, have railed against these elections, arrogantly demanding they be suspended and announcing, months in advance, that they would not be legitimate and that they would not recognise the results2,3 This is simply a consequence of the fact that an anti-chavista victory was far from certain. After a growing wave of violence in the first half of 2017, chavismo responded with remarkable strength, achieving peace with the Constituent Assembly elections and then going on to win regional and municipal elections. In light of all this, the decision was to abandon the electoral route and look for a different “regime change” avenue.

Giant Chávez puppet during the closing Maduro rally (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Taking all of this into account, the 20M elections are a key moment in the history of Venezuela and Latin America. A chavista defeat would imply a massive setback for the left in Latin America, and it would bring about a merciless onslaught against poor and working-class Venezuelans. But at the same time a Maduro victory will be greeted with even greater imperialist hostility, with further sanctions and an eventual oil embargo on the horizon.

All of this does not discard that there are important choices and changes to be made in terms of government policy, especially in what concerns the repeated appeals, always followed by preferential dollars or credit, to private businessmen, so that they will produce or import. At the end of the day the strength and creativity of the pueblo are the only resource that really matters, and the mobilisation in defence of the revolution, even in the difficult current circumstances, show that the political conscience that was built is perhaps the most important achievement of the past 20 years. And it shows that there is no way forward except to radicalise the revolution. There is a tough battle coming up on May 20, and then another one the following day.

  1. With plenty of goodwill we can grant that a strong electoral showing will give Maduro some backing to implement tough measures, but on the other one cannot help but wonder why these tough measures were not put into place in recent months and years.
  2. Trying to out-Trump his master, Colombian president Santos announced that he was aware of a months-long evil plan by the Venezuelan “regime” to register and transport hundreds of thousands of Colombians and have them vote!
  3. Here we also have to wonder what the “recognition” from the US and its followers is actually worth. We only have to go back a few months to the Honduran elections, where there was a blatant display of fraud, and nevertheless results were “recognised”.

The Irony of Election Fraud: Staggering Election Loss for the West, Huge Win for Lebanon!!

In what can only be considered a staggering loss for western influence in Lebanon, Hizbullah doubled its seats in the new Lebanese parliament as a result of this first election in nine years…and the far too obvious attempt by these same western powers to influence the result.

The desperation of Saad Hariri’s western backers had been shown by his image shadowing the many candidates’ campaign poster images whom he hoped would be part of his own new coalition, one that would have resulted in additional influence for him and the western backers he met with two weeks ago in Paris. This was exemplified by the vote-buying scandal — ignored by western media — designed to negate Hizbullah’s continued rise in influence.

In a political blunder of geopolitical importance, during the days leading up to this past Sunday’s Parliamentary election this supposedly secret vote buying (for as much as $2000 per vote) was anything but a secret in the minds of Lebanese voters as they went to the polls. The disgust of voters for this attempt to thwart their first move towards democracy after almost a decade served up a defeat that could see Hariri relegated to the dustbin of politics since many of the candidates he counted on were thrashed, losing more than a third of their existing seats, while Hizbullah doubled their seats to twenty-four and many of their coalition partners also made strong gains. This means that, as predicted, the Hizbullah coalition will not only be a block to remaining western influence in the Parliament, this coalition will also now set the agenda and with their new majority have the ability to strongly influence the election of the three most important leaders: the President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister — who will not likely be Hariri.

Trouble for Hariri began early on election morning when, by 2 PM, voter turn out was well below expectations at a paltry 24.7%. This led to impassioned television pleas from current president Michel Aoun asking Lebanon to get out and vote. In a subsequent tweet he wrote,  “I reiterate the call, if change and a new approach are what you want, you must exercise your right. You should not miss the opportunity given by the new law which grants everyone permission to access parliament.”

Processions of cars adorned with political party banners and flags began roaming the streets with bullhorns begging voters to come out, and their candidates began soliciting votes in front of the polling stations despite both being a violation of campaign rule 78. Kataeb Party leader and MP Sami Gemayel, after casting his vote in Metn, told reporters afterwards that he was shocked at “candidates breaking the media blackout rule.” President of the Election Observation Committee, Judge Nadim Abdel Malek, next released a statement warning any media outlet that had breached the electoral silence in today’s vote that they will be referred to the Publications Court.

Hizbullah Election Support Workers in Beirut District 1

As has been the case in the lead up to the election, Hizbullah was playing it cool and by the rules. Their supporters are impassioned, well organized, pro-Lebanon down to their core and vote. Thus, the ongoing reports of low turn-out favoured their likely success. Hizbullah did not participate in election trickery, which is consistent with its eighteen-year rise in power that, among other factors, has been bolstered by a consistent adherence to ethics as demanded by their Shia doctrine and its abhorrence of corruption. This doctrine has been the proper reflection of the demonstrative corruption and divisiveness of Hariri and the other non-Shia parties. After the widespread vote-buying scandal, voters were left with only two choices, don’t vote or vote against continued corruption. Neither choice favoured Hariri, hence the low turn-out and that his party, the Future Movement Party, went down in defeat.

Election Day Begins, Democracy Wins!

There were no serious incidents reported and problems were limited to long lines, accidentally switched ballot boxes, a lack of privacy in voting booths, lack of handicap access and help for the elderly, complaints that ballot cards were too large and that several politicians were violating Rule 78.  Popular Bloc leader Myriam Skaff held a news conference saying that Lebanese Forces Party supporters struck her car with bats and criticized the Internal Security Forces for not intervening when her car was attacked while she was in it, before the Lebanese army finally intervened. Al-Jadeed TV reported that the Lebanese Army pulled a man from his car after he tried to drive through a roadblock in Choueifat.

Thumbs Up! For the First Election in Nine Years.

Chief Observer of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission Elena Valenciano said that the mission and its 131 observers across Lebanon had a “very positive” impression of the voting process in 98 percent of cases observed. “The management of the voting process is happening normally and professionally,” Valenciano said. Her comment, of course, failed to mention the voter fraud so much in everyone else’s minds. Free Patriotic Movement leader, parliamentary candidate and current foreign minister Gebran Bassil more accurately addressed this problem, stating, that there was a “financial brutality” that was “focused on buying votes and the consciences of citizens, which is dangerous.” Bassil said his party was “clean.”

The Electoral Supervisory Committee released a statement denouncing violations of a government-ordered media blackout on electoral campaigns. “Despite releasing continued statements and warnings during its direct observation of the media, it appears that some outlets are still violating the electoral media blackout and are not adhering to Article 78 of the electoral law,” the statement reads. Article 78 prevents news outlets from reporting on campaigns during Election Day.

Despite low turn out, some voting district locations were packed until closing time. Baalbeck-Hermel was given an additional 73 ballot boxes for multiple municipalities after the original allotted boxes filled up by 3:30 p.m. This led to Hizbullah Deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem contacting the Interior Ministry overextending voting hours beyond original 7 p.m. closing time. This was denied for correct constitutional reasons; however, the compromise was to allow anyone still in line to enter the polling area before 7 PM and then vote after the doors were closed. This lead to the official close of the vote being at 8:08 PM.

At 10.32pm the Lebanese Interior Ministry revised its final turnout count in the election to 46.88. This was a disappointing turnout after nine years of anticipation and down from the previous election’s total of 55%.

The Nine Color Coded Parties and the Candidates for Beirut District 1

What the Election Means for Lebanon

On Monday, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke of a big political and electoral victory for the “Resistance,” saying that Hizbullah proved wrong any doubts about the support that it enjoys within its base.

The group’s Shia bloc of total Shia candidates emerged stronger than before. Shia dissent against Hizbullah and its allies in the Amal Movement in the south was so minimal that opposing candidates lists failed to reach the election threshold.

Besides increasing Shia representation in full, Hizbullah was able to expand its base in parliament, picking up seats for Sunni and Christian allies in Beirut and the Western Beqaa Valley.

“Hezbollah is the biggest winner in this election,” Kassem Kassir, author of the book Hezbollah between 1982 and 2016, told Middle East Eye. He added that the party and its direct allies will end up with a 50 MP bloc of the 128, not including the past coalition loyalty President Michel Aoun’s lawmakers.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement lost seats in several districts where it was previously unchallenged. His party shed a third of its previous share of parliament – down to 29 MPs.

In Tripoli, the Future Movement lost five of the district’s 11 seats to Sunni rivals and ex-prime minister Najib Mikati picked up four while Faisal Karameh, a former minister and the heir of a political dynasty in the north, was able to make it into parliament. Meanwhile, former justice minister Ashraf Rifi was soundly defeated in his hometown of Tripoli, ending his quest to challenge Hariri for Sunni leadership.

The right-wing Christian group, the Lebanese Forces (LF), is expected to expand its presence in the parliament from eight to 15 MPs, making it a major force in Christian politics. LF staunchly opposes Hizbullah and calls its weapons illegitimate, which is the height of political hypocrisy since this group operated as a brutal militia in the 1975-1990 civil war and was banned during the Syrian control of Lebanon until 2005.

With Aoun in the presidential palace, his Free Patriotic Party (FPM) looked to at least maintain its large bloc in parliament in support of the presidency. However, the FPM is set to lose a few of its 27 seats. Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister, Aoun’s son-in-law and FPM president, made it into parliament after two unsuccessful attempts in 2005 and 2009. Still, the FPM dropped seats in Mount Lebanon and the North, mostly because of proportional representation, and now it has to deal with stronger opposition from Geagea, who was vying for the presidency himself.

Independent candidates across Lebanon tried to challenge established political parties on Sunday, but they were almost completely unsuccessful which was a huge disappointment for the growing youth movement across Lebanon that detests sectarianism, patronage and corruption and largely due to the vote-buying scandal stayed home instead of vote. Nadia Shaarawi, the manager of the polling station, said that young people had largely stayed away.“The young people don’t want to vote,” she said. “I know from my nieces and nephews, they are not happy with any politicians.”

Their message was only heard in the mostly Christian Beirut 1 district, where journalist Paula Yacoubian, one of the seventy independent candidates with the Kolomna Watani Party, made it to parliament as the only successful woman candidate of the eighty-six offerings.

After the election had closed and the final tally was in, on Monday the interior minister Machnouk has hailed the election a “democratic festival”. At a press conference, Machnouk said all problems were swiftly addressed when brought to the attention of the ministry, which was substantially accurate.

Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah also dubbed the election an “accomplishment,” praising the government and President Aoun for its success.

The future of Lebanon is now firmly in the hands of those new parliamentarians who are sincere in their desire to see Lebanon prosper and bring a new kind of future — one based on inclusion and peace. As they head off to change Lebanon, this election will keep in their minds, and in the minds of the western troika one lesson, a lesson that is sure to rise again in the next election and hopefully in new elections across the world…cheaters never prosper!

The Mummy Returns: Mahathir Mohamad and the Malaysian Elections

It was a victory, but it could hardly count as a truly revolutionary one.  Grizzled, aged but formidably stirring, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s former prime minister, is set to form government as the world’s oldest elected leader.  His Pakatan Harapan coalition ventured past the 112 seat threshold required to form government, while a weary Barisan Nasional limped through with 79.

Shocks were registered some four hours after voting closed.  Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, head of the Malaysian Chinese Association, fell to Wong Tack of PKR.  Then came the caretaker health minister S. Subramaniam. The ballot box slaughter would continue for the ruling party through the night.

This election result is only surprising if one considers the seemingly immutable nature of BN’s rule, which has lasted six decades and resisted change with studied fanaticism.  Prime Minister Najib Rajak had thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at this election, enacting laws to curb the reporting of “fake news” and holding the election at an inconvenient time of the week, but even those actions could not conceal the rot that had set in.

The decay was such as to give Najib international notoriety, featuring the alleged misappropriation of funds from the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).  Mahathir, hardly a squeaky clean figure himself, took this as his cue to return to Malaysian politics, this time under the aegis of a new party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Barisan Nasional was very much a beast Mahathir understood, having lead it for 22 years. He was its stalwart and steward before retiring.  As prime minister, he pursued a modernisation agenda at some cost while also poking international rivals with vigour.  “Asian values” remained a favourite theme of his, fashioned to outwit advocates of greater civil liberties.

At times, it seemed that the wily politician was right.  He took considerable and understandable umbrage at the efforts of such figures as former US Vice President Al Gore to insist on his ouster in the wake of student protests against his ruthless treatment of former deputy Anwar Ibrahim. “Citizens who gain democracy,” proclaimed Gore before some thousand business leaders on a visit to Malaysia in November 1998, “also gain the opportunity and the obligation to root out corruption and cronyism.”

Such statements of sanctimonious interference merely served to shore up Mahathir’s authority.  “If the attempt [to oust him] had succeeded,” penned Eiichi Furukuwa in 1999, “it would have strengthened and expanded the power of the Islamic radicals and exacerbated conflicts with the Chinese community, leading to possible Kosovo-type ethnic conflict in Malaysia.”

Economically, Mahathir was a dark sheep.  He refused, much to the surprise of common wisdom at the time, to accept the orthodoxy of the International Monetary Fund clique in the wake of a financial crisis that burned through various Asian economies in the late 1990s.  Capital controls on global investors were put in place, a heresy that enraged such currency speculators as George Soros, deemed by the then prime minister as one of various “unscrupulous profiteers” engaged in an “unnecessary, unproductive and immoral” trade.  Currency trading, argued Mahathir, “should be made illegal.” Soros preferred to think of it as unstoppable.  Mahathir, it seemed, won through on that one.

As part of his political kit, Mahathir nurses a fair number of conspiracy theories that are amply consumed in certain constituencies. His address before the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit in 2003 held in Kuala Lumpur is still held up as an exemplar of anti-Semitic outrage.  “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be a defeated by a few million Jews,” he explained to the applauding delegates.  “There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counterattack.”

Themes of extermination and subjugation featured in an address that would have found easy room in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  “We are actually very strong.  1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out.  The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy.”

He was also its crudest of weapons when required, manipulating ethnic insensibilities and political weaknesses for reasons of political survival.  His 1970 publication The Malay Dilemma advanced the cause of ethnic Malays in the face of their more productive Chinese counterparts, an assertion of ownership and blood purity that seemed, at best, anachronistic.  Malaysia’s ethnic composition – Malay, Chinese and Indian – has never been the rosy one recounted in state propaganda, but Mahathir managed to place himself, if somewhat falsely, above the fray as a unifying voice tempering violent Islamic tendencies.

He always remained the foundational pugilist, banishing opponents and anointing successors in a semi-autocratic style that won him fame.  His understanding of politics is such that he will even promise enemies relief and rehabilitation if required, the most notable of this being his courting of his jailed rival Anwar.

Even now the agreement Mahathir supposedly hammered out with Anwar looks shaky and unsure, sketched in the heat of political expediency.  It must involve the securing of a royal pardon, then a by-election victory to enable the former deputy prime minister to assume the reins of power from his nemesis.  Yet even at the age of 92, Mahathir’s political instinct is animal like and impossible to contain.  The shock here was not his victory but the lack of variety and options in Malaysian politics that might count as reform.  The mummy, albeit in different wrapping, has returned.

Who’s Buying Votes at the Lebanon Election?

Beirut, Lebanon: Saturday, May 5, 2018 — On this lovely morning here on the coast of the Mediterranean there is not a cloud in the sky. In less than twenty-four hours voting will begin. However, on this day before the election, a howling wind is blowing from the south making the thousands of posters, banners and building-sized placards that feature the faces of the scores of potential Lebanese parliamentarians dance and sway wildly above the throngs of tomorrows voters.

But this wind, one that just yesterday seemed to bring the promise of a new future for Lebanon, will it be an ill wind that instead dashes this attempt at populist democratic reform, one cast from nine years of progress, onto the rocks of US-backed history?

Judging from the past twelve hours on the streets of Beirut, there is suddenly strong pause for concern. Someone is buying votes!

And just about everyone knows it.

Prior to arriving in the wee hours of this morning, this reporter had checked the newspaper offerings in the three airports transited for features on this very important election. In the New York Times, London Times, UK Independent, Financial Times, their Friday-before-the-election editions included not so much as a mention. In the English language papers of Turkey to the north, neither the Daily News or the Daily Sabah had a similar omission.

Why?

These same papers had news about Armenian, Moldovan and/or the Maldivian elections where the western powers were already far along in bringing their unelected candidates back to power despite contrary election results past. The many Lebanese spoken with this day did not know of this glaring omission but were not surprised. As one local commented, “Well, they always ignore us…until war breaks out, again.”

The Rules of Engagement

It’s now 7 PM on this Saturday and the bars are closing; unheard of in this town known for its vibrant nightlife that routinely parties to 4 AM even on a Sunday. It has been nine years since this nation’s last election and the Lebanese government wants everyone sober enough tomorrow to make it to the voting booth. So, if you want a drink, only a restaurant can legally serve alcohol; hopefully on a full stomach.

Voting for any of the almost seven hundred different candidates from across the country begins at 7 AM tomorrow. An interesting requirement for voting is that all Lebanese must return to their place of birth to do so, and because of the closed bars, tonight is extraordinarily quiet. As one taxi driver accurately stated, Sunday “will see the return of old Beirut.”

In what appears to be a form of Gerrymandering, when the voters return home to vote, many travelling over a hundred miles to do so, they must vote from a set list of candidates specific to their region. This would appear to be a violation of the Lebanese constitution that allows for universal suffrage and will restrict these voters from voting for more favorable candidates within the party of their choice, but not on their ballot. Despite the excitement of tomorrows historic election, many are quite unhappy about this limited choice that certainly affects their decision at the ballot box.

These separate ballots will be divided across the nation — similar to US congresspersons — by population. This means that Beirut, the largest city, has two different districts and three different ballots. The smaller cities have only one and in the rural areas of many small towns and villages, their ballots are apportioned to a set region.

One hundred and twenty-eight candidates will be elected tomorrow- the entire parliament. This has never before happened and is just as unusual in other worldwide elections where the election cycle is split instead — as in the US — to every two, four or six years. This makes this election all the more important since, post-election, it is these same parliamentarians that will subsequently elect the new Prime Minister and the very powerful three-member Cabinet that includes the President. Hence the stakes for this election have never been higher and this election will see a wholesale and long-lasting change in influence.

In an attempt to level the playing field for all candidates, all of them are currently under a national gag order that began this morning and will be enforced until the election is over and the results are in. None may, in this period, speak with any Radio, TV, Internet, or newspaper news source. Additionally, any manipulation by virtue of misleading advanced polling data has been restricted making the outcome an unknown to the voter and a further encouragement to get out and vote.

Everyone interviewed, without exception, views the many Hizbullah candidates as the status quo that will prevail. The only question is the final tally of seats. Hizbullah’s growing power has been achieved in the past by it creating various coalition alliances such as the March 7 coalition of many years ago. So the question is not whether Hizbullah will retain power, but whether it may achieve an actual majority.

While there are many other candidates in opposition to Hizbullah, they are aligned with either the Christian, Alawite, Sunni, Druze religious factions. These have previously failed to garner significant support since they have done very little, compared to Hizbullah, to bring real societal change to Lebanon. They also have repeatedly done nothing to defend their country in the three previous wars of incursion by Israel, while the people of Lebanon and Hizbullah have fought side-by-side. This memory applied at the ballot box to the horrors of war past and will have many voters discounting religious affiliations in favor of the national defence. These concerns have given current Minister of the Interior (which manages the police and domestic security), Nouhad Al Mashouk, perceived front-runner status for many who are looking beyond the Hizbullah offerings.

Mashnouk may have trouble with this since the Shia candidate, retired Colonel Ali Al Shaer, is featuring his own defensive track record as a reason for votes.

The image of Saad al-Hariri, son of venerated Rafik al-Hariri, is so prevalent by itself, and alongside those of the many candidates, that one would think he was running for election. His image and presence of support for these candidates are designed to hopefully bring him to power again via parliamentary vote. There is no doubt that he is riding the coattails of his father in a similar fashion to Justin Trudeau despite his brief resignation and defection to Saudi Arabia. This is not lost on the voters, but strangely many believe he has a chance since most have forgiven him for his treason.

Western Desperation: Who is Buying All Those Opposition Votes?

What does not bode well for a peaceful and long-lasting result of this election is that some of the opposition candidates are paying for votes. This reporter spoke with five different voters who all told the same story: The going price in South of Lebanon is $800 and the mortita for Beirut is as high as $2000…plus airfare!!

One woman voter spoke of her anguished conversation with her parents who wanted her to change her vote and had admitted to her that they had been given $1000 each for their votes. Another bar patron informed this reporter that, due to the requirement of voting in the district of one’s birth, opposition candidates were going to be bused in from across Lebanon since Beirut is the plum of this election, having far the most seats to win. One bartender spoke with disgust about an opposition staff member visiting his bar not an hour before and offering he and other patrons $1000 per vote.

Worse, yet another taxi driver spoke of his parents being contacted in Canada with an offer of airfare and $2000 per vote to come to Lebanon on Sunday.

While this might seem outrageous and expensive, it shows the panic that the opposition is in regarding the likely outcome in favor of Hizbullah. These allegations were made all the more legitimate based on this reporter’s observations and conversations with arriving passengers from Brazil, which, interestingly, has a larger Lebanese population that Lebanon itself.

On the inbound flight arriving to Beirut, a large contingent of twenty or more Brazilians was on the same flight. However, during a casual conversation, they revealed few things about their trip other than two key facts: They were staying only until just Monday morning… and had brought with them almost no luggage. This made little sense at the time; until the testimony of many in Beirut certified their true reason for an 11,000-mile, two-day vacation.

Of further concern was how these paid-for voters would be monitored in performing their deeds in the confines of a secret voting booth. With the Lebanese being known for corruption, all spoken with assumed there would be secret monitoring to be sure the opposition got what it paid for.

These facts put together and many Lebanese are concerned about some sort of Maidan Square event taking place tomorrow. So is the army.

Beirut has a strong military presence at all times, but in recent days, here in Beirut, that presence has more than doubled. This morning, this reporter witnessed a convoy of troop transport vehicles head into the city carrying over 150 uniformed soldiers. Every soldier is armed and everyone you encounter is cautious, unsmiling… and locked and loaded.

Despite these tangible concerns, the Lebanese spoken with were taking it all in stride. As one woman put it, draining here cocktail glass and cheerfully chiming in, “ They bomb…we rebuild. They bomb…we rebuild. That’s Lebanon.”

Smacking her glass down loudly on the bar for emphasis, now staring me in the eyes directly, she concluded in an accurate note of optimism, “But they have never defeated us…and they never fucking will!”

Ensuring Female Representation

Has Democracy Failed Women? by Drude Dahlerup challenges conventional wisdom that Greece was the birthplace of democracy, as it totally excluded women from participation in the political process.

The book starts with a brief review of women’s battle long difficult battle for the right to vote. New Zealand was the first to grant women a vote in national elections in 1893. Other English-speaking countries, including Britain, enacted women’s suffrage following World War I. Catholic countries, including France, Italy, Chile and Argentina waited till World War II ended. It was 1971 before women could vote in national elections in Switzerland.

It’s well established that democratic assemblies with inadequate female representation, are incapable of addressing the continuing oppression women experience under capitalism.1 Yet more the 100 years after first receiving the right to vote, women (who comprise 52% of the population) are still denied full representation in the institutions of power. In the West, only two parliaments have granted women full parity (40-60% representation). In the global South, only Rwanda and Bolivia have as many women as men in their assemblies.

Dallerup blames the “secret garden of politics,” the failure of most political parties to select candidates in a transparent or democratic process, for women’s failure to receive fair representation in government. In most places, party officials limit their candidate pools to well-established old boy networks.

In general, only countries with Proportional Representation2 are likely to achieve more than 25% female representation in their national governing bodies. Countries (like the US, UK, and Canada) employing a Plurality/Majority (winner- takes-all) voting system based on geographic districts have the most difficulty achieving adequate female representation. In these countries, a woman usually has to defeat a male incumbent to win a seat.

I was very surprised to learn that 57% percent of countries have achieved better female representation by imposing gender quotas. Pakistan was the first in 1956 (though they have subsequently rescinded the quota), Bangladesh in 1972 and Egypt in 1979. Scandinavian countries took a big step towards gender parity via voluntary party quotas

As of 2015, only four countries had no women at all in government: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Trump has only two female cabinet members, the lowest since the 1970s.

In an era in which the power of elected assemblies is being systematically eroded by multinational corporations, Dallerup fells it’s also really important to ensure strong female representation on corporate boards and the regional and international bodies they control. Spain, Iceland, Belgium, France, Germany, India and Norway all have laws requiring a minimum of 40% representation on corporate boards (a move consistently linked with higher profits).

  1. Interventions Dallerup views as essential to ending women’s inequality and oppression include:
  2. redistribution of money and resources, eg to single mothers for maternity care and maternity leave
  3. actions against the feminization of poverty
  4. public services: care for children, the elderly and disabled
  5. housing and public transportation
  6. an independent judiciary without with gender biases; intervention against domestic violence; anti-discrimination regulations, ie on equal pay and equal treatment; and affirmation action (ie gender quotas)
  7. support for men’s role as caregivers, eg paternity leave
  8. protection from sexual violence and harassment in peace and war and the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation
  9. See “The Case for Proportional Representation.